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February 25, 2010

Obama's Socialism
By Adam Shaw Recently on "The O'Reilly Factor," Bill O'Reilly seemed very concerned about President Obama being described as a socialist by members of the right such as Rush Limbaugh.  O'Reilly has often dodged calling the president a socialist, as if doing so would condemn Obama as a tyrannical dictator. It was discussed throughout the  show with various guests, and O'Reilly frequently stated that yes, Obama is a far-left guy, but he didn't want to use the actual term "socialist." It would be too much. Here in Britain we look at the continuing battle as to whether Obama is a socialist or not as a rather odd American quibble. In Britain we have no problem defining people as socialists, nor do people on the left have a problem calling themselves socialists. It is not that those of us on the conservative right do not believe that socialism is a bad doctrine. We do, and we see evidence of its continual destruction of the country on a day-to-day basis, but we have always had socialism living quite openly amongst us. We are therefore able to see and recognize it quite calmly as a day-to-day occurrence in politics, just as one recognizes the flu. We wish it didn't exist, but it does, and so we get on with our lives, trying to avoid catching it in the process. When one looks back at the prime ministers that the British Labour Party has produced in the twentieth century -- James Ramsay MacDonald, Clement Attlee, Harold Wilson, James Callaghan etc. -- all have defined themselves as socialists at one time or another.  Even the relatively centrist Tony Blair described himself as "Coming to Socialism through Marxism" and is a member of the Christian Socialist Movement. When one considers that Blair is widely considered to sit on the "right" of the Labour party, it becomes clear how deeply the Labour Party is rooted in socialism. Moreover, from 1918 until 1994, Labour's famous Clause IV of its Constitution defined its aim as follows:
To secure for the workers by hand or by brain the full fruits of their industry and the most equitable distribution thereof that maybe possible upon the basis of the common ownership of the means ofproduction, distribution, and exchange, and the best obtainablesystem of popular administration and control of each industry or service. This succinct definition of socialism was seen as the defining purpose of the Labour Party and was printed on the back of every membership card. During Labour's so-called "shift t o the centre" after Blair's ascendancy to the leadership in 1994, it controversially rewrote Clause IV to read, The Labour Party is a democratic socialist party. It believes that by the strength of our common endeavour we achieve more than we achieve alone, so as to create for each of us the means to realise our true potential and for all of us a community in which power, wealth and opportunity are in the hands of the many, not the few.

Even amidst the fury of the hard left of the party, who saw the change as a movement away from the party's Marxist roots, the re-envisioned "New Labour" still defined itself as a socialist party (even if it squeezed "democratic" into the definition to soften the blow) and still does to this day. The current Prime Minister Gordon Brown, has also defined himself as a socialist[1] and admitted to adhering to socialist policies, as do a great deal of his top Cabinet ministers, including the Chancellor of the Exchequer Alistair Darling, who believes that Labour should talk up the massive redistribution of wealth it has achieved, and the Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families, Ed Balls, who stated recently that " [s]ocialism, as represented by the Labour Party, the Fabian Society, the Co-operative movement, is a tradition I can be proud of." In Great Britain, and across Western Europe, it will not raise any eyebrows for a leading politician to describe himself as a socialist. Definitions of socialism range widely across the world, whether one is a democratic socialist, a socialist democrat, a liberal socialist, a Christian socialist, or the theatrical "Luxemburgist Trotskyist, post-Trotskyist" of Christopher Hitchens. We in Europe know that the definitions of what a socialist is depend on the socialist.   As British scholar Robert Service has commented on the subject of left-wing organization, "Grandiose names were chosen for organizations which were little larger than crepuscules"[2]. There are as many exact definitions of socialism as there are socialists. Yet they do have common characteristics. Love of big government, nationalization of industry, massive taxation, wealth redistribution, etc. all point towards socialism. Someone like the president would not even have to say he was a socialist in Western Europe; it would be assumed quite normally, without any fuss or conspiracy. I have a lot of respect for Bill O'Reilly, but to a Brit who has seen his fair share of socialists and lives in a socialist country run by a self-described socialist party by a self-described socialist prime minister who has taken over for another self-described socialist prime minister, it is puzzling why self-described independents like Mr O'Reilly are doing backflips in an attempt to avoid the obvious fact -- President Obama is quite clearly a socialist. All these verbal gymnastics that are used to avoid stating the obvious may be rather humorous for someone watching from over the Atlantic, but for Americans, such delusion is a very serious matter.

It is important, not just for the American right, but for the American people as a whole, to realise just exactly who it is they have elected to office. With the approval numbers dropping almost daily for the president, it appears that it is sinking in for the generally center-right American public.   However, when people on the right start being "concerned" about describing Obama as what he clearly is, in part due to the hysteria that both sides of the political spectrum exhibit when the word "socialist" is used, then it damages the effectiveness of opposition to him. Instead of being able to define what Obama's aims are in his presidency, those on the left and on the right keep pushing Obama into a slightly left-of-center, non-ideological fog. Such a political move is deceitful, and it does not allow the American public to get a clear perception of just what they have voted into the White House. Those of us across the pond who analyze American politics know exactly who it is you have in the White House. Obama is not some new post-political entity. Nor is he some form of Stalinist that will set up a USSA. He is a normal, well-spoken, charismatic socialist who in Britain would sit quite happily towards the left of the Labour Party alongside figures such as Tony Benn, Aneurin Bevan, Harold Wilson, and Ed Balls. To call someone a socialist is not conspiratorial, and it is not fear-mongering; it is simply the truth, and it is time for some in the conservative media to take a deep breath and admit it -- America has a socialist leading the country. Welcome to the club: It stinks! Adam Shaw is an English writer specializing in politics and religion. He can be reached at

[1] See G Brown, Fair is Efficient: A Socialist Agenda for Fairness (London: Fabian Society 1994), in which he repeatedly refers to himself as a socialist. [2] R Service, Trostsky, (London, Macmillan 2009) p.497 Page Printed from: at February 25, 2010 - 07:00:56 AM CST

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