A Pattern of Socialist Associations – Obama’s Supreme Court Nominee, Elena Kagan (the Early Years)

Obama File 105 in New Zeal

President Barack Obama’s nomination to the U.S. Supreme court, Elena Kagan, has been sold to the public as a “moderate” – yes, a little liberal leaning, but moderate none the less.


In this first of a series of posts, I look at Elena Kagan’s patterns of association.

If Elena Kagan is a moderate, why then has she long associated with people connected to three interrelated organizations – the Communist Party USA, the Democratic Socialist Organizing Committee/ Democratic Socialists of America and the far left Washington D.C. think tank, Institute for Policy Studies?

Raised on New Yorks’ Upper West Side, Elena Kagan’s parents were both politically active in a place and era where politics was dominated by the Democratic, Socialist and Communist parties.

Elena’s mother Gloria Kagan campaigned to elect far left Democratic Congressman, William Fitts Ryan. Her older brother Marc Kagan was active in the socialist influenced New Directions movement in the Transport Workers Union. When one of its leaders, Roger Toussaint, was elected union president in 2000, Mr. Kagan became his chief of staff, until a falling out occurred in 2003.

Marc Kagan’s former comrade and boss, Roger Toussaint is prominent in the communist initiated Coalition of Black Trade Unionists, which now led by D.S.A. member William Lucy. He also serves in the leadership of the Center for the Study of Working Class Life at Stony Brook University, alongside Ray Markey from the Communist Party offshoot Committees of Correspondence and D.S.A. leaders Gerry Hudson, Mark Levinson, Stanley Aronowitz and Frances Fox Piven, co-originator of the infamous Cloward – Piven Strategy.

Elena Kagan would later dedicate her Princeton history thesis on socialism in New York City to her activist brother.

I would like to thank my brother Marc whose involvement in radical causes led me to explore the history of American radicalism and in the hope of clarifying my own political ideas.

Kagan first became interested in politics in high school and worked as a legislative intern for Rep. Ted Weiss, a Democrat from New York, during the summer of 1978, and as deputy press secretary for Rep. Liz Holtzman in the summer after her junior year.

The late Ted Weiss was very far to the left. In 1978 Congressmen Ted Weiss, John Burton, Ron Dellums (D.S.A. member), John Conyers (D.S.A. supporter) , Don Edwards, Charles Rangel and others, attended a meeting organized for the Soviet front World Peace Council on Capitol Hill.

W.P.C. delegation members included President Romesh Chandra (Communist Party of India), KGB Colonel Radomir Bogdanov and Oleg Kharkhardin of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union International Department.

In 1981 another World Peace Council delegation led by Romesh Chandra toured the U.S. to publicize the “nuclear freeze” then being promoted by Leonid Brezhnev.

This group met with several far left Congressmen at the Capitol, including Weiss, John Conyers, George Crockett, Ron Dellums, Don Edwards and Mervyn Dymally.

During one of the meetings in these Congressmen’s offices an official of the Communist Party USA reportedly was present and made a speech recommending that the “peace movement” unite in supporting the cause of several terrorist groups including the PLO and the communist guerillas in EI Salvador

Weiss was also close to the Institute for Policy Studies. In 1983 I.P.S. celebrated its 20th anniversary with an April 5, reception at the National Building Museum attended by approximately 1,000 I.P.S. staffers and former staff.

The Congressional I.P.S. committee members included Ted Weiss, Philip Burton , George Crockett, Ron Dellums , Tom Harkin and Leon Panetta, later appointed by President Obama to head the Central Intelligence Agency.

Liz Holtzman is also way left of center. In the late 1980s and early 1980′s the Marxist based Democratic Socialist Organizing Committee, or D.S.O.C. (later to become Democratic Socialists of America, or D.S.A.) was highly influential inside the New York Democratic Party and city government – even Mayor David Dinkins was a member.

On August 6 1993, a rally to commemorate Hiroshima Day was held in Dag Hammarskjold Park, New York. The rally was designed “to kickoff a national campaign to collect a million signatures supporting a Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, commend president Clinton for extending the nuclear testing moratorium, urge renewal of the Non Proliferation Treaty, urge swift and complete nuclear disarmament.”

The event was sponsored by the radical Metro New York Peace Action Council.

Speakers included Liz Holtzman, then NYC Comptroller, leftist Congressmen Charles Rangel and Edolphus Towns, Leslie Cagan of Committees of Correspondence and the Cuba Information Project, Congressmen Major Owens (D.S.A. member) and Jerry Nadler (D.S.O.C. member) NYC City Councilor Ruth Messinger (D.S.O.C./ D.S.A. member) and David McReynolds, a leader of the Socialist Party USA and also a D.S.A. member.

