[Below is a talk given by Stanley Kurtz at the Wednesday Morning Club on January 5, 2011.]
David Horowitz: It’s been 20 years with the Center trying to tell conservatives that these people are not liberals, that they are leftists and if their dreams are fulfilled they will destroy the United States, and very, very dangerous people. And while conservatives have given me support and given our Center support, they never quite got into their system what I think is the appropriate view of our opponents in these battles. Conservatives, as you’ve probably heard me say, are far too decent and civilized. They give people the benefit of the doubt. They think of them as having good intentions and being mistaken about this or that.
And I see my mission as a former radical, as teaching conservatives some bad manners. But until the last year or so it really hasn’t taken and I can’t take credit for this. I think Barack Obama is the teacher of conservatives. Of course, it’s very important when a moment like this occurs that the information be out there so people can understand what’s happening to them. And I, almost 20 years ago, after Peter Collier and I wrote a book called Destructive Generation, we met with Jeremiah Denton. You may remember he was the POW in the Hanoi Hilton who telegraphed with his eyelids in Morse code “torture,” which is how we knew our troops were being tortured. And he read our book Destructive Generation and he said to us, if I had known about Congressman Ron Dellums what I know now, I wouldn’t have been so nice to him. That’s what he said. And Ron Dellums is an American traitor, a Berkley leftist who had murder in his heart for this country, yet the Democrats allowed him to become first the Chair of the Subcommittee on Military Installations worldwide, and then the Chairman of the Armed Services Committee, total access to our intelligence secrets.
And that’s why I felt in the mid-’80s that we were going to lose the Cold War. Fortunately, Marx was such a crackpot economist that the Soviet Union collapsed before they could defeat us. But I understood how infiltrated our government was and our institutions were by leftists. And I have therefore been frustrated over 20 years in trying to alert conservatives to how bad this situation is.
Now, low and behold–in this era of this great awakening comes our speaker today, Stanley Kurtz, who has written an indispensable book called Radical-in-Chief, which shows in great detail, and precisely because Stanley was not a leftist, and therefore, it’s like the discovery of a new world kind of. I mean, he has got to pinch himself every time he comes across something and then it drives him further, and it’s also incredibly well documented. If I had to do a book on Barack Obama, I mean, I would jump right to the conclusion from some of the early data that Stanley produces.
But what Stanley has shown is that Barack Obama not only does he come from the left that I came out of, the radical America-despising left, but the worst part of it. He had a 20-year relationship with a leftist whom I despised when I thought of myself as a Marxist revolutionary, which is Billy Ayers–despised him because he was so shallow and destructive. But this was–as Stanley has shown and Stanley alone has shown. There’s a large literature now on Obama. Leftist books like David Remnick’s book, David Remnick being the Editor-in-Chief of The New Yorker, who did write quite a good book called Lenin’s Tomb, but his book on Barack Obama is, as most of these books are, a cover up, or an attempt to just discount, which is the same thing, whatever evidence they came across. And other books, which are written by conservatives, are written without having done the enormous amount of research that Stanley did over, I guess, it’s a two-year period.
He went into the libraries like the Wisconsin Historical Society or the Tamiment Library you’ve probably never heard of. The Tamiment Library is run by Communists. I mean, old fashioned Stalinist Communists. But these are the archives where leftists feel confident I guess of depositing their papers in these libraries because they were run by other Marxist radicals. And what Stanley has shown is just what I said, that Barack Obama was raised as a leftist and starting right out of college was part of the Marxist Socialist, what I call Neocommunist left, the people that continued the battles that Peter Collier and I abandoned when we realized that this was a destructive enterprise.
So I am both privileged and pleased to be able to bring you Stanley Kurtz to talk about his book.
Stanley Kurtz: Thank you so much, David, for those very kind words. I am laboring under a bit of a disadvantage today in that I’m addressing the Wednesday morning group on Thursday morning. That kind of shoots my credibility from the beginning. But I want you to believe me when I say that I am not speaking as a conservative, but as a post-partisan pragmatist.
