Obama's election to the US presidency was hailed in Britain as heralding a major break from the era of George Bush. This was an illusion, of course, although it was certainly bolstered by the fact that Obama was the first black president ever to be elected in the US. In fact, during his election campaign, Obama himself had made a point of giving big business all the guarantees they needed, that he would stick to his predecessor's pro-business agenda - and even step up the war in Afghanistan. 18 months on, Obama's policies, including the so-called "social reforms" he introduced with so much aplomb, have proved to be a mere continuation of the policies which Bush had initiated. The article we reproduce here on Obama's balance sheet, was first published by the American Trotskyist group "The Spark" (Class Struggle-USA, No 66 - May 2010).
On 19 January, almost one year after Barack Obama was inaugurated and the Democrats assumed control of both houses of Congress, a Republican unknown, Scott Brown, won a special election in Massachusetts to replace the recently deceased Teddy Kennedy. Of course, Massachusetts was only one election. But the Democratic defeat took place in a state Obama had won by a whopping 62% to 36% in 2008. Turn-out was lowest in areas that had voted strongly Democrat in 2008. Support for the Republican candidate was strongest in the towns where unemployment was the highest. And, what's worse from the Democrats' perspective, a poll conducted for the trade union federation, the AFL-CIO, showed that 49% of union members voted for the Republican, while only 46% voted Democrat.
After the Massachusetts vote, Karen Ackerman, the AFL-CIO political action director, called the Massachusetts vote a "working class revolt" nd added, "clearly, we're taking a serious look at it because, frankly, we know that 2010 elections are going to be very difficult"
In the weeks that followed, a reinvigorated far-right seemed to jump to the front of the political scene, claiming credit for Brown's victory, while grabbing hold of the increasingly virulent language of Fox News. Under the name of the "Tea Party Movement" [a reference to the war of Independence against Britain - CS], it had already been mobilising for demonstrations last fall against taxes, against the growing budget deficit - with a few swipes taken against the big banks - and finally against the Democrats' push for health care reform.
In rural areas, different versions of the so-called "Militia" movement pushed a "survivalist" paramilitary agenda, combined with anti-immigrant propaganda and actions. An organisation of sheriffs, the so-called "Oathkeepers," called on local law officials not to carry out actions of the federal government it deemed "unconstitutional" and to organise local militias to back them up. And so-called "sovereign citizens," that is, racist whites who declare themselves to be superior to blacks and immigrants, also declare themselves not subject to federal taxes. Finally, Sarah Palin was once again in the media - actually part of it, with her new Fox News spot.
The scene could not be more different from the one that had greeted the Democrats in January of 2009, when Obama entered the White House with his campaign slogan, "change," still reverberating, and when the Democrats took solid control of Congress, with a 60-vote filibuster-proof majority in the Senate. The far-right had supposedly been shut out, intimidated by the size of the Democrats' margin.
Massachusetts put a kind of exclamation mark on Obama's first year, a declaration that the big hopes engendered last year by the Democratic electoral sweep had been crushed.
As is often the case, the party in control of government finds itself punished for the state of the economy. By almost every important measure, the economic situation in which the working class and other layers of the labouring population are mired is worse today than at any time since the "Great Depression," and certainly worse than it was a year ago, when Obama took office.
Of course, as Obama's supporters point out, he didn't create the crisis. Nor, for that matter, did George Bush. The capitalists, in their search for ever bigger profits, did.
But the principal activity of the Obama administration, just like that of the Bush administration earlier, was aimed at building up and reinforcing the profits of those same capitalists, at the expense of broad layers of the population, and especially the working class.
On all the fundamental questions, the US government in 2009 continued to defend the class interests of the imperialist bourgeoisie almost seamlessly, as it moved from the Republican administration to the Democratic one.
The Democrats, having won an election on promises of "change", used their control to push through policies that helped spark the reaction against them.
