The Communist Who Couldn't
Byline: Arnold Beichman, THE WASHINGTON TIMES
The presentation of its archives by the defunct Communist Party U.S.A. to New York University's library reminded me of the days in the 1940s when party members were more open, especially in the trade unions for example, in their takeover coups in the nascent Congress of Industrial Organizations or CIO.
Not everything involving the Communist Party will appear in the archives, especially anecdotal testimonies. One of these came from an ex-communist I will call Ephraim, a onetime assistant editor of a Communist Yiddish daily called Der Freiheit, whom I got to know after he had broken with communism.
He told me of what happened on the day, Aug. 19, 1939, that Moscow announced the signing of the Nazi-Soviet nonaggression pact. There was a news photograph showing Josef Stalin and his Foreign Minister Vyacheslav Molotov jollying with Joachim von Ribbentrop, Adolf Hitler's foreign minister. The Stalin-Hitler Pact wiped out the Popular Front and guaranteed that the Soviet Union would remain neutral when Hitler attacked Poland, which he did less than two weeks after the Soviet-Nazi pact was signed. And not only that, but it came to be regarded among CP members and fellow-travelers as an intolerable heresy to attack fascism, now that Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia were allies. "Fascism is a matter of taste," Soviet Foreign Minister Molotov smirked after signing the pact.
The pact threw Communist Party members the world over into consternation. Since the fall of the Weimar Republic, fascism was regarded as the enemy of mankind. Committees, leagues and front organizations were organized against fascism. And here you had the Kremlin ordering an overnight 100 percent reversal. Fascism was no longer the enemy. The Western democracies, France and Britain, were the enemy along with their ally, the United States, since we were helping beleaguered Britain by supplying U.S. destroyers. The communists trumpeted their slogan in the U.S.: "The Yanks are not coming." A Popular Front communist-controlled organization called the American League Against War and Fascism overnight became the "American League for Peace and Democracy."
Now comes Ephraim's story. It's Aug. 19, 1939, and suddenly he got a phone call from his boss, M.J. Olgin, the Freiheit editor, to drop everything and taxi with him to the Hotel New Yorker for what turned out to be a meeting in one of the hotel suites of the Central Committee of the Communist Party plus trusted invitees like Ephraim. …