Busing and self-determination [Sam Marcy]

Busing and self-determination [1975]

The NAACP rally

By Sam Marcy

NEW YORK, May 23, 1975 — On May 17, the NAACP, in conjunction with other organizations, organized a huge rally in Boston to mark the 1954 U.S. Supreme Court decision which was supposed to ban segregation in the public schools. The rally was to protest the failure to implement the court's decision.

There has been a steady stream of reversals of this decision engendered by the high-pitched campaign against busing which has made Boston a symbol of racist hysteria. Indeed, the ruling class succeeded by the use of the anti-busing slogan to transform the school desegregation issue from a political question into a transportation problem.

There have been all too few significant rallies protesting racism arising from the busing issue. Even this rally probably would not have taken place had it not been for the initiative taken by Youth Against War Fascism along with other organizations in organizing the march of last December 14 [1974] which mobilized about 25,000 people, giving a tremendous impetus to the struggle and in some measure setting back the racist hysteria.

Lenin's view on self-determination

It might seem inconceivable that more than 70 years since Lenin first began his celebrated polemics against Rosa Luxemburg and others on the right of nations to self-determination and the struggle against chauvinism there would be Marxist-Leninist groupings in this country who, while sounding the tocsins for the revolutionary overthrow of capitalism and imperialism, find themselves on the same side objectively as the racists.

Yet a year ago, one of these groupings, the Revolutionary Union (RU), opened a violent tirade against busing in its paper Revolution with the utterly incredible and fantastic headline, "Smash Busing." Except for the verbiage contained in a long and confused article, it seemed a clarion call to line up with the racists.

This year, October League (OL), which shares the same general political line as RU (both are for Mao and also for Stalin), proclaimed the necessity for boycotting the NAACP rally. The basis for the boycott, they claim, is that the rally was organized by "assimilationist leadership." OL had previously attacked RU for its racist line and stood firm on the right of Black children to go to any schools that white children can.

This present position on the NAACP rally is, in reality, a capitulation to the same forces of reaction and racism which gripped RU and which earlier had also caught Progressive Labor, the Labor Committee, and several other groupings, all of whom are opposed to self-determination. OL's boycott of the NAACP rally shows that it is gravitating in the same direction, although from the opposite point of view.

Let us examine the issue of assimilation as expounded by Lenin.

Separation or assimilation — it's up to the oppressed

It is the right of every oppressed people to demand and obtain self-determination, including the right of separation. Marxist-Leninists in the oppressing nation must firmly uphold this right, which includes the right of the oppressed nation to secede and set up a separate state.

But Marxist-Leninists must not advocate it or foist any kind of separatism upon an oppressed nation. It is up to the oppressed nation to decide its own destiny. The business of Marxist-Leninists, of Communists, is to firmly and resolutely prosecute the class war and fight for class solidarity between workers of the oppressing and oppressed nationalities.

From the point of view of the socialist future of humanity, the victory of socialism based on the solidarity of the working classes of the world will ultimately lead to an amalgamation of all the nations of the world. Unquestionably, it will also lead, on the basis of socialist solidarity and equality of all nations, to gradual assimilation of the nations of the world.

This concept, however, differs wholly from the concept of forced assimilation which is practiced by the oppressing imperialist nation against the oppressed. Their aim is to subjugate the oppressed, deprive them of their cultural heritage, reduce them to second-class citizenship or no citizenship at all, and foist upon them the language and the literature which is that of the oppressing ruling class.

Revolutionary Marxists and progressive people generally must fight against what amounts to cultural and national genocide. What has happened to the Native Americans of this country, the Chicano people, the Puerto Rican people, and the Black people is a clear-cut example of the damage U.S. imperialism has inflicted on the oppressed in the United States.

It is only in the last few years that some measure of alleviation has taken place in this area, so that Spanish-speaking people in New York City, for example, are given some opportunity to be taught in their own language — something which is literally ABC in socialist countries like the USSR and China.

But while Revolutionary Marxists must stand firm against any repression in the direction of depriving oppressed peoples of their own culture and nationality, they must at the same time not oppose efforts by oppressed nationalities to demand rights which members of the oppressing nation have, even if this be regarded as assimilationist, as long as that is what they prefer, if that is a voluntary choice. This is part and parcel of the Marxist position on the right of a nation to determine its own destiny part of self-determination.

It is the oppressed people's right to choose, and it is the obligation of Marxists in the oppressing nation to vigorously support and relentlessly defend that right. A Native American, a Chicano, or a Puerto Rican must be afforded the same right to partake of all that exists in America, to the same degree as members of the oppressing nation. In other words, Black, Puerto Rican, Chicano, and Native American people have the right to choose. And it is for the whites to support that right, not to foist the choice upon them.

