Obama: The times they are a-changing?

A few thoughts on Obama's election victory. Yes, it is historic but real change comes from below and anarchists need to stress that.

Obama graphic

Obama: The times they are a-changing?

It is hard not to be moved by the sight of a black man becoming President of the United States. Nor is it possible not to feel hope at the sight of so many people taking a keen interest in their society, expressing joy at the prospect of change. Nor is seeing the Bush Junta finally get a (limited) comeuppance without some pleasure. Equally, it is hard not to be optimistic about an American election result in which someone labelled by his opponents as a “Marxist” and “socialist” gets the majority. Sure, most people (correctly) would have dismissed this as the nonsense it was, but it suggests that after decades of “socialism for the rich” (neo-liberalism) the prospect of social democratic reforms have lost much of their fear.

In those senses, this is a historic result. However, as anarchists we are aware of the limitations of change via the state. That is why we are anarchists, after all. Obama represents the more progressive (and more sane) wing of the American Business Party so any “change” that may be coming will not challenge the power of capital has over the state. Equally, the powerful economic, political and social interests which ensured 8 years of Bush will not disappear. As with Clinton, that pressure will be placed on Obama to implement “reforms” similar in content and aim (if not quite as extreme) as those that would be implemented by a Republican President. We should not forget that it was Clinton who “reformed” welfare, repealed key regulations on financial markets, presided over record increases in inequality, backed NAFTA and so on. And, of course, if economic pressures do not work there is the state bureaucracy with its network of permanent institutions and officials who can hinder and delay any serious reforms which the capitalist class opposes.

This is not to suggest that the parties are identical. They are not, as can be seen from some of the policies suggested and rhetoric used. Yes, they are both capitalist parties but there are differences which it would be foolish to ignore or deny. This does not mean we need support the Democrats (or Labour in Britain, and so on), it means we need to address the reasons why people did vote for Obama and have hope he will change things for the better when we explain the anarchist case for social transformation from below, by the people themselves.

The audacity of McCain trying to portray himself as the candidate for change was staggering. Yet it is representative of a general disgust of the way America has been heading, something which the 8 years of the Bush Junta has crowned with a particularly incompetent, authoritarian and corrupt reign (which is why Joe-the-Plumber was lauded by McCain while George-the-President was ignored). Looking back, Kerry’s defeat in 2004 did have the advantage of allowing the Republicans time to really expose the bankruptcy of their ideas, agenda and the raw capitalism which they idolise. Not that the party of individual responsibility did not try to blame everyone else (Clinton, poor people, banking acts from the 1970s, etc.) for the problems facing America! Luckily, you cannot fool enough of the people all the time.

Obama, of course, got significant endorsements from many elements of the ruling elite while, of course, appealing to the general population. The latter is unsurprising, given the alternative. The former is equally unsurprising, given the mess the Republicans have significantly helped to create and the fact that the Democratic Party is, for all its quasi-populism, a bosses’ party. As in the 1930s, many in the ruling class are seeking ways to save capitalism from its worse excesses. In elite circles, the difficulties in having a regime committed to the rhetoric of “laissez-faire” in the face of economic crisis should be obvious. Having any bailouts and other interventions delayed because of that rhetoric is problematic in the extreme, given the possible depths which the implosion of neo-liberalism could reach – for “socialism” is always on the cards, as long as its primarily for the rich…

In that sense many of the American elite make the same mistake as many on the reformist left. The state acts to defend the interests of the capitalist class as a whole, to keep the system going. That means it needs to be a power above individual companies and individuals and be willing to control them in the wider interests of the system. This task creates the illusion that the state is above classes, that it could be used to further social reform. For those elements in the elite, this fear makes them subscribe to anti-government rhetoric while, of course, seeking government power and influence. Yet just as state action was needed to create capitalism in the first place, so it is required to keep it going. Problems always arise when the ruling elite starts to believe its own rhetoric and the ideological nonsense of economics textbooks about capitalism being self-regulating and stable. At times like this, anti-government rhetoric just gets in the way of a more sensible approach.

