Thinking through about how the American left has reacted to Obama's election, Amiri Baraka argues that progressives are in danger of being left behind the masses of people who voted for Obama. Arguing that the "task of the revolutionary is to lead the people by taking what they already know and giving it back to them with the focus of the present the past and the future" Baraka calls for a people's democracy through a new democratic coalition.
At election’s denouement, to the Right the outraged, self loathing of the loser and the losers, including one dude standing mutely in Michigan, a Republican delegate, in a Klan suit, describing Obama as an “Islamic communist”. To the Left, the self important dreamers who had urged us to throw our votes away, as they objectively, in the name of their “principles”, gave votes to John McCain.
Even dizzier, we supposedly hear from the left right corkscrew terrorist. Al Qaeda insults that Obama is a “house slave.” But as I said in an instant rejoinder, “Anyone who thinks suicide is revolutionary ain’t all that bright to begin with. And as for that slave calling, best they refrain from drawing our attention to the fact that some of the Arab ruling class always thought of Black people as slaves”. But we are willing to be momentarily cool, remembering Mao’s dictum, “fight your enemies one by one”.
But back to reality. We have just won an election. We, meaning the masses in the US, indeed the people of the world. (I was in Italy, France, Spain, Norway during the period leading up to and through the election. In Italy just before the election at my readings I urged the Italians to call the states, since I knew they had a bunch of relatives over here, and tell them to vote. In city after city the crowds all seemed to cheer for Obama’s victory.) And whoever seeks to downplay that victory is fool or enemy.
We should understand the white supremacy junkies on the right. Their last pop was Old Dutch cleanser and seltzer water, so they have had almost to cold turkey off that WS they been shootin' up, though still dizzy from its fumes. But the Left or some distant would be Left or some who style themselves, what? - progressive, moderate, wheeze wheeze. Some of these, certainly the vote wasters, sound almost as pitiful. As one pitiful pundit warns us, “Obama’s election is to save capitalism…not bring equality to the society.” What a silly person.
First of all the very election of Obama has done more to bring some aspect of equality to the society than reams of pseudo leftist posturing. Which, all returns in, is meant merely to show the writer is smarter than you are. But what, dreary pundits, would a McCain victory have done? And suppose your wasted vote had contributed to such? To always be on the outside nitpicking away with not one sign of useful political practice or construction, this is too often what the Left has become. I say it again, people who have never and cannot elect a dogcatcher but who are full of immense ideas about politics. Bah, Humbug!
No single election, my friends, will ever bring us Socialism, if that’s what you really seek. The struggle is protracted, hasn’t that been said? We have yet even to convince the “revolutionaries” they are in the United States. But Obama is not even in office yet these pundits of pitifulness already have the hole card on what his governance cannot or will not do. This is especially irritating from those commentators who counseled us not to vote for him in the first place. One wonders if they think their counsel, which meant nothing, is more valuable than having an actual person of color with the widest mandate in history actually elected president?
But to run off howling about it’s not this and it’s not that, when we do not yet have a viable analysis of what it really is! Not understanding how that victory was achieved is to willfully miss a rare opportunity of learning how to master the capitalist electoral system. One of the reasons we do not yet understand how to harness the electoral process to a revolutionary and socialist agenda is that too many of the very people who should be leading such a process denounce and/or avoid it.
To do what? Make statements and demonstrate.
To withdraw from the most acceptable way of gaining power in the society defies understanding by any rational means. Except for the hold that infantile leftism and anarchism have on too many wishing to present themselves as revolutionary. Barack Obama raised hundreds of millions of dollars, much of it as a result of using the internet culture for fund-raising and organizing. Let the foolish Right agonize over their attempt at denigrating “Community Organizer”. Now they have at least felt a C.O. foot planted up their B &A Hinds.
Obama raised 150 million dollars in October alone! He beat both Hilary Clinton & John McCain fund raising. At one point he wanted to buy one hour of time on CNN to lay out a complete campaign message, but CNN vetoed it. And here we thought that money was the ultimate boss. What the Right cannot forget nor the milksop Left is that Obama was/is smarter than both of them! And more in tune with the popular mind, not only of the 98% of the Afro American population but, obviously of the great majority of Americans. This, in itself, is a fantastic new precedent that must be acted upon immediately, before the corporate right media and all our “independent” smarty pants commentators cloud over the main issues.
