The veteran US civil rights campaigner Jesse Jackson has given voice to the deep contradictions that lay behind this extraordinary moment in politics on the eve of the inauguration of Barack Obama as the country’s first African-American president when he declared: “On Tuesday, it will be high noon in our politics, yet it is midnight in our economy.”
Today is Martin Luther King day in America, celebrating the birthday of the black leader who was assassinated in 1968. At that point, King was aiming to unite black and white workers to challenge capitalist interests and had an acute understanding of the class divisions in America.
Jackson says that the greatest challenges to the incoming president are “a financial system choking on its own excesses. Healthcare is broken. There is unaddressed and catastrophic climate change. Gilded age inequality and rising poverty abound”.
Even as vast amounts are being spent on the inauguration, poor Americans like the 2,102 citizens of Moun Bayou in the Mississippi delta, cannot even afford 25 cents to buy a school uniform for their children in thrift shops. Moun Bayou was the first town in the country to be run by black people.
Jackson and Obama are only too aware of the hopes the new president carries and the shoulders of people like King he stands on. Obama pointedly referred to King yesterday Obama as he spoke from the spot where King delivered his “I had a dream” speech. Despite the unprecedented economic and financial crisis, an amazing 79% of Americans are currently optimistic about the incoming adminstration. And if inspiration and talent could resolve America’s problems, there’d be no problem about the future. Many of the country’s best-known and loved musicians, actors, artists and poets are contributing to to create an amazing atmosphere. Aretha Franklin, Stevie Wonder, Bruce Springsteen, Sheryl Crow, Jay-Z, Alicia Keys, Bono, Mariah Carey, Wynton Marsalis and Beyoncé plus noted poets and performers are raising the political temperature.
The New Jersey singer Springsteen, for example, is amongst the politically articulate, noted for his anti-war lyrics and lyrical elegies to America’s rustbelts. He has been one of Obama’s strongest supporters, playing at five election rallies in 2008, saying: “We had a historically blind administration [Bush] who didn't take consideration of the past; thousands and thousands of people died, lives were ruined and terrible, terrible things occurred because, there was no sense of history.”
He summed up the historic meaning of the inauguration and the dramatic change symbolised by Obama’s election: “You proceed under the assumption that you can have some limited impact in the marketplace of ideas about the kind of place you live in, its values and the things that make it special to you. But you don't see it. And then something happens that you didn't think you might see in your lifetime, which is that that country actually shows its face one night, on election night.”
Obama is seeking keep up the momentum from his supporters. Speaking at the pre-inaugural concert in front of the Lincoln Memorial yesterday, he said the election proved that there is “no obstacle that can stand in the way of millions of voices asking for change”.
In steering a populist course Obama will be up against deeply entrenched interests. In a “permanent campaign”, he will seek to keep his 13 million supporters involved by email and social-networking techniques as a counter-weight to the vast power of the military-industrial complex associated with Bush and previous presidents.
As we said before, Obama is riding a tiger. There is no way that the proposed trillion dollar pay-out to the banks and big business will resolve the problems of the US economy, which are rooted in the contradictions of the capitalist system itself and are insoluble in the conventional sense.
As in the UK, the next generation of workers and youth will be made to pay for the financial ruin incurred by bankers and big business. The alternative is for the mass movement that swept Obama to the presidency to be taken forward to re-found the US, and with it the world economy, by carrying through a new American revolution to add to the one referred to by the president-elect yesterday. A World to Win’s campaign to acknowledge the crisis not just of capitalism but of bourgeois democracy itself can take strength from events in the US without falling prey to Obamamania.
A World to Win secretary