Is Barack Obama a socialist? Many observers, from points all along the ideological spectrum, have been exceedingly reticent to describe him as such, as though there were insufficient evidence to make the case for a charge so impolite. In February, for instance, a Business Week headline stated bluntly that “it’s dumb to call Obama a socialist.” Four months later, the Associated Press published an article depicting the president merely as “a pragmatist within the Democratic Party mainstream,” and suggesting that “the persistent claim that Obama is a socialist lacks credence.” In July, a New York Times op-ed piece by film director Milos Forman said that Obama is “not even close” to being a socialist. Ezra Klein of the Washington Post casts Obama as no more radical than “a moderate Republican of the early 1990s.” Republican strategist Karl Rove cautions, “If you say he’s a socialist, [his supporters] go to defend him.” Leftist commentator Alan Colmes impugns those who “mischaracterize what Obama is doing as socialism, when there’s no government takeover” of the private sector. And Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly—noting that he has seen “no evidence that the president wants to seize private property, which is what communists do”—concludes that Obama “is not a socialist, he’s not a communist, he’s a social-justice anti-capitalist.”
But a careful look at Barack Obama’s life story, his actions, his closest alliances, his long-term objectives, and his words, shows that he has long been, quite demonstrably, a genuine socialist. The early groundwork for Obama’s socialist worldview was laid during his teen years, when he was mentored by the writer/poet Frank Marshall Davis, a longtime member of the Communist Party and the subject of a 601-page FBI file. The co-founder of a Communist-controlled newspaper that consistently echoed the Soviet party line, Davis had previously been involved with the American Peace Mobilization, described by Congress as not only “one of the most notorious and blatantly communist fronts ever organized in this country,” but also “one of the most seditious organizations which ever operated in the United States.” When Obama in 1979 headed off to Occidental College in California, Davis cautioned him not to “start believing what they tell you about equal opportunity and the American way and all that sh–.”
In his memoir, Dreams from My Father, Obama recounts that he chose his friends “carefully” at Occidental, so as “to avoid being mistaken for a sellout.” Among those friends were all manner of radicals, including “the more politically active black students,” “the Chicanos,” “the Marxist Professors and the structural feminists.” Further, Obama writes that he and his similarly “alienated” college friends regularly discussed such topics as “neocolonialism, Franz Fanon [the socialist revolutionary], Eurocentrism, and patriarchy.” David Remnick’s highly sympathetic biography of Obama—The Bridge: The Life and Rise of Barack Obama—confirms that the future president and many of his closest friends at Occidental were unquestionably socialists.
John C. Drew, an Occidental College graduate who knew Obama personally in the early 1980s, reports that the young Obama of that period was “already an ardent socialist Marxist revolutionary”; was highly “passionate” about “Marxist theory”; embraced an “uncompromising, Marxist socialist ideology”; harbored a “sincere commitment to Marxist revolutionary thought”; and was, in the final analysis, a “pure Marxist socialist” who “sincerely believed a Marxist socialist revolution was coming to turn everything around and to create a new, fairer and more just world.”
It was at that point, in the early Eighties, that something profoundly important happened to Barack Obama. He was drawn into the powerful orbit of a strand of socialism that had resolved, as the revolutionary communist Van Jones would later put it, “to forgo the cheap satisfaction of the radical pose for the deep satisfaction of radical ends.” American socialists of that period, pained by the recent ascendancy of a conservative and popular presidential administration (Reagan), understood that no anti-capitalist revolution was going to take place in the United States anytime soon, and that, for the foreseeable future, no one was going to impose socialism on the populace “from above.” Consequently, many socialists in the U.S. put on a new face and pursued a new approach. As Stanley Kurtz, author of Radical-in-Chief, explains, the aim now was “to get a kind of de facto public control over the economy from below”—through the work of community organizers dedicated to gradually infiltrating every conceivable American institution: schools and universities, churches, labor unions, the banking industry, the media, and a major political party. Toward that end, the renowned socialist Michael Harrington established the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) to serve as a force that would work within the existing American political system—specifically, within the Democratic Party. Figuring that a move too far or too quick to the left would alienate moderate Democrats, the DSA sought to push the party leftward in a slow and gradual manner, on the theory that, over time, ever-increasing numbers of Democrats would become comfortable with socialism and would espouse it as their preferred ideology.
