Chapter 37

dingbat

In the spring, 1936, Comrade Roberts, the Comintern’s American representative, fresh from a trip to Moscow, came to attend our District Plenary meeting in Ohio. He greeted me cordially, which surprised me—he usually kept aloof and distant from us. I was late coming in, the meeting had already started. He was sitting alone, as usual, in a far corner and he beckoned me over—quite a distinction to be so recognized by a Comintern leader. He whispered he would see me later in private and that he had some good news for me.

The “good news” that Roberts had for me was totally unexpected. He told me that the election campaign I had carried on the previous fall had greatly pleased Moscow. It demonstrated to them that I really understood the “new party line,” how to put into action the new slogan, “Communism is 20th Century Americanism.” I was amazed. That election campaign was fun but it had not occurred to me that it would be noted in the Kremlin. The greatest surprise was yet to come. Roberts informed me that he had chosen me to manage the 1936 national campaign of Earl Browder for president and told me to draw up a plan for it. I was astonished, which must have shown in my face, for Roberts laughed, patted me on the shoulder, and asked smilingly did I think we would be able to poll three million votes for Browder.

“At least that!” I answered unhesitatingly. “Maybe even more than La Follette polled in 1924. With our new party line we can really go places!”

Whether my plan would have worked out or not I have no means of ascertaining. By the time I was ready to present it, the party line had changed again. The new line called for concentrating on the defeat of the Republican candidate without endorsing Roosevelt, under the Communist campaign slogan:

DEFEAT LANDON AT ALL COST—VOTE FOR EARL BROWDER.

I opposed that slogan at the National Convention, arguing that it was idiotic—that it made no sense—that it would only confuse our membership. But I was alone in my stand. As long as that was the party line, it made good sense to all other delegates since the party line was always right.

I still couldn’t see any sense in it and of course that was the end of my appointment as the national campaign manager, although I still had to continue as State Chairman of the Ohio Election Campaign Committee, over my protests.

As the election campaign developed, that slogan created utter confusion in the party. The more the Party Central Committee tried to clarify it, the more it compounded the confusion. When the comrades asked me how they should put into practice the slogan “Defeat Landon at all cost-Vote for Earl Browder,” I answered with a straight face, according to the Party line “By defeating Landon at all cost and by voting for Earl Browder.”

That enigmatic reply satisfied no one. The comrades tried time and again to make me tell them to vote and campaign for Roosevelt or to vote for Browder, which clearly would not con­tribute to the defeat of Landon. I stood pat and referred them to our printed party platform.

The result was as could be expected. The total vote for Brow­der in the entire country came to a little over 100,000, about the same or a few votes less than Foster had received in 1932.

Reporting to the monthly meeting of the Ohio District Committee in January 1937 on the election campaign in Ohio, I pointed to the more than 50,000 votes polled by our candidate for congressman at large as proof that our work had been successful again.

“We still lead every other Party District in the number of Com­munist votes polled in proportion to our membership. As for the small vote of five thousand some odd for Browder, that must have come from the lunatic fringe for almost every comrade I have questioned admitted to me in confidence that he voted for Roosevelt, which bore out my prediction that the party line was wrong on Browder. Personally, I believe in the secrecy of the ballot and therefore I will not reveal to the meeting how I voted. However I want the record to show that Landon was defeated and as a good Communist I want to be given credit for that accomplishment.”

Everybody was laughing. John Williamson, the District Organizer and therefore the leader of the Ohio party, routinely moved that my report be accepted. He rebuked me, however, for my statement that the party line was wrong on Browder. The party line was right, it was always right. He recommended that I study Marx and Lenin again and asked me to admit my error.

That would have been easy to do. I was among friends. All they really expected me to say for the record:

“Comrades, I realize my error and I accept the correctness of the party line.”

They would even have been satisfied with the statement:

“Comrades, of course the party line is always right. My mistake was that I failed to comprehend it fully.”

We would all have known that to be a mere ritual which in no way would have altered the results of that election campaign; that campaign was behind us, water over the dam, let’s put a period to it and go on to new and pressing business.

That was all there was to it. Yet I couldn’t get myself to comply. That party line was wrong. Previous party lines had been wrong also. I rose.

“If we are really serious about winning over the masses to our program, the right to criticize a party program has to be established. A precedent has to be made and this is the time to do it, when the facts are incontrovertible, when this party line has proved as disastrously wrong as I predicted it would be at the National Convention.”

At the conclusion of my speech I took the deep plunge. I re­minded the comrades that although I had been repeatedly promised time off to do some studying and writing, I had always been put off with the excuse, “but not at this critical moment of class struggle.” I had been doing full-time party work for the past seven years without a rest and I felt entitled to take a year off for writing and study. I asked for a full year’s leave of absence.

“As of now,” I said, “unless you can assure me that by postponing my leave for another month or so the class struggle will become less critical.”

That took the edge off. My request was granted amid considerable good-natured ribbing. I felt as if a heavy stone had been lifted from my shoulders.

I would now have a full year to do the kind of writing I had always wanted to do.

I forgot to consider one thing—that officially I was still part of the Ohio leadership of the Party, and even if that were not so—at heart I was still a Communist.

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Chapter 36

dingbat

All Communist activities are governed by the “Party Line”; all Communists are held to the sacred rule:

“The Party Line is always right.”

Any challenge to this concept is heresy. Heretics in Communist countries—those not tortured to· death or executed outright—usually end their days in jail or forced labor camps. In capitalist countries, as for instance in America, these heretics were usually branded Trotskyists or counterrevolutionary Fascists, and denounced in the Daily Worker as paid stool pigeons of the imperialists and embezzlers of Party funds, their pictures prominently displayed in the Daily Worker under the standing head :

WORKERS’ ENEMIES EXPOSED

Yet the Party Line was an elusive guide. Besides being always right it had a number of other peculiar characteristics. Infallible as it was proclaimed to be, nevertheless it was subject to diametrical changes overnight without conceding in any way that the old line might have been wrong after all.

Another peculiarity of the Party Line was that a comrade’s ability to “interpret it correctly” had nothing to do with his intellectual accomplishments or his thorough familiarity with the writings of Marx, Engels, Lenin, but depended solely on his standing in the Party hierarchy. The higher up he stood in leadership—no matter how great his ignorance—the more “correct” his understanding of the Line automatically became.

The genesis of that party line was usually a speech made by Stalin, but sometimes it was Molotov, or some other high ranking official of the Soviet Union or the Comintern who was given the task of sounding off. The sacred text then was immediately broadcast by the Inprecor published and republished in pamphlets, artIcles, editorial, re-echoed in speeches first by Browder, then the others in the exalted Central Committee, and so on down. It was. the same speech, the same clichés “adapted to the special conditions.” Such adaptation usually consisted of an added phrase or two by the respective official and it concluded with the stern but somewhat redundant admonition:

“We must bend our utmost effort to carry out these decision in line wIth the new party line and adapt them to the special prevailing conditions.”

The “line” thus handed down from above could be freely discussed at each step and the membership was encouraged to participate in it, provided this discussion was in the affirmative and not only ended but also started with:

“I agree with the correctness of the new Party Line.”

Certain democratic variations were permitted. A party member, in fact, any party member was free to say instead :

“I laud the new Party Line.”

The ambitious and eager would usually combine both and declaim:

“I laud the new Party Line and agree with the correctness of it.”

That testimonial cinched it good.

One day the comrade in charge of the Cleveland Bookshop called to tell me of a puzzling experience. The night before a man came into the bookstore, asked for a book that would tell him what the party line was. The comrade had tried to explain to him that there was no such book but the man would not accept his explanation. The man insisted that with all the talk about the party line there had to be a book about it, how else could anybody know what it really was, and he accused the comrade of sabotage, of trying to keep people from learning about the party line. To the comrade it was clear he was dealing with a crackpot and to avoid trouble he decided to humor hIm. He proceeded to sell him a copy of every party pamphlet, every magazine in the store, some of which had long turned yellow with age, and he topped it off with the jackpot—by unloading on him a complete set of Lenin’s works, which was really dead stock as far as the average member was concerned. The purchase came to around fifty dollars, the highest single transaction and cash sale in the history of that bookshop. The comrade, although pleased with his salesmanship and greatly amused by the stupidity of that man, was worried that he might have been dealIng with a stool pigeon. .

I shared his amusement but not his worry—from the description he gave me that man looked like Hall (this is not his true name)—he certainly sounded like him. Hall was one of our new comrades, a newspaperman and one of the original founders of the Newspaper Guild. He was an ardent Guild man and a member of its National Board. He was one of those union men who first became party sympathizers because of the help they received from us when trying to form a union, and who later joined the party when they saw how effective a party cell could be in promoting the growth of a union. I checked with Hall and my guess was correct. He had just come back from a meeting of the National Board in New York where the party fraction kept rebuffing his ideas with: “You don’t know the party line, you don’t understand it.” Hall was a thorough newspaperman, one of the best in Cleveland; he determined to make up for that deficiency. Hence his visit to the bookstore.

A few weeks later Hall called—he wanted me to meet him urgently and in secret. We agreed on an out-of-the-way bar where neither of us was known and where we would be most unlikely to be discovered.

Hall came in carrying a bulging brief case. He unzipped it and said:

“Voros, I want to tip you off to something. There is graft and corruption in the party and it reaches right into the Central Committee. I have here the evidence to prove it.” With that he reached into the brief case and laid pamphlet after pamphlet on the table, all of them carefully marked as to pages with entire passages and chapters underlined in ink.

“Look at these sons of bitches,” Hall proceeded to demonstrate, pointing to pamphlet after pamphlet. “They’ve taken Molotov’s speech and plagiarized it. See for yourself, page after page of verbatim quotes from Molotov. This is Browder’s pamphlet. But then take Stachel on trade union work, James W. Ford on the Negro question, Gil Green on youth work, and the rest of them. They not only plagiarized Molotov but they also plagiarized Browder, taking entire pages over from his pamphlet. They are making suckers out of the party members, making them buy those pamphlets and rake in the shekels. I have all the proof here. Now, what do you think we ought to do to expose those racketeers and clean them out of the party?”

