People's Democracy

(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)


No. 44

November 09, 2008


US Electorate Creates History

Extraordinary change, but will it change ordinary lives  for the better?

Sitaram Yechury

THE US electorate has created history by sending the first non-white president to the White House. The remarkable ascendancy of Barack Hussein Obama as the 44th President of the United States of America brings to mind an ancient Chinese curse, “May you live in interesting times”.

Consider the reality that when Obama was born (1961), the right to vote for the African American people was not universally granted in many Southern states. Equality before law came only in the 1964 Civil Rights Act. Voting Rights Act came in 1965. Inter racial marriages were legalised in 1967. In early seventies, it was not uncommon to find an African American on the streets asking for change. Today, one has walked into the White House on a popular mandate for Change. In this sense, history is, indeed, being made.

Fidel Castro had described Obama as “the most progressive candidate for US Presidency” from the “social and human points of view”. At the same time, he warned that it would be an illusion to presume that the character of US imperialism would undergo any decisive progressive shifts.

Marx had once said, “Men make their own history, but they do not make it just as they please; they do not make it under circumstances chosen by themselves, but under circumstances directly encountered, given and transmitted from the past”.

Obama inherits a past: US imperialism’s hegemonic drive to impose a global unipolarity under its tutelage; US strategic doctrine of `preemptive strike’ against any sovereign independent country in the world; USA’s self-declared right to militarily attack and occupy any country in the name of `global war against terrorism’. He inherits the notorious history of `State terrorism’ practiced by successive US governments. He has, himself, declared to continue the criminal economic blockade against Cuba. He inherits the Presidential sanction for the gruesome torture of other human beings as in Abu Gharib, or, Guantanamo.

US support to Israel has denied the Palestinians their `home land’ all through the 20th century. Will this change now? Pertinent to us, in India, is that, with this unprecedented Democratic sweep in the US Congress and Senate as well, the pressures for resurrecting the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty will mount. With the Indo-US nuclear deal’s attendant pressures on India, this has serious implications. Further, Obama has already displayed keen interest in resolving the Kashmir dispute when India has consistently maintained that there is no scope for any third party intervention in this Indo-Pak bilateral issue. Obama has declared this as a priority in order to have Pakistan’s undistracted attention in helping the US militarily to combat the Taliban.

Surely, on these and many other important issues, the official US position will be known once Obama assumes the reins of office. So also will the world know how the US administration, under him, intends to tackle the current crisis of global capitalism. A recession has already begun in the USA and fast spreading to other industrialised countries. Whether Barack Obama will create history or not is dependent on how he tackles this crisis which, by far, is the deepest crisis, outstripping the Great Depression of the 1930s.

Speaking of the crisis, Obama said, “The decline in our GDP (gross domestic product) didn’t happen by accident. It is a direct result of the Bush administration’s trickle down, Wall Street first, Main Street last, policies.” This gives a hint of correct identification of the major culprit for this crisis being international finance capital and its speculative activities in search of quick super profits.

Earlier, he had said, “The engine of economic growth for the past 20 years is not going to be there for the next 20. That was consumer spending. Basically, we turbocharged this economy based on cheap credit.” But the days of easy credit are over, Obama said, “because there is too much deleveraging taking place, too much debt”. A new economic turbocharger is going to have to be found, and “there is no better potential driver that pervades all aspects of our economy than a new energy economy… That’s going to be my No. 1 priority when I get into office”.

Until concrete prescriptions emerge after his assumption of office, we can only infer from these comments two simultaneous directions in which the US may proceed. The first is the fire-fighting injection of liquidity to stem further collapse of the financial markets. The US has already pumped in $2.5 trillion (Rs118 trillion). The Bush administration will leave behind for Obama a staggering national debt of $10.3 trillion. Given this, the options for a further fiscal stimulus appear very limited, as estimates of the budget deficit next year already spiral above $1 trillion.

The injection of liquidity, however, will not be able to stem the crisis, because of the increase in the lenders’ perception of risk. This is so because the solvency of the borrowers has become suspect owing to the presence of a plethora of “toxic” securities in the system. What is required, therefore, is to improve the solvency of the borrower and not inject liquidity for the lender. This can only be done through massive doses of public investment.

In other words, Obama has an opportunity to offer a new “New Deal” a la president Roosevelt following the Great Depression. This, however, would mean recognition of the bankruptcy of neo-liberalism that provided the ideological prop for finance capital-led speculative growth bubbles that have burst one after the other, culminating in the current crisis.

Will president Obama rise to the occasion? Or, will he preside over the efforts of the giants of international finance capital to emerge from this crisis heaping further miseries on the peoples of the third world? The choice that Obama makes will define the people’s response to US imperialism globally.

Obama concludes his book, `The Audacity of Hope’ by dedicating himself to the process that built the USA : “those like Lincoln and (Martin Luther)King, who ultimately laid down their lives in the service of perfecting an imperfect union. And all the faceless, nameless men and women, slaves and soldiers and tailors and butchers, constructing lives for themselves and their children and grandchildren, brick by brick, rail by rail, calloused hand by calloused hand, to fill in the landscape of our collective dreams….It is that process I wish to be a part of.”

Indeed laudable. But will this process be confined to some 300 million people that account for less than 5 per cent of the world population. The fate of the remaining 95 per cent of humanity, war or peace, air that may be fit to breath or not, their quality of life, as Fidel Castro said, will depend to a great extent on the decisions of the Empire’s institutional leader.

Return to the Chinese curse. It contains a belief that in every crisis situation, there is also the path for hope. Will this be used for creating a better world? The past experience of US imperialism, however, has shown that the leopard never changes its spots. If so, then the struggle shall continue for the triumph of hope over experience.