What Barack Obama learned from the Communist
By Andrew Walden
American voters must make up their minds about what Barack Obama really believes in, if anything. His recent rhetorical concessions to the center further muddy the waters. So we must look to his past teachers and associates for help in understanding the inner Obama.
In his first series of national campaign commercials since securing the delegates needed to win the Democratic presidential campaign, Barack Obama struggles to re-introduce himself. Images focus on the story of lessons learned from his grandparents and his mother, described in his book Dreams from my Father
as “a girl from Kansas…. dab-smack, landlocked center of the country,” in towns “too small to warrant boldface on a roadmap.” Speaking in Independence, Missouri, Obama tells his audience: “patriotism can never be defined as loyalty to any particular leader or government or policy.”
But there is another story to be told about loyalties and about Obama’s education. A story told by Gerald Horne, contributing editor of Political Affairs, a magazine published by the Communist Party, USA. Speaking March 28, 2007 at the dedication of the Communist Party, USA archive at New York University Tamiment Library, Horne traces the downward spiral of fortune for Communists in the latter half of the twentieth century. But in the closing paragraphs of his speech, Horne suddenly becomes hopeful, pointing to the arrival of what Obama might describe as “the ones we have been waiting for.”
“…in Hawaii was an African-American poet and journalist by the name of Frank Marshall Davis, who was certainly in the orbit of the CP (Communist Party) — if not a member — and who was born in Kansas and spent a good deal of his adult life in Chicago, before decamping to Honolulu in 1948 at the suggestion of his good friend (and Communist Party member) Paul Robeson. Eventually, he befriended another family — a Euro-American family — that had migrated to Honolulu from Kansas and a young woman from this family eventually had a child with a young student from Kenya East Africa who goes by the name of Barack Obama, who retracing the steps of Davis eventually decamped to Chicago. In his best selling memoir ‘Dreams of my Father’, the author speaks warmly of an older black poet, he identifies simply as “Frank” as being a decisive influence in helping him to find his present identity as an African-American….”
In Hawai`i, most people are ‘hapa’ (mixed) and the few blacks are ‘popolo’ (Hawaiian word for a type of black berry). The poisonous attitudes fostered in the Jim Crow era simply have no context. Instead of taking the opportunity to convey a message of racial hope from the land of hapa, Obama teaches lessons about being black learned from a Communist. Handed a golden opportunity to define himself as an individual, he instead defines himself as part of a group.
Communists’ interest in African-Americans stemmed from their presumption that blacks oppressed by the Democrats’ Jim Crow segregation were more likely to serve Soviet interests.
Just one year after arriving, Davis spearheaded Communist efforts to take over the Honolulu branch of the NAACP. A 1949 letter
sent by Honolulu NAACP Chair Edward Berman to NAACP acting National Secretary Roy Wilkins describes Davis’ work:
“I (Berman) was at one of the election meetings at which one Frank Marshall Davis, formerly of Chicago (and formerly editor of the Chicago Communist paper, the Star
) suddenly appeared on the scene to propagandize the membership about our ‘racial problems’ in Hawaii. He had jut sneaked in here on a boat, and presto, was an ‘expert’ on racial problems in Hawaii. Comrade Davis was supported by others who had recently ‘sneaked’ into the organization with the avowed intent and purpose of converting it into a front for the Stalinist line….
…Already, scores of Negro members were frightened away from these meetings because of the influx of this element. Only by a reorganization with a policy that will check this infiltration, can we hope to get former members back into a local NAACP branch. We are going to have to have that authority over here-otherwise you’ll have a branch exclusively composed of yelping Stalinists and their dupes-characters who are more concerned about the speedy assassination of Tito (Yugoslav communist dictator who had just broken with the USSR) than they are about the advancement of the colored people of these United States.”
Smash on, victory-eating Red warriors!
Show the marveling multitudes
Americans, British, all your allied brothers
How strong you are
How great you are
How your young tree of new unity
Planted twenty-five years ago
Bears today the golden fruit of victory!
Drive on, oh mighty people’s juggernaut!
Hear in your winning ears
Shadow songs of your departed comrades
Telling you, “Be avengers and kill our killers
And when you have struck the last foe to the ground
Then drop their fascist dreams below hell!”
Obama’s grandparents, Stanley Armour Dunham and his wife Madelyn are another piece of the puzzle. Key details come from interviews in The Chicago Tribune and Seattle Times.
Done bouncing around Kansas, California and Texas in the years after World War Two, Stanley and Madelyn in 1955 picked up and relocated 2,000 miles from Texas to Seattle. The next year they relocated to Mercer Island specifically
so their daughter, Obama’s future mother, Stanley Ann Dunham could attend Mercer Island high school.