I was shaking with laughter and Hall got angry. He told me he had always thought me clean and sincere, he hoped I wasn’t mixed up in that racket. It took quite a time to satisfy him that there was no graft involved, that that was the way the party line was handed down to membership and “adapted to the special conditions.”

From there we went to discussing the “party line” which I explained to Hall as “the proper interpretation of communist policy, strategy, and tactics by the dialectical analysis of any given situation based on the teachings of Marx, Engels, Lenin, and also Stalin.”

“That’s no line at all,” snorted Hall. “To me that’s merely a trick to make the membership toe the mark and to enable the leadership to wriggle off the hook when its policy backfires.”

That was the trouble with new members, especially with those in the Newspaper Guild. Those “prostitutes of the venal capitalist press” as we used to call them became so corrupted in their thinking by their years of servitude to the Press Lords that even joining the Party was not enough to purify them completely.

To them nothing was sacred, not even the Party Line; they looked with cynical eyes even on the party leadershIp, But not only new members like Hall had difficulty with the Party Line. Even an old-timer like Phil Bart, former District Organizer of Ohio, a man who always fanatically insisted that the party line must be followed to the letter, admitted to me at one of our intimate parties restricted to the select few in the innermost leadership that once—even though that one time alone—-he also found himself stymied by it.

When Bart was in his twenties he had received an assignment to join the National Guard “to bore from within” and to carry on antimilitaristic agitation within Its ranks. That was years before World War II. He was frail and undernourished and had a difficult time getting himself accepted. Finally they took pity on him and permitted him to sign up in time to leave with the Guard for their annual three weeks training.

The National Guard Summer Camp was located in the mountains where the air was clear and vigorous, the scenery enchanting. That was the first time in Bart’s life that he was away in the country, out of the dirt, filth, noise, and overcrowding of the tenement district where he was born; the first chance he had to enjoy the beauty of nature. The food was rich and plentiful, an other marvel he had never experienced. Pancakes, platters heaped with creamy butter and syrup by the pitcher, sausage, ham, or bacon and eggs for breakfast; steaks, chops, poultry, pastry, salad, and vegetables for lunch and dinner, and no limitation on portions! Bart ate and ate and ate—he gained six pounds the first week.

Late Saturday night at the end of his first week Bart sneaked out to a prearranged meeting with his comrades in the far end of the camp. After the exchange of a few furtive words he was handed a package of antimilitarist leaflets for surreptitious distribution in the camp.

When Bart got back safely and undetected he withdrew to the latrine to read those leaflets. They were antimilitary all right, following faithfully the Russian precept—they called upon the guardsmen to protest the foul, maggot-ridden starvation rations on which they were forced to subsist while their officers were gorging themselves. Bart did not know whether to cry or laugh. That night they had had steak for supper, juicy tenderloin steak garnished with mushrooms, asparagus, and French fried potatoes. Bart put away two of the steaks and had a good start on a third which even he was unable to finish. Dessert was strawberry short cake with whipped cream plus all the ice cream they wanted, and those who didn’t like strawberries had two different kinds of pie to choose from.

Bart knew he couldn’t distribute those leaflets without causing a Homeric laugh in camp. Yet it was a party task—the purpose behind his assignment to join the National Guard. Finally he came to a decision. He took a shovel and buried those leaflets deep, covered by the night sky, working fast to avoid detection. He slept fitfully during that night, haunted by the guilt of having been untrue to the Party.

The following Saturday night when Bart stole out again, his comrades were eager to learn what impression those leaflets had made in camp. When Bart related what he had done with them a vehement argument ensued. He was chastised, censured, and then handed a new batch of leaflets under strict orders that he distribute them without fail. Before agreeing to that Bart now took the precaution of reading them by flashlight first. It was an appeal calling upon the guardsmen to demonstrate in protest against the arrogant brutality of their officers, and to demand the immediate abolishment of corporal punishment in the camp.

It was a good leaflet in a sense. No different from the kind Bart would have written himself had he not joined the Guard; based on the line that the National Guard was bossed by the Wall Street imperialists and that conditions in all imperialist armies were the same as had prevailed under the Czar in Russia. Now Bart found himself admitting reluctantly to his comrades that his officers in the National Guard were decent young fellows. Worse still, he was even forced to defend those imperialist hirelings, those minions of Wall Street who, when not on duty, acted just like the rest of the men, participating in the games and even in some of the bull sessions. Bart adamantly refused to distribute the leaflets.

The comrades persisted. The party’s antimilitarist line was right. There had to be something the men did not like, some grievance that could be exploited. Under relentless questioning Bart finally offered the observation that some of the fellows did seem to grumble while drilling. The comrades pounced upon that. Since there was no time to prepare another leaflet, they ordered Bart to start agitation for the abolition of the drill. To this Bart agreed.

That was the last week of camp, the end of the three-week jaunt. It was a wonderful vacation for all, particularly for Bart to whom it was a happy interval of carefree existence under the open sky, his first experience of luxuriating in opulence. But party decisions had to be carried out. By then Bart, as expected of a good Communist, had managed to build around himself a small group of men who were more or less influenced by him. Most of the men seemed eager to come back to camp next year and Bart thought that was the right cue to introduce the subject.

“You know, men,” he told them, “what we ought to do next year is ask them to cut out the drill.”

The men looked at him in puzzlement. Then one of them spoke up incredulously.

“Are you crazy? You mean you don’t like drilling?”

“If you don’t like to drill then what the hell you want to come back here for?” said another.

“What’s the sense in coming back here if they’d cut out the drill?” asked the others. Drilling was fun, that was what they liked most about the National Guard.

Bart gave up—the only time he had failed to obey a party decision or admitted the Party Line could be wrong.

In 1935, the Party Line was suddenly subjected to a startling change. Frightened by the successes of the Japanese attack on China, Mussolini’s conquest of Ethiopia, and the growing military might of Hitler, Stalin suddenly discovered virtues in the bourgeois democracies. Wishing to make allies of them, the Comintern now called for a United Front of all elements in every nation to oppose Fascism regardless of what ideological differences they might have with Communism. This United Front policy as announced by Dimitroff in his address to the Seventh Congress of the Communist International espoused patriotism as an antidote to Fascism, and the new Party Line now proclaimed:

“Communism is 20th Century Americanism!”

The Declaration of Independence was suddenly given a new hasty reading. Up until then it had been held in contempt, for according to the Party Line it was a hypocritical bourgeois document, a mere instrument in the hands of the rising bourgeoisie of the original thirteen colonies with which to fight the rival capitalist class of England. The party now solemnly proclaimed it a sacred document which incontestably proved that revolution was entirely in the American tradition.

The party next set out to prove that the Communists, and they alone, were the only real guardians of American traditions. The intellectuals under Communist influence sat right down to compose folk ballads, to revive and popularize folk customs, and had there been such a thing in the United States as a native garb, the wearing of it would undoubtedly have been made obligatory for all party members.

That sudden conversion to American traditions served me well when I was appointed chairman of the Ohio State Election Campaign Committee in 1935. Up until that time the party had not really been interested in American electoral procedures and it usually entered elections only pro forma by putting up a few candidates haphazardly. I now went to work to induce the party membership in Ohio to participate in the elections in earnest. The comrades were hesitant at first. Most of them had never bothered to register or seen the inside of a polling booth.

I exhorted and lectured them on the importance of elections, raised their morale by the publicity I managed to plant in the capitalist press (here my contacts with the members ?of the Newspaper paper Guild paid off), and topped it off by obtaining official credentials for Communist Party watchers and challengers something the party had never thought of doing before—and by stationing twice as many Communist electioneers outside the booths as the other parties in the districts where we had Unemployed Councils functioning. That was easy for me. I didn’t have to pay my workers, while the Republicans and Democrats did. Since the ribbons supplied to the Republican and Democratic electioneers were narrow and only lapel size, I ordered for my workers ribbons a yard long reaching from the buttonhole almost to the ankles. My ribbons were flaming red, four inches wide, with the word COMMUNIST printed in the biggest block letters I could find. They made those election polling stations look like kiosks in Moscow.

I added an extra touch. I once saw a historical print depicting an American torchlight parade and had longed to witness one in real life ever since. But torchlight parades were passé, they belonged to another historical period. Now I saw my chance to stage one, and I did.

That torchlight parade was a big success, Cleveland hadn’t seen one in ages.

When the results were all in we found that I. O. Ford, Communist candidate for governor, was officially credited with over 55,000 votes, a gain of more than one thousand percent over the highest vote ever registered by the Communist Party in Ohio. For the first time we even polled votes from that bastion of capitalism, the exclusive residential section of Bratenahl on Lake Erie. Small as was the Communist vote cast there—as I recall it, around 25—it was sufficient to cause consternation among the ultrarich. Old butlers and maids in family service for a generation were now being eyed with suspicion, and many old Union Leaguers took to sleeping with loaded pistols under their pillows. I received news of this with undisguised glee. Little did those patricians dream that those Communist votes had been cast by their own offspring, infected by the red virus on Ivy League campuses. Those snobbish butlers and maids wouldn’t touch us with a ten-foot pole.

Our vote in Ohio was second only to that in New York, where the Communist Party polled seventy-odd thousand votes, about 20,000 more than we did. But that was no comparison. In proportion to their membership they would have had to poll three quarters of a million votes to equal our showing.

Speaking of elections, we once succeeded in electing a Communist mayor in Yorktown, in the Ohio panhandle. He wasn’t much of a mayor and Yorktown wasn’t much of a town, subsisting mainly on mining. Still, he was a real mayor, the only Communist mayor ever elected in the United States. He lost out in the next election because no mayor in America could possibly have fulfilled the campaign promises he had made.

We were campaigning on a revolutionary program:

“Paid unemployed compensation, to all those out of work, of $15 a week. A minimum wage of 50 cents an hour.”

To these revolutionary demands—for that’s what they were at that time—he added two of his own:

“The abolishment of all debts and mortgages;” and the key one that really got him elected:
“No taxes on liquor—ever!”

Chapter 35

dingbat

We, the Communists, the leaders of the American proletariat, the vanguard of the oppressed everywhere . . .”

“Led by the Communist Party, the vanguard of the American working class, the toilers of America are uniting to . . .”

