Objectively (a word that appears to have disappeared from the socialists’ dictionary), there are few discernible political differences between Ségolene Royal and Martine Aubry. The fight is almost entirely about personality. That perhaps helps explain the extreme rancour of the contest, with neither candidate willing to concede defeat.
In the early hours of Saturday morning, the rival camps were desperately contesting votes from as far away as New Caledonia and Guadeloupe while trading accusations of electoral fraud and threats of lawsuits. Well might one French newspaper wonder whether PS (Parti socialiste) now stands for Parti suicidaire.
The naive supposition would have been that this should be an ideal time to run a leftwing party, with capitalism in crisis and even free market champions such as Alan Greenspan, former US Federal Reserve chairman, admitting there has been something wrong with their conception of the economic universe. For years Europe’s socialists have been calling for stricter regulation of lawless capitalism and a fairer redistribution of the fruits of globalisation. Should this not be their hour?
To be sure, many socialist parties in Europe have faced severe challenges in reinventing themselves following the collapse of the Berlin Wall. When the communist God failed it shook faith in minor deities such as socialism. The weakening of trade union membership in many countries has also removed an important institutional support.
In the 85 legislative elections in Europe over the past decade the political right has won 52.4 per cent of the vote, with the left accounting for 44.5 per cent. In 2007 the right was in power in 16 of the European Union’s 27 member states. While many socialist leaders floundered to rethink their economic strategy, they channelled their radicalism into socio-cultural reforms. Student leaders of the 1968 generation who often emerged to run these parties championed issues such as gender equality, gay marriage and environmentalism.
Valid though these campaigns may have been, they were not the main focus of most working-class male voters who provided the bedrock of socialist parties during the 20th century. But these voters’ core concern – preserving their jobs and income – presented socialist parties with a big strategic conundrum. Should socialist parties be about defending the jobs and privileges of “insiders” in the workplace, particularly in the public sector? Or should they be about opening up opportunities for the “outsiders”, very often immigrants, part-time workers and women?
Some socialist parties, in the UK and Spain for example, have found an answer. But the difficulty in resolving that dilemma elsewhere has led to a seepage of support towards extreme parties offering less ambiguous solutions. In Sweden the opposition Social Democratic party fears losing votes to the anti-immigrant right. In Germany the Social Democrats’ support is leaking to the anti-capitalist Linke party.
The broader worry for France is that the socialists’ psychodrama could turn into political tragedy. Few politicians are so in need of strong opposition as the headstrong President Nicolas Sarkozy. The absence of such opposition might further fuel extremist parties of which France has a bewildering choice.
If they need inspiration Europe’s socialists should look to the one place they normally never seek it: the US. In spite of Republican claims, Barack Obama is no socialist. But he has just delivered a master class in political strategy that should educate all opposition parties. Three relevant lessons emerge. First, politicians must address their supporters’ core concerns. Second, they must compete for new supporters by emphasising change. Third, they should project an image of calm, non-ideological competence.
The language of the market may not be very popular at the moment but it speaks to a fundamental political truth: the offer has to correspond to the demand. There is a huge demand for fresh, responsible, centre-left thinking and effective leadership across Europe. Can the political offer respond?
The writer is editor of the FT’s Europe edition
'Danish' scenario 'most likely outcome' of EU Treaty crisis
30 October 2008
The scholar argues that from the legal point of view, the option of passing the Lisbon Treaty via parliamentary ratification was perfectly valid, but politically unacceptable following a failed referendum.
In Pech's view, over the years the Irish government has submitted several EU treaties to popular vote without strong legal reasons for doing so, acting rather out of "tradition".
The Single Act was finally put to popular vote to amend the Constitution, and the same procedure was later repeated later for further modifications of the EU treaties, despite the fact that ratification through parliament would have also been a valid option in cases where the Union's competences and objectives were not fundamentally changed, the scholar argues.
Indeed, except for the Maastricht Treaty, which established the European Union and introduced changes to the competences and the functioning of the Union, no referenda were needed to pass the Amsterdam and Nice treaties, Pech believes. [???]
However, legal arguments carry little weight with the 'no' camp, which is adamant that the Lisbon Treaty introduces major changes to the functioning of the Union. As an overarching argument, the 'no' camp considers that if the Irish are unsure what they are voting for, they should reject the text.
The problem following the failed Lisbon referendum, according to the author of the study, is that the turnout was high (53.13%). Moreover, external interference, such as an alleged incitation last July by French President Nicolas Sarkozy for the Irish to re-vote (EurActiv 16/07/08), has strengthened the 'no' camp, Pech writes.
But Pech rejects the option of passing the Lisbon Treaty via parliamentary vote as "unrealistic" as it would amount to lawmakers disregarding the sovereign will of the people. But he thinks it is possible for the Irish government to obtain a "Lisbon Plus" treaty from its European partners which would survive another referendum. This would involve adding an additional text to the present treaty (a European Council declaration, for instance), to argue that it was not exactly the same treaty that the Irish rejected on 12 June.
The scholar does not expect the Irish Government to ask the Supreme Court to rule on whether the Lisbon Treaty is compatible with the Irish Constitution. This would be risky, in his view, since the Court, seen by the author as conservative and nationalist, may be tempted to humiliate the government by issuing a negative assessment.
The most realistic scenario, according to Pech, is a "Danish scenario" (Denmark negotiated four opt-outs from the Masstricht Treaty, following its rejection in a 1992 referendum). In the case of Ireland, these opt-outs could include a right of derogation from the Charter of Fundamental Rights and defence agreements.
"It is possible that such a manoeuvre would convince sceptics that the [Lisbon] Treaty will not require the Irish to die for Georgia or for their country to accept abortion," Pech writes. He adds that the package could include a deal on the size of the Commission, as a recent poll showed that the Irish want to keep their commissioner (EurActiv 10/09/08).
Sarkozy accused of hijacking Czech EU Presidency
27 October 2008
Just days after it survived a no-confidence vote in Parliament (EurActiv 23/10/08), the Czech ruling coalition led by the Civic Democrats (ODS) of Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek suffered a setback over the weekend, losing its majority in the Senate.
