DURING 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 I 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 organizations.
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 venomous.
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 made chairman.
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 clearly before.
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 now."
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 Minde’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, wandering 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 the question?
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 Trachtenberg.
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 far 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 o£ 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 had befriended.
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 the result.
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 me.
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 unanimous.
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.