Radical-in-Chief – Barack Obama and the Untold Story of American Socialism. That is the title of the book, and as David said, it literally does argue that Barack Obama is a Socialist. Now, I actually didn’t want to find out that Barack Obama was a Socialist. I was afraid to find out that Barack Obama was a Socialist, because frankly, among respectable conservatives, this is not a safe argument to make. And during the 2008 presidential campaign, I was not shy about calling Barack Obama a radical. Actually, it was the research I did in 2008 that helped inject the Bill Ayers and the ACORN issues into the campaign. So it’s not as though I wasn’t willing to energetically criticize Barack Obama, to reveal all sorts of nasty things about his past that he didn’t want to have come out. But Socialist, I thought that was a bridge too far.
And how do you even explain what Socialism is? I mean, people argue about the definition. As I eventually discovered, Socialists themselves argue about what Socialism is. If you define Socialism classically as the complete nationalization of the means of production, Barack Obama as a candidate in 2008 wasn’t proposing anything like that. And for that reason, the whole idea that Obama was a Socialist was scoffed at by the left, of course, by the liberals, by the mainstream media. The problem is, as I began this archival research just trying to fill out the research that I did during the 2008 campaign, I kept running into evidence of real Socialism, people who thought of themselves as Socialists, Marxists, hardcore. And a variety of Socialism and Socialists that I hadn’t known about that I think you could still call it hardcore, but it was a revised form of Socialism that took over the movement after the 1960s and that most Americans know absolutely nothing about.
I started overturning the rocks and finding underneath them a kind of unknown history of Socialism since the 1960s in the United States. And I was amazed by all this. And at first, as I say, I didn’t really even want to follow the trail. But here I was having accepted a contract and an advance to write a book about Barack Obama’s past, and low and behold, I kept running into Socialism everywhere.
So I plunged in. I educated myself in–as best I could in what Socialism in the post-’60s era was. And I began to fill out the picture on my own with this original research. But I’ll say even here at the outset that this is a continual problem for me and for almost everyone who grapples with the book in some way. There are a lot of conservatives even now who really aren’t comfortable with an argument that says Barack Obama is a Socialist. It sounds like Joe McCarthy, it sounds like the John Birch Society, it sounds like you are some kind of crazy nut. That’s on the one side. And of course, not only conservatives, but everyone on the left treats the book and the argument that way whenever they get a chance to.
And then, on the other hand, there’s David’s group. That’s why I’m here. And when I was down at the Breakers talking about this, the questions were, what is this Socialism thing you’re talking about? Come on, Mr. Kurtz. The gap in reactions that I get is really amazing. And people who read the book and who like it and who agree with it often describe this barrier that they pass through. And they say, you know, we avoided this whole Socialism issue. But this book is interesting. This book is not crazy. This book is not fire-breathing in some irrational way. It makes sense and you’re telling us something new here.
What I would stress about the book, therefore, is the subtitle, Barack Obama and the Untold Story of American Socialism. There is an untold story here. Even knowledgeable ex-leftists don’t have full awareness of the Socialism I discuss in this book because it comes from a group of community organizers who represented one particular faction within contemporary American Socialism and they were secretive. They were secretive even with other Socialists. And fortunately, they made the mistake of putting a lot of their early records in a public archive. I managed to get into that archive.
So I’m telling something new in this book even to many people who are knowledgeable about the left, and of course, to people who don’t know much about the left or who only have in their mind Joe McCarthy or the John Birch Society. They are also quite surprised. So I would ask that people approach the book with an open mind, even if you are already convinced that Barack Obama is a Socialist and you think you’re going to get all your ideas confirmed. Well, you are going to get all your ideas confirmed, but it’s going to happen in a way that you might not quite have expected.
All right. So let me begin where I begin in the book, and that’s with the story of a series of Socialist scholars conferences that Barack Obama attended when he lived in New York City between the years 1983 and 1985. Now, when I was doing research, I started turning up a sign-up sheet with Barack Obama’s name on it for one of these conferences. And in his own book he had given a quick hint of the fact that he might have been at these conferences. But as his usual modus operandi, he doesn’t give you quite enough detail to figure out exactly what conference he’s talking about. A lot of my work was piecing all of that together.
