Jesse Jackson
He is electable, now or next time, but his presidency would surprise his admirers. A glimpse into the future.
Robert Crisman
volume:  
volume 10
issue 4
June 1988
Jesse Jackson seemed to have a decent shot at capturing the Democratic presidential nomination before the New York primary in April. His chances don't look so good now, and pundits are saying he's out of the race.

They may be speaking too soon, as is their wont when it comes to him.

In any event, it's still worthwhile to speculate what a Jackson presidency might be like. He alone has enabled the Democrats to forestall a move by volatile forces-Blacks, the Left, and a growing number of white workers-toward independent, third-party electoral politics. And he is almost certain to be a major political player from now on.

Who knows-the vacuous Dukakis, may yet falter before the Democratic convention, and it may be Jesse himself who squares off against Bush in the race for the presidency.

So let's just imagine that Jackson turns things around between now and the convention, gets nominated and is elected in November.

Then let's imagine that it's November 1990. Let's assess the 41st president's victory and first two years in office.

The road to November. To win the presidency, Jackson first had to get nominated. Long odds there, they said. And what a brawl the Democratic Convention turned out to be, as racist insiders and those who fawn over them fought tooth and nail to come up with anyone other than Jesse.

But the Dems needed somebody living, and only Jackson met the criterion.

He had solid Black support- 90%, they said. He rejuvenated party "progressives." And he captured enough union members to swing the laborskates into line, albeit reluctantly-and only after some big eastern moneymen told the union bureaucrats to line up behind Jesse to forestall a revolt in the ranks.

Heading off trouble is exactly what the Moneybags are good at. Later, Jackson would say privately that he owed his election to such advisors as Wall Street investment wizard Felix Rohatyn, Jimmy Carter's discredited budget fixer Big Bert Lance, and other operators from the old Rockefeller crowd.

A lot of Dixiecrats and "right-center" Dems jumped ship after the convention, of course. Third party talk by these rightists never got past the grumbling stage, however, since they went straight over to George Bush.

The Dems, now headed by Jackson, lurched into the campaign.

Thoughtful observers said Jackson owed most of his success to U.S. leftists- Line of March, the Guardian editorial board, Workers World Party, the Communist Party, the New Alliance Party, et al.-the very folks who could have helped build an independent radical party to oppose twin-party swindles. Instead, they hailed Jackson as Savior and again sanctified the Democrats as the Last Best Hope of Mankind. They helped behead the growing political protest movement of '88 and handed the heads to the Moneymen.

What was it that so attracted these radicals? It didn't matter. They always go for Democrats, and Jackson offered an alternative to unpleasant confrontations with the liberal establishment. Class collaboration is somehow supposed to make it all better for "peace," "justice," detente with the Soviet Union, and so on.

Promises, promises. Jackson the campaigner had offered glowing visions of a benignly restructured capitalist world.

He stumped for an "end to economic violence" against workers. He was for "revitalization of American industry." He promised to coax Big Business back from Taiwan, South Korea, the Philippines, etc., to reinvest in "our nation's future."

He vowed to implement a program of social justice. Affirmative action in education and employment were big-ticket items in his stump speeches to people of color and women, as was his support for comparable worth and comprehensive national child care. He vowed to enforce the Voting Rights Act and to pass the ERA and the Lesbian/Gay Rights Bill. He also promised to restore Medicaid funding for abortions and increase funding for AIDS research and education.

He promised a moratorium on family farm foreclosures and a fair price to farmers to meet production costs.

He offered "partnership" to Third World nations. He would "restructure" their debt and make "allies and customers" out of Reagan's Latin American adversaries. He vowed to end apartheid in South Africa through personal diplomacy. He was for peace in Central America- if Nicaragua would "democratize."

He also said he'd whack all of $164 billion out of the trillion-dollar weapons budget within five years.

Questions, questions. Some wondered how Jackson would lure big business back to the U.S. given all the slave labor available abroad. Or how he would end apartheid, when South African profits kept so many Western investors afloat.

Some asked how a 16.4% reduction of the trillion-dollar arms budget could revive a nation bled dry by the war drive. And after this "cut," what was the remaining $836 billion for, anyway?

