PLP, "Defend Affirmative Action"





(NOTE: We welcome readers comments and criticisms. Contact Progressive Labor Party at 150 West 28th St., Room 301, New York, NY 10001, or call New York 212-255-3959 or Chicago 312-663-9742.)

Item: On July 24, the day after California Gov. Pete Wilson got the U. of Cal. Board of Regents to outlaw affirmative action, the leader of the neo-Nazi Aryan Nations, Richard Butler, praised Wilson for "beginning to wake up" to Aryan views. (New York Times, 7/23/95).

Item: Richard Herrnstein, co-author of The Bell Curve, with his last racist dying breath proclaimed, "Whatever else this book does, it will destroy affirmative action in the universities." (Peter Brimelow, in The Bell Curve Debate, p. 373).

Item: One hundred twenty-five years ago racists attacked the Reconstruction era Freedman's Bureau as "an agency to keep the Negro in idleness at the expense of the white man." (Eric Foner, Reconstruction)

Item: The anti-affirmative action crusade in California is being spearheaded by National Association of Scholars (NAS). Over the past few years the NAS has received millions of dollars from the five leading right wing foundations: Lynde and Harry Bradley (which also paid "Bradley scholar" Charles Murray to write The Bell Curve), Adolph Coors, John Olin, Smith Richardson, and Sarah Scaife.


Affirmative action consists of procedures to identify, recruit, or promote qualified members of disadvantaged minority groups and women in order to overcome the results of past discrimination and to deter employers from engaging in discriminatory practices in the present.

Conservative opponents of affirmative action often deny its achievements, while liberal defenders often deny its limitations. As we review the origins and history of affirmative action, we will show that affirmative action was obtained through militant multiracial struggle and produced real gains and benefits for working class and middle class women and men of all racial and ethnic backgrounds. We will also show that affirmative actionwas a reform devised and implemented by the government and corporations within the framework of a declining U.S. capitalist system. We think that the history of affirmative action reform demonstrates the inadequacy of reformism and the need for a revolutionary communist strategy to destroy racism.

Affirmative action was not designed to alleviate the terrible conditions faced by most black, Latino, and women workers. For example, the Urban Institute recently estimated that 53% of black men aged 25 to 34 are either unemployed or earn too little to lift a family of four from poverty. (Roger Wilkins, "Racism Has Its Privileges," The Nation, 3/27/95). Affirmative action is a limited reform designed and carried out by the capitalist class in a declining capitalist society. Affirmative action has not reduced poverty, reduced unemployment, raised wages or even kept them from falling. Affirmative action has not prevented capitalists from eliminating jobs, converting full-time jobs into part-time or temporary jobs, or relocating production in low-wage areas. Affirmative action has not prevented politicians and capitalists from cutting school budgets, closing schools, raising tuition, cutting grants while increasing interest rates on loans, and firing teachers. Affirmative action and other anti-racist reforms under capitalism demonstrate that reform can barely make a dent in the problem of racism. Only communist revolution makes it possible to eliminate poverty, provide work and education for everyone, and establish an egalitarian society.

We believe that the cry of "reverse discrimination" put forward by racist conservatives is essentially a myth, created by politicians and their capitalist backers, for the purpose of scapegoating racial minorities. It is capitalists, not blacks, Latinos, immigrants, women, or "angry white men" who are responsible for the worsening problems working class and middle class people confront. (The "working class" is the class of people who do not own businesses and who must work for the capitalist class in order to live. The working class includes both blue collar and most white collar workers, as well as part- time, temporary, unemployed, retired, and disabled workers, welfare recipients, and their families. Those who are labeled as "lower class" or "underclass" are not below or under but are part of the working class. The "middle class" is not the working class but the class of people in the middle between the working class and the capitalist class. The middle class consists of small business and franchise owners, managers, supervisors, administrators, planners, and independent and semi-independent professionals, such as doctors, lawyers, research scientists, professors, and engineers.)

The capitalist ruling class, the wealthiest one percent of the U.S. population, is the class that controls the economy, both political parties, the mass media, and the universities. Racism is crucially necessary to the ability of the capitalist class to exploit the working class economically and control the working class politically. Ever since the days of slavery, capitalists have depended upon racism to extract maximum profits from the labor of African, Native American, Latino, Asian, and European workers. Ever since the days of slavery capitalists havefostered and exploited racist divisions as a necessary divide- and-rule strategy for political domination over the working class.

During the 1960's U.S. capitalists dominated the global capitalist system. U.S. rulers could afford to make small anti- racist concessions to head off the growth of a more revolutionary anti-racist movement. Since the 1970's, however, U.S. capitalism has greatly declined both internally and in its international position. The entire world capitalist system is in a long term crisis of "overproduction," which means that capitalists are struggling to sell what workers produce. Competition for markets between U.S., European, and Asian capitalists is rapidly intensifying, dissolving the anti-communist alliances of the Cold War period.

