by Danny Haiphong
“Obama has been unquestionably the most effective Commander in Chief that imperialism has ever selected.”
Black August is coming to a close, but the struggle that gave it birth lives on. It lives on through the lives of political prisoners such as Mumia-Abu Jamal and Assata Shakur currently serving life in prison or exile for their contribution to the Black Liberation Movement. It also lives on through the memory of its founder, George Jackson. Jackson’s assassination in 1971 inspired prisoners in Attica to fast and prepare for one of the most significant prison rebellions in US history. The memory of Black August’s revolutionary founders, as critical as it is to the future of the Black Liberation Movement as a whole, is ultimately only one side of a dialectical (two-sided) relationship with US imperialism.
US imperialism’s counter insurgency war on the Black liberation movement is the other side of the dialectic. The Black Liberation Movement of the second half of the 20th century was met with a heavy response by the US imperial state. This included the murder, imprisonment, and surveillance of the movement’s leaders and organizations. Such repression was the product of collaboration between all levels of the state under the umbrella of the FBI’s Counter Intelligence Program (COINTELPRO).
The year of 1969 was an especially intense year in the repression of the Black Liberation Movement. The Black Panther Party in Los Angeles, for example, was forced to engage in a 7-plus hour shoot-out with the first ever SWAT team on 41st and Central in LA. Cultural Nationalist US Organization members, with help from the FBI, murdered Black Panther leaders John Huggins and Bunchy Carter on UCLA’s campus. Illinois Black Panther leaders Fred Hampton and Mark Clark were assassinated by the police in the same year. Repression undoubtedly weakened the Black Liberation Movement by cutting off the masses from its most talented and revolutionary-minded leaders.
“The Black Liberation Movement of the second half of the 20th century was met with murder, imprisonment, and surveillance of the movement’s leaders and organizations.”
However, military force alone could not subdue the Black Liberation Movement. Indeed, as the authors of Black Against Empire: The History and Politics of the Black Panther Party assert, repression actually increased the membership of organizations such as the Black Panther Party. The counter insurgency war against the Black Liberation Movement would not have been successful without reforms to the system of imperialism. Reform became crucial in many ways, especially as the world capitalist economy entered a permanent state of decline in the mid-1970s. The development of a Black misleadership class was perhaps the most critical reform made by the ruling class to strengthen its counter insurgency war against the Black Liberation Movement.
For nearly a generation, the Black misleadership class has been given seats in corporate boardrooms, political offices, and civil society “non-profits” to wreak havoc on the political resistance of the oppressed. Barack Obama’s Presidency is the most powerful manifestation of the growing influence of this class. The Congressional Black Caucus followed Obama’s lead every step of the way. Its members approved more funding for the militarization of the police and failed to vote against US support for the genocidal Israeli war on Gaza. And the CBC chose not to criticize any of Obama’s economic policies, all of which led to the most severe economic regression in Black America’s history.
Yet in the closing months of the 2008 election, Obama was marketed as the “hope” and “change” the US Left, especially Black America, needed in a time of crisis. Never before had the US imperialist system selected a Black President to manage its affairs. Eight years later, the reform has paid off handsomely for the ruling class. Obama has been unquestionably the most effective Commander in Chief that imperialism has ever selected. Obama’s ascendancy came in a period of great discontent. The capitalist system worldwide had entered a crisis it could not crawl out of. The US military state was mired in two unpopular occupations in the Middle East. Millions of people were ready for something new, but lacked a grassroots movement from which to articulate what new would look like.
“For nearly eight years, few could criticize Obama’s role in the worsening poverty, state terror, and war that afflicted the global working class without being accused of heresy by the Obama machine.”
The ruling class placed its bets on the Obama Presidency to fill the political vacuum left by the prior administration and scored a winning hand. Obama’s presence immediately silenced the anti-war left. Prior to 2008, thousands of people demonstrated against the war in Iraq and Afghanistan. These protestors went home after Obama was elected and never came back. Some even cheered Obama on as he destroyed Libya and pursued full-scale military invasion in Syria. Even worse, the Black left was compelled to completely abandon its historic consensus of peace and social justice in the Obama era. For nearly eight years, few could criticize Obama’s role in the worsening poverty, state terror, and war that afflicted the global working class without being accused of heresy by the Obama machine.
Barack Obama’s rise to power represented the highest expression of the Black Liberation Movement’s temporary defeat at the hands of the state’s counter insurgency war against it. The Obama era cemented the influence of the Black misleadership class in all areas of US imperial life. Mouthpieces such as Michael Eric Dyson, Melissa Harris-Perry, and Al Sharpton found lucrative positions from which to influence Black politics. Their mission was clear: to steer Black America and its supporters away from the struggle for freedom and toward accommodation with Empire. In Obama’s last months, many of his top operatives have either fallen out of favor with the ruling class or given their total support to the Clinton machine.
The Black misleadership class and Barack Obama were born from the bowels of the Democratic Party. Obama’s candidacy was from the very outset designed to eviscerate the Black Radical Tradition of decades prior and trap whatever remained inside of the grips of the Democrats. All sectors of society were infected with the mythology that Obama was an extension of Martin Luther King Jr and the Black Freedom Movement’s legacy. Notably, Scholar Peniel Joseph drew a straight line between the Black Freedom Movement and Barack Obama in his book Dark Days, Bright Nights from Black Power to Barack Obama. His work has been part of the larger ideological project of the ruling class to bury Black politics in the graveyard of the Democratic Party.
“Mouthpieces such as Michael Eric Dyson, Melissa Harris-Perry, and Al Sharpton found lucrative positions from which to influence Black politics.”
Leading the Black Liberation Movement into the Democratic Party graveyard remains the modus operandi of the ruling class. Barack Obama has been the ruling class’s most valuable weapon to achieve this objective over the last eight years. Those who criticized Obama from the left were met with accusations of racism or complicity in the white supremacist agenda of the Republican Party. Democrats painted Obama as a victim of Republican Party sabotage even as his administration expanded Presidential powers beyond that of Bush and spent an entire term attempting to strike a Grand Bargain of austerity with Republicans. Obama’s legacy, as well as the imperialist regime he helped stabilize, was built on a big lie.
In the 2016 elections, the US imperialist system has maintained a state of collective amnesia about the Obama era. Its rulers have pointed all fingers at Trump to inoculate an extremely unhappy electorate. However, Hillary Clinton is not Barack Obama. Her campaign has been unable to attach itself like a parasite to the Black Freedom Movement. Clinton has thus been far less effective in utilizing the marketing apparatus and class of collaborators that Obama has possessed over the last eight years. No, Clinton is merely a Goldwater Girl with a decade’s long record of participation in the misery of the oppressed worldwide. Yet the criticism of her record has failed to bring up any real conversation about the Obama legacy. That is the magic of Obama-mania.
Obama’s legacy should be a powerful reminder that the counter insurgency war on the Black liberation movement continues unabated. A so-called Black President gave the US imperialist system another gasp of life when it seemed the system was on the verge of total collapse in 2008. Few had the courage to criticize Obama’s regime over the course of two terms. Those who did were relentlessly attacked by Democratic Party supporters. When one thinks of Obama, don’t just think of the anti-thesis of Black August, think of him as the highest expression of the war against it.