When I wrote my memoir Commies: A Journey Through the Old Left, the New Left and the Leftover Left, I had a chapter that I titled “Commie Camp,” about my years as both a camper and counselor in the now-defunct Camp Woodland in Phoenicia, New York. I wrote about how instead of Olympics, they had a “World Youth Festival,” modeled after the Soviet bloc’s festivals; of the dedication to the culture and politics of left-wing folk music; and of how counselors even used the camp’s premises to try and recruit older campers into the Communist Party’s youth movement.
I assumed that in the 21st century, those days of Red summer camps had come to an end. Alas, that is not the case. Evidently Gabe Zimmerman, the director of community outreach for Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ) who died standing by her side in the Tucson shootings, was a proud counselor in 2001 at one of these remaining camps, Camp Kinderland in Eastern Massachusetts.
According to an report in the weekly Jewish newspaper The Forward, the camp “is an idiosyncratic sort of place, a living relic of American Jewry’s red diaper past.” To say the least! After all, it had its beginnings in 1923, when Jewish Communists created it. For years its camp grounds were in Hopewell Junction, New York. Set on a large lake, the opposite side made up the camp grounds of the competing Jewish social-democratic camp, Kinder Ring, run by the Workmen’s Circle, a moderate fraternal organization of so-called “right-wing socialists,” who set up shop in 1927.
The CP’s Jewish camp, Kinderland, was run by the International Workers Order, the Party’s fraternal order. As the article points out:
Though campers no longer salute the flag of the Soviet Union on their way to breakfast, much remains the same at Kinderland. The hardwired rituals of summer camp life, where tradition is religion and the outside world is a fantasy, have proved themselves to be perfectly suited to the preservation of a certain brand of unabashed Jewish leftism that has few contemporary analogies….
Camp buildings are named after leftist icons: the Paul Robeson Playhouse, the Roberto Clemente Sports Shack. Bunks, too, bear storied names: one for labor activist and songwriter Joe Hill; one for poet Pablo Neruda, and one, somewhat disconcertingly, for Anne Frank….
A few times a week, each bunk gets together to sing protest songs on the porch of the dining hall. “It’s usually Phil Ochs songs and Pete Seeger songs about revolution and that kind of stuff.”
Camp staff brag that in 1983, they had a “Peace Olympics” in which teams named after the Spanish Civil War era hard-line Stalinist Dolores Ibarruri, commonly known as “La Pasionaria,” squared off against a team named for the American anarchist leader Emma Goldman. Evidently they were not smart enough to know that Goldman hated the Soviet Union and was one of the first to expose its essential nature. In 1999 they named a team after the Seattle anti-globalization protestors called “Seattle 99.”
Well, with the Soviet Union no longer existing, at least they stopped saluting Uncle Joe Stalin and his successors. I guess Kim Jong-Il in North Korea is even too much to honor for them.