Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Obama's Inaugeral: A little Rain on a Great Parade

by Norman Markowitz

Barack Obama's speech yesterday was both eloquent and well within the the progressive tradition that he represents in both foreign and domestic policy. But on the first day of his presidency he should be called on one thing very strongly.

"Recall," he said, "that earlier generations faced down fascism and Communism not just with missiles and tanks, but with sturdy alliances and enduring convictions." That is a sad bit of cold war boiler plate very much at odds with the rest of the speech and of course a falsification of history. Those are pretty strong statements, but a president elected as an agent of progressive change has no reason to revive one of the big lies of the cold war era, i.e., Fascism=Communism=Totalitarianism. From there it is a hop skip and small jump to portraying universal health care as "creeping socialism" and passing the Taft-Harley law on anti-Communist principles.

Communist and for that matter fascist racist ideologies and movements are part of the American political tradition, with Communists playing a substantial role in bringing about the kind of change that Obama appealed to his his campaign. Fascists on the other hand have always sought to organize the United States as a racist militarist state, one which would have at the very least imprisoned his mother and father for daring to have him. If one talks about "sturdy alliances," the crucial for human history alliance between the U.S. and the USSR defeated the fascist Axis in the Second World War, and saved the world from the domination of Hitler-fascism and the Japanese militarist imperialism. The NAT0, SEAT0, Baghdad Pact, and other cold war
alliances claimed the lives directly of over 100,000 Americans and a minimum of five million Indochinese and Koreans and indirectly tens of millions of others.

The enduring convictions that Obama speaks about have been represented by progressives, radicals and revolutionaries throughout U.S. history, by abolitionists persecuted for their anti-slavery activities in the decades before the civil war and by socialists and especially Communists persecuted for their anti-capitalist, anti-racist, and anti-imperialist activities through the 20th century. If one is to speak concretely about enduring convictions that represent the building of a just society, then Communists and Communism in the U.S. stand in the forefront of that tradition. The survival and ongoing struggle of the CPUSA particularly is evidence to those enduring convictions.

If President Obama wishes to build a new politics in the U.S. he must break with such empty phrases and shibboleths of the past that gave us Ronald Reagan and George W Bush , as the people who elected him broke with the deforming racist ideology that has in varying degrees permeated U.S. history. Echoes of old-fashioned red-baiting have no place in "change" that the people of the U.S. and the world can believe in, except perhaps in the those media defined "red states" in the U.S. and other strongholds of reaction which are diametrically opposed to such change.

I will get back to other parts of Obama's speech, which was, in my opinion, in its entirety the best from a post WWII President in its articulation of both a progressive vision at home and abroad and a way out of what has been thirty years of reaction. But when the President goes backward rather than forward, as he did in and through those words equating Communism with Fascism, he should be called on it, for his and the peoples sake.

P.S. The NYT is reporting that Chinese media "censored" the specific anti-Communist statement in the translation of the speech. I wouldn't have done that, but I were a Chinese person with any influence over Chinese media I would have responded to it with strong critical commentary on Chinese television, to make it clear that policies of cooperation and peace cannot be based on the ideological abuses of the past, which were used to justify in the case of China alone an attempted U.S. economic blockade until the 1970s, the blocking of China's seating in the UN until the early 1970s, and support for provocations along China's borders and in the Formosa Strait that almost led to a major war, actions that implemented the "enduring convictions" of imperialists and served the interests in the U.S. of the military-industrial complex.