And when I finally reconstructed what had gone on at these Socialist conferences that Barack Obama attended, I truly was amazed because what I saw was a kind of map of Barack Obama’s entire subsequent political career. It was at this Socialist conferences in New York in the mid-’80s that Barack Obama encountered the groups, the strategies, and the mentors who would guide him throughout his entire political career. Now, what do I mean? Well, for one thing, these Socialist conferences touted community organizing as the key to the future for American Socialism.
And this gets back to what I mentioned at the beginning, the classic definition of Socialism as full government control of the means of production, full nationalization of the economy. Now, in the mid-’80s, American Socialists realized that that plan was just not going to fly. They had waited for 10 or 15 years for there to be a literal violent Socialist revolution, and it never came. And what was worse from the Socialist point of view, Ronald Reagan was now President of the United States, and a very popular one at that. So it didn’t seem as though you were going to get anywhere by advocating nationalization.
So here is where another strategy took hold. It’s not as though community organizing or local organizing had never been considered by Socialists, but it became newly important in the 1980s when Socialists decided, hey, we’re going to get control of the economy not be formal nationalization from above, but through a kind of de facto public ownership from below. Now, what do I mean by that? Well, let’s take the example of the notorious community organization, ACORN. What did ACORN do? ACORN actually gained a kind of control over the banking industry in the United States. They would flood into the lobbies of banks or they would besiege the home of an officer of a bank, and basically intimidate the bank into giving them a pot of money to give loans on behalf of the bank to customers with risky credit histories, the kind of customer who would never have gotten a loan under ordinary circumstances. And of course, this was the beginning of the subprime mortgage crisis that ironically brought Barack Obama into the presidency.
In addition to talking about Obama, I actually give a lot of detail on how ACORN and community organization is linked to the roots of the subprime crisis. Because as I was poring through the archives looking for Obama’s hidden relationship with ACORN, low and behold, I was finding all of this material about ACORN’s work with the Clinton Administration behind the scenes in pushing subprime lending. So what we’re really talking about here, again, is an example of how you can have a de facto nationalization from below. And this is the strategy that entranced American Socialists in the mid-’80s.
This is the strategy that brought Barack Obama into community organizing. And one of the things I do in the book almost in the manner of a detective story is go into this dramatic moment Obama describes in Dreams From My Father, his memoir, about how he became a community organizer and how he learned what community organizing was. And I show that when you follow out the detail of it, it had to be at these Socialist conferences that he came upon this transfiguration.
So he ran into organizations, like ACORN and Project Vote, at these Socialist conferences. They were considered the future of Socialism. And there was another theme at these conferences and that was that rainbow coalitions led by minority political leaders, particularly African Americans, were the key to the future of Socialism in the United States. And the model of all of this was Mayor Harold Washington of Chicago. In fact, at the very first Socialist conference that Obama attended, the one that brought him into community organizing, that conference was held at almost exactly the moment when Harold Washington’s first electoral triumph in Chicago took place. And of course, we know from Dreams From My Father, that Mayor Harold Washington was Obama’s idol. In fact, Jeremiah Wright was deeply involved in Harold Washington’s various electoral campaigns and that’s part of what drew Obama to write.
Harold Washington was also the model for American Socialists. Now, that might sound strange because Harold Washington didn’t stand up and say, hey, I’m a Socialist, guys. So why should Socialists care about Harold Washington? Well, there are an awful lot of Socialist community organizers in Chicago. And those Socialist community organizers were really the key to Harold Washington’s success. They helped to bring in enough of a percentage of the white vote, which was necessary for Harold Washington even though he had a huge percentage of the black vote to tip him into a victory. And it was the Socialist leaders of these various community organizations who partnered with Harold Washington. And Harold Washington worked openly with the Socialists of Chicago and that was very unusual.
The Democratic Socialists of America, which was the group we’re talking about, was not used to being able to work out in the open with politicians. But here, Harold Washington, who was very left-leaning himself–you could maybe call him a fellow traveler of these Democratic Socialists–Harold Washington himself was willing to work openly with these Socialists. So the Socialist world was thrilled by this and at these conferences that Obama attended this was considered the model, and it was linked to the community organizing theme.
