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A socialist perspective on Obama presidential victory

Published Nov 12, 2008 2:00 PM

The following is based on a talk by Abayomi Azikiwe at a Workers World Party public meeting in Detroit on Nov. 8.

An alliance of African Americans, [email protected], large sections of the working class, youth and women of all nationalities led to the victory of Sen. Barack Obama on Nov. 4. In electoral votes earned, which actually determines the presidential winner, Obama defeated Sen. John McCain by a margin greater than two-to-one. Obama won over 52 percent of the popular vote.

In addition to Obama’s victory in the presidential race, the Republican Party lost more seats in both the House of Representatives and the Senate. The turnout of voters in this election surpassed the percentage of participation of many decades before. People stood in line at polling places throughout the country even days prior to Nov. 4.

The most burning issues identified in the corporate media through exit polls and other data collected leading up to the elections, indicated that people were most concerned about the economic crisis, the ongoing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the lack of quality health care or any medical coverage at all.

It is very clear that the Democratic Party, which has a different social base than the Republicans, is still a political organization of the ruling class. The Democratic Party leadership is beholden to the international finance capitalists, the industrialists and landowners, who also control the Republican Party.

Consequently, our focus is to shed some light on the real significance of the Nov. 4 election and the future prospects for fundamental transformation in the U.S. and the world.

The Obama victory and the national question in the U.S.

With the election of Sen. Obama, many people have concluded that this political development represents a whole new phase in race relations in the United States. Even before the elections it was quite obvious that Obama had sparked the interests of not only African Americans, but many whites, particularly the youth, women, [email protected], Asian Americans, Arab Americans, Native people and other oppressed groups.

In the Obama campaign, African Americans saw the potential for exercising their right to self-expression and self-determination. The potential of having an African American as the Democratic presidential nominee and eventual president fired the imagination and national pride of all classes within the community.

This sense of national pride has been reflected in the plethora of T-shirts, posters, artwork, music, poetry and other forms of cultural expression that flourished during the spring and summer of 2008. Many of the works of art displayed on the T-shirts, garments and posters placed Obama within the historical context of other notable African-American and African leaders, such as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X and Nelson Mandela.

Expectations grew considerably after Obama’s victory in the Iowa caucuses. When he later won a series of state primaries and caucuses in various parts of the U.S., the Illinois senator’s stature within the African-American community reached iconic levels. In response to Obama’s victories during the primaries, the Hillary Clinton campaign reverted to some of the most virulent racism exemplified in modern U.S. electoral politics.

Notions of “who is qualified” to lead the U.S. political system and whether Obama was really loyal to the ruling class and its bourgeois state began to surface. Rev. Jeremiah Wright of Chicago, who had brought Obama into the African-Christian church, became a scapegoat for the racist corporate media, the Clinton campaign and the Republican candidates as well.

Rev. Wright, who is well known and respected in the Black church throughout the U.S., reflects the theological approach of a section of the progressive religious community. In the aftermath of the hijackings of Sept. 11, 2001, he sought to answer the questions that arose among broad sections of the people as to why these attacks occurred.

Wright looked to the historical legacy of settler-colonialism, slavery, Jim Crow and modern-day imperialism. He was shown out of context on national television through news reports and Republican campaign ads saying “Not god bless America, but goddamn America.”

Consequently, Obama was compelled to distance himself from Rev. Wright. In fact, a number of people criticized the Obama campaign for not raising questions of national oppression and racism. Obama ran a campaign that de-emphasized racial and class oppression. Yet his speaking style and content reflected some aspects of the legacies of Frederick Douglass, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X, Nelson Mandela and Rev. Jeremiah Wright.

To any seasoned observer of U.S. society and history, the election of an African American to the presidency is a monumental accomplishment not to be minimized. Nonetheless, until the last vestiges of capitalism are eliminated, U.S. society will not be able to overcome its racism and consequently the national oppression of the African-American people.

The racist power structure is not willing to make amends for the crimes committed against Africans, Native peoples, Asians and [email protected] during the course of the last 400 years. This elimination of racism and national oppression requires a revolutionary movement led by the working class and the nationally oppressed.

Impact of the Obama victory on domestic policy

Winning the presidency in 2008 required that a candidate would, at least in form, break with the political thrust of the Bush/Cheney administration of the last eight years. Initially the campaign of Obama emphasized his opposition to the invasion of Iraq. Since the overwhelming majority of people in the U.S. and the world oppose the U.S. occupation of Iraq, such a position would win over a huge section of the electorate to Obama.

