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Borders and Paperchase pushing Marxism to children

Riding the 211 bus from Hammersmith to Chelsea yesterday, I was in a good mood, anticipating a tipple or two with Samizdata Overlord Perry de Havilland. As the bus drew up beside Borders, though, my mood took a significant tumble upon spotting this:

topmarx.jpg
Back to school supplies featuring jaunty references to the ideology that has killed 100+ million
people worldwide and which has a long history of persecuting homosexuals

Paperchase is a British stationery chain which also operates within Borders stores, having been acquired by Borders Group in 2004. If you click on that link, you will see that the “Top Marx” line of back to school supplies is the central feature of their new season’s products. The product descriptions refer to the red stars and other iconography as “Chinese emblems”. I suppose that is true, much in the same way that the swastika became a “German emblem”.

It was only a few months ago that a number of people decided to boycott Borders, due to the chain’s decision not to sell the issue of Free Enquiry magazine which featured the Danish cartoons depicting Mohammad. The reply I got to my complaint letter to Borders about this was exactly the same as the one Dale Amon received. It read, in part:

[W]e place a priority on the safety and security of our customers and our employees.

So is it safe to presume that Borders would cease to carry the “Top Marx” line if they were subject to sufficient threats of violence over it? Is it possible that no Paperchase or Borders employee voiced concerns about the wisdom of this line at any time? Or is it more likely that the people at Paperchase and Borders are really that ignorant of such recent history? I am curious what Samizdata readers think of this one.

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27 comments to Borders and Paperchase pushing Marxism to children

  • J

    It’s a moderately amusing pun, not least given the emphasis modern teaching places on the importance of Marx’s thought. I fail completely to see the problem. But then I’m not obsessed by Marxism.

    There’s a chain of cafes called ‘cafe Mao’, and I guess they don’t get a lot of Honkonese custom, but I can’t say I’m more than bemused even by that. If anything it’s nice to see a private firm prospering in a way Mao would have hated, by kitschly cashing in on his tyranny.

    There are some people that are forever bitter over the way the symbolism of radical socialism became socially acceptable in a way that of other extremist ideologies didn’t – and then there’s the other 99.999% of the population. Hey ho.

  • I saw a T shirt somewhere with a picture of Che that said

    “Communism killed 100 million people and all I got was this lousy T shirt”

  • Concerned Citizen

    There are some people that are forever bitter over the way the symbolism of radical socialism became socially acceptable in a way that of other extremist ideologies didn’t – and then there’s the other 99.999% of the population. Hey ho.

    There are some people that are forever bitter over the way the symbolism of radical socialism became socially acceptable in a way that of other extremist ideologies didn’t–and then there’s the other 99.999% of the population, which remains largely ignorant of socialism and the way it has not only murdered but ruined hundreds of millions of lives. Hey ho.

  • Scramaseax

    Who gives a crap? If you don’t like it, don’t buy your stationary from there. Exercise your consumer rights. And try not to sound as sensitive as those of a certain reactionary religion does every time someone offends them.

  • I went to the Paperchase website and did a search (on their provided utility) for the string “stupid advertising”.

    The search response was “Sorry. The category that you are looking for could not be found or does not exist.”

    Am I wrong to be amused?

    Best regards

  • Who gives a crap?

    We do, quite obviously.

    If you don’t like it, don’t buy your stationary from there. Exercise your consumer rights.

    Also obviously, although you may be a ‘consumer’ (a creature that consumes products and craps out cash), I prefer to think of myself as a ‘customer’… but surely any customer boycott is even more effective if you point out to others why they too should not give these people their money.

    And try not to sound as sensitive as those of a certain reactionary religion does every time someone offends them.

    Yes, I see your point… Jackie should not have called for the death of the shop manager or burned the Border’s directors in effigy. And anyway, just because a group of people are making a mass murderous ideology sound amusing and acceptable, why should that bother anyone?