So the idea is this – you create a kind of quasi-Populist anti-business movement of the left stirred up by these community organizations. Some of them are led by African Americans and some of those community organizing leaders, especially African Americans, emerge and become politicians themselves and they lead this large coalition, which is energized by these community groups on behalf of an economic, anti-business Populist movement, which in fact is controlled by Socialists from behind. The idea is you don’t actually say, hey, we’re Socialists. We have a movement for Socialism here. No. You call yourself Populist, you call yourself Communitarian, or you use Alinskyite terms like, let’s democratize power. But when you look at what’s really going on, it comes down to Socialism and the Socialists who ran these organizations knew it.
So Obama has been following a version of this strategy really through his entire political career, as I argue in the book. And this is exactly the strategy, the life plan, in effect that these Socialist conferences laid down for Obama.
And here’s another connection, and this turns out to be the thing that first drew me into the whole Socialism theme, as I told you, against my own desires. Reverend Wright. It turns out that at these Socialist conferences in the mid-’80s, there had been a newly formed alliance struck between the Democratic Socialists of America, which was the organization putting on these conferences, and black liberation theology, which is the theology that is adhered to by Reverend Wright. The founder of black liberation theology, James Cone, spoke at one of these conferences, one where we know from a sign-up sheet that Obama attended. And a prominent follower of James Cone also spoke at these conferences talking all about black liberation theology.
Now, this really amazed me. I looked down at the sheet and I saw the name of James Cone and I knew that James Cone was Jeremiah Wright’s mentor. In fact, Jeremiah Wright defended himself to Sean Hannity in 2008 by saying, I’m not some kind of extremist, because James Cone is my mentor and James Cone teaches at very prominent American universities. Well, having been at those universities, I immediately became alarmed when I heard that James Cone taught at those universities, because I knew that the divinity schools at those universities were actually the most extremist and leftist places around. And that’s actually one of the things that drew me into this research.
At any rate, it became clear to me when I saw the programs for these conferences that Obama almost certainly would have known about black liberation theology well before he moved to Chicago and met Reverend Wright. In fact, the same black liberation theologians who were presenting at these Socialist conferences after the ’84 conference decamped down to Cuba and had meetings that were essentially arranged by Cuban intelligence, which was controlled by the KGB at that time. Reverend Wright was one of the contact men. This was all condemned in The Wall Street Journal. The way the Journal talked about it at the time was that these black preachers were being exploited by Cuban intelligence.
But I found that Journal article in the files of the black theology project. They knew that they had been accused of having the wool pulled over their eyes by Cuban and Soviet intelligence, and yet two years later Reverend Wright led another delegation of the black theology project to Cuba where they praised Fidel Castro and the Cuban system. So it was obvious that rather than being manipulated they were very intentionally supportive and there is more evidence you can find in the book for how supportive Reverend Wright and the other members of the black theology project were of the Cuban system as an alternative to the United States.
And so, it became obvious to me that when Obama met Reverend Wright – and again, there is more evidence for all this in the book – they would have immediately made these connections and realized they were part of this whole circle of cooperation between black liberation theology and American Socialism. And that in particular is when I knew I simply had to follow the clues and I couldn’t ignore them anymore.
All right. Now, let’s move to Chicago, because that’s exactly what Barack Obama did. And a lot of what I say in the book covers a remarkable community organizer training institute in Chicago that very few people have heard of. It’s called the Midwest Academy. The Midwest Academy – remember that name. I hope someday that will become a famous name and phrase. If it does, the moment everyone knows what the Midwest Academy is, is the moment that Barack Obama is in some serious trouble.
And the Midwest Academy folks, maybe they’re kicking themselves right now – I hope they are – for putting their files on record. And when I finally dug up these files, I truly was amazed because what we really had here was a living, breathing, Socialist front group as if it had been taken from the 1930s and transported into the ’80s and the ’90s and beyond in the United States.
The Midwest Academy was run by community organizers who were not only Socialist. They were really some of the most prominent and influential Socialists in the United States in the post-’60s era. And they really were the originators in many ways of the theories that were touted at those Socialist conferences in New York. In many ways, the theories of community organizing and Socialism that were touted in those conferences in New York were really talking about these organizers in Chicago from the Midwest Academy. It was a direct connection.
