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5 Famous Figures America Refuses to Admit Were Socialists
We've Redwashed everyone from a President to a Nobel laureate.
America loves her heroes. Whether they’re a teenage women’s rights advocate who was shot by Taliban, or a 19th century President who was shot by the American Taliban, nothing captures our admiration like an inspirational figure whose quotes fit neatly on a Starbucks billboard.
However, no one is perfect. Unfortunate as it may be, sometimes our Heroes hold ideas that challenge America’s self-image as the pinnacle of human society; a shinning harmony of democracy and Capitalism. So, like a stone caught in a river’s path, our cultural collective wears down their rough edges, eroding away their Socialist and anti-imperial beliefs until they are a smooth, star-spangled pebble, perfectly sized to fit our self-affirming identity. I call this practice Redwashing.
Below are 5 victims of this
cancel culture Redwashing. Each has had part of their worldview nefariously omitted in an effort to plagiarize their lives into The Great American Story without having to answer their valid critiques of American Empire & Capitalism.
Rather than identifying these people as “Gotcha!” coupons to use in The Marketplace of Ideas (i.e., your Thanksgiving dinner table), we’re exploring these stories as social proof in our ongoing project to illustrate the numerous options we have to organize our society.
#1. Malala Yousafzai
First up is the most popular girl in school/the world, Malala Yousafzai. Malala rose to international fame after surviving an assassination attempt brought on by her advocacy for female education in Pakistan. At a time when the U.S. and its coalition allies were starting to grasp for the straw of “women’s rights” as justification for the spiraling Afghanistan War, Malala checked all the boxes for an international icon. She was pretty, pro-education, brave, young, and, well… alive. Everything needed to represent
Raytheon’s America’s vision for Southeast Asia.
After recovering from her wounds, Malala made the network rounds, appearing on everything from The Morning Show to The Daily Show. The world over, her semi-veiled face was plastered from bus stops to board rooms alongside quotes championing women’s rights and liberation from oppression.
Well, some of her quotes.
Entirely absent from The Malala Show is her Marxist ideology. In fact, Malala’s advocacy for women’s rights, which brought her under the Taliban’s crosshairs, was only one part of her left political package stemming from her father’s lifelong participation in Socialist, secular politics. But don’t take my word for it. In a 2014 letter to the Pakistani Marxist group The International Marxist Tendency, Malala wrote:
“I am convinced that Socialism is the only answer, and I urge all comrades to struggle to a victorious conclusion. Only this will free us from the chains of bigotry and exploitation.”
To select which parts of Malala’s story to celebrate and which parts to ignore is of the highest disrespect. Unfortunately, as we’ll see with our next figure, America’s Redwashing of otherwise celebrated young women is not a modern phenomenon.
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#2. Helen Keller
Want to hear a joke?
Why can’t Helen Keller fly a plane?
Because the Pilot’s Union is on strike and she’ll never cross the picket line.
After overcoming deafness and blindness and learning to speak, Hellen Keller dedicated her life to social justice. She traveled the world, speaking against America’s military interventions and mistreatment of Black people, as well as advocating for suffragism, birth control, civil liberties, and Socialism. Just like the modern media, Keller’s journalist contemporary brushed over her “radical” beliefs of Civil Rights and democracy. After the editor of The Brooklyn Eagle newspaper claimed Keller’s Socialist beliefs were the result of “the limitations of her development,” Keller responded in kind:
“At [an earlier] time the compliments he [the editor] paid me were so generous that I blush to remember them. But now that I have come out for Socialism, he reminds me and the public that I am blind and deaf and especially liable to error. I must have shrunk in intelligence during the years since I met him. ... Oh, ridiculous Brooklyn Eagle! Socially blind and deaf, it defends an intolerable system, a system that is the cause of much of the physical blindness and deafness which we are trying to prevent.”
For the rest of her life, Keller would be a #GirlBoss. She joined the general labor union The Industrial Workers of the World, founded the American Civil Liberties Union, and produced over 37 Lifetime movies featuring her life story. Strangely enough, Keller’s political leanings never made it into the script. (Weird!)
#3. Abraham Lincoln
As Fatima was the first Muslim, Abraham Lincoln was the first Marxist: Muhammed’s wife was his first subscriber, and Karl Marx’s Presidential pen pal was the principal proponent of Marxist thought in the United States, perhaps the world.
At a time when “Marxists” were yet to be a thing, Abraham Lincoln was already retweeting Marx’s teachings to the U.S. Congress. On December 3rd, 1861, Lincoln gave his First Annual Message (which would later become The State of the Union, a direct plagiarism of the CNN show of the same name). After subtweeting the Confederacy, Lincoln took the opportunity to annoy 21st century right wingers by eliminating any doubt as to which side of the Labor v. Capital divide his allegiances lay. He said:
“Labor is prior to and independent of capital. Capital is only the fruit of labor, and could never have existed if labor had not first existed. Labor is the superior of capital, and deserves much the higher consideration.” - Abraham Lincoln, 1st Annual Message
Had this speech been a college term paper and not written with a feather, Lincoln would’ve been expelled for blatant plagiarizing The Communist Manifesto. And if John-Wilkes Booth hadn’t been such a shitty actor desperate to get famous, the U.S. could’ve had a post-Civil War President who would’ve delivered the promises of Emancipation and Reconstruction while curtailing the power of capital.
