A specter may be haunting the august New York Times – the specter of communism.

The opening words of the Communist Manifesto – “A specter is haunting Europe – the specter of Communism” – were written by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels in 1848 as revolutions swept across Europe, causing the “propertied classes” to quake in their boots.

Taking a leaf from the pages of Marx and Engels, a recent Times Week in Review article worried about whether capitalists are destroying capitalism. Now the Times has devoted its July 12 New York column to an interview with Communist Party Executive Vice Chair Jarvis Tyner. The headline: “Letting the Capitalists Eat Crow.”

Columnist Clyde Haberman starts by asking, “So, Mr. Tyner, here we are in one of the most miserable periods that American business has endured in quite some time. What do you think about all this?” Tyner, he said, smiled and said, “Well, we told you so.”

In fact, more than 150 years ago Marx and Engels compared emerging capitalism to “the sorcerer who is no longer able to control the powers of the nether world whom he has called up by his spells.” Capitalism, they said, is beset by “crises that by their periodical return put the existence of the entire bourgeois society on trial, each time more threateningly.”

Perhaps Haberman thumbed through a copy of the Manifesto as he contemplated “the shenanigans of Enron, WorldCom, Tyco and the rest,” and the stock market falling “further in the last three months than it did in the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.”

Haberman wonders, “Is there any greater joy for a heart that pounds to the beat of a hammer attached to a sickle than the sight of capitalists resorting to a form of corporate hara-kiri?”

Tyner’s reply: “‘That’s what you get for putting your faith in capitalists,’ Mr. Tyner said, taking a break in the first-floor canteen of the party’s headquarters building on West 23rd Street.”

“‘The growing corruption of big business is a sign of its inability to generate profits honestly anymore,’ he said. ‘People were left out in the cold. But capitalism always functioned that way. It’s just gotten worse. We’ve got a society that’s run on greed. And they’ve got their guys in the White House now.’“

Could it be the Times realizes George W’s attempt to blame the spreading economic crisis on a “hangover” or “a few bad apples” just doesn’t satisfy its readers? As the “newspaper of record,” does it feel a need to acknowledge the existence of serious alternatives?

Above all, are the Times editors haunted by that specter of communism that has endured to this day despite constant attempts to crush it?

Tyner told the World, “They are concerned that people might draw deeper conclusions about the nature of the system. They are looking to make the point to the ruling class: ‘Better try to find some solutions to this crisis.’ There is a sense of apprehension and concern in the country, and the Communist Party reflects it in a thoughtful and serious way.”

Haberman tries to be cynical, but he acknowledges the persistence and involvement of the Communist Party USA: “‘We’re in the mix,’ Mr. Tyner said. ‘We’re growing because we’re in the mix.’“

“As he sees it, young people are embracing radicalism in a way that echoes the 1930s and ’60s. ‘Look at the antiglobalization movement,’ he said. The Young Communist League has attracted new members, he added. And here and there around the country, from western Pennsylvania to the People’s Republic of Berkeley, a few comrades have been elected to town councils and local boards.”

Wisecracks notwithstanding, Haberman also presents fairly evenhandedly the Party’s plans to rent out space in its prime-location headquarters in order to generate income.

“‘It costs a lot of money to run this building,’ [Tyner] said. And after all, the party can get by for just so long on bequeathals that it says it has received from 1930s- and ’40s-era radicals, who are dying at an inevitably faster rate. ‘This place,’ Mr. Tyner said, ‘is their heart.’”

“Not that money is everything. ‘The main thing that builds the party,’ he said, returning to Topic A of the moment, ‘is the failure of capitalism.’“

Responding to Bush’s promises to crack down on corporate crime, Haberman writes, “Mr. Tyner waved his hand dismissively. ‘He’s playing softball with the big guys,’ he said. ‘He’s running with the big dogs, and he’s not going to hurt them.’”

“Well, …” Haberman concludes, “what else would you expect from a Communist? But isn’t it funny that Democrats, and more than a few Republicans, have been saying pretty much the same thing?”

These are perplexing times for defenders of capitalism. Tyner observed, “Instead of doing a story on the demise of the Party, he wound up with a story on the potential demise of capitalism.”

Susan Webb is a People’s Weekly World Editorial Board member in Chicago. She can be reached at suewebb@pww.org


Susan Webb
Susan Webb

Susan Webb is a retired co-editor of People's World. She has written on a range of topics both international - the Iraq war, World Social Forums in Brazil and India, the Israel-Palestinian conflict and controversy over the U.S. role in Okinawa - and domestic - including the meaning of socialism for Americans, attacks on Planned Parenthood, the U.S. as top weapons merchant, and more.