By Gabriel Kuhn
Bini Adamczak’s book Kommunismus: kleine Geschichte, wie endlich alles anders wird is one of the best-selling titles of Germany’s Unrast Verlag, a radical publisher operating since the early 1990s. It is an enchanting little book about the promises, pitfalls, and prospects of the communist movement, illustrated with drawings by the author herself. The title literally translates as “Communism: a short history on how everything is finally going to change”. There have been several reprints and a ten-year anniversary edition in 2014.
Recently, an English version of the book has been published by MIT Press. It carries the title Communism for Kids, a phrase that Adamczak frequently used in announcing public readings. The release has caused an uproar among the U.S. right. Breitbart News ran an article by Colin Mauder stating that “the mere existence of this book proves that Marxists haven’t yet figured out that their ideology leads to nothing but ruin”. Mauder also set the tone for what was about to come when he announced that “Breitbart News will not be doing a proper review of Communism for Kids, out of respect for communists outraged that this book is being sold”. Ignorance dressed up as wittiness is a recurring feature in the alt-right’s unfortunate dominance of the blogosphere.
The followers of the likes of Breitbart News did not disappoint. Within days, dozens of tweets, comments, and articles denouncing, ridiculing, and vilifying the book had been uploaded. The Daily Signal proclaimed thatit “Turns Deadly Ideology Into a Fairy Tale”, the Christian Truther contended that it “Intends to Brainwash the Youth into a Murderous Political Death Cult”, and the paradoxically named Accuracy in Media stated that “‘Queer Communism’ Finds Its Voice” (as if that was a bad thing). Heavyweights such as Pamela Geller (“this open pushing of an ideology that has been responsible for untold millions of deaths is nothing short of obscene”) and Milo Yiannopoulos (“as much as one would hope this book is a joke, it appears to be real”) also chimed in. Meanwhile, Alex Jones confirmed his circles’ peculiar relationship with facts when explaining that Adamczak’s book was published “to teach children in elementary school how to be communists – it’s a textbook for how to be communists”.
At this point, it might be necessary to clarify a few things: 1. Communism for Kids is not a children’s book. The title is obviously tongue-in-cheek and a simple invitation for everyone (“kids of all ages”) to engage with communist history. 2. Communism for Kids is not Stalinist propaganda. While clearly sympathetic to the communist idea, it is stern in its critique of the historical failures to implement it and includes enlightening queer and antiauthoritarian perspectives. 3. Communism for Kids is not simply an introduction to communism. It is a playful, yet sincere investigation into its strengths and weaknesses, its potentials and dangers.
To the right-wing army of slanderers, of course, none of this matters. As I write this on May 4, they have pushed the book’s reviews on Amazon.com to over 100, with nearly 80% dishing out one-star ratings. Most reviewers seem to have taken Breitbart News’ vow not to honor the book with a “proper review” to heart. Among the most popular evaluations are one-liners such as “If communism is so great why are they selling the book? Isn’t that capitalism?” (considered “helpful” by 446 visitors), and “Will sell like hotcakes in Venezuela. They need toilet paper” (considered helpful by 256 visitors).
The entire episode might be amusing if it wasn’t for the following aspects: 1. The online slaughter of Adamczak’s book is indicative of a popular right-wing movement that threatens the most basic achievements of civil rights struggles of past decades. 2. While attacks of this kind have undeniable entertainment value, they are also outrageous, offensive, and dangerous for anyone associated with the targeted labels (“Red Scare” anyone?). 3. Instead of recognizing Communism for Kids for what it is, namely a precious and creative contribution to left-wing literature, it has become a punching ball for right-wing fools.
Adamczak is based in Berlin. So are most of her political peers. And despite her publisher firmly standing behind her, MIT Press is not exactly a leading voice in the North American left (unlike Verso, where the book was scheduled to come out originally). It is therefore up to us, left-wing authors, publishers, and activists working in English, to enter the debate and ensure that Communism for Kids will be received in due form, that is, as one of the most innovative and enjoyable left-wing books of recent years.