So, given the economic context, we can expect an increase in the respectability of Keynesianism at the expense of “laissez-faire” rhetoric. What of popular reform, the social-Keynesianism and popular policies most of Obama’s supporters seek? That depends on what people do now that they have voted. A key element of the anarchist argument against radicals using elections is that it places the focus for change in the hands of the elected representative rather than the people themselves (another, that it de-radicalises the party in question and turns it reformist is not applicable here as the Democrats are a capitalist party). Change is apparently coming, but only when Obama is able to provide it. Yet the nature of that change will depend on the pressures that his government is subject to.

That big business and the Republican smear-machine will be gearing up to ensure their agenda and interests are respected goes without saying. The question is: what will the American people do? Will they return home, waiting for Obama to implement his actually quite vague mandate for change? Or will they use the optimism and hope that his historic win has generated to act for themselves? Will they be able to impose from the streets and workplaces the kind of change which will benefit them? If not, then the hope and joy experienced by many will quickly turn into disappointment, cynicism and apathy. If so, then a genuine alternative to capitalism could be created and anarchists should be at the forefront in advocating the basics of any real change and real alternative – direct action, solidarity, mutual aid and social movements rooted in our workplaces and communities. This is not impossible, it happened amazingly quickly in Argentina when its neo-liberal experiment collapsed.

By so doing, we can not only fight for improvements today but also create the possibility of a new world. Ultimately, if the last 30-odd years of stagnating working class income shows, not acting is a guarantee for rising inequality, falling social mobility and soaring insecurities and stress. Change can come, but only if we act to achieve it. Electing Obama is historic for many reasons but real, fundamental, change comes from below. Our task as libertarians is to build the social movements required to turn hope about change into its reality.

Comments

Anarcho-Obamania

Don't you think it's time you admitted what a fool you were to vote for Obama (who, after all, didn't need your vote, as you might have anticipated)? His election makes history. So what? Every election makes history. He's black. So what? He hasn't done anything for blacks. Obama promised no "social democratic reforms" and he certainly hasn't delivered any. He bailed out Wall Street with tax money coerced out of workers. Now he coerces workers into buying a commodity from the for-profit insurance industry. He promised to step up the war in Afghanistan and step down the war in Iraq. Guess which promise he kept?
Obama offered "hope" (and, if you were paying attention in 2008, almost nothing else). That is EXACTLY why anarchists should have come forward to assert that electing Obama, or anybody, is hopeless. While the liberals and leftists were mired in white guilt, anarchists should have continued to maintain their principled opposition to government, and therefore to democracy, and therefore to elections. Afterwards, some people might remember -- and if not, we can remind them -- that we were right, that they were deceived once again. In failing to do so, we neglected an opportunity, but, we can make up for it now, by pointing out that elections don't change anything fundamental, and, if you want fundamental change, you don't participate in elections. If you do, your votes will make no difference (in this respect, like most votes), but your voting will endorse voting, which will endorse democracy, which will endorse the state. If even anarchists uphold the state, it must not be so bad after all.
If anarchists want to make history by voting, they will get another chance in 2012. They will have the opportunity to elect a WOMAN: Sara Palin. So will we see "Anarchists for Palin" or "Anarcha-Feminists for Palin" websites? Now the difference between men and women is much greater than the difference between whites and blacks. In office, imperious female heads of state like Margaret Thatcher or Golda Meir have, of course, behaved just like everybody else in their positions.
The Germans who voted for Adolf Hitler in 1933 made history, although German anarchists, consistent with their principles, didn't vote for the Nazis, or the Communists, or the Socialists, or the Catholic Center Party, or for anyone. The Nazis actually did more for most people, for the working class certainly, than Obama ever even suggested. They invested, as Obama advocates, in "infrastructure," such as the Autobahn, the freeway system. Their policies brought about full employment, whereas unemployment here, after two years -- almost 10% -- is about the same. All this, though -- even for a voter who was sure of these consequences -- was no reason to vote Nazi. But it was also no reason to vote for any other party.
Some people who suppose that they are anarchists, suppose that anarchism is just the quietly critical wing of leftism or liberalism. Well, I have news for these dupes. Leftists and liberals despise anarchists. They have always despised anarchists, and sometimes feared them. They have sometimes used them and then gotten rid of them. I daresay that President Obama has never even heard of anarchists, unless possibly as the crazies who try to disrupt globalization conferences. Obama is a passionate promoter of globalization.
Anarchists are breaking away from the left, to assert anarchism as something entirely different. Only on a post-leftist basis will anarchism make sense, and only on a post-leftist basis will it ever be possible for anarchists to matter.

