Friday, November 14, 2008

Navigating the Storm: A Strategic Orientation for Confronting the Advance of Reaction and National Oppression in the "Obama" Era

Written by Kali Akuno
Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Barack Hussein Obama by most indications will become the 44th President of the United States on November 4, 2008, despite the massive voter disenfranchisement that is and will be committed by the Republicans and other extreme right forces. It is the position of this author that Obama’s victory, combined with what will perhaps be the worst economic depression since the 1930’s, will result in an extreme polarization of society fundamentally along lines of ideology and national identity. As revolutionaries we know that not all social polarization is negative or undesired. However, given the extreme balance of forces in the United States in favor of the forces of white supremacy, imperialism, and uninhibited capitalism this polarization will be extremely dangerous and deadly, particularly for New Afrikans and other oppressed peoples (i.e. First Nations, Xicanos, Latinos, Arabs, immigrants, etc.). In fact, I believe it is safe to say, without exaggeration, that the specter of fascism now truly haunts the social structure of the United States (in part premised on the full spectrum national security state built by the Bush regime over the last 8 years).

This racist and completely retrogressive social development by all means must be fought and defeated. Revolutionaries in the United States will not have the luxury of engaging in half measures the next four years and beyond. We are going to have to act and act with the revolutionary understanding and conviction that what we do matters. Unfortunately, we don’t have much time to get our act together as neither time nor conditions are favorably on our side. But, try we must.

To this end, I have attempted here to surmise and analyze many of the potential developments that will be critical in shaping the course of events over the next four years. For the sake of analogy, charting the chessboard is the aim of this forecasting exercise to outline a strategic orientation by which revolutionary anti-imperialist forces can strategically act, intervene and shape (if not ultimately determine) the outcome of events.

The strategic orientation that follows is at best preliminary. It is an attempt to initiate an ongoing dialogue between revolutionary anti-imperialist forces in the US that will potentially produce and advance a program of resistance over the course of the four pivotal years ahead.

I say strategic orientation rather than strategy deliberately. I start from the present reality that the revolutionary anti-imperialist forces in the US do not possess the unity or the political and numeric strength to execute a coherent program and strategy of resistance. In light of this reality it is the opinion of this author that an essential part of what revolutionary forces in the US presently need are some points of common assessment and agreement that through the engagement of joint work and concrete struggle can steer us towards greater unity and strength for the protracted struggle ahead.

Basic Positional Groundings

There are three fundamental presumptions that this orientation paper is based on:
1. That the (quantitative and qualitative) political strength and programmatic (i.e. ideological and strategic) coherence of the forces of reaction, at present, far exceeds the combined strength of left, progressive, and liberal forces in the United States.
2. That 2009 will mark the maturation of the deepest depression the global economy has experienced since the 1930’s. Following (aspects of) the analysis of political economists Immanuel Wallerstein and Samir Amin, I maintain that the Financial Crisis of 2007 – 2008 is the second major episode of the B-phase in the Kondratieff cycle (In short, this cycle can be briefly summarized as follows, “In phase A, profits are generated through material or industrial production. In phase B, in order to keep on generating profits, the capitalist system needs to increase the use of financial and speculative tools.” For a further elaboration on this proposition see “Wallerstein on the Financial Crisis” at Following this, I maintain that capitalism has begun to exceed its systemic and ecological limits and is in major crisis. This crisis will lead to the systemic transformation of the capitalist-imperialist system. This transformation may not be qualitatively more humane than the capitalist system however. Its qualitative transformation will largely depend on the outcome of the contest for power between progressive and reactionary forces within the world system during this transformative period.
3. That in part due to the immediate threat outlined in point two, Barack Obama will win the US Presidency, and the Democratic Party he will lead, will control both houses of Congress and potentially exercise one-faction rule (for at least two years).

