A Leftist Looks at the Near Future
Moving Beyond Hope
By RON JACOBS
November 11, 2008
I can't deny the exhilaration I felt on Tuesday, November 4th when
the presidential election was called for Barack Obama. When people
in my working class multiethnic neighborhood started setting off
firecrackers and shouting out their windows, my housemate's daughter
joined them. The feelings most of us felt on knowing that the
reactionary Bush regime was on its last legs were genuine emotions of
hope and relief. Our job now is to turn the critical support that
Obama received from many on the left into a movement that strives to
return the focus of the movement away from the man and his victory
and towards ending the war/occupations, etc. To do this, we must
engage the issues. The most important issues are the issues of
imperial war and capitalist failure. We should understand the
difference between the symbolism of a black man winning the
presidency of the United States and the reality of a moderate liberal
free marketeer who believes that there is a war on terror and that it
can be won by killing Afghanis and other people whose religion and
culture are used to define them as the enemy.
We need to learn from history. For starters, this means push for and
support any left leaning reforms proposed by Obama and oppose his
reactionary efforts to continue, expand and intensify the war on the
world and the impoverishment of the nation. As activists, we must
resist cynicism and embrace the desire for change. The Obama
campaign on the ground reminded me of other bourgeois popular
movements that were supported by the national left in those
countries--Peoples Power in Philippines comes quickly to mind. This
reform movement rid that nation of the Marcos dictatorship, but
replaced it with a regime that entrenched itself in the neoliberal
economic politics of its day. The Philippines remains a nation that
fails to serve a large number of its people. In short, we must keep
in mind what we already know--that the defeat of the reactionary Bush
regime and the election of Barack Obama is merely the first forward
step in a long time in a struggle that is even longer. Even more
importantly, the Left must help the larger numbers of antiwarriors
and seekers of economic justice understand this as we organize and
work to make our most fundamental hopes come true.
How then, do we do this? There are two key elements. Politics and
organization. Let me discuss the second one first. This is where we
can learn from the Obama campaign. As an observer, I was impressed
by its grassroots nature, steadiness of message, understanding of its
purpose and its relentless yet levelheaded pursuit of its
goal. There are a couple elements here that the Left can surely
learn from, no matter what the political situation is in the
world. We must understand our purpose and maintain a relentless yet
levelheaded pursuit of our goals. Opposition to the occupations and
wars of Washington must be organized with an understanding that it is
imperialism that causes these wars and that understanding must be
translated to the grassroots. Resistance to the capitalists' theft
of the peoples monies for their aggrandizement must be explained for
what it is--the natural workings of monopoly capitalism, not some
aberration due to greed and lack of regulation. We know this because
we study this. It is necessary that we make this knowledge better
understood by many more people. After all, people do want to
understand why their world is so screwed up. The election of Obama
and his message of change is evidence of that. His presidency is
almost certain to prove that the change he is referring to is not
going to be enough.
Obama's message is one that encourages inclusiveness. We have all
heard him say that this nation is not the "blue states of America or
the red states of America, but the United States of America." No
matter what we think about the red, the blue or the red, white and
blue, the fundamental message of this statement is that humanity
shares several commonalities and that is what we must emphasize. As
leftists, we must naturally go beyond the commonalities of our
humanity and address the commonalities shared by those whom we wish
to organize--the working class and its allies. There are many
organizations on the progressive and left side of the political
spectrum here in the US. They are naturally composed of both members
of the working class and their allies. A few that come to mind are
labor unions, SDS, UFPJ, ANSWER, and even MoveOn and the Green
Party. In addition, there are other informal movements and networks
organized around death penalty and prisoner issues, immigration and
sanctuary issues, women's and TBGLT issues and so on. Add to that
the national networks opposed to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and
the war on drugs and you come up with a substantial number of
folks. This is our potential base. This is who we must debate
anti-capitalist politics with. This is who we must enter into
coalitions with--coalitions that will rebuild the movement against
the war and torture; coalitions that will end the police state
actions of the immigration authorities and insure full human rights
for those who live in this country without papers; coalitions that
will expose Wall Street for the gang of criminals that it is and
insure that working people and those without work but looking benefit
from any bailouts legislated in Washington; and so on.
We have lived under one of the most unabashedly antidemocratic
regimes in US history for the past eight years. We have seen
principles written into this nation's most important document--the
Bill of Rights--openly and gleefully violated and buried. We have
seen the richest people, the corporations and banks in this country
steal without shame from the national treasury. We have seen
authoritarian bigots impose their regressive and racist dogma into
the national conversation and law books, sometimes under the pretense
of security and other times under the cloak of a religion built on
hate. We have seen men and women sent off to kill men, women and
children in the name of power and wealth. We have heard the
politicians and technocrats in Washington discuss the torture of
other human beings as calmly as they touch the switch that lights the
national Christmas tree every year. The blatant contempt we have
felt has resulted in a despair I haven't seen since the dark days of
the early 1970s when Nixon and his secret police were using whatever
means they could to destroy the popular movements of the 1960s.
