“From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs.” — Papa Smurf
Sure, Marx said it first, but it applies to the Smurfs much better than you might think.
In a textbook communist society, all citizens are equal. They labor for the common good. Money is unnecessary. Individual liberty takes a back seat to the needs of the collective. There is no God but the state.
Now, consider life in the Smurfs’ village: Residents live in identical mushroom houses. Everyone dresses alike. They sing the same group song, over and over. They have no apparent deity.
More to the point, the Smurfs have no economy. Farmer Smurf doesn’t peddle his crops to Wholesaler Smurf, who then marks them up for lucrative resale to Grocer and Baker Smurf. Nuh-uh. Farmer Smurf just farms, the better for the other Smurfs to eat at a communal table.
Similarly, Painter Smurf only paints. Handy Smurf builds stuff. Within the village, societal roles are clear-cut. No deviation is allowed — in fact, a memorable episode of the cartoon saw the Smurfs switch jobs with bumbling, humbling results.
Pop quiz: Who uttered the famous maxim, “From each according to his abilities, to each according to his needs?”
A) Karl Marx
B) Papa Smurf
C) Both A and B
The correct answer is “C” — which is one of the reasons Australian essayist and teacher J. Marc Schmidt once referred to the Smurf village as a “Marxist utopia.”
“The workers own all the capital equally, and there is no upper class of owners/capitalists to oppress them,” wrote Mr. Schmidt, author of the book “Secrets of Pop Culture,” in an email. “Unlike real-life Marxist countries, the Smurfs managed this feat without resorting to totalitarianism or repressing personal freedom, so it is a utopia.”
More evidence: The Smurfs replace everyday nouns and verbs with the word “Smurf,” creating a dumbed-down, thought-controlling Newspeak lexicon to rival that of the totalitarian state in George Orwell’s “1984.” Papa Smurf wears red — the only Smurf to do so — a possible sign of party devotion and doctrinal purity. He also sports a thick white beard, much like another famous father figure: German philosopher Karl Marx, the granddaddy of communism.
For his part, the bespectacled, nitpicking Brainy Smurf bears a passing resemblance to Stalin’s more intellectual rival, Leon Trotsky, and often is ridiculed in the cartoon. The subliminal message? Knowledge is dangerous, because it makes you a potential dissident.
Then there’s the Smurfs’ nemesis, the genocidal human wizard Gargamel. Like any good capitalist, he isn’t interested in the destruction of the Smurfs per se; instead, he’s interested in capturing the Smurfs so he can turn them into gold.
“[Gargamel] desired to exploit the ‘workers’ (i.e., the Smurfs) and get rich for his own selfish reasons, without any regard for their well-being,” Mr. Schmidt wrote.
Greed is good; profit, his only motive. In later seasons of the cartoon, the evil wizard wants to eat the Smurfs, a potential metaphor for remorseless industrial capitalism devouring the unwitting proletariat.
Oh, and who is Gargamel’s sidekick? Azriel, a voracious tabby with a similar taste for the delectable little blue workin’ class heroes.
In other words: a literal fat cat.
The Smurfs are little blue godless Commies on the downlow. Intriguingly, it sort of makes Gargamel seem like a more sympathetic figure, doesn’t it? If you had a forest full of creepy litte blue Commies running around, you might want to wipe them out, too.
However, if the Smurfs are Commies, that begs the question: Should children be exposed to them? Well, that reminds me of a complaint I once heard about Disney’s Pocahontas. Someone said that kids shouldn’t watch it because it wasn’t “true to history.” My first thought was, “What was your first clue that it wasn’t a documentary? Was it the talking animals?” In the Smurfs’ case, sure, they should probably have Smurfberry famines caused by Papa Smurf’s meddling and Smurfs locked up in prison for speaking out against the government, but since when have cartoons ever been accurate? All in all, the show has a good message, its been around forever, and there haven’t been any waves of kids basing their economic beliefs on the Smurfs, so I think parents are safe to let their kids watch.