Change I can believe in?

Yes and no.  The election of the first black American president is certainly an historic moment.  It reflects a change that I already believed in however. The battle against racism in the USA had already been largely victorious. Nevertheless a black president will consolidate that victory, and go a long way toward breaking the cycle of negativity, bitterness and lack of confidence which contributes to keeping a large section of the black population marginalised and self-destructive.   Dare I say that it will undermine resistance to “acting white“??

I noticed on the Kasama blog this morning that Mike Ely had written:

And it marks a change in how Black people view this country, and perhaps in how they are viewed. And there is both good and ill in that: The despair and alienation of Black people, their sense that this country has its back permanently turned to them, has been a powerful force for radical change for fifty years.

This really got up my nose! As a Leftist I want things to get better not worse.  The idea that at some level, we might want the continuation of “despair and alienation” because reducing it might make people less radical, is just twisted.  And in any case, I’d challenge the view that despair and hopelessness could ever be a basis for building a powerful movement.  It is optimism, hopefulness and confidence which always underlies and drives people’s struggle.

Anyway, I’m glad that the next president will be a black one.  I’d far rather that it had been Condi Rice however!  (Btw, you can view her congratulatory remarks to Obama here)

Anyway, Obama has promised to fix everything.  He’ll make the rest of the world love the USA again, withdraw the troops from  Iraq, fight harder in Afghanistan.  In one of his more extreme messianic moments he even promised that his election would mark “the moment when the rise of the oceans began to slow and our planet began to heal”.  So adding in the global financial meltdown, he’s got quite a bit on his plate!  Anyway, Bush has wished him luck and told him:  “go enjoy yourself”  …

It will be interesting to see how things develop.  I don’t expect him to withdraw the troops from Iraq prematurely. That really isn’t an option, and fortunately for Obama, the surge (which he voted against) has actually made it possible for some troop reduction over the next year.  So, I think he’ll stick it out in Iraq as long as necessary.  That will cause all sorts of teeth gnashing from the most rabid section of the anti-war movement, but I suspect that Obama will actually be better placed than Bush to leave the necessary number of troops there.  Just the fact that he’s not Bush will be tremendously helpful.  The anti-war movement was very largely based on a psychotic hatred of GWB and without him it will lose a huge amount of traction.

I also think he’ll get down to business in Afghanistan. He’d be crazy not to, and in any case he’s always taken the position that Iraq was an unnecessary war which had diverted attention and resources from the “real” fight against terrorism in Afghanistan.

I don’t know enough about the domestic situation in the USA to say much about what he might do there.  Off the top of my head, I’d predict that he’ll push a mushy liberal agenda characterised by feel good slogans and gestures, but actually changing very little.

One  way in which I think that Obama and a Democrat dominated Congress could make things a lot worse is by following protectionist policies.  This is one area in which very real damage could be done. And from the look of things, it seems to be on the cards that the Obama administration will be opportunistic enough to pander to narrow, zenophobic demands to “protect” the jobs of US workers.  This would be enormously damaging to development in the third world (and to the US economy).   Likewise, Obama’s pledge to “heal the planet” and “stop the oceans rising” is an area in which opportunistic pandering to the Green lobby could have deletrious effects. However I have a feeling that he’ll be reduced to posturing on this one.

Given the current economic crisis, regardless of what he does, I think that the “dark days” of the Bush era (you know.. when there was mass suffering, everyone became very poor,  America nearly went fascist, only to be miraculously saved by.. the ballot box ), might begin to look positively rosy.

Anyway, how long before the chattering classes begin to miss having the GWD demon to blame for everything?  Losing your favorite explanatory mechanism can be difficult.

9 Responses to “Change I can believe in?”

  1. 1 youngmarxist

    “It reflects a change that I already believed in however. The battle against racism in the USA had already been largely victorious.

    I think this is an important point and one that is ignored in the Left a lot. Elections don’t create much, they only ratify changes that have already happened. It’s like last year when the Liberal Party government here in Australia desperately warned people that “If you change the government you change the country”. The truth is that when the country changes, it chooses to change the government. I don’t think that this is mere pedantry – it means you have to look at people and society and how they change, instead of just assuming that the process of casting and counting votes, in itself, is what makes change possible.

