The hopes for Barack Obama’s presidency are sky-high.
That’s hardly surprising. In a country where not so long ago mobs of angry whites gathered in the North to burn out any Black family that tried to move into their neighborhood, or joined in packs in the South to carry out horrific lynching murders of Black people—and then bragged about it…a Black candidate has won the highest office. In a society where discrimination in education and hiring still keeps the Black unemployment rate more than double that of whites…where on any given day 1 in 9 young Black men are in prison and where a young man with black or brown skin risks being blown away for nothing every time he encounters the police…Barack Obama will soon be sworn in as the chief executive—and commander-in-chief—of that same society.
So today you hear some people say, “It’s a new America.” Others go so far as to call it a “revolution.” And even the more sober say, “Well, it won’t change everything and it might not even change that much…but you gotta admit, something big has happened here.” Even if the long dark night may not be over, some say, the election of Obama gives them hope that the dawn may be breaking.
Well, yes, something big has happened. But what?
The widespread feeling that this election signals both a turning point in, and even a reaffirmation of, American history and society is being pumped out first and foremost by Obama himself, who stated in his election-night victory speech, that: “If there is anyone out there who still doubts that America is a place where all things are possible; who still wonders if the dream of our founders is alive in our time; who still questions the power of our democracy, tonight is your answer.”
Now many things certainly are possible in America. It is possible in America for European settlers to commit genocide against the Native American Indians who lived here and to then declare themselves to be builders of a “shining city on a hill” and “the last best hope of mankind.” It is possible in America to kidnap over ten million Africans and hold them and their descendants in slavery for 250 years, exploiting them as the foundation of the great wealth of this country, and then maintaining their descendants in new forms of oppression and super-exploitation, and to simultaneously brag that “the dream of our founders” is based on the principle that “all men are created equal.” It is possible in America to wage and sponsor wars and military coups over the past 150 years that have taken a toll on humanity unmatched by any of the fabled monstrous empires of the past, and to then routinely declare, as Barack Obama did in his speech, that this same country is the world’s great guarantor of “peace and security”— even as he preceded that by assuring anybody who opposed what he called the “new dawn of American leadership” that “we will defeat you.” It is possible in America to subordinate the economies of entire nations to the demands and dictates of U.S. capital; and it is possible to then both super-exploit impoverished people from those countries who then desperately seek work in the U.S. and at the same time to demonize them and scapegoat them as the cause of everyone else’s hard times. It is possible to torture in the name of “safety,” even as you assure the world you don’t.
But apparently, other things are NOT so possible in America. It has NOT been possible in America to actually do away with the structures of white supremacy and the oppression of entire peoples. It has NOT proven possible to cease the wanton and repeated murders of Black, Latino and other people of color by the police—with the most recent instance in Oakland, California, this very month, as police shot a 22-year-old butcher’s apprentice, Oscar Grant III, as he lay face down. It has NOT been possible in America to desist from sending troops, CIA spies, and commandos all over the world—nor has it been possible to avoid things like killing 40 civilians at a wedding party in Afghanistan on the day before the election which installed a man who has promised to send 20,000 to 30,000 more troops to invade that tortured, beleaguered country. It has NOT been possible in America to actually overcome the subjugation of women in every sphere of life, or to end the demonization and systematic discrimination against gay people. It has NOT been possible for America to refrain from the heedless plunder and spoliation of the very planet on which we live. It has NOT been possible in America to overcome the deadening alienation of everyday life for most people, or the despair of seeing your best efforts come to naught for many of those who want to dedicate themselves to making things better.
Clearly, Barack Obama to the contrary, all things are not possible in America—and some very bad and ugly things not only are possible, but seem to be “standard operating procedure” in the USA. So, yes, “change is coming”—but perhaps we’d better ask a little harder what kind of change.
