[Marxism] The shifting ruling class mainstream

Joaquin Bustelo jbustelo at gmail.com
Tue Dec 2 09:04:23 MST 2008

Rather than insist on beating the dead horse of how his appointments show
just how evil Obama is, I think we should instead focus on why Obama is
having some success in assembling such a broad coalition of ruling class
operatives behind him. And we should be clear in judging this. This "team of
rivals" is not being assembled so that the vector sum of clashing tendencies
can write on the tabula rasa of the incoming administration's policy agenda.
It is being put together to carry out the policies of Obama.

When Obama was first running and right through the primaries, it seemed very
evident that he was quite genuinely proposing "change" -- not the sweeping
radical reforms some of his supporters imagined, but real change in terms of
ruling class policy.

It may seem disingenuous to bring that up now, in large part because his
bourgeois political approach has moved towards becoming the dominant,
"mainstream" wing over the past few months. Take the "Obama-ite" withdrawal
of combat units from Iraq (that is ALL he ever promised, even when framed in
terms of "ending the war." He never promised to end the occupation or "U.S.
involvement," on the contrary, he ALWAYS insisted on the opposite). But the
withdrawal will now be carried out by Gates under the terms of an agreement
negotiated and accepted by the Bush administration. 

Likewise, the "liberal" (in U.S. terms) interventionist approach to the
economy is accepted as necessary under current circumstances by even the
most "neo-liberal" (anti-interventionist) elements of the old

And you can see this shift in overall ruling class opinion or approach in
how the courts are handling the Guantanamo cases. After five or six years of
temporizing, the judicial branch is pretty clearly turning away from the
extreme presidential absolutism Bush tried to impose after 9/11, and largely
got away with throughout his administration. 

But for this reason, Obama's incoming administration is increasingly being
shaped/seen as a "bipartisan" government of national unity. 

The collection of praise for Obama and his appointments by various and
sundry Republicans and their hangers-on in the bourgeois media is actually
quite impressive. 

But those feeling betrayed should consider that this was *always* a core
part of Obama's campaign message: that "we are one people," that "we are one
nation" and that "we are not as divided as our politics suggests."  All it
took for the word to become flesh was for "change" to come to Washington. 

And Obama, I believe, won. He won not just the presidential race, he won (or
rather, his side is winning) the debate about a change in the stance of
ruling class policy, and it is now recognized generally in ruling class
political and commentator circles that a shift, a turn (but not AT ALL a 180
degree turn) is necessary. 

We should not make the mistake of imagining the ruling class or Obama
conceives of politics as we might, an internally coherent series of
measures. Their philosophical outlook is pragmatically balancing between
various "interest groups" and "constituencies" within the strategic
framework of what they conceive of as a strong market economy and strong
U.S. world leadership. Given that the real meaning of those things are
exploitation of the many for the benefit of the few, both at the level of
people as well as peoples, bourgeois policy is bound to be a hodge podge.

Which is why for some of us it may not be clear that in fact, the turn began
some months ago, both in foreign and domestic policy. But it will become
clearer with Obama in the White House.

On some --a few-- things it will present as a 180-degree turn. The
Guantanamo concentration camp and torture center will be closed. In others,
it will be less but still sizable: the Iraq War will be de-escalated and
that will ALSO be the strategic approach in Afghanistan, to seek and
accommodation and modus vivendi with as much of the insurgency as possible,
even though the first step will be escalation to try to stabilize the regime
(obviously, a compromise will not look very enticing to the insurgency as
long as they are making steady progress towards winning). The economic
recovery package in January is likely to be massive and much more oriented
to restoring the real, material economy as opposed to the financial sector.

(The official guardians of the word "recession" have just gotten with the
"change" program by declaring the U.S. to be officially in one, starting a
year ago last December. This will further legitimize and give "scientific"
economic cover to Keynesian budget-busting pump-priming that will certainly
be an element of Obama's recovery package.) 

All that said, I would not be surprised by Obama serving up a particularly
mild version of his "change" come January, disappointing not just radicals
but even the liberal wing of the democrats in Congress. But I would also not
be surprised by his following the opposite tack and going much further than
many of his moderate and conservative now-allies are willing to countenance,
though I think this is less likely. The reason is that with the Bush
administration having persisted on its course for so long and with such
evidently bad results, Obama has a broader than ordinary degree of freedom
within, of course, the universe of U.S. bourgeois politics.

My *guess* is I think like Mark Lause's, if I have understood him right,
that we'll get two successive versions of Obama change, the mild, broad
consensus one at first, and then later, a more aggressive version, after the
first round proves lacking. Whether a broad consensus among ruling class
political operatives and opinion makers accompanies him into the second
round is impossible to know.

The main thing we should focus on is how all this impacts regular working
people and most especially the younger layer of Obama supporters. It is
likely to take a while, perhaps quite a long one, before disappointment with
his performance crystallizes into opposition to his administration as such.
In the meantime, the political axis of broader activity should be around
concrete *issues,*  such as foreclosures and evictions, raids and
deportations, and so on, rather than projecting protests and events pitched
in such a way as to inherently incorporate a confrontational, hostile or
denunciatory stance towards the administration, as was common under Bush.

In the course of actual movements, people will much more readily come to
understand what interests Obama is really defending, something that will
never happen on a broad scale merely as a result of preaching.


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