Thursday, 14 February 2008

Anarchists for Obama?

A couple of weeks ago, Paul Kingsnorth posted his interior monologue about Barack Obama:

Wow, this is really quite exciting. I wonder if he could be the next JFK?

Hang on: JFK started the Vietnam war.

And then he got assassinated.

Say what you like though, the guy has charisma.

And he does have a nice smile. And he used to write poetry and smoke weed, so he can't be all bad.

I wonder what his policies are.

I really hate Hillary Clinton; vile little plastic goldfish. I hope she loses.

I really hate myself for being taken in by this admittedly impressive PR.

Imagine Obama in the White House though. Wouldn't that be something?

Why do people keep calling him 'black? He's mixed race, but no one calls him 'white'?

Humans have an apparently limitless need to believe in leaders who will liberate them from the drudgery of reality. Idiots.

It's quite exciting though.

Then this week Ran Prieur - someone I'd have assumed to be even more opted out of electoral politics than Paul - has made a series of fascinating posts about why he's campaigning for Obama. This really got my attention. (I'm posting a big chunk, because Ran hasn't given this post a permalink yet):

By January 2009, when the next president takes office, it will be obvious that we are in a Greater Depression. Tens of millions of Americans will be angry and desperate and uncomfortably awakened and confused. People will be losing their homes, their incomes, their ability to buy food and fuel and health care. And giant predators, from banks and corporations to foreign property owners to Blackwater, will be trying to exploit the crisis for selfish gain.

Now imagine that you are part of an organized movement that's technically against the law. Maybe a few hundred people have occupied an abandoned suburb and you are tearing down houses and making gardens. Or some farmers are refusing to leave land that the banks claim to own, and they've blockaded the roads with tractors and pulled out their hunting rifles. Or some truck drivers have gridlocked a major port to protest fuel prices. Or the people in one poor neighborhood have run out of food, and they march to the Whole Foods in a rich neighborhood and take what they need. Or half a million people march to protest the Iraq war, and because they don't have jobs or health insurance to lose, they don't go home, but occupy the center of a major city for days.

Now, what would President McCain do? He would send in the fucking military and smoke your ass, and if you weren't killed, you would be shipped to a "detention facility," and never heard from again.

What would President Clinton do? She would talk to all her big donors and neocon advisers, and do whatever they told her to do. And then she would talk to all her pollsters and spinners and focus groupers, and go on TV and say whatever bullshit they told her to say. We could do worse, but we could also do much better, because the elite will be too removed from reality to make good decisions, and her words would be so different from her actions that people would just get more cynical and angry.

What would President Obama do? I could be wrong, but I think he would go in person and listen to you, ask you what you needed and how he could help. Then he would go back to the big money people, and explain your position to them, and ask them what they needed. Then he would work out a compromise, and he would go on TV and explain the whole situation and how he resolved it and why. Nobody would be completely happy, but we would avoid a big disaster and gain in understanding.

The main thing we would understand is that we are powerful, that we can illegally threaten the status quo and win concessions. Tactical organized mass actions would break out all over. It would be anarchy! And I mean that in mostly a good way. One way or another, energy from below will take apart the system and build a new one, because that's the end of all empires. I really can't see the future clearly enough to be more specific. But with Clinton or especially McCain, it would be a much worse kind of anarchy.


Paul said...

What an interesting post. For me it sums up the whole curious enigma of Obama: how everyone invests their hopes in him and sees what he wants to see. This poster actually has no idea what Obama would do in such a situation; neither do any of us. Neither, probably, does Obama. But he knows what he hopes for.

In this sense, Obamania reminds me of the attitude to Tony Blair circa 1996. Hard to credit it now but we invested extremely high hopes in him too. And look what happened.

Interesting that Clinton supporters keep complaining that Obama has 'no policies.' They don;t understand that n-one cares; no-one wants 'policies'. They want hope after a period of darkness and Obama offers it because people have decided he is the right vessel for their expectations at this moment in time.

Dougald Hine said...

Hi Paul - thanks for the comment! It sparked a whole other post about whether Obama is "Blair 2.0" and how far we can make judgements about political candidates... It does strike me just how difficult it is to imagine any equivalent to Obama in Britain today.

Anonymous said...

i think that people who say that obama's ideas would be inline with anarchy are completely misinformed about one or the other. if you go back to the fundamental aspect of anarchy, it is that there is little to no government involvment and in an ideal situation no government at all.

from what i can see, having the government decide for whom they raise taxes and for whom they lower taxes, how much money one can make, where the money goes, is the opposite of less government involvment, its actually a whole lot more involvement and less decision making for ourselves. socialism has no party in anarchism. and it seems pretty obvious that thats where obama would wish to go.

Dougald Hine said...

@anon - thanks for the comment. I recognise your argument. On the other hand, Ran made the opposite case the other day:

"Although I identify as an anarchist, I'm also an opportunist and not a purist, and my support for socialism is opportunistic. As long as we have a big government, I'd like influence it to do more wealth redistribution. And no, that's not going to undermine my dedication to building a world with no central control. Do you think I have no mental discipline at all?"

(His posts are tricky to link to, but look for the March 8th 2009 entry.)

Two things here - one is, can you distinguish between tactics and strategy? Just because your long-term goal is something like a world of autonomous, self-organising communities, without the state, does that mean you renounce all opportunities to influence what goes on within the state as it currently exists? The way I see it, just because you're an anarchist, it doesn't mean you shouldn't vote for the least worst candidate in a given election.

But the second thing is, does the anarchist vote automatically go to the candidate who backs a smaller state? If so, I should probably have written "Anarchists for McCain?". Or is your anarchism something other than an extreme version of free market individualism?

Anonymous said...

"Free market" anarchism is a contradiction. Run from anyone who tells you otherwise.

Dougald Hine said...

@Anonymous - I agree that "free market anarchism" is a problematic term, since (as Polanyi tells us) the "free market" depends on the state for the conditions of its existence. However, I'm not in the habit of running away from people whose thinking I don't entirely agree with - are you?

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Anonymous said...

Obama likes you to think he would personally fix social problems, but the fact is he is just the popular face that the masters(bilderberg, jp morgan, rokerfeller, ect.) know can best distribute the injustices, to make you think one thing, but in fact we(america) are the greatest oppressors of the world. educate yourselves, and learn and grow, cause the only thing you can count on today, is yourselves, organize, unite, rebuild!!!!

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