“If ye love wealth better than liberty, the tranquility of servitude than the animated contest of freedom, go from us in peace. We ask not your counsels or arms. Crouch down and lick the hands which feed you. May your chains sit lightly upon you, and may posterity forget that you were our countrymen!” – Samuel Adams

Obama and Marxism: A Legitimate Question II

obamaneomarxistBy Victor Morawski

(Part 1)

When dealing with the increasingly salient question of whether Barack Obama is, indeed, a Marxist, it is important to note that in recognizing him as one, we are not thereby claiming that he has accepted, or does now accept, the whole of Marx’s program. Nor is it necessary.

I have seen one blogger attempt to defend him against this charge by observing that, as far as he knew, Obama was not out there advocating the violent peoples’ uprising and overthrow of the government prescribed by Marx as the cure for Capitalism’s ills, so the charge must be false. As it is with many philosophical theories, there are varieties of Marxism. One does not have to accept every principle Marx espoused to qualify as a Marxist. Neither does rejecting any one of them necessarily get one “off the hook” from this charge.

As near as we can tell, Barack Obama’s own place in the Marxist landscape seems to that of a New Left, Neo-Marxist. This view expands traditional Marxism slightly by adding to it “Max Weber’s broader understanding of social inequality…to Marxist philosophy…” The assumption is that unequal distribution of wealth produces such social inequality, because “the lack of wealth in certain areas prohibits … people from obtaining the same housing, health care, etc. as the wealthy in societies where access to these goods depends on wealth.” Obviously, wealth redistribution becomes a paramount concern for this variety of Marxism.

A key indicator of the extent to which Barack Obama bought into the views of his early Marxist mentors is the degree to which he has written that he wanted to avoid “selling out” and “compromising” where, in addition to abandoning his true racial identity, these terms meant adopting as fair and legitimate American free-market Capitalism. The man Obama reverentially refers to simply as “Frank” in his memoirs (the Communist Frank Marshall Davis) warned Obama of this danger when he left Hawaii for Occidental College in Los Angeles.

To “Frank,” college was nothing but, “An advanced degree in compromise.” (Dreams from My Father[Hereafter, Dreams], p. 97) There, “Frank” warned his willing protégé, they would “train him” so good that he would start believing what he was told about, “equal opportunity and the American way.”

When Obama arrived at college, he determined to “put distance” between himself and other black and multiracial students he met there who were willing to be “assimilated into the dominant culture” and “lose themselves in the crowd, America’s happy, faceless marketplace.”(Dreams, p. 99-100) So he says, “To avoid being mistaken for a sellout, I chose my friends carefully. The more politically active black students. The foreign students. The Chicanos. The Marxist professors and structural feminists and punk-rock performance poets.”(Dreams, p. 100)

Those who believe that Barack Obama may have associated with radicals, but did not share any of their principles owe us an explanation for his ongoing attitude against selling out and compromising. If it doesn’t mean compromising his basically Marxist principles, what does it mean? Even after college when he took a conventional corporate job as a research assistant to help pay off his student loans, he said that he felt in it like a “spy behind enemy lines.”(Dreams, p. 134)

He continued to show an awareness of this need to avoid any compromise with capitalism when he later contemplated attending Harvard Law School. There he says essentially, that he would learn the basics of the American Free Market System, but without buying into it.

He writes, “I would learn about interest rates, corporate mergers, the legislative process; about the way businesses and banks were put together; how real estate ventures succeeded or failed.”(Dreams, p. 276) Such knowledge, he goes on, “would have compromised me before coming to Chicago.” But now, he would bring this knowledge back to Chicago to obey his father’s imagined command to help in his people’s struggle. Other men he admits he could “love but never emulate.” They all fell short of his father’s “lofty standards.”(Dreams, p. 220)

Elsewhere, he notes, “most black folks weren’t like the father of my dreams.” They were too practical to live their own lives, “according to abstract ideals.”(Dreams, p. 278) And what sort of ideals were his father’s ideals? As a professional Marxist economist, his ideals were Marxist ideals. At this point the young Obama brings things full circle and makes an important connection with his father who had twenty-eight years earlier been faced with similar choices when he boarded a plane for America.”(Dreams, p. 277) As his father returned to Kenya to implement these ideals, so he would return to Chicago to do likewise.

