‘You can’t deny it’
"The future is bright, but the road is torturous," says Jane Sullivan, looking at me over her glasses as she lights another Pall Mall. She’s been volunteering at Revolution Books for years. (The store’s been around since 1979, and at its present location on Mass Ave in Cambridge "since the Zapatista uprising.") And she says it plainly: "I’m a communist."
She’s been a member of the RCP since the 1980s. She doesn’t truck with the CPUSA’s efforts to work within the system, or the socialists’ desire to gradually level the playing field. She wants total cultural revolution, akin to Mao’s. She wants to make America a communist country, and she thinks it can happen. The fact that other communist states have failed or are nightmares of repression and deprivation doesn’t faze her. When the Soviet Union collapsed, "the bourgeoisie were saying, ‘It’s the end of history. Communism doesn’t work, human nature doesn’t allow it, people are just selfish, this is the best of all possible systems.’ But you’ve got half the world living on two dollars a day."
Sullivan doesn’t think the tactics employed by the Communist Party USA are effective. "The CPUSA see themselves as just an extension of bourgeois democracy: ‘We can do a better job in the system than the capitalists. Just vote for us.’ They’re not about making a revolution. They’re about appealing to the Democrats." And as for the anarchists and assorted leftists who frequent Lucy Parsons, "Well, we want them to be out there. It would be a loss to the people [if they weren’t]. But we have our differences too. We believe in communism and the dictatorship of the proletariat. They’re the non-aligned left, and they’re anarchists. They don’t believe in tearing the state down. They’re not interested in transforming society all the way. The Revolutionary Communist Party is."
But, it has to be asked: how?
"You’re gonna have to have a revolution," Sullivan says.
An armed revolution? A civil war?
"Yes. Yes. You’re gonna have to overthrow the capitalist class."
How does that happen?
"Well, you prepare it now. You’re in political battle now. And then, when there’s some kind of crisis, an opening, you have an armed insurrection."
I gesture toward the open door, the preppy passers-by on the sidewalk. So you yourself would be out there, marching down Mass Ave with your weapons?
Sullivan smiles and shifts in her seat, avoiding the question. "Ummmm ..." She laughs, a little nervously. "That’s looking at it from today’s ... I said it would be a civil war. You’re gonna have the army and two sections of society going at it."
I don’t press her: it’s apparent that the reality of all-out armed revolt isn’t something she’s expecting any time soon. But when might it happen?
"I’m not a fortuneteller," she says. "But you gotta prepare the ground. You gotta talk about communism."
When you look at the map of America, with all those red states filled with people who see George W. Bush as semi-divine, do you really think this country could ever turn communist?
"Well, there’s millions of people who hate that shit, too," she says. "But we’re gonna be doing some stuff this summer, going into those red zones. Getting into it. All these people who were voting for Bush, they were never confronted that Bush lied about the war. Kerry never really challenged that. We’re gonna challenge that." (George Bryant says there’ll even be room for truck-driving red-state Bible-thumpers when the revolution comes. "I think we’d have to have a place for them within the framework, debating with them, giving them space.")
These ideas may seem outmoded or even naive, but they do find a receptive audience.
James Herrington — a shaggy 17-year-old dressed in a Clash T-shirt and a German-army jacket, a pair of large headphones slung around his neck — is something of a regular at Revolution Books.
He’s been a self-described communist for a year or two, and he put his ideals to work protesting at the Republican National Convention ("that was a lot of fun") and starting a socialist club at his school (BC High, of all places). But while socialism is all well and good, communism just makes more sense to him. "Socialism is nice, it would be great if it could happen, but the whole election thing is not very likely, at least here. And anarchism ... I don’t really understand anarchism. They’re like ‘no government,’ which is kind of scary. Y’know that Dead Kennedys song ["Where Do You Draw the Line?"] where he’s like, ‘Who’d fix the sewers?’ With communism, you get the problem solved, and you really get something done."
When Herrington looks at the world around him, he sees a need for a drastic makeover. And he thinks it will happen. Just you wait. "Do you really think you can keep billions of people in the staggering, crushing poverty they’re in right now?"
Sullivan shares his certitude. "You can’t deny it," she says. "The pendulum’s gonna swing the other way."
I ask how many other communists she knows in Boston.
"A few. A minority of people."
Is that enough to bring about a full-scale revolution? A fundamental, 180-degree reshaping of the sole remaining superpower — and the rest of the world along with it?
"Well, history’s always made by a minority," says Sullivan with a quiet laugh. "We’re not gonna wait for the vast majority of people to be ready for revolution. We’re preparing the ground now."
Mike Miliard can be reached at mmiliard[a]phx.compage 3
Issue Date: July 1 - 7, 2005
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