Workers Vanguard No. 889
30 March 2007
Down With the Racist Purge of the Universities!
Free, Quality, Integrated Education for All!
(Young Spartacus pages)
The following article is based on a February 24 Los Angeles Spartacist League Black History Month forum given by Mike Gaston.
As Marxists, we in the Spartacist League and Spartacus Youth Clubs understand that the system of capitalism in America, built on the backs of black slaves, will always be premised on the oppression and segregation of black people at the bottom of society. The racist atrocity in New Orleans, where the capitalist rulers left blacks and the poor to die in the face of Hurricane Katrina, showed the naked reality of exploitation and oppression in the U.S. Full political, social and economic equality for black people requires that the multiracial working class rip the economy out of the hands of the capitalists and reorganize it on a socialist basis, where production is for human need, not profit.
A fundamental expression of black oppression in America is the racist rulers conscious and systematic denial of quality education to the mass of the black population. Once a source of surplus labor to be minimally maintained, the black ghetto poor are increasingly seen by the racist rulers as an expendable population not worth wasting money on even to keep alive, much less educate. Since the capitalists have taken the wrecking ball to the auto factories, gutted the steel mills and closed many of the mines, there are fewer jobs left for which to educate the children of working people and the poor. By 1999 there were more people imprisoned in California than there were University of California undergraduates and graduates combined.
Half a century after the outbreak of the mass struggles of the civil rights movement, the conditions of black life in this country have worsened in many respects, from unemployment and the lack of decent education and housing to rampant police terror and the massive imprisonment of blacks as well as Latinos carried out in the name of the war on drugs. The public school system has been so starved for funds by the capitalist rulers that many inner-city schools are grossly overcrowded, with buildings falling apart and no money for new books or supplies. This decline was exacerbated in California by Proposition 13—the 1978 tax revolt by largely white middle- and upper-class homeowners to cut the property taxes that fund schools and other social programs seen as largely benefiting the black ghetto poor. Today a predominantly black and Latino school with about 1,000 kids typically receives $1 million less every year than a white school of the same size.
Jonathan Kozols books, Savage Inequalities: Children in Americas Schools (1991) and The Shame of the Nation: The Restoration of Apartheid Schooling in America (2005), powerfully document the grotesque segregation and inequality of U.S. public schools. In an interview with Catalyst magazine (November 2005), Kozol, a former Boston schoolteacher, described how, five decades after the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court ruling formally ended Jim Crow segregation in the public schools, Northern schools are more segregated than schools in the Deep South, with blacks and Latinos attending inner-city schools that are more like holding pens. Busing and other programs to desegregate the schools have faced continual assault, and massive white flight to private schools and the suburbs has reinforced segregation. During the 1990s, the proportion of black students in majority white schools decreased to a level lower than in any year since 1968; now almost three-fourths of black and Latino students attend schools that are predominantly minority. More than two million black and Latino students attend what Kozol calls apartheid schools, in which 99 to 100 percent of students are non-white.
The ruling class also pushes union-busting charter schools as part of its attack on public education (see How L.A. Charter School Celebrated Black History Month, page 7). As we wrote in Charter Schools: An Attack on Public Education (WV No. 825, 30 April 2004):
Charter schools have increased racial segregation and class inequality, increased the gap between the education available to inner-city black youth and that available to white suburban youth, and have gone a long way in destroying the separation of church and state. In fact, in 2003, three-quarters of black charter school students were enrolled in 27 percent of charter schools, and these schools were, on average, 80 percent black, as opposed to 54 percent black for public schools.
Black Liberation Through Socialist Revolution!
The special oppression of black people as a race-color caste in American society is a legacy of chattel slavery. It took a bloody Civil War to smash the slave system, under which teaching slaves to read was a crime punishable by death. Most of the first Southern free public schools were established following the Civil War during Radical Reconstruction, the turbulent decade of Southern interracial bourgeois democracy carried out by the freedmen and their white allies and protected by federal troops, many of them black. However, the Northern capitalists betrayed the promise of black equality in favor of an alliance with the former slaveowners. The Compromise of 1877 sealed this betrayal with the withdrawal of the last of the federal troops from the South, leaving black people at the mercy of the former slaveowners. As symbols of black equality, schools became targets of racist terror. Funding for black education was slashed and Jim Crow segregation became law in the South. Nonetheless, black teachers continued to struggle against enormous hardship to operate schools for black children.
