Posted July 12, 2010
A Solidarity Pamphlet edited by Joanna Misnik
The Ronald Reagan era is drawing to a close. It is difficult to believe that his 1980 election was heralded as a "new mandate." The United States in 1988 is a land of contra aid and Irangate, sharply increased military expenditures with drastic cuts in social spending, tax give-aways to the corporations, plant closings, unemployment, minimum-wage replacement jobs, poverty and homelessness.
In the 1988 elections, many are looking for a way to say NO to all that Reaganism represents. The problem is that the current crowd of presidential candidates, both Democrats and Republicans, sound suspiciously like more of the same.
With one exception: Jesse Jackson.
The Jackson Difference
In 1984 Jesse Jackson ran for president on a shoestring-no money, no track record, and almost no endorsements from people in the right places. But his campaign had an electrifying effect, particularly in the Black community. The massive Black vote for Jackson was an act of protest against racist injustice and the disproportionate burden of the economic crisis placed on the already suffering Black population. Black America was stating its determination to continue the unfinished struggle for equality and full citizenship.
In ’88, Jackson has shifted the emphasis of his campaign to one of economic justice for all. This effort to broaden his appeal is a response to being labeled the candidate of Black people simply because he is Black. White workers and farmers from Maine to Iowa, many of whom voted for Reagan the last time around, are now Jackson supporters. Desiring change, they have not been frightened off by racism.
It is because of Jackson’s anti-corporate peace-and-justice program that white farmers and working people have been drawn to his campaign. By bringing to the surface their frustration and by promoting a fightback spirit along multiracial lines, Jackson has helped to give the lie to the idea that there is a new conservatism among people in this country.
Because he is so different from the prototype, it is difficult to think of Jesse Jackson as a politician in the traditional sense. He was a part of the historic civil rights movement of the 1960s. Jackson endorses and participates in today’s social protest movements-from the national mobilizations against apartheid in South Africa and U.S. intervention in Central America, to the October 11, 1987, march of half a million for AIDS research and gay and lesbian rights, down to the picket lines of striking workers and tractorcades of debt-ridden farmers.
Clearly, Jackson’s appeal is not simply the standard "vote for me and I’ll set you free." He continues to encourage organized protest movements outside of government as a key to success in winning social change. Jackson has won the support of large numbers of activists and leftists who are normally cynical about elections, politicians and broken campaign promises. For most of the U.S. left, Jackson is seen as the new standardbearer for a progressive wing of the Democratic Party, or even as something entirely new-a leader who may be in the Democratic Party, but is not of it. Many support Jackson’s candidacy as a step in the direction of a new independent politics whose sojourn into the Democratic Party is a necessary evil.
The establishment of the Rainbow Coalition is an attempt to perpetuate the new multiracial, multi-issue unity that Jackson’s campaign has brought into being. The Rainbow aims to keep that accord alive after the focus of a Jackson candidacy is no more. Opportunities to unite in action all the isolated social change movements with the Black community—the most progressive section of the U.S. population—have been few and far between. Those who see Jackson’s campaign not as an end in itself but as a starting point for a new progressive movement are skeptical about submerging all its momentum in the Democratic Party, where it will be dispersed after the Atlanta convention does not nominate Jackson.
* * * * *
This pamphlet is authored by a relatively new socialist organization, Solidarity. We seek to analyze the Jackson phenomena from a socialist perspective. While perhaps the majority of socialists support the Jackson campaign, we are among those who do not endorse or participate in it. But our critical analysis is offered with a keen appreciation for what is different and inspiring about this candidacy and the Rainbow Coalition that supports it.
A Critical Perspective
It is precisely the genuine potential for a new political day revealed by the Jackson campaign that makes a free-flowing discussion and debate so necessary. All of us have a stake in finding the road to empowerment and a winning strategy against social injustice. Those of us in Solidarity hope that our analysis will be of use to activists who disagree with our conclusions as well as those who share our views. For our part, we intend to learn everything we can about the experiences of those who are committed to building the Rainbow and the Jackson campaign.
Our quarrel is not with the spirit and message of the Rainbow. It is with the Democratic Party. We are convinced that the hope of remaking it into a party that can speak for our concerns is a tragic illusion. Despite its image as a party of the "common people," the "common people" who vote for it do not now control its policy-and never have. It is a capitalist party in a direct and concrete way. Corporate capital finances and directs its policy-making apparatus and defines the limits of its debate.
The myth that various "interest groups" have an equal shot at leveraging power and influencing the party’s direction has historically cost dearly those who are fighting for basic social change. Experience shows that any radical critique is blunted and the issue-oriented movements are profoundly demobilized-we don’t gain power, we forfeit it. The ultimate tragedy of 1984, when radical activists ended by working for Walter Mondale in order to "Stop Reagan," should not be repeated in ’88.
With the onset of tough economic times, business control over the party is increasing, not decreasing. The Democratic Party is steadily moving to the right, as business interests demand of it.
Jackson has made it unequivocally clear that his perspective is deeply and strategically, not just tactically or momentarily, embedded in the Democratic Party. The more the Jackson campaign seeks to "look presidential," the greater the pressure to adjust his political appeal to what is acceptable to the center of the party. Additional pressure will come from the Black elected officials who now endorse him. Their outlook and careers are based on accommodation with the party officialdom, and not on confrontation.
Jesse Jackson’s program is inconsistent and is being subjected to the pressure to look like a winner in the two-party framework. Nonetheless, it is a generally progressive program with a powerful appeal to the needs and interests of U.S. workers and farmers, as well as an inspirational message of hope for Black America under siege.
Jackson’s program, if presented by a campaign that broke from the Democratic Party instead of trying to realign or reform it, would take on a whole new meaning. As socialists, we would welcome such an independent campaign. It would be a first step to the fundamental realignment of U.S. politics that is so urgently needed—a new political party that could organize and represent this country’s working people, its oppressed and disenfranchised.
Although we recognize that such a rupture is not part of the Jackson campaign strategy in 1988, we encourage his supporters to consider the opportunities inherent in such a break and to join us in calling publicly for it. There is another way for "Win, Jesse, Win" to become a reality-namely by changing the rules of the game.
II. Origins of the Groundswell for Jackson in the Black Community
The overwhelming support for Jesse Jackson among Black Americans is, in the last analysis, a political response to the disastrously declining conditions faced by the majority of Black people in the United States for well over a decade.
The first big recession of 1974-75 was a watershed event. It dramatized the end of the post-World War II economic growth and expansion that had given rise to the "American dream" of employment and prosperity for all. Corporate interests sought, and obtained, bipartisan federal support for their economic "recovery" program.
Responding to the corporate clamor for belt-tightening, a consensus of Democrats and Republicans alike has operated mercilessly to cut billions from spending for human need. Gaping holes have been chopped in the federal social-welfare safety net. At the same time the military budget has risen to the stratosphere, totaling $1 trillion for 1985-87, representing 26 percent of the entire budget.
Federal spending priorities are geared to the imperialist safety net protecting superprofits in the unsteady climate of wage slavery and dictatorship in the Third World. The new gold rush of U.S. corporate investment seeking to take advantage of cheap labor is being backed by unprecedented U.S. military might.
Between 1968 and 1981, the real standard of living for average industrial workers and their families in the United States dropped by one-fifth—for those who still have a job. From 1980 to 1984, 11.5 million workers lost jobs because of plant shutdowns or relocations. Only 60 percent found new jobs, but they were not all hired at the level of their former wages. In fact, three out of every five new jobs fall into the low-wage and part-time categories. It is no wonder then, that by 1982, 34.4 million people—more than one out of every seven—were living below the official government poverty line.
The economic burden does not fall on all working people equally. Blacks are three times more likely than whites to be poor. In fact, the general pattern is that a recession widens—not narrows—the gap. Black America has been hit far harder by the double impact of unemployment and cuts in social spending. Despite the successful struggles and significant gains of the 1960s, the fundamentally racist structure of U.S. society—what the movement of the 1960s termed "institutional racism"—means that Blacks remain in the most vulnerable sector of the population.
Official figures for the "recovery" year of 1985 show unemployment for whites at 5.5 percent while for Blacks it was 14.9 percent. The official unemployment figure for Black male teenagers remains what it was at the height of the 1981-82 recession, around 50 percent. While in 1987 white unemployment did not exceed 9 percent, Black unemployment in major metropolitan areas such as Buffalo, Chicago, Cleveland, Detroit, Milwaukee and Pittsburgh, has stood at over 20 percent for the past four years.
The inequality perpetrated by racism wreaks havoc on the Black community, beginning at birth. Black infants have three times the mortality rate of white babies. And this rate is rising. In fact, half of all Black children live below the poverty line.
While the rate of Black high-school graduates continues to rise, over the past decade Black enrollment on college campuses has declined. With nearly five times as many college-bound Blacks as whites coming from families whose income is under $12,000, federal cuts in financial aid seem to be the principle factor in the decline.
More than a third of all the federal-budget slashing has been directed at programs that benefit the very poor, rather than at services to the middle-class voting base of both parties. No other part of the federal budget was cut so sharply. A glance at the table below shows that the victims of racism, already on the bottom of the economic ladder, have been a disproportionate target of "tough love budget balancing."
Budget Cuts in Programs with High Black Enrollment
|Program||Percent of Black Participation||Budget Cut|
|Public Service Employment (CETA)||30||100|
|Employment & Training||37||39|
|Work Incentive Program||34||35|
|Compensatory Education (Title 1)||32||20|
|Pell Grants & other financial aid for needy students||34||16|
|Food Stamps (now 47¢ per person per meal)||37||14|
|Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC)||46||14|
|(Falling Behind: A Report on How Blacks Have Fared Under the Reagan Policies, 12.)|
Added to these severe cuts in federal programs is the tax burden placed on low-income working families. A family of four with income at the poverty line paid $269 in federal income and payroll taxes in 1978 (4 percent of income) and $460 in 1980 (5.5 percent of income). By 1984 that family’s tax burden more than doubled, rising to 10.1 percent of income. According to an Urban Institute study, since 1980 the federal tax burden has risen for the bottom 40 percent of the population, with the sharpest increase falling on the poorest 20 percent. By contrast, only one percent of the cuts were borne by households with incomes over $80,000.
The past several years have also seen an escalation in overt racist attacks—from Howard Beach, New York and Forsythe County, Georgia, to diverse campuses, including the University of Massachusetts, Amherst and the University of Michigan. Racism of this type is encouraged by government policies that seek to place the blame for federal budget problems on those who are most victimized by the capitalist crisis.
The implication is that the legions of impoverished are really a selfperpetuating subculture of lazy and manipulative shirkers. The new sociological theories about a Black underclass that has voluntarily dropped out of the job market, preferring to live on welfare, fly in the face of the realities of capitalism. Structural unemployment has frozen a section of the Black community out of the job market for generations.