  • Nick M

    Aww come on guys,

    This is a bit of fun. It reminds me of an FT advert from a few years back where they’d overdubbed Lenin – “We don’t want Karl Marx, we want Deutshmarks!”

    I fully agree with Scramaseax on the over sensitivity thing.

    BTW Scramaseax is that also the name of a type of Anglo-Saxon sword?

  • Scramaseax

    [i]We do, quite obviously[/i]
    [i]Also obviously, although you may be a ‘consumer’ (a creature that consumes products and craps out cash), I prefer to think of myself as a ‘customer’… but surely any customer boycott is even more effective if you point out to others why they too should not give these people their money.[/i]

    Touche.

    [i]Yes, I see your point… Jackie should not have called for the death of the shop manager or burned the Border’s directors in effigy. And anyway, just because a group of people are making a mass murderous ideology sound amusing and acceptable, why should that bother anyone?[/i]

    P’raps I was talking about the whining Whitehouse Christians who feel the need to complain about everything. P’raps not… But I don’t see how a little symbolism and the phrase “Top Marx” qualifies as making communism acceptable. Did Jackie, for a moment think, “hey, if Borders says this, maybe Marx was right…”? I somehow doubt it. And as for the general populace they’re more likely to think of Groucho than Karl, if think at all.

  • lunacy

    I wonder if one did threaten violence, would the authorities treat such threats with the same lackadaisacal attitude applied to threats from the Religion of Peace™

  • fiona

    You guys need to get lives, complaining about puns with the name Marx. Next you’ll be complaining that Adolph Hitler created a terrible fuhrer.

  • fiona

    …and I suppose you think Stalin’s grave is a communist plot…

  • Pa Annoyed

    I hear Hitler’s cross about this restaurant having to change its advertising.

    One of the wonderful things about Libertarianism is that people are free to do stupid and insensitive things. Which is good, because all of us are stupid and insensitive at least some of the time, and it would be nice to think we weren’t going to get our business wrecked because someone took offence to something our ignorant marketing consultants did.

    Educate them, don’t fight them.

  • Paul Marks

    Many corporations are full of leftists (the “Top Marx” stuff may have been ironic – but actually socialist stuff does get “top marks” in the “education system”, and many corp people would push the stuff even if it did not), or at least people who are influenced by the leftist way of looking at the world.

    There is no paradox here, corporate managers do not own the enterprise and are educated in universities that are dominated by leftist ideas. Even losing money may have only a weak effect on the choices of corporate executives – as there is only a long term and indirect effect (at best) between the profits of the compand and their own prospects. It is well known that bonus payments and “profit related” pay are easy to rig.

    Sadly even if a top manager manages to bankrupt the business and ruin the shareholders he may well go on to another good job in another corporation. Look up what happened to the spendthrift scum who destroyed G.E.C. (once the largest manufacturer in the United Kingdom) sometime – nothing bad happened to them, indeed the top man went on to another high paying “private sector” job (as well as various positions advising the government).

    Various regulations, such as (in the United States) the 1967 Williams Act, have weakened shareholder control of corporations – and various taxes (such as Capital Gains tax) have helped push individual shareholders into very much a minority position, these days (at least in Britian) to small minority position in terms of stock ownership, institutional shareholders (such as pension funds) hold the vast majority of stock – which means one set of corporate managers in charge of another set of corporate managers (no doubt all sitting on each other’s “remunation committees”).

    As for the book trade: I suspect that the top managers are NOT leftists – they just do not care if the people in direct control of the stores are and are pushing leftist works and keeping out nonleftist ones. Of course this may have some effect on profits – but not enough to make a book chain go bankrupt (at least in the short term). So why should top managers (who, as I have already said, do not own the buiness) care?

    I doubt that stock options really help (that sort of reward is easy to rig to). I am not in favour of laws against “insider trading” – such regulations are of no use (in fact they tend to be used against people who have not done anything bad).

