Thursday, October 30, 2008

Part One: Responding to Criticisms of Ten Reasons We Should Work To Elect Obama (from Kasama and others)

First let me thank everyone who has been reading, discussing, forwarding, blogging and emailing me about Ten Reasons We Should Turn Out the Vote for Barack Obama. You have been very generous to me and my article. Let’s keep the dialogue and debate going.

There has been a very engaged discussion on my article at Mike Ely's blog Kasama (already 54 comments’ worth), a debate on both sides of my position that captures many of the views and criticisms of others.

I have posted a long response to that discussion over there--"Aren't We In An Anti-Racist United Front?"--but I also had a couple of key points that I wanted to make here:

Trying to make our disagreements clearer, let's think about the U.S. Civil War from an anti-racist, anti-capitalist point of view. By the logic of some Kasama comments (see excerpts below) as well as many similar critiques I have received through other venues, the Left should have sat out the Civil War on the grounds that the North was racist capitalist. Lincoln was a half-hearted opponent of slavery, in fact he said his only goal was to restore “the Union” and the war was not an anti-slavery war. On the other hand, there were the fascist racists of the South, the slave owners--remember the North did not allow slavery. Now, if you can’t understand the difference between “wage slavery” where a Black man still faced racism, brutality, in the North but was not legally property and had the “right” to walk away from an oppressive job even it meant walking into unemployment--versus the real slavery where Black people were property and were raped, castrated, and whipped at the whim of their owners, then I don’t know if we have a moral baseline from which to have this debate. The fight between northern capital and southern feudalism tied to England was not a war the Blacks led, but a war among the whites that allowed 4 million slaves to be freed, and at least 100,000 of them to be armed by the union army. Were the Black slaves in an alliance with the North and northern capitalism? Hell, yes, they were.

So, perhaps one of our differences is how much we are rooted in a race theory of US politics: the view, that I hold, that the national question inside the US and outside is the primary contradiction in the world—-between US imperialism on one side, and the oppressed races, peoples, and nations in the world on the other. As such, I see the fight between Obama and McCain, not (just) because Obama is Black and McCain is white, but because Obama is a Black civil rights moderate and McCain is a virulent fascist racist and I see that as more than enough of a reason for the Left to be clear as to “which side are you on."

By the way, if you follow this logic from some of my critics, Karl Marx must have been a liberal sell-out who had a lot of illusions about capitalism. Marx put all his efforts to supporting the victory of northern capital over the feudal racist South. He said that “white labor can never be free if Black labor is in chains.” He organized the International Workingmen’s Association to actively oppose Britain’s entry into the civil war on the side of the South and asked workers of the world to support the Union cause and called for an international united front between the fledgling communist movement and northern capital and the freeing of the slaves. His "blog" must have caught hell from some of the “ultralefts” of his day.

On the other hand, my article, Ten Reasons We Should Turn Out the Vote for Barack Obama, goes into great detail about the real differences with, and dangers of an Obama presidency. If you have listened to Joe Biden he is an aggressive imperialist. He talked about a more “muscular presidency” like Kennedy, which means that Obama may take pre-emptive action against Afghanistan, may provoke a showdown, will definitely send more troops to destroy Afghanistan. As I said in my article, he plans an occupation strategy for Iraq. As such, it is not a question of should the left challenge Obama when he is elected. Of course we will and we will have to do so early and often. But I think the anti-war movement will be strengthened by an Obama victory, for his vague promise of “getting out of Iraq” will be tested, his talk about “tough diplomacy” versus unilateral military engagement will be tested. For after “tough diplomacy” what if Iran and others refuse to abide by US threats--will military action follow? I am well aware that we live in US imperialism, my difference is that I can find real victories and defeats within its political machinations, not as a bystander, but as someone with a base, a movement, that has to figure out our unity and struggle with many forces in society.

If it seems contradictory that I both welcome and fear, both welcome and also know we will have to struggle with an Obama presidency, welcome Obama’s positive contributions but also know very well his many conservative and reactionary policies--then, that is contradictory for sure. A guy I would recommend, Mao Tse-tung wrote about this point of view. He called it “On Contradiction.”

I welcome continued discussion. In future blog posts, I plan to make responses to different types and angles of critique and feedback that I have been getting.

Finally, here are excerpts from the comments posted at Mike Ely's blog Kasama that struck me and guided my response...

· Jose M Says:
October 24, 2008 at 12:57 pm
I appreciate this post so very much.
It is eye opening to me to see that the position I occasionally held (due to my ignorance) was a typical abstentionist one.
Now I see that this election has much higher stakes and deeper meaning than people like the RCP like to give it.
This isnt to mean that I will vote for Obama. I will not. But as Zerohour and I discussed, it is something that has made me interrogate why as communists we are opposed to Obama. And it is a question I have no clear answer for.
So I would like there to be a lot of debate over this, and I want to hear more from people like TNL and then Jed and Mike.
If there is one thing that I think this article is correct on, it is that there is the POSSIBILITY of the creation of more space for radical organizing if Obama gets elected. And I think that things will become much harder if McCain gets elected .
And my position is not as simple as “voting for the lesser evil.” Like I said, I wont vote, and I dont support Obama,even if he is less evil than McCain. They are both imperialist politicians who will continue this system’s horrors here and around the world. On that we should not be deluded. But I do think, as others have noted, that it is a statement against white supremacy in which communists can build on using our own independent program, allied with obama supporters.


