I wanted equality for all. Or did I simply want to feel better about myself? I wanted justice for all. Or maybe mostly for myself? I wanted a bright future for all. Or perhaps dominantly for myself.
But all I knew at the time was that the words that came out of my mouth sounded mature and convincing – at least to my own ears.
I was so proud of having found something to prop myself up on that it hardly even mattered what it was – at least at the time.
Teenagers are fragile – more so than even they themselves think. And through the haze of hormones and emotions, making decisions at all is a near miracle.
I had been flirting with the idea of socialism for a while – the exact reason eludes me today. But at the time I really wanted to believe that it was because I was naturally predisposed to care about the welfare of others, and society in general. Because I wanted to believe in something.
I was living in a small, lazy industrial town with a high unemployment rate. There didn’t seem to be any bright future prospects. And my family seemed to have resigned themselves to that fact – whatever they might say in a political discussion, it was clear to me that they really only cared about their own lives, and failed to see the bigger picture. Later on I realized that such an observation did in fact not just apply to my parents, but to much anyone.
I met R in high school. He was a socialist (at least in speech). I was so impressed with how deeply he claimed to believe in what he claimed to believe in – as if he had life experience enough to know what he was talking about. He was the force that sent me over the edge into joining a communist party. I had been flirting with the idea for about three quarters of a year, but not seriously thought it through. After all, I was only 15.
Being idealistic is so easy as long as you aren’t paying your own rent or signing your own papers. As long as you’re eating at somebody else’s table and can’t vote. Keeping that idealism alive once you have to put your own bread on the table – that’s the tough part.
Everything was coated in red all of a sudden. The songs my mother and grandfather had taught me to sing as a child were all about red flags. When I was little I didn’t know that was a socialist symbol – the flag of Denmark is red as well after all. I just figured that’s what it was about. It wasn’t until my early teenage years that my brain became able to make the distinction. After all, my mother sang the Internationale and the Danish national anthem interchangeably – so why couldn’t the flags be interchangeable as well? It was all jumbled up for me until I started reading about politics seriously as a young teen.
I can’t even recall why I started taking an interest in politics. Perhaps it’s just in my blood. I grew up in the reddest municipality in Denmark (naturally, a poor one for Danish standards), with a proudly socialist mother and a loyally social democratic grandfather. It could be genetics – or contamination.
I wanted so badly to believe in something. To prop myself and my teenage insecurities up on something. And here was this hot teenage guy who had all the answers; and answers that fit in neatly with the songs I’d listened to in my childhood. Neatly coated in familiar red. And here I had a chance to impress him… And you could even fill out the form online.
I have no regrets about joining when it comes to it. I learned a lot in the communist party. That communists are paranoid and live in the past, namely. That fixed truths are too fixed to stay truths in the long run. That pragmatism wins out in the end no matter how well thought-out theories you counter it with. A theory is just a theory. Ideals are not reality. Predicting the future is impossible. And everything change, so looking for a final state of society isn’t worthwhile.
Granted, I don’t think that’s what the communists WANTED to teach me. But that’s what they DID teach me. Not with their words, but with their actions.
However, at the time, the world was a red haze. I was in love and I was fired up by the lethal concoction that was hormones, beliefs and emotions. The stuff that makes people make mistakes essentially. Good things mistakes are opportunities to learn.
I made progress quickly. Sat in on the high-level meetings. Was sent to Brussels to speak about the state of the Danish educational system at an international meeting for left wing parties. Played with the thought of starting a communist youth organization along with one of my friends. A friend who soon became a boyfriend. R was not forgotten but just out of reach, and this guy was truly devoted to “the cause” and we worked together. It seemed a match made in Heaven. We would fight together side by side, joined together by love and beliefs… Except that we weren’t. We were just teenagers who went through a phase.
I started writing for the newspaper of another worker’s party. However, I did so covertly because the two parties were fighting. They were both paranoid because they had attempted a merger recently (just before I joined), and the result had ultimately been that my party backed out, with the consequence that a significant minority left the party and merged with the other party on their own. Cue the drama.
