The Third International after Lenin

Saturday, January 14, 2012

U.S. SWP on OWS, BHO, progressivism, and populism

The current issue of the U.S. Socialist Workers Party newspaper The Militant features a line article by John Studer entitled "Obama 2012 stump speech: big gov’t and populism". It features an analysis of President Obama's 6 December 2011 speech in Osawatomie, Kansas.

I encourage everyone to give it their full attention, and at least one re-reading. The article contains many important formulations of the SWP leadership about the current conjuncture and the presidential elections.

Studer writes:

....In his speech Obama presented himself as an advocate for the “common man,” saying the U.S. should be a “country where working people can earn enough to raise a family, build a modest savings, own a home, secure their retirement.”

Early in the talk he pointed to the widening gap between the incomes of working people and “those at the very top [who] grew wealthier from their incomes and their investments—wealthier than ever before” while “everybody else struggled with costs that were growing and paychecks that weren’t…. The average income of the top 1 percent has gone up by more than 250 percent to $1.2 million per year.”

He reached out to the “people who’ve been occupying the streets of New York and other cities,” and their protests against the banks and the greedy “1 percent.” The classless populist themes that characterize the Occupy groups, the fact they turn their fire on “the rich” and the banks, not the capitalist class and its government, offers fertile soil for Obama’s election strategy with a more populist image.

Obama calls for bigger government

The moral of this story, according to Obama, is the need for the guiding hand of ever bigger government by the wise and “enlightened,” regulating out-of-control speculators and bank executives, and expanding programs that force you to help yourself, like taxes on soda pop to reduce obesity. He calls for higher taxes on the 1 percent to finance his plans.

...Obama’s speech was long on populist rhetoric devoid of concrete proposals that could improve conditions for “the working people.” He calls for increased government investment in education, so people can learn skills to replace “disappearing” manufacturing jobs. He urges more “diversity,” drawing Blacks, women and others into the meritocratic federal bureaucracy, dictating endless rules and regulations. And he calls for unleashing “daring entrepreneurs” to advance U.S. capitalism.

Obama’s pro-“working man” rhetoric conflicts with the record of his administration. He has presided over a deepening bipartisan assault against Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security. He has greatly expanded the use of drones, special forces and targeted assassinations to defend U.S. imperialist interests. He has blocked any significant public works program to provide jobs for those thrown on the street by capitalism’s crisis.

And he continues to press for more government, to regulate, spy, police and imprison those who challenge his “enlightened” vision of capitalist rule.

In my reading a few things jump out. Studer's characterization: "classless populist themes that characterize the Occupy groups, the fact they turn their fire on “the rich” and the banks, not the capitalist class and its government" in particular struck me as a forceful summation. But it is also, all proportions guarded, not the final word Marxists will be writing about the #ows this year. Perhaps many OWSers will be won to Obama's rhetoric, but I think the challenge for Marxists is to mix it up with the most politically curious and hungry parts of these groups, presenting them with our perspective: the road to workers power outlined first in the Communist Manifesto in 1848.

Much as activists would like to see OWS as a unified and coherent revolutionary movement, it is not. Finding within its ranks the communists of the future is the task of Marxists: showing them how in the current conjuncture it is working class resistance and solidarity that is at the center of U.S. politics.

Jay Rothermel
20120114

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