Obama, Marxism, and Communism

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
Dec. 29 2010 2:40 PM

Obama, Marxism, and Communism

After I reviewed Stanley Kurtz's Radical-in-Chief, Jonah Goldberg criticized me for conflating socialism and communism.

Socialism isn’t the scare word Weigel and others (David Frum comes to mind) say it is. I will be honest and admit that I wish it was more of a scare word than it is, but it’s really not one. I don’t think Americans think of gulags, bread lines and Red Dawn when they hear the word "socialist."  They think of those things when they hear the word "Communist," which is a different thing than socialism (or at least that’s what every book on the subject and every sincere democratic socialist I’ve ever spoken to says).

David Weigel David Weigel

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. 

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We were both playing mindreader on a massive scale, but based on what I've seen at political rallies since 2009 I get the sense that many Americans worried about "socialism" are actually worried about communism. Glenn Beck, for example, conflates socialism and the totalitarian state promised in "The Road to Serfdom" all the time.

Joel Mathis notices that Kurtz didn't agree with Goldberg, either:

[T]he fact is that a lot of Radical-in-Chief is about good old fashioned Marxism. There’s the story of Reverend Wright’s adventures in Cuba, for example, which drew  Obama  to Wright’s church, I claim. And Obama himself was a revolutionary Marxist at Occidental College. Also, many of the Swedish-style socialist organizers who trained and sponsored Obama supported Marxist regimes like Cuba and Nicaragua. Alice Palmer, who chose Obama to be her successor in the Illinois State Senate, was a fan of the Soviet Union. Bill Ayers often wears the red star. Despite their democratic professions, many of Obama’s stealth-socialist community organizer colleagues believed that a violent socialist revolution would be necessary in the future. And some of Obama’s mentors favored Swedish social experiments that skirted the boundary between democratic socialism and outright authoritarianism. Even Obama’s most gradualist mentors saw their ideological stealth as a modern version of Communist Party strategy during the Popular Front period.

One of Kurtz's main points is that the media and historians have not paid much attention to the connections between international socialists and communists and the Democratic socialists in this country. He spends some time, for example, going back over Jesse Jackson's advocacy for third world socialists during the 1984 presidential campaign, and points out that Jeremiah Wright stood in for Jackson on one journey to Cuba. Where the critique of Kurtz as a "red-baiter" comes in is where he applies the transitive property -- Obama allied with Wright, which means he probably endeared himself to a mentor who looked kindly on third world communists and socialists, which mean that Obama is sympathetic to socialism and Marxism. And I think lefty politics are full of people like Obama, who talk radical when they're young, then become mainstream liberals.


David Weigel is a Slate political reporter.