As many of us are well aware, there are many conservatives who insist President Barack Obama is a Marxist. I would like to address this assertion in order to shed some light on this claim since I believe it is closer to a half truth than a whole truth. To begin the discussion, I will use the following quotation from August 11, 2010 from Bob Livingston of the Personal Liberty Digest as an example of the kind of comment that is made about President Obama’s economic advisers.
The chair of President Barack Obama’s White House Council of Economic Advisors quit last week, the day before the elitist know-nothings in charge declared their “surprise” that 130,000 more jobs were lost in July. That chair, Christina Romer, said she was headed back to Berkeley and her spot in academia where she can pour failed Keynsian economics into the noggins of another generation of empty-headed college kids so they can move on to highly-paid government jobs where they can manage (ie., wreck) our economy at some future date.
The economic advisers who surround President Obama are accused of being economic Keynesian nitwits, not Marxists. So why would he be a Marxist?
The answer lies in the fact that President Obama is not an economic Marxist. He follows the teachings of social Marxism. What makes this interesting in America is that combining a social leftist with a capitalist would have been considered impossible a hundred years ago because leftists and capitalism were considered an impossible match. This would have been the equivalent of creating a Frankenstein monster from mismatched body parts. So how did this happen? Why did this happen? To understand, start by addressing the economic question first.
I believe the place to look for an answer is in the lectures and writings of David Harvey, Distinguished Professor of Anthropology at the Graduate Center of the City of New York (CUNY). More than any public figure I have read or heard lecture over the last twenty years, his analysis of the current world economic situation is more classically Marxist than any I have heard. Contrary to what many conservatives may think, it also makes an extraordinary amount of sense.
Unlike many of the leftist thinking people I knew in college in the 1970’s, Mr. Harvey has actually read Karl Marx’s opus on social economy, Capital. He has taught Capital for forty years, has a semester course on Capital posted on the Internet, and has also written a guide to it. (Many leftists fall into the same trap all college students fall into — they read books that explain the leading figures of any given field without reading the original texts. There are people all over America that endlessly criticize Darwinism, for example, but have never read a word that Charles Darwin ever wrote. Instead, they allow scholars to tell them what Darwin said. There are Communists who never read Karl Marx. In his case , this is largely due to the fact that he can be a very difficult read. His work is often a critique of someone else’s work, such as the classical economist Adam Smith, so in order to fully understand what Marx is saying you have to have some knowledge of Adam Smith‘s work. This method can be brilliant at times, but also extremely frustrating.)
In addition, Mr. Harvey has also read the works of Karl Marx’s associate Friedrich Engels, co-author with Marx of the Communist Manifesto. He has used Engels in some of his analysis of urban life, one of his major interests since his Doctorate is in geography. My major interest in Mr. Harvey’s work revolves around his analysis of capitalism in crises. If one thinks about it, capitalist countries have been moving from crises to crises for some time. What Mr. Harvey tries to look at from a Marxist perspective is how these crises occur, what is next, and who they benefit.
His examination of the current crises goes something like this (a shortened version of this is tough, but I will do my best): America did well in the 1950’s in the post World War II industrial boom, but along the way a series of social structures (mainly powerful labor unions and a highly regulated banking system) were created that capitalism found unworkable by the 1970’s. Keynesian economics in America actually ended with the end of the presidency of Richard Nixon in 1975. (For those of you who do not know Keynes, a simplistic explanation of Keynes is that the government can intervene to fix economic woes, mostly in terms of easy money and low interest rates. Sound familiar?) America turned to neo-liberalism to fix its economic funk. Its most famous proponent was Milton Friedman. I remember seeing him on the talk show circuit in the 1970’s promoting a return to classic property rights and free enterprise.
What was the result of all this? Capitalism declared war on labor in the name of globalization while simultaneously taking the side of the finance and banking interests whenever a financial crises occurred. This may not have been the intention of neo-liberalism, but it was the outcome. In financial crises after financial crises throughout the world the banks always came out on top while labor and the interests of the workers were always compromised. Since the 1980’s wages for the average worker have been stagnant and the amount of money going to the top one half percent of the population has been booming.
What has risen for the average worker, however, is debt. If wages remain flat, the only way to keep a consumer economy going is through debt. The Federal Reserve, fractional banking, and the credit card industry were happy to oblige, especially when they got all the help they needed from the common man’s best friend–the United States Supreme Court–when it lifted the cap a state could impose on the interest rates of credit cards. High interest rates allowed credit card companies to absorb more bad debts. Hermann Goering, the drug addicted henchman of Adolf Hitler, supposedly said in the midst of a losing cause in World War II, “We win, we win, we win ourselves to death.” In America for thirty years it has been, “We spend, we spend, we spend ourselves to death.”
