The U.S. has elected a new president. On January 20, 2009, Barack Hussein Obama will be sworn in as the 44th President of the United States. Along with the dramatic turn in the economic situation, this marks a definite turning point in the history of the country and of the world. On the streets across the U.S., you can feel a collective sigh of relief. Tens if not hundreds of thousands of people are on the streets of New York, Chicago, St. Louis and San Francisco, many of them dancing and even crying with joy. Young people drive by or ride their bikes through the streets yelling "Obama!" at passersby. Some have likened the celebration to New Year's Eve, and people's faces - especially young people and African-Americans - are glowing. These scenes have been repeated around the world, as frustration against Bush's policies is unleashed. The world has not been a very pleasant place for the last 8 years.
Obama says he offers "a new kind of politics." This inspired record turnouts in many states and five-hour lines at some polling stations. A spirit of hope and history filled the air throughout the day. It is indeed a historic event. For the first time, an African-American has been elected president of the most powerful nation on the planet. However, the election of a Black president does not mean that racism has been eliminated. Far from it. Racism is a product of the capitalist system and will continue as long as the system continues.
But Obama's victory does show that Americans are so fed up with Bush and co.'s policies, that even those with racist prejudices would rather vote for a "Black man" than a Republican. For Marxists, it's not the color of the President's skin that determines our attitude. What matters are the class interests a candidate represents. Illusions in Obama are high at the moment, but it's no accident that he raised far more corporate money than John McCain or that world stock markets have risen on news of his victory. He is Big Businesses' choice to get them through the tough times ahead. Nonetheless, within the confines of the current U.S. electoral setup, his decisive victory represents a significant and healthy shift to the left.
Exit polls taken during election night offer a snapshot of the current mood in America: 37 percent said "change" was the number one issue on their minds. 79 percent think the country is going in the wrong direction. 68 percent of new voters, 66 percent of Latinos, and 90 percent of African-Americans voted for Obama. People who had previously never had any interest in politics suddenly felt they had something worth voting and hitting the streets for. Such was the support and enthusiasm he inspired on the campaign trail, that had Obama won the popular vote, yet lost the electoral vote, and therefore the election itself, there would have undoubtedly been unrest on the streets.
Film maker Michael Moore calls it the end of 28 years of rule by Republicans and Democrats who act like Republicans. At long last! The Bush years of war, terrorism, Enron, Katrina, domestic spying, mass layoffs and off shoring, raids and deportations of immigrant workers, attacks on the unions and declining living conditions are over! Or are they?
As we have explained time and again, on all fundamentals, Obama represents the same interests as Bush and McCain. The only real difference is greater his charm, eloquence and intellect. A cunning politician who knows full well whose interests he has been elected to defend, he will, like Bill Clinton before him, be used to carry out attacks on the working class that even the Bushes couldn't get away with - albeit with a warm smile on his face and a charming twinkle in his eye. Obama was above all elected on the basis of what people want to see in him, not what he really represents. "Hope" and "change" are powerful words in these times of turmoil and uncertainty. But sooner rather than later, Obama's true colors will be revealed. He may be riding high for the moment, and millions of people are elated, but we can predict that in the not-too-distant future, increasing numbers of his supporters will begin to feel confused and betrayed, bitterly disappointed, and then angry. They will be looking for answers and a way out of the crisis that still confronts them, and will be increasingly open to the ideas of revolutionary Marxism and socialism.
The most important issue on American voters' minds is the economy. No wonder. The instability on the stock market is having a very real and very immediate effect on the real economy and on the lives of working people, who will be the ones who suffer for the crisis of the system. It's always the same: during the boom times, the rich benefit, and during the hard times, working people and the poor have to foot the bill and tighten their belts even further.
The housing market has collapsed, trillions of dollars have been wiped off the stock market, and the official unemployment rate - kept artificially low by changes in the way data is reported - is now 6.1 percent, the highest it has been since just after September 11, 2001. When you count the long-term unemployed and the under-employed, the real figure is far higher. The economy lost 159,000 jobs in September alone, the biggest loss since March 2003. The economy has now lost 760,000 jobs since January, not including October. When you consider that the economy must generate 150,000 new jobs per month just to keep up with the growing workforce, the picture is even worse. According to Nigel Gault, chief domestic economist at Global Insight: "My view is that [unemployment] will be near 8 or 8.5 percent by the end of next year." That would be the highest unemployment rate since the recession of the early 1980s.
In just the last two weeks, the following companies have announced mass layoffs: Merck, Yahoo, General Electric, Xerox, Pratt & Whitney, Goldman Sachs, Whirlpool, Bank of America, Alcoa, Coca-Cola, all the Detroit automakers and nearly all the airlines. In September alone, 2,269 employers announced mass layoffs, which means they fired 50 or more employees at a time. This was up sharply from the spring and summer, and was the highest number since September 2001. The financial services industry has been cutting jobs since last summer, when the credit crisis started. By some estimates, 300,000 jobs will disappear from banks and other financial services companies. Just a few months ago, these were considered "safe" white collar jobs.
