Workers Vanguard No. 863
3 February 2006
Fight Racist Reaction on Campus!
(Young Spartacus Pages)
On December 2 the walls and doors of a dorm suite at Columbia University were covered in racist, anti-gay and anti-Semitic graffiti, prompting black and minority students to speak out against the barrage of racist filth they are subjected to on campus. At the University of California at Berkeley, black student Erika Williams was called n----r by Sherman Boyson, an academic adviser for the School of Social Welfare, who also threatened to beat her up. Black and Latino students at the University of Colorado have been subject to threats: in November, black student government leader Mebraht Gebre-Michael received an e-mail telling her that black students should disappear off the campus, which concluded, You will die if you run for student government again. At Syracuse University, a student TV comedy show featured an image of a lynching, joking that this was fun on the Quad in 1870, with the punch line, Doesnt get much more fun than that, folks.
Far from being isolated incidents, these and countless other outrages on campus reflect rising racist reaction throughout the country. The profound race and class divide in the U.S. was graphically exposed by Hurricane Katrina. The catastrophic destruction of lives and livelihoods in New Orleans showed that the oppression of black people is rooted in the very bedrock of American capitalism. The capitalist rulers one-sided class war against working people, from the attacks on pensions and health care to the gutting of education and welfare, has fostered the political climate in which these attacks on black and minority students are taking place. Also whipping up the reactionary climate on the campuses are the right-wing junior McCarthyites who seek to drive out not only pro-Palestinian and leftist professors and organizations, but also black and minority students.
What is needed in response to these grotesque incidents are not appeals to the campus administrations to clean up racism on campus, but militant joint student-worker protest to beat back the racists and bigots. The kind of social power that student protesters must seek to ally with was shown by the recent New York City transit strike. By crippling the finance capital of the world, this heavily black and minority union backed down the racist rulers who had branded them thugs. Their fight in opposition to a rotten contract offer showed that defense of the interests of working people and the oppressed requires struggle, not begging the powers that be.
Students protesting racist reaction on campus must look to the social power of the working class, which is derived from its ability to shut down production, and especially to those sectors of the labor movement in which there are large numbers of blacks, Latinos and immigrants. And because racism on campus is merely a reflection of the pernicious bigotry that pervades capitalist society more broadly, students protesting these attacks must link up with and support broader struggles, such as the fight to free class-war prisoners like Mumia Abu-Jamal, whom the capitalist rulers want to execute for his fight for black freedom.
The campus bigots are creating a climate of intimidation and threatened violence in order to further marginalize black and minority students at colleges and universities. This is clear from the use of the N word and the swastika, both of which represent a program of race terror. And as the threats and acts of physical violence at Berkeley, Columbia and in Colorado show, these racist, bigoted thugs often go beyond speech. As Marxists, we understand that those who organize for race terror, such as the fascist KKK and Nazis, must be swept off the streets through mass, militant labor/black mobilizations, such as the 23 October 1999 anti-Klan demonstration in New York City that the Spartacus Youth Club helped build. As for racist ideologues like David Horowitz, who tour academia to spout the virtues of black chattel slavery in the pre-Civil War South, and whose campus minions organize racist provocations like anti-affirmative action bake sales, we seek to refute their lies and combat the corrosive effect of their retrograde ideas. The SYC has mobilized united-front protests against Horowitz and his ilk from UCLA to Columbia (see Racism and Witchhunts on Campus, WV No. 756, 13 April 2001).
Protests at Columbia
At a December 7 speakout at Columbia in which the Black Students Organization, Columbia Queer Alliance, and the Asian American Alliance participated, students spoke of their outrage at having their rooms defaced with the N word and swastikas, at being told by students and professors alike that they dont belong on campus and at the physical threats they face. Black students have stated that being called n----r is a regular occurrence on campus. In the 19 January Columbia Spectator student Jacob McKean relates having a piece of glass thrown at him by frat boys calling him f----t as he walked home last semester.
In response to this vile climate of racism and bigotry, students presented university president Lee Bollinger with a series of demands to Stop Hate on Columbias Campus as part of a December 14 rally. These demands are similar to those raised in protests against the Columbia College Conservative Clubs February 2004 anti-affirmative action bake sale. While the SYC certainly solidarizes with calls for greater minority enrollment and for more resources for minority and black studies programs, we oppose the demands appealing to the administration to clean up hate at Columbia through anti-oppression training.
