On November 4th 2008 a majority of North Americans voted Barak Obama into office as the 44th president of the United States and the first African-American to hold the position. This election reflects a magnitude of cultural change and has a symbolic impact that exceeds the significance of Obama’s presidency.
Without a doubt the heightening of the economic crisis that became evident last September and October, the outlook of the deepening recession in course and the general disapproval of the Iraq war, were all decisive elements leading to Obama’s election, which really ends up being a vote for a democratic candidate, including votes from racial prejudice sectors.
Although Obama didn’t make the question of race a central theme, evidently being African American presented the issue of racism as a campaign theme. The day after the elections the major North American newspapers boasted that racism was now a thing of the past, including the New York Times’ columnist, Thomas Friedman, wrote that the November 4th 2008 elections will go down into history as the day “the American Civil War ended, as a black man – Barack Hussein Obama – won enough electoral votes to become president of the United States”(1). But the small sector of the African American community (as well as Latinos and other minorities), co-opted to the political elite and United States economy–Obama, Colin Powell or Condoleezza Rice- is the flipside of the marginalized and oppressive situation of many African American minorities(2).
Taking a closer look at Obama’s electoral sociological discourse, it becomes clearer: the democratic candidate received 95% of the Africa American votes; 67% of the Latino vote; almost 70% of those under 30 years old, including those voting for the first time; 58% of women and a high percent of the middle class with university degrees and liberal ideas, that traditionally vote for the Democratic Party. Victory in the industrialized states –Ohio, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Michigan y Minnesota(3)- indicates he was capable of recuperating the industrial working class union vote. Obama’s support in the industrialized states was most likely possible because of the central union, the AFL-CIO’s campaign support.
The Republican Party, the other pillar of the North American imperialist bipartisan regime, is going through a massive crisis. Although the republican party retained a significant number of votes, keeping in mind the general disapproval of the bush administration, and maintained their traditional base in the “deep south” and the Midwest (even though they lost key states like Florida), McCain’s loss created disputes between the different fractions. The Party is divided in a moderate sector, which McCain represents and the other, which is more religiously and socially rightwing fundamentalist, and that are notorious for their racist and extremist arguments, among them vice-presidential candidate, Sarah Pallin, supporters (4).
However, it would be an error to think that the only social forces backing the Obama phenomenon are minorities African Americans, Latinos, youth and a significant sector of the working class. Obama was the candidate elected by a majority of the North American bourgeois; in light of the crisis of the Republican Party and the final ruin of George Bush’s presidency, the bourgeois decided that the best option in Imperialism’s interest would be an image change of the national and foreign politics. The major corporations, among which you can find many signatures from Wall Street like Goldman Sachs, JP Morgan, Citigroup contribute millions of dollars to the Obama campaign (5). The most influential press: The New York Times and the Washington Post, and prominent republicans, like the ex-secretary of state Colin Powell, along with traditional North American political representatives of the preceding decades, supported or advised Obama during his campaign.
To the dismay of the progressive sectors that fuel the illusion of “change,” Obama formed a government with key positions filled by democrats and republicans that have been running North America politics for decades. Obama’s cabinet is made up of the architects of financial deregulation and supporters of the Iraq war among them are Rahm Emanuel (Head of State); Hilary Clinton (Secretary of State); Robert Gates (Secretary of Defense under Bush, responsible for the war in Iraq and Afghanistan); James Jones (National Security Advisor, McCain’s ex-advisor); Timothy Geither (Secretary of Treasure, former leader of the NY Federal Reserve and responsible, along with Henry Paulson, for the bank rescue plan) and the those who worked under Clinton: Robert Rubin y Lawrence Summers. And if there are still any doubts, among the Obama advisors is Paul Volcker, Chairman of the Federal Reserve during the Carter and Regan administration, which in 1979 produced a deep recession and tripled the interest rate as a means of overcoming the recession, raising the level of unemployment to around 12%.
The End of the “Regan Era”?
It’s becoming common place to compare Obama and the Democratic Party’s triumph with Roosevelt in 1932 and Regan in 1980, interpreting the current times as a turning point in view of previous political ideas. Although Obama’s results are far from Regan’s landslide election in 1980 and 1984 (6), it had a similar impact giving the notion that the North American political map decisively turned from red (Republican) to blue (Democratic).
The Regan presidency inaugurated a new kind North American politics. From the New Deal and the end of the WWII to the 1970’s crisis (7), the dominating class’ politics were essentially to continue to rely on their luck with “Keynesian consensus.” However, contradicting the “progressive” myth built around the state benefactor and figures like JFK, in reality was a way to gain the support from the masses for the aggressive imperialist policy of the Cold War. These international policies entailed, for example, the Cuban invasion, the Vietnam War and within the US meant McCarthyism and bosses attacks on the unions. The concessions made to the African American minorities, like Affirmative Action, was the states response to the impressive Civil Rights movement of the 50’s and 60’s, that had begun to radicalize through the figure of Malcolm X and which signaled that racial discrimination threatened to let loose a violent and uncontrollable situation. The United States, being a potential for expansion, took the liberty during the Johnson presidency to maintain the benefactor state known as the “Great Society” and at the same time advance the Vietnam War. Between the end of the 1960s and the mid 70s the United States underwent a process of political radicalization that turned the movement against the war in Vietnam and that turned into a crisis for the Democratic Party with their progressive base. In the beginning of the economic crisis the unionized working class led important struggles. Regan’s “conservative (counter) revolution” was possible after the crushing defeat of the air traffic controllers strike in 1981, that ended not only in the firing of thousands workers but also the destruction of the PACTO union. Reaganism installed the basic neoliberal ideas of the “small state,” financial market deregulations, the “tax cuts” and a renewed aggression in foreign affairs with the Soviet Union, known as the “Evil Empire” and essentially based on military supremacy, to reaffirm the United States’ world dominance after a tough setback in Vietnam. This renovated capitalist offensive program, echoed by Margret Thatcher in Great Britain, was adapted by the whole world and made way for years of domination known as the “Washington Consensus.” The reformist Social Democrat and North American Democrat parties also became neoliberals through the “Third Way” and the presidency of Bill Clinton.
