Grand Dad was a Communist

8 Dec

Comrades Some Republicans say President Obama is a Communist. He’s not much of a Communist.

For real Communism consider Earl Browder, an ultimate Red Stater who took orders from Stalin and was covertly followed by both the FBI and the KGB. On the Communist party ticket, he ran twice for president against FDR. He made the cover of Time magazine. At the time, Browder’s popularity had been fueled by turmoil of the Great Depression.

While people may have understood and even respected him during those years, times did change. In changing times, his surviving family members mostly had to live uncomfortably with this unusual legacy, or else hide from it.

Granddaughter Laura Browder decided to write about it. But first she had to learn about it.

A professor of American studies at the University of Richmond, Browder had authored a book on the radical 1930s but always maintained her family’s privacy. Until recently, she hadn’t venture too deeply into the past of Earl Browder, a man she knew as a quiet visitor on Thanksgivings. Now she is probing his life and parting decades of silence.

“I was struck by the impossibility of finding definitive answers to the mysteries of the past and the desperate importance of trying anyway,” she wrote in a Nov. 23 issue of The Chronicle of Higher Education.

At Syracuse University, she found a trove of archival material that Earl Browder, then broke, had sold. Among his papers were family letters and photos, including a picture of Laura’s father as a child, posing in shorts while holding a real sickle and a real hammer.

Her father told her he had no recollection of the photo.

I wish Laura Browder luck with her project and hope it brings her family closer while promoting an understanding of things we don’t understand.

Her piece in the Chronicle made me ponder the idea of Communism in general, how its advocates went from philosophy to revolution, to inspired hope, to authoritarian brutality, to controlling half the world, to creating great fear and insecurity in the U.S., to finally becoming an utter failure and an almost laughable concept.

Oddly, it remains vital enough to be used as a political smear.

During the later part of the Cold War, the American preoccupation with Communism made me want to observe it. So I took a job in China, working as a low-level editor in the English language section of the government’s top news agency, Xinhua. On the plane over I spoke to a party man returning home.

His English was good. So was his suit. He was sharp and intelligent. Dapper and cool. He said he preferred a system where the government looked out for its people.

“You don’t seem the type that needs looking after,” I said.

“That’s true,” he answered. “I can take care of myself. I can survive under any system. But I have a brother. Without Communism he would be lost.”

I guess it’s a comforting idea to think one can never be lost.

My very first real reaction to upclose Communism was equally comforting. I walked into my office on the first day and an elderly Chinese woman handed me a fat envelope filled with cash. She said it was my pay for the month.

“But I haven’t done anything yet,” I said.

“You will.”

“Suppose I run away?”

“You won’t.”

Another good thing about Communism back in the mid-80s was you didn’t pay rent, or you paid very little. For the Chinese, almost all they earned was disposable income. I knew a young guy who blew his entire month’s salary on payday and managed to make it to the end of the month.

Under old Communism – as opposed to the new, market-based variety —  the Chinese didn’t worry about finding a job. One was assigned. That was good, unless the job was in some wasteland 2,000 miles from home and it was something you didn’t want to do. A woman I knew studied the Portuguese language in college and upon graduation was sent to Brazil to be a foreign correspondent. She knew nothing of journalism.

Things were easiest for those friendly with party bosses, even the minor ones. Conversely, offending a party boss could destroy your life, especially if the boss was a bad Communist. Where I worked, we knew who the bad and good Communists were. The bad Communists used their positions to get ahead and destroy their enemies. The good Communists volunteered to work holidays and cleaned the office (there were no janitors). The so-so Communists loved them.

In those days, powerful Communists used influence to get two-room apartments (a quantum leap from one room) and to score beer during summer shortages. Today they use influence to take over companies and become multi-millionaires.

Irony has yet to strike American Communists. Without power, influence or temptation they can remain pure. In the video below, Glenn Beck interviews an avuncular old man who probably resembles Laura Browder’s grandfather. For 40 years he has been the head of the American Communist Party, an organization about as visible as bad breath. He almost gets the best of Beck. Then the Communist, in an inadvertent knock against private property, takes a sip of Glenn Beck’s water. Watch Beck react.

 –By Lanny Morgnanesi

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One Response to “Grand Dad was a Communist”

  1. eurobrat December 9, 2012 at 8:27 pm #

    Thank you for saying that Obama is not much of a Communist. I grew up under a Communist government myself–my family had to leave because we were opposed to it–so I am no fan of Communism or a totalitarian gov’t myself…but I have to laugh every time someone calls the President a Communist.

    Like

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