Upton Sinclair Upton Sinclair

Confessions of a xanex Commie

On a journey through some of America’s darkest days, a political scribe finds times sure have changed —  for the worse

By Lionel Rolfe 09/01/2005

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Please understand me. It isn't that all virtue resides on the Left. I've met some really awful people who claimed to be leftists, and some wonderful people who were, if not reactionary, privileged and conservative. Moreover, they were far more honest human beings than the leftists I knew and with whom I shared my politics. When they said they'd do something, their word was good. If they said something wasn't true, especially if they knew it from their experience and not their ideology, it probably wasn't true.

Nonetheless, I still adhere to a vision of things that includes the premise of human progress. Looking at things as scientifically as we can and conducting our public affairs in the most democratic of terms are basics of any progressive outlook. We have the ability to ennoble ourselves, as well as to grovel with the most debased of our instincts. The free market debases the best in our culture, and at its worst will lead to the horrors of fascism.  

But there was also the gulag.

It was socialism's misfortune to have had its first trial run in the czar's Russia. Had socialism evolved in Germany where it almost triumphed over capitalism, but instead failed and opened the way for fascism, history would have been quite different. Thousands of socialists were elected to office in 1912, for instance, including the mayorships and councilmanic posts of some good-sized American cities. Some colleagues and I wrote the story of how socialism and organized labor were then defeated by Gen. Harrison Gray Otis and his Los Angeles Times in “Bread & Hyacinths: The Rise and Fall of Utopian Los Angeles.” I believe that the combination of socialism and democracy, based on a rationalist, scientific base, would have turned the United States into a paradise.

But I promise no cheap philosophy here. A big part of me would like to do what Rush Limbaugh does and proclaim my views to the millions. But even if I were as articulate and slick as he is, which I'm not, it would never happen. The Left has been barred from national dialogue in this country for now.

Still, I’ll give Rush Limbaugh some ammunition with which to attack me. I’ll tell you about my times in the Communist Party.

Party time
In the 1950s and ’60s I grew up as the quintessential West Los Angeles kid, but I was always fascinated by small-town America because that was where the soul of the country was. The Los Angeles I grew up in was a smaller place than it is today, not in land mass but in population. As a young man, I spent most of my summers and winter vacations at my grandparents’ house in Los Gatos.

Los Gatos was a small Northern California town near San Jose, and in my childhood it was characterized by orange orchards, not Silicon Valley industries. There was an old-fashioned Greyhound bus depot, thriving because the train from San Jose to Santa Cruz with a stopover in Los Gatos had ceased running not too long before. There was a bakery, a fruit and vegetable stand, and a butcher, and the proprietors knew their customers by name.

In the same way West Los Angeles has metamorphosed from modest suburbs to megabuck enclave, Los Gatos is a very upscale place today. Back then it was just a small town like a lot of other small American towns. The suburbs springing up out of the orange orchards were peopled by blue-collar Americans; you might remember Jack Kerouac writing about Los Gatos after visiting Neal Cassady there, who had worked on the Southern Pacific Railroad. Cassady was no longer working on the railroad by the time Kerouac visited him in Los Gatos. He was working in a body and fender shop.

Los Gatos was just over the Coast Range from Carmel and Big Sur. I also spent time in Carmel and Big Sur during the ’50s, although I was definitely too young to be hanging out with beatniks. My mom, however, was kind of a 1920s bohemian at heart, which helped me pick up on the beat zeitgeist. Carmel was essentially settled by turn-of-the-century bohemians right after the 1906 San Francisco earthquake.

Despite spending time in Northern California bohemian and beatnik haunts, however, I remained essentially a Westside Los Angeles kid. Most of what I really knew of small American towns I learned from reading Sinclair Lewis, and then Willa Cather, who, because of my mother’s friendship with her, was my godmother.

My mom rarely had money to give me, but she did give me the letters Willa had written to her, letters which academics had been pestering her for. The letters went first to the Cowboy Museum in Oklahoma and then to Princeton. I didn’t get rich from the sale, but I had enough to live for two or three months.

As a young man growing up in Los Gatos, my grandfather, Moshe, introduced me to the written word. His were much more political than literary or philosophical concerns, and I'm sure he would not have been at home with beatniks. But his influence on me was great.

