Thursday, August 13, 2009

My Life as a Communist!

“Tell the truth!”

Sweat poured down my face.

“Are you or are you not a Communist!”

Well, okay it wasn’t quite like that. But it sure felt like it. The year was 1955. A popular show at the time was “I Led Three Lives”, the story of Herbert Philbrick, counter espionage agent for the FBI after infiltrating the Communist Party. This 8 year old loved the show and I was not alone. One of my classmates liked it too, and each week she and I would compare notes about what we saw and heard. What was really cool was they had special codes, and called each other comrade. So it was that our plan was hatched.

She and I would form our own Communist Party. It would be a secret organization of course. To keep our secrets we needed a code. We devised a crude letter replacement code that served beautifully. Then we set out to recruit other comrades into our secret organization. It was all great fun. Quietly we would pass messages to each other in code, and we called each other comrade.

Until that is, we were busted. The teacher for some reason was deeply concerned that her students were going around calling each other comrade. They determined soon enough that we were the ringleaders. After she had spoken with him first, the two of us were sent to the principal, with her following behind. Our interrogation began.

“Why are you calling each other Comrade? “

::Mumbling:: “We were just playing.”

“Did you hear this sort of talk at home? Do your parents call people ‘comrade?’ “ Imagine that. They wanted us to rat out our parents.

“No it was just a game. We saw it on television.” The teacher holds up a code sheet that had been passed.

“What is this?”

“ It’s a secret code we made up. It’s part of the game.”

“Do your parents play this game?”

“NO! IT’S OUR GAME!” We explain more fully about the television show and how they do this and we thought it was cool. We then get a half hour lecture on the evils of Communism. They call our parents where after getting home meant another lecture about not joining organizations we don’t know about and more evil’s of Communism.

So you are telling yourself, surely I learned my lesson, right? Well not exactly. I became curious about what it was about this communism was all about. We had classes on it of course. But the classes were prefaced with words like evil and dark and enemy. We also had bomb practice. The alarm would go off and all us kids would scramble under our desks covering our head. Yeah, that will sure protect us from a nuclear bomb. They used to interrupt programming daily on television too. "This is a test of the emergency broadcast system." They've started doing that again. I think it is stupid, more a device designed to keep the public on edge and frightened, and it fails in that, succeeding only to ruin the ending of some movies from time to time or knock out the punchline of a joke. Anyway, I needed more information. Daddy bought us a collection of books called Great Books of the Western World. It was a great collection of works by the great philosophers, scientists, economists, and authors of western literature. One work in the list was the collected works of Marx. So it was that I read Das Kapital by Marx. I guess I was around 14 at the time. Still curious, I went to the bookstore to purchase some writings by Lenin.

“Why are you buying this book?”

“I want to read it.”

“Does your mother know you are buying this book?”

“No, but I earned the money on my paper route and I’m always buying books I like.”

“Do your parents read Marx and Lenin?”

No, but how am I going to learn about it if I don’t read about it?”

“What is your home number?”

She calls momma who abruptly tells her I can buy what I want. Begrudgingly she sells me the book.

Many years later, I met my first Communist. He was with a traveling group of balalaika players from the Soviet Union. He did not have horns nor breathe fire, and in a few minutes of quiet conversation seemed quite ordinary. . Like most dreams of a political Shangri-la, Communism was thwarted by greed and desire to hold onto power. But my question is this. Can we really be so much better when we try to get a third grader to rat out their parents? Is it really democratic to give the third degree to an adolescent trying to buy a book? Are we so frail that reading the ideas of competing systems is considered dangerous?

In spite of them, I read their ideas, and found some that were good and some that were impractical. I am not a Communist. But I played one in the third grade;-)

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