Workers Vanguard No. 929
30 January 2009
As Reformists Fawn
Barack Obama Takes Helm of Racist U.S. Imperialism
Break with the Democrats! For a Revolutionary Workers Party!
In the inauguration of Barack Obama, the first black president of the United States, the U.S. imperialist ruling class has gained an effective executive for pursuing its bloody aims abroad and its exploitation of working people at home. Indeed, as the shameless hosannas to the new Commander-in-Chief of U.S. imperialism by the reformist “socialists” demonstrate, Obama has breathed new life into their false claim that capitalism can be reformed. After eight years of the despised Bush administration, the hype about “hope” and the lie of “national unity” had broad appeal. But from the standpoint of the interests of the international working class, this is nothing to celebrate.
Enthusiasm among significant sections of the bourgeoisie, on the other hand, is justified, as they have in Obama a more rational face for their irrational and barbaric system. At a time when unemployment figures are at the worst in decades, when home foreclosures have devastated the lives of massive numbers of working people, when the wounds of the racist atrocity in the face of Hurricane Katrina are still all-too-fresh in New Orleans, when education, health care and basic infrastructure lie in shambles, large numbers of the populace—whites, blacks, Latinos and others—sought relief in a change of administration. Obama’s election refurbished the trapping of bourgeois electoral “democracy,” the method by which the U.S. rulers seek to disguise their brutal class rule under the appearance of a popular mandate.
There’s no denying that the inauguration was unprecedented: The sight of a black man taking the oath of office, with his wife, the descendant of slaves, holding the Bible, brought many to tears, given America’s bitter origins in slavery—with lynchings and Jim Crow segregation still burnt into the memory of the living. Thus the “honeymoon” period and the illusions in this “new face” of U.S. imperialism are likely to be more prolonged than usual, especially among the youth and blacks who support Obama.
The somber reality is that Obama’s ascension to the highest office in the land will do nothing to relieve the continuing nightmare of racial oppression for the mass of the black population. That oppression is structurally embedded in American capitalism and will not be overcome short of socialist revolution. As we warned in the run-up to the presidential election (WV No. 920, 12 September 2008), “Obama serves as a very powerful propaganda weapon for the bourgeoisie, telling black people and the oppressed to shut up and stop complaining, because, you see, ‘the American dream’ works!”
We have repeatedly warned that Obama’s election would provide a much needed facelift for U.S. imperialism. And, indeed, in many parts of the world, his inauguration was greeted with euphoria. A column by Jonathan Freedland in the Johannesburg Mail & Guardian online (24 January), a South African bourgeois paper, gushed that the scene of his inauguration at the Mall in Washington showed America “as a nation that cherishes its unique experiment in self-government and still believes that even the darkest chapters of its past can be transcended.” This sentiment was also expressed by the reformist International Socialist Organization (ISO), whose editorial “Looking Forward to Change” (Socialist Worker online, 21 January) gushed that Obama’s election is “a reason to believe that change is possible” and that “some of the cruel sins of America’s past were finally being overcome.”
Support for Obama is widespread among black people. At the same time, class divisions within the black population have become very sharp, marked by the growing gulf between the small minority consisting of the black petty bourgeoisie, who went through the gates opened by the gains of the civil rights movement, and black workers and the massive “underclass” of the permanently unemployed, swollen through the devastation of American industry. Especially the upper crust of the black petty bourgeoisie could very well see material benefits from Obama’s victory, which broke a “glass ceiling.” But for the black proletariat and the masses in the ghettos, conditions of life are already being further devastated. Just as it was another popular Democratic president, Bill Clinton, who ended “welfare as we know it,” where prior Republican administrations had failed, Obama today is in a better position to extract further “sacrifice” from working people in the midst of the deepening recession.
Craven reformists like Teresa Gutierrez of the Stalinoid Workers World Party (WWP) raved that Obama’s victory was “a triumph for the Black masses and all the oppressed,” writing in Workers World (20 November 2008):
“As communists and revolutionaries we take joy with the oppressed and other progressives as they gather in jubilation from Harlem to Colombia to Japan to Kenya with the election of Obama
. Our love of the oppressed masses—like our solidarity with the working class—extends even when it involves the presidency of the strongest imperialist country ever.”
