Thursday, October 9, 2008

Progressives, Socialists, and Marxists? - Updated

What's in a name, anyway? Well, plenty, actually. Names, or labels, are often self-identifiers. That is certainly the case in the political realm where labels of "Socialist" or "Marxist" or even "Progressive" carries a lot of weight, and baggage.

Hold the phone, let me back up here.

The other night when my partner and I were at the airport, we had dinner at Chili's while we waited for our next flight. All of a sudden, my partner said, "Ohmygosh, that's James Carville!" Sure enough, it was. And he was sitting right beside us, presumably with his wife. They didn't say a word to each other the whole time, so I'm pretty sure it was Mary (teehee). Anywho - they were both reading, and I wasn't going to bother them, though I WANTED to ask, "So, James - why DID you stab Hillary in the back? Just wondering!" Ahem.

Then, we were making our way down the concourse to our next flight. My partner very kindly was getting me a beverage (iced latte with an extra shot, if you must know - yes, I am one of those who are addicted to fancy coffee drinks. I prefer cappuccinos, myself, and have my very own espresso machine which I use daily. A lot. And Peet's is my brand, but they don't have those here on the East Coast, so Starbucks it was. Aren't you glad I shared?). I noticed these two men walking past me, and as the light dawned, I realized one of them was my old seminary professor, Cornel West (his companion looked like someone with whom I went to seminary). Yep, there he went, one of the premier philosophers of our time. Okey dokey, a trip down Memory Lane for me, but so what? I'll get to that soon.

First, just a little background on Cornel West. Some of you may know him from one of his books, Race Matters, which propelled him into the national spotlight. That book was followed by Democracy Matters. He taught at Union Theological Seminary for a while, and is now at Princeton. This excellent article, Imagining Social Justice: Cornel West's Prophectic Pubic Intellectualism, by Gary Darrien, also a professor at Union, is a great resource on Cornel West, and includes much of his history, in terms of his upbringing, his intellectual pursuits (he attended Harvard for his undergrad, and was admitted to the doctoral program in Philosophy at Princeton at the age of TWENTY), and how he came to be at Union:
By the mid-1970s West was already acquiring a reputation as an intellectual spellbinder. The first time that I saw him, in 1975, he had attracted a sidewalk crowd of a dozen people at Harvard Divinity School and was expounding exuberantly on the varieties of black nationalism. The crowd got larger as passersby judged, as I had, “That must be Cornel West.” Two years later he began his teaching career at Union Theological Seminary, which seemed to him the perfect home for his broad intellectual and activist interests.

“You know, my aim was always to teach at Union Seminary,” he later recalled. “Union Seminary, for me, was the real institutional site that brought together all of my interests. It was a Christian seminary, it was deeply shaped by progressive politics, Marxism, feminism, antihomophobic thought and black liberation theology.”

West continued about his decision to teach at Union:
“I decided to teach at Union Seminary for three reasons: It was (and still is) the center of liberation theology in the country; it was one of the best places for black theological education in the country; and it allowed me to teach and read widely in philosophy, social theory, history, literary criticism and cultural thought. Union was the perfect place to become a broadly engaged cultural critic with a strong grounding in the history of philosophy and criticism.”

That's my alma mater! I took several classes with Professor West, and remember well an exchange that happened in one of his classes. But to set the stage, I was the Student Senate Rep from the Lesbian/Gay Caucus all three years of the M.Div. program, and was completely out. At some point in the classroom discussion the topic of which I cannot recall, I said, "Oh, for God's sake," to which one of the African American students in the class looked at me, and said, "for whose sake?" in such a way, and in context with the discussion that clearly implied I was not in a position to call on God given my sexual orientation. That pissed me off, needless to say. I got up and walked out. Another student, and African American woman, came after me to talk about it. We were sitting in the Student Union when class let out, and Cornel West came over to see why I had left class. After I explained to him what happened (he couldn't hear it where he was), he just lowered his head, shook it, and said, "We have such a long way to go." He didn't just talk the talk about "antihomophobic thought," he walked it, too.

Imagine my surprise then, when I read this:
(West) replied that it should be possible to defend the progressive possibilities of heterosexual marriage from a feminist and egalitarian standpoint without being accused of bigotry against gays, lesbians, and single parents. Repeating a central argument of his book on the family, West contended that children did best when raised by two biological parents that were married to each other. The empirical evidence on this point was terribly clear, and important, he urged. To set progressivism against it was disastrous for progressivism and for children: “We make it clear that this does not stigmatize single mothers and fathers, disqualify loving gay or lesbian parents, or preclude successful adoption of children.” He took no interest in bolstering discrimination against gay or lesbian parents. Progressivism had to be against that, just as it had to “put a premium on the well-being of children.”