The struggle for quality, integrated education was an important part of the fight against the Jim Crow system in the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 60s. The eyes of the world were riveted on the American South in 1957 as mobs of howling racists, backed up by local cops and the National Guard, mobilized to stop the desegregation of Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas. In the USSR, the newspaper Pravda stated: The reports and pictures from Little Rock show graphically that [Secretary of State John Foster] Dulles precious morals are in fact bespattered with innocent blood.
The mass of black and white activists who were the foot soldiers of the civil rights movement wrote a heroic chapter in the fight for black equality. Jim Crow did not die easily. Protesters faced vicious police repression and a campaign of Klan terror. Federal troops were dispatched to Little Rock ostensibly to defend school integration, but in reality to suppress a potential mass black movement against segregation that could challenge the racist status quo. The issue was posed pointblank—reliance on the capitalist state or independent proletarian-centered struggle by the black masses.
While the civil rights movement shattered the Jim Crow system of legal segregation in the South and won formal legal equality for black people, it was from its inception dominated by Democratic Party liberalism. The entire strategy of the leadership of the civil rights movement was based on appealing to Northern Democrats and the federal government. By the late 1960s, the bourgeoisie acquiesced to the demand for legal equality in the South, not least because Jim Crow was an embarrassment overseas for U.S. imperialism as it postured as the champion of democracy in the Cold War against the Soviet Union. However, as the movement went North, it ran into a brick wall—it could not address the desperate conditions of the Northern black ghettos, which were not the product of legal segregation but of the very functioning of American capitalism.
No victory for blacks, immigrants or working people was ever granted by the good graces of Congress or the courts—these gains were won through hard class and social struggle against the racist rulers and their profit system. The integration of black workers into the working class as its most oppressed but also most conscious section means that black workers will play an exceptional role in the socialist revolution in the U.S. Black workers form a strategic component of unionized labor, such as in longshore, mass transit and auto, and can play a leading role in the struggle against the capitalist rulers. Crucially, black workers can be the bridge linking the power of the multiracial labor movement to the anger of the oppressed ghettos.
Our program for black liberation is revolutionary integrationism. It is premised upon mobilizing the working class to take up the fight for black liberation through socialist revolution. It is counterposed to both liberal integrationism, which pushes the illusion that racial integration and black equality can be achieved through reforms within capitalism, and to all forms of black separatism, which, at bottom, are expressions of despair over the prospects for integrated class struggle and labor taking up the fight for black rights. In America, separate can never be equal. The elimination of the material basis for black oppression requires the full integration of black people into an egalitarian, socialist society that provides jobs, housing and education for all. At the same time, the fight for black liberation is the strategic task in the struggle for workers revolution in America:
Any organization which claims a revolutionary perspective for the United States must confront the special oppression of black people—the forced segregation of blacks at the bottom of capitalist society and the poisonous racism which divides the working class and cripples its struggles. There will be no social revolution in this country without the united struggle of black and white workers led by their multiracial vanguard party. Moreover, there is no other road to eliminating the special oppression of black people than the victorious conquest of power by the U.S. proletariat.
—Preface, Marxist Bulletin No. 5 (Revised), What Strategy for Black Liberation? Trotskyism vs. Black Nationalism (September 1978)
Education U.S.A.: Segregated and Unequal
The racist rulers will always try to take back concessions won by working people and the oppressed. The plans to integrate Bostons public schools through busing were defeated in 1974 by an alliance of liberals in Congress and howling mobs of racists in the streets, opening the floodgates to a nationwide assault on school desegregation. Reformists like the Socialist Workers Party (SWP) helped set up busing for the kill, channeling the fight to defend busing into dead-end appeals to the Democrats and for federal intervention. In fact, busing of black students was purposely limited to neighborhoods like South Boston, one of the poorest white areas in the U.S. outside of Appalachia, in order to pit poor and working-class whites against blacks.
While recognizing that busing was an inadequate solution to school segregation, we intervened into the struggles to defend busing as a minimal application of the elementary democratic right of black people to equality in education. We recognized that busing had become a symbol in the struggle against black oppression in general, and its defeat would encourage the forces of racist reaction at every level. We called on the labor movement to organize labor/black defense of black children being bused, and fought to extend busing to the suburbs, so that poor kids, black and white, could have access to quality education.
