In our household growing up, The Party, was short for the Communist Party. During the war years, for a short time, meetings were held in our living room once a month. Who knows what nefarious plots were hatched on the other side of that wall? None at all, I’m certain. Our newspaper was The Daily Worker, an organ of the Party. I never thought of asking but could assume that my mother and father were members at least during the early forties.
Two F.B.I. agents knocked at our door when I was fifteen. They wanted names from my father. He blocked their way and offered them a loud silence instead. At the time he was working as a pharmacist for a nearby drugstore chain. Later that week he was fired.
With youthful eyes and from a distance Communism looked fairly attractive. Up close it looked like a system better to be seen from a distance. With binary vision and a thirst for absolutes, I reasoned since the U.S. had committed genocide on indigenous people, built the country on slave labor and supported tyrants in the Americas…therefore the USSR must be a more equitable and anti-fascist regime. Wrong! In fact they were worse.
However American communists, in my admittedly limited sphere, had very little to do with what went on in Soviet Russia. My parents were political idealists. There was a romance about it. They had compassion for workers and people of color along with a vehemence against the power elite. Jim Crow abuses angered my father. But he could no sooner overthrow the government than overthrow my mother. She was the reigning matriarch who cursed the butcher for an imagined finger on the scale. She also cursed the landlord for holding back on the heat in winter. Gonif, Schnorrer, Momzer! I think her entire Yiddish vocabulary was in curses.
Ardent as I was for a more just system with evenly distributed wealth I enrolled for two classes at the Jefferson School in Manhattan to study the philosophy of Marxism. It was clear by the end of the fifties that the F.B.I. was inadvertently the biggest supporter of the Communist Party. So thoroughly had they infiltrated the class I attended that the teacher would address us as, students and F.B.I. agents. They were busy reporting on each other.
I don’t believe an average American, then or now, understands what the word, communism, meant. It was aspirational. An illusory dream of fairness and justice. It was certainly not what went on in the U.S.S.R.
It was also naïve but allegiance to a society of brother and sisterhood was basically harmless. What was wide-spread and respectable in the thirties became branded reprehensible and subversive a decade later.
Today we have a world turned upside-down. Republicans are contorting themselves to excuse their President for his Russophilia while what’s left of the American Left denounces his embrace. Of course, the word communism, has been excised from the conversation. But Putin’s Russia bears a strong resemblance to Stalin’s with Capitalists, instead of bureaucrats, grabbing power.
The party is over. Call it Socialism or don't call it anything but a recognition of necessities with a reinvigorated role of government to provide for health, housing, education, employment and support for Science and the Arts. Call it civilization.
The planet spins and words, like heavenly bodies, get eclipsed. Sometimes we even get to see them with new eyes.