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Communism for Kids

Day by day, it becomes harder to tell parody from reality. If I told you that a major press was publishing a book called Communism for Kids, would you believe me? After due investigation, I can confirm that the title does exist, and that it is deadly serious. Even more remarkable, it comes from a very respectable publisher, namely MIT Press—yes, that MIT. (I cannot presently confirm suggestions of such possible future MIT titles as Sure, Johnny, You Should Take Candy From the Guy in the Van.) While we might like to attribute this project to temporary insanity, it does reflect some larger and really troubling currents in U.S. political discourse.

Communism for Kids is the work of Bini Adamczak, “a Berlin-based social theorist and artist” heavily involved in “queer theory.” When it originally appeared in German, the book was titled Kommunismus: Kleine Geschichte, wie Endlich Alles Anders Wird—roughly, “Communism: A Little Story, How Finally Everything Will Be Different”—without the explicit provocation of being aimed at children. In fact, the book is a simplified, user-friendly account of Marxist theory, illustrated with cartoons. At its heart are a series of case studies in pseudo-fairy tale language, where people explore various economic arrangements before settling on utopian communism.

Somewhere along the line, MIT Press decided to market it “for kids,” inspiring some confusion in the process. Amazon lists it as a children’s book intended for grades 3–7, although also suggesting a much more realistic age range of “18 and up.” Conceivably, the press deliberately chose the new title as a marketing gimmick in order to drive controversy and thereby increase sales. Alternatively, on the basis of their experience in Cambridge, Mass., they decided that there actually were enough play groups that would be delighted to work through Adamczak’s scenarios.

Either way, the book is targeted at “youngsters” broadly defined, and it has attracted some amazingly laudatory blurbs. Celebrity academic theorist Fredric R. Jameson remarks that this “delightful little book may be helpful in showing youngsters there are other forms of life and living than the one we currently ‘enjoy.’” Oh, the lowering severity that the professor bestows on us when we dare “enjoy” anything in our present monstrous dystopia! Novelist Rachel Kushner thinks that Adamczak’s is precisely the book we need at a time when global capitalism has brought us “more inequality than has ever been experienced by humans on earth” (which is a precise inversion of actual historical reality).

Assume for the sake of argument that Communism for Kids is not in fact designed to propagandize third graders, but is rather intended for teens and young adults. Is that not enough of a scandal in its own right? Somewhere in the book, might it not be acknowledged that communism is the bloodiest ideological system in human history? Solely measured by the number of his victims, Mao Zedong alone leaves Hitler in the dust. Could the book not mention such monuments to communist utopia as Kolyma and Vorkuta, among the largest and cruelest concentration camps that have ever existed?

Should it not be said that a solid scholarly consensus now accepts that this record of violence and bloodshed was a logical and inevitable consequence of the communist model itself, rather than a tragic betrayal or deformation? Evil Joseph Stalin did not distort the achievements and goals of Noble Vladimir Lenin: rather, he fulfilled them precisely. Pursuing the “for kids” framework, should we not see some equally cheery volumes such as A Day at the Gulag, and even (for middle schoolers) Natasha Is Shot as a Class Enemy? How about Springtime for Stalin?

As an intellectual exercise, just imagine that a major U.S. press offered a youth-oriented book on some other comparably bloody or violent system, such as National Socialism or white supremacy. The book might contain vignettes showing how young people at first learned to accept racial mixing and miscegenation. Eventually, though, they would realize the deeper underlying evils of Semitic influence. Or to paraphrase the advertising copy for Communism for Kids, such a little book would discuss a different kind of National Socialism, “one that is true to its ideals and free from authoritarianism.” Not of course that the publisher would actually be advocating such a thing, God forbid; it would rather be encouraging debate about the options available to contemporary youth. What reasonable person would object to such free discussion?

Even to describe such a project betrays its intrinsic lunacy. The book would not be treated seriously at any stage; it would not be accepted, and if it were, the press’s personnel would resign en masse rather than be involved in its actual publication. The press itself would likely not survive the debacle, and nor should it.

