Americans Romanticizing Communism Don’t Know Communism

Your cool Che Guevara t-shirt can't soak up the blood of 100 million.

By David Mills Published on December 11, 2017

The young man in the suit crawled through the small window in the back of the cabin in a way that would send him face forward onto the dirt outside. He couldn’t be seen talking to the likes of us. We held his legs as he crawled out so he wouldn’t fall.

It was the summer of 1978, July I think, in a campground outside Moscow. I was part of a student group touring the then-Soviet Union. On the low-cost tour, we stayed mostly in the campgrounds and hotels Soviet citizens stayed in. Most people kept their distance. Those who did talk had only praise for their nation and hostility for ours.

He Wanted to Talk About Western Music

One of our group was a young Canadian woman, very tall and strikingly pretty, who attracted attention. We learned to let her introduce us, because the Russians liked Canadians a great deal more than they liked Americans.

The man who slipped into our cabin that night was a violinist, apparently very good, good enough to have been brought to the capital to perform. Only a couple years older than us, he wanted to talk about western music, but none of us knew anything about it at the level he wanted to know. He longed for freedom, but not in the abstract. He chafed under a musical establishment that produced what the bureaucrats wanted and hated innovation, and kept musicians like him from knowing anything about the musical world outside the Soviet Union.

The poor man desperately wanted the freedom to pursue his art and his craft. He couldn’t leave the country, even to go to communist eastern Europe, because he wasn’t married. He didn’t have a family the state could hold hostage to keep him from defecting. Sneaking talks with westerners was the closest he could get to the musical freedom he craved.

Our InTourist guide reported on us every evening, and two security agents followed our group. They looked exactly as you’d expect: Big round-faced unhappy looking men in black suits. Our guide told us to pretend we didn’t see them and we tried, but they knew that we knew who they were. For all we and our guest knew that night, they were watching our cabin. If they had been, the young man would — not could, but would — have been sent to a prison camp.

Romanticizing Communism

Recently a Harvard student named Laura M. Nicolae criticized the campus culture for sanitizing and romanticizing communism. Writing in the student newspaper The Crimson, she told the story of her father’s escape from communist Romania and the horrors of life there. She reminded her readers that communist regimes murdered 100 million people.

“My father ran from a government that beat, tortured, and brainwashed its citizens,” she wrote. “His childhood friend disappeared after scrawling an insult about the dictator on the school bathroom wall. His neighbors starved to death from food rations designed to combat ‘obesity.’ As the population dwindled, women were sent to the hospital every month to make sure they were getting pregnant.”

Yet at Harvard, “Depictions of communism on campus paint the ideology as revolutionary or idealistic, overlooking its authoritarian violence. … For many students, casually endorsing communism is a cool, edgy way to gripe about the world.” She noted the popular Ché Guevara t-shirt and jokey remarks about being a communist, and the desire of the new “Leftist Club” to rehabilitate Lenin.

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The American Conservative writer Rod Dreher reported Nicolae’s article and included a long and horrifying excerpt from an interview with the Orthodox priest George Calciu. The Romanian communist state hurt him unspeakably. Read it for more of the history Nicolae described through her father’s life. Rod, clearly angry, titled his article, “This Was Communism, You Fools.”

The elite American university is a peculiar environment and students elsewhere don’t seem to be so foolish. But still, too many people do not know what communism was and what it did. They don’t know what it will do in places like Venezuela. The ignorance is worse among the young, who did not live through the Cold War, but not that much worse.

A YouGov poll conducted in early October for the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation found that most Americans underestimate the number of people communist regimes killed. Only 39% of baby boomers and 53% of “matures,” people who did live through the Cold War, knew the answer. Only about 1 in 5 of those younger did. 21% of all Americans think communism has never been a problem. A majority can’t easily distinguish communism, socialism and fascism.

The Disappointed Violinist

That young violinist risked his freedom and perhaps his life just to talk about music. I felt bad, felt helpless, as we disappointed him. We weren’t musicians of the ability he wanted to talk to. If I remember right, he didn’t want to talk about American politics and culture the way some other Russians I met in secret had.

That is the communism so many Americans don’t understand and too many romanticize. 

I remember our guest sitting on a bottom bunk looking down, talking, with his hands clasped between his knees. A friend and I stood guarding the door, not that it would have done any good had the security agents wanted to come in. And I remember holding his legs as we helped him out the back window, knowing that he could get caught and we would never know. I pray he escaped and today is free.


For more on Americans’ ignorance of communism, see his Finding Evil at the Thrift Store.

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  • Paul

    The allure of getting something for free is timeless and the panderers always find some suckers. Faded memories makes their work easier.

    • nobodobodon

      I know some people who have anti-capitalist viewpoints. I wouldn’t describe them as “romanticizing” Communism, but that charge fits much better than yours.

      These are not people who want to get “something for free”. These are people who care about other people, and want to ease suffering in the world. They may not be wise in how to do that, but they aren’t just looking for handouts. They want everyone to be housed and fed and healthy.

      That’s even more alluring than “getting something for free”.

      • Paul

        Dig deeper and you will find the same root. You’re describing wanting something free for someone else. Wrapping communism with the banner of compassion is a great sales tool. Even though the lie is retold a thousand times a day by liberals, charity isn’t defined by how generous we are with other peoples money. The reality of all that compassion and charity is the use of force to take property from one person and give it to another.

