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Obama at the crossroads of a revolution?

Thursday 20 March 2008, by Horace Cambell

In a nuanced article that borrows from various disciplines such as philosophy and physics, Horace Campbell argues that Barrack Obama would only be trapped by a conservative and anti-people social and economic system if those "who are being drawn into the audacity of hope do not build their own political movement and political organization." He argues that only "only a bottom up movement can prevent Barack Obama from becoming a racial decoy for the Wall Street forces."

The new force of the youth has now made itself felt in US presidential politics in 2008. This force is manifest in the tremendous outpouring of the collectivities of different races, classes, genders, sexual orientation and ages coming forward to support the candidacy of Barack Obama. Barack Obama was born of an African father from Kenya and a mother of European extraction from Kansas in the heartland of the United States. Obama is drawing on both heritages and is campaigning to make a break with the binary categories that perpetuates divisions and the politics of exclusion. This break is a fundamental concept in fractal theory and opens up questions of the laws of unintended consequences in politics. It is the combination of the new energy and light that emerges from the Barrack Obama campaign that sparks questions on the need for a new framework for analyzing politics. This is the framework based on truth, justice, peace and a new mode of politics. In South Africa, the term emerged to point to the ways that in which we share a common humanity.

This short statement will argue that after nearly thirty years of traditional republican and democratic politics there is a desire for hope. It is hope that goes beyond the audacity of the campaign of Obama or the kind of balancing which is inscribed in his book, The Audacity of Hope.

This hope cannot be quantified and this absence of quantification bears positive and negative possibilities. The positive possibilities can emerge from the intentionality of those forces who can build on the new self organizing tools for self emancipation and for moving the politics of this society to a new level. Without the involvement of a new constituency in politics, the Barack Obama campaign can only go so far to ignite the imagination of the youth but this fire will burn out if there are no self similar processes being developed in spaces of peace, spaces of hope and non racialized spaces.

Even if Obama were to be elected to be the President of the United States, the conditions/realities for the overwhelming majority of the citizens (especially blacks, browns, and First nation peoples) will not change overnight. The economic recession, the joblessness of millions and the massive military machine will expose whether this election discourse on change can be transformed into setting in motion a new mobilization of popular forces to struggle for a new mode of politics and economics. In the conclusion we will note that though Obama is no revolutionary, he is caught in a revolutionary moment and his message of hope has tapped into the desire for peace, reconstruction and justice…

Barack Obama is campaigning on the basis of change. In this campaign, his ideas may not be totally formed in relation to the fundamental questions facing the society, but what is clear is that his movement has tapped into a force, energy force that at this moment is unstoppable. The same youths who have grown up in the era of the information revolution and the platforms such as Face book/ My Space are using new social networking techniques that baffle the political pundits reared in the universities that taught the physics of Isaac Newton and the derivative mechanical concepts of Adam Smith and John Locke. Polling and the laws of predictability that emanate from this mechanical era has fallen short of grasping the new energy as thousands of new actors and actresses surge on to the stage of politics to identify with the break from the old politics of fear and so called War on Terror.

Millions are no longer deterred by the fear mongering of the Bush/Cheney leadership or the imagery of Islamic peoples as terrorists. Decent Christians are now seeking the gospel of peace and love instead of hate and religious fundamentalism.


Barack Obama is opposed to the hierarchies of the whites over blacks and browns and uses his own life as a metaphor for calling on citizens to come together to save the planet earth. Obama has gone on record to register his opposition to the structured existence that places humans as atomized individuals without responsibility to family or society. Atomized individuals are open to manipulation by the media and are open to the Hobbesian thinking that society must be based on conflict and confrontation or ‘war of every man against every man.’ This manipulation is one form of psychological warfare against the citizens of the United States…

The idea of change that echoes from the Obama campaign has been calling for citizens to place themselves at the center and to empower themselves, firstly with their positive thinking, “Yes we can,” and more importantly by organizing to intervene in the political process. In response to this call, a cross section of the citizens of the United States from Iowa to Nebraska, from Idaho to Georgia and from Washington to Louisiana have come forward to seek the new ideas of twenty first century change. In the process there are new constituencies that have found their voice. This has led to a level of spontaneity that one could see in the muchwatched video- Yes we can.

Can the old media and the old ideas blunt the quantum leap in the consciousness of the youth that is taking place at the moment? This is the question that emerges from the discourse of the political talking heads on the same television stations that were enthusiastic cheer leaders for the illegal war against the peoples of Iraq.

These political commentators who were brought up to reproduce the misinformation of the media that tormented young people and led them into depression and isolation cannot fully understand the call of the Obama campaign to the youth that the change must begin in the youth themselves and that that have to believe in their capacity for change.

The political pundits of the mainstream media have been in the main brought up within the context of the hierarchies of Newtonian physics have been confounded by the bottom up, responsive, plural and holistic message of the Yes we can campaign.

These hierarchies have been at the base of the faulty democratic traditions of the United States that did not recognize native peoples as humans and rendered African Americans as three fifths of a human being. The same democratic tradition did not recognize women as citizens. Obama is not calling for this deformed reference to be the basis for change, he is exhorting all classes and all ages to be part of the solution, by drawing from a different tradition, the progressive traditions that sought to enrich and enlarge the meaning of democracy…

The unique experiences that Obama learnt when he was an organizer on the South Side of Chicago taught him the humility to listen to the ordinary person and it is this methodical organizing like the repetition of self similarity that one can discern in the organizational skills of Obama. The political victories in Idaho, Nebraska, the Virgin Islands and Missouri followed the scaling pattern of Obama that built up a profile in every district and in every part of the country so that he could not be pigeon-holed. After the land slide victory in South Carolina, Bill Clinton sought to compare Obama to Jesse Jackson and to limit his appeal to African Americans citizens. But the citizens of Washington State, Missouri, Louisiana and Maine voted with their heads and their hearts in response to new organizing thrust that is making the quantum leap in US politics a possibility. This leap has been reinforced by the nested loops of new social networks wired through the spaces of the information revolution.

