The Election of Barack Obama seen as first assault on Versailles
Sreeram Chaulia, associate professor of world politics at the OP Jindal Global University in Sonipat, India., has written a very interesting review of an intriguing new book by senior peace activist and political scientist from Syracuse University, Horace Campbell, Barack Obama and Twenty-First Century Politics: A Revolutionary Moment in the USA. According to Chaulia, the theme of Campbell's new book is that the election of Barack Obama is the first manifestation of an incipient "revolutionary moment" in America, which has not yet reached its "climactic stage"
The author portrays the grassroots mass movement that catapulted Obama to power as a manifestation of the present juncture, where the ethos of "including all" is replacing hierarchical thought. It is revolutionary in nature since the neo-liberal ideas propping up the old order were untenable. The consciousness which legitimated individual accumulation of wealth at expense of society as a whole is in disarray. Linear notions of competitive progress and "unlimited growth" face a dead end in the American psyche. And the consensus that the US could consume the planet's resources through endless wars and military
bases has waned as calls grow for reining in the Pentagon's budget and global sway.
The American educational system, which had been geared to "dumbing down" and supplying manpower for finance, insurance and real estate, is now forced to reckon with democratization of knowledge on a worldwide scale. While a rising belief that the Fordist model of production is disastrous for the environment has crept in.
(I must note here that I strongly disagree with making modern industrial mass production by itself the sole causal factor in environmental problems. As Jon Larson has explained in his 1993 book, Elegant Technology: Economic Prosperity from an Environmental Blueprint, a proper understanding of class conflict along the lines of Thorstein Veblen's predators versus producers is required to correctly affix blame on the predators. As Larson shows, in countries that have not allowed the financial system to dominate the industrial economy to the extent it has in the United States, it has been much, much easier to achieve significant progress in making modern industrial mass production environmentally benign. The best examples are the laws in Germany, Japan, Sweden, and Finland, requiring manufacturers to "design for de-manufacture," that is, design their products from the beginning for eventual safe handling in the waste stream, with as much as possible directed into recycling. The key point Larson makes on the question of the Fordist model of production is that industrial engineers are required to design the processes and facilities the give us the miracle of modern mass production, and it is the very same industrial engineers who we now need to redesign the processes and facilities of modern mass production to make them environmentally safe. This requires that industrial engineers, part of the producer class, be liberated from the pressures and demands imposed on them by the predator class to continually cut costs and maximize profits.)
Campbell believes that Obama's training as a community organizer, among other things, created in Obama
a determination to break with the top-down mentality of conventional American political parties. He saw with his own eyes in the mid-1980s how Ronald Reagan's neo-liberal assault depoliticized community-based organizations in the name of individual self-interest.
There is some very interesting material in the middle of the review:
The author highlights several organizational innovations that Obama's primary campaign employed in 2007-2008 to counter the vast patronage empire of the Clintons. . . .
Obama's campaign plan rested on the African fractal precept of "scaling up", wherein the house-to-house formations in one community would be replicated by county across a state, and then iterated state-by-state to reach the national level. Campbell reminds readers that the much-touted Internet-based wizardry of the Obama team was not mechanistic but rooted in people and relationship building. With over 50% of campaign contributions drawn from small donors ($200 or less), social networking tools enabled a democratization of fundraising. . . .
Yet, once Obama's route to the presidency eased, big corporate elements jumped onto his bandwagon to attempt an eventual demobilization of the radical core. This was deemed temporarily necessary for electoral victory. Campbell documents from firsthand observation how conservative planners and lobbyists blanketed the Denver Democratic National Convention in August 2008. He notes the contentious process by which the convention stifled debate on pressing questions of the financial crisis such as US wars abroad and climate change. (Emphasis mine.)
This is the first reference I have seen to the behind-the-scenes role of "conservative planners and lobbyists" at the August 2008 Democratic National Convention, and the conservatives' perceived need to "demobilize the radical core." Can anyone else point to or link to more material on this issue? Such as, exactly who at the Convention did what to begin dismantling the "politics of participation" that had been the backbone of the Obama campaign's volunteer army?
I will note here that from the reading I have done, most especially of David Plouffe's The Audacity to Win: The Inside Story and Lessons of Barack Obama's Historic Victory, Obama and his top people completely unconsciously stumbled into creating a mass movement. They never had any pre-conceived notion of building a political tool that would actually revolutionize the United States. The "African fractal precept of scaling up" was nothing more than Obama and his team's game plan for overcoming Clinton's (and by extension, the traditional Democratic Party's) advantage in the Iowa caucuses. Plouffe is explicit on this point, when he describes the decision flow for winning the primary campaign. According to Plouffe, no one on the Obama team, including the candidate, anticipated the massive numbers of individual donations and volunteers that the campaign was able to enlist and mobilize. Plouffe does not state it, but the conclusion is screamingly obvious that no one on the Obama team recognized the revolutionary nature of the tool they had been handed by historical circumstance.
Nor, indeed, did they recognize the revolutionary nature of the systemic collapse of Wall Street and the shadow banking system. One of the most infuriating parts of Plouffe's book, and also of David Remnick's The Bridge: The Life and Rise of Barack Obama, and of Game Change: Obama and the Clintons, McCain and Palin, and the Race of a Lifetime, by John Heilemann and Mark Halperin, is that dealing with how Obama reacted to the events of March through August 2008: he placed great and implicit faith in the stock and advice of people such as then Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson, and former Treasury Secretaries Robert Rubin and Larry Summers, despite their clear pedigrees as Wall Street "masters of the universe" and hence some of the most dangerous and destructive members of the predator class. Plouffe has a telling paragraph in which he describes the campaign team's shock at learning the severity of the financial crises, when Obama briefs them after one of Obama's several phone conversations with Paulson. Clearly, Plouffe may be a brilliant political campaigner, but he's completely and hopelessly clueless when it comes to the actual policies that are determining the fates of hundreds of millions, even billions, of suffering fellow citizens and human beings on this planet. And this last I assert about Plouffe can be said about the rest of Obama's top campaign people as well. What many Americans are painfully learning now is that a person's ability to campaign for and win electoral office is not necessarily a good indication of how well that person will govern, or even understand the broader issues and forces impacting governance.
Chaulia concludes that
Campbell believes that decentralized and autonomous revolutionary tendencies are not dead in the US, but that fostering a permanently engaged "politics without intermediaries" would depend on social alliances which transcend outmoded ideologies of the "old left". (p 246) The book concludes by asserting that in an age of prolonged economic stress, if networks for peace and the environment keep crystallizing outside the realm of electoral politics, qualitative change is certain to come.