Carrying on "Bush's wars"
Regardless of his promise to bring home one brigade a month, during the election campaign, Obama continues to follow the same slow timetable set by Bush for withdrawing troops from Iraq. In fact, the first major withdrawal of troops, from the cities to US bases, still has not been completed. Nor has Obama changed the Bush administration's plan for leaving a large US occupation force in Iraq - now estimated at between 45 and 55,000 - after "combat" troops are withdrawn, supposedly in August 2010.
Moreover, as the date for the official withdrawal comes closer, Obama has increased the use of troops hired by private contractors, that is, mercenaries paid indirectly by the Pentagon. Months ago, the New York Timesrecorded that the number of "troops" employed by private contractors had already surpassed the number of official US troops in Iraq.
Within the year, Obama will have doubled the number of US troops in Afghanistan. Although the big media blurred this issue, Obama had already clearly stated during the campaign that he intended to step up the Afghan war (in fact, Bush had already discreetly started this build-up before he left.) While Obama pretends, ambiguously, that US troops will be there only for the short term, his top general in Afghanistan, Stanley McChrystal, warned Congress that there will be no reduction in troop numbers in Afghanistan for at least the next four years.[Since this article was written, of course, McChrystal has been replaced by the former head of US army in Iraq, general Petraeus, following an article in Rolling Stone magazine, in which McChrystal and members of his circle displayed open contempt for Obama's senior officials - CS]
Not only is the war expanding inside Afghanistan itself, it is also expanding from Afghanistan to Pakistan, and even sporadically into Yemen. There, US Special Forces acting behind the scenes have several times been reinforced by cruise missile attacks on areas hostile to the US-backed Yemeni regime. None of this started with Obama, but he is making Bush's wars, his wars.
The on-going "terrorism" witch-hunt
The Obama administration also follows directly in the footsteps of its predecessor, regularly using the threat of international terrorism to marshal support for its wars. In the process, it is carrying out a real witch hunt in the United States.
Obama may have announced the closure of Guantanamo - it had, after all, become a real international embarrassment. But the US is still holding hundreds of Muslim prisoners it has incarcerated for years, without any charges being brought against them, and it clearly intends to keep holding them, when and if Guantanamo is actually closed.
The Obama administration may have gladdened liberal hearts when it released the legal memos from Bush era lawyers, used to justify the use of torture by US forces, complete with graphic details of various methods. But the administration's subsequent refusal to discipline the lawyers who wrote the torture memos is simply emblematic of this ever-consistent US policy, no matter who occupies the White House, Democrat or Republican.
Finally, innumerable young and not so young Muslim men in this country have been picked up, their families threatened, in many cases left to rot in jail, then coerced into taking a plea bargain on "lesser charges" or on immigration violations. This is done under threat of a trial carrying the death penalty, or of being "rendered" to a country where they could expect even worse treatment. Obama has not stopped this witch hunt, nor the victimisation of thousands of young men whose only "crime" may have been the imprudence of expressing opposition to the war.
Behind all of this are the extraordinary powers that Bush pushed through in the wake of 2001, powers that Obama acted to keep intact, when they came up for renewal in 2009.
More handouts to the big banks
The bailout of the banks, started by Bush, continued under Obama, and even more massively. In the last 4 months of the Bush term, his administration handed over $350 billion to the big banks through the TARP (Troubled Asset Relief Programme, begun in 2008). In Obama's first three months, most of the rest of the TARP was distributed.
But the TARP, which both Bush and Obama campaigned to get passed through Congress, is the smallest of government gifts to the banks. Since September of 2008, when the banking crisis burst into the open, more than 30 different programs have been instituted by either the Treasury or the Federal Reserve, most of them without Congressional approval. The Bush administration initiated some of those programs - but the Obama administration used them and added more.
According to a list published by the left-leaning political magazine, Mother Jones, n December 2009, the total obligations taken on by the government through these programs had by then reached $14.4 trillion, about half funded by the Fed, half by the Treasury. Some of the $14.4 trillion came in outright gifts, some in loans, some in "funds made available," some in purchases by the Fed or Treasury of worthless paper. Some parts of the $14.4 trillion have been repaid - with other government funds - so the banks were freed to pay out enormous bonuses again.