While we, the self-styled vanguard, shouted ourselves hoarse on street corners to catch the ears of the casual passers-by, the Fascists who were much better financed took to the air. Father Coughlin, the “Radio Priest,” the most influential of all native would-be Fascist leaders, had an estimated audience of thirty million glued to their radio receivers on Sunday afternoons. It need be said that not all those spellbound by his oratory were aware that his social gospel was Fascist in its basic content and that his “Sixteen Points of Social Justice” so temptingly ex­pounded in his golden voice were modeled on the Nuremberg program of Hitler’s National Socialist Party in Germany.

By 1936 Father Coughlin thought the time ripe for assuming personal command over his followers and to enter the field of national politics by sponsoring a Frazer-Lemke Third Party ticket in the 1936 presidential election. To give his candidates a flying start he decided to address their national nominating con­vention in Cleveland in person, making this his first political appearance in public.

To get the “feel” of that meeting it may be of help to know that the ideals of democracy, Socialism, Communism—no mat­ter what opposite courses they may take in reality—are all based on the recognition of the fundamental humanity of man, on the striving for some sort of universal brotherhood in which all men are assured of enjoying certain inalienable rights including that of being permitted to live in peace and harmony with their fellow human beings. Democracy, Socialism, Communism share with true Christianity the concept of love thy neighbor—the early Christians actually lived in a form of primitive Communism. The cruel excesses perpetrated by the Communist rulers wherever they came to power no more negate the basic idealistic content of true Communism than the tortures of the Inquisition negate the teachings of Christ.

The motivating force of Fascism, in contrast, is that of hate. Fascism is based on the atavistic urge to kill every other being who dwells in a different cave, whose manners, customs, bodily appearance mark him as different from one’s own clan. Fascism is built on the pagan myth that through sharing some mystic quality in their blood one group of men are constituted a Master Race while the rest of mankind are nothing but subhumans to be exterminated at will, or at best, fit only to serve as slaves to their masters.

I planned to get to that meeting early to have a better chance to observe the behavior of the crowd, and I did.

Yet by the time I arrived both halls of the Public Auditorium, with a combined seating capacity of 14,000, were already packed. A private army of frozen-faced young men in semimilitary uni­forms, identical shirts, breeches, and puttees, lined the walls, the aisles, and the wings of the common stage serving both auditoriums, keeping the audience under steady scrutiny. Their bale­ful eyes were alert for trouble and they made quite a show of resting their hands ominously on the blackjacks protruding from their hip pockets.

The audience was predominantly lower middle class, somberly dressed despite the summer heat; it sat uncommunicative and unsmiling.

It was a creepy sensation—a mass of humanity 14,000 strong, larger than the entire population of many a small town, waiting a full hour before the scheduled start of the meeting in a tense silence which was rarely interrupted by even a whispered sen­tence. That was Cleveland, Ohio, U.S.A. They were Americans but their behavior was not that of a normal American audience of squirming and gaily chattering people waiting for the main event. This was an almost motionless group with jaws grimly set, upper lips partially pulled back from the gums by taut facial muscles, gripped by some mystic anticipation. Physically they were one crowd yet spiritually they were not—each of them seemed to be alone with himself, his eyes glued to the empty stage but focused inwardly. They were waiting with muscles coiled like felines before the pounce, like epileptics on the verge of a seizure.

Walking down that long aisle to the press table in front under those unblinking, suspicious eyes was like running a gauntlet. I had a sudden urge to break into a run and it took great effort to saunter down slowly, jaunty and casual, to repeat with the right amount of bored indifference “Reporter” whenever chal­lenged by those uniformed thugs, praying that I be allowed to pass without being asked for my press card which would identify me as the correspondent for the Communist Daily Worker.

All at once it came, as startling as the onrush of a sudden gust of storm—the sharp hiss of a gasp, the sucking intake of breath by thousands of open mouths.

“Father Coughlin is coming!” the whisper rose into a shout and the chamber erupted in a hoarse elemental roar. That roar was totally unlike those heard at National Party Conventions; it was not the cheer of the baseball park, nor the jeer of the picket line. That was the savage howl of the human pack, unarticulated and pulsating, a release of emotions so elemental and brutal that they had been long relegated into the unconscious by thousands of years of civilization for the self-preservation of mankind; an animal howl so primitive that no single individual when alone is capable of sounding it except in moments of stark insanity. That was the cry of humans gone berserk, an emotional explosion that needs to find an outlet in violence, or be sustained untIl total exhaustion sets in.

The entrance of a corps of drummers marching with military precision now raised the already deafening frenzy to a pitch near agony and suddenly Father CoughlIn materialized—a broad­-shouldered, muscular man moving with the bounce of an athlete under the cassock of the Roman Catholic priest; flinging away his skirt with an impatient sweep when mounting the platform. He stood there with his feet planted wide apart, a triumphant smile on his face, listening to the howl of the mob as his rightful due. His stance radiated supreme self-confidence; he was the leader surveying his frenzied troops before unleashing them; only his tightly clenched fists belied his outward calm.

I can’t recall a single sentence of what Father Coughlin saId that night and I doubt there was a single individual in that audience who could have accurately retained any part of his address. That speech was not meant to be rooted in the memory of the audience—it was intended to sear the emotions of the listeners and to sensitize them to the point where they would react with similar violence at the slightest stimulus in the future.

Father Coughlin was unlike any other speaker in my memory. He was a spellbinder like Hitler, he could carry an audience, rub their emotions raw and juggle them at will. His voice was clear tenor with an operatic ring, there was a pent-up savagery in each of his sentences which he punctuated with his arm like the downward thrust of a stiletto. Unlike Hitler, he did not threaten, cajole, or thunder that he was the Fuehrer whom they had to follow. To me he was the reincarnation of Arnold, the Abbot of Citeaux, standing before the gates of the besieged city of Béziers, replying to his followers when asked how to dis­tinguish true believers from the heretics in the heat of the assault on that town:

“Kill them all; God will know his own!” As he spoke on I heard Abbot Arnold reporting back to Pope Gregory the Great with pride in his accomplishment.

“Nearly twenty thousand human beings perished by the sword. And after the massacre of the heretics the town was plundered and burnt, and the revenge of God seemed to rage over it in a wonderful manner.”

Who were the heretics in America in the thirties thus to be put to be put to the sword?

For answer let me quote from another would-be Fascist leader who is still around, the Reverend Gerald L. K. Smith, who at the time I met him was an itinerant preacher and part-time evangelist talking folksy and preaching politics under the guise of religion. He was the convivial sort, walking around with a small, black­ leather-bound Bible protruding from his hip pocket. That was not a preaching Bible but merely an oratorical device. Every time he wanted to make a point, he would pull that Bible out of his pocket, hold it high in his left hand, then give it a hard punch with his right fist. That Bible must have had a special acoustic binding for it responded with a resounding “C sharp” crack.

I talked with Smith twice. He was proud of his start with the Louisiana Kingfish, that incipient Fascist Huey Long; he did not hide from me that he was out for fame, power, and the easy fast buck. He did not relish being seen in public conversing with the correspondent of the Communist Daily Worker and was somewhat guarded with me, but not so with Gerold Frank, then a reporter on the Cleveland News, and I am now quoting from the interview Frank had with him:

“I am a reactionary.

“Reaction will produce a ruthless, intolerant, dynamic national­istic movement which will capture the imagination of the Amer­ icanpeople. I shall lead that movement. . . .

“I shall attack, and ruthlessly attack a Jew, or an Italian, or a Negro, or any other man because he is a Communist. And he doesn’t have to be a member of the Communist Party to be a Communist. If he’s imbued with Communistic philosophy he’s a Communist. They’re all one to me.

“I shall not attack any minorities because they are minorities. Some of my best friends are Jews. But I shall attack with all my strength any minority if it’s Communistic.

“I shall call for a fusion movement of all patriotic organizations in the country to wipe out with intolerant zeal the last vestiges of Communism and other atheistic destruction. Here and now I announce myself the leader of that movement, a cold blooded, intolerant, frontal attack on the subtle machination of the Communists.”

We, the Communists, thus served as a target to divert the rebellious mood of the masses from those responsible for their economic plight. In consequence millions of Americans were living under the dread of an impending Communist revolution. In all America there was but one group absolutely convinced of the impossibility of a Communist revolution in America—the members of the Communist Party.

I had not met a single responsible member of the Party—and I probed hundreds of them—who sincerely believed that we could have Communism in the United States in our lifetime­—our grandchildren, maybe yes, if they were going to be lucky.

There was a good reason for our lack of faith in revolution. While our enemies were frightened by the demonstrated vulner­ability and weaknesses of their own existing capitalist system we knew full well how inherently strong that system was—we had batted our heads against it innumerable times and had little but bloody bumps to show for it.

While those on the outside were quaking in contemplation of our imagined strength, we were fully aware of our weaknesses, the gravest of which was our inability to grow.

When I arrived in Ohio in the spring of 1931, the total Party membership in the Ohio Party District numbered about 2,200. Six years later when I left to join the International Brigades in Spain the maximum membership we were able to register still fell short of 2,900—a total net growth of less than seven hundred in six years, despite all the frantic work we did among the un­employed, with all the heartbreaking work we did to help or­ganize the unorganized in the mass production industries of steel, rubber, etc., in Ohio.

Not that we had failed to gain new recruits. I had not both­ered to keep accurate count, nor is this said in any sense of boast­ing, but I can safely record that the number of people I alone had personally recruited into the party both here and in Canada must run well into the hundreds. I am equally safe in asserting that most of those recruits quit the Party shortly after they joined.

The unemployed would march with us: “On to City Hall!” The employed would learn from us how to organize, go out on strike, and set up picket lines to safeguard their rights—and then turn their backs on us afterward because of our party line. All that talk about imperialism, about defending the Soviet Union, was no skin off their noses. What they were interested in was improving their conditions right here and now. If they wanted to hear about Kingdom Come they went to church and not to some Red yapping about a Communist paradise.

“Revolution ? You bet; that’s what many of them foreign countries need, like we had ours in 1776. You’re right about Washington; that sure is a mess that needs cleaning out bad. There is a bunch of no good bastards there who ought to be kicked out on their ass; but people are learning to vote for the man who is their friend and that’s a fact. Just watch the next election!”

