When I was much younger, so much younger that I barely recall the event, an older cousin announced at the dinner table that he was a communist. All heck broke loose. We were at my grandparents’ house, as we often were in the summer. My grandmother lost her mind, and a big fight broke out. My grandparents were big Nixon people. Communists were not welcome! I suppose there were worse things he could have claimed to be, but like being a communist those things were not the sort of thing you brought up in polite society.
At the time, I remember wondering why he said such a thing. If you want to imagine that you’re some sort of communist, that is fine. Keep it to yourself. In the late ’60s, early ’70s it just was not the kind of thing you admitted to. Unless maybe you are around some other like-minded people and then you can all sing L’Internationale together. The Internationale is the international song of communism. It is set to the music of the Marseilles.
A French exchange student taught me the words in high school in both French and English. I think she had a crush on me. At the time it felt very subversive. I have since forgotten the words, although the first line is “C’est la lutte finale,” which translates as “it’s the final battle.” This brings up another question. Are there really any communists out there? I mean, I suppose there are some. But are there many? My 17-year-old son was talking about Anarcho-Communists the other day and the “seventeen” red scares of the Twentieth Century.
I do not think he meant ‘seventeen’ to be literal. Just that there were quite a few red scares beginning in 1919. In America we often used those scares to subdue some other insular minority. Anyway, I was proud of my son for using the term Anarcho-Communist. My older cousin might have thought he was a communist that heated summer evening in the late ’60s, but it turned out he wasn’t. Later in life he became a staunch Republican. So, why did he say he was? I think mostly just to annoy my grandparents, who were not even his grandparents. He was from the other side of the family and just visiting. He was not invited back.
If the plan was to anger and irritate my grandparents and ruin dinner, it worked. I remember wishing I could just slink away and go outside and bounce a tennis ball off of the steps. I couldn’t. No one escapes the rampant fear of communism once it rears its ugly head. As I said earlier, I am not sure that there really are that many real communists running around or that communism is what we really fear. To me totalitarianism or a dictatorship seems both more likely and more ominous.
So, what is the point? People, often younger, but not always, will sometimes say things to elicit an emotion. Sometimes the emotion is anger. Sometimes it is fear. We are sold anger and fear on a daily basis by politicians and the media. I saw an episode of “All in the Family” the other day. Archie was mad at his son-in-law for donating money to McGovern, who was, in Archie’s mind, a “communist.” There is that word again. Just about anything that scares us can and has been labelled communist.
My advice is that as we age, we should be wary of succumbing to the unreasonable and unwarranted fears that are often used to control us or just make us angry. Young people will delight in riling us. Old people will use our fears to secure our votes or allegiance. Don’t be Archie Bunker. The things that terrify us are rarely the things that should.
Scott A. Grant is a local author, historian and investment specialist. He looks at the world differently and welcomes your comments at email@example.com.