I had originally started to write this post under the name “Obamofascism”, but the direction of it ended up changing course, and so did my title.  But the truth of the matter is that I’m in danger of falling into a mild-to-severe depression.  As I (tried to) speak a bit about during my interview for VT Blogoshere TV, real meaningful, progressive change is not about one person and will never come from the handing over of power from one person or Party to another- for that reason alone Obama’s election is a pretty marginal event.  However, a few things work to make his presidency far more significant than any other presidential election, probably in history.  The first, and most obvious, is the simple fact that he is of mixed race, and it is surely and without doubt an incredibly historic and progressive moment for this country- and even the whole world- that he not only won, but won so resoundingly.  The cynical, and even racist note that “Bill Clinton was our first black president” can now retire in favor of the fact that this nation- with our long, violent history of racism- has in fact elected a black man president (a black man with the middle name “Hussein” no less, which steps into a newer, highly prevalent racism, that against Arabs) (OK, so racism against Arabs isn’t necessarily new, but it’s trendy).  This fact alone should- and has- given pause to even the most anti-electoral and radical left among us, who are (and should be) without hesitation un-inclined to see “hope” or “change” in any empirical office.  Obama’s mere election is tinged with hope and change because of his race, and that fact can stand alone against nearly all others.

The second aspect of Obama’s victory that has gotten many on the left (and even the radical left) excited is the manner in which he won; namely, as a result of a highly grassroots, people-powered campaign (a movement) which brought together a variety of people from varying social, economic, racial, and geographical (bio-regional) backgrounds.  Now, this fact cannot single-handedly water down that a huge factor in Obama’s victory was the massive amounts of cash he was able to raise and then spend in areas of the country where traditionally the Democrats have found no foot-hold.  And despite the fact that yes, Obama was the recipient of huge amounts of small-sum donations from the aforementioned grassroots movement that grew behind him, he also gained mightily from the standard corporate donors (including the military industrial complex, which gave $500,000 more- $10.6 million- to Obama than to McCain; and the securities sector/Wall Street, which donated to Obama over McCain almost 3-2); nonetheless, Obama raised over 48% of his funds from donors who gave him less than $200, which says a good deal about the “bottom-up” effort on the ground behind him (48% of his total $639 million raised amounts to about $307,000,000 in small donations, for those of you keeping track at home).  People previously un-political, and who have never taken part in a campaign or “movement” of any kind came out to work to get Obama elected, and this fact is a tremendous opportunity to politicize the population.  More importantly, this is a moment where incredibly dis-empowered people, many of them from the most vulnerable and in-need segments of society, took collective action towards accomplishing a political goal– used their time, energy, and power- to effect a change upon society and their lives.  This is not only remarkable, but a tremendous opportunity to further build a social movement (or, if you prefer, social movements) that actually can bring about meaningful and substantive change.

Most excitingly and important about the political engagement and action taken by this huge group of previously un-politicized people is that their efforts paid-off, and they actually won.  That is a tremendously empowering fact, and a moment of collectivized power that should be seized upon by those of us attempting to organize for more substantive (ultimately revolutionary) change.

But for the majority of the radical left in this county, no such luck.  No such populism, no such strategic thinking or real-world implementation a of truly revolutionary program.  Take, for instance, this call to action for the inauguration.  It begins:

An open letter to those seeking to build a world from below, in which many worlds are possible

We call on all anarchists, horizontalists, autonomists, anti-capitalists, anti-authoritarians, and others organizing a world from below to bring our best creative spirits to the project of a “Celebrate People’s History and Build Popular Power” bloc on January 20, 2009, in Washington, DC—or in your hometown, if you can’t make it.

As people striving toward a nonhierarchical society, yes, we can—and should—be rigorously critical of Barack Obama. It goes without saying that we want a world without presidents; we want worlds of our own constituting via directly democratic structures, not states. But not all heads of state are alike, and if we fail to recognize both the historical meaning and power of this particular moment, we will ensure our own irrelevance.