WWP is here openly embracing the Commander-in-Chief of U.S. imperialism, the top cop responsible for the most massive military power in history and for the domestic machinery of repression that maintains social oppression and exploitation! WWP and other reformists promote the illusion that working people and the oppressed can lay hold of the machinery of the capitalist state and wield it for their own interests. But the capitalist state exists to defend the rule and profits of the capitalist class. All historical experience has shown that it cannot be reformed, but must be smashed through a socialist revolution that establishes in its place a workers state to defend the rule of the working class and its allies. Thus, as Marxists, we are opposed to giving any political support to any capitalist politician—Democrat, Republican or Green—on principle. Nor would we ourselves run for an executive office (i.e., president, governor or mayor). To stand for election to executive positions carries the implication that one is ready to accept responsibility for the administration of the machinery of the capitalist state.
WWP even apologizes for Obama’s choice of Rick Warren, an anti-gay bigot and opponent of women’s rights, to deliver the invocation at the inauguration. While “disappointment” at Warren’s role is, according to Workers World (11 January), “understandable,” “When it comes to inaugural preachers, Warren is by no means the worst of the lot.” Translation: Shut up—because, as WWP put it in the same article, Obama’s victory “represented a breakthrough in the struggle against racism”!
WWP may revel in “love” for Obama, but that love will not be reciprocated: A January 16 Washington Post online article was entitled, “Obama Pledges Entitlement Reform.” Pointing to programs like Social Security and Medicare, Obama told the Post, “there are going to be very difficult choices and issues of sacrifice.” Echoing George W. Bush—who stated after the 2004 elections, “I earned capital in the campaign, political capital, and I intend to spend it”—Obama said, “You have to have a president who is willing to spend some political capital on this. And I intend to spend some.” In this, Obama follows in the footsteps of the black Democrats who have been employed as mayors and police chiefs of major urban areas, epitomized by the statement of former New York City mayor David Dinkins to a meeting of Wall Street financiers: “They’ll take it from me.”
The road to black freedom lies in the struggle to shatter this racist capitalist system through proletarian socialist revolution, and the power to do that lies with the multiracial working class. We base our struggle for black liberation on the program of revolutionary integrationism. While combating every manifestation of racist oppression, fighting in particular to mobilize the social power of the multiracial labor movement, we underline that full equality for the black masses requires that the working class rip the economy out of the hands of the racist capitalist rulers and reorganize it on a socialist basis. Only then will it be possible to eliminate the material roots of black oppression through the full integration of black people into an egalitarian socialist society based on a collectivized economy with quality jobs, housing, health care and education for all. For black liberation through socialist revolution! For a workers party to fight for a workers government!
Even as Israel pounded the Gaza Strip, the ISO politely described Obama’s often-stated support to the murderous Zionist state as being “silent during Israel’s slaughter” (Socialist Worker, 21 January). But well before taking office, Obama made clear his support for the Israeli bloodbath. In a visit to Israel during his campaign, he clearly stated, “If somebody was sending rockets into my house where my two daughters sleep at night, I’m going to do everything in my power to stop that. And I would expect Israelis to do the same thing.” For its part, Israel, after slaughtering over 1,300 Palestinians, withdrew from Gaza hours before the inaugural ceremonies.
In the same January 21 article, the ISO enthused over the “profound impact” of the Obama campaign, writing:
“After a generation of the conservative agenda dominating in Washington, when the White House and Congress seemed wholly insulated from any influence by ordinary people, Obama’s victory convinced large numbers of people of some basic sentiments at the heart of the great struggles of the past—that something different is possible, and that what we do matters.”
The ISO concludes: “But the most fundamental changes in society do happen from the bottom up. And it’s up to the people who want to see that change to use all the opportunities presented to us in this new era of Barack Obama—to argue, to mobilize and to agitate.” Both the ISO and Socialist Alternative sponsored a January 20 “Seattle Inauguration Day Celebration,” which proclaimed “We Voted Barack, Now Get Out of Kabul and Iraq!” The Web site for the event burbled about how “amazing” it was that Obama was “elected by a vocal, antiwar, young constituency” and claimed that celebrating the end of the “old era” could best be done by “letting President Obama know what the real changes that we want and deserve are” (j20celebration.blogspot.com).