One year earlier, Mercer Island schools had distinguished themselves in a way which might have caused others to avoid them. The Chicago Tribune
“In 1955, the chairman of the Mercer Island school board, John Stenhouse, testified before the House Un-American Activities Subcommittee that he had been a member of the Communist Party.”
After intense debate, Stenhouse decided not to resign from the school board according to an April 11, 1955 account in Time Magazine
Stenhouse was not the only leftist connected to the school. The Seattle Times
One respite (from Americans Stanley Ann Dunham looked down on) was found in a wing of Mercer Island High called “anarchy alley.” Jim Wichterman taught a wide-open philosophy course that included Karl Marx. Next door, Val Foubert taught a rigorous dose of literature, including Margaret Mead’s writings on homosexuality.
Those classes prompted what Wichterman, now 80 and retired in Ellensburg, called “mothers’ marches” of parents outraged at the curriculum.
Dunham thrived in the environment, Wichterman said.
“As much as a high-school student can, she’d question anything: What’s so good about democracy? What’s so good about capitalism? What’s wrong with communism? What’s good about communism?” Wichterman said. “She had what I call an inquiring mind.”
She also showed her politics, wearing a campaign button for Adlai Stevenson. And despite flirting with atheism, she went to services at East Shore Unitarian church, a left-leaning congregation in Bellevue.
The Chicago Tribune
mentions a description of the Dunham’s chosen church as “The Little Red Church on the Hill”. According to its own website
, East Shore Unitarian Church got that name because of, “Well-publicized debates and forums on such controversial subjects as the admission of ‘Red China’ to the United Nations….” The fact that Mercer Island’s John Stenhouse, according to his 2000 obituary, once served as church president
might also have contributed to the “red” label.
“In his only skirmish into organized religion, he would enroll the family in the local Unitarian Universalist congregation….”
Over thirty years later, Barack Obama would make his “only skirmish into organized religion”, joining Chicago’s Trinity United Church, inspired by anti-American church leader, Reverend Jeremiah Wright.
“It’s not surprising then that they get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren’t like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations.”
From 50 years out, the Seattle Times
describes in Obama’s mother similar attitudes:
Dunham gravitated toward an intellectual clique. According to former classmate Chip Wall, she caught foreign films at Seattle’s only art-house theater, the Ridgemont, and trekked to University District coffee shops like the Encore to talk about jazz, the value of learning from other cultures and the “very dull Eisenhower-ness of our parents.
“We were critiquing America in those days in the same way we are today: The press is dumbed down, education is dumbed down, people don’t know anything about geography or the rest of the world,” said Wall, who later taught at Mercer Island High and is now retired in Seattle.
“She was not a standard-issue girl….”
“She touted herself as an atheist, and it was something she’d read about and could argue,” said Maxine Box, who was Dunham’s best friend in high school. “She was always challenging and arguing and comparing. She was already thinking about things that the rest of us hadn’t.
“If you were concerned about something going wrong in the world, Stanley would know about it first,” said Chip Wall, who described her as “a fellow traveler. . . .”
Tribune editors leave readers to wonder what was cut off by their ellipses.
Barack Obama describes his mother:
“The values she taught me continue to be my touchstone when it comes to how I go about the world of politics.”
As described in Dreams from my Father, for Obama, his parents and grandparents’ political views define family ties and human characteristics. But wisdom is gathered from the type of political activists Obama looks up to. Likewise, the wrong way to go about politics is defined by a certain type he looks down on. Trying to deal with reactions to his “mixed” racial background, Obama writes:
“I suspect that I sound incredibly naïve, wedded to lost hopes, like those Communists who peddle their newspapers on the fringes of various college towns.” (Dreams pg xv)
Of his time as a student at Colombia, Obama writes:
“Political discussions, the kind that at Occidental had once seemed so intense and purposeful, came to take on the flavor of the socialist conferences I sometimes attended at Cooper Union or the African cultural fairs….” (Dreams p122)
Obama’s mother, on a break from her work establishing micro-credit projects in Indonesia, brings Obama’s half-sister Maya Soetoro to visit him at Colombia. Obama lectures her on,
“the various ways that foreign donors and international development organizations like the one she was working for bred dependence in the Third World.”
“Barry’s okay, isn’t he? I mean, I hope he doesn’t lose his cool and become one of those freaks you see on the streets around here.” (Dreams p123)
Perhaps this explains another of Obama’s derisive references to his mother:
“My mother’s confidence in needlepoint virtues depended on a faith I didn’t possess, a faith that she would refuse to describe as religious; that in fact, her experience told her was sacrilegious: a faith that rational, thoughtful people could shape their own destiny.” (pg 50)
If “rational, thoughtful people” can not “shape their own destiny” then who can? Religion says God is the answer, but Obama at the time was describing himself as agnostic. If one doesn’t believe in God, then there are only the choices of pure fatalism, believing in all humanity as Obama’s mother seems to, or believing in an ideological substitute for religion like Marxism. Or, of course, believing in oneself as some sort of messianic figure called upon to save others.