However, a combination of factors, essentially the economic crisis in course, that has unveiled the exhaustion of the neoliberal counter-tendencies that American –and world- economy had used to get out of the 1970’s crisis; the government’s intervention without precedent taken by the capitalist governments since 1929, along with Obama’s election, has sparked a debate that is reflected in the mainstream press, both progressive and conservative, over if whether or not we have reached the “End of Reganism.” As the historian, Sean Wilentz, has pointed out “conservative ideas and policies dominated U.S. politics and government for 40 years, beginning with the breaking off of the Democratic Party over the war in Vietnam and the urban demos in 1968. Now, almost every major element of Reagan conservatism is in disrepute, including its cornerstone ideas about unregulated free markets and trickle-down prosperity.”(8)
Despite having announced his ideologies as being dead, Francis Fukuyama, an ex-neoconservative, is now one of the passionate defenders of the necessity of the “change of ideas.” In a recent editorial in the magazine American Interest, “There are three core Reaganite ideas that need to be reformulated or discarded altogether if the United States is to navigate the current crisis and restore its credibility in the new era. The first has to do with deregulation and the role of the government in the entire economy. The Wall Street collapse and the big recession we are heading into occurred for reasons intrinsic to the Reagan model (….) The second Reaganite idea that needs rethinking concerns taxes and spending–namely, fiscal policy (….) The third Reaganite idea that needs rethinking has do to with foreign policy and the uses of American power.(9)” Obviously for Fukuyama the limit of the ideological “renovation” is in the capitalist class’ achievements in the last decades, above all the labor market’s flexibility and the union’s loss of influence.
The debate and the mystery is a result of the economical crisis and the world domination crisis, Obama’s presidency will open a “new era” that transforms North American policy installing a “new paradigm” like president Roosevelt did in 1933 with the New Deal.
In these terms it’s more the illusions and expectations that generated the campaign for “change,” which when looked at more closely revealed itself in Obama’s choice in cabinet members. It’s evident that the measures proposed in response to the capitalist crisis incorporates elements that oppose the “neoliberal” ideology of the last decades, particularly the economic stimulus proposals through public works, unlike the state’s “rescue” plan for the banks and capitalist firms to save capitalism in midst of a crisis, which was supported by as many neoliberals as Keynesians. But in light of to the politics that we’ve seen over the last 30 years, this isn’t exactly a radical change. The bank rescue packages voted for by both parties, with the aid of Obama’s active intervention, demonstrates that just like their republican counterparts, they belong to the Washington’s political elite that’s connected by thousands of links to the financial aristocracy and big corporations.
Up until now Obama has demonstrated that he’s not so much creating a “new era” as much as he is trying to reposition the “center” of the political spectrum, thus conserving more than changing the imperialistic political guidelines. One of the principal mantras, that captured the expectations and elevated the hopes of millions of people in the United States, and throughout the world, was the vague idea of “change,” which was connected to the overwhelming disapproval of the Republican Party and conservative hegemony of the past three decades. However, this promise is proving to be completely empty. Far from producing the kind of change that was expressed by millions of his supporters, the forming of the future government shows a clear continuity in the same North American policies of the last decades. The newly formed government is a bipartisan synthesis between the moderate republicans and key figures of the Clinton era, which demonstrates not a radical change, but intentions to recover the “center” of the political spectrum.
As Obama addressed the importance of National Security, it was accompanied by popular declarations to use “all the means necessary” and strengthen the military force, “to destroy the twenty first century threats”, among which Obama has mentioned are “the new powers that have the international system in a difficult situation.” The meaning of this election is unmistakably: the next administration looking to, in the most orderly fashion possible, finish off the job that Bush left incomplete in Iraq and Afghanistan and do whatever is necessary to save the banks and corporations from the economic crisis.
From a “Unipolar moment” to a hegemonic crisis
Barak Obama’s presidency is facing the most difficult challenge to North American domination since the end of the WWII, with two unfinished wars, a deteriorating system of relations between states, a worsening of historical conflicts like those in India and Pakistan, combined with the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, which is becoming a social crisis within the United States. Almost simultaneously with the announcement of Obama’s victory the CIA revealed a document about the outlook of the international situation during the next decades. The report revealed a complicated situation for the United States leaders with regional conflicts among other issues like a shortage of energy resources and climate change.
According to the CIA, “In 2025 the international system - referring to how it was constructed post WWII- will be unrecognizable due to emerging potential powers, a globalized economy, a historical transfer of economic power and riches from West to East as well as the growing influence of non-state actors.” In this transition, which appears to be “very risky” and which evokes a similar historical scene at the end of the 19th century in the preparations for WWI, “the United States will continue to maintain its power, but it will lose its strength, even in the military arena. The report states that “the most prominent characteristic of this ‘new order’ will be a change from a unipolarity dominated by the United States to a relatively unstructured hierarch made up of old powers and emerging nations.” As a consequence of this greater fragmentation and the decline of economic and military power, “the United States won’t have the same flexibility to decide between various political options.” Regarding economic prospects, the report predicts that “the international role of the dollar will probably decline and will instead become the ‘global currency reserve’ and become the leader amongst equals in a basket of currencies (….) This decline will involve concessions and North America will be faced with difficult decisions concerning foreign politics.”(10)
This vision is shared by a wide variety of intellectuals, magazine and newspaper colonists and foreign political advisors; however, they vary in their forecast of the situation’s outcome. For example, Newsweek’s international politics editor, F. Zakaria writes about a world “post-American,” and the president of the Foreign Relations council, R. Haas, proposes that there will be an emergency as a result of a “non polar world.” Including a neoconservative like R. Kagan, with reservations, recognizes that “the world today isn’t like most of us had anticipated after the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 (…) Few thought that the United State power would be confronted with so many challenges, not just from emerging potential powers but also by old allies and neighbors.”(11) Although they uphold their disapproval of the so called “declination supporters”, that despite the fact that the US is in a decay the rest of the world is in a worse situation and therefore the role of US domination isn’t questioned.(12)
The anticipated deterioration of the United States position has brought to light the importance of policy realignment; attempting to restore North American imperialist power, which has been seriously damaged during the last eight years of neoconservative administration.
Discussions about the North American deterioration aren’t new. A similar debate was made after defeat of the US in Vietnam and during Jimmy Carter’s presidency, when United States leadership reached a historical low, which was eloquently symbolized in the failed attempt to release hostages during the Iran Hostage Crisis in 1979.