A third of the 81 senate seats are up for election every two years in the Czech Republic, and Topolanek's ODS won just three of the 26 seats that were up for grabs. It still has 35 seats, but lost its majority of 41, while the opposition Social Democrats now have 29 from only six before the polls.
President Vaclav Klaus, who is co-founder of the ODS, attacked his prime minister over the "arrogance" of his governance. He also hinted at the possibility of his being replaced, comparing the political developments to the situation of Sparta Praha football club, which changed coach after a series of defeats.
Klaus also lashed out at French President Nicolas Sarkozy for allegedly planning to "siphon" the Czech EU Presidency, which is set to begin on 1 January 2009. Klaus used the term "siphon", which in the Czech political vocabulary refers to the depletion of national resources in the early 1990s after the fall of Communism.
"It's driving me mad that they [the government of Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek] want to ratify the Lisbon Treaty and climate change," Klaus said on national television. Klaus is known for his opposition to the view that climate change is a result of human activity.
The Czech press writes that Topolanek's post of prime minister is under threat and that the country may face early elections, to be held together with European elections in June 2009. The future of the Lisbon Treaty ratification is also in dount. On 10 November, the Constitutional Court will make its position known, following questioning by the Senate as to the reform treaty's conformity with the Czech constitution.
She was speaking on the Anderson report, a Parliamentary report which looks at the challenges to collective agreements in the EU in the wake of a series of European Court of Justice rulings on labour law. "These rulings, said MEP McDonald "represent an audacious attack on these basic rights. They have given the green light to the wholesale exploitation of workers. They are a reflection of the legal staus quo, a reflection of the fact that when workers' rights collide with rules of competion, the rule of competition prevails."
MEP McDonald expressed disappointment at the report which she said avoided calling for the changes to the EU Treaties. The call for treaty change was "deliberately and cynically" removed from the first draft, despite overwhelming calls from the Trade Union movement across Europe for a Social Progress Clause to be inserted in the Treaties, she explained.
"The vulnerability of workers' rights was one of the main reasons for the Irish vote against the Lisbon Treaty. If any new Treaty is to be acceptable then it must ensure adequate protection for workers." she said.
"We now have an opportunity to insist that the Treaties include a binding Social Progress Clause or Protocol. If the amendments to this effect do not pass today, the European Parliament will have taken another step away from the people we purport to represent will have let them down," she concluded.
"Trust in binding social legislation in the EU can only be achieved if fundamental social rights are defined as primary law," said German GUE/NGL MEP Gabi Zimmer. "The judgements referred to in this report give priority to the single market freedoms and I regret that we do not send a stronger signal to the Council, the Commission, the ECJ and the Member States and that we only demand a balance between fundamental rights and these freedoms."
"Basic social rights are human rights," said MEP Zimmer. "How do we, as Members of Parliament, accept that these human rights are restricted by the freedoms accorded to the EU internal market?" she asked.
"We are talking here about the defence and improvement of the European Social Model so it is high time to implement a legally binding social progress clause in the existing treaties of the EU," MEP Zimmer concluded.
Active in: Section EU Treaty & InstitutionsThe GUE/NGL Group in the European Parliament is made up of 41 MEPs from 17 political parties in 13 European countries. As the name indicates, it is a confederal group where each component party retains its own identity and policies while pooling their efforts in pursuit of common political objectives.
Latest Press Releases:
Legally binding social progress clause required in existing EU treaties
"Workers across Europe have a right to decent work, to equality. They have a right to organise, agitate, and campaign to improve their lot at work. They have a rightful expectation that the law should [...]
Start acting for a social Europe!
9 October 2008
My report on social inclusion and combating poverty, including child poverty in the EU, adopted by the European Parliament today, sends a strong message to the Council and the Commission: Start acting for a social Europe!", said GUE/NGL MEP Gabi Zimmer (Germany).
The report recommends concrete measures and EU-wide targets to reduce and eradicate poverty and social exclusion. [???]
MEP Zimmer expressed her satisfaction with the outcome of today's vote - 540 of the 629 MEPs present voted in favour of her report. "The Parliament urges the Council to agree an EU target for minimum wages (statutory, collective agreements at national, regional or sectoral level) to provide for remuneration of at least 60% of the relevant (national, sectoral, etc.) average wage.
The Parliament also calls on the Council to agree an EU target for minimum income schemes and contributory replacement income schemes providing income support of at least 60% of national median equalised income. Setting such targets is not an instrument for harmonisation - each Member State is free to choose how to implement these. But it is a strong signal that the basic social safety net and also minimum wages should allow for incomes that prevent poverty", she concluded.
The report calls for support measures to facilitate social inclusion e.g. in housing, education, training, and lifelong learning plus targeted additional benefits for disadvantaged groups (people with disabilities or chronic diseases, lone parents or households with many children). It also calls for child poverty to be reduced by 50% by 2012, and an EU-wide commitment to end street homelessness by 2015.
