Fight over Malcolm X School
Detroit: WL Blocks with White Segregationists
Swastikas emblazoned on school doors. A poster reading “We won’t have Malcolm X” and signed “KKK.” A crowd of angry whites shouting “Open your school in a crack house!” Is this Little Rock, 1956? Selma? Ole Miss? No, it’s Detroit 1992.
Last year the Detroit school board opened three “black male academies” for elementary school students, named after Marcus Garvey, Paul Robeson and Malcolm X. This summer, the Malcolm X school was moved to the closed Leslie school in Warrendale, a neighborhood on the far west side of Detroit. Warrendale, which is over 75 percent white (the inverse of the rest of this heavily black city) is home to many white cops who are forced by a residency law to live inside the city limits. There was an eruption of segregationist filth against the opening of the school at two school board meetings in August that left no doubt about the motives of the opposition: “Is this the forcible integration of Warrendale?” one racist shouted.
But there was one organization that rushed to defend the segregationists and deny that the opposition had anything to do with racism! The Detroit-based Workers League and their newspaper, the Bulletin, have championed the racists’ attempt to keep the Malcolm X school out of Warrendale. The WL brags that their candidates “were warmly received by residents when they canvassed the neighborhood” and “denounced the racialist policies of Mayor Coleman Young and the school authorities” (Bulletin, 14 August). With that line they could also get applause at a David Duke rally.
The WL says “the issue in Warrendale is not race,” and proceeds to disappear every racist taunt and placard at school board meetings and outside the school. With phony talk of uniting the working class in a “color-blind” fight against budget cuts, the WL covers up the raw racism spewing from opponents of the Malcolm X Academy. In dozens of pages denouncing the black Democratic Party liberals as “racialist,” there is not a single mention of the largely white crowd of several hundred that turned out for a school board meeting on August 3 and shouted down speakers with racist slurs.
Of course, there are whites in Warrendale who aren’t racists. However, unlike the Workers League, they can recognize the racist nature of the opposition to the school. One white woman whose son attends Malcolm X spoke out against protestors at the school opening: “It’s ridiculous, I’m just interested in getting my son into a good school. The school is mostly black, but so what?” One letter writer to the Detroit Free Press wrote: “I am a white resident of Detroit who grew up in the Warrendale neighborhood. I am appalled, but not surprised, at the racist sentiments expressed by many who oppose the new Malcolm X Academy.”
Giving a “left” cover to “we just want our neighborhood school” racists, the Bulletin (11 September) screams: “Radicals Defend Segregated Schools.” This is a prime example of the Workers League brand of laborite provocation, the product of years of tailing after the pro-capitalist, racist labor bureaucracy. While WL honcho David North today writes off the unions as’ no longer working-class organizations in any sense, on questions of racial oppression he sidles up to the racists in a way that even the UAW’s Owen Bieber couldn’t get away with.
After the board set up the schools as male-only academies, it was forced to admit girl students last year after a court suit by the ACLU and the National Organization for Women. Currently there are 422 boys and 39 girls enrolled in the Malcolm X school, and despite the WL’s claim that Warrendale residents cannot send their children there, 160 slots are reserved for neighborhood children.
These “African-centered” schools are a national phenomenon, a response by liberal nationalist educators and politicians to the destruction of the lives of black and Hispanic youth in the cities. But this “voluntary” segregation is a dangerous accommodation to the racist status quo. As opposed to the schemes of black elected officials and black nationalists who accommodate to the rollback of black rights with “Afrocentric” school proposals, the Spartacist League has consistently championed the fight for integrated education. In an exchange last year with jailed Black Panther Wopashitwe Mondo Eyen we Langa, we pointed out:
“White schoolchildren as well as black schoolchildren need to learn about Denmark Vesey, Frederick Douglass, John Brown, and Karl Marx. But we‘re Marxists, not idealists, and understand that education is a class question. True quality education for the masses will be possible only with the expropriation of the bourgeoisie and the establishment of working-class rule.”Conditions for children in the Detroit schools mirror the devastation that capitalism has wrought on the working class of the city. The Detroit district’s 170,000 students are 90 percent black. According to the Children’s Defense Fund, Detroit ranks first among all major cities in the number of children living in poverty - 46.6 percent. Black Democratic mayor Coleman Young, installed by the Big 3 auto bosses to derail and repress social struggle in response to the 1967 ghetto rebellion, has been on the warpath against city unions, slashing wages and thousands of jobs. And school board superintendent Deborah McGriff has gone after the teachers union, provoking a bitter strike in her efforts to gut teachers’ seniority while packing more students into the overcrowded classrooms.
- ”On Integrated Education and Black Liberation,” WV No. 526, 10 May 1991
WL “Blind Eye” to Racism
The Workers League has campaigned heavily in Warrendale, holding a press conference there on August 25, and alibiing the racists on the Sally Jessie Raphael TV show in September. WL Congressional candidate D’Artagnan Collier spews their “color-blind” line that the racists in Warrendale “were justifiably angry at the news that Leslie was to be reopened as a `black academy’ with only a few openings for youth from Warrendale.” Then comes his “evenhanded” cover for his campaign pitch to Warrendale: “I am opposed to segregated schools, whether they are proposed by David Duke or by Deborah McGriff” (Bulletin, 11 September).
This revolting “blind eye” to racism is nothing new for the Workers League. From its inception, the WL has tailored its program to the most reactionary prejudices of the union bureaucracy. Rather than speak the truth-that the bedrock racism of U.S. society is the single greatest obstacle to the construction of a multiracial, revolutionary workers party-the WL has responded with something much worse even than the Debsian position that the socialist movement has “nothing special to offer the Negro.”
The WL sneeringly calls the Spartacist League’s commitment to build black leadership, our view that the black working class is strategic to the success of proletarian revolution in this country, an “obsession with race.” And in the streets of Boston and Washington, D.C., this denial of the need to fight against special oppression has placed North & Co. squarely on the wrong side of the class line.
When racist anti-busing mobs took to the streets attacking black schoolchildren in the early 1970s in Boston, the SL fought for mass mobilizations of labor/black defense to stop racist attacks and to extend busing to the suburbs. At the height of the violent, racist rampages, when black schoolchildren’s lives were in physical danger and defense of integrated education was posed in the concrete, the WL’s Bulletin (13 September 1974) declared: “The issue of forced busing is being used to whip up racism to divide the working class.”
In November 1982 in Washington, D.C., the Spartacist League initiated and led an important victory against the resurgent racist terror of the Carter/Reagan years, when 5,000 black and white workers and youth drove the KKK off the streets. It was built in sharp struggle against the black Democratic Party politicians and reformists like Workers World who sought to divert workers from stopping the Klan. But for the WL - which wasn’t to be found in D.C. that November 27 - the successful mobilization was a “Revisionist Frenzy Over Klan” (Bulletin, 7 December 1982) and “an adventure which played right into the hands of the police”: “For the Spartacists, the issue in America is race, not class…. The grotesque fixation with the issue of race plays an utterly reactionary role and the Klan undoubtedly sees it as an assist for its own recruitment campaign.” Only Northite pseudo-dialectics could claim that the Klan was emboldened by fleeing before they even donned their sheets. But the KKK will get a boost from the activities of the segregationist thugs the WL is shielding in Warrendale.
If the racists mobilize in the streets against the Malcolm X school, the multiracial Detroit labor movement should be organized to defend those wanting to attend the school. No reliance on the cops or the state! An integrated labor battalion from the nearby and historically militant Ford River Rouge auto plant should be dispatched to dissuade the segregationists from any provocations - including those of the misnamed Workers League.