affirmative action

Justin Schwartz jschwart at
Sun Apr 9 08:05:56 MDT 1995

Since I agree with Kenny that we have to be involved in movements and I
like to focus on concrete issues as well as general ones I think that AA
is an important topic, especially in view of the California ballot
initiative for '96 and Clinton's (surprise!) latest me-too cave-in on
this issue. What should Marxists say about AA?

I think we should support it, recognizing its limitations, but think
about its potential for class divisiveness, whicxh is real. How can this
be minimized?

We should support it because whites and men receive undeserved advantages
due to histogical and ongoinh racial discrimination, and because in our
circumstances there is no other practical way to reduce the effects of
discrimination and give minorities and women a fair chance in the labor

Its limitations include the fact that it addresses only labor market and
educational discrimination (the latter indirectly affects the former of
course) and not the abolition of the labor market. It is not a socialisyt
policy. Even within that constraint, as Kenny points out, is is a poor
substitute for full employment and free education.

AA is divisive. Whites and men deeply resent it. It "racializes" and
"genderizes" political struggle in ways that are not wholly positive. One
potential way to address that is to point out that ifththere were good
jobs for all and free education no one would care if minorities and women
got some compensatory preference. However, when I was teachingh this
subject to OSU undergrads, this line did not find many takers. How can we
make clear that capitalism is to blame for the disadvnatges suffered by
white men on the labor market?

I don't know whether it is true that the left of color--by the way, what's
that? There are some leftists of color (Marable, West, Davis, Bakara,
etc.) but is there a left MOVEMENT of people of color?--didn't ask for AA?
It was proposed by the government, but the major Black liberation and
civil rights groups support it, no?

BTW I think "reparations" is the wrong way to think about AA. One great
source of white male resentment is that many WM don't think that they
should pay for harm does to minorities and women done by others. This
isn't unreasonable.


On Sat, 8 Apr 1995, Kenny Mostern wrote:

> It seems to me we need a distinction here in talking about the attacks on
> affirmative action.  The left--and I emphasize that I mean, in
> particular, the left of color--never asked for affirmative action, nor
> wanted it.  In place of an adequate model of political/eceonomic/cultural
> self-determination, in place of full employment, in place of reparations
> and other redistributive models, and (of course) to stave
> off the possibility of a real revolution, affirmative action was the
> policy of the white liberals (which is to include Nixon, in this case) to
> give a few crumbs while holding onto power and maintaining the economy as
> is.  So, no, affirmative action is not
> what we want, and when we are advocating positive solutions we need to
> advocate all of the above as being better than affirmative action.
> But that doesn't mean we shouldn't oppose the attacks on affirmative
> action, which are part of the broader strategy of the racist right, and
> serve as an important diversionary tactic to discussions of what is going
> on with the economy.  Provisionally we need to say, affirmative action is
> better than nothing (even if we don't believe it) in order to get to the
> real point, which is that all workers, immigrants, and people of color
> are under attack, and the grounds of the attack are damned lies.  Given
> the present scary state of U.S. politics, only such a defensive maneuver
> even potentially opens the space for the discussion of positive alternatives.
> Kenny Mostern
> UC-Berkeley Ethnic Studies Graduate Group
> Against:  racism, sexism, homophobia, capitalism, militarism
> For:  the truth--and the funk!
> On Fri, 7 Apr 1995, Tom Meisenhelder wrote:
> >
> > With reference to Louis comments on how a good reading of Lenin leads us
> > to support the so-called "nationalist" struggles of people of color and
> > with reference to the often stated idea that a focus on race is somehow  a
> > diversion from class analysis, and in the interest to bringing the
> > discussion "down" to an immediate practical concern . .. . ., how should
> > we (the marxist left) speak when asked to respond to the current and
> > growing attacks on affirmative action?  Should we disown the idea by
> > saying we support revolution not reform?  Should we discount AA by
> > pointing out that it is not a class-based progrm?  Or perhaps argue that
> > AA is good, does work for some, but needs to be braodened to include class
> > as well as other avenues for the redistribution of opportunity and
> > resources.  While it is perhaps most tempting to remain "pure" by refusing
> > to promote AA because it is reformist and coopting and remains fully
> > within capitalism, wouldn't --as is often the case, it seems-- such
> > theoretical purity be practical political suicide for the socialist left?
> >
> >
> >      --- from list marxism at ---
> >
>      --- from list marxism at ---

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