Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

Amiri Baraka

On the Jesse Jackson campaign to date

Hart’s advances due to Jackson candidacy

First Published: Unity, Vol. 7, No. 4, March 9-22, 1984.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
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The importance of Jesse Jackson’s campaign to the working class, and to the black masses particularly, is first of all to raise critical issues, that otherwise would never be raised from the other candidates.

Further, Jackson’s candidacy forces not only the other candidates, but the whole electorate in general to the left, to more progressive stands. His candidacy also serves to mobilize Black voters and larger sections of the multinational working class, not only for voter registration, but around some of the key issues.

It is extremely important that all sectors and nationalities that make up the working class be made to understand that Jesse Jackson’s candidacy is not just a “black thing.” Jackson is the most progressive candidate, the candidate most oriented around the needs of the majority of working people.

His apprenticeship as one of Dr. Martin Luther King’s chief aides, struggling for democracy in the 60’s. His leadership of the mass activist organization PUSH (People United to Save Humanity), which has struggled continuously around the multiplicity of issues generally connected to attaining full democratic rights for African Americans. These are Jackson’s unique qualifications which no other candidate can match! A great many of PUSH’S “campaigns” are linked as well with the idea of attaining “economic equality” for blacks. “Parity, not charity,” Jackson repeats often in his speeches.

In the context of the entire group of Democratic presidential candidates, Jackson is the closest to a “grassroots” candidate. In every major issue along the campaign trail, Jackson has taken among the most progressive positions, and this has had two important effects. On one hand, it has allowed the broad masses to hear positions they wouldn’t ordinarily hear. It has also forced the other candidates to attempt to sound less and less like Ronald Reagan.

Two months ago, most of those Democratic candidates were trying to out-Reagan Reagan. John Glenn was Walter Mondale’s closest competitor, and Glenn was to the right of Mondale.

The Iowa caucuses, New Hampshire primary, and Maine caucuses have shown that since that earlier period, the entire electorate has moved to the left. Two months ago, no one knew Gary Hart, and George McGovern’s candidacy was a public joke! Hart has beaten Mondale in New Hampshire and Maine very soundly. , Iowa, the first shocker, showed how much ground Hart and McGovern had gained. The reason: Rev. Jesse Jackson’s presence in the campaign has pushed the Democratic constituency to the left, just as it has pushed the candidates. So that Hart, who sounds often like Jackson, has surged into a stunning lead in a campaign once supposedly completely dominated by Mondale.

In one ironic sense, Hart is like Elvis Presley, who got rich as a “cover” (a record industry term) for black blues artists. That is, once a black artist made a hit record, the record industry would get a white singer to make the same tune for distribution in the “white market,” keeping the music listening public segregated, just as in the rest of society!

Jackson is setting out the general progressive ideological dynamic of the campaign. But racism will ensure that a white candidate must emerge. The progressive pressure exerted by the Jackson candidacy makes the relatively young Gary Hart the recipient of a growing support among a Democratic constituency made more open to progressive ideas exactly because of Jackson’s charismatic championing of ideas that more nearly serve the multinational workers and masses of this country than any of the other candidates.

Why Marxists must support Jackson

For Marxists, support for Jackson is basic. But it must be from a Marxist view, and not a tailist’s view. Marxists look at everything dialectically, supporting the positive aspects and opposing the negative aspects.

We have to point out the limitations of the Jackson campaign, while giving it the strongest possible support. The petty bourgeois class identity of Rev. Jackson, and the subsequent class stand and ideology that are basic to his position in black politics and national U.S. politics, must always be pointed out.

But, in the main, Jackson is a positive candidate in the electoral context, and his candidacy serves a very necessary and progressive function in the ’84 campaign.

What’s obvious is that once Jackson himself had begun to challenge Glenn, the white supremacist establishment began counterattacking, mainly by trying to ignore the Jackson candidacy completely, rather than the earlier coverage which was allowed because Jackson’s candidacy was termed “ridiculous” by that same establishment. The coverage was done because such a “ridiculous Negro” was at least good for a few laughs, he was “colorful.”

But the real forward motion of the Jackson candidacy has probably frightened the ruling class (controllers of both the Democratic and Republican parties), and they have agreed to ignore the Jackson candidacy, treat it as “unserious,” but to attack and slander the Rev. Jackson.