The truth is this: even if Barack Obama had the best intentions in the world…even if he was in fact a secret radical, determined to use the system to benefit the people…even if all the reactionaries he has already brought into his administration are merely a clever device he is using to lull the enemy to sleep so he can stealthily revolutionize America…he couldn’t do it.
What has proven to be possible—and what has proven NOT to be possible—has nothing to do with “human nature” or “personal responsibility”…and everything to do with the system that was put in place to ensure “the dreams of our founders.” Now, to say that this is a system is not a curse-word; it just means that there are rules to the game, and if you don’t play by those rules the game stops working. What we need to do is examine those rules, and what they give rise to.
Rule Number One of this system is that nothing happens unless someone can make a profit off it. Where does that profit come from? The capitalist class—the relative handful which owns or controls the means of production (the land, resources, factories, etc.)—extracts that profit from the proletariat—the worldwide class of people which owns nothing but its ability to work, and therefore must work for others to survive. From small children in Pakistan, sewing together soccer balls with their tiny fingers for 20 hours a day….to Mexican peasants driven from their land and risking their lives in the sweltering Arizona desert in a desperate search for work…to the miners who can barely breathe from the coal dust in their lungs…to the people, young and old, haunting the street corners in every city of the world, hoping for work…capitalism can only live, like Dracula, by grinding the blood and flesh and dreams of billions into profit for a handful. This process, repeated billions of times daily, piles up wealth and power at one end, and misery and despair at the other. This is exploitation—and it is the beating heart of the system we live under. And when its own built-in barriers begin to make it more difficult to successfully carry out that exploitation—as is happening today in very sharp forms—those billions who produced that wealth are the ones who are cast aside as garbage, and suffer the worst.
Rule Number Two is that the individual capitalists (or “blocs of capital”) must battle each other for survival. Those capitalists who do not constantly expand run the risk of being driven under by others. Sometimes it takes expression in the kind of drama we see today, where big corporations are collapsing or being bought out. Sometimes it takes the form of horrible wars of slaughter, either between empires, or to further subjugate the oppressed. But the underlying rule is the same: expand or die.
And, oh yes, Rule Number Three: anything that gets in the way of America being the number one empire in the world must be brought to heel, or crushed.
Those basic rules determine what is or is not possible in America. Those are the rules that drive forward and determine the shape of American society. Those are the rules that are either very directly, or ultimately, behind every oppressive institution, and every outrage, in American society.
And those are the rules which Barack Obama must and will play by—and enforce. Every thing that Barack Obama does—how he uses the vast army at his command; who gets put into the nightmarish network of prisons he controls; what kinds of economic programs are put into place, with what kinds of consequences for which classes and groups of people—all this will be decided on those terms.
And what would happen if Obama did try to change the “rules of the game?” Before very long at all, the game could not continue. And if you should be so foolish as to not immediately return to the rules, those who really control things will have you removed from the game.
But in point of actual fact, Barack Obama does NOT intend to make any radical change—at least any radical change for the better. He doesn’t even promise it. He talks about “rescuing” the capitalist economic structure. He talks about, and plans on, sending thousands more troops around the world to enforce American domination over other peoples. The carnage in Gaza elicits no criticism from Obama, and there is no doubt whatsoever that he will “honor his commitment to stand by Israel”—in plain talk, to back up and utilize it as the American attack dog in the Middle East, in which every crime it carries out is justified and defended. Obama’s role will be to put a new face on the essential policies that billions of people around the world, and in this country too, came to despise George W. Bush for: the wars for empire based on lies, and the cruel and widespread repression not only within this country but around the world. And to the extent that Obama does change some of Bush’s policies—as he very likely will—this will be either a matter of casting aside things which “haven’t worked” (for imperialism, that is) or maintaining some credibility and support among different sections of the people (here and worldwide) for policies that pertain to more overall needs of empire.
