The editorial offices of the Daily Worker were much much neater, cleaner, and better equipped than when I had last seen them nearly two years before. The comrades also were better dressed, their shirts were clean, their collars were not frayed, they all wore ties and most of them were shaved. The party and the paper had evidently prospered. They gave me a good reception. I was still a hero, albeit a smaller one—having had a hand in the making of many a proletarian hero those
comrades had a better perspective.
The Daily Worker wanted to put me to work right away—they were trying to build up the circulation of the Sunday Worker and claimed I was just the right man for it. I was to take over the editorship of the Sunday Worker Supplement and turn it into a popular literary magazine written in a nonparty style that every worker and housewife could understand. Such a magazine circulated by the party throughout the country in hundreds of thousands, even millions of copies, would have a tremendous impact and influence on the people. It was an alluring project yet I refused, as I did the alternative offers to join the New York staff of the Daily Worker, or to revive the Daily Worker Ohio Bureau again. I told them I had a year of absence coming and intended to take it.
My reception at the Central Committee was also good. Here I was no hero, only a leading comrade returning successfully from an assignment.
Joe Peters, in charge of the organizational department of the Central Committee (the head of the Party’s spy apparatus as I learned later from Whittaker Chambers’ testimony), had grown a potbelly since I last saw him. Although politically we had been on opposite sides in the Hungarian factional struggle there was no enmity between us. After I insisted I was definitely not going back to the Daily Worker, Peters offered me a number of positions in the party apparatus, to send me to any place in the country I wished on special assignments. I declined those offers, too, agreeing only that I’d see him after my leave of absence.
When finally I had myself announced to Alpi, known as Comrade Fred Brown, he came flying out of his office. A Latin, he embraced me, a long-lost brother back from the war. He felt my arms, checked me all over, asked me, his eyes sparkling, how his special assignment had worked out? He was happy when I grinned and told him I did manage to get around. He asked me to wait until he could get rid of a few of his appointments, then he would close shop and we’d go to some small Italian place where we could talk without interruption. Minor and Gates had already made their reports to the Central Committee, he was now most eager to hear my account to get a real perspective.
The small bodega in the Village was quiet and restful, the paisan left us discreetly alone after our meal, silently replacing the empty bottles with fresh red vino from time to time. As my story unfolded Alpi grew more and more downcast and depressed, and only when he heard me conclude that the Fascist victory was a matter of a few months at the most, did he rouse himself to argue against it.
He told me that my account was entirely contrary to the reports given by Gates and Minor whose unanimous conclusions were that Loyalist Spain was absolutely determined to fight to the death and if the party concentrated all its efforts on lifting the arms embargo in the U.S., the victory of the Loyalists was certain. He was in agreement with them.
My reaction was bitter. Minor was a senile idiot, Johnny Gates an overambitious careerist hell-bent to make his way into top party leadership by whatever means. Alpi was a military man, I reminded him, let’s forget politics, let’s forget the Comintern thesis on the Spanish situation, let’s hold in abeyance the analyses of the Soviet military experts, what the hell else would they say except to confirm the party line. Let’s look at facts as I had found them. I ticked them off, one by one, many in the form of questions.
What good are planes, howitzers, even battleships and destroyers, without trained personnel to man them?
How long does it take to train artillerymen? How long does it take to train enough pilots, navigators, ground crews, artillery officers out of men who, no matter how determined and brave, often lack primary, not to mention secondary schooling? Those were the youth we had on our side in Spain—the Fascists had most of the educated ones.
Who would man those arms and weapons even if they were to reach Spain in time, read the instruments, figure the artillery tables, when one of the greatest weaknesses of the Loyalist Army was the lack of soldiers sufficiently literate to be developed into
competent noncommissioned officers, without whom no modern army can function efficiently?
I told him about a recent shipment of brand-new heavy machine guns I had heard about, stored away in the military warehouses in Barcelona, lying there unused because it takes men with good training to operate heavy machine guns and Loyalist Spain did not have even a fraction of those.
Alpi listened in silence, his head bowed over the table, his fingers playing with the crumbs from the breadsticks on the red-checkered tablecloth, maneuvering them as if an army.
“Take the Loyalist Army!” The Spanish were brave and self-sacrificing, excellent troops where they had good leadership in the field, but essentially they were soldiers of mood. They would rush enthusiastically into fire when pepped up with calls to their courage and loyalty—they would break just as fast when met with unexpected resistance. Furthermore, the withdrawal of the Internationals had broken their spirit. They felt we had abandoned them because their ship was sinking, leaving them to drown. I quoted him what some of the bravest and the best of their officers and men had told me after we officially withdrew from the brigade. I also told him about the general attitude of the nonparty Spanish populace, nationalists, trade unionists, so cialists, anarchists whom I had met in person.
