Workers Vanguard No. 1089
6 May 2016
Defend Ethnic Studies at San Francisco State!
Down With the Race and Class Purge of the Universities!
For Free, Quality, Integrated Education for All!
(Young Spartacus pages)
We reprint below a leaflet issued by the Bay Area Spartacist League and Spartacus Youth Club on April 13.
For months, students at San Francisco State University (SFSU) have protested against plans to slash funding for the College of Ethnic Studies. The administration’s proposed cuts would bring funding down 17 percent since 2008, eliminating about half of the college’s class offerings. Work-study programs would be reduced and faculty jobs are on the chopping block since Ethnic Studies would not have enough money to replace retired faculty members or to even pay the salaries of half of its instructors. In response to students’ demands to restore funding to pre-2007 levels, expand work-study programs and add faculty positions, university president Leslie Wong has refused to address a single one of them. Instead, he tried to sweet-talk the students by proclaiming his “pride” in Ethnic Studies while blaming “consistent underfunding” of the university by the state government.
Targeting programs that have a high rate of black and Latino enrollment, Ethnic Studies cuts are part of the long-running racist purge of the universities—the reversal of affirmative action programs, the drastic rise in tuition and the underfunding of public campuses nationally. The racist rulers see little use in educating the majority of black and Latino youth because as capitalism decays it is no longer profitable to employ them. The lives of the ghetto and barrio poor have already been written off as expendable, leaving them to die on the streets or be thrown behind bars.
The door to higher education is being slammed shut for not just blacks and Latinos, but all poor and working-class youth. At the same time, workers’ living standards have been driven down. Funding for the entire California State University (CSU) system, which serves many low-income and minority students, has been slashed across the board. Nearly half of CSU students receive government financial aid and 40 percent come from homes where English is not the first language. Such students who do get in have to work to pay the soaring tuition while often unable to get the classes they need. The vast majority cannot hope to graduate in four years, and are likely to leave saddled with debt.
The same CSU board of trustees and administration that have raised tuition and cut campus budgets have cut faculty wages and hours so drastically that less than half of CSU faculty members earn over a paltry $38,000 annually. When the faculty union, the California Faculty Association (CFA), sought a minimal five percent salary increase, the CSU administration refused to budge until the union set a statewide strike date. Now a tentative settlement grants the teachers 10.5 percent in raises over three years—a grudging concession, but not nearly enough to make up lost ground. It is in the interests of students and other campus workers to support the faculty, just as teachers have an interest in supporting students in their fight against budget cuts. To its credit, the CFA at SFSU has called for full funding for Ethnic Studies and other colleges.
Speaking in defense of Ethnic Studies at a February 23 protest event, a supporter of the Spartacus Youth Club drew cheers when he denounced the U.S. imperialists’ bombardment of Syria and Libya and their support to the brutal Zionist rulers of Israel, declaring: “We need to link this [defense of Ethnic Studies] with the fight against imperialist warfare and with the fight to defend the Palestinians.” He went on to oppose voting for the Democrats—Wall Street’s other party of war, racism and deportations. He pointed out that “Bernie Sanders calls for more cops on the street and he supports the state of Israel. He is no friend of labor, of workers or of the oppressed.” Instead, our comrade counterposed the need to build a revolutionary workers party.
At a March 1 meeting to defend Ethnic Studies, the meeting’s organizers called on one of our comrades, but then tried to shout him down as soon as he began to speak against illusions in the administration. They despicably resorted to race-baiting our white comrade for speaking against black oppression. Some student activists also unsuccessfully tried to stop SYC supporters from distributing Workers Vanguard at a March 16 rally to defend Ethnic Studies. Such attempts at censorship in the name of liberal “identity” politics obstruct both the broadening of the fight to defend Ethnic Studies and the debate necessary for political clarity on the way forward.
The 1968-69 Student Strike
The College of Ethnic Studies was a hard-fought gain of the 1968-69 SF State student strike, the longest campus strike in American history. At issue was the opening up of the universities to long excluded or marginalized black, Asian and Latino students. The campus administration had blocked the demands of the Black Student Union (BSU) for a black studies department and for more admissions slots for blacks and other minorities. Student protests broke out when the Board of Trustees ordered the campus president to suspend George Mason Murray, an introductory English instructor and the Black Panther Minister of Education, at the end of October 1968. A spokesman for the black students, Murray was targeted for Panther politics, including their correct advocacy of armed self-defense of the black ghetto masses and of victory of the Vietnamese National Liberation Front.
The strike began on 6 November 1968, spearheaded by the BSU and the Third World Liberation Front, a coalition composed of various Asian and Latino student organizations. Six weeks later, the faculty union, then the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), walked out despite threats from the administration to dismiss any faculty member who did not show up to work for five consecutive days. The strike essentially shut down the campus and lasted almost five months, defying massive police repression. Among its gains were the creation of a school of ethnic studies and the admission of some 900 additional black and minority students for the fall 1969 term.
The 1968 strike reflected the mass social struggles of the 1960s. The civil rights movement and opposition to the U.S. imperialist war against Vietnam radicalized a broad layer of student youth. Concessions that the ruling class made in the face of these struggles came under attack as soon as these struggles started to ebb. Student activists at State today invoke the example of the ’68-69 strike. But after decades of rollback, in the absence of any significant social struggle, their perspective has been reduced to one of little more than moral suasion directed at the campus administration.
A letter on behalf of the student protest organizers expressed disappointment at Wong’s “lack of leadership” and his administration’s disregard for “the needs of students.” But the administration is not a neutral body nor is it accountable to students and faculty. Such illusions politically disarm those who want to fight.
