Affirmative Action and reform

Justin Schwartz jschwart at
Mon Apr 10 19:22:21 MDT 1995

On Mon, 10 Apr 1995, Scott Marshall wrote:

> >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.
> Sorry I misunderstood your way of putting things.

OK, no lasting damage.

> >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.
> Please don't apologize and I in turn won't apologize for my lack of formal
> education. But it does seem to me that every time someone raises issues
> about intellectuals a great defensive cloud appears. Marxist intellectuals
> have always had a problem relating to workers in this country - mainly
> because of the class baggage that the ruling class has managed to attach to
> brain work.

There's a big problem here--we had an exchange about it a few months ago,
how intellectuals can put their skills to work serving the people. (There,
my old Maoism is showing.) We didn't reach any conclusions. I myself never
attack anyone for lacking a formal education, and I would like to see the
favor reciprocated. There is a characteristically American suspicion of
pointy headed intellectuals which leftist are not free from--I don't mean
you, Scott, but one sees it about. Of course the pointy heads often invite
this by arrogance, but the attitude towards learning one encounters even
at good schools is distrurbing. I am likely to make far more as a
lawyerthan I ever did as a professor, and do far less good.

> >
> >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.
> I don't know what will happen, but the real question is will the left mount
> and effective campaign to fight for affirmative action. (I see many signs
> that a better fight will be made v. the anti-aa initiative than was made v.
> prop 187.) Didn't Marx have a lot to say about what he called "popular
> public opinion" and how unreliable it was a measure of working class
> thinking? Will labor be involved in the fight. I think so. It is of no small
> significance that the Calif. AFL-CIO took a lead in fighting prop. 187. We
> aren't just observers in this fight, yet you see the fight as forgone and
> impossible - not at all a winning way.

Well, I'm not optimistic. Labor is likely to ditch the fight to support
whatever clown the Democrats put up--maybe even Clinton. Popular
consciousness is volatile, and the fight would be necessary in any case.
So defeat is not a foregone conclusion. I hope we learned something about
the way to handle things from the 187 battle. I hope California activists
will work on this initiative rather than for Democrats. We'll see.

> >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.
> As you point out the attitudes of white workers don't come out of nowhere.
> They are taught and ingrained, not by some inner weakness or propensity for
> racism on the part of workers, but by a system that profits everyday from
> racism and discrimination. There is a material base for racism in the
> capitalist system. All I'm sying is that has to be the starting point for
> Marxist.

I didn't say that white workers are innately morally deficient. But we
must drop the brainwashing model of ideology. See Marx on anti-Irish
racism--Marx to Meyer and Vogt, 9 April 1870:

"The ordinary English worker hates the Irish worker as a competitor who
lowers his standard of life. In realtion to the Irish worker he is a
member of the ruling nation and so turns himself into a tool of the
aristocrats and capitalists of his country against Ireland, thus
strengthening their dominatioin over himself. He cherishes religiousm
social, and national prejudices against the Irish worker. His attititude
towards him is much the same as that of 'poor whites' to 'niggers' in the
former slave state of the USA. The Irishman pays him back with interest in
the same coin...."

Thus far, all this prejudice arises from the circumstances of the working
class itself. Now the bourgeoisie comes in:

"This antagonism is artificially kept alive"--note, not created, but
maintained--"and intensified by the press, the pulpit, the comic papers.,
in short by all the means at the disposal of the riling classes."

I don't quote the Old Mole for religious reasons, but because, as usual,
he's right. The case is exactly analogous to the one we are discussing. So
it is worth quoting the conclusion too:

"This antagonism is the secret of the impotence of the English working
class, despite its organization [into unions]. It is the secret by which
the capitalist class maintains its power. And that class is fully aware of

So, working class racism and sexism is not an artificial import, but
arises out of the conditions of working class life, notably comnpetition
for  jobs and traditions of domination within the working class. That'sd
what we have to deal with.

I would have hoped that someone else would bite on a discussion of
affirmative action in this context. Do we want to talk about the
determination of consciousness by social being? Here's a concrete case. Do
we want to discuss interests and overlapping group membership? No better
case could present itself. And this one matters in terms of concrete
politics. As Scott says, it is even possible we could win this one. So
let's hear it, eh?

--Justin Schwartz

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