U.S. capitalists are forced by the crisis of overproduction and sharpening competition to drive down their costs every way then can. They must cut back the welfare state reforms that they set up during the thirties and the sixties to undercut the growth of revolutionary communist movements. Corporations have destroyed or weakened labor unions, down-sized their work forces, moved operations to low wage countries, and replaced full time with part time and temporary workers. Capitalists are drastically cutting back welfare programs, unemployment insurance, health care, housing assistance, education, environmental protection, social security, and medicare.

These cutbacks hurt all workers, but most cutbacks have a racist impact and fall most heavily on black and Latino workers. The capitalists cannot impose these cutbacks without greatly increasing their promotion of racist ideas. Racist ideas justify the cutbacks with stereotypes of undeserving beneficiaries; racist ideas fool some whites into thinking that cutbacks will only hurt somebody else. Racist scapegoating encourages whites to blame blacks, Latinos, and immigrants for worsening conditions that capitalists are inflicting on the entire working class. Racist ideology justifies police brutality and increased incarceration of minorities, and it justifies the expansion of the police state to suppress future revolt against intensifying racist oppression. The capitalists' attack on affirmative action is a key element in this broader racist offensive. Diverting anger over joblessness and a capitalist system in decline away from the bosses and onto other workers is a crucial aspect of capitalist control over the working class.

During the 1930's a similar global capitalist crisis and intensification of racism led to the rise of fascism in many countries and to World War II. Fascism is capitalist rule by the most violently racist, nationalistic, sexist, and anti-communist methods. Capitalist rulers abandon their facade of democracy when they need a much more repressive fascist system in order to drive down the living conditions of the working class and mobilize society for aggressive war. The Progressive Labor Party believes that the United States is in the early stages of fascism and preparation for a third imperialist world war. We can destroy fascism and imperialist war only by building a multiracial international working class party--the Progressive Labor Party--to replace capitalism with an egalitarian communist society.

We put forward in this pamphlet a revolutionary communist strategy for building a mass multiracial movement against racism, fascism, and war. This movement must be multiracial because racist and nationalist divisions are the main weapons the ruling class uses to keep us weak and make themselves strong. Multiracial and international unity is the main weapon the working class must forge to defeat the ruling class. We believe that the struggle against racism must be guided by a revolutionary rather than a reform strategy. We believe that it is impossible to stop racist attacks on affirmative action by merely calling for a "level playing field." It is an illusion to believe that this capitalist system will ever create a level playing field. Capitalists own the "playing field;" capitalists make the "rules," the laws; and capitalists own and control the "referees," the government. When workers compete with each other on any playing field, capitalists always win and the working class always loses. The working class must level the entire capitalist system, not just the playing field. The only affirmative action that can eliminate inequalities of social class, race, and gender is a communist revolution.


During the first phase of the anti-racist movement of the 1950's and 1960's, the primarily Southern Civil Rights Movement, black workers and students and their white allies organized massive waves of demonstrations, boycotts, sit-ins, and voter registration drives. They faced beatings, arrests, and murders at the hands of police, sheriffs, and the KKK. The Federal Government's inaction exposed the U.S. throughout the world as a racist society and radicalized civil rights activists. SNCC leader John Lewis tried to give a speech at the 1963 March on Washington condemning the Kennedy administration for its failure to protect civil rights workers in the South, but the march leadership censored the speech (Howard Zinn, SNCC: The New Abolitionists). Just as workers' sit-down strikes during the 1930's forced the ruling class to recognize labor unions, the Civil Rights Movement forced the ruling class to dismantle its jim crow system of legal segregation and to pass civil rights, voting rights, and other legislation.

The second phase was a period of nationwide black rebellion and revolutionary organization from the mid-1960's through the early 1970's. The Civil Rights Movement had achieved important victories, but the majority of blacks still faced racist conditions of poverty, unemployment, policy brutality, and segregated schools and housing. Urban blacks rose up in over 600 rebellions in every major U.S. city between 1964 and 1970. Black parents and students organized militant protests in schools and colleges to demand equal educational opportunities. Black workers and students also participated in massive protests against the U.S. Government's imperialist war in Southeast Asia.

The Johnson and Nixon administrations responded to thesemilitant protests with both greater repression and further reforms. Amidst racist calls for "law and order," Johnson and Nixon increased the level of repression by sending National Guard and Army divisions into black communities, developing FBI counter-intelligence programs to attempt to infiltrate and destroy militant organizations, and allocating billions of dollars to triple the size of urban police departments, provide riot training, and equip them with everything from tear gas to SWAT teams.

While the ruling class was beefing up this apparatus of repression, it also instituted further reforms. Affirmative action was one of these reforms. It was based on Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which prohibited discrimination in hiring for jobs. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) was formed to administer the Act, and in 1968 the EEOC instructed businesses with Federal Government contracts to take "affirmative action" to increase employment of black workers. Affirmative action was soon expanded to cover admissions to educational institutions, and separate programs were established to set aside a small percentage of Government contracts for minority businesses. In the early 1970's affirmative action coverage was expanded to include Latinos, Native Americans, women, and handicapped persons.

