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Mainstream, Vol XLVIII, No 47, November 13, 2010

Obama: A President Under Siege

Tuesday 16 November 2010, by Anil Rajimwale

Some people compare Obama’s presidentship to President Roosevelt’s in the early 20th century, not Franklin Roosevelt of the Second World War fame, but Theodore before the First World War. But there are serious differences: during Roosevelt’s time finance monopoly in the US had begun to split off from the industrial monopoly capitalism. During Bush’s and Obama’s time, the financial empire has become too distanced from its industrial source, too domineering, necessitating calls for restoring the balance between the two.

By early 20th century, this split in American capitalism led to the great Crash of 1907, which threw up the likes of the Morgans and the Rockefellers who shot into prominence. It was a great crash, and acted as the dress rehearsal of the subsequent collapses, particularly of the now famous Great Depression of 1929-33. Theodore Roosevelt was intensely anti-monopoly and particularly anti-finance capital. He initiated a series of legal proceedings against the powerful finance magnates, which became part of the American economic and political folklore. Later, Roosevelt founded his own Progressive Party, fought as the third candidate in the presidential elections after the First War, a rare instance, and lost them badly. The financial circles would not tolerate him in the corridors of power nor his anti-monopoly reforms.

The second Roosevelt also began to show some flickerings of progressivism during the era of the Second World War. He was succeeded by one of the most reactionary Presidents the US ever had, President Trueman, (in)famous for McCarthyism.

America: The Siege Mentality

THE problem with America and the Americans is that they live in a self-created world of constant insecurity, horror and terror. A word to this effect is enough to throw them into panic. They were thrown into panic in the crisis years of the thirties when the word was spread that the aliens had arrived from Mars! A lot of their films conjure up similar visions.

Without it, they can’t make a proper display of their ‘superiority’; it is their tag: they must ‘defend’ themselves against the ‘enemy’. Who, which enemy, who is trying to destroy it?! That is not known! But somebody, somewhere is all the time trying to blow up the US, they think. They live within a self-made fortress, both physical as well as psychological: always ‘in danger’, a typical siege mentality. In fact, they found themselves helpless after the collapse of the USSR, which at least helped them to justify their military-industrial complex!

To ward off ‘the danger’, the US attacks others. The poor, small Vietnam, thousands of miles away, was laid waste, as the non-existent enemy. In Iraq again, the US did the same. It cried WMD (weapons of mass destruction) and hurled its latest and best troops, only to be told by the then President Bush, before handing over to Obama, that it was ‘a mistake’! There were no WMDs! As if all this was just nothing, a small mistake!

Today, Obama is trying to come out of the siege. He has a supporting background of inspirations, though limited, drawn from the democratic and the progressive sources in the US, helped by the demographic and economic changes there. Black, human rights movements Martin Luther King etc. are among them, providing a healing touch to the tensed and ulltr-sensitive chords of the Americans. This is one source of the Obama phenomenon.

Obama: A Product of Hope and Despair

OIL mainly has been at the centre of the US activities in Central Asia, the Arab lands, Latin America etc. It was not the WMDs so much as oil and other economic interests that led to the US interventions.

In the meantime the American economy began its spin into one of the greatest disasters of history. American business thought it could solve everything by spinning money out of money, a typical result of the separation of the financial from the productive capital.

There was a growing realisation among the Americans of the folly of not only the internal American policies but also of its total dependence on the financial empire within and without. The changing composition of the American population towards the Asiatics and Hispanics helped the process of disillusionment further.

Thus was born Obama as the hope of the common people and consumers of the US, and of the progressively oriented people there. His tone, behaviour and certain utterances indicated it all.

The US is undergoing a sharp conflict between finance capital and the rest of the economy and society. Everything is crashing. The industrial growth has not only slowed down, it has become negative in certain areas. The Wall Street and the economy driven by it have been exposed as the source of the American problems, including the economic. Oil-led growth came to a halt. Now finance-led growth has crashed. The two are two sides of the same phenomenon. Finance capital of the American proportion inevitably leads to creation of large armies, which are also a way out of the huge unemployment that the US is suffering from. This is one reason for the reluctance to bring back the armies.