But these racist attacks, and the ideology underpinning them, have not gone unanswered. Protest efforts and demonstrations mounted by ad hoc multiracial coalitions point to the real possibility—and necessity—for activating a new Black rights movement geared to the conditions of the late 1980s.
The audacious step of a Black leader running for president draws national attention and confronts society head on with the determination of the Black community to press for full equality and a better life.
Ever since the 1970s, the main form that Black protest has taken is the effort to elect Black Democrats—or Democratic "friends of the Black cause." This strategy of "empowerment" has come to dominate over the direct action, independent mass movement that was so effective in the 1960s needs to be examined in order to better understand both the limitations and potential of the Jackson phenomenon.
Decline of the Militant Black Movement
The 1950s and ’60s witnessed a social revolution against the U.S. version of apartheid—the Jim Crow system of segregation in the South. A powerful, self-reliant mass movement arose that employed militant and innovative direct-action tactics—demonstrations, boycotts, sit-ins, and freedom rides. The movement forced the government to intervene and illegalize Southern segregation laws.
The omnibus 1964 Civil Rights Act and its provisions for federal intervention and regulation capped big advances against segregation in public facilities and education and discrimination in hiring. The 1965 Voting Rights Act struck at disenfranchisement imposed on Southern Blacks through poll taxes, literacy tests and other devices that denied the right to vote.
This legislation had been forced through by sustained action in the streets. The historic 1963 March on Washington of one-quarter million dramatized the mass proportions the movement had attained. During that year alone some 20,000 people were arrested in 930 protest actions in 115 cities throughout eleven Southern states.
On the strength of those successes, the civil rights movement spread to the North, where de facto segregation was a way of life in housing, employment and education. The cry of "Black Power" swept the urban ghettos in the late ’60s. Different sectors of the Black movement debated its goals and methods. The moderate and radical wings of the movement drew different conclusions from their experiences in the struggle. But in general Black Power proclaimed the effectiveness of Black self-organization and the need to build a mass movement that directly confronted the government with its demands.
In response to the threat of continual unrest, the Johnson administration acted, declaring a "war on poverty." The Great Society programs of this period aimed at restoring social peace with showcase federal spending in the inner cities. Spending on human services rose from $32 billion in 1962 to $66 billion in 1969. A maze of government programs was created, providing jobs for thousands.
The motivation for this was twofold. First, it was an attempt at political co-optation of what had been a movement outside traditional channels. The governing Democratic Party sought to demobilize militant protest by assuring Blacks that it was on the job in their behalf. By funneling protest energy into the two-party electoral framework, some control could be restored over an explosive situation. It might also blunt the increasingly radical conclusions Black activists were drawing about the nature of "the system." Fears in the ruling elite about the depth of discontent were more than confirmed by the ghetto uprisings of 1965-68.
Moreover, the Democrats hoped a loyal and enthusiastic Black vote would help edge out the Republicans in national elections, where the waning GOP was still able to mount a threat to Democratic supremacy. And, indeed, many organizers of the 1963 march kept the lid on protest in 1964 so as not to embarrass Johnson during his bid for the presidency.
The Black vote had been a weak link in the Democratic Party coalition. The party had not yet succeeded in draping itself in the anti-racist mantle, despite some dramatic gestures built into John F. Kennedy’s 1960 campaign. In that election, one-third of the Black vote went to Richard Nixon.
Co-optation and Repression
Second, the U.S. capitalist economy, primed by Vietnam-war spending, seemed to have an endless future of prosperity and growth, offering the possibility of social co-optation. The corporate interests in the Democratic Party promoted the Johnson programs, believing that the expanding economy could afford a "guns and butter" approach. A "healthy" profit system with a low unemployment rate could absorb the Black revolt into the high-wage industrial economy of consumerism first conceived by Henry Ford and still held to be this country’s ideal.
With the rash of government programs, enforcement of affirmative action plans, and new job and educational opportunities, many in the Black movement dubbed this period the Second Reconstruction.
Tragically, the more radical wing of the Black movement was never able to consolidate itself as an alternative to the appeals of the Democratic Party. At the end of the ’60s, the movement had begun to make dramatic inroads in the northern ghettos. The Black industrial working class, which had greatly expanded during the ’50s and ’60s, was also affected by the new Black radicalism. This was evidenced in the rise of the Black caucuses in the trade unions, notably those in the auto plants throughout the country.
The militant Black movement ran up against an objective limitation that shaped its outcome. The Black rights struggle had inspired the ’60s generation in its rejection of the status quo and paved the way for the radicalization of students, the anti-Vietnam war and women’s liberation movements. These movements captured widespread sympathy and remade U.S. public opinion, ending the 1950s climate of conservative values and "my country right or wrong."
But the movements of the 1960s in and of themselves did not have the social power and coherence to institutionalize this rebellion and translate it into a permanent, organized and unified feature of the political landscape. The U.S. labor movement, with its 20 million members, was the force that should have been capable of providing a social anchor for such a development. But the AFL-CIO had been tamed by the decades of post-war prosperity. Its firmly entrenched bureaucracy was steeped in business unionism, conservatism and reliance on electing Democratic friends of labor.
The Movement’s Limits
It would have taken a tremendous revolt from below in the unions to challenge this leadership and force a change in course. Though there were major rank-and-file revolts in the post office, auto, teamsters, telephone, steel, rail and mining, these did not result in a fullblown showdown over a new vision of what a workers’ movement should be. Added to this was a deeply ingrained racism within the white working class, which helped dissipate a linkup with Black workers through the standard device of divide and rule.
The Black revolt had demonstrated how a minority can—and cannot—change society. Toward the end of his life, Martin Luther King began to see this contradiction. The Poor People’s Campaign he mounted in 1967 was a product of a new understanding that as long as "profit motives and property rights are considered more important than people, the triple evils of racism, militarism and economic exploitation… are incapable of being conquered." (Marable, Black American Politics, 105)
A successful challenge to the systemic capitalist roots of inequality and oppression could not be mounted by Blacks alone, but had to enroll the active participation of working people and oppressed of all colors. The fact that this did not occur in the 1960s placed the left wing of the Black struggle at an impasse, eventually eclipsed, and paved the way for the more moderate Black leadership to hold sway.
This shift to a moderate approach was accelerated by the government campaign of repression of those Black left groups not susceptible to co-optation. As is well-known today, the FBI and other federal and local law-enforcement agencies systematically infiltrated and disrupted the Black movement from the start. By the end of the ’60s, such federal campaigns as COINTELPRO were literally wiping out militant Black leaders and undermining organizations like the Black Panther Party. Given all the objective obstacles in its path, the radical Black movement was never able to recover from this severe repression.
With the onset of the economic crisis, illusions in the Second Reconstruction were shattered. Poverty programs, education grants and affirmative action programs shrank or dried up completely. Even more important, as the economy contracted unemployment increased and it was once again "last hired, first fired" for Blacks.
To make matters worse, those sectors where Blacks had made their biggest gains were hardest hit by the economic downturn. Black workers had managed to get a substantial number of jobs in basic industry and in the public sector. These were precisely the sectors struck by deindustrialization and the fiscal crisis of the state. The relatively restricted sectors of the economy that did expand brought either lowpay or new-tech jobs that required education and skill levels which placed them beyond the reach of all but the uppermost strata of the Black community. By the 1980s Blacks were pretty much where they’d always been—at the bottom of the heap.
The labor movement’s record of fighting back against the effects of the recession on behalf of its members is one of abject failure and retreat. Economic insecurity and the lack of leadership have helped to create an atmosphere in which social panic can manifest itself in escalating racist attitudes and attacks. It is little wonder that the moderate strategy of maneuvering in the Democratic Party and electing Black politicians who can redirect a larger piece of the shrinking pie to the Black community appears to be a way to get at least some relief.
The Rise of the Black Machine
On its own terms, the strategy of advancing the interests of the Black community by seeking elected office through the Democratic Party has shown remarkable success. Before 1965 there were fewer than 500 Black elected officials in the United States, even though Black voters represent some 11 percent of the electorate. As late as 1966, there were only ninety-seven Black members of state legislatures, six Black members of Congress and no Black mayor in any U.S. city.
By 1985, the total number of Blacks in elected office had risen to 6,056, still only 1.2 percent of all elected officials. Over 70 percent are concentrated in small municipalities and in educational positions. However, by 1985 there were twenty Black congressmen and 286 Black mayors, sixty of whom govern cities with populations of over 25,000. Major cities like Los Angeles, Chicago, Detroit, Atlanta, Philadelphia and Baltimore now have Black mayors. What is now a small but established Black political machine had to fight its way in the Democratic Party. The party wanted the Black vote, but not necessarily a lobby of Black elected officials with their own local base, one that could form a more powerful "interest group" making special demands on the party.
The opening round was the fight of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party to be seated at the 1964 Democratic convention instead of the official lily-white delegation from that state. Although the attempt was unsuccessful, it signaled that the Democratic Party could not function in the traditional way any longer. Dixiecrat machines in the South had managed to keep Blacks away from the voting booth and out of the party. In fact, much of the Black rights activity in the South focused on implementing the 1965 Voting Rights Act and exercising the right to vote against sometimes violent resistance from white Democrats.
Similarly, most Black mayors elected in the North—beginning in 1967 with Richard Hatcher in Gary, Indiana, up through Harold Washington’s 1983 victory in Chicago—have inevitably had to fight the local white-dominated Democratic machine. They were compelled to muster a separate power base to overcome all-out efforts to prevent their election. In the absence of a third party representing the interests of working people and the oppressed, all these efforts to exclude Blacks from key office—even in cities where Blacks are a majority of the population—reinforce the notion that the next step to empowerment is fighting racist roadblocks to full representation in Democratic Party electoralism.
The remarkable statistic that no Black urban mayor has ever received more than 23 percent of the white vote further fuels the idea among Blacks, who nearly always vote for liberal white Democrats, that this fight to enter the halls of power from which they’ve been locked out is far from complete. Moreover, 90 percent of all Black voters now consistently pull the Democratic lever.
Lyndon Johnson was the only post-World War II Democratic president to be elected by a majority of the white vote. Both Kennedy and Carter relied on the Black vote to procure victory. As the first Southern president since 1848, Jimmy Carter’s narrow 1976 victory was secured by his winning thirteen Southern states because of the Black vote. (In no Southern state did Carter receive the majority of white votes.)
Black loyalty is seen as something to wield inside the party for greater clout and concessions. This is a constant theme of the Jackson campaign. However, party strategists are so confident that the Black vote has nowhere else to go that they do not feel the need to do any substantive trading. They are busily appealing to the middle-class and white southern voters to offset losses that have benefited the Republicans.
It should be added that in liberal Democratic circles it is common to hear the complaint that Jackson’s campaign is "racist," since Blacks only vote for him because he is Black. The racist resistance to Black participation in the Democratic Party, which for years has seen elements of the white machine urging whites to vote for anybody as long as they aren’t Black while Blacks have consistently—if wrongly—delivered for white Democrats, indicates the calibre of liberalism offered by many Democratic Party "regulars."