How, then, is that hypothetical instance different from Communism for Kids? Put simply, a great many educated Americans believe that totalitarianism of the left is utterly different from that of the right, and that communism should not be placed in the same toxic category as Nazism or fascism. According to this delusion, Americans who turned to communism through the decades were stubborn idealists, in stark contrast to those monsters who succumbed to racist or fascist theories. For all its possible failings, communism was not evil of itself. To misquote Chesterton, communism was not an ideal that was tried and found wanting, but rather was found difficult and therefore left untried. One day, though, when the stars align, we will do it right!

Such a benevolent view of communism is appallingly false and betrays a near total ignorance of the history of the past century. When we treat communism with tolerance or levity, we are scoffing at literally tens of millions of murdered victims. This is a disgusting moral idiocy, for which we must blame our educational institutions, and our mass media.

For a publisher like MIT Press to reinforce that view, to trivialize the communist historical record, is unpardonable. Have they no decency?

Philip Jenkins is the author of The Many Faces of Christ: The Thousand Year Story of the Survival and Influence of the Lost Gospels [1]. He is distinguished professor of history at Baylor University and serves as co-director for the Program on Historical Studies of Religion in the Institute for Studies of Religion.

33 Comments (Open | Close)

33 Comments To "Communism for Kids"

#1 Comment By BemusedOne On April 10, 2017 @ 1:15 am

This actually made me smile.Good to see good ole fashioned cynical capitalism getting ready to make a killing(in more ways than one).

Suggested Future Titles in this series could include:

What does the People’s Internal Affairs Commision do?

The No Good,Rotten day and How Trump is in some way responsible for it.

My Dad is a Backslider.

and the Future Kid’s Classic, The Berenstain Bears Join Antifas.

Real sales Potential here,Glad MIT is on top
of this.

#2 Comment By jamie On April 10, 2017 @ 2:18 am

Or to paraphrase the advertising copy for Communism for Kids, such a little book would discuss a different kind of National Socialism, “one that is true to its ideals and free from authoritarianism.”

Isn’t this effectively the mission statement of the alt-right? They made a man president, while you wring your hands over some obscurity.

Such a benevolent view of communism is appallingly false and betrays a near total ignorance of the history of the past century. When we treat communism with tolerance or levity, we are scoffing at literally tens of millions of murdered victims

It’s called taking Communism “seriously, not literally.”

Disappointed you fail to make any of your arguments with actual citations of the work.

#3 Comment By Fran Macadam On April 10, 2017 @ 3:46 am

In case you haven’t noticed, taking leave of our senses has become a societal trend.

Communism, For Dummies? In every sense.

#4 Comment By EliteCommInc. On April 10, 2017 @ 5:00 am

Somewhere out there a is a critical theorist who isn’t wedded to advocating peculiar relational behavior. I just don’t know where.

One of the little discussed issues concerning critical theory of this nature is that its never posited against the realities of other systems and worse, critical theory political or otherwise should rest on a foundation of rhetorical discussion of fundamentals: classical, pre-modern, modern, etc.

Without that it’s Karl Marx’s dream minus the experimental tragedies of real life, you note.

#5 Comment By grumpy realist On April 10, 2017 @ 6:27 am

When Mr. Jenkins fumes as much about a children’s book called Christianity For Kids which fails to talk about the auto-de-fe, religious wars in Europe, the cynicism and fraud behind things like The Children’s Crusade….

Or when Mr. Jenkins is as upset about present children’s US history books which fail to mention the deliberate infecting of the Amerindian population through smallpox-infested blankets, or the Trail of Tears, well, then I’ll start to listen.

In other words, it’s a kid’s book. Stop being so hysterical about it.

#6 Comment By Ted W On April 10, 2017 @ 8:58 am

The author no doubt took a break from writing about illiberal atmosphere on college campuses to attack people expressing ideas with which he disagrees.

#7 Comment By Greg On April 10, 2017 @ 9:03 am

Wonder if it mentions that early Christian communities held their goods in common?

#8 Comment By Michael Honohan On April 10, 2017 @ 9:38 am

The downside of the American Right is they will never understand that the word Communism and Socialism have real meanings and existed before Marx. Both have their roots in primitive societies and religions like Christianity.

Men like Stalin, Hitler, Castro, etc, used the words to cover up the evil of totalitarian authoritarian regimes that NEVER practiced anything remotely resembling communism or socialism. It was not even Marxism as Marxism rejects authoritarian government in favor of rule by the working class.