For one thing, Jesse Jackson’s showing in Iowa and New Hampshire was strong, if you consider that only 2% of the Iowa population is black, yet Jackson won 3% of the vote, and was fairly close to Glenn, despite Glenn’s multimillion dollar campaign.

In New Hampshire, only 1% of the population is black, but Jesse Jackson got 8% of the vote. In Maine, where Jackson didn’t even campaign, he received a larger share of the caucus votes than Glenn (109 to 46)! McGovern beat Glenn as well (188). None of this was conceivable before the Jackson campaign.

Jackson’s trip to Syria to rescue black Lieutenant Goodman forced the idea of peace with Syria into the discussions of the Middle East. It demonstrated a skill at diplomatic maneuver (based in large part on a more balanced view of the continuing conflicts there – rather than the standard pro-Israeli stance of American imperialist foreign policy), impossible for the present Administration.

But this more correct stance has already brought Rev. Jackson a great deal of character assassination, particularly from the Zionist Israeli lobby.

The ethnic slur controversy

However, Jackson’s admitted use of an ethnic slur when referring to Jews is negative. It is part of the class identity of the U.S. petty bourgeoisie, that they can revert to such backwardness. It is part of their being in America, being so influenced by the ideas of the rulers. Certainly a black leader should know better, understanding how disgusted and enraged such epithets make black people feel; and such words are directed at blacks and other minorities every day.

Reports that it was a black reporter (allegedly Milton Coleman, one-time editor of the Pan Africanist Student Organization for Black Unity newspaper African World, and now working for the Washington Post) that overheard this remark puts me in mind of some conspiracy. But Jackson should not have made such a statement in the first place! He should not have even had such garbage on his mind. It is a distinct blow to what had been a marvelous campaign.

Even so, it is no sour grapes to say that Jackson is still the most progressive candidate. It is also pretty easy to see how much value his campaign has had for the overall working class (Jewish workers included)!

Yet, the Zionists and the rightwing in support of Reagan would use this gross error on Jackson’s part to keep up such a howl of genuine and mock outrage, in order to protect the pro-Israel lobby and support Israel’s fascist aggression in the Middle East under the guise of protesting Jackson’s “anti-Semitism.”

The sickening irony of all this is that the real anti-Semites, Reagan and his super-Christian Jingoists, have been helped immeasurably because their fundamental tactic has been to try to divide part of the basic Democratic constituency, blacks, Jews, women, Latinos, etc.

On the positive side, Jackson has not yet run in a primary or caucus in an urban state, that is, a state with a large urban center, hence a large African American population. Yet he has done surprisingly well. He would have done even better without the ethnic slur controversy.

Super Tuesday

Super Tuesday, March 13, will be the first of the primaries and caucuses in both urban states and the South. Jackson will do especially well in either context. He will probably eclipse Glenn completely. Such embarrassment would be caused to Glenn’s backers, that Glenn and his big bucks could be whipped by Jackson will force the moneybags to concede.

The press is now making it a two person race (Hart and Mondale), trying to ignore Jackson, but still trying to pump up Glenn unsuccessfully.


It is important that Jackson go to Nicaragua as planned. Perhaps if he had gone through with the Nicaragua trip, he wouldn’t have been available for the ethnic slur flap. The Middle East trip and rescue was a wonderful boost to the whole American people. It also shed some light on Reagan’s lies and distortions about the region. (And what would have happened if the U.S. pilot had been kept a Syrian prisoner of war, which Reagan and company could have used as an excuse to attack Syria itself in order to save face, as the Lebanese people were driving them and their stooge Gemayel to the sea?)

But a trip to Nicaragua, to focus the American people’s attention on Reagan’s subversion of that democratic government, would raise Jackson’s stock again. The people would also get a closer look at Reagan’s support of brute fascism in El Salvador and the pro-U.S. forces’ imminent defeat, just as they are being defeated in the Middle East.

It is hoped that the left will also step up their activities in the Jackson campaign. If there had been a stronger left presence, the unnecessary negatives of the Jackson campaign might have been avoided. There are backward elements of the petty bourgeoisie close to Jackson. The left has no such high level influence on a continuing basis. Some of the most active forces around Jackson have been nationalists, as well as the more traditionally oriented electoral politicians. The left must work harder within the campaign to set a high political and ideological direction and bring the Rainbow Coalition (the multinational masses) into victorious reality.