Next, the Spanish Party itself was guilty of a grave error in policy. True, it had gained an immense following but still not sufficient to sway the majority. Because of the soft-pedalling of its revolutionary aims, its failure to call for the expropriation of the capitalists and the distribution of land its own followers were getting dissatisfied, while the nonparty majority was beginning to resent more and more the party’s ruthless drive for absolute control.
That was the picture. The Loyalist government could not possibly resist for long. At this stage it wasn’t arms alone that Loyalist Spain needed for its survival, but also armed assistance: trained French Divisions under French military commanders, and since the French could definitely not be counted upon to intervene, a hundred thousand or more Red Army trained Soviet volunteers transported by sea like Mussolini’s Fascist Legions, experienced flyers and technicians like those flown in by Hitler.
Alpi’s response was low. “You know that is impossible, that would involve the Soviet Union in war.”
I wasn’t ready to concede that fully. However, I told Alpi there was one thing the party and the Soviet Union could safely do—come out for some sort of negotiated settlement between the Loyalists and Franco, along the lines the British had
recently proposed. Make a world-wide drive for armistice, amnesty, and plebiscite, enlisting the support of all democratic nations for international guarantees of no reprisals by either side. That was the only way left to save the millions in Loyalist territory from the savage, bloody reprisals openly threatened by Franco.
Alpi was dejected. My report was contrary to all reports from the Comintern, contrary to the party line, to the policy of the Soviet Union, he murmured.
“Let me write a detailed report, a true and factual one,” I pleaded. “I could get that out in a few days. You submit that to the Central Committee and cable it directly to the Comintern. We must save what we can of Loyalist Spain, the least we will accomplish is staving off a massacre. The civilized world will support us in that drive.”
Alpi was in anguish.
“You know, Voros, that’s impossible, you know I can’t do that. You know the Comintern line is the line of Moscow. You know I can’t go against that.”
His usually deep, resonant voice was now a low whisper, I detected a tremble in it. He wasn’t talking to me, he was talking to himself.
We rose without a further word. This was Alpi, the one—time fearless leader of the armed Italian revolutionary bands, the most sincere man among all the top leaders of the various Communist Parties I had come across. He understood the Spanish situation, my report merely confirmed what he had surmised was the truth. He was appalled by the savage reprisals that awaited the Spanish people, yet—even he wouldn’t dare act contrary to the party line, tragically wrong as he knew it to be.
As we shook hands, he asked me what I wanted to do, he would find the kind of a party position best suited to my inclinations. I said I would call on him as soon as I was ready but I knew that would be never.
I walked the streets of New York all the rest of that day, more depressed than I had ever felt in my life, cursing the party and the party leadership from Stalin down to Alpi. They were all a bunch of bastards, stooges every one of them. I cursed and swore they would never again trick me into accepting any party function, they would never again maneuver me into a position where I could not say what I thought, where I would have to subordinate my principles to a line handed down from above. Had I been more coherent, I could have expressed it succinctly:
“No more thought control for me!”
Why didn’t I quit the party then?
That’s just exactly what I thought of doing. As I passed the headquarters of the New York Newspaper Guild I felt like going up to the club, stepping up to the bar, ordering up a drink for everyone and then offering the toast:
“Here is to Stalin, and the Communists, may they all burn in hell!” and then tearing up my party card.
It was a most gratifying emotional outburst and I kept relishing that picture in my mind, until reason took over. What was I trying to do, play into the hands of the Fascists?
Fascism was marching Victoriously toward world domination, its confidence in victory growing with every new appeasement. The Fascists were the Herrenvolk, openly proclaiming themselves the Master Race predestined to rule with blood and iron over the enslaved masses. The democracies were burrowing in cowardly fashion every man deeper in his own tent awaiting the very great slaughter. The only hope of standing up against Fascism lay in the Soviet Union, the only country that could be counted upon not to appease Hitler. Much as I hated Stalin my place was still on his side; much as the ideals of Communism were violated in actual practice in the Soviet Union and by the Communist Parties everywhere, they still paid at least lip service to them, holding out the hope for a better and more just society.
Yet I found no comfort in my reasoning. As I paced street after street in a greatly depressed state some lines by a revolutionary poet suddenly came to my mind. I did not recall his name, nor the actual wording, only the content of what he said.
“We, Communists, are condemned men. We live in a prison, whether in or out.”
That poet meant the prison of capitalism. But I knew better, Communism was a prison, too. Since I couldn’t choose to live in the prison of Fascism, all I had left was the prison of Communism. What the hell choice was that?
Condemned men have no choice. And I was one of them.