Over here in America, the right wing used their false communism/socialism to allow them to brand any form of human cooperation, especially those the reduce corporate profits, as the same kind of evil.

I am a libertarian socialism, aka an anarcho communist. I make no apologies to those on the right who are so intellectually hobbled they think the term are contrary. They are not. True socialism and true communism cannot possibly exist in the guise of a central government. American (corporatist) book publishers have defrauded a nation into believing that socialism and communism are linked to government. You read “definitions” as the means of production is controlled by government or the land is owned by the government. Fraud. Socialism is the cooperation of the members of a community; communism is a condition where the land is owned by no one.

Marx observed that the “savage tribe of North America” live by the notion of “from each, according ability; to each, according to need. It should be noted that you can’t find any government in that.

I applaud MIT for making the attempt to educate young people toward socio-economic ideas that have been taboo due to the fraud of the “capitalists”, a fraud that lead the the Federal Reserve and the crony capitalism in our government.

You capitalist have more love the China than any American Socialist or Communist I have ever known.

#9 Comment By Chris On April 10, 2017 @ 9:51 am

I will continue to believe that growing inequality will make communism/socialism attractive to the next generation. I have teenage children and they amaze me on how “aware” they are that economic forces are stacked against them. All we talk about are austerity measures and that we cannot pay for services that the baby boomer generation benefited from when they were coming of age.

Raising the age of Social Security, the decline in defined pension programs, globalism, neoliberalism, decline in unions, a mortgage-like payment for higher education, tax cuts for the wealthy, automation, wage stagnation, and lower home ownership are all tied to this misery that, in 2016, led us to Trump. The underclass have grown in numbers while the middle class is shrinking. Meanwhile the wealthy is getting wealthier. Anytime we point this out…we get the “you cannot create wealth by dividing wealth”. OK…conversation stopped. What do you get instead? An increase curiosity for communism/socialism.

Tell me that I am wrong….

#10 Comment By David Naas On April 10, 2017 @ 11:04 am

Well, why the hell not?

We already have “Idiocracy for Morons”. (AKA House and Senate ‘Rules’.)

How about “A Children’s Garden of the Marquis de Sade”?

Or even, echoing Bernard Shaw, “The Intelligent Woman’s Guide to Trumpism.”

When reality becomes un-satirical, it’s a good thing the 21st Century is still young. (Just a teen-ager.)

#11 Comment By Philly guy On April 10, 2017 @ 12:00 pm

Yet, on this very site Rod Dreher has lamented the conservatism of Communism compared to our present day progressive agenda.

#12 Comment By Gail Finke On April 10, 2017 @ 12:16 pm

“How Finally Everything Will Be Different” — yeah, if we all become Communists things will be DIFFERENT, all right… but not in the way this book seems to suggest!

#13 Comment By KD On April 10, 2017 @ 12:16 pm

Two, Four, Six, Eight, who we gonna liquidate?

Go Stalin!

#14 Comment By chipshot On April 10, 2017 @ 12:20 pm

There will always be cultural propaganda directed toward the working classes that guide them into thinking that any sense of community in an economic sense is “wrong”. Its what keeps those on top on top. Any attempt to right the the moral wrong of some born into riches and others into rags through no fault of their own is negated as a thought crime.

Communist perspective is not all bad. The idea that we owe it to ourselves as a society to elevate everyone above the daily strife and animal needs is a good one. We should all be more than just workers, eaters, poopers and fornicators. We should all have the time and the opportunity to learn how to be more. This is a societal obligation. To discuss it in these terms is not laughable.

It is our responsibility as parents to raise our kids and make them intellectually strong enough so that they welcome divergent ideas, that they can then incorporate into their own wider perspectives. It is only when a diverse set of ideas is allowed to compete, that the best mix of them can be allowed to flourish.

#15 Comment By WAB On April 10, 2017 @ 1:45 pm

This kind of ideological bait seemingly just never gets old to some. It has become so commonplace on TAC that one can pretty much clock with an egg-timer some new phenomenon, no matter how obscure, to gin up outrage among the self-satisfied cognoscenti. It’s not just TAC; it’s everywhere.

