Präsident Barack Obama und die Kontinuität in der US Politik von Tariq Ali

Radio Lora, 11. Oktober 2010 und Alternative Radio

Chicago, 19. Juni 2010

Tariq Ali ist ein international bekannter Schriftsteller, Aktivist, Drehbuchautor und Filmemacher. Er wurde in Lahore (heute Pakistan) geboren. Seit langem ist er Mitglied der Londoner Redaktion von “New Left Review”. Seine bekanntesten Bücher sind: “Fundamentalismus im Kampf um die Weltordnung”, “Piraten der Karibik – die Achse der Hoffnung”, “The Duel: Pakistan on the Flight Path of American Power” und “The Obama Syndrome.” Gemeinsam mit David Basamian von Alternative Radio entstand: “Speaking of Empire and Resistance”

Diese Krise des Kapitalismus ist die schlimmste seit über 60 Jahren. Als die Hypothekenbanken Fannie Mae und Freddie Mac kollabierten, verloren die Aktien 90 Prozent ihres Wertes und die Regierung sprang ein. Kurz danach ging Lehman Brothers pleite. Inzwischen wurden Banken mit mehreren Billionen Steuergeld gerettet, die Arbeitslosigkeit in den USA stieg auf 15 %, auf 20 % in Spanien und nur eine weltweite Hilfsaktion rettete Griechenland vor dem Ruin. All das sind die Folgen des Neoliberalismus dessen Credo seit fast 25 Jahren die Zerstörung bestehender Strukturen, die Privatisierung und die Liberalisierung öffentlicher Aufgaben ist. So gelang es, den Einfluss der Wirtschaft auf den Staat zu verstärken und gleichzeitig die Demokratie zu schwächen. Lobbyismus wurde zur neuen Staatskunst erhoben. Dies war die Situation, die Barack Obama bei seinem Amtsantritt vorfand.

Im Wahlkampf hatte er viel Schönes und Aufmunterndes gesagt, aber nur wenig Konkretes versprochen. Und letztlich waren es dann auch die Lobbyisten der Versicherungen, die den Gesetzentwurf für seine Gesundheitsreform verfassten und damit ihren Firmen noch mehr Geld einbrachten. Im Vergleich dazu waren die Positionen seiner Wahlkampfgegner, Hillary Clinton und John Edwards,liberal. Und Sie werden es kaum glauben, aber für Nixons Gesundheitsgesetzentwurf würden heute viele Ärzteaktivisten ihr Leben geben! Als Edward Kennedy seine mit Nixons Vorschläge zusammenführte, scheiterte er an der American Medical Association, an den hoch dotierten Ärztefunktionären.

Angesichts der gegenwärtigen Finanzkrise wird auch die neue, so genannte Gesundheitsreform nicht vor 2019 umgesetzt werden können. Dann wird Barack Obama – selbst bei einer möglichen Wiederwahl – schon lange nicht mehr im Amt sein. Auch aus Obamas Bildungsreformplänen ist nichts geworden. Sein Bildungsminister, Arne Duncan, hat gerade hier in Chicago die reichen Schulen an Konzerne verkauft, damit sie aus ihren Schülern Spekulanten machen, während die armen Schulen an die Marine- und Militärakademien gingen, so dass diese Kinder aus armen Verhältnissen geradewegs in den Krieg geschickt werden können.

Ganz Amerika, ja die ganze Welt war überwältigt, als eine afroamerikanische Familie in das Weiße Haus einzog. Aber entscheidend ist nicht die Rasse, nicht das Geschlecht, nicht das, was man sagt, sondern das, was man tut.

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Wir alle kennen die Rechten, die Ultrarechten und ihren Anhang. Sobald sie eine Wahl verlieren, spielen sie verrückt. Sie greifen Obama an, weil er angeblich Sozialist ist, weil er unübersehbar schwarz ist und weil, weil, weil. Sie haben schon Bill Clinton attackiert, und hätte Hillary Clinton die Präsidentschaftswahlen gewonnen, wäre dieses Land von einer Woge von Frauenfeindlichkeit erfasst worden. Solchen Gegnern darf man nicht mit Konzilianz begegnen – denn auf diese Weise verwirrt und enttäuscht man seine treuesten Anhänger.

In der Außenpolitik bleibt unter Barack Obama alles beim Alten. Dieser Staat war immer – unter Republikanern, wie unter Demokraten – ein imperialer Staat. “Doubleju” Bush war keineswegs eine Ausnahmeerscheinung. Er war auch nicht dümmer als Reagan. Doch sobald ein Präsdent sein politisches Handwerk nicht gut genug versteht, übernimmt sofort das kapitalistische Politbüro das Staatsruder. Damit waren sie für sich unter Regan genauso erfolgreich wie unter Bush jr.

Der Überfall auf den Irak brachte ihnen für die nächsten 25 Jahre die Kontrolle über die dortigen Ölvorkommen. Und weit und breit machte ihnen niemand ihre Vormachtstellung streitig.

