In modern American politics, the word “socialist” has lost a great deal of its true meaning, robbed of its shock value by frequent overuse and naïve misapplication. Many a conservative pundit has warned President Obama and the national Democratic leadership seek to steer the United States towards a socialistic, or even worse, Marxist state, far from anything the Founders envisioned when they penned the Constitution. Rightwing shock jocks, still waging the early 1990s “culture wars,” have railed against Obama and his allies in the House and Senate. How surprised these pundits would be to learn that theirs is not the only criticism of the incumbent! Indeed, in order to find equally veracious condemnation of the White House and its current occupant’s politics, one need only look where the Rush Limbaughs and Glenn Becks of the world would be least likely to search: the Far Left.
It is on the fringe of the linear political spectrum that those who support the complete dissolution of capitalism rally their forces. Like Karl Marx before them, these activists dream of the day when American business will be controlled entirely by the workers; free education and healthcare will also be provided for all, regardless of income. Whether or not one believes these goals are feasible in the real world is a matter of personal opinion; however, all one needs to do is examine these ideals to see why America’s socialists have a few bones to pick with President Obama.
Though it wouldn’t be apparent by listening to talk radio alone, the platform of the actual Socialist Party USA, which was founded in the hopes of literally eliminating the capitalism system, has little in common with President Obama’s accomplishments or views. Few know this better than New Jersey activist Patrick Noble, who unsuccessfully ran for Freeholder in Monmouth County on the Socialist Party’s ticket in 2011. He later caused a minor controversy when, at age nineteen, he was elected to the Red Bank Regional High School Board of Education on an anti-capitalist platform. Like many Leftists, Noble, an avowed opponent of war and the two major parties, has often found himself misidentified as a supporter of President Obama.
“The policies and actions of Barack Obama are antithetical to the principles of socialism,” said Noble. “While socialists have called for socialized medicine, an end to United States imperialism abroad, and the democratization of the economy, to name a few points, he has gone in the opposite direction on all counts. Of course, this would be the same if the Republicans held the presidency. The problems that the working class face on a daily basis go far beyond which of the corporate-owned parties purports to be in power.”
But what of the Communist Party of the United States and its endorsement of the Obama/Biden ticket during the two previous election cycles? Is this not evidence of the Democratic Party’s Marxist sympathies, proof Obama envisions a Soviet America? Though some claim the endorsement lends credence to the latest Red Scare, behind the scenes there has been a great deal of politicking among the Communists, whose success has declined drastically since the passing of party leader Gus Hall.
A perennial presidential candidate who worked closely alongside the Soviet Kremlin in an attempt to bring about revolution in America, Hall’s 1984 campaign marked the last time the Communist Party tried to launch a federal campaign; since that time, the party has struggled to stay alive, and in the wake of the Reagan Revolution and the subsequent collapse of the U.S.S.R, they have always endorsed Democrats. To be clear, however, America’s Far Left sees little in common with Washington, and this severe watering down of Leninist principle has opened the Communist Party to intense criticism. Today, some see the organization as little more than a historic relic, detrimental to the public’s perception and understanding of socialist principles.
“I cannot speak in specifics on why the Communist Party, or any person that believes in socialism, would support Obama,” said Noble. “It is a fantasy to think that Obama and the Democratic Party would bring us closer to the social justice and economic democracy that socialists desire. When you take into account that the Democrats and Republicans are mirror images of each other, the argument that the former is better than the latter falls flat on its face.”
The socialist movement in the United States has a long, complex, and often troubled history. The closest anti-capitalist forces ever came to electing a presidential candidate occurred in 1912, when Eugene V. Debs received six percent of the vote. Since then, dozens of other “Red” candidates have vied for national office with varying degrees of success; the Socialists endorsed presidential candidate Robert La Follette, the Republican Governor of Wisconsin, in 1924. There were other parties, too: the Trotskyist Socialist Workers Party, the Workers World Party, the Party for Socialism and Liberation, the New Alliance Party, all fielded presidential hopefuls of varying degrees of radicalness.
To say that Barack Obama continues in the tradition of American socialism would be incorrect; a proponent of interventionism and Keynesian economics, Obama shares little with Debs, Hall, La Follette, or socialism for that matter, as evidenced by his fiscal policies. Opposition to war has always been a corner-stone of American socialism; Debs himself was willing to be imprisoned for protesting World War I, a principled stand that should be respected regardless of political orientation. To say the Obama White House, with drone strikes, the operations in Libya, and looming war over Syria and Iran, shares any of this principled pacifism is a laughable concept.
Critics of the Obama Administration have a lot to work with: interventionist foreign policy, Benghazi, the Internal Revenue Service scandal and the national debt, to name but a few. The president’s alleged socialist inclinations are, however, not a valid point of contention. Discussions regarding the matter betray a lack of understanding of historical and political thought and serve only to discredit those with actual, legitimate qualms with the incumbent and his administration.