Sunday, November 23, 2008

Obama, National Oppression & the Class Struggle

Obama, national oppression & class struggle

by Monica Moorehead
Published Nov 20, 2008 10:17 PM
Editor's Note: The following is the text of excerpts of a speech delivered at the national conference on "The New Situation in the U.S. and the World."

This year marks the 140th anniversary of the birth of the great Black historian and Pan-Africanist, W.E.B. Du Bois. In his 1903 masterpiece book, “Souls of Black Folks,” Du Bois wrote that “The problem of the Twentieth Century is the problem of the color line,” referring to racism and national oppression in the U.S. at a time when the majority of the Black masses were living in semislavery conditions in the South.

Sam Marcy, the chairperson of Workers World Party, having been born in Czarist Russia, once referred to as “the prison house of nations,” wrote an article 80 years later called “The right to self-determination and the class struggle,” which begins, “Of all the great domestic political problems facing the working class and the oppressed people, none surpasses in importance the relationship of national oppression to the class struggle.”

These two great revolutionary thinkers of the 20th century came to the same conclusion: being correct on why and how to merge the struggles against racism and national oppression with the overall class struggle is the greatest challenge and obstacle facing all of the movements for social change inside the U.S.

It is important to understand the Obama presidency within its historical and political context.

Up until the Nov. 4 election, no one ever thought that they would ever see a Black president in the largest imperialist country in their lifetime. Barack Obama was the only Black U.S. senator before the elections and only the third elected in the last century. Now that he is president-elect, there are zero Black senators. While the Black population officially represents 13 percent of the U.S. population, only 9.5 percent of the House of Representatives is Black; that amounts to 42 representatives out of a total of 540.

These facts alone are enough reason for Black people here and other people of African descent worldwide to be overwhelmed with joy and pride that a Black man named Obama is the president-elect of the U.S. 250 plus years after George Washington—a slave owner—became the first president.

Putting aside Barack Obama’s pro-Democratic Party orientation and the class interests he truly represents, political and economic equality under capitalism is still being systematically denied to Black people and other people of color, including the right to political representation. We can never take for granted that it took a bloody struggle in the South for Black people to win the basic right to vote, a right that rich white men were born with centuries before the 1965 Voting Rights Act was signed.

On the flip side, a big faction of the U.S. ruling class, many of whom are racist to the core, backed Obama for president out of fear for their decaying system. Some of these billionaire forces see Obama as a safe buffer between the tens of millions of people who voted for him—Black, Latin@, white, women, LGBT and the young—on one side, and their system that they are desperately trying to save—riddled with the unprecedented numbers of foreclosures, evictions, layoffs, budget cuts, close to 50 million people without health care, utility shutoffs as well as the rise in school tuition and food prices—on the other side. And what does the ruling class expect Obama to do for them?

They expect him to create a favorable political atmosphere to carry out their plans of more cutbacks and assaults on top of the already devastating decline in living standards. An important decisive factor that led to Obama winning the presidency was that Bush and the Republicans became the face for the capitalist economic crisis and the extremely unpopular Iraq war.

What is not understood by the masses in general is that whoever occupies the White House, including Obama, their main job will be to administer the capitalist state—its military, all of its repressive institutions and last but not least, the multitrillion dollar federal budget.

The McCain-Palin supporters are well aware that the votes, especially of white workers suffering in economically depressed areas, were decisive in sending Obama to the White House, a fact which threatens the grip of white supremacy upon which this country was built.

The Obama victory helps to lay the basis for talking to the workers and oppressed about what’s wrong with the entire capitalist system, including how racism has been used to scapegoat people of color for every ill in society.

We must continue to be in the streets to demand freedom for political prisoners like Mumia Abu-Jamal, Leonard Peltier and the Cuban Five; to challenge the anti-poor, racist death penalty; to expose racist lynchings, including those in New York of Sean Bell by the police and more recently that of an Ecuadorian immigrant, Marcelo Lucero, by racist vigilante teenagers and the dragging death of Brandon McClelland in Paris, Texas; to fight against the terrorist ICE raids against our immigrant sisters and brothers and to support the right of return of Katrina and Rita survivors who are still internally displaced; and to come out against the assaults on women which threaten reproductive justice and the right to raise healthy children.

We must be in the streets opposing the attacks on LGBT communities, like the recent passage of Prop. 8 in California. We must fight against the attacks on our youth, opposing the mass incarcerations and exposing the lack of education and job opportunities. And we must continue to challenge the ongoing wars and occupations in Iraq, Afghanistan and Palestine and the threats against Iran and other nations, whose connections to the war at home must be explained to the workers and oppressed.

Clear connections must be made between all these political attacks and the worsening economic, depression-like conditions, from the massive layoffs impacting all sectors of the economy to the foreclosures, skyrocketing health care costs and much more.
Monica Moorehead is editor of the book “Marxism, Reparations and the Black Freedom Struggle.”
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