“American Negroes must study socialism, its rise in Europe and Asia, and its peculiar suitability for the emancipation of Africa. They must realize that no system of reform offers the American Negro such real emancipation as socialism.”
“Our system of education is falling to pieces. We need teachers and schoolhouses by the millions, but we cannot have them if we continue making weapons at the present rate and setting our youth to learning death and destruction instead of building, healing, and teaching.”
~ W.E.B. DuBois, The Negro and Socialism
Recently the NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People), a liberal civil rights organization, ratified a resolution calling for a moratorium on the expansion of charters and for stronger oversight of these schools. Various pro-corporate forces such as the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times and Shavar Jefferies of the pro-charter advocacy group “Democrats for Education Reform” have expressed their ire with the NAACP.
Jefferies even said, “W.E.B. DuBois is rolling in his grave. The NAACP, a proud organization with a historic legacy of expanding opportunity for communities of color, now itself stands in the schoolhouse door, seeking to deny life-changing educational opportunities to millions of children whose parents and families desperately seek alternatives to schools that have failed them for too long.”
I am rolling just reading that. Imagine, that the great Pan-African revolutionary anti-imperialist socialist Dr. W.E.B DuBois, who died exiled from the U.S. in Ghana, an ardent critic of U.S. capitalist imperialism, imagine that he would somehow be on the side of the pro-corporate “education reform” clique aiming to deepen segregation in education! Jefferies must not know DuBois’ legacy or his politics.
Jefferies is engaging in an act of misremembering one of our Black radical leaders. This has happened to leaders like A. Phillip Randolph, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and even more radical individuals of the Black Liberation Movement like Malcolm X and Assata Shakur. This weaponizing of DuBois’ likeness is not only historically inaccurate. It objectively serves the interest of the racist capitalist state in its efforts to further re-segregate the educational system and break open the education market for the corporate forces behind the charter school and “education reform” movement.
What the NAACP correctly identified is that charter schools are part and parcel of the divestment from public institutions that is endemic in the current stage of finance monopoly capitalism that we are in, namely, neoliberalism. The NAACP called for a moratorium on more charter schools until:
- Charter schools are subject to the same transparency and accountability standards as public schools.
- Public funds are not diverted to charter schools at the expense of the public school system
- Charter schools cease expelling students that public schools have a duty to educate
- Cease to perpetuate de facto segregation of the highest-performing children from those whose aspirations may be high but whose talents are not yet as obvious.
Given his record and legacy, I assert these are demands DuBois would have supported without hesitation. But, lets take a brief look at that record to clarify for those who may have taken Jefferies at his word.
Would DuBois roll over for imperialists?
Dr. William E. Burghardt Du Bois was not one to roll over for the lackeys of capitalism and white supremacy. The majority of his life was spent fighting ardently against the injustices of the capitalist system as well as the national oppression that African Americans faced as a “nation within a nation.”
DuBois was a Black radical scholar who scientifically and historically analyzed the problematic situation of the Black condition in not only the imperialist U.S. but throughout the African Diaspora. When he wasn’t writing classic works like The Souls of Black Folk, The Philadelphia Negro, Black Reconstruction In America (1860-1880) and Darkwater, he was an outspoken foe of lynching, white mob rule, colonialism, capitalism, imperialism and patriarchy.
DuBois was an ally of the People’s Republic of China, the Soviet Union, independent Ghana under the Pan-Africanist Socialist leadership of Kwame Nkrumah and other anti-imperialist national liberation movements and governments. He visited the Soviet Union several times, met with revolutionary leader Mao Tse-Tung and marveled at the progress made since liberation and the building of socialism. To say the least, DuBois was a champion of socialism and the defense of people’s democracy and public ownership of the economy.
In the moment of Jeffries’ act of blundering historical amnesia, it is important for the masses to know who DuBois really was and what would actually cause him to “roll in his grave.”
It is odd that DuBois, one of the founders of the pre-cursor organization to the NAACP, the Niagara Movement, which struggled for the full recognition of citizenship rights for African Americans, is now being used by so called “Democrats” invest in a pro-corporate movement that is only deepening the already existing segregation in education and larger U.S. society.
DuBois’s early days
DuBois began his life on the more liberal side of politics and was the editor of the NAACP’s organ, The Crisis. Through his writing in The Crisis, which was subtitled, A Record of the Darker Races, DuBois covered a slew of topics in relation to the national oppression of African Americans with historical and scientific analyses, opinions of the Black Freedom Struggle domestically and internationally, and illustrations of the unique condition of African Americans in their struggle for humanity, liberation, and freedom from racism and imperialism. For 23 years starting in 1910, DuBois edited The Crisis and it was heralded as one of best all around magazines pertaining to the condition of African Americans in the 20th century.
