Politics & Policy

Communism for Kids

The march of the New Marxists goes on, now with children's literature.

If you’ve been wondering what to get for your favorite child this non-denominational Christmas, a Teutonic author of kid lit is here to help.

Kreuzberg-based performance artist and writer Bini Adamczak’s 2004 Kommunismus: Kleine Geschichte, wie endlich alles anders wird will be appearing soon in English translation, according to The New Inquiry. The children’s book tells of a series of struggles by a ragtag group against a powerful and multifarious foe — like the Harry Potter series, but without a Voldemort: “In my book there is no evil character,” Adamczak tells Critical Theory. “However, the process of reification is represented in the coming to life of things: chairs, for example, or factories. Even though they are made by people they become independent and act on their own. But even the factories are not simply evil but act under conditions (of the market) that they can not chose. Sometimes they even feel sad and have to cry.”

So it’s like Beauty and the Beast — everyday objects becoming animated? Not exactly. Adamczak specializes in political and queer theory, and her book unites these two strains in a way kids are sure to love. “Everybody in the book is somehow female,” Adamczak tells us, “but there are as many different shades of femininity as there are people.” According to a biographical sketch, the author is “an unstable alliance of everyday reproduction modes, unwanted heritages and quarrelsome spectres, such as deconstructivist feminisms and the orthodox critique of value.”

Kommunismus will be just one among many works of resurgent Marxism that have hit our shores recently. The free market’s roaring reception of Thomas Piketty’s Capital In the 21st Century this summer clearly gave new life to the old Marxist saw that capitalism leads inevitably to the immiseration of the laboring classes, but the idea has been out there since at least Occupy Wall Street, and it’s evident in blue America’s gradual transition from union-dominated politics to direct rule by community organizers. None of this is making the poor any less poor, of course. Marxism never actually does that. But as parents know, you can never guess what weird old thing from the forgotten past the kids will get into. It hasn’t hurt that Piketty’s scholarship was so widely praised across the spectrum (though read this recent critique by George Mason University professor Phil Magness before you close the book on r > g).

An English excerpt from Kommunismus will show why Critical Theory writer Eugene Wolters is “pretty ecstatic” about the upcoming translation:

The people return to their factories. Only, now, they don’t make what the factories want, they make what they want to make themselves. And to show that the factory belongs to those who work in it, they hang little black-and-red flags out of the factory’s windows. Every morning the people sit down together in a big circle and discuss how they want to work that day. Each person can choose what he or she most wants to do, and everyone is allowed to do everything. There are no more bosses. It will take some considerable time for everybody to be really able to do everything: bend metal, hammer nails, and think. Because of course, it’s easier in some ways to only ever do one thing. Yet, little by little, the people learn. And it isn’t all that long before the first iron comes out of the factory. The irons now are all made with a great deal of love and care. Each one looks a little different to the others. You can even find tiny red hearts and little black stars painted on some of them.

Eventually, when enough irons have been gathered together, the iron-making people decide that it’s now time to bring the irons to the marketplace. They have made far too many to use themselves. And, since there are no longer any sales-people in society, the iron-making people choose two of their own who shall go to the marketplace. It’s agreed that, next time, it will be others who are allowed to go, so that everybody gets a turn.

In the morning, the two iron-making people who were chosen to be iron-sales-people for the day get up and go to market with the irons.

It’s always tempting to get sucked into the fascinating boredom of Marxist dialectic. In this case the author seems to be setting up the story for some kind of reversal wherein the apparent utopia turns out to be false and another start must be made toward the immanentization of true communism — which, like the English-language edition of Adamczak’s book, is always right around the corner but never quite gets here. Since applied Marxism has to date produced nothing but violence, there is plenty of material for stories where things don’t work out. Google translates the book’s title as Communism: A Short History, like finally everything will be different, and if that slightly blasé tone comes across in the original German, it suggests a kind of millennial “whatever” attitude toward the promises of the past. Commies are always sure they won’t get fooled again.

Adamczak is part of a rising group of neo-Marxists including the founders of the print magazine Jacobin, “self-taught Marxist political economist” Benjamin Kunkel, slovenly Slovenian Slavoj Žižek, and Marxist geographer David Harvey. You can find them hovering in spirit over the Occupy movement, venturing further out on the equality spectrum than Piketty, and observing with interest the ascendancy of faux-populists like Elizabeth Warren — though they probably don’t want anybody to notice their interest, because people like Warren are lukewarm Mensheviks to the true believers. (Then again there are still other true believers who say Menshevism was the road not taken that would have produced real communism, if only Trotsky had not been killed, or this one hadn’t murdered that one, or the other one had not disappeared so many people who failed to cheer for him loudly enough, or a few too many million enemies of the revolution had not starved to death, and so on.) Most of the New Marxists don’t seem to have a very deep familiarity with the master’s writings or what the first few generations of his followers did with those writings. But, like teenagers playing around with an old book of incantations during an all-night party at a spooky house, they don’t really need to understand the text in order to cause a lot of trouble.

Since kids by definition have no experience of the horror of history, they are — like the Marxist Millennials we were hearing about a few months back — the only possible audience for this kind of message. But it’s kind of hard to see young readers finding much of interest in these stories about people making nails, or the plug-ugly illustrations. (Though it is nice to see the Marxist tradition of making products nobody wants is still alive.) A roundup of Stalinist children’s books in the UK Guardian last year contained a punchier excerpt from Nikolai Bukharin’s 1920 The ABC of Communism: “The salvation of the young mind and the freeing of it from the noxious reactionary beliefs of their parents is one of the highest aims of the proletarian government.”

No parents. So it’s like A Series of Unfortunate Events, except Count Olaf — a redistributionist if ever there was one — is the hero.

— Tim Cavanaugh is news editor of National Review Online. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook.

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