In Radical-in-Chief, Kurtz points out that this incrementalism became the modus operandi of the “democratic socialists” who embraced the ideals of Karl Marx but were convinced that a “peaceful” and gradual path represented “the only route to socialism that makes sense in America’s thoroughly democratic context.” They believed that “government ownership of the means of production”—the standard definition of socialism—could best be achieved by way of protracted evolution, not sudden revolution. Kurtz explains that socialists, far from agreeing unanimously on tactics and strategies, have always engaged in “never-ending factional disputes” about whether they ought to “eschew capitalist-tainted politics and foment revolution,” or instead “dive into America’s electoral system and try to turn its political currents” toward “a piecemeal transition to a socialist world.” At this point in his life, the twenty-something Obama made a calculated decision to embrace the DSA’s gradualist approach—under the deceptive banners of “liberalism,” “progressivism,” and “social justice.” By no means, however, did this approach represent a rejection of Marx and his socialist doctrines. Kurtz notes that Marx himself, who “expected to see capitalism overthrown by a violent socialist revolution,” was nonetheless “willing to compromise his long-term goals in pursuit of short-term gains, particularly when he thought this democratic maneuvering would position the communist movement for more radical breakthroughs in the future”; that Marx himself “recognized that not only his enemies, but even potential followers could be put off by his most radical plans”; and that, “depending on context, Marx [himself] withheld the full truth of who he was and what he hoped to achieve.”
This strategy of settling for incrementalism rather than sudden, sweeping revolution was displayed with vivid clarity during the healthcare debates of 2009-10. Obama was already on record as having stated emphatically, in a 2003 speech at an AFL-CIO event: “I happen to be a proponent of a single-payer, universal health care plan”—i.e., a government-run system. But by 2007, with the White House clearly within his reach, Obama began to make allowances for the increasingly evident fact that a single-payer plan was not politically palatable to a large enough number of American voters. “I don’t think we’re going to be able to eliminate employer coverage immediately,” he said in May 2007. “There’s going to be potentially some transition process. I can envision a decade out, or 15 years out, or 20 years out.” He made similar references to a “transition step” and “a transitional system” on other occasions during the campaign. In the summer of 2008, Obama declared that “if I were designing a system from scratch, I would probably go ahead with a single-payer system,” but acknowledged that from a practical standpoint, such a result could only come about “over time.” Obamacare, then, was deliberately designed to be a stepping stone toward total government control of healthcare—a mere way station along the road toward the “radical ends” that the president ultimately sought to achieve.
In the early Eighties, Obama transferred from Occidental College to Columbia University in New York. During his time in the Big Apple, he attended at least two Socialist Scholars Conferences, DSA-sponsored events that quickly grew into the largest annual gatherings of socialists in all of North America. It is particularly noteworthy that Obama attended the 1983 Socialist Scholars Conference, which was promoted as a celebration to “honor” the 100th anniversary of Karl Marx’s death.
In June 1985, a 24-year-old Obama moved to Chicago and took a community-organizing job with the Developing Communities Project, funded by the Catholic Campaign for Human Development (CCHD). Viewing capitalism as a system steeped in injustice, CCHD states that “the causes of poverty are understood to be an aspect of ‘social sin’ rooted in our social and economic structures and institutions.” To address the problems allegedly spawned by capitalism, CCHD promotes transformative institutional change in the form of “alternative economic structures” that will “broaden the sharing of economic power.” The Catholic magazine Crisis observes that “the way the CCHD educates others about transformative change and empowerment” is very much “in line with the socialist and Marxist ideals so prevalent in community organizing.”
And what, exactly, is “community organizing”? Dr. Thomas Sowell, the eminent Hoover Institution Fellow, offers this concise explanation:
“For ‘community organizers’ … racial resentments are a stock in trade…. What does a community organizer do? What he does not do is organize a community. What he organizes are the resentments and paranoia within a community, directing those feelings against other communities, from whom either benefits or revenge are to be gotten, using whatever rhetoric or tactics will accomplish that purpose.”
To be sure, the 2012 Obama campaign’s incessant emphasis on identity politics—seeking to divide the American people along lines of race, ethnicity, class, and gender—bears all the corrosive hallmarks of precisely the mindset that Dr. Sowell describes. Stanley Kurtz provides additional vital insights into the striking parallels that exist between the world of community organizing and the DSA’s gradualist approach toward socialism:
“Community organizing is a largely socialist profession. Particularly at the highest levels, America’s community organizers have adopted a deliberately stealthy posture—hiding their socialism behind a ‘populist’ front. These organizers strive to push America toward socialism in unobtrusive, incremental steps, calling themselves ‘pragmatic problem-solvers’ all the while.”
