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Image: Fotolia/Savenko Tatyana

German kids' book on Communism causes uproar in the US

May 5, 2017

Is there an acceptable version of Communism after all its failures? A German author's idealistic book called "Communism for Kids" is now ruffling right-wing feathers in the US - although it was intended for adults.


Author and social theorist Bini Adamczak first wrote the book, "Communism for Kids" back in 2003. Published in Germany, the book was presented at a conference in Frankfurt called "Indeterminate! Kommunismus." Attracting an international crowd, including Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Žižek and English philosopher Simon Critchley, the conference was pursuing the question of whether Communism could be considered from a "non-Orthodox perspective," according to their website.

"I wrote the book in such a way to bring back the desire for another world. A desire that had been disappointed by authoritarian socialism and has been numbed during the so-called 'end of history,'" Adamczak told DW, referring to the concept that a political, economic, or social system could develop that represents the final form of government and thus the end of humanity's socio-cultural evolution.

Communism for Kids by Bini Adamczak
Image: 2017 MIT PRESS

Although the conference itself drew a bit of criticism due to its financial support from Germany's Federal Cultural Foundation, the book garnered little attention in Germany outside of political theory circles.

While considered a success for the small press, there was little memorable debate surrounding its publication. Except, Adamczak says, from more authoritarian Marxist Leninists, who took issue with the book's presentation of Communism. 

A storm brewing in US media

The recent publication by MIT Press of an illustrated English translation by Jacob Blumenfeld and Sophie Lewis, however, has created controversy in the US - though largely from the Right, rather than the Left. Numerous publications there, including "Breitbart," "The National Review" and "The American Conservative" have all published articles railing the book's release. Some have even called for the book to be banned and burned.

Few of these outlets have reviewed the book itself, taking issue with a book on Communism being published given the traumatic legacy of the political ideology and with its tongue-in-cheek title, "Communism for Kids."

"However much MIT and the author wish to assure readers that Adamczak (…) has learned the lesson of how not to implement Communism, nothing has changed. The bloody history of the Left in the 20th century, in which no matter how inexorably repressive each new attempt at Communism becomes, has been that the dream must continue, no matter how many millions have to pay for such stubbornness until the Communists 'get it right,'" writes "The Daily Beast."

That sentiment is repeated on social media, in comments sections and even in reviews on Amazon.com. Other critics slam the book's title as an attempt at "indoctrination." South Carolina state respresentative Garry R. Smith critiqued the book on Twitter, saying that it turns a deadly ideology into a fairy tale.

Marc Lowenthal, acquiring editor from MIT Press, defended the book in a recent blog post on the publisher's website, writing, "I don't think one could ask for a clearer explanation or description of such things as reification, alienation, or what causes a marketplace crisis, than what this book offers."

He added, "The manuscript was also executed with humor and charm, and I thought it made a heartfelt effort toward imagining and embracing the possibility for a different political and social future - a different one from the dystopias currently capturing the popular imagination."

Despite the book's title - and its listing on Amazon under children's educational books on government - Lowenthal insisted that MIT Press is not a children's book publisher. "We categorized this book as politics, not as children's literature," he said. "The far-fetched notion of us even publishing a children's book was one of the things that made the title amusing to me (especially since we are known in the book world for how academically challenging many of our books are)."

Jokes aside, Adamczak now finds herself the target of slander and hate comments, some of which cite anti-Semitic conspiracy theories as at the heart of the book's publication. "It is surprising that people would react with fear to a book that in reality aims at taking away fear," she said.

A steady seller despite the uproar

In an interview with "Publisher's Weekly," MIT Press director Amy Brand acknowledged that while she had "expected a range of feedback" about the book's publication, the publisher "did not anticipate the extent and tone of the response."

"The book's publication has proven 'a revealing experience,'" writes "Publisher's Weekly." "It has highlighted 'the polarizing power of ideas and words,' reminded her 'about the swarm mentality fueled by social media,' and driven home 'the serious responsibility of being in a profession dedicated to protecting fundamental freedoms of expression.'"

The uproar has also led to words of support from around the publishing industry as well as jokes. Sarah Brouillette, whose Tweet is posted below, is associate professor of English at Carleton University and the author of "Postcolonial Writers and the Global Literary Marketplace" (2007).

Still, the controversy appears to have had little impact on book sales, which have remained steady over the last month. With a small print run, the book is listed on Amazon.com as the #2 top seller in the category of Communism and Socialism, under which it is co-listed. Most of the buyers are trade, museum and wholesale accounts - not unusual for the university press.

"The author had asked me at one point earlier on if people in the US might be misled by the title into thinking it was a book for children, and I explained to her that the idea of an MIT Press children's book was absurd," Lowenthal said in his blog post. "Needless to say, I certainly miscalled that one."


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