Some Different Kinds
Of Obamanation
About a year ago, adherents of the British Labour Party were desperately searching for a "British Obama." As one blogger in the UK blogged:

    In essence, the British Obama must not be British. The search for a "British Obama" itself expresses shame about British history and disillusionment with British politics. To call for a new Tony Blair, or even worse a new Margaret Thatcher, will not go down well at all. To answer the cynicism of the British electorate towards politics, the political class believes it needs to break absolutely with tradition. In this spirit, it is probably best that the British Obama is American; hell, it should preferably be Obama himself. Come and save us.

European Obamania has now reached an even higher pitch with the award of the Nobel Peace Prize to the president after only nine months in office. As Mr. Obama himself quite gracefully acknowledged, he has yet to accomplish much to merit the prize. On the other hand, the Norwegian committee which awarded the prize may have had two other things in mind. First, the award was given to the U.S. President for not being George W. Bush, a simple accomplishment, but one for which much of the world is deeply grateful. Second, perhaps the committee was also memorializing something more significant: the election of the first African-American to the Presidency of the USA.

The rapturous reception abroad to Mr. Obama's presidency contains certain ironies that have not been much remarked. In Europe, right-thinking (i.e., Left-thinking) beautiful souls invariably used to look down on the bad old USA for its many defects, in particular its reputedly incurable racism. Yet nowhere in Europe is there the remotest possibility of the election of a brown-skinned head of state. And the history of racial subordination in Europe is not so wholly different from that of North America as is commonly assumed.

The USA's "peculiar institution" of African slavery had a counterpart of sorts across the Atlantic: the Roma (Gypsy) people were enslaved at various times in England, Scotland, Portugal, Spain, and the Balkans, and in Romania they were not legally emancipated until 1863-64, exactly the time that the American slaves were freed. For centuries, including long after emancipation, the Roma were subjected to discrimination and persecution throughout eastern and central Europe, and sometimes in western Europe. What are the odds today that any of the numerous Roma citizens of Romania, Bulgaria, Hungary, Slovakia, or for that matter of France, could become the chief executive of the country? The widespread European applause for the election of an African-American head of state on this side of the Atlantic is, it appears, entirely vicarious.

Needless to say, the posturing or so-called "hard" Left dismisses the Obama presidency as just another part of the endless conspiracy of the evil ruling class. Here, for example, is the British propagandist John Pilger, writing in the "New Statesman" and in "Socialist Worker:"

    ...this clever young politician is playing the part for which he was drafted and promoted. This is to present a benign, seductive, even celebrity face to American power, which can then proceed towards its strategic goal of dominance, regardless of the wishes of the rest of humanity and the rights and lives of our children.

Speaking of "presenting a face," let us make a little comparison of the 20th century Left's accomplishments with the developments in the USA which preceded and led to the Obama presidency.

How many Roma town mayors were there in the late-lamented Socialist Bloc, in contrast to the many African-American mayors elected during the last 45 years on this continent? This contrast induces a striking mental paralysis in what one might call the Left brain. After all, the contrast, were it absorbed, carries a very clear implication: that racial particularism can be transcended --- in fact is in the process of being transcended in the USA --- quite outside of the framework of the familiar, anti-capitalist as well as anti-American clichés of the Left.

From the 1960s on, a procession of big cities in the bad old American bastion of capitalism elected African-American mayors. The procession began with Cleveland, then Gary, then Chapel Hill, then Newark, Dayton, Wichita, and then Tallahassee (in the deep South!); then Detroit, Raleigh, Atlanta (a major city in the deep South!!), Los Angeles, Oakland, New Orleans, and Birmingham. During the same period, in the Socialist Bloc, how many Roma rose to positions of authority in People's Romania or People's Bulgaria?

When Soviet tanks occupied Prague in 1968, how many Roma did the Soviets include among the officials they installed at gunpoint? And although the anti-imperialist Soviet Union brought African students to Moscow to enjoy the pleasures of Marxist-Leninist study, the students found themselves surrounded by the suffocating racism of most of the Russian population, which the Soviet experience had done nothing to modify. All this was in plain view, so of course it was studiously ignored on the Left.

As the late 20th century rolled on, matters only got worse for the Left-brained. The thoughts of Chairman Mao, embodied in the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution, proved such an utter disaster that the Chinese Communist Party itself officially disowned the Cultural Revolution in 1981. During the same decade it essentially embraced private capitalism, as did the Vietnamese Communist Party (the successors of Uncle Ho, so adored by western Leftists) in the following decade. In 1980-81 there was a workers' revolution in Poland, all right, but it was directed against the self-designated socialist government of the country. Then in 1989-1991, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics itself and all the socialist People's Democracies of Europe spontaneously crumbled into dust.

