Episode 40: Little Socialist Women

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Welcome to Stories of Communism, the podcast where we discuss what life is really like for those unfortunate enough to live under communist or socialist governments.    Recording from the suburbs of Wichita, Kansas, this is Erik Seligman, your host, with co-host Manuel Castaneda dialing in from Oregon.

Today we’re going to take a look at one of the odder episodes in the prehistory of communism:  the short-lived socialist commune where Louisa May Alcott spent time as a child in the 1840s.   Yes, I’m talking about THAT Louisa May Alcott, the author of the children’s classic “Little Women”.   One lesser known historical tidbit is that her father, the Reverend Bronson Alcott, fancied himself a philosopher, and decided that he needed to create a new life for his family, and separate himself from the corrupt modern economy whose, as he described it, “root is selfishness, whose trunk is property, whose fruit is gold.”   He managed to convince a small group of followers to join him, and one, Charles Lane, had enough money to buy a farm in Massachusetts where they could put Alcott’s ideas into practice.   They called this commune Fruitlands, in honor of the abundance of fruit they expected to produce.   A collection of memoirs and writings about Fruitlands was eventually published many years later by someone named Clara Endicott Sears, and is available to read at Project Gutenberg.   

The Reverend Alcott was an eloquent writer, and became friendly with numerous literary figures of the time such as Emerson, Thoreau, and Hawthorne.   Here is how he described his objectives and philosophy:

First, to obtain the free use of a spot of land adequate by our own labor to support…

    Secondly, to live independently of foreign aids by being sufficiently elevate to procure all articles for subsistence in the productions of the spot, under a regimen of healthful labor and recreation;  with benignity toward all creatures, human and inferior; with beauty and refinement in all economics; and the purest charity throughout our demeanor…

  …we are not without hope that Providence will use us progressively for beneficial effects in the great work of human regeneration, and the restoration of the highest life on earth.

[Loc 267]

…We do not recognize the purchase of land; but its redemption from the debasing state of proprium, or property, to divine uses, we clearly understand when those whom the world esteems as owners are found yielding their individual rights to the Supreme Owner. …

Trade we hope entirely to avoid at an early day. As a nursery for many evil propensities it is almost universally felt to be a most undesirable course. Such needful articles as we cannot yet raise by our own hand labor from the soil, thus redeemed from human ownership, we shall endeavor to obtain by friendly exchanges, and, as nearly as possible, without the intervention of money.

Of all the traffic in which civilized society is involved, that of human labor is perhaps the most detrimental. From the state of serfdom to the receipt of wages may be a step in human progress; but it is certainly full time for taking a new step out of the hiring system.

[Loc 619]

As you can see, some of his ideas had a lot in common with those that Marx would write a few years later, idealizing labor and claiming that paid employment amounts to slavery.     Alcott also added in a few more quirky ideas and philosophies, such as strict vegetarianism, which didn’t make his project any easier.    Nevertheless, his follower and chief financier, Charles Lane, was full of optimism, worrying that their great improvement to the human condition might attract those who wanted to use their ideas for the villainous goal of making money:

Perhaps the external revelations of success ought always to be kept secret, for every improvement discovered is only turned to a money making account and to the further degradation of man, as we see in the march of science to this very moment. If we knew how to double the crops of the earth, it is scarcely to be hoped that any good would come by revealing the mode. On the contrary, the bounties of God are already made the means by which man debases himself more and more. We will therefore say little concerning the sources of external wealth until man is himself secured to the End which rightly uses these means.

[Loc 478]

Of course, once Alcott started working to actually put together the community, there were a number of details that seemed a bit challenging.   Fortunately, Lane had enough money to buy the farm, and was sufficiently committed to the cause to purchase and donate it to the group.   But when they started recruiting potential residents, it got a bit harder.   As one observer wrote,


The matter of getting the right kind of persons to join the Community required a keen insight into human nature, and on this point Mr Alcott was not very strong.   His own sincerity and depth of purpose were so great that he looked for these same attributes in everyone who approached him, and often failed to detect the superficial qualities that lurked underneath the surface enthusiasm of some of his followers…  

[Loc 335]

One of the Fruitlanders took it into his head that clothes were an impediment to spiritual growth, and that the light of day was equally pernicious. He accordingly secluded himself in his room in a state of nature during the day, and only went out at night for exercise, with a single white cotton garment reaching from his neck to his knees.