In contrast, the SWP called for federal troops to Boston, peddling the criminal lie that the same capitalist state which gunned down Black Panther activists could be relied on to defend black rights (see Not Federal Troops, But Labor-Black Defense! Young Spartacus No. 27, December 1974). Disgustingly, some supposed leftists like the Revolutionary Communist Party (RCP, then known as the Revolutionary Union) rallied behind the racist mobs! Their newspaper Revolution (October 1974) carried the obscene headline, People Must Unite to Smash Boston Busing Plan. The International Socialists, predecessor to the International Socialist Organization (ISO), sought to carve out a nonexistent third camp with the line that socialists oppose both the pro-busing and anti-busing forces, both of whom use racism to further their own ends (Workers Power, 10 November 1972).
Barely four years after busing was smashed on the streets of Boston came the first of many blows against affirmative action, the 1978 Bakke decision, in which the Supreme Court outlawed quotas for black and other minority students at the University of California. Bakke quickly became the leading edge of racist reaction aimed at rolling back every gain made by blacks during the civil rights struggles. The bourgeoisies attempts to destroy affirmative action intensified in the 1990s. The University of California Regents voted in 1995 to end affirmative action. In 1996, the grotesquely misnamed California Civil Rights Initiative (Proposition 209) passed, eliminating affirmative action in public education and in government contracting and hiring. Prop. 209 also slashed financial aid and special programs for minorities and women, including remedial and counseling programs.
The racist backlash in education has spread nationwide. In 2003, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the University of Michigan point system for minority applicants. Measures have passed in Texas, Florida, Washington and Michigan banning affirmative action. Similar initiatives are on the agenda in at least ten other states. One of the main forces behind these anti-affirmative action measures is Ward Connerly, the former UC Regent who acts as the black front man for ruling-class reaction. Emboldened, the campus right-wingers have held racist, anti-affirmative action protests on campuses across the country to whine about fictitious reverse discrimination and send the message to minority students that they dont belong.
This spring the U.S. Supreme Court, which now includes Bushs two reactionary appointees, John Roberts and Samuel Alito, is set to decide a series of cases filed against the few remaining affirmative action and public school desegregation programs. The racist forces behind these lawsuits cynically cloak themselves in the rhetoric of a color-blind society. This matches perfectly the ideology of Roberts and Alito, whose legal philosophy of originalism aims to overturn the gains of the civil rights movement, especially Brown v. Board of Education (see Racial Oppression and the Supreme Court Hearings, WV No. 864, 17 February 2006).
Meanwhile, the impact of the ruling-class assault on affirmative action has been devastating to black and minority enrollment. The admission of black undergraduates to UCLA has plummeted 65 percent over the last decade, while admission of Latinos and Native Americans has also declined. Only 96 (just 2 percent!) of all students admitted to UCLA last fall were black, the lowest number in over 30 years. At UC Berkeley in the five years preceding the passage of Prop. 209, skyrocketing tuition costs had led black undergraduate enrollment to drop by nearly a third. It fell an additional 33 percent in the first five years after Prop. 209. At the same time, the California State University system and the California Community Colleges, which are more heavily black, Latino and working-class, have all seen state funding cutbacks and hikes in tuition and fees which have led to the intended outcome: large decreases in enrollment. These ruling-class attacks amount to nothing less than a conscious racist purge of the universities to exclude blacks, minorities and working-class students from higher education.
In the context of the destruction of many of the gains of the civil rights movement, many liberal activists today have abandoned even talk of black equality in favor of the rhetoric of diversity. Ten years after Prop. 209, the situation is so desperate that student activists arent even fighting for affirmative action, but for some watered-down version where a students life challenges are given consideration in the admissions process, known as the holistic method. UC Berkeley, which uses a holistic method, has only admitted 44 more black students than UCLA.
As part of our fight for full equality for black people and other minorities, we oppose the reactionary assault on affirmative action. However, unlike liberals and reformists who uncritically hailed these programs, we understand that there is no way to overcome entrenched racial oppression within the framework of capitalism, in the universities or elsewhere. Even at its peak in the 70s, affirmative action only barely addressed racial inequality. While supportable as minimal reforms, affirmative action programs were set up in the 1960s in order to defuse social struggle and co-opt a small layer of black middle-class professionals. But these paltry efforts never made a dent in the deep-seated oppression of the black ghetto masses, whose condition has continued to deteriorate.
At best, affirmative action in education represented token measures which accepted racial discrimination as a given. To provide real access to higher education, we call for nationalizing the private universities and for open admissions and free tuition with a state-paid living stipend for students. We demand the reinstatement and expansion of remedial programs so that students in inner-city schools can catch up with those who had the advantage of well-funded suburban and private schooling.