The “bottom line” of Obama’s campaign was his initiation at the grass roots level in his appeal. The 04 Democratic convention is widely seen as the opening of his campaign and I can accept that, but even to be there to do that. A first term senator of color from Illinois. How did he get to be a Senator in the 1st place? I watched the biopic on CNN and what I got from it is a skill developed as a, what? - community organizer. To organize significant groups around their own interests and with that connecting them in motion around some larger issue. Obama carried his Chicago, his Illinois constituency with him and as he made more powerful meaningful connections, like an extension cord, his total reach and power expanded.
For the Left, they should never speak another word about “politics” unless they can understand and explain to their own constituents, how this Black man, Ok, this person of color, Ok, this half white dude, became President of the United States. Because it is just such grounding in basic everyday electorally oriented politics that the Left denounces and eschews. To all our detriments. In the main, the Left holds rallies and makes statements. Community Organization is almost as foreign to them as the Right. (But then the Right does its “community organization” through their media.)
Usually, when the Left talks about “the people” or “the masses” they come out of some comic book academic manual confusing the US, the most highly developed 21st century monopoly capitalist society, with 19th century Russia or early 20th century China. Both largely peasant societies with small but developing working classes. The US is neither.
The US is both debtor and predator state, at the same time. With a highly developed yet debt burdened working class who are told every day that they are the middle class. There is a middle class, a petty bourgeoisie, a very, very affluent sector, who are the lieutenants and paid liars, the middle management who are also deeply in debt. There is also a petty petty bourgeois, the teachers, government workers, civil servants, office workers, etc. Racism still internally divides these classes horizontally, with the Afro American people still at the bottom, yet those same Afro American people, nearly 50 million, have a gross national product of 600 Billion dollars a year, the 16th largest in the world.
There have already been Four Revolutions in the United States. The first in the 18th century, for “independence” (quotes because in some ways it never completely happened. Check out British holdings in the US). The 2nd in the 19th century, the Civil War, which ended chattel slavery (& w/the 13th, 14th 15th amendments) and competitive capitalism, ushered in monopoly capitalism and began to free the white worker from the land.
The 3rd revolution was the 50’s to 70’s Civil Rights and Black Liberation Movements which ended petty apartheid & segregation (Civil Rights Bill, Voting Rights Bill, Brown vs. Board of Education). Though a case could be made that this was an extended motion that was initiated by the post Civil War move out of the south by millions of Black people transforming the Afro American people from a largely peasant rural people to a working class. An urban proletariat.
The Obama election is the 4th Revolution! What is needed now is for the would be Left, the revolutionaries, , the progressive sector of the body politic, the Communists to correctly analyze and project widely just what kind of revolution this is. But more than that, lay out exactly what is to be done at this point, the entry to a new stage of US social development, like we used to say, What is the key link, to make the next forward motion.
We should know that the stage of society to which we are moving toward would be some kind of Peoples Democracy. Fundamentally, this is the social base of Obama’s victory, the so-called Post racial coalition. We understand that there is yet no such reality existing concretely in the institutions and relations of US society, except that is the oncoming force that won the 4th Revolution and it is this force that must harnessed as a living material entity in transforming US society.
This would place us near the most advanced stage of bourgeois democracy. We can see Monopoly capitalism crashing down around their and our heads! We have agreed to give the rulers a trillion dollars so they can continue to be rich and the rulers. But for the would be Leftists to tell us that Obama’s only or that his “primary function is to save capitalism by building a united front to rescue capitalism NOT to bring about a more egalitarian, anti-racist anti-sexist pro-environment society”. Why would anyone who was actually struggling for Democracy say that? It sounds like the sour grapes of the people who wanted us to waste our votes , but even though they tailed 98% of the Afro American and half of the rest of the American people, still want to give us advice and instructions. Actually, it is they who need advice and instructions.
To make such a one sided infantile Leftist or Trot like analysis of the election would only turn that overwhelming majority whom you tail anyway, even more sharply and outspokenly against you. There is neither balance nor real analysis in that statement. Just an attempt to be again, more revolutionary than the people. But the task of the revolutionary is to lead the people by taking what they already know and giving it back to them with the focus of the present the past and the future.