Reflecting on the conditions of imperial domination, about 20 years ago the British academic, Paul Kennedy, presented a theory on the relation between a great power and its economy. Comparing the rise and fall of the 15th century Spanish Empire and the British Empire of the 19th and 20th centuries, the United States has “inherited a series of obligated strategies, created from decades earlier when the nation’s economic, political and military capacity to influence world matters were much more secure.” Thus that United States imperialism is subjected to the risks of “imperialist excessive expansion, which is well known by historians of the rise and fall of the preceding great powers (13), signifying that the United States international interests and obligations are beyond its capacity to defend them.
However, shortly after Kennedy published his work, the collapse of the Soviet Union and the recovery of the North American economy, had generated a mirage of indisputable North American domination.
The French ex Minister of Foreign Relations, Hubert Vendrine, had coined the term “superpower” (14) to give an idea of how the rest of the world views the North American Power, not just in the periphery countries but also the rivaling capitalist powers, in the beginning of the 1990s after the collapse of the Soviet Union and the North American victory in the First Golf War.
Sure enough, the 1990s were the mirage of the limitless North American Power: the United States had come out victorious in the Cold War and in the war against Iraq they showed off their enormous military potential, developed during the Regan era. As they commonly say, both of the North American hegemonic pillars, the dollar and the Pentagon, appear strong enough to support the weight of the superpower.
During this decade of North American dominance, which the neoconservative idealists named “the unipolar moment,” they were working on the idea of a strategic change in international relations, Project for a New American Century. This project was then made a state policy after September 11th. According to the Imperialist policy think tank the Clinton government had squandered away, with his “humanitarian interventions” where United States interests were not at stake, like in Somalia, what had been conquered during the Regan and father Bush administration. This new strategy tried to re-launch the North American power by changing around the Post-war foundations, which, according to the neoconservatives, expressed a relation of strengths that no longer corresponded to the predominance of the United States.
In September 2002 George Bush announced, during his infamous speech on national security, the proposal of a qualitative change in international relations: an aggressive foreign policy based on unilateralism and military strength with the objective to reaffirm North American predominance over not only the enemies but also the allies including European powers. The “War on Terror” was used as a justification for the United States military intervention, as a form of prevention, and to overthrow enemy governments to implement a “regime change.” This forcefully defended unilateralism caused unprecedented fractures in the imperialist blocks of the last few decades; during the preludes to the Iraq War, which forced the United States to carry out the military campaign against the Hussein Regimen, accompanied only by Great Britain, Spain and other smaller countries. This then gave way to mass anti-americanism, not only in Arabic and semi-colonial countries but also in the masses of European imperialist powers.
Meanwhile the Bush government continued the offensive policy towards Russia, initiated by Clinton, which via the expansion of NATO and the incorporation of countries like Georgia and Ukraine, looked to diminish Putin’s influence en Central Asia, a strategic region that blocks political and commercial relations between Russia and the European powers, particularly Germany and France.
Because of its ambitious objectives, the defeated neoconservative strategy that embarked with the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, amounting to a costly military occupation and thousands of causalities among the imperialist troops, had the opposite desired effect and was far from projecting an image of power to the rest of the world. Instead the United States was left exposed as an “over-extended” superpower that has divided almost all of its available military resources between Iraq and Afghanistan. The Russian regime clearly perceived these limitations during the mini- war between Russia and Georgia, a United States Ally, in which the “western block” was divided between US and Great Britain on one side, who tried without success to impose a tough policy against the Putin regime and the other side consisting of France and Germany, who sided with Russia.
The dynamics of the world economic crisis, which still hasn’t reached its full level , and that will influence the interstate relation is another element that will decide the outcome of the “return to diplomacy” and that appears to be guiding the new government’s foreign policy. With this in mind, Obama’s capacity to restore the imperialist leadership will be put to the test sooner than later. The attacks in India at the end of November demonstrated Obama’s strategy to push for reconciliation between India and Pakistan, two nuclear potentials, as a way to establish a relatively stabilized Central Asia and to be able to focus on achieving an imperialist victory in Afghanistan.
The great illusion of the many Americans, who oppose Bush’s war policy and the continuity of McCain, see that Obama will put an end to the war and occupation in Iraq and Afghanistan and adopt a less aggressive policy. The ruling class expectations for Obama are that he will be able to generate the necessary conditions to recreate the United States’ image and recover allies to confront these challenges as well as guarantee the national interests of the first world imperialist power and it’s corporations.
In 1936, Trotsky, referring to the United States rising to “imperialist world leader” in a historic era of capitalist decline, proposed that “by extending its power over the whole world, United States capitalism is establishing in its own foundations the instability of the world capitalist system,” and North American political and economic development “depends on the world crisis, wars and revolutions.”(15) It appears as if these contradictions are breaking apart and shaping a new scene.
The Crisis of the North American dominion is unquestionably opening an international situation of unrest. For those who think that the imperialist powers can orderly advance towards a new structure of world powers, one that is diplomatic and multilateral, it’s worth remembering the slow fall of England and the incorporation of the United States as the new world power. This transition included extraordinary events from the beginning of the 20th century, for example, the Anglo-Boer war (16), the Russian-Japanese war, the Balkan wars, the Mexican Revolution, WWI, the 1st and 2nd Chinese Revolutions, the Russian Revolution, the 1929 crisis, and the rising of Nazis and WWII. Thus demonstrating the relevance today of Lenin and classics Marx’s definition of living in an era of crises, wars and revolutions. The decline and economic weakening could push the United States to resort to its military superiority in order to defend its interests. This doesn’t mean that the imperialist powers are preparing for an immediate confrontation, but the regional conflicts that involve ally states or principle powers will most likely increase.
Obama’s Foreign Relations Policy
Obama’s victory was received with enthusiasm and affection, not only in a wide range of popular sectors across the globe but also by imperialist powers and periphery countries, even the Iranian president, Mahmud Ahmadinejad sent his greetings. The expectations that these governments hold for Obama is that he will lead a significant turn in imperialist foreign policy and restore the use of “soft power” into the international message, buried under the Bush Administration’s militarism and unilateralism.
The most significant exception is Russia, who on the day of Obama’s electoral victory announced that Russia would counteract the U.S. missiles in Poland. This clearly shows that, at least in Russia, the new North American government won’t be a “honeymoon.”
