[a Socialist Action editorial]
Barack Obama, a Black man, has been elected President of the United States. Few, if any, thought his victory was even a remote possibility in racist America when capitalism’s two-party multi-billion dollar electoral charade began twenty-one months ago.
When Obama’s win was projected early on as a certainty by television stations across the country Black America took to the streets in jubilant celebration. Ninety-six percent had voted for Obama, the highest percentage ever. In 2004 George W. Bush received 11 percent of the Black vote. McCain in 2008, four!
Sixty-seven percent of Latino voters joined the Obama landslide, which saw the nation’s 44th and first Black president winning the Electoral College by a margin of better than two to one and the popular vote by an overall margin of 53 to 46 percent.
Sixty-two percent of the electorate cast 135 million votes, surpassing the 2004 total by 13 million. By European standards voter turnout, 62 percent, was low, but it was a significant increase from the usual 50 percent or less that has been the U.S. norm in recent decades. Indeed the turnout would have been higher, along with an even wider margin for Obama, were it not for the racist voting laws, procedures and practices that are kept in place to disenfranchise oppressed nationalities and the poor.
The exuberant outpourings in cities and towns across the country hailing the Obama victory were multi-racial and youthful, although broad swaths of the general population joined in the celebrations. A majority of white voters under 30 voted for Obama. They too enthusiastically joined in the spontaneous mobilizations to register their contempt for Bush-era politics. And they were one with Black America in believing that Obama’s promised “Change” was on the order of the day.
While not receiving a majority of white voters, Obama surpassed the 41 percent totals of John Kerry’s 2004 campaign by three percentage points, the highest white vote for a Democrat since the 1964 election of Lyndon Johnson.
Obama’s victory was at least in part a product of what might be called a perfect political storm – the simultaneous combination of massive attacks on working people as whole and Blacks in particular, a capitalist economy in the early stages of a meltdown not seen since the Great Depression of 1929, a war in Iraq and threats of war elsewhere pursued with murderous vigor in the face of the majority opposition, a looming environmental catastrophe and a Republican Administration that appeared helpless in the face of all of it.
Never in memory has the contradiction been greater between the illusions of the masses that change was possible with an Obama victory and the reality of capitalist politics and prospects today. Obama took great care during his Grant Park, Chicago victory rally of 120,000 to dampen hopes that change would come quickly, referring vaguely to his next term as a possible timeline for significant results. Illusions and great hopes aside, Black America understands full well that racist inequality will not be erased from the American scene without continued struggle.
The warmongering and racist Democratic Party will in the not to distant future destroy whatever illusions remain as they once again demonstrate that they are equally the party of the tiny ruling class minority whose very existence depends on the exploitation and oppression of the great majority.
Barak Obama can represent the interests of this vast majority no more than capitalism can be transformed into anything other than the predatory, racist instrument of the corporate ruling elite who run this country.
Obama missed no opportunity to make this clear. He promised more spending on war, “national security” repression and the military, not less. He supported every measure proposed by the Bush Administration to bailout the rich to the tune of unprecedented trillions of dollars. He offered no let up in the racist ICE raids aimed at terrorizing immigrant communities.
His initial appointments are creatures of the Clinton Administration, which eliminated more social programs than the combined presidencies of the three previous Republican Administrations.
Following talks with Obama’s team, reports from top Iraqi officials indicate that there will be “no fundamental change” in U.S. Iraq policy and no firm timetable for the withdrawal of U.S. troops, Obama’s vague election promises notwithstanding. Whatever “timetables” that are “negotiated” with the U.S. puppet government will be subject to the interpretation of the occupiers.
The November 7 New York Times noted with some accuracy, “Mr. Obama has said that a contingent of American troops would probably stay for a more extended period – to train Iraqi forces, to protect the American Embassy and to root out terrorists.” In combination with the largest “privatized” or mercenary army ever deployed, U.S. forces will insure that American capitalist interests are defended with whatever force and violence is necessary. Like President Bush, President Obama will not leave Iraq in other than total colonial subjugation, no matter how long it takes or how many lives are taken.
