By Adam C. Powell
Comrades earn nicknames in much the same way that any member of an organization does – comrades are recognized for their strongest and most identifiable personal characteristics and, often in jest or exaggeration, a name is bestowed. My nickname came along in much the same manner, not only because I am hopelessly devoted to my children, but also because my daughter called me by this name in the presence of other comrades.
“What you going to be for Halloween, daddy?”
“I don’t know, sweetheart. What should I be?”
“You can go as a comrade – Comrade Daddy.”
The chuckling of my comrades, who are in and out of my home throughout the week, either for a Monday night drink, a Wednesday night committee meeting or a Friday night party, could be heard from outside the door and the name stuck. As humorous as it is to be given the name Comrade Daddy from my daughter, and have it widely adopted as a term of endearment among all of my comrades, it describes excellently what I take to be my most serious responsibility within the socialist movement – to educate and radicalize the younger generation, beginning with those who share my home and name. Just as my generation is decidedly left of the generation before it, so too should we expect that the one to follow us will carry that tradition forward. However, we can not simply trust that today’s youth will on its own adopt the radical banner of socialism – indeed, that monstrous duo of apathy and cynicism, by far the most vicious opponents of revolution, are the more easy to succumb to without a dynamic program for education. While I can not allege that I’ve developed such a program formally for my children, I can very much say that every lesson learned by these two beautiful and brilliant children is coldly calculated by their father to ensure the lessons are learned and the seeds of revolution safely planted.
In his book “My Life,” Leon Trotsky said the following: “Where tradition is lacking, a striking example is essential.” This simple quote embodies much of how I teach my children and, likewise, how I seek to instill revolutionary ideals into the minds of my comrades – by casting a strong example, one can teach without lecturing and instill personal qualities which will never be shaken. To be sure, my children are quite young –my daughter is four, my son is two – and not quite capable of understanding the concepts of socialism or revolution. However, they are both quite capable of mimicking behavior, especially behavior seen time and again. Everything in our home is done cooperatively – cooking dinner, folding clothes, washing dishes, brushing teeth, picking vegetables, cleaning the house and so on – and rarely is an opportunity missed to share the lessons inherent in this type of lifestyle. The family unit should be, especially for a socialist, a microcosm of the ideal socialist state. In one’s home, which for me encompasses my wife and two children, as well as the wandering comrades who meander into my kitchen throughout the week, a person truly has the opportunity to build an atmosphere of collaboration, self-sacrifice and unity rarely conceived of in the regular world. While these lessons are sometimes explicit – in talking to my children, I am often tasked with reminding them that nothing in our home belongs to one person, it belongs to the family as a whole and should be shared willingly at any moment – most often they are simply implied, embodied by my wife and me in every action we take. These simple lessons, the importance of sharing and working together, are the bedrock upon which a revolutionary mind is built.
And sometimes, these explicit lessons are shared in simple conversations between my daughter and I, with her younger brother listening inattentively and grabbing on to those concepts which he can comprehend. Both of my children are well aware of my role within the party and my self-imposed designation as a socialist, but it has consistently been my daughter who has shown the most interest in the movement and its ideals. I attribute this mostly to age and retain hope that my son will latch on to his father’s political ideals as his vocabulary and ability grow. Recently, as my children and I were
driving home from their preschool, my daughter and I had one of those conversations which have become so frequent. It followed a phone call from one of my colleagues on the Editorial Board, which required me to ask the children to be respectful while their father spoke to his comrade – anyone who has children is well aware that keeping two children silent while riding in a car after school is a tall order and one my children were ill-prepared for on that afternoon. At the close of my phone conversation, I addressed the children.
“Guys, when daddy’s on the phone with one of his comrades, I really need you guys to be quiet so that I can hear. Daddy works very hard and takes his work very seriously, and it’s hard to do that work if you guys won’t let me listen.”
“Why you talkin’ to comrades, daddy?”
“Well sweetheart, daddy’s a socialist – I have to help the party and that means I have to talk to my comrades, baby.”
“Daddy, why you a socialist?”
“Well, sweetheart, do you believe that somebody should be hungry just because they don’t have any money?”
“Oh no, daddy.”
“Do you think somebody should just have to stay sick if they can’t afford to pay the doctor?”
“Well, do you think somebody should have to sleep outside in the cold just because they can’t afford a house?”
“No, no, no, daddy.”
