I’ve been reading Max Elbaum’s 2002 book Revolution in the Air: Sixties Radicals Turn to Lenin, Mao and Che. It’s a deep insider account of the internal dynamics of sixties radicals who identified as communists beginning in 1968. I’ve joked for years that there are more books about communists in America than there ever were actual communists and this is almost true. Nevertheless, this is a useful book for someone like me who knows the general outline but doesn’t really have a strong grasp on all the different groups and their shifting ideologies.
Anyway, I was reading it this morning and ran across this gem. In 1974, the courts ordered Boston to desegregate their public schools and the busing system was created, leading to the legendary racist protests that riveted the nation (of course, all these white Southies were just doing what was best for their kids….).
In 2019, the communist Bob Avakian is a joke. But it’s useful to read someone taking him seriously, as Elbaum does. In 1974, Avakian was the head of Revolutionary Union, one of the larger communist organizations. For him and his followers, busing was “divisive” by race and thus undermined the true class struggle. So of course RU came out in opposition to the busing program!!! In fact, the RU’s paper had the following headline in October 1974: “People Must Unite to Smash Boston Busing Plan.” Evidently, plenty of Boston residents picked this up thinking it was a conservative rag, since they were on the same page about busing.
Uniting with white racists is the true revolutionary action! But you know, this is the logical conclusion of class not race rhetoric. If your position on any policy that attempts to remediate racial inequality is that it should be opposed for distracting people from the true oppression of class, then you are taking a racist position. Especially on the left, this is completely bonkers. How you can look at the nation and the world and not see how race is critically important–not to mention how working people of color are more likely to be attracted to class-based action than white workers anyway–is totally beyond my comprehension. I’d like to say that we wouldn’t see this anymore, but of course we do sometimes at Jacobin and other publications. Maybe it’s not as overt as opposing busing in Boston, but it’s still a thing in certain parts of the left.
Again, “class not race” beliefs are racist beliefs that tell people of color their lived oppression and beliefs don’t matter and that they should listen to you, who really knows what is best for them. Don’t be that person.