Put simply: the reformists want to “mobilize” to make Obama fight. And Obama will fight—for the class that has hired him as chief executive, in the interests of U.S. imperialism.
“We remember with humble gratitude those brave Americans who, at this very hour, patrol far-off deserts and distant mountains,” Obama intoned in his inaugural speech, referring to the U.S. occupiers of Iraq and Afghanistan, where hundreds of thousands have been slaughtered at the hands of U.S. imperialism. As he completed his first week in office, CIA Predator missile-bearing drones continued to slam into Pakistan, one killing at least 15 people in western Pakistan on January 23. A senior Pakistani official says that as many as 100 civilians have been killed by the missiles. More are sure to come as Obama’s war on Afghanistan heats up, with 30,000 more troops slated for dispatch there. This is in line with Democratic Party policy of reducing troops in Iraq to beef up occupation forces in Afghanistan.
Obama is moving to clean up some of the most internationally damaging “excesses” of the Bush era. This includes his executive order to close the Guantánamo concentration camp by the end of the year—though the fate of the inmates is unclear. But such acts serve to make U.S. imperialism more effective in pursuing its bloody ends by giving it a “humane” facade. Obama is a staunch supporter of the “war on terror”—which has served as the pretext for imperialist depredation abroad and the evisceration of democratic rights at home—including voting as a Senator for warrantless wiretapping and the renewal of the USA Patriot Act. His inner circle of advisers includes Carter- and Clinton-era war criminals like Zbigniew Brzezinski and Madeleine Albright as well as staunch supporters of Zionist Israel like Vice President Joe Biden and Rahm Emanuel, his chief of staff.
For its part, the reformist Maoist Revolutionary Communist Party (RCP) has spent the Bush years chanting “The World Can’t Wait! Drive Out the Bush Regime!” So, now what? After a brisk shoe-throwing rally against Bush in Washington and “die-in” against the occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan on 19 January, the RCP topped off its festivities the next day during the inaugural parade with an “ARREST BUSH event in front of the FBI building” (showing a touching faith in the bourgeois state and its secret police, to say the least). Revolution online (19 January) calls on the Obama regime to “Indict the War Criminals!”—in the Bush regime. The RCP earnestly pleads:
“All this is not to say that it is impossible that Bush, Cheney and the rest of the criminal cabal would be put on trial by the new crew in the White House. BUT this is not going to happen without an outpouring of outrage and tremendous struggle by millions of people. It is not going to happen without an impossible-to-ignore demand that manifests politically in the streets and in all kinds of ways among various strata of society—on a level where the rulers feel that this outpouring more threatens the legitimacy of their whole system than going through the prosecution of Bush and Cheney would.”
What cynicism! CIA dirty tricks, torture, vile measures taken as part of “counter-insurgency” from the Philippines to Vietnam and Iraq are part and parcel of the imperialist arsenal under the rule of both capitalist parties.
In counterposition to such repulsive reformist fawning, we say, from Afghanistan to Iraq and Guantánamo: Free all the detainees! U.S. out of Guantánamo! As revolutionary opponents of U.S. imperialism, we stood for the military defense of Afghanistan and Iraq in the lead-up to U.S. imperialism’s invasions, while politically opposing the reactionary Taliban and Saddam Hussein’s brutal capitalist regime. We call for class struggle against the capitalist rulers at home. We are for the defeat of U.S. forces; their every setback serves to assist the struggles of working people and the oppressed around the globe. We demand the immediate and unconditional withdrawal of all U.S. troops and bases from Iraq, Afghanistan and Central Asia! U.S. hands off Pakistan and Iran!
Barack Obama: Anti-Communist
Obama’s inaugural speech took pains to hail those who “faced down fascism and communism not just with missiles and tanks,” an allusion to the Cold War combination of intense military, economic and ideological pressure brought to bear in the destruction of the former Soviet Union and the East European deformed workers states. The restoration of capitalism in these countries was a world-historic defeat for the international proletariat, including by removing what was the main counterweight to the bloody ambitions of U.S. imperialism.