And in the end it simply fails to thrill or register in the same way that any bad habit does; like a sexual addiction it inevitably becomes empty and boring. After a while the reader is trapped, listening to yet another complaint in an endless stream of cultural or political outrage, and the only sane response is, “Who the hell cares?”. The mad obsessions of each writer cloth themselves in some carefully constructed intellectual framework founded on some footnote of Western philosophy or history or religion that interprets the endless variety of human habits and curiosities as eruptions of heresy; “Get your damn dirty hands off my theology, you stinking nominalist!” or “What are you? A Commie?!”; substitute politics or culture or pizza.

Basically, it’s just the weaponization of ideas in a never-ending battle of hypocrisies. Each side drawing up it’s siege engines to throw rocks at the battlements of castles just as epistemically shaky as that of the defenders. I yearn for the headline among these packs of barking dogs that asks the one question that is seemingly never asked, “What If We’ve Got It All Wrong?”.

“Nothing can be more unphilosophical than to be positive or dogmatical on any subject; and even if excessive scepticism could be maintained it would not be more destructive to all just reasoning and inquiry. When men are the most sure and arrogant, they are commonly the most mistaken, and have there given reins to passion, without that proper deliberation and suspense which can alone secure them from the grossest absurdities.”

#16 Comment By EliteCommInc. On April 10, 2017 @ 1:58 pm

“Men like Stalin, Hitler, Castro, etc, used the words to cover up the evil of totalitarian authoritarian regimes that NEVER practiced anything remotely resembling communism or socialism. It was not even Marxism as Marxism rejects authoritarian government in favor of rule by the working class.”

Well,

at least you got the point. And while Marx may press for a non central authority. Ultimately one must exist to enforce the equality and distribution of all things elevating.

I think Marx would contend that leaving this up to human nature is a nonstarter.

Christianity does not advocate for any level of forced distribution or redistribution of resources.

#17 Comment By Garry Kelly On April 10, 2017 @ 2:05 pm

Man, the comment section here on TAC is going doownhill fast.

#18 Comment By Will Harrington On April 10, 2017 @ 2:11 pm

Chris

You aren’t wrong, but this will not be achieved through Marx’s vision, but through technological advancement. I, personally too cynical to think that we can navigate these political and economic rapids and reach a workable guaranteed basic income. We are approaching an energy bottleneck that has to be overcome and a political system that is invested in the status quo and wants no change (your wealth can not be created by breaking it up, what an idiotic statement!). There is also a basic question of purpose. We have seen that people really need certain things. Among them a sense of purpose, usually derived from work and providing for family, a tribe to belong to, and non-state mediating institutions. Socialism has historically been corrosive to all of these basic human psychological needs, but National Socialism was nothing but socialism that tried to meet these needs in an authoritarian government system, just as Communism tried to use the state as a substitute to meet all these needs. Both were bloody nightmares. I am far from confident that, in entering a future where there are far more people than jobs to go around, we can thread a needle between these two nightmares, dodge the looming possibility (present reality) of corporate oligarchy and create a reasonably benevolent solution.

#19 Comment By Siarlys Jenkins On April 10, 2017 @ 2:11 pm

I am outraged that a petit bourgeois intellectual would repackage “queer theory” in a veneer of what he calls “communism.”

Yet, on this very site Rod Dreher has lamented the conservatism of Communism compared to our present day progressive agenda.

No, Rod has never lamented the conservatism of Communism. He has lamented our present day progressive agenda. Some of us who could facetiously be described as Bolsheviks have then highlighted the conservatism of Communism on many so-called “cultural war” issues.

Remember that after making her confession of faith as a Roman Catholic, Dorothy Day told the priest who supervised her conversion “I still want the same things the communists want: from each according to their abilities, to each according to their needs.

#20 Comment By WellRedMan On April 10, 2017 @ 2:56 pm

Wonder if it mentions that early Christian communities held their goods in common?

If only I had a dollar for every time someone attempted to equate the voluntary, free will teachings of Christianity with the coercive takings of the godless State.

#21 Comment By DRK On April 10, 2017 @ 2:56 pm

Not to worry. Utilizing the “look inside” feature on Amazon, I read several snippets of that book; it is extremely verbose and dry. Not a great translation from the German, perhaps?