Nearly 5 years later, in March 1998, McReynolds delivered a eulogy at a memorial service for Chicago D.S.A. activist Saul Mendelson. Fellow D.S.A. comrades Carl Marx Shier and Deborah Meier also spoke, as did then Illinois State Senator Barack Obama.

At Princeton Elena Kagan’s political beliefs emerged in an opinion piece she wrote for the Daily Princetonian a few weeks after Ronald Reagan’s victorious 1980 election night. Kagan described her disappointment at Liz Holtzman’s Congressional loss (Kagan had worked on her campaign) and her own “liberal views”. “I absorbed … liberal principles early,” she said. “More to the point, I have retained them fairly intact to this day.”

In the column, Kagan also expressed her despair the state of the political left at the time, bemoaning the lack of “real Democrats — not the closet Republicans that one sees so often these days” and the success of “anonymous but Moral Majority-backed … avengers of ‘innocent life’ and the B-1 Bomber, these beneficiaries of a general turn to the right and a profound disorganization on the left.

At Princeton, Elena Kagan’s law school room mate was Sarah Walzer, the daughter of Princeton social sciences professor Michael Walzer.

Coincidentally Michael Walzer was a leader of the Democratic Socialist Organizing Committee, both nationally and on campus..

In 1990 Michael Walzer was identified as a member of Democratic Socialists of America.

Professor Walzer was also upset at Ronald Reagan’s famous victory

Daily Princetonian, March 4, 1981

In her undergraduate thesis at Princeton entitled “To the Final Conflict: Socialism in New York City, 1900-1933,” Kagan lamented the decline of socialism in the country as “sad” for those who still hope to “change America.” She asked why the “greatness” of socialism was not reemerging as a major political force:

In our own times, a coherent socialist movement is nowhere to be found in the United States. Americans are more likely to speak of a golden past than of a golden future, of capitalism’s glories than of socialism’s greatness. Why, in a society by no means perfect, has a radical party never attained the status of a major political force? Why, in particular, did the socialist movement never become an alternative to the nation’s established parties?

“Americans are more likely to speak of a golden past than of a golden future, of capitalism’s glories than of socialism’s greatness,” she wrote in her thesis. “Conformity overrides dissent; the desire to conserve has overwhelmed the urge to alter. Such a state of affairs cries out for explanation.”

Kagan called the story of the socialist movement’s demise “a sad but also a chastening one for those who, more than half a century after socialism’s decline, still wish to change America … In unity lies their only hope.”

Elena Kagan spent a year working on her 1981 thesis, under the direction of Princeton historian Sean Wilentz.

When news of the thesis recently sparked controversy, Wilentz came out in defense of his former student.

Said Wilentz “sympathy for the movement of people who were trying to better their lives isn’t something to look down on… Studying something doesn’t necessarily mean that you endorse it. It means you’re into it. That’s what historians do

Elena Kagan is about the furthest thing from a socialist. Period. And always had been. Period.”

Few would be more qualified to identify a socialist than Sean Wilentz

In May 1980, Princeton University’s Progressive Forum sponsored a May Day rally opposite the Firestone Library. An advertisement for the event in the Daily Princetonian, “Workers of Princeton unite for a May Day rally” named speakers as Sean Wilentz and Stanley Aronowitz – a prominent D.S.A. leader

Daily Princetonian, May 1, 1980

Today Sean Willentz serves on the board of Dissent magazine, which is effectively a mouthpiece for Democratic Socialists of America.

Dissent’s masthead is Marxist heavy and lists several well known D.S.A. affiliates including the late Irving Howe, Joanne Barkan, David Bensman, Mitchell Cohen, Maxine Phillips, Mark Levinson, Bogdan Denitch, Erazim Kohak, Deborah Meier, Harold Meyerson, Jo-Ann Mort, Carol O’Clearicain (NYC Finance Commissioner under David Dinkins) and Cornel West – a member of Barack Obama’s 2008 Black Advisory Council.

One of Dissent’s two editors is Elena Kagan’s old room mate’s Dad, Michael Walzer.

The other is Michael Kazin, an historian of the Communist Party and a veteran of the 1969 Venceremos Brigade to Cuba.

At Princeton, Elena Kagan won a fellowship to Oxford University, in England, where she studied “the history of British and European trade unionism.”

President Obama himself, has a long history with Democratic Socialists of America.

Is it possible that Elena Kagan shares similar associations?

Should she be asked some questions on the subject?
Loudon Obama File 104 here


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