School of Darkness
NWO: Wall Street's Utopian Hoax
By Henry Makow Ph.D.
Dodd was a leader of the Communist Party of America (CPUSA) in the
1930' s and 1940's. Her book, "School of Darkness" (1954) reveals
that Communism was a hoax perpetrated by financiers "to control the
common man" and to advance world tyranny. Naturally this important
book is out-of-print and not in any used bookstores. (I found it
through interlibrary loan.)
March 16, 2003
Bella Dodd was born Maria
Asunta Isabella Visono in Italy about 1904. A brilliant and
dedicated woman, she graduated from Hunter College and NYU Law
School. She became head of the New York State Teachers Union and was
a member of the CPUSA's National Council until 1949.
Dodd describes Communism as
"a strange secret cult" whose goal is the destruction of Western
(i.e. Christian) Civilization. Millions of naïve idealists
("innocents") are tricked by its talk of helping the poor, but it
cares only for power. For example, Dodd found there was no social
research at party headquarters. "We are a revolutionary party, not a
reform party," she was told. (163)
CREATING "HUMAN BEINGS THAT
The Communist Party operates
by infiltrating and subverting social institutions like the
churches, schools, mass media and government. Its aim was "to create
new types of human beings who would conform to the blueprint of the
world they confidently expected to control." (162)
For example, Dodd
reveals that the CPUSA
had 1100 members become Catholic priests
in the 1930's. It also subverted the American education system by
taking over the teacher's unions and learned societies. Only people
who accepted the "materialistic, collectivistic international class
struggle approach" advanced. (98)
Involving women in the war
effort fitted the long-range program:
"The party did all it could
to induce women to go into industry. Its fashion designers created
special styles for them and its songwriters wrote special songs to
spur them.... War-period conditions, they planned, were to become a
permanent part of the future educational program. The bourgeois
family as a social unit was to be made obsolete." (153)
There was to be no family
but the party and the state. Dodd helped organize the Congress
of American Women, a forerunner of the feminist movement.
"Since it was supposedly a
movement for peace, it attracted many women. But it was really only
a renewed offensive to control American women... Like youth and
minority groups, they are regarded as a reserve force of the
revolution because they are more easily moved by emotional appeals."
SUBVERSION OF U.S. COMPLETED
IN THE 1930's
When FDR recognized
Russia in 1933, he deliberately turned a blind eye to the CPUSA's
massive program of espionage and subversion. Liberals denied that
this took place and complained about a "witch hunt." Guess what? The
"loony right" was correct. A new book (The Secret World of
American Communism, based on newly opened Kremlin archives,
confirms that CPUSA was a puppet of Moscow and the Roosevelt and
were practically run by Soviet agents,
Harry Hopkins and Harry Dexter White to name a
The war years saw the CPUSA
actually renounce the class struggle and join the so-called
"Roosevelt camp of progress" which included "progressive
"The Communist Party now
assumed the responsibility of establishing a rigid discipline over
the working class. No employer was more effective or more relentless
in checking strikes among the workers, or minimizing
complaints...while wages rose a little during those years, they did
not compare with the rise in profits and in monopoly control of
basic necessities...war production was chiefly in the hands of ten
large corporations...the Communists carefully muted such
The war years saw amazing
coordination between the Communist Party and America's financial
elite. The elite financed a sophisticated propaganda agency called
the Russian Institute located on Park Ave. across 68th
Street from Rockefeller's Council on Foreign Relations. Here "famous
names like Vanderbilt, Lamont, Whitney and Morgan mingled with those
of Communist leaders. "(153)
At Roosevelt's insistence,
Stalin "dissolved" the Comintern in order to make the CPUSA look
like an American party. The CPUSA leader Earl Browder achieved
national prominence and consulted with senior Roosevelt cabinet
The joint US-Russian war
effort was to be the basis of the new world order. But,
inexplicably, the policy changed and Browder instantly became a
non-person. Apparently the financial elite had decided the time
wasn't right for world government. A cold war would be much more
lucrative. Dodd was told that in the future, the party would often
find itself opposed not only to the government, but also to U.S.
"I now saw that with the
best motives and a desire to serve the working people... I and
thousands like me, had been led to a betrayal of these very
people.... I had been on the side of those who sought the
destruction of my own country." (229)
Like frightened mice, the
CPUSA membership scurried to adopt the new party line. Dodd tried to
quit but was told: "No one gets out of the party. You die or you are
thrown out." (197)
Eventually Dodd was expelled
and smeared as "anti-Negro, anti-Puerto Rican, anti-Semitic,
anti-labor and a defender of the landlord." (220). Sound familiar?
After more than 20 year of tireless sacrifice, she was without
family or friends. The party had been her family. Its "hates had
become my hates."
"This is the key to the
mental enslavement of mankind. The individual is made into nothing
... he operates as the physical part of [a] higher group
intelligence... he has no awareness of the plans the higher group
intelligence has for utilizing him." (158)
"A SECRET WELL-ORGANIZED
Bella Dodd was circumspect
about the people behind the Communist Party. She once was told to
phone two multi-millionaires who live in the Waldorf Towers if she
lost contact with Moscow. Elsewhere, she refers to "a secret well
organized world power." She is obviously afraid to be candid. She
suspects that one CPUSA leader's "suicide" was in fact murder. (172)
But she does drop a possible
clue. She says that each of the nine floors of the party-owned
headquarters at 35 E. 12th St. was devoted to CPUSA
business. The Sixth Floor held "the publication offices of the
Yiddish newspaper, the Freiheit, and the "Jewish Commission." (162)
Indeed Jews were prominent among Communist dupes.
"What now became clear to me
was the collusion of these two forces: the Communists with their
timetable for world control, and certain mercenary forces in the
free world bent on making profits from blood." (229)
As "one piece of the puzzle
that finally became a picture," Dodd tells the story of the ship
"Erica Reed" typical of "hundreds of other stories." During the
Spanish Civil War, Americans donated money to load the ship with
medical supplies and food for Spain. The Communists diverted the
ship to Russia instead. (89)
Censorship is crucial to
Communists, Dodd says. "I have often seen leaders pull books from
shelves in homes and warn members to destroy them."(223)
Communism is essentially a
deceitful system of international elite control. It was not
suppressed during the McCarthy era. Rather it morphed into the New
Left, Counter Culture, Civil Rights, Anti War and Woman's Liberation
Movements, and later into a plethora of elite-sponsored NGO's, and
media, Democratic and Republican party factions, Liberal, Zionist,
Labor, and Gay Rights groups. Like the CPUSA itself, these groups
are controlled from the top so their memberships are unaware of
To the objection that some
of the above mentioned groups oppose globalization, Dodd refers to
examples where the CPUSA ostensibly supported causes they wished to
In conclusion, Communism
was/is a plot designed to substitute a cabal of the rich for the
rule of God. It is a utopian fraud hatched by the rich to thwart the
dreams of ordinary people and stunt human progress. The same cabal
is behind most wars including the impending attack on Iraq.
A precursor to the new world
order, Communism espouses brotherhood, peace and equality in order
to deceive us. It has taken over society's eyes, ears, mind and
spirit. Much of what passes for truth in the media and schools is
part of this monstrous con job. The expression "politically correct"
in widespread use in America is an old Communist Party term. Our
politicians are mostly traitors.
is Communist both in origin and spirit.
It pretends to champion women but in fact neuters both sexes and
destroys the basic social unit, the family. The promotion of
homosexuality as a "lifestyle choice" for heterosexuals is also part
of this brazen elitist fraud designed to "create new types of human
beings who would conform..."
Western Civilization is like
a ship floundering in a sea of evil, yet the passengers are too
duped and distracted to realize it. Bella Dodd had the courage to
sound the alarm 50 years ago. It is never too late to begin to
There are no lifeboats.
I WAS Born in
southern Italy on a farm that had been in my mother’s family for generations.
But I was really an American born on Italian soil as the result of a series of
accidents, and it was also an accident which kept me in Italy until I was almost
six years old. Not until years afterward did I learn that one reason my mother
had left me there was in the hope that someday she could persuade her husband,
in New York with her other children, to return with them to Italy. To her that
farm near Potenza was home. But she was never able to persuade them of that,
for America was the place of their choice.
My mother had been left a widow when the youngest of her
nine children was still a baby. With the help of the older children she ran the
farm. If Rocco Visono had not come to Potenza from his home in Lugano no doubt
she would have remained there the rest of her life.
But Rocco fell in love with Teresa Marsica who, despite
her nine children and a life of work, was still attractive, with bright, dark
eyes and lively ways. Rocco had come to visit a sister married to a petty
government official and met Teresa in the nearby village of Picerno. A
stonemason by trade, he found work in Potenza while Teresa was making up her
mind. She was almost persuaded but hesitated when she learned that he planned
to go to New York. It took a long time to get her to agree to that. She would
look at her rich soil that grew good lettuce and beans. This had been her
father’s farm and her grandfather’s and his father’s. How could she give it up
and cross the Atlantic to uncertainty, and perhaps have no land there to cherish
But the quiet, blue-eyed suitor was persistent. The
children were on his side, too, eager to go to America, for Rocco had told them
glowing stories of the life there, of the freedom and the chance to get rich.
They argued and pleaded with their mother until she gave in.
The three oldest boys were to go with their
father-elect, and my mother and the others were to join them later. I say
“elect” purposely, for Teresa, for reasons of her own, had insisted that she
would not marry him until she arrived in America. Having lost all the rest of
the issues, he had to yield on this also, and the four left for the United
From East Harlem they sent enthusiastic reports. There
were many Italians living there; it was like a colony of home people; she must
come quickly. So Teresa accepted the inevitable. She said good-by to her
neighbors and her beloved fields, to the house that had sheltered her all her
life and in which all her children had been born. She put the farm in the
charge of a relative for she could not bear to sell it. She might come back
someday. With six children she sailed for the new home.
The three older boys and Rocco took her in triumph to
their five-room flat on 108th Street. Teresa was happy to see them again, but
she looked with dismay at the honeycomb of rooms. She was only partly comforted
when her sister, Maria Antonia, who had been in America for some time, came to
In January 1904 Rocco Visono and Teresa Marsica were
married in the Church of St. Lucy in East Harlem. It was perhaps on that day
she felt most homesick of all, for a memory came to her when she heard the words
of the priest — a recollection of the past, of Fidelia, her mother, and Severio,
her father, and the farm workers and herself and her brothers and sisters, all
kneeling together at family prayer in the big living room of the Picerno
Several months later a letter came from Italy telling
Teresa that there was trouble with the management of her property. At this news
she persuaded Rocco that she must go back to adjust matters, perhaps rent the
farm to responsible people, or even — this was his suggestion — sell it
It was not until she was on the high seas that Teresa
realized she was pregnant. She was dismayed. The business in Italy might take
months and the baby might be born there.
The affairs of the farm took longer than she expected.
In October of 1904 I was born in Picerno and baptized Maria Assunta Isabella.
With my father’s approval Teresa decided to return to the United States and
leave me in charge of a foster mother. She hoped to return within a year, but
it was five years before she saw me again. I was almost six years old when I
saw my father and brothers and sister for the first time.
The woman who became my foster mother and wet nurse was
the wife of a shepherd in Avialano. Her own baby had died and she was happy to
have me. For five years I lived with these simple people. Though there was
little luxury in the small stone house, I received loving care from both my
foster parents. I remember them and my memories go back to my third year.
Mamarella was a good woman and I was greatly devoted to her. But it was to her
husband, Taddeo, that my deepest love went. There was no other child in the
family and to me he gave all his parental affection.
I remember their home with the fireplace, the table
drawn up before it for supper, I in Taddeo’s arms, his big shepherd’s coat
around me. In later days, when life was difficult, I often wished I were again
the little child who sat there snug in the protecting love about her.
My mother sent money regularly, and gave my foster
parents more comforts than the small wages of Taddeo would provide. Time and
again Mamarella tried to make of Taddeo something more than a hill shepherd.
She disliked his being away from home in the winter, but in that mountainous
part of Italy it was cold in the winter; so the sheep were driven to the warmer
Apulia where the grazing was better.
Even in the summer Taddeo often stayed all night in the
hills. Then Mamarella and I went to him carrying food and blankets so that we,
too, might sleep in the open. While husband and wife talked, I would wander off
for flowers and butterflies. I remember running from one hilltop to another.
My eager fingers stretched upward, for the sky seemed so close I thought I could
touch it. I would come back tired to find Mamarella knitting and Taddeo
whittling a new pair of wooden shoes for me. Not until just before I left for
America did I wear a pair of leather shoes.
Taddeo would give me warm milk from his sheep and try to
explain to me about the sky. Once he said: “Never mind, little one. Perhaps
someday you will touch the sky. Perhaps!”
Then he would tell me stories about the stars, and I
almost believed that they belonged to him and that he could move them in the
heavens. I would fall asleep wrapped in a blanket. When I awoke I would find
myself in my own bed back at our house on the edge of the village.
I have vague memories of the things of religion. I
remember being carried on Taddeo’s shoulders on a pilgrimage with many people
walking through a deep forest several days and nights to some shrine. It must
have been spring for the woods were carpeted with violets. I have never since
seen blue wood violets without hearing in my mind the hum of prayers said
together by many people.
One of the children told me about a place called
purgatory. She said that if you let the bishop put salt on your tongue and
water on your forehead you got into heaven, and that if it were not done you
stayed in purgatory for years and years. I took this matter to Taddeo and for
once he was not reassuring. Purgatory was a gray place, he said, with no trees
and no hills, but he said he would be there with me.
He talked to Mamarella, and she said though I was young
she was going to have me confirmed because the bishop was coming to our town to
perform the ceremony. This called for great preparations. I had a new red
dress with a high neck made “princess style.” I was to have my first pair of
When the great day came I was at church early. It was
still almost empty save for the restless group of children awaiting
confirmation. The few seats in the big church were placed toward the altar.
You did not sit in these for they were for the gentry of the town. Everyone
else knelt on the stone floor.
I knelt, too, and looked around me at the statues. I
had a favorite among them: St. Anthony, with the tender smile and the Christ
Child on his arm. Taddeo told me that St. Anthony would watch over me and keep
me from evil; and that if I lost something St. Anthony would help find it.
One evening at supper we heard hurried footfalls and an
excited voice calling:
“Una lettera d’America!”
“Maybe it’s from my mother,” I said, “and there will be
money in it for Mamarella.”
When she opened it I saw only a very little letter and
no money at all. No one told me what the letter was about. Weeks later I was
alone in the house, close by the fire. February was cold that year. Taddeo was
in Apulia and would not be back for some time. Mamarella had gone to the
village fountain for drinking water.
I heard strange steps on the cobblestones. The door
opened and there stood a tall, dark woman in a heavy coat who looked at me and
without a word put her arms around me and hugged me. Then she took off her veil
and I saw she had thick black hair, a little gray, but soft and wavy.
I looked at her with amazement. “Who are you?” I
asked. She answered me in Italian, but it sounded different from that of our
village. “I’m a friend of the people who live here. Where is the shepherd?”
“He isn’t here. He’s in Apulia.” “Do you like him?”
“I love him better than anyone in the world. I love him
all the time.” I stared at her and wondered why she should ask such questions.
“Of course you do,” she said soothingly. “Come over
here and sit on my lap while I tell you a story. But first, do you love him
better than your own mother?”
“Of course I do. I don’t even know my own mother.” The
strange lady smiled at me. “Listen, dear, I had a little girl myself once.” As
I listened I began to feel uneasy. “I had to go away to a strange land where I
couldn’t take care of her and so I found a good kind man who said he would. His
name was Taddeo.”
“Taddeo?” Suddenly I understood and slipped from the
woman’s lap. “You’re my real mother.”
She stroked my hair and said, “I have come all the way
from America for my baby girl and I hoped she would love me.”
Something in her voice won me over. I went to her and
put my arms around her neck and so we sat until Mamarella came in. I was half
asleep and remembered only saying, “This is my mother, my real mother. You have
to love your mother.”
She went away again that evening, but she said she would
be back in a week or else send for me. She promised to take me with her to
Now all was feverish preparation. Word was sent to
Taddeo and he sent back word that he would be home before I left. For me that
last week was one of triumph among my playmates.
“Did she bring you presents?” the children asked. “Will
you go in the coach to Potenza?”
“The houses in America are made of glass,” said another
child. “No one is poor there. Everyone is happy.”
“And they eat macaroni every day,” piped another. This
even I knew would be a wonderful thing, for to eat macaroni every day was the
essence of plutocracy to children whose chief diet was beans and polenta.
“And will you come back?” someone asked.
Somehow this was the first time I had actually thought
of going away and I felt a little shaken, but I answered boldly, “Of course I
will, and someday I’ll take you all with me to America.”
No further word had come from Taddeo on the eve of my
departure to join my mother. Mamarella had prepared a wonderful supper of
pasta arricata, and nuts and squids stuffed with raisins. There was sweet
white wine. It was like carnevale. We waited for Taddeo but when he did
not come, we sat down and ate in silence. Then we cleared the table. I sat
with my head against Mamarella’s chair. She was crying, but she stopped when
she saw that I was crying, too. She took me in her arms and sang to me — a song
about the saints.
Still Taddeo did not come. I feared I would never see
him again. I tried to picture exactly how he had looked so I would always
When the fire was embers, Mamarella put ashes over it
and we went to bed; but I could not sleep. Suddenly I heard what I had been
listening for — heavy steps on the cobblestones. When the door opened I was in
his arms. My feet were cold and he took off his muffler and wound it round them
and rubbed them.
Mamarella came in and poked up the fire and said to me
sharply, “Non far mosso,” and began warming polenta. I sat still in his
arms while Taddeo talked to us about his trip home.
“I traveled half the night and had no idea it would be
so cold in Avialano,” he said. He must get to the sheepfold in the valley right
away, he said, for he had left the sheep in charge of Filippi. He could stay
only an hour with us.
“St. Anthony brought me,” he told me. “He helped get me
here in time. Don’t ever forget he will help you get where you ought to go and
find what you lose.”
I paid little attention to his words. I was happy to
sit by the fire and watch him eat polenta and dip bread into the red wine.
Then he rose, put on his long cloak, and tied the
muffler around his neck. “This muffler is too thin to be of much use any more.
Listen, child, will you send me a new one from America?”
My eyes filled with tears. He kissed me. “There,
caring, someday you will come back,” he said reassuringly. “And you are
going now to a fine home where you will be una signorina and have silk
dresses and maybe two pairs of leather shoes.”
“I don’t want to go,” I cried in panic. “I won’t go! I
He held me until I stopped sobbing and then he said,
“Now I must really go.Addio, caring,” and he handed me over to Mamarella
and hurried from the house. I struggled free and ran after him. I had no shawl
and my dress flew in the wind. I kept calling, “Taddeo! Taddeo!” I ran down the
street till I came to the piazza and I could see Taddeo and Filippi driving the
sheep ahead of them. It was bitter cold and the ground was icy.
I called Taddeo again and again. I had put on my first
pair of leather shoes to show to him and the untied laces made me stumble; the
hard leather hurt my feet. I lay in the snow and sobbed. There Mamarella found
me and took me home and put me between hot blankets. She stayed with me until I
Next day I was dressed in my red confirmation dress
which was to have been saved to wear on the feast of the Virgin and carnevale.
My hair was carefully combed. The leather shoes were laced around my ankles.
Mamarella brought out her wedding box and drew from it a white silk kerchief.
“I wore it when I was a girl,” she said, as she folded it in a triangle and tied
it under my chin. Then we went to the coach which was waiting to take me away.
“Madonna, questa creatura e tutti occhi,” said the coachman when he saw
his smaller passenger. Mamarella and I sat in the coach in silence and watched
the desolate mountain scenery and the snowdrifts banked along the road.
Finally, numb with cold, we reached the railroad station in Potenza. Mamarella
put me on the train and kissed me. I could not cry for all the feeling was
drained from me. Then I was alone on a train with strangers and on my way to
Naples where my mother was to meet me.
It was the first time I had ever been on a train but I
did not find it strange. I looked out of the window at the changing landscape.
After awhile there were no snow and no mountains, only grass and plains, with
olive trees here and there. Once I saw a flock of white sheep with a shepherd,
and I thought of Taddeo. But Taddeo was now far behind, and I was alone. I had
left everything I knew and was going into the unknown.
The compartment in which I rode was almost empty. The
conductor had promised Mamarella that he would take care of me. Finally, as I
sat on the wooden bench, I fell asleep, leaning against my bundle of clothes,
exhausted by the strange movement of the train.
It was night when the train pulled into Naples. The
conductor came in and picked up my bundle. “Viene subito,” he said, and
I followed him to the platform. And there was my mother looking anxiously for
me. She was tall and straight and reassuring. I waved excitedly to her and it
made me happy to see her warm smile as she ran toward me.
I was frightened by what I saw of Naples. There were
beggars whining and wheedling in the name of St. Rocco. There were dirty
children in the streets. There was noise and confusion. I wanted to fly back
to our quiet little village, where the people were poor, but clean and proud.
I was glad when the next day we sailed for America.
my mother had not returned to Italy for me for five long years, my father later
explained, was because there had been a terrible depression in America. It had
been impossible for him to raise the money for Mother to make the trip, and a
small child could not travel alone. I had been shy in meeting my father. He
was blond, blue-eyed, and reserved, the opposite of Mother. But despite his
quiet, undemonstrative manner I felt that he loved me. He was kind and he made
a pet of me.
There were only four children at home now; the rest had
married and had homes of their own. They came to see the new sister and made a
big fuss over me. But they all made fun of my best dress — my red confirmation
dress which every child in Avialano had admired. They laughed at me and
insisted I be rushed to a store to buy an American dress. With great reluctance
I put away the beautiful red princess dress and with it the last of my Italian
years. And I turned with zeal to the task of becoming an American child.
The three brothers still at home were kind enough, but
they had their own interests which were certainly not those of a six-year-old
girl and one who could speak no English. But my seventeen-year-old sister,
Caterina, called by the American name of Katie, took me in hand. She was a
tall, slim, beautiful girl with big gray eyes. She was kind and gentle. She
did not like the name I was called by — Maria Assunta — and when she learned
that I had been baptized with another name — Isabella — she insisted on calling
Katie took me to school. She had made up her mind I was
a smart little thing and so she got me in a grade ahead by saying I was born in
1902 instead of two years later. In those earlier educational days she had no
difficulty in having me enrolled in the second grade. For a few days I was
pursued by cries of “wop, wop,” but I paid no attention to them. I did not know
what they meant and by the time I did I had been accepted as a leader in my
I liked going and coming from school, especially
wandering along and staring at the merchandise piled up on barrows right in the
street. You could buy fruit and peppers and sweets and even dress goods and
hats there. I liked to watch the pigeons in the street strutting about in their
gray and rose coats and silver wings.
My mother did not share my delight in the city. “If we
lived in the country!” she would remark sometimes. Only later I learned how
much she hated the dirty streets, the gossip of her neighbors, the narrow flat.
There were parks, of course, but they made her even more homesick for the open
Mother was a competent woman. She could do a prodigious
amount of work and never looked tired or bedraggled. She quickly established a
routine of work and play for me. She tried to help me learn English though her
own was far from good. She would point to a calendar and repeat each month and
day in her curious, soft English and I would repeat the words after her. She
would then take the broom and point out the hours and minutes on the
old-fashioned kitchen clock, and again I would repeat what she said.
I think one reason for these educational efforts was
that she wanted to keep me busy after school for she would not let me spend time
in the city streets. She taught me to sew and crochet; sometimes she would take
a crochet needle and coarse thread and show me simple stitches. “Someday you
will crochet a bridal spread for yourself,” she said solemnly, and when I did
not show interest in this idea she added: “Anyway, it is a sin to be idle.”
I liked my family, all of them, but best of all I loved
Katie. I loved her not only because she was kind but because she was beautiful,
with her hair a cloud about her face, her tiny waist, her pretty dresses. My
mother said she resembled her father who had been a cavalry officer. I soon
learned that Katie at seventeen was in love with Joe, a tall young man with long
thin fingers and the temperament of an opera star.
My new family gradually made my other family in faraway
Avialano recede into the past. But now and then, when I felt unhappy and
thought my father cold or my mother preoccupied, I would imagine myself back
with Taddeo. At such times I would take my red confirmation dress from the box,
and the white kerchief Mamarella had tied under my chin, and, putting on my
finery, would imagine myself back in Avialano.
In four months I was able to speak English well enough
to enjoy the school I attended — Public School Number One. This school still
had the characteristics of what it had formerly been, a charity school, one of
the last so-called “soup schools.” It was in several adjoining old brownstone
houses and was in the charge of two old ladies who opened classes each morning
with prayer and the singing of “Columbia, the Gem of the Ocean.”
When I was ready for the third grade we moved from East
Harlem. Mother had at last convinced Father that she could no longer bear to
live this cluttered life of the tenements. So we moved to a house in
Westchester, but this house did not prove satisfactory either. We moved several
times. Finally, Father established a successful grocery business, and several
years later Mother took over a large house with tillable acreage near Castle
Hill. In this home the rest of my youth was spent.
There were sixty-four acres of land and a big rambling
house. Mother had coveted this farm before we went to live on it. It was the
property of Mattie and Sadie Munn, two maiden ladies who lived near us. They
were old and Mother took care of Miss Sadie, who was an invalid. She also
looked after their house, and the old ladies grew to depend on her. It was when
they died that we went to live in the house.
The former occupants had called the colonial house
“Pilgrim’s Rest.” There were no lights but kerosene lamps. The roof leaked and
there was only an outside toilet. But from the first I loved this home dearly
and especially my own room on the second floor which was literally in the arms
of a huge horsechestnut tree, lovely at all times but especially so when its
flowers, like white candles, were lighted in the spring.
Our home was full of children all the time. My
brothers’ youngsters came and went. Katie brought her baby over often. In
addition, there were dogs, cats, chickens, geese, and now and then a goat or
pig. Mother fed everyone well. She bought so much feed for the chickens and
for the wild birds who knew ours as a generous temporary home that Father
complained that she spent more on feed than she made on eggs. This I doubt, for
Mother was a good manager. She ran her farm with hired helpers but she was the
best worker of all. We grew all sorts of produce, enough for ourselves and some
to sell in Father’s store and some was also sent to Washington Market.
We had little cash, but we had a house, a slice of good
earth, and a resourceful mother, one with imagination. We were not conscious of
want or insecurity even when there was no money. I remember one particular
dessert she made for us children when money was scarce. We were always
delighted when she mixed new-fallen snow and sugar and coffee, and made for us
her version of granita de caffé.
We had neighbors all about us — Scotch, Irish, and
German families. There were two Catholic churches not far from us, Holy Family
Church largely attended by the German population and St. Raymond’s attended by
the Irish Catholics. We did not seem to belong in either church and Father and
Mother soon ceased to receive the Sacraments and then stopped going to church.
But Mother still sang songs of the saints and told us religious stories from the
storehouse of her memories.
Though we still considered ours a Catholic family we
were no longer practicing Catholics. Mother urged us children to go to church
but we soon followed our parents’ example. I think my mother was self-conscious
about her poor English and lack of fine clothes. Though the crucifix was still
over our beds and Mother burned vigil lights before the statue of Our Lady, we
children got the idea that such things were of the Italian past, and we wanted
to be Americans. Willingly, and yet not knowing what we did, we cut ourselves
off from the culture of our own people, and set out to find something new.
For me the search began in the public schools and
libraries. There was a public school a half-mile from our house — Number
Twelve. Dr. Condon, the principal, a man of varying interests, was fond of
having his pupils march to the school fife-and-drum corps. He was apt to
interrupt classes and call on everyone to go marching, the fife-and-drum players
in the lead. In this school there was Bible reading daily by Dr. Condon
himself. I learned to love the psalms and proverbs that he read to us and to
admire their poetic language.
Near our house on Westchester Avenue was St. Peter’s
Episcopal Church and on Castle Hill was the rectory. In architecture and
landscape, St. Peter’s looked like pictures of English churches. Its grounds
extended a half-mile or more. In summer we picked blackberries there and in the
spring we hunted violets and star of Bethlehem.
St. Peter’s was an old church; in its graveyard were
headstones with weather-dimmed names. Sometimes on Sunday afternoons I wandered
through the graveyard trying to reconstruct the people from their names.
Because of my constant reading of books on American history I thought of them
all as Pilgrims and Puritans or heroes of the Civil War. I frequently placed
bouquets of flowers on these graves as a token of respect to the men and women
of an American past. I wanted passionately to be a part of America. Like a
plant, I was trying to take roots. We had cut our ties with our own cultural
past and it was difficult to find a new cultural present.
The minister at St. Peter’s, Dr. Clendenning, was a
dignified and kindly gentleman whom we greeted as he walked or rode from the
rectory to the church. Across from St. Peter’s was a building for church
activities which I passed on my way to school. It was near the Huntington
Library and I became friendly with the librarian. She was interested in
children who liked books and it was she who suggested that I go to the afternoon
sewing circle at St. Peter’s parish house.
In charge of this work was Gabrielle Clendenning, the
minister’s daughter. We met once a week and we sewed and sang. It was here
that I first learned such simple songs as “Onward, Christian Soldiers” and “Rock
of Ages Cleft for Me.” The other children used to cross the street and go to
services in the church. I drew the line at joining them in this because I
regarded myself as a Catholic, though actually I was conscious of almost no tie
to my own Church. I explained to Miss Gabrielle that Catholics were not
permitted to attend any other church. She seemed to understand and she never
objected or argued with me about it.
When the children came back from services, we all had
tea and cookies together. It was a most happy association. Often Gabrielle
Clendenning invited the children to ride with her in her pony cart. That was
high adventure for me; and it meant being accepted among people I loved.
Gabrielle’s mother, the librarian told me, was the daughter of Horace Greeley.
I didn’t know who Horace Greeley was but she told me he had been a famous editor
and a patriotic American. I remember this family as a wholesome influence on
our neighborhood. They set the pattern for what I believed to be the American
Life in that little community was peaceful. Our cluster
of houses was filled with people who respected each other despite differences of
race or religion. We were not conscious of the differences but of the
kindnesses to each other. Mr. Weisman the druggist and Mrs. Fox the candy-store
owner, the McGraths and the Clendennings and the Visonos — all lived together
with not the slightest sense of hostility or of inequality. We accepted our
differences and respected each person for his own qualities. It was a good
place for a child to grow up.
Several years before I graduated from Public School
Number Twelve, World War I had commenced. I became an avid reader of
newspapers. I read the gruesome propaganda charging the Germans with
atrocities. My imagination was stirred to fever pitch. I never lost the
newspaper habit after that. And what I read left its imprint upon me.
In the fall of 1916 I was ready for Evander Childs High
School. But I did not enter for another year, a hard and terrible year for me.
I was coming home on the trolley car one hot day in July and I had signaled the
motorman to let me off. The trolley stopped, and I don’t know what happened
next, but I was flung into the street and my left foot went under the wheels.
I did not faint. I lay in the street till my father
came to me, picked me up in his arms, and with tears streaming down his face,
carried me to a physician. I was in great pain by the time an ambulance
arrived, but the doctor who sat beside me was so kind that I hated to give him
trouble. So we joked together all the way to Fordham Hospital.
As they carried me in, I fainted. When I came back to
consciousness there was the sickly smell of ether and pain that stabbed
mercilessly. The look on Mother’s face as she sat beside my bed told me
something was terribly wrong. I learned that same day that my left foot had
Mother came faithfully to the hospital, loaded with
oranges and flowers and whatever she thought would interest me. It was a hot,
sultry summer. There was a strike on the trolley system and Mother had to walk
many miles to the hospital. She never missed a single visiting day during that
It was a bitter time for me. I was in the women’s ward,
for I was tall for my age. I saw women in pain and saw them die. I was
particularly affected by one old lady, who came to the hospital with a broken
hip and died of gangrene when they amputated her leg. I could not sleep that
night, nor many nights thereafter.
My wound did not heal well. I was in that hospital
almost a year — treatment after treatment, operation after operation, with
little improvement. Five times I was taken to the operating room; five times
there was the sickening smell of ether. The day I felt most desolate was the
day school opened and I saw from the hospital window children going by with
books in their arms. I was so sad that young Dr. John Conboy stopped to ask
what was wrong.
“I was going to start high school today,” I told him
through my tears. “Now I’ll be behind the rest in Latin.” For Latin was the
subject I had looked forward to most of all; it was to me the symbol of a real
That afternoon Dr. Conboy brought me the Latin grammar
he had used in college and promised to help me. I promptly started to work at
During the time I was in the hospital I was registered
as a Catholic but I never saw anyone from my Church. Occasionally a priest came
through the ward, but I was too shy to call to him. However, Dr. Clendenning
and Gabrielle came, and they wrote me letters. Once Dr. Clendenning brought me
a little book of religious poems and sayings. On the white cover were flowers,
and the frontispiece was a reproduction of “The Gleaners” and the title:
Palette d’Or. I read and reread this book.
When it was evident that the surgical operations were
resulting in nothing but pain, Mother decided to take me home. I spent the next
six months on the farm and Mother nursed me. I went about on crutches until an
apparatus could be fitted to my toot. A general practitioner came to our house
to treat me once a week, for the operation had not been well done and the wounds
healed slowly. I spent most of my time reading and writing poetry and
developing my friendship with my mother. I was so glad to be away from the
hospital that I felt almost content.
During this period our family suffered losses by death.
My sister Katie lost her second baby and not long afterward she herself died in
the influenza epidemic. Mother suffered terribly and her brown hair became
white. It pained me to see her suffer so. Her sons were married and gone from
home; one daughter was dead, the other an invalid.
During that time at home I spent most of my time
reading. My mother brought me books from the local library, and I read the
accumulation left in our house by the Munns. Since that family had been
Methodist, the books included a variety of hymnbooks, old Bibles, and
commentaries, and the sermons of John Wesley. There was also a copy of a book
by Sheldon called In His Steps which made a profound impression upon me.
The old Bibles had fascinating illustrations over which
I pored. I liked the sermons of John Wesley. Even today his sturdiness
comforts me, so firm and straight like the English oaks under which he stood to
talk to his congregation.
There was, of course, a great deal of the Gospel
simplicity in these old worn books and out of them I distilled a little prayer
of my own which never left me. Even when I did not believe any more, I would
often repeat the words as one does a favorite poem. This prayer which I worked
out of the books of John Wesley was: “Dear God, save my soul and forgive my
sins, for Jesus Christ’s sake. Amen.”
IN THE FALL
of 1917 I started at Evander Childs High School although my condition had
improved little and I had to use crutches. Mother encouraged my going, and
often she told me of saints who had endured physical deformity. She made me
feel I could accomplish anything I set my heart on, despite my physical
So I began my high-school years armed with crutches and
high hopes. I walked the ten blocks to school and took my place with my class.
From the beginning I asked no favors, and teachers and classmates soon realized
how I felt and respected my independence.
That winter I got my first apparatus for walking. It
was not very good, but it was better than the crutches. Now I really began to
enter into school activities. I tried to do everything the other students did,
even to going on hikes. I joined the Naturalists’ Club and went with members to
the Palisades, hunting flowers and spotting birds. If I got tired, I sat down
for a while till the others returned.
During those days, despite my difficulties, I was a
happy girl. I loved life dearly and found pleasure in many little things.
Sometimes, when outdoors, I would stop to listen, for I felt the whole world
whispering to me. The spring wind seemed to talk of things far away and
beautiful. Sometimes at night, when the moon shone through the chestnut tree
beside my window and I could smell the iris and lilacs and lilies of the valley,
I felt tears in my eyes and I did not know why.
The student body at Evander Childs High School then
numbered more than a thousand boys and girls. They were mostly the children of
Americans of Scottish, Irish, and German extraction but there were also some
children of Italian, Russian, and other European peoples. We were of all faiths
— Protestant, Catholic, Jewish. We were alike in that we were children of
parents in modest circumstances, neither rich nor poor. No one attempted to
accentuate our differences or to exploit them.
One day a girl from the East Bronx with whom I had
talked about politics, a subject which was beginning to interest me, brought me
a copy of a paper I had never seen before. The Call was a Socialist
publication. That paper gave a new turn to my thinking. I sought other
copies. I felt my heart beat with excitement as I read the articles on social
justice. Even the poetry on the conditions of the poor, on the inequalities of
their lives, held my interest. In fact, for the first time I felt a call, a
vocation. Unconsciously I enlisted, even if only emotionally, in the army of
those who said they would fight social injustice, and I began to find the
language of defiance intoxicating. A stubborn pride developed in my own ability
to make judgments.
At high school I could not take the usual
physical-education courses so I was allowed a study hour with Miss Genevieve
O’Connell, the gym teacher, who gave me courses in anatomy and hygiene. She was
the only religious influence I encountered in high school. When she learned I
was a Catholic, she invited me to attend with her the meetings of a girls’ club
at the Cenacle of St. Regis in New York City. On Saturday afternoons she and I
met a small group of girls and went to the convent at 140th Street and Riverside
Once there we sat in a circle and sewed simple garments
for the poor while a nun read to us. I was not interested in the books read,
but the simplicity, the calm, the acceptance of something real and unchanging,
did affect me.
The Cenacle did not give direct answers to the questions
I was beginning to ask, perhaps because I did not ask them aloud. But I went to
several week-end retreats and I was so attracted by the atmosphere of the house
that I asked to come for a private retreat. This proved a failure. I was so
untaught in things spiritual and so ignorant of matters of the Faith that I
could get no meaning from the spiritual readings given by the nun assigned to
Despite this failure I know that those week ends at the
Cenacle did give me something valuable and lasting. I sensed there the deep
peace of the spiritual life and I was moved by the Benediction service which I
attended for the first time in my life. The brief prayers, the incense, the
monstranced Host uplifted, the music, were a poem of faith to me who loved
poetry. Many, many times in my later wanderings, at odd moments there stole
back to my mind the Tantum ergosung by the nuns in that lovely little
But though my heart wanted to accept that which I felt
stirring within me I could not, for I already had an encrusted pride in my own
intellect which rejected what I felt was unscientific. In this I reflected the
superficial patter, prevalent in educational circles of that time, about science
being opposed to religion.
During my four years at Evander Childs I received good
marks in English history and science, and I won a state scholarship which helped
me to go to college. On graduation day I held tight to my diploma and to the
copies of Shelley and Keats which were my prizes for excellence in English.
Proud as I was of the prizes, my chief pride was that I had been chosen the most
popular girl in my class.
In the autumn I entered Hunter, the New York City
college for women. I had decided to become a teacher. I started with a
determination to learn. There were many fields I wanted to explore. I lived at
home and traveled back and forth each day on the new Pelham Bay Subway, recently
extended to our neighborhood.
My first college wardrobe consisted of two dresses, a
blue voile and a gingham, a black skirt, two sweaters knitted by Mother, and a
large collection of starched white collars which I wore with my sweaters. Today
the wardrobe of a girl in college, no matter how poor, undoubtedly would be
larger, but I was never conscious of an inadequate wardrobe. That was a feature
of Hunter College, for the students, even those from well-to-do homes, were more
interested in things of the mind.
College proved different from high school and at first
seemed duller. The coeducational high school had been more challenging. Hunter
College was at that time in a state of transition, passing from a female academy
for the training of teachers into a real college. Although accredited to give
degrees, the atmosphere and the staff were still the same as when it had been a
genteel teacher-training institute.
Because of this difference there was an undefined sense
of distance between faculty and students accentuated by the fact that some of
the staff members constantly reminded us that we were getting a free education
from the city and should be grateful. There was a current of resentment among
the students who felt we were getting only that to which we were entitled.
Dean Annie Hickenbottom was a fine woman, middle-aged,
gracious, and well-bred, herself a graduate of Hunter Normal School. We girls
loved her, but in a patronizing way. We listened to her politely more with our
ears than our minds when she told us, as she often did, how important it was for
Hunter girls to wear hats and gloves and to speak only in low and refined
Though the staff was chiefly made up of the old
Protestant Anglo-Saxon, Scotch, and Irish Americans, there were a few
exceptions. There were several Catholics in the Education Department, and a few
Jewish teachers, among them Dr. Adele Bildersee, who taught English and who
often talked to her pupils about the beauty of the great Jewish holidays and
read aloud to us the ancient prayers and writings in a voice that showed how she
loved and admired their beauty and believed in their truth.
The gentle lady who taught medieval history, Dr.
Elizabeth Burlingame, was considered overly sentimental by some of the staff.
Perhaps she was. Yet I owe her a deep gratitude for the appreciation of the
Middle Ages which she gave me. From her came no cold array of facts but a warm
understanding of the period. She gave me a love of the thirteenth century and a
realization of the role of the Catholic Church in that era. Unfortunately her
teaching was of a past we considered dead.
The teacher who affected me most as a person was Sarah
Parks, who taught freshman English. Her teaching had little of the past; it was
of the present and the future. She was different from the rest of the
well-mannered faculty members. More unorthodox than any of the students dared
to be, she came to school without a hat, her straight blond hair flying in the
wind as she rode along Park Avenue on her bicycle.
Evidently Dean Annie Hickenbottom said nothing about it
to Miss Parks. Nevertheless we students knew well what she would have said had
she seen us riding down Sixty-eighth Street on a bicycle and hatless ! She
would have been scandalized. I am certain she would have been more scandalized
by some of Miss Parks’s advanced social theories. But in this period at Hunter
the classroom was the teacher’s castle and no one would dare intrude. Miss
Parks’s social theories were to me both disturbing and exciting.
