Workers Vanguard No. 1013

23 November 2012


For Free Quality Integrated Education for All!

Supreme Court to Rule on Remnants of Affirmative Action

(Young Spartacus pages)

Having all but abolished special admissions programs and other minimal reforms initiated in the mid 1960s to increase minority students’ access to higher education, the Supreme Court will soon rule on whether any consideration of race in University of Texas admissions is constitutional. The Fisher v. University of Texas case is taking place in the context of a decades-long racist purge of universities through both legal attacks on affirmative action and astronomical tuition hikes that keep quality higher education out of reach for the mass of black and Latino kids. During the Supreme Court’s October 10 Fisher hearing, about 250 protesters gathered outside the court in support of affirmative action. There has been a lamentable dearth of protest around this Supreme Court case, even as compared to the 2003 Grutter v. Bollinger case.

Workers and youth must oppose this attack on the remains of affirmative action. The Fisher case is part of a racist ideological drive to entrench the principle that oppressed minorities deserve nothing, ever. In university admissions, affirmative action has meant gains, however minimal, for a small number of black and Latino students against the inherent race and class bias of higher education under capitalism. But these gains are at best limited and easily reversible, as evidenced by the last 35 years of Supreme Court rulings, as well as the ballot initiatives and laws that currently ban affirmative action in seven states. What is needed is not simply a defense of the existing scraps of affirmative action but a fight for free, quality, racially integrated education as a right for everyone. The working class has the potential social power and objective interest to fight for this.

Minimal gains like affirmative action never have and never will fundamentally alter the systematic oppression of black people. The majority of black youth are not simply locked out of the elite universities. Those who are not locked away in America’s prisons work in menial jobs—if they have access to a job at all—and languish in the segregated ghettos where the only ticket out is signing up for the imperialist military or the police. Many Latinos, especially Dominicans and Puerto Ricans who are branded by the color of their skin once they hit U.S. shores, do not fare much better. Black oppression is woven into the fabric of American capitalism, starting from the enslavement of millions of black people. Chattel slavery no longer exists in this country, but the forcible segregation of the vast majority of black people cannot be ended by anything short of workers revolution to sweep away the capitalist system.

High school students of today have never seen a time when segregation (white kids going to mostly white schools, black kids going to mostly black schools) was not accepted in society as the “normal” order of things. The hypersegregation of U.S. schools, which also affects many Latinos, is the disastrous consequence of the 1970s defeat of busing. Busing was a minimal court-mandated reform that required the racial integration of public schools in Boston and other cities. The Spartacist League defended busing and urged the working class to fight to extend busing to the wealthier white suburbs. (See “As Racist Mobs Rampaged, Liberals and Reformists Knifed Busing,” WV No. 921, 26 September 2008.) As time went on, the courts increasingly accepted the verdict handed down by racist mob rule in the 1970s.

Reactionaries’ Drive to End Affirmative Action

This Supreme Court case centers on Abigail Fisher, a white student from Texas who cried foul because the University of Texas denied her application in 2008. Fisher’s lawyer claims she was “injured” by going through an admissions process that considers race as one of many factors in determining the admission of some incoming freshmen. He further argues that, since the University of Texas automatically admits white, black and Latino students who graduate in the top 10 percent of their high school classes, it is not necessary to ever consider race in admissions in order to achieve racial “diversity.” Fisher’s followers are raising the timeworn racist battle cry of “reverse discrimination.”

The driving force behind the Fisher case is the Project on Fair Representation, a right-wing legal organization set up by former investment broker Edward Blum. This reactionary outfit is also providing all of the resources for the Shelby County v. Holder case that is currently before the Supreme Court—a case aimed at overturning key sections of the 1965 Voting Rights Act. From affirmative action and racial integration of public schools to voting rights for blacks and Latinos, its mission seems to be the elimination of every remaining gain of the civil rights movement.

And where does the money come from? The Project on Fair Representation is funded by Donors Trust, a conduit through which right-wingers like the infamous Koch brothers and Chicago industrialist Barre Seid have funneled over $300 million to projects ranging from the drive to gut Social Security to the undermining of research into climate change. Donors Trust recipients also include right-wing think tanks like the CATO Institute and American Enterprise Institute, whose “scholars” have included Dinesh D’Souza, Newt Gingrich, Charles Murray, who coauthored the racist Bell Curve, and John Yoo, the architect of the Bush administration’s torture memos.

