The people of the US were heading to the polls to vote for their new president as Socialist Worker went to press. All the early indications were that Barack Obama, the Democratic candidate, is set to sweep aside his Republican rival John McCain.
If the polls are right this will be a momentous event. Only 50 years ago black people across the US were denied the vote and subjected to a system of apartheid-style laws.
Today the country is on the verge of electing its first black president. Attempts by McCain – and by Hillary Clinton for that matter – to play the race card have backfired. The notion that ordinary people in the US are irredeemably racist has suffered a major blow.
The election will also see the end of George Bush’s eight years as president – marked by nakedly imperialist military aggression abroad and callous arrogance on the home front.
Obama has carefully positioned himself as the candidate of “change”, knowing full well that rage at Bush’s wars and despair at the state of the economy would be the primary factors driving people to the polls.
His campaign for the presidency gained from an early – and undeserved – association with the anti-war movement. Having won the Democratic nomination he tacked right – and lost popularity in the process.
But events came to his rescue. The extraordinary collapse of leading Wall Street institutions in September wrongfooted McCain.
The US political elites have been hit by a wave of working class anger. Obama has been the beneficiary of this wave. Huge numbers of black, white and Hispanic voters have rallied behind him to demand an end to poverty, repossessions, joblessness and war.
But Obama has already sold out the anti-war movement and his backing for the $700 billion bailout shows his support for US capitalism.
His new cabinet looks set to include the worst elements of Bill Clinton’s foul administration.
Will ordinary people respond to Obama’s administration with increased confidence, militancy and independent action? Or will they be demoralised and depressed as the inevitable sell outs unfold?
This is the fundamental challenge for the anti-war left in the US. It needs to both shape and learn from the new mood in US politics. That means rejecting any illusions in the Democrats – but also rejecting the sectarian temptation to stand aside at this crucial moment.
Socialists understand that the real force for political change is the collective action of mass working class movements. The test for the left in coming months is to help build such a force.