Photo by Calandrea Hatcher
Imagine this: You live in a small town. You're one of the wealthier individuals within the area. You own a three-story building where you house your family. There is a change in politics and the authorities take the building from you. You are moved with your wife and three children to live in a home shared by another family. The building you once owned and called home is now property of the government and has been turned into a co-op.
For most Americans, the idea of this elicits anger or fear. But for University of South Carolina professor Dr. Melania Popa-Mabe, this was a reality when her grandfather’s property was seized following the communist revolution in Romania. Her mother was one of those three relocated children, who would later give birth to Popa-Mabe under Romania’s communist regime. Popa-Mabe, a clinical assistant professor in USC's College of Social Work, saw the fall of communist Romania during her junior year of high school. She moved to the United States and saw the remnants of the Red Scare settle – until recently.
Since the election of Donald Trump in 2016, there has been a resurgence of McCarthyism in the United States. During the late 1940s and early 1950s – also known as the McCarthy era – conservative politicians used allegations of communist ties to control and manipulate both politics and public opinion. The same can be said regarding the current political climate, in a time of fake news and fear-mongering, modern-day McCarthyism emerged as an almost knee-jerk reaction to the growth and support behind the growing socialist movement in America. Either way, McCarthyism is a response to fear, raising the question of exactly what it is to be feared. Popa-Mabe points to indoctrination as a source of misunderstanding between political ideologies.
“There are more parallels between communism and capitalism than most realize. Under [the dictator] Ceaușescu, we were shown films that depicted the most shameful parts of America. Films that exposed us to racial discrimination and the disadvantages of affluence. We were taught that capitalists were pigs, selfish, exploitive and discriminatory,” Popa-Mabe said.
She continued to explain this is not dissimilar to the exposure Americans receive about communists. As Americans, there is an almost innate belief that lack of individuality, controlling dictators and immense poverty are the foundation for communism. However, benefits like gender and racial equality, free and accessible education for all and collectivist camaraderie are often not considered. Popa-Mabe, who has lived in both communist and capitalist societies, emphasizes that elements of both are beneficial when implemented together, and that politicians should look to countries who already have begun to do so for guidance.
“When I think of functional socialism, I think of many of the northern countries. This is where you see a good mixture of market-economy, as well as very generous social welfare policies,” Popa-Mabe said.
Even with successful countries to cite with both socialist and capitalist policies, elements of the Red Scare persist, as evident in the change of means to obtain citizenship in America. Popa-Mabe passed her citizenship exam this past December, and even though she does not identify as a communist, she does empathize with certain beliefs.
“We are in America, you know? Free country, free speech, freedom of belief. So [while studying] I couldn’t understand why being a communist could be reason to be denied citizenship. When I went to the interview, they asked if I had ever been a part of the Communist Party. If I had been a little older [during the liberation] I would have been, just by circumstance and default. It bothered me that I couldn’t have the freedom to believe in communist or socialist beliefs in America had I chosen to,” said Popa-Mabe.
She had a point. In a country that emphasizes the importance of free thought and speech, why is there such a large and recurrent fear of what is different from our own? Popa-Mabe agrees that it is in part a lack of curiosity. She encourages others to dissect policies, question the dominant political message, look at problems critically and with analytical eyes, and recognize that communism and capitalism can work as friends – not foes. Popa-Mabe is proud to be an American citizen, but she is proud of her past too.
“You can take the girl out of the communism, but you can’t take the communism out of the girl.”