EU PARLIAMENT COMMITTEE ON EMPLOYMENT AND SOCIAL AFFAIRS
DRAFT REPORT: on Promoting social inclusion and combating poverty, including child poverty, in the EU
Rapporteur: Gabriele Zimmer
2008/2034(INI) 10.4.2008 (April 10, 2008)
A more holistic approach to active social inclusion
1. Welcomes the Commission’s approach to active inclusion; considers that the overarching aim of active inclusion policies must be to implement fundamental rights in order to enable people to live in dignity and participate in society as well as the labour market;
2. Agrees with the Commission that a more holistic approach to active inclusion should be based on common principles:
(a) Income support sufficient to avoid social exclusion: Minimum income schemes, related benefits and social assistance must be easily accessible and provide sufficient resources to lift people out of poverty and prevent social exclusion; active inclusion policies must promote greater equity of social protection systems and also provide specific flanking measures (e.g. rehabilitation, training, counselling, childcare, housing, language training for migrants, support services) to enable people to lead a dignified life;
(b) Link to inclusive labour markets: Active inclusion policies must aim at creating stable and secure high-quality employment, improving the quality of jobs, providing specific support measures and services to accompany people into employment and promoting job retention, providing high-quality education, vocational training, further training and lifelong learning;
(c) Link to better access to quality services: The accessibility, affordability and quality of essential services - social services, services of general (economic) interest - must be strengthened in order to promote social and territorial cohesion, guarantee fundamental rights and ensure a decent existence especially for the vulnerable and disadvantaged groups of society;
(d) Gender mainstreaming, anti-discrimination and active participation: Active inclusion policies must ensure the promotion of gender equality and contribute to the elimination of discrimination in all three pillars mentioned above; good governance, participation and integration of all relevant actors must be promoted by directly involving those affected by poverty and social exclusion, as well as social partners and non-governmental organisations, in the development, management, implementation and evaluation of strategies;
Guaranteeing sufficient income to ensure a dignified life for all
3. Points out that there are still Member States in the EU-27 which do not have schemes providing for minimum wages as a default in place;
4. Agrees with the Commission that social assistance levels are already below the at-risk-of poverty line in most Member States; insists that the central objective of income support schemes must be to lift people out of poverty and enable them to live in dignity;
5. Calls on the Council to agree on an EU target for minimum income schemes and contributory replacement income schemes of providing income support of at least 60 % of national median equalised income and on a timetable as to when this target shall be achieved by all Member States;
6. Considers that poverty in employment must be properly addressed; recalls that remuneration in general and especially minimum wages – regardless whether they are of a statutory nature or collectively agreed – must prevent income poverty in any event;
7. Calls on the Council to agree on an EU target for minimum wages (statutory, collective agreements at national, regional or sectoral levels) to provide for a remuneration of at least 60 % of the respective (national, sectoral etc.) average wage and on a timetable for when that target is to be achieved in all Member States;
8. Considers that schemes providing for minimum wages must be complemented by supportive measures for social inclusion, e.g. on housing, education, training, re-training and lifelong learning and income support schemes, to cover the costs to individuals and households...
WHAT IS SOLIDARITY AND WHERE DID IT COME FROM?
Solidarity is an independent socialist organization dedicated to forming a broad regrouping of the U.S. left. We include activists from many long-standing socialist traditions, as well as younger members from newer movements. We do not attempt to put forward a monolithic platform which we all have adapted to; rather, we rely on the richness of our traditions and the creativity and newer experiences of our younger members to foster and develop a forward-looking socialist thought.
Solidarity was founded in 1986 by revolutionary socialists who stand for "socialism from below," the self-organization of the working class and oppressed peoples. We are feminist, anti-racist, and democratic. Within our group, we are trying to foster cultural diversity, flexible practice, and straight-forward socialist politics.
We are activists in many grassroots movements. We are members of unions, where we oppose corporations as well as bureaucratic "business unionism." We are involved in solidarity with the people of Central and South America, Indonesia, Iraq, the Balkans, Palestine, and many other countries, where we fight against U.S. aggression and imperialism. We work for reproductive rights and other feminist demands. We fight for an ecologically balanced society. We support the struggles of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender activists. We include activists of color and we work in solidarity with people of color organized independently fighting for dignity and power and self determination.
In these movements, we try to build broad coalitions, organize the unorganized, activate the apathetic, develop ties between movements and strengthen the rank-and-file democracy.
We argue against participation in the Democratic Party, which has been the graveyard of radical movements, and promote the idea of a new, independent political party.
We see Solidarity as a contribution to a new U.S. left, one neither sectarian nor reformist. We advocate a new, creative politics with an attitude of openness and collaboration.
Solidarity's politics are summarized below in our 12 Points of Agreement (also found at the back of the Founding Statement).
BASIS OF POLITICAL AGREEMENT(as amended in 2004)
Capitalism is an outmoded social system now deep in crisis. This crisis is producing a declining standard of living and an escalating drive toward war. This crisis is the unavoidable outcome of capital's most basic drives. Humanity will only be freed from the barbarism of war, environmental devastation, poverty, unemployment and declining living standards for millions when capitalism has been displaced by a rational, planned, democratic, and participatory economic system: socialism.
Socialism is the political and economic rule of the working class, in which the means of production are under the social ownership of the working class, which democratically plans economic life. The working class organizes its political and economic rule through councils of workers and popular representatives, freely chosen among a variety of organized working class and popular parties. Socialism can only be achieved by a revolutionary mass political movement of the working class which ends the political rule of the capitalist class and private ownership of the means of production.
The aim of this organization is to build a revolutionary socialist movement in the working class and allied sectors of the oppressed. Membership is open to all who share our principles and work toward achieving them.
The capitalist parties, especially the Republican and Democratic parties, are fundamentally anti-working class, racist and sexist. We oppose any form of participation in or support for these parties. We call for the working class and its allies to form a new, independent political party that fights for their needs.
The capitalist crisis has set in motion an employers' offensive that necessitates national and international labor solidarity as well as organizing the unorganized. The labor bureaucracy for the most part acts as a brake on labor action. We therefore support all efforts to transform the unions into militant vehicles, including rank and file groupings within the unions as well as coalitions against concessions and strike support committees.Racial and national oppression divide the working class and create poverty and misery for millions.
We join in the fight against racism, such as the struggle for affirmative action, and support the efforts of oppressed national minorities to organize independently for their liberation. We fight for women's liberation, and for women's equality today. The oppression of women within the family and in society divides the working class, keeps women's wages low and burdens women unequally in the task of social reproduction. We are supporters of lesbian and gay liberation, of their struggles for civil rights and against all forms of anti-gay bigotry. We support, as with all oppressed groups, the efforts of gays and lesbians to organize independently for their liberation.
We are internationalists. We support movements for self-determination and national liberation throughout the world and the struggles of workers for better living standards and social and political power everywhere. Whatever may be our differing theoretical analyses of any particular struggle, we are unconditional defenders of movements for genuine trade unionism and workers' democracy.
