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Don’t celebrate, organize

Well, actually, feel free to celebrate a bit. Certainly, Obama’s victory is better than the alternative; at the very least, an Obama presidency will be less teeth-itchingly annoying than four years of McCain and Palin. More importantly, it’s not nothing that the US has a Black president, even if there’s no particular reason to think his policies will be significantly better for people of color than anyone else’s would have been.

Because the specific details of a president’s policy pronouncements are not the most important thing. More interesting to me, I think more important and also harder to figure out, is how a particular president will affect the opportunities for political action outside the bourgeois-democratic sideshow. There may be some reason for hope here. I certainly don’t agree with some ultra-left friends who hoped for a McCain win to radicalize the population; the past eight years of Republican rule don’t seem to have done much for the left, and I don’t see any reason to think that would change (it’s amusing that advocates of sharpening the contradictions are a mirror-image of faithful liberals: “just give them another four years! Then the people will get really immiserated, you’ll see!”). On the other hand, I’m not persuaded by those who see a great hope in people’s forthcoming disillusionment with Obama; I don’t think that automatically translates into support for the left, certainly, disillusionment with New Labour has led to apathy, not revolution.

I do hope, though,  that Obama’s election will put paid to the kind of “state of emergency” thinking that has dominated the left in the Bush years, in which everything is read as a sign of imminent fascism, preventing any pause, any attempt to try and comprehend the wider dynamics of the situation or form any kind of coherent response to capitalism as such, rather than to its epiphenominal crises. Admittedly, the ongoing financial crisis seems to be continuing this line of thinking, as can be seen in the abstract rejections of “the bailout” (a demand which is doubly impotent, as those making it know it won’t be listened to, and wouldn’t want it to be listened to if it were). But it seems to me that the coming few months at least will be a period of left down-time, with the attacks on the working class either less egregious or less obvious, and with public opinion more focused on (real or imagined) possibilities available within the capitalist state. This could be a good thing, the precondition for substantive left opposition to Obama as the character of his administration (and, perhaps more importantly, the global political-economic constraints on that administration) become clear.

So, although “don’t celebrate, organize” is a snappy slogan, I guess what I actually want to say is, “celebrate, and prepare.”