The Communist Party's Baltimore office is in a three-story building that has red bricks -- some stained and cracked -- and bears a sign for its bookstore that appropriately reads, "New Era."
Most of the books in the large front window of the building in the 400 block of Park Ave. in downtown Baltimore appear to be aimed at blacks. There's a book about Martin Luther King Jr., one on a local black surgeon and the "Swahili Alphabet Book."
Inside, at mid-morning, the lights are off. There is no sign of life in the party's office until a woman exits from a door that leads to the upper floors and identifies herself as Margaret Baldridge, general secretary of the local Communist Party of the United States of America.
Baldridge says she cannot talk about the stunning developments in the Soviet Union. Not yet.
"We will discuss it Wednesday and make a statement on Thursday," Baldridge says nervously, adding that not even local party chairman Joseph Henderson could comment yet. She declines to give her own views of the situation.
Locally and nationally, this is a time when befuddled Communists are re-evaluating their mission in the United States after a remarkable week of events that included a failed coup in the Soviet Union, Soviet President Mikhail S. Gorbachev's resignation from the Communist Party and his call for its dissolution.
National party leaders met yesterday in New York, a spokeswoman said, as Marxist organizations sought to keep pace with the rapid-fire changes in the Soviet Union.
"I think it's clear that socialism has suffered a severe crisis and a severe defeat in many ways," acknowledged David Mirtz, a coordinating council member of the Young Communist League of the United States of America in New York.
Mirtz, however, downplayed the role that the Soviet Union has had in promoting communistic principles.
"In general, even before these events, there's really not been a model for socialism," he suggested.
"This has been portrayed as the demise of socialism. . . . We don't plan on going anywhere."
Greg McCartan, editor of the Militant newspaper of the Socialist Workers Party, cheered the week's events.
He said the Soviet Union's political and social philosophies have been off course since Josef Stalin came to power. He said the failure of last week's attempted coup was good for "true socialism."
McCartan drew sharp distinctions between his party and Communists in the Soviet Union and the United States, who he said have followed flawed principles.
"They have nothing to do with the interests of working people and the fight for socialism," he said. He predicted that Communist Party organizations in this country soon will drop the name "communist."
"They'll try to adopt more social democratic or liberal names," McCartan said, adding that the communist parties often have gone beyond the socialists' goal of sharing the wealth of nations by supporting dictatorships.
He was convinced that the Socialist Workers Party in the United States would attract members with its involvement here in combating police brutality and union-busting and upholding civil and abortion rights -- all issues involving conflicts with this country's "capitalist economic system," he said.
But these are happy times for anti-communist organizations that say the events prove that any ideology built on Marxism is wrong.
"I think the Communist Party in the U.S. is in the same position it was in 1939 when Stalin signed the pact with Hitler," said a gleeful Dolf Drodge, of the far-right Council for the Defense of Freedom, of Washington. "That drove a lot of people out of the party."
But he did not predict that communism or socialism will disappear.
"The Communist Party here criticized Gorbachev for too much reform," he said. "It is very close to [Cuban President Fidel] Castro, and they're going to have to get re-tooled."