In a world defined by convention and rules, a group exists that defies all: the Wydown Socialist Union. This unofficial club at Wydown Middle School has over 70 members and meets on Wednesdays for a Lord-of-the-Flies type gathering. While the club was started as a joke, it quickly evolved and is now viewed “as legitimately as the nature of it allows for,” according to founder and General Secretary eighth grader Isaac Millians.
Millians, along with friends Tudor Belean and Zachary Wang, first started the club after learning about the values and effects of socialism. Founding and then participating in this club is a way for these students to actively apply the concepts they have been learning about in school to their own lives.
“Our main purpose is to educate people on what socialism really is… many people are under the impression that socialism is somehow an evil thing, due to propaganda spread from the Cold War to today,” Millians said.
Socialism is a political and economic theory in which all resources and means of production are owned by the community, and any kind of private enterprise or property is outlawed. The aforementioned community is made up of equal members with a common objective that has been defined with the good its members in mind. This system relies on the cooperative efforts of people to advance society.
The WSU is run in a manner emulating that of a real country. This allows members to observe how aspects of socialism play out in their immediate community, as well as a chance to speculate how and why their simulation differs from actual socialist countries.
“[The group] also tries to simulate a Socialist government to educate people on how the party and government work,” co-founder and Minister of Foreign Affairs Zachary Wang said.
In addition to informing members on topics such as the October Revolution and Mikhail Gorbachev, the club maintains a complex bureaucratic system.
“We send out demographic surveys, start state-funded experiments, and even we began our own military of sorts,” Millians said. “As part of the government, we send out central committee elections to the public … The central committee has to approve laws before they are passed, and can make suggestions.”
The club was founded upon a genuine passion for the socialist philosophy, however, its meetings display a more light-hearted side to the students’ passion. On the last Wednesday in February, a group of about 20 eighth graders clamored into the history wing of Wydown Middle School at 11:37 a.m. for a meeting. Almost immediately, any semblance of order was drowned out by multiple students talking loudly over each other for the attention of four boys at the front of the room – Isaac Millians, Zachary Wang, Tudor Belean and Don Ung. Ung is head of the monarchist group known as the Commonwealth of Don (CoD).
“I liked the idea of a fun little government simulation activity and thought that it would be exciting to have a mini Cold War between our two clubs,” Ung said.
This group formed and broke an alliance with the WSU to help defeat the 7th grade capitalist group known as the Republic of Wydown four times during the 25 minute meeting. The overall chaos only escalated as the four students all stood at the front of the room and each directed a different conversation over one another. A few kids seated at the back of the room at desks asked each other if the club was still called the Wydown Socialist Union, or if it had changed its name yet again. Others wondered if the CoD had switched political ideologies once more – as Ung revealed it frequently did.
After the group was somewhat silenced by history teacher Richard Baugh, it became clearer that the point of the meeting was to elect a new member of the People’s Parliament. After a haphazard election, the winner, chosen by popular vote, was sworn in with the Soviet Anthem blaring in the background.
“At the first couple meetings all I saw was chaos,” Baugh said. “But after a while there was a method to the madness … I love seeing the students engage and show interest in history and political theory.”
Early involvement in politics is a disputed issue, with legitimate arguments on both sides. Baugh, however, thinks that the club is a good way to learn about and get involved in the world of politics, as well as a positive way to interact with passionate classmates. “There are countless votes, motions, revotes, coups with lots of laughter and great back and forth arguments.”
The school environment provides students with a structured and safe space to explore their political views, while adopting leadership roles in their educational simulation. Due to the student direction, members can also have some fun with their learning to make it more comprehensible and engaging.
“Most teachers seem rather amused with the organization. We are, after all, still children pretending to be something more. However, I feel that youth should be told the truth, so they can form their own opinions. We might not have very much power at this stage in our lives, but being active from a young age is very important,” Millians said.
Although the meetings may not always appear to fully capture the students’ commitment to spreading the values of socialism, the intellectual intent of the club is strong.
“The goal is not to glorify the actions of the Soviet Union or defend the horrors of Communist China, but to take the American lenses off of people and let them interpret history and an alternative economic system without [their] previous biases,” said Ung.
“We wish to teach others about what socialism has and can accomplish,” Millians added. “We want everyone to know that socialism will lead us to a better age.”