During my first year at Hunter I joined the Newman Club,
only to lose interest in it very quickly, for aside from its social aspect all
its other activities seemed purely formal. There was little serious discussion
of the tenets of the Faith and almost no emphasis on Catholic participation in
the affairs of the world. In my young arrogance I regarded its atmosphere as
The faculty adviser of the Club was a dear little lady
who seemed to me to be so far removed from reality that she could not possibly
span the wide gap between the cloistered isolation of her own life and the
problems facing the students. After awhile I gave up making suggestions for
discussion and no longer tried to integrate myself in the Newman Club, even
though it still seemed the reasonable place for me to be. I was finding it
difficult to determine where I belonged. For the first time I began to feel
I drifted into another circle of friends, girls with a
strong intellectual drive permeated with a sense of responsibility for social
reform. My best friend was Ruth Goldstein. Often I went to her home where her
mother, a wise, fine woman with an Old Testament air about her, fed us with her
good cooking and gave us sound advice.
On the Jewish holidays of Rosh Hashana and the Passover
Mrs. Goldstein invited me to meals and the family services. The age-old
ceremonies impressed me; it was inspiring to see how this family remained true
to the history of its people, how in this new land they strengthened their sense
of oneness with the past by prayer. As I watched the candles glow and heard the
Hebrew prayers I was conscious of the fact that my family was not so bound
together, and now did not seem to belong anywhere. In spite of our devoted
parents, we children seemed to be drifting in different directions.
At Hunter College there were also the children of many
foreign-born people. I became friendly with several girls whose parents had
been in the Russian Revolution of 1905. They had grown up hearing their parents
discuss socialist and Marxist theories. Though they sometimes laughed at their
parents they were the nucleus of the communist activities to come, full of their
parents’ frustrated idealism and their sense of a Messianic mission.
My friends at Hunter College were from all groups. I
was received by all but felt part of none. I spent many hours in discussions
with different groups. Down in the basement of the Sixty-eighth Street building
was a room which we had turned into an informal tearoom and meeting place.
There we developed a sort of intellectual proletariat of our own. We discussed
revolution, sex, philosophy, religion, unguided by any standard of right and
wrong. We talked of a future “unity of forces of the mind,” a “new tradition,”
a “new world” which we were going to help build out of the present selfish one.
Since we had no common basis of belief, we drifted into
laissez-faire thinking, with agnosticism for our religion and pragmatism
for our philosophy. There were religious clubs at Hunter at this time. The
group I traveled with regarded them as social clubs which you could take or
leave, as you chose. A few among us dared say openly, “There is no God.” Most
of us said, “Maybe there is and maybe there isn’t.”
There were a few communists on the campus at the time,
but they were of little importance. They were a leather-jacketed,
down-at-the-heels group, who showed little interest in making themselves
understood or in trying to understand others. Their talk was chiefly about the
necessity of ending the concentration of wealth in the hands of a few families,
and a glorification of the Russian Revolution. They were also interested in
good music and European literature and read the “opinion” magazines, such as
The Nation and The New Republic.
My own religious training had been superficial. As a
child I had gone to church with Mamarella. I had been taught to say my
prayers. In our house hung various holy pictures and the crucifix. But I knew
nothing of the doctrines of my faith. I knew much more of the dogmas of English
composition. If I held any belief it was that we should dedicate ourselves to
love of our fellow man.
Sarah Parks spurred us on to the new and the untried.
From her I first heard favorable talk about the Russian Revolution. She
compared it with the French Revolution which she said had had a great
liberalizing effect on European culture, something which the revolution in
Russia would also one day accomplish. It was she who had brought to class books
on communism and loaned them to those of us who wanted to read them.
During my first year with her as my teacher I wrote two
term themes, one on how to grow roses, the other on monasticism. She gave both
good grades, but the one on monasticism bore the ominous little order, “See me.“
She was too honest not to give a good grade if the work was well done, but she
also had to speak her mind on the subject matter.
When I came in, she seemed sympathetic and asked how I
came to choose such a topic. I tried to tell her about my reading in the
medieval history course and how impressed I had been with the selfless men and
women of the Middle Ages who served mankind by putting self aside.
“And does that seem a normal manifestation of living to
you, a seventeen-year-old girl?“ she asked scornfully.
It was a question I could not answer, and her clever
scorn raised doubts in my mind.
At the end of my freshman year I decided that I must
earn money to help with expenses for the next year. So I got a job selling
books, a rather daring choice since I still had difficulty in walking any great
distance without pain.
The book I sold that summer was called the Volume
Library, a tome filled with facts and items of information for children. It
cost from nine to fifteen dollars, depending on the binding. My sales area was
a section of Westchester County. Since it was some distance from home, I rented
a room in the home of a farmer’s family near Mt. Kisco.
All summer I sold books, and I proved a good agent. It
was tiring work but I made enough money that summer to keep myself in clothes
and pocket money and for my school expenses the following year.
In the autumn I returned to Hunter. I was a different
girl in many ways from the one I was when I entered college the year before. In
a year my thinking had changed. I now talked glibly of science and the
evolution of man and society and I was skeptical of religious concepts. I had
drifted into an acceptance of the idea that those who believed in a Creator were
anti-intellectual, and that belief in an afterlife was unscientific. I was
tolerant of all religions. They were fine, I said, for those who needed them,
but for a human being who was able to think for herself there was no need of
something to lean on. One could stand erect alone. This new approach to life
was a heady thing. It caught me up and held me.
That second year I did not have Sarah Parks as a
teacher. But I often talked with her, for she invited some of us to her
apartment, and we sought her advice as if she were a kind of unofficial dean.
To us who loved her Sarah Parks brought fresh air into a
sterile, intellectual atmosphere where scholarship sometimes seemed pointless
and where Phi Beta Kappa keys were garnered by grinds. We began to speak with
contempt about grades and degrees. I remember we held one discussion on whether
a true intellectual should accept keys at all, since they were based on marks
and used to stimulate the competitive instinct of the rabble and often did not
represent true intellectual worth. We held that we must be moved by a desire
for real learning and for co-operation with other scholars, and not by a spirit
Miss Parks led a busy life because so many of us wanted
to consult her. She was an important factor in preparing us to accept a
materialist philosophy by mercilessly deriding what she called “dry rot” of
existing society. I am sure she did help some students, but she did little for
those who were already so emptied of convictions that they believed in nothing.
These could only turn their steps toward the great delusion of our time, toward
the socialist-communist philosophy of Karl Marx.
She questioned existing patterns of moral behavior and
diverted some of us into a blind alley by her pragmatic approach to moral
problems. In that sex-saturated period of the twenties, the intellectual young
were more interested in the life around them than in the promises of the
spirit. It was the day of the “flapper,” of bobbed hair, of fringed skirts and
shapeless dresses, of spiritual blight, and of physical dominance. We
considered ourselves the intelligentsia and developed our own code of behavior.
Contemptuous of the past and nauseated by the crudeness and ugliness of the
period, we regarded ourselves the avant-garde of a new culture.
In my junior year I was elected president of my class.
Several of my friends and I became involved with student self-government. It
was another opportunity to achieve a sense of importance, to express impatience
with our elders, and at the same time to feel we were doing something for our
fellow students to exhibit that sense of social mission. To Student Council
meeting bright young girls brought in all sorts of dazzling proposals and I,
ready to support the experimental and the new, listened eagerly to them all.
Our little group grew vocally indignant as we read of fortunes amassed by people
whose hardest labor was pulling the ticker tape in a Wall Street office. It was
a period of ostentatious vulgarity in the city, and our group became almost
ascetic to show its scorn of things material.
As I look back on that febrile group, so eager to help
the world, looking about for something to spend themselves on, our earnestness
appears pathetic. We had, all of us, a strong will to real goodness. We saw a
bleak present and wanted to turn it into a wonderful future for the poor and the
troubled. But we had no foundation for solid thinking or effective action. We
had no real goals because we had no sound view of man’s nature and destiny. We
had feelings and emotions, but no standards by which to chart the future.
Later in my junior year I attended with Mina Rees, the
Student Council president, an intercollegiate conference at Vassar College.
Vassar made us feel at home during the five days we were there. The days and
evenings at the dormitories where we stayed were filled with good talk and an
exhilarating exchange of ideas.
Many things were discussed at the conference, among them
sororities and their possible abolition. Not belonging to a sorority had never
troubled me. Now, listening to sharp criticisms of them by a group of
delegates, I felt that I had not been too alert regarding this problem. I had
always considered them rather infantile but the conference seemed to consider
them a social problem.
We discussed the importance of an honor system under
student supervision. In line with discussion of the honor system we talked
about the question of the punishment of crime: was it to be considered a penalty
or a deterrent? The dominant group thought it should be considered only as the
latter. But I spoke up and said that surely it should be considered both.
In my senior year I was elected president of Student
Council. That year I led the movement to establish the honor system at Hunter.
Also in that year I brought politics into student self-government by conducting
the first straw vote in the presidential elections. A little later I upset Dean
Hickenbottom by insisting on a series of lectures on social hygiene. I was
supported by a group of school politicians and I learned the value of a tightly
organized group and was exhilarated by the power it gave.
During the previous year Professor Hannah Egan, who
taught in the Education Department, stopped me one day in the hall. “Why don’t
you ever come to the Newman Club?” she asked.
I tried to find a polite excuse as well as a valid one.
Noting my confusion, she said sternly, “Bella Visono, ever since you were
elected to Student Council and became popular you have been heading straight for
I was flabbergasted. This, I thought, seemed very
old-fashioned. But I was dismayed too. I consoled myself by repeating a line
from Abu Ben Adhem: “Then write me as one who loves his fellow men.” That
idea cheered me considerably. I threw off the personal responsibility Miss Egan
was trying to load on me. The important thing, I said, was to love my fellow
This was the new creed, the creed of fellowship, and it
was clear the world needed it badly. It was a fine phrase which kept some of
the significance of the Cross even while it denied the divinity of the
Crucified. It was a creed that willingly accepted pain and self-immolation; but
it was skeptical of a promised redemption. I kept reassuring myself that I did
not need the old-fashioned Creed any more. I was modern. I was a follower of
science. I was going to spend my life serving my fellow men.
In June 1925 I was graduated with honors. Commencement
had brought the necessity of thinking about my immediate future. I had already
taken the examinations for teaching in both elementary and high schools in New
York City and because of the scarcity of teachers I was certain of a position.
The day after commencement I was at Ruth Goldstein’s
home. We had both enrolled for the summer session at Columbia University,
intent on getting masters’ degrees, and her older sister Gertrude startled us
both by asking why we were going to Columbia at all. “Now that college is over,
you girls must get a job — and also a man,” she said.
Ruth and I smiled at her words. They did, however,
start a chain of thought. During my years at college I had been a student, a
politician, a reformer. Now, with time to think, I realized that I was also a
woman. I realized also that my education had done little to train me as a
For some time I had known that I must have further
surgery on my foot. Now that I was free from school work I made a sudden
decision. I went to St. Francis Hospital in the Bronx. Why I chose that
hospital I do not know. To the nun who appeared to interview me I said I needed
surgery on my foot and I wanted the name of the best surgeon connected with the
hospital. She gave me the name of Dr. Edgerton and his office address on Park
Avenue. I went immediately to see him.
Dr. Edgerton was a man well over six feet tall and he
looked so big and capable that I had confidence in him immediately. I showed
him my foot and asked, “What do you think of it?”
His answer was direct and emphatic. “It’s a rotten
amputation,” he said.
“Can you do anything for me?” I asked timidly.
“Of course I can,” he said. “A clean-cut amputation and
you’ll be able to walk easily. I promise you that you will be able to dance and
skate six weeks after you leave the hospital.”
There was a further important matter to discuss. “How
much will it cost?” I asked. He named what was no doubt a modest sum for his
services. With a self-confidence that surprised even myself I said, “I have no
money at all now, Dr. Edgerton. I’m just out of college but I’ll get a job as
soon as I am well and then I’ll pay you as fast as I can.”
He smiled at me. “I’ll take a chance,” he said, and
made arrangements for me to enter St. Francis Hospital the next morning.
I was in excellent hands. The Franciscan nurses in
charge were competent and so were the lay nurse assistants. When I entered the
hospital and was questioned as to my religion I said I had been a Catholic but
was now a freethinker, making the statement no doubt with youthful bravado.
As I look back on that time I think it was a pity that
no one paid attention to my statement regarding religion. The nuns went in and
out of my room and were efficient and friendly. Once or twice I saw a priest go
by, but none came in to talk to me. No one spoke to me of religious matters
while I was there. Had they done so, I might have responded.
Six weeks after I went home I was walking well, as Dr.
Edgerton had promised. I soon obtained a position as a substitute teacher in
the History Department of Seward Park High School which, with discipline at a
low ebb, was considered a hard school. I was to have six classes in medieval
and European history.
When I appeared on the scene the students had been
without a teacher for weeks and were at the chalk-and-eraser-throwing stage. I
came to my teaching with a sense of reverence for the task and a determination
to keep to my ideals, but like all young teachers I had to learn that there is a
wide gap between theory and practice. It is in the classroom that a teacher
learns how to teach. All courses given on methods of teaching are but
guideposts to a basic objective.
The boys had evidently decided to test me. On my second
day of teaching I came in to find a fire at the back of the room. I walked over
to the smoking debris, put out the fire, and collared the four nearest boys.
“Who lit the fire?” I demanded. They denied having
anything to do with it. There was nothing more to do at the moment. The fire
was out, so the lesson in European history continued. I decided to solve my
problem without calling either the head of the department or the assistant
principal. I asked one of the older boys for help.
“Evans,” I said, “you are older than the rest. Help me
with this problem.”
Evans scratched his head and said thoughtfully, “Listen,
Miss Visono, what you have to do is show them that you can take their gaff.
After that they’ll settle down.”
It was good advice. I worked hard to stimulate interest
and they did settle down. The rest of the term passed without any more violent
I tried, in line with my acute interest in politics, to
interest my young students. I made them bring newspapers to class and I started
lively discussions. Most of the boys brought the tabloids and when I spoke of
this choice with some annoyance, one of my students, young Morris Levine, said
to me, “Aw, Miss Visono, what do you want me to read — the Times ? I
don’t own any stocks and bonds.”
The school term at Seward Park was to end at the
beginning of February. Sometime after the turn of the new year in 1926, Dr.
Dawson, the chairman of the Political Science Department at Hunter College,
called and offered me a post at the college. I began teaching at Hunter College
in February 1926.
of 1926 I had a full teaching program of fifteen hours a week in freshman
political science. Classes were large, and we were crowded for space.
Dr. Dawson, chairman of the department, a Virginian, had
been my teacher in all my classes in political science. I knew his temper and
his methods. He was a well-mannered gentleman whose method of teaching was
unusual, for he simply directed his students to the library and told them to
read. In class he never got excited or expressed any passionate opinions. He
had taught at Princeton when Woodrow Wilson was president there. He was a
Wilsonian Democrat and uncritically supported Wilson and the League of Nations
and he believed that the International Court at The Hague was the beginning of
international stability. He was a persuasive propagandizer for such reforms as
a city manager system, direct primaries, and executive budgets. I had found it
easy to accept his beliefs and to make them my own. Never once did we reach
fundamental questions on government; all our talk was of superficial
I had been one of his favorite students because, while
many students did little work when given freedom of working, I had thrown myself
heart and soul into endless hours of reading in the library, especially the
works of De Tocqueville, Lord Bryce, and Charles A. Beard, which gave me an
interest in American government and an appreciation of the fundamentals of the
Constitution. Because Dr. Dawson was a Virginian, perhaps, we got more than we
would otherwise on the subject of states’ rights.
I was a teacher myself now, but I had no clear
perspective as to the objectives of teaching. I did not know what I expected
from my students. In lieu of this I tried to stimulate them, to make them think
and argue about public questions, and I hoped to have them ready to take action
on these in later life. I wanted to have them learn through practical
experience as well as through the textbook.
Ruth Goldstein, Margaret Gustaferro, and I became
assistants to Dr. Dawson. In 1926 the avalanche of freshmen found the college
unprepared. Facilities were inadequate. We three taught our classes at the
same time in different sections of the auditorium which had been used as a
chapel. We three young teachers had been close friends at college. Now we
worked together, developing curricula, bibliographies, and new techniques. All
of us enrolled in the graduate school at Columbia University for graduate work
in political science.
At that time many professors were slanting their
teaching in the direction known as muckraking. Some professors contended
publicly that the war had not been fought to make the world safe for democracy
and that Germany had been shamefully treated by the Versailles Treaty. It was
also a time when Columbia professors fresh from the London School of Economics
and from the Brookings Institute were discovering the importance of current
activity in political parties and practical politics. Some were beginning to
enlist in local political battles. These sent students through the city,
climbing stairs and ringing doorbells, to teach them the democratic process by
We entered on this new kind of laboratory work with
zest. We dissected and analyzed local political bosses with the cynicism of old
hands, and then we began to push on into political clubhouses to learn still
more of this fascinating profession.
One of my courses at Columbia that year was a study of
the United States Senate and its treaty-making powers. Some of the professors
wondered audibly why Lindsey Rogers, who taught it, regarded this topic
important enough to devote an entire course to it. It was then only six years
after the Missouri v. Hollanddecision based on a treaty relating to
migratory birds — and the pattern of treaty law had not yet become apparent to
many. I was fascinated by the subject and its implications.
There were other refreshingly new courses that year and
new professors, among them Raymond Moley, not yet a Roosevelt brain truster.
There were courses on the press and on public opinion. We young people were
intrigued by the possibilities of participation in government control and the
various means of achieving this.
In our enthusiasm we passed on to our students at Hunter
what we had learned. We challenged the traditional thinking they had brought to
college with them. We sent out girls to political clubs, too. Soon political
leaders began to call Hunter to find out what the idea was of sending the “kids”
to their clubs.
We did not stop it, however. We sent them in pairs to
visit courts and jails, legislatures and institutions. When a socialist student
asked if groups could visit the socialist clubs, too, we accepted the
suggestion. We encouraged them to mix with all groups. Before long we were
saying — and not yet realizing it was merely a rather meaningless cliché — that
the radicals of today are the conservatives of tomorrow, that there could be no
progress if there were no radicals.
In the days that have gone since we enunciated these
statements so confidently I have had many occasions to see that this cataloging
of people as either “right” or “left” has led to more confusion in American life
than perhaps any other false concept. It sounds so simple and so right. By
using this schematic device one puts the communists on the left and then one
regards them as advanced liberals -after which it is easy to regard them as the
enzyme necessary for progress.
Communists usurp the position of the left, but when one
examines them in the light of what they really stand for, one sees them as the
rankest kind of reactionaries and communism as the most reactionary backward
leap in the long history of social movements. It is one which seeks to
obliterate in one revolutionary wave two thousand years of man’s progress.
During my thirteen years of teaching at Hunter I was to
repeat this semantic falsehood many times. I did not see the truth that people
are not born “right” or “left” nor can they become “right” or “left” unless
educated on the basis of a philosophy which is as carefully organized and as
all-inclusive as communism.
I was among the first of a new kind of teacher who was
to come in great numbers to the city colleges. The mark of the decade was on
us. We were sophisticated, intellectually snobbish, but usually fetishly
“democratic” with the students. It is true that we understood them better than
did many of the older teachers; our sympathy with them was a part of ourselves.
During the afternoons and evenings I continued my work
at Columbia. I had Carlton J. H. Hayes on “The Rise of Nationalism.” I studied
closely A. A. Berle and Gardiner Means who wrote of the two hundred corporations
that controlled America at the end of World War I. I read widely on imperialism
and began to be critical of the role my country was playing. I discovered the
John Dewey Society and the Progressive Education Association. I became aware of
the popular concept of the social frontier. I also repeated glibly that we had
reached the last of our natural frontiers and that the new ones to be sought
must be social. There would be, we were told, in the near future a collective
society in our world and especially in our country, and in teaching students one
must prepare them for that day.
As a result of that year’s study of American history and
national politics, as well as in the direct experience of my students and myself
in local politics, I now began to tear apart before my students many respected
public groups -charity, church, and other organizations -that were trying to
better conditions in old-fashioned ways. This sort of talk had a destructive
effect on myself, I now realize, and it had an even worse effect on my more
sensitive students. If they followed where I led, there was nothing left for
them to believe in. I had tried to wreck their former ways of thought and I had
given them no new paths to follow. The reason was simple: I had none myself,
because I really didn’t know where I was going.
Later when, in the Communist Party, I met one of these
former students of mine, it was always with the feeling that I was responsible
for her present way of life; it was through me that they had accepted this cold,
hard faith they lived by.
But in 1926 I had little thought of the communists
except that I did not preclude theirs as a solution of problems. I was merely
goading my pupils and myself on to feel that we must do something to help set
aright the things wrong in the world. When I became emotional in my talks it
was because I was angered at those who had money without working for it and who
did not help to lessen the increasing misery of the working population.
There were lighter moments in my days, of course. We
met for parties and good talk and sometimes went to the bistros of that era of
prohibition. Once I took one of the elderly professors at Hunter to a
speakeasy, partly as a lark and partly as a kindness, thinking to show her life.
But Bessie Dean Cooper took the evening in her stride.
She was a hardy old lady who taught history and gave the whole department
color. Her eleven cats were a legend. That evening she asked me if she could
leave one of them with me while she went to Europe; friends were taking over the
rest. I promised, and turned the cat over to my mother, along with the food and
medicines and careful directions and the cat’s blanket and pillow. Mother took
a look at all this paraphernalia and said briefly, “ I feed cats like cats,” and
did so until their mistress returned. Some years later Miss Cooper retired from
Hunter and took the eleven cats to live on the French Riviera.
Frequently during this period I went to Teachers College
at Columbia. I was always impressed by the large enrollment of teachers from
nearly every state in the union. I watched them as they gathered round the
trees which bore the shields of their states. I, too, realized what a powerful
effect Teachers College could have on American education with thousands of
teachers to influence national policy and social thinking.
That year I learned that George Counts, an associate of
John Dewey, like him a philosopher and theorist on education, had gone to
Russia. He had, of course, been there before. In fact, he had set up the
educational system of the revolutionary period for the Russian Government. He
had translated the Russian Primer into English and was eager to have the
American teachers study it carefully. He promised a report on Russian schools
when he returned.
At this period I was influenced by many institutions
around the campus at Columbia as much as by the classes I attended. I became a
frequent visitor at International House, to which I was first invited by an
economics student from the Philippines. There I met among a great many other
people Albert Bachman of the French Department who had taught at Tagore’s school
in India and who introduced me to handsome students from the Punjab, like myself
young and agog over ideas. We met on a level of equality and tolerance and with
the hope that a world could be created by the young men and women of all nations
in which all people could live and work on free and equal terms. We were not
aware of the tight web of power which set the stage for molding our opinions.
That summer gave me my first opportunity to talk to
people of other countries and to learn that they, too, were filled with a
passionate desire to better their own countries and the world. I began, under
the impetus of such talk, to feel in me a desire to be a citizen of the world.
It was a desire that made it easy and natural for me to accept communism and its
emphasis on internationalism.
As for the past, when I felt a twinge of regret for what
I was putting behind me, I ignored it. I accepted the present, with all its
undirected selfishness, but I could not really adjust myself to it. More and
more I wanted to talk and act only in terms of the future, of a future that
would have none of the corruption of the present. It depressed me that people
close to me could accommodate themselves to such a present. Only people I did
not know, the great mass of unknown human beings, began to awaken in me a
poignant sense of kinship. In fact, I began to transfer my personal feelings to
this wholly unknown defeated mass. And so it came about that I began to seek my
spiritual home among the dispossessed of the earth.
A teacher cannot help but transmit to her students
something of what she is and what she believes and I know I did much damage.
But the saving grace in my destructive teaching of that time was that in my
personal relationships with these students I retained within me something of the
essence of what God had meant me to be — a woman, a mother. I loved my
students, all of them, the dull, the weak, the strong, the conniving, the
twisted. I loved them because they were young and alive, because they were in
the process of becoming and had not yet been frozen into a mold by a cynical
society or by a conniving power.
I have always enjoyed teaching, for there is in teaching
a continual renewing, and in that renewal there is always the promise of that
freshness which brings us nearer to perfection. To me freshmen were always a
delight as students. They came to college with high resolve, many of them
caught by a sense of dedication to learning, and they were not yet pressured by
practical considerations of jobs and careers, not yet having to accommodate
themselves to the status quo. They were like acolytes just learning the
ritual. If I had been able, during these years, I would have prayed hard for
the retention of this flame in my students. For the flame is there always. It
is in them all, but whether later it bursts into a fire that destroys, or
flickers to nothing, depends in great measure on the teacher and the goals and
standards she sets.
During my first two teaching years I spent endless free
hours in the Columbia Library and in Room 300 at the New York Public Library.
For my dissertation for the master’s degree I chose the subject: “Is Congress a
Mirror of the Nation?” My paper came to no conclusions. In fact, when I read it
over in typed form, I had the unhappy feeling that Congress was somewhat like
those Coney Island mirrors which now exaggerate, now underplay, the real.
During my work on this paper I read hundreds of the
brief biographies in the Congressional Directory, from the foundation of
the Republic to the present, and I found one pattern repeated many times: that
of the men who rose from humble beginnings and who struggled to acquire an
education. I was impressed by the number who were at first schoolteachers, then
put themselves through law school, and later entered politics.
I myself was growing impatient with abstract
scholarship, for it seemed to lead nowhere. I hated the emphasis placed in the
school system on getting degrees. An M.A. was necessary to hold certain jobs
and a Ph.D. was essential for a promotion and an increase in salary. I
questioned the value of the many dissertations filed away in the archives. The
topics chosen for dissertations seemed more and more inconsequential. And my
eager youth longed for significance, for meaning, for participation.
I did not realize what I now know, and have come to know
through much turmoil of spirit, that significance is all about us and that it
comes from order. There was no order in my life. I had no pattern by which to
arrange it. I was moved by feelings and emotions and an accumulation of
knowledge which brought me no joy of living.
After I had delivered my dissertations and received my
Master of Arts degree in the summer of 1927, Ruth Goldstein and I, both tired
out from the year’s hard work, decided to take a cottage for the summer and get
away from New York. So, with Beatrice Feldman, also a Hunter College freshman,
we rented a cottage on Schroon Lake, in the Adirondacks.
I was happy to be back in the country. I had not
realized how much I missed the land until I found myself back on it. A few
years before our own home had gone, taken by the march of progress. During my
years at college and of teaching the community around Pilgrim’s Rest had altered
greatly. In place of the straggling countryside of my childhood there was now a
bustling community, with apartment houses and subways. We had had to give up
our old house because it was dilapidated and not worth repairing. The property
was sold, the house pulled down, and the land divided into building lots.
At Schroon Lake, Ruth and Beatrice and I were alone for
days at a time. Our friends came for week ends, however, and then our cottage
was filled. We had books but we did not read much. We spent hours on the lake,
and at times Ruth and Beatrice played tennis and golf while I sat on the grass
and watched. And we talked often until late into the night, discussing many
subjects. We discussed the theories of John Dewey and of Justice Holmes, we
talked of the philosophy of education, and of practical questions about life and
love and marriage. We debated the value of many of the things our parents had
accepted without fuss or examination.
There is something idyllic about a group of young people
who seek nothing from each other except companionship. To me, who had seen my
own family disintegrate, this was like a new kind of family. Of course I was
not the only one the members of whose family had gone in different directions,
or the only one who was attaching herself instead to the social family of the
It was a period when houses as homes were disappearing
in our larger cities, when one-room apartments were becoming popular. Before
that, no matter how poor the family, it never had less than three or more
rooms. Now the kitchen was pushed into a tiny alcove, the bed was tucked into a
closet, and you lived in one modern room, sometimes elegant and large, but still
one room. Marriage for the intellectual proletariat became the process of
living with a man or a woman in quarters so small that release and satisfaction
had to be found outside the home, lest the walls of one room suffocate the
One of the pleasantest events of that summer in the
Adirondacks was meeting the Finkelsteins, Louis and Carmel, and their children,
a lovely little girl, Hadassah, and a baby named Ezra. Carmel came from a
distinguished English family and she spoke with a fascinating accent. I thought
that in appearance she and her daughter looked like characters out of the
Bible. Dr. Louis was a rabbi from the Bronx and he had the face of an apostle.
Often his brothers “Hinky” and Maurice would come to visit and I loved to listen
to them talking together, each topping the other in gay persiflage. I found
them exciting because they were not only well read, not only deeply interested
in the arts and in philosophy, but also practical men of affairs who understood
My friendship with the Finkelsteins was to continue for
years. In them again I saw the warmth of a family which was like-minded,
closely knit, and determined to stay together, impervious to the corroding
influences of a large industrial city. I asked myself why it was that other
families I knew did not have this ability to hold together. I felt that family
stability was in great part due to the cherishing of traditions, to the
continuous renewing of the memories of the past which included their friendship
with God and a boundless loyalty to each other.
One evening that summer I stayed at home with the
children. After some time I saw that Hadassah, who had been trying to go to
sleep, had begun to cry for no apparent reason. She was a detached sort of
child and I thought she did not like me, but now she let me hold her hand as I
talked quietly to comfort her. It was obvious she did not know why she was
crying, but when she looked up at me the dark eyes full of tears seemed older
than those of a little girl and there was an odd fear in the way she sat close
to me and wept. When she finally fell asleep, still holding my hand, I sat
there with a strange feeling in me, as if she had been crying over a long past,
as if two thousand years had been only one night.
That fall I made a sharp switch in my career. Tired of
the sterility of graduate work, Ruth Goldstein and I entered New York University
Law School. I taught morning and also evening classes at Hunter College and
attended my law classes in the afternoons.
The classes at law school were large, sometimes several
hundred students. The case system, which was in almost universal use then, did
not hold my interest; I found the method dreary. Despite this I liked the study
of the law; it was a discipline worth mastering
I also found the students interesting. In one class I
sat next to a young man named Samuel Di Falco who is now a Supreme Court judge.
He used to find fault with me for scribbling poetry in my notebook when I should
have been working on cases.
Ruth also found fault with my preoccupation with other
things than the law. For it was true that while the substance of the law
intrigued me, because it was a reflection of the past of society which helped me
to understand the present, I was not interested in legal procedure, which I felt
was intended to preserve an outmoded status quo. My constant
preoccupation with the need to change the status quo made me almost
impatient with much of the last year of law school. But I did not expect to
practice law. I thought of myself as a teacher.
FROM THE FALL
of 1927 to June 1930 I attended New York University Law School and taught at
Hunter College. It was a period in which I was deeply involved in the
activities of the students in my own college — a period in which I was not only
instructor but served as adviser to many of them, individually and in their
As a young instructor disturbed by the conflicting
currents among the intellectuals I turned to Sarah Parks for advice and
clarification. But the teacher I had admired when I was an undergraduate was
embroiled in controversy over salary and promotion policies in the college.
These were subjects in which I was not interested at that time, for I loved my
position as teacher so much that the salary question seemed secondary. But
Sarah was aflame over inequities of rank and salary, and for her sake I tried to
interest myself in these matters.
This was a period in which I was meeting men and women
who were talking ideas and living unorthodox lives. It was a period in which a
love of literature, the arts, and an interest in the Russian Revolution became
the excuse for leaving home and living in little, cramped apartments in
Greenwich Village. It was a period in which we spent long hours, night after
night, sitting before fireplaces in some Village garret, talking endlessly.
Sarah had been one of us, but now her absorption with
college politics had a quality of desperation. I did not feel that the
situation warranted the extremes of emotion she poured into it. I did not know
then that I, too, was to follow in her footsteps. At this time I sensed only
that a certain emptiness in her life was catapulting her violently into
everything she did. I tended to withdraw from our close friendship and to
cultivate new friends who built on the foundation she had helped to establish.
When in January 1928 she committed suicide I was thrown
into an emotional tailspin. I felt guilty at not having spent more time with
her. I thought I had failed her. I was bitter about those at the college to
whom she had turned for affection and who, instead, had shut the door upon her.
Her death had a profound effect on those of us whom she had influenced. We felt
that Sarah had the intellectual courage to believe in the new coming collective
society, but not the practical boldness required for becoming a disciplined
member of the group. We felt that she thought as a collectivist but fought and
lived as an individualist and in our twisted estimate of a human life we felt
that this was her failure. We did not recognize that life had become unbearable
to her because of the disorder of her thinking which inevitably led to
Careful not to continue on the path which led to her
suicide I was to take a longer, more deceptive yet parallel road to
annihilation. I refused to retrace my steps to the point of departure into
wrong thinking. I did not know then that this could bring only disharmony,
confusion, and defeat.
The years 1928 and 1929 were replete with
confusion and ugliness. I turned more and more to the literature of despair. I
tried to write, but found that my inner confusion reflected itself in my work.
For the first time in my life I viewed the future with apprehension. I found
little pleasure in anything. My work at law school was mediocre. At Hunter
College the classes were getting larger and the students coming to us from the
high schools were not well prepared. The sense of dedication to learning was
Many came to college because they were fulfilling for
their parents the modern yearning of the uneducated who are determined that
their children must have a college education. I was conscious of an increasing
mass of young people entering college almost as automatically as they entered
grade school and high school. I was aware of the lowering of standards. There
was little thinking about the meaning and purpose of a college education and
practically no thought of the role of free municipal colleges.
During the spring of 1930 I took the Medina cram
courses and prepared for the examination for admission to the New York Bar. The
examination over, I requested a leave of absence from the college and with my
friend Beatrice left for Europe. In a foolish kind of way I hoped to find there
answers which were not forthcoming at home. I was tired and restless. I wanted
to escape from all sense of responsibility. I was young and I wanted to enjoy
It was a trip rich in new contacts. With a capacity to
make friends I found people of interest in every walk of life in the different
countries we visited. It was on this trip that I was to meet my future husband,
We landed in Hamburg and I found it an exciting city,
filled with merchant seamen, longshoremen, soldiers. There were the nouveau
riche with pockets bulging with the country’s wealth. There were Communists
everywhere, marching, singing, meeting. There were the decadent risqué night
spots. There were also fine old restaurants, old homes and churches, and other
evidences of an earlier day. It was a city of contrasts.
Too frequently we came face to face with middle-class
Germans with pinched, strained faces, ready, when they noted sympathy, to tell
you their troubles. The thing that struck me was their bewilderment. They
neither understood the cause of their predicament nor where they were going. We
looked at them and listened. But we were Americans with dollars in our purses
bent on having a good time.
In Berlin we saw more pinched faces and more blatant
lavishness. We were alarmed at the frank and open evidences of sexual and moral
degradation flaunted in the night spots and exhibited to the tourists
everywhere. The atmosphere o£ the city seemed charged as the air is before an
I found some of my friends from Hunter College at the
University of Berlin and we had the opportunity to see what was happening at the
seats of learning. We talked with university students and professors. The
university was torn with strife. Socialists, Communists, National Socialists
were battling each other and jointly undermining those who regarded themselves
as conservatives attached to their own country by the natural love of one’s
homeland. Acts of violence were common in the city and around the university.
I was conscious of the fact that here politics had
become a matter of life and death. I was conscious also that the intellectuals,
the teachers, professors, and scientists were arrogant in their pride but lacked
the inner strength to play a salutary role in that country’s hour of need. Here
were men of the highest intellectual achievements who were ready to attach
themselves to the forces of violence. I did not then realize, as I now do, that
for close to a century the educational world of Germany had been subjected to
systematic despiritualization which could result only in the dehumanization now
apparent. This made it possible for such despiritualized men to serve both the
Nazi and later the communist power with a terrifying loyalty and efficiency.
In Germany I frequently discussed the rising tide of
conflict, but on one thing professors and students alike were agreed — that
fascism could never come to Germany. It was possible in Italy, they said,
because of the lack of general education — such a thing could not happen in
Germany. Two institutions would prevent this: the great German universities and
the German Civil Service.
When, contrary to their statements, it did happen in
Germany, the two great institutions which collapsed first of all were — the
German universities and the German Civil Service. They were the first to serve
the Fuehrer, and it was from them that we were to learn the lesson that
education in and of itself is not a deterrent to the destruction of a nation.
The real questions to be posed are: what kind of education? to what purpose?
with what goal? under what standards?
I was happy to leave Berlin. And now I insisted on a
trip which was not on our schedule. I had hitherto generally refused to spend
much time in museums and churches but I wanted to go to Dresden and see the
Sistine Madonna. It was worth the long trip to see the lovely Virgin and Child
and the cherubs at their feet looking like gay little urchins. The day I spent
in Dresden was my happiest in Germany.
I was looking forward to Vienna. It was fortunate that
Beatrice had relatives in that fabulous capital of the Hapsburgs. But once
again we were struck by the pain in the pinched white faces of the native
Austrians. We wore our simplest clothes in order not to give offense to the
people we met. We had wanted to go to the opera. In an act of renunciation we
decided against it because we had watched men and women who loved music stand
outside the opera house while tourists and profiteers jammed the place.
Beatrice’s uncle, who had been a financial adviser in
the regime of Franz Joseph, entertained us by taking us to some famous
coffeehouses. As he talked of the history of Vienna, I became aware of the fact
that he loved the city deeply but recognized it was dying. He told us he had
made arrangements to take his family to Uruguay. Once again I was struck by the
fact that those who deplored the blight that was upon them had no standard to
which to rally. They were frightened. There was a sense of Weltschmerz
and a longing to return to the past, but not the slightest awareness as to where
they were going.
From Austria we went to Italy. I had looked forward
with ill-concealed excitement to a return to the land of my birth. I expected
the sense of not belonging which was part of me suddenly to disappear. I was
counting on a mystical transformation. We crossed the border, the customs
inspector delved through our luggage, we arrived in Venice, and went to a hotel
with a German name. But I searched in vain to find the Italy which my memory
had treasured and my imagination had embellished.
Venice was a highly sophisticated, gay, brittle,
materialistic city. It was overrun by men in uniform. Practically one out of
three was a soldier. I went to the Cathedral, but was unmoved by the services.
It was crowded with well-dressed people of all nations. Outside, the merchants
drove sharp bargains with those who had money. The spiritual, brooding quality
of Italy which I had treasured was nowhere apparent and I realized that 1 did
not belong in the country I had left as a child. I now saw the tangible
evidence of the blight of fascist philosophy.
As a student at Hunter College in the early twenties I
had declared myself an anti-fascist at a time when it was not fashionable to do
so. It had been an emotional declaration against those smug members of society
who talked about the wonders that fascism had accomplished for Italy. I felt
they were more concerned with train schedules and sanitation than with the
beauty of its culture and the soul of its people.
Yet when we reached Florence I found that even fascism
was unable to corrode the unbelievably beautiful symbols of the past. I loved
being in Florence. The delicate restraint of its scenery and of its
architecture seemed to reflect the character of the people themselves. I found
myself standing in the public squares and watching the faces of those who went
by, struck by the fact that the simplest shopgirl looked like one of Raphael’s
I was continually amazed to see the diversity and the
beauty of the past culture of the cities of Italy. Venice was unlike Florence.
Verona and Bologna were a world apart from Rome. In this day, when there is so
much talk about mass culture and so many worship, or are frightened into, an
acceptance of the idea of one-world government, I look back to the joy I had in
the past culture of these little city-states and wonder if the art and
architecture of our day will ever achieve the beauty of that of those earlier
When I reached Rome I was more interested in the ruins
of classical times than in the monuments to the living spirit at the heart of
Christianity. It was evidence of how far 1, through my education and my own
perverse pride of mind, had traveled from the past of my own people and from the
accumulated wisdom and safety which two thousand years of Christianity could
provide for the modern children of the Western world.
I drove miles in the hot sun to visit the grave of the
poet Horace and spent hours at the Baths of Caracalla and other ruins of
antiquity, and on a moonlit night I looked with awe on the tiers of the
Colosseum and had a sense of the length of its past. I visited the Vatican and
some of the churches, but the truth is that I visited them largely for their
priceless art treasures and was blind to their real significance.
In Rome the power of the fascist state was everywhere in
evidence, especially in the number of men in uniform. I thought suddenly of my
mother who had a farmer’s disdain of the military. “They all live on our
backs,” she used to say. And now I thought of Italy as one aching back carrying
the vast array of government officials and soldiers.
I had decided to visit the town where I was born to see
my foster parents, with whom we had lost touch over the years. However, when I
reached Naples there was news of an earthquake so I returned, instead, to
Florence. From there we went back into southern Germany for a brief visit.
Beatrice and I went together to Paris, where I picked up
my mail at the American Express office. Ruth had cabled, “You passed both parts
of the bar exam.” My mother and father wrote, “Come home. We are lonely without
On the boat returning home I met a group of New York
City schoolteachers, who told me they belonged to the Teachers Union. They
discussed the importance of having teachers organize within the labor movement
and they urged my friend and me to join the Union. When I pointed out that
their union consisted largely of public schoolteachers and that I did not think
that college teachers had any place therein, the persistent recruiters assured
me that the brains and the original organizers of the American Federation of
Teachers were college teachers. I promised to join as an evidence of my
willingness to throw in my lot with the working class, even though I did not
think the Union could be of help to me personally.
On my return to New York I went to meetings of the
Teachers Union. I found them disconcerting because there was so much strife
between groups seeking control. I did not then understand why intelligent
adults should struggle so hard to control an organization which in numbers was
small and insignificant. I was dumfounded to find the names of distinguished
professors such as John Dewey and George Counts involved in the controversy.
