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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 general.

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 establishment.

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 well.

Rules issue

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.”

Manatt’s reply

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. 21).

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, and women.

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 forth.

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 capitalist class.

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 it.

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 time.

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 force.”

It was a truly great moment in the historic development of the struggle of the Black people.

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 Carolina.

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 people.

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.