Während Hillary und Bill Clinton den Krieg im Irak befürworteten, stimmte Obama als Senator von Illinois dagegen. Diese einmalige Stimmabgabe, sollte ihn in das Weiße Haus tragen. Sie war jedoch vergessen, sobald er dort angekommen war. Nach dem so genannten Ende des Irakkrieges zählte General Petraeus täglich nur! noch 15 Angriffe auf US Streitkräfte. Sieht so Befriedung aus? In Palästina, in Israel und im Irak setzt Obama die Politk seines Vorgängers fort, aber es ist seine Politik, die – wie im Wahlkampf versprochen – gegen den Rat des amerikanischen Botschafters in Kabul – den Krieg in Afghanistan eskalieren ließ und auf Pakistan ausdehnte. Jetzt ist die vorhersehbare Katastrophe eingetreten und die inzwischen selbstbewußte, korrupte Marionette Hamid Karzai kann nicht mehr einfach abgesetzt und ausgetauscht werden.

Im Irak herrschen inzwischen unter der US-gehätschelten schiitischen Mehrheit Zustände wie unter Saddam Hussein. Die Situation in Afghanistan ist anders. Dort besteht die Mehrheit der Bevölkerung aus Paschtunen.

Schiiten und Hazaras sind in der Minderheit. Um eine drohende Balkanisierung des Landes zu vermeiden, will man inzwischen aus lauter Verzweiflung sogar mit den guten, den amerikafreundlichen Taliban verhandeln und schlägt ihnen eine Koalition mit der Karzai-Regierung vor. Doch die schlauen Taliban weigern sich, eine Koalition einzugehen, solange sich fremde Truppen im Land befinden. Die USA staunen verwundert, dass Talibanangehörige, die sich von den Regierungsbehörden und der CIA willig als Polizisten anwerben und mit Waffen ausrüsten lassen, anschließend den Chef des Nato-Geheimdienstes erschießen. Wenn nun die NATO Geheimdienste erklären, dass man sich nicht 100%ig auf die afghanischen Polizisten und Soldaten verlassen könne, dann ist das möglicherweise der Anfang vom Ende. Ich persönlich glaube jedoch, dass dieser Krieg von keiner Seite gewonnen werden kann und von keiner verloren werden darf. Das könnte bedeuten, dass das Land auf immer und ewig besetzt bleiben wird.

Bezüglich Palästina und Israel hat man keine großen Veränderungen erwartet. Allerding ist Obama der erste amerikanische Präsident, der sich, selbst zum Erstaunen der Israelis, vor dem AIPAC (American Israel Public Affairs Committee) für Jerusalem als Hauptstadt Israels aussprach.

Im Fernen Osten ist neu, dass in Japan die Opposition die Wahlen gewonnen hat, weil sie versprach, dass die amerikanischen Truppen den Stützpunkt Okinawa räumen müssten. Der alte und neue Verteidigungsminister Gates widersetzte sich erfolgreich dieser Forderung und verhinderte darüber hinaus auch die Aufklärung der von US Soldaten dort begangenen Verbrechen.

Der Papst der amerikanischen Rechtsprechung im US-Außenministerium erklärte erst kürzlich, dass der Einsatz von Drohnen nicht illegal sei, das heißt ja wohl, dass die USA sie nun auf der ganzen Welt einsetzen dürfen: In Pakistan, in Somalia und im Jemen. Hätte ein Mitglied der Bush-Regierung so etwas gesagt, der Teufel wäre los gewesen!

Das große Ziel der Regierung Obama ist eine zweite Amtszeit.Warum sollte sie sie bekommen? Es geht um politische Visionen, nicht darum, dass der Mann ein guter Mensch ist und sehr intelligent. Seine Politik ist nicht gut. Auch er wurde von dem alllgemeinen Rechtsruck mitgerissen. Die Gewerkschaften und die Armen stehen längst nicht mehr im Mittelpunkt des politischen Interesses.

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Warum sind wir, Sie und ich, noch immer Sozialisten?. Die großen kommunistischen und sozialdemokratischen Parteien sind längst Vergangenheit. Immer weniger Menschen setzen sich für den Sozialismus ein, und aus der rechten Ecke tönt es: “Der Sozialismus ist gescheitert!” Ja, er scheiterte einmal. Aber wie oft ist der Kapitalismus gescheitert? Das Scheitern des Sozialismus beruhte auf der Diskrepanz zwischen den Ideen von Karl Marx und der Realität in den sozialistischen Staaten im Europa des 20. Jahrhunderts. Die Revolutionen ereigneten sich in rückständigen, armen Ländern mit einer sehr geringen Produktionsrate. Im Laufe der Geschichte etablierten sich dort autoritäre Regime, wie sie selbst die Anführer der russischen Revolution nicht gewollt hätten.

Ursprünglich sollte der Sozialismus aus einer Überflusswirtschaft entstehen. Die Regierungsgewalt sollte in den Händen des Volkes liegen. Der Reichtum sollte demokratisch und über alle Grenzen hinweg von denen verwaltet werden, die ihn mit ihrer Arbeit in Fabriken, auf Feldern und in Büros geschaffen haben.

