Monday, May 12, 2014

The 21st day of Easter: Just like the Scouts. Just like the Pioneers.


A mother, a daughter and a dog come in. The mother is looking for a place for an interfaith coming of age celebration.. The mother is Jewish, the father Muslim. They will need to create a special ceremony. The daughter walks the dog for a community service project.

Mid afternoon, the Revolutionary Communists start arriving. The final set up will take hours. I have a brief window to go home and change my clothes but a report of a stopped toilet wipes that out. I head down to the men’s room. The old plunger is simply worn out. I have to go buy a new one. After 30 minutes of plunging, I have made no progress, so I give up and call RL who has a snake. He will soon be on his way to the rescue.

Upstairs, Marc is doing a sound check. A security area in front of the speaker’s podium is being roped off.  The Chapel will serve as a green room.  Lenny Wolff, author of the Science of Revolution, is hanging out with his two security guards.

RL arrives and our problem is soon solved. But I am way past ready to have our porter position filled.

So, I’ll catch the first part, then head home and change. Then go to Milica’s retrospective and birthday party.

I’m surprised to see a crowd of 150-200 people gathered. I’ll respect the wishes of the RCP about the content of the talk. But I can say this, they say that communism is a science, that there is a strategy and there is leadership. You can find much of their analysis at their public web site ( and the Revolution Book Store carries a wide variety of books and newspapers, not just RCP literature. (

I hear so much about Chairman Bob that I later jokingly ask Danielle if they were talking about me and later tell RL that from here on out, I want to be addressed as Chairman Bob.

I’ll leave aside critical analysis of  the RCP and what remains fascinating and mysterious to me. And I’ll just make these general comments:
* For years it has been impossible to have an intelligent conversation about communism (the small c is deliberate), or even Marxism or even socialism in the US. Public discourse has devolved to the point where socialist now carries the negative weight that communist had during the Cold War and even Obama’s liberal, actually neo-liberal, policies get described as class warfare. If only. The greatest income disparity since the golden age of the twenties has created a paranoid 1% and a desperate and disappearing middle class just trying to hold on. Hopefully the current cache of Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the Twenty-first Century  will open up some space for dialogue.
* Most of the liberation struggles of the global south in the 20th century would not have succeeded without communism and its organizing principles. The US did everything it could to seek to preserve fading empires and clients, even seeking to prevent legitimate national movements.
* The perhaps inevitable fall of the Soviet state and the Socialist bloc created a dangerous vacuum. Fukiyama’s The End of History was a romantic paean to liberal democracy but did not truly engage the issue of the dominant power of global capitalism. Including the newly emerging Chinese model.
* Defeating fascism was important. And fascism and communism were not two sides of the same coin. One was based on a theory of elite privilege and power . The other, even if romantic, put forward a utopian vision of possibility. This is not to debate the real experience of people who lived through failed and corrupted revolutions and the true suffering of people under authoritarian systems. That is real. But they are not, were not the same.
* There have been a number of truly humane and heroic people inspired by communism. In my experience, people are better than any –ism (or religion) they come from. Robeson, Guthrie, Seeger, the Abraham Lincoln Brigade, Camp Kinderland.….true Americans.
* The FX show the Americans, has somehow managed to draw our emotional rooting interest to two 1980’s era embedded KGB agents in suburban DC. We see Soviets and Americans both patriotic, both believing that they are helping make the world a better place. And both making disturbing compromises of conscience. Will be interested to see where this goes. 

The above is not a critical analysis, just random reflections. Look, I've spent enough time n Germany to understand why people celebrated when the wall came down. As well as the sense of loss and bitter disappointment that fuels Ostalgie.  A friend of mine, a child of the last class of Yugoslav diplomats to the US, refuses to get a Serbian passport. She was raised to believe in a multi-cultural, multi-ethnic place called Yugoslavia that had  a highway named Brotherhood and Unity connecting the old divided Balkan states. She says her nationality is Yugoslav, her religion communist. At Milica’s retrospective, we see  films of her as a little girl  in her Pioneer uniform with its blue skirt and red neckerchief. Another musician, Gene, talks of being raised in Soviet Russia, no place for a punk musician.  Would Pussy Riot have fared any better then?

When I get back to the church, things are wrapping up. Danielle tells me that the speaker spoke for 3 ½ hours. No Fidel, but impressive nonetheless. I can’t imagine listening or sitting still that long. (Although I wish I could have heard the whole presentation.) We joke that it is endurance training for the next long march. Or for waiting in long lines.

The clean up takes place with as much passion and zeal as the set up with inspired volunteers pitching  in.

On a Saturday night in New York City, over 150 people came and listened to a 3 1/2 hour speech about revolution. And then cleaned up. We left it cleaner then when we arrived, one said. Just like the Scouts. Just like Pioneers.

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