Up until now, it was unclear as to whether or not the country had formally entered a recession. Now it seems clear. One technical definition of a recession is two consecutive quarters of shrinking Gross Domestic Product. GDP, the main measure of a country's economic health, shrank by 0.3 percent in the July-September quarter, the worst since the same period in 2001. That marks a steep decline when compared to the 2.8 percent growth in the April-June quarter. Most economists predict an even steeper decline in the 4th quarter. In the words of Brian Bethune, economist at IHS global Insight: "The train went off the tracks." And in the words of Robert Macintosh, chief economist at Eaton Vance Corp in Boston: "Pretty grim. It means we're in a recession, it's as simple as that ... a pretty solid manufacturing recession. The question is, 'How long or deep is it going to be?'"
Manufacturing, the backbone of any industrialized economy, has also taken a dramatic hit. The Institute for Supply Management's measure of manufacturing activity plummeted to 38.9 in October, down from 43.5 in September. Anything below 50 indicates contraction. Again, this was the lowest reading since September, 2001. Only this time it wasn't a terrorist attack that pushed an already weak economy over the edge, as was the case 7 years ago. This time it is the direct result of a profound crisis of the capitalist system itself.
Consumer spending, which accounts for 70 percent of economic activity in the country, has now run out of gas. Much of this spending was based on unprecedented levels of indebtedness and mortgages based on rising house prices, and this borrowed money must now be paid back - with interest. Americans' disposable income fell by 8.7 percent in the third quarter, the largest since records began back in 1947. U.S. consumers have now cut back on spending by 3.1 percent in the third quarter, the first decline in 7 years and the biggest fall in 28 years. The Conference Board has said that the consumer confidence index fell to 38 in October, down from 61.4 in September. This is the steepest drop since 1973 and the lowest level for the index since they began tracking consumer sentiment in 1967. To put things into perspective, a year ago, the index stood at 95.2. Today it's at 38.
Businesses have cut back on spending as well. Homebuilders slashed spending by 19.1 percent, the 11th straight quarterly cutback, and business spending on equipment and software was cut by 5.5, the most since the first quarter of 2002. The global economic crisis has also meant fewer orders for goods produced in the U.S. New export orders fell to their lowest level since records began in 1988, ending 70 consecutive months of growth. Auto sales plunged to near 25-year lows in October, with General Motors Corp sales falling by an incredible 45 percent. And here is an incredible figure: The U.S. steel industry has 29 blast furnaces, which supply steel to many key sectors of the economy. Now 17 - over half - of these are going to be shut down. This will mean even more closures and layoffs throughout the economy.
And now the Federal Reserve has cut interest rates again, which will encourage even more borrowing, more spending beyond individuals' and companies' means, and therefore lead to even higher inflation. Gas prices may have fallen since the summer, but the damage has already been done. One company alone, Exxon-Mobil, pocketed $40 billion in profits last year alone. That's just one company. That's billions of dollars working people don't have for food, health care, education, and so on.
And then, after being told for years that there's no money for our schools, for health care, for jobs, or to rebuild the Gulf Coast and the country's infrastructure, within days the government jumped to bail out the very same gamblers who sparked the crisis in the first place. After decades of fighting against government regulation and interference, they came begging for handouts to save their system. So much for the so-called invisible hand of the market! Or as one commentator put it, the invisible hand of the market is now reaching into the average workers' pockets!
The government - both Democrats including Obama and Republicans including McCain - have now approved a $700 billion unspecified bail out. In other words, the money has been approved to be spent, but no one knows just how it is to be spent. So while the bankers on Wall Street continue the make millions in bonuses, and while billions are spent each week on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, millions upon millions of workers are losing their homes, jobs, retirement, and hopes for the future.
In many ways, the current crisis is already worse than the Great Crash of 1929. Distribution of U.S. income today is almost identical to what it was in 1928, when the top 1 per cent of Americans took in 24 per cent of the national income. Today it's 23 percent, and of course the total amount of money is many times greater. We must also remember that the Great Depression itself didn't really kick in until two or three years after the Wall Street crash. So while the markets may go up on this or that day, the current crisis is far from over. We can't say in advance how deep it will be or how long it will last, but the indications are that it could be very bad indeed.
And the most worrying aspect for American workers is that we have just lived through the best capitalism has to offer. That was the boom! That was the "good times"! And even then, the gap between rich and poor has continued to widen in the richest country on earth. No wonder Americans are desperately hoping for change!