    Nor am I against the corporate form (which goes back a lot further than the limited liability statutes of the 19th century), although I must admit to a sympathy for the concept of the family owned business – and for owner-managers generally. But, in the end, with the corporate form there is no subsitute for an alert and cynical body of shareholders – which means that, normally, individual shareholders should both own the majority of stock (relying on corporate managers to watch other corporate managers is unwise – so the taxes on individual shareholders should be got rid of) and be free to exercise their judgement – free of regulations.

    I made no mistake when I wrote “cynical” – being cynical is vital to investment “let the buyer beware”. For example, if the accounts of a firm look too good to be true – they are likely to be false (whatever the regulators say).

    My own father was financially broken (many years ago) by believing the accounts of Slater-Walker.

    The business is sound – look the numbers prove it is sound.

    The numbers were made up by James Slater (I remember being greatful that my father was dead by the time “Jimmy” Slater made his return to the United Kingdom).

  • Tomas

    You guys need to get lives, complaining about puns with the name Marx.

    Then what a pity you not lose half *your* life under communism, then you realise why it is not a small matter. Is different to jokes about Hilter for childen? No is not. I do not need your stupidness for having a life.

  • M4-10

    Taylor – I own that shirt. It’s a riot, especially in my Vancouver neighbourhood. Unfortunately Thoseshirts is U.S. orders only so it was a minor pain to get it.

  • Gabriel

    My grandmother, while at university, was a paid up member of the Communist Party. My father has always been dissaproving of that fact, but he is not ashamed to admit it. Now had my grandmother joined the British Union of Fascists, I’m fairly sure that I wouldn’t know about.

    The point is, this is not a new pheneomenon. It’s unfair, it’s BS, but it’s not new. So what are you gonnna do?

    P.S. Why the special emphasis on homosexuals? It’s hardly a defining trait of Marxist thought to hate them. Some have, some haven’t.

  • Scramaseax

    BTW Scramaseax is that also the name of a type of Anglo-Saxon sword?

    Yes. It was only publicly carried by the freemen of Anglo-Saxon society. My knife isn’t quite as impressive but I try to keep the tradition alive by keeping one with me.

    More troubling than the idle use of Marxism for marketing is the drought of none-left wing books in most bookstoors. Can find as much Klein or Chomsky as you could want (enough to fill the litter tray anyway) but heaven forbid you want some Hayek. Thank god for Amazon.

  • Unfortunately Thoseshirts is U.S. orders only so it was a minor pain to get it.

    Since when? I ordered from them to the UK without any problems.

    P.S. Why the special emphasis on homosexuals? It’s hardly a defining trait of Marxist thought to hate them. Some have, some haven’t.

    Tactics, dear boy, tactics. The best way to clobber a leftist is to hit them over the head with examples of the current politically correct ‘protected communities’, such as gays, getting stomped on by… the left. Chinese and Soviet racism is another juicy one as well.

  • AW

    if it’s any consulation Marx would have been even more pissed off to see his name being punned to promote products in a capitalist marketplace.

  • Nathaniel Tapley

    I wonder, Scramaseax, if you have ever been into a Borders. I got both my copy of ‘The Road To Serfdom’ and ‘Individualism and Economic Order’ from the Borders in Oxford.

    Showing that, if someone will buy it, they apparently will sell nonsense from any ideology…

  • Scramaseax

    wonder, Scramaseax, if you have ever been into a Borders. I got both my copy of ‘The Road To Serfdom’ and ‘Individualism and Economic Order’ from the Borders in Oxford.

    Yes, I have. But I’ve been stranded in my hometown of Middlesbrough for some time now, and it’s hardly known for it’s intellectual notaries.

    Roy Chubby Brown and Paul Daniels excepted.

  • Nick M

    Scramasaex,

    My knife isn’t quite as impressive but I try to keep the tradition alive by keeping one with me.

    So it’s not just because you live in Cleveland’s petrochemical wonderland. Come smell our fumes!

    But then I’m from Gateshead and now live in Manchester. Knife, I need a bloody Danish long-axe.

  • I don’t think anywhere in Marx and Engels are incitements to murder, unlike certain holy books, plural (cf. Exodus: ‘Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live’.)

