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Is Barack Obama a Socialist?

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By [email protected] (Dan Edge) from The Edge of Reason,cross-posted by MetaBlog

The charge that Barack Obama is a socialist comes from several different sources: journalists, politicians, and many Objectivists among them. "Socialist" is used as a negative pejorative term, meant to associate Obama with bloodthirsty savages like Josef Stalin and Chairman Mao. Most who make the charge do so in an attempt to differentiate Obama from John McCain, ostensibly to advocate a McCain presidency. McCain may be a Big Government Republican with a Neo-Con running mate, the argument goes, but at least he's not an outright socialist like Obama.

But does the term apply?

Before one can answer that question, he must first determine what socialism is. (Note that this process is very different from determining what the meaning of the word "is" is.) So what is socialism? The Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary defines socialism this way:

"1: any of various economic and political theories advocating collective or governmental ownership and administration of the means of production and distribution of goods

2 a: a system of society or group living in which there is no private property b: a system or condition of society in which the means of production are owned and controlled by the state

3: a stage of society in Marxist theory transitional between capitalism and communism and distinguished by unequal distribution of goods and pay according to work done"

Socialism is a political-economic system in which the government owns and controls all property. This theory is based primarily on the work of Karl Marx, an influential German philosopher who has achieved iconic status in communist countries. Marx believed that capitalism was part of a historically inevitable series of political-economic systems that would eventually result in a classless, stateless society of communes. Socialism, he thought, was a transitionary system between capitalism and communism in which the working classes (the proletariat) would violently revolt against the wealthy (the bourgeoisie), and establish a dictatorship in which the government owned and distributed all property.

So in asking whether Obama is a socialist, one is really asking: Does Obama believe that the government should own and distribute all means of production? Does he believe that rule by the proletariat is historically inevitable? Is he planning for a violent overthrow of the incumbent capitalist system?

One could argue that the answer to the first of these questions is "yes." Obama is pushing for higher taxes and more government controls. He wants to take money from the bourgois to give it to the proletariat. But a desire for bigger government does not make one a socialist. There are many different belief systems which advocate government control over property: Facism, Sharia Law, and other forms of theology, just to name a few. All these political systems are collectivist and statist, but they are not all socialist. Socialism is something very specific, as outlined above.

My conclusion is that Obama is not a socialist, any more than McCain is a socialist. Though their rhetoric differs (in non-essential ways), they both advocate some mixture of statism and capitalism. Both will increase the size of the federal government. Both support government intervention in the banking system, as we saw a few weeks ago. Both support welfare, Medicare, and Social Security. Both support reducing "emissions" to save Mother Earth. On nearly every major policy issue, Obama and McCain are indistinguishable.

Why do I make this point so strongly? Well for one, because it makes no sense to base one's vote on misapplied terminology. The term "socialism" is being tossed around as if it's synonymous with statism. Socialism is an emotionally charged word which incites visions of the dictatorships in U.S.S.R., North Korea, and China. If you are planning to vote against Obama simply because you think him a "socialist" while McCain is not, then I advise you to reconsider.

Also, as rational men we should be specific in our identifications of ideologies and their adherents. If Ayn Rand was right, and I believe she was, then it is ideology (philosophy) which moves the world. Properly identifying ideological movements is critically important to determining in what direction a nation is moving. In my opinion, socialism is dead, and has been dead for decades. No one believes in the historical inevitability of communism any more. No one believes that the proletariat will initiate a violent overthrow of government all over the world. These ideas have been so thoroughly discredited (and even demonized in the U.S.), that no one in the Western World takes them seriously any more.

But that does not mean that statism is dead. Statism is alive and well, but in the U.S., it still lacks an integrated, organized ideological movement to serve as its vehicle. Some have argued that the Neo-cons, with their "compassionate conservatism," now qualify as the most integrated movement advocating statism. I don't know if this is true or not, but it is definitely something we should be thinking about. Throwing the "socialism" charge around only muddies the issue further.

--Dan Edge427712608

Cross-posted from Metablog

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I think it is proper to talk about degrees of socialism. Poland even at it's peak was not as socialists as Russia (there was some private ownership of property allowed abeit minimal and not freely accessible). It would be a mistake to say that therefore Poland was never a socialist country.

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When comparing two statists it is a mistake to make equivocations simply because two people are in the same category. Between no government involvement in industry and full government ownership of industry there is a large span of possible levels of intrusion.

Although both presidential candidates fall into this category they are not equal.

Obama does not only believe in some level of centralized economic control and planning (statism and like McCain). His vision (in contrast to McCAin) also involves economic equality of which wealth redistribution is a necessary component.