Most expensive campaign in history
The campaign to replace G.W. Bush went on for a full 21 months. Over that period, we witnessed the rise and fall of contenders such as Rudy Giuliani, Hillary Clinton, Mitt Romney, John Edwards and Mike Huckabee, and the eventual nominations of John McCain and Barack Obama. Although this election marks a decided change in mood in the electorate and comes at a decisive turning point for the capitalist system, it was largely more of the same. A lot more. Once again, despite the lofty talk of change and a new kind of politics, money was again the real measure of a candidate's worth and chances of winning.
Early on, Obama had committed to public financing for his campaign. But as it became apparent that he might actually have a serious chance at being the Democrats' nominee, he changed course and set his eyes on the millions to be had in private contributions. For the first time ever in U.S. history, the candidates for president raised more than $1 billion. Obama raised an estimated total of $640 million - $150 million in September alone. John McCain raised "only" $360 million. This is a marked reversal in fortunes from the last two presidential elections, when the Republicans raised far more than the Democrats. Corporate America is not stupid. They know which side of their bread to butter.
And if you want to know whose interests Obama will serve during his presidency, you need only follow the money. Let's just say that the hundreds of thousands of small donors won't be receiving invitations to White House banquets.
Obama the socialist?
On all fundamental issues, Obama and McCain are cut from the same cloth. Neither of them represent a fundamental break with capitalism, a system based on the exploitation of the working class by the capitalist class. Their only real difference lies in how best to save the capitalist system. Obama's message of "change we can believe in" resonated with millions of Americans tired of war, facing foreclosure, bankruptcy and unemployment, and who cannot accept that this is really "as good as it gets." Obama has made eloquent speeches that promise little but inspire a lot. He has had to attack greed on Wall Street (at least in words), criticize Bush's handling of the Iraq War, and rail against the "status quo" in Washington.
Not to be outdone, McCain raised the exact same issues, but from a slightly different angle. It is significant that these far more concrete issues took center stage, as compared to past elections when issues such as abortion, gun control, gay marriage, and "terrorism" in the abstract were the main issues being discussed. However, McCain's party was held accountable by many for the economic crisis, and from the beginning he faced an uphill struggle to overcome that heavy baggage. His age and bizarre onstage antics didn't help him either. Nor did his choice of a late-night comedy skit caricature as his vice presidential running mate. So he turned to an old trick in U.S. politics: accuse your opponent of being a socialist or a communist. Just a few years ago, such a tactic would have had at the very least a noticeable, if not a decisive effect.
It is therefore revealing that in the context of the growing economic crisis, the word "socialism" has once again entered the mainstream. Even more significant is that McCain's red baiting didn't damage Obama in the slightest. Most people just had a chuckle about it. On the one hand, they understand that Obama is by no stretch of the imagination a socialist. On the other hand, the word "socialism" itself no longer has the same "evil" connotations as it did just a year ago.
Obama has made it clear that he is anything but a socialist. His health care, education and economic plans have nothing to do with genuine socialism. Throughout his campaign he as consistently appealed to the ubiquitous "middle class," rarely mentioning workers, and virtually ignoring the poor. He himself responded to McCain's attacks as follows:
"Now, because he knows that his economic theories don't work, he's been spending these last few days calling me every name in the book. Lately he's called me a socialist for wanting to roll-back the Bush tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans so we can finally give tax relief to the middle class. I don't know what's next. By the end of the week he'll be accusing me of being a secret communist because I shared my toys in kindergarten. I shared my peanut butter and jelly sandwich."
So all joking aside, the only "socialism" Obama supports is "Wall Street Socialism." Despite his promise to raise taxes on the richest 5 percent of Americans, the $700 billion bailout is a case of "socialism in reverse," a massive handout to the rich, which will have to be paid for by the working class either in higher taxes later on, or through even further cuts in our quality of life. But the fact remains: Americans are at the very least increasingly open to the idea of genuine socialism. This has important implications for the future.
Obama needed 270 electoral votes to win the election. As of this writing, with 96 percent of the votes counted, he has 338 electoral votes, more than double McCain's 163. In the popular vote, he has won by 52 to 46 percent. His victory came despite reports of fraud, voter intimidation and disenfranchisement, particularly of Black voters. In St. Louis, for example, text messages were sent out to Black voters telling them that Obama supporters should vote on Wednesday instead of Tuesday. The only part of the city to report breakdowns in voting machines was in North City, a predominantly Black area. Despite all of this, Obama's victory over John McCain was overwhelming, and the Republican conceded relatively early on election night.
|Cynthia McKinney |
In the absence of a mass party of labor, most of the attention has been focused on the two main capitalist parties. With "Obamamania" in full effect, it was a hard year for third party candidates. Nonetheless, Ralph Nader won nearly 600,000 votes (after raising an estimated $4 million for his campaign), and Cynthia McKinney won nearly 120,000 (with a campaign budget of just $188,000). Between them and several other left-wing candidates, they received more votes than the right-wing third-party candidates from the Libertarian and Constitution parties. And in San Francisco's District 8, anti-war activist Cindy Sheehan challenged Democratic Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi whose complicity in the war has made her extremely unpopular. Although she didn't win, it appears Cindy Sheehan got 17 percent of the vote, not at all bad against a powerful and well-entrenched incumbent.