Following points two and three in particular, this paper is also premised on the notion that the efficacy of Obama and the Democratic party to play a determinative role in stabilizing the United States and world economy will be limited by three fundamental structural constraints. Mike Davis has laid out the clearest presentation of these constraints in, “Can Obama see the Grand Canyon” (see,%20Casino%20Capitalism,%20Obama,%20and%20Us). Quoting Davis these constraints are:
• First, we can't rely on the Great Depression as analog to the current crisis, nor upon the New Deal as the template for its solution.”
• “Second, Obama won't inherit Roosevelt's ultimate situational advantage -- having emergent tools of state intervention and demand management (later to be called "Keynesianism") empowered by an epochal uprising of industrial workers in the world's most productive factories.”
• “The third problem with the New Deal analogy is perhaps the most important. Military Keynesianism is no longer an available deus ex machina (i.e. a “god from the machine” plot that seeks to pose a predictable and ineffective solution to complex questions. In this case it means relying on military production to reinvigorate the economy).”

Following these premises, I maintain that over the course of the next four years we are likely to confront three major periods of struggle. Each period will present us with a unique set of conditions, tasks, and challenges. A synopsis of each major period is provided below. However, before proceeding let me reiterate what should be considered the central point of this article: What We Do Matters. None, and I repeat none, of these developments are inevitable. Our actions and interventions can impact the conditions and change the balance of forces. Should that happen, most of what is foreshadowed and/or predicted here would not only be rendered untenable, but concretely impossible. It should go without saying that it is imperative that revolutionary anti-imperialist forces make this so.

November – May 2009 – The Period of Racist Reaction

Key Issues/Contradictions
1. The financial crisis will deepen and severely impact the real economy and employment by early 2009. Obama and the Democratic congress will be forced to apply stringent “structural adjustments” to the national budget to meet escalating global balance of payment demands.
2. In defeat, key elements of the Republican party are going to intensify their racist media onslaught and mass mobilization against Barack Obama, and by extension, the democratic rights of New Afrikans and other oppressed nationalities within the US. Significant sectors of the white working class are going to align with and support this mobilization.
3. A tide of white racist reaction, rivaling that of the 1870’s and late 1960’s, will unleash a program of terror on New Afrikans, Latinos, Arabs, Central Asians and immigrants. Some of these attacks will be state led, such as the ICE raids. Others like fire-bombings, lynching, pogroms, etc., will be state condoned. The latter attacks will at best be verbally condemned by the Democratic party, but will be largely unimpeded in the name and interest of maintaining “national unity”. Obama will be forced to engage in an extensive “reconciliation” monolog to try and preserve bourgeois order during the honeymoon phase of his administration.
4. The Republican party will start to openly fracture, with the more reactionary and militant wing beginning to pose openly “national socialist” demands to address the economic collapse and mobilize their base of white workers (although the term “national socialism” is best associated with the National Socialist German Workers Party, aka the Nazi’s, it more broadly refers to the ideology of reconciling the conflicting economic and political interests of the working and bourgeois classes of an ethnic, racial, or national group while vehemently opposing international socialism and communism and the interests of workers outside of the designated group. For some popular reference see Socialism). The structural contradictions between capitalism and white supremacy will become immediately acute and dangerous, potentially leading to the development of fully articulated fascism in the US (and beyond) during the proceeding periods.

General Line: Defend the Social, Political and Economic Human Rights of Oppressed Nationalities and the Exploited Masses

Key Tasks
1. Deliberate and focused channels of communication and coordination must be opened up between revolutionary forces to facilitate ongoing discussion, action planning, and assessment experiences and best practices.
2. Thoroughly document and publicize all of the attacks and atrocities that the reactionary forces are likely to commit. We must not allow the atrocities to be swept under the rug.
3. Engage the broad mass of oppressed peoples about the need to defend themselves and how this defense can and should be legally executed, both individually and collectively, in light of the constraints imposed by the national security state built over the last 8 years (elements of which will likely seek to make self-defense illegal).
4. Special efforts must be made to protect immigrants from increased and more intensely brutal raids. Sanctuary must be organized and provided.
5. Mass action must be taken against the bailout of finance capital, mounting foreclosures and evictions, and escalating retrenchment and unemployment. The actions in the short term should focus on demand orientated demonstrations and eviction defenses.

