It’s 8 months into the Obama administration and approaching two years since the national debate began about Obama and the left. The images and feeling of election night, being on the street when thousands of young people spontaneously came out, are now only a powerful memory of the deep desires and frustrations of a new generation growing up in America where social conditions and oppression are only getting worse.
In many ways that night was a confirmation of the essential character of the Obama phenomenon. While Obama was New Democratic-Clintonian politics, he was so in new language and form that made visible for a moment something new in the U.S. Tens of millions expressed a desire for a break with the slogans and programs of ruling class politicians that have overseen a broadening and deepening of social polarization the last 30 years. What seemed like a break for many, Obama’s election and the Democratic Party victories since 2006 only raised expectations that couldn’t be met. Obama has overseen and implemented the capitalist offensive, taking advantage of the crisis, and has proven to be no protective umbrella from the return of white supremacist populism of the Right.
Discussions about Obama and the Left take on a new urgency given these realities. No longer are discussions about what might happen–we are now living perhaps at the end of a long list of Obama’s “betrayals” with his abandonment of the so-called “public option” in health care. Where are all those millions of people who are learning from this experience? How are we to understand Obama and the progressive Left? How are revolutionaries to move forward in linking reform and revolution? What are the forms of struggle and new types of organization that are emerging and are needed? These aren’t new questions on the blogosphere, and the past and contemporary break-outs of struggle are a guide.
With this in mind, here is an article by Charlie Post that appeared a couple months back via Solidarity
“Historically, attempts to simultaneously build an alliance with Democratic Party centrists and build social movements have led the disorganization and decline of the movements and a shift to the right in politics. Time and time again—from the CIO upsurge of the 1930s, through the Civil Rights and Black Power movements of the 1960s and 1970s, to the movements against the Vietnam War — the decision of the leaders of powerful and potentially radical social movements to pursue an alliance with the Democrats have derailed these struggles.”
“The same pattern is and will be repeated by the leaderships of the labor and social movements in the age of Obama. Not wanting to alienate Obama and the Congressional Democrats, the leaderships of both the AFL-CIO and CTW have done little to publicly oppose the Democrats back-pedaling on the EFCA—with Andy Stern of the SEIU, as always, leading the retreat. The labor officials and many mainstream immigrant rights groups are abandoning the struggle for universal amnesty and a direct route to citizenship for undocumented immigrants in favor of the Obama-McCain plan. Proposals for a single-payer insurance system appear dead in the water, leaving the Democrats and Obama free to implement their “universal health care” program based on massive subsidies for private insurance companies. The list can, depressingly, be multiplied across a wide variety of popular reform issues.”
How should the left relate to Obama? A response to Linda Burnham
by Charlie Post
There is a broad consensus on left—from those who actively campaigned on his behalf, through those who sat out the election, to those of us who supported the independent candidacies of Cynthia McKinney and Ralph Nader—that the election of Barack Obama represents an important opening for anti-capitalists and radicals in the US. The election of an African-American to the highest elected office in a republic founded on white supremacy was, in itself, an important symbolic blow against white supremacy. Even more importantly, Obama’s victory was a political and ideological defeat of the right. The 2008 election has raised popular expectations of the possibility of gains for working and oppressed people—national health insurance, the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA), a renegotiation of NAFTA, the expansion of civil rights for queers, women and people of color, and an end to the imperial adventures in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Continue reading Balance Sheet on Obama and the Left