Affirmative Action and reform

Justin Schwartz jschwart at
Mon Apr 10 12:22:47 MDT 1995

On Mon, 10 Apr 1995, Scott Marshall wrote:

> I see two real problems with Justin's arguments against affirmative action.

Scott, I'm a little bit irritated. I did not offer my observations as
arguments against AA. As I said quite clearly, I support AA and I think it
must be defended. The points I raised I take to difficulties that
defenders of AA, like me, have to address and not ignore or deny.

> Without a militant fight for specific reforms that seek to begin correcting
> inequality, how can real unity be built with racially and nationally
> oppressed workers. No workers are going to come to the revolution in a pure
> abstract form "having been convinced" etc. That's how intellectuals come to
> the table. The rest of us have to see the process and how the struggle will
> change things. Getting there is half the fun. And I maintain that empty
> slogans about fighting racism and chauvanism, with out real militant action
> are useless. Oppressed people have been promised salvation "by and by" since
> the dawn of the class struggle.

I agree that we need militant fight for specific reforms, like AA. The
rest of this stuff seems to go right by me, unless it its symptomatic of
the usual anti-intellectualism that one finds among too many movement
folks. I'm not going to apologize for getting a Ph.D. After all, Marx got
one too.

> Polls and Kevin Phillip's data don't impress me one iota. If the question is
> asked, "Do you support affirmative action which means that others will get
> job preference over you? (The way company and the ruling class puts the
> question) then you get one response.

Sure, there is question bias. But I think the polls here are tracking a
real belief that AA means, for white workers, that others not merely get
preference over them, but do so undeservedly.

 But, as anyone who has negotiated
> affrimative action into a contract can tell you, if the question is put,
> "Shall we use affirmative action to end the bosses use of preference and
> discrimination in the work place? - then the answer is often different.
> There is much working class experience to show that fairness is an important
> idea to all workers.

Sure. That's why the widespread belief that AA is unfair is so troubling.

 (Keep in mind that the heyday of union organization in
> this country was advanced under the slogan of "Black, white, unite and
> fight" a slogan that brought real change and affirmative action to the
> workplace.) You won't find this kind of approach in big business polls or in
> the books of rightwing thinktankers.

No, but you will find it in the studies by liberals and leftists, like
Andrew Hacker, Christopher Jencks, and others who support AA in some form
and are concerned by the problems I mention.

Look, Scott. In 1996 California will bring up a proposition to outlaw AA
in the state. It will pass by a wider margin than 187. It will have deep
and broad support from the working class. That's almost certain. Unless,
of course, and this is unlikely, workers can come to believe by one means
or another that AA is fair and good for them. Which I do not regard as
very probable.

> My other problem is with what I see as a classless analysis of racism based
> on those who feel secure v. those who are not. Racism is a tool of the
> corporations that has ideological, political and economic benefit for them.
> Regardless of how even a majority of white workers see racism at any given
> moment, they are also the class victims of racism.

Sure. But my analysis isn't classless. It's a class analysis. It's the
working class which responds to insecurity caused by the current secular
decline and the class warfare of the government and the rich by splittinga
long racial and gender lines, with the relatively more privileged tending
to cling to their advantages at the expense of the less. Class analysis,
alas, doesn't always mean black and white uniting and fighting (the
bourgeoisie). Often it means understanding why they divide and fight each

> If we approach racism as the problem of white workers rather than as the
> tool of the ruling class then we will do little to unite the class. If we
> see the main problem as the attitudes of whites workers rather than see the
> source of racism as those who promote and profit from racism then we will be
> fighting the wrong battle.

Well, the ruling class uses the attitudes of white workers. But the
attitudes are there and they are a problem. If they weren't there, the
ruling calss couldn't use them. And as with religion, racism springs out
of the material situation and history of the class itself. It's not
somkething the rich merely brainwash the workers into accepting. I'm not
suggesting that it is fruitful to spend a lot of time blaming white
workers and condemning them morally. But we have to figure out, as
activists, how to deal with the problem created by their morally
deplorable attitudes, how to fight these attitudes and get support for
militant reforms.

> Thus how we approach affirmative action - for the ruling class "white
> workers are the problem and we have to correct them and make them accept job
> loss etc." For the working class "the corporations make extra profits and
> devide the class by the use of racism and discrimination and we must make
> the corporations the main aim of our affirmative action demands - the
> solutions must be at their expense - it is part of the class struggle - our
> gains are at the expense of their profits."

Nice work if you can get it. (And if you get it won't you tell me how.)

> Marx pointed out that in intense struggles, like strikes, workers can cram
> years of learning about the class struggle and capitalism into a short span
> of time. This is seen time and time again on the question of fighting for
> unity and equality. In every strike I've been in I've seen rapid progress on
> underestanding racism and how it works by average white workers **if the
> lessons and demands are raised and aimed at the companies.**

Well, we agree on strategy, anyway. I'm not as optimistic as you about
likely results.

> Lastly -it's no real big thing, but two times Justin raised the question of
> "if it's true" refering to my experiences in steel. Hey I was just on the
> civil rights committee of my local and active in this fight, what do I know.
> Yet big business polls and Kevin Phillips are accepted with no such
> What do workers know anyway. This is the maxism list que no?

Scott, I wasn't expressing doubt about your experience. I just don't
know--and I mean I am ignorant--how generalizable these things are.

By the way, don't be dismissive about bourgeois sources. Without HM Blue
Books, we wouldn't have _Capital_.

And I have my own experience teaching working class students as well.

--Justin Schwartz

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