Workers Vanguard No. 911

28 March 2008


Obama’s Speech: “National Unity” in Service of U.S. Imperialism

Break with Democratic Party of War and Racism!

Barack Obama’s “A More Perfect Union” speech has overwhelmingly received accolades from across the bourgeois political spectrum, hailed as “opening a dialogue” on race in America. What Obama gave was, in fact, a “national unity” speech, putting himself forward as the bourgeoisie’s best candidate to run bloody U.S. imperialism and keep working people, blacks, immigrants and all the oppressed down. Obama, linked to the Illinois Democratic machine, seems well qualified to be the chief executive of U.S. imperialism, including by refurbishing its credentials in the world arena.

As against the reformist left, which is either explicitly or implicitly behind Obama, we revolutionary Marxists fight to break workers and the oppressed from illusions in the Democrats, the other party of war and racism. We do not extend any political support to any capitalist politician—Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, John McCain or Ralph Nader—Democrat, Republican or Green. We stand for the complete political independence of the working class. Our aim is the forging of a revolutionary multiracial workers party that fights to overturn the capitalist system through workers revolution and to establish a workers government.

Obama sought to run on an “end of racism” message. But in racist, capitalist America, there was no way to disappear race from this race. For days, the media had been playing in endless loops comments made by Jeremiah Wright, a military veteran and, since 1972, a pastor of Chicago’s Trinity United Church of Christ, to which Obama belongs. The pastor’s remarks—many of them pointing to the crimes of the U.S. government—simply expressed the deeply felt anger of much of the black population, and similar remarks can be heard at many a pulpit in America’s black churches; in fact, Trinity is affiliated to a mainstream, predominantly white denomination. Responding to the Wright controversy, Obama, the son of a Kenyan man and white American woman, used his own pulpit in Philadelphia to give his speech on race.

Flanked by eight American flags, Obama delivered his particular Democratic Party version of “national unity” populism, evoking a reconciliation that preserves the racist, capitalist status quo. Declaiming that black people’s “anger is real” and that condemning it “without understanding its roots, only serves to widen the chasm of misunderstanding that exists between the races,” Obama went on to pander to anti-black chauvinism. Speaking of black people, he pointed to “our own complicity in our condition”—blaming the oppressed for their own oppression. He denounced welfare and conciliated racist opposition to affirmative action and school integration through busing. He promoted the “quintessentially American—and yes, conservative—notion of self-help,” echoing Booker T. Washington, who over a century ago preached accommodation to the racist status quo by telling impoverished blacks to pull themselves up by their bootstraps, if they owned any.

In his speech, Obama also promoted protectionist chauvinism, made clear his support for Israel, denounced “radical Islam” and cheered on the imperialist “war on terror.” Speaking of his opposition to the invasion of Iraq, Obama made clear in an interview with right-wing radio broadcaster Michael Smerconish that was excerpted in the Philadelphia Inquirer (24 March): “It’s not that I was opposed to war, it’s that I felt that we had a war that we had not finished” in Afghanistan. Smerconish, who found Obama’s March 18 speech “stunning,” recently co-authored Murdered by Mumia with Maureen Faulkner, a lying tract aimed at greasing the skids for the execution of America’s foremost death row political prisoner, Mumia Abu-Jamal, a courageous fighter against black oppression.

Obama began and ended his speech by paying homage to America’s “founding fathers,” claiming that “the answer to the slavery question was already embedded within our Constitution.” What the “founding fathers” embedded in the Constitution was slavery. It took a bloody Civil War to smash the Southern slavocracy. But the ensuing defeat of Radical Reconstruction—the most democratic period for black people in American history—left blacks, legally freed from slavery, subject to the tyranny of the defeated slaveowners and KKK enforcers.

Notably, Obama referred in his speech to the “brutal legacy of slavery and Jim Crow.” But he talked about race in order to disappear the brutal realities of racist American capitalism today. While refusing to disown Wright, he condemned his “simply inexcusable” comments, declaring that Wright’s “profound mistake” was that “he spoke as if our society was static; as if no progress has been made; as if this country…is still irrevocably bound to a tragic past.”

Black oppression has been and remains the bedrock of American capitalism, which is based on the exploitation of the entire multiracial working class. As we wrote in “The Obama Campaign and the ‘End of Racism’ Myth” (WV No. 906, 18 January):

“Contrary to the myth promoted by Obama and other liberals, 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.”

Obama is the first black candidate with a real shot at being elected U.S. president, the top cop. If he (or Hillary Clinton) wins, it would be significant. But it would do nothing to change the fundamental conditions of working people, blacks, women and the oppressed. Look at the numerous black Democrats who have been employed as mayors and police chiefs of major urban areas—from L.A. to Chicago, Detroit, Philadelphia and elsewhere. Their job has been to kick working and black people down, to oversee rampant cop terror and administer the slashing of social programs—their value to the racist rulers is embodied in the statement by black former New York City mayor David Dinkins: “They’ll take it from me.” Obama simply seeks to become the overseer for the whole plantation. The class he serves is a reactionary gendarme internationally and the enemy of the multiracial proletariat and oppressed masses “at home,” not least since the counterrevolutionary destruction of the Soviet Union, which left Washington less restrained in its machinations.

The emancipation of the working class and the liberation of black people can be realized only by the destruction of the American capitalist system through socialist revolution. As stated in the preamble to the program of the Labor Black Leagues, which are fraternally allied to the Spartacist League: “We fight to win the entire working class, including white workers as well as the growing number of Latino and other immigrants, to the fight for black liberation, strategic to the American revolution.”