‘At Home in Utopia’ documents Communist Party heyday

May 1, 2009

The new documentary by filmmaker Michal Goldman, ‘At Home in Utopia’ is a great tribute to the Communist Party, though is not directly about the Communist Party nor is the assessment of the Party always favorable.

The film, part of PBS’s ‘Independent Lens series, documents the history and legacy of the Bronx’s United Workers Cooperative Colony, ‘the coops.’ The coops was a collectively owned housing cooperative developed by Jewish immigrants 80 years ago.

The New York Times wrote that the documentary captured the coops’ ‘daring social experiment,’ which was rooted in social justice, racial integration and international solidarity.

But most of the founders of the coops and many of its residents for much of the development’s history were members of the Communist Party. ‘At Home in Utopia’ shows a unique glimpse into the lives of communist activists and members during the Depression, World War II and through the McCarthy ‘Red Scare.’ It documents their ideals, dreams, squabbles, mistakes and successes. In many ways the trajectory of the coops mirrored that of the Communist Party itself in that period.

While the documentary ultimately and hastily concludes that adherence to communism was the the downfall of the coopswhich was sold into private hands after World War IIit reflects a deeper truth: that membership in the Communist Party never meant unanimity or oppression. This film helps expose the all-too-common lie that communists were automatons, unthinking tools who mindlessly carried out Moscow’s orders. In fact, the motivations and actions of the radicals captured in the film are local and personal.

‘At Home in Utopia’ shows that communists differ and debate and are deeply independent and opinionated. Perhaps no better tribute could be made.

You can find local listing of broadcast times of the documentary on your local public television station.

There are also great photos and some clips from the film at the documentary’s website.


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