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President Obama — one year later

Published Feb 10, 2010 7:12 PM

The following excerpts are from a talk providing a Marxist analysis on President Barack Obama’s first year in office by Larry Holmes, a Secretariat member of Workers World Party, at a Black History Month forum in New York City on Feb. 6. Other speakers included Dolores Cox, an International Action Center volunteer, on the struggle to free political prisoner Mumia Abu-Jamal; and LeiLani Dowell, a Fight Imperialism, Stand Together organizer, on the March 4 National Day of Action to Defend Education. Go to workers.tv to hear these talks in their entirety.

Larry Holmes speaking at the Workers World Forum Feb. 6 in NYC.

It is kind of a bitter Black History Month 2010. Maybe some people are still celebrating the first year of the first African-American president. A lot of people are thinking about the suffering of the Haitian people. This is not just a contemporary feeling. The Haitian people play a role in the history of Africa. They are the symbol, the beacon, of the African peoples’ struggle against slavery.

Of course, last November when Obama was inaugurated it felt like an earthquake. Because for some of us, we thought it would take some kind of earthquake for this country to elect an African-American president.

It was kind of an earthquake that paved the way for Obama’s election — it was about six weeks before the election and was located on Wall Street and the capitals of other capitalist countries. That was the near collapse of the worldwide capitalist financial system.

A year ago when we were watching him being inaugurated, the crisis might have been obscured by the shock and elation over the inauguration of the first African-American president. Well, the shock and awe are gone and now people are focused on the crisis.

That crisis can be briefly defined in a couple of processes. One of those processes is the decline of U.S. imperialist domination worldwide. This is the reason why Obama campaigned on talking to enemies. It wasn’t enlightenment. It is this domination — U.S. imperialist domination of the world for 70 or 80 years that has allowed it to afford a certain higher standard of living for enough of a section of the working class who up until recently considered themselves middle class.

But that is not the only process. It is the deepening of imperialist globalization, which only speeds up the inherent crisis of capitalist overproduction. That intensifies the war on the working class. This is the political crisis that Obama has been asked to sit on, and to do something about. The attacks are such and what is coming is such that many people consider it a tipping point in the world capitalist crisis. And what do we mean by that? Because of these changes, U.S. imperialism is beginning to lose that which is most valuable and important to them. What is it? Political stability.

Filling the vacuum

Political stability is defined as doing what is necessary to keep a certain section of the working class — enough of the working class — in a state where they do not rise up, where their leaders are loyal to the system, where there is no opposition. That game is coming to an end. That political stability is beginning to show signs of cracking up and they are worried about what the future may bring: class struggle, class struggle.

Obama has been given the thankless job — and some people consider it a setup — of presiding over this political period, this instability, this crisis, this new situation where you have permanent high unemployment and underemployment.

We don’t even want to get into the unemployment rate for Black and Latino/a workers, especially for youth, because it is five and 10 times the official unemployment rate. This is what Obama is supposed to keep the lid on.

This is one of the reasons he opened up his administration with so-called health care reform. We are all for the uninsured getting health insurance and people not being disqualified because of pre-existing conditions, but that got lost in the concessions being given to the big insurance companies. So it began to get weaker and weaker and people got less and less excited about it and it was easier and easier for the insurance companies to fund a big right-wing insurrection.

The so-called health care reform legislation in reality was a surrogate for not talking about jobs, which is the real crisis. Not that health care isn’t important, but underneath everything the big platform is jobs. Because he didn’t have a program for jobs, he gave it over to the right. Not that they have a jobs program either.

There is a big vacuum where there should be angry, mass mobilized, class struggle. In the absence there is a lot of noxious poisonous trash that is filling that vacuum.

Never in our lifetime, certainly not in mine, have people been angrier at Wall Street, angrier at the banks. The banks are the symbol of capitalism. Everybody hates the banks. They want to go and attack the banks. It opens up an opportunity for a huge movement that is so anti-capitalist. But instead, what do we get? The Tea Party Movement, paid for by the insurance companies and a couple of other millionaires and billionaires. They are the ones charging into town hall meetings and bullying people. This is not a populist movement. It’s dirty, racist, reactionary, pro-war, anti-immigrant, anti-woman, anti-LGBT, everything anti-socialist.

The labor leadership has been let off the hook too long. Pressure has got to be put on them. They need to be dragged out of politicians’ offices where they spend too much time and too much money. They need to pay attention, not only to their members but also to all workers, whether they are undocumented, unemployed or underemployed — whether they have nothing to do with the industry their union is organizing.

Our view of unions is that they are organizing centers for the entire working class and the oppressed. They welcome the unemployed and Black and Latino/a youth. They welcome the poorest even if they don’t have any dues. They mobilize them and champion all political and social issues. At this stage of imperialist globalization and the crisis that we are facing, unions better become more and more like the revolutionary view that Marx and other revolutionaries had of unions, or they will not survive.

We are going to Washington on the 75th Anniversary of the WPA. That is the Works Progress Administration. We are going to bring the unemployed and our union allies, our community allies and whoever else we can get to go with us. We want a real public works program that employs millions and millions of people — not strikebreaking scab jobs to bust unions, not workfare, but real jobs that pay a living wage. That is what Martin Luther King said — a job or a living income.