Gotham's Socialists Party Like It's 1972

Craig Brown

Sara Stewart of the New York Post writes today:

I'VE infiltrated the local socialist compound. Deep in the East Village, in a rambling old apartment building -- home to many a fringe group -- they're exposing me to a steady stream of radical propaganda.

"Every human being has a right to health care," says party member Zelig Stern. "Every human being deserves a job, deserves access to transportation -- everything people need to survive, and even enjoy, their lives."

Egad! I can feel the brainwashing already.

"It's not just about going back and forth to work, either," says Billy Wharton, field organizer of the NYC Local of the Socialist Party. "People should have decent lives. Museums should be free. We want to give people a safety net, but also provide them with the kinds of things that make us human."

Good God. Is this the future we have to look forward to? Universal health care and free art?

It is if you ask the nation's youth. Just this week, a Rasmussen poll found that one-third of Americans under 30 prefer socialism to capitalism, while 20 percent of Americans as a whole said they feel that way.

We figured we'd get a jump on the inevitable and seek them out before they came marching for us.

First, we found them online -- like the rest of the world today, they're blogging -- at No tweeting as yet, though a related group's account is titled "What Would Karl Marx Say About Twittering?"

But inside socialist headquarters, it may as well have been 1972. Our activist lessons centered on leaflet designing, demonstration organizing and what to do if the cops bust up your protest. Where was the '09 thinking? Where was the new-politics social networking? I didn't see one BlackBerry in the entire three-hour meeting.

Out in public, they're sticking to similarly old-school tactics.

Member Gretchen Van Dyck, a bright-eyed Barnard student, tells me about her favorite protest: "We had a demonstration against the GHI-HIP [health-care] privatization, outside of their building, with like 200 or 300 people," she says.

"People were actually coming out of the building to participate, and picking up signs. A bus pulled over alongside the demonstration and honked his horn -- the guy had his fist up. It was great!"

While populist rage is all the rage, this isn't quite Eugene V. Debs and the Pullman strike.

Maybe, our socialists think, the public just needs a little more info. In the interest of demystification, the group sponsored a recent series of performances of the one-man show "Marx in Soho."

It did teach us some things we didn't know -- among which, that Marx's freeloading philosopher friends used to come over and drink all his booze.

Unfortunately, only about 15 people came, at a remote Red Hook bar. No matter what the message, this is no one's ideal medium.

There's some upcoming exposure in the works for Wharton, who will speak on a health-care panel at Pace University's Left Forum this weekend. (Other panel subjects: "Student Organizing in a New Era," "The Internet: Humanity's Revolutionary Initiative," and, perhaps less promisingly, "A Marxist-Psychoanalytic Analysis of 'Death of a Salesman.' ")

Forum coordinator Seth Adler says the far left, on a larger scale, is indeed expanding. "There's been a tremendous branching out," he says.

Letting the kids take the party over may be the most promising direction for the socialists. Plus, they may be able to make it more of an actual party. "We're all great friends," says Stern, 21. "We try to organize social events, whether it's dinner or a concert or a Super Bowl party.

"Yeah," he adds with a laugh, "there really was a socialist Super Bowl party."

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