These were the proletarians who made up the American work­ ing class—although most of them would have resented being called any such thing, considering themselves a “better class of people.” They were American citizens; yet the party was at­ tempting to force them into a straitjacket cut for a Russian muzhik.

That straitjacket was THE PARTY LINE.

Chapter 34

dingbat

Shortly after my return from Canada the Uj Elore moved to Ohio and I with it. The six years I spent there as a full-time party functionary in various capacities, including that of heading the Ohio Bureau of the Daily Worker, the official organ of the party, were years of the greatest social unrest in the history of the United States since the early days of the American Revolution. There was a widely felt popular recognition of the need for a drastic change in government which was manifested most dearly in the rapid radicalization of the intellectuals—the opinion molders of society. A substantial number of writers, artists, teachers, musicians, performing artists, and even preachers not only joined the chorus of discontent but even led it by their voices. For famine stalked the land, not because of flood, drought, or other ravages of the elements, a famine caused by a failure not of crops but of men in high places in government, in legislature, in banking, and industry.

The fields of the small farmer lay prostrate.

“All the peaches you can pick, 25 cents. Bring your own baskets,” read the home-scrawled signs in orchard after orchard in the fertile fields of Ohio. One farmer once proved to me with both bills and vouchers that after having sent two truckloads of peaches to market the check he received from his commission produce-broker was twelve dollars less than he had to spend for baskets alone.

Desperate as the situation of the farmer was, pressed as he was by debts, he was still better off, at least temporarily, than his his urban brother. He could raise at least part of his food and barter for the rest. He couldn’t be evicted overnight for nonpayment of rent; at least until foreclosure, which usually takes time, he was sure of a roof over his head.

The real pariah was the unemployed and there were more than 15 million of him in the land. Daily he had to face the anguished tears of his wife who was struggling to put some kind of a meal together out of scraps for her hungry children. He with his family had to go about with toes sticking out of disintegrating shoes, in tatters that would no longer hold a patch.

But this was not all. He was also turned into a moral leper. In newsprint, in pronouncements from high places, and in conversation he was constantly reproached and damned in tones that only the well-fed self-righteous can command. He was told that he, and he alone, was responsible for his sorry state. He was accused of lacking the habit of industry; that he was a wastrel; that he was deficient in those qualities of thrift and sobriety that elevate the worthy in the eyes of God and make him the rightful recipient of His bountiful blessings. After all is said and done, one has to face up to reality. Not all men are created equal, some are created weaklings. Some men are born with the crazy idea that the world owes them a living. These men are no good, they are too lazy to labor because one truth is self-evident in this here country: “Nobody needs to starve, anybody who wants to work can always get a job.”

The unemployed worker himself soon began to feel a sense of guilt about being out of a job. He developed a feeling of inferiority; he became mentally unstable, alternating between fits of rage and dumb submission, between outbursts of rebelliousness and hopeless lethargy. Those experiences, which some fifteen years later were given the collective label “the scars of the depression,” were to leave indelible marks on an entire generation.

Those who still had a job lived in constant dread of the day when they too might end up on the scrap heap of the unemployed.

Unorganized and thus unable to put up collective resistance, the employed worker fell easy victim to the iron law of unregulated capitalism which, as defined by Marx, was forever driving to extract from him the maximum production while attempting to reduce his share in the products of his labor to the minimum. He was speeded up relentlessly and, far from being given a share in his increased productivity, he was subjected to periodic cuts in his wages. He now lived under the whip:

“If you won’t do it, there are plenty men outside who will, and for less money, too!”

The self-employed-the small storekeepers, the white collar men, the professionals, the lower middle class—all feared for their survival. Empty stores lined the business streets; their show windows gaped dark at night like missing teeth in the shriveled gums of shabby old men. Lawyers, real estate men, insurance agents, accountants paced up and down fretfully in their deserted offices. Only the collection agencies hummed wIth increased activity. Engineers, chemists, technicians had to watch their skills rust away from nonuse. It takes many long years to train a physician—there were eight of them on Home Relief at one time in the city of Cleveland alone, I was told in confidence by a disheartened social worker.

However, not all was shade for everyone.

Maid for general housework,
experienced cook. White. Must
be neat, and good with children.
Sleep in. Every other Sunday
afternoon off. $15 a month.
Good references required!

read the “Help Wanted, Female” ads in the daily papers. There were less jobs than takers.

Colleges of the highest academic standing graduated their yearly quota only to add them to the swelling army of the idle. Countless young men and women, holders of coveted academic degrees had to go back home after graduation and live off their parents. I had met many of these, some of them couldn’t even pay for a cup of coffee; bright, educated, ambitious young persons in their mid-twenties who had not been given the chance to know what it felt like to have a dollar bill in their pocket which was neither begged nor borrowed, but earned by their own talent. A father of one such young man, a mixer in a chemical plant whose wages had been cut to $30 a week, once complained to me about the unreasonableness of the young generation. His son, a graduate of Western Reserve out of college for two years but still without a job, insisted on going steady with a girl. He kept pressing his father for a quarter spending money every time he took his girl out, as often as three and even four times a week. His girl, incidentally, was a qualified high school teacher who also never had a chance of finding employment.

Young daughters, mainly from foreign born families in which there were usually too many younger brothers and sisters to feed and who discovered they still had one commodity to market, took to hanging around lunchrooms and cafeterias. Their demand was modest and geared to the times—it was a meal, whether breakfast, lunch, or dinner.

“I don’t eat much,” most of them would add with serious entreaty. Capitalism seemed to be coming apart at the seams, all according to the book. The objective preconditions of a coming revolution, as outlined by Lenin, were beginning to ripen right here in America.

1. There was a widespread feeling of contempt for the ruling classes in and out of government. The bankers, the “Captains of Industry,” and not only those in Wall Street, became objects of scorn and hatred throughout the land. President Hoover’s name was mud. A man in St. Louis or maybe it was New Orleans—I do not remember which, I recall reading it in the Miscellany column in Time—had been arrested for committing assault and battery in a movie house on a man sitting peacefully a few rows ahead of him. The accused had suddenly left his seat, walked over to that other man, who was a stranger to him, and punched him repeatedly in the nose. When asked in court what his motive was for this unprovoked assault, his only defense was: “He looked like Hoover!”

2. There was a breakdown of the capitalist system of production, choked in its own surpluses. The most efficient mass-production system in the world, equipped with the most up-to-date machinery, was grinding to a standstill. Fully one third of the greatest army of technically skilled workers the world could boast was reduced to spending its days in enforced idleness. Men highly skilled in weaving textiles, garment workers expert in tailoring clothes, were walking around in tatters; carpenters, masons, building trade workers were huddling in run-down hovels.

3. There was the demoralization of the ruling class, an abdication of their responsibilities. The White House conference called by Hoover in February 1932 of the nation’s most outstanding capitalists, the leaders in business, industry, and finance, revealed their bankruptcy in ideas. Not one of them professed to understand what caused the economic crisis, not a man among them stated it was their responsibility to come up with a constructive remedy. The most they would hazard was hope and prayer. To quote W. W. Atterbury, President of the Pennsylvania Railroad:

“The depression is bound to hit a bottom sooner or later and then things would be slowly building up.” That was his contribution—the only one of even dubious cheer at that conference.

4. Law enforcement was breaking down. Plants and mills were laying in firearms, tear gas, and machine guns, recruiting their own private armies of hired thugs to stave off the anticipated debacle. Agencies like Berghoff’s who dealt in supplying professional strikebreakers and agents provocateur did not share in the general business decline, they were thriving and expanding.

Hunger riots, spontaneous flare-ups of violence challenged the authorities of every state.

Near Bowling Green, Ohio, at a Sheriff’s Sale to satisfy a foreclosed mortgage on the land and chattels of a farmer with small children the farmers themselves came into the act, carrying fire arms. When the Sheriff, the auctioneer, the agent of the mortgage holder, an Eastern insurance company, arrived on the scene they found themselves confronted with a thick noose of shiny rope hanging from a stout limb of the oak tree beneath which were arrayed the Harvester tractor, the battered family Ford, and the rest of the farm implements scheduled to go under the hammer.

When the Sheriff wanted to postpone the sale he was informed by the men who called him by first name that they had dropped their work to attend this auction and they felt sure he wouldn’t want to inconvenience them. The frightened agent who looked deathly pale was assured in friendly tones that they had nothing against strangers who knew enough to keep their mouths shut and not to butt their noses into other folks’ affairs.

The auction went on as scheduled—no item up for sale brought more than one single bid. The farm, barn, outbuildings were knocked down for $10, the tractor brought $1.40, the car even less, a team of fine horses went for 22 cents. The total came to a little under twenty dollars, all paid in cash and in full by the neighbors, then presented free and clear to the original owner.

Home owners, the traditional upholders of the private owner ship system, the embodiment of conservatism, turned out in howling mobs in Cleveland (also in other cities) battling the combined forces of police and firemen to prevent the dispossession of other home owners on whom the banks had foreclosed, until they succeeded in bringing that banking practice to a halt. Most of them were churchgoers and deeply religious, yet they were denounced as Communists which they were definitely not—at least not until the Communists organized them into a Small Home and Land Owners Federation, when many of them did join up.

In Barberton, Ohio, a spontaneous mass strike in a match company flared into armed violence when under a police escort a group of strikebreakers were brought into the plant. I still have in my possession that “Proclamation of Riot” which I rescued after it was torn down contemptuously and trampled in the mud, ordering the strikers to disperse, an order the police were unable to enforce.

In nearby Kent, a few weeks later, when the workers refused to accept another wage cut, the management locked them out and brought in a force of armed professional strikebreakers to intimidate the workers and force them to submit. The sight of those armed thugs sauntering provokingly up and down be hind the steel-link fence surrounding the plant produced an effect totally different from that planned by the management. Many of those locked out workers happened to be mountaineers from Kentucky. They rushed home for their long-barreled squirrel guns and laid armed siege to the plant.