As a result of affirmative action, minority and women workers gained access to jobs from which they had been almost totally excluded. Substantial job gains occurred in the building trades and in city, county, state, and federal government agencies. The percentage of black fire fighters nationwide, for example, increased from 2.5% in 1960 to 11.5% in 1990. The Los Angeles fire department was 94% white and 100% male in 1973; in 1995 the LAFD is 26% Latino, 13% black, 6% Asian, and 4% women. Affirmative action also increased employment of black workers in the steel and textile industries. In the steel industry programs were established that increased access of black workers to skilled jobs. In the southern textile industry affirmative action opened up jobs to black women for the first time. Although concentrated in lower paying factory jobs, black women earned three times as much as they had previously earned as domestic workers. (Gertrude Ezorsky, Racism and Justice: The Case for Affirmative Action, 1991. p. 48).

Studies demonstrate that employment of minority and women workers has increased more at companies that have affirmative action policies than at companies that do not. Moreover, incomes of black and women workers at affirmative action companies average five to six thousand dollars higher than at non- affirmative action companies. Minority and women workers are more likely to hold professional and technical jobs at affirmative action companies. (Cedric Herring, "African Americans, the Public Agenda, and the Paradoxes of Public Policy: A Focus on the Controversies Surrounding Affirmative Action," Presidential Address at Annual Meeting of Association of Black Sociologists, Washington, DC, August, 1995.) Minority enrollment in colleges, graduate, and professional schools also increased substantially during the late sixties and the early seventies. The percentage of black adults with college degrees increasedfrom 5% in 1960 to 12% in 1990. Similarly, the proportion of black households with an annual income of $50,000 or higher rose from 5.2% in 1967 to 12.1% in 1991. (Andrew Hacker, Two Nations).

Interestingly and significantly, it has been shown that white males have also benefitted from affirmative action. The very same studies that show that blacks and women have benefitted from affirmative action also show that the incomes of white males employed at affirmative action companies are higher than the incomes of white males at non-affirmative action companies. Moreover, studies have shown that "when affirmative action brings whites into greater contact with people of color it enables whites to see that people of color are intelligent and hard working. Indeed, it is white men who work where there are no provisions for affirmative action" who are most racist in their attitudes. In sum, affirmative action has produced "higher incomes, better jobs, and more co-worker acceptance." (Herring, 1995.)

White working class youth have also benefitted because affirmative action expanded educational opportunities during the late 1960's and early 1970's. Black college enrollment increased by 95% between 1967 and 1972, rising from 370,000 to 727,000, but during that same period, white enrollment increased from 5.9 million to 7.5 million students. In New York's City University system, the majority of the students entering under new "open admissions" policies were working class whites.

This consistent pattern demonstrates that many black workers benefitted from affirmative action, and that white workers benefitted at the same time. These results show that anti-racism has often immediately and concretely benefitted both black and white workers. When capitalists cannot use racist divisions to lower wages, all workers benefit. When blacks and whites work together, white workers and professionals are more likely to discard racist stereotypes and unite in class solidarity with black workers in struggle that benefits all workers. Affirmative action thus helps to provide a basis for the multi-racial unity that is essential for fighting against any aspect of capitalist exploitation. When that multi-racial unity is combined with revolutionary communist leadership, the working class can take power away from the bosses and establish a communist society.


From the very beginning affirmative action was a reform that was designed and implemented by capitalists and their political servants within the framework of capitalist control over the working class. Affirmative action began in the construction industry, where craft unions belonging to the American Federation of Labor (AFL) were 99% white. (By contrast, industrial unions formed under communist leadership during the 1930's by the Congress of Industrial Unions (CIO) included several million black workers in their ranks.) In 1969 Pres. Nixon and the big construction companies adopted the "Philadelphia Plan," a plan for increasing black employment on federally funded constructionprojects. By expanding the pool of skilled black construction workers, the Philadelphia Plan increased the percentage of non- union labor on federally funded projects from 20% to 40% and substantially lowered construction craft workers' wages and benefits. The politicians and bosses increased the number of white and black workers competing for what soon became a shrinking number of jobs. If white workers had included black workers in their unions on an equal basis from the beginning, white and black workers could have united to defend union wages and benefits and to demand enough jobs for all workers. The racist union leadership played right into the hands of the bosses' anti-union strategy. (Jill Quadagno, The Color of Welfare: How Racism Undermined the War on Poverty, 1994, Chap. 3.)

Since the mid-1970's affirmative action has been carried out in a declining and decaying American capitalist economic and political system. The capitalists' divide-and-conquer strategy applied under Nixon as the "Philadelphia Plan" has now become part of a plan to incite racist conflict over a shrinking pie, an American plan for fascism!