It was only later, when I better understood left-wing
politics, that I became aware of the significance of control of this beachhead.
of the stock market did not immediately affect my family for we had no money
invested in stocks or bonds. Therefore it was not difficult for me to leave my
post at Hunter College in 1930 to serve a clerkship for admission to the New
York Bar. I worked at a nominal salary in the office of Howard Hilton Spellman,
who was an excellent lawyer and at that time was writing several texts on
During that year I saw a great deal of John Dodd whom I
had met on my trip to Europe. At first it seemed we had little in common, for
John had an engineer’s mind and I was disinterested in all machinery, regarding
mechanical devices as a kind of black magic. But we soon discovered topics of
common interest, such as our love for this country and an awareness of its
John’s family lived in Floyd County, Georgia. Long
before I visited his home I had heard him tell the story of how his people had
gone into Indian territory and established themselves on the land sixty miles
from Atlanta and in the direct line of Sherman’s march. He had told me of his
grandfather who had lost an arm at the Battle of Shiloh and of his grandmother
who had outwitted Sherman’s men when they came to her farm; of how his father
had turned his land into peach orchards and how he was ruined by railroad rate
discrimination that forced Georgia peaches to rot at the siding while California
fruit was favored.
When John asked me to marry him, I hesitated. I had
given little thought to marriage. I was thinking about a career and those were
still the days when women debated marriage or a career, and not marriage and a
career. But already economic pressures had pushed many women into business and
so limited their activities as homemakers. The women I knew were talking less
of homes than they were of dissertations and research. However, I put my doubts
aside and we decided to get married.
We did not plan to be married in a church, since John
was bitterly anti-clerical. I did not mind the civil marriage; like John, I
thought of myself as a freethinker.
One morning in late September we were married at the
county clerk’s office in New York City. John stood tall and straight and blond,
and I beside him, small and dark. Our witnesses were two of my friends —
Beatrice Feldman and Dr. Louis Finkelstein.
When the clerk pronounced us man and wife, I had a
sudden sinking feeling in my heart. Why? Had I rushed into marriage before I
was ready? Was it that this ceremony was not what I had been taught made a
marriage? I do not know. I do know that during the next months I grew to love
John more than I had thought I was capable of loving anyone.
I knew how devoted he was to the South and its people
and after our marriage we went to visit his home. I had never been South
before, but I now realized why so many of its children went to Northern cities
for a livelihood.
John’s people were not plantation owners nor did they
have share croppers. They owned a lot of land and they worked it themselves.
The women worked as hard as the men. I visited some of the Dodd children at the
Martha Berry Schools near John’s home and I was struck by the independence and
sturdiness of these people. Never after that first visit did I read morbid
literature on the South without a sense of resentment at the twisted picture it
gave of a section which has great reservoirs of strength, based not on material
wealth but upon the integrity of its people.
John was ten years older than I. He had had a variety
of experience, having worked in industrial centers, such as Akron and Detroit,
and he had seen service as a flier first in the Canadian RAF and later in the
American Air Force. In those days of World War I service in that branch was
tantamount to joining a suicide squad. As a young soldier he saw many of his
comrades killed. He, himself, was in a plane crash at Kelly Field and suffered
a spinal injury which left him a highly nervous person.
By 1932 my family felt the results of the depression.
My father’s business had come to a standstill. John, too, was meeting financial
difficulties. I, therefore, decided to return to my post at Hunter College.
I was stunned by the fury of the impact of the
depression on my family and those around me. I watched the line of pale,
pinched faces of people who stood before the closed doors of the Bowery Savings
Bank on Forty-Second Street. They reminded me of the anxious faces I had seen
in Hamburg and Berlin a few years before. I saw men obviously once in good
circumstances line up around the block for soup and coffee at mission houses. I
saw them furtively pick up cigarette butts from the streets.
I had not been back at Hunter long before I found myself
involved in discussions on the economic problems of the staff below professorial
ranks. Many instructors and other staff members were underpaid and had no
security of tenure or promotion. We organized the Hunter College Instructors
Association and I became one of the leading forces in it. We won concessions
for this group, and I was elected its representative to the faculty council.
The Instructors Association at Hunter was set up so that
the two representatives on the faculty would have a guide as to how their
colleagues wished them to vote. It was a new type of organization for college
teachers — a grass-roots organization for immediate action on important
questions of privilege and one in which discussion was uninhibited. Some of the
older members of the professorial group were secretly happy to see a rebellious
instructors’ group give the president a hard time, for there had been a change
in that office too: we had a new and different type of president now.
When I first came to college President Davis, the
incumbent, was an eminently correct scholar and gentleman. He was a Protestant,
tolerant of all and removed from all. The faculty was permitted to do pretty
much as they pleased because he and they belonged to a homogeneous group. It
was a laissez-faire system in which the president selected the heads of
departments and they in turn selected their teachers. They were permitted the
widest kind of latitude in their personal lives and their methods of teaching.
It was the recognized pattern of the liberal arts college of the day.
But President Davis died in the later twenties, and Dr.
John Kieran, a kindly old gentleman, who headed the
Department of Education at Hunter was appointed. Dr.
Kieran was a Catholic and was regarded by certain members of the faculty as an
unfortunate choice for president. But Dr. Kieran had powerful friends in City
Hall and the trustees considered him an asset in the constant struggle for the
finances which had to be sought from the city budget.
He did not, however, live long enough to make any
changes in the administration. When young, vigorous Dr. Eugene Colligan, an
Irish Catholic and straight from the public-school system, was chosen to be his
successor, there was real consternation among the old guard. Submerged
anti-Catholic embers were fanned to flame. The fact that he had come from the
administration of a public high school was looked upon as a disaster for the
Dr. Colligan misread the nature of the reaction to him.
Since he was young and vigorous and happy with his new position, he moved
immediately to establish his leadership there, and began bringing in new ideas.
But he soon found he was up against a stone wall. His troubles arose not only
from the old guard among the faculty but also from the students and from the new
type of city politics ushered in in 1932 by the election of Fiorello LaGuardia,
which was to New York City what the Roosevelt administration was to the country.
The recognition in 1932 in Washington of the USSR
brought a tremendous change in the activities of the communists on our college
campus. Recognition brought respectability; it led to the organization of such
groups as Friends of the Soviet Union, which was led by engineers and social
workers and which soon extended to the world of art and science and to education
At Hunter it brought about a completely changed
situation among students, staff, and administration. In our college the
initiative was not taken by any of the staff — and this included the younger
teachers — for we had no known members of the Communist Party among us. But
communist students went into action and before long had a tremendous impact on
these same young teachers. One hears a great deal about the influence of
teachers on their students. During this early period of communistic influence
on the campus Hunter students and City College students had a much greater
effect on the teachers.
Almost overnight and seemingly from nowhere organization
arose. Groups of the Young Communist League and the League for Industrial
Democracy — an organization originating in England among Fabians — appeared in
our midst, small dedicated bands of young people. This soon led to mass groups
of students who began clamoring for the right to meet on the campus; if
permission was not granted, they met outside and protested very loudly.
I was very conscious of one thing: these organizations
were not springing up spontaneously; some creating group was behind them. But
it was true that the student answer was spontaneous and very immediate.
Suddenly there had appeared on the indifferent campus a student group who seemed
to care, to believe in things, to be willing to work and suffer for what they
believed in and cared for. Before long they had infected the entire student
At the time I was deep in the struggle of the
instructors for a modicum of economic security, and I felt a great kinship with
these students. They were the “depression babies” who were now determined to
take matters into their own hands. They were contemptuous of the previous
generation which had bequeathed them a legacy of want and depression. They were
offered no good hope of future careers. And now, through this new hope that was
sweeping the campus, they were going to do something to help themselves.
What they were doing emerged very slowly but it was
this: they were unconsciously beginning to ally themselves with the proletariat,
with the workers. And from this was born the intellectual proletariat which in
the next years was to be the backbone of hundreds of communist organizations —
and which was, indeed, to provide active men and women for the mass movements of
the next twenty years.
Others had heard of our successful organization of the
Instructors Association and we were soon approached by representatives from the
other city colleges for help. The result was a committee uniting the efforts of
the instructors in all the municipally owned colleges of New York City.
Almost immediately this city-wide group was approached
by a group from the private colleges. The approach came through Margaret
Schlauch of New York University, who arranged meetings which included
representatives of Columbia, Long Island University, and the city colleges. We
held many meetings at which we discussed the plight of the intellectuals. The
men and women gathered together included many able young people : Howard Selsam,
now head of the Jefferson School of Social Science; Margaret Schlauch, today a
professor in the University of Cracow; her younger sister Helen who later
married Infels (an associate of Albert Einstein) who is also teaching in
Poland. Sidney Hook stayed with the group a short while, and then left.
Together we planned to form the American Association of University Teachers to
fight for the bread and-butter issues of the lower ranks of college personnel.
For some unknown reason this organization was
short-lived. To replace it Margaret Schlauch called together the remnants of
the group and proposed a new type of organization. I did not then realize how
the wheels within wheels moved but I did feel something new had come into the
picture. Strange people were brought to the little gatherings at Margaret’s
house and though the rest of us were all teachers and college employees, the new
figures had nothing to do with the colleges. They began to enlist our group in
the struggle against fascism.
To one of the meetings Margaret brought an emaciated
woman who talked about the underground movement against fascism. She spoke with
an air of authority. Without it Harriet Silverman would have seemed plain to
the point of ugliness, but she carried this air of authority like a magic cloak,
and it transformed her. She proved a different sort of person from those I had
met in organizational work. She talked about the man she called her husband, a
man named Engdahl, who was then in Europe to propagandize the Scottsboro Case.
Like herself, he was, I learned later, an international agent of the world
Harriet singled me out almost from the first. At her
invitation I promised to visit her at her home. When she stood up to go I
looked at her threadbare tweed coat, her shapeless hat, and I was moved by her
evident sense of dedication.
She was the new type of ascetic of our day, a type I was
to find prevalent in the Communist Party. She lived in a small remodeled
apartment on the East Side and I climbed four steep flights to reach it. The
room had a cloistered atmosphere; it was lined with bookshelves on which I
noticed Lenin’s complete works, Karl Marx, Engels, Stalin, Bimba’s History of the Labor Movement, and other books on sociology and labor. There was
nothing trivial there. I noted no poetry. On one wall hung a large picture of
Lenin, draped with Red flags bearing the hammer and sickle.
Harriet was ill the night I visited her. She sat in an
old flannel bathrobe and talked with intensity of plans to remake the world. I
was impressed by the fact that she was not concerned about her own poverty, and
thought only of the working people of the world. Suddenly I felt that my
efforts to increase salaries for a few college teachers were insignificant. She
made me feel ashamed of having a good job and a comfortable apartment. So moved
was I that I pressed on her all the money I had with me.
Harriet suggested that the group of college teachers
gathered at Margaret’s house should organize an antifascist literature committee
for the purpose of doing research, writing pamphlets, and raising funds.
She told me frankly she was a Communist. “I’m not
afraid of labels,” I replied. “I’d join the devil himself to fight fascism.”
When I asked Harriet how the money contributed to the
anti-fascist cause was distributed, she said, “Through the Party and its
I may have looked skeptical, for she quickly asked,
“Would you like to meet Earl Browder?” I replied in the affirmative, and we made
an appointment to meet him the following week at the communist headquarters in
When Harriet and I went there we were taken up to the
ninth floor in what was more a freight than a passenger elevator. About the
whole shabby building I felt the same atmosphere of dedicated poverty that I had
found in Harriet in her drab clothes and the drab tenement in which she lived.
It was definitely of the people and for the people, I thought.
Earl Browder did not look as I had expected the leader
of the Communist Party to look. With his quiet, thoughtful face and shock of
gray hair he was exactly like the popular concept of a professor in a small
We talked about various things — of our anti-fascist
committee, its part in the fight against tyranny, of the necessity of being on
friendly terms with all nations which opposed fascism. It was a friendly,
pleasant talk and when we left, Earl Browder went to the elevator with us,
bidding us good-by with a friendly smile.
At the meetings of the Anti-Fascist Literature Committee
we knew there were Communists in our midst, but it was considered bad form to
ask questions, and they put on an elaborate display of nonpartisanship, perhaps
to condition the rest of us. Our committee did write several pamphlets, but the
important thing we did was to raise thousands of dollars for the cause and to
spread its propaganda.
Little by little the college teachers who came to these
increasingly interesting meetings felt the need of a larger dedication. It was
a call to action of the innocents — and even today I do not know how many of
them were among the innocents.
Sometimes when we grew excited, and when doubts came,
Margaret would raise her cool voice, which was as prim and proper as was her
D.A.R. background. She could always lessen tension and resolve doubts by some
simple remark in her cultivated tones.
To carry out the work of the Anti-Fascist Literature
Committee I embarked on a fund-raising campaign supervised by Harriet
Silverman. I arranged for meetings and social affairs at my home where we
dispensed refreshments and propaganda in return for cash. To these gatherings
Harriet began bringing many well-dressed, sophisticated Communists. There were
doctors and lawyers and businessmen among our new guests, and there were always
a few functionaries of the Party, like Harriet, threadbare and with an ascetic
and dedicated air that made the rest of us feel how much more they must be
giving than we, the petty bourgeoisie. Other communist types also came, such as
men and women in the arts - singers, musicians, dancers, who visited us between
acts at night clubs or theaters and added a touch of glamor.
Mingled with these bourgeois elements was another group
of Communists who lent a different kind of glamor to the assembled group. These
were the real proletarians — longshoremen, painters, plumbers, shipping clerks,
and sailors. The young college instructors who were the ostensible sponsors of
these meetings were given a feeling of participating with the real forces of
life. In this rubbing of elbows of Ph.D.s and plumbers’ helpers there was a
leveling of distinctions. The common ground on which we met was that the past
of society had been bad, the present was corrupt; and the future would be worth
while only if it became collective.
Unemployed councils were being set up on a countrywide
basis. In New York the Ex-Servicemen’s League, which had organized the bonus
march to Washington, was especially active. In working with this group on a
program for relief and social security I began to meet some odd and interesting
Perhaps Paddy Whalen best represented the picturesque
elements among the Communists of that era. He was a little Irishman, the mayor
of Hooversville as they named this town of shanties over on the Jersey flats.
He had piercing black eyes. He drank too much and ate too little. In his way,
he was dedicated to the labor movement, having once been an IWW, a movement
which had supposedly the opposite aims of communism. But in the early thirties
all the people who were in unorthodox movements or who had lost their ties with
society, whether muckrakers, syndicalists, anarchists, or socialists, were
pulled along by the cyclonic fury of the organized communist movement. Without
a positive program of their own they were drawn into the vortex of the
well-integrated, well-financed movement which was suddenly legalized with the
American recognition of the Soviet Union.
Paddy Whalen came from the Middle West. Once a
Catholic, he argued doctrine with priests yet begged help for strikers from men
of all faiths. As mayor of a pathetic heap of boxes and tins, he wore with
great dignity a hand-me-down black derby and an overcoat which reached his
heels. At his headquarters he interviewed the press and they found him good
copy. Sometimes, I suppose, he put fresh courage in the hearts of his
dispossessed citizens. He made them see themselves as a band of Robin Hoods and
not as rejected failures.
In the process of preparing a country for revolution the
Communist Party tries to enlist the masses. It seeks to enlist the unattached
people, for they have little to lose and are the first to capitulate to
organized excitement. But to Paddy freedom meant a great deal. He was willing
to defend it with his fists. I doubt whether Paddy would long have served the
communist world plan of slavery.
I heard one Party leader say of him: “He is a wonderful
comrade to help make a revolution but after it is successful we are going to
have to kill him because he would immediately proceed to unmake it.”
They did not have to kill him; another power did that.
When World War II came, Paddy did not seek “union immunity”; he enlisted long
before merchant ships had convoys or anti-aircraft guns for defense. His ship
went down in burning oil and he with her. How he would have laughed to see the
Government, at the insistence of his union and the communist press, name a
liberty ship after him! For the Party was able to make use even of his memory to
There were many others besides Paddy who were caught up
in the Party either from need or desire. They included the unemployed councils,
the fighters against fascism, the foreign-born, and the racial and religious
minorities who came under its spell. Even today I can understand the attraction
it had for the intellectual proletariat. It was as if a great family welcomed
them as members.
I often marveled at the sacrifices made by these
Communist Party members. In my classes at Hunter were Young Communist Leaguers
who would go without lunch to buy paper and ink and other items for propaganda
leaflets. Their emaciated faces made my heart ache. Their halfhearted
participation in their studies, their frequent cutting of classes, their
sacrifice of academic standing to fulfill some task assigned them, were sad to
see. I saw college girls exploited by cold Party hacks. They were expendable,
and in their places would come other wide-eyed, eager young people with a desire
I remember especially an Irish “Catholic” girl, an
organizer of the unemployed and a leader of mass demonstrations. Helen Lynch
was tubercular, but she never stopped working for the Party until she died.
Then the Communists claimed her as a martyr.
It was true that it was an infectious thing, this
comradeship, for so often it helped in dire need such as Rent Parties where
Communists gathered money to pay the rent of some comrade. This sort of
personal aid did much to overcome the doctrinaire aridity of orders by the
“functionaries,” the title given the bureaucrats, the skeleton staff which
stands ready to take over when the Revolution comes to pass.
At Hunter I continued active in the Instructors
Association to better the economic conditions of the college teachers. Soon I
was invited by a number of communist teachers to attend meetings on lower Fifth
Avenue where I met top executives of the so-called Class Room Teachers
Association. Ostensibly this was a grass-roots movement of teachers, but they
were being taught the techniques of mass action and were carefully organized on
the basis of the class-struggle philosophy. They were a disciplined band
secretly associated with the Trade Union Unity League led by William Z. Foster.
The Class Room Teachers had two tasks: to convert a
considerable number of teachers to a revolutionary approach to problems, and to
recruit for the Communist Party as many members as possible. Some of these
teachers were also members of the Teachers Union Local 5 of the American
Federation of Teachers and therein they formed an organized minority opposition
to the prevailing noncommunist leadership.
Like all Red unions of the early thirties, the Class
Room Teachers Association helped give publicity to the bread-and-butter problems
acute at the time. There were many unemployed teachers in the city and a large
number of substitute teachers who were hired by the Board of Education at a low
daily wage year in and year out. On such issues the Red organization
capitalized while the conservative organizations were too inept to act.
The Class Room Teachers sent mass delegations to the
Board of Education. It issued attacks against the officials of the city and
jibed at the then-respectable Teachers Union under the leadership of Lefkowitz
and Linville. Teachers such as Celia Lewis, Clara Richer, and Max Diamond
emerged as leaders of the Red minority within the A. F. of L. Teachers Union.
By organizing the unemployed teachers and fighting to have them in the Union, it
became clear that before long the Teachers Union would be controlled by the
I did not become a Communist overnight. It came a
little at a time. I had been conditioned by my education and association to
accept this materialistic philosophy. Now came new reasons for acceptance. I
was grateful for communist support in the struggles of the Instructors
Association. I admired the selfless dedication of many who belonged to the
Party. They took me into their fraternal circle and made me feel at home. I
was not interested in any long-range Party objectives but I did welcome their
assistance on immediate issues, and I admired them for their courage. Most of
all I respected the way they fought for the forgotten man of the city. So I did
not argue with them about the “dictatorship of the proletariat” which they
talked about, or about its implications.
Of course some of my friends were unhappy about my new
course. One day when Ruth Goldstein and I were walking down Sixty-eighth Street
she spoke bitterly about my new affiliations.
“You are getting too involved, Bella,” she said. “You
will get hurt. Wait and see!”
I laughed at her. “Oh, Ruth, you are too concerned
about promotions and tenures. There are other things in life.” “What about this
one-party system that they favor?” she demanded.
“Well, you know we really have only a one-party system
in America right now,” I retorted. “Remember the Harvard professor who says
that both political parties resemble empty bottles with different labels?”
Ruth continued arguing and I finally said: “Oh, Ruth, I
am only interested in the present. What the Communist Party says about the
future is not important to me. The sanity of the American people will assert
itself. But these people are about the only ones who are doing anything about
the rotten conditions of today. That is why I am with them, and,” I ended
truculently, “I will stay with them.”
Of course I was not the only American who thought one
could go along with the good things the Communists did and then reject their
objectives. It was a naive idea and many of us were naive. It took a long time
for me to know that once you march with them there is no easy return. I learned
over the years that if you stumbled from weariness they had no time to pick up a
fallen comrade. They simply marched over him.
The saddest situation I saw in the Party were the
hundreds of young people eager to be used. And the Party did use this mass of
anonymous people for its immediate purposes. And so young people were burned
out before they could reach maturity. But I saw, too, how inexhaustible was the
supply of human beings willing to be sacrificed. Much of the strength of the
Party, of course, is derived from this very ruthlessness in exploiting people.
On various occasions I was approached to join the Party
as a regular member. When I agreed to do so I learned to my surprise that
Harriet Silverman had put a stop to it. I was her contact; she said she had
taken the matter up with “the center” and it was decided I was not to join. I
must not be seen at secret Party gatherings. Harriet would give me Marxist
literature and my instructions. I was not to be known as a Communist.
I had never indulged in double dealing. It seemed to me
that if I agreed with the Party the best way to show it was by joining it.
However, I reluctantly accepted discipline. Since I knew something of the
struggle to organize the labor movement in America, by analogy the Party began
to represent in my thinking an organization of workers who were likewise being
hounded by men of wealth and power.
I could not at that time know, as I did later, how men
of wealth use the communist movement to bend workers to their will. So I quite
willingly adopted the clichés about secrecy being necessary because of the
brutality and savagery of the working-class enemies. I soon learned that the
members exposed to the public were not the important Communists.
Harriet consoled me about my status in relation to the
Party, saying I must be saved for real tasks and must not at this time be
exposed. So I became not a member of an idealistic group of which I was proud,
but the tool of a secret, well-organized world power. Harriet brought me
literature, took the financial contributions I collected, gave me orders.
One day I ran by chance into one of our neighbors,
Christopher McGrath, now the Surrogate of Bronx County. I remembered him as a
boy on our street who had pulled my hair when I was a child. At the time of
this chance meeting he was married and was chairman of the Education Committee
of the Assembly for that year.
We chatted about old times, and I asked his aid with our
instructors. He was willing to help. Of course he knew nothing of my communist
sympathy. Next day at his office we drafted a bill on college teachers’ tenure
which he promised to introduce the following Monday night.
I was surprised at the speed of this and even more at
the speed with which word of the bill got around the Hunter College campus.
Soon afterward I was called down to President Colligan’s office and learned that
our bill had given tenure to everybody on the staff except the President!
We reworked the bill and eventually the new form
satisfied the President, too, and now included professors, instructors, and
other college personnel. But the interesting thing was the way I was now looked
up to on my campus. In those days teachers were far removed from the
legislative process and knew little of it and regarded it as a beneficent kind
of black magic.
The fight to pass this bill gave new impetus to the
citywide organizations of college teachers. I had some stormy sessions in my
home with communist representatives from the three city colleges. We argued
until late into the night about amendments. This matter of having to argue with
pettifogging perfectionists was to become a common experience in communist life;
reports and resolutions were always prepared by a group and the comrades fought
over each word so as to achieve an exactitude of political expression.
However, as a result of our combined efforts, the tenure
bill was passed and the joint Instructors Associations held a victory luncheon
at the Fifth Avenue Hotel. The bill was signed in due course by Governor
I now found myself regarded as a legislative expert. My
success served to catapult me into a new post, that of legislative
representative of the Teachers Union Local 5. I was now an officer of an A.F.
of L. union and for this reason more important to the Party.
IN THE SPRING
of 1936 I got a six-month leave of absence from the College to serve as the
legislative representative of the Teachers Union. I spent much of my time in
Albany, in Washington, and at City Hall in New York. I was successful in having
two Union bills passed and the Union was well pleased.
I now represented a growing educational pressure group.
With the Communists in control, the New York Teachers Union expanded its
membership rolls by taking in unemployed teachers, substitute teachers, and WPA
teachers. These made a large bloc for political pressure. We added further
strength to it by working with the communist section of the PTA and several
With these to support campaigns, my activity in politics
was greatly increased. I organized this bloc on an assembly-district basis with
teacher-union captains in charge of each district. When legislation was
pending, I called on my own captains to put pressure on recalcitrant
The Communist Party was pleased, and later it promoted
to important positions with the American Labor Party, which it controlled, many
of the teachers who got their first experience in practical politics with
teachers’ district clubs.
At this time I became one of the Teachers Union
delegates to the A.F. of L. Central Trades and Labor Council of New York. When
I first went to Beethoven Hall on East Fifth Street, Joseph Ryan was president
and George Meany was legislative representative.
I was proud of the assignment. I was young and
idealistic and eager to serve the workers. I now became a member of the
Communist Party “fraction” in the A.F. of L. This meant that I would meet
regularly with the Communist Party members of the A.F. of L. and the leaders of
the Party in order to push A.F. of L. policy toward the communist line.
The Party maintained an active fraction in labor groups,
including the A.F. of L. In 1934 the Red unions under the title TUUL, led by
William Z. Foster, had been ordered liquidated by the Communist International.
The radicalized core of workers, trained by Foster, turned their energies to
A.F. of L. unions. They attracted new followers by militant support of
legislation for the unemployed. This struggle for a worthy cause enabled the
Party to build emotional and organizational ties with workers belonging to many
In 1936 I met, through the Party, committees of the
striking seamen who, under the leadership of the Communist Party, were fighting
both the shipowners and the corrupt leadership of the old I.S.U., an affiliate
of the A.F. of L. A rank-and-file movement was organized against the old
leadership of the I.S.U. These insurgents were led by Joseph Curran and Blackie
Myers, who immediately started a strike, unauthorized by their union, against
the shipowners. To gain some support from organized labor they sought
assistance from the Central Trades and Labor Council. They wanted to present
their grievances before delegates of the city’s organized labor body.
I was summoned by the Communist Party and told I had
been selected to present to the Central Trades a petition of the striking seamen
with their demands for a reorganization of their union along democratic lines.
I agreed to cooperate though I was only partly aware of the implications. I met
the committee of seamen outside Beethoven Hall. Joseph Curran and a number of
other seamen gave me the petition and briefed me.
There was full attendance inside the hall; the
leadership expected trouble. When the agenda of the meeting had been covered, I
asked for recognition from Joe Ryan and got the floor. To disarm the opposition
I talked first about democracy in unions and then I announced breathlessly:
“I hereby present the petition of the striking seamen.
In the interest of union democracy they are entitled to a hearing.”
Pandemonium broke loose. The chairman hit his gavel
again and again, so hard that it finally flew from his fingers. That night I
was escorted home by a group of the communist delegates who feared I might
suffer bodily harm. But the press got the story of the seamen’s demands and
printed it. We had accomplished our mission.
I learned something important that night. I found that
acts of daring, supported by the appearances of moral justification, have a
terrific impact in building a movement, regardless of whether or not you win.
This is a fact the Communists know how to use.
Of course I was hardly representing the teachers by
becoming involved in matters which were of no immediate concern to my union.
But I had learned that serving the Communist Party was the first requisite for
continued leadership in my union.
From my tutors in the Party I learned many communist
lessons. I learned that Lenin held in contempt unions interested only in
economic betterment of workers, because he held that the liberation of the
working class would not come through reforms. I learned that unions which
followed a reformist policy were guilty of the Marxist crime of “economism.” I
learned that trade unions are useful only insofar as they could be used
politically to win worker acceptance of the theory of class struggle and to
convince workers that their only hope of improving their conditions is in
Again and again I heard Jack Stachel and Foster and
lesser Communist Party labor leaders repeat that American workers need to be
“politicalized” and “proletarianized.” Their feeling was that the American
worker was not conscious of his class role because he was too comfortable. In
line with this I saw senseless strikes called or prolonged. At first I did not
understand the slogan frequently proclaimed by these men: “Every defeat is a
victory.” Loss of salary, or position, or even loss of life was not important as
long as it brought the worker to acceptance of the class struggle.
That year I was elected as delegate to the State
Federation of Labor convention at Syracuse. The Communists and some of the
liberal unions were determined to pass a resolution endorsing the formation of a
Labor Party. I attended the Communist Party fraction meeting in New York in
preparation for this convention. We went over the resolutions to be introduced
and the objectives to be achieved. Assignments were made to individual
This use of fractions made the Communist Party effective
in noncommunist groups. They went prepared, organized, trained, and disciplined
with a program worked out in detail, and before other groups had a chance to
think the Communists were winning advantages. They worked in every convention
as an organized bloc. In other organized blocs the Communists had “sleepers,”
assigned to protect Communist Party interests. These “sleepers” were active
members in noncommunist blocs for the purpose of hamstringing and destroying the
power of the opposition.
The “progressive” bloc at the State Federation
convention that year decided to run me for a position in the State Federation of
Labor. It seems ridiculous to me now that one so newly come to the labor
movement should have been pushed forward against the established machine. But
this, too, was a communist tactic, for Communists have no hesitation whatever in
bringing unknown people forward into leadership, the more callow or ill-equipped
the better, since they will therefore more easily be guided by the Party. The
weaker they are, the more certainly they will carry out the Party’s wishes.
Suddenly and dramatically the Communist Party makes somebodies out of nobodies.
If tactics change, they also drop them just as quickly and the somebodies again
By 1936 plans had already been made by important forces
in Washington for the launching of the American Labor Party, presumably as a
method of solidifying the labor vote in New York for President Roosevelt. The
Communists pledged their total support. Of course, no one in his right mind
expected the A.F. of L. to move as a bloc into an independent labor party. The
purpose was to radicalize the workers of New York and paralyze the two major
parties. As I saw it the struggle on the floor of the State Federation
convention was to launch the idea of a Labor Party to “politicalize” labor
unions by tying them to a party presumably of their own as does the British
My nomination for office in the state A.F. of L. gave me
an opportunity to make a passionate plea for independent political action by
organized labor. It was well received. Though I was defeated, as the
Communists had expected, I received considerable support. I got the vote not
only of the communist delegates but also of many of the representatives of
It did not matter to the Party leader, who masterminded
this activity from a hotel room at the convention, that I was fearful my action
might result in reprisals against the Teachers Union which desperately needed
A.F. of L. support. Ours was a union without job control and our activities
were limited to pleading our cause for salaries and working conditions before
city and state legislative bodies. We depended on support from organized labor
to achieve our program.
In 1936 the communist hold on the A.F. of L. in New York
State was slim. The Party was afraid to expose well-placed comrades in the A.F.
of L. apparatus, reserving them for key positions in vital industries and for
long-range strategy. In addition there were Communists occupying important
positions in the unions who enjoyed their union “pie card” positions, and they
objected to being sacrificed even by the Party. These argued that it was more
important for them to hold their positions than to be used for mere opposition
The leadership of the Teachers Union was not affected by
a fear of losing jobs; the tenure law for public schoolteachers was now
effective. Therefore, the Party leaders found it expedient to use the teacher
leaders in the A.F. of L. as the spearhead of A.F. of L. work. In addition
teachers were generally better informed about current Party writings and were
better disposed to follow the Party line than the old-time communist union
leaders who were hampered by the fact that they had to give consideration to the
bread-and-butter issues for their unions. Then, too, the teacher
representatives were not affected by a desire to preserve “pie card” positions
since there was no material advantage to leadership in the Teachers Union in my
But this steady use of the Teachers Union by the
Communist Party in the city, in the state, and at times even in the national
A.F. of L. brought reprisals from A.F. of L. leaders. They became colder and
more unwilling to accede to requests for assistance from the Teachers Union.
When I appeared in Albany in the fall of 1936 as the
legislative representative of the Teachers Union, I found I had a hard time
ahead of me.
Dr. Lefkowitz, who had represented the Union for many
years, was bitter over being replaced by a neophyte who was doing the bidding of
the Communist Party. I found that he had prepared for my appearance by
announcing to everyone that I was a Communist and he had warned the legislators
against co-operating with me.
I went to the A.F. of L. legislative office on South
Hawk Street to talk with Mr. Hanley, but Dr. Lefkowitz had been there before
me. I was met with stony politeness. I again wondered why there should be such
bitter feeling about the control of a relatively small organization; its total
membership in 1936 was under three thousand. I was to learn in the years to
come that those who seek to influence public opinion on any question are just as
effective with a small as with a large organization; and that it is easier to
control a small organization.
I made overtures to the leader of the joint Committee of
Teachers Organizations, the conservative association of the New York City
teachers. May Andres Healey knew the New York schools and the New York
political scene. She was endowed with political shrewdness. When I went to see
her she expressed herself in no uncertain terms about the Teachers Union. She
did not believe in unions for teachers, she said briefly. It was too bad to
have her against me, for though she was not part of the A.F. of L., she had
strong connections with their city and state leadership.
We did not receive the wholehearted support of the A.F.
of L. because the Teachers Union in America was basically pro-socialist and
supported an educational system intended to prepare children for the new
economic collectivist system which we regarded as inevitable. This went far
beyond A.F. of L. policy of those days.
Though I was at a decided disadvantage in Albany, I was
not easily discouraged. I had a “good” legislative program and the Party
comrades had assured me they did not expect me to get passed the bills we were
sponsoring. Their real purpose was to have the program popularized and to use
this as a means of recruiting more teachers into the Union.
I set to work with a will. I cultivated assemblymen and
senators. I studied their districts and learned what problems faced them in
elections. I held meetings with voters in their districts. I made many friends
among the legislators.
In the fall of that year I went back to my classes at
Hunter. By the following spring I asked for another leave of absence, but this
time I had to appeal to Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia to intervene for me with the
Board of Trustees to obtain it. The Mayor was a friend of mine and at that time
willing to indulge me.
In the May Day parade of 1936 more than five hundred
teachers marched with the Communists. These included many college teachers. I
was one of them. I had, in fact, been selected to lead the teacher contingent.
I felt excited as I marched with segments of organized
labor. This was my gesture of defiance against greed and corruption. It was
also an affirmation of my belief that a better world could be created.
Gone now was the pain which had moved me in the earlier
years of the 1930’s, when I saw crowds of white-faced people standing in front
of the closed doors of the Bowery Savings Bank. Gone was the shame I felt when
I saw well-bred men furtively pick up cigarette butts from city streets or when
I saw soup lines at the mission doors.
In 1936 people had a little more money than in those
tragic years of 1932 to 1934. On the whole a tremendous change had taken place
in America. Millions of people formerly regarded as middle class found
themselves on relief or on WPA and had been merged into the comradeship of the
dispossessed. To people of this group the Communist Party brought psychological
support. It saved their pride by blaming the economic system for their troubles
and it gave them something to hate. It also made it possible for them to give
expression to that hate by defiance.
Many of these new proletarians marched that May Day down
Eighth Avenue, through streets lined with slum buildings, singing, “Arise, ye
prisoners of starvation, Arise, ye wretched of the earth,” and ending with the
promise, “Ye have been naught. Ye shall be all.” These men and women who
marched were drawn together by a sense of loss and a fear of future insecurity.
When the parade disbanded, the college teachers,
jubilant because of this mingling with proletarian comrades, gathered at a beer
garden where we drank beer and sang again the songs of the workers. We college
teachers had come a long way by marching in a Communist May Day parade. We felt
part of something new and alive.
With the others I went from one group to another that
evening. By the early morning we had reached one of the intimate little night
clubs which the Communist Party financed and where Party people were wont to
congregate. We were tired by that time and willing to listen to entertainers in
When the paying patrons had gone, we continued our own
celebration. We were a mixed group — workers being groomed by the Party as
labor leaders, intellectuals, men and women of the middle class who were
beginning to identify themselves with the proletariat. Only emotion could have
bound us together, for our group embraced serious workers with good jobs as well
as crackpots and psychopaths and some of life’s misfits.
Beginning in 1936 a prodigious effort was made by the
Party in support of the Spanish Civil War, and this continued until 1939.
Perhaps no other activity aroused greater devotion among American intellectuals.
Since 1932 the Communist Party had publicized itself as
the leading opponent of fascism. It had used the emotional appeal of
anti-fascism to bring many people to the acceptance of communism, by posing
communism and fascism as alternatives. Its propaganda machine ground out an
endless stream of words, pictures, and cartoons. It played on intellectual,
humanitarian, racial, and religious sensibilities until it succeeded to an
amazing degree in conditioning America to recoil at the word fascist even when
people did not know its meaning.
Today I marvel that the world communist movement was
able to beat the drums against Germany and never once betray what the inner
group knew well: that some of the same forces which gave Hitler his start had
also started Lenin and his staff of revolutionists from Switzerland to St.
Petersburg to begin the revolution which was to result in the Soviet
There was not a hint that despite the propaganda of hate
unleashed against Germany and Italy, communist representatives were meeting
behind the scenes to do business with Italian and German fascists to whom they
sold materiel and oil. There was not a hint that Soviet brass was meeting with
German brass to redraw the map of Europe. There was no betrayal of these facts
until one day they met openly to sign a contract for a new map of Europe — a
treaty made by Molotov and Von Ribbentrop.
In the Spanish Civil War, the Party called upon its many
members in the field of public relations, agents who made their living by
writing copy for American business, for the sale of soap, whisky, and
cigarettes. They gave the Party tremendous assistance in conditioning the mind
of America. People of all ranks joined the campaign for the Loyalists:
pacifists, humanitarians, political adventurers, artists, singers, actors,
teachers, and preachers. All these and more poured their best efforts into this
During the Spanish War the Communist Party was able to
use some of the best talent of the country against the Catholic Church by
repeating ancient appeals to prejudice and by insinuating that the Church was
indifferent to the poor and was against those who wanted only to be free.
The communist publicists carefully took for their own
the pleasant word of Loyalist and called all who opposed them “Franco-Fascists.”
This was a literary coup which confused many men and women. Violent communist
literature repeatedly lumped all of the Church hierarchy on the side of the
“Fascists,” and, using this technique, they sought to destroy the Church by
attacking its priests. This was not a new tactic. I had seen it used in our
own country over and over again. When the Communists organized Catholic
workers, Irish and Polish and Italian, in labor unions they always drove a wedge
between lay Catholics and the priests, by flattering the laity and attacking the
In the Spanish campaign the Communists in the United
States followed Moscow directives. They were the distant outpost of the Soviet
realm and co-ordinated with the Communist International in details. When the
call came to organize the American contingent of the International Brigade, the
communist port agents of the National Maritime Union along the East Coast
provided false passports and expedited the sending of this secret army to a
Various unions were combed for members who would join
the Abraham Lincoln Brigade which was the American division of the International
Brigade. The Communists used the prestige of Lincoln’s name as they had other
patriots’ names to stir men’s souls for propaganda purposes.
I, myself, swallowed the Party’s lies on the Spanish
Civil War. There was little forthcoming from American national leaders to
expose this fraud. The Party, from time to time, produced a few poor,
bewildered Spanish priests who, we were told, were Loyalists and these were
publicized as the “People’s priests” as against the others, the Fascists. In
retrospect it is easy to see how completely they twisted the American’s love of
freedom and justice to win emotional support for the Soviet adventure in Spain.
Through numerous committees the Communist Party raised
thousands of dollars for its Spanish campaign. But the tremendous advertising
campaign could not have been financed from the contributions made at mass
meetings and other gatherings, though these were not small sums. I remember one
mass meeting (where I made the speech), held under the auspices of the Teachers
Union. It netted more than twelve thousand dollars.
It became obvious, as the extensive campaign went on,
that some of the funds were coming from sources other than the collections. It
is now well known that the Soviet Union was doing everything in its power to
bring the foreign policy of the United States into conformity with its own
devious plans and that it did not hesitate to use trickery to do so. It wanted
the United States to support Soviet policy on Spain. I did not understand this
at the time. After that odd pieces of information and desultory recollections
of events stayed in my mind and finally pieced out an understandable picture.
As one example of the puzzle that finally became a
picture there is the story of the Erica Reed, which will serve as an
example of hundreds of others. It was supposed to be a mercy ship taking food,
milk, and medicines to hard-pressed Barcelona. It was chartered ostensibly by
the North American Committee for Loyalist Spain. In reality it was financed by
The Erica Reed was laid up in New Orleans. At
that time anti-communists were in control of the National Maritime Union in the
Gulf, and the ship was manned by a crew which was either anti-communist or
nonpolitical. This did not fit into the plans of the Soviet agent and the
American Communists working with him. So it was decided to bring the Erica
Reed to New York and there replace her crew with trusted Party men.
The little Soviet agent in a rumpled suit who sat in a
New York hotel with several Communists from the National Maritime Union, and
with Roy Hudson, then the Party whip on the water front, excitedly peeled off
hundred-dollar bills from a huge wad and insisted that a trustworthy crew be
placed on the Erica Reed, even if the old crew had to be removed by force
Later, I talked to one of the men assigned to switch
crews. A group had been ordered to board the vessel at night. Armed with
blackjacks and lead pipes, they set to work. Some of the crew suffered broken
jaws, arms, and legs,, and, as the little Soviet agent had planned, some were
hospitalized. In addition a crowd of boys from the fur market, who were told
they must fight fascism, congregated near the East Side pier where the ship was
docked. They attacked the members of the crew who escaped the goon squad on the
ship. They did not know that they were assaulting fellow Americans and were
confused as to what the fracas was about.
Only the captain, an old Scandinavian, remained of the
original crew. The new crew signed on by the New York office of the Union were
nearly all pro-communist sailors, some of whom were looking for an opportunity
for violent action and adventure.
When the Erica Reed left Sandy Hook, customs
inspectors swarmed over her. But they found no arms or ammunition, and left the
ship with only one bit of contraband: a communist blonde who was determined to
go to Spain, and who was removed from the cabin of the chief engineer.