We actively oppose the growing drive towards war, whether that be in the form of intervention in Central America, the Middle East or elsewhere, or the buildup of the U.S. war machine. We fight for unilateral disarmament in the U.S. and, at the same time, we extend our solidarity to the independent peace movements of Eastern Europe. Toward these ends we are committed to building an effective revolutionary socialist organization in the U.S. capable of acting together without presenting a monolithic face to the world or engaging in pretenses of being "the vanguard."
Solidarity is an independent socialist organization dedicated to forming a broad regrouping of the U.S. left. We include activists from many long-standing socialist traditions, as well as younger members from newer movements. We do not attempt to put forward a monolithic platform which we all have adapted to; rather, we rely on the richness of our traditions and the creativity and newer experiences of our younger members to foster and develop a forward-looking socialist thought",
Socialists and Barack Obama: Viewing An Historic Presidential Nomination
by Malik Miah
NOW THAT ILLINOIS Senator Barack Obama has become the presumptive Democratic nominee for president, what does it say about U.S. civil society? What stance should progressives and socialists take?
When Obama crossed that 2118-delegate threshold with the final primaries in Montana and South Dakota, all African Americans—Democrats, Republicans, independents and even socialists—understood the meaning of a son of a African immigrant from Kenya and a white mother from Kansas, to get this far in American politics. Martin Luther King, Jr., may have had a "Dream” that it could happen, but few believed it could occur in the lifetime of those who marched in Selma.
An Important Discussion
In the previous issue of Against the Current (ATC 134) I explained why Obama’s campaign was an important indicator of changes in U.S. society. At the same time, I noted that racism is still alive and well as reflected in the virulent attack on Obama’s former pastor Rev. Jeremiah Wright. I particularly explained the fact that Obama did not immediately throw Wright under the bus when Wright used old fashioned Black Nationalist rhetoric to criticize U.S. domestic and foreign policy. Obama’s Philadelphia speech on the history of race relations was noteworthy coming from a major capitalist politician having a chance to become president.
In response to my article in the May-June issue, which included a look at the history of Black Liberation Theology, some on the left felt my stance implied sympathy for lesser evilism – perhaps that saying independents and socialists should embrace and engage the supporters of Obama, especially his young backers, was a move toward supporting a candidate of one of the major Big Business parties which have a global policy of neocolonialism and neoliberalism.
Nothing could be further from the truth. Rather, the Obama ascendancy reflects some fundamental changes in society that must be recognized by those of us seeking a working class government and state.
The societal changes are based on the victory of the civil rights revolution of the 1960s. We are not in a “colorblind” society as the neoconservatives pretend. The fact that most of his supporters, and Obama himself, is a by-product of an era where most young people freely mingle with other races and ethnic groups is new.
Most believe a Black man or a woman can be elected president is a direct result of real changes. They are not simply cosmetic or temporary. At the same time, racism is a daily occurrence for the typical Black person. A tall Black man walking down the street who is not known still strikes some fear in many. Going into an all white area where a Black person is not known strikes a similar response.
However, what’s “new” is you can now do that without necessarily being attacked or arrested. An African American can now move into those neighborhoods if you have the wealth to do so.
The power structure, of course, is still controlled by white men.
But the rise of a middle class of all races is real. The fact that Hillary Clinton received 18 million votes and had a fervent following of women who grew up in the second wave of feminism in the 1960s and 1970s, means young women believe a woman can now become commander in chief of the United States.
The New York Times columnist Bob Herbert observes in a June 7 column, “Savor the moment,” that 40 years ago, the same year that Martin Luther King, Jr., and Robert Kennedy were both assassinated, “The notion in ’68 that a Black person — or a woman — might have a serious shot at the presidency would have been widely viewed as lunacy.” He adds, “A Black man president? You must be joking.” A woman as president? “According to the National Organization for Women, in a statement of purpose issued in 1966, fewer than 1 percent of all federal judges were women, fewer than 4 percent of all lawyers, and fewer than7 percent of doctors,” Herbert notes. Sexism and racism are still prevalent. But the real progress is evident everywhere — the majority of medical school graduates are now women, and there are many women on Fortune 500 Boards and officers, and dozens of women in the Senate and House. These positive changes must be acknowledged.
My Stance — Positive Opposition
The reality is young people have been galvanized by the Obama phenomenon. The stance toward Obama thus should be of positive opposition, not “critical support” as some progressive Black leaders have advocated.
I cannot vote for a Democrat or Republican candidate, as each party represents the policies of the ruling class. As a socialist, it is not possible to vote for an African American or woman as the head of either party that is responsible for wars of aggression and occupation in Afghanistan or Iraq and threatens Iran and Palestine.
I firmly believe we need to build a mass labor party and political party of the left that can defend the true interest of working people. I reject “critical support” to Obama for that reason.
But since we don’t yet have the labor or mass left party, and we don’t have mass social movements or a large-scale active antiwar movement, the challenge is to raise the class issues in the context of the electoral arena. How?
It means positively engaging the Obama supporters and campaign on the broad agenda issues. It means attending the campaign’s events and talking to the young supporters about upcoming rallies against the war, solidarity with striking workers, and for single payer health care. Electing the first African American president, like electing the first Black mayors 40 years ago, is relative progress but not a solution to underlying class and social issues. That’s why the campaigns of progressive third parties are important electorally.
But for me the stance of attacking Obama as a Democrat, quoting Malcolm X’s “The Ballot or the Bullet” speech, and going all out for a small socialist group's campaign on ideological grounds, or for the Green Party campaign of Cynthia McKinney or the “independent” candidacy of Ralph Nader, is not the most effective way to influence those who will become disillusioned. While I will likely vote for one of these options (even though pure electoralism is not the road to mass independent working class action), I consider the priority to be positive engagement with Obama supporters. The challenge is to recognize history in the making while not moving away from the goal of a mass labor party and working-class based government.
The challenge is to recognize history in the making while not moving away from the goal of a mass labor party and working-class based government.
