Ky. Voices: Reasons why Obama is not a Marxist

October 19, 2012 

At the height of political season, it is sometimes impossible to have informed, worthwhile debates on best practices in economic growth, the role of government or tax fairness with respect to President Barack Obama's policies without the resort to accusations of the president's Marxist conspiracy.

These attacks point to a general misunderstanding, not only of Obama policies, but Marxism itself. I'm afraid that the accusation suggests quite the reverse of what Obama's critics intend.

At the outset, Marxism is a theory of historical progress (or regress, depending on your political compunction). Marxism as ideology was developed by political practitioners such as Lenin, Stalin, Mao, and ... well, you know.

At the height of the industrial revolution, Marx sought to develop a theory of capital to predict an outcome. His theory did not advocate socialism, though he did illuminate important inequalities that arise out of capitalism. Rather, he developed his theory as a way to explain a process and a system. To elucidate the workings of capital. To (ultimately incorrectly) predict its demise through revolution... purely on the basis of capitalism's internal contradictions, rather than on the shrewd maneuverings of the political elite.

The latter task was saved for Lenin, his cohorts and his successors. Marx simply claimed that capitalism is a system that naturally gives rise to class struggle, and that the growth of the working class would bring it to overwhelm the shrinking body of the elite: the 99 percent, if you will. It was Lenin who determined that socialism should be held in higher regard than capitalism given its more empathetic qualities, and thus actively agitated to implement it.

But that was never Marx's intention. In fact, Marx would have scoffed at the idea that communism could be forced upon, or take root in a society that had not developed a capitalist industrial base (no coincidence, such as early 20th century Russia). Of course, Leninism gave way to Stalinism, and the idea of communism embodying a shred of social empathy was speedily jettisoned.

That Marxism has been equated with advocacy of social spending, progressive taxes or "Obamacare" is a product of historical forces rooted in Cold War ideology. Marxism became shorthand for all the ills of Stalinism and Soviet-style communism. But that isn't Marxism, and never was.

And here is the real kicker: If Obama was a true Marxist, he would likely extol the virtues of unfettered free markets, deregulate and promote capitalism in order to expedite Marx's inevitable class struggle and the demise of capitalism (as Russian Mensheviks loosely advocated in their more pure allegiance to Marx prior to revolution).

That's right. Like it or not, Obama is not a Marxist, and he certainly has not pursued policies of this sort. Even if accuracy is secondary to scoring political points, insults should, at a minimum, suggest what they intend. Obama may be a lot of things, but he isn't a Marxist.

Dina Badie is an assistant professor of government and international studies at Centre College.

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