** Since the mid-1970's median family income for blacks has declined from 64% of white median family income to 58% today.

** Since the 1970's real income levels of the working class have declined by 20%. Younger production workers' wages have fallen 30%.

** Throughout these two decades unemployment rates for black workers have consistently been two to two and one-half times as high as those for white workers, regardless of educational levels.

** In the early 1970's blacks were only four percent of the college professors, three percent of the physicians, and two percent of the scientists and engineers in the U.S. and the percentages are the same today.

** Since the beginning of the 1980's, nearly all gains in real income have gone to the richest one percent of the population. This top one percent increased their income by 75% during the 1980's, from $312,206 to $548,970.

** Within the white population and within the black population income distribution has become much more unequal. The rich capitalists of every racial group have gotten richer, while the poorest workers of every racial group have gotten poorer. Black workers were particularly hard hit during the early 1980's by Reagan-era cutbacks that targeted programs serving large numbers of blacks. White workers, including many college trained white collar workers were hard hit during the post 1989 recession by massive corporate down-sizing and restructuring. (Farai Chideya,Don't Believe the Hype: Fighting Cultural Misinformation about African Americans 1995; Andrew Hacker, Two Nations, 1992; Thomas and Mary Edsall, Chain Reaction: The Impact of Race, Rights, and Taxes on American Politics, 1991.)

There are other anti-racist reforms that politicians andcapitalists have transformed into strategies for perpetuating or increasing racism. For example:

School desegregation was implemented through busing plans that exempted wealthy suburban communities and private schools and desegregated deteriorating under-financed urban schools. Racist politicians instigated violent "anti-busing" movements and imposed budget cuts for schools and city services. Schools were rapidly re-segregated through a combination of tracking programs and "white flight" from urban public schools. When racist politicians in Boston launched a violent anti-busing campaign in 1974-75, the Progressive Labor Party and International Committee Against Racism (INCAR) organized a multiracial effort to defend integration and to demand better schools.

Desegregation of housing was promised by the 1968 Housing Act, but this act, passed by Congress while soldiers protected them from the rebellions triggered by the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., was a political compromise between liberals and conservatives in which no means of enforcement was included in the law. (Massey and Denton, American Apartheid ). Meanwhile, red-lining (bankers drawing red lines on maps to designate white and black areas of a city) and blockbusting (using racist fears to convert areas from white to black) made bankers and speculators rich, fleeced both white and black workers, and created new patterns of segregated communities.

Death penalty laws were declared unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1967 on the grounds that they were applied in an arbitrary and capricious manner (that is, applied mostly to blacks). Laws were rewritten in most states and approved by the Supreme Court, and a handful of whites were executed in the late 1970's to demonstrate that things had changed. Since the early 1980's states have reverted to the old racist pattern. A majority of the population on death row is black or Latino, and statistical analysis shows it is between 5 and 13 times more likely that the death penalty will be imposed when a black kills a white than when a white kills a black or when killer and victim are of the same race. The Supreme Court acknowledged this statistical pattern in a 1987 case but ruled that it did not matter. Under this criminal justice system, the more things change, the more they remain the same.

These examples show that the ruling class employs many methods to weaken or destroy anti-racist reforms: (1) Making white and black workers compete for a dwindling number of jobs; (2) making desegregation of schools and housing merely a transition to resegregation; (3) passing anti-racist laws without putting any teeth into them; (4) doing away with racist laws and then replacing them with similar racist laws; and (5) inciting racist "backlashes" against anti-racist reforms. All of these methods have been used against affirmative action. The result is that there is very little of affirmative action left.


A California pro-affirmative action activist accurately wrote that "over the past twenty years the U.S. Supreme Court has already chopped the scope of affirmative action programs down to a stump. (Van Jones, "What Is the Campaign Against Affirmative Action Really About/"Third Force, May/June, 1995).

** The Supreme Court in the 1978 Bakke case made "quotas" illegal. The consequences of that decision can be clearly seen from the following fact: "No federal contractor has ever been debarred from doing business with the federal government because it did not meet its goals. In fact, contractors regularly fail to meet their yearly goals. (Zaida I. Giraldo, Dir. of Affirmative Action, CSU Chico, "What Everyone Should Know About Affirmative Action," Peaceful Action, May, 1995)

** The Supreme Court in the 1989 Richmond, VA, vs Croson Co. declared most "set-aside" programs illegal, even when their intent is to remedy previous exclusion.

** The Supreme Court in the 1989 Wards Cove Packing Co. decision shifted the burden of proof of discrimination onto minorities, even when there is a demonstrable disparity in employment. In other words, even when companies have hired no minority workers in the past and are hiring virtually no minority workers in the present, those who are denied jobs have the burden of proving to a court's satisfaction that they were personally discriminated against in order to justify creating affirmative action procedures!