[Loc 542]

When it got time to actually do the hard work of farming the fields, things didn’t go quite as smoothly as Alcott had hoped.   Concern quickly grew about Alcott’s dogmatism and refusal to compromise.  As some of the residents and observers wrote:

He thinks Mr. Alcott is arbitrary or despotic, as some others do, but I shall endeavour (and, I think, not in vain) to urge him to the noblest conduct of which our position is capable. He must not complain nor walk off, but cheerfully amend whatever is amiss. 

[Loc 488]

[Alcott] was very strict, rather despotic in his rule of the Community, and some of the members have told me they were nearly starved to death there; nay, absolutely would have perished with hunger if they had not furtively gone among the surrounding farmers and begged for food.

[Loc 542]

Interestingly, the journal kept by his daughter Anna, and later incorporated into Sears’s collection, had the second half completely torn out, apparently intentionally destroyed.   One has to wonder whether, in the later stages of the experiment, she actually had similar complaints, and her father didn’t want to risk those being shared with the world.  This theory is supported by the fact that the surviving portion of the diary contains occasional notes in the Reverend’s handwriting.

The biggest problem at Fruitlands was simply the fact that farming is hard work, and doing it right involves leveraging the collective learnings of many thousands of years of human experience— not rebooting the core concepts based on idealized philosophies.  During the short life of the commune, Alcott and Lane were constantly lecturing, entertaining visitors, and doing other work that did not contribute to the farm.   The small group of able farmers didn’t seem to be progressing fast enough in their field work, but their leader’s philosophy prevented the obvious solutions:

Hired laborers and beasts of burden were against the principles of the Community, but in order to make headway against the advancing season they seemed to be a necessity. This concession, however, troubled the philosophers, and it was decided to carry out the original plan and rely wholly on the spade instead of the plough, even at a cost of valuable time. The results were rather disastrous: Charles Lane’s hands became sore and painful, and lame backs seriously interfered with progress. 

Sobered by this new experience, the philosophers met in conclave, and as a result Joseph Palmer, who always came to the rescue in trying situations, went to [town] and brought back his plough and yoke of oxen, as he called it—it really was an ox and a cow which he had trained to work together. Besides the outdoor work much writing was done indoors. Charles Lane and Bower wrote prolifically to different papers. The Herald of Freedom, the Vermont Telegraph and the New York Tribune of that summer are full of their writings.

[Loc 869]

Unfortunately farm operations were not started until well into June, and the only crop raised that was of value as dependence was barley; but the philosophers did not flinch at the thought of an exclusively barley diet. Now and then they gave a thought as to what they should do for shoes when those they now had were gone; for depriving the cow of her skin was a crime not to be tolerated. The barley crop was injured in harvesting, and before long actual want was staring them in the face.

[Loc 1528]

As the first autumn approached and the crops were clearly failing, Alcott and Lane took an ill-advised trip to the city to try to gain more followers.   This left his commune on the brink of starvation, his wife scrambling to save them at the last minute:

It was all very pleasant, this wandering off and showing their linen tunics to the world and holding conversations to enlighten people in regard to the future wonders of the New Eden, but the day they left Fruitlands Joseph Palmer was off attending to his cattle… and the crop of barley had been cut and was waiting to be harvested. Poor Mrs. Alcott looked at it with anxious eyes. The granary was almost empty and this barley meant food. She could forget herself, but she could not ignore the needs of her children. Christopher Greene and Larned and Bower were also away. The barley lay there with no one to bring it in to a safe shelter. 

The next day she looked at it again with a sinking heart. As the afternoon waned, black clouds covered the sky and flashes of lightning rent seams through them with terrifying rapidity. Then Mrs. Alcott made a quick decision. Gathering all the baskets she could find, she carried them to the barley-field with the help of the children, and in hot haste they gathered the barley into the baskets and dragged them to the granary, and then ran back as fast as they could for more. Thus they worked with all their strength, and when the storm broke, they had saved enough to last them for at least a few weeks.