After Bush’s failed offensive foreign policy, a new general consensus emerged that was a need to return to “realism,” in other words a more careful and multilateral policy that will help recuperate allies and recreate the leadership of a world that appears too dangerous and chaotic for interests of North American imperialism.
According to F. Zakaria, “the greatest challenge for Washington is to use its military, political and intellectual capabilities to work with other to create a stable, peaceful and prosperous world in which the ideas and interests of North Americans are secure.”(17); this is perceived as the most secure way for North American to pursue its interests.
In a recent article by P. Kennedy, analyzing Obama’s general political line he states, “a detailed study of the rhetoric and policies of his predecessors, Wilson, FDR and JFK, becomes very useful. As all historians would agree: these great “internationalist” statesmen did nothing more than pursue the ‘national’ interests of North America.”(18)
The voices of the bipartisan political bureaucracy venture that Obama’s image and progressive illusion will be enough to revive the classic policy of the “carrot and the stick,” more efficiently and less costly than the neoconservative “revolutionary” approach.
In an interview with Dennis Ross, ex Director of Policy Planning under father Bush, the special Middle East coordinator under President Clinton, and is currently Obama’s special adviser for the Middle East, openly stated that “when you have someone like President Obama, it’s more difficult to demonize the United States. It’s much easier to make it clear that our objectives for the world are correct and raises our ability to compete.”(19)
It’s still unclear if Obama will be able to play the role of the renovator of imperialist leadership. The cabinet he’s put together and his administration’s general political lines reveal a strong continuity in the foreign policy of the last few years, which contradicts his promise of “change.”
All of his State Department and National Security cabinet members were in favor of the war in Iraq and the appointed members were enthusiastically received by the rightwing newspapers, from the most traditional on the one hand, Wall Street Journal, to the pages of the neoconservative magazine, Weekly Standard, and the main architect of the Bush administration, Karl Rove, in the middle.
Most likely, Obama will move forward with an essentially conservative foreign policy maintaining the States interests that combine “Clinitonsim” with the more moderate sectors of the republican administration, in effect turning from the unilateralism of the 1st president Bush towards a more multilateral policy.
Obama, influenced by North American Zionist lobbyists, will maintain his unconditional alliance with Israel. In the early stages of his presidency, Obama will make “gestures” aimed at recomposing the United States’ “democratic” image, for example, the closing of the illegal Guantanamo prison. However, these measures, which are supported by a large majority, are used as a means to focus attention away from his war policy in Afghanistan.
Obama’s priorities will be to gradually resolve the military occupation in Iraq, propose a framework for negotiations in Iran, focus the military strength in Afghanistan, attain collaboration from European allies, Pakistan (and maybe Russia) to fight the Taliban and other strengths that threaten NATO as well as re-launch negotiations between Israel, Palestine, and Syria.
He plans to achieve all of this while maintaining a strategic alliance with the State of Israel as well as keeping the promise to guarantee its security, which generates permanent tension with Iran. However, given the overall situation of North American Imperialism, this doesn’t appear to be a very simple plan.
Obama inherited a situation that is very difficult to resolve: imperialist domination in the Middle East, through a failed attempt to use the Iraq invasion and occupation as a platform to consolidate North American domination as well as guaranteeing security in the Israeli state. It’s well known, that nothing turned out like the neoconservatives had imagined six years ago. The strengthening of Iran as a regional power was an unwanted consequence of the Iraq invasion and the fall of Hussein. The United States was forced to negotiate with the ayatola regime, in other words with the number one North American and Israeli enemy; in fact cooperation with the Iranian regime was indispensable in maintaining stability in Iraq and preventing the conflicts from escalating. (20)
Furthermore in July-August 2006 Israel lost a war for the first time war, defeated by Hezbollah during the Israeli insurrection in Lebanon. However, despite that the Olmert government was finishing its term, their ability to manage the governmental crisis caused by the defeat, guaranteed that the Kadima party would continue to hold office. However, this didn’t stop the Israeli troops, with help from the Palestinian president, Abbas, from maintaining the Hamas government and the Gaza Strip under siege.
Far from his promise to take troops out of Iraq within 16 months, Obama’s “realistic” policy is to adopt an agreement passed by the Iraqi parliament, which would legalize the presences of the North American troops in Iraq until December 2001(21). By mid 2009 the United States hopes to concentrate their combative forces in bases outside of the Iraqi urban centers and intervene at the local government’s request.
This by no means implies that the results of the United States’ costly Iraqi occupation has come out favorable for the U.S. In the last few months the Bush administration has obtained a relatively stable outcome due to a combination of factors, one of which is an agreement reached with the Sunni tribal leaders who went from fighting against the North American troops to fighting with them in pursuing the alleged Al Qaeda connections. However, it’s through the Iranian intervention that they have been able to maintain the religious conflicts within the acceptable bounds of the imperialist troops; through Iranian mediation they have managed to deactivate, in more than one occasion, the internal war between different Shiite fractions.
A significant part of the policy was written by R. Gates, which Obama argues that if continues as Secretary of Defense for at least a year, they will finish a timeline for a withdrawal from Iraq. Clearly this policy is doomed to fail if an aggressive United States policy pushes Iran to withdraw their support.
Obama promised to “talk with Iran without pre-conditions” as a way to win the support of a sector of the population and of the Ayatola regime for a more pro-North American policy. According to the regional advisor, Dennis Ross, these “talks” should be direct, not though a mediator, and follow the “carrot and the stick “logic in order implement a change in the Iranian government’s orientation (22).
The United States is hoping that the economic crisis and the drop in petroleum and gas prices will bring about an Iranian government change, with presidential elections to be held in mid 2009 or will strengthen the ties with president Ahmadinejad and sectors of the clergy that have a more conciliatory position, but nobody can guarantee the United States that this will happen. This policy frowned upon by the state of Israel, who constantly pressure the United States to authorize an attack on Iranian nuclear facilities, now that monopolizing nuclear weapons is the main security strategy to maintain its Arab neighbors submissive, we can’t forget that with this objective in mind Israel launched a preventative attack against Iraq in 1981in order to destroy their nuclear reactor.