That ideal which his father championed most and which eventually cost him his government job in Kenya, was the Marxist ideal of the redistribution of wealth. The then vice president, Odinga, was placed under house arrest as a Communist because he complained that, “Kenyan politicians had taken the place of the white colonials, buying up businesses and land that should be redistributed to the people.”(Dreams, p. 214 Italics mine.) While most of his father’s friends kept quiet, his father began to be vocal in his support for Odinga. As a result, he was fired by then President Kenyatta when he learned of it.(Dreams, p. 215)

Generally, his father believed that it was “government’s obligation” to “redistribute … economic gains to the benefit of all.” The elder Obama, like Marx before him, favored very heavy as a means of accomplishing this. How much taxation? Even inordinate taxation of 100 percent of income was justified so long as the benefits from such taxation were then commensurately redistributed to the people.

In short, Barack Obama’s father was a Marxist not just because he supported an isolated legislative measure or two, but because he firmly embraced the dogma of wealth redistribution as a guiding principle of his political philosophy. And, it is a principle his son has also fully embraced.

Victor Morawski teaches philosophy at Coppin State University. His column, “The Philosopher’s Stone,” is distributed nationally free of charge by the Liberty Features Syndicate. Should you wish to subscribe, contact Alex Rosenwald at [email protected].


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10 Responses to “Obama and Marxism: A Legitimate Question II”

  1. The core element of Marxism is collectivism. It is necessary but not sufficient. Do you contend that Obama believes in collectivism or in a mixed economy?

  2. I think it's safe to say he believes in collectivism, but it's easily safe to say that he also believes in a mixed economy…on the road to the whole enchilada. Short of the Bolshevik method, Marxism takes time and a number of steps, just like the frog in the boiling pot of water.

  3. A mixed economy and collectivism are mutually exclusive. Do you actually believe that his ultimate goal is the eradication of capitalism? If so, what evidence supports this conclusion?

  4. Uh, maybe you need to re-read parts 1 and 2 of this series. And take a look at his policies.

  5. “A key indicator of the extent to which Barack Obama bought into the views of his early Marxist mentors is the degree to which he has written that he wanted to avoid “selling out” and “compromising” where, in addition to abandoning his true racial identity, these terms meant adopting as fair and legitimate American free-market Capitalism. The man Obama reverentially refers to simply as “Frank” in his memoirs (the Communist Frank Marshall Davis) warned Obama of this danger when he left Hawaii for Occidental College in Los Angeles.”

    Do you have any evidence, or is it pure speculation, that “these terms meant adopting as fair and legitimate American free-market Capitalism”? “Dreams” does not indicate these alternative meanings.

  6. While I didn't write the piece, I can extrapolate a guess to answer your question.

    At one point in the book when Barack talked with Frank about college, Frank called it “an advanced degree in compromise.” When Frank expounded on what he meant by this, he said a number of things that definitely pointed toward a sense that going to college might somehow cause Barack to lose touch with his blackness, i.e. “leaving your race at the door.” But other comments also seemed to be an attack on the American capitalist way of life, where Frank disparaged what Barack would be taught in college about “equal opportunity and the American way and all that s#!@. They'll give you a corner office and invite you to fancy dinners and tell you you're a credit to your race.”

    Obama also says in another place in the book, “To avoid being mistaken for a sellout, I chose my friends carefully. The more politically active black students. The foreign students. The Chicanos. the Marxist professors and structural feminists…When we ground out our cigarettes in the hallway carpet or set our stereos so loud that the walls began to shake, we were resisting bourgeois society's stifling constraints…”

    Sounds like, with his Marxist language, he was embracing Marxism to me.