It’s certainly not written for children, cartoons or not. Lines like, “Would communism subsume the particular under the universal? Or would it simply break with the compulsion to identify, and set free the nonidentical by suspending the rule of blind averages?” wouldn’t reach out and grab the typical teenager, I suspect.

Really, given that any kid curious about communism can find reams of information about it online, I doubt that this book will sway many people either way.

Side note: On page 94, the author does mention Stalin’s crimes with disapproval. He was No True Communist it would appear.

#22 Comment By connecticut farmer On April 10, 2017 @ 3:45 pm

Casting about for something to believe in after rejecting that ol’ time religion, the intelligentsia settled on a materialist “religion”. Hence the words of the late French journalist Raymond Aron, who described Marxism as “the opiate of the intellectuals.”

#23 Comment By Big Jilm On April 10, 2017 @ 4:19 pm

The American Conservative – where a book about communism for kids is wrong, but the right of a pedophilia advocate to speak at colleges should never be challenged.

#24 Comment By Dan On April 10, 2017 @ 4:30 pm

“Russia will spread her errors, (communism) throughout the world provoking wars and persecution of the Church.”

Apparition of Our Lady of Fatima, 1917

#25 Comment By Ricardo On April 10, 2017 @ 5:23 pm

Marx had very little to say about communism. The vast majority of his ink was spilled on insightful descriptions of how capitalism works. I also consider myself a libertarian socialist with far less ideological attachment to government than conservatism of any stripe. Capitalism requires a massive judicial and police apparatus to preserve inequality. Imagining alterative systems that are largely voluntary is the work before all of us

#26 Comment By Russell Seitz On April 10, 2017 @ 6:12 pm

The long implosion of the humanities at MIT remains a stern reminder that we leave materialism to the Marxists only at our cultural peril

#27 Comment By Chipshot On April 10, 2017 @ 6:38 pm

Very well said, Ricardo. We should never think that we are at the end of history, especially in regards to our optimal political or social structures. I am sure the feudal kings thought so, but were ultimately dissuaded of the notion.

#28 Comment By A Little Weird On April 10, 2017 @ 7:45 pm

Sounds like the market is getting primed for my magnum opus: “Fascism for Kidz!”

#29 Comment By EliteCommInc. On April 10, 2017 @ 10:45 pm

” Capitalism requires a massive judicial and police apparatus to preserve inequality. Imagining alterative systems that are largely voluntary is the work before all of us . . .”

I am unclear what this means. But it suggests that there are deliberate intrusions to maintain disparity. Since this is a problem in all systems human, I am hesitant to buy in.

Disparity is not some unique attribute of capitalism anymore than a criminal justice system is.

In the capitalist system such dealings would not be capitalism in nature. But I would agree that we should decrease as much false interference to a fair system. Given that capitalism has provided the most abundant wealth distributuon than any other system, minus the unfair and dishonest dealings that stifle some.

If I recall Communist Russia and Socialist Sweden still maintain a police force and judicial system — and graft is still an issue. So I wouldn’t reject capitalism because humans are dishonest — humans can be whatever the system.

#30 Comment By Clifford On April 11, 2017 @ 9:30 am

I can’t wait for the ‘Torture Me Elmo the Class Enemy’ doll, due out any day now…

#31 Comment By Steve Abernathy On April 11, 2017 @ 5:58 pm

Perhaps read the book before panning it.

#32 Comment By M Mayes On April 19, 2017 @ 9:23 pm

There’s a website, “Peacetime” in the Communist States ( communiststats.com ) designed specifically to reach youth in general. The (hyperbolic) claim is that it teaches the entire Black Book of Communism in 2 minutes’ perusal. If you want to fight back against the schools’ propaganda, go to every high school, community college, university, coffee shop within driving range and post the following flyer– [2] –designed to lead students to that “2-minute Black Book.”

#33 Comment By Code Brown On May 29, 2017 @ 12:30 pm

The fact that our author didn’t know or care to find out what he was attacking before condemning it makes this article an excellent critique of what passes for conservatism today.

The book, by the way, is an intro to and critique of communism in layman’s terms. It’s not an argument for it. Somebody just put a provocative title on it to get publicity, and it worked.