Dreaming of a Red Christmas

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Workers of the world unite! Sure, the 300-plus stalwarts who showed up for the U.S. Communist Party’s holiday party were scrambling for free roasted chicken, rice and–of course–Red Dog beer. And yes, there was a little proletarian pushing and shoving by some of the ladies, but everyone piped down once Gus Hall took his seat at the rostrum.

Venerable in an oxblood cardigan and vermilion tie, flanked by poinsettias, the longtime leader of the CPUSA–and perennial presidential candidate–pronounced his somewhat blue predictions for 1998. “Nature will continue on its destructive path,” he said. “The economic financial crises of Southeast Asia will spread to the U.S., Japan and Europe.” The forecasts drew polite applause from the faithful at the party hall on 23rd Street.

But his prediction that the Republican majority would fall in both houses of Congress evoked the first truly lusty clapping from the crowd, many of whom were old enough to have known John Reed personally. Hall’s pronouncement that the party needs to convince lawmakers to adopt a Paul Robeson commemorative postage stamp struck especially close to their hearts, drawing a few exhortations of “Tell ’em Gus.”

Emboldened by their appreciation, Hall even offered a Super Bowl prognostication: “The Communist Party picks the Green Bay Packers because they’re the only team in professional football with public ownership.”

Like all holiday get-togethers, the Party’s party was a chance for old friends to keep in touch for yet another year. After Hall took his bows, they hit the buffet again for chocolate creme cups and coffee. “It’s nice to come by and see that no one I know checked out this year,” admitted Ethel Cohen from the Bronx, who said she inherited her CP membership from her parents. “I’m 80,” she added, “but it’s the old ones who are the most militant.”

Her friend Pearl Ray, who braved a three-hour express bus ride from Co-op City to make it downtown, agreed. The two signaled their intention to visit the coffee urn, but Ms. Cohen turned to add one final point: “And, no, we didn’t get discouraged about the U.S.S.R.”