Thursday, November 20, 2008

The Popular Momentum that Propelled Obama into US Presidency

The emphatic victory of Barack Obama in the US Presidential elections has generated a great deal of interest and enthusiasm, a veritable ‘Obamania’, across the world. There are indeed several special aspects to this remarkable victory. That he is the first black person to be elected to the highest political office in the US; that his campaign emphasised ‘hope’ and ‘change’ at a time when the US is passing through an extremely gloomy period in its history, and, above all, that his arrival marks the much-awaited end of the hated Bush Presidency, and a decisive popular rejection of its hallmarks, have all added up to make this probably the most memorable election in recent American history. For political observers watching this election from afar, the most encouraging aspect perhaps has been the passionate popular participation that made this election an energised extension of not only the fight against racism but also the wider anti-globalisation, anti-war campaign.
Liberal sociologists in India have already begun reducing Obama’s victory to a sanitised sign of the ‘greatness’ of American democracy and the ‘maturity’ of the African-American community. But, racism in the US is not just a shocking memory of a cruel past; it is still very much a continuing social reality. For large sections of the American working class and the poor, race and class combine, reproducing conditions of systematic discrimination and deprivation. And the African-American community’s sustained struggles against racism have shaped the polarisations of US politics over decades and centuries, from the Civil War through the civil rights movement of the 1960s and the radical Black Power movement in the 1970s and up until the present. If Obama’s eloquent oratory tapped into the depth of an entire community’s yearning for justice, the silent tears of Jesse Jackson, noted US civil rights campaigner and himself a Presidential hopeful of yesteryears, beamed live into television sets across the world, reflected the sense of vindication that Obama’s victory has generated in millions of American hearts.
But what kind of change will Obama’s Presidency bring to the US and its policies? The American ruling elite sees Obama as a political bailout package for the crisis-ridden establishment. Parallels are being drawn between Obama’s promised platform of change and Roosevelt’s New Deal that had rescued the American economy from the ravages of the Great Depression. Through his famous New Deal Roosevelt had translated the Keynesian doctrine of large-scale state intervention (socialisation of investment) into a policy paradigm and the whole thing got a boost from World War II and its outcome that favoured the US and its allies. However desperately the US may need another Rooseveltian rescue act, it is not easy for Obama to replicate that experience in the present juncture in which the US is faced with not only an unprecedented financial crisis but acute political and military challenges.
The early transitional signs emanating from Team Obama indicate more continuity than change in matters of both economic and foreign policies. The political team is dominated heavily by recycled Clinton era strategists while the 17 members of his Transitional Economic Advisory Board are drawn mostly from among top corporate bosses and financial barons. The choice of someone like Rahm Emanuel – a leading member of the rightwing Democratic Leadership Council and a known neo-liberal fundamentalist and pro-Israeli hawk – as the chief of staff can hardly be interpreted as a sign of any salutary change. Obama’s foreign policy pronouncements have been replete with warnings against Iran and Pakistan and his occasional suggestions of withdrawal of US troops from Iraq have been tempered by his emphases on sending fresh military reinforcements to Afghanistan. In the domestic domain, Obama and his managers have already begun to emphasise the need to lower expectations and temper hopes of bringing about the change promised all through his election campaign, notably signalling a slower pace for the reform of the healthcare system, which had been emblematic of the campaign’s rejection of the callousness of neo-liberalism.
While in no way dismissing or underestimating the great importance of Obama’s victory and the possibility contained in the present juncture, progressive forces in the US must keep up the popular momentum that has led to such an emphatic victory for Barack Obama with his promised platform of change. Obama must now be held accountable and the people must find ways to prevail over the well-entrenched forces and designs of corporate and imperialist betrayal. The same also holds for anti-imperialist forces in other parts of the world. Instead of losing our way in the spectacle of Obamania, we must all doggedly pursue our anti-imperialist and socialist agenda, grabbing with both hands the opportunities opened up by the present crisis and the end of the Bush era.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Clarion Call of the CPI(ML)’s Kolkata Congress: People’s Resistance, Left Resurgence

