Barack Obama: Bourgeois Savior, Middle Class Messiah

The election of Barack Obama to the presidency of the United States has come for many as a welcome change from the politics of the last eight years. Many would have people believe that this Democrat will be fundamentally different from a Republican. Many liberal left elements, the editors of such publications as the Nation or the Progressive Magazine (and even Naomi Klein) present Obama as a president who can be “pressured” to carry out a classic liberal reform program. For many young people this election represented their first break with the Republican politics they were raised with. For workers Obama represents a better deal, or the best alternative that can be hoped for in the realm of what is possible in American political life. The perceptions of this candidate as representing real change were the carefully cultivated product of the media and the capitalist class that exploit the expectant optimism of masses of citizens from every social class in US society. This deluded thinking willfully looks away and refuses to see or even acknowledge the nature of this candidate who appears as a liberal democratic capitalist only in the wishful thinking of those who are ideologically indentured to the Democratic Party. The middle layers of society want a great man to follow so that they can go back to sleep and not worry about being squeezed into the growing ranks of the impoverished proletariat.

The Grooming of a Contender

What does this victory really represent to workers? It represents a new face on the same old policies. He represents a facelift for American capitalism. As he said himself “putting lipstick on a pig does not change the pig”. In Obama’s first major campaign bid he ran against former Black Panther, Bobby Rush. Obama’s campaign slogan was “from protest to progress”. It was an explicit slap at the protest politics of the sixties, against civil rights and black power. Obama was calling on his constituents to stop protesting, and start getting more conservative in order to get elected, and be politically relevant in a capitalist society. It was an insult to his “own” constituents, one that made the white capitalists of the Democratic Party actually stand up and take notice him as being a serious presidential hopeful, and someone they could groom for power.

This layer of African American bourgeois politicians enriched themselves over a period of more than three decades of decline in African American workers living standards. They have far more in common with the white capitalists who live in Chicago’s elite neighborhood, the Gold Coast, than they do with their fellow African American workers. The irony of this illusion is that it is one that profits white capitalists first and foremost. This segment of the capitalist class has overseen the exploitation of the very constituents that they supposedly represent according to the folklore of democratic capitalism. This was a conscious political decision taken by the Democratic Party as far back as George McGovern’s failed 1972 presidential bid. The idea was to present US capitalism as something that had no inherent problems, but rather a series of constituencies who only needed a little reformist fix here and there. The idea pushed was that the US would be fine if only racism, sexism and homophobia could be legislated away peacefully, as if these issues had no context in the social disaster represented by capitalism.

Promises, Promises

Obama is still promising to shut down the concentration camp at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. He also promises to stop the policies of torture that have been carried out by the military. He is not proposing to eliminate the other torture camps at places like the Bagram Airbase in Afghanistan, or on Diego Garcia, or shut down any of the prison ships. Torture won’t stop as the roots of the current US torture regime were copied from Soviet torture techniques and introduced into military training regimes during the fifties and the sixties and were explicitly based on North Korean and Vietnamese varieties of torture and have been used for a very long time by the military. He still promises to draw down troops in Iraq so he can move them to Afghanistan. This promise has already gone out the window with the law that the Iraqi parliament signed that allows US Armed Forces to remain in Iraq for another 3 years. He will not end the use of mercenaries in Iraq because they will be needed in greater numbers just to draw the troop levels down from where they currently stand. Workers cannot expect his presidency to be less belligerent when it comes to Iran, or less supportive of its Israeli puppet state, Uncle Sam’s “little loyal Jewish Ulster” in the Middle East. His foreign policy, guided by Zbigniew Brzezinski, will not differ at all from that of commonly established foreign policy aims and objectives of American imperialism. Obama’s economic consultant and capitalist guru, Warren Buffett, is not about to bring any positive changes for workers. (1) Under this regime one can expect nothing more than a slightly more articulate and intelligently carried out version of the exact same belligerent militarism of the last eight years. This militarism wasn’t policy driven, but rather was driven by the US capitalists’ fear of decline of their power in the world. Not once has Obama or the Democratic Party ever challenged the basis of the Iraq War or the “War on Terror” [nor could they ever be expected to. -ed.].

