Workers Hammer No. 205

Winter 2008-2009


American Trotskyists say: Break with the capitalist Democratic Party! For a revolutionary workers party!

Obama: commander-in-chief of racist US imperialism

We reprint below an article from Workers Vanguard (no 925, 21 November 2008), newspaper of the Spartacist League/US. Just as the “Anybody but Bush” reformist left in America has expressed elation at the election of black Democrat Barack Obama as commander-in-chief of US imperialism, their British counterparts are also rejoicing.

“The Stop the War Coalition is delighted that Barack Obama has won the US Presidential elections”, proclaimed its website, while the Socialist Workers Party declared the event “a momentous achievement in a country with a long history of entrenched and vicious racism” (Socialist Worker, 8 November 2008). The American affiliate of the Socialist Party in Britain, Socialist Alternative, said that Obama’s election “could be a spark that helps ignite a new movement to fight for better conditions among African-Americans” (, 12 November 2008). Particularly in response to the US and British imperialist occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan, the above organisations have begged the Labour government to “break with Bush”, reflecting bourgeois concern about the damage to British imperialism’s image abroad. Their support for Obama is consistent with the fact that his presidency offers a much-needed facelift for US imperialism.

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The election of Barack Obama as the first black president of the United States has aroused great expectations among working people and the oppressed around the world. Black people and others celebrated on streets throughout the country the election of the next commander-in-chief of bloody US imperialism. Michelle Obama, the descendent of slaves, will be first lady in a White House whose foundations were laid by slave labour. This is something most Americans never expected to see in their lifetime. Amid fears of a new Great Depression, as millions of working people are losing their homes and unemployment grows, hopes for “change” centre on the incoming Democratic Obama administration. These hopes will be brutally dashed.

As America’s next top cop, Obama will preside over the racist capitalist system, which is based on the exploitation of working people at home and abroad. As against the reformists, who either explicitly or implicitly backed Obama, we Marxists fight to break working people and the oppressed from illusions in the capitalist Democratic Party of war and racism. On principle, we do not vote for, or otherwise extend any political support to, any capitalist politician — Democrat, Republican, Green or “independent”. As the front-page headline of Workers Vanguard no 923 (24 October 2008) emphasised: “McCain, Obama: Class Enemies of Workers, Oppressed”.

We Marxists also do not run for the executive offices of the bourgeois state, such as mayor, governor or president. This is based on our understanding that the capitalist state — which at its core consists of the cops, military, courts and prisons — exists to defend the class rule and profits of the bourgeoisie. Holding executive office means administering the capitalist state. Our aim is the forging of a revolutionary workers party to lead the multiracial working class, and behind it all the oppressed, in the struggle to overthrow the capitalist order through workers revolution and establish a workers state where those who labour rule.

Immediately upon winning, Obama sought to tamp down expectations for his administration. He made his agenda of “national unity” patriotism clear when he declared on election night, before a crowd of 250,000 people in Chicago celebrating his victory, the need for “a new spirit of sacrifice”. In this, Obama is following in the footsteps of the black Democrats who have been employed as mayors and police chiefs of major urban areas — from Los Angeles to Chicago, Detroit, Philadelphia and elsewhere. Their job has been to keep working and black people down, to oversee rampant cop terror and administer the slashing of social programmes; their value to the racist rulers is epitomised by the statement of black former New York City mayor David Dinkins: “They’ll take it from me.” With the US entering a deep economic recession, it will be Obama’s job to contain potential social unrest and impose austerity measures upon working people — and his current popularity may very well allow him to get away with much.

With cool “post-partisan” arrogance, Obama — wielding his own $660 million campaign, which was supported by significant sections of the bourgeoisie — blames the oppressed for their own oppression. In his Chicago victory speech, Obama stated: “If there is anyone out there…who still questions the power of our democracy, tonight is your answer.” A similar message came from McCain in his concession speech, who bluntly stated, “Let there be no reason now for any American to fail to cherish their citizenship.” As we warned in “Obama Offers Facelift for U.S. Imperialism” (Workers Vanguard 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!”

From the standpoint of the international working class and oppressed there is nothing to celebrate in Obama’s victory and much to fear. Enthusiasm among large sections of the bourgeoisie, on the other hand, is justified. After nearly eight years of one of the most incompetent and widely despised regimes in recent US history, they now have in Obama a more rational face for their brutal, irrational system. Obama has also inspired illusions in the trappings of bourgeois democracy, the means by which the capitalists disguise their rule with the appearance of a popular mandate. Abroad, Obama provides an invaluable facelift for US imperialism, the main enemy of the world’s working people.