And who by coincidence did Obama end up working with after he left those conferences in New York but the community organizers in Chicago who really were the leaders and creators or contemporary Socialist strategy. Now, the most important element of their strategy was keep quiet, don’t talk about your Socialism. I’ve really already gone over this a bit, but I want to emphasize how important stealth was to the leaders of the Midwest Academy. They believe that you should not tell the people you are organizing about your Socialism. Just use it for your own private strategic purposes. Instead, as I said earlier, call yourself a Populist, call yourself a Communitarian, use Alinskyite language and say that you’re democratizing power. But when you read their memos to each other and their letters, it’s Marx, it’s Lenin, it’s Mao, the whole deal.
So I was going through the files of Midwest Academy and I started hitting on names that I was familiar with from my earlier research, names like Alice Palmer. Alice Palmer was the Illinois State Senator whom Barack Obama replaced. She anointed Obama as her successor at that infamous party at the home of Bill Ayres and Bernadine Dohrn. And I was amazed when I found that Alice Palmer had been a high official in the Midwest Academy network and that she had worked directly with another fellow named Ken Rawling. Ken Rawling is the fellow who during the campaign of 2008 that tried to keep me out of the files, the archives of the Bill Ayers Foundation. And Ken Rawling worked running that foundation with Bill Ayers and Barack Obama for years and years, and in other ways had been in charge of the funding of Barack Obama and the training of Barack Obama.
So Alice Palmer, the woman who selected Obama as her political successor, may have known him directly. But at a minimum, she had access to years of knowledge from her partner, Ken Rawling, about who Obama was and what he believed. And the book spins out the connections even further. I’m just giving you a taste of the fact that the people who trained Obama, who funded Obama and who sponsored Obama’s political career right through the Illinois State Senate to the U.S. Senate, and frankly they’re working with him today in ways I can talk about, if we have time, these people were all the Socialists–the stealth Socialist leaders of the Midwest Academy who very deliberately decided that you don’t talk about your Socialism out loud.
Now, I’m sure all of you have heard about a little something called the Public Option. The Public Option. Well, in a way, the Public Option was first created by the Midwest Academy. This was back in the late ’70s and early ’80s, but the issue was not healthcare. The issue at that time was energy. And this was a kind of first major run through of the fundamental strategy of the Midwest Academy. The idea was to create a coalition, which again, you would call Populist, but which was led by Socialists. And they had a very specific coalition. It was called the Citizen Labor Energy Coalition, and they fought all sorts of battles in Congress and at the grassroots over energy issues.
And one of their core ideas was let’s have a U.S. government energy corporation to “compete” with private energy companies. Now, of course, the whole idea of competition in that context is utter nonsense, because a government energy corporation has the power of regulation, it has the power of taxation. It’s not going to compete with these private companies. It’s going to drive them out of business. And the leaders of the Midwest Academy who were running the Citizen Labor Energy Coalition understood all of this perfectly well. In fact, they had a theory about it. They drew on a French Marxist theorist named Andre Gorz. And he had an idea of what he called non-reformist reforms.
Non-reformist reforms. Now, what does that mean? It means that you propose a reform to the capitalist system, which you advertise as just a little bit of a tweak to the system. It’s going to make things a little more fair, a little more efficient. But you know in your own mind that you planned that to undermine capitalism and to put the country on an irreversible path towards Socialism, a kind of stealth Socialism. And by the way, one of the things you can see in the files of the Midwest Academy is how they entertained each other. When one of the leaders of the Midwest Academy, one of the few open Socialists–his name was Steve Max, a very important figure in the history of American Socialism– was going away to New York for a while, and so they gave a little party for him. And they all started singing songs. And they made up a song to the tune of The Internationale, – the Communist anthem, The Internationale - but they put new words to it. And the words were basically saying, I’m sorry, I can’t sing The Internationale and I probably wouldn’t even if I could, but the song is basically saying, let’s all fight for anti-capitalist structural reform. They sang songs to each other about Andre Gorz’s theory of non-reformist reforms.
This is important actually to the argument of the book because, as I’ll say in a moment as I’m saying now, Barack and Michelle Obama were very, very closely tied to the Midwest Academy. And you really had to trust someone if you were going to bring them into the inner circle of the Midwest Academy. They were very secretive and you can see why, because they sing songs to each other about Marx’s theory. You can’t just bring anyone into that context.
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