post-leftist anarchism means not reading?

I think this reply sums up a lot of what is wrong with so-called "post-left" anarchism -- not least in the fact its writer obviously has not bothered to read what was written!

Don't you think it's time you admitted what a fool you were to vote for Obama (who, after all, didn't need your vote, as you might have anticipated)?

I'm Scottish. I cannot vote in American elections. And nowhere in the article was there a call to vote for Obama (indeed it explicitly states "This does not mean we need support the Democrats"). So, really, get a grip. Read what is being argued rather than assume lots of silly things based on the assumption of "leftist" anarchism...

His election makes history. So what? Every election makes history. He's black. So what?

Sure, the election of a black president means nothing! LOL. Really, you need to be clueless not to recognise that this election was historic -- the question the article raised was how do anarchists response to this event and the hope and optimism it generated.

Obama promised no "social democratic reforms" and he certainly hasn't delivered any.

I never said he promised any -- I said that people who voted for him expected some, as shown by the fact him being a "socialist" showed. As for not delivering any, well, the article predicted that!

He bailed out Wall Street with tax money coerced out of workers.

Would that be the TARP, signed into law by George Bush?

Obama offered "hope" (and, if you were paying attention in 2008, almost nothing else). That is EXACTLY why anarchists should have come forward to assert that electing Obama, or anybody, is hopeless.

Which is exactly what the article states, that anarchists need to "explain the anarchist case for social transformation from below, by the people themselves." In fact the whole article is about explaining that people needed to use direct action and NOT be fooled into thinking that voting and politicians will change things!

While the liberals and leftists were mired in white guilt, anarchists should have continued to maintain their principled opposition to government, and therefore to democracy, and therefore to elections.

Clearly you have not read the article, as the article explains that real change comes from below and not via elections and government.

In failing to do so, we neglected an opportunity, but, we can make up for it now, by pointing out that elections don't change anything fundamental, and, if you want fundamental change, you don't participate in elections.

You mean like when the article states precisely that? When it argues for people in America "to impose from the streets and workplaces the kind of change which will benefit them" and so create "a genuine alternative to capitalism" by "advocating the basics of any real change and real alternative – direct action, solidarity, mutual aid and social movements rooted in our workplaces and communities"?

If even anarchists uphold the state, it must not be so bad after all.

Any where does the article "uphold the state"? Where does it advocate voting? And it also links to section J.2 of An Anarchist FAQ which presents the anarchist case against voting!

Well, I have news for these dupes. 

Well, I have news for dupes who don't read articles but comment on them anyway -- don't expect anyone to take you seriously.

Anarchists are breaking away from the left, to assert anarchism as something entirely different. Only on a post-leftist basis will anarchism make sense, and only on a post-leftist basis will it ever be possible for anarchists to matter.

Apparently "a post-leftist basis" means not bothering to read what is being argued, not bothering with facts, not bothering to address what is being said, not bothering to recognise that you are repeating what the article you are attacking actually says. Sad, really, that I have to spend time replying to this kind of nonsense -- I do have better things to do than point out the obvious!

If this is the quality of "post-leftist" anarchism then I can safely predict that it will never "matter." I useful first step would be to actually read what is being argued in an article -- not to do so makes you look silly.

  


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