Obama’s plan to gradually withdraw troops from Iraq and concentrate on Afghanistan depends a great deal on reaching an agreement with Iran and to establishing a “diplomatic’ policy that would gain the regimens collaboration while trying to contain their nuclear advancement; however, it’s unclear what Obama has to offer the Iranian theocracy and how he will manage this role simultaneously with the unconditional alliance with Israel. For imperialism the situation in Afghanistan, what Obama calls the “good war,” is alarming.
Since at least 2006 the Taliban and other resistance groups have been on the offensive against NATO troops while recuperating a supportive base against the largely unpopular Karazi government, which is viewed as a United States puppet. The conflict in Afghanistan has crossed the Pakistani borders, where radical Islamism organizations are gaining ground against Pakistani military attacks that are acting in accordance with pressure from the US.
The pentagon is confronting this situation with a similar policy that was implemented in Iraq, gaining cooperation of opposing tribal groups, including a “reconcilable” sector of the Taliban. Many analysts believe that this operation is almost impossible if the United States isn’t able to successfully change the image of the NATO troops’ weakness.
Obama’s announced his plan to transfer 7,000 soldiers from Iraq to Afghanistan, adding to the 32,500 U.S. soldiers that are already present, and to pressure Afghani and Pakistani governments to act against the armed groups, especially in the border regions. The second step will without a doubt be to convince other NATO allies to commit more troops, but until now nothing indicates that the EU will be willing to do this. It’s more likely that the NATO allies will not focus on the military aspect, but instead to propose a conference with the neighboring countries, with which the United States will not agree on. Another point of divergence between the US and the EU is supporting the Karzi government. In 2009 presidential elections are scheduled to be held; however, while the EU considers Karzi’s term to be up, he refuses to hold the elections and waits for support from the North American government.
Within the framework that of Obama’s strategy, Afghanistan will eventually enter into a wider objective: to achieve stability in Central Asia. The key element in achieving this objective is through India and Pakistan. However, this policy confronts with great obstacles, including the chain of attacks that took place in Mumbai at the end of November.
The world which Obama intends to lead has become, in many ways, anti-North American. This sentiment is due, in part, to the latest cycle of the economic growth that has allowed new actors to emerge in the international scene, like China, Russia, India and in a small way Venezuela. We’re in a situation which none of the competitive capitalist powers, especially dependent countries like China, is in the position to dispute the North American hegemony, but they are in the position to seriously question its power and try to strengthen their influential on the North American’s international policy.
In this respect, the “mini-war” between Russia and Georgia, an ally that Bush tried to incorporate into NATO, without success, was an advance in regional conflicts that reflected a broader world conflict and is the result of the neoconservative strategy. With the increasing anarchy in the international relations and the capitalist crisis, it’s very likely that a new class struggle will emerge.
A New, New Deal?
The North American economy officially entered into recession in December 2007. In the month of November alone, more than half a million North Americans lost their jobs. (23) In all of 2008 the figures increase to 2.2 million, not including those who stopped looking for work all together. The average rate of unemployment is 6.7%, which is still low with comparison to 25% during the market crash in 1929. But the most alarming part is the geometric increase in unemployment: duplicating from October to November 2008. According to these projections job losses could reach 3 million in the first few weeks of Obama’s Presidency; some say that the unemployment in 2009 could triple from 2007. Not to mention the amounting social crisis: the decrease in millions of workers wages, when they involuntarily decrease their hours to part time; loss of social securities- around 50 million North Americans don’t have medical insurance; the families that are left homeless as a product of the subprime loans; and the limit on unemployment benefits, that cover only 32% of unemployed workers and for only a six month period. The crisis hits the hardest in the most industrialized states, where a large majority voted for Obama. In an article in the New York Times about the situation in Michigan, headquarters of the three major auto producing companies, “the states’ economy has been in recession for years and some experts are convinced that it never emerged from the last recession in 2001. The unemployment rate is 9.3% - next to Rhode Island it’s the highest in the country-(…) The total number of residents that are receiving some kind of public assistance, like food stamps and reduced housing loans, has reached a new state record of 1.82 million, close to 20% of the population.” The seriousness of the crisis, like the turn from “laissez-faire” towards the New Deal in the 30’s, appears to have created a new consensus between neoliberals and neokeynesians (24) over the necessity of fiscal intervention to stimulate the economy.
To confront this crisis Obama has promised to invest in public works such as restoration of the county’s infrastructures that are in high need of repair: bridges, highways, schools, airports as well as develop alternative energy sources (construct solar panels, windmills, etc.), which is commonly known as “green Keynesian” in order to create 2.5 million jobs in the next two years.
To add to his campaign promise he plans to make health care more available- although this plan doesn’t include universal care-, lower taxes for lower income homes and raise taxes for those who make more than $250,000 a year. Obama still hasn’t defined the amount he plans to spend on the economic fiscal stimulus plan. During his campaign the Obama’s estimates didn’t go above $16 billion, it’s most likely risen in the past few months; however, taking into consideration the unemployment rates at the beginning of the recession, the supporters of the New Deal consider that this plan is insufficient. For example, according to Nouriel Roubini it would take at least $300 billion in public investment and for the Nobel prize winning economist, Paul Krugman, the stimulus plan would need to exceed $600 billion, equivalent to 4% of the GDP, to get the economy going (25). Including Zakaria from the Newsweek column advises that the government use all of the tools it has on hand, for example “nationalize firms, create bank holidays, suspend operations, buy debt and actions and renegotiate mortgages,” but above all “the North America government can print money,” which in the long term would have damaging effects, but it would be “nothing compared to a potential financial system collapse (26).” We can discard the idea that Obama, pushed by the circumstances, finds himself compelled to adopt a fiscal stimulus program more daring than the suggestions of the above mentioned economists. The progressive sectors feed the illusion under the pressure of the crisis and the mass mobilization, Obama will have to reedit the New Deal the Roosevelt put into action in 1933. In considering that the Obama administration is essentially based in the “center” it’s important to point out that Roosevelt didn’t have the New Deal program during his campaign in 1932, in fact his plan was to cut public spending, but due to the circumstances he ended up putting forward a “progressive” policy.
