Obama, the Democratic Party and the working class

The Republican Party is so blatantly reactionary, so racist, so anti-immigrant, so openly hostile to women, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer people, and so enthusiastic about waging war on the workers and oppressed peoples at home and abroad that it’s not hard to understand why so many feel they have no choice but to vote for the Democratic Party.

This is a big problem because no matter how different the two parties appear to be (and they do appear to be different), they both represent the interests of U.S capitalism and imperialism. This problem is not new. But there is something new that makes the problem even more complicated.

The incumbent president, who’s running for a second term, is not only a Democrat but the first African-American president. Does Barack Obama’s race matter? Well, it wouldn’t if racism and national oppression did not exist.

Obama’s race has not altered in any way how he has dutifully acted in the interests of U.S. imperialism. Moreover, it is precisely because of Obama’s race that a section of the ruling class helped Obama get elected in order to put a new face on U.S. imperialism’s declining empire.

Underneath that new face there’s been a continuation of misery, exploitation, oppression and war. Under Obama, deportations and foreclosures have skyrocketed. On almost every issue, Obama has accommodated the capitalist assault on the working class. Under Obama, the Pentagon’s deadly drone war against Arab, Asian and African peoples is 500 percent wider than under George W. Bush.

However, these things don’t change the fact that Obama’s race matters, not just to the capitalist ruling class, but also to the masses. No doubt, many are deeply disappointed in Obama’s failure to rescue them from all the terrible things the capitalist crisis has visited upon them.

Still, the overwhelming majority of African Americans, and many others regardless of their race, will vote for Obama. They will vote for Obama for many different reasons, but especially out of fear of Romney, Ryan and the Republicans.

But another big reason that people will vote for Obama is the feeling that the outcome of the upcoming presidential election will represent either progress for or a stinging setback to the struggle against racism. And there’s a significant percentage of the electorate who will vote against Obama on the basis of pure and simple racism.

Tactful skill needed to build unity

Exposing and fighting the two capitalist parties when the Democrats are led by the first African-American president is a complicated challenge for the working-class movement.

It is a challenge especially for the more revolutionary forces in the movement who understand the need for the working class to liberate itself from the trap of relying on the Democratic Party. But it’s a challenge that is possible, and all the more critical, to rise to.

To be effective under such circumstances requires what the working-class movement should always aspire to — no matter what the race of the figurehead of U.S. imperialism is. And that’s a high level of consciousness in relationship to the struggle against racism and national oppression.

It is not necessary to refrain from criticizing or exposing President Obama from the left. But generally we are not at the point where progressive white activists in this country can carry pictures or effigies attacking Obama without being mistaken for Tea Party bigots.

Such requisite anti-racist consciousness in no way inhibits the development of class consciousness, anticapitalist consciousness or revolutionary socialist consciousness.

Neither does such consciousness lend one iota of validation to the Democratic Party. Such consciousness does require thoughtfulness, care and tact.

How the outcome of the 2012 presidential elections will affect the course of the class struggle is something that will need to be assessed in due time.

But it’s not necessary to wait for that assessment to appreciate the painful lessons for the working-class movement since Obama’s election four years ago. Back then, some hoped that Obama’s election would embolden the working class and abet the resurgence of class struggle. Perhaps such was the case in some instances.

However, overall, it would be hard to make the argument that the last presidential election helped the working class wake up and fight back.

There were some notable exceptions.

Six months before the Occupy Wall Street movement emerged last September, the occupation of the Capitol building in Madison, Wis., by thousands of workers and students opened a new page in the struggle against union busting and austerity that awakened and electrified the entire working-class movement.

Eventually, it was Democratic Party politicians and their operatives in the labor movement who truncated this tremendous struggle and channeled it back into nonstruggle, capitalist-party-dominated electoral politics.

Before Wisconsin, the labor and civil rights movement’s major response to the corporate-financed surge of the Tea Party was the large but passive, Democratic-Party-controlled “One Nation” rally in Washington, D.C., in October 2010. That event was hardly mentioned in the capitalist media.

Of course there have been many good local protests and struggles fueled by depression-level unemployment, austerity, union busting and foreclosures. But taken together, the fightback has not measured up to the magnitude of the attacks on the working class and the poor.

One of the factors that made the Occupy movement so important was that it filled the palpable vacuum in the struggle created by the relatively weak response of the labor movement.

No matter who is in the White House next January, the number one task of the working-class movement must be to break free of the restraints that the Democratic Party has purposely imposed on its ability to fight back.

Otherwise, the working-class movement will be defenseless against the growing storm of capitalist crisis, cutbacks, unemployment and privations that is wreaking social havoc and destruction from Athens, Greece, to Atlanta, Georgia.

Holmes is the First Secretary of Workers World Party.

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