[Loc 1352]

Luckily this commune was not a country— people could freely enter and leave it.   And as you would expect, the result of this pathetic attempt at farming was a stampede towards the exits, as Lane complained:

All the persons who have joined us during the summer have from some cause or other quitted, they say in consequence of Mr. Alcott’s despotic manner, which he interprets as their not being equal to the Spirit’s demands…

Mrs. Alcott has no spontaneous inclination towards a larger family than her own natural one, of spiritual ties she knows nothing, though to keep all together she does and would go through a good deal of exterior and interior toil. I hoped I had done with pecuniary affairs, but it seems I am not to be let off. The crops, I believe, will not discharge all the obligations they were expected to liquidate, … In the midst of all these events and of William’s illness, who is in bed eight or ten days with a sort of bilious fever, I am not without the consolatory hope that some measure of Spirit utilitary is bound up with our obscure doings.

[Loc 1404]

In the end, the commune did not survive its first winter.   Soon everyone was gone, and the Reverend entered a deep depression; eventually, though, he realized he needed to provide for his family, and snapped out of it to return to a somewhat normal life.   Ultimately, the best thing to come out of this commune was his daughter Louisa May Alcott’s sarcastic short memoir, “Transcendental Wild Oats”.   Hiding behind animal pseuonyms, she wrote a biting critique of many of the events at Fruitlands.   Here are some of my favorite bits of that piece:

“What part of the work do you incline to yourself?” asked Sister Hope, with a humorous glimmer in her keen eyes.

“I shall wait till it is made clear to me. Being in preference to doing is the great aim, and this comes to us rather by a resigned willingness than a willful activity, which is a check to all divine growth,” responded Brother Timon.

“I thought so.” And Mrs. Lamb sighed audibly, for during the year he had spent in her family Brother Timon had so faithfully carried out his idea of “being, not doing,” that she had found his “divine growth” both an expensive and unsatisfactory process.

[Loc 1787]

Such farming probably was never seen before since Adam delved. The band of brothers began by spading garden and field; but a few days of it lessened their ardor amazingly. Blistered hands and aching backs suggested the expediency of permitting the use of cattle till the workers were better fitted for noble toil by a summer of the new life.

Brother Moses brought a yoke of oxen from his farm,—at least, the philosophers thought so till it was discovered that one of the animals was a cow…

Great was Dictator Lion’s indignation at this lapse from virtue. But time pressed, the work must be done; so the meek cow was permitted to wear the yoke…

The garden was planted with a generous supply of useful roots and herbs; but, as manure was not allowed to profane the virgin soil, few of these vegetable treasures ever came up…

Transcendental wild oats were sown broadcast that year, and the fame thereof has not yet ceased in the land; for, futile as this crop seemed to outsiders, it bore an invisible harvest, worth much to those who planted in earnest.

[Loc 1825, 1879]

[Closing conversation with Manuel]

Now, of course we are not claiming that this particular experience is in itself a definitive refutation of the concept of communism:  Alcott’s many quirks, such as the strict vegetarianism and refusal to use animal labor, would probably have doomed even a group of economically literate farmers who had attempted to follow him.    But are these experiences really that different from those who, a century after, would attempt new and untried farming and economic methods on a national scale, and starved millions of their citizens with similar levels of incompetence?   It definitely is something to think about.

And this has been your Story of Communism for today.


Episode 39: The New Man

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Welcome to Stories of Communism, the podcast where we discuss what life is really like for those unfortunate enough to live under communist or socialist governments.    Recording from the suburbs of Wichita, Kansas, this is Erik Seligman, your host, with co-host Manuel Castaneda dialing in from Oregon.

Today we’re going to be catching up with Nelson Rodriguez Chartrand, the Cuban dissident who we last spoke to a few years ago, back in episode 12.   You may recall that he was a Cuban lawyer who had the audacity to start teaching free market economics to his friends and neighbors, about a decade ago, when it looked like government controls might be loosening a bit.   As you can guess, that didn’t last, and after being arrested and beaten by the police, Nelson managed to flee to Brazil.   As he adapts to his new capitalist life, he’s still trying to fight for freedom in his homeland, most recently by publishing a new book, “La Revolucion de Las Promesas”, or in English, “The Revolution of Promises”.    

By the way, one slight difficulty we had interviewing is that Nelson isn’t fluent in English, and I’m not fluent in Spanish.   But my co-host Manuel was able to act as translator.   To make the audio flow more smoothly, I won’t play Manuel’s Spanish translation of my questions, but I will include Nelson’s Spanish answers as well as the English, so you can hear our interviewee’s real voice.