Der Weg vom Feudalismus zum Kapitalismus war lang, der Übergang vom Kapitalismus zum Sozialismus wird aber noch sehr viel länger sein. Der große Unterschied vom Übergang zum Kapitalismus und dem zum Sozialismus ist, dass der Sozialismus immer eine Bewegung von Menschen war, die wussten, was sie wollten, warum sie es wollten und wie sie dahin kommen würden. Doch je länger dieser Weg ist, umso ärgerlicher und ungeduldiger werden wir, auch mit Obama. Obama ist ein Repräsentant der Demokratischen Partei, ein sehr kluger, sehr eloquenter Politiker. Nicht mehr und nicht weniger. Er hat nie behauptet, dass er mehr sei als das, so sehr wir uns das auch gewünscht haben mögen. Der große politische Umschwung wird weder mit ihm noch mit Hilary Clinton oder anderen Demokraten erfolgen. Was wir für einen Umschwung, einen Politikwechsel brauchen, ist eine Massenbewegung von unten. So kam es seinerzeit zum New Deal, den wir heute für ein Goldenes Zeitalter halten, obwohl es nur besser war als das, was folgen sollte. Heute können wir diese Bewegung von unten in Südmaerika beobachten. Sie bringt Politiker hervor, die an einen Wechsel glauben und dabei erfolgreicher sind als alle anderen. Es gibt dort keine Revolutionen, aber wichtige und bedeutende Strukturreformen. Vor uns liegt also noch ein weiter Weg. Aber lassen Sie uns nicht vergessen: das Goldene Zeitalter liegt nicht hinter uns, sondern vor uns.

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David Barsamian
Alternative Radio
P.O. Box 551
Boulder, CO 80306-0551
(800) 444-1977
info@alternativeradio.org
www.alternativeradio.org

© 2010




Obama: The Continuity of U.S. Policy by Tariq Ali

Chicago, Illinois  19 June 2010

Tariq Ali, an internationally renowned writer and activist, was born in Lahore, Pakistan. For many years he has been based in London where he is an editor of “New Left Review.” A charismatic speaker, he is in great demand all over the world. In his spare time he is a filmmaker, playwright and novelist. He is the author of many books including “The Clash of Fundamentalisms,” “Pirates of the Caribbean, ” and “Speaking of Empire & Resistance” with David Barsamian. His latest books are “The Duel: Pakistan on the Flight Path of American Power” and “The Obama Syndrome.”

The worst crisis to afflict capitalism for the last 60 or 70 years, the scale of it has been quite staggering. Let me just remind you. The privatized mortgage companies, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, collapsed. Shares plunged by 90%, were put under government control. Lehman Brothers went bankrupt. Shotgun marriages were initiated in marrying off one big bank to another, massive bailouts as dowry for the new wedding. And it’s the largest dowry that has been paid to a corporate couple, or couples, because it was a collective wedding, which now runs into trillions of dollars. Ten percent to 15% unemployment in the United States, 20% in Spain. Greece became completely overstretched, because it’s a global crisis, and its economy collapsed, and a whole country had to be bailed out. 

The features of neoliberalism as an economic project again we now know, because they’ve been in action for 20-25 years: destruction of existing structures, deindustrialization, privatization of state utilities, deregulation, and a link between money and politics that has now reached such a level that it makes a farce of democratic functioning. In the U.S. this is now an art form, the lobby system. 

This is the context in which Barack Obama comes to power. What did he promise in the campaign? If you think about it-and I’ve just been rereading most of his campaign speeches-it’s very fine words and beautifully delivered and uplifting, but largely vacuous. He promised very little, and he was very careful about that. It wasn’t an accident that very little was promised. Even on health care, the big issue of the campaign, already in the primary campaign he had begun to back down. And the final retreat we saw in what took place is that the insurance companies and their lobbyists essentially wrote the health care bill, so that the insurance companies will make even more money under this health care bill. 

Curiously enough, the position of both Hillary Clinton and John Edwards was a bit more progressive. In fact, if you want to see a bill, a proposed bill, that was even more progressive, you have to go and see the proposals which Nixon made. I’m not kidding. Nixon’s health care bill, a number of doctor activists in the States tell me, “We would be prepared to die for it now.” And then Edward Kennedy tried to amalgamate his own proposals with Nixon’s proposals and push them through. That failed. The lobby against it at that time was the American Medical Association, basically fat-cat doctors who didn’t want to lose money and thought they were doing quite well by the system. We now have a huge problem, because given the extent of the crisis, in my opinion, this government or the successor government-because the reforms so-called will not come into effect till 2019, when, even if Obama wins a second term, he will have left office. We don’t know what the effects are going to be or whether they will even be able to afford to fund it. 

So in terms of domestic politics, nothing progressive was promised, neither on health nor on education. And on education, those of you who live in this particular city should know what’s been going on and the experimentation that has been taking place and what Arne Duncan actually represents-were corporate education, privatized education. Sell off the rich schools to the corporations and teach them financial speculation and sell off the poor schools to the naval and military academies so that the poor kids don’t have to think twice, they’re pushed straight into the war machine. This is what the Chicago politicians locally have done, and this is where Obama comes from.