In The Crisis, DuBois wrote these words in regard to the NAACP and its mission: “It is a union of those who believe that earnest, active opposition is the only effective way of meeting the forces of evil…It is not always consciously evil. Much of it is born of ignorance and misapprehension, honest mistake and misguided zeal. However caused, it is nonetheless evil, wrong, dangerous, fertile of harm. For this reason it must be combatted. It is neither safe nor sane to sit down dumbly before such human error or to seek to combat it with smiles and hushed whispers. Fight the wrong with every human weapon in every civilized way.”(The Crisis, December 1910)
DuBois: Partisan of the people
With the massive amount of wealth behind the pro-corporate charter school movement, a reactionary narrative have been forged that casts charter schools as the saviors of abandoned Black youth and teachers’ unions and communities fighting to save and transform our public schools as narrow minded and evil incarnate.
So, when folks like Jefferies and other ruling class tools evoke the likeness of DuBois, they reveal their ignorance of the actual past. As they attempt to dismantle public education they should not be met with peace, but righteous struggle, despite their claims to care about the education of African Americans. People like Jefferies are backed by corporations, banks and the ultra-rich who wish to cash in on public education as an untapped market, to create new forms of exploitation and siphon off value from public resources.
Despite the mass propaganda campaign in the spirit of past “white savior” outfits, DuBois admonishes us that “to treat evil as though it were good and good as though it were evil is not only wrong but dangerous, since it encourages evil and discourages good.” It has been revealed that more often than not that charter schools function like a funnel sucking off public funds into privately run charter schools.
Since 2008 there has been a 50 percent increase in the number of charter schools; now roughly 6,000 exist while during that same time about 4,000 public schools have been shut down. So while charter schools present themselves as a “fix it” solution to the allegedly “failing public schools,” they are trying to dupe the masses of the people, especially African Americans, into believing that Corporate America has their back.
Among the forces behind the corporate education “reform” movement are some of the wealthiest persons and institutions in the U.S. As John Bellamy Foster puts it “Leadership in the twenty-first century corporate school reform movement—even preempting the role of government in this respect—has come from four big philanthropic foundations, headed by leading representatives of monopoly-finance, information and retail capital: (1) The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, (2) the Walton Family Foundation, (3) the Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation, and (4) the Michael and Susan Dell Foundation. These are widely characterized as a new type of foundation, known as “venture philanthropy” (a name taken from venture capitalism)—also called “philanthrocapitalism.(Monthly Review)
Would DuBois be on the side of these smoke and mirrors “philanthrocapitalist” multi-billionaires and their “charitable” foundations, or would he be on the side of the Black working class, resistance from below, and ultimately the forces of revolution? Well, it’s a good thing we don’t have to rely on people like Jeffries for an answer! DuBois was not a dogmatist and transformed throughout his time with the NAACP. Initially he claimed, “The NAACP has been accused of not being a “revolutionary” body. This is quite true. We do not believe in revolution.” But as revolution spread, nations were liberated, and the Third World rose up against colonialism and imperialist domination DuBois grew towards revolutionary politics: scientific socialism and Pan-Africanism. He became a partisan of revolution in the Third World and in the U.S. and made his politics clear:
“This social revolution, whether we regard it as voluntary revolt or the inevitable working of a vast cosmic law of social evolution, will be the last manifestation of the class struggle, and will come by inevitable change induced by the very nature of the conditions under which present production is carried on. It will come by the action of the great majority of men who compose the wage earning proletariat, and it will result in common ownership of all capital, the disappearance of capitalistic exploitation, and the division of the products and services of industry according to human needs, and not according to the will of the owners of capital.”
DuBois is rolling in his grave, rolling at the fact that tools for white supremacy and the capitalists dare evoke his name to defend their corrupt and unjust order!
Black and Red: DuBois Black liberation & socialism
It is telling that in a time when the Cold War was raging and anti-communism was the opiate of the masses being peddled by “the monopolized press and limited publishing” as DuBois put it, he had this to say: “In order to let the nation return to normal sanity we must realize that socialism is not a crime nor a conspiracy, but the path of progress toward which the feet of all mankind are set.” (Marxism and the Negro Problem, W.E.B. DuBois)
We must tell the truth about our heroes and not allow the ruling class or their lackeys to hollow their images and weaponize them against us. It is not up to them to tell the stories of our leaders, but for us to defend their legacies and carry on their work. If W.E.B. DuBois were alive today he would be standing with the Black working class and its allies in struggling against the corporate takeover of public education.
As DuBois exclaimed “Thus it is clear today that the salvation of American Negroes lies in socialism. They should support all measures and men who favor the welfare state; they should vote for government ownership of capital in industry; they should favor strict regulation of corporations or their public ownership; they should vote to prevent monopoly from controlling press and the publishing of opinions. They should favor public ownership and control of water, electric, and atomic power; they should stand for a clean ballot, the encouragement of third parties, independent candidates, and the elimination of graft and gambling on television and even in churches.”