Black electoral successes have brought certain real gains to the Black community. Greater recruitment of Blacks to big city police departments has reduced police brutality in some major cities. City services are more regularly directed to Black neighborhoods, which were previously service-poor under white administrations. Sanitation services, repairs on sidewalks and public housing, refurbished schools and community service centers, even campaigns to stop plant closings and halt neighborhood commercial decay—all are visible signs in the daily life of Black voters that they finally "have" somebody in city hall.
However, Black electoral successes have tended to help mainly the relatively limited layer of the Black community that has been able to consolidate the gains of earlier struggles. A singular feature of the Second Reconstruction has been the introduction of a deeper social stratification in the Black community. Black professionals, small businessmen, and public administrators benefited the most from the government programs and limited affirmative action in universities and the professions.
Black-dominated urban administrations were able to hand out city contracts to minority businesses as well as hire Black administrators and professionals. Studies show that employment gains under Black administrations are principally in middle-class professional and managerial positions. Over all, Blacks have lost ground as austerity forces reductions in the lower-level city government workforce.
Nearly half of all Black women and 35 percent of Black men owe their job directly or indirectly to government spending. For the Black college graduate, the figure rises to 72 percent for women and 54 percent for men. The ground gained by the Black middle class is not in the private sector, but is highly dependent on local and national government outlays.
The fact remains that the worsening economic crisis has rendered Black elected officials essentially helpless to stem the drastic decline of Black living standards. As one after another local industry has gone under, cities face chronic unemployment, a declining tax base and seriously shrunken revenue. Federal funds for urban development, job training and social services have, as earlier noted, been slashed.
Black elected officials, like their white counterparts, find themselves administering austerity. They have carved out cuts in services and opposed the demands of public workers and teachers for a better wage. Meanwhile, they seek to stimulate growth by attracting investment through big tax breaks and subsidies to the corporations. The so-called "urban redevelopment programs" of Black mayors like Coleman Young or Andrew Young have meant the gutting of working-class and poor neighborhoods and the "revitalization" of center cities with towering office centers and middle-class shopping malls, none of which offers much to the mass of unemployed Blacks.
Philadelphia: A Case Study
Philadelphia’s first Black mayor, Wilson Goode, presents a story that has been retold, with variations, by most Black mayors. Many began as activists for Black rights and ended up captives of the reformist illusion that Black betterment can come by folding up militant mass-based struggle in favor of staking out territory in the existing power structure. Goode was part of a 1968 rebellion against the Philadelphia Democratic machine that developed out of a fight over white-dominated administration of the city’s antipoverty programs.
In 1983, Goode defeated two-gun Frank Rizzo and became the first Black mayor of the country’s fourth largest city. His victory over Rizzo was the product of years of community agitation, such as the work of the Stop Rizzo Coalition, against Rizzo’s legendary racist police brutality. This was a broad movement that combined direct action with registering over 50,000, mostly Black, new voters to vote no on a Rizzo amendment to the city charter that would have enabled him to run for a third term. And Goode’s aggressive sponsorship of the 1983 March on Washington—an outpouring of 300,000 to commemorate the historic civil rights demonstration—did much to spur his victory.
In the 1970s, Philadelphia lost around 100,000 jobs to the recession and deindustrialization. After he won the mayoralty in 1983, Goode, like most successful Black politicians, was no longer interested in any kind of "outsider" politics and was committed to playing by Democratic Party rules. He cemented a tight alliance with the local corporate elite, to which he turned for help in digging Philadelphia out of the rubble. Goode was the darling of the Greater Philadelphia First Corporation, the local business roundtable, which financed his campaigns.
With a tax break as the pay-off, Goode arranged corporate cooperation. Revitalization took hold in Philly, creating a 49 percent increase in service jobs, most of which did not go to Blacks. Then in May 1984 Goode made international headlines by ordering the most shocking instance of police brutality in recent memory. He bombed the home of a Black nationalist-communalist organization called MOVE. This action resulted in eleven deaths and caused a fire that destroyed 160 homes and left 250 people refugees.
Goode was one of the Black elected officials who said no to Jackson in 1984, even though most Philadelphia Black leaders supported him. Jackson polled 75 percent of the Pennsylvania Black vote, but got few delegates from Philadelphia. The Goode machine successfully misled Jackson voters by distributing bogus sample ballots with Jackson’s name on top, but Mondale delegates listed beneath.
Reinaugurated in 1987, Goode rhetorically proclaimed that "economic growth is more than office towers and skyscrapers. As we boast about breaking through the skyline, too many have stood in the soup line." Goode outlined a litany of new programs to benefit the poor, and added that he had no idea where the money for these programs would come from, since he was trying not to impose a tax increase over the next four years.
The pressure of attempting to become powerbrokers for Black interests in this way has meant that the power of the Black community is not brokered, but broken in accommodation to the interests of local corporate capital and its program for reviving dying urban centers. This program aims to make these cities into employment and commercial pleasure islands for the middle class in the new service economy. The plight of working people who live in these cities, largely Black and unemployed or underemployed, is not targeted by these schemes, except insofar as taxes on their meager paychecks or modest homes have been hiked to finance incentives given to corporations.
When Dutch Morial became the first Black mayor of New Orleans in 1978, the city was 51 percent Black and ranked as the third poorest in the nation. The 1985 median income for Blacks was $10,500, compared to $21,500 for whites. Immediately after his inauguration, Morial created the New Orleans Economic Development Strategy to end the city’s dependence on low-wage jobs, in which most Blacks were employed. Lucrative tax breaks were given to high-tech firms willing to locate in the city.
The first Black police chief was appointed and two ordinances were passed mandating affirmative action quotas in all city contracts. Over $79 million in contracts went to Black businesses from 1978-82. Opportunities for this middle stratum grew under Morial’s administration. But his solution to the fiscal crisis was to burden the overloaded Black majority by imposing severely regressive taxes-a road tax of $50 on all cars and a flat-rate real property tax of $100 per home. He fought for, and won, an increase in city sales tax to 8 percent.
The fragile Black middle class, which has blossomed in the past several decades, views the ascendance of the Black political machine and securing a national Democratic administration as a source of selfpreservation. The relatively few who have "made it" have a deep stake in continuing to pursue a political strategy inside the Democratic Party. But their interests increasingly diverge from the masses of Blacks who have fallen behind, ravaged by the capitalist crisis.
Need for Mass Action
For the Black majority, betterment can only come through the power generated by militant mass struggles against the bipartisan government/corporate partnership that condemns Blacks to the bottom of the economy, able to enjoy a decent standard of living only when the profit economy is "healthy" enough to allow it. Racial oppression is a cornerstone of the capitalist system, which profits from the weakening of solidarity and unity of the laboring population. The oppression of one sector of the workforce inevitably strengthens the ability of the profit-makers to have their way with all working people.
The quelling of any kind of movement from below has given moderate Black reformers an extraordinary weight in determining the form and direction of Black politics today.
When Jesse Jackson ran in 1984, the majority of Black Democratic elected officials shunned his campaign. They felt that Blacks would be perceived as "spoilers" in a campaign where Democratic unity had to be focused on defeating Reagan at all costs. But the fact that Jackson received over 80 percent of the Black vote in the 1984 primaries made it crystal clear in these circles that Black Americans were "spoiling" for a fight, for something more forceful than the Black machine had offered over the past decade.
The desire to catch up to their more feisty constituency, combined with the fact that in 1988 there is no designated favorite nominee like Walter Mondale in 1984, has led nearly the entirety of Black elected officialdom to join Jackson’s ’88 effort.
For the Black elected officials who have managed to build a privileged enclave, the importance of Jackson’s campaign lies in its capacity to pull off some cautious intraparty brokering and compromising. These officials will inevitably come into conflict with the more leftwing members of the Rainbow Coalition. These activists view the campaign as a populist and progressive challenge to the Democratic Partynot a timid renegotiation of dependency on terms dictated by the party’s ruling inner sanctum.
III. The Rainbow Coalition
In reality, there are two Rainbow Coalitions, each with its own idea of the Rainbow’s purpose. The "pragmatic" Jackson supporters are primarily interested in strengthening their faction inside the Democratic Party. The "radical" Rainbow forces are attempting to advance progressive social movements through the Jackson campaign, with many hoping to provoke a fundamental realignment in U.S. politics.
One wing of the Rainbow is composed of those who focus exclusively on jockeying inside the Democratic Party trying to block its headlong rush to the right. This group is composed primarily of the Black machine and a handful of trade-union officials, almost none of whose national unions have endorsed Jackson.
The Black elected officials are the main force within the sector of the Rainbow that is trying to push the Democratic Party back to its undeserved image as the party of "the common people," the image crafted in Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s New Deal coalition. They are alarmed by how readily a Democratic-controlled House went along with Reagan’s supply-side game plan, forsaking the party’s championship of big government and the welfare state. They wish to reassert their presence in the party at a time when their constituencies are largely ignored.
Using Jackson’s impressive showing, they hope to deliver a message to the Atlanta convention that the loyalty of their constituencies cannot be taken for granted, but must be repaid. Now that the Black machine is backing Jackson, his campaign has embraced their narrowly focused objectives of internal party realignment. In his speeches, Jackson is forever counseling "our" party to expand its base as a key to success and urges defining the "new economic ground as a key to a new coalition and a new Democratic Party."
But the Black machine is practically on its own. The bulk of organized labor, whose influence has waned in tandem with a shrinking membership and an inability to mobilize votes, is standing aloof from the fracas. The 1987 AFL-CIO convention made no presidential endorsement and asked individual unions to refrain from endorsements while the search for a "consensus" continued. This call for a consensus was in part devised to discourage Jackson endorsements from within the trade-union ranks.
It is not accidental that only the Jackson campaign is emphasizing massive voter registration among Blacks and working people. The mainstream of the party does not see its national hegemony secured by "reaching down," as they term it. Instead they prefer to compete with the Republicans for the "yuppie" vote in urban areas and white votes in the South. Bringing in large numbers of urban workers and people of color contradicts that strategy. To target that population would require a wholly different programmatic approach.
Also included in the wing of the Rainbow trying to stem the Democratic Parts rightward tide are the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA). For some time now, DSA has pursued a policy of pragmatic realignment inside the Democratic Party, in alliance with those in the AFL-CIO bureaucracy who are unhappy with labor’s decreasing leverage on party policymaking. The group has long ago abandoned the perspective of a working-class breakaway from the capitalist two-party framework and is content to declare that the Democrats are, in DSA leader Michael Harrington’s phrase, an “invisible labor party.”
When the AFL-CIO gave Walter Mondale an unprecedented early endorsement, the DSA followed along and jumped on the Mondale bandwagon. The DSA agreed with its conservative labor allies, who saw Jackson as an unnecessary and disruptive rock to the boat.
