Few events in history rival the gap between exuberant optimism and tumultuous reality, great dreams and vain illusions, as the spread of socialism.
Its rise and fall constituted one of the most tragic episodes of the last century. It has created unparalleled violence, millions of innocent victims, modern slavery, and environmental disasters of biblical proportions. The movement has gone from spectacular triumphs to humiliating defeats – from victory in Russia in 1917 and the conquest of Eastern Europe and China in the 1930s and 1940s to what seemed an unstoppable march in Africa and Latin America in the 1960s and 1970s, and then to the spectacular implosion of the Soviet Union, the liberation of Eastern Europe, and the economic liberalization of China.
What is socialism? Who are American socialists, and what are they fighting for? Socialism is a political philosophy and economic system that promotes egalitarianism – a theory of economic equality. It is usually defined as "common ownership of the means of production," which is in the ballpark of the definition given by Karl Marx.
Lenin defined socialism as a society organized on the principle "from each according to his abilities and to each according to his work [contribution]."
But Barack Obama nailed it. In his speech in Berlin, Germany on July 24, 2008, he declared:
This is the moment when we must build on the wealth that open markets have created, and share its benefits more equitably.
Obama clearly was talking about not wealth creation, which would be capitalism, but wealth distribution, which is socialism.
It was an astonishingly ambitious vision for the future president of the United States. And it was not just a vision; he had a plan, and he had a strategy.
Obama, who adopted Marxism as a young man, grew gradually convinced (he had to) that the general theories of Marx, Engels, and Lenin outlined in Das Kapital, The Critique of the Gotha Program, What Is to Be Done, and other communist publications could not be directly applied to the contemporary United States of America. According to Marxist dogma, the transition to socialism and subsequent distribution of wealth must be accomplished by expropriation of the means of production with the imposition of a "dictatorship of the proletariat." Yet the proletariat – organized masses of working people, who, according to Marx, had "nothing to lose but their chains" – ceased to exist a century ago.
As an ardent Marxist, Obama had read more deeply in Marxism than most contemporary Marxists and came to the conclusion (correctly) that the main purpose for the expropriation of the means of production was not the distribution of wealth, but the subjugation of the population to the government control.
As Leon Trotsky put it, "in a country where the sole employer is the state, opposition means death by slow starvation. The old principle, who does not work does not eat, has been replaced with a new one: who does not obey does not eat."
The acquisition of this knowledge predisposed Obama to the recognition that society does not necessarily require government ownership of the means of production to implement the egalitarian dream. As long as the government controls the economy and is able to replace the free-market capitalist economy with political economy, and subsequently control profits, the objectives of socialism can be achieved. Obama also ascertained that in order to control the economy, the government needs to control only three major sectors – health care, finance, and energy.
An unemotional logician and imaginative tactician, Obama, while preserving the theoretical significance of Marxism, trashed those nineteenth-century Marxist orthodox theories and Lenin's principles that applied to an impoverished country and stood in the way of twenty-first-century American capitalism, and replaced them with his own pragmatic Marxism.
He substituted the dictatorship of proletariat with the dictatorship of government bureaucracy, and the expropriation of private property with statism – i.e., government control of the economy and supremacy of the values of the state that result in domination of the economic and political life of the citizenry. The driving force behind his adroit model was bondage: "The hand that feeds you controls you."
Alarmingly, Barack Obama had come within measurable distance of accomplishing the centerpiece of his strategy. However, not everything went as planned. Obama's reach exceeded his grasp – he and his democratic socialists had grossly underestimated U.S. economic vitality and regional demographics, so critical to securing the Democratic Party's electoral supremacy.
Although Dodd-Frank and Obamacare effectively took the financial and health care sectors under government control, draconian environmental regulations failed to subdue the energy industry. With the discovery of new domestic oil reserves and deployment of innovative technologies, energy production was thriving.
Moreover, not all of Mexico, Central, and South America crossed our open borders into Texas, Arizona, and California, and unlike some European cities, Chicago, Detroit, and New York were not yet annexed to the possession of Islam.
Even more importantly, socialism had not yet attained political meaning and the concept of economic equality still had little reverence in American society. Overall, the implementation of the strategy was taking longer than planned.
It was left to Hillary Clinton, whose ascendance to the presidency of the United States seemed assured, to complete that journey under the ideological guidance of Barack Obama.
However, as with many instances in the political process, what was perceived as obvious and certain at the time only exposed the limitations of human foresight. The election of Donald Trump, perhaps without him being aware of his historic role, redeemed this country and left the socialists in a post-orgasmic swoon. But the ideas of Marx and Lenin did not die. The egalitarian disease is not well, but it is alive and keeps on growing.
Alexander Markovsky is a scholar of Marxism and Leninism and a senior fellow at the London Center for Policy Research. He is an author of Anatomy of a Bolshevik and Liberal Bolshevism: America Did Not Defeat Communism, She Adopted It.