While his social justice proposals created enthusiasm, his increasing vagueness on how to fund and implement them caused unease, especially among women, who now constituted over two-thirds of this nation's poor. Feminists were mindful that his support for abortion rights came awfully late and that his infrequent references to the issue came across as a bow to distasteful political necessity. Also, his incessant paeans to "family values ... the foundation of the strength of our nation" were disturbingly reminiscent of the theme Reagan used as the basis of his eight-year assault on women's rights and well-being. Working women were outraged when Jackson abruptly dropped his call for comparable worth after being attacked on the issue by the media.

How sincere was Jackson's commitment to lesbian/gay rights and to civil liberties? Many wondered when Jackson began to waffle on the questions of forced AIDS and drug testing.

His stance on foreign affairs seemed all too contradictory. How could he advocate "security" for the beleaguered Palestinians as well as for their rapacious Israeli conquerors? Also, if he wanted peace in Central America. why didn't he promise to remove the U.S. from the region and leave Nicaragua alone?

How would Jackson make partners of Third World debtors? Write off their debt and torpedo the banking system? In 1987, Felix Rohatyn had floated the idea of using U.S. bonds to finance part of Mexico's uncollectable debt and then creating Mexican "investment zones" for corporations. Is this what Jackson had in mind-shifting the burden of uncollectable debts from the banks to the taxpayer? And encouraging capital flight from the U.S. to Mexico?

How would such American "investment zones" differ from imperialist wage-slave and raw material-extraction enclaves in the Philippines? And what of the dimming prospects for U.S. employment?

Troubling questions and a lack of straight answers began to dog Jackson. Meanwhile, racists and redbaiters began in earnest to denounce his economic proposals and social justice rhetoric as "communism."

When Jackson sought to accommodate the rightists by softening his pronouncements, the commentators gleefully blasted his opportunism. And when Charles Krauthammer and other columnists dredged up memories of his soirees with Castro and Yasir Arafat, Jackson begged tolerance for past indiscretions and vowed not to meet with Yasir anymore.

Jackson's charm and charisma began visibly to wilt in the wake of his abject turnabouts and the genuine excitement his candidacy had created began to dissipate. Another McGovernite disaster for the Democrats loomed, the sheer mind numbing dullness and criminal awfulness of George Bush notwithstanding.

But in August, Panamanian ex-dictator Noriega told all he knew-which was considerable-about Bush's connection to the contras and cocaine, specifically the vice-president's close working relationship with CIA veteran Felix Rodriguez, the man who helped funnel $10 million from the Medellin, Colombia cocaine cartel to the contras between 1982- 1985. Quicker than you can say "crack kills," the ghost of Irangate came shrieking back to haunt the Republican campaign.

Anti-Bush protest mushroomed across the U.S. and his hush-men couldn't muffle it.

How long before demonstrations would spill over into strikes against the profit system? Big spenders didn't need the Weatherman to tell them a tornado was headed their way. They began to slither wholesale onto Jackson's "antiwar" bandwagon.

The sector of the Left that was pro-Jackson kept protest actions "focused" on Bush-long and hard enough to allow Jackson to squeak by in November.

In the White House. January 1989. The first item confronting the 41 st president was the deficit.

Jackson blamed Reaganomics. All that arms spending, tax breaks for the rich, business deregulation and disinvestment had put the U.S. $1.6 trillion in hock—and someone had to pay the price.

Jackson's answer was austerity--cuts and more cuts in social spending.

Jackson ballyhooed his weapons cut proposal and blamed its demise on congressional yahoos who whittled it down to nothing by June. But "necessary" cuts were rammed through: slashes in job training, Medicare, farm price supports, housing assistance, Native American education, legal services for the poor, college tuition grants and loans, and more. He said he'd look at another tax increase for social security recipients, and a freeze on their cost-of-living increases.

Austerity would be "temporary"--Jackson had promised economic recovery via corporate reinvestment in domestic production. But, alas, it would take awhile to wheedle the corporate runaways back home to provide more jobs, create revenue, and turn the deficit around "for good." Companies still found the grass far greener abroad; they would need more incentives for coming home.

Something had to be done. By April 1989, the trade deficit ballooned to $197 billion. The stock market plunged 102 points on April 23. The Japanese and Germans, protective of their exports, refused to "redress" the trade imbalance. A major depression loomed.

Jackson called an emergency meeting in May with businessmen and top labor bureaucrats to come up with a plan to stimulate the economy. They castigated the corporate runaways and uttered vague threats of sanctions against them. But to meet the immediate need, they announced a plan to impose across-the-board wage cuts; to save the nation, workers would now have to compete with the Taiwanese for jobs.