The second point to understand about him-I was at the talk yesterday where people spoke, and of course I fully understand. I felt quite excited myself at the sight of an Afro-American family entering the White House. Who could not? And for a variety of reasons. It was an emotional event. And the whole world shared the emotion. Because when you elect an American president, you’re electing the principal ruler of the world. He’s an imperial president. So there was that feeling of emotion, that a house built by slaves was now going to be lived in by at least one-half of a family which were the descendants of slaves. No one should underestimate the impact of that. Very important. But we have to now move beyond it. Because you can celebrate that fact, but ultimately the deciding feature and the deciding factor, in my opinion, is neither race nor gender but politics; that you determine who people are not by what they say but by what they do. That has to be the only criterion.

And of course we know what the right and far right in this country are and the support they have. It goes without saying. They attack Obama all the time. And what do they attack him for? For being a socialist. If only. They attack him for being colored. That he can’t help. He is. And they attack him for crazy things. They did the same with Bill Clinton, if you will recall, when he was in power. And if Hillary had won the election, we would have had an orgy of misogyny in this country. So it’s the same, actually. When the right loses, they go bananas. And in this case more than before because it’s a very big event and they can see it like that. 

But the way to tackle them-this is where the big mistake is being made-the way to tackle them is not by being conciliatory, because if you are conciliatory to your political opponents, you lose many of the supporters who actually pushed you into power. That means you lose the next time because you haven’t done anything to justify the support of those who were moved by you, who came to your campaigns, who dragged their parents out to vote for you. You slap them in the face because you take them for granted. That’s a very dangerous thing to do in politics, whether politics of the left or mainstream politics-to take your support for granted. It has to be earned.

If we look beyond domestic policies now to Obama’s foreign policies, we find a situation where the continuities with the previous regime are all there. I was never one of those who said that the U.S. had been hijacked by a bunch of far-right extremists behaving in a totally irrational way, because it’s to forget what history is when you talk like that. We know perfectly well that this is an imperial state. And this is an imperial state in which Democrats and Republicans when they have been in power have carried out what they think are the interests of that state. So to get totally worked up by W. and pretend that he was somehow unusual, it’s not even that he was unusual on the level of intelligence, because we had had Reagan before him. 

But the fact is that when you have presidents who are not totally in command of politics, you have around them a team of people that I call the American capitalist politburo, and the politburo runs the state. They did it under Reagan quite cleverly, from their point of view. And they did it under Bush Jr., from their point of view quite cleverly. We weren’t people we like, obviously. But in terms of what they did, they took Iraq. They have now control of Iraqi oil. For the next 25 years all the old corporations involved in the oil industry are going and taking that oil. Of course it’s been a disaster on other levels for them, but in terms of economics, it’s not been a total disaster. Getting a hold of the oil, which wasn’t the only reason, of course, for invading that country, but it was one of the reasons, to be able to control it so you could determine to whom it was sold to. And they did it. One of them actually said-I can’t remember which member of the ruling American politburo it was-“We did it because we could.” Meaning, who’s there to challenge us? This is the way we will preserve and exercise our hegemony.

Iraq, as you know, was an incredibly divisive issue in this country. I think the reason Obama won the nomination, one big reason, was that when he was in the Illinois senate he voted against the war-once. Fine. He did it. Better that than voting for it. Hillary and her husband were warmongers. Bill Clinton traveled around Europe telling European social democratic parties to support the Iraq war, it was absolutely vital. But when Obama comes to power, it’s forgotten, the opposition, and it carries on. The surge has been so successful that a few months ago General Petraeus was saying-he was asked, “Is the surge successful?” He said, “Yes, We are only having 15 attacks a day on U.S. forces.” That is what measurement of success, I suppose, on one level, but it doesn’t show that the situation is completely under control. 

If we concede that in Palestine, in Israel, in Iraq Obama is continuing with the policies of the previous government, the policies he has made his own are escalating the war in Afghanistan and expanding it in Pakistan. And he promised this. That was the one pledge he did make during the election. I remember many arguments with people here, who were saying, “He doesn’t really mean it. He’s just saying it because he’s opposed to the Iraq war and he can’t allow the right to completely outmaneuver him, so he has to be tough on another.” I said, “No, no, he means it.” The way it was said, he obviously meant it. 

There was a debate going on in the U.S. administration at that time and still as to whether the best way forward is to send more troops or to prepare an exit strategy. That was and remains a debate going on. Otherwise there is no way you can understand the public discussion between General Eikenberry and Petraeus, where Eikenberry, as U.S. ambassador in Kabul sends a public message, not a private one, saying we don’t want 30,000 more troops. Unheard of in a war situation and occupation for two senior figures to be arguing. Which showed that there was a division. And that division, which remains, in my opinion, Obama came down on the side of those who were for the surge because that is what he had argued for, probably, in consultations with some of the people inside the military. 

That war is now turning out, as many of us predicted, a total and complete disaster. The U.S. is fed up with their puppet ruler, Karzai. And whereas in the good old days they would just have bumped him off and replaced him with someone else, as they did many a time in South Vietnam-if someone didn’t suit their needs, get rid of him and get someone else-in Afghanistan it’s not so easy to find someone else. And Karzai knows it. Because lots of puppet rulers, they’ve been kept in power so long, suddenly begin to think, we really are important, and we can do without the Americans, we can do without NATO. We’ll see. I doubt it. And they make so much money, like Karzai and his family have, and they buy a limited base of support with money that they think that that makes them popular. They don’t know how much they are hated because they’re cut off from all that world. So essentially they have a very weak regime in Afghanistan. 