        I recently had a conversation with a teenager about homelessness. In is idealism he proclaimed we have to do something to be more charitable. I asked him who is we? What are you going to do about homelessness? It boiled down to a starry eyed unemployed teenager living at home off of mommy and daddy pontificating that others must be forced to fund his compassion. No matter how you package it, it’s still wanting something for nothing.

        • Norman

          Absolutely, we’ve also heard and seen ideas relating to government enforced, obligated, “charity”… How these ideas got past more than one person is unfathomable, it took a head of a charity to point out that if it’s forced or legally obligated, it is no longer charity. Sadly, I thought that was obvious…

          • Paul

            I recall Obama and his spreading the wealth around, redistributive change, and if you have a business you didn’t build that. Selling other peoples money for a vote.

        • nobodobodon

          I know a few thousand liberals, and your description fits only a few of them.

          Most of us see very realistically that we can’t fix all of the problems of the world through government taking money from the more fortunate.

          We’re also realistic about the effects of leaving the less fortunate to rot in their own filth. Homelessness doesn’t just impact the homeless. Poverty doesn’t just impact the poor. A public highway four states away from me doesn’t just benefit the people who drive in it.

          Typically, when a liberal advocates government spending on social causes, someone brings up dictatorial Communist regimes. But when you look at the specific policies being advocated, they’re identical to policies in effect in free democracies around the world right now. This absurdity needs to stop.

          At least you were more original and brought out Voluntaryist arguments.

          • Paul

            It’s not absurd to recognize how govt has grown and how the continued growth is negatively impacting our liberty and wallets. I have no desire to model the US after European countries, their govt isn’t what I aspire to.

            A few years back I calculated that I work from Jan 1 well into May for no pay. The lions share of that goes directly into the pockets of others in the form of social welfare programs. I work so others can live work free. I can understand that in the context of those seriously disabled, but they are the minority.

            What needs to stop is the absurdity of taking money by force from the those who work and incentivizing sloth, rewarding laziness, creating a culture of dependency bankrolled by the productive.

  • Nunyadambizness

    The fact that our youth do not know about the horrors of Communism is not by accident–it is by design. Additionally, 99.99% of the folks wearing the “cool” Che shirts have no clue that Che was a murderous thug who did Castro’s dirty work–they just see the idealized photo, and want to be one of the “cool kids”. Those .001% who DO know? Well, they’re complicit in the murder of thousands.

    As to “free stuff”, the “useful idiots” as Lenin and Stalin called them, are the idealistic youth who see those who have, and those who have-not, and dream of a utopia that will never exist on this planet prior to Jesus’s return. The “true believers” in this utopia are among the ones that are murdered first, because after those in charge have gained power they know instinctively that they will never accept the brutal truth of what Communism is–and that includes MOST of the college professors who espouse Communism as a cure to the ills of commerce (or Capitalism, if you will). They fall under those who Stalin described in his statement of “To make an omelette one must break a few eggs.”

    Lastly, I believe your estimate of 100 million murdered in the past century is LOW. Mao murdered roughly 40-50 million (I’ve read as high as 60 million), Stalin around 20 million, Pol Pot around 2 million, and various others like Hitler who wasn’t a Communist (just a statist) murdered around 7 million (jews, gypsies, homosexuals, etc.), but of course was responsible for around 20 million others. There are lots of others, but suffice it to say that Karl Marx and his followers are the most murderous persons ever in human history.

  • The_Monk

    Materialism under every guise is seductive to people who either reject eternalism or simply opt for pseudo-comfort over working. And so it is with young people who are seduced by socialism which differs from communism only in degree, not kind. Venezuela is an unfolding of the socialist dream in living color; too bad the color is that of death.

    The chief difference between Che and – say – Mao or Hitler, for example, is that Che was killed before he was able to realize his plans.

  • bbb

    Great article.
    Why would the entire Ivy League nest of colleges and schools romanticize the most cruel and deadly governing ideology in the world? It’s simple.
    Communism is for the common clay, those who do not go to universities that charge roughly $250K for a 4-year degree, and what is being romanticized is the notion of controlling billions of “lesser” beings while increasing the control and wealth of an oligarchy.
    Christ encouraged His followers to ‘share’ but not to trust government. Communism forces people to strip themselves of all money, things, freedom and God in order to serve the Government – the all-powerful demigod Government. People are not asked to donate, or to provide offerings, they are brainwashed from infancy to believe the government IS god and they have no rights above that of animals.
    God place mankind ABOVE the animals and when His Son came to earth Jesus more than once warned people to hold firm to their liberty and never, never again slip into the yoke of slavery that lies and promises tend to make look good.
    God bless America.
    May the intense push by media, DNC, multiple organizations funded by many demonic people, schools and colleges to sell communism NOT be successful.

  • Jason McCord

    Once our schools taught knowledge, chastity, morality, and patriotism. We came to rely too much on schools. Instead of monitoring the infection. The system became the primary source of indoctrination. Where is the reading of Alexander Solzhenitsyn and John Scott. The viewing Doctor Zhivago,Fiddler on the Roof, or Heroes for Sale. We must be wary of our enemies within and without.

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