A thousand thanks to the reader who emailed me this New York Observer story about Jack Barnes, Maximum Leader of the US Socialist Workers Party.
Communists Capitalize on Village — Get $1.87 M. for Loft
by Max Abelson
If bow-tied, cigar-mouthed Republicans can have nice seven-digit, six-room co-ops, don’t a few old Manhattan communists deserve multi-million-dollar real estate, too?
A two-bedroom loft at 380 West 12th Street, a 109-year-old building on a cobblestone block by the Hudson River, was sold by American socialist leaders Jack Barnes and Mary-Alice Waters. Their buyers, Sony BMG Music Entertainment vice president Ole Obermann and his fiancée, Stephanie Jakubiak, paid $1,872,500.
“I don’t want to hurt the sellers’ feelings at all, but they definitely had a funky style in terms of how they did the apartment,” said Mr. Obermann. That means there are sliding stained-glass doors, plus a wall of bookshelves. (Ms. Waters is the president of publishing house Pathfinder Press, which publishes Marx and Trotsky, and Mr. Barnes, too.)
“Personally, our tastes are different and we’ll probably do something different,” the buyer said. “It will be open, airy, simple, whereas when it was done 15 years ago there was a lot of light-colored wood shelving.” He’s adding six or so wireless speakers, “a nice music system.”
Edward Ferris of Brown Harris Stevens was the listing broker.
It isn’t clear when Mr. Barnes and Ms. Waters bought the place or how much they paid, but city records date back to 1993, when apartments were massively cheaper.
Unlike most people in six-room lofts, Mr. Barnes once met with Kim Il-sung, the late North Korean president. The leader “conversed with the guests in a cordial and friendly atmosphere and arranged a lunch for them,” a report published by the BBC in 1990 said. “US Socialist Workers’ Party, led by its National Secretary Jack Barnes… presented him with a gift.”
So what is the couple like? “We only met Mary-Alice, and she was incredibly friendly, interesting, had a nice warm way about her, seemed like a very nice woman,” Mr. Obermann said. “She mentioned she really liked to cook, they would have friends over—it’s like a social space.”
Nice one Jack! I should point out that I’m not a hairshirt socialist. If Jack Barnes wants to own a Manhattan apartment, or even make a profit selling one, that’s fine by me.
That’s not to say that there is no issue here. The late Jim Cannon, whom Jack professes to follow, used to be very hot on the idea of communist leaders setting an example for the rank and file. So there is, and let’s be kind here, an itty bitty tension between leading a group that fetishises “footloose revolutionaries” and discourages comrades from owning property, and dabbling in the property market yourself.
Then again, maybe Jack is onto something. After all, this is the guy who was perspicacious enough to dump Trotskyism for Stalinism just as the latter entered its period of terminal decline. Perhaps Jack’s latest wheeze is the Sarah Beeny road to socialism.
More on this from Louis.