Very different from Iraq, by the way, where the Shi’as constitute a majority in the confessional Shi’a parties they’ve been cultivating. It’s a mess in Iraq, because you have ethnic cleansings and all that and horrific acts being committed, as even The Economist in an editorial had to point out, that we seem to be back in the old Saddam Hussein days: oppositionists are being tortured, people are being locked up. Nothing seems to have changed at all except that the people doing it are the people we support. 

But in Afghanistan they don’t have that particular option, because a majority of the population are Pashtuns from the southern part of the country. The Shi’a and the Hazaras are a relatively small minority. And you can’t have a solution in that country unless you want to Balkanize it, which would be crazy, despite the discovery of huge lithium fields underneath the ground. It would be crazy to Balkanize it, though it’s something they might well consider, who knows. But at the moment they’re in a total mess, which is why they are discussing openly now with the Taliban. For years we were told this was the worst, most evil organization in the world. It certainly isn’t an organization I’ve ever supported. Nonetheless the U.S. is now going into serious negotiations with the Taliban and pleading with them to join the governments in Kabul with Karzai’s support. The Taliban’s position, actually for them quite a principled position, is it’s very difficult for us to join any coalition government as long as there are foreign troops on our soil, which is not a stupid position. And once you go, then we will certainly join a coalition government with A, B, and C, as we see fit, to have a sovereign state. That is their position at the moment. But they are still trying to split them. Aided by the Pakistani military and the Pakistani political elite, who are trying to win over elements of the Taliban, the good Taliban so-called, because whether you are good or bad depends on how close you are to the U.S. This is a criterion all over the world for governments and political parties and politicians. But it’s not going to be easy for them to do it.

The other thing in Afghanistan which is worth noting is that the Taliban told their supporters, “When the Kabul regime comes into your villages and says, ‘We want to recruit some of you, to train you to be good policemen in the army, go.'” A limited number of them go into the official structures of the occupied state to get military training, to learn how to use weapons. And there were three big incidents. One was a guy who they thought was completely on their side, recruited by the CIA, who went in and shot the top intelligence officials of the NATO powers in Afghanistan. And they were surprised. Why the hell are you surprised? Every guerilla insurgent organization tries to do that. The Algerians did it, the Vietnamese did it. Whatever ideology you are, there is a certain logic to resisting. And unless you’re completely crazy, you try and infiltrate. So they now say, intelligence investigators from NATO say, we can’t totally depend on the police force and the army because we don’t know the degree to which it has been infiltrated. Well, then you give up. If you can’t do that, then it is best to cut your losses and get out. Obama hasn’t done that so far. 

Whether it will be his Vietnam, as many people are arguing, I don’t know. It’s not an analogy I particularly like to use in relation to Afghanistan on most levels. But I think the war is unwinnable, for both sides. The U.S. can’t win the war, nor can they lose it. The Taliban can’t win the war, but it’s difficult for them to lose it because they live there. So unless you have a permanent occupation, indefinite occupation, this business is going to go on.

The position of Obama on Palestine, Israel. No big change and none was expected. In fact, Obama went to the big AIPAC conference and said that he was in favor of Jerusalem being the capital of Israel, which had not been said by any American president till now. Even the Israelis must have been a bit taken aback. So he had to retract a bit. But his position on Israel-Palestine, it was obvious what it was going to be when he appointed his chief of staff, who has been a member of the IDF, fought in the IDF as a staunch Zionist. There is no big secret about it. So we were obviously not going to have any big changes on that.

Were we going to have any big changes in the Far East? The Japanese after decades chucked out the Liberal Democratic Party government. Japan had been run as a one-party client state, this party has been in power. Finally you had an opposition party winning. The reason they won was that they pledged that they would ask American troops to leave Okinawa and find some other place to settle down. They were told by Gates-if people don’t think there is continuity, you look at the personnel that have been appointed. Gates continues at the Pentagon. Panetta, Clinton’s old crony, when he was appointed to head of the CIA, said that he was not opposed to most of the things that had been done and he was certainly not in favor of revealing CIA secrets because we were living in difficult times. 

The head of the Yale law department, sort of the Pope of the American legal system, is now a senior State Department lawyer. A few weeks ago he gave a speech at some big convention on international law, and he said that the use of drones was not illegal. In other words, the U.S. can use drones in any part of the world, or is this a privilege just for Pakistan? They used them, of course, in Somalia, and they’ve used them in Yemen. They were told that drones were now legal. Just imagine if these remarks had been made by senior people within the Bush administration. All hell would have broken loose. These are double standards you have to try and avoid. When Bush did A, B, and C, he was attacked. When the Obama administration does the same thing, people try and look for excuses. But the excuses are no longer there.