But some DSA members were uncomfortable in 1984 about giving Jackson’s populism a thumbs down. In 1988 there is no Walter Mondale, no frontrunner from the center of the party, where DSA makes its home. So the 1987 DSA convention decided to endorse Jackson and join the Rainbow. Yet only a minority of DSA members saw the Rainbow as a new way to build a left inside the party. Most, through endorsing Jackson, urged the group to continue with its traditional-style coalition building.
For the DSA, the Rainbow is an embarrassingly strident and unorthodox detour. Jackson’s popularity is with rank-and-file workers, and not the top echelons of organized labor with which the DSA traditionally cooperates.
To all the forces in its realigning wing, the Rainbow Coalition is a logo, something that flashes on the screen during television debates to identify Jackson and his general objective of representing all the locked-out. The real apparatus, in their minds, is the Jackson Campaign Committee, a much more traditional electoral structure that gets out the votes, raises money and piles up sufficient delegates to force a brokered convention where no candidate can win on the first ballot.
These delegates will then be horsetraded to the inevitable white nominee for concessions. The point will have been made to the "new outlook" Democrats that the "safe" constituencies are still a force to be reckoned with. This perspective has little in common with the one that conceives of the Rainbow as a hell-raising populist movement from below. The two wings of the Rainbow are not likely to agree on what to give and what to take at the Atlanta convention. Drawing up a list of negotiating points just might tear the Rainbow apart.
The Radical Rainbow
Because Jackson’s ’84 campaign was an unwanted protest in influential party circles, leftists filled the vacuum in his apparatus. These included socialists and leaders of the issues movements. Assuming key posts, they helped push the campaign’s general direction to the left. Their experience led to the idea of making the Rainbow Coalition a reality instead of a catchphrase.
In part, the impetus for such a permanent organization came from the demoralization after the ’84 convention. The 465 Jackson delegates, backed by 3.2 million primary votes, had seen all their platform demands but one steamrolled into oblivion by the convention machine. Those whose political experience was largely outside two-party politicking were shocked at the backroom deals and betrayals. Many left the convention and sat out the elections, refusing to work for Mondale as Jackson had promised in his nationally televised convention speech.
These veteran social activists were not so naive as to have a purely electoral strategy. Most had concentrated their energies on building independent protest movements that are non-electoral in thrust, exactly because the Democratic Party and its professional politicians had proven not to be the fighting instrument needed for their advocacies.
Jackson had begun his ’88 campaign just as soon as the 1984 elections were over, keeping himself in the national limelight and maintaining a visible presence at peace and anti-apartheid protest actions. The convening of the April 1986 Rainbow Coalition convention was seen as a way to protect the momentum of the second campaign through an organizational form outside—or rather alongside—Democratic Party as a first step to some kind of progressive movement.
The Rainbow is attractive to so many activists for some understandable reasons. Jesse Jackson’s anti-corporate, peace-and-justice program is far to the left of what the Democratic Party has had to offer or is willing to accept. More importantly, this program is striking a responsive chord among Blacks and increasing numbers of whites.
The breadth of the October 1987 National Rainbow Coalition Convention in Raleigh, North Carolina, attended by 1,200 people, was impressive and unprecedented on the U.S. political scene. There has never been a time in which Black, Latino, Native American and AsianAmerican groups have succeeded in forging a common organization with progressive trade unionists and the social movements.
The Rainbow attracts strong representation from the gamut of today’s protests: anti-intervention in Central America; the anti-apartheid movement; justice for the Palestinian people; liberation for women, gays and lesbians; relief for the family farmers; a safe, nuclearfree environment; rights for the disabled; as well as tenant, senior citizen and civil liberties advocacy. Nearly 50 percent of the participants were Black activists.
The Rainbow appears to be the long-sought unification of all the isolated efforts to bring about social change. Jackson’s solid base in the Black community seems to offer a way to overcome the limitations experienced in the 1960s and `70s. A new unity of all progressive forces rooted in the social power of an aroused Black America would be able to wield a great deal more power than each of the movements has been able to muster separately.
An "Inside-Outside" Strategy?
The Rainbow includes a number of socialist and left organizations that hope the Coalition can ultimately precipitate a break from the Democrats in favor of a new anticapitalist political party. Groups such as the National Committee for Independent Political Action (NCIPA) typify the "inside-outside" strategy of the not-really Democrats in the Rainbow. They hold the position that the way to break the Democratic Party apart is to join it. They are urging people to register and vote Democrat!
"Inside-out" Rainbow activists are concerned about the decline of the movements for change during the past decade. They mistakenly identified the shift to the right of establishment politics as a rightward drift in the population at large. Sectors of the movement, buying into the idea that Reagan had a mandate, became fearful and hesitant. This timidity was fed by the collapse of the Black movement into the Democratic Party and the failure of the labor movement to mount a defense against concessions, plant closings, unemployment and the general effects of the recessionary economy.
The difficult political climate led to conclusions of the type offered by Rainbow leader Sheila Collins in her recently published The Rainbow Challenge: the Jackson Campaign and the Future of U. S. Politics. Collins explains:
The election of Ronald Reagan in 1980 shocked many left activists into discovering the dialectical relationship between social movements and electoral institutions…. Electoral politics was no longer seen as a substitute for movement-building, but as a necessary complement. Although it was difficult to do both simultaneously, there was a growing realization that the two forms of political activity were dialectically related. (105-108)
This new "dialectic" for the ’80s is a high-toned way of sounding a retreat from what history has already taught. There isn’t a shred of evidence to support the idea that the Democratic Party, in or out of power, offers fundamental concessions to the locked-out when they loyally lock-in their votes in massive numbers. All successes in shifting the social relation of forces—from the rise of the CIO to the civil rights and anti-Vietnam war victories—have been the direct results of unruly mass movements playing outside the acceptable channels of U.S. two-party politics.
In the case of both labor in the 1930s and the social movements of the 1960s, it was precisely at the point when major sectors of these movements decided it was time to move "from protest to politics" and act as a pressure group within and around the Democratic Party than reforms began to slack off and eventually disappear. In fact, the brevity of these two periods of major change is due to this very co-optation. Unable to defeat capitalist control of the party from the inside and claim it as their own, the reformers were themselves beaten and became the reformed.
Left Rainbow advocates may argue that all this does not apply. After all, they have an organization separate and apart from the Democratic Party that enables them to resist absorption while they use the "tactic" of Jackson’s candidacy to build a new, integral progressive force. Unfortunately this is not the case.
The Rainbow has only one tactic, one focus that glues all its components together: Jackson’s race for the Democratic Party nomination. No other goals were established at the Raleigh convention. By definition, this subsumes the Rainbow into the Democratic Party and hands it over to those who want it to be nothing more than an army of foot soldiers for the Jackson Campaign Committee.
This problem is not something only those outside the Rainbow can perceive. The powerful New Jersey delegation to the Rainbow Convention led a well-received fight to democratize the notoriously top-down Rainbow structure. They were motivated by the fear that the Rainbow will be dictated to by official campaign structures, stunting its growth and threatening its ability to exist beyond `88. Some structural changes were made, such as adding state chairs to the all-powerful Board of Directors and halving the minimum number of members required to receive a local charter.
However, the Rainbow chartering system still requires a minimum membership in a third of a state’s congressional districts. Using the districts as its basic unit shapes the vote-getting operation. It is a foreign and unwieldy organizational structure for activists accustomed to city-wide mobilizing.
Eclipsing the Rainbow
Since the convention, Rainbow militants have seen unmistakable signs that running a "winning" Democratic campaign is at cross purposes with the broader progressive objectives assigned to their coalition. The Rainbow national office is in financial crisis and has a difficult time finding the barebones $12,000 a month for its operation, headed up by only two full-time staffers.
Ron Daniels, Rainbow executive director, who was instrumental in pulling off the October 1987 Rainbow Convention, has been transferred to the Campaign Committee over the objections of some Rainbow leaders. Daniels had been a prominent leader of attempts at independent Black political action, most recently as co-chair of the nowdefunct National Black Independent Political Party.
The Raleigh convention, recognizing that the national Rainbow is still mostly a letterhead of prestigious movement leaders, set sights on a vigorous membership drive. Prior to the convention, only four states and Washington, D.C., had succeeded in meeting the membership level required to be chartered as a chapter. Provisional charters were hastily given out so that twenty-five more states could be officially delegated. Building a real rank-and-file organization was viewed as a key to any kind of permanence for the Rainbow. But the membership drive bogged down, sacrificed to the Jackson machinery and the monumental goal of registering 2 million new Democratic voters by March 8, Super Tuesday.
Forces like those in NCIPA have begun to oppose the eclipsing of Rainbow-building priorities in favor of straight-up electioneering. In a November-December 1987 Newsletter report of its National Steering Committee meeting, NCIPA complained:
There were other criticisms…. A major one is the concern expressed by a number of people about the influence of the Democratic Party over the Jackson campaign. Another was the fact that in at least some of his speeches, Jackson is not talking about the Rainbow Coalition, or even a rainbow coalition.
The Rainbow Convention was the most authoritative gathering of "the movement" in memory. It had the legitimacy to issue not one, but several, calls to action.
Just one example. If a call had gone out from Raleigh for a national mobilization in Washington for peace, jobs and justice around the time of the contra aid voting, it could have resulted in a show of strength that would have greatly aided the besieged Nicaraguan people. The singular focus on Jackson’s candidacy prevented ides like this from even cropping up. There is growing awareness among those who joined the Rainbow hoping it would evolve into a new progressive movement that their vision will not be realized if they allow their energies to be swallowed by the imperatives of Jacksoneering. Writing in the February 1988 issue of Zeta magazine, longtime peace activist Dave Dellinger, now a leader of the Vermont Rainbow Coalition, addressed this concern:
If the campaign does not… contribute to a wider and more unified activism, it will have been a distraction. That is why the national and most of the state and local Rainbows are involved in serious non-electoral work as well as electoral work. At a recent National Board meeting, some voices were raised in opposition to this dual policy. They suggested that non-electoral activities should be postponed because of the unprecedented possibility of electing an unusually insightful and progressive person of color to the nation’s highest office. But in the end the consensus was to organize and participate in both. The philosophy behind this has been expressed frequently at Rainbow meetings: "If Jesse Jackson is elected President and there is no strong and active progressive coalition, at grassroots and national levels, we can kiss him goodbye. No matter how exalted his intention and determined his efforts, without a groundswell of activism, he will be helpless to do more than jockey around the edges of power."
While some local Rainbows may be preciously guarding a nonelectoral dimension to their work, this is largely invisible on a national scale and is generally boycotted by more conservative Campaign Committee forces. Whatever initiatives of this type exist, the impetus for them is not coming from the Rainbow as such. They arise out of the activist history of Rainbow militants in non-electoral work and organizations that they refuse to lay aside.