The election results on November 4th, 2008 prove to us as much as
anybody else that, despite this recent legacy, many residents of this
land hope things can change. History has not always been kind to
those with hopes such as these. After all, this nation, like all
nations, has seen times worse than these past eight years, only to
have their hopes picked up by some politician speaking pretty phrases
but limited by his determination to resolve the crises he faced while
leaving the very system that created the crisis intact. Yet, hope is
better than despair. I leave you with a quote from the 19th century
anarchist Peter Kropotkin:
"Revolutions are born of hope, not despair."
Ron Jacobs is author of The Way the Wind Blew: a history of the
Weather Underground, which is just republished by Verso. Jacobs'
essay on Big Bill Broonzy is featured in CounterPunch's collection on
music, art and sex, Serpents in the Garden. His first novel, Short
Order Frame Up, is published by Mainstay Press. He can be reached at:
Rhetoric Alone Is Not Enough
By TARIQ ALI
November 7 / 9, 2008
Barack Obama's victory marks a decisive generational and sociological
shift in American politics. Its impact is difficult to predict at
this stage, but the expectations of the majority of young people who
propelled Obama to victory remain high. It may not have been a
landslide, but the vote was large enough with the Democrats winning
over 52% of the electorate (62.4 million voters) and planting a black
family firmly in the White House.
The historic significance of this fact should not be underestimated.
It has happened in a country where the Ku Klux Klan once had millions
of members who waged a campaign of deadly terror against black
citizens with the support of a prejudiced legal system. How can one
forget the photographs of African-Americans during the first three
decades of the last century being lynched under the approving gaze of
white families enjoying their picnics as they watched ? in Billie
Holliday's memorable voice ? "Black bodies swinging in the southern
breeze/Strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees"?
It was the mass struggles for civil rights in the 1960s that forced
desegregation and the black voter registration campaigns, but also
led to the assassination of Martin Luther King and Malcolm X (just as
he was beginning to insist on the unity of blacks and whites against
a system that oppressed both). It would be trite to remark that Obama
is not one of their number. He is seen as such by the 96 per cent of
Afro-Americans who spilled out of their homes to vote for him. They
may yet be disappointed but for the moment they are rejoicing, and
who can blame them.
It was barely two decades ago that Bill Clinton was warning his
Democrat rival, the liberal governor of New York State, Mario Cuomo,
that America was not yet ready to elect a president whose name ended
with 'o' or 'i'. It was only a few months ago that the Clintons were
openly pandering to racism by repeatedly stressing that white
working-class voters would decisively reject Obama and reminding
Democrats that Jesse Jackson, too, had done well in past primaries.
The new generation of voters proved them wrong: 66% of those between
the ages of 18 and 29, comprising 18% of the electorate, voted for
Obama; 52% of the 30-44 age group (37% of the electorate) did likewise.
The crisis of deregulated, free-market capitalism led to a surge of
support for Obama in states hitherto regarded as Republican or white
Democrat territory, accelerating the process that defeated
Bush/Cheney and the neo-con gang. However the fact that McCain/Palin
still obtained 55 million votes is a reminder of how strong the
American right remains. The Clintons, Jo Biden, Nancy Pelosi and
numerous other Democrat heavyweights will use this to pressure Obama
to remain loyal to the script he used to win the election. But bland,
feel-good slogans will not be enough to secure a second term. The
crisis is far too advanced and the questions agitating most American
citizens (as I discovered when I was there a few weeks ago) concern
jobs, health (40 million citizens have no health insurance) and homes.
Rhetoric alone is insufficient to deal with the slump in the real
economy: there is a trillion-dollar credit-card debt that could bring
down other banking giants; the decline of the car industry will lead
to large-scale unemployment. And there is the bail-out that has
mortgaged future generations of Americans to Wall Street. The panic
measures of the Bush administration designed and orchestrated by the
banker's friend and treasury secretary Paulson have privileged a few
big banks that are being subsidised by public money.
The Democrats and Obama agreed to the deals and will find it
difficult to draw back so that they can move forward on another
front. The expanding crisis, however, might compel them to move in a
different direction. Austerity measures always hurt the less
privileged and how the new president and his team deals with this
will determine their future.
