The Jesse Jackson campaign
National oppression & class conflict
Published Sep 25, 2008 8:57 PM
This article by the founder of Workers World Party, which first appeared
Feb. 2, 1984, in this newspaper, explained why the party’s position on
national oppression in the United States required it to support the primary
campaign of Jesse Jackson that year. The views Marcy laid out, when applied
today, in 2008, explain why WWP this election year is supporting the candidacy
of Cynthia McKinney and Rosa Clemente.
We propose to discuss the propriety of a working class party giving support to
the Jesse Jackson primary campaign in the Democratic Party and to analyze in
succeeding installments some of the significant aspects which may emerge as the
campaign takes on more momentum.
The Jackson candidacy is unique in terms of presidential elections not only in
that it is the first time that a serious attempt is being made by a Black
candidate to run for president, but that it has aroused a truly popular
movement of the Black people.
It is necessary to distinguish the Jackson candidacy from other Black leaders
who have run (some of whom were subsequently elected). This is necessary in
order to isolate those particular features which are characteristic of his
campaign. It will also enable us to deal with the campaign from the viewpoint
of national oppression as well as its relation to the class struggle in
Unlike Brooke candidacy
In 1966, Edward Brooke of Massachusetts ran for the U.S. Senate and was elected
on the Republican ticket. He was the first Black Senator since the days of
Reconstruction. He was again elected in 1972.
Previously he had acted as Attorney General of Massachusetts and might have
been reelected in 1978 had it not been for allegations of fraud or misconduct
in relation to his divorce proceedings. This was used against him in very much
the same way as the charges against Adam Clayton Powell a decade earlier.
Brooke did not proclaim himself and was not during his tenure in office a
leader of any movement. He was a solid member of the bourgeois establishment.
He ran as an establishment candidate.
Of course, he was in the forefront of the civil rights legislative struggles in
the Senate and distinguished himself particularly in the successful fight to
block the nomination of Nixon’s ultra-right racist appointee for the U.S.
Supreme Court, Harold Carswell.
In every other respect, Brooke was a capitalist politician identified most of
the time with the liberal wing of the Republican and Democratic parties.
How different is the Jackson campaign? Is Jackson not indeed running in the
primary of a capitalist party? Is he not, like former Senator Brooke, part and
parcel of the capitalist establishment?
If one were to judge by superficial appearances, the answer would be yes.
In reality, however, Jackson is running against the
Notwithstanding the fact that he continually promotes a left-liberal line on
most fundamental political questions which does not distinguish him very much
from other liberals such as George McGovern, Gary Hart, or Alan Cranston, it is
very plain that they are all part and parcel of the capitalist establishment
which Jackson is running against.
This is not an inconsiderable difference. Where does this difference stem from?
Is it because of his personal qualities as a leader?
Perhaps so, but that is not really what differentiates him from the others. The
fact that he is a Black man of course makes a difference, but it may only be
the same difference as in the case of former Senator Brooke.
The fundamental difference, however, is that Jackson is leading a
movement–which was not the case with Brooke and is not the case with any
of Jackson’s rivals in the Democratic primary.
Movement of oppressed people
What is the nature of the movement that he is leading? It is a movement
of the oppressed people.
That is the crux of the matter.
Were he leading any other type of movement, let us say a more left-wing version
of the McGovern-Hart-Cranston supporters, were his anti-war utterances (which
are not anti-imperialist in character) sharper and more clearly defined, and
even if he were more militant on labor and other social issues, his effort
would merely be in the direction of a bourgeois liberal movement and would not
be a truly progressive break from his presidential rivals.
It would merely be a 1984 version of the older populist movements, which were
of course bourgeois in character, notwithstanding their radicalism.
The movement that Jackson leads, however, is that of an oppressed people. This
is of cardinal and over-riding importance in the struggle.
It cannot be stressed too frequently that the Jesse Jackson movement is a
movement against national oppression, the oppression of a whole people, and it
is this which makes it a qualitatively different struggle. Viewed from this
perspective, his campaign is objectively directed against the capitalist
establishment, notwithstanding that he himself may subjectively be for it.
The very first and highly significant struggle of the Jackson forces against
the National Committee of the Democratic Party over the very important rules
governing the primary and caucus elections fortifies our conclusion only too
The rules, as they were defined two years ago, enabled an easy choice between
the two candidates then presumed to be the front-runners, Kennedy and Mondale,
by requiring that a candidate win 20 percent of the primary or caucus vote in
order to receive a proportional share of a state’s delegates to the
presidential nominating convention.
The purpose was to crowd out those who could not get 20 percent of the vote.
Also, it was not anticipated at the time that Jackson would run.