1. Maintaining our lines and principles without isolating ourselves from the mass support for Obama’s presidency, particularly amongst New Afrikans, and initial initiatives such as his proposed 90 day moratorium on foreclosures.
2. Pushing the progressive, liberal, and even centrist forces aligned with Obama and the Democrats to engage our structural demands without isolating ourselves from their various legislative initiatives and tactics or surrendering our initiative to theirs during the first 100 days of Obama and the Democrat’s reign.
3. Rising to the occasion and operating beyond our silo’s, trends, line disputes and criticisms, and for some, the restraints of the non-profit outfits that elements of our forces work for and/or lead.

January 2009 – January 2011 – The Period of Illusions

Key Issues/Contradictions
1. The issues and contradictions during this period are going to be legion. But, the fundamental issue we are going to have to confront is the mass illusions invested in Obama, the Democrats, and more importantly in the system of capitalism itself. The expression of these illusions will be manifested in the lines: “be patient and give him time”; “he’s doing the best he can”; and “he doesn’t have an alternative”, etc. These illusions will undoubtedly constrict political space for revolutionary forces to agitate for an alternative (socialist) vision and program.
2. Building on Mike Davis’ analysis in “Can Obama see the Grand Canyon?” that Obama and the Democrats will be structurally barred from ushering in a new Keynesian solution to the economic crisis, the half-baked regulatory measures they will attempt will further exasperate the crisis, leading to massive destitution amongst the nationally oppressed (skyrocketing New Afrikan unemployment beyond 70 to 80% in many urban areas perhaps) and working class. This will likely fracture the newly constituted Democratic coalition built by the Obama campaign considerably. As stated above, with the mounting pressure exerted on the US to pay its debts, particularly from China and other so-called “emerging market” states, Obama and the Democrats will be forced to accelerate the greatest fire-sale of national and semi-nationalized assets in world history. The fallout will stimulate and deepen white reaction on a massive scale.
3. In the wake of its defeat and fracturing, the right will regroup, slowly and steadily during this period, with the militant isolationists in their ranks occupying center stage. Barring any major interventions on part of the left and progressive forces, the right is likely to seize the political initiative on the economy and coherently and forcefully organize and agitate for an isolationist program of “national socialism” to aid “real Americans”. As the crisis deepens and their disruptive maneuvers and tactics help thwart the recovery schemes of the Democrats (as the Republicans are already calling the latest bailout a “socialist” conspiracy), this line will anchor their drive to begin retaking the reigns of state power in defense of the “homeland”, starting with the 2010 mid-term elections for Congress. Again, barring any major intervention from left and progressive forces, this will force Obama and the Democrats to move further to the right. In their effort to not lose ground, the Democrats will attempt to resurrect the specter of “Clintonism” and out right the right. This will only hasten the potential development of fascism.
4. On the International level, Obama will make a decisive effort to return to “Clintonian” style multilateralism not only on the economic front (such as overhauling the Bretton Woods institutions), but on the military and geo-political front as well. The main objective of Obama and the transnational bourgeois faction he represents is to contain China (and to a lesser degree India and Brazil as well), primarily by solidifying the US government’s control over strategic resources such as oil, gas, and water. To this end, Iraq will remain occupied through at least 2011, as Obama and the Democrats are going to stick with the so-called “security pact” they are presently helping Bush to “negotiate” with the puppet government of Prime Minister Nouri Maliki. The war of words with Iran will continue in one form or another, but Obama will seek to evade a direct armed conflict with Iran as he and his handlers do not want to further over-stretch and weaken the US’s military’s strength by picking a fight with a viable opponent. Rather, Obama is going to escalate the crisis in Afghanistan and Pakistan, including continuing, and perhaps escalating, the violation of Pakistani sovereignty with the numerous military incursions into Pakistani territory. The Zionists are likely to engage in some lip service regarding the so-called Saudi Arabian “peace plan”. However, the ’67 occupied territories of Palestine will remain the world’s largest open-air prison in full accord with the strategic aims of US led imperialism. Imperialist military aggression will be elevated against most of Afrika, Asia, and Latin America (particularly against Sudan, Somalia, Nigeria, Zimbabwe, Cuba, Venezuela, the Philippines, Burma/Myanmar, and the Central Asian Republics to name a few) under the guise of “humanitarian interventionism” or new strategic initiatives like AFRICOM (the strategic command for Africa). The contradiction here is that the US government will not have enough capital and human resources to successfully fulfill many of these geo-strategic commitments without engaging in draconian austerity measures domestically, which again will only strengthen the drive towards fascism.
5. However, despite all this geo-political activity, Obama and the Democrats will in fact be lording over the “official” decline of US imperial hegemony. Following the Clinton strategy, and the interests and needs of the financial wing of the transnational bourgeois class Obama and the Democratic party leadership are beholden to, their fundamental role will be to negotiate the new divvying up of the spoils of imperialism (a great many of which will include the “national assets” of the US itself as already stated).