    Obama’s victory surely shows the power of symbolism over decision based on public policy. The biggest organisation he’s ever run is the Illinois branch of Project Vote, which is rather smaller and less complex than the US Government. Compared to Hillary Clinton, who has 2 decades’ experience working closely with her husband in executive government, this is a pretty blank resume – it’s no wonder that Senator Clinton underestimated the threat from President-elect Obama in the Democratic Party’s primaries.

    However, attacking Obama on these grounds clearly never worked. Obama’s simple messages of “hope” and “change” clearly trumped any rational arguments about his qualifications for office. While it’s true he only narrowly won the Democratic nomination, on rational grounds he shouldn’t have even been a contender. There’s a message here for us revolutionaries too – our message needs to be based on hope and optimism, not merely a constant repetition of how bad things are.

    Self-identified “progressives” are in for a rude shock if they think that Obama is in any position to fulfil most of their demands. The best illustration of this is the success of Proposition 8 in California, which overturns a decision of the California Supreme Court to recognise gay marriage. The proposition succeeded by 5.3 million votes to 4.8 million, in a state which Obama won by 6.1 million votes to 3.7 million. That seems to indicate that plenty of Obama supporters want nothing to do with gay marriage, so people who think that the USA has suddenly taken a wildly progressive turn, and who assume that all opponents of gay marriage are rural white rednecks, are going to have to deal with the fact that their allies in the presidential election are their enemies on many social issues. I wonder if that will force them to abandon their sneering at people who don’t agree with them, and start working out how to reach outside of their own social circles.

  2. 2 Ian Yarran

    What alot of intellectual claptrap! What Obama’s election reinforces for me is that historical struggle is about class not race!

  3. 3 Dalec

    “The battle against racism in the USA had already been largely victorious.”
    Please produce evidence for this assertion.
    ‘I also think he’ll get down to business in Afghanistan. He’d be crazy not to, and in any case he’s always taken the position that Iraq was an unnecessary war which had diverted attention and resources from the “real” fight against terrorism in Afghanistan.”
    Is “getting down to business” like bombing wedding parties in Afghanistan and the wanton killing of women and children that took place in Iraq and that you supported until the US wised up and paid off the Sunnis – the “surge”- (The very same Sunnis that you and your comrades had characterized as “fascists”.
    Er who exactly takes the place of Saddam in Afghanistan? 
    Where exactly are the weapons of mass destruction in Afghanistan?
    What exactly is the strategic and tactical significance of Afghanistan ?
    Are you about to write a letter to President elect Obama that starts with Hello “Lucky Boy”? You say that and then have the gall to blather on about racism!

  4. 4 Steve Owens

    Keza I cant believe that you are still crediting the surge for the improvement in Iraq. The improvement commenced before the surge and involved the insurgency turning on the foreign jihad is. I heard a report that the foreign Jihad is attempted to stop Sunni Arabs from smoking and eating bananas (too sexually suggestive)I understand why the American media pedal the propaganda that its their surge that’s decisive and has nothing to do with the actions of Iraqis but why should the “left” just pedal American propaganda when the truth would serve us just as well maybe even better

  5. 5 tom

    Ian: It would be nice to know what particular intellectual claptrap you are referring to. There is no shortage of intellectual claptrap from the liberal left (pseudo left) and those of us who would define ourselves differently can also be guilty. Given your last sentence  – we agree – some substantive claptrap correction from you would be welcome.

    Keza:I too had to perform a quick nasal evacuation when I read Mike Ely’s opinion quoted above. While I would hope that the confusion in meaning is the result of sloppiness rather than position,  it suggests that revolutionaries need the continuation of oppression and/or injustice that the capitalist system has the capacity to resolve – here race based oppression – to justify our opposition to capitalism.

    Aside from being wrong such a position is also opportunistic.This taps into, and certainly colludes with, the victim mentality that has been promoted by powerful sections of the black leadership and white liberals. Certainly in Australia the victim leadership, as Noel Pearson has called it, has been dominant and I suspect this is also the case in the States.

    What is disturbing from a revolutionary point of view is that if Ely’s comments are representative of actual policy or line, it shows revolutionaries have been trailing behind ruling class thinking rather than breaking with it and providing revolutionary leadership.

  6. 6 Bill Kerr

    Noel Pearson has a piece in today’s Australian where he identifies three challenges facing Obama in domestic policy: “Beyond the question of race, there are three domestic policy agendas that confront the US in this time of crisis, to which Obama must forge solutions: the problem of the American underclasses; the problem of the American working poor; and the need for a national gain-sharing deal between those who take the upside and those who wear the downside of globalisation” – Man with his work cut out

  7. 7 keza


    I was probably a little unfair to Ely in just selecting that one paragraph from his longer piece.  He certainly did say that and on first reading, it struck me more than the rest of what he had written.  He did  also say   that the election of Obama was of symbolic importance “in exactly the same ways that politics often captures the norms and expectations of society”.

