Nov 20, 2008

...something on the election

from Nick Paretsky,

Some radical leftists are probably trying to figure out to relate to an
Obama presidency and understand the significance of the first
African-American President in history for an analysis that has made the
institution of white supremacy a critically defining feature of
American capitalism. There may be some disorientation on the left. Many
on the Left no doubt look to an Obama presidency as creating an opening
for progressive change, e.g., Howard Zinn’s piece at Znet, “Obama’s
Historic Victory.” At you can find more skeptical, and
maybe more realistic appraisals of the Obama candidacy and the shape of
his coming administration.

To MAR: So, what are your thoughts? (I’m not a member of BTR or 3-W-F,
incidentally.) Are you being sarcastic when you say Obama’s election
represents a “vibrant exercise of multi-racial democracy”? And what is
a “Middle American Radical”?

Another way of thinking about this claim about Obama and “multi-racial
democracy” can be found in J. Sakai’s argument about the
“desettlerization” of U.S. empire, in his essay, “The Shock of
Recognition,” in the collection, Confronting Fascism, written as a
response to D Hamerquist’s, “Fascism & Anti-Fascism.” Sakai sees a
transnationalization, or globalization of the “U.S.” empire which is
partly registered by the growing presence of people of color in high
levels of the state apparatus – e.g., Rice, Powell, and others in the
Bush Administration. He argues that this globalization of empire is
disrupting the system of white-skin privilege, which creates the
potential for a white fascist mass movement: while white preference
will be around for a long time, “the big guys are sending a message
down to ordinary white men. It’s like a bomb. In the new globalized
multicularal capitalism…the provincial, sheltered white settler life of
America is going to be as over as the white settler life of the South
African 'Afrikaners’ is” (pp.96-97).

Sakai’s reasoning about globalization's undermining of white
privileges, and fascism, is in accord with a lot of what’s been said on
on 3-W-F. Sakai also makes me think of Obama in terms of this new,
“multicultural, globalized capitalism.” (I put US in quotation marks
above because of the view, advanced by Hamerquist, that a global ruling
class is ascendant and that the concept of “US imperialism” is
increasingly inadequate in a globalized capitalism. Hamerquist’s
position is of course also controversial.)


Anonymous said...

I want to qualify some of my remarks – maybe backpedal is more accurate. I still think Sakai is on to something with his notion of the "desettlerization of empire.” But I don’t agree with everything in J. Sakai’s general perspective on the American white working class as it’s presented in his book, “Settlers,” and I think the analogy of white workers in the US with the Afrikaners in the above quotation is overdrawn. (Among other things, in “Settlers,” I remember that he seems to deny the existence of a white working class. In an interview he tried to clarify this view by acknowledging that there are indeed “millions” of white workers, but somehow they did not qualify as being members of the proletariat. I don’t understand how he sees the relation between the concepts of “working class” and “proletariat.” It’s been a while since I read “Settlers” so I need to look at his writings again to avoid distorting his positions.)

I also may sound too dismissive of the anti-racist and historic signficance of there being an African American first family in the White House. It was a major mobilization of blacks at the polls that help put him in office, so there was a mass, black activism at work. Many whites were willing to shed their “Afrikaner” outlook and voted for him. Many young whites were inspired by his campaign, and that’s a good thing. His election, as Doug Henwood and others point out, demonstrates a desire for real social change in the country, even if an Obama adminstration can’t deliver.

I also want to apologize for the unnecessarily confrontational tone of my comments to the Middle American Radical, “anonymous.”

I wish I could have shared in the excitement at the election of Barak Obama to be President of the United Snakes of America. Something in my gut says it came to late in the history of US capitalism for it have the liberatory meaning it might have once had. As I’ve grown older I’ve become more jaded, numb, about electoral politics, regardless of the candidate. Seattle in ‘99 and the LA rebellion of ‘92 were more electrifying for me.

Nick Paretsky