<Listen to audio of event>

Again, Nelson’s new book is titled “La Revolucion de Las Promesas”, and if you can read Spanish, you can order it on Amazon, using the link in the show notes at storiesofcommunism.com.   Hopefully an English translation will be coming one of these days as well.

And this has been your Story of Communism for today.


Episode 38: The Reality of Chinese Organ Harvesting

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Welcome to Stories of Communism, the podcast where we discuss what life is really like for those unfortunate enough to live under communist or socialist governments.    Recording from the suburbs of Wichita, Kansas, this is Erik Seligman, your host.   Today we’re doing something a little different:  our friends at the Anticommunism Action Team recently held an excellent online webinar on the issue of organ harvesting by the Chinese Communist government, and have given us permission to share audio highlights.

In case you’re not familiar with the issue, it’s been rumored for many years that China kills political prisoners in order to use their organs for transplant.   Evidence and testimony uncovered in recent years has moved this terrifying concept from the realm of rumor to reality.    Today you will hear from Jennifer Zeng, a former political prisoner (who we interviewed in an earlier episode), and author of “Witnessing History:  One Chinese Woman’s Fight for Freedom”.   She’ll talk about how close she came to being killed for her organs.    Then we’ll hear from David Kilgour, a former member of the Canadian Parliament, 2010 Nobel Peace Prize nominee, and active member of the International Coalition to End Transplant Abuse in China.    He has done extensive research on this topic, and as you will hear, believes it has now been firmly established that forced organ harvesting is really happening.   The moderator of the discussion is Christopher Wright of the Anticommunism Action Team.

<Listen to audio of event>

If you want to learn more, you can find links in the show notes at storiesofcommunism.com to Jennifer’s book and to the Coalition to End Transplant Abuse in China.   You can also find a link to the Anticommunism Action Team’s site spider-and-the-fly.com, where you can find lots of additional related info, in addition to information on supporting current action the U.S. Congress is considering on this issue.

And this has been your Story of Communism for today.


Episode 37: A Strange Zoo

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Welcome to Stories of Communism, the podcast where we discuss what life is really like for those unfortunate enough to live under communist or socialist governments.    Recording from the suburbs of Wichita, Kansas, this is Erik Seligman, your co-host, along with Manuel Castaneda in Oregon.   Apologies for the long gap since the last episode— as you have just heard, I’ve been relocating with my family halfway across the country, which has taken up a lot of time.   Hopefully we’ll get back to a more regular schedule soon.

Today we’re focusing on a very unusual book by Croatian author Slavonia Draculic, titled “A Guided Tour Through the Museum of Communism: Fables from a Mouse, a Parrot, a Bear, a Cat, a Mole, a Pig, a Dog, and a Raven”.    From the title you might expect it to be some kind of absurd satire— but each of the animals in the book is narrating adapted stories based on real events that occurred in Eastern Europe under Communist rule, though told from their unique point of view.   Some of the stories are darkly humorous, all are informative, and a few are quite chilling.    Let’s look at a few of the stories her animals tell us.

The book is introduced by a Czechoslovakian mouse, who is said to live in the cabinets of a physical museum.   

Permit me to say that, from what I have heard from the professor, Communism is not so much about exhibits, about seeing. It is more about how one lived in those times, or more to the point, how one survived them. From the lack of food or shoes to the lack of freedom and human rights. The question is, How do you present that kind of shortage, shortages that were not just poverty-induced, to somebody who knows very little about it? Because people who experienced life under Communism tend not to come here, anyway….

Drakulic, Slavenka. A Guided Tour Through the Museum of Communism (p. 6-). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition

The mouse recommends we get some perspective from his friend Milena, the elderly cleaning lady who tends to the museum.    She provides a key insight into why it is so hard for former residents of these countries to truly confront their past and expose the kind of stories we’ve been sharing in this podcast:

Our young people people don’t care, for them Communism is the ancient past. Those old enough to remember it want to forget it now. And why? Because they went along with it. As I did. As my husband did, and our neighbors, and everybody we knew, every Pavel and Elena around us,” I heard her say….

10 percent of the population were party members, plain and simple. That means one million seven hundred thousand people! I understand that not all of them were believers; they were only formally members because of the job and career and benefits that went with membership. But no regime, however totalitarian, could exist without complicity on the part of the people—however unwilling it might be,” I remember Professor Perlík saying. “Let us not kid ourselves; most of us complied in order not only to survive—because Czechoslovakia was not the USSR—but just to live better. I admit it’s a hard fact to face now…

Maybe the absence of individual stories is the best illustration of the fact that individualism was the biggest sin one could commit.