By the time I reached the scene the strikebreakers had all been driven inside one wing. I squatted down next to one of the mountaineers and watched him draw a bead on the water tower in the yard. The bullet hit near the bottom but drew no squirt of water from that riddled reservoir. He grunted with satisfaction and told me he only wanted to make sure, those yellow bellied skunks must be pretty parched by now, they must be asweating aplenty. He filled his pipe, then took a shot at a win dow from which someone had just fired a gun.

“They are whupped!” he apprised me of the situation, reckon ing that the ammunition of the strikebreakers must be nearly spent; they had been so “scairt” when they found themselves besieged that they shot most of their ammunition away at the start. He proved right, for in less than a half hour a white towel was hoisted from the window. The sheriff and his deputies, who had been disarmed at gun point when attempting to aid the strikebreakers, were now ordered to go fetch the men and escort them out of town. The professional strikebreakers came out thoroughly subdued, some of them wearing makeshift blood soaked bandages; they followed the sheriff with dragging feet. My companion, a bony man with a stubble beard, spat, but it might have been the tobacco. In talking with those workers one singular fact struck me. Not one of them was conscious of having committed a rebellious offense by launching a concerted armed assault against governmental authority as represented by the sheriff.

In Toledo, striking Auto Lite workers, women mostly, rushed the strikebreakers, ripped off their clothes leaving only their ties on, then paraded them stark naked down the street in broad daylight, hooting in derision.

That was the mood, the temper, the spirit of the people as I witnessed it in that great state of Ohio, the “Buckeye State,” endowed by bountiful nature with fertile valleys and rich mineral deposits; a state boasting of industrial plants and mills among the most modern in the world, and populated by six million industrious, God-fearing citizens.

The conditions prevailing in Ohio reflected the situation throughout the country. Even the dullest sensed that a change had to come. History ceased to be a recital of events long past; it became the living present pulsating with dynamic energy.

People suddenly became aware that the making of history need not necessarily be left to Washington alone. They learned that history can also be shaped by the unemployed on the streets; by strikers on the picket lines; by street brawls and organized assaults on defenseless minorities; by crude but determined men in shabby union halls organizing the unorganized; by intellectuals beating the drums.

The battle lines were shaping up; Red and Black on the two extreme wings, the undecided and the cautious in the middle—the New Deal a bit left of center trying its best to establish a new equilibrim, to restore and preserve the dream that was America.

The land was split into those who hoped for a revolutionary change and those who feared it. There were few indeed who dared maintain with genuinely felt assurance:

“It can’t happen here!”

Chapter 33

dingbat

When I returned from Canada after an absence of nearly nine months, early in September 1930, I found a vast change. I had expected a change—I had kept in touch with events at home by reading both party and nonparty American newspapers, magazines, other publications. Visual contact now reinforced the mental image I had formed in Canada and charged it with emotional content—we, the party, were being proved right! Capitalism was on the downgrade and was sliding rapidly into an abyss.

The appearance of the City of New York seemed to have altered. Not only the city had changed but also the eyes with which I was viewing it. My experiences in Canada had made me more perceptive; my eyes had learned to pick out highlights; my mind had become trained in the “political approach”—to consider most manifestations of life from the point of view of the “class struggle.”

Physically New York looked shabby, dirtier, run-down. The former infectious gayety, the determined rush, the purposeful hurry was missing from the stride of the pedestrians—the spirit of the people seemed to be running down.

I still detected the pushing and the shoving, the rudeness of manners, that stone-cold indifference and self-centered concentration of the New Yorker which seems to say, “I’ll have to look out for myself, no one else will.” Yet there was an evidence of mellowing manifested in the warmer sympathy afforded to the unemployed apple sellers, to the long lines of dispossesed queuing up in front of the many soup kitchens. The eyes of the passers-by had lost their former self-assured look—they reflected the same uncertainty, the self-doubt—the haunting feel of insecurity I had come to recognize so well in Canada.

When I left New York, the visible trouble had been mainly at the top. The big capitalists, the big exploiters were then the ones who had been reeling under the shock of the Stock Exchange crash. They were the ones who were losing their shirts, jumping out of office windows, putting guns to their temples, taking an overdose of sleeping pills. The causes and consequences of that stock market crash were now affecting the masses. Mills, mines, factories were shutting down one after another and bleak unemployment was spreading its paralyzing grip deep and wide all over the land.

The party had shrilly predicted the coming collapse months before the market crash. Now as our dogma began to prove itself we were convinced that we were the true prophets chosen to carry the sword of Red Islam, even though our muscles were thin and our ranks were sparse. We felt it was our destiny to face up to a task imposed on us by history, and if we were found lacking we would fail history.

The battle for the streets of New York was on. The police were brutal and savage. The official policy was, “Suppress the symptoms of distress; choke the cry for relief back into the throats of the hungry; banish the bastards from the streets; prevent the starving from exhibiting their sores in public—and this crisis will pass, we hope it will pass, Christ, it’s gotta pass, we gotta show those bums who is the boss!”

In retrospect, at this writing when our national income is running at more than 500 billion annually, when we enjoy a standard of living unprecedented in history and any criticism of the free enterprise system is considered subversive, it seems ironic to record in how cowardly a fashion capitalism behaved less than three decades ago, how little faith the capitalists themselves had in the survival of their own system, in the validity of their own thinking. Instead of asserting faith and leadership, they squirmed, twisted and turned; instead of thinking and planning they struck out blindly. Unable to fathom the mysteries of their own economic system, the capitalists resorted to incantation and black magic; they invoked suppression, praying that the lid would stay clamped down.

The seat of the tumor was in the United States and the malignant growth was spreading all over the globe—except for one sixth of the earth.

The eyes of the world—except for those whose gaze was fixed on the rising star in the East—were fastened on the United States where the High Priests of Capitalism reigned. The world turned to them in supplication but the eyes of those High Priests were glazed.

The High Priests were basically little men. They had not been trained to think in terms of human society. They had been encouraged to grab; to stake out claims; to gather in and to hoard; to ride roughshod over everyone who stood in their way to the glimmering harvest. They had been brought up in a one-way street ruled by “heads I win and tails you lose.” Now they found the one-way road had become a dead-end street where the once reliable coin wouldn’t perform and even the “heads” lost, and they sat down in confusion.

The High Priests had their Supreme Priest presiding over the nation, the symbol of human genius at its apex, begotten out of the political wedlock of engineering and big business. But they knew his feet were also made of clay and heeded not his admonitions.

The Supreme Priest invoked the old magic chant.

“Prosperity is right around the corner!” he intoned.

Prosperity failed to respond to blandishments. It regressed further.

The Supreme Priest called a conclave in Washington.

The High Priests all responded and officiated in the rituals of exorcising the Devil. They solemnly pledged to cease being frightened, to stop further layoffs, to start rehiring, and to resume normal production. No sooner had they left the White House than the High Priests rushed to their long-distance phones and called their plant managers. As long as the other fellow was hiring that was a good time to sneak in a rabbit punch, to take a bit of advantage. The workers lining up in front of the hiring gates with the folded newspapers in their hip pockets headlining the happy news were met by a flood of men streaming back, those who had been freshly fired that morning.

The Supreme Priest preached the return to the good life, to thrift and austerity.

To set the example he cut the government budget. The haves responded promptly by grimly clutching their belongings and by hoarding even tighter.

“Waste not, want not,” they chanted, and cut back their buying, sending production into a further tailspin.

The have-nots clenched their empty palms into fists, yet stood by in dazed helplessness.

The Supreme Priest invoked moral suasion.

“The American people are too proud to accept the dole,” he proclaimed from the depth of his Quaker soul.

“Those bums are starving because they are lazy. They don’t want to work. Anybody who wants to work can find a job,” recited the righteous haves, turning a stone heart to charity as being a violation of moral precepts. For has it not been written that the wastrels are committing an offense against God?

With sermons on their lips and clubs in their hands, the High Priests of capitalism staggered around, preaching they did not know what, laying about in blind fury, in the faint hope that if they succeeded in stifling the screams the epidemic itself would pass. Yet their very own lips trembled, the hands that gripped the clubs shook with palsy. They feared those forces around them which they had once proudly claimed to have mastered. Their ships unaccountably foundered, the Captains of Destiny now found themselves bouncing about in fragile walnut shells. They were no longer steaming toward a goal, but merely bailing in blind desperation, praying for survival.

It is appalling to contemplate how quickly these High Priests of Capitalism, these Captains of Industry, began to doubt the basic soundness of their own productive system, how little they understood the economic laws that govern production and distribution, and determine the prosperity of a highly industrialized capitalist society.

To me the most outstanding fact, the most amazing social phenomenon in that dark early era of depression is that deep in their hearts the capitalist leaders themselves had lost faith in their own system. They found themselves on a toboggan and could picture themselves only as going down. They lacked the imagination to find new ways of getting off the slide and they gave up hope of coming up. They concentrated their energies on digging in their heels to slow down their rapid descent.

Single out one capitalist leader, one important captain of industry, cite one outstanding capitalist economist, if you can, who dared proclaim:

“These are not symptoms of decay, these are growing pains of the capitalist system. Once we overcome them it will be capitalism that will usher in the era of plenty. Capitalism can and will build a land of plenty for our people in our country long before Socialism can rise to that in the East.”

Capitalism had apologists, defenders, upholders, whip-wielders, palm readers, soothsayers, and fortunetellers aplenty. Yet in those days of the depression it was unable to produce one single proponent with faith sufficient to stand up in the market place and prophesy:

“Within twenty-five years in these very same United States employment will rise to more than 6o million; nearly two in every three families will own their own homes; our people will be better fed, better clothed, better sheltered than any nation in history—all under a capitalist system!”

The faith of the capitalists was shaken.

The faith of the middle classes, merchants, professionals was shaken.

The faith of the workers and farmers was shaken.

Our faith alone was strengthened. There was no unemployment in the Soviet Union!

The men of good will, the humanitarians and the kind in heart, the sentimentalists brought forth their healing salves. “Man is good in heart,” they prayed. “We’ll have to reach the hearts of the employers with kindness.”

“Give a job,” pleaded, urged, cajoled Heywood Broun from the depth of his heart in his newspaper column and over the radio. He received four offers of jobs and 400 applicants stood in line for them.