It’s true the Roosevelt replaced his original plan with the New Deal and also confronted the opposition of his own party and capitalists who didn’t agree with the service that the plan was offering. However, the objective of the plan wasn’t “progressive,” on the contrary it represented the last opportunity to save capitalism from the crisis and the ghost of social radicalization. According to the historian, Howard Zinn, Roosevelt’s social reforms “made them face two pressing issues: reorganize capitalism so that it could overcome the crisis and stabilize the system; and to stop the alarming number of growing spontaneous rebellions and general strikes taking place throughout the country during the first few years of the Roosevelt administration.”(27). This display of discontent included not just the working class, but also the unemployed movement, who had developed powerful organization, and the neighborhood association, who resisted evictions. The New Deal, as Trotsky stated, was the United States’ unique “privilege” because of its capitalist strength, while other countries resorted to other means like fascism. But in the 30’s the New Deal failed to get the economy out of the crisis, but the weak recovery did help the social situation, which provided a great service to capitalism. Like Roosevelt said during his campaign for reelection in 1936, “we’re against the revolution, that’s why we launched a war against the conditions that generate revolutions - against inequality and the resentment that fosters them.” However, in 1937, the North American economy made way for what was known as the “War Deal,” which in other words was an enormous government investment in the war industry. Trotsky noted, that at first this plan stimulated economic revitalization while simultaneously preparing North American capitalism to give a decisive blow to its competitors with the outbreak of the war; since the Roosevelt administration held both of these tendencies. After the failure of the New Deal, Trotsky proposed that, “this plan, with its fictitious results and its real increase in national debt, will be met with a necessary and fierce capitalist action and a devastating imperialist explosion. In other words it leads to the same results as fascism”(28). The North American victory in WWII, that destroyed the powerful competitors, guaranteed decades of unquestionable hegemony in the western capitalist world.
Implementing a fiscal stimulus packet can help to energize the economy
in the short term and, most importantly, defuse the social crisis bomb; however, the capitalist economy’s recovery doesn’t depend on these deviations, as was show by the Keynesian measures limitations in the mid 1970s. It will be very difficult to take the North American economy out of this profound crisis through government spending in public works.
In the 1930s, thanks to immense resources, the richest imperialist country could, for some time, find a less violent and reactionary solution for the same problem,” and instead of taking “the antirevolutionary fascist path, they took the reformist path” (29) ; however, Obama has less to work with in implementing a plan similar to the New Deal. Unlike Roosevelt who presided over a creditor country that had enormous gold reserves, Obama inherited an enormous debt that will increase with the bank rescue package. This debt grew exponentially during the last eight years of the Bush presidency, reaching as much as 10 billion dollars. It doesn’t seem possible to continue with the plan to increase the GDP 4 points without going into more debt or creating new money at the risk of inflation. Like in the advancement that lead the New Deal into WWII, the possibility of a “reformist” way out of the crisis is just an illusion and won’t be able to stop a capitalist catastrophe.
The crisis, Obama and Class Struggle
Contrary to the economicist and objectivists vision, we have insisted that the economic crisis doesn’t automatically produce a revolutionary class struggle, but they are essential conditions that end up throwing millions into misery and desperation who no longer have a guaranteed subsistence, and it opens a period of a possibility of more radical actions than are seen during normal bourgeois’ times.
During the last 25 years of neoliberal offensive, the North American working class has lost much of what they struggled for and they have taken steps backwards in union organization, according to the figures, “today only 7.5% of private sector workers are unionized and 35.9% of public workers. In total 15.7 million workers belong to a union, which represents 12.15% of salaried workers, almost the same percentage in 1930”(30).
In these last years there has been a monumental transfer of resources to the richest 1% of the population that receive 24% of the national income and “even though the corporate earnings have duplicated since the recession gave way to the economic expansion in November 2001, and although worker productivity has since then increased 15%, the average typical North American worker’s salary has risen only 1%, not adjusted for inflation” (31).
Facing the crisis the business owner’s continue to attack the workers through lay-offs and wage reduction.
As has been seen in the parliamentary discussion over the state funded rescue plan of the big three auto companies- Chrysler, General Motors, and Ford-, the company businessmen and the capitalist state want to take advantage of the crisis to advance even more over the workers gains, which they have managed to hold on to, despite the last few decades of neoliberalism. Furthermore, the media and the press have launched a systematic campaign against the big three auto companies’ “high costs of labor,” which are due to high percentage of unionized workers, in comparison with the competitors like Toyota, whose US workers earn a lower salary (32). The reconstruction plan for the auto industry includes the destruction of hundreds of jobs, plant closings and an agreement between the bureaucratic union (UAW), the democratic congressmen and Obama to significantly reduce health and retirement benefits and the “employee bank” ( savings used to support laid-off workers).
Keeping in mind the differences between the current financial crisis and Great Depression there are also many similarities. The Great Depression of the 1930’s was also preceded by a decade of capitalist offensive that destroyed, using violent methods, the union organization and the workers movement that had been confronting the business owners between 1918 and 1920. Farrell Dobbs, one of the revolutionary organizers of the worker’s movement said that “In the 1930s when the economic depression began, the workers were in a directional and organizational crisis. Only a small percentage of workers belonged to unions (….)”(33) However, the hard conditions and the pro-capitalist conservative AFL bureaucracy lead to a wave of radicalization in the workers movement’s core, which was illustrated through the formation of the Committee for Industrialized Organization (CIO) and beginning in 1937 Congress of Industrialized Organization, who organized skilled and unskilled laborers who had been rejected by the AFL. During 1934 there were three militant strikes – in Minneapolis, San Francisco and Toledo – all of them victorious (…) Once the CIO had formed, the main industries quickly organized (..) A wave of historical strikes developed, as much in their demands as in their Revolutionary vision. During those conflicts a new phenomenon was born- the sit-down strikes- workers occupied the plants and, if necessary, transform them into strongholds to defend against the strike breakers attacks (34).” In the Minneapolis Teamsters strike the Trotskyists played a decisive role. In order to stop the radicalization process, Roosevelt made concessions by passing a law that recognized the right to union organizations and collective bargaining. By implementing these measures the liberal regime, “gave the workers what they had won through their struggles, conceding to the obvious fact the growing workers’ struggle had become too big for the government to stop” (35). The CIO union bureaucrats along with the “progressives” of the time-the Communist and Socialist Parties- used the newly passed law as a means of subordinating the working class to Roosevelt and the Democratic Party, thus abandoning the budding process of class independence.