Of course, $14.4 trillion is only a figure, an abstraction, a statement, in fact, of the government's intention to give the whole store away to the big banks, should they ask.
Clearly the banks have no problem asking, since the top posts of the Obama administration are filled with people coming directly from the biggest banks and corporations, starting with his treasury secretary, Timothy Geithner, and Larry Summers, his chief economic adviser, followed by 10 top officials at the treasury, plus the heads of both the Securities and Exchange Commission's Division of Enforcement and the Commodity Futures Trading Commission. Five of these officials came directly from Goldman Sachs, three from Citigroup.
Even if Obama's $789 billion stimulus plan had all been directed towards relieving the situation of the population - which is far from being the case, since most of it went directly or indirectly to inflating the bottom line of various companies - it pales by comparison with what was eagerly handed over to the same big banks which caused the problems in the first place.
More attacks against car workers
Obama completed Bush's bail-out of GM and Chrysler, which was the cover for government-driven demands that auto workers make big concessions: reductions in retiree medical care; cut backs and freezing of current workers' wages; and cutting new hires' wages and benefits in half - demands that were imposed on all 3 US auto companies.
Obama's auto task force, using bankruptcy as a club, wrung additional concessions from GM and Chrysler workers, including the consolidation and shrinking of the skilled trades, the freezing of the already reduced new-hire wages, and a 6-year no-strike deal, with a provision that wages and benefits would be set by an arbitrator using the wages paid by their most efficient domestic competitors, that is, the Toyota, Honda and Nissan plants that produce in the US. Thus encouraged, Toyota and Honda jumped to join in the race to the bottom, quickly moving to reduce wages at some of their plants.
The demands for concessions from auto workers were a message from the Obama administration to all orkers that they should expect a new round of cuts in wages and conditions. And some of the first employers to extend the concessions drive came from state and city governments, which had already been cutting, claiming growing budget deficits. From New York City to California, from Puerto Rico to Michigan, governments have used various pretexts to either directly cut employee wages and benefits or demand those cuts - often threatening lay-offs to extort concessions, only to cut jobs anyway after they got the concessions.
Picking up on Bush's immigration "reform"
Obama has continued the attack on immigrants carried out during the Bush years. Just as Bush did, Obama holds out the promise of "regularising" the papers of undocumented immigrants - "next year" perhaps - while expelling tens of thousands of those immigrants this year, under various pretexts. In Obama's first year, 387,000 "unauthorised migrants" were expelled, a record high. In addition, over 300,000 so-called "criminal aliens" were expelled - a 6% increase over Bush's last year. In the first month and a half of this year, another 57,000 "criminal aliens" were deported, an increase of 40% from 2009!
The term "criminal alien" is used not only for those who have actually committed a felony - a very tiny proportion of those expelled - but also anyone who has violated civil immigration laws, or who has been picked up for a long list of misdemeanors that have been categorised as "felonies" within the framework of the immigration system.
Obama denounced as "inhumane" the workplace raids carried out under Bush - only to have his Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) give employers a list of workers whose papers aren't in order, whom they were required to fire. Obviously, in this situation, ICE is able to pick up workers in an organised way - provoking fewer dramatic headlines. What is "humane" about this, is anybody's guess!
In April, explaining why his administration was continuing the repressive policies of his predecessor, Obama explained: "If the American people don't feel like you can secure the borders, then it's hard to strike a deal that would get people who are already here, out of the shadows and on a pathway to citizenship." In other words, blame "the American people" for all the reactionary attitudes fomented by reactionary politicians, both Republican and Democrat.
More attacks on teachers and state schools
Obama has increased the drive to turn state schools into privately run institutions which started under the Bush administration. Some are being run by profit-making educational companies, some by religious institutions, some by big industrial companies interested in using them for their own narrow training purposes, and some by universities interested in using them as laboratories for education research or new teacher training.