** While the Supreme Court was "chopping down" affirmative action, it had plenty of help during the 1980's from Reagan appointees Clarence Thomas, head of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission,.and Clarence Pendleton, chair of the Civil Rights Commission, both of whom were sworn enemies of affirmative action. Thomas drastically cut back class action suits, reduced staff, shifted the burden of proof from employers to employees, allowed the backlog of cases to grow to 46,000 and processing time to increase to 10 months. Complicit liberal Democrats did nothing to prevent Thomas from sabotaging the EEOC, just as the liberal Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee refused to attack his racist record during his Supreme Court nomination hearings.

Affirmative action today thus cannot require any positive results (quotas); past and present exclusion of minorities cannot be accepted as evidence of discrimination; an impossible burden of proof is on the individual worker or student; and monitoring and enforcement agencies have been virtually destroyed. Under these circumstances the claim that minority workers and students "enjoy special preferences" at the expense of whites would be laughable if it weren't such a dangerous fascist lie!


Attacks on affirmative action come in many disguises. Below are our analysis of and answers to the most commonly heard arguments against affirmative action.

  1. People should be hired or admitted to universities on the basis of merit, not racial preference. This is actually an argument in favor of affirmative action that has been hijacked by opponents of affirmative action.

    The "merit" argument is mainly based on the notion that standardized test scores measure who is most qualified for admissions to college and hiring for jobs. Standardized tests, from the SAT's and the ACT's used in college admissions to the "blue books" and "red books" that were used for hiring police and fire fighters were created with conscious discriminatory intent and have always been racially and class biased. They do not measure motivation, talent, self-discipline, and do not predict ability to do the work. They have served as racist and class biased devices of exclusion, perpetuating the inequalities in educational opportunity that minority and working class students face.

    The merit argument also conveniently ignores the university programs of special preference for upper class children that have existed for centuries. "Legacy" preference for the children of alumni is the true example of special preference for the less qualified. A recent study found that, during the past 40 years, one-fifth of Harvard's students have received admissions preference because their parents attended the school. Affluent white legacies are three times more likely to be accepted to Harvard than other applicants. Similar patterns prevail at such other Ivy League schools as Yale, Dartmouth, and the Univ. of Pennsylvania.

    Although Ivy League administrators had claimed that legacies were well qualified, the U.S. Dept. of Education's Office for Civil Rights (OCR) found that "the average admitted legacy at Harvard between 1981 and 1988 was significantly less qualified than the average admitted nonlegacy." The OCR study concluded that at most elite universities during the eighties the legacy was by far the biggest piece of the preferential pie. At Harvard, a legacy is about twice as likely to be admitted as a black or Hispanic student...marginally qualified legacies outnumbered all black, Mexican-American, Native American and Puerto Rican enrollees put together." (John Larew, "Who's the Real affirmative Action Profiteer?" Debating Affirmative Action, Nicolaus Mills, ed., New York: Delta Books, 1994).

    Equally hypocritical were the Univ. of California Regents who in July, 1995, voted to abolish affirmative action. While they voted to exclude thousands of fully qualified black and Latino students from the University of California system, they conveniently took no action to end the annual admission of the more than one thousand mostly athlete "special admits." As Tom Hayden and Connie Rice noted in The Nation ("California Cracks its Mortarboards," 9/18/95), "winning Rose Bowls was important enough to the Regents to merit an exception to their strict academic standards."

    Two recent studies show that black workers continue to face the traditional racist pattern of "last hired and first fired." First, "a 1990 Urban Institute study utilizing pairs of black and white job applicants with identical credentials found that in 476 hirings in Washington, DC, and Chicago, "unequal treatment of black job seekers was entrenched and widespread, contradicting claims that hiring practices today either favor blacks or are effectively color blind. In 20 percent of the audits, whites were able to advance further through the hiring process than equally qualified blacks....A similar study using Hispanic job applicants found them discriminated against 29 percent of the time in San Diego and 33 percent of the time in Chicago." ("Affirmative Action: Yesterday, Today, and Beyond," Reginald Wilson, American Council on Education paper, May, 1995, p. 17). Second, a study by the Office of Personnel Management of the Federal Government found that "Black federal employees were more than twice as likely to be fired than their white, Hispanic, or Asian counterparts." Blacks were 52% of the workers dismissed during 1994, according to the study by sociologist Hilary Silver. (Reported in the New York Times, 4/20/95). These studies show that current hiring and firing decisions are based on white racial preference rather than merit and therefore demonstrate the continuing need for affirmative action.

  2. Affirmative Action has achieved its objectives and is no longer needed. If an "objective" of affirmative action is to guarantee "equal opportunity," the studies of hiring and firing cited above demonstrate that this objective has not been achieved. If an objective of affirmative action is to promote greater equality of occupational and educational attainment between blacks and whites, the facts show that racial inequalities are at least as great as they were during the 1960's.