Men of charity set up bread lines and soup kitchens. “How long have you been waiting in this line, Bud?” I asked one of the men in front of Bernarr Macfadden’s soup kitchen.

“I got here a little after five in the morning,” the man told me. He expected to get his soup “pretty soon,” in about two or three hours. That was at 2:30 in the afternoon.

Nutrition experts gave advice and the papers printed it. There was nutrition in grass, they proved, that could sustain human life if cooked long enough, say six to eight hours, and eaten in sufficiently large quantities, say six to eight pounds. There was still the matter of the bitter taste, but one can’t have everything. They did not say how to reopen shut-off gas meters. We Communists had to teach the unemployed that trick.

Other nutrition experts were more realistic. They offered menus for the less destitute. A given minimum quantity of barley and oats mixed with some kind of cheap seed germ, they promised, would provide a nutritionally balanced diet for a person for only one and three quarter cents a day, or seven cents for a family of four. This discovery, too, was hailed in some papers.

The only people in America who had professed to understand the true causes of the Depression were the Marxists. It was all down there in black and white, in the first volume of Karl Marx’s Das Kapital, also in the red-inked pages of the Communist Manifesto.

The Socialists of Norman Thomas, the Musteites, the Socialist Labor Party, the IWW, all loudly asserted that the depression was the long-predicted breakdown of the capitalist production system which only social reforms could remedy.

But we were not only Marxists, we were Marxist-Leninists. We were certain that we knew even better. At the 6th Congress of the Communist International in 1928, fully one year before the stock market crash, at the height of the boom, Bukharin had warned that we were entering a new period in post First World War capitalist development.

“The Third Period—A period of capitalist crisis, of wars and revolutions,” the thesis had asserted.

We Communists far outdistanced in boldness the other Marxists whom we denounced as “social-fascists.” We had the brassier lungs, the brasher manner, we had our party discipline, and the fanaticism of martyrdom. We also had something else—we had a star of our own to guide us—the five-pointed Red Star rising with ever-brighter flame in the firmament in the East, while the tired constellation of capitalism was sinking in the West.

We were certain that we alone knew the score and we yelled it from the roof tops at the top of our lungs.

“This is no cyclical depression that reforms can cure.”

“Capitalism is in crisis! Times are bound to get much worse!”

The lines outside the factory gates were growing larger by the day. “No help wanted” signs blossomed all over the land, nailed down permanently over the windows of employment offices. The men waiting helplessly outside the gates cast envious glances at the men employed within. The men working inside the plants stole baleful and apprehensive glances at the long line of job applicants outside-the capitalist’s dream of the ideal setup for wage cuts.

“Capitalism will utilize the crisis to cut wages—to speed you up!” we trumpeted.

We were vociferously bearish in a declining economy, and we guessed right. Every calamity we predicted quickly came true with a vengeance, and brought in its wake greater human suffering than even we had anticipated.

We exulted in our wisdom! Leninism, dialectical materialism provided us with the key to the secret of the future. We prophesied even more dire events, and capitalism co-operated with us. The more frantically capitalism tried to stop the decline, the more blunders it committed. Instead of expanding the economy, it kept cutting back, bringing more unemployment as a result.

Capitalism was thinking in reverse, it wanted to fit production to declining consumption to eliminate “surplus.” As a consequence, the more people were laid off the less they were able to buy. That brought further layoffs which curtailed consumption still more—and the circle thus widened; the more people lost their jobs, the greater the surpluses grew. The national income was shrinking by the day—now was the time for the government to act.

The government did act. President Herbert H. Hoover, the production wizard and economic genius—for had he not by his own efforts in his youth amassed a fortune running into millions—was a hardheaded realist who wouldn’t let his Quaker heart enter the calculations of his brains. He pecked away at his adding machine trying to get the ledger to balance. As an engineer he knew that the machinery was jammed yet he bore down harder on the keys in the blind hope that somehow the machinery would right itself and come up automatically with the right answer.

“The budget has to be balanced!” he stated the new formula.

Consequently the currency was even more deflated, making money still tighter to borrow, thus further inhibiting production. Government revenues were shrinking so he fired more government employees, heaping more humans on the castoff pile.

We knew what the remedy was. We shouted for reforms, for government relief, for social insurance.

“Tax the rich to feed the poor!”

We roused the people, we drummed it into their heads:

“Don’t starve in silence! Raise your mighty voice! Cry out until your distress is heard, until no ear can be plugged against it in whatever high places!”

We issued leaflets and we distributed them—a handful of us, 3,000 party members in the United States in 1930 out of a population of some 130 million souls.

We worked day and night. We were inept; we were rent by factions. Many of us hardly knew English and those of us who did spoke a strange jargon half of which we ourselves did not comprehend. Our voices were shrill, we spoke with accents guttural and harsh to which American ears had not heretofore been attuned.

We were full of compassion for the sufferings of mankind, we lived in hopes of a better world to come. We were dedicated men, ready to sacrifice ourselves to bring about that better world for all mankind. The masses needed help. They were ready to act if someone would only lead them, if someone would only show them how.

We were eager for that mission! We had initiative—and we had guts. We were ready to learn from the people and also to teach them a trick or two.

A party of 3,000 members of whom not even half were active boldly issued calls for mass demonstrations. Millions responded.

We spoke at street corners and crossroads, in squares and county seats, in towns and villages where we had never set foot before. We talked and the inhabitants listened to that strange talk, the like of which had not been heard even during the presidency of Andrew Jackson, part of which they didn’t even understand, much less agree with. But they approved the parts they wanted to hear, the parts they understood because they had already spoken them silently in their hearts and which we now made vocal for them.

“What kind of a father are you? Will you let your hungry children cry because you are too proud to accept the dole?”

“Are we too proud to accept the dole? No! No! A thousand times no!” we thundered raising our fists.

Tens of thousands of other fists rose in unison with ours, hundreds of thousands of other throats shouted with us in defiance.

We not only spoke, we also organized. A young comrade hitchhiked to Allentown, Pennsylvania with five cents in his pocket, to a town where he did not know a soul. He had arrived at the square at two in the afternoon, he told me, sat down on a bench, and started to ask the others sitting there where he could get a job in Allentown.

“You can’t get a job in this town,” he was told bitterly. “They are not hiring anybody. The mills are still laying off.”

By four o’clock he was standing on a park bench making a speech, by five he was chased by the police. By six he had been invited for dinner and had a place to sleep. By seven men were coming to the home of his host for a meeting. By nine that evening the first Unemployed Council in the history of Allentown was formed.

A group of mountaineers in the Ozarks lifted their hunting rifles off the hook and walked down the hill to the country store. “We don’t aim to do you any harm,” they said to the storekeeper, as reported in the papers, “all we aim is to take some supplies for we are out of groceries and ain’t got the money to pay for it.” They loaded up with flour, sugar, tobacco, fatback, lard, and cornmeal but did not touch the cash in the till. They were not robbers, only men out of jobs, and they were getting hungry.

We sent Comrade Emil Gardos (the last I heard he was one of the heads of the State Chemical Trust in Hungary) to track them down and to recruit them into the party. Gardos succeeded in making contact with them, he told me, and they averred, reckoned, and were mighty proud—neither of us had any ear for dialect—to join such a fine organization as that “Communistical Party” they had heard about. They joined up, about seventeen of them, and then sheepishly said that the Hoskins brothers had a powerful hankering to join, too, but they didn’t see how they could be admitted to that “Communistical Party” seeing as the brothers just didn’t have any rifles.

“They were a wonderful group to work with,” said Gardos with wistful eyes, “but we finally had to drop them. They insisted on bringing their rifles to the party meetings and we couldn’t have that. It could have brought disaster on the entire party.”

We agitated. We propagandized. We exploited every opportunity to organize.

The Schrafft restaurant chain in New York advertised for busboys—several of them: “Ten dollars a week, college graduates only.” Two hundred some odd young college men had been hopefully milling around for hours since dawn by the time the personnel manager arrived. He surveyed that horde of applicants then superciliously called out:

“Graduates of Harvard and Yale, step forward.”

In less than a minute that place was a shambles, the besieged manager frantically calling for police from behind his barricaded door. Not a single one of those young college men had until then been a member of the Communist Party, but subsequently quite a number of them joined.

Violence? What would you have done if all you had was a diploma from Princeton, Columbia—or horrors! from the City College of New York?

We organized Unemployed Councils. We organized delegations to call on councilmen, congressmen, mayors, other officials, even in the privacy of their own homes.

At one unit meeting I attended in Cleveland, a comparatively new member of the party, Comrade Lombardi, was listening with ever-diminishing patience to a discussion of whether the unit should lead the proposed unemployed delegation to a certain councilman’s home or his office. A desperate relief situation was developing in that district and that councilman was hostile to the demands of the unemployed, dodging their delegations. Comparative merits of either step were discussed at length until finally Comrade Lombardi lost his temper. He banged on the table.

“We go to da house. If he not home we go to da office. We breaka da window, breaka da furniture, breaka da desk and set ’em on afire! Next point on da agend’ is da Daily Worka. Comrades, da Daily Worka is in a very bad condidution. . . .”

I lectured that unit, especially Comrade Lombardi, that the party neither approved of such tactics nor condoned them. Comrade Lombardi was amiable.

“O.K., we no breaka da window, no smasha da furniture, no set ’em on afire. We only tear up da papers.”

We unofficially compromised on tearing up only a few papers, and those only when nothing else availed. As it turned out, even that wasn’t necessary. The unemployed crowded into that office until there wasn’t an inch of space left, until that councilman was pushed against a corner, nose to nose with Comrade Lombardi. Lombardi talked and the councilman agreed. From then on he also became a co-operative councilman.

Violence? Maybe. But those unemployed had the right to be heard, to address their grievances to their elected representatives.

When thousands of families had their gas meters shut off and their electricity disconnected we organized emergency flying squads of experts to connect up gas pipes, restore the cut-off current.

Violation of private property rights? Maybe. Have you ever seen a mother with four hungry young children sobbing in the kitchen slumped over a dead gas range, unable to heat even water? I have. And we did something about it. We would also pick up the furniture of evicted families dumped on the sidewalk and carry it piece by piece, two, three, six flights up back to the old apartment.