The cry of "Win, Jesse, Win" that punctuated the Raleigh convention and was its whole reason for being will be mute after this summer’s Democratic convention. Some will answer the inevitable question of "what next" by urging the Rainbow to back the Democratic nominee in order to defeat the Republican right. It should be obvious that such a perspective is not a fit launching pad for an anti-capitalist progressive movement. It will be back to square one.
On the Campaign Trail
The unfolding Jackson campaign is straddling the contradictory aspirations of the two wings of the Rainbow. Jackson can ill-afford, and does not want, to shelve his history and image as a fighter outside traditional party politics. Too much of his organized base has been drawn in by that uniqueness. The support he has won from inside the party, however, pulls the campaign in another direction. And overall, the tug of looking presidential has made itself felt to the dismay of the left Rainbow.
The holy war that Jackson waged in 1984 against party rules governing delegate selection and the Southern dual primary system has been completely dropped. His protesting did much to expose how easily the established machine can thwart an insurgent. Though Jackson polled 20 percent of the primary vote, he was accorded only 11 percent of the convention delegates. His efforts resulted in lowering the minimum threshold for being accorded delegates in primary states from 20 percent to 15 percent.
This time around there isn’t a whimper about how undemocratic the rules are, even though they have been revised to further guard against any upsets. The number of super-delegates (that is, party leaders and elected officials getting an automatic convention vote) has been increased to 15 percent, from 568 in 1984 to 650 this year. No one watching the media-hyped Iowa caucus shenanigans would have recognized the Jesse Jackson who in ’84 wrote an angry letter to the Democratic leadership denouncing the caucus system of delegate selection as thoroughly undemocratic and open to manipulation.
The contradiction that is the Jackson campaign is symbolized by his 11 percent showing in Iowa, a state that is less than 2 percent Black. This result is the fruit of years of fighting alongside beleaguered family farmers, 600,000 of whom have been driven off the land since 1980. The devastation of the family farm created a social crisis that has permitted some alarming inroads by extreme right-wing and fundamentalist ideologies. Jackson’s one-of-a-kind populist appeal has helped the more radical wing of the farm-protest movement to block these developments and stem the rise of such groups as the Posse Comitatus.
It is this dimension of his campaigning that attracts the left wing of the Rainbow. Leading this protest movement into the tangle of the Iowa Democratic caucuses to get delegates is what satisfies the Campaign Committee variety of the Rainbow.
Racial Violence Solved?
One central facet of the Jackson campaign should be highlighted. At the October 1987 Rainbow convention in Raleigh, gasps were heard during Jackson’s announcement speech when he declared that racial violence was the issue twenty-five years ago but had now been resolved. Many correctly viewed Jackson’s new theme of race-blind "economic violence as the critical issue of the day" and "finding a new economic common ground" as an attempt to answer the so-called electability problem by underplaying the fight against racial oppression
Jackson’s intent may well have been to reassure whites that he could represent their interests and let the party mainstream know that he is not a Black militant firebrand. In fact, his campaign has downplayed the special oppression faced by Blacks.
When the selection of two mainstream Democrats to the top positions in his campaign was announced, both stressed "a new pragmatism" to the press. New campaign manager Gerald Austin, manager of two winning campaigns for Ohio Governor Richard Celeste, explained that "people from all walks of life are supporting the guy, and that’s a centrist campaign." Willie Brown, former speaker of the California Assembly, was named campaign chair. One of the Black Democratic leaders who didn’t support Jackson in ’84, Brown told the media that "we will not appeal excessively to so-called Black concerns."
But Jesse Jackson is still Black. The media and the Democratic Party have not overlooked this fact. He is automatically discounted as a serious candidate no matter what double-digits he racks up in the primary voting. To some in high places, Jackson is an also-ran protest – on the basis of his color.
The other side of this coin is that Jackson is eliciting a genuine response from white workers and farmers, who embrace his defense of the ordinary worker against corporate greed and the bloated military budget. His populism has brought to the surface genuine potential for overcoming racial divisions and uniting the working class around its common interests.
This has to be a cause for great optimism, particularly since it is taking place against the advice of the leadership of organized labor. A significant portion of white workers—many of whom voted for Reagan last time around—have decided to join the ballot-box protest launched by the Black voters in ’84 and "waste" their vote on a candidate with no "electability."
Jackson’s actual economic program is a vague call for reducing the military budget to pay for a public-works program, making the corporations pay "their fair share" of taxes, and government intervention to foster "reindustrialization, retraining, research and reconversion.” The concrete proposals Jackson makes are to cut the military budget by at least 10 percent while maintaining "a strong defense," and to return corporate taxation to pre-Reagan 1980 levels.
Jackson denounces "greedy" corporations and demands that they "reinvest in America." He has hung tough against the temptation to play into protectionist fever, a theme that has given a boost to Richard Gephardt’s campaign. Jackson explains that U.S. corporations—not the Koreans or the Japanese—are stealing jobs by moving production to the Third World, where labor is cheaper. Jackson sounds a call for international workers’ solidarity—"Slave labor is a threat to organized labor anywhere."
His gut-level anti-corporate program is something of an empty vessel. It is increasingly being filled by advisers from the center of the party—such as those linked to the Democratic Socialists of America—who are tailoring him to look like a "responsible" leader. Jackson speaks of moving the corporations through incentives, but does not spell out what those would be. He has raised the "responsible" suggestion of a tripartite think-tank of business, labor and government leaders to thrash out some answers "together."
While Jackson supports the right to unionize and has aided striking workers, he does not promote discussion of the kind of new directions needed if labor is to combat capital’s assaults. He instead promotes his candidacy as the way to focus working-class protest.
The spirit of working-class revolt his campaign has tapped is channeled exclusively into Labor for Jackson committees. This outlook was a disappointment to rank-and-file militants who participated in the Rainbow Coalition convention. Their proposal—to utilize Jackson’s campaign as a springboard to a conference on union organizing underway in the South—was seen as a diversion.
Packaging Jackson as a presidential possible has given his foreign policy pronouncements the ring of a "responsible" statesman. This clashes with the strong anti-imperialism of many Rainbow members, who solidarize with freedom struggles from Nicaragua to South Africa. They find hypocrisy in Jackson’s espousal of "the values of the free world and Western civilization."
The Jackson Doctrine rests on "support for international law, respect for the principle of self-determination and human rights, and international economic justice." On all three counts, the imperialist U.S. government is the chief obstacle to these goals in the underdeveloped world, where U.S. intervention has propped up dictatorial police-state regimes and pillaged national economies.
Jackson opposes aid to the Nicaraguan contras, supports the Arias peace plan for Central America, and advises cancellation of the mammoth Latin American debts to U.S. banks. He urges a Marshall Plan for the Third World to raise the standard of living so that "they can buy what we produce."
The Language of Imperialism
During NBC’s nationally televised candidates’ debate in December 1987, Jackson explained that with such a policy "we" can win Nicaragua. He went on to warn this nation, now fighting for its life because of U.S. policy, that "if they choose to relate to the Soviets, they must know the alternative. If they are with us, there are tremendous benefits. If they are not with us, there are tremendous consequences.” For the Nicaraguans, the "benefit of being with us" was the forty-year dictatorship of the Somoza family, which thousands of Nicaraguans sacrificed their lives to overthrow.
Taken as a whole, these utterances, along with Jackson s refusal oppose U.S. brinkmanship in the Persian Gulf, are no small matter. They are reminiscent of the Kennedy-era Alliance for Progress schemes, which in the name of "containing communism" sought to keep the heel of the U.S. boot on our hemispheric neighbors. The idea that massive infusions of U.S. aid and capital investment could build up these economies and "promote" democracy brought tragedy and poverty to the Latin American peoples. Within the first eighteen months of the Alliance, there were five coups against constitutional governments. The greed for profit of the U.S. multinationals is antithetical to progress and democracy.
It is more than unfortunate that Jackson is so intently fixed on legitimating his candidacy for president of the world’s mightiest imperialist power that he adopts the language that legitimates its counterrevolutionary objectives. This contradicts the language used when he joins the movement to stop U.S. intervention in Central America demonstrating outside the White House gates. The two cannot be reconciled.
IV. The Democratic Party
The Jackson campaign is not the first attempt to use the Democratic Party as an instrument for progressive social change. Since the New Deal of the 1930s, many sincere and determined unionists, students, feminists and people of color have fought to make the Democratic Party live up to its reputation as a "party of the common people."
The corporate ruling class, which controls the financial resources of this society, exerts a pervasive influence over the Democratic Party. Thus, while people from all walks of life and points of view can join the Democrats, it is the very rich who actually control the party machinery and in large part determine the policies of its elected officials.
The periods of greatest reform during Democratic administrations have occurred at the height of popular movements, not when those activists joined the Democratic Party.
There have been two major periods of reform legislation in the past fifty years, during the New Deal from 1933 through 1937 and at the time of the "Great Society," 1963-1967. Both these periods saw mass social movements arising outside of the electoral process. The 1930s were the years of mass strike movements and the formation of industrial unions. The decade of the ’60s was ushered in by the civil rights movement, which forced legislation illegalizing segregation and prompted the Great Society programs. The massive anti-Vietnam war movement, in part inspired by the Black struggle, forced an end to the war-under the Republican administration of Richard Nixon.
Democrats Move Right
Since the end of the 1960s, the U.S. economy, and the world capitalist economy as a whole, has experienced a deepening crisis. This crisis has comprised three major economic downturns, each worse than the one before. Over the entire period of the 1970s and ’80s, the corporate rate of profit has been 40-50 percent below that of the 1950s and 1960s.
The problems of U.S. capitalism impelled business interests to intervene more directly in Democratic economic policy. Naturally, the Democratic Party shifted to the right. "Expensive" liberal reforms slipped off the Democratic agenda and measures to restore corporate profits took their place. Military spending and reductions in social spending now have a strong bipartisan consensus.
The "supply-side revolution" in economic policy means simply a direct transfer of wealth by the state from the majority of the population to capital. With industry facing stiffer international competition and periodic crises, business shifted away from its relative tolerance of the liberalism of earlier periods of economic expansion.
Supply-siding actually took shape before Reagan’s election. By the late 1970s, the Carter administration was implementing budget cuts tax breaks for business and deregulation, which foreshadowed Reagan’s more drastic policies. In 1978 and 1979, Congressional Democrats joined Republicans for the first time in history to endorse the supply-side concept in the annual reports of the Joint Economic Committee of Congress. Right-wing economist Paul Craig Roberts called these reports "Reaganomics before Reagan."
The "trickle-down" theory now associated with Reagan has actually been accepted by most U.S. politicians: first increase corporate profits, and then the economy will grow to the benefit of all. Gone is the New Deal interest in curbing the effects of hard times on the majority of the population and use of social spending to maintain demand.