    The Federal "Glass Ceiling Commission" in its 1995 report found that white men, who make up 43% of the work force, hold over 95% of all senior management positions. White men are also 80% of tenured professors and 97% of school superintendents. African Americans are only 4% of middle management and college teachers, 3% of all physicians and lawyers, and 2% of all scientists and engineers. On the other hand, black workers are 30% of nursing aides and orderlies, 25% of hotel maids and domestic workers, 23% of prison guards and security guards, 22% of janitors, and 25 to 30% of all unemployed workers and "discouraged" workers who have given up on finding a job. Even black workers with college degrees have an unemployment rate more than twice as great as their white counterparts! (Andrew Hacker, Two Nations, 1992, chap. 7.)

    Wage gaps between black and white workers, which narrowed somewhat between the mid 1960's and mid 1970's, have steadily increased since then. Following the same pattern, black-white differences in college attendance and graduation rates declined from the mid-sixties through the mid-seventies, but have been widening for the past two decades. At the same time, as college costs have escalated, the federal government shifted most student aid from grants to loans, which has disproportionately prevented lower income blacks from attending college. Racial disparities in wages and in college attendance reinforce each other. For the past twenty years the differential between wages paid to college graduates and non-college graduates has grown substantially larger.

  3. Affirmative Action amounts to "reverse discrimination." This argument has gotten a lot of publicity but it has little if any substance. A recent report for the Labor Department prepared by law professor Alfred W. Blumrosen found fewer than 100 reverse discrimination cases among the more than 3,000 discrimination opinions handed down by Federal district and appeals courts from 1990 and 1994. The courts found discrimination" in only six cases and provided appropriate relief. The study concluded "that the problem of 'reverse discrimination' is not widespread; and that where it exists, the courts have given relief. Nothing in these cases would justify dismantling the existing structure of equal opportunity employment programs." (New York TimeS, 3/31/95). We therefore conclude that "reverse discrimination" is a myth that serves the ideological purpose of scapegoating. It diverts the anger of white men, who have experienced declining economic opportunities, away from the capitalist bosses onto blacks, Latinos, immigrants, and women.

  4. Affirmative action is divisive. We do not think affirmative action is divisive. By integrating work places and schools and by concretely demonstrating to whites that minorities and women can do any job whites can do, affirmative action has historically reduced the divisive racist attitudes of whites and created more of a basis for multiracial unity. Affirmative action is not divisive, but the way that the ruling class has implemented affirmative action in a declining capitalist society that is producing fewer jobs and educational opportunities has been divisive.

    A large majority of whites continue to support affirmative action, according to a New York Times article, "Affirmative Action and the Voter," by liberal pollster Louis Harris (7/31/95). According to Harris, when California voters were told that the "California Civil Rights Initiative" would abolish affirmative action, only 31% supported it, while 56% opposed it. Many expressed outrage that politicians were trying to fool them with phrases about "preferential treatment."

    Those whites who mistakenly think that minorities are receiving unfair advantages and taking away their jobs and educational opportunities have not spontaneously come to think this way. The ruling class is spending a lot of money to try to fool people with the California Civil Rights Initiative (CCRI). The CCRI was initiated by leaders of the California Association of Scholars, the state chapter of the National Association of Scholars (NAS). Over the past few years the NAS has received millions of dollars from the five foundations that have for decades been the biggest supporters of right-wing racist causes. The Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation, The Adolph Coors Foundation, the John Olin Foundation, the Smith Richardson Foundation, and the Sarah Scaife Foundation gave $620,000 to the NAS in 1993 alone. These same ruling class foundations gave millions of dollars to academic Nazis Charles Murray and Richard Herrnstein, who in The Bell Curve advocated that the government "rescind all anti-discrimination legislation" and abolish affirmative action.

    It is no accident that some working and middle class people do not clearly understand that the capitalist class is to blame for their increasing problems. The ruling class has spent a fortune trying to make sure that angry whites are angry at everyone but the rulers themselves. It is therefore misleading to assert that, when there are hard economic times, white people tend to blame black people for their problems. This view lets the ruling class off the hook and mystifies racism as something white people just have. In fact, in hard economic times, workers are likely to blame their bosses for laying them off, denying them unemployment insurance, closing their schools and clinics, and denying them access to health care. For the ruling class, it is a matter of life and death to get a lot of working and middle class people to fall for racist scapegoating. Otherwise, millions of working and middle class people will join the revolutionary communist Progressive Labor Party and put an end to capitalism and racism.

  5. Affirmative Action only helps middle class blacks. This argument is false and is used to discredit affirmative action by implying that it helps those who are already privileged and thus do not need an extra break. Middle class blacks commonly experience racist discrimination and mistreatment and therefore need the protection of affirmative action. Most of the black people who have benefitted from affirmative action, however, are working class. They are workers in city, state, and federal governments, construction workers, and other skilled blue collar and white collar workers. They are students from working class backgrounds who would otherwise be excluded from colleges and universities. Only a small minority of the beneficiaries of affirmative action have been lawyers, doctors, and small business people, but their visibility is often used to convey the false impression that affirmative action has mainly helped affluent blacks.

