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Mainstream, Vol XLVI No 47

November Revolution in United States


Tuesday 11 November 2008, by SC


At the fag end of his life Rabindranath Tagore delivered the now famous ’’Crisis in Civilisation’’ speech on his last birthday in May 1941. In the midst of World War II, the poet observed therein:

As I look around I see the crumbling ruins of a proud civilisation strewn like a vast heap of futility. And yet I shall not commit the grievous sin of losing faith in Man. I would rather look forward to the opening of a new chapter in his history after the cataclysm is over and the atmosphere rendered clean with the spirit of service and sacrifice... A day will come when unvanquished Man will retrace his path of conquest, despite all barriers, to win back his lost human heritage.

Listening to Barack Hussein Obama at Chicago’s Grant Park on November 4 night (when it was the morning of November 5 here in India) after being elected the 44th US President and America’s first African-American head of state, one was reminded of those unforgettable words of Tagore precisely because Obama’s victory at the hustings—literally the ’rainbow moment’ for all Americans—and his electrifying ’Yes-We-Can’ address lifted one’s spirits beyond measure and rekindled one’s faith in Man that had substantially dimmed in the wake of the allround degeneration and cynicism polluting much of the domestic atmosphere and global environment.

It was truly another revolution in November—this time in the United States—exactly 91 years after the October Revolution in Russia. If the Russian Revolution (regardless of whatever has happened and is currently happening in the erstwhile Soviet land since 1991) was a historic happening, the electoral success of Obama in the US today is no less historic. It is also a historic revolution. [Of course, one should refrain from drawing any further analogy between the two events since the differences between them are quite obvious—the October Revolution, which was the product of meticulous planning and organisation, was not, at least in its initial phase, the kind of all-encompassing people’s revolution that Obama’s electoral success signifies.] And it is the USA’s finest, defining moment whose impact on the world would be, needless to emphasise, stupendous. As a respected senior citizen of our country aptly underscored, it is one of the most significant events to take place in the history of mankind.

The President-elect himself gave a measure of the path the American people have traversed when he pointed out that only 40 years ago, when Rev Martin Luther King was assassinated at the height of the civil rights movement, which he had launched with his immortal ’’I-have-a-dream’’ sermon following Rosa Parks’ undaunted resistance, the Blacks were not allowed to cast their votes! Today it is the Blacks, Hispanics, members of the Asian community, Whites who have joined hands to elect Barack Hussein Obama (whose father was from Kenya and mother a White woman and who himself grew up as a child in Indonesia where his mother had migrated as the wife of his step-father—a genuine world citizen) as the President of the United States with a decisive and impressive majority. Isn’t this a vivid triumph of both the human spirit and democracy in the world’s most powerful democratic state? Should we too not celebrate this triumph which also marks a civilisational advance if we take cognisance of the fact that only in the 19th century the Blacks in the US had to suffer the ignominy of slave-labour while even a few decades ago they were denied basic human rights?

Obama’s victory is indeed that of the entire American people, the common men and women of that exceptionally vibrant nation which is not just a melting pot but much more. At the same time it is a victory of grassroots democracy—the networking of all segments of the populace who pooled all their resources (one, two, five, ten, twenty dollars) to fund his electoral campaign. These were the masses who had been set in motion to ensure a historic transformation. Yet it goes without saying that the midwife of this transformation, the Obama revolution, was none other than George W. Bush whose destructive, suicidal policies in Iraq and Afghanistan (the unilateralist military adventures) as well as within the country (the economic calamity) triggered the irresistible desire for ‘change’ in the American psyche (poor man, he had no knowledge of how he acted as the motivator of the change!). The Obama landslide has also conclusively shattered the long-nurtured idea that the ’’business of America is business’’, for America has transcended the limits of business to pronounce to the whole world that not just the moneybags but the people (including and most notably the poor, the dispossessed and the disprivileged) do matter in its scheme of things. This too is a profound statement whose increasing effect is bound to dawn with the passage of time.

Listening to the moving speech of Obama at Chicago one could feel the moistening of one’s eyes—for one has also lived through the sixties when the Blacks’ struggle for basic civil liberties was sought to be brutally crushed. As one watched Rev Jesse Jackson on the TV screen with tears rolling down his face (an image that would remain etched in one’s memory forever) one could not but help recall John Reed’s eye-witness account on the night of November 7, 1917 in Leningrad’s (now St Petersburg) Smolny Institute (the headquarters of the Russian Revolution), as detailed in his outstanding Ten Days That Shook the World:

Suddenly, by common impulse, we found ourselves on our feet, mumbling together into the smooth lifting unison of the Internationale. A grizzled old soldier was sobbing like a child. Alexandra Kollontai rapidly winked the tears back. The immense sound rolled through the hall, burst windows and doors and soared into the quiet sky. ’The war is ended! The war is ended!’ said a young workman near me, his face shining.

It was definitely a moment to savour. And at this point the apprehensions voiced by the Indian ’’experts’’ of foreign affairs on Obama’s future course in Kashmir, on outsourcing, CTBT, FMCT seem so incongruous and inane. [The PM’s matter-of-fact message to Obama bereft of adequate warmth also reveals a lack of comprehension of the dynamics of the historic change.] As one veteran Indian journalist correctly chided those trying to fathom the transformation in the US through the South Asian prism or the Pakistan-centric view of the Indian establishment unable to capture the wider perspective, and perceptively blurted out: ’’What is good for the world at large cannot ever be bad for India.’’

This is also not the time to discuss whether and how far Obama can deliver on his promises. That should be taken up later. [The Left leaders’ I-told-you-so and holier-than-thou attitude in this respect needs to be decried as well because by so doing they are somewhat consciously seeking to undermine the significance of Obama’s victory.] Today one must try to understand the nature of the political earthquake that shook America and the world on November 4-5, 2008.

It is in the context of the current march of history in the United States that one must necesssarily pay tributes to the finest representatives of the ’’other America’’—Paul Robeson, Langston Hughes, Howard Fast, Pete Seeger, Woody Guthrie, Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, Malcolm X—whose contribution to the present transformation cannot be overstated. And that is why one needs to go back to some excerpts of Langston Hughes’ 1938 poem:

O, let America be America again—

The land that never has been yet—

And yet must be—

The land where every man is free.

The land that’s mine—

The poor man’s, Indian’s, Negro’s, ME—

Who made America,

Whose sweat and blood, whose faith and pain,

Whose hand at the foundry, whose plow in the rain,

Must bring back our mighty dream again.

Sure, call me any ugly name you choose—

The steel of freedom does not stain.

From those who live like leeches on the people’s lives,

We must take back our land again,


O, yes,

I say it plain,

America never was America to me,

And yet I swear this oath—

America will be!

An ever-living seed,

Its dream

Lies deep in the heart of me.

We, the people, must redeem

Our land, the mines, the plants, the rivers,

The mountains and the endless plain—

All, all the stretch of these great green states—

And make America again!

(From ’Let America Be America Again’)

Accompanying the memorable November revolution in the US the time for that redemption has finally arrived—now!

November 6 S.C.

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