Huh - that sounds a whole lot like McCain's response to the Washington Blade the other day in response to a question on adoption. I admit I was a little surprised by West's response. It is hard to reconcile his statement with the man who was upset by how I was treated in his classroom. Just goes to show that McCain's position is not all that unique, even in progressive circles.

As I mentioned above, this is not just a trip down Memory Lane for me. You may recall that Larry Johnson had an excellent piece in No Quarter entitled, "Barack Obama's Revolutionary Buddies," in which he mentioned "Progressives for Obama." Wanna take a guess who one of those Progressives are? Yep, you got it, Cornel West. He was one of those listed from this organization.

Now I should add, and the article from which I have been quoting is quite clear, that West is a socialist. Here is more from Prof. Dorrien's excellent piece (bear with the introduction of two other socialists - it helps for the context):
Harrington was eloquent about the structural injustices of capitalism, but he passed over its equally devastating operations on the cultural level.

That was never true of West, who emphasized cultural criticism, writing about popular music, television, sexuality, identity politics, black culture, white supremacism, the culture of nihilism, and the cultural limitations of progressive organizations dominated by whites. West’s pamphlet for DSA, “Toward a Socialist Theory of Racism,” was a signature statement for him and the organization. (Emphasis mine.) Stressing the Marxist bias of most American socialist theorizing about racism, West delineated four main types. The first viewed racism as an epiphenomenon of the class struggle, subsuming racial injustice under the general rubric of working class exploitation. Eugene Debs, an icon of this approach, had a simple answer to the question of what socialism offered blacks: “Nothing, except socialism.” Debs took for granted that racism was a divide-and-conquer ruse of the ruling class. To him, a socialist revolution was the only solution to racial injustice and all other social evils; any solution outside the labor framework was racism in reverse. West acknowledged that Debs, having fought racism bravely, was an honorable example of the color-blind strategy; nonetheless, socialist reductionism was not the answer, since it ignored the complexity of the problem.

And this ties into Matthew Weaver's outstanding piece, "Obama Is Hiding A Radical Past," in which he details Barack Obama's membership in the DSA, and its implications for this election. If you have not read it, I highly recommend it to you.

I have to say, though, in full disclosure, that Professor West originally supported Hillary Clinton. Check out this video from the State of Black America and his challenges to Obama's ability (major H/T to WasLn, etc., for leading me to the New Zealand site, another one at which real investigation into Obama's Socialist ties is taking place):

Too bad he didn't leave it at that. Check out this video and how he introduces Obama (again, H/T to the New Zealand site):

Oh, dear. "Comrade"? Um, yeah. The evidence is quickly mounting that, indeed, Obama is a Socialist, and a card-carrying one at that. Now, I freely admit that I have socialistic tendencies insofar as I am a firm believer in sharing the wealth with those who are less fortunate - I think that is a biblical mandate. And, you would most likely win a game of Monopoly with me ("oh, you need some money? Here, take some of mine!"), but I am not running for president, nor am I a card-carrying member of an official Socialist movement with a capital "S." There is a difference after all. But, Obama is. And many of his associates are.

I wonder when the MSM is going to pick up THIS story?? So far, it's looking like NEVER. So the DNC has selected (and I am using that word intentionally) a card-carrying Socialist as the Democratic Presidential Nominee. I wonder how THAT'S gonna play in Kansas? I can tell you that I don't think it would go over too well here in SC. And that is just the point - the majority of people have no idea that this is the case. Add to that his ties to Black Nationalism as expressed through the rantings of Rev. Jeremiah Wright (and really - since when is a millionnaire considered to be "poor"?), the connection of his church to the Nation of Islam in general, and Louis Farrakhan in particular (not to mention the proximity of Farrakan's complex to both Ayers' and Obama's houses), and it is painting a picture of a man who, at the very LEAST, does not represent the majority of Americans. At most, it has the very real potential of putting a tremendous amount of power in the hands of a man whose mindset would lead us down a dangerous road.

The bottom line is this: Obama continues to be an unknown quantity, with less than a month to go before the election. The vast majority of Americans have NO idea who this man really is, and it seems his handlers have worked very hard to ensure that is the case. But thanks to the efforts of people like Matthew Weaver, Larry Johnson, and New Zeal Research Associates, we are finally learning more. I hope it is not too late...

UPDATE: Alert reader, hadenough, provided documentation that contradicts my claim that Cornel West had been a Clinton supporter before he became an Obama supporter. The information I had was erroneous, and hadenough was correct. It does not change the fundamental issues regarding Obama and his "comrades," but in the interest of accuracy, I feel it is important to note this change. Here is the LINK to the documentation regarding West's support of Obama.


Mike J. said...

It does not surprise me that Obama had leftist associations in his youth. The question is, who is he now?

