Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

Workers Congress (Marxist-Leninist)

National Proposal to Build the Anti-Bakke Movement


First Published: The Communist, Vol. IV, No. 20, September 11, 1978.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
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Which way forward for the anti-Bakke movement?

This is a decisive question for those active in the movement, many who have dropped out, and others concerned about the Bakke attack on equal rights who have not yet found a way to take up work.

Wide publicity around the Supreme Court decision upholding Bakke’s claim of ’reverse discrimination’ and legal challenges to affirmative action in one place after another since the decision this summer have made more and more people conscious of the impact of the decision and of its importance. Bakke is not a dead issue. It is on people’s minds, people want to know how it will affect them, and they want leadership in the struggle to oppose it. The potential for broadening and deepening the struggle to defend and expand affirmative action programs, therefore, is definitely good. This should be a period of rapid growth. More than ever the conditions exist for drawing together broad masses of people throughout the country and a wide variety of democratic minded organizations in order to build one powerful nationwide campaign.

Unfortunately, however, since the Supreme Court’s decision in the Bakke case, the Anti-Bakke Decision Coalition (ABDC) has been paralyzed by lack of a national plan to take advantage of this situation and draw new forces and energy into the struggle.

This situation must come to an end. Now is the time to build upon the good work the ABDC has done, to go deeply into the issue of affirmative action, to expand our outlook and outreach and to build a single nationwide coalition, as broadly based as possible, in order to unite all who can be united to defend and expand affirmative action programs.


However, at this time a tendency has come forward in the ABDC which seeks to abandon affirmative action as the focus of coalition work. This tendency argues that the essence of the Bakke case is national oppression. Therefore, to continue to focus on affirmative action would narrow the work of the coalition and be too legalistic; it would hold back the work of the ABDC and lead it up a dead alley. Affirmative action, the argument goes on, is just one part of national oppression. What is required, then, claim the friends who hold this view, is a coalition which focuses broadly on all issues of national oppression.


This appears to be the gereral thrust of the ’national plan’ which has begun to come forward from the national office of the ABDC as reported by local chapter leaders. The national office has specifically called for a nationwide week of resistance November 6-12 to commemorate the strikes of “third world” students ten years ago. These particular dates were chosen because they are the 10th anniversary of the San Francisco State strike. Under this plan each local should take up a major campaign in their area such as the Jarvis-Gann initiative. But the national ABDC would not determine what campaign should be taken up in any area because that would depend on what the masses of people were involved in locally. Jarvis-Gann is good in California, for example because everyone there is taking it up. But in another region or locality police brutality or busing or housing or a student campaign such as the struggle at Atlanta Jr. College might be the focus of work. While there would be no specific connection between these different local campaigns, according to the national plan, they would be linked because they would all focus on national oppression.


Our organization has serious differences with this plan. We think turns its back on the main sentiments and aims which brought people together around the Bakke case—to defend and expand affirmative action programs. We don’t think the job taken up by the anti-Bakke movement has been completed. We’re against abandoning it. As a result, we consider it important to put forward an alternative proposal that more accurately reflects the common goals that drew people together in ABDC and in anti-Bakke work generally. The essence of our proposal is to unite all who can be united to build one big nationwide campaign to defend and expand affirmative action programs. The main points of our proposal are as follows:

1. ABDC should provide the impetus nationally for organizing and mobilizing a broad mass movement to defend and expand all affirmative action programs.

2. In the immediate period, the focus of ABDC work nationwide should be on affirmative action in the field of employment rights as typified by the WEBER case. Attacks affirmative action in hiring, firing, promotions, apprentice programs, skills training, tenure, etc. would be the main, though not exclusive, focus of the work of every local chapter.

3. The ABDC should take the initiative to mobilize national forces, including groups such as the National Committee to Overturn the Bakke Decision (if it still intends to do affirmative action work), the National Lawyers Guild, the Black American Law Students Association, the Student National Medical Association, and other national organizations and local committees such as the Milwaukee Affirmative Action Coalition, into a single broad based coalition to defend and expand affirmative action programs. It is extremely important for every organization to put aside the sectarianism that has fragmented and limited anti-Bakke work in the past and develop a good style of mass work.

4. The ABDC should emphasize mobilizing the direct action of the masses of people in the schools, communities, and workplaces to defend and expand affirmative action programs.

5. While making affirmative action the main emphasis of its work, the coalition should play a good role in defending other democratic rights of the masses from attack and give firm support to the struggle for the equal rights of women and oppressed nationalities in every way possible.

