NEW YORK (AFP) — A rare bird in the political world, the US Communist Party is feeling rather smug in these days of capitalist turmoil.
At the party's New York headquarters on 23rd Street in Manhattan, regional party chairman Libero Della Piana, 36, laid out why he thinks Marxist-Leninism's time has finally come.
"We are very excited, we feel that we are at a turning point," Della Piana, an imposing half-Italian, half-African American with a pony tail, told AFP.
"We can afford to be less on the defensive for the first time since Ronald Reagan, and we can say our word in rebuilding America on a new basis, rebuilding a better world, instead of one based on the greed of the few."
The US Communist Party was founded in 1919 and never really took off. It was ostracized during the Cold War and members faced discrimination, even firing from their work, during the anti-Communist drive of the 1950s.
Today, the party claims to have 3,000 to 3,500 members -- seemingly not a threat to the giant Democratic and Republican parties contesting next month's White House election.
But American communists think that the collapse of Wall Street and huge disillusionment among the public with the economy has put them on a roll.
"We receive more and more phone calls, we have more inquiries from people, we see an increase in interest," Della Piana said. "We hope to be part of the discussion. I can see a role for the Communist Party in this next period."
"The crisis' number one lesson: the market cannot regulate itself," he said. "Otherwise it goes out of control."
Communist youth coordinator Erica Smiley, 28, said "the major issues for the young are: peace, jobs, health care, education, and we provide them with answers."
Whether the communists will be able to deliver remains open to question.
One plus is that their recently renovated New York headquarters, featuring the obligatory tomes of Lenin and Marx, is prime real estate -- a serious and very capitalist nest egg.
But few people were about during a visit by AFP on Monday and the atmosphere was collegial and slightly sleepy, rather than revolutionary.
"They are all out working to get people to vote," explained Bill Davis, 65, who has been a faithful member for 37 years.
There is no communist running for the White House and the Communist Party does not endorse Democrat Barack Obama.
Yet many staff here wore his picture on lapel buttons, while Republican John McCain was relegated to a box of tissues -- the tissues being pulled through his mouth.
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