Ask yourself, could he have become president had he not been deeply committed to the system? And become president through the Chicago machine, which was backing him through hell and high water? And when Daley wanted to punish Bobby Rush for running against him, what did he do? He brought Obama to challenge him in the primaries. Obama failed. But he agreed to challenge him. Why had Rush had the nerve to challenge Daley? 

If you read Rickey Hendon’s book about what happened in the Illinois senate when they were trying to push through cuts in the poorest areas of Chicago, Obama, then a member of that Illinois senate, voted for all the cuts. And when Hendon went and confronted him and said, “What the hell do you think you’re doing?”-and this is an Afro-American senator, by the way, Hendon-when he said, “What the hell are you doing? You’re voting for the cuts which are going to deprive black people in Chicago, Afro-American and poor communities, of everything which they’re pushing through,” he said, “Obama looked at me icily and said, ‘We have to be fiscally prudent.'” This is in Hendon’s memoirs. And then when it came to cuts on the South Side, he didn’t know they were coming, he then got up and made a big speech attacking them. But then they were voted through. And there were fisticuffs between him and Hendon outside. It’s quite an astonishing piece of writing in Hendon’s memoirs. So the fisticuffs are with an Afro-American colleague who is to your left. At least it’s quite positive in a way. It shows he can be aggressive. But against his own side, people on his left, Afro-Americans, not against these people who he’s trying to conciliate. So it’s not a good story. And it might end badly.

The big obsession of the Obama administration is to get a second term. Fine. But for what? To do what? That’s a question that we must always pose. It is not enough. Look. Surely politics matters. Otherwise we could argue that the Republicans did more in promoting black politicians to the top. Condi Rice, Colin Powell, Reagan promoted Clarence Thomas first and then another Republican put him in the Supreme Court. Three big positions. Condi was national security adviser to Bush. They were black Afro-Americans, were they not? Did we just say that’s fine? No. They were attacked from within the Afro-American community because people didn’t like the politics they were pursuing. And Clarence Thomas, by the way, used to be a Black Panther once upon a time. I don’t know how many of you knew that. It’s an awful thought, but he was. That’s what’s happened.

The criterion for judging has to be a political criterion. It can’t be a good man fallen amongst bad people, because the good man, give him some credit, he’s extremely intelligent. He knows how he got in and what he’s doing. And to be perfectly frank with you, his politics are not good. He is not part of that radical Afro-American tradition. He’s post all that, like many other Afro-American politicians. Jesse Jackson was the last of those who would go and fight for trade unionists when the mood took him. He would go and defend the poor. And he was pretty effective at it, Jesse, when he did it. That was the last of the old generation. With the big shift to the right is that took place, it was always foolish to imagine that many radicals, Afro-American radical intellectuals, would not go with that shift. Many did, unfortunately. Politics changed. And the new politics were meant to be post all that-post-socialist, they said, in Europe; post-liberal, they said here, as they pushed through neoliberalism. That is the way these people were formed. 

I want to end, given what this conference is, on a different note. And that is very straightforwardly, why are we socialists today? Why? We know times are bad. In fact, if you like, they haven’t been as bad as this ever, because at least you had strong labor movements and you had all sorts of parties, huge parties-communist parties, social democratic parties-which defended some form of anti-capitalist reforms, a different style of politics. Now that has gone, by and large. The number of people defending socialism are much, much smaller than they have ever been. But that doesn’t mean it doesn’t need to be defended and argued for and fought for. When you hear right-wing ideologues talking all over the place, “Socialism failed,” the response to that is, “Yes, we failed once. How many times has capitalism failed?” 

The reason for the big failure was also rooted in history and politics and economics. There was a total contrast between the vision of a socialist sketched by Marx and the reality of what existed in the 20th century states that defined themselves as socialist. This wasn’t due to good people or bad people, but economically these revolutions took place in countries which were austere and backward, their total output constrained by scarcities, a low productivity of labor. That was not what had been thought up by the founders of socialism. In fact, when Trotsky once was asked, “Which country do you think is most ripe for socialism?” in fact, being a good Marxist, he replied, “The United States of America, because of the level of productive forces.” One tends to forget that. But ultimately history and economics caught up with these societies. Politically, they were dominated by authoritarian state apparatuses, which denied civic liberties, expropriated the rights of organization and association. Culturally, they imposed an official monopoly on the means of communication, a repressive regulation of ideas, the exaltation of the nation. Bureaucracy became the master of all social life. All this was remote from the early expectations, of all of them, by the way. Even the leaders of the Russian Revolution who made it didn’t want it to go in that way.

Because socialism was meant to be based on the economics of what? Abundance. Political order should be what? Based on a radical popular sovereignty, in which the producers of wealth would be given for the first time ever the means of democratic self-government in factories, fields, municipalities, assemblies, and on a national level. That culture would be diverse and variegated, moving beyond all existing boundaries-beyond capital and beyond nation. 

So we have to see this as a long transition, probably now which will be a transition even longer than the transition from feudalism to capitalism. That is how we have to see a transition from capitalism to socialism. It’s going to be a long haul. And the big difference between a transition to socialism and a transition to capitalism is the following: that socialism was always a conscious movement of people knowing where they were going, knowing the reasons why they were going, and being very realistic and hard-headed about what it needed to get there. And it’s a long way away. 

