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A Communist at the Debate-Watching Party

I can’t blame Dan McCarthy for the fact that I am now on the mailing list of the NYC branch of the Revolutionary Communist Party; these things happen.

It was the Apollo Uptown Hall viewing party for the debate, and I’d scored some sweet VIP tickets from TAC; founding editor Scott McConnell was on a surprisingly diverse post-debate panel moderated by Keli Goff. The interior of the theater is pure Vaudeville; I navigated my way to a seat with a little plastic cup of Pinot and checked Facebook on my phone. “Where are you sitting?” Noah Millman had commented. “Front and to the left,” I typed, “second row from the front.” The guy in front of me turned around. “I’m Noah,” he said.

I’d expected McConnell to be the lone non-Hillary-enthusiast. He was not. Mariela Salgado, a journalist for Univision 41, was essentially pro-Trump; Amy Holmes was the centrist Republican and claimed to be undecided. McConnell was the one who elicited a yell of “Racist!” from the crowd, but the crowd yelled a lot of things, and when he said he believed Obama’s most lasting legacy was an improved foreign policy, especially in the Middle East, there were murmurs of agreement.

Riley, a Revolutionary Communist, did not murmur—she screamed “Hillary Clinton is a war criminal!” from the balcony over McConnell’s and others’ attempts to answer the moderators’ questions. “Revolution!” she screamed. It was a disruption of a different order than the raucous backtalk of the audience against McConnell and Salgado.


“I can’t believe you didn’t screw up your voice,” I told her on the sidewalk afterward. (She’d been kicked out but hadn’t gone far.) “I know!” she said. “Adrenaline, I guess. I was … there were things I wanted to say that I didn’t get out; that the point isn’t just not to vote to not participate, the point is to not vote and then organize.”

She’s a supporter of Bob Avakian—“the Marx of our time,” she said fervently. “It’s obviously not that Trump’s better, it’s that people there—they’d obviously be pro-Hillary, and we needed to make them think: is she that different? It’s all part of the same system. And Avian has a plan—an actual revolution. He’s written a book.” She handed me her broadsheet: “Time to Get Organized for an Actual Revolution: Message from the Central Committee of the Revolutionary Communist Party of the USA.” “The system wages brutal wars of slaughter. The system—capitalism-imperialism—must be overthrown.” The last time I read that kind of thing it was probably in the comboxes under Rod Dreher’s blog.

I should’ve asked her—but didn’t—what she thought about McConnell’s point that Trump is a response to the Republican party that started the war in Iraq, a version of Republicanism whose foreign policy closely resembles that of Secretary Clinton. But I somehow doubt that she spent the pre-debate carefully attending to McConnell, or to the other panelists. She must have been scared, excited, by what she was about to do—and yeah, she did end up very, very gently manhandled by Apollo bouncers, as one does when screaming from a balcony during a debate.

I groped in my bag for the copy of the Catholic Worker that I’d picked up at Maryhouse the day before, couldn’t find it, and tried with marginal success to reconstruct the Ammon Hennecy quote that’d been on its front page: Dorothy Day “did not bother to choose between the rival warmongers who sought to run the country.”

Catholic Worker—is that like Catholic Charities?” she asked, curiously.

“Well, no,” I said. She seemed like maybe she’d run into Catholic Charities before—not in a bad way; she didn’t seem like an abused street rat. The moderator who’d requested that she be removed said “I think we’re maybe dealing with some mental issues here,” but this was obviously not the case. She was simply an old-fashioned revolutionary communist of my grandparents’ type; her children will be red-diaper babies like my dad.

She was small, 25-ish, with bleached white hair; the sides of her head were shaved. “Where are you based?” she asked me—“Harlem?” No, I tell her, Queens. It seems like maybe in her circles this question is more polite than the more traditional “Where do you live?” because the answer to that question might be the subway and it might be Westchester, and either is a bit embarrassing. “I’m based at Revolutionary Books. 132nd street. You should come by.”

I just might. I’ll bring a stack of Catholic Workers if I do.

Meanwhile, the sidewalk outside the Apollo, where Riley stood in her Revolutionary Communist Party t-shirt with a friend passing out her broadsides, was alive—there were more RCP kids somewhere around, and guys selling buttons and Black Lives Matter t-shirts; there were tourists and ladies from the Upper West Side and lots of people who looked like regulars.

And there were TV vans and journalists and everyone was talking to everyone else, everyone sure that everyone else was a Clinton supporter (except the panelists and Riley and her cadre), everyone sure that she had won. “Who here is supporting Donald Trump?” Goff had asked at the beginning of the night. One person had clapped. “You’re brave,” she said. “Who’s supporting Gary Johnson?” “Who?” someone yelled from the crowd. “Jill Stein?” Maybe three people clapped.

“Who’s supporting Hillary Clinton?” she asked, and the roof nearly came down. This was not a bipartisan crowd. And the sidewalk discussion was not actual debate. But there had been sanity and civility in the theater: murmurs of agreement when the moderator asked whether the Democratic party used and took for granted the black community, even some applause for McConnell on occasion.

