Column on How Socialist must be a Socialist

How Socialist Must One be to be A Socialist?

Tibor R. Machan

In recent days the issue of Senator Obama’s alleged socialist leanings
has become the focus of considerable attention in the mainstream media.
This was provoked by the Senator’s rather explicit support of wealth
redistribution–which is to say, the policy of politicians and bureaucrats
taxing substantial portions of the resources of individuals and deciding
to hand it around according to some formula of equality. This is indeed
associated with the political economy of socialism and has been used to
guide various socialist economies throughout human history, although there
have always been widely different degrees of socialism in different human
communities, from kibbutzes, communes, nationalist socialist and
international socialist systems to small communitarian arrangements.

Full blown socialism amounts to the view that all of humanity is of one
piece, one organism. Karl Marx proposed that this organism develops from
infancy to full maturity, communism, over human history. Individuals in
this conception of socialism are but cells in the organism. There is no
private property because there are no private individualism. The wealth
is spread just as food is spread throughout the human organism, normally
without favor to any part of it.

But no all socialists are full blown, nor view the system along these
developmental lines. Some socialists stress that the unity among people
is something they must bring about, as a matter of their ethical
obligations. And as such the socialism involved can be more or less
robust, depending on how diligently the population works to establish
socialist institutions and policies.

Now, arguing that Barak Obama is no socialist because there were many
features of American society that are already socialist–the progressive
income tax, for example, the expansive eminent domain policy recently
affirmed by the U. S. Supreme Court, and several other measures recently
instituted to bail out banks and other financial companies–is
disingenuous. The questions no one raises to him–none of the interviews
and debates I am away of indicate this–is how extensively would Senator
Obama get the government involved in the American economy, how he views
the institution of private property, who does he believe owns the wealth
of the country. From his words over the years it seems that he would favor
a far more socialist society than American is now, although it is true
enough that America (as many other welfare states) is quite socialist
already. That is why political economists have been calling it a mixed

The most important issue is whether under Senator Obama’s political
leadership the country would be directed to be more or less socialist,
more or less opposed to individualism, individual rights, private
property, and so forth. And the next issue is whether where Senator Obama
wants to take the country would be something proper, desirable, just.

The objections people have to socialism are based, after all, on the
fact that the system views human beings as part of a collective, of an
involuntary team or community, rather than as individuals with independent
choices and the right to decided whether they will join some community.
As Senator Obama appears to view things, a society is an integrated
organism wherein individuals have no rights, no independent choices,
certainly not about their productive efforts and the results of these,
namely, their resources or wealth. He seems to believe that it is the
government–the head of the collective–that ought to be in charge of what
the rest of the people ought to do with their lives. Maybe he would
accept some input, via a limited democratic approach, from the "cells of
the body." But the decision would be made at the top, by the political

Even though some of America’s laws and public policies are somewhat–in
certain cases considerably–socialist, the country is still quite far from
the total wealth-redistribution idea that socialism endorses. Arguably
Senator Obama, just as Senator Hillary Clinton, consider this a liability
and want to remedy matters. (Senator Obama explicitly faulted the
American Framers back in 2001 for failing to include wealth redistribution
as a feature of the U. S. Constitution.)

This is what the current talk about Senator Obama’s socialism should be
about, not about whether he is a pure, Marxist socialist.

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