College campuses are a reflection of the society around them. The capitalist rulers of this country require the universities to transmit ruling-class ideology and to train the administrators, technicians and other professionals they need to keep their system of production for profit running. The job of the administration is to oversee the campuses in line with the American bourgeoisie’s interests, including by implementing such budget cuts as their capitalist masters demand while keeping students under control. The SFSU administration has also served the government’s racist “war on terror” by funneling information on Near Eastern students to the FBI in 2001 and has repeatedly gone after Palestinian students who protest Israeli state repression.
The Black n’ Brown Liberation Coalition, an organization active in the current movement to defend Ethnic Studies, calls for racial sensitivity training for the University Police Department, as if the question of racist police violence were a matter of a few rogue cops with bad ideas. But why does a supposed institution of learning need an armed force with access to assault rifles? They are the arm of capitalist repression on campus, there to put down student revolts like that of 1968. Their off-campus cohorts in blue are paid to harass, jail and kill blacks and break workers’ strikes. The police, along with the courts, prisons and the army, are the core of the capitalist state, the armed defenders of the obscenely wealthy capitalist rulers against those they oppress and exploit. It is a liberal pipe dream to believe that the police can be reformed to act in the interests of the oppressed. A wolf in “sensitivity” clothing is still a wolf. That is why we say: Cops Off Campus!
Marxists raise the call: Abolish the Administration! The universities should be run by the students, teachers and workers who study and work there. But this democratic demand cannot in itself address the educational system’s glaring inequalities. We fight for open admissions and no tuition with a state-paid living stipend to make college accessible to poor and working-class students. The goal must be free, quality and integrated education for all. These demands inevitably conflict with the interests of the racist ruling class. The fight for such demands must be linked to the one force in this society that uniquely has the social power to win them—the multiracial working class.
Most students today have likely never seen a militant strike, given the decimation of the unions resulting from decades of sustained capitalist onslaught and the pro-capitalist union misleaders’ retreat before it. Nevertheless, the entire edifice of capitalism rests on the exploitation of the collective labor of the workers, who therefore have the power to shut down the flow of profits. As society’s collective producer, the working class alone has the power and the material interest as a class to rebuild the economy based on production for social need, which is absolutely necessary if all forms of inequality are to be done away with. This requires that workers seize the means of production from the bourgeoisie and establish a workers state.
Black Oppression and American Capitalism
Underlying the fight to defend Ethnic Studies is the fight against this country’s pervasive racism. But anti-racist campus protests have been hobbled by the widespread misconception that racist oppression stems from racist ideas. To the contrary, racism is materially rooted in American capitalism, which from its inception has been built upon the brutal racial oppression of black people. While slavery was abolished by the victory of the North in the Civil War, the Northern bourgeoisie eventually made peace with the white Southern propertied classes. Blacks in the South were forced into servitude as sharecroppers and tenant-farmers, subjected to Jim Crow and KKK lynch terror. Blacks who fled to the North were integrated into the workforce at the bottom, last hired, first fired, while forcibly segregated into deteriorating inner-city ghettos. Jim Crow segregation laws were abolished as a result of the civil rights movement. But the liberal program of the movement’s leadership, who looked to the capitalist government for redress, did not and could not address the reality that the racist cop terror, joblessness and poverty endured by blacks nationwide are rooted in the foundation of American capitalism. Just as it took the Civil War to destroy slavery, it will take a third, socialist, American revolution to achieve black liberation. We say: Finish the Civil War!
The bourgeoisie wields racial differences to divide and rule the working class. Anti-black racism is the American bourgeoisie’s ideological poison of choice, used to obscure the fundamental class divide between workers and their exploiters. The myth of “white skin privilege” holds that all whites, including workers, benefit from racism. To the contrary—the oppression of black people hurts white workers as well. The proletariat as a whole cannot liberate itself unless it champions black equality and the interests of all the oppressed. In order to do so, workers must organize politically in opposition to all the agencies of their class enemy. They cannot do so while bound by the union misleaders’ alliance with the Democratic Party. This points to the need to fight for a class-struggle leadership of the unions as an essential part of forging a revolutionary workers party.
The Third World nationalists and New Left radicals that led the ’68-69 SF State strike believed that each sector of the oppressed should organize independently, then ally with each other as the occasion demanded. This perspective was based on the dismissal of the working class as the decisive force for revolutionary change. Its end result therefore could never be a revolutionary transformation of society, but rather fragmentary struggles that, lacking the social power of the working class, are inevitably reduced to pressuring a section of the ruling class for reforms within the framework of capitalism. Sectoralism is a reincarnation, in another form, of the constituency politics of the Democratic Party, which ends up chaining the oppressed to their oppressors. Today this perspective has devolved into the identity politics pervasive among anti-racist campus activists.
The revolutionary alternative was proven in practice by the 1917 Russian October Revolution. Acting as a champion of all those oppressed in the tsarist “prison house of peoples,” the Bolsheviks were able to unite the working class, men and women, across national and ethnic lines in a successful struggle for power.
We communists seek to link the fight for reforms to the struggle for socialist revolution, which alone will clear the way for the abolition of all forms of oppression and exploitation. Freeing the creative power of social labor from the fetters of class society will make it possible to bring about a communist society based on material abundance where no one’s development will be limited by poverty, class, race or sex. To carry out such a revolution requires the forging of a multiracial revolutionary workers party. The Spartacist League, U.S. section of the International Communist League (Fourth Internationalist), dedicates itself to this task. Join us!