Who Controls the Democratic Party?
Most politicians today are not as blunt about their relationship with business interests as was Senator Boies Penrose of Pennsylvania. "You send us to Congress; we pass the laws under which you make money," he explained to a business audience, "and out of your profits you further contribute to our campaign funds to send us back again to pass more laws to enable you to make more money." (Bertell Ollman, "A Marxist Interpretation of the U.S. Constitution," Monthly Review, December 1987, 21)
Although Penrose made this statement in the late 19th century, corporate interests retain tremendous influence over the government and politicians from both parties. Acting completely outside of formal party structures, business is able to substantially influence the politics of Democratic and Republican candidates, the outcome of the elections and the votes of the successful candidates once in office. Businessmen have several ways in which to impose government policies that encourage profits.
First, corporate interests use their economic power to pressure federal and local governments to adopt pro-business policies. Without a high return on investment, businesses do not have the incentive to expand production, increase employment and cause economic growth. In the interest of encouraging private investment, the Democrats are as willing as Republicans to slash social services, provide tax breaks to companies, and implement other measures for the purpose of increasing corporate profits.
The supply-side policies were supposed to produce increased productive investment by transferring billions of dollars to wealthy individuals and businesses. Because profits in most U.S. industries are relatively low, wealthy bankers and businessmen are putting their money into mergers, leveraged buyouts and other speculative ventures that have no beneficial effects on the economy. The dramatic rise and fall of the stock market reflects the underlying weakness of the economy and the desperate search for the most profitable investment by those with money.
Second, the financial resources of corporations and the men who own them are many times that of the working majority of the United States. They use this money, among other things, to donate to the campaigns of politicians who follow policies they like and undermine candidates who threaten their interests.
Campaign costs have always been a way for wealthy individuals to control candidates, especially as they run for offices covering a wider area. While a city council candidate can win with a few thousand dollars (still not a small sum), aspiring senators or representatives need hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of dollars to even mount a campaign. To actually win an election and stay in office requires a steady and reliable source of funds from business interests.
With the advent of election campaigns that rely on television, expenses have soared. In 1948, the two main presidential candidates spent $5 million; the comparable figure for the 1984 election was $186 million. The Democrats have turned to media consultants to package their campaigns and bring the candidates into the homes of the electorate. They are as dependent as Republicans on enormous donations of money to operate their campaigns-and they know where that money is to be found.
Finally, business interests are highly organized and aggressively push their programs within both major parties. Business organizations such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the National Association of Manufacturers, and, more recently, the Business Roundtable exert constant pressure on candidates and office holders. Thousands of highly paid lobbyists patrol the halls of Congress (and State legislatures) protecting business interests. Well-financed think tanks formulate economic, political and foreign policy for business.
Prestigious business-dominated think tanks such as the Committee for Economic Development, Brookings Institution, the Conference Board, and similar groups have given leadership to generations of Democrats on domestic economic policy. In the Reagan era more right-wing outfits such as the American Heritage Institute, which includes both Democrats and Republicans, have come to the forefront.
U.S. foreign policy is similarly dominated by business-funded and controlled institutes. For most of the post-World War II period the dominant foreign-policy think tank was the Council on Foreign Relations. This organization designed the "containment policy" under which the United States placed troops in every corner of the globe. As the bulwark against communism, the United States conducted unilateral invasions of such countries as Vietnam (1963-75) and the Dominican Republic (1965). Covert operations were used to overthrow elected governments in Guatemala (1954) and Brazil (1965).
The Trilateral Commission, composed of top businessmen and politicians (including many Democrats) from the United State Europe and Japan, attempted to globalize this approach during the 1970s. Some of the favorites of this group included the Shah of Iran, the Brazilian military, Pinochet in Chile, and, of course, Somoza in Nicaragua. The even more right-wing foreign-policy groups of the Reagan era, such as the Committee on the Present Danger, include Democrats.
Policy differences that do exist between the two parties generally reflect competing pressures by different groups of corporations, not the influence of labor or people of color. For example, it is the older industries of the Midwest that advocate high tariffs as a protection against imports. More modern industries in the Southwest, usually linked with Reagan and the Republicans, are less affected by imports, and indeed benefit from obtaining cheap imported materials as this reduces the cost of their own products.
These disagreements between the two parties make it appear as if they represent substantially different interests. In fact, their primary concern is which sector of business will benefit more from a particular government policy.
We are not arguing that the Democratic Party is a party of capital simply because of some big money conspiracy that buys control of the party apparatus and decision-making by outspending and out-organizing other interests. The party’s dependence on corporate bankrolling is an important part, but only a part, of the story.
The Democratic Party is a capitalist party ideologically. That is, its program is based on celebrating the wonders of "private free enterprise" every bit as much as the Republican Party. If the Democrats preserve a more liberal welfare-state tinge in their public appeal, this reflects their historic ability to attract a working-class voting base to the detriment of the Republicans, who are portrayed as the party of the rich.
The liberal image of the Democratic Party has created a broadbased belief among those who are not corporate magnates—trade union, Black, and social issue activists—that there is something vital to their interests at stake in ensuring that Democrats triumph over Republicans. Beyond the sponsorship of the corporations, the Democratic Party owes its popular existence to the many political activists and influential leaders who accept the supremacy of the capitalist system and circumscribe politics in a reform Democratic framework. The junior partnership of the trade-union bureaucracy inside the Democratic Party exemplifies this approach.
Labor, the Democrats and the New Deal
Supporters of participation in the Democratic Party usually harken back to the days of Franklin Delano Roosevelt and the "New Deal." According to this myth, the party became the voice of working people during this time. Adoption of measures such as the National Labor Relations Act, Social Security and banking regulation reflected popular control over the party—and what occurred once can happen again.
In fact, the high point of popular pressure on the Democrats was reached when labor was at its most unruly and there was no institutional union presence within the party. The unemployed movement in the early 1930s was able to lead demonstrations of tens of thousands. Major rallies in 1930 and ’32 led to rioting and urban disorder. Growing numbers of foreclosures spurred farm protests, climaxing in the confrontational 1932-33 Farm Holiday Association strike in the upper Midwest.
With Roosevelt’s election, a substantial wing of business interests broke with the "leave-it-alone" policies of the Republicans and endorsed government intervention into the economy. Roosevelt’s major supporters among corporate leaders hoped for trade policies and domestic initiatives that would increase income and the demand for U.S. goods, and would defuse the explosive sentiment for change. They were willing to accept new social legislation if it would encourage consumption and restore the stability necessary for normal business operations.
Testifying to a Congressional committee in 1935 in favor of New Deal policies, influential Boston merchant Henry Filene conveyed the opinions of Roosevelt’s business supporters. "Most business men developed theories of business during a time, now passed, when business could get more if the masses got less—when an employer could make more profits if his employees got less wages." But the Depression showed that times had changed. "The masses cannot buy unless wages are removed from competition and organized business and organized labor cooperate on the task of seeing how high these wages can be made." (The Unionist and Public Forum, 25 April 1935, 4)
A careful look at Roosevelt’s supporters shows that a powerful group of export-oriented businesses and financial concerns were deeply involved in putting Democrats in office and formulating New Deal programs. Businesses whose executives publicly backed Roosevelt at that time included Chase Manhattan Bank, Coca Cola, International Harvester, General Electric, ITT, United Fruit and Manufacturers Trust.
Working people actively supported Democrats as well, though for different reasons and with far less influence. Angry workers and farmers in large numbers noisily demanded changes in government policies. They voted for Democrats or third-party candidates who promised to support legislation that would ease the impact of the Depression and aid their organizing efforts. Their actions strengthened the reform wing of the Democrats, the one backed by the internationally oriented businesses, and created political space for significant social reform.
Solid Southern Racism
The other major component of the "New Deal" coalition was the "solid South," built on the exclusion of Blacks and many poor whites from the vote. The agricultural subsidies implemented by the New Deal were a source of enormous income to the southern elite and ensured their support for the Roosevelt coalition. The federal government also took care not to challenge the domination of the southern political system by the white elite. The dependence of the Democratic party on this racist wing would be apparent in the postwar period.
The progressive measures adopted during the New Deal reflected the combined pressure of mass social protest and the ultimate control over final implementation by pro-Roosevelt business interests. For example, the International Relations Counsellors, a foundation controlled by Standard Oil, General Electric and other "reformist" businesses, was responsible for drafting the Social Security Act of 1935. They financed the system with a highly regressive payroll tax rather than general revenues as in other Western industrial nations.
Moreover, Congress set Social Security payments proportional to actual contributions instead of need. They were a fringe benefit of working, rather than a right of citizenship. Social Security enforced savings by working people through deductions from their own paychecks.
Despite these limitations, concessions were real and significant: it was a major advantage for unionists to have the government intervene with a National Labor Relations Board election, rather than armed troops. Nonetheless, it was the great struggles outside the halls of Congress—which climaxed with the great sitdowns at General Motors in 1936-37 crowning the organization of the CIO—that pushed the center of political gravity to the left.
Labor’s Step Backward
Once the labor movement turned to influence the Democrats by following traditional strategies, its influence steadily declined. In 1943, the CIO formed a Political Action Committee (now known as COPE) to funnel votes and money toward Democratic candidates. Labor’s influence in political circles, CIO leaders thought, would come from the millions of votes it could deliver for particular candidates. From that bargaining position, unions hoped to get Democrats to follow policies amenable to labor.
In fact, labor’s Democratic party gambit was a failure from the start. While successful at influencing local and state-wide elections, the AFL and the CIO were unable to prevent passage of the Taft-Hartley Act in 1947. Despite large Democratic majorities in Congress in the 1960s and 1970s, labor has been unable to secure repeal of the Taft-Hartley Act or passage of any pro-labor legislation.
Organized labor also permitted the dominant business interests in the party to set its foreign policy agenda. Unions such as those in steel and auto anticipated that higher profits would translate into increased wages and fringe benefits. They accepted corporate arguments that overseas trade was essential to economic expansion. As a result, many union officials supported the interventionist foreign policy of the Democrats, and assisted CIA efforts to undermine militant labor movements as well as governments perceived as threats to stable investment in the Third World.
Indeed, the pressure of maintaining alliances within the Democratic Party prompted the AFL-CIO to abandon its social agenda (national health care, housing, etc.) and adapt to the conservative pressures. When new massive movements led by Blacks confronted racist institutions, the AFL-CIO refused to challenge the racist Southern wing of the Democrats. The AFL-CIO did not support the 1963 March on Washington led by Martin Luther King Jr. and removed A. Philip Randolph from its Executive Board for criticizing its inaction.
These actions were self-defeating for U.S. labor. As businesses could establish factories in countries with right-wing governments hostile to labor organizations, it was only a matter of time before they would choose to increase production in these areas rather than the United States. The AFL-CIO’s antagonism towards the civil rights movement—and later the women’s and anti-war movements—isolated it from important potential allies.