Plus to see Obama’s victory as simply a victory for monopoly capitalism is so thoroughly anarchist that it rejects the most important essence of the entire Obama drama, i.e. it was the highest stroke of the Civil Rights and Black Liberation Movements yet. We bled to integrate lunch counters, buses, public toilets, water fountains, was that struggle just to create a united front to save monopoly capitalism? Do you think Obama’s victory less than those? It was a concrete victory for Democracy. Don’t you understand that you cd say the victory of the North in the civil war was just to preserve capitalism? Yes, at a higher level. But don’t you think the concomitant advance of the Afro American people worth noting?
So to those who say Obama’s only function is to save monopoly capitalism, we say, ”I’m glad you can dig it, but that's not all ...“ To claim merely an anarchist or infantile position and not deepen the analysis so we can understand that monopoly capitalism cannot survive unless it adopts some aspects of social democracy. Obama’s election is the first aspect of that social democracy. In the same way that FDR’s “New Deal” could not survive, even as a method of maintaining monopoly capitalism unless it adopted important features of socialism, social democracy, i.e., social security and Unemployment insurance, the WPA public Works project to put people back to work. Even the artists. I said before that what Obama must bring us is “A New New Deal”! That is why it is so important that he hit the ground running, in much the same way that Roosevelt did in his first 100 Days. I was glad to hear that he was reading accounts of the emergency bills Roosevelt passed before the reactionary congress could block him. Obama faces the same exigency. We need a “fast break” strategy with a few ”alley oop” dunks perhaps. Before the opposition can re-solidify itself.
We have a great unity among the people now with Obama’s victory and we and the people must move forward with that catalyst. We must unite principally against still existing racism and white supremacy. We must also unite against the domination of monopoly capitalism over the people’s needs. The theft of a trillion dollars has infuriated the people, certainly we can unite them, build a united front around the need to destroy surviving racism and white supremacy and for creating greater regulations on monopoly capitalism. If we give the investment banks a trillion dollars we should own those investment banks. If we give another two hundred fifty billion to the auto industry, we should own that auto industry.
We cannot wipe away monopoly capitalism with one election but our minimum program must include regulation of it, Public ownership reversing the trend of outsourcing, and sending factories out of the country, usually out of working class and minority neighborhoods. Certainly we can build a united front around these things.
We should be listing those things we can do, those things that Obama’s election has enabled us to do rather than spending time telling people that what they and he did was nothing!
In attacking monopoly capitalism we shd support small capitalism and minority capitalism and fight so that those businesses and institutions in working class and minority communities get the dollars that we are giving the investment banks and auto industry.
The development of small capitalism in those communities and state ownership of these financial institutions would be steps forward in terms of the development of a Peoples Democracy. Is this socialism, No, but we must first regulate and weaken monopoly capitalism, in tune with the peoples newly awakened appetite for expanded democracy and their hard times which we know and can make them better understand is caused by the domination of monopoly capitalism and imperialism, including the Iraq war.
It is up to us, the Left, to build on the powerful democratic coalition Obama’s campaign and election have already built. We must strive to make such a democratic coalition more than just an temporary election campaign call and fight to turn such ideas and momentary commitment into a powerful new base on which to focus Obama’s first term, but also to build this into a permanent aspect of US society. The anti war forces are another key aspect of this coalition and a means to call for a refocusing of the 10 billion dollars a month now spent on the Iraq war.
We should try to build a broad united front out of the consensus coming out of the 63% of the electorate that voted for Obama! One wonders how people in the Black Left who were at the North Carolina meeting and some others, can really call for an smaller united front than the hundred or so people who were there. What we need is a unity based on real struggle over actual objectives and motives, i.e. being “open and above board” without “conspiracy and intrigue”.
There are forces who dropped out of the Black Radical Congress because they were angry about alleged CPUSA “domination”, domination of what, and to what end? Just as a somewhat earlier canard that they couldn’t be in any group where there were white people. We wonder is this some fear of not being able to struggle for the correct line in these forces presence?
Too often it seems that some of the Black Left are really nationalists straining for a new identity by claiming to be Left but never Marxist Leninists. Some are Black Nationalists who claim “Left” by being influenced by Trotskyist or Anarchist stands.