When the Erica Reed cleared Gibraltar and nosed
toward her destination, Franco’s gunboats ordered her to stop. The captain,
concerned for the safety of his vessel, made ready to do so. As he turned to
give the order, a communist member of the crew held a pistol to the captain’s
head and commanded, “Proceed to Barcelona.”
The Spanish gunboat, reluctant to seize a ship flying
the American flag, returned to headquarters for further instructions. The
“relief ship” with its supplies reached Barcelona where she was immediately
ordered to Odessa. And so the Erica Reed, ostensibly chartered by the
North American Committee for Loyalist Spain, was sent to Odessa by her real
charterer, the Soviet Union. The Spanish people were expendable.
During those years house parties were held by our union
members to raise money for Loyalist Spain. Union and nonunion teachers were
invited. Communists and non-communists rubbed shoulders and drank cocktails
together. Eyes grew moist as the guests were told of bombs dropped on little
children in Bilboa.
The International Brigade was eulogized by many
Americans. They failed to realize that the first international army under
Soviet leadership had been born; that though all the national subdivisions had
national commissars, these were under Soviet commissars ! There was the
Lincoln Brigade and the Garibaldi Brigade. There was the emerging world
military communist leadership developing in Spain. There was Thompson for the
United States, Tito for Yugoslavia, Andre Marty for France, and others to act as
the new leaders in other countries.
We teachers recruited soldiers for the Lincoln Brigade.
I learned that Sid Babsky, a teacher of the fifth grade in Public School Number
6 in the Bronx who had been a classmate of mine at law school, was among the
first to go. He did not return. Ralph Wardlaw, son of a Georgian minister,
suddenly left his classes at City College and, without even packing his clothes,
left for Spain. Six weeks later we received word of his death. Some of our
substitute teachers enlisted and were spirited away to Soviet agents who got
them out of the country with or without passports. In Paris they went to a
certain address and there were directed across the border.
During this time communist girls wore gold liberty bells
inscribed “Lincoln Brigade,” as a symbol of their pride in those “fighting
fascism.” One of our talented Teachers Union members wrote a marching song which
we sang at our meetings:
Abraham Lincoln lives again. Abraham Lincoln marches.
Up tall he stands and his great big hand
Holds a gun.
With the Lincoln Battalion behind him,
He fights for the freedom of Spain.
And at various social affairs we also sang “Non
Pasaron”; and sometimes with fists closed and lifted we shouted the German
International brigade song, “Freiheit.”
FROM 1936 TO 1938 I was involved in so many
activities I had little time for my family and old friends. I devoted myself
more and more to the new friends who shared my fanatical sense of dedication. I
found little time to read anything except Party literature. This was necessary
to hold leadership in a union where many of the leaders were trained and
The Teachers Union was growing rapidly in numbers and
influence. The college teachers in the Union grew so numerous that a separate
local with a separate office was established for them, Local 537. Together with
the WPA Local Number 453, our membership grew to almost nine thousand and we
extended control to many upstate locals. At its peak the Union boasted ten
thousand members, and in it the Communist Party had a fraction of close to a
thousand. Among them were Moscow-trained teachers and men and women who had
attended the sixth World Congress of the Comintern.
The president of the Union, Charles J. Hendley, a
history teacher at George Washington High School, was not a Communist. He was a
militant socialist and did not join the Communist Party until he retired from
the school system. He then became associated with the Daily Worker. He
was, however, willing to join with the Communists in the many and varied
campaigns of the Teachers Union and of the labor movement generally. He grew to
like many of the Communist Party leaders in the Union and that tended to
minimize political differences. He was a lonely man; the Union and its
leadership were his family and his social life.
The Party left nothing to chance. When in 1936 Lefkowitz
and Linville left the Teachers Union because the Communists had control, the
Party immediately suggested a candidate for office manager, and Dorothy Wallas,
a brassy and pleasant blonde, was placed there to insure Party control, and
especially control of the president.
Mr. Hendley carried a full program as a teacher and had
little time to give to office detail, but the efficient Miss Wallas was always
at hand. He grew fond of her and relied more and more on her judgment, not
knowing, of course, that she was a Party member. Miss Wallas meantime used her
position as palace favorite to run the office as she saw fit, and, since Mr.
Hendley was at school all day, she began to make important decisions.
I was seldom in the Union office. I was at Albany, or
out of town organizing, or at City Hall, or at the Board of Education. But to be
effective in the Union I found I had to give some consideration to the
inner-office politics and I soon learned that Miss Wallas was an inner wheel
functioning smoothly. She and I did not clash because I did not want a road
block in my relations with Mr. Hendley. As I had often heard her criticize the
Communists, I was convinced that she was not one.
There was another group at the office, a rigidly
communist puritanical group, old-time leaders of the fraction. The thirty or so
who made up this group had known each other for years. They had led the struggle
against Linville and Lefkowitz. Some had the blessings of Moscow and they were a
sort of elite corps, disciplined and unbending except when the Party spoke.
There was a subtle struggle for leadership between this
inner core and myself. My strength in any controversy lay in the fact that the
Party was using me in labor, legislative, and peace campaigns and that I was
used in key positions in labor politics. This gave me prestige which I used to
keep the life of the Union from freezing into a rigid communist pattern. I
deferred to them often, however, and was firm only when it came to Union policy
on the economic interests of the teachers and the need to gain political respect
for the Union.
The Party literature of the period was stressing the
increasing importance of united fronts for peace, against fascism, against
discrimination, against economic insecurity. Earl Browder and other Party
leaders were warning Union leaders not to regard Marxism as dogmatic, but as
flexible in meeting new situations. As a matter of fact, this literature
sometimes seemed a handicap, cluttered as it was with double talk used purposely
by Marx and Lenin. Browder emphasized the importance of relying on Stalin who
was building socialism in Russia, and only on Stalin because of his shrewdness
in dealing with all, even with enemies of the working class, such as English and
We who were the leaders of the united-front period used
to shake our heads at the old guard in the Union and scornfully call them
Nineteen Fivers, referring to the Russian Revolution of 1905. Yet I see now that
this old guard with its endless disputation gave stability to Party control of
our Union. It was their whole life; few got anything for their endless hours of
work except the right to control. They were dour people though, and some of
them, such as Celia Lewis and Clara Rieber, were so dedicated that they were
intolerant of anyone’s opinions except the opinions of those on their side. I
never saw them laugh and I doubt if they knew how.
We had one man in the Union who was so talented in
manipulation that he was regarded as the Stalin of the Union — Dale Zysman, also
known as Jack Hardy. He had been to Moscow. He had written The First American
Revolution, thus implying that a greater one was to come. A junior
high-school teacher, he was a tall, personable young man with a keen interest in
baseball and he held his pipe in his mouth at exactly the angle Stalin did his.
The communist fraction had installed him officially as vice-president of the
Teachers Union and also unofficially as the arbiter in all disputes between
Party members and groups. He also established contacts with non-Party
personalities for possible work in the Union. It was he who tried to give the
Union Executive Board a well-balanced appearance by persuading Protestant and
Catholic teachers to accept posts on the Board where most of the members were
Dale also maintained an espionage system which brought
back information on what was going on in the Union as well as in the inner
circles of other teachers’ organizations. Those who worked in this espionage
system, particularly in other left-wing groups, became twisted personalities.
Dale, I learned later, reported directly to “Chester,” a man I was to know as
the chief of the Party’s intelligence service.
Later I ran into a real problem with Dale and our blond
office manager. Dorothy was making my position with Mr. Hendley difficult by
false stories about me. I could not spend hours in the office just to counteract
office intrigue. I got nowhere when I took the matter to Dale. But one day two
bookkeepers brought me evidence of financial irregularities. They did not want
to take it to Mr. Hendley because Miss Wallas was involved. I took this up with
Dale and got a brush-off.
Then one day the mystery cleared. We learned that Miss
Wallas was not only a good Communist but that she was also Dale’s sister! It
explained much, and I thought it should be taken up with the leaders of the
fraction. But when I stated my discovery and looked at Celia and Clara and the
others to get their reactions it was clear from their faces they had known it
all the time. I was the one kept in the dark. Miss Wallas was soon afterward
sent elsewhere and I was free to carry on my work; but for some time I was
unnerved by this duplicity.
Attending conventions took much of my time. No
convention of teachers in the United States ever went unnoticed by the Communist
Party. The national office would call the leaders of the teacher Communists and
discuss with us the nature of the organization and inquire if we had Party
members in it. If we had, we would decide which resolutions they were to
introduce and which they were to oppose. If we had no members, observers would
be sent to make contacts. Particular attention was given to pushing federal aid
to the public-education program and to the issue of separation of church and
state at these conventions.
We also carefully prepared for meetings of learned
societies, such as mathematics and modern-language associations, and those
composed of professors of physics, history, and social studies. A careful search
of Party members and friends of the Party was made, as well as of liberals and
special-interest groups. This was all done months in advance. Then a campaign
began to get certain people elected or to have them volunteer to go to a
convention so that we would have a core of dependables. Finally we drew up a
plan of action to put through certain measures and to try to defeat others.
We felt it was important at these meetings of learned
societies to defeat everything which did not conform to Marxist ideology. The
result was that the ideology of many of our learned societies has within the
last thirty years been deeply affected. The Communists establish a fraction in
such societies and whenever possible a leadership for a materialistic,
collectivistic, international class-struggle approach.
The conventions were invaluable in bringing together the
growing group of scholars who were not members of the Party but who followed
Marxist ideology idealistically. For the strength of the Party was increasing in
high positions; and job getting and job promotions are a sine qua non of
academic gatherings. Men are drawn where power is, and these academic men were
no different in that respect from traveling salesmen. The Party and its friends
were assiduous in developing the job-getting and job-giving phase of these
At the end of a convention they returned with lists of
new conquests, the names of men and women who would go along with us. These
names were given to the district organizer of the Party in the locality where
each professor lived. The organizer would visit and try to deepen the
ideological conquest by flattering his victim, disclosing to him new vistas of
usefulness, and by introducing him to an interesting social life. The methods
were many; the end was one — a closer tie to the Party.
Before long a professor would become involved in the
proletarian class struggle. His name would then be used to support communist
public declaration on national or international policies. Soon the professor
identified himself with a “side,” and all the good people were on his side and
all the greedy, the degraded, the stupid were on the other. Soon he began
talking of “our people” and thinking himself part of an unnumbered army of
justice marching to a brave new world, or, as one French intellectual Communist,
who lost his life in the Resistance, put it, toward “singing tomorrows.”
American Federation of Teachers conventions were held
during the summer months so teacher delegates could attend without having to
leave their classes or to get special permission. This Federation was unique in
American education in that it was the only teachers’ association organized on a
The history of the plan for affiliating teachers with
labor is interesting. It was first tried in 1902 in San Antonio where a charter
was issued directly by the A.F. of L. Later the same year the Chicago Teachers
Federation, organized in 1897, affiliated itself with the Chicago Federation of
Labor to get labor support for a salary fight with the “vested interests.” Many
prominent Chicagoans, among them Jane Addams, urged the teachers to affiliate
A debate raged in educational periodicals as to the
advisability of teachers unionizing, a debate which has gone on ever since. By
1916 twenty teachers’ organizations in ten different states had affiliated with
labor. Some were short-lived, due to local suppression, or to loss of interest,
after the immediate objective was won.
In 1916 a call was issued by the Chicago Teachers Union
to all locals affiliated with labor. A meeting was held and the American
Federation of Teachers, a national organization, was founded. The next month it
affiliated with the A.F. of L. with eight charter locals in Chicago, Gary, New
York City, Scranton, and Washington, D.C., with a combined membership of
twenty-eight hundred. The American Teacher, a magazine published by a
group of individuals in the New York union, was endorsed as the official
publication. At first hostile, boards of education exercised pressure against
the new teachers’ organization, but by 1920 there were one hundred and forty
locals and a membership of twelve thousand.
The American Federation of Teachers in the beginning was
sparked by socialists. Its growth was due to the antiwar principles of the
American socialists, for there was need of an organization to help teachers
involved in the anti-war struggle. Even then most of the members were not
socialists but were attracted by the Federation program for economic and social
aid. By 1927 the Federation had declined in membership and prestige because of
attacks on organized labor. With the coming of the depression it again began to
grow and by 1934 there were seventy-five locals in good standing with an active
membership of almost ten thousand.
By that time the Communists were displacing the
socialists from posts of radical leadership in unions. The steady march of the
Communists into the Federation at this period was planned and not accidental.
Since twenty-five teachers could form a local and send delegates to the national
convention, the communist district organizers began promoting the organizing of
teachers, and these began to send delegates, often charming and persuasive ones.
Many of the teachers were not interested in the
political struggle in the Federation and did not care to go as delegates. Even
in the New York local in my time it was difficult to get non-Party people to go
as delegates because the Federation did not pay expenses. But the keenest
competition existed among Party members. The communist fraction within the
Federation drew up its list carefully and it was considered a mark of honor for
Party members or fellow travelers to be selected.
Of course, from 1936 to 1938 our delegation from Local 5
to Federation conventions had to be divided between the communist group which
was in control and the opposition which consisted of socialist splinter groups.
The struggle between these groups was carried to the national conventions, often
to the consternation of the political innocents who still believed that all
American politics was ruled by the Republican and the Democratic parties. They
could not understand the bitterness, the vituperation, and sometimes the terror
which their colleagues exhibited. But one fact was clear to others: the
conventions of the Federation became battles for the capture of the minds and
the votes of the independent delegates.
My first federation convention was in Philadelphia in
1936. Since it was close to New York City, we were able to send a full quota of
delegates while many of the out-of-town locals were forced to send only token
representation. To make matters worse we had impressed on the members of the New
York fraction that even if they were not delegates they would be needed to
entertain and lobby with delegates from other sections. We were so well
organized that we were in almost complete control. The arrangements were in the
hands of the Philadelphia local, itself communist led and controlled. The party
assigned its ablest trades-union functionaries to hold continuous secret
sessions in a room at the convention hotel to aid comrades on all questions.
If I had not yet been convinced that the road to
progress was the one pointed out by the Communists, I was certainly overwhelmed
by the sense of power which this convention manifested. To it came professors
whose names I had read in academic literature and in the press. There was a wide
range of delegates, from university men and women of distinction and old-time
classroom teachers with the staid dignity that seemed so much a part of the
profession in America to the young substitute and unemployed teachers who eyed
their situation with economic fear and political and philosophical defiance.
There was also the WPA troop, an assortment of men and women who were called
teachers but many of whom had been shifted into this category because they were
on relief, or had a college education, or some talent that allowed them to be
called teachers, such as teaching tap dancing or hairdressing.
A great leveling process was at work in American life
and at that time it seemed to me a good thing. So it also seemed to the
Communist Party, but for a different reason. This professional leveling would
fit teachers better into its class-struggle philosophy and so bring them to
identify themselves with the proletariat.
At the convention were various interesting
personalities: neat, quiet Albert Blumberg from Johns Hopkins University, the
shrewdest communist agent in the Federation; Jerome Davis, just fired from the
Yale Divinity School, thrown out, we were told, because he had dared promote a
strike of student cafeteria workers; Mary Foley Crossman, president of the
Philadelphia local, a fine and able woman; Miss Allie Mann, a good
parliamentarian and charming woman from the largest Southern local of Atlanta,
and one of the noncommunist leaders.
The convention was entirely swallowed up by the
Communists. They passed every resolution they wanted and I began to feel that we
had enough votes to pass a resolution for a Soviet America.
Jerome Davis was elected president of the Federation and
his cause became the rallying point around which we fought during the next year.
The fight for his reinstatement at Yale also became a Teachers Union cause.
The college division of the Federation voted to picket
Yale and I was elected to a committee to negotiate with the Yale Corporation for
his reinstatement. We were an unusual group of pickets for we wore caps and
gowns and paraded with dignity on the beautiful campus, but we carried picket
signs to show that we were the intellectual brothers of every worker on strike.
After some hours the Yale Corporation agreed to see a
committee of three chosen from the delegation. I was one of them. In a gloomy
paneled room with high ceilings we sat in high-backed chairs — my feet hardly
touched the floor — and faced four members of the Corporation, silent men who
would not talk except to say they were there only to listen. In vain we asked
questions. The answer was always the same: they were there to listen, not to
We outlined our demands. We made propaganda speeches
about the role of American educators and about the right of a professor to
participate in community problems. Then we reported to the assembled academic
picketers that the power of concentrated wealth which the Yale Corporation
represented had heard our remarks and promised to consider them.
As a result of our efforts the Corporation agreed to
give Professor Davis a year’s salary but refused to reinstate him. We were
satisfied. He had got something out of our efforts and the Federation had a
president who was a college professor.
The next convention was held in Madison, Wisconsin, the
following year and again I was a delegate. Our Teachers Union had fared well
that year in New York, having grown enormously in numbers, prestige, and
victories. I had once again taken a leave of absence from Hunter in the spring
of the year to represent the Union at the legislature. The trustees of the
college had been reluctant to grant this leave but intercession by Mayor
LaGuardia, with whom I was still on friendly terms, again assured my leave.
The CIO organization of mass unions and the rapid rise
in union membership everywhere had brought great prestige and tremendous power
to labor. We teachers rode on labor’s coattails and were grateful to the Party
for helping us to remain close to labor through all the shifts.
By 1937 the sit-down strikes in large plants and in WPA
and welfare offices in New York fired the imagination of young intellectuals in
the Teachers Union and we were eager to throw our lot in with the CIO. Wherever
the Party teachers had influence we joined with strikers and walked in their
picket lines. In New York we joined the newspapermen at the Brooklyn Eagle
and at the Newark Ledger; at the telegraph offices we joined the
communications workers. On the water front we gave time and money and even our
homes to striking seamen. We marched in May Day parades in cap and gown.
That year we went to the convention hoping to take the
Federation into John L. Lewis’ CIO. We were fascinated by him, by his shaggy
head and incredible eyebrows, by his biblical allusions, and by his
Shakespearean acting. We were an odd group as I see it now, madcap intellectuals
escaping from our classrooms, to teach workers’ classes in Marxism and Leninism
in our free hours. A few of the more astute paid only lip service to this
activity, hoping to capture higher posts in academic circles where better
service could be given to the cause. But most of the professors involved in this
merry-go-round became better politicians than they were educators.
The convention at Madison had a large contingent of
college professors, especially from teacher-training schools, and they began
more and more to dominate the Federation. Among them were John de Boer and
Dorothy Douglas and a score of brilliant left-wingers, including the attractive
Hugh de Lacy from the West Coast. Even then De Lacy was engaged in splitting the
Democratic Party by the formation of the Democratic Federation which resulted in
his election to Congress. He was a valuable addition to the communist cause.
The Communist Party had told us that it did not want the
teachers to go into the CIO. It felt it had enough power within the CIO whereas
in the A.F. of L. the Party’s forces were diminishing. I was bitterly
disappointed for I believed that with the liberal CIO forces and its funds the
Teachers Union movement could be vastly expanded. The A.F. of L. did not like to
spend money in organizing teachers.
The Party took no chances on having its instructions
miscarry. Rose Wortis and Roy Hudson, from the Central Committee, were at the
convention hotel to steer the comrades aright. Roy was a tall, angular ex-seaman
and Browder’s labor specialist. He pounded the table and laid down the law. I
told him frankly that I thought we ought to go with the CIO and Jerome Davis and
the professors agreed. But we were informed that the Party did not wish it, and
discipline was firm among the floor leaders. A vote was taken and we held to the
Party line. The Communists uniting with some of the conservative members of the
Federation defeated the CIO proposal.
In the city-wide 1937 elections in New York, the Party,
which had helped establish the American Labor Party the year before, captured
several important places within it. In city politics there was a steady
elimination of differences between the major parties, and responsible leadership
in the two old parties was disappearing. This led inevitably to the control of
all parties by a small group around Fiorello LaGuardia, whose political heir was
Vito Marcantonio. It was a personal dictatorship. Nominations were traded in the
struggle for power, and the Communist Party was not slow in insinuating itself
into this struggle.
Those who say LaGuardia was a great mayor forget that he
did more to break down the major political parties and party responsibility than
any other person in New York State. The streets were clean, taxes were lower,
graft was less obvious, but under LaGuardia political power was transferred from
the people organized into political parties into the hands of groups exercising
personal power. The real political power passed to the well-financed,
well-organized unions of the CIO and of the left-wing A.F. of L. and to the
organized national minority groups, Negro, Italian, Jewish, etc. These groups
were used as political machines to get votes and their self-appointed leaders
were rewarded with the spoils of office. This new pattern I saw repeated over
and over again, and it drained both Republican and Democratic Parties.
I saw LaGuardia meet with the Communists. I saw him
accept from Si Gerson and Israel Amter written withdrawal from a position to
which they had been nominated and receive a certificate of substitution at the
mayor’s request. A half-hour later I heard him address the Social Democrat wing
of the American Labor Party at the Hotel Claridge, and the first thing he did
was excoriate the Communists. Communists were in the audience and not one of
them seemed even to notice this humbug. Thus LaGuardia played with both wings of
the Labor Party to his own advantage. Such were the politics to which the
idealists were giving themselves.
The election campaign for 1937 was important to the left
wing for it could begin now to make deals for power, with the Social Democrats
of the American Labor Party, with the Democrats, with the Republicans, and with
men of wealth who wanted public office and public spoils.
The American Labor Party that year supported the
LaGuardia slate, which included Thomas Dewey for district attorney. I was
surprised when Abe Unger, a Party lawyer whom I knew well, asked me to help
organize a woman’s committee for the election of Thomas Dewey. How Abe got into
that campaign I do not know, but I do know that he organized for Dewey the labor
groups which had earlier opposed him because of his investigations and
prosecution of many unions.
I remember one especially hilarious Teachers Union
meeting that year just before the election. It was held at the Hotel Diplomat
and we were cheering the candidates of the American Labor Party and its allies
when Thomas Dewey, accompanied by his campaign managers, whizzed into the
meeting and whizzed out again after making a short speech. And I thought, with
satirical amusement, that politics does indeed make strange bedfellows.
By 1938 my work for the Union and for the schools was
engaging me so deeply that it interfered with my work as a teacher, so I decided
to resign from Hunter and take a full-time position with the Union.
Many of my friends were surprised to hear of my
decision. They were amazed that I should be willing to leave the college, my
tenure, and my pension, and other rights for an uncertain union job at a reduced
salary, and worst of all for a job dependent on yearly elections.
President Colligan was deeply distressed when I told him
and he asked me to reconsider. “These people will take you and use you, Bella,”
he warned me, “and then they will throw you away.”
I looked at him. I could see that he was sincerely
troubled about me and I appreciated it. But I thought him old-fashioned and
fearful of new viewpoints. Besides, I knew he was a Catholic and opposed to the
forces with which I was associated.
I shook my head. “No, I have decided,” I told him. “In
this country one hundred and forty million Americans have no tenure and no
security. I’ll take my chances with them.” And I handed him my resignation from
I GAVE up my Hunter College work mainly because I felt I
could not serve two masters. If I remained a teacher, I felt my undivided
attention ought to be given to my students and not shared with outside
organizations. I was afraid also that, if I remained a teacher, as many teacher
politicians did, there would be a conflict between my desire to serve the
interests of the college and my sense of dedication to the interests of the
I made the choice without regard for the future,
confident that in the working class I should find satisfaction and security. As
the legislative year again approached, I became a full-time employee of the
Teachers Union at sixty dollars a week. This is the salary I received during the
years I worked for the Union. I did not then or later ask for an increase. I was
sensitive about workers’ money. I had heard so much about “pie card artists” who
were the opportunists and careerists in the trade-unions movement that I did not
want to tempt myself. I worked for the Union for eight years at that salary.
In that first year I devoted myself especially to
pressuring the New York Board of Education to fulfill its moral obligation to
thousands of substitute teachers who had been in the schools during the
depression as per-diem employees. They taught a full program on a par with the
regularly appointed teachers in all things except that they did not receive an
annual wage, had no vacation pay, and were docked for every day ill or absent.
These teachers hated holidays, for on those days they went unpaid, and they had
no pension rights. They were called “substitute” teachers, but they were not
substituting for anyone.
The result was an educational jungle in which only the
most strident voices could be heard. In fact the law of the jungle itself was
sometimes followed. The WPA teachers, the substitutes, the instructors’
associations in the colleges, were goaded by a sense of injustice and a fear of
failure. This was the lush soil in which the communist teachers’ fraction in the
Teachers Union flourished.
The fact that the opportunity for free public education
was provided in New York City from grades through college without expense to
parents, with even textbooks free, created an intellectual proletariat. These
men and women needed jobs commensurate with their education, and teaching at
that time was the work most sought by them. When these would-be teachers began
to run into the political ineptness and the callous do-nothing policy of the
educational authorities there was bound to be conflict.
In the substitute teachers’ campaign I attracted
thousands of nonunion teachers. I felt I had to find a way to help them. And in
a quiet way they began to be grateful to the Communists.
There were dark by-products of the struggle. The younger
teachers who had been forced into the WPA and substitute-teacher categories were
the children of the most recent immigrants, the Italians, the Greeks, the Jews
from Russia, and the Slavs. Merging with this group were the children of the
expanding Negro population of the city who were qualified educationally for
professional jobs. The positions of power and of educational supervision,
however, were held mostly by persons of English, Scotch, and Irish origin.
The Communists, who are unerring in attaching themselves
to an explosive situation, had their answers for these troubled young teachers.
Their chief answer was that we had reached the “breakdown of the capitalist
system.” To those who were self-conscious on race or religion they said that
“religious or racial discrimination” was the cause. When individual instances of
bigotry and discrimination arose, the Communists were quick to note them and to
exaggerate them. So a cleavage was established between the older teachers, who
were largely Protestants, Catholics, and conservative Jews, and the new teachers
who were increasingly freethinkers, atheists, or agnostics, and sometimes called
The Teachers Union was in a dilemma on the substitute
teacher question. On the one hand, it wanted to cater to the older and more
established teachers who were saying that the Union was championing only the
rag, tag, and bobtail of the profession. On the other hand, it knew that the
substitutes of today would be the regulars of the future, and besides more
Communists could be recruited from those pinched economically.
The fraction leaders of the Union were divided on the
issue. Some were willing to drop it because they wanted to hold a position of
authority among the regular teachers, so that they could influence educational
policy and curriculum change. I sometimes came back from Albany to find the old
guard with set, grim faces, and I knew they had been discussing the disavowal of
the campaign for the substitute teachers.
To me it was a cause, and I appealed to the Party for a
decision. I received a favorable one.
I now began consciously to build new Party leadership in
the Union. I surrounded myself with younger Party members who were more alert to
new situations and did not think in rigid Marxist patterns.
We did not succeed in passing the substitute-teacher
legislation for which we fought at Albany. But we made it the most controversial
legislation of the 1938 sessions. Later, when it was passed by the legislature,
Governor Lehman vetoed it reluctantly after the entire Board of Education had
used its power against it. However, in vetoing it he urged New York City to do
something about the situation. He added that if the city failed to do so he
would act favorably on such legislation in the future.
The Union and the communist group grew immeasurably in
stature and prestige among the new crop of teachers and among other
civil-service employees. Even politicians and public officials respected us for
our relentless campaign.
I was weary at the end of that session. Yet I stayed in
Albany to attend the State Constitutional Convention, determined to write into
the new constitution guarantees for an expanding public-school system. Charles
Poletti, former lieutenant governor and Supreme Court judge, was secretary of
the Convention, and he, together with Edward Weinfeld, now a federal judge, was
helpful in safeguarding the achievements of the public-school system.
In the fall of 1938, the American Labor Party nominated
me for the Assembly in the old Tenth Assembly district, the area including
Greenwich Village. It was a famous district represented at various times by
Herbert Brownell and MacNeil Mitchell. On the ticket with me and running for
Congress from the same area was George Backer, at that time married to Dorothy
Schiff, owner of the New York Post. It was the period when the Alex
Rose-David Dubinsky wing of the Labor Party and the communist wing were still in
coalition — an uneasy alliance born of expediency. Both were seeking control of
New York State politics.
The Teachers Union organized my campaign committee. We
wrote political songs, made recordings, and did a great deal of street-corner
speaking. By this time I had taken part in so many election campaigns in
difficult areas that I developed a facility for speechmaking. One of my favorite
charges was that the candidates of the Republican Party and of the Democratic
Party were lawyers connected with the same law partnership, a firm which
represented the public-utility interests. We used to enlarge on this fact, and
concluded with “Tweedledum and Tweedledee — you’d better vote the ALP.”
Late one evening, as I was winding up a street-corner
meeting at Seventh Avenue and Fourteenth Street, I saw David Dubinsky, who lived
in the neighborhood, and George Meany go by. They stopped to listen for a few
moments, then smiled at each other, and went on. Suddenly, and for the first
time, there came over me a sense of futility over this endless activity in which
the Communists were involving me.
That year John and I were living in a small and charming
house on West Eleventh Street. My parents occupied one floor, John and I the
next, and the duplex above us we rented to Susan Woodruff and her husband. Susan
was a dear old lady whose husband was a Princeton graduate and a Republican.
Susan, on the other hand, was an avowed Communist and admirer of the Soviet
Union, though like her husband she traced her ancestry to the early settlers of
America. Later she became one of the three old ladies who ostensibly owned the
I loved Susan and respected her for the honesty of her
open affection for the Soviet Union. She had gone to Russia in the thirties and
had taken pictures of Soviet scenes. These she had arranged in slides and she
offered to show them free as well as give a lecture to churches and Y’s. She
genuinely believed that the Soviet Union meant an advance for humanity and she
was eager to do her part in strengthening it.
The Party was always happy to use such voluntary
propagandists. Even anti-communists never attempted to show such people as Susan
that Communists and their fellow travelers were helping to undermine not a
selfish capitalist class, but the very life of her own group. She was surrounded
by like-minded people, Mary van Kleek of the Russell Sage Foundation, Josephine
Truslow Adams, Annie Pennypacker, and Ferdinanda Reed. When I saw Susan and
others of old American families devoted to the principles of service to humanity
it helped to allay any doubts I had.
At the end of 1938 we gave up our house in the Village
and moved to one in Poughkeepsie because my parents wanted to be in the country.
My father’s health was failing. My mother welcomed the chance to be in the
country again. I kept a room in the city and went home for week ends. John was
often away on business and the rest of the time he stayed in Poughkeepsie, for
he, too, preferred country living.
The legislative session of 1939 had reflected the now
deepening depression which had been gathering momentum. The public hearings on
the state budget which took place on Lincoln’s Birthday brought demands for a
cut in state aid to education. It was a struggle now between
the organized taxpayer group with the slogan, “Ax the tax,” and the Teachers
Union which led an army of teachers and parents with the counter slogan, “Don’t
use the ax on the child.” But a ten per cent cut in state aid was passed — a cut
which we felt endangered the education program and meant a loss of teachers’
At the end of the session the legislature passed a
resolution calling for a legislative investigation into the costs of education
and of the administrative procedures of education. There was a rider at the end
calling for an investigation into the subversive activities of teachers in New
I called immediate attention to the fact that the study
of the costs of education was tied to one for investigating subversive
activities. I concluded that the legislative leaders wanted to reduce costs, but
that in order to do so it would be necessary to smear the teachers. I charged
they were using a Red-baiting technique to undermine education.
Neither Mayor LaGuardia nor the officials of the
American Labor Party would move to ward off this attack. A legislative committee
was appointed, headed by Senator Frederic Coudert, a Republican from New York
City, and Herbert Rapp, a Republican from upstate. Other teacher organizations
discounted this attack on the educational budget and regarded it merely as an
attack on the Teachers Union, and no doubt were secretly pleased.
In April 1939 John called me in Albany and urged me to
come home immediately. My father was dying in St. Francis Hospital in
I was very grateful to John that despite his hostility
to Catholicism he had recognized my father’s wishes and had called a Catholic
doctor and then taken him to a Catholic hospital. Ruth Jenkins, my secretary,
drove me at a furious speed through a night of sleety rain. When I reached the
hospital, my father was alone behind screens with an oxygen tank beside him,
unconscious or asleep.
A nun attending him told me he had received the last
rites. I felt thankful though I had long since ceased believing in such things
myself. I did feel that something was needed to lessen the pain of dying and to
give life meaning.
As I stood by my father’s bedside looking at him, my
hand over his, he opened his eyes, still so blue and bright, and, though he
could not speak, he looked at me steadily, and then a single tear fell from his
eye. It cut into me and troubled me for years afterward, for somehow it seemed
to represent his sorrow about me. I thought, with remorse, how in these
cluttered years I had failed him as a daughter and had left him without my
He was buried in St. Peter’s Cemetery at Poughkeepsie.
There were not many at the funeral but the town officials gave him a motor
escort to the cemetery, as evidence of their affection for him as a friend and
good citizen. After the funeral I went back to Albany with a heavy heart to face
a mass of work.
The Communist Party had been quick to realize that to
avert the attack on the communist teachers, a thing which might lead to the
heart of the Party, it must help the campaign against the pending Rapp-Coudert
investigation. In a move to spare the Union the strain of all this and also to
bring people other than teachers into the fight, we organized a committee called
“Friends of the Free Public Schools.” Under its aegis we collected funds, more
than $150,000 the first year. We published attractive booklets which we sent to
teacher organizations, to trade unions, to women’s clubs, to public officials.
I set up a booth and an exhibit at the New York State
Fair in Syracuse and I covered numerous county fairs, issuing a strident call
for aid to the public schools. We got free time on dozens of radio programs. We
put on interesting programs over a radio station in New York. We organized “Save
Our Schools” community clubs, made up of teachers, parents, trade unionists,
students, and young people. We were a well-trained army and by our
well-organized action we gave people a feeling that in the long run we would
That summer saw a new attack on the New York Teachers
Union. Friends of Dr. Lefkowitz, largely from the professorial group in the
American Federation of Teachers, together with a socialist bloc, some old-line
A.F. of L. members, and some anti-communists, were organized. They were under
leadership of Dr. George Counts and Professor John Childs of Teachers College,
Professor George Axtelle of Chicago, the socialist teachers’ bloc of Detroit,
the Teachers Union of Atlanta, Selma Borchard of Washington, and George Googe
who was the A.F. of L. representative at the convention that year. These,
together with New York City minority groups, chief among whom were Lovestonites
led by Ben Davidson (later secretary of the Liberal Party of New York City) and
his wife Eve, formed a mixed group but it united for one objective.
They planned to take the leadership in the Federation
from the Communists. But the Party brought in reserve strength from the
Northwest, from California, from the South, in addition to its forces in the
East and New England. We had not been too successful in the Middle West, where
the conservative Chicago Teachers Union and the St. Paul and Minneapolis
teachers with their large locals swamped the small locals of college teachers
and private schoolteachers which we had been able to establish. Loss of control
faced the Communists.
To make matters worse, news of the Soviet-Nazi pact
broke during the week of the convention, with the result that we were now driven
into a minority position. Even though some hidden Communists remained in office,
we were powerless to use the American Federation of Teachers to help the
distraught New York locals. We feared that the newly elected officers would do
their own investigating of the New York situation, and perhaps lift our
The Soviet-Nazi collaboration came at a time when the
civilized world could no longer remain silent at the Nazi atrocities against
Jews and other minorities. The large Jewish membership of the unions under the
leadership of David Dubinsky and Alex Rose had its own reasons for hating the
Communists, reasons arising out of the old feuds and the struggle to control
unions, and because of the untrustworthiness of the Communists in joint
enterprises. Now these people were genuinely outraged at the picture of Molotov
shaking hands with Von Ribbentrop.
The Jewish people within the Party were also disturbed
and quite a few left it. Those who remained, rationalized the event on the
ground that the warmongers of the West wanted to destroy the Soviet Fatherland,
so in self-defense it had outfoxed the Western “warmongers” by making an
alliance with their enemy. I was too busy with the teachers’ problem to give
much attention to this outrage though it troubled me.
Though the Communists supported Mayor LaGuardia in the
election campaigns I became impatient with his attitude on teacher problems and
finally to exert pressure we threw a picket line around City Hall. We made a
singing picket line; twenty-four hours of it, an all-day and all-night picketing
and, as a publicity stunt, I announced to the press that there would be prayers
at sunrise. I tried to get a Catholic priest to say the sunrise prayers for us,
but even the priests from the poor parishes around City Hall looked at me oddly
and said they could not do it without permission from the chancery. I offered to
pay them, to make a contribution to their charities, but they only eyed me more
oddly and refused with thanks. Eventually a liberal minister agreed to come and
lead our pickets in prayer.
The Party did not arrange for that picket line but it
was pleased when the news hit the front pages of the newspapers and they used
pictures of the pickets at morning prayer. Strange as it may seem, I believe we
did pray that morning.
This episode ended my friendship with LaGuardia, for he
was furious at the adverse publicity. It did accomplish something. The Board of
Education was ordered to look into the situation of the substitute teachers.
By fall of 1939 the Rapp-Coudert Committee had settled
down to work with a score of investigators. On the committee were men I could
not dislike, mild, fair men such as Robert Morris, Philip Haberman of the
Anti-Defamation League, and Charles S. Whitman, son of the former governor of
Assemblyman Rapp was an up-stater concerned chiefly with
educational finance and administration. So he played a negligible role in the
That left one person on whom to turn our combined fury.
Senator Coudert was a Republican, cold and patrician in appearance. Because of
his international law firm with an office in Paris and the fact that it acted
for many White Russians, we looked on him as an agent of imperialism. From the
Communist Party and from the men who represented the Soviet interests in this
country we got the go-ahead signal to make him our target. The Party placed its
forces at the teachers’ disposal, since the teachers were now in the vanguard
holding the line in defense of the Party itself.
I knew that the fight would be bitter, but I was not
prepared for its violence. The first attack was on the membership lists of the
Teachers Union. Within the Union there were still those who belonged to the
splinter groups, Lovestonites, Trotskyites, Socialists, but in the course of the
fight in 1940 these splinter groups left the Union and busied themselves in
other organizations. Local Five was served with a demand, a subpoena duces
tecum, by the Rapp-Coudert Committee to produce all our records, membership
lists, and financial reports.
There was general consultation. The Party established a
joint chief-of-staff group with several from the teachers’ fraction. It included
such Party leaders as Israel Amter, Jack Stackel, Charles Krumbein, all from
Party headquarters, and several of the Party’s lawyers. They were a top command
to direct operations. The strategy decided on was to defend the teachers by
defending the Party. The lesser policy, or tactics, was to be established from
day to day.
For the “Committee to Defend the Public Schools” we
hired a battery of lawyers, as it was impossible for one lawyer to attend to the
many demands. We decided to fight the seizure of our Union membership lists all
the way to the Court of Appeals. This would gain time and enable us to continue
organizing the mass campaigns against the legislative committee. It would also
serve to wear out the investigating committee.
To protect our membership lists we appealed for
trade-union support. We sent speakers to union meetings on the water front, to
the hotel and restaurant workers, to the meat cutters, to the state, county, and
municipal workers, both A.F. of L. and CIO. We trained speakers, prepared
speakers’ outlines, mimeographed form resolutions, and sent hundreds of form
telegraph messages to the governor and to majority and minority leaders.
We tried even the impossible. I remember one state A.F.
of L. meeting in Albany presided over by Tom Lyons, then its president. I asked
for the floor, made an appeal for support, reminded the delegates that the
struggle for union organization had been a long and tough one, that at one time
union men carried their cards in the soles of their shoes. I pointed out that
though it was our Union which was under attack, it might be theirs tomorrow.
Then I moved for support.
I got none whatsoever. The communist delegates in that
audience were afraid to speak up. And then I saw that there was more compassion
in the face of Tom Lyons who was opposed to everything I stood for than in the
faces of the comrades who were preserving their own skins.
It had been our decision that membership lists were not
to be turned over to the Committee even if we lost in the courts. The membership
files were turned over to me and I was ordered to refuse to turn the lists in,
preferring jail if necessary. I happened to be out of the office when the
Committee came to demand them, and Miss Wallas, in whose custody were the public
schoolteacher lists, gave them to the representatives of the Committee,
presumably at Mr. Hendley’s direction.
I burned the lists of the college Union teachers which
were in my possession. We were afraid that through them the Committee would be
able to trace a pattern of membership, since our cards showed who sponsored each
individual and the date on which he joined.
Once the Committee got the cards it began to issue
subpoenas. We instructed those teachers who were not Party members to appear
before the Committee and to tell the truth. But there were hundreds for whom the
truth might mean dismissal, and these we decided to protect.
The Party now placed at our services its intelligence
apparatus, for the Communist Party has its own intelligence officers, in
splinter groups, in the trade unions, in major divisions of our body politic, in
the police departments, and in intelligence divisions of the Government. I was
to see some proof of its efficiency. For no sooner did the Rapp-Coudert
Committee begin to issue subpoenas than I got a message from Chester, who was in
charge of the Party Intelligence, assuring me he had arranged for a liaison who
would meet me regularly with information on what was going on in the Rapp-Coudert
I met my contact daily, in cafeterias, restaurants, and
public buildings. She was an attractive, aristocratic blonde, well-dressed and
charming. She gave me slips of paper which bore the names of those witnesses
whom the Committee was using to get information and a list of those who were to
Armed with this advance information, we would go to the
Union members who were to be called and warn them. If we wanted to gain time,
the person was told to send word he was sick, even enter a hospital if
necessary. If it were feasible, he was to move. If not, we assigned a lawyer or
a Union representative to go with the person to the hearing. Most of the
teachers were instructed not to answer questions and to take a possible contempt
citation. Some were instructed to resign from their jobs, because we feared the
Committee would publish the facts about their international connections. If the
teachers told the truth, they might involve other Party contacts.