The large number of votes that Obama received expresses the of the workers, immigrants, African American minorities and other marginalized sectors’ expectations that the government will turn the situation around, which is most likely what turned the promise of “change” into concrete demands: promising work security, providing papers to undocumented immigrants, withdrawing troops from Iraq and Afghanistan. The AFL-CIO bureaucracy, who provided a significant amount Obama votes, hopes that a new union legislative law will be passed, known as the Employee Free Choice Act. Although the law doesn’t obligate employers to officially recognize union organizations, it would give back to the workers the right to choose whether or not they want to belong to a union. But the illusions collide with the reality of Obama’s government. Beyond the racial issue Obama isn’t here to defend his interests, he’s here to defend the interests of the banks and corporations. Like in other historical moments, the “progressives” maintain their strategy to vote for the “least evil” However denying the irrefutable evidence that Obama will try to form a “center” government, in other words basically maintaining the same government that has been in office over the preceding years, the “progressives” justified their support for Obama by arguing that through workers struggles and socialist movements he will be easier to pressure.
But this stance helps the dominating class maintain the working class and oppressed minorities subordinate, which is North American imperialism’s fundamental pillars: maintaining the illusion that there is a middle way out.
The worsening of the economic crisis and the contradictions at an international level could accelerate the working class and oppressed minorites’ confrontations with the Obama government and forge the way for a new scene of working class struggles. A scene, as was seen in the 1930s, made up not only of worker radicalization but also of xenophobia, racism and extreme rightwing groups.
The Occupation of the Republic Windows and Doors factory, by 250 mostly Latinos and African Americans workers, a tactic that hasn’t been used in the US since the 1930s, may be a new phenomenon in the advancement of the working class struggles.
The crisis is changing around the “normal” parameters of bourgeois domination of the preceding decades. The world that emerged after WWII was dominated by the Cold War scene. The dynamics of a permanent revolution multiplied in the periphery of the capitalist world; however, this dynamic was “blocked” by the imperialist countries, which then introduced a division in the international working class, that’s now a thing of the past. Not only because the Soviet Union disappeared from the scene, also because the number one imperialist power, the United States, is the epicenter of a massive economic and hegemonic crisis that will have historic significance. The global character of the crisis gives a base objective of unifying the United States, EU working class and the rest of the imperialist powers with the workers and exploited from the dependent and semi-colonial countries. The capitalist system and North American’s loss of legitimacy opens up the possibility for the United States working class, who were hit hard during the years of offensive neoliberalism, to recuperate their capacity to organize and fight. Furthermore, the weakening control of the union bureaucracy over the workers leaves room for a greater radicalization and spontaneity, in both the methods of struggle and political conscious.
In order for the United States’ to acquire this dynamic, that was seen in the wave of strikes in the 30s when the Trotskyites not only played an important role but they also formed and organized the significant working class sectors, the workers struggles must be solid and prevalent in the building a revolutionary workers party in the United States. For the international revolutionaries, developing this stance in the United States workers movement has become a critically important task.
1 Friedman Parte of the symbolic victory of Obama’s election in Virgina, a slave state where the Civil War began in 1861, says that “despite Brown v. Board of Education, Martin Luther King’s I-have-a-dream crusade and the 1964 Civil Rights Act – the Civil War could never truly be said to have ended until America’s white majority actually elected an African-American as president.” Finishing our Work NYT, 4-11-08. In reality, the majority of whites, 55%, voted for McCain.
2 The black minority represents around 12% of the population. The United States poverty rate is 12.5%, only 8.2% are white, while blacks represent 24.5%. Average income of a white worker in 2007 was $54,920, while for blacks it was $33,679. The United States has the incarcerated population in the world, around 2.2 million of which 42% are black (according to a PEW research: 1 in 9 black males between the ages of 20 and 34 are in prison, compared with 1 in 30 white males). While unemployment rate is 6.7% for blacks it’s 11.1%.
3 Obama won in the big states, including states where McCain is favored, but in the industrial cities the margin was even greater. For example in Detroit Obama received 75% of the votes, in Flint 66% and in Minneapolis 64%.
4 An editorial in Weekly Standard, leading neoconservative rightwing publication, reflects the disorientated state of the Republican Party. Signaling that don’t have a plan, in internal fights their ideas are concrete and that when they try to act “they appear tempted to be irresponsible, in September more than one was willing to put the global banking system at risk with the hope of gaining a victory for anti-Wall Street populism.” They turn their backs on the three big automakers and risk producing a rise in unemployment and that “sometimes the Republican Party’s economic agenda involves demanding corporate tax cuts and capital gain.”
5 In the 1980’s, the historian T. Ferguson analyzed the relation between the companies and the North American State’s two principal capitalist political parties, which he defines as “investment theory.” According to his investigation and theory on campaign electoral and lobbyists the industrial corporation, financiers, and other interest groups that act as “investors” who through giving big economic contributions to the candidates, they “elect” the political personal that will go on to the popular elections.
6 In the peak of the “conservative revolution” Ronald Regan, winning 44 states, beat the democrat Jimmy Carter in 1980, who only won six states: Georgia, Maryland, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Delaware and Minnesota. Although the popular vote was a difference of 10 points, Regan won 90% of the Electoral votes. In 1984 Regan’s reelection was a Republican Party triumph; the democratic candidate, Walter Mondale, only won the states of Minnesota and District Columbia. Graphically the political and ideological reaction during those years are seen in the almost completely red electoral map (Republican party). The Republican were in power for 12 consecutive years, two terms of Regan and one of father Bush, the only similar case in history was the three consecutive terms and he began a fourth term but died within the first year in 1945.
7 It was like this for both the democrats and the republicans. In the 1950’s the republican president, Eisenhower, reduced state spending while leaving intact the benefactor state created by Roosevelt and Truman. Furthermore he implemented a public works plan that was based on construction of the major highways. Nixon, republican president in 1971, coined the famous phrase: “now we’re all Keynesians.”
8 Sean Wiletz, “Conservative era is over”, US News, 24-11-08.
9 Francis Fukuyama, “A new era”, American Interest, 9-11-08. In another article that appeared in the October 13th edition of Newsweek magazine in reference to the crisis, notes that restructuring the “attractive” image of United States capitalism, formed by Regan, is just as important as stabilizing the financial system.