    A big emphasis in his post was all the usual stuff about  how terribly (TERRIBLY) bad things had been under Bush (that it had been virtually a one party state, dominated by ‘white Christian people in conservative rural towns”, that “the Empire” had been aggressively extended etc etc).

    He noted that with the election of Obama there is a new mood of optimism  and heightened expectations,  and went on to say that this is a real “sea change” because by   electing Obama Americans had resisted red-baiting and racist attacks on him and shown their progressive side. 

    His prediction  was that very soon  the euphoria will pass because Obama won’t really change things.  He will continue to extend “the Empire” and this will result in   mass disappointment.  I agree  pretty much with that.

    However Ely and the rest of the Kasama people are still thinking in the old way about the role of US imperialism in the world and they also have a real tendency to despair of  (and talk down to) the working class (especially the white working class).  That comes across particularly in the comments section of many of the threads.

    Ely’s conclusion at the end of his Obama post is pretty waffly….all about how contradictory the Obama phenomenen is . Revolutionaries will  need  to “connect” with the hopeful mood , be ‘nimble”, “dig deeply” engage in lots of pondering, while “scoping things out”.

    When they’e done all this scoping and digging they’ll be able to “shatter illusions” and be able to  procede to give revolutionary leadership (etc).

    “The people are going to need fearless revolutionary politics — sharp, even shocking exposure, analysis, a sweeping internationalist view, a daring to uncover imperialism beneath the coming rhetoric and regroupment of empire.”

    All well and good  but I see it as mainly empty rhetoric.  Really,  it’s all a sign of “great stuckness”. These people have broken from the RCP organisationally and are feeling less suffocated. But they haven’t really moved on politically.

    It’s not bad in itself  to be stuck. I feel stuck about many things too. I don’t have the foggiest about how one would give revolutionary leadership, indeed I think that at the moment any attempt to do so would just look like ridiculous  posturing. 

    But the Kasama leadership doesn’t seem  really prepared to face this.  Although they have stepped out the door of the RCP and been prepared to engage in some quite open  and interesting discussion, they react very badly to any challenges to ideas that they regard as “not to be questioned”. Hence their banning of Arthur for being ” a pro-imperialist troll”.

    You can read Ely’s full post here (and I’ve fixed the link to it in my post above)

  8. 8 keza


    You wrote:

    “What alot of intellectual claptrap! What Obama’s election reinforces for me is that historical struggle is about class not race!”

    Care to elaborate on this? Without   more detail, what you’ve written just comes over as a religious sounding belief in Marxist principles”. Surely if you’re an historical materialist you would  want  to follow up your remark by producing some sort of analysis, explaining to readers just how Obama’s election can be best understood in terms of class?

  9. 9 keza


    You wrote:

    “Keza I cant believe that you are still crediting the surge for the improvement in Iraq. The improvement commenced before the surge and involved the insurgency turning on the foreign jihad.”

    I’ve never credited the surge   for the current improvement in Iraq in the one sided manner that you suggest. It has been both a military and a political victory. I’ve always been clear about that.

    The surge worked because due to conditions in Iraq it could work. It was necessary (the situation called for it) and those who opposed it on the basis that the situation was hopeless,  have been shown to be wrong.  I argued that without  the military force of the surge, the political realignment we have seen (and which did begin before the surge) would not have come to fruition.

    I wrote about this in two earlier blog posts.

    Two quotes from those posts:

    The surge worked, and it worked because the US really was on the side of democracy rather than engaged in a war against the people. If it had been … well the situation would have been a quagmire for them ! They’d have been mad to try it. Being pro-democracy (for a change) makes all the difference.  (A Democratic Iraq! The anti-war camp really needs to do some thinking now)

    ” Those who initiated the Surge knew of the emergence of Sunni resistance to both Al Qaeda and the insurgency and saw that the situation was not hopeless. It was the anti-war movement which failed either to see it or (in Obama’s words) “anticipate …. the convergence of the Surge …with a combination of internal factors inside Iraq”.
    ( He’s not the Messiah, just a very lucky boy )

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