Because it seems longer, we then get upset and angry about many things, including Obama. But Obama essentially is a Democrat politician. A very clever one; talks very well, very slick. He is no more than that. And it is foolish and it’s actually unfair to Obama to imagine that he is more than that. He has never said he’s more than that. So why should we imagine it? Because we ourselves are desperate for something more. But that is fine. He is not or the Democrats are not going to supply it. They never have and they’re not going to. With Obama, with Hillary Clinton, with whoever, it’s not going to work out like that, because that is not how politics changes. 

Politics changes when you have mass movements from below. That is what helped to bring about the New Deal, which we now think was a great golden age. It wasn’t so golden, but in any case it was better than what followed. But it happened because of the big, big movements from below, which we see in South America today, which is why those politicians are much, much better than anything else anywhere else in the world. They are being pushed from below to change things. And because they believe in change themselves, they are actually beginning to change something. Structural reforms are being pushed through by them. A long way from revolution, but important structural reforms. So one has got to take the long view, because one thing we should remember-that the golden age is not behind us, the golden age lies ahead of us.

Q&A

People don’t come to politics fully formed. Always there is a process of change. The best way for people to learn is not through what older people or people from my generation or whoever tells them. The best way for people to learn, and that is the way they learn, is through their own experience. I think that is the way that people will learn and are learning. And don’t think the Obama administration isn’t aware of it the second term with which they are obsessed, in a crazy way obsessed, they think they get it through reconciliation with their enemies. What they forget, as I said, is the people who put them in. So how they’re going to win these people back is a problem for them, because many of them have learned, not enough, we could say, but many people are extremely pissed off with what they are witnessing, and that is educating them much more than any of us could do. That is the way that people learn, huge swaths of people learn, not individuals.

When I talk about the importance of politics, I don’t need to spell it out. Obviously, when I talk about politics, it is politics in the interests of working people, low-income families, people who are ignored by the system. That’s the sort of politics I’m in favor of. And how to mobilize them. What do you do when you go into an area where people are struggling for basic things, for their houses not to be repossessed and taken up. But at the same time there are large numbers saying, “We are still giving Obama a chance.” What do you say to them? “You’re traitors”? “You know we’re going to shoot you dead”? No. You explain to them and work with them and hope that they will understand as their struggles proceed. From that point of view it remains an interesting time. Of course we have to spell out very clearly what we think. The big problem is systemic, and that’s something you can’t get away from. But that’s the way I would do it.

The question asked about the Supreme Court ruling on corporate finance. Look, that was such a scandal, that not only Democrats but many moderate Republicans were shocked by that particular decision, as they should be. On the other hand, if you look at it completely cold-bloodedly, all the Supreme Court was doing, and given its function in this society, was saying that this system exists so we might as well recognize it. Don’t ignore that fact. We can attack it and we should attack it. But the big problem is not what the Supreme Court said, which is bad, but what actually exists today in the way in which the political system and its links to the corporations function. I don’t think these links are going to be attacked by this administration, if the health care bill is anything to go by or what is happening on other fronts.

The same thing applies, I agree, about the domestic militarization programs. Some things that were promised, like the total disbandment of Guantánamo and the trial of prisoners in courts of law, elementary things which, quite honestly, you don’t have to be that progressive to be in favor of. They are elementary. Even these things haven’t been pushed through. Because once a state gets involved in emergency politics-and the U.S. has been in an emergency since the Second World War, and then the Cold War created its own emergencies, and then we had the war of terror emergency-emergency politics become a way of life for the people in power. And they don’t like relinquishing any of those rights which they have acquired-executive power, for instance, and what it can do, and a totally weak and tame Congress and Senate. 

So this attack on civil liberties will continue. And what they don’t understand is that the militarization, the attacks on immigrants, the border wall, this is the U.S. doing this? A country of immigrants saying, we’ve climbed up the ladder and got here and now we’re chucking the ladder away forever? You can’t do it. It’s not going to work. When the Hispanic population mobilized on that one-day action, it was very powerful. And they will do so again if this carries on. What are we waiting for in Arizona now, for a Cactusnacht?

Very, very quickly to the other points. One, the antiwar movement. Look, the antiwar movement globally, you can’t blame Obama for its decline Let’s be straightforward. It went into decline long before Obama came to power. One reason it went into decline, in my opinion, is the following. This was not an antiwar movement that had been built slowly as the war started, with big struggles to build it, teach-ins, debates, so you create a base which is going to stay there, last the course of the war. That’s how the Vietnam antiwar movement was built, different factions of it, but that’s how it was built. This movement was largely not a movement of the left or built by left. The left was centrally involved in it. It was largely a spontaneous, one-day uprising by citizens of Europe and North America, because the demos here were incredibly big, and in every state capital. A spontaneous uprising of citizens to try and stop a war that they knew from the beginning was based on lies and that they didn’t want. It was their way of saying to the politicians, you’re lying. We don’t believe a word you’re saying. This war shouldn’t happen. It’s very rare for a movement to be preemptive. It was a movement to try and stop a war. 

