Sometimes the president and his allies characterize themselves as Social Democrats. They compare their policies with the left-of-center parties that regularly preside over European welfare states. As they see it, it is long past due that we catch up with the government-based programs pioneered by their heroes.
While it is true that some European countries have nationalized economic interests in the name of fairness, their American admirers do not propose emulating Britain’s Labor party by taking over our steel or coal industries. These, they say, are free to remain in the hands of their current owners.
Generally speaking, American leftists seem to believe that as long as the government does not literally confiscate private property and as long as its machinery remains officially democratic, the term socialist does not apply.
So let us take a look at history. Surely Karl Marx qualifies as a socialist. He obviously thought of himself that way. Indeed, he described himself as a “scientific socialist.” According to him, it was inevitable that a proletarian revolution would one day confiscate capitalist holdings, then operate these for the benefit of all.
Still, we must dig deeper into Marx’s thinking to evaluate how he understood socialism. Central to his theory was the belief that at nearly every stage of history, two social classes contended for control over the means of economic production. Then the victors used their superior power to exploit the losers.
Thus, during the Middle Ages the nobility, who owned the land, suppressed the peasants and bourgeoisie for their own benefit. Next, after the Industrial Revolution, it was the capitalists, who owned the factories, who did the same vis-à-vis the proletarians.
Obama and his allies are quick to point out that they, unlike previous ruling classes, have appropriated no private property. They may tax the rich to assist the poor, but this is not the same as seizing the means of production.
What we must remember, however, is that Marx spoke of “controlling” the means of production — which does not require ownership. He who determines what is done with property, irrespective of its legal possession, has it within his power. He is in control despite what a certificate of ownership might say.
And isn’t this what Obama and his co-conspirators have done with respect to health care? They make no pretense to owning this one-sixth of our economy, yet they insist on calling nearly all of the shots. Ergo, they get to say what insurance policies must cover. And they get to impose what they call the “best practices.”
Or how about what the Obama administration is doing by way of the Environmental Protection Agency. Thanks to idiosyncratic interpretations of the Clean Air and Water statues, this outfit is in the process of running coal mines out of business and will soon be dictating what private citizens can do in their backyards.
Nor is that all. These acts of economic aggression have often been perpetrated in the dead of night. Contrary to promises of total transparency, bribery, intimidation and subterfuge have been the tactics of choice in implementing what are frequently unpopular policies.
In other words, just like many socialist regimes, Obama’s is sliding toward totalitarianism. He and his fellow travelers intend to have things their way no matter what Congress or the American people may think.
This is not democracy as we have known it. Nor is it the free market as we have known it. The Obama administration and its friends in the media may use every propaganda trick at their disposal to convince us they are not heavy-handed socialists, but if it walks like a duck, and quacks like duck.
Melvyn L. Fein, Ph.D., is professor of Sociology at Kennesaw State University.