The summer exploded in strike after strike. Jackson offered to mediate the big GM strike in Flint. In Chicago, where cops lost a street fight in May with striking Teachers Union pickets-primarily Black women whose '70s walkouts Jackson had twice tried to break-he had sent in the National Guard.

The pot boils over. In July the ghettos went up in smoke. Austerity had devastated Black America. AIDS and crack continued to decimate Black youth. Jobs were nowhere. On July 7, Newark blew, followed by Chicago, Philadelphia, Miami, Los Angeles, and Seattle. Jackson pleaded to cool it, visited the ghettos—and then called out the troops.

Order restored for the moment, Jackson promised emergency funding to "rescue" the inner cities. What he did was fire up a quick Anti-Drug War.

Cops swept the ghettos, shooting up crack houses, killing off dealers and users and innocents-and Black militants and white radicals who got in their way by protesting random shootouts.

On July 27, police raided a house in Brooklyn, New York, killing two seven-year- old girls. Protest erupted in New York City. Jackson preempted the major networks to address the nation. He bemoaned the tragedy and stepped up the war on drugs, "the killer of Black youth, destroyer of the Black family, enemy of our national will and survival." He condemned the recent protests, singling out "white so-called radicals who seek to advance their own political agenda through our suffering and impede our efforts to save the Black community and the nation. These troublemakers are the political equivalent of the dope-dealing death merchants we seek to destroy!"

At Jackson's prodding, Congress passed an Omnibus Detention Bill in mid-August giving federal police sweeping powers to investigate and detain "suspected drug dealers" and anyone who "obstructs" police anti-drug efforts.

Police raided the major cities, joined "unofficially" in many instances by Klansmen and Nazis. After six cops were killed during a massive drug raid in Cleveland, fascists marched openly in the streets, declaring war to the death against all Black and Latino "drug dealers." They demanded Jackson's impeachment for his failure to eliminate the dealers, which they ascribed to his "sympathy for Black criminals."

Jackson readied troops to "control" the fascists, but did not use them, even after the Klan provoked violent clashes with anti-fascists in Chicago and Detroit.

Campuses blew in September. Jackson again sent in troops and again railed against "outside radical agitators." He also stepped up his redbaiting of striking workers and their "selfish sabotage" of economic recovery.

Then in late September, Palestinian workers rioted in Jerusalem. Fully alert now to the Communist Menace, Jackson readied U.S. NATO troops for action and sent warships speeding into the Persian Gulf. "As long as we are dependent on Middle Eastern oil," he grated, "we will defend it against Soviet encroachments." _

Insurgency had been skyrocketing in Central America. The specter of Latin American revolution-death for imperialism- danced in the headlines.

Enraged, Jackson whirled on the Sandinistas for "violating" the terms of their reconciliation with the contras—they had defended Managua from contra attacks. He swiftly dispatched troops to Honduras. But the day they landed, Panamanian soldiers killed 43 U.S. Marines in a firefight outside Colon. Native rebels meanwhile battered the regimes in EI Salvador and Guatemala.

South America's Indio nations, Peru, Ecuador, and Bolivia, exploded at the end of September. Argentina and Pinochet's Chile swiftly followed suit. Then Sao Paulo's food riots ignited revolution in austerity -wracked Brazil.

Bringing it all back home. Southern Mexico's land-starved peasants rampaged on October I, and two days later the slum-dwelling millions of Mexico City followed suit. Upheaval swept north like a brushfire-through Guadalajara, Monterrey, the countryside, the border towns-and leapt across to the barrios of L.A., San Antonio, Albuquerque, and Denver.

The revolution had come home, on U.S. soil. Arrayed on one side were the seething millions of angry people; on the other, the mightiest, and most repressive state apparatus in history.

Titanic strikes broke out in October, antiwar protests raged, the ghettos again erupted, poor people and seniors demonstrated, students struck, and women, lesbians and gays occupied federal buildings in San Francisco, New York, Atlanta, L.A., Chicago, Seattle, and Boston. Small farmers occupied banks throughout the Midwest.

Each insurrectionary act brought people one giant step closer to revolutionary consciousness and confidence. Each victory, moreover, disclosed the enemy's weakness more clearly: for all its power, the government could not coordinate a sustained counteroffensive. Competing heads of fiefdoms within the law enforcement and military bureaucracies-- each hungry for glory and control- refused to cooperate in counter-strike efforts. Although intermittently deadly, government counterstrikes were fumbling and hesitant; left and right hands worked at cross purposes. The rulers and generals depended on workers to implement their plans, but the workers were formulating plans of their own.