Moshe faithfully read two publications all his life, whatever part of the world he found himself in. He had the daily and Sunday New York Times flown in (he was proud of the fact that the New York Times itself had commended him on being one of their most loyal customers) and he never missed an issue of The Nation. He explained to me that The Nation had begun as an abolitionist journal, which, of course, piqued my interest because there were increasing signs in the ’50s of the great civil rights struggles that came to a head in the ’60s.

When Moshe first came to the United States from Palestine in 1916, he fell in with the Industrial Workers of the World, the Wobblies, whom he revered with almost the same passion he revered the American flag, which he did with an immigrant's uncritical gratefulness.

But even “good” Americans knew about Upton Sinclair and Jack London. These were the two writers who radicalized whole generations of Americans and millions more around the globe.

I definitely was one of those who came to the Left as a result of reading. And I still believe in the primacy of the written word; most everything of value I ever learned was in printed form. The writers I was attracted to, beginning with Mark Twain and Jack London, and continuing on through Sinclair Lewis and Upton Sinclair, John Steinbeck and Carey McWilliams, and with diversions abroad to folks like Sean O'Casey and Romain Rolland, were all men of the Left. You couldn't be worth your salt as a writer unless you were a critic of the establishment. That seems to be the nature of the beast, with the one great exception of poet Robinson Jeffers, but I have written of them elsewhere so I will not dwell on that matter here.

I suppose it is a testimony to Moshe's influence that so much of the reading that attracted me was about injustice. Like every good schoolboy of an earlier generation, I read Charles Dickens and Twain, and later Alan Paton's “Cry the Beloved Country” and Sinclair's “The Jungle,” London's “Martin Eden” and “Iron Heel” and Lewis' “It Can't Happen Here.” I also read George Orwell and Aldous Huxley.

The war against fascism was still only a few years past when I was a young boy, and Nazism is injustice by definition. I'm afraid the fact that the staunchest fighters of fascism were those who called themselves communists counted for a lot.

Definitely an important consideration in my commitment to the political Left was learning about anti-Semitism. One day (I don't remember why), my mother picked me up from school and we flew up north to visit her family, but stayed this time not at her parents’ but at her brother’s estate at Alma, in the Santa Cruz Mountains. While there I read a book published by the United Nations under the sponsorship of two famous Jews, Albert Einstein and uncle Yehudi. I discovered the Holocaust book on the shelf at the Baller Cottage at Alma. It was there that I learned of the details of the Holocaust, the dreadful creation of the graveyard that fascism had made for millions of Europeans, Jews and non-Jews alike, but mainly Jews.

Baller Cottage was named after Yehudi’s musical associate, pianist Adolph Baller. When Baller was in a concentration camp, the Nazis asked him what he did for a living. He said he was a pianist. So the Nazis took out their hammers and broke all his fingers. Baller always stayed in this cottage when he came to Alma, so that, obviously, must be added to the picture.

For years, I confused Baller’s story with that of the Django Reinhardt, the great Gypsy guitarist of the 1930s. I used to think he was missing a finger or two because of the Nazis, and the incredible way he played with his remaining fingers was all the more powerful perhaps because of the missing digits.

For professional reasons, my father had to move to the port town of Long Beach to take an appointment as a workers’ compensation appeals court judge there. In those days, Long Beach still betrayed its Midwestern roots, with its Iowa picnics and the concomitant fact (to my mind at least) that there were still many followers of Gerald L. K. Smith around who blamed everything on the Jewish conspiracy. Since I was Jewish, I wondered why I hadn't known about this conspiracy.

Along the way I had discovered a book that I read and then reread a number of times because it seemed to explain what was puzzling and appalling to me in Long Beach. The book was Lewis’ “It Can't Happen Here,” the tale of a Hitler-like American named Buzz Windrip and his “Corpo” followers who stage a fascist takeover in this country during the Depression. The book was written during the rise of Mussolini and Hitler in Europe. Things happened to me in high school that focused the question.

A Christian minister's son and his gang of thugs used to chase me home, south to Belmont Heights through the back alleys from Woodrow Wilson High School, howling the epithet “Christ killer” and “kike” and such other terms of endearment.

My two best friends had the last names Garrison and Austin: one’s father was a commercial fisherman, the other a career naval officer. Mr. Austin, my friend’s father, had two mentors in life: Gerald L.K. Smith and Henry Ford. He would sit and tell me about the Jewish conspiracy for hours, and I listened because I assumed this was the way all Gentiles thought. He also hated the “Japs” (I used to wonder if it was just coincidence that the terms Jap and Jew both began with J and had only three letters).

