What's with Those 'Socialist Summer Camps' Anyway? Here's the Truth

You all recall the following quote from Alvy Singer, Woody Allen’s character in Annie Hall:

You, you, you’re like New York, Jewish, left-wing, liberal, intellectual, Central Park West, Brandeis University, the socialist summer camps and the, the father with the Ben Shahn drawings, right, and the really, y’know, strike-oriented kind of, Red Diaper, stop me before I make a complete imbecile of myself.


Allen’s co-writer Marshall Brickman once quipped that these camps were places in which you scored points if your father was going to jail for violating the Smith Act.

Woody’s character was talking to his girlfriend, whom he easily identified as a bona fide Red Diaper baby, and who went to “socialist summer camps.” So what were these camps all about, anyway?

The issue has gone viral since The Daily Caller ran a story yesterday about President Obama’s nominee for head of The Bureau of Labor Statistics, Erica Groshen, who evidently sent her own children to  Camp Kinderland sometime in the 1990s.

Sometimes some on the American Right like to make a fool of themselves, and this is one of those times. Her husband made the mistake in May 2011 of giving the gigantic sum of $20 to the Working People’s Party, an electoral spinoff of ACORN and company. But as for Ms. Groshen, as another story reveals, she has the backing of Diana Furchtgott-Roth, a senior fellow at the conservative Manhattan Institute who has stated for the record: “[Groshen is] a very, very good economist and I don’t think there’s anything wrong with her,” and adding “no-one could be more Republican than I am.”

She also said that no BLS commissioner could by herself skew the agency’s research or products. The BLS is “a vast bureaucracy with one person at the helm. … It’s just very difficult to change that vast group of technocrats,” she said.


If Ms. Groshen is good enough for Furchtgott-Roth, she’s good enough for me. Sure, Ms. Groshen is undoubtedly a leftist of some sort, but whom do you expect Obama would appoint to the BLS post, Mel Leffler? Any president is entitled to appoint someone he wants, and she has the solid credentials for what is essentially a bureaucratic management position.

But because Americans for Limited Government wants her investigated because she sent her own kids to Commie camp, the camp’s prettifiers have gone all out making jokes about how nutty the right is to think anything but camping went on there.

At The Atlantic, Jeffrey Goldberg called it “good old old-fashioned Red-baiting,” and he kidded about how the camp was supposedly part of the Jewish fraternal organization The Workman’s Circle:

The Workmen’s Circle! The most harmless organization in America! This is what they’re worried about? You should have seen my Jewish summer camp, Camp Shomria, a Socialist Zionist outpost in the Catskills. Kinderland was for bourgeois pantywaists. We, on the other hand, almost succeeded in forcibly collectivising Grossinger’s.

The only problem is that the camp was run originally by The International Worker’s Order, the fraternal organization for Jewish Communists, and had no affiliation with the anti-Communist social democrats of The Workmen’s Circle. And indeed, the defenders of the camps are quite proud that they were indeed created to forge a future generation of Reds. One left-wing historian even wrote an entire book proving this.


At Huffington Post, one of the camp’s major boosters tried to have her own field day. Katie Halper, who is making a documentary film about the camp, writes the following:

This country cannot afford to have a woman whose kids went to Kinderland lead the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Who knows how her children brainwashed their mother with the values of the camp. For starters let’s look, at the people the bunks at Kinderland are named after: Harriet Tubman, Anne Frank, Emma Lazarus, Roberto Clemente. With heroes like these, who knows where these campers could end up! Anywhere from attics, to forests, to the Statue of Liberty, to a baseball diamond, bashing the ball of the American republic with each swing of the unpatriotic bat.

Somehow, she forgot to include “The Paul Robeson Playhouse,” or to show all those widely available photos of the stage bedecked with the Soviet flag and hammer and sickle during World War II.

She also carefully refrained from citing the camp’s own webpages and newsletters, all available on the internet. One quick look and you will find that last year the campers went en masse to Zuccotti Park to participate in Occupy Wall Street.

The camp newsletter reports:

In Brooklyn get dozens of emails every day from our far flung friends involved in various progressive activities: Kinderlanders protesting pipelines, fracking, illegal frisking, Kinderlanders promoting fair wages, health care reform, union and workers rights. It‘s always good to start the day knowing how many of us are out there working for and caring about ways to build a better world. Over a particular few weeks we kept getting bulletins from Zuccotti Park near Wall Street; we knew something powerful was happening there, and soon we, along with the rest of the world, were witnessing the astonishing set of events known as Occupy Wall Street.

Dozens and dozens of Kinderland campers, staff, alumni and friends turned out to raise their voices and declare the power and the promise of the 99%. We Shall Not Be Moved; Banks of Marble; Solidarity Forever and This Land Is Your Land rang out, along with a catalogue of other high spirited movement hymns. We sang for hours, our songsheets making their way far beyond our Kinderland circle in ever widening ripples, till it seemed the whole park was singing along. It was a day of continuity and hope, as our youngest campers sang alongside alumni grandparents; as the words of the lyrics we sing all summer at camp took on new life and new meaning in the context of the Occupy movement spreading throughout the nation and the world. It really did feel like a new world might be born in the ashes of the old.


So the camp indeed keeps on with the tradition of nourishing a new generation of little Commies, the very purpose for which it was first created by the CPUSA in the 1920s. It is certainly as they brag: “True to the vision of its founders.”

And let us end with Rachel Maddow, who writes:

Yes, conservative media is now interested in the historical roots of summer camps where obscure administration nominees used to send their kids. We can only hope lengthy congressional hearings begin immediately. And the right wonders why it’s so difficult to take conservative media outlets seriously.

Personally, I wonder if Maddow will consider telling the truth about these camps and the role they played in politicizing a whole slew of young leftists, ever ready to carry on the battles of their grandparents and parents in the 21st Century. She calls them “liberal Jewish summer camps.” Hey, Rachel, they weren’t liberal — they were Communist. But you know that, don’t you?


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