The following film shows the unalloyed enthusiam in the street of Harlem after the US election result was declared.
An interesting perspective on what happens next comes from the interview with Sue Webb of the US Communist by Richard Bagley in the Morning Star earlier this week.
Sue Webb argues: “This isn’t a pure campaign, not everything is the way that we’d like it – it’s not a left campaign. But it is the overall direction that’s so important.
“I don’t think people have too many illusions,” explains Webb. “They’ve already started a campaign to collect one million signatures for the Employee Free Choice Act, possibly the most important piece of legislation to advance class struggle in our country.
“The intention is to present one million signatures to the new congress and new administration. They’re very well aware that you can’t just sit back.”
Webb nevertheless enthuses about the buzz surrounding Obama and stresses the importance of his campaign for US race relations. The mixed-race trade union-backed Democrat has drawn unprecedented crowds to rallies across the US during his campaign. Webb believes that this represents a real stirring within US society.
“People who have never been involved in anything have started to become activated in an amazing way,” she says.
“It indicates that people want some optimism and idealism. You could say that’s just naive, you could be cynical and say: ‘What’s it really about?’ but it does represent a progressive force, that people want to move in a more progressive, pro-people direction.”
And Webb believes that there is a real difference between this presidential hopeful and the last Democrat to occupy the White House, saxophone-wielding charmer Bill Clinton.
“He was a big disappointment. But the ultra-right were then in their upswing and now they are very much discredited, although they’re not dead and still very powerful.”
“His election was really the beginning of the dominance of the extreme right in American politics that endured with very minor interruption under Clinton and culminated in the most extreme form under Bush, when the ultra-right not only took control of the White House but Congress,” explains Webb.
The results for ordinary US citizens have been disastrous, echoing the impact of the anti-worker free-market policies pursued by Margaret Thatcher’s administration and its successors this side of the Atlantic.
And, while Webb concedes that Obama is not a left candidate – “if he were a left candidate, he wouldn’t be where he is” – she argues that this is not the central issue.
“Some on the left were saying in 2000: ‘There’s no difference between Bush and Gore – it doesn’t matter, they’re all the same. But we’ve seen that there were tremendous consequences – putting a pre-eminence on the aggressive use of military force and pre-emptive force.
“Where we’re at in American politics, in order to move in a progressive direction towards socialism, our first task is to defeat the ultra-right.
“The order of the day is to build a broad movement that includes even Republicans or conservatives who are opposed to this extreme militarism.
“At this point in American history, it’s not on the agenda to have a left campaign or a left president,” Webb argues. “That’s not where the country is at. It’s not what’s called for and it couldn’t happen.”
Although some leftwingers are doubtful of Obama’s potential to effect any worthwhile change of direction, Webb believes that an Obama administration can be held to account, but only through continued pressure from beneath.
“If there isn’t a mass movement, then the transnationals will be the only ones exerting pressure.”
Prior to the long rise of the extreme right and transnational corporations, the CPUSA had long seen the formation of an “anti-monopoly” front including even small-time capitalists as a crucial step on the path to US socialism.
And Webb believes that the recent financial turmoil means that the possibility of a broad pro-people movement in the US is greater than it has been for years.
“I think now, with the financial crisis, what’s starting to unfold in terms of the struggles going on in the United States is that we’re still engaged in struggles to defeat the ultra-right, but aspects of the anti-monopoly struggle are starting to come forward.
“As progressive a background as Obama comes from – he has had a close relationship with labour and so on – he’s going to be pulled the other way,” she warns.
“It’s going to be an area of struggle, but we’re starting to move into the phase of debating who dictates and who benefits. It will spill over into foreign policy too.”
And foreign policy is an area where many international progressives have voiced concerns on Obama, not least over his warlike declarations on Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Webb shares some of their concern. “The most problematic aspect of the things that he’s said is what he said in relation to Pakistan and Afghanistan. It’s going to be a very important area to build mass pressure to turn away from a military approach.”
But she also draws positives from Obama’s pronouncements on Cuba, Colombia, Iran and even Israel.
“You have to look at the totality of the things that he’s said. For example, in a meeting in Cleveland, Ohio, during the primaries, he met 500 Jewish leaders – and he said it again at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee – he said a lot of things you would disagree with, but he said – this is very important – ‘To be pro-Israel is not the same as being pro-Likud.’ And that was a very courageous thing to say and very significant.”
On Iran, “he has argued and continues to argue even despite a great deal of pressure, including further provocative statements by Ahmedinejad made at the UN, to argue for diplomacy.”