Specter of Communism in New York

As the first sentence of the Communist Manifesto goes, "the specter of communism hangs over Europe." In the US, the specter of communism hangs over the bottom floor of a brick building on the West side of downtown New York City.

Communism lives in a tiny enclave of New York City, a community center attracting more and more people looking for new solutions to the country's problems. “The very first sentence of communist manifesto is the specter of communism hangs over Europe,” recalled Russell Dale, a professor of philosophy teaching a reading group at a New York community center. “This bogeyman.”

Community Organizer and Activist Ron Gochez says,

“As the economic crisis has gotten steeper in the country, it is not surprising that people are opening their minds to other ideas. Words like socialism and communism have been so stigmatized by the educational system that many people are afraid of those words. However, many studies have shown Americans support the redistribution of wealth but if you mention the socialism word they won’t agree with it anymore.”

In modern day America, the specter of communism hangs over the bottom floor of a brick building on the West side of downtown New York City. It’s the Brecht Forum, which started out as the NY Marxist School in 1975. Here, communism is certainly no bogeyman and its poster-philosopher so to speak is revered.  “I am a Marxist and I wanted to be around other Marxists and just to talk with other Marxists,” explained Dale. In the US that may sound a little taboo, even unpatriotic to the average Joe. But these days, amid rising poverty and inequality in the country more and more people are joining in the discussion. “I think people certainly since the financial crisis hit home and some people realized there are some systemic problems, we saw a huge influx of traffic,” said Max Uhlenback, development coordinator at the Brecht Forum.

It’s attracting people opening their eyes to a different view. Here, whenever you look you can see a chapter of events not found in history books. Uhlenback gives the example of Haiti, referencing one of the posters on the wall.  “People look at Haiti as oh this poor place why can’t they ever get it right but don’t realize Haiti was the first free black republic and has been punished because of it,” he recounted. Choose a door and behind it you may find any number of Leftist social movements left out of mainstream news. “Anti-apartheid carolers” as they called themselves were practicing for a holiday protest urging a boycott of Israel because of its policies towards Palestine.

 Behind another door you could hear the discourse left out of many American colleges. “I found it was an amazing wealth of knowledge I had never been exposed to,” said Marlow Mason, a New Yorker who comes to a reading group at the Brecht Forum. People also just play poker, with a side of political analysis you won’t hear on cable news. The workers struggle, the immigration struggle is caused by that capitalist stranglehold on the universe and it destroyed my country Armenia,” said Zaum Anoush, who volunteers at the center.

Though it’s the Marxist school the people there don’t seem to be calling for a proletariat revolution or violent political uprising. But the history and philosophy of communism is everywhere you look. The works of Marx, Engels, Lenin, and Joseph Stalin fill the shelves. And the version of monopoly they play is called class struggle to “prepare for life in capitalist America” where the object is to win the revolution. If workers win it’s “socialism” if capitalism wins it’s “barbarism.”

 Talking to people around the Brecht Forum it seems many are trying to implement the change they’re studying without uttering the s- or c- (as in communism) word. “It’s more popular to say progressive or left,” explained Riham Bourghouti, one of the activists with the NY campaign for the boycott of Israel.

Whatever you want to call it they are actively trying to solve the problems and inequality they see in the country. "Part of what we’re doing which is an attempt to make change from within,” said Bourgouti. You can call this any number of things, but probably not unpatriotic.