Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Navigating The Storm: Reprise--An Essay by Kali Akuno

Navigating the Storm: Reprise

Written by Kali Akuno
Sunday, November 16, 2008

In the twelve days that have passed since the election of Barack Hussein Obama to the Presidency of the United States, many of the preliminary assessments offered in "Navigating the Storm" either have come to pass, are in motion, or clearly deserving of more analysis and assessment. Other aspects of the analysis however, have proven themselves inadequate and somewhat shortsighted.

This reprise seeks to separate the "wheat from the shaft" in the "Navigating the Storm" analysis in the ongoing attempt to develop a strategic anti-imperialist orientation within the liberation and social justice movements in the US.

General Observations

1. The real economy is already in deep recession. Close to 800,000 jobs have been lost since January 2008 and US consumer
"confidence" and spending are down to 30-year lows. By nearly all estimates November job losses are set to be the greatest of the year and the Christmas spending season is being projected as potentially one of the worst on record.

"Official" unemployment is also projected to reach somewhere between 8 and 9% in early 2009. The rapid crash of the real economy and the expectation to "fix it" immediately is going to exert a tremendous amount of pressure on Obama and the Democrats during their honeymoon period (aspects of this pressure are already demonstrating themselves in the case of the proposed Automobile bailout).

This situation represents a tremendous opportunity for left and progressive forces to intervene. Whether we act with enough clarity and independence of initiative to seize it remains to be seen.

2. Obama's cabinet appointments clearly reaffirm his right alignment and his commitment to govern from the center-right rather than from the center-left as many progressives from the Nation and Pacifica folds were alleging and hoping. This does not mean that Obama will not reach out to liberals and progressives on several key issues. He undoubtedly will.

However, these forces will not constitute a determinative or policymaking (or setting) faction of his regime – at least not during the first 100-day period. This could change however, again pending on the clarity and independence of action taken by progressive and left forces to build a base and program strong enough to be contended with.

3. The racist reaction and social polarization prompted by Obama's victory and it's meaning to the "conscious" forces of white supremacy, is occurring, unfortunately, like clockwork. It is beginning to receive some national press. But, in the main, the overall response to it has been fairly weak.

Perhaps the one critical exception has actually come from the Right itself. Key elements of the Republican Party appear to be working diligently to ensure a smooth transition of power come January 20th, 2009, and to gain some points in the ideological struggle to expand the definition of who and what constitutes an "American" to include anyone willing to accept the imperialist program and agenda that underscores the "American Dream".

Initiatives like this will dull and delay the full thrust of racist reaction a bit. But, it will not stop it completely – especially against New Afrikans in the South and immigrants throughout the empire.

Specific Observations

1. It was clear from the lack of a "conservative" challenge to the Obama victory projections by CNN and most of the major corporate media monopolies on November 4th, and the early concession of John McCain, that the US ruling class wanted and needed a smooth transition of power to restore confidence in "American democracy", domestically and internationally. They did not want any semblance of a repeat of the events of 2000 and 2004.

While it was apparent for months that a faction of the US bourgeoisie favored the Obama candidacy, "Navigating the Storm" underestimated the overall degree to which the bourgeoisie class consolidated around Obama's candidacy. This consolidation demonstrates the degree to which the US ruling class is admitting to a crisis of the system, and is working overtime to resolve it.

A paraphrasing quote of Bush from the G20 Summit perhaps demonstrates this best: "Underscoring how bad things have gotten this time, President George W. Bush, the summit host, said he had agreed to the recent $700 billion rescue plan for U.S. financial institutions only after being told the nation was at risk of falling into "a depression greater than the Great Depression." (From AP Wire, Saturday, November 15th entitled "Econ Summit vows action – takes few concrete steps" by Jennifer Loven).

2. In related fashion, "Navigating the Storm" also appears to have underestimated the degree to which the international or transnational bourgeoisie is united behind a global bailout scheme to stem the crisis and keep the capitalist-imperialist system from collapsing. This has been made most evident by the following events:

--the coordinated interest rate cutes by the US Federal Reserve, the European Central Bank, and the Bank of England between October 29th and November 6th;

--the call for a $250 billion dollar IMF controlled bailout fund for third world countries from England, the European Union, and Japan between October 28th and November 13th;

--China's declaration of its own massive bailout plan on Sunday, November 9th;

--Brazil's announcement that it is considering its own massive bailout plan on Friday, November 14th (after Lula boldly declared the problem to be the US's alone in September);

--And of course the declarations of continued coordination and cooperation from the G20 Summit on Saturday, November 15th. In many ways, the events of November 2008 appear to represent the maturation of "global" or transnational capital predicted by Karl Marx more than 150 years ago.

Again, following Marx's keen analysis and predictions, a central part of this maturation seems to entail the global nationalization of debt to buttress the global privatization of profits. This is indicated by the three largest holders of US debt (in the form of US Treasury bonds and securities) - Japan, China, and England – encouragement (particularly in the case of Japan) of the US government to continue deficit spending. This means that they are not going to call in their debts – at least not immediately.

