Right after President Obama's state of the union address several Republicans, mainly of the Tea Party faction stated that he is a socialist. This isn't the first time the claim has been made. Indeed, based on his early schooling the idea that he may well be one simply cannot be dismissed.
Not that all of us inherit our parents' political views, quite far from it. I myself had a father who was an avid champion of Hitler and a fierce Anti-Semite, whereas I grew up to embrace libertarianism in politics and a refined version of Objectivism in my general philosophy. A great many folks I know don't at all think as their parents did. But there are those, also, who do and in the case of Obama it seems his socialist grandmother had considerable influence on him (judging by his own testimony).
When it comes to the allegation that Obama is a socialist an MSNBC commentator quoted Webster's Dictionary as evidence that he is not. The passage singled out the socialist view of property, namely, that everything important is to be collectively owned, that private property "in the means of production" must be abolished. (Which, by the way, for socialists means, human labor!) The Communist Manifesto makes this clear – Marx and Engels claimed the fist thing toward establishing socialism – the stage of history prior to reaching communism – is the abolition of private property.
So it would seem that there is no way that Obama could be a socialist since he has said many nice things about the market place and hasn't ever called for abolishing private property rights, only heavily regulating it and getting in bed with certain big businesses, which strictly speaking isn't the same thing is collectivization.
However, looking a bit more closely, it needs also to be kept in mind that Mr. Obama has often declared his own pragmatism, which is a philosophical stance of not sticking by any firm principles. And such a policy could very well be deployed exactly when one wishes to disguise one's actual political economic philosophy. And then there is this wonderfully instructive passage by Lenin himself, certainly a bona fide communist:
Only one thing is needed to lead us to march forward more surely and more firmly to victory: namely, the consciousness everywhere that all communists, in all countries, must display the maximum flexibility in their tactics…. [Lenin, "Left Wing Communism," 1920].
But this isn't all. What is really central to socialism is the view that we all belong to society, that there are no genuine human individuals at all, that human beings are what Marx called specie beings somewhat on the order of termites or bees that exists as a collective, never individually. The collective ownership of everything that's valuable and important is a derivative doctrine, not a primary one. This is one reason that some socialists are actually called "market" socialists. They recognize that as a matter of efficiency – or at times public relations – it is quite OK to give a nod to certain elements of capitalism.
It is not easy to tell what is in someone's mind, especially not if that someone is convinced that the only way to advance his or her position is to keep its true nature obscure. Indeed, among neo-conservatives this is a prominent theme, learned from the political scientist the late Leo Strauss. He argued that it is only prudent for philosophers to keep their true views a secret, if only because it would scare ordinary folks to be told that brilliant philosophers have come o believe.
Surely this could apply in the case of Mr. Obama, as well: the American public would be very upset if he came right out and said, "Look, folks, I happen to believe that socialism is a sound political economic viewpoint and will do what I can to steer the country that way. I honestly think it is better than capitalism." Not a way to win elections, so much better to keep it under wraps.
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