Workers Vanguard No. 895

6 July 2007


For Black Liberation Through Socialist Revolution!

Supreme Court: Segregation Forever

In a major setback for black rights, on June 28 the U.S. Supreme Court threw out school desegregation plans in Seattle and Louisville, giving the green light to those seeking to overturn some 1,000 school integration plans across the country. In eviscerating the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education ruling that banned school segregation, the Court majority in essence turned the clock back over a hundred years to the infamous 1896 “separate but equal” Plessy v. Ferguson ruling—a cornerstone of the racist Jim Crow system. Their decision was the reflection on the legal front of the murderous contempt displayed by the government when it left black people and the poor to die in Hurricane Katrina’s wake. The court decision, part of a panoply of attacks on blacks, immigrants and working people, cries out for determined protest by the integrated labor movement against the racist onslaught.

Justice Clarence Thomas wrote a concurring opinion invoking the authority of the “color-blind Constitution.” But as our revolutionary Trotskyist forebears noted in the journal Fourth International (January 1942): “The original constitution of the United States, drafted by the representatives of Southern slave-owners and Northern capitalists, recognized the institution of chattel slavery as one of the ‘inalienable rights’ of American citizens.” They also pointed out: “Written constitutions are merely juridical expressions of class relations which have been established as a result of intense struggle in society.”

It took the Civil War to smash the Southern slave system. And it took the massive civil rights struggles of the 1950s and ’60s to beat down the system of Jim Crow segregation that took hold in the late 19th century after the defeat of Reconstruction. But from integrated schools to abortion rights for women, such reforms are always reversible as long as power is in the hands of the capitalist exploiters. The latest Court decision gives the lie to the liberal myth that social equality can be achieved through piecemeal, incremental reforms. The whole system of U.S. capitalism in which black oppression is embedded must be torn up by the roots through socialist revolution.

The Supreme Court is on an aggressive campaign to roll back the gains of past struggles. Its April 18 ruling upholding a law criminalizing certain late-term abortion procedures further trampled on women’s already severely diminished right to abortion. The Justice Department, meanwhile, has been dumping cases of racist police brutality and of blacks being denied voting rights, while promoting the “rights” of religious outfits to further their incursions into the public schools.

Against the plethora of reactionary court decisions, liberal spokesmen are beating the drums for the Democrats—the other party of racist capitalism and imperialist war—to take Bush’s place in the White House. During one of their TV debates, Democratic presidential hopefuls all bemoaned the Supreme Court ruling that had come down that day. But from the anti-busing president Jimmy Carter to Bill “end welfare as we know it” Clinton, the Democrats have themselves helped carry out the onslaught against black rights and the devastation of the ghettos, aided by black Democratic Party mayors. Jesse Jackson intervened in Norfolk, Virginia, in the early 1980s to demobilize black workers marching for busing.

It was the liberal strategy of reliance on the Democrats, the federal government and the courts that brought the fight for black freedom to a dead end in the 1960s. When the civil rights struggles came to the Northern ghettos, they ran into the solid core of racist American capitalism: segregated, dilapidated housing and schools, rampant cop brutality, entrenched unemployment. In the early to mid 1970s, the fight for school busing was a front line in the fight for elementary democratic rights for black people. A referendum on racism was posed in Boston and Louisville as anti-busing forces mobilized to kill school integration.

The Spartacist League intervened heavily in Boston, calling to defend school busing and extend it to the lily-white, wealthier suburbs. We called for quality, racially integrated housing and free universal education. While the NAACP and such craven reformists as the Socialist Workers Party called for federal troops to Boston, we fought for labor-black defense guards to stop racist attacks and protect black schoolchildren. As the racist mobs rampaged on the streets, the liberals in Congress caved in. The defeat of busing in Boston set the stage for further attacks against black people and for rolling back social gains more broadly.

Today, in many parts of the country black schoolchildren are more segregated than any time in the last four decades. Inner-city schools are mere holding pens for black and Latino youth, to whom the capitalist rulers offer menial jobs, at best, or service as cannon fodder for their imperialist military ventures. More than 50 years after the Brown decision, in 90-percent black Detroit over 75 percent of students drop out of high school, and the black youth unemployment rate is 70 percent. In New York City, in the shadow of Wall Street opulence, almost half of black men are unemployed. Of the more than two million entombed in the U.S. prison system, well over half are black or Latino.

This situation cries out for proletarian struggle in defense of black rights, linking the anger of the ghettos to the social power of the labor movement, where black workers play a crucial role. Our strategy of revolutionary integrationism is counterposed both to the liberal integrationist notion that blacks can achieve social equality within the confines of the capitalist profit system and to black nationalism, which accepts the racial divide in this society and despairs of multiracial class struggle. This despair is fed by the pro-capitalist labor tops, whose policies tie workers to the exploiters’ political parties. Labor needs a new leadership, one based on a program of class struggle. Ultimately, social conditions cannot be fundamentally altered short of the overthrow of the racist capitalist system and the construction of an egalitarian socialist society. The Spartacist League is committed to the fight to build a multiracial revolutionary workers party that can lead all the exploited and the oppressed in the struggle to sweep away this decaying capitalist system.