    And with his advocacy of Marxist policies as a U.S. senator, and now as president, it seems pretty clear to me. If it walks like duck, quacks like a duck…

  7. Ah! So it IS pure speculation. I doubt you will find, in any of Frank's writings, attacks on capitalism. Obama's critics, led by Cliff Kincaid, have misrepresented Frank Marshall Davis as “Obama's Communist Mentor.”

    If other critics honestly examine primary source evidence, rather than relying on the flagrant falsehoods of Freddoso, Kincaid, Corsi, and their colleagues, they would recognize the depth of their deception. They will find that through innuendo, half-truths and outright fabrication, Obama’s opponents have deliberately misrepresented a casual family friendship as sordid political indoctrination sessions or worse.

    In their fervor to malign Obama, his opponents sought to transform the legacy of a relatively obscure leftist poet into a “Stalinist agent” who corrupted Obama’s values. Slander and libel were their tools of their deception, because truth was no obstacle. Destroying Davis’s reputation was collateral damage. “After all,” they probably thought, “who would care enough to defend an obscure black poet who passed away years ago?” With such character traits, one could easily envision them pulling wings off flies as children.

  8. Ah, no, if you had a shred of (a) intellect or (b) honesty, you would realize that the evidence is overwhelming that Obama is a Marxist.

    Which one you lack, I am not certain, though I suspect that you have a better idea than I do.

    But I have a policy that, if someone cannot face the music after being clearly and plainly introduced to that music, then one of the two aforementioned factors is missing in their contribution to the dialog, which means the dialog is a waste of time. So until you can pull your head out of the sand or quit functioning as a propaganda artist for a Marxist, we'll not be hearing any more from you at Dakota Voice.

  9. Guilt by association: It is safe to assume that Obama knows and associates with more capitalists than Marxists. I guess that is settled.

    Guilt by policy: If “taxing rich people more” is the standard then congratulations on living in a Marxist country where 81% of economists favor progressive taxation. I guess we have all been Marxists for most of the nation’s history. Who knew?

    Lastly, the idea that you would adopt some of Marx's ideas and still be a capital “M” Marxist is pretty ridiculous. Eisenhower adopted some of Hitler's ideas in that he financed the inter-state highway program to move military equipment just like Hitler did, but that does not make Eisenhower a Nazi.

    Marx was wrong about a lot of things, but he was right about a lot of things too:
    Free markets tend towards monopoly without government control, hence American anti-trust laws.
    Capitalism is always seeking to expand, hence globalization.

    Refusing to heed those things he was right about because he was wrong about other things is pretty ridiculous and not something we have done in the past. So if adopting some of Marx's ideas makes you a Marxist then so be it, we are all Marxists. But then again we would all be Keynesians, Friedman style economic libertarians, social democrats, economic nihilists, and proponents of economic feudalism. Welcome to economic schizophrenia.

  10. Guilt by association: It is safe to assume that Obama knows and associates with more capitalists than Marxists. I guess that is settled.

    Guilt by policy: If “taxing rich people more” is the standard then congratulations on living in a Marxist country where 81% of economists favor progressive taxation. I guess we have all been Marxists for most of the nation’s history. Who knew?

    Lastly, the idea that you would adopt some of Marx's ideas and still be a capital “M” Marxist is pretty ridiculous. Eisenhower adopted some of Hitler's ideas in that he financed the inter-state highway program to move military equipment just like Hitler did, but that does not make Eisenhower a Nazi.

    Marx was wrong about a lot of things, but he was right about a lot of things too:
    Free markets tend towards monopoly without government control, hence American anti-trust laws.
    Capitalism is always seeking to expand, hence globalization.

    Refusing to heed those things he was right about because he was wrong about other things is pretty ridiculous and not something we have done in the past. So if adopting some of Marx's ideas makes you a Marxist then so be it, we are all Marxists. But then again we would all be Keynesians, Friedman style economic libertarians, social democrats, economic nihilists, and proponents of economic feudalism. Welcome to economic schizophrenia.