“Then sweetheart, I think you’re a socialist, too.”
“I am, daddy. I a good comrade.”
“I comrade, too, daddy,” came my son’s quick reply.
While this is obviously a very basic and simple conversation between a father and his young children, it very much instills in children the moral qualities required to live a revolutionary life. As they grow, so too will their understanding – when that happens, the conversations and delicate lessons will take on larger roles and be conveyed with more eloquence and detail.
Another way in which my children are taught is the very presence of comrades. As has been mentioned before, the members of my local are in and out of my house at random times throughout the week. While most of these visits are purely for friendly reasons, it is inevitable that they will evolve into a full-fledged political discussion – indeed, rare is the socialist who can avoid discussing political ideals when surrounded by comrades – and those discussions are listened to intently by the tiny ears always eavesdropping on every sound. Again, while certainly there are lessons taken away from our conversations alone, it is the example being set forth by both the presence and behavior of so many Socialist Party members. In the first place, my children call at least two of our local comrades “uncle” – they see them enough to have conferred a title of trust and deep adoration upon them and regularly ask when they will be stopping by again. Both of these comrades often come by specifically to spend time with the children and both reinforce the radical ideals of cooperation instilled by me and my wife. The sheer variety of people who call themselves members of the Alabama local are yet another important element of my children’s education. Our local has done a wonderful job of recruiting members of the LGBTQ community and people of color and their presence in the my children’s life is likely something that sets my children apart from many others. In general, but particularly in Alabama, cultural and racial diversity are often difficult to come by in the life of a child – children are so often surrounded by family which, at least in terms of my family, means white people and heterosexual relationships. For that reason, the inclusion of a diverse set of comrades in the life of my children has been invaluable – diversity is not something foreign to them and is embraced wholeheartedly, allowing them a step in the right direction not afforded me until I started grade school.
Just as the inclusion of comrades in my children’s life has played a profound role, so too has their involvement in party actions. When our local set up a booth at the Montgomery PRIDE Festival, my daughter went along with me – she helped hand out lit and carried a rainbow flag while marching down
the street beneath the party banner in that afternoon’s demonstration. When our local hosted our Labor Day Potluck at the community farm, both of my children were in attendance – listening to speeches and musical performances, handing out literature and books and generally creating a family atmosphere
which seems so homely to socialists. These little participation trophies received from being involved in acts of civil disobedience or community organizing are windfalls for children – even as adults, we are often swept up by the excitement in a crowd at a protest or rally; for children, that excitement is almost
a real and tangible thing and it alters their perspective of people and events immediately and permanently.
These most basic concepts – the impression of revolutionary ideals upon children through daily actions and simple lessons; the inclusion of comrades in the life and upbringing of a child; the involvement of children in political conversations and activities – come together to drastically radicalize the way a child sees and perceives the world around them. Children, by nature, are constantly learning – it is the failure of many parents to not be so fully invested in the cultural, societal and political education of those children, who, if given the opportunity, would no doubt be drawn to the causes which by necessity require so much of their parents’ time. To put it simply, if one is interested in establishing socialist tendencies and ideals in the mind of a child, they need only to include that child in every facet of party life that is available to them – indeed, when the Young People’s Socialist League is revived, my children will be summarily enlisted as soon as they are able.
But I would be remiss to not acknowledge that, just as I strive to educate my children, they are constantly teaching me how to be a better comrade. No person within the socialist movement has ever avoided hearing the same tired argument against socialism, that people are by nature greedy and self- serving. But being around children is enough to prove that argument holds little water in relation to true human nature – children are born as selfless, loving and trusting beings, it is the erosion done by time and experience that creates that hardened shell which separates the adults from the children. My children speak to strangers, unconcerned with their race or gender or even their familiarity; my children embrace everyone who comes into contact with them and offer up their toys and snacks as willfully as any committed revolutionary; my children contribute without complaint or anger and work diligently at any task set before them – this is human nature, not the avarice and narcissism embodied and encouraged by the capitalist system. Seeing my children interact with one another, as well as peers and elders, is a study in human nature and a reminder that in the heart of every person resides the capacity for compassion, kindness and altruism. So while we must strive to educate that younger generation, we must never undermine their capacity to educate us – we must strive to listen as much as we speak, and learn as much as we teach, for it is inevitable that our movement will one day be placed into their capable hands and immeasurably altered within them.