A man named Raymond, whom I also met on the sidewalk afterward, said that he’d been coming to the Apollo since the ’60s. “Thing about the Apollo,” he said, “We don’t hold back. You feel something, you let it out. Because we’re family.”

“I grew up on the Upper West Side,” I told him, “and I’ve never been here before.”

“You should come back,” he said. And I just might do that too.

Susannah Black is a writer and a native New Yorker. She is associate editor of Providence [1], sub-editor of Ad Fontes [2], and a founding editor at Solidarity Hall [3]. She lives in Queens, and tweets at @suzania.

16 Comments (Open | Close)

16 Comments To "A Communist at the Debate-Watching Party"

#1 Comment By EliteCommInc. On September 27, 2016 @ 4:02 pm

As a staunch supported of Mr. Trump despite our disagreements, especially on issues of morality, I am very troubled by what seems to be an approval of impoliteness. If the goal is to discuss issues, I fail to grasp any advantage to shouting down views such that they are never heard.

Heckling is one thing, but this tend toward humiliating speakers by engaging in shout downs hardly gives one much hope for the veracity of a revolution that portends anything but sheer force to gain its way as opposed to an intense argument.

I get heckling and bantering, booing, hissing, shame — but eventually for a forum to have any validity, those invited must be more than vocal punching bags.

That this appears to be a common and supported means of discussing issues is disconcerting to say the least.

And a response that it’s just New York;s way is in my view, insufficient.

It’s been nigh on 20 years since Iraq and Afghanistan. Despite the smaller magnitude, he has allowed himself to embroil the US in a messy conflict for which our leadership, his leadership, no doubt pressed by Sec Clinton and her financial backers, is responsible. So convoluted the endeavor – we are in some circumstance at war with ourselves.

It’s been more that five years since our interventions under the democrats, and there is still talk about getting organized. All that energy and noise, and yet no plan of action, not solutions, just revolution — that’s it. Yet they reject the best candidate oriented for the change they claim they desire. Sounds like liberal and democratic logic. I’ll pass.

All good reasons to reject the those coming from this particular arena of thought. Long on shutting down and very slim on helpful change.

#2 Comment By Kurt Gayle On September 27, 2016 @ 4:52 pm

@ Susannah Black: What do folks like yourself who are “based” around The Catholic Worker say about “Trump Campaign Announces Catholic Advisory Group” (Sept. 22), the statement accompanying that announcement, and the list of Catholic Activists on the Catholic Advisory Group?


#3 Comment By Susannah Black On September 27, 2016 @ 7:26 pm

But it wasn’t the liberal democrats who were calling for revolution, it was the communist kids who’d dropped in unannounced and uninvited and who were utterly against everything the liberal democrats stood for. Yeah, there was heckling by the Hillary supporters, but they absolutely let the conservative panelists talk– didn’t try to shout them down. And the communist kids were shouting down panelists in a fair and balanced, bipartisan manner. 🙂

I may be missing something in your comment, but Hillary supporters don’t in the least want revolution!

#4 Comment By William Burns On September 27, 2016 @ 9:49 pm

Bob Avakian is still around? The leader for those who find Lyndon LaRouche too pragmatic and tolerant of disagreement.

#5 Comment By Mike E On September 27, 2016 @ 10:00 pm

>> “Catholic Worker—is that like Catholic Charities?”

See, now that’s why I call myself a “left libertarian” rather than a “subsidiarist,” because if someone asks what “subsidiarity” is and I have to start talking about Rerum Novarum or Leo XIII or Pius XI or anything like that, I’m liable to get some question like, “Leo XIII? Was he some king somewhere?”

#6 Comment By Paul Grenier On September 27, 2016 @ 11:20 pm

This essay isn’t an approval of impoliteness. Its moral center is Dorothy Day — who of course, like Riley, also came out of a communist milieu. What attracts Ms. Black to Riley is the young revolutionary’s moral courage, which appears to stem from a Dorothy Day-like indifference to respectability. That’s why Riley notices AND actively rejects the amorality of Trump and Clinton.

The road to the Church is often shorter from Communism than it is from liberal capitalism. Communism points to a false eschatology, but at least it keeps the question of eschatology open. Liberalism doesn’t even notice it exists. In the Soviet Union, they built museums dedicated to condemning Christianity. In capitalist America, they don’t even bother. No need.

#7 Comment By Hankest On September 28, 2016 @ 9:12 am

About 15 years ago i dated an RCP member. She literally wouldn’t hurt a fly or a cockroach for that matter. Yet she spewed some of the most violent political rhetoric i’ve ever heard.

After spending a bit of time with her and her Revolutionary Book store buddies (back when it was on W19th st), it became clear that the RCP is not just a political group with some very odd and violent beliefs as much a religion, where Maoist thought (logos?) is god and Bob Avakian is his profit.

Oh, and their political beliefs are far from what most of us would consider leftwing. For example, they don’t give a crap about the environment (they believe natural resources are to be used by the people as they see fit), and they think homosexuality is unnatural and wrong, it’s simply a perverse reaction to capitalism or some such nonsense.

