Barack Hussein Obama’s assumption of office as the 44th President of the United States of America was witnessed by billions of people globally, apart from the millions, perhaps unprecedented in the history of the US, who had gathered in Washington, choked with emotion and rising aspirations.
When Obama was born in 1961, the right to vote for the African-American people was not universally granted in many southern states. Equality before law came only in the 1964 Civil Rights Act, followed by the Voting Rights Act in 1965. Inter-racial marriages were legalised in 1967. Today, an African-American has walked into the White House on a popular mandate for ‘change’. In this sense, one chapter of history has, indeed, been written. A more important chapter, however, awaits its turn.
Marx had once said, “Men make their own history, but they do not make it just as they please; they do not make it under circumstances chosen by themselves, but under circumstances directly encountered, given and transmitted from the past. The tradition of all the dead generations weighs like a nightmare on the brain of the living.”
Obama inherits a past: US imperialism’s hegemonic drive to impose a global unipolarity under its tutelage; the US’s strategic doctrine of ‘pre-emptive strike’ against any sovereign independent country in the world; the US’s self-declared right to militarily attack and occupy any country in the name of the ‘global war against terrorism’. He inherits the notorious history of ‘State terrorism’ practised by successive US governments. He has, himself, committed to continue the criminal economic blockade against Cuba.
US support to Israel has denied the Palestinians their ‘homeland’ all through the 20th century. Obama has himself declared that undivided Jerusalem will be the capital of Israel. Thus negating the UN-mandated Palestinian State with East Jerusalem as its capital. Will this change now?
Will the pressure on India to be party to the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, and for resurrecting the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, mount? With the Indo-US nuclear deal’s attendant pressures on India, this has serious implications. Further, Obama has already displayed keen interest in resolving the Kashmir dispute when India has consistently maintained that there is no scope for any third-party intervention in this Indo-Pak bilateral issue. Obama has declared this as a priority, in order to have Pakistan’s undistracted attention in helping the US militarily combat the Taliban. Given these concerns, there is already a feeling that the US is not mounting sufficient pressure on Pakistan to pursue the terrorists who conducted the Mumbai attacks.
The US electorate has created history by electing Obama. Will he create history or not is dependent on how he tackles the above issues and, importantly, the global economic crisis. Obama had said, “The decline in our GDP didn’t happen by accident. It is a direct result of the Bush administration’s trickle-down, Wall Street first, Main Street last, policies.” This offers a hint in identifying the major culprit for this crisis, namely international finance capital and its speculative activities in search of quick super profits.
Earlier, he had said, “The engine of economic growth for the past 20 years is not going to be there for the next 20. That was consumer spending. Basically, we turbocharged this economy based on cheap credit.” But the days of easy credit are over. A new economic turbocharger is going to have to be found. However, the Bush administration will leave behind for Obama a staggering national debt of $10.3 trillion. Given this, the options for a fiscal stimulus appear very limited, as estimates of the budget deficit this year have already spiralled above $1 trillion. Obama has, thus, an opportunity to offer a new “New Deal” a la president Roosevelt following the Great Depression. This, however, would mean recognition of the bankruptcy of neo-liberalism that provided the ideological prop for finance capital-led speculative growth bubbles that have burst one after the other, culminating in the current crisis.
Will President Obama rise to the occasion? Or, will he preside over the efforts of the giants of international finance capital to emerge from this crisis and heap further miseries on the peoples of the Third World? The choice that Obama makes will define the people’s response to US imperialism globally. Obama has declared that the US cannot be indifferent to the conditions of life outside its borders. The fate of 95 per cent of humanity living outside the US, in war or peace, their quality of life, and of the air that they breathe will depend to a great extent on the decisions of the Empire’s institutional leader.
Will any of this work towards creating a better world? Obama won the election on the slogan : “Change, we can.” Past experience of US imperialism, however, has shown that the leopard never changes its spots. If so, then the struggle against the Empire shall continue for humanity’s triumph of hope over experience.
(Sitaram Yechury is CPI(M) Politburo member and MP)