    It is also important to point out that the few highly visible wealthy minorities are neither working class nor middle class but members of the capitalist ruling class. Their attainment of their positions has had little or nothing to do with affirmative action. The ruling class has admitted a few black capitalists, managers, military officers, politicians, and academics into its ranks in an effort to maintain control over a working class made up increasingly of racial minorities. Ron Brown, Clarence Thomas, and Colin Powell provide a phony facade of fairness and credibility for a racist White House, Supreme Court, and Pentagon, while neo-conservative academics Thomas Sowell, Glenn Loury, Stephen Carter, and William J. Wilson put a black face on racist arguments against affirmative action.

    The ruling class was also forced to increase the number of minorities serving in positions of social control. During the 1960's the criminal justice system and many other institutions were exposed as racist instruments of repression. The ruling class has modified these institutions so that they can be used to protect the system of inequality and exploitation. In law enforcement, for example, affirmative action tripled the number of black police from 24,000 in 1970 to 64,000 in 1990. Blacks made up 41% of all new police officers hired between 1970 and 1990. The Progressive Labor Party is opposed to demands for more minority or women bosses, politicians, generals, cops, and administrators, because we want to get rid of all bosses, politicians, generals, cops, and administrators. We support affirmative action for the working class. We do not support demands that can only help the ruling class control the working class.

  6. Affirmative Action only helps white women. Affirmative action has probably helped white women more than it has helped African Americans, but neither blacks nor women have even come close to gaining equality with white men. There are three times as many white women in the U.S. as there are black people. There are far more white women college teachers, physicians, and other professionals. White women are far more dispersed throughout all social classes than are African Americans, who are more disproportionately concentrated in the most exploited sections of the working class. Half of the capitalist class consists of women, nearly all of whom are white. Because women and men commonly marry each other, women and men are not nearly as segregated from each other as people are by race.

    Nevertheless, it is important not to overstate the benefits of affirmative action for white women or to exaggerate the differences between racism and sexism. While a minority of white women have entered and advanced in previously all male fields, most white women have experienced an overall decline in their status since the mid-seventies. Sixty percent of white adults who live below the official poverty line are women. Nearly one- fourth of white families are single-parent families headed by a woman. The vast majority of white women workers are occupationally segregated in low paying sales, office, service, and production jobs, many of them part-time, temporary, and without benefits. Although the "glass ceiling" keeps women out of the highest levels of the corporate hierarchy, the "sticky floor" keeps the majority of white women and women of all races at or near the bottom of the system of capitalist exploitation of the working class.

  7. Affirmative Action unfairly stigmatizes qualified minorities. This is surely one of the most hypocritical arguments invented by opponents of affirmative action. In the first place, racists have always "stigmatized" minorities and regarded them as "unqualified." It is precisely because of such racist assumptions that affirmative action is necessary. Secondly, white people have been receiving preferential treatment in the U.S. for hundreds of years without being or feeling "stigmatized" for it. Wealthy whites do not seem eager to eliminate legacy programs at elite universities or any of the special privileges they enjoy in this capitalist society.

  8. "Race specific" Affirmative Action should be replaced with a class based form of Affirmative Action that will have broader support and benefit disadvantaged people of all racial backgrounds. This has become the line with which people pose as progressive defenders of affirmative action and "champions of the poor of all races" while working to destroy what is left of affirmative action. It is therefore the most insidious argument against affirmative action. William J. Wilson (The Declining Significance of Race, 1978, and The Truly DisadvantageD, 1987) and the Edsalls (Chain Reaction, 1991) have been praised by the ruling class for writing books setting forth this argument. U Cal. Santa Cruz faculty member Dana Takagi has refuted this argument by explaining why class is not a proxy for race. Just as there are class differences within every racial group, there are racial differences within each social class. For example, working class white students score higher on "standardized" tests than working class blacks and Latinos. Working class whites score higher than working class Asians on the verbal portions of standardized tests. Class based affirmative action would therefore favor whites over blacks, Latinos, and most Asians, which is what racist critics of affirmative action desire. Politicians who advocate replacing race with class have no real desire to direct more assistance to low income people, regardless of race. In fact, they are cutting back all programs that provide such assistance. They may promise that they will take from black workers and give to white workers, but they will actually take from all workers and give to the bosses. The end result of destroying affirmative action will be just like the end result of every other racist attack. It will hurt black workers first and hardest, but it will soon hurt the entire working class! (Dana Takagi, "We Should Not Make Class a Proxy for Race," Chronicle of Higher Education, 5/5/95). Takagi has also exposed the fallacy of the racist myth of Asian Americans as a "model minority" that has "made it" without affirmative action. Asian American face racist exploitation and have not "made it." Many Asian Americans have benefitted from affirmative action by gaining access to jobs previously reserved for whites. The "model minority" myth is used to attack affirmative action by claiming that the U.S. is a "meritocracy" in which everyone has the opportunity to get ahead.