But Leftists could still take comfort in the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, led by that exemplary progressive, Slobodan Milosevic, head of the Socialist Party of Serbia. Then, next thing we knew, Mr. Milosevic and his Serbian Socialist Party had adopted an ethnic chauvinism that American Dixiecrats could not even dream of, and they led Yugoslavia into a savage, suicidal civil war, ending in the Federal Republic's dissolution.

All the while, back in the bad old USA, African-American mayors kept coming to local authority in Chicago, Charlotte, Philadelphia, Baltimore, New York, Seattle, Memphis, Dallas, Denver, St. Louis, Minneapolis, San Francisco, Los Angeles (where Tom Bradley was elected mayor five times), and other jurisdictions. This was part of a general trend of the election of mayors, governors, Congressmen, and state officials from various minority groups, not only African-Americans but Asian-Americans, Mexican-Americans, and so on.

Moreover, the American culture in large has grown dramatically more variegated than it was 50 years ago, with many millions of mixed racial heritage, of whom seven millions happily identify themselves as "mixed." The election of the biracial Mr. Obama to the presidency was the natural culmination of the entire trend. As a member of the Congress Of Racial Equality back in the 1960s, I found this long but unmistakable development impossible to overlook. Comparing it with the behavior of People's China in Tibet, for example, or with the way Socialist Yugoslavia dissolved in blood, was also unavoidably thought-provoking.

For the Left-brained, however, this onslaught of data from the real world was simply unthinkable. So, the Left has spent the last 25 years in a frantic campaign of unthinking. Here, as an example, is a little sermon from a May 2008 issue of "Socialist Worker."

    Marx noted in an 1847 speech: "A certain kind of brotherhood does, of course, exist among the bourgeois classes of all nations. It is the brotherhood of the oppressors against the oppressed, of the exploiters against the exploited. Just as, despite the competition and conflicts existing between the members of the bourgeoisie, the bourgeois class of one country is united by brotherly ties against the proletariat of that country, so the bourgeois of all countries, despite their mutual conflicts and competition on the world market, are united by brotherly ties against the proletariat of all countries."

    But the working class is also rife with divisions that are deliberately fostered by the capitalists. They foster national divisions to encourage workers to value national identity above the identity of class interests that should unite them with their fellow workers. Socialists must always challenge all forms of national chauvinism that pit workers against each other.

    But we do not equate all nationalisms. A distinction must be made between the nationalism of the oppressor and the nationalism of the oppressed. ...No nation that oppresses another can itself be free. In the U.S., for example, there can be no solidarity between Puerto Rican and U.S. workers unless U.S. workers recognize the right of Puerto Rico to independence.

Starting, like any respectable church lesson, with a quote from holy scripture (Marx in 1847), this catechism scarcely notices the empirical world at all, except for the burning issue of (wait for it) ... Puerto Rican independence.

The Left's flight from distressing facts to the comforts of holy scripture, endlessly repeated, is a familiar story. At one time, the earlier Church (the one of Rome rather than Marx) taught that the heavenly bodies were perfect, and that they were mounted on crystal spheres which angels rotated around the stationary earth at the center of the universe. Exactly 400 years ago this year, a gentleman named Galileo pointed his telescope toward the sky and discovered that the plain, observable facts contradicted the Church's picture of the universe. It was an earlier case of a simple clash between data and doctrine.

Confronted with discrepancies between data and doctrine, the Church insisted on the primacy of doctrine. Galileo found that the data made sense only in terms of the Copernican model of the solar system, but the church condemned and imprisoned him specifically for making this conclusion public. It prohibited the Copernican interpretation as "foolish and absurd, philosophically and formally heretical, inasmuch as it expressly contradicts the doctrine of the Holy Scripture in many passages, both in their literal meaning and according to the general interpretation of the Fathers and Doctors." [From a decree of the Holy Office, issued in February, 1616.]

One wonders how soon the various sects of the Left and the Holy Office of the Vatican will forget their niggling differences about doctrinal details and just merge. It would be a true marriage of soulmates. Come to think of it, though, a little reading of magazines of the Left reveals a psychology that may not be quite compatible with Holy Mother Church after all. In the year 1992, Pope John Paul II publicly admitted that the Church had made a mistake in the Galileo affair, and in 2000 he issued a formal apology for Galileo's trial. Leftists would no doubt be deeply uncomfortable with an outfit that can manage to admit a mistake as often as once every 360 years.

--- Jon Gallant
Send us e-mail


Go Home

Go to the most recent RALPH