Obama calls to remove “combat troops” from Iraq (while maintaining a “residual force”) in order to redeploy at least another 10,000 soldiers to Afghanistan in support of that murderous occupation. He is dedicated to further machinations against Pakistan, including military incursions into that country. In his 24 July 2008 speech in Berlin before a huge crowd, he invoked the anti-Soviet Cold War to motivate US imperialism’s interests, not least the restoration of capitalist rule in China. He is a staunch supporter of the “war on terror”, including warrantless wiretapping and the renewal of the USA Patriot Act. His inner circle includes Carter- and Clinton-era war criminals like Zbigniew Brzezinski and Madeleine Albright as well as staunch supporters of Zionist Israel like Vice President-elect Joe Biden and Rahm Emanuel, projected to be the new chief of staff. Obama is considering one John O Brennan, who was among those who created the current CIA detention and torture programmes, for director of national intelligence or head of the CIA. Brennan vehemently defended the administration’s use of “rendition” in a December 2005 interview on The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer, calling it an “absolutely vital tool”.

We say, from Afghanistan to Iraq and Guantánamo: Free all the detainees! As revolutionary opponents of US imperialism, we stood for the military defence of Afghanistan and Iraq in the lead-up to US imperialism’s invasions of those countries while politically opposing the reactionary Taliban and Saddam Hussein’s brutal capitalist regime. We called for class struggle against the capitalist rulers at home. We are for the defeat of US forces; their every setback serves to assist the struggles of working people and the oppressed the world over. We demand the immediate and unconditional withdrawal of all US troops and bases from Iraq, Afghanistan and Central Asia! US hands off Pakistan and Iran! As against the reformist left, which has lined up with its “own” bourgeoisie, we fight for the unconditional military defence of those states where capitalism has been overthrown: China, Cuba, Vietnam, North Korea.

Domestically, working people face grinding debt and mass layoffs. And the bourgeoisie has no solution for the current economic crisis and the inevitable boom-and-bust cycles of capitalism. With auto sales collapsing, General Motors and Ford recently announced that over the past three months they burned through cash at a rate of more than $2 billion a month; GM said that by year’s end it could run out of the cash necessary to fund its business. Even if bankruptcy is averted — or postponed — by government subsidies, as some Democrats are demanding, auto workers face massive layoffs, pay cuts and an all-out attack on pensions and healthcare.

Meanwhile, in the face of worldwide economic crisis, Obama and the Democrats embraced (with only minor modifications) the Bush administration’s plan to transfer $700 billion of taxpayers’ money to banks and other financial institutions. So far, this gigantic bailout has done little to unfreeze credit markets. Last week the Treasury Department announced that even though about $290 billion of that sum had already been allocated, the banks were still not willing to lend to consumers. Obama seeks to socialise the bourgeoisie’s losses on the backs of working people, while helping the exploiters appropriate the profits for themselves.

Our class opposition to all bourgeois candidates — and to bourgeois electoralism — is based on the Marxist understanding that capitalist society is divided between two fundamental classes, the bourgeoisie and the proletariat, whose interests cannot be reconciled. Labour needs a fighting leadership that will unleash the power of the multiracial working class in struggle for workers’ economic interests and also for black rights, in defence of immigrants and in opposition to US imperialism. But the trade union bureaucracy of both the AFL-CIO and Change to Win union federations promotes Democratic Party “lesser evilism” and spent some $450 million of union members’ dues money on the 2008 elections, rather than building up a war chest for the struggle needed to defend the workers’ interests. Instead of class struggle and international working-class solidarity, the union tops push chauvinist “America first” patriotism and protectionism, promoting the lie that working people abroad, as opposed to the US capitalist rulers, are the enemies of the American proletariat.

Class and race in capitalist America

The US is a country historically defined by chattel slavery, an institution that was smashed only through the blood and iron of the Civil War. It is a country that required a massive civil rights movement, claiming many black and white martyrs, before Southern Jim Crow segregation was finally defeated. The pride among black people over Obama’s election is, whatever his actual policies, a legacy of this history of oppression and enforced exclusion from the “process”.

