The balloon of illusion in Barack Obama is bursting. It was inevitable that the election of America’s first Black President would lead to a temporary dampening down of struggle by Blacks and working class people more generally against capitalism and its effects. That was the reason Obama was handed the Democratic nomination in the first place. After the extreme repression, warmongering, rampant venality, and finally near-economic collapse of the Bush years, US capitalism desperately needed a more attractive face to head off the likelihood of a social explosion.
Obama more than fitted the bill: as not only a liberal, but a Black liberal to boot, he was the ideal man to do this job for the bourgeoisie. His progress through a two-party political system that is both thoroughly stitched up and fundamentally still intact – no real challenge has been made to the twin parties of US capital for many decades – was a reflection of the fact that he was the rulers’ man for the job. And he temporarily succeeded in co-opting many previously very angry Black and other working class people to accept that his administration was the only thing realistically on offer. A historically very weak US left that had begun to sense that things were beginning to swing to the left in the late Bush years, with rising anti-war activism and accelerating Black and working class anger over atrocities like the attacks on the victims of Hurricane Katrina, was abruptly becalmed by Obama.
His presidency was supposed to signal to Blacks and working class people that progress is possible under capitalism in the direction of equality and social advance. In particular, Obama was supposed to symbolise that the historic ‘problem’ of savage racial oppression and inequality, directed primarily against American Blacks – the population descended from slavery – could be addressed while maintaining the capitalist ruling class in power. Indeed, the very election of a Black man to the Presidency seemed a radical departure that ‘proved’ this could happen. Not so many years earlier, in the 1980s when Jesse Jackson tried his luck in the primaries, it had seemed unthinkable that a Black man could run for President even for the Democrats.
But it was a false dawn. Obama is a phoney. He did not come to power to change anything; he was not raised to power by being part of the leadership of a struggle for real change. There have been some changes in the specific configuration of who calls the shots at the top of US capitalism, that created the opening for an Obama to take the reigns of office for a while, but they most certainly do not involve any elevation of the mass of Black people to a position anywhere near social and economic equality.
On the contrary, working class people have taken the brunt of deprivation and economic suffering from the economic depression that resulted from the Credit Crisis in 2008-9, and as usual, Black workers are at the bottom of the heap, Obama or no Obama. As before, the oppression of Blacks is a crucial weapon of US capitalism to keep the American working class divided and politically crippled. The US ruling class is not going to concede real equality for Blacks, these divisions are just too valuable to them.
The most significant shift in US ‘race-relations’ that has taken place over a period of decades, gradually since the 1960s, but has emerged as a major issue since Bush, 9/11 and the ‘war on terror’, does not involve Black people. It is the change in the position of Jews. Although Jews have had a presence among the bourgeoisie, disproportionate to their relatively small numbers within society as a whole, for more than a century (very different to Black people, who are massively under-represented in the same ruling class), they were until relatively recently an insecure layer, still subject to discrimination and bigotry themselves, which somewhat restricted their power.
Since the late 1960s, they have risen up the hierarchy of ‘race’ in US politics to joint first place with the WASP elite, both in terms of general wealth and economic power, and political clout in Washington. Their influence has in ‘foreign policy (i.e. international politics) meant the rise of AIPAC and similar organisations with the power to make and unmake careers of politicians in both political parties, depending on whether or not they refrain from criticising Israel’s atrocities in the Middle East, or promise US support for Israel’s agenda of destroying nearby states like Iraq, Syria or Iran. Remember even Obama, the great ‘anti-racist’, endorsing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital in 2008, as he was seeking his first election, seeking the support of AIPAC. Almost his first act as President was to appoint the rabid Zionist Rahm Emmanuel as White House Chief of Staff.
That is what is behind the shift in US politics that allowed Obama to rise to office, while Black people are as far from real power as they ever were. This contradiction is the result of the enhanced role of Jews in the US ruling class. For obvious reason, Jews are not keen on overt displays of racism, it opens up some very deep wounds. But having risen to joint first place in the pecking order of ‘race’ in American politics, the last thing the Jewish-Zionist bourgeoisie want to do is to abolish racial hierarchies.
They can, through their newly enhanced social and political power, compel the old fashioned white supremacist types in the ruling class to clean up their language and talk the talk about anti-racism and all that jazz. They can even ease the way for a tame Black career politician to give capitalist politics a makeover. But at the base of society, the racial hierarchy remains.
For the new co-rulers, for the new synthesis at the top, Blacks have to stay in their place just as in the old days. The index of this is, not just the usual economic suffering, the deprivation, the malnutrition even in the richest country in the world, but also the fact that the cops are still 20 times more likely to shoot you dead if you are young and Black as compared to other youth.
That is the explanation for the stark contradiction between a Black President, now in his second term, and the palpable fact that the old racial hierarchy is intact and the cops are just as murderously venal as ever. This is not some novel point, but a political issue of the highest importance. Because the change in language of the politicians, the state and its agents, is not an index of real social change, but a deception and a hypocrisy.
Everything else flows from that, really. There is nothing really new to be fought for. The old aims of the working class movement, seeking to mobilise the power of Black and other workers in struggle to win equality, to win jobs for all, to win working class control of the commanding heights of the world’s most powerful economy, that was built by the sweat of the workers over the last couple of centuries, remain just as necessary as in the 1930s, in the heyday of the US working class struggle (so far). What is required is to learn to use these weapons, that of the class struggle, in the modern political context, and to see through the sugar-cyanide hypocrisy of the ruling class, with its idelogical shift and its modified composition.
For all its abstract models where everyone’s money is in theory as good as the next person’s, irrespective of color and origin, capitalist needs racism, and divisions in the working class that it brings, to survive.
In immediate terms, Black people and their allies in the working class generally need a counterweight to the cops. They need to collectively, and on a mass scale, exercise their constitutional right to bear arms and create a well-regulated, popular working class militia, to defend their own communities from the cops, as well as to act as a stabilising force within the communities themselves that unlike the cops, would do so without being tainted by systematic and murderous bigotry.
To do away with racism, workers have to take power for themselves off all wings of the ruling class, and plan the economy on a national and international scale, in the interests of the working class collectively everywhere. That is the lesson of the renewed struggle for equality, against the new ruling class synthesis that Obama signifies, flowing from the events in Ferguson.