While the cataclysmic events that led to the disintegration of the Soviet Union and other Eastern bloc nations are a "disaster," the head of the U.S. Communist Party said yesterday that socialism will return.
"I believe it's temporary," said Gus Hall, in Baltimore to celebrate the 90th birthday of Jacob Green, former merchant seaman, National Maritime Union organizer and the city's Communist Party chairman between 1964 and 1985.
"It is certainly a setback for the socialists," Mr. Hall said. "But it will turn around. Just give it a little bit of time. They said they were suffering from socialism. They are suffering from trying capitalism."
He said President Bush's claim that communism is dead after the collapse of the Berlin Wall was "wishful thinking. Socialism is inevitable. This setback doesn't change that."
In the United States, Mr. Hall said some people have dropped out of the party, whose membership he estimated at 15,000. He said party officials are now trying to gather various groups with similar ideologies together.
About 60 people turned out for the party at Steelworkers Hall on Dundalk Avenue and praised Mr. Green as a "labor stalwart."
Both Mr. Green and Mr. Hall lamented the fate of unions today, saying conservatives have practically erased their power.
"Labor lacks militancy," said Mr. Hall, who was charged in 1934 with possessing and using explosives during the Minneapolis Teamsters strike. He pleaded guilty to a lesser charge and was fined $500. "As long as trade union officials think they can get along with corporations, they are going to be defeated."
Mr. Hall, now 81, is still active in party politics. Though he has sat out the past two presidential elections -- protesting how hard it is for a third-party candidate to run -- he continues to lecture and write.
He said the Communist Party in what used to be the Soviet Union recently invited him back to speak at colleges and on television. He hasn't decided whether to accept the invitation.
The Yonkers, N.Y., resident has been a regular news figure since the 1930s.
In 1948 he was indicted with 11 other Communist leaders, charged with conspiring to overthrow the government.
He was found guilty and fled to Mexico when the Supreme Court upheld the conviction.
He was caught and served six years in the federal prison in Leavenworth, Kan.
In 1961, he again was charged with violating the Smith Act by refusing to make Communist Party membership rolls public.
He was victorious when the Supreme Court overturned the act as unconstitutional a few years later.
He ran for president in 1972, providing the Communists with their first nationwide political exposure in more than 30 years.
Mr. Hall said it was while confined in Leavenworth that he learned about the importance of ethnic diversity.
"I was held with bank robbers, most of them Irish-Americans," he said yesterday. "They didn't care a lot about politics, but if you said something bad about Ireland, their hair stood up and they were ready to fight."
Mr. Hall said he predicted then that Communist officials DTC underestimated the ethnic stronghold in their republics, leading to the strife today.
He said the only answer is for the republics to band together in a loose federation of equal, coexisting nations.
Mr. Hall said former Soviet President Mikhail S. Gorbachev "was a very nice guy" when he first met him, soon after he became leader.
"I thought he was rather shallow. He didn't know much economics."
Mr. Green, who lives in Northwest Baltimore, said that the experiment with capitalism will "confirm that communism is what the people of the Soviet Union actually need . . . You better believe that communism is not dead."