The Coudert Committee issued more than six hundred
subpoenas. The teachers over whom the Party had control followed our directions
and instructions. Because they were forewarned by us they were able, with our
assistance, to prepare defense stories to give the Committee. After each person
had been down to the Committee meeting he was instructed by us to write an exact
resume of what had transpired with all the questions and answers, and these were
delivered to our Defense Committee. We studied these resumes for possible
evidence of the trend of the Committee’s inquiry so that we could better arm the
next batch of teachers to be called.
It was while I was going over these stories that I
realized for the first time just how important a part of the communist movement
in America the teachers were. They touched practically every phase of Party
work. They were not used only as teachers in Party education, where they gave
their services free of charge, but in the summer they traveled and visited Party
figures in other countries. Most of them were an idealistic, selfless lot who
manned front committees and were the backbone of the Party’s strength in the
Labor Party and later in the Progressive Party. Even in the inner Party
apparatus they performed invaluable services. They provided the Party with
thousands of contacts among young people, women’s organizations, and
professional groups. They were generous in helping finance Party activities.
Some supported husbands who were Party organizers or on special assignment for
There is no doubt that the Rapp-Coudert investigation of
New York City schools provided the legislature with a great deal of information
on how Communists work. It also provided a good example of how they fight back,
sometimes by a defensive fight against those conducting the investigation and
with every weapon at the Party’s disposal, including smearing, name-calling,
frame-up, careful combing of each investigator’s history and background. If there
is nothing that can be attacked, then some innuendo is whispered which by
repetition snowballs into a smear and makes the public say, “Where there is
smoke there must be fire.”
Sometimes the campaign is on the offensive. Some angle
is found to explain the evil motives of those who are conducting the
investigation, perhaps to show that the investigation is itself a blind for some
ulterior motive and that the result will deprive people of certain rights. In
the teacher fight we steadfastly kept before the public the idea that the
investigation was intended to rob the public schools of financial support and to
promote religious and racial bigotry.
Little by little we won the campaign, at least in the
opinion of many people; and we distracted the attention of the public from the
specific work of the Committee. Support for the teachers, which at first had
come only from the Communist Party, increased and included liberals, left trade
unions, national group organizations, religious organizations, then political
parties of the left, then leftwing Democrats, then so-called Progressive
Republicans. All the support, however, was for tangential issues and not the
basic issue. It did not matter to us so long as they marched at our side. Their
reasons were unimportant to us.
The United States was in process of being coaxed into an
alliance with England and France at this time. At first the Communist Party was
in seeming opposition to this because of the Soviet-Nazi pact, and United Party
members became anti-war. Party groups began making alliances with the most
vicious pro-Hitler groups in America. These communist activities of a low order
always suck in those who begin as more or less sincere but misguided idealists
but remain to follow the Party blindly. The Daily Worker editorials
continuously blasted the Rapp-Coudert Committee as a technique of the
The American Communists came close to pacifism in those
days. This phase did not last, but in the course of it the Teachers Defense
Committee published a book called Winter Soldiers, of which some ten
thousand copies were printed. It was beautifully illustrated. We had cartoons
contributed by leading artists because the proceeds were to go to the Defense
Committee. But we were forced to desist from further distribution when we
learned that the International Communist line had changed once again and the
Party was now pro-war, as the Communist International had always intended that
America should be.
The International had frightened the Western world by
its alliance with Hitler; now the campaign to involve America in the world war
was once again in full swing. This time the Party had some difficulty, because
so many new friends of the Party found it difficult to swing nonchalantly from a
support of pacifism to a support of war. Thousands of students under the impetus
of the Communists had taken the Oxford oath against war. Many had read with joy
the anti-war poems of Mike Quinn, who had also provided the CIO with its slogan,
“The Yanks are not coming.” Thousands of women had worked with the Party on its
mass committees, such as the League against War and Fascism — a title which was
later changed to American Committee for Peace and Democracy, and then to
American Mobilization Committee.
In 1940 I had been selected by the Party to lead a
committee called Women’s Trade Union Committee for Peace. We raised money, hired
a young man to do public relations, and arranged a mass delegation to
Washington. There we lobbied with representatives and senators. We went on the
air with pro-German speakers. We set up a continuous picket line in front of the
It had been at this time that a final break came between
my husband and myself. For some time John had been disturbed by my increasing
activity with the Communists. He himself was pro-British. He had served in the
Canadian Air Service during World War I until America’s entry. He despised what
he called the “phony peace” campaigns. There were other and personal reasons why
our marriage had not been successful, but the breaking point came at this time.
He told me he was leaving for Florida to get a divorce.
I stayed on at our apartment in Perry Street. My mother
had come to live with us some months before. I shuttled back and forth between
Albany and New York that spring, devoting all my time to the Union and other
Party causes. It was during these months that I developed my deepest loyalty to
the Communist Party. In great part this was because I was grateful to them for
their support of the teachers.
I still did not see communism as a conspiracy. I
regarded it as a philosophy of life which glorified the “little people.” I was
surrounded by people who called themselves Communists and who were warmhearted
people like myself. In the world outside there was immorality and decadence and
injustice; there was no real standard to live by. But among the Communists I
knew there was moral behavior according to well-defined standards and there was
a semblance of order and certitude.
The rest of the world had become cold and chaotic to me.
I heard talk of brotherhood, but I saw no evidence of it. In the group of
Communists with which I worked I did find a community of interest.
In addition to the Teachers Union work I continued as an
active leader of the American Labor Party. I was assigned to work with a
committee to free the leaders of the Furriers Union who had been sent to prison
for industrial sabotage. I organized a committee of women, including the wives
of the imprisoned men, to visit congressmen and the Department of Justice.
We talked with Mrs. Eleanor Roosevelt at her apartment
on Eleventh Street. She graciously agreed to do all in her power to get our
memoranda into the hands of the appropriate officials. She was sympathetic with
the wives of the imprisoned men who had come with me.
Only one note in the interview disturbed me. The matter
of the right of Communists to be leaders of trade unions had come up in the
general discussion. Mrs. Roosevelt said that she believed Communists should be
permitted to be members but not leaders of trade unions.
The position seemed illogical to me and I said so.
Communism cannot be right for little people, for the workers, and wrong for the
leaders. There can be only one moral code for all. Perhaps Mrs. Roosevelt, like
myself and many other well-meaning people in America, has by this time learned
that there is no halfway house in which you can meet the communist movement.
Co-existence is not possible on any level.
In the summer of 1940 we attended the American
Federation of Teachers convention in Buffalo, fearful of our welcome. It was
almost ironic that once again we were at a convention at a time when the
international communist scene was stirred by a dramatic event. The previous year
we had heard of the signing of the Soviet-Nazi pact; now came news of the murder
of Leon Trotsky in Mexico. The combined Socialists, Trotskyites, and Lovestone
group practically held us responsible for this event. But the real result of
that 1940 convention was the fact that the George Counts group took control of
the American Federation of Teachers and soon after the New York, Philadelphia,
and other communist-led locals had their charters lifted. In New York the
coveted charter of the American Federation of Teachers affiliation went to Dr.
Lefkowitz and the new organization he had built, the Teachers Guild.
This automatically ended our formal relations with the
A.F. of L. The New York Teachers Union was now an independent union not
affiliated with either of the great labor movements. I thought bitterly of that
convention in Madison when we would have been welcomed into the CIO, but the
Party forbade it. The loss of the charter had come about chiefly as a result of
the unfavorable publicity given us during the Rapp-Coudert investigation and by
I returned to New York to learn more bad news. Nearly
fifty of our teachers had been suspended from their jobs. But perhaps the
greatest blow was the indictment of one of our teachers, Morris U. Schappes, on
the charge of perjury. An English teacher at City College, an ardent Communist,
himself a graduate of City College, he was the child of parents who lived close
to want on the lower East Side. With his devoted wife, Sonia, he lived as
dedicated a life, that is, as dedicated to communism, as anyone I ever met. He
was the flame that fired the City College boys, and the teachers, too, when
their revolutionary devotion ebbed. Under the name of “Horton” he was the New
York Party director of education while he was still teaching at City College. He
had exercised tremendous influence on class after class in the college, and in
the organizing of the college teachers into the Union he had worked
When he was subpoenaed by the Committee, it was decided
that he should either refuse to answer certain questions and take a contempt
citation with almost certain loss of his job, or resign from it. When I returned
from Albany, I learned that the top-level committee in my absence had again
changed the decision: he was to admit he was a Communist and say that he and
three others published the Communist shop paper, the Pen and Hammer,
which was circulated anonymously at City College.
The trouble was that the three Communists he named were
either dead or gone from the college and the Coudert Committee was able to prove
that his statement was a falsehood. Morris Schappes was indicted and brought to
trial before judge Jonah Goldstein, remanded to the old Tombs, with bail set at
ten thousand dollars.
When the doors of the dirty old rat-infested Tombs
closed on him I hated the world I lived in. It didn’t seem possible that
ordinary men could put a man in jail when his only desire was to improve the
condition of the poor, when he gained nothing personally from his activities. I
hated Tom Dewey, the district attorney, whom I blamed for the catastrophe. I
hated the “system” which I thought was at the bottom of the tragedy. I went to
Sonia and did what I could to help her.
We organized a committee for Schappes’ defense. We held
a mass meeting in front of the New York Supreme Court in Foley Square and laid a
wreath on the steps of the courthouse “in memory of academic freedom.” For this
was the issue we injected into the Schappes case to gain public support.
Meantime, I received ten thousand dollars in cash from one of the Party’s
friends and Morris was out of jail pending appeals.
About this case there is still a certain irony.
Schappes’ trial attorney, Edmund Kuntz, was one of the trial lawyers in the
Rosenberg atom spy case. It is equally ironical that Morris Schappes was one of
the teachers who inspired Julius Rosenberg at City College while he was a
At the end of the trial Morris Schappes was convicted
and sentenced to two to four years in State Prison.
A new period was at hand, a period of extremes, when the
united front of Communists and the forces of national unity in the United States
were to work together to win the war. Morris Schappes was forgotten except by
his wife and a few loyal friends. The Communist Party was now in coalition with
the forces which had prosecuted Morris.
Late 1940 and early 1941 had been spent in endless
preparation of the defenses of individuals who were brought up before the school
boards for dismissals based on the Rapp-Coudert Committee findings. When the
smoke cleared, we found there had been a loss of from forty to fifty positions
in the city colleges and in the public schools. The Teachers Union had, by and
large, withstood the attack. Some loss of membership took place but we still had
close to one thousand Party members in a union of about four thousand.
In February of 1941 my dearly loved mother was taken
ill. The diagnosis was pneumonia. I was in Albany when word came. I hurried back
to find to my distress that agents of the Rapp-Coudert Committee and overzealous
newspaper reporters had broken into my apartment in search of teachers’ lists.
My mother, in her broken English, had informed them that I was away and would be
glad to see them when I returned. She refused to let them look at any of my
papers but they had pushed her aside and tried to take over. I was furious when
I learned of this illegal invasion of my home. But everyone disclaimed
responsibility and my chief concern at the moment was my mother.
She was seventy-six years old. She had always been
strong in body and she had continued to have the lively mind of her earlier
days. I had never seen her bored. Her one worry was that I worked too hard, and
she often pleaded with me to relax, but I was driven by inner furies. I took no
rest. I did not take vacations. I liked to say there was no vacation from the
For a long time my activities had no meaning to my
mother. All she knew was that I worked too hard. But she must have known
something in her later days, for once she shook her head and looked at me sadly
and said, “America does strange things to children.”
She died in my arms one night several weeks later. In
the repose of death her face was lovely, and as I stood by her body I suddenly
saw my mother in her big white sweater with loaves of bread in her hands,
striding across the fields at Pilgrim’s Rest. All around her were the wild birds
who knew she had come to feed them. She helped birds and animals and children
and grownups. I would miss her greatly.
Services for her were held at the Church of Our Lady of
Pompeii on Bleecker Street. There were not many people in the church with me,
but Beatrice came and some of the Party teachers were there, people alien to
this house of God. They came to comfort my loss. I was deeply touched.
My mother was buried in St. Peter’s Cemetery in
Poughkeepsie beside my father and I came back to New York. Now I was entirely
alone. My personal life seemed completely at an end and I belonged only to the
cause I served.
I moved out of the apartment because I could not bear
its loneliness. I found a tiny, inexpensive one on Horatio Street on the top
floor of an old house near the Hudson River. There was a window beside my bed
and from it I could see the morning sky when I woke up.
Sometimes I thought, as I lay there, how long a way I
had come to loneliness. How far behind me was the room in the embrace of the
horsechestnut tree in the house with my mother and my father and the children of
our family, and where I had planned my future.
I still had a room and I still had a family. The room
was far different from the one at Pilgrim’s Rest and my family was a great,
impersonal family. In its midst I could find forgetfulness when my body was
completely spent and my brain was weary.
IT WAS THE SUMMER OF 1941. The Teachers Union hoped that
the American Federation of Teachers at its convention would grant readmission to
our local. We therefore elected a full delegation and sent it to Detroit, the
convention city. But those who now controlled the American Federation of
Teachers were hardly aware of any change in the situation. Having expelled the
Communists the previous year, they were not ready to sit down to a peaceful
convention with them this year. They refused to seat the delegates of the
We held a rival convention across the street. We made
speeches, and many delegates from the regular convention came to listen to us.
But we returned to New York without having realized our objective.
On the way back to New York, a number of delegates,
including Dale Zysman and myself, were in the same train with Dr. Counts and
Professor Childs, top men of the American Federation of Teachers. Dale, always
an excellent mixer, went over to sit down with them and talked of possible
future readmission. Both professors thought it proper that the United States
should become an ally of the USSR but they felt that the American Communist
Party should be disbanded. This was a political philosophy I did not understand
at the time. Later that year the same two men published a book entitled
America, Russia and the Communist Party in the Post-War World, a fulsome
eulogy of the Soviet Union with an appeal for co-operation in war and in peace
between the United States and the USSR. But they called for disbanding of the
That fall I was still trying to find jobs for teachers
who had lost their positions in the Rapp-Coudert fight. A number of those
suspended were still awaiting departmental trials. The Party was no longer
interested in them. Its new line was a united front with all the “democratic
forces” — meaning all the pro-war forces.
Before June 1941 it had been an “imperialist war” for
the redivision of markets, a war which could have only reactionary results. But
when the Soviet Union was attacked, the war was transformed into a “people’s
war,” a “war of liberation.”
The American Communist Party dropped all its campaigns
of opposition. Its pacifist friends were again “Fascist reactionaries” and all
its energy was employed in praise of France and England as great democracies.
The fight against the Board of Higher Education had to be brought to an end
because the Party regarded Mayor LaGuardia as a force in the pro-democratic war
Through an intermediary we offered to make a wholesale
deal on the balance of cases remaining untried before the Board of Higher
Education. We were unsuccessful and had to deal with the cases one by one.
In the legislative program of the Teachers Union for
1941 I included a proposal to establish public nursery schools. The WPA
nursery-school program which had been under the State Department of Education
was coming to an end. The bill I introduced for the Union was mild. It was
conceived mainly as a program of jobs for teachers and partly as a social
program to aid working women with small children. The storm of opposition from
conservative groups startled me. Evidently I had stumbled on a controversial
issue, one which struck at the role of the mother in education.
I, myself, had given educational policy scant attention.
Little that was controversial had been included in my education courses at
Hunter College, and in my graduate work I had steered clear of such courses,
feeling that my main emphasis must be on subject matter. I held to an
old-fashioned theory that if a teacher knew her subject, and had a few courses
in psychology and liked young people, she should be able to teach. I had been
horrified to see teachers, who were going to teach mathematics or history or
English, spend all the time of their graduate work in courses on methods of
On December 7, 1941, I called together a few outstanding
citizens to discuss the program of school expansion and to solicit support for
nursery schools and better adult education. The meeting was held at the home of
Mrs. Elinor Gimbel, a public-spirited woman, interested in many causes.
With us was Stanley Isaacs, liberal Republican from
Manhattan’s silk-stocking district, which was headed by Senator Coudert. Also
present was judge Anna Kross, Commissioner of Correction in New York City;
Kenneth Leslie, former editor of the magazine The Protestant; and
Elizabeth Hawes, fashionable dressmaker and author of
Fashion Is Spinach.
We had enjoyed Mrs. Gimbel’s hospitality and talked
about discrimination, about the new waves of population in New York, about the
conflict with Catholics on federal aid, about budgets, school buildings, and
As I look back over the conferences I attended on
educational policies and methods and progress, I realize that we never discussed
or thought about what kind of man or woman we expected to develop by our
educational system. What were the goals of education? How were we to achieve
them? These questions few asked. Are we asking them today in the higher echelons
of the public schools, and what are our conclusions?
Only recently I heard the chief of the New York public
schools speak on television on juvenile delinquency. It was soon after the
wrecking of a school by young vandals. He said that what was needed was more
buildings, more teachers, better playgrounds. Those devoted to progressive
education and to preparing youth to live in the “new socialist world” are
abstractly sure of what they want, but they seem not to know that they work with
human beings. Aside from teaching that children must learn to get along with
other children, no moral or natural law standards are set. There is no word
about how our children are to find the right order of harmonious living.
I, too, had to learn by hard experience that you cannot
cure a sick soul with more buildings or more playgrounds. These are important,
but they are not enough. Abraham Lincoln, schooled in a one-room log cabin,
received from education what all the athletic fields and laboratories cannot
give. All his speeches reflected his love for his Creator. He knew that God is
the cure for godlessness.
On this Sunday afternoon of December 7, 1941, we talked
long and ardently on education. We talked, too, of the splendid work done by the
women of England for the safety of their children in preparation for bombing
attacks. Mrs. Gimbel finally turned on the radio to give us the news. And as the
first sounds carne we heard an excited voice announcing that Pearl Harbor had
been bombed by Japanese planes. The distant calamity in Europe which we had been
discussing in this pleasant room was now ours. We listened appalled as the voice
told us the full horror of what had happened.
When the news announcement was over, we looked at each
other in silence for a few minutes. We were people of many races and religions
and parties, but we were of one mind on America. So it was only natural that we
immediately set to work to make plans, and that these plans dealt with children.
Then and there we formed ourselves into an emergency Child Care Committee with
Mrs. Gimbel as chairman, and to this committee I promised to turn over my files
on nursery schools and to give all my assistance.
In the Party we had long expected that the war would
involve the United States. In fact, earlier in the summer the Party had
ominously turned its Committee on Peace into the American Mobilization Committee
(for war), and in September we had held a huge outdoor meeting at the Brooklyn
Velodrome. I was one of the speakers. The keynote of the meeting was the coming
war and how to meet it.
The energies of the Party were now turned to
establishing win-the-war committees. The old feuds of the Teachers Union and the
CIO and the A.F. of L. were put into moth balls and the little arguments and the
big ones were forgotten. Now the Communists became peacemakers between
discordant factions everywhere. With joy and relief I watched the Party serve as
an agency for drawing the forces of the community together to win the war.
Of course the Communist Party was overjoyed at what was
happening. It moved briskly to place the colossal strength of America at the
disposal of the Soviet Union. Moreover, the rank-and-file Communists were once
again tasting the joy of being accepted by all groups. The Party line made it
possible during this period for ordinary Party members to be merely human beings
and to act naturally, for their neighbors were now less frightened, and even
listened to Communists explain that they were on the side of the American
people. All American groups worked together now on Red Cross committees, on bond
rallies, on blood-bank drives. We were one people united in a common cause.
It is bitter for me to realize that Communist Party
leaders looked upon this united front as only a tactic to disrupt this country,
and that they were using the good instincts of their own members for their
ultimate destruction. Under the deceptive cloak of unity they moved like thieves
in the night, stealing materials and secrets. Each Communist Party member was
used as a part of the conspiracy, but the majority of them were unaware of it.
Only those who knew the pattern knew how each fitted in the picture.
I had stayed close to the Party during the worst days of
1939 to 1941, the days of the Soviet-Nazi pact, primarily because I deeply loved
the Teachers Union which I represented. My love for it was no abstract emotion.
I felt affection for all its members, the strong and the weak, the arrogant and
the humble. I identified myself with them. The kind of sensitivity some people
have for their church or their nation I had for the Union. I grew closer to the
Party because it was endlessly solicitous of the teachers’ problems and gave us
favorable publicity and supported our campaigns.
The second reason was because of the Party’s campaign
against war. I now know that this anti-war policy was merely a tactic to meet
changing conditions. At that time I could not believe that the communist line
was a scheme advancing Communists one more step closer to total war for total
control of the world. I had slowly come to believe in the infallibility of
“scientific socialism” and in the inevitability of the socialist millennium. I
was by no means oblivious to many signs of crudeness, corruption, and
selfishness within the Party but I thought the movement was a bigger thing.
I, and hundreds like me, believed in Stachel and Foster,
Browder and Stalin, and the Politburo, and the great Party of the Soviet Union.
We felt they were incorruptible. Blind faith in the Soviet Union, the land of
true socialism, was the last spell that was broken for me. This had been a spell
woven of words cleverly strung together by Party intellectuals who lied, and it
was made plausible by my desire to see man-made perfection in this imperfect
During this period Rose Wortis, a woman of the ascetic
type, much like Harriet Silverman, self-effacing, devoted, tireless in her work,
a willing cog in the machine of professional revolutionaries, was supervising me
while I prepared a leaflet for the Women’s Trade Union Committee for Peace. I
had included a statement against the Nazis, which Rose crossed out as she
corrected it, and she said:
“Why do you say that? We do not emphasize that during
I was shocked at this, but, unwilling to believe its
implications, I excused it on the ground that she was merely a petty
functionary. On a higher level, I was sure, no one would make so gross an error.
Later on I had a chance to see the higher level.
I was so completely involved with the Party now that it
absorbed all my spare time. Its members were my associates and friends. I had no
To this was added one other factor, one not to be
minimized: I was rising in importance in this strange world. I had joined as an
idealist. Now I was beginning to stay because of the sense of power it gave me,
and the chance of participation in significant events.
Like others I had known I was now wearing myself out
with devotion and work. I became sharp and critical of those who did not pour
themselves as completely into the Party. I still based activity on my own
standards of goodness, of honesty, and of loyalty. I failed to understand that
the Party in making alliances had nothing whatever to do with these qualities,
that it was not out to reform the world, but was bent on making a revolution to
control the world. I did not know then that to do so it was ready to use
cutthroats, liars, and thieves as well as saints and ascetics. I should have
known, however, had I reflected on the implications of Lenin’s speech delivered
at the Third All-Russian Congress of the Russian Young Communist League on
October 2, 1920: “ . . . all our morality is entirely subordinated to the
interests of the class struggle of the proletariat.”
If, occasionally, I saw things that made me uneasy, I
rationalized that the times demanded such actions. Once I was startled from this
calm assumption. A group of Party and trade-union leaders met in a private home
in Greenwich Village to talk with Earl Browder, then leader of the Communist
Party, concerning Vito Marcantonio and his work with the Party, and especially
in regard to coming elections. Present were several members of the Politburo and
a score of communist union leaders of the A.F. of L. and the CIO.
Marcantonio was in a very special relation to the
Communist Party. As a voice in Congress he was indispensable. Because he was a
close friend of Mayor LaGuardia he helped give the Party strength. At the same
time he provided support for the mayor because he was the latter’s personal
representative in East Harlem. Through him the mayor retained connections with a
section of city politics which no mayor dares overlook. But Marcantonio did not
maintain his hold on his congressional district without the Communist Party.
At the meeting we discussed nominations for
representative-at-large for New York. Some of us had recommended endorsement of
a Republican who had served in the State Senate on the Republican and Labor
tickets, a man who had ably represented the East Harlem area. Marcantonio at
that time was in alliance with Tammany Hall, and he insisted on the endorsement
of a candidate who had a bad voting record and was more often absent from his
desk in Congress than present.
In my naivete I thought that all we had to do was to
show the Party leadership his voting record and the Party would support the
better-qualified candidate. But the answer to our request was a flat “no” from
Browder. We were ordered not to interfere with the decisions of Marcantonio. I
sat in utter surprise at this command, for I had believed firmly that Party
decisions were arrived at democratically.
Even worse was the next thing to occur. Important
trade-union leaders began to complain about what they termed unreasonable
demands made on their unions by Marcantonio. When they had finished, Browder
told them bluntly that anyone who opposed Marcantonio was expendable. I watched
the union leaders listen as the Party leader delivered his edict. They looked
like whipped curs. There was a short silence after Browder finished, and I saw
these men of importance in their unions begin to explain away their opposition,
to laugh nervously about nothing, to accept a decision they had previously sworn
they would never accept.
With a sinking heart I accepted it, too, and promptly
began to rationalize: it was no doubt all due to some exigency of practical
politics about which I knew nothing. The incident, however, left me with a
lasting residue of resentment.
In 1942, I myself was thrown into the heart of violent
left-wing politics. During the days of the Soviet-Nazi pact the bitterest fight
of all was the one between the Social Democrats and the Communists for control
of the American Labor Party, which had become the balance of power in New York
The Democratic Party could not carry the state without
the support of the Labor Party. The Republicans could not carry the state
without splitting this new political force. Those trained in the left-wing
school of politics were showing an aptitude for practical politics which put the
old machine politicians out of the running.
The Social Democrats under the leadership of Alex Rose
of the Millinery Union and of David Dubinsky of the Ladies Garment Workers Union
had originally collaborated in the building of the American Labor Party. By
vying with each other in making alliances with the Democrats and the Republicans
for successive elections, each group obtained for its followers certain places
on the ballot which would insure election if the joint slate was victorious.
In 1937 and 1939 the combined American Labor Party
forces had been successful in getting posts in city and state elections. With
the coming of the Soviet-Nazi pact the Social Democrats began a campaign against
the Communists both in the unions and in the American Labor Party. Because the
Communists had wooed the intellectuals and liberals who were in the Labor Party;
because of the Party’s alliance with Marcantonio’s East Harlem machine (a
personal machine); because of Party strength in the new CIO unions, the
Party-supported candidates were victorious in several primary fights. Thus they
had by 1942 dislodged the Social Democrats from control of the Labor Party in
every borough except Brooklyn.
The spring primaries of that year saw a bitter fight
between these two factions for the control of Brooklyn. I was established by the
Party in headquarters at the Piccadilly Hotel as secretary of a committee,
ubiquitously called the Trade Union Committee to Elect Win-the-War candidates. I
had the job assigned me of applying the Party whip to various left-wing unions
for money, and forces, for the elections.
The committee devoted its energy to two campaigns: to
defeat the Dubinsky forces in Brooklyn, and to win the nomination for
Marcantonio in all three political parties in his congressional district. He was
running in the Republican, Democrat, and Labor party primaries.
The communist wing of the American Labor Party won the
primary elections in Brooklyn after a bitter fight which included an appeal to
the courts. Marcantonio won the primary in all three parties after the
expenditure of incredible sums of money and the utilization of an unbelievable
number of union members mobilized by the Party as canvassers in his district.
Every night thousands of men and women combed the East
Harlem district house by house. The voters were visited many times. On the first
visit they were asked to sign pledges to vote for Marcantonio on a specific
party ticket. Next they were reminded by a caller of the date of the primary.
And on the day itself they were visited every hour until they went to the polls.
Squads of automobiles waited to take them. Teachers acted as baby sitters.
People who would have scorned working for a Republican or Democratic leader,
willingly and without recompense, did the most menial tasks because the Party
had told them that this was the way to defeat the “fascists.”
Call it mass hypnosis if you like, but the important
thing is to recognize this appeal to the good in human beings and to realize how
it can be used.
Hundreds of members of the Teachers Union were assigned
to Puerto Rican and Negro districts where they helped people take literacy
tests. They manned the polls. They spoke on street corners during the campaign
and listened in ecstasy to Marcantonio, who ended all his speeches with “Long
live a free Puerto Rico,” a rallying cry which had absolutely nothing to do with
the primary elections.
By the end of the primary campaign I was exhausted. Yet
I went back to the Teachers Union office and worked during the hot summer days
to help the skeleton force working there. I think we were the only teacher
organization which made a practice of keeping some activity going all summer. We
gave social affairs for out-of-town teachers at Columbia and New York
University. We serviced the summer schoolteachers and substitutes and we
prepared for the coming school term.
In that year the American Labor Party decided to support
the Democratic candidate, Jerry Finkelstein, against Frederic Coudert for the
State Senate. The Teachers Union responded to the appeal for help. The
senatorial district was a peculiar one, consisting of three assembly districts,
the famous Greenwich Village Tenth, the silk-stocking Fifteenth, and the Puerto
Rican East Harlem Seventeenth.
Extremes of wealth and poverty were encompassed in these
districts, from fabulous Park Avenue homes to rat and vermin-infested tenements.
The Communist Party released all teacher comrades from other assignments to let
them work on this campaign.
I was moved into a suite of offices at the Murray Hill
Hotel on Park Avenue and we established a front committee there made up of
outstanding citizens. “The Allied Voters Against Coudert” was officially under
the chairmanship of a fine and intelligent woman, Mrs. Arthur Garfield Hayes. It
included people such as Louis Bromfield, Samuel Barlow, and scores of other
One of the attorneys for Amtorg, the Soviet business
organization, contributed money and also information helpful to the campaign
against Coudert. There was hardly any Democratic organization in the
silk-stocking district, and the one in the Village was reputedly tied so closely
with the Republicans that we established our own. This left the Democratic
organization in East Harlem, which was increasingly under Marcantonio’s control,
as the key to the election. The contest would be won or lost in that district.
I soon realized that Marcantonio, who had won the
primary in all three parties, was not fighting too hard to carry the district
for the American Labor Party against Coudert. He did not care which party won;
he was the candidate in all three. Besides, Mayor LaGuardia was pledged to do
all he could for Senator Coudert and Marcantonio was responsive to the mayor’s
requests. But Marcantonio promised help, and we made some money available for
the leaders of his machine.
My worst fears were confirmed when I listened to the
election returns and knew we had lost. I did not mind the loss of the
silk-stocking district. But to lose Marcantonio’s district was a blow to my
faith in individual people in this strange left-wing world.
That night Harry, one of Marc’s old captains, drove me
home. I was depressed, not only because of the loss of the election, but because
of the lesson I had learned. We stopped at the Village Vanguard and there met
Tom O’Connor, labor editor of P.M., a good friend of mine, and one of the human
people in the Party. He looked at me, but I said nothing. He knew what had
When the Vanguard closed, Tom and I walked downtown to
City Hall through the empty streets. We talked of the “movement” and of the
strange dead ends it often led to. We talked of the opportunists who cluttered
the road to that Mecca of perfection on which we still fixed our eyes.
We walked across Brooklyn Bridge just as dawn was
breaking. Tom put me in a taxi. When I reached home, I went to bed and slept
twice around the clock.
THE WAR YEARS made everything seem unreal, even the
Party. There was, however, no lack of activity and sometimes the Party had an
important part in it.
The leaders of our Teachers Union were unhappy because
they were without labor affiliations, therefore I negotiated for affiliation
with another communist-led union, the State County and Municipal Workers. We had
been Local 5 of the A.F. of L.; now we became Local 555 of the CIO.
The Union set up new headquarters at 13 Astor Place in a
building once owned by the Alexander Hamilton Institute and later owned by a
corporation controlled by one of the wealthiest communist-led unions, Local 65
of the Warehousemen’s Union. It had renamed the building Tom Mooney Hall. Local
65 was renting floors to unions and left-wing organizations. The State County
and Municipal Workers were on the seventh floor. The Teachers Union took over
the fifth floor. It gave us plenty of space for professional and social
The Union had assumed the obligation of helping the
teachers and professors displaced by the Rapp-Coudert Committee, which was
proving difficult to do. Finally, after brooding over this problem, we decided
to establish a liberal school for adults, thus making employment and spreading
education at the same time.
The School for Democracy was established with Dr. Howard
Selsam, formerly of the Philosophy Department of Brooklyn College, as director,
and with David Goldway, formerly of Townsend Harris High School and also
formerly state director of education for the Communist Party in New York, as
secretary. It was to be housed also at 13 Astor Place and to use certain
facilities jointly with the Teachers Union. I worked hard to get it organized.
The school was a success. Almost immediately our science
teachers received well-paying jobs in experimental laboratories. But the Party
observed our venture into education and made ready to bend it to its purposes.
Attached to the Party for some time had been a school
called the Workers School, located at Party headquarters. This school was
conducted by the Party for members and sympathizers. Its curriculum consisted
largely of courses in Marxism-Leninism, courses in trade-union history, and
courses in popularizing the current line of the Party. The school was frankly
one for communist indoctrination and no compromise was made with bourgeois
educational concepts. The school had a foreign atmosphere about it. It was run
by old-time Communists, half-affectionately and half-contemptuously referred to
as the “Nineteen Fivers.”
Earl Browder and the national leadership were busy
striving to give the Communist Party the appearance of a native American party
to prepare it for its new role in the war and in the postwar period when it was
expected to play an even greater role. He was enthusiastic about the School for
Often I had the feeling he was impatient with the
overwhelming foreignness of the Party. Perhaps his days as child and young man
in Kansas had had something to do with it. His slogan, “Communism Is Twentieth
Century Americanism,” had irked both the foreign-minded Communists and the
native Americans who had felt it was an attempt to sell a bogus article. But
with the war Browder could work with impunity to convert the Party into an
acceptable American social and political organization.
In line with this it was decided to take over the School
for Democracy with its core of professors, graduates of the most distinguished
bourgeois colleges, and to join it to the hard core of communist teachers from
the Workers School. Alexander Trachtenberg was put in charge of a committee to
merge the Workers School and the School for Democracy. An astute Communist, a
charter member of the Party and before that a revolutionary socialist,
Trachtenberg was and is now one of the financial big wheels of the movement. He
was also chief of the firm of International Publishers, which had a monopoly on
the publication of communist books and pamphlets and on the distribution of
Soviet books and pamphlets. This is a highly profitable undertaking.
He bought a beautiful building on the corner of
Sixteenth Street and Sixth Avenue, a stone’s throw from St. Francis Xavier
School, to house the new Marxist School. Plans were already on foot for a string
of Marxist Adult Education schools which would have a patriotic look. The
patriots of the American Revolution and of the Civil War were to be given a new
sort of honor — a Marxist status. The new school in New York was named the
Jefferson School of Social Research. In Chicago the school was named the Abraham
Lincoln School, in Boston the John Adams School, and in New Rochelle, the Thomas
Paine School. These schools were to play a part in the “third revolution” that
was to destroy the nation.
Trachtenberg once said to me that when communism came to
America it would come under the label of “progressive democracy.” “It will
come,” he added, “in labels acceptable to the American people.”
The initial funds for the setting up of the Marxist
schools were, ironically enough, contributed by wealthy business people who were
personally invited to attend dinners at the homes of other men of wealth. They
came to hear Earl Browder analyze current events and predict the future with
emphasis on the role the Party would play.
There is no doubt that Earl Browder, as chief of the
Communist Party, was close to the seats of world power in those days, and that
he knew better than most Americans what was going on, except insofar as events
were warped and refracted by his Marxist ideology. The men who paid their
hundred-dollar admissions and contributed thus to the school funds became part
of the group which Earl Browder was to call the “progressive businessmen,”
meaning those who were willing to go along on an international program of
communism. The lure was attractive: expanded profits from trade with the
Soviets. The price to be paid was unimportant to these well-fed, well-heeled
men, who felt the world was their oyster. The price was respectability for
communism at home and leadership of the Soviets abroad.
I had no part in the group which planned this new
Marxist educational empire, though I had been the moving spirit in establishing
the School for Democracy. The trustees of the Jefferson School were not
educators; they were key communist figures in the growing hierarchy of a native
American leadership for the Communist Party. There were among them people with
unbelievable backgrounds, some of them Moscow-trained, but they all had a
surface of respectability, even though sometimes a blurred surface.
As I look back I see that I never ceased keeping for
myself a small area of freedom into which my mind could escape. Some phases of
my life I was perfectly willing to have controlled and even enslaved. I was
conditioned to accept the view that the capitalist system was inefficient,
greedy, immoral, and decadent. My schools and my reading and the depression had
put me in agreement with President Roosevelt in wanting to drive the
moneychangers from the Temple. I was also willing to follow the Party in its
program of practical politics, for here, too, the attack was upon the grossness
and stupidity of those in government who sat in the seats of power with no plan
for the future. Willingly, too, I helped the Party gain in power in the field of
American education through my work with the Teachers Union. I was always ready
to help in the struggle for admission to the academic world of the intellectuals
among our immigrant population who felt they faced discrimination.
But I was wary of the Party’s inner educational
apparatus. I was not drawn to the dogmatic pedants of the Party’s schools. No
doubt, subconsciously, I realized that all this was not education but
propaganda, and at heart I was really still a student and a teacher. I wanted to
read Marx and Engels and Lenin, but not under the tutelage of those drab,
self-effacing figures who peopled the Party’s educational quarters.
The Party leaders made frequent attempts to get me to
attend state and national training schools. I was approached repeatedly about
the possibility of going to school in Moscow, but I always pleaded that the
immediate emergencies of my work in the Union made it impossible for me to give
time to such a duty. “Perhaps someday,” I told them.
I had seen teachers, sailors, furriers, subway
conductors, housewives, some with third-grade education and some with college
degrees, lumped together as students in these state and national training
schools and I had seen them come out with the same stamp of dedicated
uniformity. It was a leveling process that still gave them an odd sense of
superiority, as if they were now priests of a new cult.
With the development of the new Marxist schools I tended
to withdraw further from this phase of the work. I taught one class at the
Jefferson School, but I found no joy in it. When I was offered the directorship
of the California Labor School I refused it without hesitation. I had the vague
fear that if I allowed myself to be drawn into this type of indoctrination the
last small refuge where my mind found freedom would be gone.
The war years had produced interesting phenomena in
communist-led left-wing circles, not the least of which was public renunciation
of the class struggle. The Party announced that whole sections of the capitalist
class had joined the “democratic front,” the so-called “Roosevelt camp of
The Daily Worker never wearied of enumerating
those who were clasping hands in a common purpose, Communists, trade unions,
sections of the Democratic Party, and progressive capitalists. These made a
coalition, the Party stated, that would win the war and later the peace.
The Communist Party now assumed the responsibility for
establishing a rigid discipline over the working class. No employer was more
effective or more relentless in checking strikes among the workers, or in
minimizing complaints of workers against inequities of wages and working
conditions. Some employers were delighted with this assistance. It is startling
to note that, while wages rose a little during those years, they did not compare
with the rise in profits and in monopoly control of basic necessities.
In other circumstances, Communists would have blasted
the fact that war production was chiefly in the hands of ten large corporations
and that 80 per cent of the war production was in the hands of a hundred firms.
Now the Communists carefully muted such information. Instead, they played on the
workers’ feelings of patriotism.
It was sad to observe that in the interest of its
objectives the Party even barred the protests of the Negro workers who felt
that, now that they were needed in the war factories, they might win some
rights. The Communists opposed the Negro demands violently. In fact, a campaign
of vilification was begun. It was charged that the leaders of this Negro
movement were Japanese agents.
The Party did all it could to induce women to go into
industry. Its fashion designers created special styles for them and its song
writers wrote special songs to spur them. Use of womanpower in the war
industries was, of course, inevitable, but it also fitted into the communist
long-range program. War-period conditions, they planned, were to become a
permanent part of the future educational program. The bourgeois family as a
social unit was to be made obsolete.
After the Teheran conference, the Party program for
shelving strikes was projected into a permanent no-strike policy. Each time
American political leaders emerged from an international conference, Crimea,
Teheran, and Yalta, the Communist Party announced again its dedication to the
win-the-war plan. Its leaders were driving for a strong war and peace unity
between the United States and the Soviet Union. Everywhere the Party leadership
was being placed in positions of importance so that they might direct the
home-front segments of the coalition. Communist leadership was being consulted
and utilized by those in power in government.
The drive for the second front brought Earl Browder into
national prominence, and we realized that he was being consulted by such
national leaders as Sumner Welles. Government officials were utilizing
Communists to pull together divergent groups.
When the Russian War Relief was begun, a glittering
array of names of outstanding citizens adorned its elegant stationery. Sumptuous
affairs launched Russian relief in America. These were attended by people
prominent in society and government.
The Communist Party made the most of this. Now there
emerged the Russian Institute with its imposing headquarters on Park Avenue.
This was a sophisticated propaganda agency; it brought American educators,
public officials, artists, young people of families of wealth into this
left-wing world. Famous names, Vanderbilt, Lamont, Whitney, Morgan, mingled with
those of communist leaders. The Russian Institute was so respectable that it was
allowed to give in-service courses to New York City schoolteachers for credit.
In Albany and in Washington a new crop of young, native
American Communists swarmed into the legislative halls as legislative
representatives and public-relation and research aides to legislators. With
inside information on what was happening, they were able to guide legislators in
the direction of Soviet-American unity. They helped to produce dozens of
important public figures at Madison
Square Garden rallies, organized under various labels
but filled by the rank and file of devoted Party members. It was a glittering
society that was emerging, made up of Russian diplomats and Russian business
agents, of Americans in evening clothes, and artistic Bohemians in careless
dungarees, all of them cheering the repeated avowals of friendship with the
When in 1943 Stalin announced the dissolution of the
Communist International, a great impetus was given to the drive to build the
Communist Party into a native American party. This dissolution was a tactic
meant to lessen fear in those Americans who did not believe that Soviet-American
unity could be achieved without danger to American sovereignty.
