The popular difficulty, exemplified by the mainstream media, of understanding Obama's Marxist ideology is due solely to a failure to realize how deeply Marxism has penetrated the elite academia. A commenter of my article about the Marxism and violence exemplifies this misunderstanding, when she (or he) wrote, "I doubt if any leftish commentators in America really relate to the French revolution or Marxism". At the Ivy League and the top private liberal arts colleges, the top-ten universities, such as the University of Michigan and the University of California, the humanities and social sciences are thoroughly imbued with Marxist philosophy, Marxist political theory, Marxist pseudo-economics, and Marxist pedagogy--so thoroughly imbued as to constitute a subculture, created and maintained by the now-aging New Left of the 1960s. Post-modernism, which originated as a fundamentally anti-Marxist philosophy of literary criticism in the 1960s and 1970s in Europe, in the work of, e.g., the homosexual, Foucault, who was brutalized by France's macho communists, was quickly co-opted by the Marxists. College students in the soft liberal arts have been continually bathed in unannounced Marxist theory. For those students with a self-conscious interest in Marxism, such as Obama, who picked it up through black nationalism and Malcolm X, there was, and is, a large English-language literary canon that sensitized them to Marxism. They became followers before they knew they were Marxists. Graduate students in literature, history, sociology, anthropology, and women's studies were assigned Marxist classics which many of them were intellectually thrilled by, even as they had the faintest glimmer they were absorbing Marxism. I speak from personal experience. I assigned major works from the professional Marxist canon to graduate students and then struggled with them to make them conscious of the Marxist views that permeated them. Take the theme of capitalists' adoption of labor saving technology, for instance. One of the major works in this genre is David Montgomery's The Fall of the House of Labor. The problem addressed by the book is a Marxist problem: understanding why and how American labor failed to produce a united, anti-capitalist proletariat. The book begins with a discussion of scientific management, or Taylorism. In reflection on my annually teaching this book over twenty years, I estimate that not a single graduate student understood that this chapter on Taylorism was based on a Marxist principle: the capital owned by capitalists was obtained by theft from the laborers (that is, Marx's labor theory of value implies all capital in the hands of capitalists was stolen, because it can't be the product of anything the capitalists, who are not laborers, do). Similary, in literary criticism, Raymond Williams, The Country and the City, explains how the political position of England's industrializing capitalists shaped the anti-city ideology as a mask for their confiscation and exploitation of the English countryside, a classic Marxist analysis, that is itself hidden just beneath the surface and often requires a teacher's guidance to be revealed to students.
The Marxist canon encompasses several layers of literature. At its core are the writings of Marx and his early unpublished writings (esp., The Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts, dating from 1844, that were published in 1927 and later translated into English). The manuscripts were still being discussed excitedly in the 1970s, as I vividly recall. The founder's writings were joined by the much smaller library of the Marxist revolutionaries, Lenin and Trotsky. Then there was a large literature by Marxist thinkers who tried to apply, and modified as needed, Marxist principles to explain historical events since Marx's death. Wikipedia's article, "Marxism", provides a syllabus of this literature, produced in Europe and the US.
Marx and Marxism were widely discussed and informed the basis of significant American academic scholarship after the New Left began to join faculties in the 1960s and 1970s. Historical events did nothing to dampen Academic enthusiasm for Marxism--not the failure of the proletariat to revolutionize, not the failure of capitalism to collapse, not the failure of state-based socialism to evolve into stateless communism,not the failure of communist economies to create democratic wealth, not the failure of Marxist totalitarianisms to evolve into humanistic utopias, not the collapse of the Soviet Union, not the Chinese abandonment of Maoism, not the reliance of communists upon violence to obtain social revolution for a set of principles that, had they been intellectually obvious, should have brought societies peacefully to socialism. Academics for a hundred years have spun one rationalization of Marxist error and failure after another, and another, and another. The continual failure of Marx's ideas to be confirmed in historical reality produced a singular intellectual situation in Marxist academic culture: the necessity to maintain contradictory ideas as equally valid. Marxism became a long-standing apology: next time.
The intellectual failure of Marxism resulted in a major embarrassment. Marx considered his philosophy to be scientific, based on evidence of the state of industrial economics as he witnessed it in mid-19th century, and material historical facts he documented in the transformation of Europe. He condemned pre-Marxist socialism as "romantic", that is, based on contradictory principles based on humanistic illusions about the material world. Romantic socialism was based on heroic idealism rather than scientific materialism and dialectical materialist transformation of history. Alas, as the failure of Marxism accumulated, Marxism became romanticized. Great men theory of revolution supplanted determinism--and Marx and Marxists had insisted material determinism was the absolute basis of history. No matter. Hero worship could co-exist with determinism. Somehow. The result was romanticism. Romanticism became the soft core of Marxism, just as movies became hard philosophy. Such is the degradation of intellectual life of the intelligentsia.
Obama's education at Occidental, Columbia, and Harvard came as the New Left established itself in the humanities and social sciences, as Trotsky's philosophy of international revolution became orthodoxy in the US, as Stalinism insinuated itself into academic discussions through the Soviet Union's relentless, hidden sponsorship of academic forums and international ideologies, as Europe's divestiture of its colonial systems coincided with American affirmative action and diversification of faculties and student bodies, as post-modernism made softening of American academic disciplines intellectually respectable (who can forget the new math pedagogy of the 1980s). Obama absorbed all of this self-contradictory ferment. It metastisized throughout his mind--an unoriginal mind constantly congratulated in an uncritical culture, a culture now incapable of non-self-contradictory criticism. It seeps like an oil leak through all his ideas. It's hallmark is the romanticization of socialism--the simultaneous holding of contradictory ideas as true. That hallmark is not his political pragmatism, which was been little in evidence. That hallmark is the core of his personal philosophy and the core of the Marxist culture in which he was educated and which he absorbed, the student as sponge. Obama is a man for whom no amount of evidence can disprove, and no amount of self-contradiction dispel, a false ideology.
Revised. January 31, 2011.