LS Says:
October 24, 2008 at 1:01 pm
I highly respect Eric Mann and the amazing organizing work he has done over decades. Particularly given who it’s coming from, this is a significant and powerful piece. I appreciate your printing it here, despite key Kasama folks having previously expressed sharp disagreement with such a perspective.
I am in overall agreement with the sentiment of this piece - that we need to vote for Obama to strike as strong a blow as possible against white supremacy (among other reasons, but that is central at this point).
But I don’t agree with all of Mann’s formulations.
My main criticism politically is that he characterizes the left’s relationship with Obama as a ‘united front.’ I don’t think that’s right. Maybe Mann doesn’t mean to use the term ‘united front’ in a precise Marxist sense, but more in a ‘popular usage’ kind of way. But I’ll assume he meant it in a more precise way.

But I think it’s fundamentally wrong (in Marxist terms) to think we can form a united front with the political head of U.S. imperialism. We don’t live in an oppressed nation where we can ally with significant sections of the bourgeoisie to advance the socialist revolution. While there will be some bourgeois forces in the oppressed nationality movements that can be won to the broad united front for revolution in the U.S., we should be clear that that’s not what a President Obama would represent. He does not come out of the Black freedom movement and does not represent that movement, even as a bourgeois force within that movement.
Mann refers to “a united front alliance with Obama and with his millions of supporters…” It is precisely the millions of his supporters that are essential to win to the united front against imperialism to make socialist revolution in the U.S. But we shouldn’t have illusions that Obama will assist the left in bringing his base into the united front against imperialism. On the contrary, he is trying to do the opposite - bring his base more solidly under the leadership of the imperialists (not an easy job given the depth of the systemic crises going on).


nando Says:
October 24, 2008 at 1:11 pm

The best way to create “space” for radical organizing is to take up energetic work as revolutionaries and (as Mao says) “create favorable conditions through struggle.”
We have often discussed Mao’s concept of “hasten and await.” There are objective changes that we must “await” — that turn the objective conditions more favorable to reaching millions. But we can also hasten those openings by building and consolidating revolutionary forces, identifying the ways of conducting revolutionary work under non-revolutinary conditions, and struggling to win people away from the illusions and destructions of tailing the liberals.


Name (required) Says:
October 24, 2008 at 4:06 pm
The biggest problem with this piece is that it is arguing for an all consuming push to elect a man who is essentially already elected. At what point, after having assured that the evil John McCain won’t gain the presidency, does your activity and the effect of a massive win for Obama ACTUALLY LEGITIMIZE THE VERY IMPERIALIST POLITICS YOU CLAIM TO OPPOSE!!!


RW Harvey Says:
October 25, 2008 at 11:38 am
Regarding electing Obama, I first turn to a psychological process called “displacement”: “the unconscious transfer of instinct energy from its original object to a new object. [This displacement] brings about a transfer to that new object of emotional interests and attitudes that were once appropriate to the old object.”


Lastly, Mann’s essay is particularly dangerous in that it takes the lesser of two evils and flips it to make Obama v. McCain appear as if it is the choice between Good and Evil, thereby adding the ever-appealing energies of righteousness and zealotry to voting for Obama. If we forget who is behind Obama and who Obama serves we are in for the greatest sucker-punch that bourgeois democracy has delivered since FDR.


leslie1917 Says:
October 26, 2008 at 1:38 pm

I live in a so-called battleground state, and I’m going to vote for Obama…. But I’m not campaigning, driving people to the polls,handing out literature, etc. for Obama because I think I and other revolutionary minded people have more important things to do, especially since so many things cry out to be done, and we have so little time to do them. Among these more important things are:
(a) exposing Obama’s approach to international issues (e.g., Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, Palestine, the lopsided distribution of the world’s resources) as exemplifying US imperialism at its most vicious and (as opposed to Bush, McCain, Palin) perhaps smartest
(b) exposing Obama’s approach to the economic crisis as one whose overwhelming concern is with the well-being of finance capital
(c) exposing why electoral politics in the U.S. (including the Obama campaign) are primarily a way of limiting, diverting, sabotaging, and befuddling the struggle for large-scale change in the U.S., to say nothing of revolutionary struggle
(d) trying to help build generally revolutionary struggles and organization, and spending time campaigning for Obama sure as hell won’t do that.


TellNoLies Says:
October 26, 2008 at 3:57 pm

This is, to take a touchy moment from the RCP’s history, something of a Boston busing moment, where a determination to distance oneself from anything having to do with the existing capitalist state blinded some sincere revolutionaries to the “which side are you on” nature of a fight against racism and called into question their leadership in the eyes of the majority of revolutionary minded people from there on out.