Duty of Marxists

The duty of revolutionary Marxists is to preach the class struggle, to fight the class war, and unite Black, white, Puerto Rican, Chicano, and Native American, in a unified multi-national party to fight the poisonous racism and overthrow the capitalist system of exploitation which breeds it.

Now coming back to the boycott of the rally. A Black organization, for instance the Black Muslims who have a separatist perspective and advocate a separate state, have a right if they prefer to exercise it to boycott the NAACP rally because they do not want to support any activities which might conceivably hinder their perspective.

We, of course, don't agree with their general ideology. We are Marxist-Leninists. But they have a right to preach and propound their doctrine. And we are duty bound to defend that right whenever the bourgeoisie, its politicians, and its lackeys attack them merely because they advocate a separate state. (The Black Muslims may today have somewhat modified their views but this is irrelevant for the purposes of this discussion.)

It is altogether different, however, with a predominantly white organization or a multi-national organization, which presumes to stand on the ground of Marxism. It is duty bound to accord the same right, and defend that right, to assimilationists as to separatists. To boycott one (in this case the NAACP rally) is to make a choice for separatism.

Now, OL had every right not to attend the rally for whatever reasons they may have had. But to boycott it because it was assimilationist in character does violence to the principle of self-determination and is objectively a surrender to racism.

It should be added that, like millions of Black people generally, many of the supporters and organizers of this rally are neither assimilationists nor separatists, but simply came there for the purpose of protesting the savage repression of the rights of Black people as evidenced by the monstrous segregationist decision of the Boston School Committee.

Covering opportunism with left phrases

It is common for ultra-radical groupings to cover opportunism with left phrases and to attack such a rally for its reformist leadership, etc. No one, of course, could conceivably mistake Roy Wilkins or Tom Atkins for flaming revolutionaries. And anyone who expected anything along that line at the rally is simply not living in this world. But the rally, as a protest against the government's deliberate efforts to deprive Black children of the right to go to the same schools as white children, was progressive and should have been supported.

In that sense, support for the rally and its participants would seem elementary. It would by no means deprive any tendencies of the right to differentiate themselves politically from the reformist bourgeois propaganda that usually accompanies these rallies. Until the radical movement can organize a more progressive, more militant and anti-capitalist rally which can command thousands of Black and white workers, it will be only common sense to show a presence at them as well as genuine support, regardless of differences in political approach.

What OL did in this instance with its deliberate boycott was to arrogate to itself, a supposedly multi-national organization, the right to determine whether Black people should have an assimilationist or separatist perspective. It did this notwithstanding that all of Marxism and Leninism speaks volumes on maintaining strict neutrality on this issue until the oppressed nation itself makes a decision, while at the same time fighting for class solidarity and socialist revolution.

Naturally, Workers World, as a multi-national workers' party, supported the march. We not only made a significant presence, but were able to take advantage of the large number of people to disseminate our literature and viewpoint.

The Supreme Court decision of 1954 was not necessarily an assimilationist edict. It was a long, long overdue affirmation by the court of an elementary bourgeois democratic right. The struggle against segregated schools, no matter under what leadership, likewise is not necessarily assimilationist in character, any more than the struggle against "white only" signs in washrooms in factories where millions of American workers toil.

— May 30, 1975

A year of measurable gain

By Deirdre Griswold

October 6, 1975 — It is now over a year since the city of Boston was selected by the racist and fascist forces in this country as the target for a mass campaign against the rights of Black people under the code name "anti-busing."

In the first weeks following the opening of the 1974 school year, it seemed as though the racist forces could spread their poisonous ideology and their violent attacks on Black people without any but the most scattered opposition. In a city praised by liberals as a "cradle of liberty," not one liberal voice was raised to expose the calculated nature of the racist campaign, or to show how it was being organized by open Nazis and Klan members.

While the struggle still goes on in Boston today, and while the fight against racism will continue to be of number one priority for all class-conscious workers and progressive people, much has changed in that city. Today there are Black-and-white community organizations ready to defend the homes of Black people when they are under attack. When the schools opened this fall there were friendly groups at some of them ready to welcome the children being bused in and to share coffee and doughnuts with their parents.

At a time when a new offensive by the racists has been launched in Louisville, it is good to review the struggle in Boston and see where it has gone over the last year.

Situation a year ago

One year ago in Boston Black people were being dragged from their cars and beaten if they ventured into the "wrong" neighborhood. The racist group ROAR, organized on a block-by-block basis in some areas, was holding weekly rallies drawing one to two thousand people.

Boston had thousands and thousands of progressive, anti-racist whites many of whom had been very active in the anti-war struggle. But the leadership of that struggle had been in the hands of bourgeois liberal "personalities" like the Kennedys. On the question of racism, these liberals were thoroughly intimidated. Even politically powerful Ted Kennedy, after being spat on by the racists for supporting busing, faded into the background and all the other establishment liberals took the cue from him. Papers like the Boston Globe began to echo the racist hysteria.