I was happy writing culture stuff for the newspaper, which was even a daily, albeit a small one. I received free books and CD’s. I had a really nice editor. But I had to write under pseudonym for fear that my own party would find out. This very quickly started to bug me.
Gee… The idea evaporated into thin air as soon as my fingers hit the first key. What was it I had intended to write? I couldn’t remember. It was just that his face kept obscuring my thoughts. The intention of writing was always there, but the ability came and went like the wind – even when it was an article with a strict deadline I was working on. It didn’t seem to matter to my brain.
What had I intended to write? How would I get back on track? I needed to deliver that article on time or I would surely hear for it. I would rather avoid the scolding that would follow – but how? My mind took some sharp turns without warning. I just couldn’t seem to keep up anymore.
All the drama got on my nerves. I’m not a drama queen by nature, and even the teenage heat couldn’t keep up with the exhaustion I was starting to feel. I just wanted to live my life and here was this party limiting my opportunities. I could not write for the newspaper I wanted to write for, except in secret. I couldn’t hang out with the people I wanted to hang out with because my boyfriend got jealous. I couldn’t say what I wanted to say because anything to the contrary of official party line was met with demands for “schooling”.
Was it really worth it? My “belief” started to falter, little by little.
It was a farce beyond words. Three small communist parties, who might have been able to make something of a difference if they worked in unison, all Hell bent on stabbing each other in the back over who got to be the leader. Who got to have the last word. Who got to go to whose arrangements. Who paid for what.
I sat in on a meeting where my party – who held an annual festival in Copenhagen – decided to ban the newspaper I was secretly writing for (a daily), from said festival, out of fear that they might steal attention from the party’s own newspaper (a monthly pretty much only received by party members). It didn’t matter to them that the product was better, the texts better, the sales numbers infinitely better (if still small)… They just didn’t want competition. And that came right after issuing a statement in favor of collaboration.
Official party line vs. real life decision-making behind the scenes.
The pride of being a socialist waned. With that, the emotions for my boyfriend went out the window. It turned out that once I didn’t see him as a conquering hero whom I was fighting side by side with on the noble course of creating a stiflingly fixed “better” world for all, he was just a loser. A whiny teenager who didn’t have a single coherent thought in his head. Who really couldn’t fight to save his own life.
No, don’t get me wrong, he was a nice guy. He just wasn’t the one for me. Not at all. I grew up and my mind started working itself out – and he stayed in place. And stayed. And stayed. And never bothered starting to think for himself because, really, once you get used to letting other people make your decisions for you, learning to do it yourself is just too much bother…
The colour red evokes strong emotions in people. It is the colour of love, of passion, of war. For me, it is the colour defeat and loss as well. I love it because it still symbolizes my country, and also the ideals I was proud to share – even if they turned out to be no reflection of reality whatsoever in the long run – but it also makes me sad.
Going back to being what I really should have been all along – a social democrat – was a difficult decision. A more difficult decision than it should have been considering how right it was for me. But there was a lot of red haze to shake off. A lot of disillusion to overcome. A crazy high to come down from after having pledged one’s life to a cause that demanded so much – and going back to being an ordinary party member of an ordinary party that wasn’t populated by old people who desperately wanted some younger members to plan that impossible revolution they themselves must’ve long since realized that they were too old and frail and too out of touch to ever carry out themselves. What they never realized was that a revolution would never work in as stable and secure a country as Denmark anyway. Age is no guarantee for wisdom I suppose.
I was 15 when I joined. I was 16 when I left. It was less than a year but if felt like a lifetime. I wasn’t the same person going in as I was stepping out. And after that, it took a few years to clear my head enough to realize what I had taken with me from the experience, and how I could turn the chaos and confusion into something constructive.
I came out wiser and more composed. More at ease with myself. So all in all, it was good for something. But admittedly, I also felt kind of stupid.