As the proportion of organized workers in the labor movement declined in the 1960s and 1970s, the AFL-CIO hoped that the Democrats would enact legislation that would help unions organize. Democrats, realizing that the unions were shrinking and had nowhere else to go on election day, made many promises which were never fulfilled.
The `60s Movements
Adaptation to the most conservative aspects of the Democratic party by the AFL-CIO occurred at the same time that strong social movements provided new impetus for reform. The struggle for Black rights, women’s rights and against the war in Vietnam opened up new space. Expanded social programs to address poverty, housing, voting rights, and legalization of abortion were some of the highlights of this period.
Many of the reforms of the 1960s were similar to those of the 1930s—brought into existence by mass movements, but with final implementation controlled by the dominant business interests in the Democratic Party. Presidents Kennedy and Johnson financed massive increases in social spending by increasing the regressive social security tax, while cutting corporate tax rates at the same time. Between 1960 and 1970, the share of federal revenues provided by corporate taxes dropped from 23.2 percent to 16.9 percent, while income from personal and social security taxes grew from 59.9 percent to 70.1 percent. Instead of corporations and the rich paying for welfare, an unequal share of the burden fell on the working class.
Still, measures such as the 1964 Civil Rights Act were a tremendous asset to the Black movement, providing leverage with which to attack racist structures. Coupled with the strong antiwar and women’s movement of the late 1960s and early 1970s, many progressives were able to extract concessions from Democratic-controlled legislative bodies.
Indeed, for a brief moment the moderate wings of the social movements captured the Democratic Convention of 1972 and nominated George McGovern for president. They did not, however, seize the real centers of power within the party. Millions flowed into the campaign coffers of the Republicans and key Democrats withheld support from their party’s nominee, resulting in the "landslide" Nixon victory that fall.
The "Right Turn" of U.S. Politics
The outcome of 1972 and of the Watergate scandal that followed was the opposite of that envisioned by the reformers who supported George McGovern. The remnants of the party’s old guard, allied with a new breed of "neo-liberals," took the party on an excursion to the right that has yet to end. Behind this drift to the right—expressed both in economic policy and in a growing tendency toward intervention abroad—was the visible hand of big business.
After the 1974 recession, with profit margins down and competition from Europe and Asia taking traditional U.S. markets, U.S. corporations organized to end the era of "expensive" social programs and to introduce a new business agenda into the political arena. Business refined its ability to act as a class, submerging competitive instincts in favor of joint, cooperative action in the legislative arena. The new economic crisis, the worst since the 1930s, required a different set of policies than those accepted for the last 40 years.
Fueling business’s drive to reshape U.S. political and economic priorities was the rise of the corporate political action committee (PAC). PAC money paid the big bills for media campaigns and helped to grease the slide toward supply-side thinking in the Democratic camp. The number of business PACs increased from 89 in 1974 to 1,467 in 1982, while their donations rose from a mere $8 million in 1972 to $85 million ten years later. While PAC money tended to go to Republicans in presidential contests, it flowed to both parties in congressional elections. In the 1984 congressional races, business PACs gave $23.6 million to Republicans and $20.7 million to Democrats.
Deregulation and Militarism
The main features of the program advanced by the aggressive Business Roundtable and other corporate-controlled organizations were: 1) deregulation of transportation, communications, energy and banking; 2) systematic tax relief for U.S. industries; 3) gutting of existing protections for labor unions in order to reduce wage levels; 4) reductions in social spending; and 5) overcoming the "Vietnam syndrome," which inhibited intervention abroad.
The election of Reagan, far from halting the Democratic slide to the right, accelerated it. Eager to occupy the same political landscape as the Republicans, the Democrats emulated their politics and, while holding a majority of the House of Representatives, gave Reagan everything he wanted. Accelerated deregulation of business, slashes in social services and increased military spending all passed only because of Democratic votes.
The "right turn" by Reagan and the Democrats was very sharp and damaging to the majority of people. The 1981 tax reform reduced the contributions by corporate taxes to revenues to only 6.2 percent in 1983. Taxes for people making less than $10,000 actually grew 22 percent, while those making over $200,000 a year had their taxes reduced by 15 percent. Cuts in welfare eliminated 440,000 families from the rolls, while those "fortunate" to retain benefits received on the average 33 percent less than they had in 1970. Overall, half of the cuts made by Reagan and Congress fell on those making less than $10,000 a year.
With the election of Reagan, Democrats aggressively organized to recruit business leaders to their ranks and to fill the coffers of the national party with business money. In 1981, Democratic National Chairman and former banker, Charles Mannatt, organized the Democratic Business Council. By 1983, 111 business figures had paid the $10,000 membership fee. Similarly, under the leadership of Representative Tony Coelho of California and Senator Richard Gephardt of Missouri, the House and Senate Democratic campaign committees aggressively sought out business PAC funds.
The 1984 Democratic platform, the most conservative in fifty years, was designed to attract business support. The Democrats purged the program of their standard New Deal paper planks, such as full employment and expanded social services.
The business pressures to move to the right also affected the way the Democratic Party leaders and politicians viewed their traditional voting base. Labor, minorities, women and the poor were labeled "special interests." The party was urged to distance itself from these elements and their social and economic concerns. Party leaders also warned against seeming "soft" on defense. Two organizations were formed in 1985-the Democratic Leadership Council and the Democratic Policy Commission-that vied for the mantle of meanness in social affairs and toughness in foreign policy. The only two Democrats in the 1988 race for the presidential nomination who did not belong to one of these were Paul Simon and Jesse Jackson.
Self-styled "new breed" Democrats contend that the party must get support from those groups who are voting Republican in large numbers. They assume the poor will continue to vote in proportionately fewer numbers than more affluent. Consequently, their strategy is to win more white and middle-class votes. It is not predicated on registering and mobilizing workers and the disadvantaged.
Viewing Black and trade-union support as "safe," these people have their eyes riveted on the Southern white vote. These strategists see the traditional base of the Dixiecrat party as the pivotal factor in achieving a regional majority, and they realize they have lost ground to the Republicans. As no Democratic presidential candidate can win without carrying several Southern states, this cynical calculation has a potent influence on Democratic politics.
The "new breed" Democrats will make quick work of the cry for a new New Deal base for the party. It is well outside the consensus that business interests have shaped for the party’s future. Reagan was able to receive wide support from corporate interests in 1980 because he was unencumbered by any pro-labor image and offered a program to get corporate profits up by delivering the necessary blows to working people’s living standards. The Democrats have learned this lesson and are now applying it to their own politics.
The strategy of dependence on the Democratic Party has resulted in the absence on the U.S. political landscape of an independent political party of the left, based in the working class and among the dispossessed. The existence of such parties in other nations has created a far more advanced welfare state and allowed the working class a means by which to resist the massive attack on social reform that has come from the right throughout the developed capitalist world. Regardless of the timidity or basically pro-capitalist sentiments of the leaders of many of these parties, the existence of working-class political formations has created a different relative balance of social and political power in these countries.
The dominance of business influence and money in Democratic Party affairs indicates that it is not about to become a social democratic party. The various social-democratic or labor parties that exist in other western industrial nations are not funded by business nor are their candidates dependent on business money. They might be bureaucratic and integrated into capitalism, but they are not controlled by business. The political strategy of trying to change the Democratic Party from within is doomed to failure.
V. From Locked Out to Locked In
Jesse Jackson made an impressive sweep in the primary voting. In the March 8 Super Tuesday primary, held in 20 mostly Southern and border states, Jackson out ran the other contenders, garnering 2.5 million votes to Dukakis’ 2.4 million. Jackson picked up nearly 400 delegates that day alone, won in five states and had strong second-place finishes in others, such as the 20 percent he netted in Massachusetts.
In Maine, Jackson led in Bangor and Portland, the state’s two industrial centers. As well, Jackson won 13 of the 23 caucus delegates from Jay, Maine, where embattled paperworkers have received his support for their strike. Overall, 30 percent of the Super Tuesday union household votes went to Jackson, as did 8 percent of the white Southern vote, up from 2 percent in 1984. Over 90 percent of all Black primary voters went for Jackson.
If arithmetic like this keeps up, it is obvious no one Democratic contender will have the 2,082 delegates needed for first-ballot nomination. Jackson is sure to hold a balance of power when he walks into the convention with what is estimated will be 800 to 1,000 delegates.
Never has the iron illogic of Democratic Party politicking shown itself so clearly. The Black vote, now joined by an important number of white voters, has demonstrated its power in the primaries. And the more insistent that vote becomes, the more Jackson is asked to demobilize sentiment and prove his loyalty to the party.
Since Super Tuesday, the media has been replete with articles quoting pledges made by Jackson and his key supporters in the Black political machine. They are promising that Jackson people won’t disrupt the convention, cause disunity by floor-fighting around so-called radical demands, or worse yet, try to place Jackson on the ticket as the vice-presidential nominee. This slot would normally go to a candidate with these numbers if he weren’t Black and talking so much about corporate greed.
So what has this show of voter force added up to? A demand to keep quiet, cease and desist, cash in delegates and get behind the Democratic nominee with no questions asked—or be held responsible for a potential victory by the dreaded Republicans. We have just witnessed a demonstration of the power to broker powerlessness, Democratic Party-style.
It all adds up to the scenario painted by failed candidate Bruce Babbitt to the New York Times: when the big guys get together in a smoke-filled hotel room to nominate someone like Albert Gore for vice-president, Jesse will be invited in and asked for his approval.
The locked out have just gotten themselves locked in, trapped in a party which takes neither their candidates nor their concerns seriously.
When popular Texas Agricultural Commissioner Jim Hightower, a Jackson supporter flushed with Super Tuesday enthusiasm, proclaimed that the Rainbow was on the move and nothing was in the middle of the road except "a yellow line and a dead armadillo” he just wasn’t paying attention to the play-by-play in the game. Inside the Democratic Party, the direct representative of the self-same "barracuda corporations" Jackson rails against, it is impossible for Jackson’s army of the locked out suddenly to be handed a new copartnership in running the party.
After Atlanta: What Next?
Jesse Jackson will not be the Democratic presidential nominee in November. The racism of the Democratic Party would be enough to stand in the way of his getting that nomination.
The economic crisis of the capitalist system is going to worsen. The Democratic Party is seeking to be the standardbearer for capitalist recovery on the basis of the imperatives of the profit system. The Democratic "consensus" holds that living standards must be cut in order to balance the government budget. With or without a recession, this is a formula for further decay in available services, educational opportunities and medical care. It means an intensified assault on union rights and working conditions, wage-cutting and competition among groups of workers for jobs.
What is needed now is a movement against austerity. Such a movement of necessity will be a movement of opposition to the Democratic Party. The left inside the Democratic Party will be nothing more than the left-wing of an austerity consensus.