When I arrived in Albany for the legislative session of
1943 I was besieged with questions. Everywhere I explained the new policy of
peace, the new era that was coming to the world because of this communist policy
of amity. When some days later I spoke at a budget hearing to a packed hall,
ostensibly for my Union, I was in reality putting across the Party’s unity line
in terms of the taxation problem. I received congratulations from Republicans,
Democrats, and representatives of the taxpayers’ organization.
Afterward Gil Green, New York State chairman of the
Communist Party, and Si Gerson, its legislative representative, congratulated me
on my speech. Then Gil said decidedly: “The time has come, Bella, when you ought
to come forward openly as a leader of the Party.” Si Gerson, he added, was going
into the Army soon and there would be need of a new legislative representative
of the Party. “And we want you.”
We had supper in the grill at the De Witt Clinton Hotel
and there we were joined by CIO men, by local labor lawyers, and a
representative of the Farmers Union. My favorite waiter, a Party member, took
our order. I was only half-listening to the talk of the people milling around
our table, for Gil Green had startled me by his abrupt suggestion, which I knew
was almost a command. I liked Gil. He wore shabby, worn suits and he reminded me
of Harriet Silverman and Rose Wortis and the other self-sacrificing, dedicated
In the Party I was beginning to see many people of a
different stripe. During the war period I saw how opportunism and selfishness
engulfed many comrades. They wore expensive clothes, lived in fine apartments,
took long vacations at places provided by men of wealth. There was, for one,
William Wiener, former treasurer of the Party, manipulator for a score of
business enterprises, who wore Brooks Brothers suits, smoked expensive cigars,
and lunched only at the best places. There were the trade-union Communists who
rubbed elbows with underworld characters at communist-financed night clubs, and
labor lawyers who were given patronage by the Party by assignment to
communist-led trade unions and now were well established and comfortable.
But it was shabby, serious-faced Gil Green who was for
me a visible reassurance that the Communist Party was still what I had
originally thought it. His proposal had come to me at a time when I was tired of
the varying grades of protection which the Party gave to its members, and tired
of seeing the comfortable way of life of some who were in powerful places, where
they had the support of the Party but faced none of the disadvantages of
belonging to it.
Before I left him I promised Gil that I would think
seriously about his proposal. I had personal problems to consider if I took it,
for it was in a way an irrevocable step.
For one thing, I would be giving up a certain area of
freedom, since I would be giving up fields of work not open to an avowed
In everything except name I was a Communist. I accepted
discipline and attended meetings. I gave a full measure of devotion to Party
works, and I felt a deep attachment and loyalty to the people in its ranks. I
considered myself as part of a group looking and driving toward the day when
socialism would triumph.
Even more significant was the fact that I had made their
hates my hates. This was what established me as a full-fledged Communist. In the
long ago I had been unable to hate anyone; I suffered desperately when someone
was mistreated; I was regarded as a peacemaker. Now, little by little, I had
acquired a whole mass of people to hate: the groups and individuals who fought
the Party. How it came about I cannot tell. All I know as I look back to that
time is that my mind had responded to Marxist conditioning. For it is a fact,
true and terrible, that the Party establishes such authority over its members
that it can swing their emotions now for and now against the same person or
issue. It claims such sovereignty even over conscience as to dictate when it
Before 1935, for instance, the Party had preached hatred
of John L. Lewis as a labor dictator. No stories about him were too vile. He was
accused of murder and pillage in his march to power in the Miners Union.
Suddenly, in 1936, Lewis became the hero of the Communist Party. Again in 1940,
when the Party decided to support Roosevelt against Willkie, and John L. Lewis
risked his leadership in the CIO by calling on the unions to vote for Willkie,
the Communists screamed invective, and in private meetings Roy Hudson and
William Z. Foster, in charge of labor for the Politburo, vilified Lewis. When
the Communists shifted their support, Lewis was dropped as president of the CIO
and Philip Murray was elected in his place. During my years in the Teachers
Union I gradually got used to these bitter expressions of hate. And since hate
begets hate, often those under attack also responded with hate. Hearing them, I
began to take sides and in the end accepted the Party’s hates as my own.
Once at the national convention of the American
Federation of Teachers in 1938 I was assigned to attack a resolution introduced
by the socialists in support of a Fred Beals, once a Communist, and indicted for
murder in the Gastonia textile strike. He had jumped bail and escaped to Russia
but he did not like life in the Soviet Union and insisted on returning to the
United States even though it meant standing trial. The socialists were defending
him and asking trades-union support for him because the indictment had grown out
of a labor dispute.
I did not know Fred Beals, and from a purely labor point
of view I should have been sympathetic. Instead, I accepted the assignment to
speak against the resolution to help him. I had begun to adopt the hates of a
This is the peculiar paradox of modern totalitarianism.
This is the key to the mental enslavement of mankind: that the individual is
made into nothing, that he operates as the physical part of what is considered a
higher group intelligence and acts at the will of that higher intelligence, that
he has no awareness of the plans the higher intelligence has for utilizing him.
When a person conditioned by a totalitarian group talks about the right not to
incriminate himself, he really means the right not to incriminate the communist
group of which he is only a nerve end. When he talks of freedom of speech, he
means freedom for the communist group to speak as a group through the mouth of
the individual who has been selected by the higher intelligence.
The Bill of Rights of the American Constitution was
written to protect individuals against centralized power. The Communists pervert
this safeguard by first enslaving the individual so that he becomes the
marionette of the centralized power.
This kind of conditioning had something to do with my
decision to become a card-carrying Communist. In March, 1943, I gave my consent
to Gil Green’s proposal to become an open Party leader. I took over Si Gerson’s
position as legislative representative for the New York district. Gil was
pleased and insisted that I begin the transition immediately, so I spent some
time in Party headquarters and attended all meetings.
Now I found myself faced with two tasks: to prepare
myself for my new life, and to effect an orderly withdrawal from the Teachers
For several years I had purposely helped to bring
forward new Party members for posts of responsibility in the Teachers Union
leadership. One of these was Rose Russell, who had taught French in Thomas
Jefferson High School. Rose had a fine mind and had had some training in
newspaper work. She had a human approach to people and problems. She was not as
yet stamped into the obvious Communist Party mold. She was personable and
well-liked, and the old guard in the Party fraction in the Union would not, I
knew, dare oppose her openly. She was my choice as successor to the post I had
loved, and with the approval of Gil and Rose Wortis we got the necessary
approval by the communist leadership of the teachers. It was then an easy matter
to bring her forth as a candidate for the Union elections of 1944.
Technically I was to remain as the legislative
representative of the Teachers Union until the elections were held and until
Rose Russell was installed publicly. The Union gave a farewell affair in my
honor in June 1944. It was a fine illustration of the kind of unity which this
Union, now a sturdy arm of the Communist Party, was able to establish.
The farewell party was called “A Tribute to Dear Bella.”
As I read today the blurbs on the program I can but shake my head sadly. I read
there of the “inspiring and untiring leadership in behalf of all the children —
all the teachers — the improvement in public education — the fight against
racial intolerance.” The chairman was my old friend, Professor Margaret Schlauch
of New York University.
Telegrams were read from scores of assemblymen and state
senators, from trade-union leaders, both communist and noncommunist,
congressmen, and judges. On the platform were outstanding leaders come to honor
me, for I had won many of these people to a tolerance for the Union by a sincere
espousal of the needs of the schools. Among the people who greeted me were
Charles Hendley, Honorable Hulan Jack, then in the Assembly, and Judge Anna
Kross, whom I had grown to respect and love.
Rose Russell presented me with a gift from the Union, a
modernistic water color which still hangs on my law-office wall. It is a good
reminder, in its complete confusion of subject matter, of the distortion of the
actual, the confusion and meaninglessness of this part of my life.
I HAD NOW BECOME an
elder statesman of the Teachers Union. I retained my membership as an honorary
member and at the direction of the Party I remained on the top communist
committee. I helped Rose Russell establish her leadership and I tried to pass on
to her what I had learned over the years. I introduced her to the public
officials with whom I had worked. She did not have to face the hostility I met
when first I went to Albany, for the Party had grown in power, and the
organization it controlled was sending many representatives to Albany. The Party
now had allies among the lobbyists, the legislators, and the press
correspondents. I was in Albany frequently as the representative of the
Communist Party and was able to spend much time with Rose.
The previous year my husband obtained a
divorce down South. Shortly thereafter I heard he had remarried. These events
and the death of my mother led me to immerse myself more completely than ever in
my work for the Union and the Party. However, I missed a personal family life
and I often talked of adopting children. But the comrades dissuaded me. They
reminded me I could not overcome the legal handicaps of adoption for a woman
living alone, and I knew, too, that irregular hours and my limited income would
make it difficult. Instead, I continued to move in a world of men who were
determined to create new types of human beings who would conform to the
blueprint of the world they confidently expected to control. I lived only as
part of an ideological group. I was accepted by them and I dealt with them in
the direct but impersonal manner I had long cultivated.
In March 1943 I began to spend part of
each day at Party headquarters at 35 East Twelfth Street. This building, which
ran from Twelfth Street to Thirteenth Street, was owned by the Party. On the
first floor was the Workers’ Bookshop and entrance to the freight and passenger
elevators that served the whole building. The third floor housed the New York
County apparatus. The fourth was used to store the books of the International
Publishing Company. The fifth held the New York State leadership. The sixth had
the publication offices of the Yiddish paper, the Freiheit, and the
Jewish Commission. The seventh and eighth floors were used by the Daily
Worker. On the ninth floor was the headquarters of the national leadership
of the Party.
Despite a campaign to clean up the
building, it remained unbelievably drab. For a long time the Communists had
resisted any attempt to beautify the place because that was regarded as
bourgeois pretentiousness. The only pictures on the walls were those of Lenin,
Marx, and Stalin. The only decorations were Red flags.
Under the impetus of Browder’s attempt
to make the Communist Party American, a cleanup job was begun.
The walls got new paint. New photographs
of the American leadership appeared. I came on the scene just after the painting
was completed — a ghastly cream with brown trim. Lenin and Stalin got equal
space on the walls and the photographs of the members of the Politburo, each
exactly identical in size and type of frames, were placed in identical
positions, none lower, none higher than the other. They ranged high along the
walls of the ninth floor. Looking at them, I had the feeling I was entering the
abode of some strange secret cult, and I was both attracted and repelled.
Daily as I entered my office on the
fifth floor gates and doors were opened and then locked by strange, silent men
and women. At first the excessive precaution surprised me, but I was to learn
that many of the people who entered that center of intrigue needed protection.
I went to several meetings of the
Politburo with Gil Green. There I found Earl Browder, William Z. Foster, Bob
Minor, Jim Ford, Jack Stachel, John Williamson, and Elizabeth Gurly Flynn in
attendance. Browder seemed the undisputed leader, but the others did not seem
coerced or intimidated, as later they testified they had been. The meetings were
like meetings of a board of directors, one in which all conformed willingly.
As I began to prepare for the work I was
assigned to do I was amazed at the lack of files of material on social questions
such as housing and welfare. When I complained about this, Gil said: “Bella, we
are a revolutionary party, not a reform group. We aren’t trying to patch up this
I began to realize why the Party had no
long-range program for welfare, hospitals, schools, or child care. They
plagiarized programs from the various civil-service unions. Such reforms, if
they fitted in, could be adapted to the taste of the moment. But reforms were
anathema to communist long-range strategy, which stood instead for revolution
and dictatorship of the proletariat.
The Party wanted me to retain my
contacts with the noncommunist world, which had been so easy while I represented
the Teachers Union, but which I knew would be difficult as an avowed Communist.
Gil was delighted when I discussed the possibility of establishing a law office
midtown which I could use to meet non-Party friends of the Party who would not
go to the Party headquarters for fear of police surveillance. I set up business
with two young lawyers who wanted to practice in the labor field. They thought
that my growing power in left-wing politics would aid them.
So Philip Jones, Allen Goodwin, and I
found suitable offices at 25 West Forty-third Street. We established the firm
and got off to a good start. But I found little time for the practice of law. My
office became a place where I met Party and non-Party persons engaged in common
Earl Browder was then preparing for the
Party convention of 1944. At this convention I was to make the public
announcement of my Party affiliation. Gil told me that they were preparing a
list of close to a hundred trade unionists who would also join the Party openly
at the same time.
Like many of the liaison agents of the
Party, I now began spending hours in restaurants and cafeterias, meeting with
Party people from all walks of life, explaining, urging, cajoling, telling them
what to do and what was expected of them.
That spring of 1943 was memorable for
the new friends I met. I had moved to an apartment on Seventh Avenue near
Fourteenth Street. The rent was small for it was over a restaurant. Nevertheless
it was a pleasant flat which could easily be shared for it had two rooms in
front and two in back and a kitchen and bath in between.
Before long I had a roommate. Through
Blackie Myers, vice-president of the National Maritime Union and his wife Beth
McHenry, a writer for the Daily Worker, I met Nancy Reed, who had
recently been fired, with much publicity, from a New York State Labor Department
job because of exposure of her communist activity, by Godfrey P. Schmidt, then
Deputy Industrial Commissioner. The press carried, as a result of the
investigations of Stephen Birmingham, lurid stories of how she had buried
Communist Party records in the sand at her mother’s summer home on Cape Cod. She
was out of a job. I offered to share my apartment, and then persuaded the
Teachers Union to set up an employment bureau and to make her its director.
Nancy came from a good Boston family. I
knew her mother, Ferdinanda Reed, who was one of the three old ladies who
technically owned the Daily Worker, the other two being Anita Whitney and
my former tenant in the Village, Susan Woodruff. Ferdinanda had come to
communism intellectually and remained because, like Susan, she never saw its
ruthless side. Her two daughters had followed her into the Party and Nancy’s
sister Mary, a writer of some note, had left her American husband and taken
their infant son and gone to Russia to live. Nancy had visited her there.
Nancy had many friends among the working
people for whom she had helped find jobs when she worked for the State
Employment Bureau. Also she had great vitality and a love for social life. When
I came home at night I found our apartment swarming with people. Some were from
the civil-service unions. Many of them were men from the ships, for among her
closest friends were Ted Lewis, vice-president of the National Maritime Union,
Joseph Curran, Ferdinand Smith, and others of the union leadership. The seamen
during those war days were earning good wages, for there were overtime bonuses
and special allotments for war risk.
Before I knew it my home became a center
for National Maritime Union leaders and seamen of every rank. Among them carne
Captain Mulzac, the first Negro to become a captain, and scores of engineers,
chief stewards, pumpmen, boatswains, and ordinary seamen. Some came only for a
single party, but others were regular visitors.
One evening John Rogan of the National
Maritime Union brought a tall, slender, red-haired seaman in khaki shirt and
trousers who had been a friend of Paddy Whalen. “Red,” as his friends called
him, proved a fine addition to the party for he talked well and had many stories
to tell. He came from Minnesota. He said his grandmother was the first white
woman in that state. As he talked of his people you knew he was proud of his
heritage. His mother was a French Canadian, a convent-bred girl, and he said he,
too, was raised a Catholic. His grandfather from Wisconsin had been killed at
the battle of Shiloh and was buried in Springfield, Illinois.
I told him of my former husband’s
grandfather who fought with the South and lost an arm in that battle. We talked
late into the night and I learned that he had left his Church and become an IWW
and had worked with the Communist Party at times. I told him proudly of my
recent decision to become an open worker in the Party. Dubiously, he asked, “Are
you sure that is what you want?” and as I looked surprised, he continued:
“You see, I don’t think they have the
answer. I simply can’t make myself believe that we are only clods of earth and
that when we die, we die and that’s all. I’ve seen bad conditions in lots of
places, on ships, in jails, and in foreign ports in China and India and Africa
and South America. I’ve fought against these conditions. There’s no doubt that
out of it all revolution may come -the way the Communists want it to — but what
will come after that? What will this crowd do when they’ve got their revolution?
I hate to think about it. But I’m pretty sure they haven’t got the answer.”
I was startled to hear this sort of talk
from a man who had stubbornly worked and fought for labor, often with a reckless
disregard for the safety of his life. He was not a “class enemy.” As he talked,
I sensed the uneasy feeling that sometimes came over me, even though I tried to
ignore it. It was as if this man’s words were the echo of my own unformulated
But they did not alter my decision to be
formally inducted into the Party leadership. For years I had functioned with the
Party without a Party card or other formal indication of allegiance. Now Gil
Green gave me my first Party card, and when he asked to which branch I wanted to
be assigned I named the section in East Harlem. To become effective in that area
I now moved to a house on upper Lexington Avenue, a neighborhood that had once
been Irish and where there still remained a scattering of Irish and Italian
families, but where there were an increasing number of Puerto Rican, West
Indian, and Negro families. I called our block the street of all nations.
On the corner of 102d Street was a Negro
Episcopal church and I became a good friend of the minister and his family. Next
to it was a Puerto Rican boardinghouse run by an Italian spinster. Nearby was a
grocery store owned by an Irishman from the old country, who spoke with a
brogue. We all lived together in peace as good neighbors.
I gave one floor in my house to Clotilda
McClure and her husband Jim. Mrs. McClure had worked for me in the early days of
my marriage when we lived at the house on Eleventh Street. I was happy to have
them in the house because we were good friends and also because Clotilda helped
me with the care of the house.
I had moved into this particular
neighborhood because, as a Party functionary, I wanted to work in this community
and I wished to study its special problems. I was assigned to the Garibaldi
Branch of the Party located on 116th Street, a Party club which concentrated on
recruiting Italians. The club was ineffective and drab, due in part to the fact
that Italians in America were loath to join the Communist Party and in part also
to Vito Marcantonio, who represented the American Labor Party and actively
worked for the Communist Party. But he did not relish a strong local Communist
Party in his district, perhaps because he thought it might get in his way when
he made fast deals with the diverse forces.
His own center of political activity was
a brownstone clubhouse on 116th Street near Second Avenue. There congregated a
strange assortment of smooth, sophisticated communist boys and girls, going and
coming in the game of political intrigue, members of local gangs, known
racketeers, ambitious lawyers, and political opportunists looking for the crumbs
of his political favor.
There were also people of the
neighborhood who needed a friend. Marc listened to their stories, assigned
lieutenants to their cases, or called on communist-led unions for help. He wrote
his people many letters from Washington on his letterhead as Representative.
Nothing made these simple people so happy as to receive one of his letters from
the capital, and they carried them in their pockets and displayed them proudly.
It did not matter even if the letter said nothing; the fact that they knew a
congressman who wrote them a letter was enough. He could have been elected on a
Wooden Indian ticket by these people for they belonged to no party. They
followed Mare as a personality.
The Garibaldi branch of the Communist
Party was a block from his club. This branch of fifty or sixty members consisted
chiefly of Italians, Jews, Negroes, and Finns. Some of the Italians were
old-time anarchists. Yet they felt at home with the Communists if only because
of their atheism and belief in violence. I found plenty of work to do in East
Harlem, but I soon learned that the Labor Party and its activees, the
Communists, were concerned mainly about getting out the vote. Certainly they
were not concerned about the welfare of the people. This was a new type of
political machine, attracting not only the voters but the actual precinct
workers by vague promises of future social betterment.
By January 1944 I was firmly established
at Party headquarters on Twelfth Street. There I organized the legislative
program of the Party; but, more important still, I supervised the legislative
work of the unions, chiefly the unions of government workers on a state, local,
and national level, of the mass organizations of women, and of the youth
All over the building there was a
noticeable feeling of excitement and optimism. Browder’s book, Victory and
After, placed communist participation in the mainstream of American life,
and there was among us less and less left-wing talk and activity. At a state
board meeting Gil gave a talk on the new era at hand, and startled us with
perspectives new to those who had been brought up on Lenin’s thesis that
imperialism is the last stage of capitalism. Gil now said that the age of
imperialism had come to an end, that Teheran had canceled out Munich, and that
Soviet-American unity would continue indefinitely after the war. Together, he
added, the United States and the Soviet would solve the world’s colonial
problems and indeed all other world problems.
Through December, 1943, we at
headquarters had heard nothing but Teheran. What had happened at that conference
was by no means clear to us. We did know that Browder was writing another book
dealing with it. We also knew that Teheran was now the password, that it meant
maximum co-operation of Communists with all groups and all classes. The
political line which for two years had been called the “Democratic Front” now
became the “National Front.” That Christmas Teheran did cancel out Bethlehem for
The artists and writers who followed the
Communists began to interpret Teheran in their work. For every activity Teheran
was the key. Huge murals commemorated it as well as cafe society songs and
political skits. For some time this line brought a pleasant sense of security,
but by January we heard rumblings of trouble from the ninth floor as they
prepared for the coming Party convention.
Dissension had arisen among the leaders.
Sam Darcy, the Party organizer from California, disagreed with the proposed
change of the Party line and Gil announced at a New York State Board meeting the
Politburo decision to expel Darcy, a decision with which he obviously agreed.
Strong support of Browder by Gil was no surprise, for we all looked on Gil as
Browder’s henchman and his choice to succeed him.
A vote was taken supporting the action
of the national Politburo to expel Darcy. Like all votes in the Communist Party,
it was unanimous. I was startled by the anger displayed against this man who,
Gil said, refused to throw aside “revolutionary dogma” to meet a new situation.
Only a few days before they had all
called him “comrade.” With the expulsion of the dissident Darcy, peace reigned
again. We heard that William Z. Foster had also been critical of the proposed
change. Nevertheless he had bowed to the majority. And we came together at the
convention of 1944 with a rising Party membership and growing prestige for
Browder in national politics. We were confident of the Party’s importance in the
current American scene. We knew Browder was on the inside track on news of the
war from overseas and from Washington.
The convention that year was held at
Riverside Plaza, a hotel on West Seventy-second Street. It was well attended.
Besides the delegates, many trade-union leaders and men of national reputation
were there. The Communist International had been, at Roosevelt’s insistence,
technically dissolved the previous year, but several of its members were in New
York and came to our convention. From France, Lucien Midol brought a letter from
the Central Committee of the French Communist Party, approving the new American
line. There were a few grumbling old-time trade unionists who did not like the
new trend and one said sarcastically, “This is the convention in which the
workers and the bosses become bedfellows.”
My own role, as I have said earlier, was
to announce publicly my adherence to the Party. In this I was to be joined by
about a hundred trade unionists. When the time came, almost all candidates
chosen had found urgent reasons for not making a public declaration. In the end
only two, and these from insignificant unions, joined me in becoming open Party
The first evening of the convention
brought tragic news: Anna Damon had jumped to her death from the window of a
nearby hotel. An important auxiliary member of the Politburo, Anna was the
daughter of a wealthy Chicagoberg, the first secretary of the American Communist
Party, and had come East after his death when the Party shifted its headquarters
to New York. Here she exercised a powerful influence over the rising Party
leadership. She was reputed to have developed for the Party such figures as Earl
Browder, Roy Hudson, Charles Krumbein, and others of the Politburo.
I had first met her in the thirties when
she was executive secretary of the powerful International Labor Defense, a mass
organization with great financial resources and wide contacts with the legal
profession. This was the committee which organized communist participation in
the Scottsboro and Herndon cases, and in the Gastonia and other labor strikes.
A friend took me one evening to her home
on East Sixteenth Street and I remember my amazement that a Communist Party
member should be living in such a lavish apartment, with fine paintings and a
terrace that looked out over the city and the East River. Marcantonio, over whom
she also had great influence and whom she had trained in left-wing politics, was
there that evening, and so were Robert Minor and his wife. Everyone except Marc
wore evening clothes. When we left, I said a little thoughtfully to the friend
who had brought me, “This could be the new aristocracy of our country.”
Why Anna Damon killed herself I never
learned. The rumors were that she had broken with Browder on the new policy. The
Party carefully spread the impression that she had cancer and had taken this way
out of pain. But the beginning of a convention of a Party in which she had great
power was a strange time to choose for her exit from life — if indeed she did
take her own life.
At this convention Earl Browder’s speech
calling for the dissolution of the Communist Party was, next to Anna’s suicide,
the most surprising event. Some old-time functionaries could not understand it.
Some pretended to see in it an attempt to cancel out the teachings of Lenin.
But the Party machine worked with
planned precision. The American Communist Party dissolved itself and then by
another resolution the delegates re-established it under the name of the
Communist Political Association, with the same leaders, same organization, same
I was elected as a member of the
National Committee of this Communist Political Association, which brought me
into its top leadership. I was now supposedly a part of the inner circle.
The new change of name puzzled many both
in and out of the Party. I had listened closely during the convention and it was
not at all clear to me. I knew, of course, that one immediate reason was to lay
the basis for leadership of the Communists for the re-election of Roosevelt,
since Earl Browder was the first to call publicly for his re-election to a
fourth term. I also knew that the new name had a less ominous sound to American
ears. Even so, it had been a drastic thing to do.
By those who thought they knew the
reason it was explained to me thus: the current line in world communism was now
based on the Roosevelt pledge to the Soviet Union of mutual co-existence and
continued postwar Soviet-American unity. If that pledge were kept and if the
march to world communist control could be achieved by a diplomatic unity arising
out of official Soviet-American relations, then there would be no need of a
militant class-struggle party. In that case the Communist Political Association
would become a sort of Fabian Society, doing research and engaging in promoting
social, economic, and political ideas to direct America’s development into a
full-fledged socialist nation.
The convention over, we turned to the
most important item — on the Party’s agenda, the re-election of President
Roosevelt for a fourth term. For this end the National Committee met immediately
after the convention. Browder proposed that the Party contribute five thousand
dollars to help develop the Willkie Memorial, no doubt as a gesture of amity to
the Social Democrats who were also intent on this election. But David Dubinsky
and others in charge of the project of building Freedom House as a memorial to
Wendell Willkie refused the offer publicly. After that the Communist Political
Association moved independently in its self-appointed task of promoting a
It was necessary first to bring the
various districts and subdivisions of the organization to quick acceptance of
the decision of the convention. Each of us on the National Committee attended
little secret meetings, spoke to the comrades, explained the new perspectives,
made them feel they were right at the heart of the important things that were
We highlighted Browder’s astuteness and
our confidence in him and told how prominent people outside the Party agreed
with us in this. This was true, for his perspicacity had been praised by Walter
Lippman and other publicists. He was praised also for the new constitution of
the Communist Political Association, written in conformity with American-type
organizations, and for the change from foreign communist terminology, such as
“Politburo,” to American expressions such as “national board.”
Some of us knew, however, that though
Browder was Americanizing the appearance of the organization he was having
difficulties, because of numerous professional revolutionaries who could not
change their speech, manner, and way of thinking so swiftly.
My duties were various. I continued to
exercise control over the communist teachers. Before I had left the Union I had
been able to lay the basis for affiliation of the Teachers Union with the NEA.
In June 1944 I was assigned to speak at a meeting of more than five hundred
communist teachers and their friends at the Jefferson School on the new
communist perspectives as applied to education. I held out the prospect of a new
approach to education soon to be disclosed by American leaders who controlled
the purse strings of the nation. I urged the communist teachers to exercise
their influence for unity on all teachers’ and citizens’ groups.
I pointed out that the NAM had
established a tie with the NEA and had pledged itself to help build education
and to support a nationwide school-building program; that this would grow into a
program of continued co-operation on all educational subjects. To those who
questioned this perspective I said that the progressive businessmen were playing
a revolutionary role. I repeated the explanations given by Gil and other leaders
of the new National Board.
As an official member of the New York
State Board of the Party and on the state committee, I was second to Gil Green
in charge of political campaigns. I was assigned two immediate tasks: the defeat
of Hamilton Fish in the Twenty-ninth Congressional District and the building of
a New York division of the progressive farmers and businessmen for the
re-election of Roosevelt.
The story of communist manipulation for
the defeat of Hamilton Fish is too long to tell here. In the other task I was to
see for the first time how a tiny minority, well organized, with members in both
majority parties, and within trade unions, and with control of small labor
parties, could serve as a brain to do what larger groups of uncoordinated
citizens could not do. In this election the Communists served as the major
In the little town of Catskill, on a
bright June Sunday of 1944, a handful of chicken farmers from Sullivan,
Columbia, and Orange counties met with an organizer of the Farmers Union, Gil,
myself, and Charles Coe, a silent chubby man who was associated with a farmers’
publication. Together we planned a Progressive Farmers Committee for the
re-election of Roosevelt. Some months later, when the campaign was in full
swing, few knew from what small beginnings the large-scale work among the
farmers had begun.
In New York the CIO Political Action
Committee was staffed with many sophisticated Communists with years of
experience in the nation’s capital. The Independent Committee of Artists,
Scientists and Professionals, under the chairmanship of Jo Davidson, the
sculptor, was under strong Party direction.
These election committees, made up of
Communists and non-Communists, were under communist control. If the chairman of
the committee was a non-Communist, its executive secretary was inevitably under
New York, because of its large voting
power, was the directive center of the campaign. Press releases from New York,
enlarged on by the leading New York papers, set the line for hundreds of
newspapers and radio stations in the hinterland.
For the success of this election the
American Labor Party moved into high gear. The New Liberal Party, organized by
Alex Rose and David Dubinsky, along with George Counts and John Childs, also
played an important role. This latter group differentiated itself from the
Communists and often attacked them. In reply the Communists moved into action.
They wanted all the credit for achieving the election victory, so they took time
out to attack Dubinsky and the newly formed Liberal Party, even though they were
on the same side in the election campaign.
In that campaign the Communists were
everywhere. We did not trust the district leaders of the Democratic Party to
deliver the votes, so we sent bright young left-wingers into the Democratic
clubhouses to jog the old fellows into action, and it was amusing to see them in
that rough-and tumble atmosphere.
To gather in the votes which the Labor
Party could not win and which the Democratic organizations might fail to reach,
we set up a National Citizens Political Action Committee. This loose
organization held local rallies and collected funds. Its executive committee had
many glittering names. The real work was done by the same dedicated little
people, the ones who were looking for no personal reward save the right of
participation in the building of a new world.
It was fascinating to see how easily the
Party personnel acclimated itself to its new role of pulling all forces
together. They rubbed elbows with district leaders, with underworld characters,
and with old-line political bosses whom they really regarded as caretakers of a
disintegrating political apparatus.
While I was in active work I was
reasonably happy, but when the campaign was over and Roosevelt re-elected, I
found myself depressed. One reason was a peculiar struggle for power which I saw
emerging. During the election I had seen effective work done by Communists who
were concealed members. Disputes began to develop between open communist
functionaries and these concealed Communists who were safely ensconced in
well-paid jobs in powerful organizations. These disputes were resolved by
Browder himself, if necessary, and always in favor of the concealed members. I
felt a growing competition between these groups, and I wanted to run away from
it. One day I spoke about it to Elizabeth Gurly Flynn who was with me on both
National and State Committees. She said that it was only in New York that the
comrades acted like that. She explained it was often due to male chauvinism at
“Go and see a little of the rest of the
country,” she advised me. “That will make you feel better.”
So in 1945 I substituted for her at
communist gatherings in the Middle West. From my first talk I realized there was
resistance among workers to the new line on co-operation and unity. Many did not
like a postwar “no strike pledge,” or adoption of a labor-management charter
proposed by the Chamber of Commerce and supported by the Communists. The new
line was unacceptable to skeptical workers who had been schooled in the
class-struggle philosophy and who were at that time feeling the effects of the
greed of the powerful monopolies. These were reducing wages, and laying off
workers despite the increasing cost of living.
I spoke in Cleveland, Toledo, Gary, and
Chicago. I came back feeling no happier than when I left. Nor did my next task
make me feel any better. I worked for a while with the Communist Youth who were
just starting a campaign in favor of universal military training. This campaign
troubled me for it did not seem to fit in with the Teheran perspective for a
long-term peace, nor with the happy optimism that was promoted when the Nazi
armies were broken and peace seemed near.
The campaign for universal military
training, the nostrike postwar pledge which the Communists were ballyhooing, and
the labor-management charter were all straws in the wind and pointed to one
thing: ultimate state control of the people.
When the Yalta conference had ended, the
Communists prepared to support the United Nations Charter which was to be
adopted at the San Francisco conference to be held in May and June, 1945. For
this I organized a corps of speakers and we took to the street corners and held
open-air meetings in the millinery and clothing sections of New York where
thousands of people congregate at the lunch hour. We spoke of the need for world
unity and in support of the Yalta decisions. Yet at the same time the youth
division of the Communists was circulating petitions for universal military
The two seemed contradictory. But
Communists do not cross wires in careless fashion. The truth was that the two
campaigns were geared to different purposes: the need to control the people in
the postwar period, and the need to build a world-wide machine to preserve
peace. Since the communist leaders were evidently not envisioning a peace
mechanism without armies, the obvious question then was: for whom and to what
end were the Communists urging the building of a permanent army? Did they not
trust their own peace propaganda?
1945, there was evidence of trouble in the Communist Party. Uneasiness increased
among its functionaries. I first became aware of this in my work with the
Italian Commission of the American Communist Party.
One day two foreigners appeared in our
midst, recently come from Italy. Berti and Donnini were a smooth, attractive
pair, who called themselves professors and had become leaders of the Italian
Commission. They immediately started a controversy about the work among national
Earl Browder at the convention of 1944
had insisted on the elimination of a sense of difference among the foreign-born
and had moved to have them treated as part of the American labor movement. To
this Professors Berti and Donnini offered strenuous objections. They emphasized
the importance of separate national organizations, of encouraging the
foreign-born to use their languages, and of circulating foreign-language
newspapers. They encouraged the organizing of the different national groups
almost as if these were foreign colonies. It would strengthen the sense of
nationalism among them, they asserted, a necessary thing for the building of
These two Party functionaries found
themselves on the carpet for their unwelcome views. Plans were on foot to expel
them. Then, suddenly, came the amazing news that they were members of the
Italian Communist Party! Up to this point, like others, I had regarded them as
honest but misguided foreigners with a penchant for disputation.
Now I realized that nothing they said
had been unpremeditated, and that they were not speaking for themselves. They
represented the International Communist movement and it was clear that Browder’s
approach to the national problem was in disfavor with some sections of world
During a bitter meeting I learned that
these two men were responsible for translating and giving to the Scripps-Howard
press a letter by Jacques Duclos, published previously in a communist magazine,
Cahiers du communisme, in France. This letter was to change the whole
course of the communist movement in this country.
The letter, which appeared in the
World-Telegram in May, 1945, ridiculed the Browder line of unity, his
Teheran policy, and charged the American Communists with having betrayed the
principles of Marx and Lenin. It called upon the American Communists to clean
house, and literally demanded that they get back to the job of making a
revolution. It branded Browder as a crass “revisionist” of Marxism-Leninism, and
it called for his removal from office.
Immediate confusion and hysteria
permeated the Party. Ninety per cent of the membership did not know who Jacques Duclos was, nor did they
understand what “revisionist” meant. No attempt was made to enlighten them. More
important things were happening.
For one thing, a palace revolution was
taking place at Twelfth Street, with William Z. Foster leading the forces of
Marxist fundamentalism. The large corps of jobholders in the Party added to the
confusion, for like horses in a burning stable they had lost all sense of
discretion. Frightened at being caught in a state of “revisionism,” even if they
did not know what it meant, and feeling that the voice from overseas presaged a
change in the line of world communism, they tried frantically to purge
themselves of the error they did not understand but which they had evidently
committed. They confessed in private and in public meetings that they had been
remiss in their duty, that they had betrayed the workers by support of a program
of class collaboration. There were some demonstrations of public
self-flagellation that stirred in me feelings of disgust and pity.
It was a bewildering time. To me nothing
made sense. Over and over I heard people say they had betrayed the workers. I
saw members of the National Board look distraught and disclaim responsibility,
plead they had not known what was going on, or that they had been afraid to
speak up when they saw errors. They cried that Browder had confused and
terrorized them. It was distressing to watch these leaders, who were at best
ignorant of what had gone on or were at worst cowards.
Gil Green went about white-faced and
distraught because he had been so closely identified with the chief — had, in
fact, been known as Browder’s boy. He, too, quickly disavowed all he had said
about imperialism having come to an end. In fact, it was clear that we were now
to believe again that imperialism was the last stage of capitalism, that it
would inevitably lead to war and the communist revolution, and that the United
States was the worst offender. Again we were to despise our own country as an
exploiter of the workers.
Gil and Israel Amter asked me to write a
public statement to be published in the Daily Worker in which I was to
repudiate the recent policy and confess my errors. I tried, but my pen would not
write the words. I excused myself by saying, “I don’t understand what has
happened. We don’t seem to have all the facts.” For I remembered how, as
recently as the previous May, members of the Communist International had been
present at the Party convention and had approved the line. And I remembered,
too, that it was William Z. Foster who nominated Browder as president of the
Communist Political Association. It was Foster who seconded the motion to
dissolve the Party in 1944.
This was certainly a turn-about-face, a
complete repudiation of a policy which had not only the unanimous support of the
communist leadership in the United States, but the open support of the Soviet
Union. We had even been told that the Teheran policy had been prepared with the
assistance of Ambassador Oumansky, the accredited representative from the USSR
to the United States.
Today it is obvious that after Stalin
had gained diplomatic concessions at Yalta, and after the Bretton Woods and
Dumbarton Oaks conferences had placed concealed American Communists in positions
of power, world communism did not want the patriotic efforts of Earl Browder and
his band of open Communists who longed for participation in American affairs.
Only later did I learn that Foster’s belated, polite, and restrained opposition
to the Teheran line the year before had been suggested through private channels
from abroad, as preparation for the upheaval of 1945.
Browder obviously was caught off guard
He was now compelled officially to
present the Duclos letter to the membership for “discussion” through the columns
of the Daily Worker. At meetings of the Party there was a wave of
confused discussion, and the culmination of it was the calling of an emergency
convention in June, 1945.
Much was to happen before that took
place. The National Committee, almost sixty in number, was called into session
at Twelfth Street to prepare for the convention. At first Irving Potash of the
Furriers Union took the chair. Later Foster occupied it.
Browder was in the room. He had been ill
and his appearance was that of a man in pain. Person after person studiously
avoided speaking to him, and when he sat down he was entirely alone. Yet a
hundred times I had seen these same people jump up when he came into a room and
sing, “Browder is our leader. We shall not be moved.” Now, when they looked at
him, their faces were grim with hate, or perhaps it was fear.
I did not know Browder well. I was one
of the newest members of the National Committee, but suddenly I could not bear
this any longer. I arose from my seat at the opposite end of the room and walked
over to Browder’s chair and shook hands with him. Then I sat down in the empty
chair next to his, though I was aware my action would not go unnoticed. I urged
him to offer some explanation or at least to stay and meet the charges to be
brought. But he said he could not stay for the meeting.
“I will not defend myself,” he said
firmly. “This is leftwing sectarian nonsense. They will come back.”
I knew little about high politics within
the communist apparatus, and I could not understand the upheaval nor why he gave
up so easily. Even then I did not believe, as he evidently did, that there would
be any return. Later, when he went to the Soviet Union, I realized that he had
gone to Moscow in the hope of reversing the decision. The old National Committee
met for three days. The meetings began early and lasted late. I looked for signs
of understanding and kindness and compassion. I thought to find them at least
among the women, but they were not there either. I thought that at least Mother
Bloor, the so-called “sweetheart” of the movement, would counsel moderation, for
she had been close to Browder. Instead, this old woman talked angrily about how
stubborn Browder was and how “arrogant.”
Elizabeth Curly Flynn, formerly of the
IWW, whom Browder had taken into the Party in 1938 and elevated to the National
Committee, was not far behind Mother Bloor in her remarks. I could hardly
believe my ears when I heard her state coldly that she had been intimidated by
Browder, that she had been unaware of the fact that he was “liquidating” the
Party, that she was out of headquarters so much that she had no knowledge of
what was going on. I heard Ann Burlak, once known as the “Red Flame of New
England,” whom years as an organizer for the Party had reduced to a pallid,
thin-lipped, silent creature, speak up and join the accusing pack.
I, myself, was neither for nor against
Browder. Yet I almost got in trouble by replying to Ben Davis when he made a
particularly cruel speech. Ben Davis was a Negro, a member of the New York City
Council, and the previous year he had joined a Tammany Hall Democratic Club in
order, he said, to get support for his next campaign for the City Council. Now
he excoriated Browder for his “betrayal” of the Negro people in disbanding the
Communist Party in the South. Browder had urged that the Party work in the South
through broad front committees, such as the Southern Committee for Human Rights,
because he felt that the very name “Communist” shut all doors there.
I had seen this same Ben Davis use the
united front line of collaboration in the crassest possible way to promote his
own political ambitions and now I suddenly knew I must speak. I took the floor
and asked where Ben Davis had been at the time when all this was being done.
Surely anyone as sensitive as he to any betrayal of the Negro, I said, should
have spoken up then and not have waited until now.
Ben Davis promptly turned his violence
on me: I was guilty of chauvinism, he insinuated, since I expected him as a
Negro to be sensitive to the problem of the Negro. This strange illogic left me
That same day several of the Negro
members of the National Committee took me to lunch. Pettis Perry and William
Patterson, both of whom I liked, tried to justify Ben Davis’ intemperate attacks
and said I did not understand the national minority question well. All I could
think as I listened was, “Has everyone gone mad?”
Later that afternoon we heard more
wailing and saw more breast-beating. When Pat Tuohy, an active Party organizer,
formerly a Pennsylvania miner with memories of the Molly Maguires, got up to
speak, I thought that now something sensible would be heard. Instead, Pat burst
out crying, and said he had never agreed with the Teheran line, but that Browder
had intimidated him by saying, “Pat, you’re getting old. We can dispense with
your services if you are in disagreement.” Were these the men I had thought
fearless fighters in the cause of justice?