Bush's "No Child Left Behind" gave local school districts the pretext to get rid of higher seniority, that is, higher-paid teachers, replacing them with a lower-wage, disposable work force. But Obama's "Race to the Top" extends these attacks: in the midst of an economic crisis already draining the schools of money, the Obama Education Department openly declared it would deny federal "Race to the Top" funds to local school systems unless they abrogate teachers' seniority protections and tie teachers' incomes to student test results. It was a cynically blatant move to reduce the amount of money spent on teachers and therefore schools.
It's obvious that children's education will suffer as a result of such policies. Nonetheless, all of this is wrapped up in the cynical packaging of concern for the children - just as Bush's "educational reforms" were. The true concern behind all such reforms is to reduce public funds expended on the state schools, thus freeing up a larger part of state and city budgets for the big corporations that are already sucking the lifeblood out of states and cities around the country.
Health reform: profit boost for big business
Pretending to extend health insurance to those who have none today, the Democrats' health care reform in fact directly attacks these same people, as part of a complicated scam to provide still bigger bucks to the insurance and medical industries.
This "reform" will require people without any insurance to buy it from private insurance companies. Only what will be on offer to them is insurance which is overpriced, providing very little coverage, and which will require additional high payments for actualmedical care.
The subsidies for low-income people cover only part of the cost of the insurance premiums, and none of the cost of co-pays, co-insurance and deductibles (that is, top-up payments required for treatment, or up-front payments which are later refunded). People who cannot afford insurance today will find it unaffordable tomorrow, even with the subsidies. But if they don't buy it, they will be penalised: they will have to pay a large fine, which increases year on year.
Some people will be taken onto Medicaid [the existing means-tested public-funded provision for eligible people on low incomes, or with disabilities - CS] - at the very moment that states are cutting funds for Medicaid, prescribed under this very reform! Currently, Medicaid's already very low level of payments mean that over half of all doctors refuse to accept a patient on Medicaid.
People who today do have insurance will also lose in one way or another. The relatively decent insurance plans that some workers get through their jobs will be taxed. People on Medicare [the state scheme providing cover for over 65s - CS] will discover their coverage squeezed. People on Medicaid will discover their already incomplete coverage reduced further. People who depend on public hospitals will discover them... closed.
One major aim of the "reform," in fact, is to reduce government expenditure on what it has been paying for medical care. According to the Congressional Budget Office, the reform would save the government over $400 billion from cuts to Medicare, over $100 billion from cuts to Medicaid, and about $40 billion from cuts to public and other "safety-net" hospitals.
The other major aim of the "reform" is to push more clients into the arms of the private insurance industry, the pharmaceutical industry and the hospital and other medical provider industries - and to do it without any control over their costs. Drug companies and hospital companies were given a very precise commitment by Obama that there would be no attempt to regulate their prices for the next ten years. Insurance companies were given an assurance no public program would be set up to compete with them.
In fact, even in this, his "signature" domestic program, Obama continued down the path laid out by the Bush administration with the Medicare reform of 2003. Bush's "reform" had begun the attack on the only major somewhat "socialised" medical program that exists, that is, Medicare. It started shifting parts of it over to the private sector, thereby making it more expensive and more profitable. Obama continues to undercut the public medical programs - Medicare, Medicaid and public hospitals - in the service of big industry.
A catastrophic situation
In their first year in control of government, the Democrats pushed through policies that, in one way or another, attacked the working class for the benefit of the biggest financial interests in the country. And this, in the midst of a situation that worsened from month to month.
The situation truly has become catastrophic. At the beginning of 2010, when the Massachusetts election took place, nearly 15 million people were jobless - officially - with nearly 9 million more working part time involuntarily, but needing full time work. A wider study done by Northeastern University found that 30.2 million people were either unemployed or underemployed at the end of 2009. This is 10% of the total population. The depth of the job losses today is greater than at any time since the crash at the end of World War II. And it is long term. Almost 9 million people have been unemployed for at least 6 months, many much longer. And a recent Pew survey found that 54% of households had at least one person out of work sometime last year.