Does this mean that the "old" rules of capitalist competition no longer apply (as limited as they are under transnational corporate monopoly domination)? Inevitably, in the long term they do. But, what this does appear to mean in the short-term however, is that President Obama and the Democratic controlled Congress will be able to initiate some substantive "recovery measures", including, but not limited to, more distributive stimulus packages.

In this regard, "Navigating the Storm" was both inadequate and shortsighted. The question remains however, will this global bailout scheme work to stave off depression and save the system? This writer thinks not, but only time will tell.

Points of Clarity: The Obama victory's impact on the ideological struggles within the New Afrikan/African American Community

Without question, Obama's victory must be viewed as a major victory for the forces of "integration" in the centuries old ideological drama to define the contour and course of New Afrikan self-determination within the US. For countless New Afrikans, November 4th represented the moment "we" became full fledged "Americans". Without some very critical qualification, this subjective self-incorporation represents a very dangerous development. What it indicates, in part, is the broad expansion of the social base of US imperialism.

Not that it is inherently wrong for people of Afrikan (or any racial, ethnic, national, or religious) descent to want to identify with the national-state of their birth (or adoption). Not that New Afrikans haven't identified with the US in the past (the Double V days of the Second Great European War most readily come to mind). The problem lies with accepting the imperialist mission of the US and assuming the responsibility to carry it out.

In many fundamental ways, this self-incorporation pits the interests of New Afrikans directly against the interests of the oppressed of the "Third" or "Tri-Continental" world subjected by US imperialism, and it negates aspects of our long-standing demands for freedom and justice against US imperialism (both the settler-colonial state and the racist, genocidal society at its base).

This does not mean that self-incorporation automatically will or can lead to real incorporation into "American" settler-society and the material and psychological rewards it has traditionally conferred upon the socially identified descendents of European settlers (i.e. "whites"). The capitalist-imperialist system structurally cannot accommodate the totality of the accumulative interests of the New Afrikan petit bourgeoisie or the deep distributive demands of the New Afrikan working class.

The overall inability of the system and this "historic" moment to fulfill these aspirations will likely produce a high degree of frustration and resentment. How will this frustration and resentment be channeled? Might it lead to a renewed explosion of the Black Liberation Movement (BLM), reminiscent of the Black Power revolt of the late 1960's or the New Negro movement of the 1920's? Only time will tell. One thing is for certain, the debate to definitively define New Afrikan self-determination will continue long after this "historic" moment.

The structural contradictions between white supremacy and imperialism

Many readers and respondents raised serious questions or objections about this proposition in "Navigating the Storm". I will attempt to clarify that proposition in brief here.

The systems of capitalism, imperialism and white supremacy constitute a historic, globally interlocking triad. The triad emerged in the 15th and 16th centuries with the Christian reconquest of Spain, the beginning of overseas European empires (starting with the Azores and Canary Islands), and the ascendance of capitalist relations of production in Western Europe. This triad matured in the 19th century with the conquest of Afrika and the effective division of the entire world between one European imperialist power or another.

The US, as a European settler-colonial project, is premised on this triad. The preservation and extension of these systems is the basis of the "American Dream". A "Dream" that promises unmitigated wealth and consumption and social and psychological superiority to Europeans and their "white" settler descendents if they agree with the ongoing dispossession of Indigenous peoples and their lands, the colonial subjugation of the New Afrikan, Mexican, Puerto Rican, and Hawaiian peoples, and the imperialist domination of virtually the rest of the world.

There are and always have been costs to this system of bribes and promises. As capitalism has matured as a global system and a genuine inter or transnational bourgeoisie has been born over the past 30 years (largely through the orchestration of US imperialism), the costs of maintaining this operation have become a squeeze on profits. It is on the basis of maintaining profits where the transnational bourgeoisie is divorcing the capitalist-imperialist system from white supremacy.

This does not mean that white supremacy is dead, or is no longer a dangerous social and material force to be reckoned with. Nor does it mean that a faction of the US bourgeoisie won't continue to finance aspects of its political manifestation – as we all know they hedge their bets (and they can still afford to).

White supremacy cannot be reduced to being a tool or instrument of the bourgeoisie. It is a social system with a truly considerable social base and an autonomous social life. So, the system will continue, just not in full harmony with the systemic imperatives of its capitalist and imperialist cousins.

The avid promotion of "Green Capitalism"

As predicted, a faction of the bourgeoisie, as a means saving the capitalist-imperialist system, is aggressively promoting "Green" investment and redevelopment. While this in part reaffirms the degree to which the bourgeoisie is taking the ecological threat seriously, it more importantly demonstrates how vital they see this development being to the resuscitation of the capitalist-imperialist system.