Just before the National Committee
closed its meeting it set up committees to prepare for the Emergency Convention.
I was surprised to hear myself named to serve on a temporary committee of
thirteen which was to interview all members of the National Board and National
Committee, estimate the extent of their revisionist errors, and recommend to the
National Convention those who should be dropped and those who should be retained
for new leadership.
My work on that committee of thirteen
was an experience I shall never forget. Bill Foster was technically chairman.
His constant attendant was Robert Thompson. Davis of the Philadelphia A.F. of L.
food workers’ union and Ben Gold of the CIO Furriers were the ranking members.
The procedure was fascinating and fantastic. It was the nearest thing to purge
trials I have ever seen.
One by one the leaders appeared before
this committee. We were silent and waited for them to speak. Men showed remorse
for having offended or betrayed the working class. They tried desperately to
prove that they themselves were of that working class, and had no bourgeois
background, and were unspoiled by bourgeois education. They talked of Browder as
if he were a sort of bourgeois Satan who had lured them into error because of
lack of understanding due to their inadequate communist education. Now they
grieved over their mistakes and unctuously pledged that they would study
Marx-Lenin-Stalin faithfully, and never betray the working class again. One by
one they came before the committee and I began to feel like one of Robespierre’s
committees in the French Revolution.
It was weird to see tall, rawboned Roy
Hudson pick and choose his words with pathetic care, to hear him plead, as if it
were a boast, that all he had was a third-grade education and that he came from
a poverty-stricken background. It was weird to hear Thompson talk about his
proletarian father and mother. It was strange to hear Elizabeth Gurly Flynn beg
forgiveness and offer in extenuation that she was of Revolutionary stock, for
her father had belonged to the R.A. in Ireland, then promise to study Marx and
Lenin and to become a true daughter of the coming American revolution.
Sometimes an honest statement came, and
it was a great relief. Such a one was when Pettis Perry said he had been an
illiterate share cropper in the South and that the Party had helped him to learn
to read and write and had given him the opportunity to discover what he could
As I listened to this insistence on
poverty and lack of formal education as the qualifications for admission to this
Party, I began to feel uneasy, and I turned to Alexander Trachtenberg, one of
the thirteen on the committee.
“I don’t think I belong here,” I said.
“It is true that my father and mother worked hard, but my father became a
successful businessman and we owned a house and I went to college.”
Trachtenberg, himself a well-educated
man, caught the irony in my statement. He stroked his walrus mustache and said
reassuringly: “Don’t worry about that. Remember Stalin studied to be a priest
and Lenin came from a well-to-do family and studied to be a lawyer. You must be
a proletarian or identify yourself with the proletariat. That’s all.”
As the comrades continued to come before
the examining committee the thought came to me that there was not one real
worker among them. Foster, though he affected the khaki shirt of a workman,
hadn’t done a stroke of work in a long time. He had been sitting in little rooms
planning revolutions and conniving for power for twenty-five years. Thompson and
Gil Green had graduated from school right into the Young Communist League.
Thompson had gone to Spain as a commissar of the Lincoln Brigade and when he
returned he worked for the Party, and Gil became a Party functionary at an early
That was the pattern of these American
revolutionaries, and I felt as I looked at them that they really could know
little about the ordinary worker.
At the end of June the Emergency
Convention met. Because of wartime travel restriction, Foster announced that
there would be only a small number from the rest of the country. Some fifty
delegates came. The New York delegates swamped the convention. The
out-of-towners were window dressing. When Foster strode in with Thompson and Ben
Davis at his heels I could think only of the victorious Fuehrer and his
The debate and the argument that went on
at that convention I can only compare to conversation in a nightmare. One sensed
threatening danger in the frenzied activity, but there was vagueness as to what
it was all about, and as to where we were going. Confusion and universal
suspicion reigned at the Fraternal Clubhouse on Forty-eighth Street which was
the arena of the convention.
Close friends of many years’ standing
became deadly enemies overnight. Little cliques, based on the principle of
mutual protection and advancement, sprang up everywhere. Some shouted slogans
from Jacques Duclos. Some shouted down anyone who suggested logical discussion
of problems. The mood, the emotions, were hysterically leftist with the most
violent racist talk I ever heard.
Bill Lawrence, New York State secretary,
who had fought in Spain, was attacked because of Browderism. He fended that off
by asserting his loyalty to the Party. Then someone charged him with having been
a coward in Spain, and I saw tears run down his face as he tried to explain to a
group that wanted not explanations but executions. Ben Davis attacked Jim Ford,
a Negro member of the National Board, and called him an “Uncle Tom,” because he
had been restrained in his attack on Browder.
The newly elected National Committee,
which was elected on the third day, held its first meeting at 4 A.M. A new
chairman and a secretary were still to be selected. Browder had appeared briefly
at the Convention to address it. When this had first been suggested there were
calls from the hall for his immediate hanging and loud cheers at the suggestion.
However, he was allowed to speak, and he was most conciliatory, saying he
approved the draft resolution and the establishing of a new line. He promised to
When he finished, there was scattered
applause in which I joined. I was sitting at a table with Israel Amter and I
caught his beady black eyes fixed on me. Months later he brought me up on
charges of having applauded Browder.
The Convention carried out various
measures. It voted to dissolve the Communist Political Association and to
re-establish the Communist Party. It voted to re-dedicate itself to its
revolutionary task of establishing a Soviet America. It voted to intensify
Marxist-Leninist education from the leaders down to the lowliest member. It
voted to oust Browder as leader. It voted to return to the use of the word
As for me, from that time on I became
allergic to the use of that word, for I had seen many uncomradely acts at the
Emergency Convention in the Fraternal Clubhouse.
NEW LINE established at the Emergency Convention was meant to be all
things to all people. It was intended to be leftist enough to assuage those who
had guilty feelings about betrayal of the working class, yet called for enough
unity with so-called democratic forces to permit continued collaboration with
the forces of “imperialism.” Even so there were dissatisfied elements on both
the right and the left.
At district conventions the new line was
adopted with the hysteria that had characterized the National Convention. The
same terror was apparent.
I was in a difficult spot. As
legislative representative, I had to present to the New York District Convention
the proposal for the selection of city-wide candidates for the November
elections. A decision to support William O’Dwyer for mayor had been made by the
state board before the Duclos bombshell. Now in the light of the changed line no
one wanted to assume responsibility for supporting him.
It was obvious that the new leftist line
would disrupt communist power in the field of practical politics, and yet the
Party wanted to continue to control the balance of power in New York State
politics. I was assigned to report to the Convention and to get a vote of
approval for O’Dwyer.
The New York civil-service unions and
the transport workers had been seething against LaGuardia for years. He had
given them fair words but little or no wage increases. In 1941 the Party had
considered supporting O’Dwyer but at the last moment had changed its mind and
gone along with Hillman and Dubinsky in support of LaGuardia.
Now the die was cast, and we followed
the election decisions made previously. With O’Dwyer’s election the Communists
placed one of their ablest men in City Hall as confidential secretary to the new
The new National Board had reshuffled
Party posts. Gil Green was sent to Chicago in charge of the industrialized
states of Illinois and Indiana. Robert Thompson was named by Eugene Dennis as
leader of the New York district. When I heard of it my heart sank. In an
unprecedented move I opposed his election on the ground that he had little
experience in running so large and complex a district. He never forgave me for
this slight to his vanity.
I tried to withdraw from my post as an
employee of the Party but Thompson insisted on keeping me close at hand. I could
not be silenced and we clashed repeatedly. I was uneasy and frightened, but I
tried to believe that the madness which was on us was temporary. When Browder
left for Moscow with a Soviet visa I hoped a change would come on his return. So
I held on because I felt I had an obligation to do all in my power to get others
to see how terrible were the things we planned to do. For, strange as it now
seems to me, the last illusion to die in me was the illusion about the Soviet
Union. I did not know then that the new line was made in Moscow.
The leadership of the Party in the
United States might be wrong; the leadership of the French Party or of the
Italian Party might be wrong; but faith in the socialist Motherland, in the
Soviet Union, was deeply etched into our very being. The conditioning had been
I ran into conflict after conflict with
Thompson. He was Moscow-trained, morose, and unstable. He surrounded himself
with strong-arm men and packed the state board meetings with those who flattered
him and voted his way. He moved in swiftly to destroy anyone who thwarted him.
He and Ben Davis tried to get me to prefer charges against Eugene Connolly, a
city councilman and secretary of the American Labor Party, on the grounds of
“white chauvinism.” When I protested that I had never seen the slightest
evidence of “white chauvinism,” they looked at me in disgust.
They sought to move against Michael
Quill on the ground that he had voted in favor of a city council resolution to
greet Archbishop Spellman on his return from Rome as cardinal. At a tense
meeting of the state board I protested this attempt against Quill and reminded
Thompson that effective mass leaders who work with the Party are hard to find.
“Comrade Dodd forgets,” said Thompson,
“that communist leadership is superior to mass leadership. Anyone who opposes us
must be eliminated from the labor movement.”
I carried my appeal against such
decisions to Eugene Dennis, but he only shrugged his shoulders and suggested I
see the “old man.” A talk with William Z. Foster made me decide never to seek
him out again, so utterly cynical was his reply.
As 1945 dragged into the spring of 1946
it was clear that Foster and Dennis had been ordered to take over the Party, but
it was also clear that they did not know what to do with it. The depression in
the United States predicted by a Soviet research group had not materialized and
Foster and his aides, who were all poised for the revolutionary moment, were
unable to agree on what to do. It became obvious there would be no Party
convention in 1946.
In January of 1946 the National
Board decided to expel Earl Browder from the Party, and he was brought up on
charges by the little communist branch in Yonkers where he made his home. The
charges were that he had advanced Keynesian ideas, that he maintained them
stubbornly, and that he had been politically passive, and had failed to attend
local club meetings.
He was tried by a handful of Yonkers
Communists, but his expulsion was approved by the National Committee. The
cruelty of such treatment for a past leader can be possible only in this strange
movement, where there is no charity, no compassion, and, in the end, total
elimination of those who have served it.
Late in 1945 word had come from
Jessica Smith, wife of John Abt, who was in Moscow, that it was important that
American women be organized into an international movement, ostensibly for
peace. An international federation was to be established with Russian and French
Party women as leaders. So during the next months I helped organize the United
States branch. A combination of wealthy women and Party members established and
maintained what was called the Congress of American Women.
Since it was supposedly a movement for
peace, it attracted many women. But it was really only a renewed offensive to
control American women, a matter of deep importance to the communist movement,
for American women do 80 per cent of the family spending. In the upper brackets
they own a preponderance of capital stock and bonds. They are important in the
making of political decisions. Like youth and minority groups, they are regarded
as a reserve force of the revolution because they are more easily moved by
emotional appeals. So the Soviet campaign for peace was especially geared to
gain support of the women.
From the day of the Emergency Convention
there had been efforts to bring every Party member back into support of the new
leadership. Some were won over with jobs. Others were given the
public-humiliation treatment; some were permitted to hang around unassigned
until their disaffection had cooled; and some were expelled.
From 1945 to 1947 several
thousands were expelled, each individually with the refinement of terror in the
purge technique. Two main reasons were given for expulsion: one was guilty
either of leftism or rightism. Ruth McKenney, of My Sister Eileen fame,
and her husband Bruce Minton, were among the first expelled, their crime being
A reign of terror began in which little
people who had joined from idealistic notions were afraid the slightest
criticism of the Party would bring the accusation of deviation. Some of these
people appealed to me for help, for the Party’s action endangered their
reputations and jobs. I tried to help. I counseled restraint but I was often
ineffective because I, myself, was in an equivocal position, something of which
the Party was well aware. I had escaped punishment for my independence in
1945, possibly because I was not easy to deal with, for I had won for myself
a position of respect with the rank-and-file members and had always remained
close to my Union.
But a stealthy campaign had begun
against me. Twice that year I faced charges. My home and law office were invaded
by Party investigators, who came in supposedly to chat and visit with me, and
then reported at headquarters any unorthodox remark. My secretary was enlisted
to report on who came to the office, on my relations with Party and non-Party
members, and on the nature of my correspondence. A poor old seaman whom I fed
and lodged while he was waiting for a job was naive enough to tell me he was
asked many questions about what was said and done at my home. I began to feel
that if I frowned at a Daily Worker editorial someone would surely report
Twice they concocted a charge of white
chauvinism against me. Once I was brought before Ray Hausborough, a Negro from
Chicago, whom I liked and respected, and who heard the charges and dismissed
them. Once I found myself before a woman’s commission with Betty Gannet in the
chair, again on a trumped-up charge dealing with chauvinism. I laughed at them
for of all the white women present, I was the only one living in Harlem in
friendship with my neighbors of all races.
All these charges were too slim to be
sustained, but they concocted others. One accusation stemmed from the fact that
I had blocked the Party’s move to support one of their favorite union leaders
who was facing charges of pilfering union funds. This charge was true, as I was
shocked at the Party’s support of such an unsavory character. This time I
received such rough treatment from the comrades that when Thompson, who was in
charge, leaned over the desk and started shouting at me, I stood up, knocked
over the chair I had been sitting in, and said to them coldly: “You think like
pigs,” and slammed out of the room. But in my heart I was frightened at my own
The next day Bill Norman, the state
secretary, who served as a balance wheel to the explosive and unpredictable
Thompson, called me to his office. He talked to me in his quiet and reasonable
way and I told him frankly that I wanted to get out of the Party. His expression
changed. He fixed his eyes on me and said, almost harshly, “Dodd, no one gets
out of the Party. You die or you are thrown out. But no one gets out.” Then he
became his mild self again.
Finally I asked to have Si Gerson take
my position as legislative representative and that I be assigned to the
Marcantonio campaign that fall.
For the 1946 state elections, the Party
had decided to place a communist ticket in the field to get a bargaining
position in the American Labor Party apparatus which now consisted of the
leaders of the Amalgamated Clothing Workers, Vito Marcantonio and his machine,
and the Communists. A full slate of candidates was named and I was placed on it
as candidate for attorney general, which of course I did not take seriously for
I knew that the Party would later make deals with the American Labor Party and
one of the two major parties, and then withdraw its own candidates.
The work of the 1946 elections was so
masterfully contrived that the Communists, through the use of the American Labor
Party and the unions they controlled, were successful in defeating all whom they
seemed to be supporting. There was, however, one exception to this trickery and
that was the campaign for the election of Representative Vito Marcantonio. For
once the Republican Party had decided on a strong campaign against him. Marc was
one of the ablest men in Congress, but he was also the recognized voice of the
Communists. There were others in Congress who served them effectively. None was
so capable or so daring in the promotion of Party objectives. I was happy to be
put to work in the primary and election campaign in Marcantonio’s district for
it gave me a respite from the complications of Twelfth Street.
I was in charge of a difficult district,
the upper Tenth, from Ninety-Sixth Street to 106th Street, and from the East
River to Fifth Avenue. It was an unbelievably depressed area, the population
largely Negroes recently from the South, Puerto Ricans lately from their island,
and the remnants of Irish, Italian, Greek, and Jewish people, all living in one
of the worst slums in New York.
There was only one oasis in the
district, the new housing project on the East River. In this project lived a
Republican captain named Scottoriggio who was an outspoken opponent of the Labor
Party. This was unusual in this area, as that party usually had the co-operation
of both Democratic and Republican leaders.
My headquarters were at Second Avenue
and Ninetyninth Street. My captains consisted of a group of teachers who were my
friends, and Italian and Puerto Rican members of the Marcantonio machine, one of
them Tony Lagana, a jobless young Italian with a deep devotion to Marcantonio.
In the registration campaign the
teachers helped hundreds to pass the literacy tests. Many hours were spent
helping these adults qualify for the right to vote. We practically doubled the
registration figures. The election campaign was a bitter one with violence
erupting everywhere. Among our leading opponents was Scottoriggio, who
interfered with our campaign workers and challenged their effectiveness in
canvassing the housing project. Hatred had reached a high pitch on the night
before election day.
On election day I opened my headquarters
at five o’clock in the morning. I served coffee and buns to my captains and then
proceeded to make assignments. While we were drinking our coffee we listened to
the radio on my desk, and heard the news that Scottoriggio, on his way to the
polls, had been assaulted by four men and was in a hospital with a fractured
We won the election. When Scottoriggio
died of his injuries, the district was thrown into an uproar. The Republican
leader and the police who had co-operated with Marcantonio for years were under
fire. All my captains were called in for questioning, among them little Tony
Lagana, who was taken to the 104th Street station and held for many hours. What
happened there I do not know nor whom he implicated, nor how fast the
information got to those he implicated. They finally let him go. That night he
disappeared, and several months later his body was found in the East River.
I was subpoenaed by the New York County
grand jury and interrogated at the district attorney’s office. In the midst of
the questioning one of the two assistants asked me why I had become a Communist.
“Because only the Communists seemed to
care about what was happening to people in 1932 and 1933,” I said. “They were
fighting hunger and misery and fascism then, and neither the major political
parties nor the churches seemed to care. That is why I am a Communist.”
I spoke with the practiced intensity of
long habit but no longer with the old faith in the cause, for I no longer had
the same deep conviction about the Party’s championship of the poor and
dispossessed. I knew now that its activities were conceived in duplicity and
ended in betrayal.
The sessions of the December National
Committee were notable for their long-winded, long-spun-out, and fantastic
justification of the line of “self-determination of the Negro in the black
belt.” Only the intelligence and patience of Negro leaders in America have made
possible resistance to this mischievous theory which was contrived by Stalin and
was now unleashed by Foster. Briefly told, it is the theory that the Negroes in
the South form a nation, a subjugated nation with the desire to become a free
one, and that the Communists are to give them all assistance. The Party proposed
to develop the national aspirations of the Negro people so they would rise up
and establish themselves as a nation with the right to secede from the United
States. It was a theory not for the benefit of the Negroes but to spur strife,
and to use the American Negro in the world communist propaganda campaign to win
over the colored people of the world. Ultimately, the Communists proposed to use
them as instruments in the revolution to come in the United States.
During those days I was ill in body and
spirit. Mostly I stayed away from Twelfth Street and its meetings. When I did go
I was aware of an extreme agitation among the Party bureaucrats. Factions were
rising and in an atmosphere of increasing uncertainty and fear.
In the spring of 1947 Foster went to
Europe, clearly to get instructions for action, and returned with the proud
report that he had met Gottwald of Czechoslovakia, Dimitroff of Bulgaria,
Togliatti of Italy, and Duclos of France. He also reported that he had been in
England for the Empire meetings which brought the communist representatives of
the various commonwealths to London.
No sooner had he returned than every
sign of factionalism disappeared. A National Committee meeting was called for
June 27, 1947. It continued for several days, and each day was filled with
drama. It was clear to us gathered there that a reshuffling of leadership was
First of all, Morris Childs, editor of
the Daily Worker, was removed from his office. Morris, who had recently
returned from Moscow, had evidently done something to displease either Moscow or
the Party in New York. He knew it himself, for no sooner had he returned than he
asked for a six months’ leave of absence, explaining he had heart trouble.
Eugene Dennis, national secretary of the
Party, in making the organizational report, announced that Childs was to have an
indefinite leave of absence, and then he proposed as the new editor a young man
with the adopted name of John Gates. Childs’s face turned white as a sheet, for
neither he nor, as it turned out, the editorial board of the Daily Worker
had been consulted about the new editor.
It was a strange choice. John Gates, a
young veteran recently returned from overseas service, had no experience in
newspaper work, but I did know that he had made contacts with powerful figures
overseas, and on his return he had been placed in charge of veterans’ work for
the Party. There was a stir among the members about this selection. Foster put
an end to dissent by saying flatly, “A communist leader does not need newspaper
experience to be an editor. It is more important that he be a sound Marxist.”
Following this statement, the vote was
taken at once. It was unanimous in favor of Gates. There were two abstentions
from approval — Morris Childs and myself. My vote was an overt act of rebellion
against the steam roller which was being used on the National Committee. I knew
that this meeting marked the end of my stay in the administration of the Party
and so I decided to make the most of it. I knew there were others in the
committee who felt as I did, but fear kept them from making the open break I now
I knew that no one in the Party ever
attacks the persons in power chosen to give reports. They must be praised, and
the report must be characterized as crystal clear and masterful. I knew,
finally, that everyone was supposed to vote for it.
I decided to break with this tradition,
first by my abstention in voting for Gates, and then by attacking Foster’s next
proposal: to postpone the Party convention until 1948. The constitution of the
Party, which was proudly displayed every time the Party was attacked as
undemocratic, provided for a regular convention every two years. The last had
been held in 1944; the one in 1945 had been merely emergency. A convention was
certainly due in 1947. I arose and said that we had no other choice but to live
up to the constitution.
Some of the other members now spoke up
and I saw the possibility of a tiny victory against the steam roller. Foster saw
it, too, and in a voice of authority he said that, since all other political
parties would be having conventions in 1948 for the nomination of candidates for
president, the Communists ought to have theirs at the same time. He threw a
withering glance at me and said, “Comrade Dodd’s argument is legalistic,” a
remark which ended the discussion.
The report was voted on and approved.
The next item on the agenda was a
political report on the coming elections of 1948 and the possibility of a third
party. This report was given by John Gates, and the fact that he was chosen to
give it showed that he was being groomed as a coming leader of the Party. Not
only did he know nothing about running a newspaper, but he was relatively
uninformed about American politics.
His report was obviously not his work.
In fact, I could easily recognize it as the combined efforts of Eugene Dennis
and those Party members with whom he was in close touch through the American
Labor Party, the Independent Committee of Artists, Scientists and Professionals,
and the communist forces at Capitol Hill, especially the brilliant Albert
Blumberg, once on the Johns Hopkins staff, whom I had first met at conventions
of the American Federation of Teachers. I knew him as a regular courier between
Dennis and the communist staff in Washington.
I listened carefully to the report,
vague, contradictory, and full of words, repeating the old phrases about the
need of a Labor Party in America. It did not state when it was to be built nor
what were the special conditions which called for it at this particular time.
The point of it all came near the end, when Gates read that a third party would
be very effective in 1948, but only if we could get Henry Wallace to be its
There it was, plainly stated. The
Communists were proposing a third party, a farmer-labor party, as a political
maneuver for the 1948 elections. They were even picking its candidate.
When Gates had finished, I took the
floor. I said that while I would not rule out the possibility of building a
farmer-labor party, surely the decision to place a third party in 1948 should be
based not on whether Henry Wallace would run, but on whether a third party would
help meet the needs of workers and farmers in America. And if a third party were
to participate in the 1948 elections, the decision should be made immediately by
bonafide labor and farmer groups, and not delayed until some secret and unknown
persons made the decision.
My remarks were heard in icy silence.
When I had finished, the committee with no answer to my objection simply went on
to other work.
However, it was becoming evident that
the top clique was having a hard time about this proposition. It was also clear
that Dennis and his crew of smart boys were, reserving to themselves the right
to make the final decision, and that the Party in general was being kept pretty
much in the dark.
When the Progressive Party was finally
launched it represented not the farmers and workers of America but the same kind
of synthetic coalition which had become a pattern of communist participation in
national politics. There were large numbers of disillusioned middle-class
professionals in it; there were women of wealth, moved by humanitarian motives;
and there were Communists and fellow travelers. All these elements were welded
together by flashy professional publicity agents, glib of tongue and facile of
The cynical attitude of the top
Communists toward the Progressive Party can best be illustrated by its results.
Early in January of 1948 and before Henry Wallace had made any public statement,
in fact even before the Progressive Party had been formally organized, Foster
announced through the Associated Press that it was going to be formed and that
Henry Wallace would be its standard bearer.
Before election day it was clear that
the Communists had perpetrated a fraud on those who were looking for a clear-cut
party. For the Progressive Party, advertised as a farmer-labor party, was
without the support of organized labor or of any basic farm organization. Aside
from a few left-wing unions, labor support for it was synthetic.
On election eve I listened to Henry
Wallace as he wound up his campaign on 116th Street and Lexington Avenue, in
Marcantonio’s district. He was only a second-string speaker to the congressman,
and he seemed out of place there, far away from the cornfields of Iowa. He was
the candidate of a farmer-labor party, and yet he was actually supported by
neither. As a voice of protest he was so completely controlled by the Communists
that Americans were repelled and the election results showed that he had
received only a few more than 900,000 votes, of which the 600,000 were in New
York State. He did not affect the national picture, though he did make a
difference in New York State where he insured the victory for Thomas E. Dewey.
He received fewer votes proportionately than did Eugene Debs when he ran on the
socialist ticket after World War I while still in jail. La Follette in 1924
received four times as many votes.
The Communists had cleverly put Wallace
forth as an inspirational leader and an idealist rather than a practical
organizer. They had surrounded him with Foster’s boys and the result was
inevitable. Foster and Dennis became the leaders of the Progressive Party;
Wallace was only its voice.
I had not understood why Foster should
be dictating such apparently self-defeating policies to the Progressive Party.
Now it was apparent that the reason they wanted a small limited Progressive
Party was because it was the only kind they could control. They wanted to
control it because they wanted a political substitute for the Communist Party,
which they expected would soon be made illegal. A limited and controlled
Progressive Party would be a cover organization and a substitute for the
Communist Party if the latter were outlawed.
Also it was clear why at the National
Committee meeting of June, 1947, Foster gave a report on underground
organizations in Europe, in countries where the Communist Party faced
illegality. He said that only the hard core would remain organized and all
others would be reached through their trade unions and other mass organizations.
About 10 per cent of the Party would be
organized in tight little groups of three — trade-union representatives,
political representatives, and unorganized representatives. This was to be the
underground party of illegality.
In fine, one could see that shuffling of
personnel at the meeting had been carefully planned. It had squeezed out all
those who had been put in for window dressing at the Duclos convention of 1945.
Now the stalwarts and professionals of revolution took their appointed places
and prepared to strike.
the latter months of 1947 my world was shifting all about me. The certitude
which I had so long known in the Communist Party was now gone.
I was ill in mind and often in body,
too, for I had a constant and terrible fear that every effort was being made to
destroy me. I had watched the pitiless and methodical destruction of others. I
did not have the will to fight back, nor did I want to involve the innocent.
At that period little dissident groups
were forming and they criticized the Party, both from the right and the left.
Each had its own leader. Each vowed devotion to the Party and each charged that
the leadership of the Party in the United States had gone off the
Marxist-Leninist track. I had noted the futility of such attempts before and,
although I never refused to see anyone who sought me, I did refuse to become
involved with them. I knew well that no group could be organized without being
under the surveillance of Chester, the smooth, dapper director of the Party’s
secret service. His men were everywhere.
I turned to my law practice and sought
to forget my fears by immersing myself in work, but inwardly I was so disturbed
that my work suffered. I did not know how and when the ax would fall. I knew my
office was still under constant surveillance and I had no way of stopping it.
Certain agents from communist headquarters made a practice of visiting me at
regular intervals trying to get me to take part in some meaningless activity. I
knew well that was not the reason they came.
I remember particularly an Italian
Communist whom Foster sent to me to discuss the raising of money for the 1948
elections in Italy. I felt the purpose was to enmesh me, and I said as much to
the young Italian. Also I protested that raising money was not my specialty, and
that the national office had only to lift the telephone to collect the fifty
thousand dollars which I was asked to raise.
I was still accustomed, however, to
obeying directions from the Ninth Floor. Instead of getting rid of my visitor, I
found myself handed a list of people to call on, and together we visited various
men of wealth who worked with the Party.
I had paid relatively little attention
to this phase of communist activity while engaged in union and political work.
The finances of the Party were never discussed at state or national committee
meetings. No financial reports were given. Periodically we planned drives to
raise money usually by asking a day’s or a week’s wages from workers.
Of course 1 knew that the Party had
other sources of income but we never discussed them. I knew that they collected
from a score of camps, and the reason I knew this was due to a hilarious
incident after the war when Chester came to a secretariat board meeting to tell
us he had a chance to buy a brand-new car for the Party’s use at blackmarket
prices. The board approved and then Chester announced that the car must of
course be at his disposal because it was he who made the weekly rounds of the
camps to collect the money.
A bitter quarrel arose in which I was
only a spectator. Thompson, whose family was summering on Cape Cod, felt he
ought to have the new car since he was state chairman. Bill Norman, always the
compromiser, proposed that it go to Thompson, and that Thompson’s car go to him,
Bill, since he was secretary, and that Bill’s go to Chester. I do not now
remember who got the new car, but I do remember that Chester collected
considerable money from the summer camps, both Youth and Adult.
During the war I became aware that the
Party had an interest in a certain machine plant engaged in war contracts and
that it drew revenue from it. I had long known that the Party had an interest in
printing and lithograph plants, and in stationery and office supplies — shops
where all the unions and mass organizations directed their business through
office managers who were Party members.
Several night clubs were started with
the assistance of wealthy political figures snagged by some of the most
attractive communist “cheesecake” in the Party. I used to sympathize with these
pretty Communists when some of them rebelled because they said they were not
being given sufficient Marxist education. Instead, their time went into calling
on men and women of wealth, in an effort to get them to open their pocketbooks.
These girls, nearly all of them college graduates, and some of them writers for
the slick magazines, were mostly from out of town and still had a fresh-faced
look and an innocent charm.
I noted that after a while they forgot
their eager desire for more Marxist education and developed a keen competition
for private lists of suckers and private telephone numbers. These young women
were capable of raising fabulous sums. It was they who raised the first money
for the night clubs which had been called Bill Browder’s Folly, Bill being
Earl’s brother. But these night clubs paid off in money and in political
prestige. They were also the means of attracting scores of talented young people
who got their first chance to perform, and at the same time had the excitement
of knowing they were part of a secret movement of revolt.
The Party boys who had worked on
congressional committees, like the Truman committee which investigated the
condition of the small businessman, had made valuable contacts for the Party’s
participation in the business world. It was they who steered the establishment
of the Progressive Businessmen’s Committee for the election of Roosevelt.
Through them the Party had entree into local chambers of commerce and
conservative business organizations like the Committee on Economic Development,
in which Roy Hudson’s wife held an important research job. Party economic
researchers, accountants, and lawyers got jobs with various conservative
planning groups in Republican and Democratic Party setups and in nonpartisan
The director of much of this activity
was William Wiener, head of Century Publishers, who was known as the top
financial agent of the communist movement, and who also operated a large
financial empire. He was a mild, pudgy little man, who wore Brooks Brothers
suits, smoked expensive cigars, and frequented expensive restaurants. The
average Party member had no contact with men like him, for a functionary who
earned an average of fifty dollars a week seldom saw this side of the Party.
Wiener had a number of financial pools
operating to gather in capital from wealthy, middle-class Party people. They
maintained offices with scores of accountants and attorneys from whom the
communist movement drew reserves. There were doll factories, several paint and
plastic manufacturing firms, chemical firms, tourist travel bureaus,
import-export companies, textiles and cosmetics, records for young people, and
theatrical agencies. In 1945 several corporations were established for trade
with China in one of which was Frederick V. Field. Under the direction of Wiener
and others, such corporations hired and maintained a different type of
communist, better-dressed, better-fed, more sophisticated, and much more
The export-import group was especially
interesting. I recall one group of communist operators who brought watch parts
from Switzerland, assembled them here, and sent the finished product to
Argentina. I met one man who was making regular flying trips to Czechoslovakia,
engaged in the deadly business of selling arms and ammunition, for today the
communist agent engaged in international trade is far more effective than the
old-type political agitator.
Now, as I traveled about the city trying
to help raise money for the Italian elections, I realized more than ever how
many major financial operations were touched by the Party. In one office we
visited a Party concern that bought pig iron in Minnesota and shipped it to
northern Italy where, with the help of Italian Communist Party leaders, it was
allocated to communist-led plants and there processed into steel and shipped to
Argentina. In another office were lawyers who were deeply involved. in the
business of making money as custodians of alien property — that of Italian
citizens which had been seized during the war. Assignments like these were not
easy to get, but these men got them.
After I had introduced my young Italian
associate to a number of people who professed themselves willing to help, he
decided to establish a permanent committee in the United States for cultural
ties with Italy. Thus was born the American Committee for Cultural Relations
with Italy. John Crane, whose family fortune was made in bathroom fixtures, was
It was not that I had not known that the
Communist Party used the rich as well as the worker, but I had never seen it so
That spring I worked at my law practice
and tried to build a private life for myself. I outwitted a number of well-laid
plans to injure me. I learned during those months that some of the agents of the
International Communist movement look and talk like your next-door neighbor.
While I still saw many rank-and-file Communists, I avoided contact with the rest
when I could.
Each morning when I woke to face another
difficult day I would say to myself. “How did I get into this blind alley?”
I hoped against hope that I would be
permitted to drift away from the Party. After all, a million and more Americans
had drifted into and out of it. But I knew they were not likely to allow anyone
who had reached a position of importance to do so.
I had withdrawn from most activity with
them, except that I continued as Party contact for the Party teachers’ groups.
Now I was replaced even there and by a man who knew nothing at all about
education. I was not attending Party meetings. Nevertheless, when I received a
notice I decided to go to the state convention held that year in Webster Hall on
the East Side.
There I found I was a marked person,
that people were afraid to be seen sitting with me. After some hesitation, I
finally sat down at a table beside David Goldway. He and I had always been
friends, and I knew he was having trouble as secretary of the Jefferson School.
He greeted me only with his eyes and with a short nod of the head. His lips were
a thin line. He did not smile or speak.
I heard loud voices at the entrance door
and Thompson strode in, Ben Davis strutting at his heels, followed by a troop of
young people. Suddenly I was reminded of my visit to Germany in the thirties
when in Munich I had seen that same intense look on young faces devoted to
Hitler, their leader.
When a state delegation to the coming
National Convention was nominated by the presidium, I was amazed to hear some
brave soul nominating me from the floor. I recognized him as a man from the
Italian Commission. There was no purpose in my refusing, for I knew my name
would not be presented for a vote. I was right. The presidium struck my name out
with no explanation.
When the convention closed, the floor
was cleared to set up tables for dinner. I left, for I knew I could not break
bread with them.
As a member of the National Committee I
had an obligation to attend the National Convention of 1948, but I decided I had
punished myself enough. There was no reason for me to go; there was nothing I
could do. Perhaps when that was over, when I was no longer a member of the
National Committee, they would drop me entirely.
Evidently some of the leaders had
thought I might go to the convention and had planned a means to silence me. Just
before the convention the discipline committee ordered me to appear before it on
the ninth floor.
I knew perfectly well that I did not
have to obey this command. I was an American citizen with the right to be free
of coercion. I did not have to go to Twelfth Street and ride the dingy elevator
to the ninth floor. I did not have to face the tight-lipped faces of the men and
women who kept the gates and doors locked against intrusion, nor meet their
eyes, scornful now because they knew I was persona non grata. I did not
have to go, but like an automaton I went.
When I left the elevator I went through
the long, dark corridor into an untidy room. Suddenly I all but laughed with
relief, for there sat three old men - and I knew them all well. Alexander
Trachtenberg, with his little walrus mustache and his way of looking down his
nose, said nothing as I came in. Pop Mindel, the hero of the communist training
schools, whose bright brown eyes were usually merry, had no smile for me. The
third was Jim Ford, a Negro leader, whose look at me was distant and morose.
I greeted them and sat down. “At least,”
I said to myself, “these are men who know the score.” My relationship with all
of them had been friendly and we had never had any disputes. Now I waited for
them to speak, but they sat there in silence until finally I grew uneasy. “Will
this take long?” I asked Trachtenberg. With that he cleared his throat and
spoke, and I could hardly believe what he was saying.
“How are you feeling?” he asked with no
concern whatever in his voice.
I hedged. “I’ve been ill, Comrade
Trachtenberg.” “But you are all right now?”
“Yes,” I said. “I guess I’m all right
When he spoke again his German accent
was stronger than usual. “We want to ask you a few questions.” “Here it comes,”
I thought, and braced myself. And then I found myself saying inwardly, “Dear
God, dear God,” with such an intensity that it seemed I had spoken aloud. “We
hear you attacked the Cominform,” said Trachtenberg, half-asking, half-accusing
me. Then he stated the time and place where I had done it.
This I could answer. I explained
carefully that I had criticized the Daily Worker statement which said the
reason the Communist Party in America had not joined the Cominform was that it
would be dangerous to do so. I had pointed out that this was a false statement
and that no one would believe it.
They listened to my brief explanation.
They did not say yea or nay to it. Pop Mindel’s eyes got smaller and his lips
more tightly compressed. There was another interval of silence, then
Trachtenberg said, “We hear you do not like Thompson.”
“Really, Comrade Trachtenberg, whether I
like Thompson or not has nothing to do with the case,” I said. Nevertheless I
went on to explain my own feeling about him: that he was a menace to the lives
of the American workers, and that he endangered the safety of our members.
The next question was unexpected. “Were
you born a Catholic?”
I rallied. “Yes,” I said, wondering why
this was asked. I could think of only one reason: my fight with Thompson over
the Sharkey resolution relating to the greeting of Cardinal Spellman several
years ago. I looked at the three shrewd men, so wise in the ways of communist
planning, and could find no clue to the real reason. They knew well I had been
born a Catholic; they knew I had followed no religion for many years. Then why
They did not continue the inquiry.
Suddenly Trachtenberg asked me why I was not active any longer in membership,
why my activity was at a standstill.
I hedged. “I am still not quite well,
Comrade Trachtenberg. And I have personal problems. Let me alone until I can
find myself again.”
There was another long silence. “Shall I
go?” I asked at last, but received no direct answer.
“You will hear from us again,” said
I was dismissed, and I walked out of the
room, still wondering about this strange interrogation that had no beginning and
no end. No doubt it was to keep me from going to the convention because they
were afraid I might make embarrassing statements which would leak to the press.
They need not have feared. I was in no condition to take the initiative in
anything so difficult.
A new plan against me developed in the
following weeks, a strategy of slurs, character defamation, harassments. There
were, of course, still many people in the trade-union movement and especially
teachers who were not part of the inner communist circle who remembered the days
of my campaigning. Now the Party decided to blacken my character publicly so
that the simple working people in the Party who liked me would no longer have
confidence in me.
The incident which was used as the
excuse for my formal expulsion from the Party was of no importance in itself.
The way in which it was handled was symptomatic of Party methods. On Lexington
Avenue, a few doors from my home, lived a Czechoslovakian woman with whom I
sometimes talked. She lived in a small three-story building where she served as
janitor from 1941 to 1947. Her husband was permanently incapacitated and she was
the sole support of the family. Acting as a janitor and working as a domestic
several days a week, she managed to keep her family together.
In 1947 the owner of the building
decided to sell it. The woman, afraid she would lose both her apartment and her
job, made up her mind to buy it, and borrowed the money to do so. Thus she
became technically a landlord; but her daily life remained the same; she was
still the janitor. However, as owner of the house she had become involved with
her tenants and in quick succession three judgments were entered against her.
Her husband quarreled and left her. The attorney for the plaintiffs, eager to
collect his fees, asked warrants for her arrest.
At this point she came to me for help
and I agreed to represent her. In the end the court granted my plea, the tenants
were paid, and the woman escaped imprisonment.
One thing was clear: only technically
could she have been called a landlord. But the communist leadership heard with
delight that Bella Dodd had appeared as “attorney for a landlord.” At last they
had the excuse for getting me politically, the excuse for which they had been
looking. Of course they could have simply expelled me but this would involve
discussion of policies. They were looking for an excuse to expel me on charges
that would besmirch my character, drive my friends away, and stop discussion
instead of starting it. What better than to expel me for the crime of becoming a
“hireling of the landlords”?
They must have realized that such an
argument would scarcely be cogent to outsiders. Even to many of the Party it was
weak. They must add something really unforgivable to make me an outcast in the
eyes of the simple people of the Party. They did this by spreading the story
that in my court appearances I had made remarks against the Puerto Rican
tenants, that I had slandered them, and showed myself a racist, almost a
fascist. And last of all, a charge of anti-Negro, anti-Semitism, and
anti-working class was thrown in for good measure.
On May 6 a youth leader of the Communist
Party, a round-faced, solemn youth, came to my house. I asked him in and offered
him a cup of coffee, which he refused. Instead, he handed me a copy of written
charges. When I said something about their falseness after I glanced through
them, he gave me a sneering look and instructed me to appear for trial the next
day at the local section commission, a block from my house.
I climbed the endless stairs to the
drab, dirty meeting room with its smell of stale cigarettes. A group was waiting
for me and I saw it consisted entirely of petty employees of the Party, those at
the lowest rung of the bureaucracy. The three women among them had faces hard
and full of hate — Party faces, I thought, humorless and rigid. They sat there
like fates ready to pass on the destinies of human beings.
I had no quarrel with these people. In
fact, as I looked at the group I had the feeling of a schoolteacher when small
children become suddenly defiant of authority. One woman, the chairman, was
Finnish. Another, a Puerto Rican, began shouting her hatred of me. At least it
must have been hate to judge from her expression, for her English was too
hysterical to be understood. The pudgy-faced boy was there, too. Of the other
three men I recognized one as a waiter and the other as a piccolo player whom I
This was an odd kind of trial. The
Commission before me had already made up its mind. I asked whether I could
produce witnesses. The answer was “No.” I asked if I might bring the woman
involved in the case to let her state the story. The answer was “No.” I asked if
the Commission would come with me to her house and speak with her and the
tenants. The answer was “No.” Then I asked if I might bring a communist lawyer
who at least understood the legal technicalities I had been faced with in trying
this simple case. The answer was “No.”
