Is Obama a Socialist, a Marxist, or a Communist?

26 10 2008

To answer that questions we first have to agree on what these words mean — I mean Socialism, Marxism, and Communism, I assume that there is an agreement as to what “is” means. Additionally, let’s define what Capitalism is. For convenience, I will take some definitions from wiki, which does not constitute endorsement of the complete wiki content regarding these concepts.

Capitalism

According to wiki, Capitalism is the economic system in which the means of production are distributed to openly competing profit-seeking private persons and where investments, distribution, income, production and pricing of goods and services are predominantly determined through the operation of a free market where anyone can participate in supply and demand and form contracts with each other, rather than by central economic planning. Capitalism is a self-organizing, decentralized system.

Capitalism does not exist in vacuum but falls under more or less pronounced influence of the state (government). Libertarian, or Laissez-faire doctrine of Capitalism states that private initiative and production are best, if economic interventionism and taxation by the state beyond what is necessary to maintain individual liberty, peace, security, and property rights, are kept to a minimum.

Communism

According to wiki, Communism is a socioeconomic structure that promotes the establishment of an egalitarian, classless society based on common ownership of the means of production and property in general.

Communism is typically associated with its Marxist-Leninist, or Maoist, forms which were implemented as totalitarian societies. However, Communism can also be voluntary, for example the Israeli Kibbutz movement.

Marxism

Again, according to wiki, Marxism is the political philosophy and practice derived from the work of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels. Any political practice or theory that is based on an interpretation of the works of Marx and Engels may be called Marxism.

The core principles on which Marxism stands are:

  1. a belief that capitalism is based on the exploitation of workers (the poor) by the owners of the means of production (the rich)
  2. a belief that who you are and what you think about yourself is shaped by material conditions and relations to the means of production
  3. an understanding of class in terms of differing relations to the means of production (e.g. workers vs. factory owners, or John Edward’s “two Americas”)
  4. a view of history according to which class struggle structures each historical period and drives historical change
  5. a belief that this dialectical historical process will ultimately result in a replacement of the current class structure of society with a system that manages society for the good of all, resulting in the dissolution of the class structure and its support (more often than not including the nation state)

Note that the dialectical historical process described in point (5) was by Marx and his followers understood as a Scientific theory assumed to be true. This made any opposition to the theories of Marxism branded as irrational or against reason at best, or reactionary and deserving elimination at worst. (I would recommend reading on Karl Popper who argued against ascribing the status of science to Marxist Dialectical Materialism or Historical Materialism.)

Marx developed his own Economic Theory. In Capitalism value of labor and value of products is determined by the free market (as low as someone is willing to work for, and as much as someone is willing to pay for a product). Marx considered it wrong and insisted that the value of both labor and the product could be calculated by analyzing various constituent components like: materials and resources, labor time, use value and surplus value.

Related to this is Marx’s idea of Distributive Justice. You can find a pretty decent description of it here. To summarize, Marx distinguished two forms of it: applicable to first and second stages of Communism.

  • In the first stage of Communism wages must be paid only after deductions for all common and necessary provisions.
  • In the second stage, the ideal Communist society, each individual would be transformed and work would be totally unalienating so that the famous formula would apply: “From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs.

Socialism

According to Karl Marx Socialism is a transitional stage between Capitalism and Communism. Marx posited that Socialism would unavoidably lead to Communism. According to wiki, Socialism refers to a broad set of economic theories of social organization advocating state or collective ownership and administration of the means of production and distribution of goods, and the creation of an egalitarian society.

There are various forms/stages of Socialism depending on the degree of the state or collective ownership of the means of production. Some socialists advocate complete nationalization of the means of production, distribution, and exchange; while others advocate state control of capital within the framework of a market economy. Social democrats propose selective nationalization of key national industries in mixed economies combined with tax-funded welfare programs.

Thus, USA may currently be considered a Socialist State to a degree, in particular after the recent round of bailouts.  It became mildly Socialist after the FDR’s New Deal was introduced.

So who is Obama?

Obama would like us to think of him as a kind of Social Democratic person, with a similar political program as many European Social Democratic parties. That is kind of the extent of how far the various economic and social reforms described at barackobama.com go.

However, when one looks at the people and groups that he has worked with or for, or with whom he has associated himself in the past; plus if one looks at the various statements that he has made in the past, during his time in Chicago and up to his Presidential nomination, one recognizes his affinity to various tenets of Marxism.

So yes, I think that Obama is a Marxist.

Here is an NPR interview of Obama from 2001 where he reveals some of his Marxist thinking (you can find some analysis and a transcript here):

Bonus Section: Is Marxism that bad?

But you may say: Maybe Marxism is not that bad as Fox News makes it look. Maybe it would finally bring some “justice to all”.

My answer would be: Show me an example of one country where Marxism has worked and resulted in a real “workers paradise”. And do not mention Cuba (unless you are an idiot). And please do not use an excuse that these failed Marxist countries did not implement real Communism.

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