The Enlightenment of American Style Socialism

There is a joke that has quietly circulated its way around–In 1949 it was only socialism that could save China, in 1989 only China could save socialism and in 2009 only China can save capitalism.

Across the great ocean on the American shore, there is a view that has an astonishing resemblance to this one. On the front cover of the mid-February edition of America’s Newsweek magazine there was a very direct heading that asserted “we are all socialists now.” Is the United States a socialist country? Without question, it is not. Are there socialist attributes to President Obama’s reform? Without a question, there are.

During the campaign Obama was accused by his opponent of being a “socialist,” Castro, the Cuban leader, called him “comrade” and, more recently, the Venezuelan president Chavez jokingly said, “Come on, Obama, align yourself with us on the way to socialism!”

With regards to GM bankruptcy protection and the restructuring of financial institutions, Obama’s reform measures, invariably, reflect socialistic characteristics. The largest shareholders of General Motors Automotive are now the government and the workers union. This means that this company, which is a symbol of the American capitalist spirit, has become a “state and collectively owned enterprise.”*

The financial reform is very much of the same vein, as the U.S. wants to transform the Federal Reserve into what would be a “super regulator,” comprehensively strengthening regulation towards the financial institutions. It is also planning to establish a new financial consumer safeguard endowed with authority that far supersedes that of the current regulatory system. This way of doing things is in conformity with the Marxist doctrine of the Communist Manifesto in which Marx foretold a capitalist financial crisis. The American Foreign Policy magazine offered a very Marxist “prescription” suggesting that the “whole financial sector be turned into a public utility” — perhaps one could say, “centralization of credit in the hands of the State by means of a national bank with State capital and an exclusive monopoly.” (Communist Manifesto).

Something that has an even more socialist flavor than nationalization of enterprise and strengthened regulation is Obama’s medical insurance reform. The intent is to give every American affordable medical insurance by means of establishing a government supported public medical insurance program that would compete with private insurance companies. Obama’s view on the matter was that “if the private insurance companies have to compete with public option, it will keep them honest and help keep prices down.” In other words, the United States wants to use the strength of the government to establish an “everyone has medical insurance” society, very much in tune with the socialist concept of “everyone has rice to eat and everyone has clothes to wear.”


Of course, the hurdles that must be overcome for Obama’s medical reform are not the same. Within the union or medical insurance private sector there is a deep-seated structure that has pushed up the basic cost. One needs to remember that it can be almost impossible for a majority in congress to unite in order to push forward legislation that will topple this deep-seated structure. This so called deep-seated structure is made up of the medical field, the insurance field and several government organizations and interest groups. Thus the hurdles that must be overcome for reform to take place come from those who have a vested interest at stake.


Since June 10th, Obama’s countermeasure has been to start up a campaign style “canvassing” movement, giving many speeches, town hall meetings, and massive interactive forums nation-wide, mobilizing 2 million grass-roots supporters from all 50 states in order to hold propaganda activities encouraging the rise of national debate.

Getting close to the masses and having the intelligence to make good use of the masses, is a patent move used by socialist countries, yet it is quite evident that President Obama is also highly proficient with this tactic. It seems that it doesn’t matter if a country is socialist or capitalist, only those who think like the people, believe in the people and put the people first will be able to prosper and succeed.


With regards to Obama’s reform measures, left wing magazine The Nation once offered an invitation, which spanned several editions, for socialists to write essays and participate in the debate. This lead to calls for the U.S. to undergo a thorough revolution as well as statements such as one that straightforwardly announced that “capitalism is already dead.”


Obama doesn’t see it that way. He regards himself as a liberal. Within the American governmental system there is always an ongoing struggle between the conservatives and the liberals. The conservatives support a small government with greater social responsibility while the left party prizes a big government with less social responsibility for the people. The conservatives are on the right while that liberals are on the left. It is the ultra-left liberals who tend to be more inclined to socialism. In the McCarthy era, under the backdrop of the Cold War, left wing Liberals often faced persecution, and, as a result, being tagged as a socialist is generally not a very honorific thing.

Of course, the McCarthy era was brief. Most of the time socialism is not seen as a taboo and could basically be placed in a neutral category. Marx’s “Das Kapital” is even required reading material in American middle schools. And, following the Cold War the American education departments revised the material used in text books and one of the major measures taken was the remove a lot of the material that was considered ideological.

That is to say that the pragmatic Americans do not stick to their convictions when it comes to ideology. Obama’s reforms quickly bring to mind the statement made by Deng Hsiao-Ping in the 1990’s when he said, “The market is not tantamount to capitalism; capitalism also has a plan, socialism can also have a market.” And now, American practice has also illustrated that nationalization is also not tantamount to socialism and capitalism can also have nationalization.


This is the most enlightening thing that we can gain from the way that America practices socialism: there is no one thing that belongs solely to socialism, there is also no one thing that belongs solely to capitalism. Some concepts belong to all of mankind, some values are for all mankind to share. Just as it was said by Prime Minister Wen Jiabao, “Democracy, legality, freedom, human rights, equality, universal love – these things are not exclusive possessions of capitalism, they are mutual cultural achievements that have been formed over the long course of history of the entire world and are the values that all of mankind mutually pursue.”

*Translator’s Note: The quotation marks indicate that this phrase is figurative.

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