Obama and US Administration

SO Obama, a follower of and inspired by Martin Luther King and Gandhi, has got into the centre of the American Administration. But this is an impossible situation. The Americans wanted him but not the American Administration, notorious for its gross and brash big business, financial and neo-colonial attitudes. The administration would have none of Luther and the common people, particularly the coloured, and the friendship with the southern neighbours, etc. It simply wants Obama to be the typical American President at the head of the military-industrial complex, and not to set on a new and different course right away. Obama has been caught in the contradictions of the finance-dominated American monopoly system of giant proportions. It is a country of not just simple monopolies, but of monopolies of incredibly colossal proportions, for whom even terms like ‘conglomerates’ etc. are inadequate!

The US Administration is the typical product of oil and other interests, of financial and industrial (mega)conglomerates and their empires, and utterly arrogant. That is where Obama is placed. Conflicts are bound to grow. The administration is determined not to allow him even a tilt towards progressive forces or policies.

The expectations of the people are very high, at the same time. As a result, conflicts with the people are also bound to grow, as evidenced by the recent American elections and his falling popularity, as the high expectations are dwindling. The pressures from both the sides are intense.

Unemployment brings Obama to India

OBAMA would anyway have come to India. He is liked by the common people in Asia and Africa. But there is something else in his visit to India, that which is the concentrated expression of the American economy. The unemployment rate at present, that is, two years after the economic crisis of 2008, is running at 9.6 per cent. This is huge and serious. The American economy has not been able to come out of the 2008 crisis. New critical cycles are spiralling. The dollar is on a downward slide. So, these, mainly the loss of jobs, have led to this historic visit. It is historic in not just the immediate diplomatic-political sense but more, in the long-term economic-political sense. It shows the growing importance of developing countries like India. This is really important. The visit will generate more than 50 thousand jobs in the US in various fields. Mind it, the jobs will be created in the industrial sector, mostly; some respite for the sector, and some correction away from the financial sphere.

But there is a far deeper and important aspect of the visit.

It was the visit of the President of the most advanced country, dominated by finance capital, to a country which is a developing one. It was different from the earlier American visits. It reflects the change of wind and a shift in the balance of power in contemporary history. The President had to recognise India as a major power. Earlier, he had already recognised India as well as China as the future powers, to be followed by the US. This is a historic admission of the change that has gripped history.

It is an indication that history from now on is going to be somewhat different.
It is a case of a developing country coming to the rescue of the most powerful one and its people. Venezuela has already offered to do so.

Obama brought a huge business delegation. He had to finalise a series of business deals, because he must save the US economy and create at least some jobs there. Being Obama, and not Bush, it was easier for him to express many things, and create images. They created favourable impressions in India, as well as on him. Gandhi and Ambedkar and the Indian variety of democracy got underlined, which was a healthy development. Traditions of freedom and independence got highlighted.

He also brought a whole ‘military’ security contingent, which has almost been behaving as if they were in Iraq, not India! Very brash and arrogant, even almost had a clash with the Indian policemen, who found them utterly domineering. This is a glimpse of the typical American ‘fortress under siege’!

But the garrison cannot save the American economy unless they recognise the changes the world and India are undergoing. The developing nations are heading ahead, despite serious problems and despite imperialism. The advanced US cannot solve its own problems without the developing India (and China, Brazil etc.), without at least talking about the new international order. Obama talked of an ‘interconnected’ world rather than of globalisation. And the US will have at least to modify its gross domineering policies.

The American problems can be solved only by a shift away from the financial to the industrial policies. Obama stands just at the juncture of this shift. How and how much he will really be able to do, only time will tell. The balance of power between the developed and developing entities is changing in favour of the latter.

This historic shift contains the major contra-dictions of the future.

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