It is an awful time to be elected president, but it is also a
challenge, and Franklin Roosevelt accepted such a challenge in the
1930s by imposing a social-democratic regime of regulation, public
works and an imaginative approach to popular culture. He was helped
by the existence of a strong labour movement and the American left:
the Reagan-Clinton-Bush years helped to destroy the legacy of the New
Deal. It is a new economy, heavily dependent on global finance and a
Does Obama have the vision or the strength to turn this clock back
and forward at the same time? In the realm of foreign policy, the
Obama/Biden approach has not been too different from that of Bush or
McCain. A New Deal for the rest of the world would require a rapid
exit from Iraq and Afghanistan and no further adventures in these
regions or elsewhere. Biden has virtually committed himself to a
Balkanisation of Iraq, which now appears less likely since the rest
of the country as well as Iran and Turkey are opposed, for different
reasons, to the creation of an Israeli-American protectorate in
Northern Iraq with permanent US bases. Obama would be best advised to
announce a rapid and complete withdrawal. Apart from all else, the
costs are now prohibitive.
And sending troops based in Iraq to Afghanistan would only recreate
the mess elsewhere. As numerous British diplomatic, military and
intelligence experts have warned, the war in South Asia is lost.
Washington is certainly aware of this fact. Hence the panic-induced
negotiations with the neo-Taliban. One can only hope that Obama's
foreign policy advisers will force a retreat on this front as well.
What of South America? Surely Obama should mimic Nixon's trip to
Beijing and fly to Havana, ending the economic and diplomatic embargo
of Cuba. Even Colin Powell acknowledged that the regime had done a
great deal for its people. It will be difficult for Obama to preach
the virtues of the free-market, but the Cubans could certainly help
him in establishing a proper healthcare system in the United States.
This would be change that most Americans would be happy to believe
in. Other lessons are also on offer from other South American
countries that foresaw the crisis of neoliberal capitalism and began
to restructure their economies over a decade ago.
If change means that nothing changes and all we have is imperialism
with a human face, then those who have put Obama in the White House
might decide after a few years have passed that a progressive party
in the United States has become a necessity.
PS: Fate and history: The same day that Spain denied the son of Osama
Bin Laden political asylum, Obama appointed the son of an Irgun
terrorist as his Chief of Staff. Osama's son declared that he did not
agree with his father's actions or opinions. Rahm Israel Emmanuel is
an Israel-firster, a pro-war DLC hack and a bully. Not an auspicious start.
Tariq Ali's latest book, 'The Duel: Pakistan on the Flight Path of
American Power' is published by Scribner.
What Happens After Election Day?
Memo to Progressives for Obama
By JOSHUA FRANK
October 30, 2008
Unless John McCain has a bombshell of a scandal to drop on Barack
Obama at the 11th hour, this election is beginning to look like it's
in the bag for the Democrats. The Republicans will finally be kicked
out of the White House and peace and calm will slowly return to Washington.
At least that's the message reverberating across the progressive
landscape these days. One can almost hear a collective sigh of
relief. Darth Cheney will be gone. Karl Rove will be forced to
recoil, and President Bush can retire in ignorant bliss to his ranch
It is certainly comforting to believe the stars have aligned and
progressive values are about to flood the Beltway. Barack Obama has
campaigned on "Hope" and "Change" and we all but believe the guy is
actually going to deliver on his varied promises.
But believing is what's caused so many to fall victim to Obama fever.
You know the signs: they send you emails from MoveOn.org (claiming
you're to blame for Obama's fictional loss) and hope-filled rants
from Norman Solomon. They talk about Obama as if he's the next
messiah, their wardrobe consists of more than two Obama shirts that
they'll wear every day leading up to the election. They have a
"Change" sign in their window and one in their front yard. It's as if
they've become more or less Obama-zombies, just in time for Halloween.
No question the Obama strategists have accomplished what they set out
to do. Just look at all they've achieved thus far: antiwar activists
have exchanged their slogans for pro-Obama refrains despite the fact
that their candidate inflates the alleged threat of Iran, wants to
put more troops in Afghanistan and won't pull out of Iraq anytime soon.
Environmentalists have come out for Obama in large numbers, even
though he thinks coal can be clean and nuclear energy can be safe. No
big deal that he wants to drill baby drill off our coastal shores. At
least the guy believes in global warming.
Or take the civil rights champions who have few qualms about his
rabid support for FISA and the PATRIOT Act or social justice
activists who aren't overly concerned that Obama condones the
execution of convicts who have never murdered. Economic progressives,
who would be the first to say the economic I.V. pumped into the Wall
Street bloodline was hastily passed and rips off tax-payers, are the
first to defend Obama's economic platform. No matter he supported the
bailout without reservation. No matter his team of economic hit men
includes a whole slew of Clintonite neoliberals like Robert Rubin.
