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Is There an American Socialist Tradition? Possibly, but it is Not the one today's Left Celebrates

He concludes with these words: “Although commonly thought of as ‘left-wing,” or ‘left-progressive,’ nevertheless, from a historical perspective, ObamaCare is right-wing "Third worldist sectarian and reactionary," and it is not consistent with "American constitutional government and its revolutionary traditions.”

To put it another way, Sklar -- who considers himself both a Marxist and a socialist -- takes positions completely in line with the majority of today’s conservatives. Indeed, he sees the anti-statism and fiscal responsibility of the Tea Party advocates as what he calls left-wing trends in societal development, and the statism of the Democrats and the current Left as more appropriately called reactionary and historically right-wing. Thus, in his writings, he has expressed support for Republican leaders such as Newt Gingrich in the 90s and Sarah Palin today, whom he wholeheartedly supports. As for the Tea Party, he uses Old Left terminology and somewhat facetiously refers to it as “the anti-fascist resistance.”

The problem, of course, is that someone like Gingrich, who rails against what he calls “the secular-socialist machine” that controls America, will not accept the way of looking at the United States as Sklar does; nor will most people change their terminology to refer to the self-proclaimed Left as actually Right; and the Right as actually Left. This becomes far too confusing and unrealistic, no matter how much of an argument Sklar puts forth.

But when he writes, as he has, that the Obama model of governance and community organizing is “a latter-day version of the [Leninist] ‘vanguard party,’ in this particular historical case, colonizing and taking over one of the two major U.S. political parties [the Democratic Party], and riding it to power for establishing a party-state-command regime,” conservatives can fully agree with his conclusions.

Finally, in a letter Sklar wrote to me, he argues as follows about the Democrats today:

The Democrats, in my view, have become a party with constituencies disproportionately strong beyond their numbers … that are anti-growth … anti working-class, anti-liberty, pro-ethnic race/identity, and in that sense, as used to be said by those on the left, reactionary. In their party composition and politics, the Democrats have increasingly been merging with managerial/bureaucratic power in society and with ‘capitalists’ in government -- against the people’s interest in rising living standards, equality of opportunity, and strengthening of democratic liberty in the U.S. and its spreading throughout the world. This orientation of the Democrats is evident both in domestic politics and acts so far taken by the new administration, and rather strongly so in Obama’s Cairo and other speeches abroad. ... In a longer U.S. history perspective, the Obama Democrats are more in the tradition of the 19th Century Democratic party running from Pierce, Buchanan and Douglas to Andrew Johnson-Seymour-Greeley-Tilden; and the Bush/Cheney/McCain/Palin Republicans are more in the tradition of the Republican party running from Lincoln-Seward-Stanton-Sumner-Grant to TR.

What he argues is hence much in line with what political scientist Daniel DiSalvo writes in the current issue of Commentary, in which he shows how the current Right is reformist and the Left, as he puts it, is “reactionary.” All of this is quite encouraging, revealing that there is much new thinking going on, and that the most important of this comes from today’s conservative movement and its intellectuals.

Let me end by returning to some final thoughts about John Nichols and his attempt to make statist “socialism” his model for what is part of the past American tradition. Nichols is the kind of socialist that Kevin D. Williamson effectively writes about in his new book, The Politically Incorrect Guide to Socialism, which is getting much publicity in recent days. But Williamson defines socialism as having two components, the “public provision of non-public goods,” and second, “economic central planning.” In Sklar’s lexicon, that definition is a straw man that is easily knocked down, which is what Williamson manages to do most effectively.

So, I am skeptical that many will take up Martin J. Sklar’s way of looking at capitalism and socialism. But this should not stop us from joining in his call for self-proclaimed liberals and conservatives who favor a fight on behalf of liberty against statism, to join together in the fight against the retrogressive and dangerous policies of the Obama administration, and help them attain electoral defeat in the next presidential election.