We have briefly discussed the different wings involved in the effort to actually organize a Rainbow Coalition. But more important, there is a third ingredient in the Jackson campaign—the large numbers of Black and white working people who support him. We should put this development in perspective.
Most of these supporters do not belong to the Democratic Party in the sense that they work for it, pay dues or participate in local branches as activists. The two parties in the United States are not membership organizations with programs reflecting the interests of different social classes for the purpose of mobilizing a rank and file around those interests. The act of voting in the United States is an extremely passive process. It is confined to a narrow choice between two parties that periodically settle differences over how best to govern the capitalist system by competing for the "public trust" at the polls.
In fact, the U.S. left has invented a term unheard of anywhere else in the world—"electoral politics." The terminology reflects the recognition that real politics are different from elections. And so they have been in this country, where only capitalist parties have monopolized this terrain and have successfully thwarted any challenge to their electoral-political hegemony from workers and the oppressed. Recognizing this historical fact is one thing. Accepting it as a given, making excuses for it, or attempting to short-change history by performing a bloodless coup in the Democratic Party is quite another.
The U.S. two-party system is really an antiparty system. The ability to prevent real social antagonisms from finding organized party expression is the basis of the supposed "exceptionalism" of U.S. capitalism—a false class consensus. In this country, capitalism was supposedly destined to prove its worth as the ultimate system of human organization. Class conflict was to be bypassed because U.S. capitalism could enrich all its citizens and erect a broad consensus of upwardly mobile middle-class participants in the American dream, thereby eliminating social strife.
As the economic crisis of capitalism unravels the "American Century," the myth of U.S. exceptionalism is rapidly losing ground. It is demonstrably self-defeating to deliver Jackson’s magnificent and inspiring working-class support right back into the arms of the Democratic Party. This party is dedicated to keeping the myth of the U.S. consensus alive in order to assure the primacy of the one class it represents—capital.
Voters Drop Out
Middle-of-the-road academic political scientists have for the past several decades bemoaned the disappearance of voters from the "lower end of the economic spectrum." Books like The Empty Polling Booth, Where Have All the Voters Gone?, The Party’s Over present a unanimous thesis: the two-party system is losing the allegiance of the country’s working people. There has been a quiet, voluntary disenfranchisement of some 75 million voters who have opted out of "electoral politics" to become what is called the "party of nonvoters."
In fact, the party of nonvoters has won every presidential election in the postwar era, outnumbering those who have voted. "Representatives" are sent to Congress with an average 35 percent of the eligible vote in their districts. The United States has one of the lowest voter turnouts in the world, ranking ahead of Botswana in surveys of "modern democracies."
And this party of none-of-the-above is overwhelmingly composed of workers and the poor. In the 1980 elections, for example, 70 percent of those with incomes of over $25,000 voted, while only 25 percent of those with incomes under $10,000 did so. Average blue-collar turnout in the last three presidential elections was 50 percent, as compared to 73 percent for those in white-collar jobs.
This phenomenon has been referred to as dealignment. The twoparty system is coming apart. Working people do not see the so-called choices as meaningful to their lives and mounting problems. " The rich get richer and the poor stay poor; my vote doesn’t count; money talks; all politicians are corrupt"—these are the axioms of those who feel powerless and unrepresented.
This development is not an entirely positive one. The abstentionism of large numbers of working people is an expression of dissatisfaction with the electoral choices offered by both parties. But it also expresses a deep alienation from the political process and a sense of powerlessness when it comes to determining the direction of government.
The cries of "Jesse! Jesse!" that greet Jackson in union halls and grange societies across the country, often shouted by predominantly white audiences, have captured the attention of the nation and its media. The working people—Black and white—who applaud Jackson’s program know that they are not about to elect him the next president. Many will continue to do what they have been doing-staying home on election day, continuing the trend of fashioning an electorate weighted to the privileged and middle-class.
These working-class supporters are consciously engaging in a massive protest. The fact that the acknowledged leadership of this protest is Black America makes this one of the more exciting developments since the civil rights movement. A Black civil rights leader running for president is attractive because he represents a community that has shown it can organize to fight and win its rights. This is a significant blow to racial divisions in our society and a very partial and distorted glimpse of what politics could be like if the legacy of protest is reclaimed.
The farthest thing from the minds of these supporters is negotiating and horsetrading in Atlanta for platform language, a few posts somewhere in the Democratic apparatus, or some kind of "realignment" of a party with which they have been disaffected for years. For the most part, they won’t be there as delegates to participate in bargaining-down and living up to loyalty pledges. Their objectives are broader.
A Realistic Strategy?
The Jackson campaign has finished off a misreading of the Reagan years for which the U.S. left paid a real price. In the first place, Reagan won in 1980 with the vote of only 28 percent of the potential electorate to Carter’s 22 percent. And his "mandate" was extremely brittle. It was patched together by deep-seated fears about economic collapse that led to grasping at the straw of Reagan’s new economic directions. The vaunted "right turn" was much sharper among political and intellectual elites than among the U.S. population.
Indeed, the Reagan years have seen a million people marching in June 1982 against the arms race; hundreds of thousands in the streets against U.S. intervention in Central America; 500,000 marching for lesbian and gay rights on October 11, 1987. Reagan was never able to quash the "Vietnam syndrome." A majority continue to oppose intervention in Central America. His administration contented itself with a shameless sneak-attack on the tiny island of Grenada, knowing that a land war against Nicaragua would result in a revolt at home. A majority continue to support the right to abortion and oppose cutbacks in social spending. Reagan even failed to divide the population with his appeal to better-off workers to line up with him against "big government" and the New Deal giveaways.
Yet during these years the left, becoming to some degree intimidated by the right-wing ideological assault, has minimized its objectives. For most of the left, the goal of independent politics has become "utopian." It was time to hunker down in and around the Democratic Party to push back the ascendancy of the right. Empowerment meant grabbing the coattails of the powerful lesser-evil capitalist party as a means to ride out the rough times presumed to be ahead.
"Realists" will suggest that the Jackson insurgency proves the correctness of this strategy. We have tried to argue the opposite. It demonstrates that there is potential to begin the creation of a political alternative to the two capitalist parties. The U.S. people are not mired in reactionary prejudice or simplistic neo-conservatism. They are looking for an alternative. The "practical empowerment" of the Rainbow will go up in a puff of smoke in Atlanta this summer unless steps are taken to move out of the Democratic Party and take on the "practical" tasks of making the Rainbow into the incipient third party it claims to be.
To paraphrase Jackson, if not now, when? When will it be time to break the cycle of "lesser evil" dependency that has helped to perpetuate one of the most intransigent obstacles to radicalism in U.S. politics? Jesse Jackson running as an independent would seriously shake the foundations of the Democratic Party. That is what the left should be trying to accomplish. Rather than accepting the Jackson campaign on its own terms, a struggle should be waged to force it beyond the institutional and structural prison of the Democratic Party.
For An Independent Campaign
Jackson should be pressured to run as an independent in November; the often neglected Rainbow Coalition should be a key player in that pressure campaign. The promised post-convention Rainbow convention should be held to discuss and debate next steps. Those leftists in the Rainbow who purport to have a "practical" inside-outside strategy would do well to examine just exactly what they will be left with on the outside once they turn in their delegates in Atlanta. So far, there is no evidence that any kind of preparation is being made to protect and consolidate anything of the Jackson momentum for the future of radical politics. Without it, the whole thing will boil down to Jesse Jackson becoming an individual with some weight to throw around in internecine Democratic Party maneuvering.
This inaction ignores practical steps that could actually be taken, particularly in light of the fact that often it is Rainbow members who provide the footsoldiering for the Jackson campaign in face of the refusal of some more mainstream endorsers to mobilize active support to back up their verbal endorsements. In many areas, Rainbow activists are carrying the load in organizing the campaign.
Rainbow chapters could circulate nominating petitions and investigate various ways of getting Jackson on the November ballot. The Wisconsin Labor-Farm Party, which has legal ballot status, has made a standing offer to Jackson to run on its ballot designation. In California, Jackson should have an easy time securing the Peace and Freedom Party nomination.
As for funding, Jackson never has gotten corporate PAC money, and won’t with his program. According to the New York Times, Jackson spent a grand total of $100,000 in the March 8, Super Tuesday primary states, where he is a leading contender, as opposed to the millions spent by others. Much of his meager war chest has come from small donations and from passing the hat in churches and union halls. His fundraising style called "unique" by the press and "possibly illegal" by the federal government, which has legalized the ability of the corporations to buy congressional candidates like so many Lear jets.
It is not our view that Jesse Jackson is likely to respond favorably to calls for an independent campaign. As far as we can see, he is permanently committed to a Democratic Party strategy. But if there is no pressure, no debate, no counterweight to the conservative pressures of Democratic Party powerbrokers, then the outcome is certain to be a setback. In that case the energy and aspirations generated by the Jackson campaign, built by Rainbow activists, will be reincorporated without any dissent into the Democratic Party electoral machine.
The student body president of federally-funded Gallaudet University, where the hearing impaired had just won a struggle for their first deaf university president, signed his analysis on national nightly news. He summed up the lessons of this successful campus-wide strike by explaining "This is our Selma and Jesse Jackson supports us and all the handicapped." It is probable that none of these student leaders will be delegates to the Atlanta convention. They interpreted the Jackson message in a different—and more historically accurate—way.
Build the Mass Movements
Our proposal meshes with the ongoing project of building the independent movements. That must be the topmost priority for the left at all points because they are the root source of empowerment for those seeking social change. The voices of the antiracist movement, the women’s movement, the movements in solidarity with Southern Africa liberation struggles, Palestinian self-determination and the Central American revolutions should not be muted during the election season.
Quite the contrary: to be meaningful, any effort at new politics would have to be based in the daily organizing of self-activated struggles by tenants, trade-unionists, environmentalists, education advocates, feminists and farmers. Some Rainbow activists have joined up because they understand that such organizing would be greatly enhanced by the existence of a political force pointing toward a new party that could give these movements a unified political expression.
The social movements, the Black liberation struggle, and ultimately the U.S. working class are the base for a new politics. In the long run, the left’s involvement in the Jackson campaign must be judged by whether it advances the development of a new, radical political party, or simply deepens the left’s own immersion in bourgeois electoralism. The process of bringing forth a political voice for workers and the oppressed will not yield any quick and easy victories, given how long the two-party, winner-take-all mythology has prevailed in this country. But the failure to make a case now for independent politics can only assure that the left will find itself voiceless and powerless when future opportunities arise.
The question that we believe faces the Rainbow before and after Atlanta is this: Will the Rainbow Coalition help the oppressed communities and U.S. working people to find their political voice, or will it instead lose its own?
This Solidarity pamphlet was edited by Joanna Misnik, with contributions from David Finkel, Roger Horowitz, Kim Moody, Dianne Feeley and Robert Brenner.
Technical editor: Nancy Gruber
First Printed in April 1988
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