By the very nature of the rule, however, it works against Black or Latin
candidates. Viewed in that light, it is racially motivated.
Even if we consider Jackson’s swift ascendancy in the polls and his
rising popularity which all acknowledge, the 20 percent rule is clearly still
an insurmountable obstacle in the way of getting the kind of primary vote for
Jackson which would reflect the strength of the Black movement and such allies
among Latin people, women, and whites as he might gather.
In an effort to persuade the Democratic National Committee to lift the rule or
at least compromise to some extent, Jackson has proposed that perhaps a 10
percent threshold might be acceptable. However, after a great deal of behind
the scenes maneuvering, the Democratic National Committee rejected the
compromise and stood firm on the racist, exclusionary 20 percent.
Richard Hatcher, the mayor of Gary, Ind., and the campaign manager of Jackson,
had this judgment of the Democratic National Committee’s rejection of
Jackson’s compromise offer: “We have been told repeatedly the deck
was stacked against us here, the deal was cut long ago, and the vote on
anything we brought up would be 35 to 1.”
Replying to Hatcher, the chairman of the Democratic National Committee, Charles
Manatt, said this: “Enough is enough of having somebody trying to push
the Democratic Party around.” (Both quotes from the Washington Post, Jan.
So it turns out that merely demanding the lifting of a scandalously racist
exclusionary rule is “pushing the Democratic Party around,” and
this after more than 30 hours of palaver about reaching out to Blacks, Latins,
The rude rejoinder by Manatt is not just a case of one capitalist politician,
Manatt, talking to another capitalist politician, Jesse Jackson. This is an
imperialist stooge and agent on behalf of the bourgeoisie addressing an
authentic representative of an oppressed people.
It illustrates what are the real, as against the surface, relationships. It
tears the mask off the bourgeois establishment and discloses the nature of the
relationship as that of exploiter and exploited.
It is all well and good for certain leftists who are looking for an excuse not
to support Jackson to avail themselves of his many utterances about how we are
all one party, we are all Democrats, we are for unity, and so on and so
But this kind of jargon is part of the form of the struggle. Whether it is of
good coin or not matters little. It is the objective dynamics of the struggle
which are decisive.
What Manatt said and what Hatcher said are the keys which unlock the secret,
which by the way is known to the whole world, that the actual relationship
between the Democratic establishment and the Black people seeking
representation inside the party is that between exploiter and exploited.
This demonstrates, more than anything, what a howling blunder it would
be to use programmatic criteria as a measure for assessing the nature of the
Jackson candidacy. Program, personal qualifications, and so on, have their
place in this type of struggle, but that is not what is decisive.
What is decisive are the social, class, and racial relationships which
govern the struggle.
Class contradictions of Democratic Party
Here it is necessary to understand also the makeup of the Democratic Party.
Probably more than any other party in the history of the U.S., it encompasses
within its fold the sharpest class contradictions.
On the one hand it derives its basic support from the working class and
oppressed people. On the other hand it is controlled by the bourgeoisie.
It used to and still does to some extent contain some of the most rabid racists
from the South, such as Jesse Helms, before they defected to the Republican
Party. It is also the party of the multimillionaire liberals–the
Kennedys, Metzenbaums, Bradleys, Harrimans, and others.
On the one hand, it has within it the most rabidly anti-labor
“open-shoppers.” And then on the other hand it has virtually the
entire organized labor movement, with the exception of the Teamsters.
It is a party of not only sharp class contradictions, but of warring
contradictory groupings. It is the ideal of imperialist democracy, a broad
coalition encompassing divergent and contradictory class and national
groupings, but one which finance capital can more easily manipulate, supporting
one group at one time, still another group at another, and pitting them against
each other most of the time.
It is the bourgeois coalition, the umbrella group par excellence of the
When that instrumentality, however, does not suffice, the bourgeoisie quickly
veers to its very own alternative, the Republican Party, which unlike the
Democratic Party is the party of the bourgeoisie, whereas the Democratic Party
is the party for the bourgeoisie desperately trying to be of
Republican Party’s role
The Republican Party is numerically the minority party in relation to the
Democrats. The former, however, is more homogenous in its social composition
and in its stability. While it contains within its fold right, left, and
center, it is nevertheless the political expression of the conservative right
within the capitalist establishment as a whole.
Wage slavery and chattel slavery
The Jackson movement must be seen in the historic perspective of the Civil War.
That war was conducted by the Northern bourgeoisie, which based its
exploitation on wage slavery, as against the Southern counterpart, which based
its exploitation on chattel slavery.