Reverend Wright and Black Liberation Theology
— Malik Miah
THE GROUNDSWELL OF broad support for Barack Obama (both among Blacks and whites) is a phenomenon that deserves a serious analysis and understanding. It cannot be down played by passing it through the lens of pure-and-simple lesser-evilism.
Some radicals dismiss the mass phenomenon, because Obama is a candidate of a ruling-class party. That simplistic rejection of Obama’s campaign and its mass support is sectarian: The issue isn’t whether to vote for a Democrat, but rather our response to a development that is having a wide-scale impact. How many times, in state after state, have we ever seen citizens of all races line up for hours to hear an African-American man talk about “hope,” on a platform that is fundamentally no different than his opponents?
While I do sympathize with those activists choosing the Green party campaign of Cynthia McKinney or the “independent” Ralph Nader for their more progressive political program, I believe progressives and socialists should focus our attentions on critically engaging Obama supporters, identifying with their desire for a “new type of politics and direction for the country” — while explaining that Obama is no answer to stop the aggressive wars of U.S. imperialism.
In that spirit of critical engagement, an objective evaluation of Obama’s support, and why it’s grown, is instructive.
Mass Appeal Beyond Electoralism
The mass sentiment for the Obama campaign represents more than pure electoralism. It indicates a possible shift in political consciousness, which can either lead to broad-scale disillusionment or begin to awaken the new young generation to engage in more radical politics when the first African-American president acts like all his predecessors in defending the imperial state.
The Obama phenomenon is a result of fears and frustrations, and of hopes that the country can be better. Most Blacks, of course, are excited by an unprecedented possibility of a “Black president.” Others, including many white workers, are fed up with standing still or going backward as the country enters a recession. Obama taps these multiple anxieties. His mass rallies show the desire for change.
The “messiah effect” is why Obama could take on the issue of “race and racism” in the way he did on March 18 in Philadelphia. It’s appropriate to look at that speech and fallout — some 40 years after the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. — to see the complexities of racial progress.
As a Democrat and mainstream politician, Obama’s speech was far superior to what anyone on the left or the country likely expected. Some have criticized it for not analyzing the institutional racism deeply embedded in capitalism — another case of looking much too narrowly at what Obama means for tens of millions of people.
Overall, this was an outstanding speech. Obama refused to throw his former Chicago minster, Rev. Jeremiah Wright, under the moving bus for Wright’s sermon outlining the history of violence by the rulers of the United Stares.
(It should be noted that Obama later told the ABC daytime talk show, The View: “Had the reverend not retired, and had he not acknowledged that what he had said had deeply offended people and was inappropriate and mischaracterized what I believe is the greatness of this country — for all its flaws — then I wouldn’t have felt comfortable staying there at the church.”)
The speech’s significance, however, is not what he said or didn’t say about Rev. Wright. It is the fact that Obama dared to elaborate on the topic to a national audience even if it hurt his chances to win the presidential nomination or to be elected in November. It confirmed to his followers and detractors alike that he is a different kind of mainstream politician.
Obama outlined the origins of American racism from the dawn of English colonialism and Independence to the present — the slave trade, chattel slavery, Jim Crow segregation and the racism still prevalent in society, especially among many whites who speak and act certain ways in private, not necessarily consciously but because of cultural upbringing.
Obama told the story of his white Kansas grandmother, who feared Black men even though she loved him. These honest views are felt by all ethnic groups. Everyone has similar family contradictions.
Obama did not discuss institutional discrimination and disadvantages that “people of color” still face for simply being Black, Latino, Native American or Asian — something a white person has never experienced. That discrimination is why some employment and other opportunities are not offered, or the benefit of the doubt not given, by a mostly white male-dominated power structure.
Yet he went further than I expected, which is the only way to view his comments on Rev. Jeremiah Wright and racial politics. It’s why what he said about Wright rang true to the audience:
“Given my background, my politics, and my professed values and ideals, there will no doubt be those for whom my statements of condemnation [of Rev. Wright’s ‘divisive’ comments] are not enough.... But the truth is that isn’t all that I know of the man.
“The man I met more than twenty years ago is a man who helped introduce me to my Christian faith, a man who spoke to me about our obligations to love one another; to care for the sick and lift up the poor.... who served his country as a U.S. Marine; who has studied and lectured at some of the finest universities and seminaries in the country, and who for over thirty years led a church that serves the community (by) housing the homeless, ministering to the needy, providing day care services and scholarships and prison ministries, and reaching out to those suffering from HIV/AIDS…
“Not once in my conversations with him have I heard him talk about any ethnic group in derogatory terms, or treat whites with whom he interacted with anything but courtesy and respect. He contains within him the contradictions — the good and the bad — of the community that he has served diligently for so many years.
I can no more disown him than I can disown the Black community. I can no more disown him than I can my white grandmother....”
Wright is No Hatemonger [???]
Reverend Jeremiah Wright is no “hatemonger” as slandered by the right and many Clinton supporters. He did not give a “hate” speech. His sermons are, in fact, in the best tradition of Black Liberation Theology.
Read what Rev Wright (now retired) said in his now infamous December 2007 speech:
“We took this country by terror away from the Sioux, the Apache, Arikara, the Comanche, the Arapaho, and the Navajo. Terrorism.
“We took Africans away from their country to build our way of ease and kept them enslaved and living in fear. Terrorism.
“We bombed Grenada and killed innocent civilians, babies, and non-military personnel,” he preached.
“We bombed the Black civilian community of Panama with stealth bombers and killed unarmed teenagers and toddlers, pregnant mothers and hard working fathers.
“We bombed Qaddafi’s home, and killed his child. ‘Blessed are they who bash your children’s head against the rock.’ [This is a reference to the seldom-quoted final two verses of Psalm 137, which was Rev. Wright’s text for this sermon on the dangers of revenge lust —ed.]
“We bombed Iraq. We killed unarmed civilians trying to make a living. We bombed a plant in Sudan to pay back for the attack on our embassy, killed hundreds of hard working people, mothers and fathers who left home to go to work that day not knowing that they’d never get back home.
