How to Spot a Communist


America Under CommunismAs I just learned from a recent piece on Open Culture, I must be a Communist. Based on my preference for writing (and reading), that is.

(This would definitely surprise my left-wing friends who often think I’m right of Stephen Harper… himself being so far right of the iconic Genghis Khan that it defines a memetic categorization). Damn, I’ve been exposed…

According to the piece, a 1955 manual prepared during the Second Red Scare for the U.S. First Army Headquarters helped readers identify potential “Communists.” Among these traits, the piece notes, is a preference for multi-syllabic words and long sentences (apparently Real Americans prefer a much-reduced vocabulary a la Winston’s Smith’s Newspeak and eschew the semicolon and a connector of subordinate phrases…):

While a preference for long sentences is common to most Communist writing, a distinct vocabulary provides the more easily recognized feature of the “Communist Language.” Even a superficial reading of an article written by a Communist or a conversation with one will probably reveal the use of some of the following expressions: integrative thinking, vanguard, comrade, hootenanny, chauvinism, book-burning, syncretistic faith, bourgeois-nationalism, jingoism, colonialism, hooliganism, ruling class, progressive, demagogy, dialectical, witch-hunt, reactionary, exploitation, oppressive, materialist.

This list, selected at random, could be extended almost indefinitely. While all of the above expressions are part of the English language, their use by Communists is infinitely more frequent than by the general public…

Why, I recall using the word “parsimonious” at one meeting of council only to have another councillor stop my discussion and demand to know what the word meant, never having heard it before in his life. Exposed, I was, as the Communist among them by my use of Big Words. I slunk back into my seat, afraid he might call me out. I vowed to shave my Lenin-like goatee at that moment…

I’m pretty sure I’ve used some of those words, myself, and a not a few others only Communists would dare sprinkle into a conversation or blog post: jingoism, progressive, colonialism and others like, autocrat, oligarch, peripatetic, effete, codswallop, balderdash, and obfuscatory.

Hootenanny? I particip[ated in may of them, in the 1960s and 70s. I dare say I even engage in them today, with my local ukulele group.

(Maybe in order to conceal my political peregrinations, I should retire the dictionary and eschew any word not found in, say, Mickey Spillane novels or in local bloggers’ posts. But how could I ever, in good conscience, exile Samuel Johnson and the Concise Oxford from my bedside? I would be bereft of their loquacious company.)

Now that the use of Big Words and Long Sentences to identify Communists among us has been exposed to Facebook readers, I expect many of us will be exposed for our political sympathies.

While that particular word list doesn’t match his otherwise rich vocabulary as far as I can tell, I would suspect from my recent reading of Vanity Fair, that William Makepeace Thackeray must also have been a Communist. He was certainly erudite and I found myself beguiled by having to look up several words in the novel, a treat I seldom get to exercise when reading modern fiction.

Well, don’t laugh. He might have been. The Communist League was established in London, in 1847, almost 20 years before Thackeray died. Marx and Engels’ own Communist Manifesto was published a year later, in 1848. Maybe Thackeray read it and said to himself, “Ah ha! A kindred spirit.”

Too bad Vanity Fair was published just a bit too early for Thackeray to have been influenced by Marx and Engels (it was serialized in 1847-48). But perhaps it is more than just synchronicity (Oops: another of those Big Words; mea culpa for the Jungian reference…).

Of course, the Communism of Marx and the Soviet political system of that name were rather different creatures. The Soviets used the name Communism to describe their dictatorship in a way Marx never envisaged. Or intended. But most folks don’t realize the difference (and some poltroons like Ann Coulter and her followers can’t tell the difference and lump together socialist, communist, Democrat, Canadian and Labrador retrievers in the same political saucepan), so it’s a moot point to debate what Communism is or should be. At least in this post. Mayhap in another I will tackle the misperceptions.

Thackeray himself scorned those who did not like to read in a phrase that sounds suspiciously Marxian:

Here was a man who could not spell, and did not care to read — who had the habits and the cunning of a boor: whose aim in life was pettifogging: who never had a taste, or emotion, or enjoyment, but was sordid and soil; and yet he had rank, and honors, and power, somehow: and was dignitary of the land, and a pillar of the state. Vanity Fair, Vol. I, ch. 9.

And later in that same book:

…if you are not allowed to touch the heart sometimes in spite of syntax, and are not to be loved until you all know the difference between trimeter and tetrameter, may all Poetry go to the deuce, and every schoolmaster perish miserably! Vol. I, ch. 12.

Sounds Communist to me. Too high-falutin’ to be otherwise. Big Words, too, like pettifogging. Trimeter. Tetrameter. Syntax. And like Marx, Thackeray was a pointed social critic of the Establishment, as Wikipedia tells us:

Thackeray began as a satirist and parodist, writing papers with a sneaking fondness for roguish upstarts like Becky Sharp in Vanity Fair and the title characters of The Luck of Barry Lyndon and Catherine. In his earliest works, writing under such pseudonyms as Charles James Yellowplush, Michael Angelo Titmarsh, and George Savage Fitz-Boodle, he tended towards the savage in his attacks on high society, military prowess, the institution of marriage, and hypocrisy.

And we all know that patriots support the Establishment without criticism or concern. Only Communists criticize the Establishment. Therefore Thackeray was a Communist. Quod erat demonstrandum. (Uh oh… does my use of Latin also identify me as a Communist? A Catholic? Or a background in jurisprudence? Lawyers are, after all, second only to Communists in public contempt…)

Thackeray actually ran for Parliament, but was defeated in part because he advocated entertainment be allowed on the Sabbath (a very Communistic perspective, at least in the Victorian era, albeit somewhat strained for relevance in this modern corporate-capitalist-big-box era of secular 24/7 shopping, dining and gaming).

Thackeray began his career as the Paris correspondent for the short-lived journal of radical politics, the Constitutional and Public Ledger. Karl Marx was reporter for the New York Daily Tribune. I was reporter and editor of the Enterprise-Bulletin and am a vocal social critic (especially of wannabe autocrats and special interests).

See any similarities? I thought you might.

Big words. Journalism. Long sentences. They spell Communism as clearly as does a word like antidisestablishmentarianism. I will be hard pressed in future to conceal my political leanings after this.

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