Along with Obama's decisive victory, this all indicates that while the country is increasingly polarized in both directions, there is a definite, albeit modest shift to the left. This highlights the potential for a mass party of labor if the unions would break with the Democrats. Just imagine if the $300 million spent by the labor movement on electing Obama had instead been spent on building a labor party and fielding candidates fighting in the interests of the working class?
The Democrats now have a commanding advantage in both the House and the Senate. After they won a majority in Congress in 2006, many thought they would at the very least move decisively to cut the funding and end the war in Iraq. They did no such thing. After Tuesday night, they have no excuses not to end the war immediately and to pass legislation in the interests of the millions of workers and youth who voted them into power. They have a clear majority in Congress and control the White House as well. Their domination of U.S. politics seems complete. And yet, just a few years ago, many political commentators went so far as to declare the party dead. How quickly things can change! As we explained in 2002, after the Democrats were routed in the midterm elections:
"As Marxists we have no illusions whatsoever in the Democratic Party, which presents itself as the 'kinder gentler' face of U.S. capitalism. They are tied hand and foot to the capitalist class, and will never represent the interests of working people. They may put up resistance on various issues of minor importance, but they will never in a million years side against capital in favor of the working class. They operate entirely within the boundaries of bourgeois democracy - that is, democracy for the rich and powerful. This so-called 'center of the road' is in fact a toll road controlled by the capitalist class. Ultimately, they wholeheartedly endorse the capitalist system, and serve only to deceive the masses with the illusion that things can improve under this economic system. The Democrats have moved so far to the 'center' (not that they were ever very far to the left), that they are indistinguishable from their supposed ideological opponents. Even ultra-Democrat James Carvel maintains that during this campaign, they did not differentiate themselves from the Republicans in any way. If you are one of the few people who actually voted, why bother voting for the 'opposition' when their politics are virtually the same as those already in power? As the saying goes, why change horses in midstream? Both are for the 'war on terror' and Iraq, are marionettes of the capitalist class and support corporate welfare with no mention of universal health care, etc. Bush is doing a fine job at pursuing the war (a lot of bellicose talk with few casualties as of yet), so why not let him and his party get on with it and see how things go?
"However, despite their current ineptitude, and the fact that the masses in effect rejected them this election, the Democrats remain a powerful tool for the ruling class. In the absence of a traditional party of labor, the ruling class will try to use the Democrats and their historic connection with the AFL-CIO to derail any movement of the workers. At the present time, however, it appears that the ruling class prefers to use the much more overtly aggressive policies of Bush and his clique. But this will not last for very long. What the ruling class fails to take into consideration at this point is the fact that the American working class is still fresh and undefeated - they will move at a certain stage. There is tremendous discontent beneath the surface. This is what they did with Bill Clinton, when dissatisfaction with the Reagan years was growing. It is true that historically, due to pressure from the masses and on the basis of the post-war economic boom, the Democrats were forced to grant some concessions to the working class. They lived off this reputation for decades, but their true face has now been shown, with Clinton passing some of the most anti-working class legislation in decades. He did the dirty work for the capitalist class - albeit with a charming smile on his face. Although their reputation is now in a shambles, their fortunes will be revived for a time at a certain stage when the capitalists can no longer rule openly through Bush and co." (U.S. Mid-Term Election 2002: The factors that led to the Republican victory)
How the Democrats' fortunes have changed! But the Democratic Party itself has not changed at all; it is still the same party we described six years ago. It is the objective situation and the mood in America that have changed dramatically, so the Democrats have been called on once again to present a "kinder gentler" face of capitalism in order to save the system from itself. They may be forced by pressure from below to offer this or that scrap from the bosses' table. But in an epoch of economic, political, military and social instability, they will not be able to offer any significant concessions to the working class. Their program will be one of even further cuts and attacks on our living standards. This will fly in the face of expectations and will further transform the consciousness of the working class.
We might add that we also predicted that despite his re-election in 2004, Bush would be end up being the most hated president in recent history, that he had no real mandate, and that he would be a dead duck by the end of his term. That prediction has also come true. And we can now safely predict that by the end of Obama's first term, the illusion that he represents something truly different will have been shattered. Millions of Americans will be increasingly open to the idea that it is necessary to break with the Democrats and build a party that truly represents the working class: a mass party of labor.
