Monday, 3 November 2008

Casino capitalism and change we can believe in

As it looks increasingly certain that the US will elect its first black president, so-called Obamamania is reaching apotheosis everywhere from the pages of Facebook to the streets of Kibera, the slum around Nairobi where tshirts bearing the legend “Ndio Tunaweza” (“Yes we can” in Swahili) are making a tidy sum for those selling them.

This has certainly been an historic election, for many reasons. Obama's campaign appears to have turned around the dominance the Republicans have had at the grassroots through their Christian evangelist base, mobilising young liberals as never before. Britain's young liberal lefties have even been getting in on the act, taking time off to go over to the States and take part in the campaign. They're living the West Wing dream as the Bush era of war comes to a crescendo with a financial crisis that looks like being as bad as that of the 1930s.

There's no doubt that the crisis of casino capitalism has helped Obama's campaign. Despite his protestations McCain looks like nothing but Bush with the trimmings changed when it comes to the economy. Obama, on the other hand, has been able to make the right noises as public opinion falls out of love with the free market. (This is happening across the rich world – a poll in Germany found a clear majority in favour of nationalisations and major government intervention, with 40 percent wanting extensive nationalisation.)

Which brings me to a very pertinent article by the excellent Mike Davis. There's been an argument on the left over how much change Obama really represents, how excited we should get about him, and whether that matters so much as the fact that he's mobilised black communities politically in a way that hasn't happened before (see Red Pepper for one bit of that debate). One theme that's emerged more recently, as the financial crisis hit, has been Obama as a letter day Roosevelt, offering a New Deal to America.

What Davis questions is not so much Obama's intentions, as his ability to offer any such strategy, and the wisdom of using the 1930s as a template for today's crisis. The balance of class forces in America and the world today rather militate against serious government intervention in favour of the millions (as opposed to the millionaires), even if the grassroots momentum that looks likely to get Obama into office can be maintained – and you can rest assured the Democratic party machine will do its best to close it down after the election.

Davis ends without offering any particular solution, but one point is clear. On foreign policy Obama by no means repudiates the American Empire, aiming to get out of the Iraqi disaster but threatening to attack Pakistan in search of Al Qaeda and increase troops in Afghanistan. And whilst at home his agenda is potentially progressive (see Jim at The Daily (Maybe) for one aspect of this), the chances of any progressive outcomes to the financial crisis, in the US or anywhere, depend on social mobilisation.

Don't get me wrong, if the war criminal and his evangelical pitbull fail to get elected tomorrow, I may not be dancing a jig with the over-excited liberals, but I'll certainly breathe a sigh of relief. But unless we resuscitate some meaningful left, in fact anti-capitalist, organisation, the future will still look rather bleak.
  • An initial response from social movements and some of the more radical NGOs to the financial crisis can be found on the casino crash website – its being called the 'Beijing Declaration' as it was put together at the Asia Europe People's Forum in Beijing in October.
  • Call time on global greed: Don’t make the world’s poor pay for big business’ crash. Protest as Gordon Brown meets business leaders at the Lord Mayor's dinner. Monday 10th November, 6.15pm, corner of Gresham St and King St, near Guildhall Yard, London.

No comments: