12:13pm April 10, 2013

Communist Party, Socialists Not Sure “What the Big Deal Is” Over Melissa Harris-Perry


The Communist Party USA and the Democratic Socialists of America don’t see what the big deal is when it comes to MSNBC Host’s Melissa Harris-Perry’s latest 30-second spot advocating for society to move beyond its “private idea” of kids belonging to parents and families and to the notion that they belong to “whole communities.”

“How is she saying that? She doesn’t say that at all,” said Libero della Piana, who is one of the Vice Chairs of the Communist Party USA, when asked if he thought Harris-Perry was advocating the idea of children belonging to the government.

“She’s not saying children are the property of the community or anything else. She’s saying that they are our responsibility. I think that’s something most people would agree with. That’s why we have public education. I don’t think that’s a communist idea. Communists certainly support it,” he told Politic365.

(On a historical note, the tenth plank of the Communist Manifesto reads: “Free education for all children in public schools.”)

Della Piana, who also serves as the communications director for CPUSA, said that her quote didn’t seem “to deal with the Communist Party or Communism” at all.

“I don’t quite see what people are getting at,” said CPUSA’s communications director. CPUSA does encourage its members to read Karl Marx’s and Friedrich Engel’s Communist Manifesto. But the CPUSA official added “its also quite old and a lot of it doesn’t apply although the principles [do].”

Chapter 2 of the Communist Manifesto reads:

“The bourgeois clap-trap about the family and education, about the hallowed co-relation of parents and child, becomes all the more disgusting, the more, by the action of Modern Industry, all the family ties among the proletarians are torn asunder, and their children transformed into simple articles of commerce and instruments of labour.”

Still, della Piana didn’t see a connection when read this passage.

“First of all, what Marx and Engels were talking about–what they were saying that its capitalism that dehumanizes and commodifies children and that they speak about the family but in fact children become another commodity and this was the era of child labor,” he said. “The era of arranged marriages and property rights being transacted that way.”

He added that “in that framework children are reduced to nothing.” Rather, he believes that Harris-Perry was saying something most Americans could agree with.

“It seems to me that she’s sort of reflected the basic idea that the vast majority of people would agree with that society has some collective responsibility for children. That’s something everybody agrees with that’s why we have public education. That’s something the vast majority of people support.”

His comrade agreed.

“I don’t get what the big deal is,” said Roberta Wood, Secretary Treasurer of CPUSA, adding that she didn’t think Harris-Perry’s comments had anything to do with communism or socialism.

“You know it seems like they’re talking about society taking responsibility for all the children and as far as I know that’s the way to look at people to see how human beings should be,” she told Politic365.

Even the Democratic Socialists of America didn’t interpret the MSNBC host’s comments the way many conservatives did.

“The idea that it takes a village to raise a child, essentially that a nurturing community cares about all of it’s children, is certainly not socialist (though we would agree with the sentiment),” wrote DSA National Director Maria Svart in an email to Politic365.

“Democratic socialists do believe that socially created wealth (in other words, wealth created through the cooperative, collective endeavor of people working together) should be democratically invested, rather than largely going to the 1% and being used however the 1% sees fit,” she continued.

“We believe that when people have a voice in how public resources are invested, they want many of those resources invested in education and other programs that help kids.”

Conservatives, however, found Harris-Perry’s comments chilling–and didn’t interpret the MSNBC host’s words as those in the Communist Party of the United States and Democratic Socialists of America did.

The most controversial quote in the 30-second spot was where Harris-Perry said “we have to break through our kind of private idea that kids belong to their parents or kids belong to their families and recognize that kids belong to whole communities.”

That statement to many conservative observers was tantamount to saying kids belong to the state. That is, to the government.

Radio host Rush Limbaugh took on the ad on his show on Monday.

“What she is saying, Melissa Harris-Perry, what she is saying here is as old as communist genocide,” said Limbaugh. “But, the fact that it is said in America on a cable news channel, and is considered fairly benign is what has changed.”

Former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin tweeted that the ad was “Unflippingbelieveable.”

“Apparently, MSNBC doesn’t think your children belong to you,” she tweeted on Sunday.

Harris-Perry “doubled-down” on her statements on Tuesday in a post on MSNBC. She said her e-mail inbox swelled with “hateful, personal attacks” the day prior, and that she agrees with pro-life advocates that “kids are not the property of their parents.” Additionally, she says that her message “was a call to see ourselves connected to a larger whole,” adding “I don’t want your kids.”

According to a 2012 Gallup poll conducted between August 9-12, 39 percent of adults nationwide said the federal goverment should be more involved in education and 36 percent said it should become less involved.

Only 24 percent said it’s involvement should stay the same.

And a 2012 PDK/Gallup poll found that the most common challenge Americans thought faced public schools was their funding, a sentiment the annual poll found went back a few years.

Historically, the United States federal government hasn’t always been so involved in public education.

There is precedent in the United States where people were distrustful of parents and legislatively attempted to do something about it–historical facts that would resonate with conservatives.

“As an 1851 article in The Massachusetts Teacher reported: “In too many instances the parents are unfit guardians of their own children … the children must be gathered up and forced into school,” writes the Clare Boothe Luce Policy Institute in a timeline called “A Brief History of Education in America.”

Between 1865 and 1900, the California State Superintendent of Public Instruction wrote, “The child should be taught to consider his instructor, in many respects, superior to the parent in point of authority … [T]he vulgar impression that parents have a legal right to dictate to teachers is entirely erroneous,” according to the same timeline.

A transcript of Harris-Perry’s ad called “Collective Responsibility” is below.

“We have never invested as much in public education as we should have because we’ve always had a private notion of children, your kid is yours and totally your responsibility. We haven’t had a very collective notion of these are our children.

So part of it is we have to break through our kind of private idea that kids belong to their parents or kids belong to their families and recognize that kids belong to whole communities.

Once it’s everybody’s responsibility and not just the household’s we start making better investments.”

About the Author

Christopher Goins
Christopher Goins



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