#4 George Orwell
Given his outsized presence in American culture, it’s criminal how badly we’ve warped Orwell’s politics. 1984 and Animal Farm are part of public school curriculums across the country, yet the only permissible discourse of these works is “Communism = Bad.” The end result of this Redwashing is that an incredibly nuanced cannon of literature positing paths to utopia has been reduced down to a collection of phrases douchebags carve into the bathroom stall after they’re banned from Twitter for merely “taking an honest look at the Holocaust.”
While everyone loves The One with Talking Pigs and The One Where Government is Bad, Orwell’s lesser-known stories and essays hold a treasure trove of important lessons and thoughts for how humanity can move to a more equitable, just, and efficient mode of resource distribution. Homage to Catalonia, an account of Orwell’s adventure fighting with Anarchist and Communist forces in the Spanish Civil War, not only gives a picture of Catalonia’s Democratic Socialist state but offers crucial warnings for how leftist movements can be fractured by tyrannical forces.
After escaping Spain, Orwell spent the rest of his life writing for Democratic Socialism and against Totalitarianism. We know this because he hid subtle, near-microscopic Easter eggs about his ideology in his writing. See if you can spot the one below:
“Every line of serious work that I have written since 1936 has been against Totalitarianism and for Democratic Socialism.” - George Orwell, Facing Unpleasant Facts
Yet if you were to ask any American, from the average, blue-collar Goldman Sachs CEO to one of the aforementioned Silenced Twitter-Patriots, the majority would rather end Orwell’s above quote at “Totalitarianism.” Yet again, we see how a prominent, multi-faceted thinker has had their life’s work co-opted into a rickety support beam for the narrative that The American Way is The Only Way.
#5 Albert Einstein
While there are quite a few parts of his personal life that shan’t be celebrated (such as serially cheating on his cousin-wife), Einstein’s politics and commitment to building a just world are some of the most forward-thinking of the early 20th century and should be treated as such.
Alongside his work as a physicist, Einstein considered himself a political and social thinker, as well as a model for dorm room posters encouraging minors to do drugs.
He broke his self-imposed “no university” rule to teach at Historically Black Colleges, routinely criticized the “Spiderman pointing at Spiderman meme” of American Jim Crow and German Nazism, and advocated for a Socialist economic structure prioritizing human welfare.
For more on his thoughts, we turn to Einstein’s famous essay “Why Socialism?,” which appeared in the 1949 Monthly Review inaugural issue.
“The economic anarchy of capitalist society as it exists today is, in my opinion, the real source of the evil… I am convinced there is only one way to eliminate these grave evils, namely through the establishment of a Socialist economy, accompanied by an educational system which would be oriented toward social goals.”
An interesting aside of Einstein’s essay is that while he advocates for a Socialist, planned economy, he warns that we shouldn’t make the mistake of thinking Planned Economies = Socialism. (This is something we’ve discussed previously.)
“Nevertheless, it is necessary to remember that a planned economy is not yet Socialism. A planned economy as such may be accompanied by the complete enslavement of the individual.”
Thoughts on Redwashing
Unless you’ve been living in a hole in the ground deeper than Joe Biden’s approval ratings, you’re probably familiar with the above historical and public figures. Yet, I’d wager it was a surprise to learn one-or-more of them were avowed Socialists. So why is that? Why has western culture omitted the socio-political ideologies of some of its most revered names?
There’s no evil cabal censoring American teachers from adding a footnote to the lessons on Lincoln or Orwell, nor is the FCC cutting the airwaves every time Malala urges the workers to seize the means of production while Kathie Lee & Hoda blackout on Merlot at 10 a.m. on a Tuesday.
Rather, we’ve convinced ourselves that America’s blend of lightly-regulated Capitalism with interventionist foreign policy is the pinnacle of human civilization. This inter-generational confirmation bias prevents us from even considering anything contrary to The One True Way. So when A Very Smart Person opines a challenge to the for-profit model, we cover our ears and scream “NaNaNa, I can’t hear you!” until the Abe Lincoln biopic gets back to talking about how tall he was. (Six feet, seven inches! No wonder Booth didn’t miss!)
Hopefully, by listening to everything these icons have to say, and not just the parts we like, America can consider alternative methods of social and economic organization that build on Capitalism’s fruits while shedding its poisons.
Any known Socialists you think I should’ve included in this list? Let me know in the comments below. And don’t forget to subscribe and share to help us reach non-leftist audiences.