His chosen Chief of Staff, Rahm Emanuel, is an ardent cold warrior hawk and an unqualified Zionist defender bent on backing Israeli’s every move toward the obliteration of the Palestinian people.
The $640 million Obama spent on his campaign exceeded any other in history. Obama was the favored candidate of corporate America, military-industrial complex America and the America of institutionalized racism, sexism and homophobia.
Were this not the case, his carefully-orchestrated candidacy would have been relegated by the corporate media and the billionaires behind it to insignificance. Instead, the Democratic Party, the historic graveyard of all progressive social movements, mobilized its corporate sponsors to place in a timely manner a Black man of great personal achievement in the office of the presidency.
Indeed, the ruling class has chosen a brilliant Black man to cover the face of a cruel capitalism in crisis that has nothing in store for working people other than more of the same and worse, much worse. They have calculated that they can proceed with this task with the least opposition and the longest possible “honeymoon” with a Black Democrat holding the position of capitalism’s chief executive officer.
Ralph Nader was off the mark when he stated on Fox TV following Obama’s victory:
“As the first African-American president we wish him well. The question is, will he be Uncle Sam for the people or Uncle Tom for the giant corporations which are driving America into the ground?”
Socialist Action has another view. We see Obama as the chief representative of the Democratic Party wing of capitalist America’s bi-partisan attacks on all working people. We do not wish him well. We stand in solidarity with the oppressed and exploited of this nation who voted for Obama in the vain hope that his promise of change would be fulfilled. But we did not join them at the voting booth or lend credence to their illusions. Truth, however unpopular at times, is essential in revolutionary politics. Socialists will have their day when the masses are won to their libratory cause and prepared to fight for it. Lesser evilism, whether in the direct form of the Democrats and Obama or the reformist politics of the Greens and Ralph Nader, serve to disorient and mis-educate those social forces who are essential for a real challenge to the capitalist order.
We fully understand that millions of Blacks, Latinos and others believe that Obama’s victory is an important blow against the racist prejudice that permeates every aspect of American life. The fact that unexpected millions of whites voted for Obama is an indication that racism is on the decline and that working class unity has better prospects in future struggles. But we do not share in the view that prospects for Black and white America will be advanced by Barack Obama.
We disagree with Ralph Nader on a more fundamental question. In our view, there is no “question” about what Obama can or will do. As with all capitalist candidates before him, he will be the chief representative of the ruling rich and not the people. There is no “choice” in the matter of Obama’s options.
Nader believes that Obama does have such a choice. He believes that capitalism can be reformed if only the right Democrats are in office and if they return to the mythical values that he falsely believes a kinder the gentler capitalism of the past once embodied. His has always been the path of “third party” lesser evilism, crystallized in his past two campaigns where he urged a vote for the Democrat in close races and a vote for himself when it didn’t make a difference.
Socialist Action extended critical support to the presidential candidacies of three small socialist parties that posed a working class and socialist alternative in the 2008 elections. We urged a vote for Gloria LaRiva of the Party for Socialism and Liberation, Roger Callero/John Harris of the Socialist Workers Party and Brian Moore of the Socialist Party. The SWP received some 9800 votes, the PSL, 7400 and the SP 6600, all miniscule votes but nevertheless votes of working class principle won in the full vortex of an election whose outcome was made to appear as a historic turning point in American politics.
Victories for working people of all races have never been the product of the election of any ruling class candidate or party. They have been and will continue to be the outcome of the independent and massive mobilization of capitalism’s victims on the field of struggle.
Socialist Action is an unswerving advocate of working people building their own political party to defend and advance their own class interests, a mass Labor Party based on a reinvigorated, democratic and fighting trade union movement in alliance with the oppressed and exploited everywhere. Karl Marx was on the mark when he wrote 160 years ago, “Capitalism creates it’s own gravediggers.” With no solutions to the mounting and multiple crises before it other than repression and deeper inroads into the quality of life of U.S. workers, revolutionary socialists intent on mounting a fundamental challenge to the capitalist order will find common ground with the millions of fighters who will inevitably take the field and bring about a new social order where capitalist plunder and barbarity will become distant memory.