In those days it was becoming difficult for American tuna fishermen, who were usually, like Austin, independent entrepreneurs competing with the floating tuna factories that the Japanese used. I started becoming militant about my Jewishness. I decided it was not something I was ashamed of. Quite the contrary. I was also a budding atheist as well, and forced attendance at the Christian assembly, with its story of Jesus the Messiah, was insulting to Jews, even those who were atheists. After all, it was in His name that anti-Semitism was invented by the Romans. I explained my opinion to the vice principal at Woodrow Wilson High School. The principal ordered me to attend the Jesus assembly, because “this is a Christian country,” and I had best accept that and shut up with this Jewish stuff.

When I was 16, my parents separated and my father and I moved back to Los Angeles. I was no longer a Westside kid. That was good, because Hollywood in the 1950s and ’60s was an exciting place. There you could palpably feel the changes coming in American society.

The famed San Francisco street poet and self-proclaimed “Albanian Communist” Jack Hirschman was still then only an English literature instructor at UCLA, but one who gave great seminars on James Joyce that drew standing-room-only crowds. The coffeehouse scene in which I came of age had moved from Venice to Hollywood, Echo Park and Silver Lake. The coffeehouses often served as a staging area for whites and blacks going to the South to engage in civil disobedience.

In the early 1960s I became a member of the Communist Party in Southern California. While trying to integrate a housing tract in Torrance, I went to jail with Jerry Farber, who wrote “The Student as Nigger.” Not that Farber, quite a well-known figure at the time, was a communist; I don't think he was. But he summed up a lot of what was motivating me politically. There was something peculiarly exciting about being in a jail cell with Jerry Farber and I don't remember what we talked about it, but I'm sure it was the stuff of those heady years. During the ’30s, there was hardly a writer of any substance who had not grappled with the party's existence and meaning.

By the time I joined, the party had been decimated by McCarthyism. Still, I found in it a link to the vitality of the past that I had already discovered in books. The party still published The People's World in San Francisco, which was like its sister paper, The Worker, in New York. Or it was supposed to be like The Worker. As it happened, The People's World always had a more independent line than The Worker, and was also a much better written paper with a surprisingly large readership and influence. There was no independent underground or alternative press then.
I didn't stay in the party long, but to say it didn't affect me would be wrong.

Blackballed

The American Communist Party was a very real part of California and American history, whatever the present state of its existence. I was one of a great many radicals of the 1960s who were deeply affected by Dorothy Healey, the chair of the Southern California district, which after New York was the biggest center of Communist Party activity in the country.
Ultimately, Dorothy left the party and is now spending the last decades of her life in the company of social democrats rather than communists. Her memoirs were published by Oxford University Press because her history has been the history of California as well, especially her years during “The Grapes of Wrath” era in the Central Valley.

I began trekking down to 84th Street in the heart of the black ghetto when I was 16 to visit Dorothy and talk politics. She was always ready to answer my most difficult questions with interesting, thought-provoking answers and ideas and information that seemed genuine and significant.

And there was something about driving into the ghetto then. If I had still been a Westside boy, that would not have been possible. I wouldn’t have met the right people to introduce me, for instance.

Through Dorothy I also met people like her former husband, Slim Connelly, who had been the West Coast president of the Newspaper Guild when Heywood Broun was president in New York. I got to know Al Richmond, editor of The People's World, who had been responsible for hiring Woody Guthrie as a columnist. I used to be at Dorothy’s when Richmond would show up, sit down and start drinking. He was a hard-drinking man and also a hard-writing man. He did both well.

Ultimately, Richmond wrote “A Long View from the Left: Memoirs of an American Revolutionary,” a most important book. Through The People's World, I also got to know Alvah Bessie, one of the Hollywood 10, who encouraged me in my writing more than anyone had to that point. I also loved some of the reporters on The People's World. Steve Murdock made beer in the hallway of his Berkeley home, where I sometimes stayed, and wrote about sports for a sports magazine that appreciated him enough not to care that he was writing about California politics for The People's World.