For its part, the Obama administration submitted an amicus curiae (friend of the court) brief in defense of the University of Texas and in support of the last scraps of affirmative action. After motivating at length the importance of black and Latino military officers, the brief argues, “A pipeline of highly qualified, diverse graduates is critical to the Nation’s law-enforcement and national-security needs.”

The Obama White House could not care less about making education accessible to black and Latino youth. Rather, the administration is simply expressing the interests of a more far-sighted wing of the bourgeoisie that wants to have enough black police chiefs to “educate” the ghettos through cop terror and repression; enough Latino Border Patrol officials to oversee the roundups of Mexicans on the border; and enough black and Latino military officers to command the loyalty of their black and Latino subordinates so that U.S. imperialism can maintain its murderous domination over black- and brown-skinned peoples of the world. The liberals and reformists who think they can successfully pressure the federal government to champion rights for oppressed minorities are living in a fool’s paradise.

Also arguing in support of affirmative action, Wal-Mart, Halliburton and Starbucks added their names to an amicus brief of nearly five dozen Fortune 100 and other top corporations. Again, these capitalists have not the slightest interest in education for the ghettos and barrios. They want a small layer of black and Latino professionals as supervisors, administrators and marketing agents who can deal in a “global society,” and they want their (mostly white) future executives to have experience in a “diverse” university environment. The amicus brief explicitly states their motive: “All of this is not just a matter of abstract ideas, but of dollars and cents.”

Defend Affirmative Action and More!

In the wake of the civil rights movement and then the ghetto upheavals, the bourgeois rulers set up affirmative action programs beginning in the mid 1960s as a sop to defuse social struggles and to create and co-opt a layer of black middle-class professionals. The liberal affirmative action schemes were from the outset designed in such a way as to set whites against blacks and men against women in competition for a diminishing share of jobs, classroom seats and professional openings. After all, within the framework of the capitalist status quo, advancement for one sector of the population can only come at the expense of another. Black people are therefore turned into scapegoats for the white workers’ poor conditions, which have increasingly worsened during this latest economic crisis that the capitalists created.

Young activists who believe that the Democratic Party is the instrument for defending the interests of workers and the oppressed should not fool themselves. As we wrote in “Defeat Racist Assault on Affirmative Action!” (WV No. 620, 7 April 1995):

“And today the liberals cannot defend these measures which they instituted in the first place, because they have nothing to offer the working class, white or black, and besides, they can’t square them with their ideology of meritocracy and abstract ‘democracy.’ The stark fact is that there is no way to overcome entrenched racial and sexual oppression within the framework of capitalism.”

We defend affirmative action in higher education as a minimal democratic measure. At the same time, we have always opposed affirmative action in employment, because it gives employers and capitalist state agencies the chance to interfere in the trade unions for the purpose of undermining hard-won gains. During the Nixon administration, the 1969 “Philadelphia Plan” mandated hiring quotas on federal construction projects and were used to undermine union hiring halls and seniority rights. This was part of a conscious effort to use minority workers as a club against their white class brothers and sisters. Against government-enforced affirmative action schemes in the unions, we fight for preferential training and hiring of minorities by the unions as part of the struggle to organize the unorganized and to establish and defend union hiring halls.

Quality education should not be a privilege bestowed on the “worthy” sons and daughters of the bourgeoisie and those who can afford it. It should be a right for everyone. The select few who manage to get into a good college can barely withstand the cost of four years. For example, the Chronicle of Higher Education (31 August) reports that only 32 percent of black students and 39 percent of Latinos at Texas’ public four-year institutions actually graduate. The 57 percent graduation rate for white students is also abysmal. Against the debt peonage that awaits so many college students of all races, we say: Abolish the student debt!

All colleges should have open admissions, no tuition, a state-paid living stipend for each student and free childcare in order to make education genuinely accessible to everyone. Private universities like Harvard, with its $30 billion endowment, should be nationalized under worker, student and teacher control. Massive remedial programs should be set up to academically prepare students coming from the resource-starved inner-city schools. Racial integration and equal access to a quality education will not come through Supreme Court rulings or the election of Democratic politicians. The fight for free, quality education for all cannot be separated from the necessary struggle to abolish the capitalist system itself. Only workers revolution can put an end to racial and other social inequalities that are firmly rooted in the capitalist system.