Conservatives may have it rough in the pages of the New York Times, but U.S. Communists can count on favorable, critic-free publicity, with Times reporters even employing Communist lingo like "the proletariat." The latest: Joseph Berger’s Monday metro story, "Workers of the World, Please See Our Web Site." The original online headline was less cheeky but more slanted: "Leftist Parties in New York Have New Appeal."
Berger’s profile of three Manhattan-based hard-left parties has a light, hopeful tone similar to Channing Joseph’s notorious November 7, 2010 photo-story in the Times, "Where Marxists Pontificate, And Play ," in which the worst thing he found to say about the Manhattan gathering of supporters of murderous regimes was their reputation for "seriousness."
Like Joseph before him, Berger posed no awkward questions about the atrocities of Communist heroes Stalin, Mao, or Castro. He wrote:
You can still be a card-carrying Communist in New York, but these days committed Communists usually register online.
"We actually have a card, but we don’t make a big deal of it," said Sam Webb, the national chairman of the Communist Party U.S.A.
In some ways, the Left remains locked in place. Its three major national parties are still confined to cramped Manhattan offices that are plastered with gaudy posters and honeycombed with pamphlets for distribution and envelopes for stuffing.
But in other ways the landscape has changed significantly. All three parties are finding the Internet to be a fruitful recruiting tool and believe their message has been given a fresh, beguiling appeal by the failures of capitalist symbols like Lehman Brothers and by debacles like the billions of dollars in securities tied to subprime mortgages.
"The economic crisis of 2008 gave us new life," said Billy Wharton, a co-chairman of the Socialist Party, who grew enamored of socialism while battling tuition increases as a student at the College of Staten Island. "We have ideas for resolving the economic crisis, and people began to listen to them."
Rather than trumpeting membership numbers, the parties, embracing the norms of the digital era, prefer to discuss the number of hits on their Web sites and Facebook pages. And philosophically, they take a kind of I-told-you-so schadenfreude in statistics that indicate a growing gap between the rich and the poor, with top chief executives now making 275 times as much as the average proletarian.
On the plus side, one doesn’t often see admissions that actual Socialist organizations participate in union rallies (the Times typically fails to apply any kind of ideological labels to left-wing marches and protests):
Rather than battling for power through elections, all three parties try to sway the national conversation through coalitions with labor unions and other mainstream organizations. Both socialist groups turned out at City Hall this month to protest budget cuts, at a rally that was largely organized by the unions.
Berger repeated the Communist talking points, and his one tut-tutting moment was extremely mild:
Recent disclosures of capitalist excesses have given the parties a second wind after the collapse of the Soviet Union suggested the bankruptcy of collectivist philosophy. Mr. Llewellyn said that since 2007 his party’s membership had increased by 50 percent, to 6,000.
Mr. Webb, who joined the Communists in the 1970s, likes to emphasize the party’s rich history, including the fight against McCarthyism and the volunteers who helped the Spanish Republicans battle the Fascists, rather than more unpleasant episodes like the case of the American Communist Julius Rosenberg, who spied for the Soviet Union.
Even taking into account that this is the U.S. Communist party, the U.S. groups took their orders from Moscow, making the U.S. party complicit in Stalinist atrocities.