After shipping millions of jobs overseas capitalists still needed a way to make money. They came up with the perfect solution — make money through science fiction. They created derivatives and investment “bundles” that were strictly paper inventions, resulting in massive portfolio collapses for some and billions in bonuses for others. These investments may have been fictitious, but their results have been very real. Read about what has happened to the city of Detroit.
So, where does President Obama fit into all this? He has no interest whatsoever engaging in the struggle of class warfare. Government may be spending more, but this spending has directly benefited the wealthy finance capitalists. He vacations in nine million dollar homes. His associates Hillary and Bill Clinton threw a wedding for their daughter Chelsea this summer that is reported to have cost over five million dollars if security expenses are included. If President Obama engaged in class war, he would be committing political suicide.
Yes, I am aware of the fact that there have been rich liberals like the Kennedys, but very often these are people who have already made their money and engage in liberal causes as a form of purported upper class altruism. It is one thing to donate money to a good cause or fight for medical care, and another to arrest the head of JPMorgan Bank for criminal fraud. Rich liberals tend to give money to the poor while simultaneously making sure those within their own class never suffer irreparable damage.
If Obama is not interested in the economic class war as a political struggle, what are his revolutionary interests? To answer this question, we must go back to the 1920’s. If I were to summarize Marxism as it has been preached for the last seventy-five years in America, it would be the following: The proletariat (the working class) in the industrial nations of the world will band together, overthrow the capitalist owners of production and form a classless society. By the 1920’s there were Marxist intellectuals who could see this model had already been shown to be false. World War I from 1914 to 1918 had shown the working classes chose country over class warfare, and the Russian revolution of 1917 showed them that if a government took over a nation in the name of Marx but did not actually have a revolution of the proletariat, that nation turned into a bloody dictatorship.
The answer to the proletariat question is one of my recurring political themes, namely the “substitution principle.” A revolution in the West that would radically alter the ruling structure would have to originate from other social groups. The 1960’s produced the answer. The revolution would originate from ethnic and racial minorities, woman, and homosexuals. The leading Marxist intellectual figures of the day were in the Frankfurt school, led by Herbert Marcuse. He was also a leader in the sexual revolution, which fomented the revolutionary movements. These movements were and are a direct attack against three great pillars of Western culture. Minorities attacked Western culture as innately racist, refuting the equality of man preached by Christianity. Woman attacked the patriarchal, male hierarchies of the West, found in its culture and religion. Homosexuals attacked many of the biological and religious assumptions the West had about family and Natural Law. As far as cultural change is concerned, these attacks have been as deadly as anything the proletariat could have come up with, especially when one considers that the working class in most countries is conservative, if not reactionary.
To see how this works on a practical level, take a look at a modern public college — the leftists’ dream of how all institutions should function. The economics department teaches globalization. It is in the college campuses of America that bankers and investment brokers were trained in the fine art of international trade and banking. But, of course, the campus also promotes homosexual “advocacy,” feminism of every sort, and strict adherence to a code of speech and conduct to eliminate any suspicion of any racism. At the same time, the economics department and the liberal arts departments belong to labor unions, have tenure, and liberal pensions, all of the economic perks the private sector is losing more of everyday. This is revolution without struggle or bloodshed, in which the government and private industry collude to enrich the chosen few. (A federal government employee now makes twice what a private employee makes for the same work.)
The college campus represents the classic tension between the spirit of equality in America and the spirit of selectivity (some are chosen, some are not) in America. Colleges preach the sexual and racial equality of all humanity, yet there is no place in the world where one is endlessly shown how unequal humanity really is. This same tension exists in every move of President Obama. He talks race and gender and equality, but personally loves being number one. He is the perfect modern Frankenstein.
AN IMPORTANT FINAL NOTE
I can already hear the criticism about this essay now. “Obama has to be socialist. Look at all the government money he spends. He took over health care. He bought the auto companies.” If this is the case, those critics likely have forgotten their Marxism revolutionary theory. When Nikolai Lenin, the leader of the Communist revolution in Russia, was young there was a famine in part of the Russian empire. Lenin said it would be wrong to help the peasants. If they starved, it would lead to revolution.
Food stamps and unemployment checks and health care keep Americans from revolting against the government. They are the new opiates for the masses, allowing the rich keep their games going. Of course President Obama wants more government power, since the government has the biggest piggy bank. Power creates money. Money creates power.
David Harvey’s newest book, by the way, is The Enigma of Capital and the Crises This Time.