I told myself that everybody makes mistakes. And that is true. And a hormone-drugged teenager who is even in love is all the more prone to such moves. But still… I should have known, on some level, that ideals are ideals exactly BECAUSE they aren’t real. If they were real they would’ve become reality at some point.
I know why I stayed those eight months after joining. Why I actually got caught up in the politics instead of just having it being secondary to my turbulent teenage love life. I know that beyond a doubt because I wrote a highly exultant poem about it about a month into this time-span: I felt that I belonged somewhere for the first time in my life. They made me feel that I fit in. They made me feel needed. They made me feel as if my life had a purpose, and they made me feel that they had the key I needed to attain said purpose. I didn’t feel like an outsider for the first time in my life. Getting a boyfriend inside the party was definitely a contributing factor to this as well, but they did groom me a good deal, and I was susceptible – for a time.
I would have done most everything to feel like I fit in. What teenager wouldn’t? And it wasn’t as if they asked for much in return except loyalty. It just so turned out that loyalty to a communist party is too much work to keep up once reality sets in.
Having to leave the communist party meant giving up my entire belief system and a good deal of my network. And surrender to fate. Throw in the towel. It was my luck that I met a Chinese guy just at the right time (oh, yes; the hormones were still raging) who was able to shed some light on the matter of communism in reality. His stories matched a lot better with my own observations than anything the comrades claimed it was all about. And when it came to it, you can feel like you belong in a relationship as well. You can feel a part of something bigger than yourself in a relationship as well. And it’s generally safer to look for it there than in politics.
Anyhow, that relationship granted me a respite in which I got to think everything through and definitively decide that communism wasn’t the way to go for me. That it was a beautiful ideal that didn’t work out in practice. That the communist parties were deliberately backstabbing their allies for “the greater good” and waiting for a revolution that would never come while jabbering about “class consciousness” as if it’s something that matters in the Western world in the 21st century where the working class is practically extinct… The more I read up on the subject, the more disillusioned I became. I’m glad I didn’t have to face it alone but had a citizen from a (so-called) communist country to support me through all this.
I have no regrets about any of the things I did. Neither joining or leaving. As I said; I learned a lot from the experience, and that is the most important part. The only things I regret is that I didn’t read Karl Popper earlier (it could have saved me all the trouble, really).
This is a powerless narrative. Those who wish to do what I did will disregard my words, and the rest will read in them whatever they want to read. But that doesn’t matter. I mostly wrote it for myself anyway. To admit what happened back then. To get the words out of my head and onto paper.
It’s funny all the same. When I re-tell the story it sounds like such a farce. Because that’s what it was. A farce. A political and sexual mish-mash comedy. But back then it was dead serious to me, and anybody who’d claimed otherwise would have had to answer for it.
But oh do I miss the high of believing in an all-encompassing worldview, and oh do I understand those who search for such a one and allow their whole lives to be entangled in it so that there’s nothing left besides it – whether it takes the form of politics or religion or anything else. I understand them. It so safe – floating in the fetal water of one all-encompassing comfort zone where everything is thought out for you so that you don’t have to do anything but allow yourself to surrender.
The only problem is – that life is not your own. It is owned by those who told you what to think and how to behave. Absolute truths are exactly what they are – absolutes. Nothing beyond and nothing besides. And no room for who you are outside of them.
The red haze has lifted. I still show up under red flags every once in a while at social democratic gatherings. But it is a world apart. It is the difference between being dictated to and accepting due to hormonal imbalances and a desperate desire to fit in; and having fruitful discussions amongst equals.
I can never go back. Nor do I want to. I grew up, I grew past it and I developed a brain that doesn’t take well to either making decisions based on emotions and hormones, or being told what to do.
But boy did I learn a lot.
I certainly did something constructive with my teenage years. Even if the thing I ultimately ended up doing wasn’t at all the thing I thought I was doing at the time.
It wasn’t the ultimate means to an ultimate end that I allowed myself to believe. It was an interlude. A red interlude that catapulted me from adolescence to young adulthood.
What a time.