General Line: Cast Away Illusions through Patient and Systematic Mass Work

Key Tasks
1. Increased dialogue and coordination amongst revolutionary forces should lead to more developed strategic thinking, planning, and demand development.
2. Digging in and expanding our base and political reach around some concrete domestic struggles is our primary task during this period. The most fundamental of these issues include: defending the human rights of oppressed nationalities against racist terror; resisting forced displacement and migration in the forms of ethnic cleansing in the Gulf and evictions and foreclosures throughout the country; defending the human rights of immigrants; heightening the contradictions around the bailouts; resisting the expansion of the national security state – especially the mass incarceration or re-enslavement of New Afrikans and Latinos; and raising key transitional demands like universal health care, substantive and substantial ecological reforms, sustainable industrial and urban redevelopment, etc. To this end, revolutionaries need to take the lead in developing mass organizations to base and ground these demands amongst the unemployed, tenants, the displaced, the uninsured, and immigrants.
3. Linking the domestic contradictions around the economic crisis with the international ones, we must reinvigorate the anti-war movement and strategically work to push critical sectors of it towards an anti-imperialist line. To this end, we must unwaveringly demand for an immediate end to the occupations of Iraq, Afghanistan, and Haiti. We must also demand unconditional support for Palestinian self-determination and an end to the application of “humanitarian interventionism” in the third world, particularly in Afrika.
4. Towards the end of this period, we should be looking to build and consolidate national coalitions and fronts of the mass organizations that have been built or expanded via the bread and butter struggles we have collectively engaged. One of the primary tasks of these coalitions and fronts should be the production and promotion of a transitional “Peoples’ Plan” or “Charter” that will help galvanize a “self-conscious” progressive social movement in the US to heighten the contradictions exposed by the economic crisis.

1. In addition to the challenges from the first period, some of the key challenges we are going to have to face are the economic impacts on our own organizations and formations (and persons) and how this will impact our ability to work and struggle effectively. One solution to this problem is going to be the democratic collectivization of our resources, i.e. forming cooperatives and the like, to gather our strength and address our material needs.
2. We are also going to have to work tremendously to inspire hope and confidence against the despair, apathy, and sense of hopelessness that has gripped our social base for decades, which is likely to deepen as Obama and the Democrats fail to ameliorate the crisis. In order to fight this despair, I think we are going to have to commit ourselves to developing and engaging in a great deal of counter-hegemonic cultural work. This will have to inspire, educate, and give people the inspiration to stand together and fight against the system (rather than against each other which is where most of this energy has gone over the past three decades).
3. Not fracturing or splitting over the many compromises and shortsighted reforms that many of our progressive and liberal allies (strategic and tactical) are likely to commit during this period. One of the key contradictions we are likely to confront is the promotion and advance of “green capitalism” as a means of resolving the crisis of capitalism. Without question we are going to have to address the real threat of ecological collapse produced by capitalist civilization as a guiding element within this social movement, but in the course of doing so, we must be keen to not reinvigorate capitalism with green monopolies and illusions. To this end, we are going to have to find a way to work with these reformist forces, while at the same time pushing them to advance more structural demands.
4. Resisting and overcoming the anti-democratic, sexist, and hetero-normative tendencies exhibited in our collective past. Engaging the “movement of movements” framework, without getting lost in its talk shop tendencies. And making concrete commitments to women’s and LGBTQI leadership.

