Less than one day after Barack Obama was declared the winner of the US presidential elections, a new episode of South Park appeared which captured the mood perfectly. Randy Marsh stays out all night drinking in the streets to celebrate Obama’s victory and the upcoming “change”. In the course of the night he punches his boss in the face, because “everything’s changed”. But the next morning, he wakes up with his pants missing, his TV stolen, and the news that he’s lost his job. “But Obama said things would be different! That son of a bitch lied to us!”
This is an experience that will be repeated in a million different ways outside of South Park, Colorado, in the months and years to come. For the first time in our generation, we have seen an outburst of enthusiasm for a presidential election in the US. On election night, millions of people were out celebrating on the streets. But will Obama bring change to the lives of the people of color, workers and youth who supported him?
The Republicans’ appeals to workers – to “Joe the Plumber”, “Joe Sixpack”, “Joe Blow” and all of America’s other Joe’s – and women failed to hide their agenda of making the rich even richer. But the Democrats are, if anything, even more closely tied to corporate interests. America’s extremely wealthy supported Obama over McCain by a margin of 3 to 1 – and they will expect something for their money! Obama is committed to the same policies as the despised Bush administration. For example, he talks about ending the war in Iraq, but only to send more troops to Afghanistan. He even wants to increase the overall size of the army!
Obama, like Bush, is a politician of the US ruling class, and America’s capitalists don’t want “change”, at least not in the sense of their power being questioned. They want a new face for their system. They need to distance themselves from the failed military and economic adventures of the last eight years which have created record-breaking disapproval of a US government. A politician who the oppressed can identify with is supposed to create a new legitimacy for the whole system, so the capitalists can go on doing what they have always done: exploiting the workers and oppressed in the US and around the globe.
The election was a historic moment for people of color. A country that has subjected Black people to centuries of slavery, segregation, poverty and police violence now has a Black president. But this won’t mean an end to racism or the beginning of “post-racial” politics. US capitalism systematically discriminates against ethnic minorities, even if it integrates individuals into the ruling circles – having an African American in the top post won’t end this discrimination any more than having Colin Powell and Condoleeza Rice sitting in the last cabinet did.
Perspectives for struggle
Obama was swept to power by a real political movement: Millions of people were drawn into politics for the first time, and they expect their votes to bring results. (Even overseas there are massive hopes in an Obama presidency.) This opens up huge possibilities for revolutionaries to engage with people who have been passive, and who now need to confront the contradictions between their hopes and the realities of the new administration.
President Obama represents a system more than any set of ideals. As a leader of the US capitalist state, he cannot implement the emergency measures necessary to protect and improve our living conditions: stopping house foreclosures, nationalizing the failing banks and car companies, providing real jobs for the unemployed, giving full legal rights to all workers in the US creating a public health care system for all people…
Workers are already paying for the deepening economic crisis: They are losing their homes, their jobs and their pensions by the millions. The capitalists are bailing themselves out and having the working class pay for this crisis – unless we fight to offer our own answer to capitalism’s crisis. To the millions of people who believe in Obama, we need to say that they will have to go out onto the streets themselves if they want real change. We will participate in these struggles, but at the same time argue for a break with the two parties and the system they defend.
A workers’ party
This is why the US working class desperately needs its own political party. This year, the American trade unions paid hundreds of millions of dollars to elect a capitalist candidate. For this money, paid from the dues of organized workers, they will get nothing in return but lip service. With these kind of resources, an independent workers’ candidate fighting for a fundamental alternative to the two parties of the bosses could make a huge splash shift in US politics.
In the coming period, disappointment with Obama is inevitable. Revolutionaries need to work to channel this disappointment towards a socialist alternative to capitalism’s crisis: the steps towards this are a political party of the working class and an independent revolutionary youth organization. Randy Marsh comes to the conclusion that he should’ve voted for McCain – but the truth is a radical change in society is necessary to help him out of his shit existence.
REVOLUTION International Coordination, November 28, 2008