This fact that so many people collaborated with the regime in order to survive is a common theme under all these systems.   Even famous dissident author Milan Kundera is said to have a black spot in his record:

Kundera left Czechoslovakia and went to France after the invasion in 1968 and never returned. After that he became one of the best-known dissidents from the Communist world, next to Alexander Solzhenitsyn. Suddenly, this same Kundera is in the middle of a scandal! I heard about it from a couple discussing it very loudly in this room just recently. In fact, they woke me up in the middle of my regular afternoon nap. What happened? 

In October 2008 a certain historian found a document that is taken as proof that Kundera is not what he seems to be. Not a moral man, but a denouncer no less. A document from 1950 is there to prove it. It is a police report, a short one. It states that Milan Kundera, at that time a student at the FAMU film academy and an ardent member of the CP, reported to the undersigned police inspector that there was a suspicious person staying in his dormitory. 

Following this, the police arrested Miroslav Dvoraček, a pilot and a spy for the American-supported Czech intelligence agency of that time. Dvoraček had illegally crossed the border back into Czechoslovakia and was on his way out again. Following Kundera’s report, the man was arrested and sentenced to twenty-two years of hard labor. Dvoraček served his sentence mostly in uranium mines. Yet, in his writing and interviews, Kundera never mentioned this episode….

You see, true or not, the real problem is that this whole devilish story is believable. Convincing. Everybody agrees that it could have happened. It could have been that Kundera saw reporting on Dvoraček as his patriotic duty: He was a party member, he himself was in danger of going to prison if he didn’t report it, such were the times. It could have happened to anyone—or so the argument goes….   There is a certain malevolent triumph in the ‘fact’ … that the best of us all could have failed.


Another of the more memorable chapters is the one narrated by Tosho the dancing bear.  Draculic uses the idea of a Bulgarian peasant training a bear to dance as a metaphor for the way the Communist party, inherently a small, weak group of people, manage to control entire populations and force them to do their bidding.     After the fall of Communism, an animal rights activist named Evelina tries to rehabilitate Tosho, but is confused by the fact that the bear seems to miss his trainer.

But then I realized that she was troubled not only by the fact that we had been tortured, but also that we had withstood torture without even a squeak. She could not understand our passiveness. Evelina belongs to a new generation that grew up after the fall of Zhivkov’s regime, free from Communist Party ideology. 

I realized that recently, when she asked me, “But why didn’t you do something? You are so much bigger, so much stronger than the people who held you imprisoned! ʺ Yes, why didn’t we? “I’ll tell you why, young lady: Because the thought never occurred to us, that’s why! That was the secret of both Zhivkov’s and Angel’s rule—not only was your body captured, but so was your mind. I learned only in hindsight that what keeps one enslaved is one’s own captive mind,” I told her. “And if you are still wondering, Was there no one else to stand up for our rights, no one to stop this unbearable torture?—like neighbors or the police, or other citizens—I tell you: No! They all watched us dance and laughed! It amused them to see a huge and dangerous animal reduced to a pitiful clown. It proved their domination. A sad story of how beastly people can be, given the chance.”


I believed that Angel and I were friends after all those years of living and performing together. This in spite of the fact that he kept me on a chain, with a ring through my nose. He convinced me that it was more for the sake of appearance. “This is for your own safety, eh! People would go mad if they saw a bear walking free in the street,” he used to say, reassuringly. “They would kill you right away. People are cruel, believe you me. I have seen it many times in my life.” As if I did not know that!


The needs of the animals and the humans enter a strange sort of conflict as the bear reminisces about Zhivkov’s eccentric daughter Lyudmila, who was openly a vegetarian, an almost unheard-of lifestyle in Bulgaria.   At the same time, these reflections apply just as well to the relationship between Communist leaders like Lyudmila and the masses of people they claim to be, and often even intend to be, helping.

At first I thought that to be a vegetarian in a country where many people could not afford to eat meat—where such a diet was not a matter of taste or choice—was an extraordinary, enlightened decision. You have to be really high-minded and spiritually oriented….  