"New" Democrats have been pursuing a political strategy guided by this racist notion of replacing race with class. They argue that Democrats have catered to the "special interests" of blacks and the "underclass" by supporting affirmative action, welfare, and other social programs. Democrats can only win elections, according to this racist logic, by appealing to the "forgotten middle class." Democrats have thus embraced the racist ideology put forward for years by the Republicans and made that ideology the mainstream of U.S. politics. The results are becoming obvious: Republicans and Democrats, who are both financed and controlled by the same capitalist class, are joining together to destroy what is left of affirmative action, welfare, public education, health care, and pensions. Soon after that they will drastically cut back social security, medicare, and medicaid.

Why then does Pres. Clinton pose as a defender of affirmative action? He is worried that if he ends affirmative action altogether it will be virtually impossible to get black and Latino workers and students to retain any faith in the U.S .system. It will be very hard to convince them to register and vote for Democrats or for anybody. He fears militant revolt and wants to preserve a tiny fragment of affirmative action. Clinton also want us to continue to regard Democrats as a "lesser evil" protecting us from the Republicans and all their fascist friends. Liberals will not protect us from fascism and World War III any better than they have protected our jobs, our wages, our schools, our welfare system, our neighborhoods, or our families. They are only trying to protect the ruling class.

Pres. Clinton, in his July 19, 1995, speech urging that we should "mend, not end" affirmative action, put forward pro- capitalist reasons for retaining affirmative action that are entirely different from the reasons why workers and students should support affirmative action. Clinton said that affirmative action has made "America stronger." He applauded a "growing black middle class," claimed that "women have become a major force in business and political life," asserted that "police departments now better reflect the make-up of those whom they protect," and that "a generation of professionals now serve as role models for young women and minority youth."

We reject all of these arguments. We do not want to make America (that is, the capitalist bosses) stronger or help them compete more profitably against other bosses. Workers do not benefit by helping "our" bosses compete with the bosses of other workers. The black middle class is not growing but shrinking because of corporate down sizing and Clinton's program of "reinventing government" by eliminating the jobs of government workers. Becoming middle class cannot be the solution for exploited workers. Most workers cannot become middle class under capitalism. Workers cannot solve their problems by rising out of their class but by rising up as a class against their exploiters. A few women have become bosses and politicians, but, like all bosses and politicians, they are enemies of working and middle class women. There are more black police than there used to be, but police departments are still overwhelmingly dominated by racist white cops like Mark Fuhrman, and all cops protect the racist ruling class, not the community. Professional role models are a cruel hoax for a majority of working and middle class youth today, because the capitalist system offers no opportunities and no future. Professional role models help the ruling class peddle the lie that you can get ahead if you work hard.

As communists we have no use for Pres. Clinton or the rest of the Democratic and Republican Parties. Both parties are financially controlled by the capitalist bosses and are racist enemies of the working class. Our program of action is therefore not to try to elect "better" politicians in 1996 or restore a Democratic majority in Congress. We understand that many of the most dedicated anti-racist fighters support the Democratic Party to some extent and see it as a vehicle for opposing the growth of fascism in the U.S. We as communists in the Progressive Labor Party will actively participate in any organization where there are masses of anti-racist activists. Our goal, however, is to win people to the understanding that reformist strategies to combat racism cannot succeed. Only communist revolution can enable the working class and its allies to destroy racism and exploitation.



  1. Build an anti-racist movement that is multiracial.
  2. Oppose further attempts to destroy what is left of Affirmative Action.
  3. Oppose all forms of scapegoating whenever we encounter them.
  4. Speak out against the use of racist books and articles in college courses.
  5. Speak out against professors and administrators who spread lies of racial inferiority.
  6. Oppose the use of standardized tests as instruments of racist exclusion.
  7. End tuition for public higher education, restore funds that have been cut from education budgets, and restore the primacy of grants over loans, so that students do not accumulate massive debts in order to get a college degree.
  8. Oppose racist cuts in other social programs, such as AFDC, Food Stamps, Medicaid, School Lunches, Environmental Protection, Medicare, and Social Security.

    Most importantly, it is not enough to demand the redistribution of a shrinking number of low paying, temporary, and part-time jobs, thereby playing into the hands of capitalists who are down sizing and pitting workers against each other. Instead, in order to unify the working class so that we will be able to defeat the capitalist ruling class:

  9. Demand jobs with living wages and benefits for minority workers and for all those who need them.
  10. Demand a shorter work day (six hours work for eight hours pay) without loss of pay for workers, in order to force the bosses to create millions of new jobs.


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