We can—and should—also be in critical solidarity with people who have been violently marginalized, who see in the Obama campaign the possibility of their own agency. The inauguration affords a unique space for us to stand with a diverse group of activists inspired by Obama, many new to political organizing, even as we maintain our views on the limits of change from above.

OK, there’s a lot I want to un-wrap from this.  I’ll start with what I like about this call, because clearly, this “call to action” is meant to to seize upon exactly what I was speaking to above.  Clearly, the authors (and endorsers) of this statement recognize that a confrontational, militant bloc at Obama’s inauguration would be disastrous for the radical left; this is true both in terms of being an insulting lack of recognition of the historic moment that Obama’s victory represents for people of color, as well as a dis-credit and de-legitimizing statement towards the countless people who worked at the grassroots level- many for the first time engaging in politics- to accomplish this victory.  This call goes to great lengths to be a welcoming, “big tent” invitation for a street presence at the inauguration which confronts the illusion of capitalist and State power relations.

But lets be realistic about a few things that are attached to this call: first of all, dozens, if not hundreds, of “calls to action” from the militant and anti-authoritarian left (as well as from the rest of the anarchist ghetto) are put out every year, and with hardly ever an exception, they are well under the radar of the average person as well as the mainstream press (or any press, other the the radical left’s own).  And, yes, fair enough, the authors of this particular call do address it specifically to self-identified “radicals”.  But it’s clearly been crafted with a tone that implicitly seeks to welcome non-radicals, and the simple fact of the matter is that it’s a message that arrives (if it ever reaches a non-radicals contact) without any context whatsoever and that, again, has more of a dis-empowering effect on the hard work of the grassroots campaign that got Obama elected than anything else.  The language of the call is filled with flashy words and coinage that mean absolutely nothing to the average reader… horizontalists, autonomists, organizing a world from below… quite frankly, these words (found in the opening line of the call) immediately place it (and it’s authors) outside the daily life and the reality of precisely who the call claims to seek to bring into their “big tent” of radical rejections of capitalism.  “It goes without saying that we want a world without presidents”- well, that may be true of the radical left, but otherwise there’s absolutely no truth to this statement whatsoever.  SO, my question is who is this call for? radicals? if so (and that is who the call aims itself at explicitly), what’s the populist message that they seek to bring- effectively- to the streets of Washington? certainly not the one that is outlined throughout the call itself, because that message is not going to get through at all.  It’s just going to be, from the vantage of the other 4 million people present, like a small, un-empowered, irrelevant group of weird-os protesting Obama.

Which launches me into “Obamofascism”.  Obama is not a “left politician” by any definition, except that of the far right.  The radical left obviously knew that all along; even progressives and liberals Democrats recognize that.  And as Obama’s inner circle and cabinet appointments have taken shape, he’s even proven himself to be further right (“centrist” in the language of the mainstream press).  This has opened up a window that previously seemed painted shut.  Obama’s cult of personality- especially among those in the newly expanded Democratic Party, presents a serious challenge for those who wish to transcend his politics from a leftist perspective- namely, his lofty character and rhetoric is serving to circumvent rational thought amongst rational people; the perfect storm for a further concentration of power and a step rightward for the appendages of authority and the State.  Yes, Obama will likely implement a more progressive tax schedule than Bush’s, yes he will likely implement a more progressive spending agenda than Bush’s, yes he will likely act upon the world stage in a more internationalist manner than Bush, yes he will likely take greater steps to protect the environment than Bush… but as I’ve noted many times: “more left” doesn’t mean “left”.  Being a pace ahead of a slow runner does not make one a fast runner.