There are a number of points that make clear the significance of the difference between this proposal and the plan for a coalition against national oppression.


In many chapters of the ABDC it is taken for granted that the essence of the Bakke case is national oppression. But this position narrows our defense against the Bakke attack. It is a position we have disagreed with from the beginning of the work in the coalition.

The Workers Congress (M-L) has consistently put forward that the essence of the Bakke case is an attack on the equal rights of women and oppressed nationalities. The particular form of this attack is an attack on affirmative action programs. The ideological weapon used to justify it is the myth of “reverse discrimination”.

What is the practical difference tween these two views?

To say that national oppression is the essence of the Bakke case is objectively chauvinist. The decision also attacks women’s rights. The position which argues that national oppression is the main thing pretends that woman are less affected by the decision or that women’s rights are of lesser importance.

To counterpose the struggle for women’s equality with the struggle against national oppression and to belittle women’s oppression has been a weakness of the work of the ABDC. The source of this weakness lies in the view that the essence of the Bakke case is national oppression rather than an attack on the equal rights of both women and oppressed nationalities. Unless this is acknowledged, the errors the coalition has made on the woman question will reoccur.

Of course to call for a coalition against national oppression is not in itself chauvinist. What is chauvinist is to treat the Bakke case, which attacks the equal rights of both women and oppressed nationalities, as being primarily an attack on one and only secondarily an attack on the other. This divides two great democratic movements instead of uniting them in common resistance. By the same logic we would have to say that the Bakke case was primarily an attack on Afro-Americans, for example, rather than other oppressed nationalities and we would never come to the end of dividing our struggle.

In this or that situation it may be tactically important to emphasize an attack on Black students, for example, or women workers in another. But this is a secondary and partial aspect of the question. Overall what is decisive is the unity of women and all oppressed nationalities in the struggle against the attack on equal rights.


The Bakke decision has given legal sanctification to the myth of reverse discrimination. A recent Harris and Gallop poll indicates a growing feeling among whites that Blacks, for example, have achieved enough. A recent Carnegie corporation study shows that “many whites believe that the nation’s debt to black people has been so fully paid that whites themselves are becoming the victims of reverse discrimination.”

After more than 450 years of robbery and slavewhipping barbarism against oppressed nationalities in the US, after centuries of women’s oppression which have still not led to a simple, formal statement of women’s equality in bourgeois law, the handful of males from “good white society” who run this country think that 14 years of a Civil Rights Act and 24 years of the BROWN decision have gone too far!

But no one is against “equality” anymore. With the “deceptive liberal gesture of a sly slave owner”, the bourgeoisie attacks equal rights under the guise of defending equality. Democratic gains of women and oppressed nationalities are curtailed because they result in “reverse discrimination”.

Reverse discrimination is an essential aspect of the policy of exacerbating national contradictions and contradictions between the sexes in preparation for imperialist war. It is an essential tool in dealing with the consequences of deepening domestic crisis. It is a policy which attempts to get the white sector of the people to divert their attention away from those who oppress us all and to see women and oppressed nationalities, who are supposed to be getting “special favors”, as the source of their misery.

It is a policy which must be thoroughly combatted. The proposal to build one nationwide campaign to defend and expand affirmative action allows us to concentrate our attack on the myth of reverse discrimination. However, if according to the national plan, the ABDC takes on a variety of different campaigns, not all of them involving “reverse discrimination” as a central issue (Jarvis-Gann or police brutality for example), this focus will be lost.


The argument that affirmative action is “too legalistic” has been made in the ABDC in order to avoid taking up the WEBER case. After all, the argument goes, it is just another court decision.

Friends who make this argument are confused. What makes a campaign legalistic is not what the ruling class attacks us with (they are pretty frequently “legalistic” in that respect), but how we respond! That is why our national proposal insists on mobilizing the direct action of the masses in schools, communities and workplaces to defend and expand affirmative action programs.

Was the Scottsboro defense in the 1930’s “too legalistic” because it concerned a criminal trial? For the NAACP it was, because they relied on the courts. But for the millions of people who went to the streets not only nationwide but also internationally under the leadership of the old CPUSA in order to support the Scottsboro boys, the campaign was anything but “legalistic”.


Everybody agrees that the work of the ABDC has been too narrow. But there are two fundamentally different views on how to broaden the work of the coalition.

The “national plan” wants to “broaden” the work of the coalition by taking up more issues that the masses are involved in relating to national oppression, such as police brutality, Jarvis-Gann, etc.