Long after Lyudmila was gone I understood how easy it had been for her to be a vegetarian. She defended the rights of other living beings, mostly mammals, because animals are like people; they feel pain, they feel fear. Therefore, she appeared more human herself. On the other hand, she did nothing to change their conditions. Her activity in our favor was restricted to just that—not eating meat…

I naively imagined how, for example, she could have given the order to ban the capture and torture of wild bears. Or, for that matter, to let people travel abroad and then decide for themselves what beauty and light and harmony are. But this would have required much more from her than grand words. It would have also been more dangerous to deal with human than with animal rights. At the time, human life was seldom perceived in its single form; it was usually seen as only a mass, a crowd….

There was no real change; there could not be any. In the end, even if her intentions were good, our life went on without change. Freedom—be it for animals or for humans—was not her priority. How could it be? She had little or no contact with real life, with real underdogs and underbears. She simply did not see us as being enslaved.


Probably the funniest chapter is the one narrated by a mole, who lives in the vicinity of the former site of the Berlin Wall.   He was born after the Wall fell, but has heard many stories about it from his mole relatives.   Given his easy traversal between the two sides, he at first is mystified as to why the humans made such a big deal about it.     He views some museum artifacts showing the lengths various residents of East Berlin went through to get across the wall:

This collection proves the existence of the Wall(s) beyond any doubt. There were huge machines on wheels called trucks, which were used to crush the turnpike at the border crossing in Friedrichstrasse. And a homemade chairlift! A father sent his small son over the Wall(s) by using this invention. Unbelievable as it is, I also saw a hot-air balloon. Imagine, in anno domini 1979 two families escaped by using it to climb twenty-six hundred meters! There was a cable drum that smuggled people, too. I was also most impressed by ordinary cars. It was amazing how a gigantic creature, such as a grown-up male or female Man, could squeeze himself or herself into a small trunk, and thus became invisible to the border guards. One kind of car was built so low that it actually passed under the horizontal bar at the checkpoint, transporting three people.


As he seeks wisdom from his fellow moles, he finally hits upon a reason why the humans are so interested in this crossing:

“Well…  have you never heard of the banana issue!?” … “They are a delicacy. You should imagine a banana as an exquisite, extremely succulent, tasty kind of earthworm. Even the mere mentioning of bananas makes Men’s mouth water,” he said. “Oh, I do understand that, the mere thought of a special kind of fat earthworm… makes my mouth water as well!” I exclaimed, happy to have learned something new. 

In the old days, before the Berlin Wall went down, bananas were a very popular food among Men. “But in those days,” Andreas continued, “unlike other popular foods, there was something particular about bananas. While on the West side of the Wall (the banana side, so to speak) Men did not especially appreciate them, probably because they could indulge in them every day; on the nonbanana side they were literally dying for them.”


Following up on this discussion, the mole does some research, and learns of a popular joke told by humans about the situation:

Two Berliner children are speaking to each other over the Wall (but let me remark here that this was hardly possible; the Wall was much too high!). The little boy in the West says, while eating a banana, “Look, I have a banana.” The boy in the East answers: “Yes, but we have socialism!” The boy in the West counters: “We, too, will have socialism soon.” But the boy in the East says triumphantly: “Tough luck, then; you won’t have bananas anymore!” 

Obviously, you had either bananas or “socialism”; the two of them didn’t grow together. But what was this socialism? “Another kind of food?” I asked myself. Based on available sources, I soon came to the conclusion that socialism must have been not food but a kind of pestilence that prevented bananas from growing in the Eastern part of the Overland…

After having pondered a while, I thought that there could be only one answer: The Men on the nonbanana side built the Wall(s) to protect the prisoners and bananas from socialism. They surely demonstrated extraordinary care for the others, a noble characteristic of human beings.


[Closing conversation with Manuel]

As you can see, the author’s odd choice of narrators enabled her to approach each of the stories from a rather unique perspective.   While providing plenty of humor, she succeeds in conveying the ironies, the failures, and in some places even the horrors of Communist rule in Eastern Europe throughout the Cold War period.    I’m sure if you’re interested enough in the topic to be listening to this podcast, you’ll thoroughly enjoy Draculic’s Guided Tour.

And this has been your Story of Communism for today.


Episode 36: Radioactive Spinach for Kids

 Audio Link

Welcome to Stories of Communism, the podcast where we discuss what life is really like for those unfortunate enough to live under communist or socialist governments.    Recording from the suburbs of Portland, Oregon, this is Erik Seligman, your co-host, along with Manuel Castaneda.