The structure had been created by the left, the Stop the War coalition. When the demonstration was organized, no one was expecting such huge crowds. A million and a half in London, 2 million in Madrid, nearly 3 million in Rome. France was the weakest. But, by and large, huge demonstrations. And very large demonstrations in this country, as you will recall. We had never seen demonstrations of that size. Had this been organized by the left or had these been progressive movements, we could have moved on quite rapidly to insurrection. Think about it. If the left had raised a million and a half or 2 million to mobilize regularly, we would be in a very different position. But they weren’t. They were honest, decent, liberal citizens of the world who came out and said, we don’t want this war. And when they felt they couldn’t stop it, they went back home, demoralized, unfortunately. That is exactly what happened. And a small, brave, valiant, courageous, hard core carried on. But that mass support against the war disappeared, because the people genuinely felt they might be able to stop it. That’s the big difference. They thought, if we come out in large enough numbers, we might stop it. And when they couldn’t, the effect was disastrous.

On Afghanistan you’ve never had such a big movement, by the way. Never. So it’s always been more or less the level of demonstrations-in Britain they were the largest because of Britain’s involvement in Afghanistan historically and because a large number of Muslim groups organized for them. But that was all.

Lastly now, and very briefly, to South America. The situation in South America, in my opinion, is positive. The fact that Morales won the last election with an increased majority was a very, very important development for that part of the world. Colombia is where the U.S. is dominant, the questioner was absolutely right. Chavez told me that when he met Obama at the summit in Trinidad, Obama had come up to him and said, “As long as I’m president of the U.S., we will not be destabilizing your regime or any other regime in South America.” A few weeks later Hillary Clinton goes to Honduras to organize the toppling of the leader there. But that was one step too far, because Lula who is quite a vain politician felt that he had been personally betrayed because the Americans had promised him this was not going to happen. So he rang Obama. Obama didn’t return his calls. Finally he did. Obama said, “We have nothing to do with it,” which Lula knew was a lie because the whole of South America knew what had happened in Honduras. Telesur, the Venezuelan television service, for the first time did an Al Jazeera by reporting every single day. And their footage was bought by television channels all over the world because there was no one else filming what was going on. So that really destroyed many, many illusions, strong illusions, about Obama in South America at one blow. 

The problem for them is that they’re overstretched and they can’t do what they used to be able to do. So they’re limited now in what they can do in South America. There’s talk sometimes that they might use the Colombians to move in. I don’t believe that. It would be so crazy to unleash a civil war in that part of the world. Who is going to benefit? The U.S. certainly won’t benefit from that, not that this always stops them, this knowledge. But there is no rational function to organizing the toppling of Chavez or these leaders because there is now a real sense of continental solidarity. It’s the first time it’s happened in this way. 

Chavez, when Telesur was being set up in Venezuela, which I can proudly claim was my idea, but what Chavez said at its inauguration was the following. He said, “You walk into the streets of every South American capital and ask them, ‘What is the name of your capital city, and they will tell you, Quito, Caracas,’ whatever. And then say, ‘What is the capital of the United States?’ and they’ll say ‘Washington, D.C.’ But if you ask them, ‘What is the capital of Peru?’ they won’t know if they’re non-Peruvians, or ‘What is the capital of'”-he’s absolutely right. 

The fragmentation of that continent had proceeded a long way. So the whole Bolivarian idea was to unite the continent politically through democratic election victories. And to my astonishment, because I didn’t think it would work. But it did work. And they’re carrying on. Of course they have problems. We know all that.

But when you have the Haiti situation, and the Cubans send in thousands and thousands of doctors, who set up their tenants with their own medicines, cheap medicines produced by Cuban state-owned pharmaceutical companies, they don’t ask anything from anyone, and go into the poorest areas of Haiti and start work curing, giving preventive injections, this has a huge impact. They did this in Pakistan during the earthquake. People were shocked, they told me, to find that half the Cubans-they sent 500 doctors-half of them were women. And the guys in this region, one of the most backward regions in terms of education in Pakistan, said, “We’ve never had women doctors here, but of course you can treat our women. And for the first time women in that region got serious medical attention. Then they began to talk to them. They said, “Where do you come from, you guys? What is Cuba?” It’s all documented. And they said, “This is what we are. We are socialists. We created a state system to help the poor,” etc. This Cuban doctor told me, “We were once sitting and talking to village women, and they asked, ‘But who is your leader?'” And they said, “We took out a photograph of Fidel. And these peasant women looked at it and said, ‘Ah, they have beards like that in a village just 20 miles from here.'” The Pakistani government was incredibly nervous, and they had ISI people tailing them. And the Cubans said, “Your government tailed us everywhere. What could we do? All we were doing was helping.” I said, “The help you were giving was very important, because these are people who have never received free medical treatment, or any medical treatment, in their lives.” So there are things in Latin America which the rest of the world can learn from. And New Orleans wouldn’t have suffered so much if Venezuelan and Cuban help had been accepted when it was offered. 

For information about obtaining CDs, MP3s, or transcripts of this or other programs, please contact:

David Barsamian
Alternative Radio
P.O. Box 551
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(800) 444-1977
info@alternativeradio.org
www.alternativeradio.org

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