Job loss is very disproportionately concentrated among workers with the lowest incomes. People with a household income up to $12,500 a year have an unemployment rate of 30%. And unemployment is disproportionately concentrated among blue collar workers. The Northeastern study found that for every job opening in construction at the end of 2009, there were 24 unemployed construction workers, and for every job opening in durable goods manufacturing, there were 17 unemployed manufacturing workers, 12 in regular manufacturing. The push for ever greater productivity translates into more job cuts, even when production picks up somewhat.
Any number of indicators reflect the consequences of this long duration of unemployment. In 2008, for the first time in 5 years, and again in 2009, the army was able to meet its recruitment goals. With unemployment among young adults particularly severe, that should have come as no surprise. And with immigrant workers thrown out of construction work, where many had been concentrated, it should also have been no surprise to see big agribusiness flooded with people from the cities ready to do field labour. In fact, for the first time in years, the fields were attracting noticeable numbers of non-immigrants.
Finally, the prisons are filled to overflowing - today nearly one percent of the adult population rots in prison, the highest rate of incarceration in the world. When all the people in prison, in jail, on probation are added together, 7.3 million adults are caught in the vise of the "justice system" - 3.2% of the adult population, by far the highest rate in the world, six times as high as in Britain which is second only to the US in the imprisonment league among the G7, and also 6 times as high as in China.
For the first time since the Great Depression, companies openly cut wages, in addition to the usual hidden wage cuts associated with inflation. Many of those open wage cuts came in the form of unpaid "furlough" days. Many more came in the form of 2-tier wage or benefit rates - like those in auto, that cut wages nearly in half - cuts that are not felt directly by the current work force. But half of the 250 biggest employers admitted in a recent survey they had already cut wages or benefits of current workers or intended to.
The aim of employers to institute much lower wages for the next generation of workers is behind these widespread attempts by companies, states, cities and boards of education to drive out, or lure out, older seniority workers. We are just now beginning to see the result: 55- or 60-year-old workers who are now trying to get back into the work force, after having been lured out on early retirement by a lump-sum payment, only to discover that after a year or two, they do not have the income they need to support themselves. In fact, older workers under pressure from declining Social Security are also trying to return to the work force. The number of 70-year-olds taking orders at a McDonald's is one of the starkest reminders of the human destruction embodied in this crisis.
The housing crisis continues to worsen. Nearly one-quarter of all American homeowners with a mortgage are "underwater", that is, they owe more than their home is worth. In Nevada, that proportion is over half, with the states of Arizona, Florida, California and Michigan not far behind. According to Realty-Trac, the on-line recorder of foreclosure activity, 2.8 million households were in the foreclosure process in 2009, more than double the number in 2007. Across the country, 1 in 9 houses or apartments is left vacant today - from foreclosure or from the lack of buyers, as people leave their houses for one reason or another, while 3.5 million people were probably homeless at some time during the year. In fact, this homeless estimate, which comes from surveys done in 2007, before the worst of the crisis hit, must grossly understate the problem today.
In industrial cities like Detroit it's not an exaggeration to say that the overall situation is catastrophic. When applications for emergency aid were given out there last October, over 100,000 people lined up in the course of 3 days for a chance to get one of the (only) 3,400 grants to be handed out.
A festering far-right
In this ever worsening situation, exacerbated by the policies of both Democrats and Republicans, almost the only organised forces of any size to speak out, have been far-right organisations.
Most of the movement that has recently appeared comes from the traditional layers that usually support right-wing reactionary causes - be it agitating against abortion, "moral decay" or federalism, for example. But with angry denunciations and a populist rhetoric, the extreme right has been able to touch on the anger simmering in wider parts of the population, including some parts of the working class.
It's significant that the right-wing - and not only, or even essentially, the Republican Party - was able to mobilise several sizeable demonstrations against Obama and also against his health care reform, while Obama, calling only vaguely for support, did not bring out anything comparable. Certainly, Obama could have pulled out more - simply from the Democratic Party and union apparatuses themselves, if no one else. But any attempt to call on people supporting health care reform might have opened the door a discussion on exactly what was in the "reform".
