This is the penultimate chapter of School of Darkness (1954).  Bella Dodd discusses her life after the Communist Party expelled her.  She also meets Fulton J Sheen, who was a monsignor at the time.  (The photo is from the Ephemera blog by Jose Pacheco Pereira.)

Before I began excerpting from this book, I ran a few posts about the Communist infiltration of the Church on July 8, July 10 and July 11.  Some of these posts mentioned the Venona Project, the findings of which became available only in 1995.  So, whilst many people — my parents included — suspected further Communist involvement not only in the church but in government and the media, they had little concrete proof at the time after the hearings of the 1940s and early 1950s.  Therefore, it was easy for leftists of various stripes to laugh at them looking for ‘Reds under the beds’.  I was one of them — whilst still at Catholic school, which, perhaps quite innocently, strongly encouraged us students to adopt peace and unity along with left-wing political positions.  I imagine that the same is true in other denominational schools, just as it is in state schools.

Now we know that those who were suspicious were correct.  I would encourage you to read about the Venona Project at the link in the preceding paragraph.  Bella Dodd also discusses people and hearings in the United States after the Second World War.  These links are also worth reading: List of Americans in the Venona Papers, List of Soviet Agents in the United States (look at their various occupations!), American Peace Mobilization, Harry Dexter White, the Institute of Pacific Relations, Owen Lattimore and a left-of-centre apologist who was a Supreme Court Justice, Abe Fortas (not a Communist). Dodd writes about Lattimore and Fortas in this chapter.

Although the American Peace Mobilization was short-lived, those who were alive during the 1960s — 20 years later — will recognise how the United States adopted four of its Five Planks to Defend America and is still doing so:

  1. Defeat Militarism and Regimentation. Repeal Conscription. No M Day for the American people.
  2. Restore the Bill of Rights. Restore free speech, freedom of assembly, freedom of thought. Take special privilege away from the top and give it back to the whole American people.
  3. Stop War Profiteering. Put lives ahead of profits. Put profits last on democracy’s list. What helps democracy helps you.
  4. Guarantee a decent standard of living for all. Work for more social and labor legislation. End discrimination.

On the second point above, remember who is exercising free speech.  They are the same voices trying to silence conservative and libertarian voices.

Now on with the book … It’s available online free of charge.  Emphases below are mine.

Chapter Sixteen

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 of sand.

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 …

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 …

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 …

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 …

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 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 …

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 …

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 picture.

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 raucously championed.

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 …

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 …

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

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 priest?”

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 [Maryland]. 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 …

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 …

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 …

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 …

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” …

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 ...

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 thankful.

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.

Tomorrow: Chapter Seventeen