He will raise the minimum wage and make it a living wage (it will raise with the cost of living). He will empower labor unions so that they can, in his words "lift up our middle-class". He will make sure that every American has affordable health care that, in his words "stays with you no matter what happens". "Poverty, hunger, and disease will be... among the most serious challenges ... a real plan to combat." THAT is what he means by change. He will move toward what he calles better society.

His goal perhaps may not be to take over the means of production but he will create layers of bureaucracy to oversee them. The tax code reflect more of “from each according to his abilities, to each according to his needs.”

Statism is a means to a bigger goal, for Obama. Statism is a result/product of mixed premises in case of McCain.

Edited by ~Sophia~
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In Europe there are socialist parties that have ruled from time to time. None ever nationalized all the means of production, but some did nationalize large companies here and there or set up state companies (many airlines used to be state-owned, for example). All of them have also enacted some form of socialized health care and a myriad regulations.

Maybe Obama is not a "classic" socialist bent on nationalizing all the means of production, but he does fit in the mold of the European socialist parties.

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After hearing Barack Obama espouse his political views during the primaries and now during the presidential race, I would say he is a socio-fascist. By that I mean Obama advocates controlling the fuel of production (capital) while dictating what citizens must do: use fluorescent light bulbs, drive gas misers, eat healthy foods, watch digital TV, get healthcare for children, ride a bike rather than drive a car, give mortgages to the poor, suspend foreclosures, etc.

This centralized dictating to American citizens is the opposite political philosophy of the Founding Fathers. Obama is based in Plato, Kant, Marx, Keynes, Davis, Alinsky, Ayers, Wright. The Founding Fathers are based in Aristotle, Spinoza, Locke, Jefferson. Hence if Obama wins, he will shift America away from its ideological roots of individualism and toward collectivism.

None of this is meant to imply John McCain is good. McCain is a mix of Plato & Aristotle.

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Well, all Socialists are necessarily Statists, and all Statist politicians necessarily institute Socialist practices. So Obama isn't merely a Statist for the same reason that he's not merely a Socialist: he's both. You listed the definitions of Socialism and then deduced that Obama isn't one because he doesn't fit the definition of a person who thinks the government should own "all" of the means of production. But owning "all" the means of production isn't part of any of the definitions you provided. And I found another definition of Socialism: procedure or practice in accordance with this theory. Taxation is a Socialist policy. In my view the government owns the means of production insofar as it owns those who actually own the means of production, despite not having direct control over the operations. You don't own anything if there's 100% taxation. 99% taxation is going to be some form of Socialism, so is 20% taxation -- but we call that a mixed economy. So at what percentage of taxation is it acceptable to start calling someone a Socialist? Obama should be compared to Stalin, because if there is ever going to be another Stalin, it's people like Obama who will be an intermediary to that happening. You can say that someone like Stalin is the standard of Socialism, but he's not the minimum requirement. People take excessive use of the word Socalism as a shock term, meant to scare people, and I'm frequently admonished to not use it becaues it's not "technically true". Well, is it? It's probably better to call a moderate a "Socialist" if it scares people, before you get a real one.

Edited by avampirist
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  • 4 months later...
Hugo Chavez thinks so - for what that's worth.

And the Socialist quoted in the article is incorrect - he states that Obama believes in the the free-market. Really? When did that happen?

Since he hasn't nationalized things left and right like Chavez has, since the Administration said they still prefer a private banking system over a nationalized one. and the fact that senior officials although still oblivious, still profess that greed and markets work.

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Since he hasn't nationalized things left and right like Chavez has, since the Administration said they still prefer a private banking system over a nationalized one. and the fact that senior officials although still oblivious, still profess that greed and markets work.

I gotta ask, mammon. Are you not able to seperate what he says from what he does? The bigger banks are nationalized in all but name with this fictional bailout. Geithner floated that word "nationalization" around and the dow lost 1200 points. BO came on a day later to reassure us that he is not going to "nationalize" the banks and people started putting money back in. That's what you are referring to as his pro-capitilist stance. They created these bank failures primarily through manipulation of the mandated leverage rates and are using the fabricated crisis as a cover to gain further regulatory control, which they have accomplished. Your "defender of capitalism" believes that the most regulated industry in the entire world needs more regulation and you still have the nerve to attempt to present him as though his obvious political rhetoric had merit.

I know it isn't your way to defend your assertions here, but if you happen to be feeling generous with your time someday, I'd really like to know if you are able to see this difference or not.

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  • 2 weeks later...

Here's another example of someone trying to make BO sound like some kind of free market advocate. I laughed and laughed.... This author, too, likes to point to what BO says, and what he's read ... but he ALSO seems to look past what he's actually doing. Huh.

Barack Obama is #1 Hayekian in the World

The immediate responses to the article at the bottom of the page are encouraging, though.

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