The Eighth Congress of the CPI(ML) has been held successfully in Kolkata. Held in the 150th anniversary of the First Indian War of Independence and the birth centenary of Shaheed-e-Azam Bhagat Singh, the 8th Congress boldly underlined the glorious anti-imperialist legacy of the Indian people. On the morning of December 10, a delegation of Congress delegates and guests from abroad went to Barrackpore to pay homage to the memorial of Mangal Pandey, the first martyr of 1857 and then returned to Kolkata to garland the statue of Bhagat Singh, whom the Congress recognised not only as rashtra nayak, the ever-inspiring national hero of the Indian people but also as a great communist pioneer. And then on the eve of the Congress, delegates and guests all assembled in a mass convention that denounced imperialism as a “War on Freedom, Democracy and Development” and resolved to resist imperialism in every sphere of life. Attended by more than 1200 delegates, observers and guests, the 8th Congress was much bigger in scale than all the previous Congresses of the Party, four of which had to be held in extremely challenging underground conditions. Apart from discussing and adopting the Political-Organisational Report placed by the outgoing Central Committee, the Congress also adopted three specific resolutions dealing with the current international situation, developing national situation and the raging agrarian crisis. The Congress also updated the Party’s General Programme as well as the Agrarian Programme after fifteen and twenty-five years respectively and thus enriched the Party’s strategic understanding regarding the Indian society and the ongoing pattern of narrow and predatory capitalist development overshadowed by both stubborn feudal remnants and imperialist dictates and interests. Several key themes have emerged from the Congress deliberations. In order that the CPI(ML) can intervene more powerfully in the deepening agrarian crisis it was resolved that the Party must now pay more attention to the peasant front alongside the core revolutionary agenda of mobilising the rural poor in militant struggles. If neo-liberalism is wreaking havoc in the countryside, impoverishing and expropriating sizeable sections of the peasantry and pushing people to suicides and starvation deaths, revolutionary communists must organise and lead a powerful counter-offensive by these victims of neo-liberalism. Signs of a massive rural unrest are already visible in almost every corner of the country and the 8th Congress of the CPI(ML) has called upon the entire Party to prepare in every way for the impending storm of people’s resistance. The Congress also discussed other major aspects of the current situation – large-scale destruction of jobs and livelihood in urban India, the growing shadow of US imperialism on India’s foreign policy and the systematic assault on democracy by every organ of the Indian state. The closure of old labour-intensive industries, the growing corporate takeover of the entire service sector, and commercialisation and privatisation of key sectors like education and health have pushed large sections of the urban population into a life of growing hardship and insecurity. And as real life becomes more miserable and insecure for more and more people across the country, the ruling elite keeps selling the ‘dream’ of turning India into a US-sponsored regional power riding high on nuclear energy and a soaring Sensex! The more the people are deprived of their basic democratic rights and divorced from resources that belonged and must belong to them, the louder gets the rhetoric of democracy and empowerment!
Such a situation definitely calls for a powerful Left and democratic movement in defence of land and livelihood, liberty and dignity – individual as well as national. But the growing derailment and degeneration of the CPI(M)-led government in West Bengal, especially the arrogance and audacity with which the CPI(M) leadership have sought to justify their policies and conduct regarding Singur and Nandigram have tarnished the image of the Left and may push the democratic forces away unless there is a resurgence of the real Left. The successful conclusion of the Kolkata Congress and the massive turnout at the December 18 rally has sent out that message of Left resurgence at a most appropriate juncture. The Congress did not merely symbolise ideological, political and organisational consolidation of the CPI(ML), it held out the promise of a resurgent Left forging closer ties with broader democratic forces to save India from becoming a neoliberal laboratory and a strategic pawn of Washington.