Obama's Socialism

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 may
be possible upon the basis
of the common ownership of the means of
production, distribution, and exchange,
and the best obtainable
system of popular administration and control of each
industry or
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
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
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
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