At any rate we need an even broader United Front guided by genuine revolutionaries, communists not Trot influenced Black Leftists.
There are questions about Obama’s appointments even before he is inaugurated. Just as there were questions about him refusing public funding. On the second issue, it shd be obvious by now that Obama saw the public funding, as it is now constructed, to be a ruse to cripple his fund raising, while the Republicans would run ragtime and out raise him, just as Hillary would have done.
On the chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, we should try to understand that this was a very smart choice. The constant calumny against Obama that he is a Muslim. The Right kept screaming his middle name, Hussein, in hopes that would stop the Obamacoaster that enveloped the country. The constant questions about his support for Israel or from the other side about his relationship to the “Zionist entity” were a constant negation Obama faced. Even now, after the election, the fool, al Qaeda’s Zawahari, hurls insults about Obama. Just as some ignorant American anarchists threaten to disrupt the inauguration because of “Obama’s Zionism & Militarism”.
Rahm Emanuel’s selection is due to confound those who are not thoughtful about just what challenges Obama faces. The ever lurking actual Zionists will always make trouble until they can have what they really want, not peace, but the entire Middle East as a fiefdom ruled by Israel.
The Emanuel appointment stops Zionist mischief at the door. Karl Rove’s television appearance blasting Emanuel as “combative, ill tempered and foul mouthed” and that he was Obama’s worst appointment, were very encouraging to me. Let the rumormongers and mischief-makers and other nattering nabobs try to cause havoc at the gates. I trust Emanuel to handle that as chief of staff, both the constant undermining questions of the Zionists as well as the others who want to make Obama a Zionist. To be a friend of the Israeli people is no crime, to foster a Zionist dictatorship over the Middle East would be a crime. We cannot see Obama doing the latter.
The first necessity of the Obama precedent is to put out a call for a nationwide Democratic Coalition, to heighten even further the attack on white supremacy and racism. Even to fight to get these made illegal, unlawful. This would be the essence of the Post racial coalition, which has already shown its potential power with the election of the President. The Kennedy years could have set something of a precedent, but his assassination along with the assassinations of Malcolm X, Dr. King, Bobby Kennedy, peaked with the election of Nixon and then the takeover at the end of the 70’s by the Reagan steamroller which has been with us in essence until today.
Those assassinations were a right wing coup, an oil smelling coup that at its denouement was the invasion of the Middle East and the outright takeover of the oil fields, plus the move of the financial markets to Dubai, as alternate to London and Wall St. Monsters covered with and bathing in oil. The crash of the financial markets in the US and to some extent worldwide can mark the end of this domination if we will move on the new precedent of Obama’s election.
Not only must this new Democratic Coalition take on white supremacy and racism but to oppose and struggle to end the domination of monopoly capitalism over the people of the US, end the war in Iraq and in essence its domination of the world. State ownership, nationalization, new funding for non monopoly and small business. This democratic coalition must be built into a permanent electoral presence as well to combat the still powerful and ruthless forces of white supremacy and the domination of society by monopoly capitalism.
The Public Works' New New Deal would see Katrina damaged New Orleans as a top priority and seek to reconstruct the entire gulf ravaged area from Louisiana to Texas. The sagging infrastructure of bridges and tunnels and urban structures must be repaired. This is one solution to chronic unemployment. Certainly these inner cities are in need of public dollars for employment and reconstruction. Just as in the depression 30’s Roosevelt’s new deal even supported the arts, we must see that our new Democratic Coalition demands the same kind of support after years of the Republicans attacks on public support of the Arts.
We want to build a new Democratic Coalition as an engine for the bringing of a People’s Democracy. Any narrowing of the “Post racial coalition” that elected Obama is a mistake. We must fight to make it real. Those who think that tailing “Labor” mostly the labor bureaucrats or pushing economism as a substitute for political organizing and fielding candidates for every position we are able to are merely continuing the marginalization and irrelevance of the Left. The call for an anti racist anti monopoly Democratic Coalition is correct and necessary and the only move that will give the genuine revolutionaries leadership of the progressive political struggle in the US.
* Amiri Baraka is the author of over 40 books of essays, poems, drama, and music history and criticism, a poet icon and revolutionary political activist who has recited poetry and lectured on cultural and political issues extensively in the USA, the Caribbean, Africa, and Europe.