Finally Obama’s mother convinces him to see the film Black Orpheus
with her and Maya. (p124) Obama writes:
“I suddenly realized that the depiction of childlike blacks I was now seeing on the screen, the reverse images of Conrad’s dark savages, was what my mother had carried with her to Hawaii all those years before, a reflection of the simple fantasies that had been forbidden to a white middle-class girl from Kansas, the promise of another life: warm, sensual, exotic, different. I turned away embarrassed for her….”
Ideology and politics also emerge in Obama’s description of Stanley Armour Dunham — Ann’s father and Obama’s grandfather — in Dreams from My Father:
“…it was this desire of his to obliterate the past, this confidence in the possibility of remaking the world from whole cloth, that proved to be his most lasting patrimony….
“In the back of his mind he had come to consider himself as something of a freethinker — bohemian, even. He wrote poetry on occasion, listened to jazz, counted a number of Jews he had met in the furniture business as his closest friends. In his only skirmish into organized religion, he would enroll the family in the local Unitarian Universalist congregation….
“Gramps might listen to his new son in law sound off about politics or the economy, about far-off places like Whitehall or the Kremlin, and imagine himself seeing into the future. He would begin to read the newspapers more carefully, finding early reports of America’s newfound integrationist creed, and decide in his mind that the world was shrinking, sympathies changing; that the family from Wichita had in fact moved to the forefront of Kennedy’s New Frontier and Dr. King’s magnificent dream.”
But Obama looks down on him as well. With his grandmother pushing him to enroll in college, Obama demands:
“Is that want you’re worried about? That I’ll end up (a loafer, a good time Charlie) like Gramps?” Grandma shakes her head: “You’re already much better educated than your grandfather.” (p95-96)
The Hawai`i to which Stanley Armour led his family was an even greater sanctuary than tiny Mercer Island. The 1950s had been a bad decade for mainland Communists but in Hawai`i things were looking up. Gerald Horne explains:
“Smith Act trials … swept the nation from New York City in 1949 when the entire CPUSA leadership was placed on trial, then jailed, to Honolulu where a similar trial occurred in 1952….the response in Honolulu when tens of thousands of workers went on strike when labor and CP leaders were convicted of Smith Act violations in 1953 — a response totally unlike the response on the mainland.”
The Hawai`i district of the International Longshore Workers Union was headed by Communist Party member Jack Hall
, one of the Hawai`i Smith Act defendants
. The ILWU international union was headed by Communist Party member Harry Bridges
. The ILWU controlled the Hawai`i Democratic Party. The “revolution of 1954” elections put Hawai`i Democrats in control of the Territorial Legislature ending 52 years of rule by the Republican “Haole-Hawaiian alliance.”
Introducing Black Moods
, editor John Edgar Tidwell recounts Davis’ numerous Communist Party affiliations and then writes:
“I believe the actual reason for his departure for Hawai`i is rooted in his capitulation to the government pressure of McCarthyism. Davis’s move should not be misconstrued as either a retreat from the struggle for social justice and racial equality or an abrogation of social responsibility; he merely changed the venue, the site of conflict.”
“Davis’s initial contacts with Hawai`i all had extremely strong ILWU ties. Paul Robson’s own Hawai`i acquaintances, which he passed on to Davis, insured that “when I came over, one of the first things that I got involved with — well, I met all the ILWU brass, Jack Hall and all of them, and I went — they had both of us over to various functions for them — Harriet Bouslog
(ILWU lawyer recruited by Bridges who defended the Smith Act case) was also a good friend” (Davis 1986a, 5:29-30). Davis soon realized that he had arrived at a very important moment in Hawai`i labor history. The huge International Longshoreman’s Workers Union (ILWU) strike was imminent, pitting labor against the Big Five. For Davis, this was the kind of political ferment and struggle between the powerful and powerless that he thrived upon….”
These contacts were arranged by leading Communist Party members on the mainland. Takara writes:
“Davis himself recalls that even before he left for Hawai’i, “(Paul Robeson) and (Harry) Bridges who was head of the ILWU and the CIO in the Pacific Region, suggested that I should get in touch with the Honolulu Record and see if I could do something for them.”