As simply as possible I tried to explain
the facts to them. From the start I realized I was talking to people who had
been instructed, who were hostile, and would continue so despite arguments or
even proof. The Finnish woman who was chairman said that I would be informed of
I was dismissed. As I walked down the
dingy steps my heart was heavy. The futility of my life overcame me. For twenty
years I had worked with this Party, and now at the end I found myself with only
a few shabby men and women, inconsequential Party functionaries, drained of all
mercy, with no humanity in their eyes, with no good will of the kind that works
justice. Had they been armed I know they would have pulled the trigger against
I thought of the others who had been
through this and of those who were still to go through this type of terror. I
shivered at the thought of harsh, dehumanized people like these, filled with
only the emotion of hate, robots of a system which was heralded as a new world.
And I sorrowed for those who would be taken down the long road whose end I saw,
now, was a dead end.
When I reached my own house and went in,
the rooms were cool and quiet. I was tired and spent, as if I had returned from
a long, nightmare journey.
Of course I was certain more trouble was
in store for me. This step had been merely preliminary to publicity against me,
clever publicity. For this expulsion had not originated in the dirty rooms of
the Harlem Commission, but from the headquarters on Twelfth Street, and perhaps
from more distant headquarters.
I dreaded the coming publicity and
decided to get in touch with the one group whom I had regarded as my friends. I
called the Teachers Union to tell the Party leaders what was surely coming. I
thought they would understand and discount any false accusations.
I need not have bothered. From the
testimony of John Lautner months later before the Senate Internal Security
Committee I learned that Rose Russell and Abraham Lederman, leaders of the
Teachers Union, had been present at the State Party meeting which engineered and
confirmed my expulsion and issued the resolution to the press. The vote had been
On June 17, 1949, my telephone rang.
“This is the Associated Press,” said a voice. “We have received a statement from
the Communist Party announcing your expulsion from membership. It says here that
you are anti-Negro, anti-Puerto Rican, anti-Semitic, anti-labor, and the
defender of a landlord. Have you any statement to make?”
What statement could I make? “No
comment,” was all I could manage to say.
The New York papers carried the story
the following day and three days later the Daily Worker reprinted the
long resolution of expulsion, signed by Robert Thompson.
TO THE New York newspapers
the story of the expulsion of a woman Communist was merely one more story. It
was handled in the routine way. I winced, however, when reputable papers
headlined the Communist Party charges and used the words “fascism” and “racism,”
even though I knew these words were only quoted from the Party resolution.
I braced myself for further attacks from
the Party, and they came soon in terms of economic threats. Some of my law
practice came from trade-union and Party members, and here action was swift. The
union Communists told me there would be no more referrals to me. Party members
who were my clients came to my office, some with their new lawyers, to withdraw
their pending cases.
Reprisals came, too, in the form of
telephone calls, letters, and telegrams of hate and vituperation, many of them
from people I did not know. What made me feel desolate were the reprisals from
those I had known best, those among the teachers whom I had considered friends.
While I was busy with Party work I sometimes thought proudly of my hundreds of
friends and how strong were the ties that bound us. Now those bonds were ropes
What I had failed to understand was that
the security I felt in the Party was that of a group and that affection in that
strange communist world is never a personal emotion. You were loved or hated on
the basis of group acceptance, and emotions were stirred or dulled by
propaganda. That propaganda was made by the powerful people at the top. That is
why ordinary Communists get along well with their groups: they think and feel
together and work toward a common goal.
Even personal friends, some of whom I
myself had taken into the Party, were lost to me now, and among them were many
of my former students and fellow teachers. If rejection by an individual can
cause the emotional destruction which our psychiatrists indicate, it cannot, in
some ways, compare with the devastation produced by a group rejection. This, as
I learned, is annihilating.
In vain I told myself that this was a
big world and that there were many people other than Communists in it. It
brought no consolation, for the world was a jungle in which I was lost, in which
I felt hunted. Worst of all, I felt a constant compulsion to explain myself to
those I met who were still in the communist circle. I tried at first, but soon
gave it up.
I had always been an independent person
and rarely gave my reasons for doing things. Now I wrote letters to people, some
of whom had lived in my house or had been frequent guests there, and in whose
homes I had been welcome. Those who replied were either abusive or obviously
sought to disassociate themselves from me. Two friends replied in one sentence
on the back of the letter I had written them only this: “Please do not involve
us.” Many did not answer at all.
Before long my office was empty except
for snoopers and creditors. I gave up my home and moved into a dingy room near
my office. I would go early to my office, read the Times and the Law Journal,
and then sit and look out at Bryant Park, at the classical lines of the Public
Library. I had spent many hours in that library as student and teacher, hungry
for knowledge. Unfortunately I never really satisfied that hunger, for my
reading in later years had been only communist literature and technical
material. There is no censorship of reading so close and so comprehensive as
that of the Party. I had often seen leaders pull books from shelves in homes and
warn members to destroy them.
But I had no desire to read now. The one
book I did open was the New Testament which I had never stopped reading even in
my days of starkest Party delusion.
I stayed late in my office because there
was no place to go other than my room, a dark, unpleasant place, with the odor
of a second-class hotel. I still remember the misery and darkness of the first
Christmas alone. I stayed in my room all day. I remember the New Year which
followed, when I listened with utter despair to the gayety and noise from Times
Square and the ringing bells of the churches. More than once I thought of
leaving New York and losing myself in the anonymity of a strange town. But I did
not go. Something in me struggled with the wave of nihilism engulfing me.
Something stubborn in me told me I must see it through.
The New York Post asked me to write a
series of articles on why I had broken with the Communist Party, and made me a
generous offer. I agreed. But when I had finished them and read them over I did
not want to see them published and found an excuse for refusing the offer. When
a weekly magazine made an even more lucrative offer, I refused that, too. There
were several reasons for this, as I now realize: one was that I did not trust my
own conclusions, and another that I could not bear to hurt people I had known in
the Party and for whom I still felt affection. Some I knew were entrapped as
surely as I had been.
It was a strange and painful year. The
process of completely freeing oneself emotionally from being a Communist is a
thing no outsider can understand. The group thinking and group planning and the
group life of the Party had been a part of me for so long that it was
desperately difficult for me to be a person again. That is why I have lost track
of whole days and weeks of that period.
But I had begun the process of
“unbecoming” a Communist. It was a long and painful process, much like that of a
polio victim who has to learn to walk all over again. I had to learn to think. I
had to learn to love. I had to drain the hate and frenzy from my system. I had
to dislodge the self and the pride that had made me arrogant, made me feel that
I knew all the answers. I had to learn that I knew nothing. There were many
stumbling blocks in this process.
One afternoon in March of that year an
old acquaintance, Wellington Roe, came into my office. He breezed in with a
broad smile and said he was just passing and had decided to say hello. I thought
nothing further of his visit. “Duke,” as we all called him, had been one of the
Party’s front candidates in the American Labor Party. He was the leader of the
Staten Island forces and had run for office on its ticket. He had helped in the
fight against Dubinsky when the Party was struggling to get complete control of
the Labor Party. I had not known him as a Party member but as a liberal and a
friend of the Party, one who did not mind being used for their campaigns.
It was reassuring to talk about the
Party in terms of the average newspaperman, and laugh at its strange antics
which he lampooned. I told him about my articles and he said he wanted to see
them and even spoke of a possible book contract. Then he talked of events in
Washington. I told him I had been so immersed in my own troubles that I had paid
little attention to current events. If I had any opinion about Senator McCarthy,
of whom he spoke, and of whom the country was just becoming aware, it was that I
thought of him as the opening gun in the Republican campaign.
He asked if I had ever known Owen
Lattimore. I said I had not. Had I ever known him to be a Party member, he
asked, and again I said no. I had heard of him vaguely, I said, as a British
agent in the Far East.
A few weeks later Duke walked in again
and this time asked if I would be willing to help Professor Lattimore. I replied
I did not see how, since I did not know him. He talked of the importance of
having all liberals unite to fight reaction wherever it was manifesting itself.
This left me unconvinced. I had problems of my own and for once I did not wish
to get involved with those of others. But he came again the next day, this time
with a man he introduced as Abe Fortas, Lattimore’s attorney. I did not know
him, but I had heard of him through mutual friends as a man who often defended
civil-service employees faced with loyalty probes.
After a short talk the attorney said he
thought he would have to subpoena me in the defense of Lattimore. When he saw my
reluctance he asked if I would be willing to give him an affidavit saying that I
had not heard of Lattimore while I was a leader in the Communist Party. So I
signed an affidavit to that effect, and I thought that was the end of it.
I was naive to think so. A few days
later I was served with a subpoena by the Foreign Relations Committee of the
Senate. Dumfounded, I called Duke. He said it was no surprise to him. Since he
was going to Washington he would be happy to make a reservation for me. He would
even rent a typewriter so that I could prepare a statement.
At the hearings I saw Lattimore for the
first time. Duke was there too. At a table with Senator Tydings sat Senator
Green of Rhode Island, Senator McMahon of Connecticut, Senator Lodge of
Massachusetts, and Senator Hickenlooper of Indiana. Back of them sat Senator
McCarthy, and next to him Robert Morris, whom I had known as one of the
attorneys for the Rapp-Coudert Committee.
I studied the senators before me. I knew
that Senator Tydings was related in some way to Joseph Davies, former ambassador
to Russia, who had written the friendly Mission to Moscow, and who had
been active in Russian War Relief, receiving an award from the Soviet propaganda
center in the United States, the Russian Institute. I knew of Senator McMahon’s
proposal for sharing our atomic knowledge with Russia. I felt that these men in
the seats of power had facts not available to the rest of us, and were going
along with the postwar perspective of co-existence with the Soviet Union, a
position easy for me to accept since it was much like the communist propaganda
during the years of my involvement with the communist world. When Senator
Hickenlooper began to throw hostile questions at me I reacted with the hostility
of the Communist, and I gave slick, superficial answers, for I did not want to
be drawn into what I regarded as a Democratic-Republican fight.
There is no doubt in my mind that on
facts of which I had knowledge I told the truth. But when it came to questions
of opinion there is no doubt that before the Tydings Committee I still reacted
emotionally as a Communist and answered as a Communist. I had broken with the
structure of the Party, but was still conditioned by the pattern of its
thinking, and still hostile to its opponents.
Something, however, happened to me at
this hearing. I was at last beginning to see how ignorant I had become, how long
since I had read anything except Party literature. I thought of our bookshelves
stripped of books questioned by the Party, how when a writer was expelled from
the Party his books went, too. I thought of the systematic rewriting of Soviet
history, the revaluation, and in some cases the blotting out of any mention of
such persons as Trotsky. I thought of the successive purges. Suddenly I too
wanted the answers to the questions Senator Hickenlooper was asking and I wanted
the truth. I found myself hitting at the duplicity of the Communist Party.
I returned to New York alone and as the
train sped through the darkness I looked out at the dim outline of houses in
small towns and my heart went back to the memory of myself walking about the
little Episcopalian cemetery as a child and putting flowers on the graves of
American heroes. And suddenly I was aware of the reality of what was facing the
country, a sobering fear of the forces planning against its way of life. I had
an overwhelming desire to help keep safe from all danger all the people who
lived in those little towns.
My appearance before the Tydings
Committee had served one good purpose: it had renewed my interest in political
events, and it had the effect of breaking the spell which had held me. I had at
last spoken openly and critically of the Communist Party.
To those who find it difficult to
understand how a mind can be imprisoned, my puny indictment of the communist
movement before the Tydings Committee may have seemed slight indeed, for I no
doubt gave some comfort to the Party by my negative approach. But it takes time
to “unbecome” a Communist.
But the event had been important to
myself. I could now breathe again. I could read critically, and I lived again in
the world so long lost to me.
I read the congressional report of the
hearings on the Institute of Pacific Affairs. I found I was again able to
interpret events. In my time with the Party I had accumulated a large store of
information about people and events, and often these had not fitted into the
picture presented by the Party to its members. It was as if I held a thousand
pieces of a jigsaw puzzle and could not fit them together. It irritated me, but
when I thought of the testimony of witnesses before the Congressional Committee,
some of whom I had known as Communists, much of the true picture suddenly came
into focus. My store of odd pieces was beginning to develop into a recognizable
There had been many things I had not
really understood. I had regarded the Communist Party as a poor man’s party, and
thought the presence of certain men of wealth within it accidental. I now saw
this was no accident. I regarded the Party as a monolithic organization with the
leadership in the National Committee and the National Board. Now I saw this was
only a facade placed there by the movement to create the illusion of the poor
man’s party; it was in reality a device to control the “common man” they so
There were many parts of the puzzle
which did not fit into the Party structure. Parallel organizations which I had
dimly glimpsed now became more clearly visible, and their connections with the
apparatus I knew became apparent. As the war in Korea developed, further
illumination came to me.
We in the Party had been told in 1945,
after the publication of the Duclos letter, that the Party in the United States
would have a difficult role to play. Our country, we were told, would be the
last to be taken by the Communists; the Party in the United States would often
find itself in opposition not only to the interests of our government, but even
against the interests of our own workers.
Now I realized that, with the best
motives and a desire to serve the working people of my country, I, and thousands
like me, had been led to a betrayal of these very people. I now saw that I had
been poised on the side of those who sought the destruction of my own country.
I thought of an answer Pop Mindel, of
the Party’s Education Bureau, had once given me in reply to the question whether
the Party would oppose the entry of our boys into the Army. I had asked this
question at a time when the Communists were conducting a violent campaign for
peace, and it seemed reasonable to me to draw pacifist conclusions. Pop Mindel
sucked on his pipe and with a knowing look in his eyes said:
“Well, if we keep our members from the
Army, then where will our boys learn to use weapons with which to seize power?”
I realized how the Soviets had utilized
Spain as a preview of the revolution to come. Now other peoples had become
expendable — the Koreans, North and South, the Chinese soldiers, and the
American soldiers. I found myself praying, “God, help them all.”
What now became clear to me was the
collusion of these two forces: the Communists with their timetable for world
control, and certain mercenary forces in the free world bent on making profit
from blood. But I was alone with these thoughts and had no opportunity to talk
over my conclusions with friends.
The year dragged on. Spring changed to
summer and summer into autumn, days and problems were repeated in weary
monotony. The few people I came in contact with were as displaced as myself.
There were several, out of the Party like myself, who were struggling to find
their way back to the world of reality. One was being psychoanalyzed and several
were drinking themselves into numbed hopelessness.
More than once I wondered why I should
go on living. I had no drive to make money. When I did make some, I paid
creditors or gave it away. I paid the persons who pressed me hardest. Sometimes
I went to visit members of my family, my brothers and their children. But from
these visits I returned more desolate than ever. I had lost my family; there was
Every morning and every evening I walked
along Sixth Avenue and Forty-second Street. I came to know the characters who
congregated around there, the petty thieves, the pickpockets, the prostitutes,
the small gamblers, and the sharp-faced, greedy little men. I, too, was one of
Early in the fall of 1950 I went to
Washington to argue an immigration appeal. I had planned to return to New York
immediately afterward. It was a clear, crisp day, and I walked along
Pennsylvania Avenue toward the Capitol. Near the House Office Building I ran
into an old friend, Christopher McGrath, the congressional representative of the
Twenty-seventh District, the old East Bronx area of my childhood. I had not seen
him for more than a year. When I last saw him he had taken me to lunch and given
me some advice. He greeted me warmly and invited me to his office. I was happy
to go with him. There
I found Rose, his secretary, whom I had
known. When we were in his private office he said abruptly: “You look harassed
and disturbed, Bella. Isn’t there something I can do for you?”
I felt a lump in my throat. I found
myself telling him how much he had helped me the day he had taken me to lunch,
and how good it had been to talk about my mother to someone who had known her.
I recalled how strange that luncheon
visit had been. For the first time in many years and in a noisy restaurant in
Manhattan someone had talked to me reverently about God. The people I had known
in my adult life had sworn in the name of God or had repeated sophisticated
jokes on religion, but none had talked of God as a living personal Reality.
He asked me if I wanted FBI protection,
and I must have shivered noticeably. Though I was afraid, I was reluctant to
live that kind of life. He did not press the issue. Instead, he said: “I know
you are facing danger, but if you won’t have that protection, I can only pray
for your safety.”
He looked at me for a moment as if he
wanted to say something else. Then he asked: “Bella, would you like to see a
Startled by the question, I was amazed
at the intensity with which I answered, “Yes, I would.”
“Perhaps we can reach Monsignor Sheen at
Catholic University,” he said. Rose put in several calls and an appointment was
made for me late that evening at the Monsignor’s home.
I was silent as we drove to Chevy Chase.
All the canards against the Catholic Church which I had heard and tolerated,
which even by my silence I had approved, were threatening the tiny flame of
longing for faith within me. I thought of many things on that ride, of the word
“fascist,” used over and over by the communist press in describing the role of
the Church in the Spanish Civil War. I also thought of the word “Inquisition” so
skillfully used on all occasions. Other terms came to me — reactionary,
totalitarian, dogmatic, old-fashioned. For years they had been used to engender
fear and hatred in people like me.
A thousand fears assailed me. Would he
insist that I talk to the FBI? Would he insist that I testify? Would he make me
write articles? Would he see me at all? And then before my mind’s eye flashed
the cover of a communist pamphlet on which was a communist extending a hand to a
Catholic worker. The pamphlet was a reprint of a speech by the French Communist
leader Thorez and it flattered the workers by not attacking their religion. It
skillfully undermined the hierarchy in the pattern of the usual communist
attempt to drive a wedge between the Catholic and his priest.
By what right, I thought, was I seeking
the help of someone I had helped revile, even if only by my silence? How dared I
come to a representative of that hierarchy?
The screeching of the brakes brought me
back to reality. We had arrived, and my friend was wishing me luck as I got out
of the car. I rang the doorbell and was ushered into a small room. While I
waited, the struggle within me began again. Had there been an easy exit I would
have run out, but in the midst of my turmoil Monsignor Fulton Sheen walked into
the room, his silver cross gleaming, a warm smile in his eyes.
He held out his hand as he crossed the
room. “Doctor, I’m glad you’ve come,” he said. His voice and his eyes had a
welcome which I had not expected, and it caught me unaware. I started to thank
him for letting me come but I realized that the words which came did not make
sense. I began to cry, and heard my own voice repeating over and over and with
agony, “They say I am against the Negro.” That accusation in the Party
resolution had made me suffer more than all the other vilification and 1, who
had for years been regarded as a hard Communist, wept as I felt the sting anew.
Monsignor Sheen put his hand on my
shoulder to comfort me. “Don’t worry,” he said. “This thing will pass,” and he
led me gently to a little chapel. We both knelt before a statue of Our Lady. I
don’t remember praying, but I do remember that the battle within me ceased, my
tears were dried, and I was conscious of stillness and peace.
When we left the chapel Monsignor Sheen
gave me a rosary. “I will be going to New York next winter,” he said. “Come to
me and I’ll give you instructions in the Faith.”
On my way to the airport I thought how
much he understood. He knew that a nominal Christian with a memory of the Cross
can easily be twisted to the purposes of evil by men who masquerade as saviors.
I thought how communist leaders achieve their greatest strength and cleverest
snare when they use the will to goodness of their members. They stir the
emotions with phrases which are only a blurred picture of eternal truths.
In my rejection of the wisdom and truth
which the Church has preserved, and which she has used to establish the harmony
and order set forth by Christ, I had set myself adrift on an uncharted sea with
no compass. I and others like me grasped with relief the fake certitude offered
by the materialists and accepted this program which had been made even more
attractive because they appealed for “sacrifice for our brothers.” Meaningless
and empty I learned are such phrases as “the brotherhood of man” unless they
have the solid foundation of belief in God’s Fatherhood.
When I left Monsignor Sheen I was filled
with a sense of peace and also with an inner excitement which stayed with me for
many days. I flew back to New York late that night, a beautiful, moonlight
night. The plane flew above a blanket of clouds, and over me were the bright
stars. I had my hand in the pocket of my blue wool coat and it was closed over a
string of beads with a cross at the end. All the way to New York I held tightly
to the rosary Monsignor Sheen had given me.
For the rest of that year I remained
alone in New York, limited in my contacts to the few clients I served and the
occasional friend who dropped in. Now and then I stepped into a church to sit
there and rest, for only there was the churning inside of me eased for a while
and only then fear left me.
Christmas, 1950, was approaching, an I
again my loneliness was intensified. I was now living in a furnished room on
Broadway at Seventy-fifth Street and still shuttling from my room to my office
and back again every day and night.
On Christmas Eve, Clotilda and Jim
McClure, who had lived at my house on Lexington Avenue and who had kept in touch
with me and worried about me, called and urged me to spend the evening with
them. After I sold my home they had had a miserable time finding accommodations.
Harlem and its unspeakable housing situation was a cruel wilderness cheating the
patient and undemanding. The McClures had moved to a one-room apartment on 118th
Street where the rent of the decontrolled apartment was fantastic for what it
offered. But Jim and Clo made no apologies for their home, for they knew how I
grieved at their predicament.
It was cold when I arrived, but I forgot
that in the warmth of their welcome. They rubbed my cold hands and put me in
their one easy chair, and Clo served a simple supper. Jim said grace as he had
always done at our house. We talked about Christmas, and as I listened to them I
knew why bitterness had not twisted these two. They had made the best of what
they had. They were gay and full of life, and above all they were touched with a
deep spirituality which made their shabby room an island of harmony. There in a
squalid building on an evil-looking street with its back areas cluttered with
refuse and broken glass they had found spiritual comfort.
After we had eaten, Jim opened his
well-worn Bible and read a few of the psalms and then Clo read several. As I
listened to their warm, rich voices sounding the great phrases I saw that they
were pouring their own present longings into these Songs of David, and I
realized why the prayers of the Negro people are never saccharine or bitter. Jim
handed me the book and said: “Here, woman, now you read us something.”
I leafed through the pages until I found
the one I wanted. I began to read the wonderful phrases of the Eighth Psalm:
“For I will behold the heavens, the
works of Thy fingers ... What is man that Thou art mindful of him? ... Thou hast
made him a little less than the angels ... Thou hast subjected all things under
his feet.... Lord, our Lord, how admirable is Thy name in all the earth.”
For a few moments after I had finished
no one spoke. I handed the Bible back to Jim. Clo poured another cup of coffee
for me. Then I said I was tired and ought to get home since it was almost eleven
o’clock. I promised I would come again soon, and Jim walked with me to the
Madison Avenue bus and wished me a “Merry Christmas.”
The bus was crowded with chattering and
happy people. I sat alone in the midst of them, with my face against the window,
watching the drab streets go by. On many of those corners I had campaigned. I
had walked many of them in a succession of months of meaningless activity, a
squandering of my creative years in sham battle. So many wasted years, I
thought, drab as the streets!
So immersed was I in my thoughts that I
forgot to get off the bus when it reached Seventy-second Street to transfer for
the west side. I realized I had gone too far, but had no real desire to get off
the bus at all, and I watched Madison Avenue turn from stores and flats into
smart shops and hotels, and when we crossed Forty-second Street I still did not
get off the bus.
I have no recollection of leaving the
bus at Thirty-fourth Street or of walking along that street to the west side. My
next recollection is of finding myself in a church. The church, I learned later,
was St. Francis of Assisi.
It was crowded. Every seat was filled.
There was hardly room to stand, for people packed the aisles. I found myself
wedged in the crowd, halfway between the altar and the rear of the church.
Services had begun. From the choir came
the hymns of Christmas. Three priests in white vestments took part in the
ancient ritual. The bell rang three deep notes; the people were on their knees
in adoration. I looked at the faces etched in the soft light, faces reverent and
It came to me as I stood there that here
about me were the masses I had sought through the years, the people I loved and
wanted to serve. Here was what I had sought so vainly in the Communist Party,
the true brotherhood of all men. Here were men and women of all races and ages
and social conditions cemented by their love for God. Here was a brotherhood of
man with meaning.
Now I prayed. “God help me. God help
me,” I repeated over and over.
That night, after Midnight Mass was
over, I walked the streets for hours before I returned to my rooming house. I
noted no one of those who passed me. I was alone as I had been for so long. But
within me was a warm glow of hope. I knew that I was traveling closer and closer
to home, guided by the Star.
EARLY IN THE NEW YEAR I went to the
office of the Board of Education to see Dr. Jacob Greenberg, then superintendent
in charge of personnel, regarding a teacher. In his office I met Mary Riley, his
assistant. Since Dr. Greenberg could not see me at once, Miss Riley and I began
She had been a high-school teacher for
years. Loved and respected by all, she represented a type of teacher becoming
increasingly rare, as though they were being systematically eliminated from our
schools. She was a woman of poise and dignity whose love of God permeated all
I felt relaxed as I sat there talking
with her, listening to her and looking at the picture she made with her soft
gray hair, her warm blue eyes, the quiet good taste of her dress. I was somewhat
surprised that she would talk to me for I knew that my activities and the
doctrine I had spread had been offensive to her. But she was smiling and saying
she was sorry they no longer saw me at the Board. I explained that I had been
having a lot of trouble.
She knew. “That’s putting it mildly,”
she said. “But don’t let anyone stop you, Bella. You still have a lot of
friends. We don’t like communism but we do admire one who struggles to help
human beings as you always have.”
I was moved by her words, for it was not
the kind of talk I had heard of late. She went on to speak about the Interracial
Council that she had founded in Brooklyn, and of which she was still a moving
spirit. And I had a feeling that I was close to the edge of a new world, one in
which acts of kindness were carried out anonymously and not used for publicity
purposes. Some days later a package came from Mary Riley. It contained books and
magazines dealing with a variety of things Catholic, such as the medical
missions in Africa, the Interracial Councils, and youth shelters. There was also
a book by a priest: James Keller’sYou
Can Change the World.
As I read the title my thoughts went
back to Sarah Parks, my teacher at Hunter College, and the books she had given
me that had quickened my interest in the communist movement. Those books had
been in praise of the change in the world brought about by the Russian
Revolution which at the time I had considered an upheaval necessary for the
improvement of the social conditions of the Russian people. I knew now that
glorification of revolution and destruction of lives in the hope that a better
world would rise were fatally wrong. I thought with sadness of Sarah Parks — her
bright intelligence wasted because she had no standard to live by, of how in the
end she took her own life rather than face its emptiness.
I thumbed through Father Keller’s book.
It was almost primitive in its simplicity and I was caught by its personal
invitation to each reader — a call for self-regeneration. It seemed addressed to
me personally. This was a new call to social action. This was no stirring of
hate to bring about social reform but the stirring of the flame of love.
I could not stop reading the book. I sat
there in the quiet of my office and I felt all through me the truth of Father
Keller’s saying: “There can be no social regeneration without a personal
regeneration.” As I read I felt life flowing back into me, life to myself as a
person. Within the Party I had been obliterated except as part of the group.
Now, like some Rip Van Winkle, I was awakening from a long sleep.
Father Keller did not leave me with a
sense of aloneness or of futility. “It is better to light one candle than to
curse the darkness,” he had written. To me, who had begun to feel that evil was
ready to envelop the world, this was life itself. 1 was grateful to Mary Riley
and grateful to the priest for his words of life.
Not long afterward I was in the Criminal
Courts Building defending a youthful offender and I ran into judge Pagnucco,
formerly of the District Attorney’s office, who had interrogated me during the
Scottoriggio investigation. We talked about the measure of individual
responsibility for criminal acts. He mentioned Father Keller’s words on that
subject and I said I had heard of him and admired his work. The Judge asked me
if I would like to meet the Maryknoll priest.
Next afternoon 1 met the judge at the
office of Godfrey Schmidt, a militant Catholic lawyer, and a teacher at Fordham
Law School. I remembered him vividly as the official in the New York State
Department of Labor who had prepared the case against Nancy Reed, the girl who
had lived at my apartment for a time and whose mother was an owner of the
Daily Worker. I thought of the violent campaign the Party had organized
against him, the gruesome caricatures of him in the Party-controlled papers, and
how they called him “Herr Doktor Schmidt.” Now I listened to Godfrey Schmidt
talk of America and its people with obvious sincerity, and I had an overwhelming
feeling of shame that I had participated in that campaign of hate.
Father Keller came in with another
friend and Mr. Schmidt invited us to lunch together. I looked at the priest in
frank appraisal and found myself interested in the harmony and peace of his face
and in his keen understanding of the problems facing men and women of our day.
As he and the other men discussed various matters, I realized why these three
talked so differently from the little groups I had been with at tables like this
in the communist movement. Here there was no hatred and no fear. We talked of
books and television and of communism too, and Father Keller referred to the
latter as “the last stage of an ugly period.”
When he invited me to his office to meet
some of the Christophers I accepted. I found myself returning again and again to
that office, impressed with the spiritual quality I found there. On my first
visit to the Christopher headquarters a dozen of us were busy in the room when
the chimes from the nearby Cathedral rang the noon hour. Everyone stopped
working and recited the Angelus. I caught, here and there, remembered words of
prayer I had heard long ago. “. . . Behold the handmaid of the Lord,” I heard,
and “. . . the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us. ”
I did not know the response and I stood
silent. But I was deeply stirred to hear young men and women pausing in their
work to pray together, here in the most materialistic city ever raised by a
materialistic civilization. And I felt how true of this believing little group
were the words: “And dwelt among US.”
My association with the Christophers
showed me how little I knew of my Faith and made me realize that I was like a
dry tinder box and that I wanted to learn. Seeing the Christophers at work
stirred a memory of the flame I had in my youth, the desire to help those in
trouble, the sense of shame at any indignity to a human being. I smiled ruefully
in recalling that I had thought the Communists the modern prototype of the early
Christians, come to cast greed and selfishness from the world. The Communists
too had promised an order and a harmony of life. I knew now that their promises
were fraudulent, and that the harmony they promised brought only chaos and
death. Yet I knew too that I had to get the difference between the two clear in
my own mind before I took any further steps. I had to know, and for myself.
I prayed now every day. I rose early in
the morning and went to Mass at the Church of Our Lady of Guadaloupe, near where
I now lived on West Seventeenth Street. I felt excitement when I turned east
from Eighth Avenue and hurried up the church steps to hear the Brothers sing
matins before Mass. As I watched the faces of the morning communicants, I envied
them and longed to be one with them, and when each returned from the altar I
felt a warm glow merely in being close to them. I thought of this continuous
Sacrifice on the altars of thousands of churches all over the world, wherever
there was a priest to bring the Mass to the people.
The anti-clericalism which had been a
part of my thinking for years dropped from me completely when I watched the
lights turned on each morning around the altar of Our Lady of Guadaloupe and
when the candles were lighted and I saw the priest offer the Sacrifice. I felt
myself inescapably drawn to the altar rail, but I still sat in the darkness of
the rear pews as a spectator. I was not ready, I told myself. And I had a dread
of dramatic gestures. But as the days went by I knew the sense of strain was
leaving me and I began to feel an inner quiet.
I found myself reading, like one who had
been starved, books which the Communists and the sophisticated secular world
marked taboo or sneered at. I found St. Augustine and the City o f God
infinitely more life-giving than the defiant modern professors who wrote The
City of Man. I found St. Thomas Aquinas and I laughed to remember
that all I had learned of St. Thomas was that he was a scholastic philosopher
who believed in the deductive method of thinking. Now, as the great storehouse
of his wisdom was opened to me, I felt rich beyond all words.
One day at lunch with Godfrey Schmidt I
explained that I must learn more about the Faith. As we walked down Park Avenue,
he took me into a bookshop and bought me a prayer book. Next day he called me to
say that Bishop Sheen was in town and had agreed to see me again. This was like
a joyful summons from an old friend.
With Mr. Schmidt I went to East
Thirty-eighth Street, to the offices of the Society for the Propagation of the
Faith, and rang the bell. Bishop Sheen opened the door himself and I saw the
silver cross on his chest, the smile in his eyes, but this time I heard a
welcome home in his greeting.
And so I began to receive instructions
in the Faith. Something strange was apparent to me in my behavior — I who had
generally been skeptical and argumentative now found that I asked few questions.
I did not want to waste one precious moment. Week after week I listened to the
patient telling of the story of God’s love for man, and of man’s longing for
God. I listened to the keen logic and reasoning that have lighted the darkness
and overcome the confused doubts of others of my group who had lost the art of
reasoned thinking and in its place had put assertive casuistry. I saw how
history and fact and logic were inherent in the foundations of the Christian
I listened to the Bishop explaining the
words of Jesus Christ, the founding of His Church, the Mystical Body. I felt
close now to all who received Communion in all the churches of the world. And I
felt the true equality which exists between people of different races and
nations when they kneel together at the altar rail — equal before God. And I
came to love this Church which made us one.
I read often long into the night. There
were so many things I had to know. I had wasted so many precious years.
Easter of 1952 was approaching and
Bishop Sheen said that I was ready. I had no baptismal record and a letter of
inquiry to the town in Italy where I was born produced none, though I was
reasonably certain I had been baptized. So it was decided I was to receive
On April 7th, the anniversary of my
mother’s birthday, I was baptized by Bishop Sheen at the font in St. Patrick’s
Cathedral. Mary Riley and Louis Pagnucco stood on either side of me. Godfrey
Schmidt and a few other friends were with me too.
Afterward Bishop Sheen heard my first
confession. He had noted that I was nervous and distraught in making my
preparation, for I had to cover the many years in which I had denied the truth.
I meditated on the mockery I had made of my marriage; how I had squandered my
birthright as a woman; on my twisted relationship with my parents; on the
exaggerated pride of my mind; and on the tolerance I had for error. He realized
my despair and said comfortingly: “We priests have heard the sins of men many
times. Yours are no greater than those of others. Have confidence in God’s
mercy.” After hearing my confession he granted absolution. His Pax vobiscum
echoed and reechoed in my heart.
At Mass next morning I received
Communion from his hands. And I prayed as I watched the flicker of the sanctuary
lamp that the Light that had reclaimed me might reach the ones I loved who still
sit in darkness.
It was as if I had been ill for a long
time and had awakened refreshed after the fever had gone. I went about my work
with a calm that surprised me. I seemed to have acquired a new heart and a new
Outwardly my life was changed not at
all. I still lived in a cold-water flat on a street of tenement houses, but now
I could greet my neighbors with no feeling of fear or mistrust. I was never to
be lonely again, and when I prayed there was always the Presence of Him I prayed
As order and peace of mind returned to
my life I was able to face intelligently the difficult ordeal of appearing
before governmental agencies and investigating committees. I dreaded hurting
individuals who were perhaps as blind as I had been and who were still being
used by the conspirators. I dreaded the campaign of personal abuse which would
be renewed against me.
Now I formulated and tried to answer
three critical questions: Does my country need the information I am called upon
to give? Will I be scrupulous in telling the truth? Will I be acting without
I knew that the information which I had
might be of some help in protecting our people. I knew also that honest citizens
of our country were uninformed about the nature of Marxism and I recognized now
that in the best sense of the word to “inform” means to educate. As avenues of
education are blocked and twisted into propaganda by the agents of this
conspiracy, my country needed the information I had to give.
But I dreaded the ordeal of testifying,
when letters, telephone calls, and post cards of abuse came to me after my first
appearance before the Internal Security Committee of the Senate. There was one
interesting turn to the abuse: the bulk of it was in biblical terms — “Judas
Iscariot,” “thirty pieces of silver,” “dost thou betray” were the most common
expressions used. Quite a few quoted from the Gospel of St. Matthew the words
telling how Judas Iscariot hanged himself and the writers ended with the
exhortation, “Go thou and do likewise.”
Now I saw in true perspective the
contribution that the teachers and the schools of America have made to its
progress, just as I was sadly aware of the darker picture some of the educators
and the educated among us have presented. Justice Jackson has said that it is
the paradox of our times that we in modern society need to fear only the
educated man. It is very true that what a man does with his knowledge is that
which, in one sense, justifies or indicts that education. A glance at the
brilliant scientists who served the Hitler regime, and the Soviet scholars who
serve the Kremlin, a look at the men indicted for subversion in our own country
-all lead us to re-estimate the role of education. We are told that all problems
will be solved by more education. But the time has come to ask: “What kind of
education?” “Education for what?” One thing has become transparently clear to
me: rounded education includes training of the will as much as training of the
mind; and mere accumulation of information, without a sound philosophy, is not
I saw how meaningless had been my own
education, how like a cafeteria of knowledge, without purpose or balance. I was
moved by emotion and my education failed to guide me in making sound personal
and public decisions. It was not until I met the Communists that I had a
standard to live by, and it took me years to find out it was a false standard.
Now I know that a philosophy and
movement that devotes itself to improving the condition of the masses of our
industrial society cannot be successful if it attempts to force man into the
mold of materialism and to despiritualize him by catering only to that part of
him which is of this earth. For no matter how often man denies the spirit he
will in an unaccountable manner turn and reach out to the Eternal. A longing for
God is as natural a heritage of the soul as the heartbeat is of the body. When
man tries to repress it, his thinking can only lapse into chaos.
I know that man alone cannot create a
heaven on earth. But I am still deeply concerned about my fellow man, and I feel
impelled to do what I can against the inhumanity and injustices that threaten
his well-being and security. I am aware, too, that if good men fail to so love
one another that they will strike vigorously to eliminate social ills, they must
be prepared to see the conspirators of revolution seize power by using social
maladjustments as a pretext.
I believe that the primary requisite for
a sober appraisal of the present challenge of communism is to face it with a
clear understanding of what it is. But it cannot be fought in a negative manner.
Man must be willing to combat false doctrine with the Truth, and to organize
active agency with active agency. Above all there must be a new birth of those
moral values that for the past two thousand years have made our civilization a
Today there are unmistakable signs about
us that the tide is turning, in spite of the fact that we have been so strongly
conditioned by materialism. The turn is so apparent that I, personally, am
filled with hope where once I despaired. Many of the molders of public opinion
in our country are still geared to capitulation and compromise, but among the
people the change is very clear.
As I have traveled about the country I
have seen evidences of this. I have seen men and women determined to set
principle above personal gain. I have seen fathers and mothers study the school
problem to help education from contributing to the training of a fifth column
for the enemy. I have seen housewives in Texas, after a hard day’s work, sit
down to a course of study on the Constitution of the United States, and I have
heard them explain what they learned to their children, determined that they
shall not be robbed of their heritage.
We have increasingly seen in our country
the rise of social and civic harmony in communities peopled with those of
different national, racial and religious backgrounds. The men and women in these
communities have set their hearts and their wills against the insidious work of
the Communists who seek to pit one against the other to provoke racial and
I have seen groups of workers in trade
unions meet and pray together as they plan for the safety of their country. They
are determined that the union which is necessary in their struggle for daily
bread shall not be used as a mechanism for the seizure of power.
But it is among the young people that I
find the most arresting signs of change. This despite the fact that the
newspapers and magazines are replete with horror stories of the decadence and
unbelievable cruelty and criminality of some of our youth.
I have talked with young men returning
from World War II and Korea who have gone back to the little towns all over
America determined to make of their homes a citadel of moral strength in the
face of the forces that promote the disintegration of family life. I have seen
intelligent, well-educated young men and women band together and move into slum
areas in our big industrial cities, dedicated to light the flame of love as
neighbors and friends of the unfortunate.
I was invited one night to supper by the
young people at Friendship House in New York City’s Harlem. I found them
outwardly not very different from those I had met in the communist movement. The
difference was that they were dedicated to a belief in justice under God and
therefore could not be used as puppets by men bent on achieving power. The
difference, too, was in their relation with their neighbors and those they
sought to help. In the communist movement I was conscious of the fact that we
promised the material millennium to all who joined our cause. Here at Friendship
House they kept before all the primacy of the spirit, and those who came to them
were helped more effectively because of this.
In the colleges, we see signs of a new
type of student. I have noticed a change in college religious societies which in
my day were formal and social with only a gesture in recognition of God. There
now emerges a new phenomenon. Students are beginning to realize that the
training of the mind is of little value to man himself or to society unless it
is placed in the framework of eternal truths. Once again we witness an
insistence upon the union of knowledge of the things of the spirit with those of
the world. There is a growing demand that they no longer be severed.
I was particularly struck with this new
type of student one evening last year when I spoke at the University of
Connecticut before the Newman Club. The Club, which was housed in the basement
of the chapel, was alive with activity. It had a library and a social center,
and it had the guidance of two priests trained to understand the dangers facing
the young intellectual in a society steeped in paganism.
That evening I had stayed so late in
answering questions that Father O’Brien asked three young men to drive me to the
train in New London. As we rode through the Connecticut hills it began to snow.
I asked the young man who was driving what he was going to do after graduation.
“Serve Uncle Sam, I guess,” he replied. In his voice was no bitterness, no
resentment — and I thought with sudden sadness of his possible future and that
of all our young people. Then one of the boys said quietly, “Why don’t we say
the rosary for peace?” He started the Credo and there in the darkness of
that country road, with the soft snow falling, we said the rosary for peace.
I was aware as I rode home that night
that men such as these can change the world for the better, so much were they
filled with love, so selfless was their zeal. I know that even if the Communists
were sincere in the glittering promises they make, they would be incapable of
fulfilling them for they cannot create the kind of men needed for the task.
Whatever apparent good the Communists have achieved has come through human
beings who despite the harsh materialism taught them still retained a memory of
God and who, even without realizing it, drew on the eternal standards of truth
and justice. But their store of such men is dwindling, and in spite of their
apparent victories men schooled in darkness are doomed to defeat.
New armies of men are rising, and these
are sustained not by the Communist creed but by the credo of Christianity. And I
am keenly conscious that only a generation of men so devoted to God that they
will heed his command, “Love one another as I have loved you,” can bring peace
and order to our world.