After these victories the momentum began to build and citizens in Virginia, Maryland and the District of Columbia signaled that they were another link in the chain of this momentous political intervention. Young people have organized themselves into new formations and have been energized by the promise that Obama would want to move in a new direction. In the past forty years the established parties benefited from the demobilization of the youth and unlike most liberal democratic states the numbers of citizens voting in the USA has been consistently below the numbers of other western democracies. Apathy and withdrawal from the system have been the outcome of the absence of realistic alternatives for the majority of the poor in the United States. This absence of participation by the youth has benefited the corporations and special interests to the point where there had been no incentive for the two parties to remove the restrictions that deter young people from participating in politics. The advent of Barack Obama is generating the long sought after alternative, hence the unprecedented turnout for the caucuses and primaries…

New experiences are being created in the midst of a new kind of political campaign that builds on these networks. The traditional media (newspapers, radio and Television stations) and the campaign of the Clintons have made clear statements about the organizational experience of the team around Hilary Clinton (Madeline Albright, Richard Holbrooke, Sandy Berger, Bill Clinton etc). Yet, it is this same experience rooted in the mechanistic hierarchies of Newtonian physics that is becoming the albatross of the political campaign of Hilary Clinton. Her experiences are very similar to the leader of the Republican Party, John McCain. John McCain is proud of his support for the wars against the peoples of Iraq and the merchants of death. Hilary Clinton has sought to demonstrate to the club of militarists that she would oil the war machinery while millions are without basic jobs.

Without fresh ideas when US citizens wanted a clean break with the militarism that brought the quagmire and fiasco in Iraq, Hilary Clinton could not understand that she had to tell the people that she was wrong in supporting the unjust war in Iraq. This is politics of truth that is now needed in the society. But from the position of Hilary Clinton on a possible military strike against Iran and more importantly, her base in the constituency of the financial speculators of New York State exposed the fact that thought she is campaigning to change conditions for women, she has not broken with the militarists of the society. Decency would require that Hilary Clinton rewrite her texts on her responses to war and genocide during the Presidency of Bill Clinton. In this campaign her character has emerged especially in the case of the primary in Florida. Hilary Clinton’s willingness to claim a victory in Florida when she had said she would not brought out her true character to all peoples, black and white, women and men…

The Obama campaign has been able to draw on the organizational capacities of those who want to turn truth into a political force so that the society can turn from war to peace. This is the basic force behind the momentum of Barrack Obama and his experiences of Chicago has been able to translate this (peace thrust) in order to build up the electoral profile, bringing new teams in every part of the country and creating new training spaces for the energetic to donate, participate and learn the possibilities for change. Yet, because of the limitations of the electoral system that mitigates against direct participation of the citizen beyond voting, it is urgent that those who have understood the need for a new politics build new organizations at new sites of politics.

This new urgency is especially the case in the peace movement that has been unable to build on to the aspirations of the masses of the people for justice. Five years after the illegal occupation of Iraq, the activists for peace yearn for new forms of expression and hence there is a slow learning curve that demonstrations without follow up will only frustrate those who want new organizations. In 2003 at the start of the war against the peoples of Iraq there were millions of peoples on the streets.

Yet the established leadership of the peace movement was not able to take the question of the illegal war to the court of international opinion to that the immorality of the war could be brought before the International Criminal Court in The Hague…

Momentum means that when a person or object is moving, regardless of what it is - the harder it is to stop that person or object. When one consider "momentum" in terms of politics, this means that if a presidential candidate, such as Obama, sees and/or experiences a gain and/or surge in his message of peace, hope and change with millions singing, Yes we can, there could be nothing, not even bullets that can intervene in this momentum. This is the basis for a possible quantum leap in US politics to bring a new mode of politics for the 21st Century.

Obama is not a revolutionary but he has been caught up in a revolutionary moment in world history. The electoral campaign of Obama is riding on a wave of peace and change desired by ordinary Americans. There are limitations to the electoral project insofar as the task of restructuring US society is a gigantic one that cannot be done overnight. Obama may not be the solution, but is a small step in the direction of making the break with the old binary conceptions that dominated enlightenment thinking. It is the laws of unintended consequences that will emanate from this break that can lead to a new direction with the new positive bottom up organizing for transformation to a democratic society where all can live in peace.

A clear understanding of the nature of US politics and limitation of the structures of the in-built conservativsim of the system means that Barrack Obama would only be trapped by this social system if those who are being drawn into the audacity of hope do not build their own political movement and political organization. It is only a bottom up movement hat can prevent Barack Obama from becoming a racial decoy for the Wall Street forces. Self mobilization, self organization and emancipatory ideas will create new spaces so that the political space will be expanded beyond the media, the lobbyists and the ritual spaces of the White House, Congress and the Senate Chambers. Safe and clean neighborhoods, children who are reared to respect all human beings and a society that support repair of the planet earth awaits these new self organizing forces.

The campaign of Barack Obama is the story of hundreds of thousands of ordinary people. These are the people who are participating because they believe that politics can mean something again. It is apt to conclude with the words of Martin Luther King Jr.:

“Our only hope today lies in our ability to recapture the revolutionary spirit and go out into a sometimes hostile world declaring eternal hostility to poverty, racism and militarism.”

* Horace Campbell is Professor of Political Science at Syracuse University.

** Extracted by the auth
or from "Barack Obama, Fractals And Momentum In Politics”

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