David Rodeback's Blog

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Wednesday, February 18, 2009
My Son, the Italian Communist Ten Year Old

It's not as if I planned to spend 15 minutes this morning teaching my ten year old how to be a communist revolutionary.

Sometimes, when you arise in the morning, you have no idea what interesting things the day will bring. For example, there was April 5, 2002, when I didn't expect to end the day with a broken fibula that would keep me on crutches for two months. There was a day this January when I awoke quite unaware that, before the day was over, I would be hit hard in the back of the head by an icy parking lot and wake up with a concussion, not to mention a headache. There was that high school afternoon in 1983 when I was called from class to go to the office, only to discover that my mother was on the phone and wanted to tell me that I had received a telegram from the White House. Or there was the Saturday morning last fall, when I was building a fence and stopped to answer my cell phone; I didn't expect to set down my tools and go to a BYU football game at the last minute, using a friend's tickets, but that's what I did.

This morning, when I arose a little late and headed to Gold's Gym for an abbreviated workout, I did not suspect that, before the morning was over, I would have spent about 15 minutes teaching my ten-year-old son how to be an obnoxious, arm-twisting Communist revolutionary.

His fifth grade class at Barratt Elementary was doing some sort of Ellis Island reenactment, and each student was assigned the identity of someone I assume was an actual, historical immigrant. My son was to be Vito Florenciano, a 39-year-old Italian. The little slip of paper says: "dirty, tattered clothing [we didn't do too well at that]; unkempt hair [done]; bookish radical [fun!]."

Said I, "I have just the prop for you." I went downstairs to my study, perused my collection of books on socialism and communism for a moment, and selected a red-colored trade paperback, my Marx-Engels Reader. (I was never a Marxist, but I did study political philosophy at BYU and Cornell. For that matter, I spent some time in Russia, where I was taught Marxism-Leninism, among other subjects, by actual members of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. "Lenin is always with you," the Soviet children used to sing. "He's in you and me." Creepy!)

When I returned with the well-marked volume, young Vito showed me the other slip of paper. From it we learned that he had arrived at Ellis Island with a broken arm, the consequence of a shipboard political debate that got violent. We added a sling to the costume.

"What does it mean," asked Vito, "when it says I'm an atheist and 'an ardent communist inspired by the ideas of Marx and Engels'?"

Quoth I, "The two go together, and they mean that I picked the right book for you." I told him an atheist believes there is no god, and a communist believes (more or less) that the government should own and control all businesses and industries, to insure that all people prosper equally. I told him it might sound cool in theory -- it may even sound  fair -- but it doesn't actually work in practice. I told him communists killed more than 100 million people in the last century, so I'm not a big fan.

I opened the book to the Manifesto of the Communist Party and showed him a couple of lines he might enjoy reading to the other people at Ellis Island, as he waited in line. I told him about the "class struggle," and I coached him to demand loudly that there be fewer school days, fewer hours per school day, more and longer recesses, and hourly pay for schoolchildren. I told him to announce that principals and teachers are "capitalist oppressors."

"What's a capitalist?" he asked. I said it's someone who believes that people should be basically free to make, sell, buy, save, work, etc., as they please, without the government controlling everything.

"What's an oppressor?" he wondered.

"That's what you think your parents are when they make you practice the piano." 'Nuff said.

I told my Vito that, if we had more time to work on it, we could have him yell, as they dragged him away, something like, "Students of the class, unite! You have nothing to lose but your chains!"

I'll tell him about the bourgeoisie and the dictatorship of the proletariat some other year.

This evening, I asked him how things went for him at Ellis Island. He said he had ardently (my word) preached communism to the immigrants in line, and had read to them the actual (translated) words of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels.

He reported that, in the end, they let everyone else into the country except him. They put my my Vito back on the boat and returned him to Italy. I don't blame them.

Think of it: My communist son was deported today. I'm so proud. And I laughed all the way to the blog.

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