So what kind of presidency can we expect under Obama? He may have said a lot of inspiring and promising things on the campaign trail, but if you read between the lines, it is clear he has been careful to commit to very little. In fact, even before being elected, he was already backing off from many of his promises, in order to dampen soaring expectations.
But with people like Michael Moore calling it "The Promised Land," you can be sure that people expect results - fast. Obama's advisors and the media understand this well and have moved quickly to temper the mood of exaltation that has swept him into power. On election night, MSNBC analysts were already expressing concern that his supporters could be "disappointed." One of Obama's senior advisors told the UK newspaper The Times that the first few weeks after the election will be crucial, "so there's not a vast mood swing from exhilaration and euphoria to despair."
In an article titled "Barack Obama lays plans to deaden expectation after election victory," The Times reported:
"In an interview with a Colorado radio station, Mr Obama appeared to be engaged already in expectation lowering. Asked about his goals for the first hundred days, he said he would need more time to tackle such big and costly issues as health care reform, global warming and Iraq. 'The first hundred days is going to be important, but it's probably going to be the first thousand days that makes the difference,' he said. He has also been reminding crowds in recent days how 'hard' it will be to achieve his goals, and that it will take time. 'I won't stand here and pretend that any of this will be easy - especially now,' Mr Obama told a rally in Sarasota, Florida, yesterday, citing 'the cost of this economic crisis, and the cost of the war in Iraq.'"
The polarization of American society is growing, both to the left and to the right. In the heat of the election campaign, forces have been stirred up that must be brought back under control. The former rivals must now move might and main to ensure that calm and order prevails. In McCain's concession speech, he sounded a call for national unity and support for the new president. In his acceptance speech, Obama set the tone for his presidency. We provide here a few excerpts.
"I know you didn't do this just to win an election and I know you didn't do it for me. You did it because you understand the enormity of the task that lies ahead. For even as we celebrate tonight, we know the challenges that tomorrow will bring are the greatest of our lifetime - two wars, a planet in peril, the worst financial crisis in a century. Even as we stand here tonight, we know there are brave Americans waking up in the deserts of Iraq and the mountains of Afghanistan to risk their lives for us. There are mothers and fathers who will lie awake after their children fall asleep and wonder how they'll make the mortgage, or pay their doctors bills, or save enough for college. There is new energy to harness and new jobs to be created; new schools to build and threats to meet and alliances to repair.
"The road ahead will be long. Our climb will be steep. We may not get there in one year or even one term, but America - I have never been more hopeful than I am tonight that we will get there. I promise you - we as a people will get there.
"There will be setbacks and false starts. There are many who wont agree with every decision or policy I make as President, and we know that government cant solve every problem. But I will always be honest with you about the challenges we face. I will listen to you, especially when we disagree. And above all, I will ask you join in the work of remaking this nation the only way its been done in America for two-hundred and twenty-one years - block by block, brick by brick, calloused hand by calloused hand.
"What began twenty-one months ago in the depths of winter must not end on this autumn night. This victory alone is not the change we seek - it is only the chance for us to make that change. And that cannot happen if we go back to the way things were. It cannot happen without you.
"So let us summon a new spirit of patriotism; of service and responsibility where each of us resolves to pitch in and work harder and look after not only ourselves, but each other. Let us remember that if this financial crisis taught us anything, its that we cannot have a thriving Wall Street while Main Street suffers - in this country, we rise or fall as one nation; as one people.
"Let us resist the temptation to fall back on the same partisanship and pettiness and immaturity that has poisoned our politics for so long. Let us remember that it was a man from this state who first carried the banner of the Republican Party to the White House - a party founded on the values of self-reliance, individual liberty, and national unity. Those are values we all share, and while the Democratic Party has won a great victory tonight, we do so with a measure of humility and determination to heal the divides that have held back our progress. As Lincoln said to a nation far more divided than ours, We are not enemies, but friends, though passion may have strained it must not break our bonds of affection."
So there we have it, straight from the horse's mouth. We are to set aside our differences, work harder, rely on ourselves, not expect too much from the government, tighten our belts and make further sacrifices, and all be friends. At root, it is much the same message Bush gave the nation after September 11, when he too appealed for national unity. The idea of "national unity" sounds nice on the surface, and appeals to millions of people tired of war, racism, sexism, homophobia and division. But under capitalism, "national unity" means subordinating the interests of the working class majority to the interests of a handful of capitalists. We may all be "Americans," but we are not all truly "equal." American society is divided into classes, and these classes have opposed and irreconcilable differences. One class exploits and lives off the labor of the other. One class concentrates the vast majority of wealth in its hands while millions of others barely scrape by. One class dominates the country's politics and controls its government. One class makes and enforces all the laws in order to defend its interests.
