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In Chapter 12 of Bella Dodd’s School of Darkness, we find out more about Bella’s rise in the national Party structure, fellow travellers from prominent American families and the way Communism changes its colours to fit the times, whether in times of war or peace.  With her divorce becoming finalised, Dodd has lost her husband as well as her parents (see Chapter 9).

Interestingly — think Obama with his proposed compulsory citizens service and, prior to that, the Clintons with Americorps — the Communist Youth in the United States wanted universal military training after the Second World War ended.  Yet, then as now, the Communists were promoting peace through the United Nations Charter.

The next few chapters are available online, as is the rest of the book.  Emphases below are mine.

Chapter Twelve

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 …

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 …

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 [Earl] 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 …

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 bourgeois structure.”

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.

… 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 enterprises.

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 …

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 … 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

Before I knew it my home became a center for National Maritime Union leaders and seamen of every rank …

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 …

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 fears.

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 …

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 …

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 1 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 organizations.

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

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

At this convention Earl Browder’s speech calling for the dissolution of the Communist Party was … 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 friends.

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 …

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 [a Marxist training school for adults] 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 …

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 communist domination ...

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

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 … 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 training.

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?

Tomorrow: Chapter Thirteen

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