Linda D. Says:
October 26, 2008 at 11:34 pm

It is not so much that people here are so completely enamored with Obama, although many can identify with him, but their hatred for U.S. imperialism is steadfast. However, the Obama phenomena has not been lost on a wide array of mexicanos. A day doesn’t go by without someone asking me if I think a Black man could ever be elected prez. in racist Amerikkka, and what would that mean for Latinos, the treatment of immigrants, etc.


red road Says:
October 27, 2008 at 6:56 pm
Have serious/revolutionary Marxists, Leninists, Maoists, or any other trend in any imperialist country ever had a full consideration of bourgeois elections, their effect on the proletarian class struggle and the struggles of other revolutionary classes, and how serious revolutionary political education, training and struggles should be conducted in the course of bourgeois election campaigns?


TellNoLies Says:
October 29, 2008 at 3:37 pm
Jose M asks some questions:
“What will the vote of all the radicals and communists for obama accomplish?”
A little more, since they are a bunch of drops in the bucket. But the same principle applies.
“As I said earlier, we have no traction to make any sort of difference, even if what you were saying about Gramsci’s theories applying to us were true (which im not saying they arent).”
This is of course true of ANY path we choose. What difference will our attendance at an event about Nepal make? Or a demonstration against police brutality? At our present level of unity and organization everything we do is mainly modelling to ourselves and the small number of people around us paying attention what we think should be done on a larger scale.


Carl Davidson Says:
October 29, 2008 at 5:02 pm
It’s still worth discussing this here. But now the framework is different. It’s way past time for winning any of you or your supporters to this struggle, or even just to vote.
You’re either here or you’re not.
But it might be a good time to compare and contrast: What have those who stayed out of this battle built and gained in this period, as opposed to those who took a different approach?

1 comment:

  1. There is a current in the liberal/progressive intelligentsia to express disappointment with Barack Obama's unwillingness to be a failed candidate or a dead hero for them. How could he vote for the FISA bill, how could he cave on offshore drilling, how could he...? Among other things, these folks are out of touch with their own racism.

    Early on in this process Obama was ambushed in a nationally televised debate by GE's mouthpiece, the late Tim Russert, and challenged to reject and condemn Minister Louis Farrakhan. Minister Farrakhan had dared to say about Barak Obama, “This young man is the hope of the entire world that America will change and be made better.” Obama knew that the demand that the intellectual author and leader of the redemptive Million Man March be denounced came from men who would see him dead before they would see him president but “this young man” went to his knees to remain a viable candidate. And Louis Farrakhan understood completely!

    The dying Republican party's apparatus then took it to another level. Rush Limbaugh, one of the most vicious and dangerous racists in human history, ranted that Rev. Jeremiah A. Wright, Jr., the minister who married Obama and his wife Michelle, the iconic leader of the Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago since 1972, is a “race-baiter and a hatemonger.” A national Limbaugh-led mob howled that this holy man must be denounced and renounced, and again for the sake of his chances to be president, Obama knelt before them again and called Rev. Wright’s profound truth telling “inflammatory and appalling.” And save a brief bout of ego and a little fun, Rev. Wright understood completely.

    Have no illusions about Barak Obama. He is auditioning with the ruling class in this campaign for president, and judging by pats on the head from Rupert Murdoch and Warren Buffet, he is giving a credible performance. The candidate is genuinely trying to convince them an Obama Administration would be business as usual, his empty rhetoric about change notwithstanding.

    What everyone in this country needs to realize though is that Louis Farrakhan, Jeremiah Wright, the African-American population of the United States, and the people of a world where racism holds less sway are intensely watching. Their hearts are in this fight. They have consciously and strategically muted their support for Obama. They are going to give white America no excuses to do the wrong thing here. They would like a peaceful transformation of this country.

    If this election is stolen and a peaceful transition proves impossible, these same people will be on the front lines in different tactics of transformation.

    This goes beyond Obama the candidate for president. Something the ruling class will never willingly permit must happen before Obama, a Black man, is elected. Obama will win 95-plus% of a record turnout of Black voters. But he will win the presidency only with a substantial number of white working class votes. This would constitute a dangerous level of working class unity like we have never witnessed in US electoral history.

    Such unity would shake this county’s ever constricting capitalist bourgeois democracy to its foundation. One of the main engines of that capitalist economy is racism. For the sake of profits racial divisions and the super exploitation of workers of color must be kept intact—at all costs.

    The reason that chattel slavery came into existence in the semi-feudal agrarian US economy of the time was that it was very profitable for the masters of that economy.

    The reason that racism is so pervasive in the United States today with its developed industrial, albeit collapsing, capitalist economy is that it is very profitable for the masters of that economy.

    It took the bloodiest war in US history and hundreds of thousands of white workers willing to fight to the death to end chattel slavery. No election and no candidate for office will end racism in this country. As long as capitalism exists elections will only produce racist results.

    The least important thing about Barak Obama is his empty rhetoric about change. The ruling class chuckles over such nonsense. What they are stricken over is the possibility that working-class whites might make their first halting steps toward an effective political relationship with their brothers and sisters of color. They know their history. They know that was the dynamic that brought down the slave economy. They know that would be the beginning of the end for them.