Emergency Committee formed

An initiative by progressive people outside the influence of ruling class politics had to be taken to break out of this paralysis. And that initiative was taken — by people in Boston and other cities who formed the Emergency Committee for a National Mobilization Against Racism. Plans were laid down for a march on December 14. Leaders in the Black community came forward and solidarized themselves with the demonstration.

It was the initiative of Youth Against War & Fascism, Workers World Party, and others that achieved this.

Workers World newspaper gave great coverage to this organizing effort — more than any other paper in the country — and helped to give impetus to a national drive that was to bring marchers from all over the East, the South, and the Midwest.

While it can't be said that the December 14 march broke the back of the racist forces, it was most certainly a turning point in the struggle in Boston. Over 25,000 people came out in militant and determined opposition to the racists that day and the repercussions of that great march are still being felt. While it had a nationwide impact, and showed people everywhere that the racist drive would not continue unopposed, it of course had the greatest influence in the city of Boston itself. The inspiration that everyone felt on that day has lived on in systematic organizing that has countered every racist thrust and made defense of the Black community a living reality, not just a political slogan.

Some groups in the left movement have demanded more federal troops in Boston, saying this is the answer to the racist violence. But the spirit of self-defense has been taken up by a growing number of progressive Bostonians, Black and white, and implemented on a practical level.

Dr. Edelin's defense

Within a few months of the December 14 march, a new mood in the city could be seen. Within a day of his conviction, 2,000 people rallied to support Dr. Kenneth Edelin, a Black doctor convicted of manslaughter in a legal abortion. Many of the anti-busing racists had been behind the prosecution of Edelin, and the women's groups that rallied to his defense saw the connection between their struggle and that of the Black community.

This was followed in March by a significant defeat for the racist forces. They had predicted a turnout of 50,000 for a "March on Washington" against busing — but only got 1,500 despite a massive publicity campaign led by Louise Day Hicks.

Meanwhile the economic situation in Massachusetts continued to worsen, with unemployment among the highest in the nation. But the efforts to turn working class anger and frustration over these problems against the Black people began to fall flat. On March 26, several thousand state employees marched very militantly through the state house demanding a cost of living raise. The next day, 200 militants vented their grievances at a public hearing on unemployment benefits.

Some of the most active people fighting for the workers' rights were also agitating for unity against the racist offensive, and this was not lost on the working class of Boston. Thus it was that, when the NAACP called for another large anti-racist march on May 17, hundreds of militant unionists, tenants' groups, and supporters of various liberation struggles formed a militant contingent, the Greater Boston People Against Racism, which marched under the banner, "Racism hurts all poor and working people."

Racists resort to sneak attacks

By this time the racists, rather than trying to organize the mass rallies they had been turning out the previous fall, were resorting to sneak attacks on Black families. Older people were steaming up neighborhood youths to do their dirty work for them.

On June 18, a gang of young racists attacked Black families living in the integrated Sumner and Maverick housing projects in East Boston. But the months of organizing by anti-racist forces coalesced around this issue. The East Boston People Against Racism (EBPAR) and the Center for United Labor Action were immediately able to mobilize friends, Black and white, to defend the homes under attack. As a guard continued to be mounted over the home that had been firebombed, the racist attack subsided.

Meanwhile, the Black community was tired of suffering harassment and violence whenever Black people tried to use the public facilities at Carson Beach. On August 10, 2,500 Black demonstrators went to the beach and fought off an even larger crowd of white racists gathered there.

After this struggle, the police moved into the Black community of Roxbury in great numbers, amounting to a police occupation. Militant demonstrations were held demanding the cops get out of the Black community.

The EBPAR group meanwhile had a confrontation with complacent officials at the HUD office, where they demanded that ROAR be evicted from its rent-free office space in federally subsidized housing.

Defending Black homes

On August 25, EBPAR again moved to the defense of Black families in the Maverick housing project. After holding off a series of attacks by white gangs, eight members of the defending group were arrested (!) while meeting inside an apartment that had been firebombed. This confirmed more than ever the racist role of the supposedly impartial police.

When the schools opened in East Boston this September EBPAR was there in organized groups of Black and white to welcome the Black families whose children were being bused into formerly all-white schools. The example set by this action had a great impact throughout the city, and there were far fewer incidents of racist violence this year than last.

There is still great confusion, particularly among white radicals, on the busing question. Many have taken to debating the merits of each particular busing plan or even of condemning busing as a whole, instead of seeing that the issue is really racism, that the resistance to busing has been organized entirely on a racist basis, and that the most elementary defense of the rights of any oppressed people means allowing them access to all the same facilities as the dominant majority.

In Boston, however, because of the tremendous initiative taken last year with the historic December 14 March Against Racism, followed by the patient and consistent organizing work done on a mass level in the city, a solid base has now been laid on which to fight racism and unite poor and working people to fight in their own class interests.

Last updated: 1 July 2018