They are also strongly against gun control, and think drug dealers should be hanged (not by a capitalist system, but rather by a court run by a revolutionary vanguard).

#8 Comment By Revcom On September 28, 2016 @ 9:32 am

They do have a plan of action and solutions. They have a leader that has been delving deep into history to learn the lessons of when the working class has held power, and has rescued revolutionary communism. Just google RCP and Bob Avakian and it’s all there.

#9 Comment By Dylan On September 28, 2016 @ 2:56 pm

I wanted to make it to this, but was sick.
Are they planning on doing it again for any of the other debates?

#10 Comment By Hankest On September 28, 2016 @ 3:41 pm

“Bob Avakian is his profit.”

I meant prophet of course, but actually either word works.

#11 Comment By EliteCommInc. On September 28, 2016 @ 6:42 pm

“And the communist kids were shouting down panelists in a fair and balanced, bipartisan manner. ”

Appreciated the levity here, intended or not. Laughing.
“They are also strongly against gun control, and think drug dealers should be hanged (not by a capitalist system, but rather by a court run by a revolutionary vanguard).”

Ohhh Libertarians without minus free drugs free sex and free money market accounts.

I suspect that they were active participants during occupy WS. Missed opportunity by forgoing an organizational structure. Fear of organization is prudent, but it is a beast that must be employed.

I am not sure the country will ever be ready for anyone or anything more revolutionary than Mr. Trump. It is the value of fair exchange which might ferret that out.

But I love the balanced shout down reference. That’s very very good.

#12 Comment By EliteCommInc. On September 28, 2016 @ 7:05 pm

In fact the more i consider Mr Trump’s situational leadership style, the more I think the aforementioned groups might consider him a kindred muse.

I did a brief look;


I am a fan of scripture and if the comments in that regard are accurate. There’s not much new there for to consider that hasn’t been.

I am even a cautious fan of deconstructive and what it brings to the table for self awareness, personal growth and enhancing human empathy. And deconstruction is what I hear. I am not a fan of deconstruction toward any policy advance. It’s vague, unwieldly and dangerous to impose.

Oe need go no further than Mao, Lenin, Cheng Kai Chek, Pol Pot, Ho Che Men . . .

Capitalism a fairly sound practice when practiced. And what most people take issue with is not capitalism, but those practices of unfairness which invade any system motivated by human intentions.

#13 Comment By EliteCommInc. On September 28, 2016 @ 7:13 pm

Mathew 5:10
Various translations abound, but this seems appropriate.

“Blessed are those who are persecuted for the sake of justice, for theirs is the reign of heaven.”

#14 Comment By Hal Fiore On September 29, 2016 @ 2:16 pm

Good ol’ Chairman Bob. Many memories of hilarity from Berkeley in the 70’s, when the Revolution had been abandoned by all but the lunatic fringe that glommed about him and the Spartacus League. Sproul Plaza was a great place to meet girls for an unaligned leftish dude back in the day.

Of course, Trump IS the low-info, reality TV version of the Chairman. Did anyone see Newt’s tweet today about Hillary the fox vs Donald the hedgehog? The hedgehog only knows one thing: we need change. Revolution for the Hell of it. Where’s Abbie when we need him?

I could point out that a heart attack is change.

#15 Comment By Moone Boy On September 29, 2016 @ 5:21 pm

That Rod Dreher combox comment had me giggling for a solid 30 seconds.

You know, as much as Europeans love to think they are so worldly and open minded, this kind of political mash-up really only seems to happen in America, God Bless it.

(Maybe some British Old Labour “Argument Department” meetings came close)

#16 Comment By Siarlys Jenkins On September 30, 2016 @ 11:20 pm

Bob Avakian is still running his little party? I wonder who’s funding him? I mean, the Kaiser isn’t interested, and he blew it with China when he tried to go after Deng Hsiao Ping with a 2×4 during a state visit to the U.S. At last report, the Gang of Four have not re-emerged as the principals of a wealthy hedge fund.

I’d like to think his acolyte got run out by the clown on the penny-farthing bicycle blowing his horn, like they do at the Apollo on amateur night. It doesn’t sound like that is what happened.

The Catholic Worker is somewhat more likely to be the vanguard of the revolution than Avakian’s RCP, which emerged from one half of one third of Students for a Democratic Society. (I was not yet a legal adult when all this happened, but what I read was that Avakian and Mike Klonsky split up Revolutionary Youth Movement II, RYM I became Weather Underground, some of which ended up serving long prison terms and others became law school and economics professors, and the rest was under the thumb of the now perhaps defunct Progressive Labor Party… but then, I thought RCP was defunct too).

Well, this is the beauty of the free enterprise system… in socialist countries, there is only one communist party, but here in the USA we can choose from a wide variety of alternatives (said one of the unreconstructed socialists who comments at Rod Dreher’s blog). “Its my party and I’ll cry if I want to…”

I’ve gone back to Eugene Debs and Dorothy Day.