“We bombed Hiroshima. We bombed Nagasaki, and we nuked far more than the thousands in New York and the Pentagon and we never batted an eye.
“Kids playing in the playground. Mothers picking up children after school. Civilians, not soldiers, people just trying to make it day by day.
“We have supported state terrorism against the Palestinians and Black South Africans, and now we are indignant because the stuff that we have done overseas is now brought right back into our own front yards. America’s chickens are [here the congregation joins in completing the sentence —ed.] coming home to roost.
“Violence begets violence. Hatred begets hatred. And terrorism begets terrorism. A white ambassador [a U.S. diplomat previously quoted in Wright’s sermon —ed.] said that y’all, not a Black militant. Not a reverend who preaches about racism. An ambassador whose eyes are wide open and who is trying to get us to wake up and move away from this dangerous precipice upon which we are now poised. The ambassador said the people we have wounded don’t have the military capability we have. But they do have individuals who are willing to die and take thousands with them. And we need to come to grips with that.”
True or false?
In 1967 and 1968, shortly before his assassination, Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke at the Riverside Church in New York City about the Vietnam War. This is what he said:
“The only change came from America, as we increased our troop commitments in support of governments which were singularly corrupt, inept, and without popular support. All the while the people read our leaflets and received the regular promises of peace and democracy and land reform. Now they languish under our bombs and consider us, not their fellow Vietnamese, the real enemy. They move sadly and apathetically as we herd them off the land of their fathers into concentration camps where minimal social needs are rarely met. They know they must move on or be destroyed by our bombs.”
King called for the immediate end to this “madness.” In his 1968 speech at Stanford University in Palo Alto, California, he returned to the theme:
“It is said on the Statue of Liberty that America is a home of exiles. It doesn’t take us long to realize that America has been the home of its white exiles from Europe. But it has not evinced the same kind of maternal care and concern for its Black exiles from Africa. It is no wonder that in one of his sorrow songs, the Negro could sing out, “Sometimes I feel like a motherless child.” What great estrangement, what great sense of rejection caused a people to emerge with such a metaphor as they looked over their lives.”
“There are those, and they are often sincere people, who say to Negroes and their allies in the white community, that we should slow up and just be nice and patient and continue to pray, and in a hundred or two hundred years the problem will work itself out because only time can solve the problem.”
“I think there is an answer to that myth. And it is that time is neutral. It can be used either constructively or destructively. And I’m absolutely convinced that the forces of ill-will in our nation, the extreme rightists in our nation, have often used time much more effectively than the forces of good will. And it may well be that we will have to repent in this generation not merely for the vitriolic words of the bad people and the violent actions of the bad people, but for the appalling silence and indifference of the good people who sit around and say wait on time.
“Somewhere we must come to see that social progress never rolls in on the wheels of inevitability. It comes through the tireless efforts and the persistent work of dedicated Individuals. And without this hard work time itself becomes an ally of the primitive forces of social stagnation. And so we must help time, and we must realize that the time is always right to do right.”
Wright and King delivered the same message of truth. [???]
Black Liberation Theology
This political mixture of the Black Christian church and militancy has deep origins in the African-American community. It is called “Black Liberation Theology.” It is rooted in Black Nationalism and the traditions of Black radicalism. It goes back to the resistance to slavery. The modern version arose during the civil rights movement. It basically combines the philosophy of the Black Christian church and Black Nationalism.
Supporters of the ideology of Black Liberation Theology believe that the system can be reformed and Blacks can bring themselves up by the bootstraps and become full equals in U.S. society. The advocates see a future where the poor can become middle class and CEOs of major corporations; and, of course, elected U.S. Senator or even President of the country — some day. One of the main intellectual articulators of the theory is the Rev. James Hal Cone of Arkansas.
As part of his theological analysis, Cone argues for God’s own identification with “Blackness.” He explains in A Black Theology of Liberation:
“The Black theologian must reject any conception of God which stifles Black self-determination by picturing God as a God of all peoples. Either God is identified with the oppressed to the point that their experience becomes God’s experience, or God is a God of racism...The Blackness of God means that God has made the oppressed condition God’s own condition. This is the essence of the Biblical revelation. By electing Israelite slaves as the people of God and by becoming the Oppressed One in Jesus Christ, the human race is made to understand that God is known where human beings experience humiliation and suffering...Liberation is not an afterthought, but the very essence of divine activity.” (63-64)
Based on the preeminence of “Black experience,” Cone defines theology as “a rational study of the being of God in the world in light of the existential situation of an oppressed community, relating the forces of liberation to the essence of the gospel, which is Jesus Christ.”
Cone’s theology asks (and seeks to answer) the question, “What does the Christian gospel have to say to powerless Black men whose existence is threatened daily by the insidious tentacles of white power?” His answer emphasizes that there is a very close relationship between Black theology and what has been termed “Black Power.”
Black Power is a phrase that represents both Black freedom and Black self-determination “wherein Black people no longer view themselves as without human dignity but as men, human beings with the ability to carve out their own destiny.” Cone says Black theology is the religious counterpart of Black Power. “Black Theology is the theological arm of Black Power, and Black Power is the political arm of Black Theology.” And “while Black Power focuses on the political, social, and economic condition of Black people, Black Theology puts Black identity in a theological context.”
Black Nationalists (self identified or not; few are today) — whether of the Booker T. Washington philosophy of seeking to reform the system, or the more militant Black power ideology of Marcus Garvey and the 1960s followers of Malcolm X — all argued that Blacks must pull themselves up and stand on their own two feet.
Wright’s United Church of Christ congregation includes middle-class Blacks like Obama but in the majority are poor and working class. Rev. Wright speaks to the reality of Black history and the subtle and actual racism that his typical church goer has experienced.
His sermons are mainstream, and not anti-American — or against capitalism. He is a “patriot,” as Obama described; but he is the Black American version, who serves as a medic for the Marines, fights the wars and comes home to face racial discrimination!
