School of Darkness
by Bella V. Dodd, Ex-Communist

Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Chapter Nine

Chapter Ten

Chapter Eleven

Chapter Twelve

Chapter Thirteen

Chapter Fourteen

Chapter Fifteen

Chapter Sixteen

Chapter Seventeen

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THE 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 Id 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 mayor.

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 bur very being. The conditioning had been deep.

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 leftism.

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, far I had won far 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 it.

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 temerity.

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 mould 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 skull.

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 near.

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 made.

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. 1 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 candidate.

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 bona fide 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 pen.

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 percent 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.