What Can We Expect from Obama’s Presidency?

George Gruenthal

In one sense, there is no doubt that the election of Barack Hussein Obama as President of the United States is historic. As the first Black president, it is clear that no longer can Afro-Americans be told to only aim for what is ‘realistic’ for them. Decades ago, Malcolm X wrote in his autobiography that, when he told his teacher that he wanted to be a lawyer, the teacher told him that he should aim to be something like a carpenter, as becoming a lawyer was not a ‘realistic’ goal for a Black person.

Further, Obama’s presidency will mark a change from Bush’s style of unbridled unilateral wars of aggression. Bush has made the U.S. government one of the most detested ones for people all over the world, not only in the Middle East and other oppressed and dependent countries, but also among people in its ‘allies’ in Western Europe. Bush has also become one of the most despised presidents among a large section of people in the U.S. In New York City, Obama won by almost 80% of the vote over McCain, who was correctly seen as a continuer of Bush’s policies, and in the Bronx, with its overwhelmingly Black and Latino population, Obama won with almost 90% of the vote.

But Obama did not win just because he had broad popular support. He won largely because he was the clear favourite of the main sectors of the monopoly capitalist ruling class. His campaign outspent McCain’s by about $640 million to $240 million. And this was not just because millions of Afro-Americans and other working people sent in their small contributions (which they did do), but because the big monopolists, the oil companies, auto, real estate and other sectors, gave millions to his campaign.

Also, the majority of the bourgeois media gave their support to Obama. In New York City, not only the New York Times, which represents the liberal sector of finance capital and is aimed primarily at the white petty and middle bourgeoisie, supported Obama. So did the Daily News, whose main function is to direct bourgeois demagogy at the working class. Of the large bourgeois newspapers, only the New York Post, the mouthpiece of the most reactionary sectors of the ruling class, supported McCain. (Of course, the bourgeois papers totally ignored the campaign of Cynthia McKinney, the progressive Afro-American woman who ran an independent campaign on the Green Party line.) To see the importance of the bourgeois media in elections, one must only recall the universal ridicule that they directed at Howard Dean, knocking him out of the race when he was the leading candidate in the Democratic Primary in 2004, because he took a stance against the war on Iraq.

The elections themselves showed the clear rejection of Bush’s policies, not only on the war but also on his giveaways to the rich. Millions of new voters were registered (some 300,000 in New York City alone), the great majority of whom supported Obama. About 95% of Afro-American voters supported Obama, as did almost 70% of Latino voters. White voters in the majority (55%) went for McCain, though white voters in overwhelmingly white states (such as Iowa or New Hampshire) were in the majority for Obama. It was whites in the Afro-American nation in the Black Belt South who voted primarily for McCain.

What does Obama Represent?

In the beginning of the most serious economic crisis in the U.S. (and probably in the world) since the Great Depression, and during the greatest political isolation of the U.S. government at home and abroad, the ruling class is relying on an African-American president who is coming into office under the slogan of ‘Change We Can Believe In.’ But Obama’s candidacy, particularly since he won nomination at the Democratic Party Convention in August, shows the limits of his proposed change.

First, Obama picked as his running mate Joe Biden, a Democratic Party regular who represents that party’s Old Guard. In particular, Biden supported the war on Iraq at its start, and represents decades of experience serving U.S. imperialism.

Second, Obama consciously turned his back on the Afro-American people’s movement. This was most clearly seen when he was forced to twice repudiate his former pastor, Rev. Jeremiah Wright, who put forward a form of Liberation Theology including using the slogan ‘God Damn America’ (in the same way as, during the Civil Rights movement people spoke of ‘God Damn Mississippi’). This was reminiscent of the way John Kerry, during his presidential campaign in 2004, was forced to repudiate his correct verdict on the aggressive nature of the Vietnam War. To be a ‘serious’ imperialist candidate in elections in the United States, one must always be prepared to repudiate the truth.

Third, Obama backtracked on his earlier anti-war positions. With regard to Iraq, he stated: ‘we must be as careful getting out of Iraq as we were careless getting in.’ Furthermore, he calls for sending more troops to Afghanistan and even for the need to cross over that country’s border with Pakistan in ‘hot pursuit’ of militants, following up on Bush’s practice of bombing Pakistani villages.