Obama is still their guy.
All of this wouldn't bother me much if it weren't for the overt
hypocrisy so many progressives, and a few radicals, are exhibiting
with their blind support for Obama. It's one thing to embrace
pragmatic voting and lesser-evilism on the grounds that we don't
really live in a true democracy. It's quite another to be excited
about the prospect of electing a man who doesn't stand for the issues
you do, and is in fact campaigning against them.
What will happen if Obama wins the electorate? Progressive Group
Number One seems to believe he'll magically move left once
inaugurated and is only running to the right in order to win the
election. That position is a non sequitur and not worthy of real
discussion as it's based on wishful thinking.
Progressive Group Number Two knows Obama is pretty damn conservative
but is planning on voting "strategically," arguing that change comes
in baby steps, yet they assure us they'll apply pressure once Obama's
elected to get the little toddler strolling. A friend, who happens to
be a professor at a large university, recently told me that he plans
on coercing Obama by pressuring elected members of congress. He'll be
"making a stink" and "scene," he assured me.
What a relief.
"The forces arrayed against far-reaching progressive change are
massive and unrelenting. If an Obama victory is declared next week,
those forces will be regrouping in front of our eyes -- with
right-wing elements looking for backup from corporate and pro-war
Democrats," Norman Solomon recently wrote in an article advising
progressives to vote against their interests. "How much leverage
these forces exercise on an Obama presidency would heavily depend on
the extent to which progressives are willing and able to put up a fight."
Does Solomon even understand what it means to "put up a fight"? And
what's with the notion that progressives will "apply pressure" once
Obama wins? They have no cash and he's already going to receive most
of their votes. What are they going to do to pressure him, poke him
in his ribs? Cause a stink by farting through the halls of Congress?
Obama may actually listen to us if he thought progressives were
considering to vote for a guy like Ralph Nader, which is the point
Nader seems to be making by campaigning in swing states this week.
Nader knows how to put up a real fight, one not mired in
hypotheticals and fear-mongering, so he's pressuring Obama where it
Of course, such a direct confrontation to Obama's backward policies
ruffles the slacks of many devout liberals. But that is the point.
Progressives are not flush with cash and as we all should know,
flashing the almighty buck is usually the best way to grab a
politician's attention. But the only thing we have at our immediate
disposal now is votes. These crooks need us to get elected. Obama
already has the majority of left-wing support shored up despite his
resistance to embrace our concerns. Imagine if he had to earn our
votes instead of receiving our support without having to do a thing for it?
So let's prepare for what's ahead. Obama may win next Tuesday, but
what will happen to the movements that have been sidelined in order
to help get the Democrats elected? What will become of the
environmental movement after January 20? Will it step up to oppose
Obama's quest for nuclear power and clean coal? Will the antiwar
movement work to force Obama to take a softer approach toward Iran?
Will they stop the troop increase in Afghanistan?
These are but a few of the questions I'd like progressive supporters
of Obama to answer. I've yet to hear exactly how they will pressure
an Obama administration. In fact, I don't think they will. George W.
Bush will be gone and that will be enough for most. Progressives
faced a similar confrontation in 1992 when Bill Clinton took office,
but without much of a fight we saw neoliberalism take hold in the
form of NAFTA and we endured the Telecommunications Act, Welfare
Reform, a forest plan written by the logging industry, the
dismantling of Glass-Steagall, the Iraq Liberation Act, and much much more.
What makes the Democrats believe that they even deserve our support
now? President Bush has indeed been bad, but his most egregious
policies were upheld and supported by the majority of Democrats. They
gave Bush the green light to whack Saddam while they controlled the
Senate. They supported the PATRIOT Act (Obama voted for its
reconfirmation), the War on Terror, Bush's increased Pentagon budget,
a no-strings Wall Street bailout and two awful Supreme Court
confirmations. You may also remember that two years ago we ushered
Democrats back into office with the belief that they might actually
fight Bush on Iraq. Instead we've had nothing but complicity, with
Democrats time and again supporting increased war funds.
I hope I'm not alone in saying that we deserve more than lofty
rhetoric about "action" and "hope." We deserve a program for real
progressive change -- the kind Democrats and Barack Obama will not
bring as long as we give them our unconditional support.
Joshua Frank is co-editor of Dissident Voice and author of Left Out!
How Liberals Helped Reelect George W. Bush (Common Courage Press,
2005), and along with Jeffrey St. Clair, the editor of the brand new
book Red State Rebels: Tales of Grassroots Resistance in the
Heartland, published by AK Press in July 2008. He can be reached at:
The American Elections of 2008: A First Take
by Paul Buhle
By Stephen Lendman