I liked The People's World so much that I used to go around California with other comrades selling it. I remember one time selling the paper in front of the California Democratic Council convention in Fresno. The CDC was a grassroots Democratic Party organization that had a certain radical tone given to it by the fact that so many of Sinclair's End Poverty in California cadre from the ’30s had migrated there.

The CDC was mostly Roosevelt Democrats, a lot more conservative than the socialists and communists. But in Fresno, I found out that all factions read The People's World because of Steve Murdock's coverage of the CDC. They respected him. The reporters from the Wall Street Journal, the Los Angeles Times and other places knew and admired his coverage of progressive California politics. Neither the LA Times nor the San Francisco Chronicle had anyone as good as Murdock, and everyone knew it.

Many of the other people I met through Dorothy were genuinely admirable. Sam Kushner and John Kykiri (he was Finnish) were People's World reporters who had worked for other newspapers, but had become reporters for a communist newspaper because it often was the only paper telling the truth in those days. Both would have been assets to the staff of any metropolitan daily, and, in fact, they had written for a number of newspapers. Mike Gold was a columnist who had written a classic of the ’30s called “Jews Without Money.”

For a while I worked at an organization called the Constitutional Liberties Information Center (CLIC), reporting directly to Healey and Reuben Borough. Borough had been the editor of Sinclair's EPIC News, which grew out of the author's EPIC campaign (End Poverty in California) at the bottom of the Depression that almost resulted in Lewis being elected governor of California.

Dorothy wasn't the only communist who deeply impressed me. Another was Herbert Aptheker. He was based in New York, but after reading some of his books on American history, I also got to meet him, for he would regularly go on speaking tours.

In those days, Aptheker's books on American colonial and revolutionary history had been revelations for me. I had devoured Aptheker's books and then attended all his lectures whenever he came to Los Angeles. I got to know the writings of W.E.B. DuBois through Aptheker. When I got the chance to meet my hero, Aptheker arranged with Sidney Finkelstein, the party’s musical theoretician, to put me up in his home in Brooklyn when I went back to see my mother in New York.

Finkelstein wrote books on music that were quite brilliant. He made his living at Vanguard records, where, because he was a communist, he wrote all the liner notes under assumed names. The record company was owned by someone who was smart enough to hire him and give him a free hand choosing the music and writing the liner notes. Vanguard Records had impeccable music taste, whether it was issuing classical or folk music. I think it finally got eaten up by some conglomerate.

Finkelstein was not as overbearing as Aptheker. He used to share with me dinners of thick black bread and cheese and butter, and then we’d talk all night.

Perhaps the Communist Party was only a detour in my life. In the mid-’60s I had an opportunity to consummate my lifelong love-hate affair with small towns. I went to work on my first newspaper job in Pismo Beach, population less than 1,000.

Pismo Beach was located on the coast, almost exactly halfway between Los Angeles and San Francisco, the only place north of Santa Barbara where the highway touches the Pacific. For a year I lived and breathed its politics, its ups and downs, since it was my full-time job to know and write about the town. Pismo Beach confirmed Sinclair Lewis for me, although it was possible that I came to town knowing who most of the characters were because Lewis had written about them. It did not surprise me that the police chief ran a bordello and that the Republican assemblyman, a rich Santa Barbara rancher and drunk named Jim Holmes, used to come by the Pismo Beach Elks Lodge, near the pier, where he'd play poker. He always scooped in large napkins of cash from the "boys" who played with him before returning to Sacramento to spend the public purse.

It wasn't until years later, as a political reporter in Los Angeles, that I learned that maybe Holmes didn't always win because of his poker skills. Los Angeles County Tax Assessor Phil Watson, for example, used to play poker at the Jonathan Club. Again, Watson may not have been as good a poker player as his bags full of cash would have indicated.
Lewis described Zenith in the 1920s, but the truth was that the ’60s had a lot in common with the ’20s. Both were opulent times followed by hard times. Lewis described Babbitt, his sausage finger with a Masonic ring; Lewis was describing small towns of America in the ’60s as well. There were certainly local bankers with Masonic rings on their fat fingers.

In Pismo Beach, I got deeply involved in the school district board, as had the local John Birch Society. The president of the school board, William Troxell, who was an executive with the phone company, used to climb up and down the telephone pole outside my house, presumably bugging the place. He had found out that I had been a "red" in my recently concluded Los Angeles City College days.