Fourth, as opposed to taking an ‘even-handed’ position in the Middle East, Obama has pledged to continue unbridled support for the U.S.’s main client in the region, Zionist-apartheid Israel.

Fifth, as part of a bipartisan effort to rescue monopoly capitalism, Obama joined with McCain in pushing through the $700 billion bailout of the big financial corporations, claiming that this was necessary to revive the economy. He did not make any moves to put in a rescue plan for the millions of people who have already lost their homes or who are currently facing foreclosures, for renters being evicted for inability to pay their rents, for those who have no money to pay for health care, or any other working people who are suffering from the capitalist crisis.

Finally, Obama’s cabinet appointments to date have shown his continuation with traditional capitalist politics. His appointment of Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State provides continuity with Bill Clinton’s regime. Eric Holder, despite being the first Afro-American to be appointed as Attorney General, was an attorney defending Chiquita Brands, which provided $1.7 million to Colombian death squads who were killing trade unionists and other civilians. And Adolfo Carrion, the Bronx Borough President and possible nominee for Housing and Urban Development, is known for supporting giveaways of hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars to big private corporations to ‘develop’ the Bronx.

It is no accident that Obama is being put into office now, as the U.S. is entering a severe crisis. Obama will have to preside over large-scale cutbacks in social services in a way that the ruling class thinks will be more palatable to the people than if McCain were president. Obama can say: ‘We would like to be able to provide affordable health care for all, but we just don’t have the money now.’ Or ‘We would like to cut taxes for 95% of the people, but we cannot do that while we have a huge budget deficit.’ Those who think that Obama will be able to preside over a New Deal type programme that provides some immediate relief to the masses of working people are being deluded.

The Tasks of Socialist Revolutionaries Today

In the period leading up to the elections, many genuine Marxist-Leninists and other progressive forces supported Cynthia McKinney’s campaign. McKinney was a six-term Democratic Congressperson from Georgia who came to adopt progressive positions, not only calling for the withdrawal of all troops from Iraq and Afghanistan, but for the closing of al U.S. military bases abroad. She supported a single-payer health plan. She called for a genuine investigation of what happened on September 11, 2001, and for the impeachment of George Bush as President. And she called for a Reconstruction of New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina and for the right to return of the overwhelmingly Afro-American population that had lived there. For these positions and others, she faced the overwhelming opposition of the leadership of the Democratic Party, who twice pushed her out of office by supporting her opponent in the Democratic Primary for Congress. Subsequently she broke from the Democratic Party to run as an independent candidate. Marxist-Leninists supported her candidacy while trying to avoid alienating the large numbers of people, particularly Afro-Americans, who believe in Obama’s call for change. We recognise that most people must learn from their own experience what Obama really represents, and there is no doubt that they will learn this.

Many progressive people, whether or not they supported Obama in the elections, are uniting around people’s need and hope for change, and are trying to build unity around a series of demands around people’s basic needs, such as for jobs, housing, health care, education, against wars of aggression, etc. As revolutionaries and Marxist-Leninists, we must take part in such coalitions, while helping to steer them away from falling into the trap of tailing behind the Democratic Party or trying to ‘push the Democratic Party to the left.’ It is furthermore our task as socialists to make clear that the crisis and wars of aggression are part of the nature of monopoly capitalism. Here we must clearly go beyond the program of a united front to demonstrate that only a socialist revolution can finally abolish crises and imperialist wars.

Here we can draw on the lessons of the October Revolution and socialist construction in the Soviet Union. One of the first acts of the Soviet government in October of 1917 was to withdraw from the inter-imperialist World War I and to issue a Decree on Peace to all the peoples. And at the same time as the entire capitalist world was entrapped in the Great Depression, the Soviet Union abolished unemployment and was developing a planned socialist economy in the first of the great Five-Year Plans that were serving the growing material and cultural needs of the working people.

During the 1930s, when the world was facing the threat of fascism, Georgi Dimitrov called on communists and all progressive people in the U.S. to build a Workers and Farmers Party. Under conditions in the U.S. today, we need to build a party of the multi-national working class and oppressed nations and nationalities.

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