10 Global Trends 2025. A Transformed World, National Intelligence Council, November 2008. Available in www.dni.gov/nic
11 Robert Kagan, “The September 12 Paradigm. America, the World and George W. Bush”, Foreign Affairs, Sept.-Oct. 2008.
12 Robert Kagan, “Still N° 1”, The Washington Post, 30-10-08.
13 Paul Kennedy, Rise and Fall of the great Powers, Plaza & Janes Editores, Barcelona, 3° ed, 1992, pg. 627.
14 The “leftist” version of this phenomenon was the Imperialism thesis by T. Negri, who in his analysis of imperial domination compared the United States with Roman imperialism.
15 León Trotsky, About the United States of America, July 1936.. En: Naturaleza y dinámica del capitalismo y la economía de transición, Compilation CEIP, Buenos Aires, 1999, pág. 153.
16 For many historians, including Marxists, the Anglo-Boer War (1900-1902) despite Great Britain’s costly victory, it marked the beginning of an irreversible decline in British Imperialism. The loss in imperial power was based on the economic and financial down turn; beginning in 1880 the United States, and Germany a decade later, surpassed Britain in production and competitively. Despite having lost its economic strength England managed its decline and was able to maintain its leadership position for many decades by adapting to the United States rise to power. (see example , P. Kennedy, pgs. 288-296)
17 F. Zakaria, “McCain’s Downfall: Republican Foreign Policy”, The Washington Post, 9-11-08. The author compares Regan and Thatcher’s “conservative revolution” crisis with the Republican’s current foreign relations crisis, based on unilateralism and preventative military attacks, which according to the author are completely exhausted. His conclusion is that Obama has to turn the center of the political spectrum implying that he should abandon the Bush administrations’ foreign policy ideas.
18 Paul Kennedy, “The return of soft power?”, International Herald Tribune, 13-11-08.
19 “Obama ready for Iran”, Denver Post, 18-11-08.
20 The Iranian regime played a key role in the concentration of all of the shiit party wings and dismantled or at least postponed the civil war between the government formed by the al Maliki-Dawa party and the Supreme Islamic Iraqi advisors (the firmest clergy alliance with Iran) and the radical clergyman Al Sadr’s militia, whom ayatola Kamenei holds a great influence over.
21 The agreement was approved November 27th 2008 with a favorable Shiit Dawa party vote Supreme Islamic Iraqi advisors, the Kurdish parties and the Iraqi Accord Front that organizes different Sunni parties. The clergyman Al Sadr’s party voted against and organized a demonstration of thousands to demand the immediate withdrawal of North American troops.
22 In the Jan.-Feb. 2009 edition, the Foreign Affairs magazine published an extensive article about Richard Haas and Marin Indyk, titled “Beyond Iraq.” In this article they advise to leave the Iraq episode as finished and build a new strategic framework in order to resolve the problems in the Middle East. They are in favor of focusing on Iran and clarify that “the military answer- launched by the US or Israel- should be a last resort precisely because without this option, Teheran could see the diplomatic initiative of a new and young president as an opportunity to delay while Iran crosses into the nuclear threshold.”
23 The Labor Department’s facts aren’t exact for the current months and they are making corrections for the preceding months. For example, the initial job loss statistics for August were 73,00 and 159,000 for September, but after the December corrections they changed to 127,000 and 284,000.
24 Robert Rubin with Jared Bernstein, a Keynesian economist from Economic Policy Institute, signed a opinion note that affirmed that they should overcome the “old dichotomies,” that “there is a time to spend, a time to save, a time to accumulate fiscal deficit and a time to reduce it” and with “the current economic financial crisis, our common vision is that in the short term the economy needs a gigantic fiscal stimulus that generates a substantial economic demand,” even proposing the need for workers to recuperate wage negotiation power. “No more economic false choice”, The New York Times, 3-12-08.
25 Paul Krugman, What to do?, New York Review of Books, Vol 55, N° 20, Dec.2008. The author suggests that bank recapitalizations will inevitably lead to more government control, virtually a “nationalization” but just temporarily. Responding to those who proposed that this type of program failed in Japan in 1990, Krugman points out the difference is that the North American enconmy still isn’t caught in the deflation trap.
26 F. Zakaria, “There is a silver lining”, Newsweek, 11-10-08.
27 Howard Zinn, The People’s History of the United States, 21st century, México, 1999, pg. 288
28 León Trotsky, “Marxism in our Era”, 1939. En: Naturaleza y dinámica, Buenos Aires, Ediciones CEIP “León Trotsky”, 1999, pg. 186.
29 George Novak, “Autopsy of the New Deal”, Fourth International N° 1, mayo, 1940.
30 Dan La Botz, “The Economic Crisis, the American Working Class, and the Left: The Situation Today and the Situation in 1930”, Monthly Review, MR Zine, 17-3-08. In 2005, confronting the passivity of the AFL-CIO leadership and the decline in unionized workers, seven unions formed Change to Win. The most important union from this federation is the SEIU (Service Employees International Union).
31 Steven Greenhouse, The Big Squeeze: Tough Times for the American Worker, quoted in The New York Times, 2-12-08. Other studies like State of Working America, points out that the average wage actually decline around 3%.
32 According to an article in The New York Times, “On average a UAW worker costs General Motors around 74 dollars an hour, taking into consideration salary, health and pension; in comparison, Toyota spends $45/hour per worker in the United States.” But the newspaper recognized in another article that the numbers were intentionally distorted by the media: “the autoworkers of the Big Three didn’t earn anything close to $73/hour, (which translates to around $150,000 a year).” The employers gave out these figures as a strategy during the wage negotiations and is actually different categories added together: “the first category is paid with money, including wages, overtime and vacations which is around $40/hour,” the second category are benefits like health and retirement, which raises it $15/hour, “together they make up the actual wage of the unionized General Motors autoworker at $55/hour. Furthermore, labor costs represents only 10% of the cost to making a vehicle.” David Leonhardt, “$ 73 an Hour: Adding it up”, The New York
33 Dobbs, Farrell, Teamster Politics, New York, Pathfinder Press, 1979, pág. 115.
35 William F. Warde (George Novak), “Ten years of the New Deal”, Fourth International, Vol 4, N° 3, March 1943.