The two systems both operated in a worldwide developing capitalist mode of
production, making it inevitable in the course of historic evolution that the
Northern bourgeoisie would vanquish the Southern slavocracy.
The war between the North and South was thus an irreconcilable struggle between
two social systems based on two diametrically opposed forms of exploitation. In
its character of a political and social struggle, it took on the form of a
bourgeois democratic revolution.
While chattel slavery was abolished, the progress of the bourgeois democratic
revolution was aborted when the Northern bourgeoisie reneged on its
continuation and made a treacherous agreement with the Southern oligarchy to
deprive the Black people of their rights. The effort of the Radical
(revolutionary wing) Republicans to continue the struggle, in alliance with the
revolutionary struggle of the Black people, was thwarted by the combined forces
of the Northern bourgeoisie and the Southern ex-slaveowners.
The rising political reaction of the bourgeoisie was too formidable to be
overcome by the Radical Republicans given the historical circumstances of the
Of tremendous importance and particular relevance to the current struggle was
the profoundly revolutionary role of Black participation in the period of the
Civil War and for a time thereafter.
The great work of Black historian W.E.B. DuBois with the splendid title
“Black Reconstruction” has a very important chapter on the general
strike. It describes “how the Black worker won the war by a general
strike which transferred his labor from the Confederate planter to the Northern
invader in whose army lines workers began to be organized as a new labor
It was a truly great moment in the historic development of the struggle of the
The long stretch of history after the treacherous sell-out agreement between
the North and the South seemed like a desert utterly bereft of significant
initiatives of the white workers or their progressive allies. It therefore
devolved upon the Black people to take the initiative against racist repression
and super-exploitation, as they had done during the revolutionary period of the
Civil War and Reconstruction.
However, it was the objective economic and industrial evolution of U.S.
capitalism, its tremendous expansion in the latter half of the nineteenth
century, and the two imperialist wars in the twentieth century, which made it
possible for the Black people to pick up the threads broken by the treacherous
Hays-Tilden agreement of 1877. That agreement between the Northern bourgeoisie
and the ex-slaveowners in the South effectively ended the period of
Reconstruction by the withdrawal of federal troops from Louisiana and South
Hence, it can be correctly stated that since the defeat of the Radical
Republicans during the Civil War and Reconstruction, it has been various forms
of the movement of Black people themselves which have forced whatever
concessions have been won.
Different forms, same struggle
The Jackson movement is thus one of the varieties that have developed over
these many decades since the Civil War, such as the Garvey movement, the Muslim
movement, and the Civil Rights struggles of the 1960s. Each of these have taken
on a different form, but each is an authentic expression of the aspirations of
Black people to finish the bourgeois democratic revolution begun by the Civil
War and achieve full equality and self-determination.
The fact that the Jackson movement has taken on a parliamentary, that is,
electoral form should not in any way deprive it of its progressive character.
It is a genuine effort to complete the bourgeois democratic revolution and
achieve those rights which white people as a whole achieved earlier.
We are talking of formal rights such as are achievable under a
bourgeois democracy, which does not of course change the class character of the
social system of capitalism.
As Jackson continually reminds the public, 53 percent of Black people live in
the South. There is not one Black representative from the South out of the 535
in Congress. There are no Black senators, either, out of 100. And, as the
National Urban League stated once again last week, Black unemployment is more
than twice that among whites. Among the youth it is 50 percent if not more, and
all this notwithstanding the so-called capitalist recovery.
The pivotal point of departure for a working class party to support the Jackson
campaign rests wholly on the character of the movement which Jesse Jackson is
leading: the movement of an oppressed people to win the same bourgeois
democratic rights that white workers have already achieved.
While it is true that both Black workers and white workers are exploited and
oppressed by the capitalist establishment, Black workers and Black people as a
whole are subjected to super-exploitation over and above what is meted out to
the white workers. And it is this characteristic which defines an oppressed
The Jackson candidacy should be viewed as a process of development, in which
each stage of its evolution must be analyzed separately and differentiated from
the next and succeeding phase of the struggle.
As we have seen, the unity phase of the primary struggle was broken by the very
serious breach over the rules governing delegate status. Sharp turns may be
quietly developing now which will later reach the surface.
We thus see that it is possible for a struggle to be initiated on a perfectly
mild, perhaps even innocuous, electoral level, but in the course of development
to become entirely transformed because at bottom of it all lies the
super-exploitation of an oppressed people by the capitalist ruling class.
It is because of the sharp class contradictions contained in the Democratic
Party that any incident can transform even the mildest struggle into a deep and
profound national struggle, one wholly unanticipated. This is what has to be
thought about in connection with support of the Jackson candidacy.
Articles copyright 1995-2012 Workers World.
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