    Some of us who come from heavy Left-wing backgrounds, who actually know people who identified themselves as Marxists, and no, Auntie Jean didn’t have poisoned fangs and two heads and was for that matter incapable of hurting a fly, (which is probably much what some Muslims feel when People Like Us bollox Islam) grapple with whether mass slaughter was inherent, given human nature. For the record, I think as follows:
    Socialism is a religion; everything is explained in the holy books. Like any other religion, it has its fundy psychos and its good people. The essential articles of faith are these: Workers oppressed by capitalism
    State supports the oppressor
    Workers must take over State to dispose of oppressor
    Once oppressor disposed of, State redundant so withers away.
    ‘And I saw a new heaven and a new earth: for the first heaven and the first earth were passed away and there was no more C. And I Karl saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down from the theory of surplus value, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.’ (Revelation 21:1, more or less)

    Socialism is materialist and admits no over-riding of the hard-wiring from within, insisting that people are formed by their economic environment and denying that they may form themselves, hence the victim culture. Socialism therefore attracts control-freaks, those with a god complex. If people are formed by their circumstances and you have the power to delineate those circumstances, you think to control what people become and great is your displeasure if they do not become what you want them to become.

    Choice is an artefact of mind. If mind does not exist, then democracy is unnecessary. It is materialism that lies at the root of the Left’s contempt for liberty. They don’t see it as something they despise. They see it as something that doesn’t exist. Liberty is perceived in terms of external factors. If you cannot afford a ticket to visit relations in the next town, you are not free.

    Socialism is not communism watered down to make it palatable to the propertied middle-classes. The place was not called the Union of Soviet Communist Republics.

    ‘Bourgeois morality’ is that set of precepts held to be
    invented by the bourgeois to keep the proletariat down, for instance ‘thou shalt not smash up thy opponent’s football stadium’, and in particular the rights of property. No differentiation is made between precepts that are biased and those that are not.

    The withering away of the State is a good place to start. Do you really need to drown a nation in blood before it may become non-statist?

    That aside, my own take on Borders is crap pun by dumb PR guy, probably aged about 12, who probably, given the dismal state of education, doesn’t even know about the hundred million. Does it offend? Tough shit. Pushing Marxism on kids? Marxism is a belief-system, not a word. I do not think by any stretch of the imagination this stationery range can be regarded as ‘inciting’ infants to storm the citadels of bourgeois power. If it were called Mecca, would it be regarded as pushing kids to become suicide bombers? Meanwhile I push for Gulag Remembrance Day.(Link)

  • martin

    Hi, I really dont know what the fuss is about the whole paperchase Point Of Sale, i was a paperchase employee up until the start of this year, the pos is supposed to promote new ranges within store! this is a pointless argument as no harm was meant from the company, If ur really that fussed about things y not bad mouth some chain like WHSMITH with all the waste is produces or Woolworths!

  • Evie

    Oh come on, get a grip! Do you honestly think a child is going to look at that and say, “mother, I’m going to be a communist.” The children who understand the joke will be the ones educated enough to know what communism is – i.e, likely to be older children or children who already have high intelligence and probably better common sense than you.

    Secondly, can you please refer to it as communism, and not socialism? If you’re going to argue about a political ideology at least get it right. England, although likely to change now, had a socialist labour government for ten years, and last time I checked I still had human rights and freedom of speech and all that jazz. You don’t have to like the left wing – hell, I don’t like the right wing, even Republicans in America annoy me, just try not to imply that anything slightly left of centre is automatically going to kill babies and corrupt children. You can be left wing without being extreme, just like you can be right wing without being extreme.

    This notebook is a simple joke – if you can’t make jokes about history you can’t ever move on from it. And if you think there aren’t jokes about Hitler in products, you really need to open your eyes. It’s human nature to laugh about something that troubles us, it helps relieve stress caused by the emotions which come with traumas. Besides, most kids will just see it as a “cooler” way of spelling marks.

    Get. A. Life.