The Democrats' year-long push for health care "reform" offered a big opening to the right wing. There was a certain amount of hostility to the bill - and not only among patriotic right-wing nutters claiming the American medical system is the best in the world, or among people who were misled into believing that the expenditure on social programs has created the budget deficit.
Many retired workers who depend on Medicare were very uneasy - with good reason, as it turns out - fearing that the bill would contain an attack on their coverage. Many workers who today continue to have medical coverage through their jobs were angry when they heard that their benefits might be subject to a 40% tax. And then there was simply suspicion from people who couldn't tell what was in that gigantic mess being prodded through Congress. Very few workers seemed convinced that the "reform" would do much to address the problems of medical care - even though most say, including to pollsters, that they believe everyone should be covered. But the single most common response we heard all along, during this drawn-out process was: why is Obama doing this now? Why isn't the government focusing on jobs?
The right was able to tap into this unease and suspicion - above all, because the unions, many of which were critical of the bill, never made any effort to go to the meetings where the bill was being discussed last fall, nor to organise their own meetings to take up the issue. They could have explained the multitude of problems with the bill - of which they were well aware. But they didn't. They didn't want to criticise Obama and the Democrats openly. Nor did the unions propose an alternative - the proposal a number of them have been pushing for years now, that is, a single-payer system under which the government collects the insurance payments centrally, disbursing payments to medical providers, eliminating that gross overhang of insurance company profits and administrative costs. To argue for their own program might have embarrassed Obama as he was pushing through a reform in the interests of big insurance, big pharma and big hospital companies.
And so the right wing was able to benefit, through opposing this reform. And it used that opening to divert popular anger into a whole range of reactionary causes: denouncing immigrants, playing on racist attitudes, attacking doctors who perform abortions, etc. And, of course, sowing confusion - calling the bail-out to the banks "socialism," for example! Or pretending that the enormous budget deficits being rolled up are the consequence of wasteful social programs.
The Republicans, sensing an electoral opening, put up a solid front against the bill, thus hoping to resurrect their Christian fundamentalist base that had been laid low by the 2008 elections. Republicans stoked fears about "death panels" and "government takeovers of Medicare" and "big government" in general, prancing around as the "party of No"!!!
The Democrats, not to be outdone, played their own reactionary card with this bill, prohibiting the use of government funds to pay for abortions, or to cover medical care for undocumented immigrants. Obama, simply to reinforce this disgusting cave-in to reactionary prejudices, issued an executive order insisting public money wouldn't be paid for abortions. And he went out of his way several times to explain that immigrants would not get coverage for their medical problems.
If we can gauge by the polls recently done concerning the "Tea Party," its supporters come more from the middle classes than the working class: they have a slightly higher income than average, they are slightly more likely to have a college degree, and less likely to have been laid off, even though they are fearful of losing their jobs. In other words, they come from the ranks of the traditional lower middle class that usually makes up right-wing movements, steeped in individualistic ideology.
But that's not the whole story behind this growth of the right wing. The Democratic Party has played a big role in driving a certain number of angry workers towards this radical right-wing protest. We are confronted by an almost classic situation today: what passes for the left in this country without a left - that is, the Democrats - take charge of imposing the cuts and sacrifices on the working class and other parts of the population, while the right puts on a populist mask and appeals to the growing anger in the population - only to turn that anger against the working class and against capitalist society's victims.
The growth of the right carries the potential of real danger for the working class. The militias - most of them small bands of men parading around the woods with their guns - are certainly not storm troopers. But this growth of the right-wing has been accompanied by a growth of violence directed against society's victims - and first of all, against the immigrants. In the Southwest, especially, immigrants find themselves in the cross hairs - sometimes literally in the cross hairs - of right wing forces, including those organised by small town sheriffs impatient with the slow movement of the federal government to deport immigrants. But similar attacks have come from local law enforcement officials in the suburbs around Chicago, for example, where a large number of immigrants now reside.
Women, and the medical personnel serving them, have also borne the brunt of violence, attacked by rabid, self-appointed moralists who intend to "carry out God's work" to prevent the death of - in their words - "the unborn." In fact, for decades, women have been the main targets of this home-grown American religious fundamentalism.