As stated in "Navigating the Storm", anti-imperialists have to place combating ecocide at the top of our agenda. However, we must do so independently. Many of the progressive forces closest to us and whom we will need to ally with on numerous accounts, are unfortunately bound to be seduced by the many allures of the bourgeoisie to support their Green projects and initiatives.

And, herein is where a considerable danger lies. If we do not develop our own independent Green programs and initiatives, a potentially costly division awaits us. One we can ill afford. It is therefore imperative that revolutionary anti-imperialists develop such a program, and fast!

Addressing the limits of "Popular Front" theories and conceptions

Many readers and respondents raised harsh criticisms of the "Popular Front" orientation they interpreted in "Navigating the Storm". Without question, many of the formulations in the article have that hue or ring.

However, that was not my intent. This admittedly resulted from my attempt to not be overly critical of the left. This resulted in some slight errors of formulation in my judgment.

While I do think there is an objective need for, and inevitably will be, multi-class alliances (as there must and will be multi-national ones) during this period, I do not think there construction should dominate the revolutionary anti-imperialist agenda. The primary focus of our agenda is and must be base building. Without a base, we will at best be junior partners to the bourgeois forces we collaborate with.

There is also a major theoretical dimension to the popular and national liberation front thesis that I seriously question. As argued in "Barack Obama and the New Afrikan National Question: Are We Free Yet" (written and issued on May 24th, 2008), I think we have to completely re-conceptualize our relations to transnational bourgeois forces.

These forces are no longer bound to national relations of production and circuits of capital accumulation, and hence not dependent or in any way bound by the pressures traditionally exerted on them by local and/or national working class forces. Oppressed peoples, the working class, and the revolutionary forces within them must now think, plan, and act globally in order to match and overcome the combined strength of the transnational bourgeoisie.

Finally, I think it is also critical to point out that I do not want to promote repeating any of the critical "Third Period" errors of the COMINTERN. This does not mean that I do not firmly believe that there is a real danger of social colonialism or imperialism on the prowl. I wholeheartedly do (as stated above about the expansion of the social base of US imperialism).

But, I think of necessity these forces are going to have to be engaged and struggled with in a principled way as comrades – errant comrades yes, but comrades nonetheless.

Where I think we will clash most vehemently with left and progressive forces willing to give US imperialism a pass, even if only tactical, are on issues that primarily impact oppressed nationalities within the US (like mass incarceration, displacement and gentrification, etc.) and various acts of international aggression that Obama and the Democrats are pledged to commit in South and Southwest Asia (Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, Syria, and Palestine in particular), Afrika (Sudan, Zimbabwe, and Somalia in particular), and Latin America (Venezuela, Bolivia, and Cuba in particular).

There is no blueprint (that I know of at least) for how we can and should engage this contradiction. But, the fact is we are obligated to try.

Questions of Strategic Orientation

In the ongoing attempt develop a comprehensive orientation, I think it is critical to analyze and assess the various strategic and tactical plays at hand for left and progressive forces. Mapping out these plays and understanding their dynamics I believe helps us figure out how to avoid certain traps and pitfalls and avoid unnecessary conflicts.

As I see it, there are three essential hands to be played on the table during the first two phases of social struggle outlined in "Navigating the Storm". These are as follows:
1. A considerable faction of left and progressive forces will put everything they have into defending Obama and the Democratic controlled Congress against the Republicans and other far right forces. Their aim and objective will be to protect the possibility of any degree of liberal or progressive reform that Obama and the Democratic regime might be able to enact. The organizational vehicle for these forces in the main will be the Democratic party itself.
2. Another faction of left and progressive forces will operate on the basis of the premises stated above, but will organize and act independently of the Democratic party to push a myriad host of social causes (including Green, labor, immigrant, women's, and Queer rights), in addition to lending "critical support" to the Democrats when and wherever possible.
3. A smaller faction of the left will avow most, if not all "critical support" to Obama and the Democrats, and will seek to aggressively challenge the imperialist programs and polices of both parties over the course of the next four years.

A strategic anti-imperialist force must develop principled methods to navigate between all of these factions and engage them all equally – which does not mean that it has to remain neutral or non-partisan towards any one faction or political position. It does mean thought that it will have to exercise a high degree of moral principle and tactical dexterity, and must be up for the challenge.

Next Steps

None of the fundamental tasks outlined in "Navigating the Storm" have changed in my opinion. What they await is execution. To this end, I have taken the small step to start a blog to facilitate ongoing strategy development and debate to meet this historic challenge. The blog is called "Navigating the Storm", and can located and joined at http://navigatingthestorm.blogspot.com/.

Secondly, I think revolutionary anti-imperialists must seek to develop a preliminary set of strategic demands that we should engage the masses with at each and every planned or spontaneous gathering we have access to over the next 6 to 9 months. We should be humble and non-dogmatic in our approach, yet thorough and sober in our assessments and sharing on the findings and sentiments we encounter to not foster or create our own illusions about where people stand and what they are prepared to engage. But, we must share, assess, plan, and ACT! This is critical, absolutely critical. Let's get to it.


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