It is highly significant that three of Obama’s mentors in Chicago were trained at the Industrial Areas Foundation, founded by the famed godfather of community organizing, Saul Alinsky, who advocated mankind’s “advance from the jungle of laissez-faire capitalism to a world worthy of the name of human civilization … [to] a future where the means of production will be owned by all of the people instead of just a comparative handful.” In the Alinsky model, “organizing” is a euphemism for “revolution”—where the ultimate objective is the systematic acquisition of power by a purportedly oppressed segment of the population, and the radical transformation of America’s social and economic structure. The goal is to foment enough public discontent and moral confusion to spark the social upheaval that Marx and Engels predicted. But Alinsky’s brand of revolution was not characterized by dramatic, sweeping, overnight transformations of social institutions. As author Richard Poe explains, “Alinsky viewed revolution as a slow, patient process. The trick was to penetrate existing institutions such as churches, unions and political parties.” Promoting a strategy that was wholly consistent with the DSA approach discussed above, Alinsky advised radical organizers and their disciples to quietly, unobtrusively gain influence within the decision-making ranks of these institutions, and to then introduce changes from those platforms.
Obama himself went on to teach workshops on the Alinsky method for several years. In 1990, eighteen years after Alinsky’s death, an essay penned by Obama was reprinted as a chapter in a book titled After Alinsky: Community Organizing in Illinois. And in 1998, Obama attended a performance of the play The Love Song of Saul Alinsky at the Terrapin Theater in Chicago. Following that performance, Obama took the stage and participated in a panel discussion about the show, along with several other socialists and communists such as Quentin Young and Heather Booth.
As a young community organizer, Obama had close connections to the Midwest Academy, a radical training ground for activists of his political ilk. Probably the most influential community-organizing-related entity in America at that time, the Midwest Academy worked closely with the DSA and synthesized Saul Alinsky’s organizing techniques with the practical considerations of electoral politics. Emphasizing “class consciousness” and “movement history,” the Academy’s training programs exposed students to the efforts and achievements of veteran activists from earlier decades. Recurring “socialism sessions,” taught by Heather Booth, encompassed everything from Marx and Engels through Michael Harrington’s democratic socialism and the factional struggles of the Students for a Democratic Society, a radical organization that aspired to remake America’s government in a Marxist image. Knowing that many Americans would be unreceptive to straightforward, hard-left advocacy, the Midwest Academy in its formative years was careful not to explicitly articulate its socialist ideals in its organizing and training activities. The group’s inner circle was wholly committed to building a socialist mass movement, but stealthily rather than overtly. As Midwest Academy trainer Steve Max and the prominent socialist Harry Boyte agreed in a private correspondence: “Every social proposal that we make must be [deceptively] couched in terms of how it will strengthen capitalism.” This strategy of hiding its own socialist agendas below the proverbial radar, earned the Academy the designation “crypto-socialist organization” from Stanley Kurtz.
“Nearly every thread of Obama’s career runs directly or indirectly through the Midwest Academy,” says Kurtz, and, as such, it represents “the hidden key to Barack Obama’s political career.” The author elaborates:
“Obama’s organizing mentors had ties to [the Midwest Academy]; Obama’s early funding was indirectly controlled by it; evidence strongly suggests that Obama himself received training there; both Barack and Michelle Obama ran a project called ‘Public Allies’ that was effectively an extension of the Midwest Academy; Obama’s first run for public office was sponsored by Academy veteran Alice Palmer; and Obama worked closely at two foundations for years with yet another veteran organizer from the Midwest Academy, Ken Rolling. Perhaps more important, Barack Obama’s approach to politics is clearly inspired by that of the Midwest Academy.”
Obama’s next major encounter with socialism took place within the sanctuary of Chicago’s Trinity United Church of Christ, pastored by the Rev. Jeremiah Wright. Best known for his undiluted contempt for the United States and its traditions, Wright has long been a proud prophet of black liberation theology, a movement that seeks to foment Marxist revolutionary fervor founded on racial solidarity, as opposed to the traditional Marxist emphasis on class solidarity.
According to black liberation theology, the New Testament gospels can be properly understood only as calls for racial activism and revolution aimed at overturning the existing, white-dominated, capitalist order, and installing, in its stead, a socialist utopia wherein blacks will unseat their white “oppressors” and become liberated from their deprivations—material and spiritual alike.
Beginning in the late 1980s, Obama spent fully 20 years attending Wright’s church, which openly promoted a “10-point vision” calling for “economic parity” and warning that “God … is not pleased with America’s economic mal-distribution!” Impugning capitalism as a system whose inequities force “Third World people” to “live in grinding poverty,” Wright derides the United States as the “land of the greed and home of the slave.” For good measure, he has praised the socialist magazine Monthly Review for its “no-nonsense Marxism,” congratulating that publication for “dispel[ling] all the negative images we have been programmed to conjure up with just the mention of that word ‘socialism’ or ‘Marxism.’”