With the growth of this right wing, the black population has every reason to be worried. American history is filled with examples of movements of angry, far-right, racist, hoodlums targeting black people. And that history lesson is reinforced by the open racism in the rhetoric of many of today's right-wing spokespersons. The fact that the criticism of Obama takes an openly racist turn, and that it is expressed in a language dripping with the threats of violence against his person can only make the black population itself feel threatened. On this level, allegiance in the black community toward Obama might well grow, even while a large and growing number of black workers are fed up with his policies.
The unions, the only organisations of the working class, find themselves railed against by this right wing for any number of crimes: unfortunately, not the crime of their leaderships in agreeing concessions and tying their members into supporting the Democrats, but for the occasional attempt they might make to defend their members' standard of living.
The need for a working-class party
In the face of this growth of an angry right-wing populist movement, the working class stands, disarmed. It has no significant organisation which could give real expression to its anger, and certainly none which calls on the working class to mobilise to defend itself and fight for its own interests.
The official leadership of the unions have worked during this past period to defend Obama and the Democratic governors and mayors, and to help "their" employers extort more concessions from the workers.
The main goal of most of the black organisations has also been to support Obama, even while Obama blatantly ignores the problems raised by racism in society. When he does address the problems of the extra impoverishment in the black population, he reinforces the worse racist prejudices, exhorting black people to change their behavior and their habits, as though their own behavior is the cause of their poverty.
And there is no doubt that the main organisations of immigrants or women continue to line up behind Obama - as though there were no other choice - even in the midst of the attacks his administration carries out.
Even the left - as minuscule as it is - in part has ranged itself behind Obama or the more traditionally liberal wing of the Democratic Party, like Michigan Congressman John Conyers: directly, as with the Communist Party; or indirectly or implicitly, as with "Against the Current" and "Labour Notes", which echo Obama's call for "green investment - which is nothing but an excuse to give tax breaks to business - parading "green investment" as the solution to unemployment in the auto industry. Part of this left works toward goals like pulling off the latest edition of the US Social Forum - which submerges the real social catastrophe produced by capitalism in a hodge-podge of fashionable issues, merging the separate interests of the working class with those of other layers of society.
As for the unions, the only organisations of the working class in this country where workers have long had no political voice, it's obvious that union membership is dwindling, falling again last year by three-quarters of a million. In fact, the decline in unionisation among workers for private employers was greater than that, and only slightly compensated for by a small increase in public sector unionisation.
For the first time in US history, more union members worked for the federal, state and local governments, and schools boards, than for private industry. This reflects nothing more than the fact that very few workers in private industry are unionised today. Even in the public sector, the gains in membership came in transitory segments of the population like graduate teaching assistants at universities, or in deals cut with states and cities for the right to collect dues from very marginal parts of the workforce - for example, women who get paid by the states of Michigan, Illinois and California to provide day care for a handful of children in their own homes.
It's less obvious, but at least noticeable, that there have been a few signs of revolt in some unions against the imposition of further concessions - the one at Ford perhaps being the most important, but certainly not the only one. Teachers in California and elsewhere have obviously been trying to resist some of the attacks. So far, Detroit city workers and state of Michigan workers seem to have refused a renegotiation of their contract designed to add more concessions to it. Admittedly, this is not a lot. But it's in organising its opposition to the attacks, that the working class can begin to flex its muscles, and that militants inside the working class can gain the influence needed to lead wider fights.
A growth of militancy and struggles inside the working class could rapidly change the atmosphere in the country, which today seems to have shifted so far to the right.
But the basic problem is (and remains) the lack of a revolutionary workers' party or even a revolutionary workers' organisation widely enough implanted in the working class to be somewhat known. The working class desperately lacks its own political voice.
It seems likely the situation will develop along the polarised lines we have seen over this past year. And that makes it all the more critical to focus on building that revolutionary workers' organisation. At the same time, the situation itself can open the door to its rapid construction - but only if those who are active set that, and keep it, as their essential and primary goal.