Quotas have also been used to restrict the admissions of certain minorities, as is the case for Asian Americans today and Jewish people before them. Asian students are often told that affirmative action doesnt apply to them because they allegedly do not experience racial discrimination. This is a particularly obscene assertion in California where, beginning in the 1880s, Chinese and other Asian immigrants were subject to vicious exclusionist laws and during World War II Japanese Americans were thrown into concentration camps. The racist opponents of affirmative action particularly try to use the Asian population to go after blacks and Latinos in a cynical game of divide and rule. However, many Asian students have been involved in protesting the attacks on affirmative action, recognizing that the bigots will necessarily target them as well.
While defending affirmative action against racist attacks, we are opposed to the use of affirmative action schemes to bust unions. These schemes have been used by the capitalists to pit black, minority and women workers against each other and against white workers in a struggle over jobs. Most of the significant early affirmative action programs were set up in the 1960s and 70s under the Nixon administration to attack hard-won union gains like seniority and to pave the way for state intervention in the unions. We emphasized from the beginning that those who looked to the American capitalist state to eliminate racial and sexual discrimination were living in a fools paradise. In opposition to the capitalists union-busting schemes, we seek to mobilize the working class in a fight for jobs for all and for a shorter workweek with no loss in pay. We call for special union recruitment and training programs to reach out to the masses of unemployed minority youth and women.
Dead End of Reformism
In joining the recent campus protests at UCLA, we have warned against the losing strategy of promoting the Regents or campus administrations as the agency for providing access to higher education for black and minority youth. The millionaire-dominated UC Regents are the capitalist classs watchdogs whose job is to ensure that the universities serve the needs of the rulers. Most are themselves capitalists or executives of corporations, banks, investment houses and the like: Wachovia Bank, Blum Capital Partners, Paramount Pictures, etc. We say: Abolish the Board of Regents! Abolish the administration! Those who work, study and teach at the universities should run them—for worker/student/teacher control!
The liberal leadership of the campus pro-affirmative action demonstrations looks to the wing of capitalist rulers that wants to retain at least a few black faces in high places. They push electoral pressure politics while trying to corral votes for the Democratic Party, the other party of racism and war. This is the same losing strategy that led protests against the attacks on affirmative action in the mid 90s, and those before them around Bakke and busing in the mid 1970s, to defeat. The UCLA African Student Union has set up voter registration tables at the protests. Its leaders worry that the scarcity of black students will mean that there wont be future black leaders like Democratic Congresswoman Maxine Waters, the same capitalist politician who is now ramming through cuts in vital services at King/Drew hospital in Watts and scapegoating hospital workers as incompetent.
The Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action by Any Means Necessary (BAMN), whose main call is to build a new civil rights movement, has done its part over the years to derail student protest by pushing illusions in Jesse Jackson, the Democratic Party and university administrations. During the protests against the UC Board of Regents 1995 decision to ban affirmative action, BAMN put out a leaflet demanding, 1. Regents rescind the vote to destroy affirmative action. 2. Chancellors, administrators, and faculty, maintain current affirmative action policies. Around the same time, BAMNs partner group, the National Womens Rights Organizing Coalition (NWROC), gushed that it supports Jesse Jackson joining this critical fight to save affirmative action.
As a Democrat, Jacksons job is to win back to the fold blacks and Latinos who become discontented with the Democratic Party. Jackson in past years has egged on the racist war on drugs. He also acts as the bourgeoisies all-purpose fireman to douse the flames of class struggle. He played a key role in defusing the L.A. transit strike in 2000 and helped to demobilize black workers in the ILA longshore union who were marching in defense of busing in the early 80s in Norfolk, Virginia.
With the Democrats winning control of Congress, many student protesters think they now have friends in high places. Dont believe it. The Democrats ran as more effective military strategists for U.S. imperialism and better prosecutors of the war on terror. The war on terror means imperialist wars and occupations from Afghanistan to Iraq and a reactionary war at home on blacks, immigrants and labor that has shredded the rights of us all. The Democratic and Republican parties are both parties of the capitalists, whose class rule is based on the exploitation of labor and the oppression of blacks, immigrants and other minorities. The Democrats posture as the friends of labor and blacks, making them all the more dangerous because of the illusions working people have in them.
Racist reaction didnt just begin with the Republican Bush. The attacks on affirmative action started during the Democratic Carter administration and continued through Prop. 209 enacted during the Clinton years. Under Clinton, the gap between rich and poor increased massively as did the wealth gap between blacks and whites. Clinton ended welfare as we know it, presided over the gutting of affirmative action and the huge incarceration of black and Latino youth in the 1990s, and accelerated the racist death penalty with his 1996 Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act that gutted habeas corpus appeals for death row inmates.
