The New York Times Cozies up to Playful Communists in Manhattan

New York Times reporter Channing Joseph engaged in light-hearted humanizing of some local Communists in Sunday's Metro section, "Where Marxists Pontificate, And Play." The worst thing Joseph can say about the gathering of supporters of murderous left-wing regimes at Manhattan's Brecht Forum is that they have a reputation for "seriousness."

There's even a boring online slide show with cozy captions: "There are little hints of humor all around the Brecht Forum...." Judging by the photos, very little.

Try to imagine the Times getting so cozy among a group of mainstream Republicans, much less Tea Party activists. In his visit to the Communist group, Joseph posed no inconveniently challenging questions on the atrocities of Stalin, Mao, or Castro. Instead, "smiles abound" and gentleness reigns in this non-newsworthy story in the news section.

If communists have a reputation for anything, it is seriousness. (And if you have seen old photos of Karl Marx, you know that he did not smile much.) But at the Brecht Forum, a community center on West Street where revolutionaries and radicals gather daily to ponder and to pontificate, they also play. (Smiles abound.)

Amid the honeycomb of offices and hidden rooms on the ground floor of a shabby brick building facing the Hudson River, activists and agitators unite for classes like "Antonio Gramsci: Revolutionary Strategy and the Historic Bloc" and talks like "Envisioning a Post-Capitalist Future." Networks of pipes snaking along the ceiling and glimpses of exposed brick give the space a slightly industrial feel, which seems fitting for discussions on labor theory and worker exploitation.

But there is also the monthly Game Night, when regulars put down their copies of "Das Kapital" and immerse themselves in table tennis, foosball and a complicated Marxist version of Monopoly called, appropriately, Class Struggle.

In a city known for cynicism, the Brecht, which survives on donations, is a surprisingly open and idealistic place.


When I visited one evening in October, about two dozen youngish, fashionable people - men in button-down shirts and dress slacks, women in knee-high boots and hoop earrings - had gathered under harsh flood lamps in the forum's circular meeting space for a panel discussion, "Child Welfare From the Crack Era to the Age of Obama."....While Mr. Balagun waved me out the front door, I imagined Marx's ghost floating in the hazy light of the evening, watching over the poker players. Behind his famous thicket of a beard, I could almost see a grin.

- Clay Waters is director of Times Watch. You can follow him on Twitter.