Obama won the State Senate seat in 1996 after being hand-picked by the outgoing incumbent, Alice Palmer
. Palmer was an executive board member of the US Peace Council, US affiliate of the World Peace Council, a communist front group
founded by Stalin in 1948 and funded by the USSR. She attended the Peace Council’s 1983 international meeting in communist-ruled Prague, Czechoslovakia. Palmer headed the Black Press Institute. An article the Black Press Institute submitted to the CPUSA newspaper Peoples Daily World
, described Palmer in 1986 attending the 27th Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union
and coming away “favorably impressed”.
The Honolulu Record
was founded and edited from 1948-58 by Koji Ariyoshi
a Smith Act defendant and Communist Party member who worked with Mao Zedong in China during WW2. It was financed by payments from all Hawai`i ILWU locals. The Record
played an integral role in the transformation of organized labor into political power resulting in the Democrats’ takeover of the Hawai`i territorial legislature.
Two years after the Record
folded, the Dunhams arrived in Honolulu. They quickly became friends with Frank Marshall Davis. Stanley Ann Dunham met Barack Obama Sr in a Russian language class
at the University of Hawai`i.
For Stanley Ann, her new relationship with Barack Obama and weekend discussions seemed to be, in part, a logical extension of long coffeehouse sessions in Seattle and the teachings of Wichterman and Foubert. The forum now involved graduate students from the University of Hawai`i. They spent weekends listening to jazz, drinking beer and debating politics and world affairs.
The self-assured and opinionated Obama spoke with a voice so deep that “he made James Earl Jones seem like a tenor,” said Neil Abercrombie, a Democratic congressman from Hawai`i who was part of those regular gatherings.
While Obama was impatient and energized, Stanley Ann, whom Abercrombie described as “the original feminist,” was endlessly patient but quietly passionate in her arguments. She was the only woman in the group.
Abercrombie is described by Hawaii Reporter
editor Malia Zimmerman as “D-Hezbollah
” for his weakness on terror and anti-Israel record in Congress. Today he represents Honolulu in the US Congress and is a member of the Socialist-founded
Congressional Progressive Caucus.
In Dreams, Obama relates that during his years at Honolulu’s elite Punahou School, he sought out his grandfather’s friend Frank Marshall Davis in “the house with the wobbly porch and the low-pitched roof.” (p 89-98)
Obama describes Frank as preparing him to attend college — (“What had Frank called college? An advanced degree in compromise.”) — in a political way:
“You’ve got to go. I’m just telling you to keep your eyes open. Stay awake.”
Frank describes “the price of admission”:
“Leaving your race at the door. Leaving your people behind….You’re not going to college to get educated. You’re going to get trained….They’ll train you to forget what you already know. They’ll train you so good, you’ll start believing what they tell you about equal opportunity and the American way and all that shit.”
And then Frank pronounces the modern version of the one key concept which the Democratic Party, under slavery, segregation, and civil rights, has sought to ingrain in the mind of every black person:
“You may be a well-trained, well-paid nigger, but you’re a nigger just the same.”
A few days later Obama left Hawai`i for Occidental College in Los Angeles.
The world of Frank Marshall Davis no longer exists. When Obama got to college, instead of finding “compromise” he found it overrun with leftists. The Soviet Union is gone. Bereft of Moscow gold
, the Communist Party is a shadow of its former self, “wedded to lost hopes”. Mercer Island is now home to real revolutionaries — billionaire Microsoft founders Bill Gates and Paul Allen. Obama’s mother died in 1995. She spent most of her latter years establishing micro credit banking
in Indonesia and other countries so the poorest third world women could become independent small businesspersons, not socialist slaves.
As he grew and changed, Barack Obama seems to have learned to discard and look down upon the actions and attitudes of the family members he has grown up with, searching for something superior in which to believe. Only his long-absent father seems to have inspired the dreams of his adulthood. That his father has left behind a published record of an embrace of communist policies
may or may not have played a role in Obama’s embrace of his father’s African identity and his literary embrace of his father’s dreams.
Certainly, socialists and leftists have flocked to embrace Obama’s candidacy. His campaign even hosts a page
for Marxists/socialists/communists for Obama, albeit with a disclaimer at the bottom. And the Communist Party USA backs Obama’s candidacy
What remains from Marxism in America is a desire to appropriate the wealth of some and distribute it to those who did not earn it in the name of “fairness,” and the arrogant belief that politically correct ideology denotes superiority and the right to wield political power.
Marx theorized a broad uprising of the proletarian masses to create a socialist society. Later American theorists like Frank Marshall Davis saw blacks as a revolutionary vanguard. In advanced countries, followers of Marx have devolved into Gramscian
propagandists. Arrogant nihilists, they seek not to lead, but to confirm their false sense of superiority to themselves by spreading confusion and doubt.
They may await a new leader who fancies himself Nietzsche’s Übermensch
— and tells them “we are the ones we have been waiting for.”