And if partisanship is "petty," "immature," and "poisonous," why continue the farce of having two political parties of the ruling class, when they are in effect two wings of the same party? It is also incredibly telling that Obama referenced Abraham Lincoln's first inaugural address. We might remind him that despite Lincoln's friendly words, only a long and bloody civil war succeeded in ending the divisions that literally tore apart the nation. At that time, the country was divided between the capitalist North and the slave-owning South. Today the country is divided into two main classes: the working class and the capitalist class. To try and reconcile the two is to try to square the circle. Obama and those closest to him know that big explosions of the class struggle are on the order of the day. His task is to keep that struggle within "safe" limits.
Obama must therefore make some cosmetic changes. He must give the appearance that he is doing something new and different. After eight years of Bush and co, there will be something of a honeymoon while Americans wait and see what they can expect in the months and years to come. He is expected to establish the tone of his new administration early on, while Bush limps around the White House for a few more months. Obama will probably move quickly to announce tax cuts on the "middle class," while attempting to raise them on the rich. In reality, he will more than likely simply roll back some of the Bush tax cuts for the rich, which would merely take us back to the levels of taxation under Reagan, Bush Sr. and Clinton; i.e., to a time when cuts in social services and a skyrocketing military budget really took off. However, even if he does raise the rich's taxes, how much they will actually pay remains to be seen. There are a million and one loop holes that they use to avoid contributing to the public treasury.
He has also already indicated that all spending increases will mean cuts elsewhere in the budget. With projected falling tax revenues due to the economic crisis, and an astronomical military budget (over $500 billion per year), additional cuts, especially in the public sector, are sure to come sooner rather than later. Cuts in federal programs will mean that the states and local government will have to make up the difference. To make ends meet they will either have to increase local property and sales taxes, or allow infrastructure, schools and other public services to deteriorate further. Either way, the the burden will be put right back on workers and the poor.
A couple of anecdotal comments by people close to Obama reveal their own expectations for his administration. Obama's vice president Joe Biden ominously said in a recent interview that within the first six months of Obama's presidency, his supporters' loyalty would be tested, and that they would need to rally behind him; a clear hint at some already foreseen controversial policy or development. And Tom Daschle, the Democrats' former leader in the U.S. Senate and rumored to be in line to become Obama's White House chief-of-staff, said recently that the winner would have only a 50 per cent chance of winning a second term in 2012. In other words, his closest insiders expect his policies to be unpopular. Why should we expect anything else from someone who supports the Patriot Act and who voted to approve increased government surveillance of U.S. citizens?
Big Oil and Obama's foreign policy
Many are sick of Bush and his ties to Big Oil, but a closer look at Obama's energy policies should give his supporters, particularly environmentalists, serious pause for thought. For starters, in addition to wanting to expand the use of wind and solar energy, he is a proponent of expanding the use of nuclear power and coal (though he calls it "clean coal"). Like McCain, he is also in favor of offshore drilling ("drill, baby, drill!"). Obama also voted in favor of Bush and Cheney's 2005 energy bill, saying "it was the best that we could do right now." Ironically, John McCain voted against.
When it comes to foreign policy, Obama will be more like Madeleine Albright and Bill Clinton (who bombed Iraq, Sudan, Afghanistan and Yugoslavia during his term of office, and whose economic sanctions on Iraq led to a million deaths) than the Bush neo-cons. In other words, he will continue to pursue and defend U.S. imperialism's interests abroad, albeit with less arrogance and with more diplomatic cover. His choice of Joe Biden (who was in favor of partitioning Iraq), is just one indication of this.
Attention has turned to the economy, but the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, not to mention the situation in Pakistan, the entire Middle East and Latin America, and relations with Iran, Russia and China remain major challenges confronting the new administration. Obama will likely reach out to the Middle East with an expected major policy speech to be given somewhere in the Arab world. He may shift some troops around the region and call for "dialogue" with Syria, Iran and others, while keeping "all options on the table." But his fundamental policy in the region will not be much different from Bush's. It is no accident that one of his first stops after securing the Democratic nomination was to ingratiate himself with the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) the main pro-Israel lobbying group, one of Bush's main supporters.
While skilfully avoiding any real commitment on Iraq, Obama has successfully pulled off another "bait and switch" trick to get anti-war voters to vote for a pro-war candidate. In fact, he has said explicitly that any troops withdrawn from Iraq should instead be sent to Afghanistan! However, U.S. imperialism's adventure in Iraq is doomed and its combat troops will eventually have to be pulled out. Nonetheless, the Pentagon and the mega-contractors will do everything in their power to keep the massive bases they have built in Iraq. By pulling the troops back to these bases, Obama could give the appearance of de-escalating the war while continuing to project U.S. imperialism's force throughout the Middle East.