A surprising number of current neo-cons and ultra-conservatives (Wolfowitz, Podhoretz, others) started out on the far left too. I suspect Obama has made a similar journey himself, otherwise why would someone like Doug Kmiec stump on his behalf? However, the apparent fact his political views have, shall we say, "evolved" from a radical leftist to a coopted defender of the corrupt status quo, is still not obvious to a lot of people.

I suspect this is the reason why so many liberals still support him, even though he clearly espouses far more conservative views. It's just that the liberals still see the "early Obama" (kind of like the early, non-obese, non-drug addicted Elvis, I suppose), whereas the neoliberals see the current, reformed Obama.

Carl Davidson said...

This is just bizarre--Obama as 'unknown quantity.'

The man has two books telling his whole story. And Gods only knows how much more is out there.

His politics are a clear trajectory from community-based Alinskyism, leavened with Black liberation theology, and landing in 'high road' industrial policy capitalism, setting aside the old corporate liberalism for something more Green, more market-using-and-guiding and more cybernetic.

It's out there and plain as day for anyone who wants to take the man seriously.

I'm a man of the socialist left in Chicago for decades. Obama was never one of us, even as we supported him on some things--school reform and the living wage and the war, but opposed him on others, such as the death penalty.

Only those on the fool's errand to construct a fairy tail that he's a hidden communist, Marxist or socialist, will find him an 'unknown quantity,' mainly because they won't give up on searching for something that isn't there.

As for 'Progressives for Obama', we purposely set it up so it's basis of unity was NOT socialism, but the transparent state we all signed on to--liberals, progressives and, yes, socialists and Marxists, too. The one point we made clear from day one was that we understood Obama wasn't even a consistent progressive, but a 21st liberal speaking to the center. That's why we set up our own independent pole to help him win, and to be able to criticize and push him on some points.

Technically, we never even endorsed him, but simply said he was the 'best option.' We don't speak for him, and he doesn't speak for us, and we'll keep it that way. He doesn't have to disown us or us him. because we've never owned each other in the first place.

As for me, Obama wasn't even my first choice. I was with Kucinich and then Richardson, because they had harder lines on the war, until they bit the dust.

This is not rocket science. The conservative right and others on the far right have been doing it in relation to the GOP for decades. The only thing different is we're doing it more openly and with progressive content.

So the only mysteries here are of your own making.

Rabble Rouser Reverend Amy said...

Hey, Mike j -

Well, not so much in his youth - the New Party endorsement was in 1996 - just 12 yrs ago. He was in his mid-30's. And he still has a lot of those same people in his life.

See, the whole problem with him, IMHO, is that he does not reveal who he truly is. He changes his outward positions at the drop of a hat - FISA, off-shore drilling, etc., etc. But if you look at the people he chooses to have around him, well, it paints a picture, and it ain't pretty.

Rabble Rouser Reverend Amy said...

And Carl, Obama's books are filled with half-truths, fabrications, and downright lies. So, no - he isn't the open book you portray him to be. He is far more secretive than Bush ever was, claiming no records from his time in the IL Senate, won't allow ANY of his records from anywhere to be released, etc., etc.

More openly? Yeah, okay. Obama's history does speak for itself on this, though - he was a member of the New Party (DSA), and they most definitely DID endorse him in 1996, as did the Progressives for Obama. This is well documented.

And sorry if I am not thrilled that y'all wanted to set him up with an independent pole to help him win. One need only look at his close friends and associates to see what kind of person he REALLY is, despite what he spews to the masses. Frankly, he is not the kind of person I want for my president - far from it.

No tilting at windmills here - facts are our friends.

Mike J. said...

I agree that Obama has associated himself with great many unsavory characters. However, these associations really run the gamut from extreme left to extreme right. For every Ayers, Wright, and Dohrn there is at least one Rezko, Kmiec, and Goolsbee. So I think it is a fair question to ask which of these sets of rogues is being played for chumps, and which can really count on him to come through.

My money is on the people with money. Wright et al. are just his "useful idiots", people whom he has simply exploited for as long as they were useful, then discarded. But he still has a lot of use for people with money--after all, if elected, he'll have re-election fundraising to worry about.

Rabble Rouser Reverend Amy said...

Hey, Mike j -

That's a good point. I think I said in one of my posts recently that we just need to follow the money...(Though, Obama did give $20,000 to TUCC on one year, so he's clearly getting something from that, though politics might be the biggest one. And Wright is building his $1 mil+ house...)

I hear ya, though. Bottom line, I think Obama is playig a whole BUNCH of people for chumps. Usually reasonable people are being taken in by his empty rhetoric, and engaging in the same types of character assassinations they decried when the RNC did it to Gore and Kerry.

But I'm getting ahead of myself - that's the topic for today! :-D