Giving Vermin a Bad Name

Obama is a creature of the Democratic Party political machine in Chicago. He is surrounded by real estate company executives who have profited from dealing in slum properties and robbing the poorest workers in Chicago of their meager pay. All his political life, Obama has supported massive subsidies to these slumlords. This isn’t just rhetoric here, nor does this solely concern Tony Rezko, a convicted slumlord and conman that the Republican supporters spent so much time talking about in the recent presidential election campaign. Obama has even worse slumlords in his corner than Rezko. Obama has always endorsed subsidies of public money to real estate and property management firms, which have learned to extract subsidies from the city to “maintain” (we use the term extremely loosely here) low-income housing. These same slumlords then turn around to solicit more funds from the city to “renovate” the housing and then turn around to push out the poor, raise the rent and move in the middle classes. Obama supported the redevelopment of areas around Chicago’s downtown, the Loop. These developments explicitly drove out some of the poorest workers in Chicago so that “mixed income” units could be put in. Senior advisor to Obama, Valerie Jarrett is a chief executive of the Habitat Company, one of the worst property management companies in Chicago. Obama’s friends and contributors and even advisors are slumlords, namely, Valerie Jarrett, Cecil Butler (former civil rights activist turned capitalist slumlord), Allison Davis, and last and probably the least of all of these was the infamous Tony Rezko, the Syrian-born convicted slumlord, whose shady dealings the media by in large dutifully ignored.

The class of politicians that clings to Obama’s coattails is a parasitic Finance/Insurance/Real Estate economy bourgeoisie. For one example of just how cheap these capitalists are, the Habitat Company is notorious for not even bothering to spend money on steel wool, steel wire scrub pads, that are commonly used as temporary plugs on rat holes that rats won’t chew through because they wont eat metal wire. That is to say, too cheap to give their janitors a raise and too cheap to even spend a few dollars on some steel wool to stop up rat holes in apartment blocks infested with rats. To call these real estate moguls vermin gives vermin a bad name.

And for the Working Class?

With Robert Reich tipped to be Obama’s Secretary of Labor, we can expect no more than the same for “labor” (i.e. Unions like the AFL-CIO and the Change to Win unions) that labor received under the Clinton presidency. In fact Obama’s administration is starting to look almost exactly like a new synthesis of the Clinton and Carter administrations. Reich is a supporter of further cutbacks in wages, benefits and pensions for Autoworkers while supporting the Automakers with subsidies. For much of the state of Michigan, a reduction in pensions for retired workers is the only segment of workers wages that they haven’t yet gotten to substantially cut. “Legacy costs”, pensions and healthcare must be cut and the unions can’t deliver enough of the cuts. Thus the government bailout will force the concessions on the autoworkers, in what is called a “bailout”. The bailout for the auto industry will be exacted by the government at such a cost as to ensure that it will be little more than a bankruptcy proceeding. The need for “shared sacrifice” for the “good of the country” applies, as always, only to the proletariat.

For decades now the decline in workers living standards in the biggest cities in the US has been overseen almost entirely by the Democratic Party politicians on the municipal level. Many of these DP politicians have been African American politicians, while poverty and hardship for African American workers hasn’t diminished at all. Nor have these politicians ever once stopped the “war on drugs” from being a one-sided war focused largely on African American proletarians.

There will be no “New Deal”. Obama isn’t going to act in a “Rooseveltian” way at all, despite the pipedreams of “progressives”. In major cities around the US, it is often just these liberal-progressives that support gentrification and redevelopment projects because they despise the working class just as much as any Republican party aligned capitalist does. There will be no National Health Insurance program worthy of the name. Budgets will be cut to the bone, particularly on the state and municipal levels, and the military will continue to grow and fight new wars. While the ruling parties can successfully manipulate the tool of media with their own sleight of hand by distracting workers with the vague promise of trivial micro-reforms the reality will be that workers living standards will continue to slide and the war will not end.

Those who stand to be most disappointed by the course of Obama’s administration stand to be US workers and foreign capitalists, who both labor under the illusion that Obama is going to be different and or better. They will find no “hope” or “change” with Obama, no more than they would find with any figurehead of American politics. There is no reason to take the word of revolutionary political minorities for this. It does not require a crystal ball to see that nothing will change. For proletarians who really want “change they can believe in”, they will have to look elsewhere. Putting a black man in the White House in the middle of the biggest capitalist crisis since 1929 is not going to change anything but it will buy time for our exploiters. Our real “hope” can only be achieved through working for the one real change that can improve our lives - a worldwide proletarian revolution.

Internationalist Workers Group - US

(1) Obama has since named Paul Volcker to head the White House advisory board that will oversee administration policies for “stabilizing” financial markets. Volcker carried out policies under the Carter and Reagan administrations that suppressed wages and increased unemployment. - ed.