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Today’s post continues with further excerpts from Bella Dodd’s School of Darkness (1954), in which this diehard Communist later returned to her Catholic origins and embraced Christianity fully.

In yesterday’s instalment Dodd related her lack of knowledge about Catholic doctrine.  This ignorance opened her mind to the ‘brotherhood of man’, which we think is a recent development, yet, as we read in John Gresham Machen’s Christianity and Liberalism, published at the same time when young Bella Dodd was a student at Hunter College, was already becoming a widespread idea thanks to Modernism, itself an offshoot of Marxism.

Today, we discover the effect her university and teaching had on her own students and on her involvement in the Communist Party (CPUSA).  Excerpts come from this page.  Emphases below are mine.

Chapter Five

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 group activities.

This was a period in which I was meeting men and women who were talking ideas and living unorthodox lives …

Sarah [Parks] 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 …

When in January 1928 she committed suicide I was thrown into an emotional tailspin … 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 self-destruction

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 life …

On the boat returning home I met a group of New York City schoolteachers, who told me they belonged to the Teachers UnionThey 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.

It was only later, when I better understood left-wing politics, that I became aware of the significance of control of this beachhead.

Chapter Six

THE COLLAPSE 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 corporation law.

During that year I saw a great deal of John Dodd whom I had met on my trip to Europe …

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 …

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 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

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 …

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 in general.

At Hunter it brought about a completely changed situation among students, staff, and administration …

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 body.

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 … 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 … 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 … 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 communist movement.

Harriet singled me out almost from the first

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 Twelfth Street …

Earl Browder did not look as I had expected the leader of the Communist Party to look ...

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 CommunistsThere 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 bourgeoisieOther 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 ...

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 …

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 ...

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 philosophyThey 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 possibleSome 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

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 …

“You are getting too involved, Bella,” [Ruth Goldman] said.  “You will get hurt.  Wait and see!” ..

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 joinI 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 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.

[With regard to crafting a tenure bill for teachers] 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.

… 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 Lehman.

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.

Tomorrow: Chapter Seven


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