Posted on January 25, 2015 by the Communications Committee
This response to President Obama's "state of the union" speech to Congress on January 20 is reproduced with permission from Liberation News, the newspaper of the Party for Socialism and Liberation (PSL).
The reaction to President Obama’s State of the Union Address shows again why working-class and progressive people in the United States need to build our own socialist party.
Without a workers’ party, a socialist party, progressive individuals are left hanging on every word of liberal capitalist politicians whose primary expertise is in creating an illusion. Progressives are the most prone to self-deception on account of the Democratic Party’s professional deception.
In 2009, the Democratic Party led by President Obama had control not only of the White House, but also both the House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate.
They could have introduced and passed legislation to increase the minimum wage. But they did not do that.
They could have passed “card check” legislation that would have allowed workers to more easily form unions in their work place. But they did not do that.
They could have passed legislation creating and funding universal childcare that was affordable and passed legislation providing paid sick leave for all workers in the United States. But they did not do that.
They could have raised taxes on the wealthiest 1 percent of Americans. But they did not do that.
They could have alleviated the $1 trillion debt burden imposed on students simply because they wanted to go to college. But they did not do that.
In his latest State of the Union address, President Obama demanded that Congress pass these reforms, the same measures that the Democrats could have passed when they had full legislative and executive power (2009-2011). He did so knowing full well that the Republicans who control Congress today would never pass any of this legislation.
What President Obama did in the State of the Union address was to kick off the 2016 Presidential and Congressional election campaign on behalf of the Democratic Party. It was an act of deception — nothing more or less. This was political demagogy, plain and simple.
This was “not a good first step” or a “step in the right direction” towards reform as some liberals, and even some socialists, are asserting. This speech was designed only to create enthusiasm among the Democratic Party’s working-class base, which has been hammered by the economic offensive undertaken by the capitalist class during the past period.
Obama talked about the need to tax the “1 percent” of the wealthiest people in the United States. Here, he is appropriating the language of the left, but his substance is not left at all. In fact, Obama’s proposal that would be popularly understood as “taxing the rich” would only raise the capital gains tax to 28 percent. This is exactly where it was when a conservative Republican, Ronald Reagan, was in office in the 1980s.
In reference to the explosive mass movement against racist police violence, Obama merely tipped his hat to the “events in Ferguson and New York,” but simultaneously praised the police. He put an equal sign between the so-called suffering of the country’s police forces and the real suffering of Black and Brown communities and all victims of police murder.
Obama became the first president in a State of the Union address to utter the phrase “lesbian, bisexual and transgender,” and the first president to state to Congress that marriage is a civil right, but those should be understood as a mechanism to activate the base of the Democratic Party in the next electoral cycle. Acknowledgement is one thing, but the president did not talk about the constant police harassment, violence, bigotry and bashing endured by the LGBTQ community.
President Obama claimed credit for the rise in corporate profits and the fact that Wall Street stocks have doubled while he was in office.
The reality in the United States is that the capitalist class is having a vast “recovery” directly as a consequence of the intensifying poverty and exploitation of working people. The government under Bush (2007-2008) and then Obama (2009-2015) provided the banks and corporations with $7 trillion in cash and government loan guarantees. Tens of millions of workers were plunged into unemployment. Millions lost their homes. Millions of families lost healthcare benefits. Today, corporate profits are soaring for the capitalists because they are driving down wages and destroying unions, the most important workers’ organizations best able to defend wages and benefits.
Last week, a report was issued by the Southern Educational Foundation that showed that more than 50 percent of children attending public schools in the United States are so poor that they qualify for free or subsidized lunches. For many states, the number of poverty-stricken children in public schools is more than 70 percent.
The number of children eligible for lunch subsidies in 2000 was 38 percent. These staggering numbers show clearly that under both Republicans and Democrats, working-class kids in capitalist society are being driven into poverty.
In 2013, the 92 richest billionaires had as much wealth as the bottom 50 percent of the world’s population. In 2014, 80 billionaires had the equivalent wealth of 50 percent of the world’s people. This fact alone underlines the necessity of replacing the monstrously corrupt existing system.
Income inequality has become a cliché. It is not the consequence of a policy. It is the result of the capitalist economic system itself. Around election time, the Democratic Party (and this year, even some in the Republican Party) gives lip service to the “problem.”
It is impossible to achieve equality without abolishing the primary source of inequality. To demand real equality means to demand the abolition of classes. In this era, capitalism should be understood as nothing other than a form of organized crime. The small class of billionaires uses the government to manage their common affairs.
Income inequality is the very heart of the capitalist mode of production. Marx described in “Capital” the core mechanism of the system that produces wealth based on private/class ownership of the means of production: “Accumulation of wealth at one pole, therefore, at the same time accumulation of misery, agony of toil slavery, ignorance, brutality, mental degradation, at the opposite pole, i.e., on the side of the class that produces its own product in the form of capital.”
The only thing that can alleviate this phenomenon, the only times when the working class makes gains, is when they launch their own fierce struggles, especially in the workplace, where they can inhibit the owners’ capital accumulation through struggle and organization.
As stated earlier, Obama’s State of the Union address was mainly meant for a domestic audience — those who will be potential voters in 2016.
It would impossible, however, for the president of the world’s greatest super power not to address the international situation too.
On the functioning of the U.S. Empire abroad, the speech was noteworthy for his call for Congress to give him wider authorization for what will be an endless war in Iraq and Syria.
He declared that the veterans and military personnel were the “9/11 generation,” embracing the false notion pushed by Bush and Cheney that the invasion and occupation of Iraq was somehow a “response” to the September 11 attacks.
Obama haughtily announced that the United States would avoid boots on the ground and continue to resort to bombing campaigns, drone strikes and similar military tactics. These will reduce the number of U.S. war dead while allowing the Pentagon to wage simultaneous air wars in numerous countries throughout the Middle East.
He announced that the war in Afghanistan was over even though thousands of U.S. troops will continue to occupy and fight in the country for years to come.
He didn’t accept any U.S. responsibility for the fragmenting of Iraq, Syria or Libya even though it was U.S. military operations, overt and covert, that are the core cause of the break-up of those countries with the ascendant rise of right-wing religious militias and armies like the Islamic State.
His comments about Russia were essentially a taunt. The White House mobilized its NATO allies to impose heavy economic sanctions on Russia when the Putin government tried to resist the full-scale incorporation of Ukraine into NATO following a fascist-led coup in February 2014 that was fully promoted by the U.S. State Department.
The cycle of deception and self-deception as exhibited by Obama’s speech and reactions to it will continue to be a repetitive feature of U.S. politics until the working class and its organizations promote class consciousness through the mechanism of a socialist party.
Without a socialist worldview and without a socialist organization that does political battle with the capitalist parties, individual workers will continue to be completely susceptible to “the latest good speech,” the latest exercise in political demagoguery.