January 2011 – January 2013 – The Period of Confusion, Disillusion, and Racist Polarization

Key issues/Contradictions
1. The failures of the economic interventions of Obama and the Democrats, coupled with the anger generated by their fire sale measures will have thoroughly polarized US society by the beginning of this period. Elements of the reactionary and thoroughly racist right will exploit this polarization to advance a thoroughly repressive, “America first” closed door, isolationist campaign. During this period we should expect demands for mass deportation, wholesale ICE raids on immigrant communities, intense attacks on the New Afrikan working class, and massive incarceration.
2. The Republicans, fortified through the reaction of the white working class, will regain some serious electoral ground in 2010, perhaps even regaining a majority in the House of Representatives. The “national socialist” and “American first” campaigns will find there legislative expression and early fruition with this initiative, unless there is a massive intervention of Left and Progressive forces.
3. Obama will confront the Lyndon B. Johnson (LBJ) trap (i.e. massive domestic polarization and unrest coupled with the political and financial strains of commitments to un-winnable wars and occupations), and as a result will have to seriously consider bowing out of a re-election campaign. The Democrats will once again fracture as they did in 1968, as they find that the Clinton strategy to out-right the right is no longer viable without a making a decisive commitment to Fascism. Without left intervention, elements of the Democratic party and its diminishing white working class base, will undoubtedly agree with such a move. However, the Democratic Party will not be able to maintain its “big tent” coalition of New Afrikan, Latino, and working class voting blocs. This will embolden the forces of reaction, and potentially prepare the grounds for them to seize the essential reigns of power within the US in 2012.
4. On the world-scale, the balance of forces is likely to shift qualitatively and quantitatively towards Left and Progressive forces in many areas of the world. In many parts of Latin America, Afrika, and South Asia in particular, these forces will further seize the initiative and make further advances in their struggles against neo-liberalism and imperialism. In other areas, particularly Central Asia and parts of the Arab and Islamic world, the forces of reaction are likely to consolidate their grip during this period, as they are better financed and posses superior firepower than their domestic rivals. Geo-politically China, nor any of the other sub-imperialist powers like India, Brazil, South Africa, etc., will have their interests contained by the US and EU. The transnational bourgeoisie will do everything within its power to save the capitalist world system, but they will run against some major constraints from both the left and the right, that will begin to seriously push the system to its limits by the end of this period. The subjective forces of the world will fundamentally determine whether the world-system descends into complete capitalist barbarism or transforms and advances towards socialism (or some other alternative).

General Line: Unite and Fight to Defeat Fascism

Key Tasks
1. Our fundamental tasks during this period are to organize the mass forces that invested their legitimate hopes and aspirations into Obama and form a popular front with liberal and centrist forces to contain the forces of reaction. This is going to be no small order, as in the absence of forming a Gramscian “historic bloc” in this short period of time, it will demand entering into strategic, all be they transitional, alliances with liberal and centrist forces. Entering into these alliances on the basis of strength is going to require that revolutionary anti-imperialist forces make significant gains in our base building efforts – gains that result in the organizing and mobilizing of millions of people (the place where real politics begins as Lenin reminds us).
2. Building a strategic and deliberate oppressed peoples front, that unites New Afrikans, First Nation’s, Latinos, Arabs, Asians, and immigrants against racist terror and reaction, and mitigates against both the divide and conquer strategies of the imperialists and the reactionary interests and views contained within sectors of each of these oppressed communities.
3. When and where possible we must take every opportunity to advance the “Peoples’ Plan/Charter”. A part of this advance should entail the running of candidates for local, county/district/parish, and statewide offices under the banner of the “Peoples’ Plan/Charter.