To Rev. Wright there is no contradiction in condemning real racism and urging Blacks to take more personal responsibility for the problems of their community. This is not “radical” or “hate” speech. His criticisms are based on hard facts, not make-believe or white liberal conservative views of patriotism. Its that understanding that enables him to make the comparison between the U.S. empire today and that of the Roman era.
In Wright’s speech before the National Press Club, he identifed himself with Black Liberation Theology and pointed out that the attack on Obama and him by the corporate media and others is in reality an attack on the Black community.
Barack Obama, the former Chicago community organizer, learned his roots as a Black man at his wife’s church. He learned his internationalist outlook from his white mother, who worked among the poor in Indonesia. But he is not an advocate of Black Liberation Theology even though he listened to Wright for 20 years. That’s why he can say he never heard Wright speak the words he did last December. He did, and probably nodded in agreement — but as a mainstream presidential candidate with a chance of winning the presidency, of course, he must disassociate from Wright.
Those who expect otherwise are not realistic. The way he did so, by rejecting but not throwing Wright under the bus, was a nod to his youthful base and recognition of his historical roots in the Black community.
Obama is obviously aware of what is called the “Bradley effect” where a certain percentage of whites will never vote for an African American as president. (The Bradley factor refers to Tom Bradley, the African-American former mayor of Los Angeles, who had a double digit lead in the 1982 California governor’s election days before the vote. He then narrowly lost due to racial dynamics — whites telling pollsters one thing, and voting the opposite.)
Barack Obama is also a strong proponent of modern day Black capitalism. He told Business Week (April 14 issue) that, “My opponents to the right like to paint me as this wild-eyed liberal. But I believe in the market. I believe in entrepreneurship.”
(Civil rights leader Jesse Jackson is one of most prominent advocates of the market system and Black capitalism. The concept of Black capitalism has evolved over the decades. It used to mean advocating an independent “Black economy” —- tied to the nationalist goal of “Black control of the Black community” — tapping the $800 billion spent by African Americans within the American economy. Today it means striving and believing it is possible to become a capitalist like Bill Gates.)
Ironically, there has been more success in gaining a foothold in big business then in the political arena where Obama is the only Black in the U.S. Senate. Several African Americans have become heads of major corporations. Forty years ago there were none. African American Stanley O’Neil, for example, was CEO of Merrill Lynch, one of the largest investment firms on Wall Street. His grandfather had been a slave.
Since the decline of the civil rights and Black Power movements in the 1970s, the conservative pro-big business wing dominates the discussion on improving the lives of African Americans. Traditional Black Nationalism, including those who reject “Black Capitalism,” has few advocates today.
If Obama happens to get the Democratic nomination and wins the presidency it can sharpen the debates even more. That’s good for society. The real test is yet to come when the Republican right launches its inevitable race-baiting. To this point, the integration of elite African Americans in business, media, the military and politics has made that less effective.
The most interesting aspect about the Obama campaign for me, and what should be for those on the left of the political spectrum, is the mass consciousness unfolding in front of our eyes in support of a “color blind” or nonracial society. It is evident in all 50 states where “race does not matter” the way it did in the past.
Obama’s speech on race, and more importantly his campaign, has initiated a broad discussion about American history including its violence, racist past and why young people need to engage in politics. It could not happen if that change in attitudes weren’t taking place.
The left in particular should resist a sectarian response towards this unique mass phenomenon for Obama. The critical choice isn’t about voting for Obama, or even a third party alternative. Progressive political consciousness at the end of the day is not primarily an intellectual transformation. For most, it occurs by joining struggles to end wars and occupations like Iraq and Afghanistan, fighting racism and ending economic inequalities.
I for one think it is important to critically embrace those backing Obama’s campaign. It is not a betrayal of socialist principles to do so.
Solidarity congratulates the Cynthia McKinney "Power to the People" presidential campaign on winning the Green Party endorsement. McKinney, a former Georgia congresswoman who joined the Green Party in 2007, is joined by hip-hop activist Rosa Clemente to form the first all woman of color presidential ticket in United States history. McKinney's platform includes withdrawal from Iraq, support for high labor standards, environmental justice, reparations, and resources for human needs such as education, housing, and health care. Solidarity's National Committee endorsed Cynthia McKinney in May. Get involved with the "Power to the People" campaign at runcynthiarun.org
Statement by Cynthia McKinney on the nomination of Barack Obama
Statement by Cynthia McKinney, Power to the People Candidate for U.S. President, on the nomination of Barack Obama as the Democratic Party's Presidential Candidate in 2008 (statement issued June 9, 2008)
On Saturday, June 7, 2008, Hillary Clinton announced that her 2008 presidential bid is over, making Barack Obama the first-ever Black presidential nominee of a major party in the history of the United States. Congratulations to Senator Obama for achieving such a feat!
When I was growing up in the U.S. South in the racially turbulent 1960s, it would have been impossible for a Black politician to become a viable Presidential contender. Nothing a Black candidate could have done or said would have prevented him (or her) from being excluded on the basis of skin color alone. Many of us never thought we would see in our lifetime a Black person with a real possibility of becoming President of the United States.
The fact that this is now possible is a sign of some racial progress in this country, more than 40 years after the Civil Rights and Voting Rights Acts. But it is also a sign of the deep discontent among the American people, and particularly among African Americans, with the corporate-dominated, business-as-usual politics that has prevailed in Washington for too many years.
Coming from Barack Obama, the word "change" did not appear as just another empty campaign slogan. It galvanized millions of people --mostly young people--to register to vote and to get active in the political system.
The U.S. political system needs the energy and vision of all is citizens participating in the political process. Citizen participation is always the answer. Senator Obama called for healing the wounds inflicted on working people and the poor in our country after eights years of a corrupt and criminal Bush-Cheney Administration.
Just as in November 2006, people full of an expectation for change, including those the system has purposefully left out and left behind, flocked to the polls to vote for Senator Obama.