By equating communism with fascism, Obama is echoing an old war cry of bourgeois apologists who not only smear communism but also trivialize the unique and unspeakable crimes of Hitler’s Holocaust, in which millions were murdered in a crusade to eliminate whole peoples from the face of the earth. In fact, the relationship between the program of communism and that of fascism is that they are polar opposites. Authentic communism means the full liberation of all of humanity from material scarcity. Fascism is the epitome of bourgeois-nationalist reaction and capitalist barbarism; it is a form of capitalist rule that the bourgeoisie resorts to in extremis, dispensing with bourgeois democracy to maintain its class power, as the German bourgeoisie did in handing power to Hitler on the road to World War II. As we wrote in “Black Book: Anti-Communist Big Lie” (WV No. 692, 5 June 1998): “Hitlerite fascism was the most diehard, most ideological expression of the bourgeoisie’s unremitting world struggle against Communism.”
During his Senate confirmation hearing, Obama’s Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner noted that “President Obama
believes that China is manipulating its currency,” a charge that could result in U.S. economic sanctions against the Chinese deformed workers state. As a New York Times (24 January) headline put it: “China Jittery About Obama Amid Signs of Harder Line.”
The U.S. imperialists seek to restore capitalist rule in the Chinese bureaucratically deformed workers state, and for this they have a two-pronged strategy: military encirclement combined with capitalist economic penetration. Obama represents the section of the bourgeoisie that wants to extricate its troops from the Iraq quagmire in order to aim the U.S. military at more strategic and long-term targets, not least China. At the same time, the Democrats, backed by the pro-capitalist trade-union bureaucracy, have been in the forefront of pushing anti-China chauvinist protectionism.
The openly anti-Communist ISO would agree with Obama that those states where capitalist rule has been overturned should, in the name of “democracy,” be smashed. This is in line with their support to every imperialist-backed counterrevolutionary movement against the former Soviet Union and the deformed workers states of East Europe. Such is their lineage, ever since their political forebears departed from the Trotskyist movement when they refused to defend the USSR during the 1950-53 Korean War. Nor is the RCP much different from the garden-variety anti-Communist social democrats of the ISO: the RCP long ago wrote off China when its preferred faction lost power following Mao’s death in 1976, and earlier it had denounced the Soviet degenerated workers state, the military-industrial powerhouse of the non-capitalist world, as “Soviet social imperialism.”
As against the reformist left that has lined up with its “own” blood-soaked bourgeoisie, we fight for the unconditional military defense of those states where capitalism has been overthrown—China, Cuba, Vietnam, North Korea—just as we earlier fought to the end for the defense of the Soviet Union and the East European deformed workers states against capitalist counterrevolution. Integral to such a struggle is our fight for workers political revolution against the bureaucratic Stalinist regimes that undermine the defense and extension of the gains made by the anti-capitalist overturns in these countries.
For Class Against Class!
There is no “common ground” between imperialist president Barack Obama, representative of the capitalist system, which is based on the exploitation of labor, and the working class, including its growing immigrant sector and its strategic black component. Labor desperately needs a fighting leadership to unleash the power of the multiracial working class in struggle for workers’ economic interests and for black rights, to organize the unorganized, to demand full citizenship rights for immigrants, and to oppose U.S. imperialism. But the trade-union bureaucrats of both the AFL-CIO and Change to Win federations promote Democratic Party “lesser-evilism.” The union tops push chauvinist “America first” patriotism and protectionism, promoting the lie that working people abroad, as opposed to the U.S. capitalist rulers, are the enemies of the American proletariat.
It is only the working class that has the objective interest and social power to smash the capitalist system and lay the basis for an egalitarian socialist society, based on a collectivized economy that produces for human needs, not profits. We fight for a workers party with a revolutionary internationalist program aimed at the liberation of the proletariat and all the oppressed. As opposed to the Obama-enthralled reformist opponents, our revolutionary continuity extends from the Bolsheviks of Lenin and Trotsky, who led the 1917 October Revolution. Our watchwords are those of these revolutionary antecedents: for a proletarian, revolutionary and internationalist party to lead the struggle for the emancipation of the proletariat and all the oppressed masses. For new October Revolutions!