What makes it even more dangerous is precisely Obama’s ability to manipulate the hopes and ideals of those who have hated and opposed the crimes and outrages that have gone on for generations—as well as those who have come, righteously, to hate Bush in particular. All these people yearn to live in a better, a more just and meaningful society. Yes, Obama calls on them to serve something higher than their own narrow self-interest—but they will soon find out that the service to which they are summoned is the reinforcement of the empire, not the liberation of those oppressed by it. Some compare Obama to John F. Kennedy, who said, “Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country.” But all too many forget how JFK then sent those who were inspired by those words to kill and die in a genocidal war for empire in Vietnam, or to otherwise serve the empire. This is NOT a future that you should want—indeed, THIS IS A FUTURE THAT YOU SHOULD RESIST, BEGINNING NOW.
There is a further cruel irony in Obama’s ascendancy. The word has been put out by the powers-that-be that Obama’s victory shows that racism is basically gone in American society. Obama himself refused in his campaign to discuss the ongoing and bitter discrimination and oppression facing Black people in every arena of American life. Instead, he made speeches that excoriated Black youth for a lack of “personal responsibility.” He shrugs off—and in fact covers over—the real structures of white supremacy in this country—again, brought home so sharply just recently in the case of Oscar Grant III. In doing so he sets the victims of white supremacy up to be demonized, imprisoned and even worse when they run up against those still all-too-real facts of American life. This system has no future for the masses of Black youth—what is different now is that the powers-that-be have established someone who did make it out in the highest office of the land to blame and, yes, oppress those youth.
And to those who once knew better but now say that Obama makes them “feel good” about being an American—there is no end of things that are very bad for you in the long run but make you feel good right now. Cocaine, for instance. Coke feels real good, and it makes you think you can do great things. You tell the ones who warn you “don’t worry I know how to handle it” and then you get angry at them for not letting you enjoy the high…and then one day you’re doing shit you never would have believed you could, and you wonder how it happened.
So, yes, it is significant—it is very significant—that Obama has become president. But not for the reasons you may think. Those who actually do decide things feel that these are dangerous times for the empire. Their “war on terror” has run into reverses and has lost the support of many people. Yet at the very time this is so, their “need” for empire compels them to carry out even more aggression—from Afghanistan to Iran, from Palestine to Pakistan to who knows where else. They are neck-deep in the worst financial crisis in at least 80 years, with
people facing tremendous hardship and capital itself facing real barriers to expansion. And on top of all this, there is widespread loss of faith in and alienation from the government, and a “crisis of meaning” in people’s lives, and in the society broadly. In these desperate times the rulers of this country have played a “trump card”—they have installed a Black president in a country which has been known for its racism since before Day One. They put a new face on a rotting, if still powerful and vicious and extremely oppressive, system. They intend through this to channel people’s aspirations into a dead-end—a dead-end of serving the very system that grinds up millions and billions, just like them. That is the change Barack Obama represents.
Whether this will work—whether people will be not just fooled but enlisted in an enterprise opposed to the interests of humanity and, in the final analysis, to their own fundamental interests and best aspirations—is far from certain. But all it takes is for you, and millions like you, to keep following along, telling yourself, and others, to “give Obama a chance.” Keep doing that, and the people who run this system will, once again, bludgeon their way through the crisis they face.
But there IS another possible future, a far better one—one we can achieve through making revolution, and continuing to make revolution, until all relations of exploitation, and all the social institutions and ideas that reflect and reinforce those relations, are abolished.
On that note, we’ll close with a point made by our Chairman, Bob Avakian:
To those who say we should “give Obama a chance”—the question is: a chance to do what?
Obama has no problem with this system that causes so much misery and oppression, death and destruction, for so many people throughout the world—he is anxious to take over as head of this system. His problem is that this system is in serious crisis and faces all kinds of heavy challenges.
For those who really want an end to oppression, injustice and unjust war, our problem is this system. Our challenge is to make revolution to get rid of this system and emancipate all of humanity from its horrors.