Communist party holds forum on politics and racism



A meeting room at the Solidarity Center at 147 West 24th Street, where the Workers World Party holds events. Photo: Yulong Li.

In an office space in Midtown, around 20 people gathered on September 19 for a forum hosted by the Workers World Party, a communist organization founded in the United States after World War II. The purpose of the event was to have an open conversation about the relationship between police and white nationalists.

“The history proves itself that they work hand in hand,” said Rafael Luna, a 59-year-old local activist in New York City.

The discussion took place at the Solidarity Center on West 24th Street where the Workers World Party meets. It was the latest in a series of events organized by WWP in response to “Unite the Right,” the far-right rally that left 19 counter-protesters injured and one person dead in Charlottesville, Virginia, in August.

Luna, who spent most of his life in South America and attended the protest in Charlottesville, said that what happened there was one of his first encounters with racism, and that he was surprised by the degree to which racism is normalized in the United States.

“Arriving there it was basically in my face; it was like opening a history book and reading about KKK, fascism and racism in America,” he said. “Originally, I expected to see a whole bunch of people with hoods; that’s not what it was. These were regular white men, regular clothes, very organized, very militant.”

As Luna and other attendees shared their stories, people sitting around the table snapped their fingers when something powerful was said to avoid interrupting with applause. The sounds of fingers snapping grew louder when Luna described seeing police officers standing by as anti-white nationalism protesters were beaten up.

Since the Charlottesville rally, it’s been widely reported that some Virginia police officers did not actively stop the far-right protesters from physically hurting counter-protesters, including in reports from ProPublica  and the New York Times.

“The system needs to be completely torn down and rebuilt,” said Taryn Flvek, the 32-year-old WWP member who organized the event. “I think there are a lot of people in this country who are living in poverty…I would think that capitalism has already proved itself to be a failure.”

Another attendee, Jonathan Ebhogiaye, a self-proclaimed revolutionary socialist, said that the problem with police and white nationalist groups will not be solved within the current democratic system. He believes that change “will come about through a revolution and establishing a society that’s based on socialist principles.”

“Capitalism is fundamentally unjust,” added Ebhogiaye, who is a senior at Columbia College with a goal to “free oppressed people from systems of domination, working for their liberation.”

While not everyone at the event identified as a communist or socialist, many agreed with the speakers about the limitations of the current political system.

“My upbringing in activism has been firmly taught and rooted in people of color,” said Reid Welsh, a 24-year-old from Cleveland, Ohio. “I just feel like the established political channels don’t function for those people, which means they don’t function for anyone really.”

Welsh found out about the WWP event from a friend’s Facebook post and decided he wanted to become involved.

“I’ve been slowly expanding my activism and participation in New York specifically,” he said. “I’m trying to find places like this to come to and to learn. I think I’m working my way down the political left spectrum.”

Professor Andrew Nathan, director of the East Asian Institute at Columbia University whose research interests include communism in China, said people are becoming more committed to the political ideology to which they are subscribed, though there is not necessarily a resurgence of communism in the United States.

“If you think about polarization in terms of movement to the extreme, then I would say it’s not happening on the left but it’s happening on the right,” said Nathan. “If you think of polarization in terms of the consolidation of two ideological camps, then I think that has been happening.”

The Workers World Party will hold its national conference November 18-19 in New York City. The conference’s agenda includes commemorating the centennial of the Russian revolution and building a movement to fight white supremacy.