Interference with enforcement of the law? Maybe. In Cleveland silver-haired Sheriff Sulzman, four times elected sheriff by a great popular majority in the County of Cuyahoga, most heavily populated county in the sovereign state of Ohio, called us aside one time, when he found himself way behind in carrying out the hundreds of writs of eviction issued by the local courts. We had interfered too often, with too many street fights and minor riots, and the arms of his deputies were getting weary with both fighting and lugging furniture down.

“Listen, boys,” he said, “why can’t we get together on this? Let’s be sensible. Why fight? Why not make it easier for both of us? I have to carry out the orders of the courts. Let’s have a system. We’ll carry a few sticks of furniture out to satisfy the judgment of the court and you won’t interfere. You will then only have to carry a few pieces back. Everybody is happy and nobody gets hurt.”

It worked out fine. Who said the Communists wouldn’t cooperate with law-enforcement agencies?

We organized hunger marches to dramatize the plight of the unemployed. The “marchers” traveled by trucks and they were showered with so much food at every stop by local citizens who gathered around them in sympathy that many of those “marchers” had gained a few pounds by the time they returned. One truck broke down—it had not only been fixed free but came back with two new tires as a gift from some garage man on the road.

In some places bloody fights took place. We didn’t start them, it was the police that attacked us, particularly in company-owned towns. We were met with threats, with denunciations, with arrests, with deportations. Firehoses bowled us off our feet with torrents of icy water in subzero weather. We were met with police clubs, blackjacks, riot guns, machine guns, even with tanks, led in person by bemedaled General Douglas MacArthur in a steel helmet, on the fiats of Anacostia in Washington.

Scores of us were killed, hundreds of us were wounded and jailed, thousands of us were beaten, had our skulls cracked.

But we couldn’t be silenced. Hundreds of thousands of the unemployed followed us, millions of the starving prayed for our success.

We developed lungs of leather and we demanded!

Mayor Davis of Cleveland once told a group of newspapermen—I was one of them—”Those people are too arrogant. Maybe if they were to ask politely we’d let them have something, but I won’t give in to demands.”

It wasn’t arrogance. It was sound tactics.

Those who ask are timid. A supplicant puts himself in a subservient position, he accepts his inferior position as preordained. He submits his fate to the whim of his patron; he proclaims in advance he has no rightful claim and that he would be grateful for whatever favors are shown—please! He begs for charity.

By demanding relief we asserted our claim that all men willing to work in an organized society are entitled to a job, that the government has a responsibility for the welfare of all the governed. That it is the responsibility of governments to keep their economic systems balanced, that a government has to interfere when one third of a nation is ill-fed or nonfed, ill-clothed or nonclothed, ill-sheltered or nonsheltered.

President Herbert Hoover was a man of brains, but his mind did not comprehend that. He had brought the land to near chaos and ruin.

President Franklin D. Roosevelt was a man of heart—his heart comprehended that, and he saved our American form of government.

We demanded, and that was rude. We demanded, and we wouldn’t be sent to the backdoor for a handout. When one demands, you have to lick him or negotiate with him—one or the other. When they couldn’t lick us, rather they licked us often, but when they found we wouldn’t stay licked, they had to negotiate.

It was a fight. What a fight! In the end we won the major part of our immediate demands, thus helping to restore the stability of the capitalist system—although Marx, Engels, Lenin, and Stalin, who inspired us, had exactly the opposite in mind.

We got the dole.

We got relief baskets.

We got Home Relief—in cash.

We got W.P.A., P.W.A., H.O.L.C., F.H.A, and the other F.H.A. (Farms and Homes Administration).

We got Unemployment Insurance and Social Security.

We got the philosophy embodied in the first article in our Constitution re-established, that our government is responsible for the general welfare of the people and must interfere in the economic life of the nation to secure this.

Say what you please! Deny if you wish! Distort our role, or minimize it; give credit for the above achievement to whomever you wish!

One fact is outstanding—it cannot be denied. The Communists were the only organized force during the early part of the depression that relentlessly, with never-ceasing energy, generated the constant pressure compelling those New Deal reforms.

The other day I saw a woman in front of me at the supermarket cash her unemployment insurance check. It was for $35. She had bought a basketful of groceries, butter, and half a smoked ham. She carefully counted her change, then, as an afterthought, she asked for a carton of cigarettes. She paid over the money for that too, tucking the change in her wallet.

I smiled and remarked, “It’s quite a load you have.” She smiled back and replied, “I prefer to do my shopping all in one, then I’m through for the week.” We both agreed that was a good idea and I watched her wheel the wire basket out to her car because her purchases were too heavy to carry by hand.

She was a young woman around twenty-four and she saw nothing unusual in that transaction. I was happy and reflected that was as it should be.

I recalled the riot at Kroger’s in Cleveland just about the time that young woman was born, not over a full carton but only a single pack of cigarettes. One of the unemployed, when presenting his relief voucher, had asked that a package of cigarettes be included. The manager refused; by orders of the City Council those relief vouchers should only be honored for food, and he righteously added that the unemployed should be thankful to get something to eat, the nerve of some of them asking even for cigarettes. Some comrades happened to be present and that store was nearly wrecked by the time the manager tremblingly offered to turn over that pack of cigarettes. That news traveled fast, stores outside of the Kroger chain took note of it also. The clerks were speedily instructed to disregard that order of the City Council. From that day on no storekeeper again raised the question whether the unemployed had the right to a smoke or not.

Violence? Persuasion maybe, with a singular lack of tact on both sides.

I also recall a sequel to that incident. The Communists organized a march on City Hall demanding that relief be paid in cash instead of food vouchers. A councilman with a big cigar in his mouth smiled ironically!

“So they could spend it on joy rides, or even cigars, I presume?” he baited the delegates.

That cigar was rammed down his throat and a full-scale riot ensued. The police rushed in and blood splattered the floor of the Cleveland Council Chambers. Heads were cracked and demonstrators were jailed. But we got the cash relief.

Violence? Yes. But be it remembered—we bore the brunt of it.

Deplorable? Maybe.

Un-American? Like a hungry stomach.

Subversive? Ask Andrew Jackson.

The ways of the Lord are inscrutable. God in His wisdom may choose whatever instrumentality to impose His will upon selfish men with hearts of stone-even card-carrying Communists.

Aye, that He may.

Come the Day of judgment, my plea for redemption shall rest on that.

Chapter 32

dingbat

My life in Canada soon settled into the routine of a party organizer in a more or less virgin field—differing from that of a missionary mainly in that the faith we preached was redemption through joining one of our organizations and salvation through revolution, through the overthrow of the capitalist system right here on earth. I tended my flock, made new converts, brought them to a closer understanding of life and society by lecturing on such subjects as evolution and the class structure of society, all strictly according to the gospel of Marx and Lenin. My congregation consisted mostly of peasants who had broken with their old church and came to look upon Communism as a new religion, on the editor of the Worker as not only their spiritual but their lay leader as well, bringing to him their personal problems as well as their disputes, and abiding by his authority. I was even called upon to deliver funeral orations in which I was expected to console the bereaved by extolling the virtues of the departed not only as a good family man but also as an outstanding example of a class conscious workingman. I was invited to name the newly born and I still take credit for naming none of them Vladimir after Lenin or Krupskaya after his widow.

The one incident that was anything but routine occurred at our May Day demonstration in Hamilton in 1930 and the memory of the part I played in it still makes me uneasy.

It all began when the party selected me chairman of the United May Day Committee which was formed to organize the demonstration. By that time I had become accustomed to leadership.

At our first meeting all went well and in harmony until a nonparty delegate raised the question of applying for a police permit. The delegates seemed in general agreement on the advisability of that—I alone stood in opposition. I reasoned that the police had shown increased apprehension of late over our growing activities, particularly among the unemployed, and by risking the denial of a permit we would be playing right into their hands. That would give them a pretext for smashing our demonstration and on top of this, to charge us with provoking a riot by willful violation of the police ban.

Leadership is a heady wine. One gets used to power just as easily as to having money enough to burn, without giving it a thought. Since the majority opinion seemed to be definitely against me I used the chair’s prerogative. I asked for someone to move that we should not apply for a police permit. Some comrade mumbled something to that effect; I called for seconding, some other comrade did so. I then immediately called for a voice vote and when a few comrades said “aye,” pronounced the motion carried.

At our next meeting one of the delegates made a peculiar report. He claimed that he had been approached by a police captain who objected to our announced route. Our plan called for marching up one main avenue and then turning right on the most important thoroughfare in the city. The police wanted us to turn left at that crossing to avoid traffic being paralyzed.

His report caused considerable agitation but I quickly ruled out all discussion of it. The way I interpreted it, that was merely a request to make things more convenient for the police. After all, we did want to tie up traffic; the worse the traffic jam, the greater the impression we’d make on the bourgeoisie.

At our final meeting a few days before May first, another delegate, this time the President of the Veterans’ Unemployment Council, came in with a still graver report. He had been called in by the Police Chief himself and warned that under no condition would the police allow us to turn right on the main avenue. If we turned left, they would leave us alone. But if we turned right they would await us with machine guns and we would then be held responsible for whatever ensued.

This threat couldn’t be ignored. A number of delegates asked for the floor at once, including two members of the Local Executive Committee of the Party. To be democratic I recognized a delegate of one of the Unemployment Councils first—besides, I wanted to know how he felt. He spoke for changing the route, arguing that what we were primarily interested in was a demonstration, not a bloody clash with the police. He spoke with heat and it made good sense to me. The majority seemed to agree with him.

After a few other delegates spoke in a similar vein, I finally recognized one of the official Communist Party delegates, one of the members of our Local Executive Committee.

He was vehement. May Day was a day for “militant” demonstration. The workers themselves would decide where and how they wanted to demonstrate. The route of the demonstration had already been publicized, binding us to our plan. If the police interfered, the responsibility would rest squarely on them, and on the capitalist government!

After he spoke the other party members became silent. They did not approve of his stand, but the party had spoken and that settled it for them. It settled it for me too, although I did not like it either. That police threat might well have been a bluff, to scare us out of tying up traffic at that key corner. On the other hand, the threat of machine guns might not be an idle one in view of the growing nervousness of the city authorities. But the party had spoken, I was the chairman, it was my task to put its decision into execution. After the motion to leave our route of march unchanged had been carried, although with a notable lack of enthusiasm, I decided I might as well put the best face on it.