Also the economy is in the deepest crisis since the Great Depression of 1929 to 1941. Many people would vote against the McCain-Palin ticket just on the basis of sending a message to the current administration.

Yet it will be a mass movement of working people and the poor that will serve as the engine for real social and economic change in the U.S. The very same elements that came out in the millions to vote for Obama can play an even greater role in building the struggle to take control of the banks, factories and other centers of economic power in this country.

During the campaign, the right wing threw all of its ideological weapons against the Obama campaign. He was called a terrorist sympathizer, a Muslim—as if that is to be disdained—disloyal to the military, and connected to the Weather Underground, Black nationalism and socialism. Interestingly enough, these attacks did not stick.

Most of Obama’s supporters and even some Republicans rejected this slander. In fact more people, especially youth, are trying to find out more about socialism and what it really means for addressing the current crisis. As a result of this renewed interest in socialism, revolutionaries in the U.S. have a role to play in this political development.

The need for a new foreign policy orientation

In the international arena there is an immediate need for major changes in U.S. military, political and economic policy. Obama will be expected to withdraw U.S. troops from Iraq. The Iraqi people—from the nationalists and revolutionaries to many of the U.S.-backed puppet leaders—want the swift evacuation of occupation troops and bases.

The military contractors must leave as well since they constitute a considerable portion of U.S. military expenditures for the occupation.

Obama has advocated the drawing down of troops from Iraq and their redeployment in Afghanistan. This policy would be disastrous for the U.S. Some British military officials are calling for their country’s withdrawal from Afghanistan because the war is unwinnable. The resistance in Afghanistan is escalating against the U.S./NATO occupation.

The struggle in Africa is also heating up against U.S./EU intervention in Somalia, Sudan and Zimbabwe as well as other parts of the continent. Opposition to the Pentagon’s Africa Command (AFRICOM) is overwhelming on the continent and throughout the world.

In Latin America the movement is clearly towards the left. There are political parties in power in Venezuela, Cuba, Bolivia, Paraguay, Chile and Ecuador that advocate socialism and anti-imperialism. In other states, there are parties and labor unions that are challenging U.S. hegemony and international finance capital.

In Europe, the working class and the nationally oppressed have engaged in many labor and protest actions over the last several months. The way forward for the working class and nationally oppressed in the U.S. will involve an alliance with all these social forces throughout the world.

U.S. workers’ struggles and the global economic crisis

In Michigan, the Moratorium NOW! Coalition to Stop Foreclosures and Evictions has raised the demand for an immediate freeze on home foreclosure seizures, a popular demand in direct response to the worsening economic crisis in the U.S. and the world. This demand has spread throughout the country and has subsequently drawn the interest of various news agencies from around the U.S. and the world.

The Moratorium NOW! Coalition has received journalists from many media outlets based in Korea, France, Latin America, Britain and Canada. The city of Detroit and the state of Michigan represent one of the hardest hit areas of the country in the crisis of capitalist overproduction and are suffering from the incapacity of the state to respond to the people’s needs during the current economic meltdown.

This struggle for a moratorium on foreclosures and evictions must be linked up with the overall plight of the working class and the nationally oppressed in the U.S. It has been working people and people of color who have been disproportionately affected by the housing crisis and its concomitant impact on the financial markets and consequent rise in unemployment, with over one million jobs being lost in the U.S. over the last year.

The economic crisis has also had a tremendous impact on the status of women since many of them were subjected to subprime mortgages and the decline in wages so prevalent in the current capitalist labor market. In the Moratorium NOW! Coalition in Michigan, women have played a leading role in the fight against foreclosures and the decline in living standards.

The Moratorium NOW! Coalition has also reached out to the immigrant rights struggle. The Coalition has strengthened contacts with the [email protected] community since this nationally oppressed group has also been negatively affected by the economic crisis.

The only real long-term solution to the current crisis in capitalist overproduction, however, is the struggle for socialism. Under a socialist economic system, the production of goods and services will coincide with the needs of the majority of people. There will be employment, health care, education, housing and social services for all. This will represent the new phase of the peoples’ efforts to win genuine human rights and social justice for the working class and the oppressed.