1. Our greatest challenge is going to be sustaining and mobilizing the bases we have built to see these (and other) tasks through.
2. Maintaining a clear and independent “line of march” is also going to be a significant challenge. There is going to be a tremendous pull, I speculate one even greater than what we’ve experienced during this 2008 campaign, to rally behind Obama and the Democrats during this period in defense of basic democratic space, civil liberties, and human rights. Legions of right and left sectarian errors clearly lurk on this horizon, particularly as it regards how revolutionaries should and must engage liberal and centrist forces. Maintaining our strategic focus is going to be key and is going to require that sufficient trust has been built over the two previous periods to sustain the open communication and principled debate needed to produce the plan(s) of action and unity we need to win.
3. Finally, fighting against the reactionary beliefs and tendencies (internalized white supremacy, xenophobia, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, etc.) within our own communities is going to be no small challenge. To address this, we have to lay out a clear reasoning for unity amongst oppressed peoples and exploited classes from the start, demonstrate in practice its utility, and agitate like hell to ensure that it is heard, seen, and accepted.

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Decolonizer said...

I am shocked that there are no comments on this piece, and saddened that I was unaware of it until recently directed to it by an article by Don Hamerquist on the Three-Way Fight blog. This needs to be better publicized. Coming upon it over a year after it was written and posted, it is interesting to see the degree to which some of its predictive elements have held water, especially as regards to the Obama/Democratic Party strategies and inadequacies, and the likelihood of a Republican/hard right resurgence. However, I think the key component of a proposed organizing strategy -- uniting with liberal and progressive forces in a popular front against fascism -- is really off the mark, and does not follow from the valid explanation of the dynamics of the Empire that are explicated earlier. Since neither US nor global capitalism any longer has the capacity to carry out a new deal, the only way out is a revolutionary initiative and way forward that speaks to the need for decolonization and a new society. Obama et al are not just focused on "containing" China and the other BRIC countries. The resolution of contradictions and conflicts are enormous as those facing the Empire -- interdependent with the periphery but incapable of ceding autonomy to such potential rivals -- will be, as they always been, resolved by war. China and the US are already clearly engaged in steady cyber-war. The US military strategy vis a vis Iraq, Afghanistan, Iran and Pakistan (not to mention in Africa and against Venezuela/ALBA) can only be understood as a campaign of encirclement directed at China, aimed at sealing it off from potential allies and resources in a coming full-scale military conflict. Liberals and progressives have nothing to say about such matters because they are fundamentally based on and complicit in the Empire. Only revolutionary-minded sectors and people can have a role to play in forestalling such a war -- not to mention the imminent ecological catastrophes of the necrotic Empire -- by overthrowing the system of colonialism and capitalism.
For more discussion, please contact, or check out (click on 'publication' for "Turning the Tide").

OUR COMMON GROUND with Janice Graham said...

Kali, this is one of the most riveting and comprehensive strategic plans ever presented for toward the liberation of oppressed people that I have read. Unfortunately, in considering the ways in which we can break it down to some tactical approaches, organizers really need a comprehensive plan for the re-education and training of our people. Engaging folks on this level will require them to understand the relationship to OUR history, their personal journey and the translation of what is currently before us. That is a big job. People don't want to read and until they do read and study we cannot engage them. There are two few of us who study liberation, socio-political infrastruture . . . I could go on, but my question to you is this. How do you take these strategies and build the coalition in our communites to start the work and to stay on the work ?
Thank you for your patient and focused consideration of our common ground. I hope that we can find the wisdom and space to see the power of what you have suggested.