He has also postured aggressively in relation to Iran, does not rule out invading Pakistan, and called Venezuela's democratically-elected President Hugo Chavez a dictator. It is unlikely, to say the least, that he will disband the U.S. 4th fleet, which was reactivated just this year to "patrol" Latin America and the Caribbean. He has also promised to close the prison camp at Guantanamo, and may well do so. The symbolism of such a move would be important for his image, but he would more than likely simply move the prisoners held there elsewhere.
We will know more once he announces his foreign policy cabinet appointments (all unelected positions, by the way), but a look at his election campaign advisors certainly gives us an indication of what's to come. During the campaign he was advised on foreign policy by former national security advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski (who funded the mujahedeen in Afghanistan, the precursors to the Taleban); former assistant Secretary of State Susan Rice (mentored by Madeleine Albright); former Secretary of the Navy Richard Danzig (under whose watch the U.S. bombed Yugoslavia); former counter-terrorism czar Richard Clarke (under Clinton and G.W. Bush); General Merrill McPeak (a vocal supporter of Indonesia's occupation of East Timor); and Dennis Ross (a supporter of Israel's occupation of the West Bank), among others. They say that you can judge a man by the friends he keeps. That list of "friends" speaks for itself.
A New 'New Deal'?
Franklin Delano Roosevelt was not elected on a New Deal platform. He was forced to implement these social and public works policies in a last ditch effort to save U.S. capitalism from the danger of socialist revolution. But we should remember that back in the 1930s, the U.S. was a major creditor nation with massive reserves of gold. n addition, the recession had already been going for nearly four years when FDR first came to power. Obama has inherited an entirely different domestic and international situation. The U.S. is now the world's greatest debtor nation and the economic recession is just beginning. Even if Obama is forced at a certain stage to implement similar policies (again, as the result of mass pressure from below and the threat of revolution), it could only be by further increasing deficit spending, which would only lead to even more complications in the future. There is no easy way out for U.S. capitalism and imperialism. Anything they do to try and restore economic stability can only increase social and political instability, and vice versa.
So at root, very little will change, and Obama's room for maneuver will be limited. Having missed out on the boom, American workers will now be asked to "share the pain" in the interest of "national unity." But workers and the poor will share a lot more of the pain than the rich, as the Wall Street bailout already shows. We say: make the rich pay! Why should working people have to pay for the bosses' crisis?
Let's put it clearly: Will Obama repeal Taft-Hartley and other anti-labor legislation? Will he implement a national living wage? Will he abolish the HMOs and provide free, universal health care? Will he cut the military budget and invest much needed billions in education, housing and infrastructure? Will he nationalize the energy, auto and airline industries, all crucial for the functioning of the country, to be run under democratic workers' control? Will he stop the raids and deportations and grant amnesty to immigrant workers and their families? Will he launch a mass program of public works to create millions of union jobs, provide housing for all, modernize and expand public transportation and rebuild our crumbling infrastructure? Don't hold your breath.
Capitalism is in crisis: socialism is the solution!
Obama's election comes at a time of growing pessimism, not just about the current situation, but about the future itself. People need to believe that things can get better. This explains the revival in interest in the ideas of socialism. From McCain, Obama, Pain and Biden, to "Joe the plumber" and the Wall Street Journal, the words "socialism" and references to Marx are in the mainstream on a level not seen in this country since the collapse of the USSR. In Germany, where the crisis is also hitting workers hard, Marx's Capital is back on the best seller's list. The question on many people's minds is the following: Was Marx right?
Despite the decades of prejudices that have been built up against the ideas of Marxism and socialism, people are increasingly open to these ideas, since they can see in practice that capitalism isn't working. Remember, after the collapse of the Soviet Union, we were promised a "Pax Americana" of peace, full employment and a tomorrow brighter than today. What have we gotten instead? War, terrorism, cuts in social programs, millions of jobs lost and more spending on the military than ever.
|Anti-Bailout Rally, Wall Street, 25th September 2008 |
Millions of Americans say they uninterested in politics or economics - they're apparently apathetic and would rather watch Monday Night Football or Dancing with the Stars. But even if you are not interested in politics and economics, politics and economics are interested in you. On the basis of their own experience, increasing numbers of formerly apparently apathetic Americans are waking up to an active interest in politics and economics. Within the limits of the two party system, millions of Americans are in a confused way looking for a solution to their problems. Obama had record numbers of volunteers organizing in communities across the nation. For the first time, they felt they had a reason to get involved in politics. In the future, the skills they learned will be put to good use - but not for the Democrats or Republicans. The foundations for a future mass party of labor are already being laid.