So the challenge to the anti-authoritarian left is magnified, and simultaneously more urgent: to seize upon the excitement and power created by Obama’s victory for millions of disenfranchised people, while keeping him and his politics at a distance.  We must recognize this moment in history while giving no ground to the illusion that Obama’s warming character and inspiring rhetoric straps upon us.  The conversation must be steered away- far away- from Obama himself and re-directed, always, to the issues that working people face in our daily lives.  If we allow Obama- his good or bad attributes- to be the conversation, we face the nearly insurmountable task of overcoming a historic personality which, quite frankly, has shown to be able to unify (and pacify) more people than anyone in history, perhaps since Hitler.  A note here: I came to the term “Obamafascism” as a play on the right’s absurd creation of the nonsensical term “Islamofascism” and not meaning to place Obama’s politics in the ring with Hitler’s.  I recognize that mentioning Hitler here puts me in danger of being grossly mis-understood in this realm, and I want to be as clear as I can: I mention Hitler here only as a comparison to both individual’s ability to captivate and inspire and unify their populations through their extraordinary oratory skills, and nothing more.  There is, in fact, a note-worthy conversation to be had about how such skills enable for a greater concentration of power into the hands of the State, but in no way am I meaning to imply that Obama’s policy’s and program will necessarily look anything like that of the Nazi’s.

Back to that call to action for the inauguration: a certain number of punk kids (CrimeThinc., greens, etc) are bound to arrive at the inauguration ready to mask-up and take to the streets.  They will do so despite anything else.  Those on the radical left who (rightly) recognize that this is not the moment to do so are right in seeking to take the momentum of Obama’s historic and empowering campaign (and subsequent victory) as an opportunity to further politicize a huge segment of the population who have tasted perhaps their first ever notion of collective power.  The question remains though, how is this best accomplished? academic and confusing language about lofty goals and abstracted descriptions of power-relations (“horizontalists”, “autonomists”, etc)?  Displays of alternative lifestyles which, like so much else from the anti-authoritarian left are just as likely to polarize, confuse, and “turn off” the very people we’re seeking to empower?

It is important that, as left-libertarians and revolutionaries we do not cede too much to Obama and his moment (which, again, shouldn’t be given to him but reclaimed by the millions of hard working folks on the grassroots level who got him where he is).  I’ll admit as much as coming dangerously close to doing this exact thing myself in the days before the election.  As easy and fair as it may be to welcome any and all anti-authoritarian agendas into the “big tent” of liberation politic that the revolution seeks (meaning we seek the liberation of everyone based on their labor, their sexuality, their race, their creed, etc), it is nonetheless obvious that a popular, revolutionary movement is born of organizing and engagement and empowerment.  For this reason, those of us with a radical inclination would be well served to recognize that our goals are best accomplished not by placing ourselves as a pole outside of the people we hope to emancipate from capitalism and the State, but squarely and honestly within their hearts.

On January 21, the day after the inauguration, immigrant rights groups have called for a massive demonstration and march through Washington to demand that their cause and their plight be taken as priority by the incoming Obama Administration.  Those of us who seek to build a popular movement which is capable of challenging (let alone dismantling) capitalism and the authority of the State should notice the difference in strategy being implemented by this movement, rather than by those anarchists who live in an idea rather than a daily reality.  By arriving at the inauguration as an isolated and insular group protesting (or, in the words of the above call to action, “respecting the celebratory spirit of the day”) Obama’s inauguration, instead of standing arm-in-arm with the people who arrive in Washington the next day to face their oppressors and demand what we are all demanding: to be free to live in the world as people, without the chains employed on us from above or from our peers, a tremendous opportunity is being lost and the anarchists further throw themselves into the ghetto of irrelevancy which we’ve been cast for decades.  The revolutionary’s roles are many, but our goal should be unified.  If we are united in seeking to do away, once and far all, with the violent, destructive, and oppressive beast that is the State, than we would be well served to stand- as revolutionaries- within the movements that hold the latent power to accomplish such a goal.  This, despite all else, is not the fringes of society as expressed by alternative lifestyles and is not a leant pole imploring the actualization of ideas amongst a people; it is a natural and creative will being fought for and lived out among the people themselves.

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