Nevertheless, it was clear that speed and surgical precision were essential to the revolution's success. Missteps and hesitation could swiftly hand the initiative to the counterrevolution, and beget the slaughter of the rebellion.

As soon as the upheavals broke out, Jackson had unleashed the troops-but this time the troops found better use for their guns. It started in San Antonio where Chicana and Mexicana garment workers confronted soldiers, many of them Chicanos and Blacks, who had been sent to quell the general strike that had broken out in the city two days before. The women argued, implored, demanded, and finally persuaded the soldiers to join them and to disarm the police and Klansmen who had been harassing the strikers.

In city after city, women's committees won over the troops. A frightened Jackson readied U.S. NATO-bound troops for domestic assault, but those troops-and half of Europe-rioted against the order. The soldiers opened the armories to the people. Military staff workers refused to process countermanding orders from the high command.

Telephone workers meanwhile took over the lines of communication. Clerical, technical, and professional workers commandeered TV and radio stations, government and newspaper offices, banks, utilities, transport facilities. Industrial workers occupied plants.

The last nail. The revolution at this point was nine-tenths won. Now came the hard part-the final assault on the innermost sanctums of the state. The utmost in a conscious and purposeful effort was required. And it all came down to the question of leadership-whether the various insurrectionary coordinating bodies would coalesce nationally to map out and prepare the storming of the citadel.

Trotsky once compared the relationship of revolutionary leadership with the masses to that of a piston to steam. The steam is the motive force of an engine, but without the piston it dissipates uselessly. The masses likewise are the power of the revolution, but without leadership to chart the terrain of conflict, to facilitate agreement on how best to fight, to point the way past difficulties, to steel hearts and nerves, to inspire the revolutionary combatants, the revolution dissipates like pistonless steam in the air.

This revolution cried out for leadership- and leadership answered the call.

Radicals--Trotskyists, feminists, immigrants, workers of all colors, unionists, gays and lesbians, seniors, students, artists and intellectuals, everyday militants--came fully into their own. Decades of debate over program and strategy had come to a head among the multifarious groupings of Trotskyists and neo-Trotskyists, Stalinists and neo-Stalinists, Maoists, social democrats, anarchists, independent and unaffiliated Marxists, ethnic separatist socialists, Marxist nationalists, hodge-podge liberal/radicals, radicals on single issues or some issues, and establishment whistle-blowers.

These debates and the ongoing intervention of key leftists into mass struggles had led to a sifting and selection of revolutionary leadership. With amazing (but historically predictable) swiftness, the new leadership came together-nationally, regionally, locally-{)n the basis of a shared program for the conjuncture .

They formed a revolutionary party, a leadership body of born-in-the-USA-and-elsewhere Bolsheviks foreseen by Leon Trotsky a half-century before.

Nothing in this world has the power of an idea whose time has finally arrived. American Bolshevism swiftly took root in the working women's committees, the feminist coalitions, the trade unions, the armed services, the people of color communities, social issue councils; in workplaces and on campuses; among artists and intellectuals; in the neighborhoods. Debaters and organizers from the new united party of the revolution wrested leadership from the ossified reformists, bureaucrats, and unreconstructed Stalinists who had fought ferociously to contain and defuse and retard the revolution.

The new audacious leadership managed to unite and shape the upheavals into one mammoth anti-capitalist, anti-imperialist juggernaut for socialist democracy. The masses advanced on the banks and Wall St., on CIA headquarters, the Pentagon, and the White House, and on the hallowed halls of Congress and the Supreme Court.

The people appropriated these centers of power. Whoever inside was with them stayed to help with the takeover. The opponents were thrown out and peoples' representatives placed temporarily in charge.

Thus was the state overthrown and transcended.

President Jesse Jackson, the 41st and last U.S. president, was ushered from office on November 7, 1990, two years to the day after his election. He was sent to an institute for the re-education, retraining and re-socializing of capitalists, militarists, bourgeois politicians, financiers, entrepreneurs, and assorted bureaucrats and finks.

The head of the new socialist government, a Black woman attorney, later joked that had Bush been elected, they'd have gotten the job done by September.

• • •

When well-meaning progressives and just plain folks are seduced by great-looking, mesmerizing Democrats, it takes them awhile to return to reality. Thankfully, life always provides that interval.