The use of the term hate as an umbrella for racist, anti-immigrant, anti-gay and anti-woman bigotry has been popularized by liberal demands for hate crimes legislation and hate speech codes. For years, liberals and many leftists have promoted sensitivity training and restrictive speech codes as the means to supposedly combat racism, sexism and anti-gay bigotry. We oppose demands on the campus administrations and on the capitalist state to police hate because this not only fosters illusions in the neutrality of the racist administrations, cops and courts, but also bolsters the repressive power of those institutions, enabling them to use such codes and laws to victimize student protesters, minorities and leftists. As we wrote about San Francisco State University (SFSU) last year: In [SFSU president] Corrigans arsenal, hate speech regulations are a threat to every critic of racist American imperialism on this campus; he will use them against us—as he did against GUPS [General Union of Palestine Students] (as in 2002, to put the group on probation for a year), as he did against the Pan-Afrikan Student Union and others (Down With the Anti-Terror Witchhunt Against the Four S.F. State Students! WV No. 841, 4 February 2005).
The reformist International Socialist Organization (ISO) has often joined calls for such measures against hate, as they did following the racist bake sale in 2004. Among the demands the ISO supported was one calling for disciplinary actions and policies to prevent and handle transgressions against marginalized student populations. At the time the SYC warned, One could well imagine legions of rabid Zionists, as has happened on other campuses, running to the administration with cries of anti-Semitism to encourage a crackdown on any pro-Palestinian protest (Campus Right-Wingers Target Black Students, WV No. 821, 5 March 2004).
That is in fact what happened later that year at Columbia with the notorious right-wing, Zionist witchhunt against pro-Palestinian professors, such as Joseph Massad. And now the ISO themselves are being hounded by pro-military right-wingers, after a Puerto Rican Marine Reservist filed a discrimination complaint against three ISOers because they had argued with him at the Columbia Military Societys table at last falls clubs fair. The SYC says: No reprisals against the ISO! Keep ROTC, military recruiters off campus!
One of the more ludicrous demands in response to the racist graffiti incident at Columbia states: Columbia Security also needs to participate in anti-oppression training addressing transphobia and gender policing, as well as broader issues of race, gender, and power. At Columbia, the job of the campus cops is to protect the hallowed grounds of Columbia from undesirables, such as the Harlem poor. The cops who police this bastion of race and class privilege exist to crack down on any protest that the administration deems out of bounds, like the protests of 1968. Last semester, Columbia cops arrested a young man who was jailed overnight for the crime of handing out anti-Bush flyers in front of Lerner Hall! At the University of Chicago, police brutality charges against two campus cops who beat black student Clemmie Carthans in 2004 were recently dismissed. The SYC says: Cops off campus!
Calls on the administration to redress hate on campus reduce the fight against oppression to a matter of circumscribing bad words or ideas. This is consistent with the false view that the source of racism and oppression is backward ideas. The capitalist ruling class deliberately fosters anti-black racism, above all to prevent unified working-class struggle. Many white workers imbibe racist, backward ideas and dont understand that they have fundamentally shared interests with black workers against a common class enemy. Liberal preaching cannot overcome these racist attitudes—a higher level of working-class consciousness is achieved through heightened struggle of labor against capital and the intervention of revolutionary Marxists. Racism and all forms of oppression are rooted materially in the class-divided capitalist system, and it is only through the struggle to get rid of this system and replace it with a socialist, egalitarian social order that the material roots of oppression can be eliminated.
The main obstacle to such struggle is the illusion promoted by liberals, black politicians and trade-union misleaders that the capitalist system can be reformed to serve the interests of working people and the oppressed. This is expressed in their promotion of the racist, capitalist Democratic Party as a friend of labor and the oppressed, and in the liberals and reformist lefts promotion of the campus administration as a potential fighter against oppression.
For Worker-Student Protest, Not Begging the Administration!
Students at the December 14 rally expressed frustration that Bollinger, known as a legal champion of affirmative action, had not followed up on his promises to address campus racism after the 2004 bake sale. A look at Columbias long history as a notoriously racist slumlord in upper Manhattan should dispel any illusions in the administrations credentials for fighting oppression. As the third-largest landowner in New York City, Columbia is currently pushing yet another expansion plan that would drive even greater numbers of black and Latino people out of the areas surrounding the campus. Bollingers job is to administer Columbia on behalf of the capitalist class that rules this exploitative, repressive society. That includes training administrators, technicians, educators and intellectuals as well as the next generation of war criminals, union-busting lawyers and murderous spies needed to enforce capitalist exploitation and imperialist plunder—such as the brutal neocolonial occupation of Iraq.
