Views in brief

September 2, 2008

Not indifferent, but rightly critical

CARL DAVIDSON of Progressives for Obama calls for Socialist Worker to
endorse the candidate as part of a critical left current ("Refusing to be indifferent to Obama"). His case is based on three (self-)delusions.

The first is that the Obama campaign represents, at least in potential, a "left-center coalition." Not a single one of Obama's positions, from Iraq (phased redeployment towards Afghanistan), to (Romney-ite) health care reform, to "comprehensive" (border enforcement plus punitive legalization) immigration reform, are actual left positions. Instead, his platform is best described as centrist, if not center-right. Obviously, some on the left are supporting Obama, but they are in no sense coalition partners.

The second delusion is that joining the campaign can give the left leverage to change it. The opposite is the case. The size and strength of the U.S. left are such that we probably can't hope to make a major impact on the politics of this campaign.

Just by christening ourselves "progressives" or anyone else "for Obama," we throw away whatever power we can hope to wield. Our power comes from organizing around specific demands like immediate withdrawal from Iraq, single-payer health care or a moratorium on raids and deportations. Only if we demonstrate through our independence that we will not be taken for granted will Obama feel any pressure to shift left.

Lastly, Davidson persists in speaking of the Obama campaign as a "movement." This much-abused term signifies, for Marxists, that large numbers of people are engaged in an ongoing activist-organizing process in which their politics can shift and radicalize.

We argue that any abstention from movements is fatal for the left, in just the way Davidson warns about. But the substantial enthusiasm and deep political shifts feeding and fed by the Obama campaign aren't a movement in this sense.

The political ferment around the Obama campaign is the most promising breeding ground of potential movements in U.S. society today. A real engagement with it means proposing and linking arms with its members wherever possible, in joint struggle to pull the candidate left.

In such a context, we can disagree on support for the candidate without alienating, and plant the seeds of a more uncompromising, independent left in the future.
Avery Wear, San Diego

Protesting "free trade" in Peru

WHILE WALL Street and Washington tend to tout the ratification of free-trade agreements as victories for free markets and, by extension, free people, the citizens of Peru have shown the world that they have a very different idea.

Sixty-five indigenous tribes and thousands of other people from the Latin American nation recently protested their government's implementation of the NAFTA-styled U.S.-Peru Free Trade Agreement. The pact, according to its indigenous critics, would result in the wholesale rape of natural resources by foreign corporations and would do little to solve environmental, social or labor issues.

With these concerns, citizens took to the streets and stood their ground. In a debate often characterized as a black-and-white choice between "free markets" and "backward protectionism," the recent display of grassroots force in Peru showed us that it's not that simple.

It's a matter of priorities: people or profits. Would this country choose foreign investment and the prospect of increased wealth for its nation's prosperous elites? Or, would it put local concerns about the environment, communities and homes first?

These were the clear choices, and from some of the world's most remote jungles and in the streets of some of Latin America's most-impoverished barrios, we heard a loud-and-clear answer. The citizens of Peru chose to put people before profits.

Let this movement stand as an example to those advocates of neoliberalism who are so quick to claim that theirs is an ideology that is yearned for by the impoverished masses. We have seen that just because one is poor does not mean that one is stupid, and that just because one has very little does not mean that one is willing to sell everything else.
Andrew Oxford, San Antonio, Texas

A cheap shot from

I WAS appalled to read a sexist line in Lance Selfa's article "Why isn't Obama way head?" He slammed McCain for running an ad "comparing Obama to mindless celebrities Britney Spears and Paris Hilton." should not reflect or echo the corporate media's stereotypes that female celebrities are brainless (blonde) bimbos, a stereotype McCain sought to use against Obama in that ad. Paris Hilton replied to the McCain ad with her own video, in which she demonstrated a solid grasp of issues involving energy and the environment, and used humor to challenge the stereotype of her as an intellectual lightweight.

It goes without saying that Selfa is not a sexist. He, along with the International Socialist Organization, have fought the resurgence of sexism in the pages of SW and in many organizing campaigns for decades. It is precisely that record of fighting sexism where ever it rears its ugly head that made me so shocked to see that line a SW column.
Pham Binh, New York City

The Olympics and human potential

I AGREE with Helen Redmond that the nationalism and commercialism of the Olympics is really disgusting ("Nothing golden about the Olympics"). The Olympics seems to have become a wholly owned subsidiary of Nike among other corporations. The race for medals is a parallel for the military and economic competition in the world at large. Rather than a respite from blind patriotism, it is an expression of it.

But there is much more to the Olympics than this. The main reason millions of people watched the Olympics is for the excitement and appreciation of truly amazing physical performance. The Olympics shows us what human beings are capable of, even if in only one area of human endeavor. The Games remind us of the possibilities when the human potential is unleashed.

In a socialist society, where "the free development of each was the condition for the free development of all," we can expect far more moving and amazing achievements in all areas of human activity. In an international socialist world, "to each according to their needs" will allow everyone to give to society "from each according to their ability."

The Olympics shows us clearly what is wrong with capitalism today--and shows the beginning of the human potential that can be unleashed when workers' democracy flourishes!
Steve Leigh, Seattle