A Socialist Labor Party Statement—

Affirmative Action Under Attack

What’s at Stake in the Bakke Case?

With its decision to review the California Bakke ruling, the U.S. Supreme Court has set the stage for what could be a severe legal blow at antidiscrimination programs in education and hiring throughout the country. Given the rapid erosion of past civil rights gains, the continuing economic crisis and the current tendencies of the Supreme Court, there is every reason to expect the worst.

The Bakke decision, if upheld, could overturn University of California affirmative action programs designed to promote the admission of minorities and women. Depending on the nature of the final ruling, such a decision could be used to launch assaults on similar programs elsewhere. Political demagogues and other defenders of discrimination have already displayed a readiness to denounce affirmative action programs as “racism in reverse,” and any ratification of the Bakke case would strengthen their hand.

Most affirmative action programs were won as concessions to the struggles of women, blacks and other minorities against discriminatory practices in hiring and school admission. Those who denounce these reforms as unfair racial or sex “quotas” conveniently overlook the fact that past practices amounted to quotas as well, except that they were quotas that assured the exclusion of minorities and women.

This is why those who advocate the dismantling of the few programs which consciously address themselves to the realities of racism and sexism are, in effect, advocating a return to past discrimination. The facile proponents of “criteria based on merit” pretend there are some abstract qualifications unaffected by the inequalities and oppression of this society.

Left to its own designs, capitalism will promote racism and discrimination everywhere. This is why a recent tendency of the courts, closely related to the Bakke case, to require proof of conscious, racist intent in order to prove discrimination and win redress, amounts to a legal Catch-22. When a social system is inherently racist or sexist, when its seniority systems, housing patterns, distribution of wealth, and ideologies perpetuate inequality on every score, discriminatory practices will exist whether consciously promoted by provable conspiracies or not.

But to recognize the attack on affirmative action as part and parcel of the general upsurge in attacks on civil rights is not to imply that such programs hold out the solution for eradicating discrimination. For women and minorities, affirmative action is at best a half-measure. Moreover, it’s inevitable under capitalism that some programs will be designed to aggravate competition among women, black, Spanish, white and other workers for the scarce job and educational opportunities this system makes available. Undoubtedly there are those in the ruling class who will welcome and encourage such a spectacle.

Nevertheless, the solution to such competition is not to erase the gains of the victims of discrimination or for white male workers to embrace the illusion that their safety lies in the exclusion of other workers.

The answer to inadequate educational opportunities is full opportunity for all. The solution to unemployment and competition for jobs is an end to unemployment and to the system that has workers competing with one another for a chance to sell their labor power.

In short, the solution to inequality is not to share it or spread it around, but to root out its capitalist cause.

This is why Socialists, in the course of opposing the entire social trend represented by the Bakke decision, consistently point out that it's capitalism, not the efforts of any group of workers to survive its oppression, that blocks the road to full opportunity and the end of discrimination.


Socialist Labor Party of America, P.O. Box 218, Mountain View, CA 94042-0218 • www.slp.org • socialists@slp.org

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