Obviously such a proposal does not broaden our work except in the most superficial sense. If our work on affirmative action is narrow, we do not broaden it by adding other campaigns where we reproduce the same methods of work and take them up narrowly also.

There is a confusion in the “national plan” on the relationship between local work and national campaigns. Refusing to give specific national focus to the work of the coalition will weaken local work, not promote it. A nationwide campaign shows the broad significance of local work. At the same time, local work developed nationally helps move common nationwide activity forward.

Taking WEBER to the steel mills in Chicago, for example, would have a good effect on moving forward the struggle in those mills around affirmative action, if we do our work well. Also to develop a campaign in steel in that local area would have a big impact on moving forward nationwide work around attacks on affirmative action in the field of employment.

The main way to broaden the work of the coalition is by expanding our outreach and extending our influence in the schools, communities and work places on the issue we have taken up — affirmative action. Without improving our methods of mobilizing democratic and community organizations, trade union caucuses and the broad masses of people, we cannot broaden our work no matter hew many issues we take up.

We can also broaden our work by showing the connection between the attack on affirmative action and the overall crisis, preparation for war, and by showing its connection to other forms of attack on the democratic rights of women and oppressed nationalities.

On the other hand, if we take up one issue after another, or take up only local but not nationwide issues, we will never adequately show those connections. Adequate investigation is simply not possible if we must take up one case after another or if a small local chapter must rely on its own resources to investigate a particular issue thoroughly.

To us, the national plan appears to bow to the semi-autonomous character of local chapter life in the ABDC by emphasizing local campaigns. By contrast, we think that the national ABDC should strive to develop a plan that would overcome this limitation. A national proposal such as the one we have put forward with a specific nationwide focus for local work is the best framework within which to do that. This is the best means to concentrate available people and resources on accomplishing what we have taken up. Obviously our resources are not adequate to do a thorough job in defense of affirmative action right now. Inadequate now; will the same resources become adequate by taking up more?!

In our view, the key to broadening the work of the ABDC is to take up the campaign around affirmative action well, to carry it through to the end, to make a breakthrough in the work, and on that basis move on to other battles.


We propose that the ABDC seize the initiative in drawing together national and local organizations to build one single nationwide coalition around affirmative action.

The alternative proposed in the national plan, as we have seen, is to develop local campaigns in each area which correspond to what the masses of people are involved in. In fact, this is not a national plan at all. Quite likely it will lead to passivity outside California.

Also, it is clear that you cannot join with a national organization such as the National Lawyers Guild, for example, which has been involved in anti-Bakke work, if you are calling for work around one thing in one city, another in another city and so forth across the nation. National organizations must be mobilized around nationwide campaigns with a specific focus. The same thing is true if we are to mobilize the common activity of local groups. To call for separate local campaigns means at most that the ABDC will coordinate the participation of local ABDC chapters in various local coalitions. This is the view that will lead ABDC work to a dead end. On the other hand, to call for one nationwide campaign to defend and expand affirmative action programs is an example of a nationwide focus of work that can promote unity with other democratic organizations throughout the country.

To be frank, a proposal for a week of resistance to commemorate a student strike in the San Francisco Bay Area 10 years ago is not really a serious effort to reach the millions of working men and women across the entire country who are threatened by the attack on affirmative action which has been unleashed by the Bakke and Weber cases. To say so in no way belittles the role the San Francisco State University strike played in the development of the student movement.


This is the fundamental issue. Thousands of friends were drawn to the ABDC and to the NCOBD in order to defeat the Bakke decision and to turn back the attack on affirmative action programs. Do we accept defeat because we did not overturn the Bakke decision? That would be legalistic!

More than ever, since the Bakke decision we need one big coalition to mobilize a powerful nationwide movement to turn back the Bakke attack.

For that reason we have put forward a national proposal to continue ABDC work in the spirit with which it was begun and to broaden and expand the coalition in order to make it a better tool in the democratic struggle for equal rights.

We are at a turning point in the anti-Bakke movement and what we need is a full discussion now about the direction of our future work. Therefore, we submit this national proposal to the national office and the Executive Board of the ABDC with the request that it be taken up for discussion in every local chapter. We urge every member of the ABDC to examine the issues we have raised aggressively and to evaluate them thoroughly.

We also encourage other comrades and friends anxious to take up the defense of affirmative action programs against the Bakke attack to take up our proposal and to make their views known.

It is our consistent policy to make the pages of THE COMMUNIST available for your views and suggestions on these matters.