Today we’re going to interview Nora Clinton, author of “Quarantine Reflections Across Two Worlds”.   Nora discusses her early life in Communist Bulgaria, her experiences on moving to the West, and the ways in which recent events remind her a bit too much of her past.   Let’s hear what she has to say directly.

<Listen to audio for interview,

Here are some of the quotes from the book that we noted down, for discussion in the interview:

I had always considered a ham-and-cheese sandwich to be nothing more than what the name suggested. Little did I know this would be a memorable paragon of free-market economy and a kaleidoscope of magical abundance. 

The server asked with a gentle smile, “What kind of bread would you like?” I was confused. “What kind do you have?” “White, wheat, rye, pumpernickel, pita, sprouted, flourless …” After I hesitantly chose, he continued, “Cheddar, provolone, brie, gouda, Havarti, pepper jack, or American?” Followed by, “Do you want mustard, mayo, butter, or cream cheese? Peppers, tomatoes, relish, onions, lettuce, arugula, or sprouts?” And to top it all off, “How about a pickle?” 

I felt exhausted after ordering my first American sandwich, yet almost tearful with amazement and appreciation.

Clinton, Nora D.. Quarantine Reflections Across Two Worlds (p. 16). Archway Publishing. Kindle Edition. 

The communists then nationalized the company but needed experts to teach them basic skills at the state-owned insurance outfit. They hired my grandfather to manage this effort but soon ordered him to dismiss two employees for political reasons. Their crime was “harboring ill musings toward the government.” My grandfather refused to fire the employees on political grounds. And he disappeared overnight.


In 1968, the comrades’ tanks invaded Prague, and my grandfather vanished again. An informant sitting at a café had recorded his conversation with a friend, in which both men expressed disapproval of the invasion. The government exiled my grandfather to an isolated, poverty-stricken village in northeast Bulgaria for one year, without permission to see his family. He was denied the simple joy of attending his daughter’s high school graduation.


 We did not have a telephone; visitors merely dropped by. Phones, cars, apartments, and other essential possessions were a privilege—people had to deserve them. They often waited five, ten, twenty, or more years to obtain them.


When I was five, I attended kindergarten. While some teachers were warm and humane, the communist directive mandated that children be indoctrinated and humiliated every step of the way. This would serve as an instructive preview early on of what was to come in adulthood. We sang a song about the party being our one true mother. It went like this: “You love your mother, and she may be a very fine person, but she only cares about you and your sister. We all, however, have one true mother—the communist party that cares for us all.”


Few people in the West are aware that high school and college students, soldiers, and other groups were engaged in forced labor to help the unsustainable communist economy. They dug ditches, painted buildings, worked in the fields or can factories—the so-called “merry brigades.”


A few days after the explosion, my classmates and I were to collect spinach at a vast cooperative farm, after spring rains and gusts of wind had spread the radioactive cloud across great swaths of territory in many countries. Our principal called the Ministry of Health to inquire if this was safe. “We are talking about eighth-grade children,” she pleaded. The ministry assured her there was no risk, and we gathered radioactive spinach from dawn to dusk, when a new order arrived from above: “Destroy the spinach!”

My extended family included a number of medical doctors, who were aghast upon learning that I had spent the day picking radioactive spinach. “You must take iodine,” they urged me, “immediately!” They diluted some iodine in water and made me chug it. It left a burning sensation in my esophagus, but perhaps it saved my life.


One professor I knew, who earned a six-figure salary, was an unabashed self-proclaimed communist, who enjoyed a luxurious house with acres of majestic pines and an emerald pond. He incessantly directed invectives at the United States and sang “The Internationale” at his bon-vivant soirees, after distributing gaudy pink brochures with this dreadful anthem’s lyrics to his unfortunate guests. 

The French have fittingly labeled this phenomenon “left caviar” or “champagne socialism.” Just think of George Bernard Shaw, who shamelessly propagated eugenics and genocide, offered to assist Hitler and Mussolini, and lauded Stalin’s extermination camps as though they were a quaint holiday arrangement of voluntary duration.



As always, you can see a link to Nora Clinton’s book, as well as one to her foundation’s website about victims of Communism in Bulgaria, in the show notes at storiesofcommunism.com .  

And this has been your story of Communism for today.