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New Left Review I/149, January-February 1985

Manning Marable

Jackson and the Rise of the Rainbow Coalition

The 1984 presidential campaign of Jesse Jackson represented a new stage of development in Afro-Americans’ struggle for equality in the context of us bourgeois democracy. Even white American political analysts unsympathetic with the Jackson campaign recognized this, and groped for words to define Jackson’s achievement. After Jackson received 26 per cent of the New York Democratic primary vote, Theodore White suggested that the Black candidate had emerged ‘as a major historical figure . . . a trail-blazer of the dimensions of (Martin Luther King). There is no doubt that henceforth there will always be a black candidate as an independent force in national Democratic politics, and American politics will never be the same.’ [1] Theodore H. White, ‘Jackson, Democratic Revolutionary’, New York Times, 5 April 1984. The essence of the Jackson campaign was a democratic, anti-racist social movement, initiated and led by Afro-Americans, which had assumed an electoral mode. Its direct historical antecedents—the Montgomery bus boycott of 1955–56, the formation of sncc and the sit-in movement of 1960, the Birmingham desegregation campaign of 1963, and the Selma, Alabama march of 1965—were revived in a new protest form within bourgeois-democratic politics. The roots of this electoral political mobilization were developed in the ambiguous terrain of national Democratic Party politics, with the collapse of legal Jim Crow and the numerical expansion of Black elected officials in the 1960s and 1970s. The unprecedented Black revolt against the Democratic Party within the primaries showed that the Afro-American social fraction, including much of the Black petty bourgeoisie, represents the vanguard of a nascent left alternative in the political culture of capitalist America: but simultaneously, the assertion of Black electoral power led to an increase in ethnic confrontations, and the ‘melting pot’ myth was shattered in the bitter and escalating conflict between the American Black and Jewish communities.

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