“If the Police Chief approaches any one of you delegates again, simply tell him we’ll march as announced, that we’ll turn to the right even if they face us with cannons. The streets belong to the people. The working class of Hamilton will assert its right to demonstrate peacefully even though that may inconvenience the bourgeoisie.”

That speech was met by great applause and it restored the confidence of all delegates except mine. Inwardly I felt that our stand was wrong. The real issue was not whether the police were provoking us or we were provoking the police, but that a good number of people might be gravely hurt. The party had egged me on, I egged the party on! They had committed me, I had committed them. Leadership meant responsibility—come what may, I would have to face it.

May Day broke sunny and beautiful. The profusion of red flags and banners put the crowd at the assembly point in a festive mood. Both sidewalks were jammed with onlookers—those prudent comrades who were one with us in spirit but who nevertheless considered it wiser to separate their bodies from the common cause.

It took quite a while to line up the column in the most colorful and yet, if attacked, the most effective position for defense. There were a considerable number of women and children among the marchers and to protect them we concentrated the huskiest men on the flanks so that from there they could rush quickly into the fighting. The plan called for me to march in the lead with one member of the United May Day Committee on my right and another on my left.

We started our march on schedule, singing the Internationale, and shouting slogans at intervals. The crowds on the sidewalks kept step with our progress, people waved to us from the windows, the sun shone bright and warm—it was an exhilarating demonstration.

As we neared the contested intersection I subconsciously slowed down which must have affected the spirit of the crowd. The singing died down and this in turn reacted on me. I felt my feet dragging and when we reached the crossing the column came to a slow halt.

The street left of the intersection lay clear of all traffic. The crossing to the right was blocked curb to curb by a line of motorcycles. Two policemen in full battle dress manned each motorcycle, the driver leaning forward, one foot on the pedal in readiness. The other in the gondola slouched low in the unmistakable posture of a machine gunner ready for instant action. A police captain, feet planted apart, was facing us in the center of the road.

The marchers were moving up closer. There was a momentum to that column—it was physically pressing me on. I felt the eyes of the comrades boring into my back. The Communist Party was leading that demonstration. I was the picked leader of the party.

To the left the street stretched open and enticing. It beckoned: “This way to joy and peace!”

To the right the police line was tensing. That way lay fire, flame, and bullets—the road to destruction.

It was my responsibility to the party, it was my decision to make. I made it.

I raised my right arm and shouted loud and clear: “Lo-o-ng li-i-lve the soli-i-da-a-a-arity of the interna-a-ational working claa-a-ss!”

“Long live the solidarity of the international working class,” the shout thundered back from the crowd.

“Long live May Day!” I shouted, and brought my arm down decisively, pointing firm and straight to the right, to the police line ahead. I executed a sharp right turn and marched resolutely ahead, the column following in my wake.

I was marching on stiffly. One . . . two . . . three . . . I drew my shoulders back . . . Four . . . five . . . six . . . A few more steps and the police would open fire! The Police Captain raised his arm in a signal and shouted a command. Here it comes! I marched grimly on. One . . . two . . . three . . . The motorcycles came alive with a roar . . . Four . . . five . . . They are heading into us . . . Six . . . They are going to ride us down Seven . . . I threw my chest out. Shoot, you bastards, shoot! Yes . . . ! No . . . ! Yes . . . ! The motorcycles parted into two, the road was no longer blocked, the motorcycles were pulling over to the curb to let our column pass.

An immense cheer rose and the column broke into the Internationale, we marched victoriously on, shouting and singing, and I changed my stride from parade step to route. I looked back—everyone was happy and triumphant. I was not elated, I felt remote and detached as I kept marching on.

That evening, at the May Day dance and celebration, I was listless. I shook hands, accepted congratulations, answered the small talk, but my attention was not there, my mind was hovering over a vast empty space with no landmarks on which to alight. I excused myself early, went home and to bed. I was curiously exhausted, but I couldn’t sleep and couldn’t read—the page blurred in front of my eyes. I turned off the light and closed my eyes. Sleep wouldn’t come. Suddenly the sky lit up and there was that police motorcycle line right in front of my eyes, the column in back of me pressing me on, and I was out in front, the decision resting with me.

I watched the motorcycles roar to life and suddenly I saw those machine guns spitting fire, heard the screaming of the comrades, saw men, women, and children crumpled up on the pavement, moaning in pain. I was responsible for all that; it had not happened that way, yet my action could very well have resulted in such a massacre!

I tried to twist and turn out of it, I argued with that phantasmagoria but it wouldn’t dissolve. That was not leadership, that was not responsibility to the masses, that was an out-and-out provocation. I, the party leader, had deliberately disregarded the possible consequences, had led the workers to be massacred—to uphold what? A party decision and my position of leadership. But for the mercy of that police captain, many of those workers would now be lying in blood, screaming in agony, those women and children, too—all for the glory of the Communist Party!

I shook and shivered until sleep brought oblivion.

Chapter 31

dingbat

Comrade Resnick, the local party leader, was a cheerful little man in his late forties; he ran an alteration tailor shop. When I introduced myself he greeted me most effusively. He was happy to welcome me, the Local Executive Committee of the party was having a meeting in his shop that evening, would I care to attend? That was a greater stroke of luck than I had anticipated. Now I could lay my problems before a high body of seasoned revolutionary leaders and the very name “Local Executive Committee of the Communist Party of Hamilton, Ontario, Canada” awed me. A customer came in just then with a pair of pants to be pressed and I left, promising to return that night.

There were six people in the rear of Comrade Resnick’s shop when I arrived. Comrade Resnick introduced me proudly as “a leading comrade from the States, the Editor of the Worker, and the leader of the Canadian Hungarian Movement.” The comrades greeted me with a deference which I found disturbing.

My uneasiness increased when Comrade Resnick announced that the L.E.C. (Local Executive Committee) was grateful for the presence of such a leading comrade in Hamilton who could greatly help them in doing more effective party work. He moved that I be drafted to become a member of the Local Executive Committee and before I had a chance to protest, I found myself duly elected.

As the meeting progressed, I was asked my opinion on every point on the agenda. I did not know the City of Hamilton, I wasn’t much interested in their problems, my mind was on my own. I did not participate in the discussion for I was only half listening and when pressed for my opinion I gave it only after all of them had had their say. I did not know then that that was the formula employed by all party leaders; as a result all my opinions were approved.

As the meeting progressed it became clear I couldn’t expect any guidance from that group, they were taking their leadership from me, an utter tyro.

The main topic of the meeting was an unemployed demonstration, the first to be held in Hamilton. Unemployment was growing rapidly in Canada and industrial centers like Hamilton were the hardest hit. They had been promised a speaker from the Central Committee in Toronto, now the problem was, how to reach the unemployed and induce them to turn out. They were planning to mimeograph five thousand leaflets, a ridiculously small number, I thought. Further discussion established that they had a problem distributing even that number because of the 36 comrades on the membership roll less than half were “active.”

I proposed to print 5,000 additional leaflets and to distribute them with the aid of my Hungarians. I also suggested that we notify the local newspapers about the demonstration, thus giving it added publicity, and I volunteered for that task. Both proposals were met by admiring comments. They must have thought me a wizard of an organizer. . . .

The demonstration fell on a very cold winter day. The unemployed were shabby and poorly clad, they were miserable and shivered in the icy wind. Ten o’clock passed, then ten-fifteen, the speaker from Toronto still hadn’t arrived. The crowd was growing impatient, even I was beginning to feel the cold. After a while I told Comrade Resnick to forget about the Toronto speaker and start or the crowd would disintegrate. To my utter amazement he then proposed that I speak, taking for granted that I was an experienced speaker. Before I half knew what was happening, they boosted me to an empty steel drum amidst stormy applause.

I was utterly confused. The barrel had a sprung bottom, it teetered precariously under my weight, and my mind was concentrating more on how to keep from falling off than on what I was supposed to say. The applause ended, hundreds of pairs of eyes were fixed on me expectantly, the crowd moved closer and so did the Canadian bobbies. I had no choice, I had to speak. But say what? I remembered the text of our leaflet and started off with that, trying to think ahead while I was talking. The crowd received it well, applauding the slogans calling for relief measures and unemployment insurance. That was good as far as it went, but it was over too fast—I had to keep talking. I remembered my early days of unemployment and hunger and went into a description of that episode, reliving it as I talked, embellishing it as I went along. It went over well. Finally I noticed a commotion around the members of the L.E.C. and saw a stranger talking with them, he must be the Toronto speaker we were expecting. I cut my speech short and breathed a sigh of great relief as I dismounted and felt solid ground under my feet again. I had spoken in public, in English, to a strange audience, in a foreign country from a bobbing barrel, starting off a demonstration. There was nothing to it.

Of the many comments I received on that maiden speech of mine, two stand out in my mind. One comrade wanted to know why I had been facing only one part of the audience; why hadn’t I rotated from left to right taking in all the audience like other speakers, instead of merely rocking back and forth, and facing but a single segment of the listeners. Frankly, that had never occurred to me. Evidently there were techniques to public speaking other than merely bellowing words at the top of one’s lungs.

The other remark was intended as a high compliment but I fail to consider it as such even to the present day. It was uttered by one of the Hungarian comrades in the group who came up to me proudly to congratulate me.

“You know, comrade,” he said, “we have listened to speeches in English before, but we couldn’t understand them. But when you spoke we understood every single word you said.”

The others chimed in enthusiastically and one of them added:

“I never knew I understood English so well until I heard you speak this morning!” I was sorely troubled in consequence, wondering how many non-Hungarians in that crowd, if any, had understood my heavily accented English.

Be that as it may, we succeeded in organizing an Unemployment Council as a result of that demonstration. Later on we held other demonstrations and additional Councils were organized.

It was all started by that Local Executive Committee of six members, by a total membership of 36 Communists in that town of 150,000. In other towns throughout Canada other inept Communists of similarly insignificant numbers did likewise and the influence of the party grew rapidly among the unemployed.