Across a broad swath of the people of this country, and from those who are impacted by U.S. foreign policy, there is a real expectation, a real desire, for change.
While congratulating Senator Obama for a feat well done, I would also like to bring home the very real need for change and a few of the issues that must be addressed for the change needed in this country to be real.
First of all, a few of the more obvious facts: United for a Fair Economy (UFE) produces studies each year on the anniversary of the birth of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. entitled, State of the Dream reports. UFE has found that on some indices the racial disparities that exist today are worse than at the time of the murder of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. For example, infant mortality, where the overall U.S. world ranking falls below Cuba, Israel, and Canada. They also have found that, without a public policy intervention, it would take over 5,000 years to close the home ownership gap between blacks and whites in this country, especially exacerbated because of the foreclosure crisis disproportionately facing Blacks and Latinos today. They have found that it would take 581 years, without a public policy intervention, to close the racial gap in income in this country. UFE has found unacceptable racial disparities extant on economic, justice, and security issues. After analyzing the impact of the Democratic Party's "First 100 Hours" agenda upon taking the Congressional majority, UFE concluded in its 2007 report that Blacks vote in the Blue (meaning, they support Democrats in the voting booth), but live in the Red (they do not get the public policy results that those votes merit). And UFE noted that Hurricane Katrina was not even mentioned at all in the Congressional Democratic majority's 2007 First 100 hours agenda. United for a Fair Economy is not the only organization to find such dismal statistics, reflecting life for far too many in this country.
In a study not too long ago, Dr. David Satcher found that over 83,000 blacks died unnecessarily, due to racial disparities in access to health care and because of the disparate treatment blacks receive after access. A Hull House study found that the racial disparity in the quality of life of black Chicagoans and white Chicagoans would take 200 years to be eliminated without a public policy intervention.
The National Urban League in its annual "State of Black America" publication basically concludes that the United States has not done enough to close long-existing and unacceptable racial disparities.
The United Nations Rapporteur for Special Forms of Racism, Mr. Doudou Diene of Senegal, just left this country in an unprecedented fact-finding mission to monitor human rights violations in the United States. Dr. Jared Ball submitted to Diene on my behalf, my statement after the Sean Bell police verdict. The United Nations has already cited its concern for the treatment of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita survivors and the extrajudicial killings taking place across our country, that especially target Black and Latino males, and especially at the hands of law enforcement authorities. I hope it is clear that the desire for change is so deeply felt because it is deeply needed.
Politics, through public policy, can address all these issues and more in the favor of the people. We do not have to accept or tolerate such glaring disparities in our society. We do not have to accept or tolerate bloated Pentagon spending, unfair tax cuts, attacks on our civil liberties, and on workers' rights to unionize. We don't have to accept or tolerate our children dropping out of high school, college education unreachable because tuition is so high, or our country steeped in debt.
The 21st Century statistics for our country reflect a country that can still be characterized as Dr. King did so many years ago: the greatest purveyor of violence on the planet. It doesn't have to be that way. And the people know it.
I have accepted as the platform of the Power to the People Campaign, the 10-Point Draft Manifesto of the Reconstruction Movement, a grouping of Black activists who came together in the aftermath of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita to advocate for public policy initiatives that address the plight of Blacks and other oppressed peoples in this country. Among its many specific public policy planks, the Draft Manifesto calls for:
- election integrity, if our vote is to mean anything at all, all political parties must defend the integrity of the votes cast by the American people, something neither of the major parties has done effectively in the past two Presidential elections;
- funding a massive infrastructure improvement program that is also a jobs program that greens our economy and puts people to work, and especially in New Orleans and the Gulf Coast, Hurricane survivors, treated as internally displaced persons whose right to vote and right of return are protected, play a meaningful role in the rebuilding of their communities;
- recognizing affordable housing as a fundamental human right, and putting a halt to the senseless destruction of public housing in New Orleans;
- enacting Reparations for African Americans, so that the enduring racial disparities which reflect the U.S. government's failure to address the reality and the vestiges of slavery and unjust laws enacted can be ended and recognition of the plight of Black Farmers whose issues are still not being adequately addressed by USDA and court-appointed mediators despite a US government admission of guilt for systematic discrimination;
- acknowledging COINTELPRO and other government spying and destabilization programs from the 1960s to today and disclosing the role of the US government in the harassment and false imprisonment of political activists in this country, including Mumia Abu-Jamal, the San Francisco 8, Leonard Peltier, including restitution to victims of government abuse and their families for the suffering they have long endured;
- ending prisons for profit and the "war on drugs," which fuels the criminalization of Black and Latino youth at home and provides cover for U.S. military intervention in foreign countries, particularly to our south, which is used to put down all social protest movements in countries like Mexico, Colombia, Peru, Ecuador, and elsewhere;
- creating a universal access, single-payer, health care system and enacting a livable wage, equal pay for equal work, repealing the Bush tax cuts, and making corporations and the rich pay their fair share of taxes;
- establishing public funding for higher education--no student should graduate from college or university tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt;
- ensuring workers' rights by 1) repealing Taft-Hartley to stop the unjust firing of union organizers, ban scabbing, and enable workers to exercise their voices at work and 2) enacting laws for U.S. corporations that keep labor standards high at home and raise them abroad, which would require the repeal of NAFTA, CAFTA, the Caribbean FTA, and the U.S.-Peru FTA;
- justice for immigrant workers, including real immigration reform that provides amnesty for all undocumented immigrants;
- creating a Department of Peace that would put forward projects for peace all over the world, deploying our diplomats to help resolve conflicts through peaceful means and overseeing the orderly withdrawal of U.S. troops from the more than 100 countries around the world where they are stationed, and an immediate end to all wars and occupations by U.S. forces, beginning in Iraq and Afghanistan, and slashing the budget for the Pentagon.
The Power to the People Campaign has visited 24 states and I believe there is already broad support across our country for these policy positions. The people deserve an open and honest debate on these issues and more. I encourage the Democratic Party and its new presumptive nominee, Senator Obama, to embrace these important suggestions for policy initiatives.