Bollinger and the rest of the Columbia administration have been running their own union-busting campaign on campus, most recently by refusing to recognize the graduate student employees union. No doubt the Columbia administration is closely following the attempts of the New York University administration to bust the NYU Graduate Student Organizing Committee (GSOC), which has been out on strike for a contract since November 9. The SYC says: Victory to the GSOC strike! Rather than looking to the Bollinger administration to fight racist attacks at Columbia, student protesters should be looking to link up with the heavily black and minority campus workforce organized in TWU Local 241 and UAW Local 2110 who themselves are subject to racism and exploitation at the hands of this very administration.
The fight against racist reaction on campus must also be linked to the fight for free, quality, integrated education for all. Right-wing and racist attacks on campuses are aimed at driving out those black and minority students who havent already been purged through the gutting of affirmative action and skyrocketing tuition. We demand the nationalization of the university system under student-teacher-worker control—abolish the administration! We stand for open admissions, no tuition and a state-paid living stipend for students! Tear down the Columbia gates and let Harlem in!
Right-wing forces on campuses around the country have been on an offensive against anything smacking of integration, public education, secularism, sexual liberation, anti-imperialism and defense of oppressed peoples in general. The latest chapter in right-wing snooping and sniping on campus developed this semester at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), where the right-wing Bruin Alumni Association launched an Exposing UCLAs Radical Professors initiative, offering payments of up to $100 to students who provide information on professors who are abusive, one-sided or off-topic. The association also published a Dirty Thirty list of left-wing and liberal professors. While outcry over this transparent witchhunt has led the association to drop its monetary incentive, such campaigns are sure to continue, and must be fought.
The Fight to Eliminate
While militant struggle of students and broader social forces can succeed in temporarily beating back the most overt expressions of racism on campus, the fight must extend to uprooting the source of racism, the capitalist system. The oppression of black people in the U.S. derives from the heritage of chattel slavery, a barbaric remnant of which is the racist death penalty, a form of legal lynching. While the Civil War succeeded in ending slavery, the northern capitalists betrayed the promise of black liberation in favor of an alliance with the former Southern slavocracy.
The capitalist class today continues to profit from and enforce the subjugation and segregation of the black population as an oppressed race-color caste, overwhelmingly concentrated at the bottom of this society. The color bar has been a fundamental dividing line in American society, a key means for obscuring the class divide between labor and capital and retarding working-class struggle. As the last hired, and the first fired, black people have served as a desperately poor reserve army of labor for the capitalist rulers. The social conditions that imprison the impoverished black masses in the ghettos—the lack of decent jobs, education and housing as well as rampant police terror—cannot be solved through legislative reform. Providing decent jobs, education and housing to all is entirely incompatible with the maintenance of American capitalism.
Full political, social and economic equality for the black masses requires that the working class rip the economy out of the hands of the racist capitalist rulers and reorganize it on a socialist basis, where production is for human need, not profit. Only in this way will it be possible to eliminate the material roots of black oppression, through the full integration of black people into an egalitarian socialist society. It is only through this struggle for integration by revolutionary socialist means that black equality can be achieved.
At the same time that capitalism socially segregates black people, it has also served to integrate black workers into the industrial economy. While the immiseration of the black population has intensified in recent years, black people continue to have enormous potential social power as a strategic component of the American working class, serving as a bridge between the ghetto poor and the organized labor movement. The power of black workers must be mobilized in joint, multiracial working-class struggle against the capitalist system as a whole.
This requires a political struggle against those misleaders who tie the workers movement to the capitalist class enemy, primarily through the vehicle of the capitalist Democratic Party of racism and war. Successive Democratic and Republican administrations have taken deadly aim at the gains of labor and black people that were wrested from the exploiters through struggle. From the racist atrocity in New Orleans to the ever-worsening conditions of life for working people and the oppressed, it is clear that looking to the Democratic Party is a dead end.
As we wrote in the preface to Marxist Bulletin No. 5 (Revised), What Strategy for Black Liberation? Trotskyism vs. Black Nationalism:
Wage slavery has placed in the hands of black workers the objective conditions for successful revolt. But this revolt will be successful only if it takes as its target the system of class exploitation, the common enemy of black and white workers. The struggle to win black activists to a proletarian perspective is intimately linked to the fight for a new, multiracial class-struggle leadership of organized labor which can transform the trade unions into a key weapon in the battle against racial oppression. Such a leadership must break the grip of the Democratic Party upon both organized labor and the black masses through the fight for working-class political independence.
In taking up the fight against racist attacks on campus, the SYC seeks to win students and youth over to the perspective of building a revolutionary workers party. Our model is the Bolshevik Party of Lenin and Trotsky that led the workers to power in the Russian Revolution of October 1917, shattering capitalist rule. A revolutionary vanguard party would lead the fight against all manifestations of oppression, seeking to mobilize labor in defense of black people, immigrants, women and gays as part of the struggle to liberate humanity through socialist revolution.