Reading, Writing and Revolution
Students need to realize that there is only one class in society that has the social power and objective interest to fight this capitalist system: the multiracial working class. Workers have their hands on the means of production, which also means that they have the power to stop the flow of profit by shutting down production through strike action. By the same token, they have the potential power to seize the means of production through social revolution and put the enormous resources of society to use not for the profit of a handful of capitalists, but for the needs of society. We seek to mobilize students behind the power of the working class in the struggle against the bourgeoisies maintenance of the universities as elite bastions for the privileged few.
Whipping up racial and ethnic hatred has long served the U.S. ruling class in furthering the exploitation of all workers. In L.A., for example, the capitalist rulers have worked overtime to pit blacks and Latinos against each other, particularly since the 1992 multiracial upheaval following the acquittal of the cops who beat Rodney King. Against the capitalist rulers attempts to pit white workers against black workers and native-born against immigrant, we fight for the unity and integrity of the whole of the working class. We call on the unions to organize the unorganized, including the masses of immigrant workers, and to fight for full citizenship rights for all immigrants. Black rights, immigrant rights and union rights will either go forward together or fall back separately. Remember the anti-immigrant Prop. 187, which sought to deny basic social services to undocumented immigrants. That was immediately followed by Prop. 209 banning affirmative action, the three-strikes law, which imposes draconian sentences on repeat offenders, and the racist English only overturn of bilingual education with Prop. 227.
As Marxists, we direct all of our activity toward organizing, training and steeling the workers party necessary to lead the struggle to sweep away the capitalist order through socialist revolution. In our interventions into the protests for affirmative action at UCLA, we have argued sharply against the reformist politics of the possible which counsel reliance on the class enemy represented by the Democratic Party. The politics of our reformist opponents consist of oppositional activity defined by the framework of the bourgeois system, and represent an obstacle to making the working class conscious of the need for independent, revolutionary struggle. The call raised by reformist socialists including the ISO and Workers World Party, money for jobs and education, not for war, is an appeal to the capitalist rulers to reform their system to serve the interests of working people and the oppressed. But so long as capitalism exists, exploitation, racial oppression and imperialist war will exist.
Our model is the Bolshevik Party of Lenin and Trotsky, which led the October 1917 Russian Revolution, the worlds only victorious workers revolution. Despite its subsequent degeneration under Stalinist bureaucratic misrule, the Soviet Union remained a workers state until its destruction through capitalist counterrevolution in 1991-92. The overturn of capitalism made possible enormous economic and social gains for working people in the USSR, including in education. For example, the literacy rate, which was 44 percent in 1920, climbed to 87 percent by 1939 and to 99.7 percent by 1970. The USSR was at the cutting edge of world science in mathematics and in several branches of physical science, notably theoretical and nuclear physics, chemistry and astronomy. In fact, one of the biggest spurs to math and science education in the U.S. was the 1957 Soviet launch of the Sputnik satellite, after which U.S. imperialism felt it had some catching up to do.
We Trotskyists fought for the unconditional military defense of the Soviet degenerated workers state against imperialist attack and capitalist counterrevolution. At the same time, we fought for workers political revolution to oust the Stalinist bureaucracy and institute a regime based on workers democracy and revolutionary internationalism. Today we apply the same Trotskyist program to the remaining deformed workers states of China, North Korea, Vietnam and Cuba.
In contrast, the ISO, RCP and SWP all stood with their own bourgeoisie and hailed the destruction of the Soviet Union. Capitalist counterrevolution was a world-historic defeat for working people internationally. The bloody U.S. invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan, the increased attacks on living standards of working people, blacks and minorities, the intensified gutting of education—all these take place in a post-Soviet world where the U.S. imperialists feel emboldened to ride roughshod over the planet. The reactionary impact of death of communism ideology has meant an increase in attacks on the teaching of basic science such as evolution and a general rise in religiosity in society and the schools.
To unleash the social power of the working class requires a sharp political struggle against the pro-capitalist trade-union bureaucracy and for the political independence of the labor movement from all capitalist political parties and the capitalist state. This is a key task on the road to building a Leninist vanguard party to lead the third, socialist, American revolution that will finish the unfinished tasks of the Civil War, achieve complete freedom and equality for black people in this country and establish the right to quality education for everyone. Join us in this fight!