However, the condition today of the black masses, particularly those in the ghettos, is one of desperate poverty, police violence, massive incarceration. The “end of racism” myth of Obama’s campaign is a cruel hoax, as is Obama’s statement that the civil rights movement brought America “90 percent of the way” towards racial equality. As we pointed out in our first article on Obama’s candidacy almost a year ago, “The Obama Campaign and the ‘End of Racism’ Myth” (Workers Vanguard no 906, 18 January 2008):

“Black oppression continues to be the central defining feature of U.S. society. It is materially rooted in and central to American capitalism. As against both liberal integrationists and black nationalists, our struggle for black liberation is based on the program of revolutionary integrationism. While opposing 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 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 integration of black people into an egalitarian socialist society based on a collectivized economy with jobs and quality housing, health care and education for all.”

As the examples of Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice also show, there is now a huge class gulf between the petty-bourgeois black professionals who were the main beneficiaries of the liberal-led civil rights movement and the masses of black workers and ghetto poor. But black president or not, America is America — racist, brutal, violent. As Obama’s Grant Park election night celebration was going on, Chicago cops harassed black residents cheering his victory. That same night in Staten Island, New York, a 17-year-old black youth was chased and beaten by racists who screamed “Obama!” at him. Four days after the election, Ecuadorian immigrant Marcello Lucero was fatally stabbed near the Patchogue, Long Island train station by a gang of racist teens who reportedly drove around searching for a Latino to attack.

Under the guise of being a post-“culture wars” unifier, Obama’s positions on many issues are only a hair’s breadth away from such stalwart reactionaries as Joe Lieberman (and we’re not sure about the hair). Obama opposes gay marriage. He is a supporter of the racist death penalty, a legacy of chattel slavery in the US. This past July, Obama stated his opposition to mental health exceptions for “late-term” abortion bans with the paternalistic statement that a woman’s rationale for an abortion cannot be “just a matter of feeling blue”.

Reformists’ Obamamania

The “Anybody but Bush” reformist left is head-over-heels over Obama’s election. In opposition to working-class political independence from the capitalist rulers, they promote collaboration with the bourgeois enemy as the way forward. Workers World (14 November 2008) stated: “The election victory of Barack Obama will go down in history as a triumphant step forward in the struggle against racism and national oppression in the U.S.” This was preceded by a 6 November piece in which Workers World Party leader Larry Holmes babbled on about the “elation” and “feeling of liberation” unleashed by Obama’s win, not bothering to even mention their endorsement of capitalist Green Party candidate Cynthia McKinney (whose campaign was, as we said, a stalking horse for the Democrats). According to Holmes, “The feeling on the streets of cities large and small across the U.S. on election night was that now, anything is possible, and it is.” So, it is “yes we can” — under capitalism.

The International Socialist Organization (ISO) threw an election night party in Harlem to “celebrate the end of far too many years of republican rule” and to discuss “what can activists do to press their demands on the next administration?” The ISO’s Socialist Worker (7 November 2008), aping liberal buzzwords, gushed that Obama’s victory was “transformative”. While acknowledging that many of Obama’s positions point “to a big gap between the hopes and expectations of Obama voters and the cautious, moderate program he has put forward”, the ISO intones: “None of this is to say that no change is possible. Tens of millions of people want a new direction. The question is whether they can be organized to fight for it.”

For its part, the eccentric Stalinist-reformist Progressive Labor Party (PL) wrote in its newspaper Challenge (10 November 2008) that Obama is a capitalist politician, noting that PL’s “exposing and opposing Obama and the ruling class he serves may not be ‘popular’ at first”. But actions speak louder than words: as we earlier reported, PL openly declared that it would “actively participate in Obama’s campaign” (Challenge, 26 March 2008). One “Red Registrar” even boasted in a letter to Challenge (4 October 2008), printed without comment, “I helped out at a voter registration drive in my neighborhood that I found out about through”! These reformists perpetuate deadly illusions that this government of the capitalists, by the capitalists and for the capitalists can be made to serve “the people”.

All of our activity is directed towards forging, training and steeling the proletarian vanguard party necessary for the seizure of state power. In contrast, the politics of the reformists consist of oppositional activity completely defined by the framework of bourgeois society. This was sharply characterised by Bolshevik leader Leon Trotsky in his 1924 work, Lessons of October, as “the actual training of the masses to become imbued with the inviolability of the bourgeois state”.

We stand on what Trotsky wrote in The Death Agony of Capitalism and the Tasks of the Fourth International (also known as the Transitional Programme), the basic programmatic document adopted at the 1938 founding conference of the Fourth International, world party of socialist revolution. As Trotsky put it, the Fourth International “uncompromisingly gives battle to all political groupings tied to the apron-strings of the bourgeoisie. Its task — the abolition of capitalism’s domination. Its aim — socialism. Its method — the proletarian revolution.”