For decades, we have been brainwashed. We've been told that the free market reigns supreme, that socialism and Marxism don't work, that capitalism is the best possible system, that there is no alternative. And if a lie repeated often enough, people tend to believe it. But nonetheless, these ideas persist and continue to spark people's imagination.
So what is socialism, anyway? By socialism we mean the genuine nationalization - the expropriation of the top 500 banks and corporations - to be run under democratic workers' control, in the interest of the whole of society. It's really not that complicated. We believe the working class majority should have democratic control over the means of production, distribution and exchange, in harmony with the environment. In other words, we need a rational and democratic plan of production that is geared toward meeting human needs, not private profits.
But you cannot plan what you do not control, and you cannot control what you do not own. This is why the state should need to take over the key levers of the economy. Now, this is where many people, Americans in particular, get nervous. They don't trust the government we live under, and are therefore justifiably suspicious of anything having to do with increased state control. So the real question is: who controls the state? In our opinion, we need a workers' state, a state that represents the vast majority of society, the working class, as opposed to the state we live under today, which is a state designed to defend the interests of a tiny minority, the capitalist class.
Many people say that Americans are too conservative for a socialist revolution to take place here. But things can change very quickly. Just think of all the big events that have taken place in the last few years. The collapse of Enron. September 11. The 2000 and 2004 electoral frauds. Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath. The collapse of the entire financial services sector in the richest country on earth. The election of a Black president.
In fact, it is precisely because people are conservative that there will be a revolutionary movement right here in the belly of the beast. People want stability: they want a steady job with decent benefits, they want quality health care and education, a safe place to live and time to spend with their families and loved ones. But capitalism can no longer provide even these basics to humanity.
We live in an epoch of sharp and sudden changes, a period of massive shifts in consciousness on the basis of earth shaking events. This is not normally the case. Normally, years and even decades can go by and it seems as though nothing changes. But these are not normal times. But the fact is, absolutely nothing is static - everything changes. Absolutely everything is in a constant state of movement and change. From volcanoes and earthquakes to relations between nations and human consciousness.
Many are euphoric about Obama's victory, and there will be a certain honeymoon. Some measure of hope has been restored to a beleaguered public - at least for now. Even the markets were happy with exit poll data giving the election to Obama. The Dow Jones jumped over 300 points on election day, typically a slow day on Wall Street. But sooner rather than later, the elation will wear off and the cold reality will set in: nothing fundamental has changed. We are still living under capitalism, with everything that entails: unemployment, home foreclosures, rising prices, racism, millions of second-class citizens and workers, low wages, deteriorating conditions, rotting infrastructure, and so on.
There are already symptoms of the simmering discontent exploding to the surface, for example, the mass mobilizations of immigrant workers, the growing mood of discontent among many rank and file trade unionists, or the spontaneous demonstrations against the bail out on Wall Street. This is just the beginning of the beginning of things to come.
We predicted long in advance that the real loser in these elections would be the working class. Nonetheless, at the moment, millions of workers and young people feel like the winners. We understand the tremendous hopes so many people have invested in Obama. The last few years have been hard. But we stand by our position. We've said it before, and we say it again: As long as the two capitalist parties continue to dominate U.S. politics, the working class will never see its interests represented in Washington. This is why the unions must break with the Democrats and build a mass party of labor. The potential for such a party is enormous. Such a party would not remain a third party for long. We want it to become the first party; let the Democrats and Republicans fight for third place, or complete their fusion into a single party.
We must have a patient, friendly approach to those with honest illusions in Obama. But Obama's acceptance speech makes it clear that there are no miracles or quick fixes waiting around the corner. He made it clear that things will not get better overnight, and may not get better for a long time to come. In fact, they will most likely get even worse.
CNN sounded a note of caution on election night, when an interviewer said that economic change doesn't happen overnight, and that the winner would have a very short honeymoon. The AP's top post-election story was titled "President-elect Obama faces daunting challenges." This is the sober reality of the situation.
The 2008 Presidential elections are indeed historic. They mark a new stage in the changing consciousness of the U.S. working class. Many people have already broken with the two party system and can see through Obama's sweet-sounding words. But most workers and young people will have to learn the hard way, through their own experience. Life teaches. Welcome to the "school of the Democrats."
- Prospects for a Labor Party – Part One and Part Two
- Millions of US families threatened with eviction by Jorge Martin (October 10, 2008)
- "Wall Street Socialism" and the US elections by US Socialist Appeal (October 8, 2008)
- Report on New York City Anti-Bailout Rally by Mark Rahman (September 29, 2008)
- The U.S. Elections and the Working Class by Shane Jones (September 10, 2008)
- USA: Socialism – Change We Can Actually Believe In by US Socialist Appeal Editorial Board (September 1, 2008)