Tommy Valentine used to come over to my house to play chess with me; he was a reporter from the Santa Maria Times. We were on the opposite side of the school fight as he was a political ally of Troxell. He supported the school board as much as I opposed it. The school board was essentially controlled by Troxell, and the local Birchers. They had hired a school district superintendent, Lewis J. Ferrari, who had gotten his Ph.D. from a Spanish university under Franco in 1952.

Ferrari and Troxell were not without community opposition. And some of the teachers tried to form a union. The board struck back and won the day through various kinds of intimidation. One of the union leaders was a lesbian and when they threatened her with exposure, she committed suicide. Shortly after the suicide, when the town reacted negatively to the death of the teacher, suspecting something was rotten, Troxell and company came to the newspaper office where I worked. Troxell held a news conference and made a speech, dutifully recorded by Tommy Valentine, declaring that after an investigation, the Pismo Beach Unified School District had discovered where all the problems in the school district were coming from.

Under a banner headline, "Reporter's Red Links Disclosed," Valentine's report in the Santa Maria Times said that the Pismo Beach Times' reporter Lionel Rolfe was a communist who had been trained in Peking and Moscow at special schools for agents and sent to America to cause trouble in American school districts.

Troxell's cause was further advanced by the fact that he arrived at the front of my newspaper office with the San Luis Obispo County sheriff, a fellow Bircher. My boss was panicked. I was fired. A few of the town's powerful citizens, who were also moderate Republicans rather than fascists, came to me and said they would form a committee to fight for my job. They might have been able to get me my job back, because among their ranks were a couple of the biggest advertising accounts my boss had. I appreciated their support, but I declined, Pismo Beach had become too claustrophobic.

As it happened, after years of bouncing around various tabloid newspapers, Tommy Valentine went to work as a columnist for The Spotlight, the notorious anti-Semitic, neo-fascist rag put out by Willis Carto's group, The Liberty Lobby.

Once or twice in the mid 1980s, after I had become editor of the Bnai Brith Messenger, I toyed with the idea of looking Valentine up. Ultimately I could not. I realized the impossibility of being on personal terms again with a man who worked for people who essentially believe I would be a fit subject for genocide.

Ever since that experience, I've never doubted that the fascist mindset has no use for truth. "Trained in Moscow and Peking." Hell, I had gone to public schools in Los Angeles and a couple of military schools, including one that was rather ruling class and very well-connected. I've never made it to Moscow or Peking, even as a tourist, let alone as anyone's trained agent. Valentine knew me well enough to know that this was totally preposterous.

But the effects of the incident took a terrible toll on me personally and financially. Because of Valentine's story and headline, I was blacklisted by the California Newspaper Publishers Association, CNPA, through much of the ’60s and ’70s. When I got fired from one newspaper, the publisher called me into his office and told me he had just found out about the story in the Santa Maria Times from CNPA. He said he was sorry to see me go, that I was the best reporter who had ever come through his doors, but that he had to let me go, and further, I'd never work on a newspaper in California again. He also said that he would deny everything he told me in court if I tried to sue him.

I didn't, in fact, hold another regular newspaper job until 1968, when I went to work for Scott Newhall, the editor of the San Francisco Chronicle, who I think hired me just because I might have been something of a subversive.

Selling out

The Chronicle was the only major American newspaper to oppose McCarthyism from the beginning, and the first major American paper to oppose the war in Vietnam a generation later, in great part because of Scott. I worked on Newhall's personally owned newspaper, the Newhall Signal, at the end of the ’60s and after that worked at the Chronicle, then came back to Los Angeles in 1971 to write for the old Los Angeles Free Press, the first and most important underground newspaper in the country.  

The real beginning of my great disillusionment with the Left came with the discovery that not all anti-Semitism came from the Right. I have stayed away from the organized Left for years now, only because I had determined that I would never join up with any group again. My unnerving came from a frank discussion I had with a friend, a mentor, whose couch I slept on when I was in Northern California, especially after I divorced my first wife in the ’70s.

Dave McQueen was a prominent radio personality in San Francisco at the time (he was the news department of KSAN, then a popular free-form FM radio station). He was the center of a group of Texas cultural outlaws, almost always more of the Left than the Right, who had moved, lock, stock and barrel to San Francisco from Texas.

Janis Joplin was among their numbers; one time he tried to hook her up with me, but I rejected the idea because I thought she was kind of ugly. There was nothing Jewish about McQueen. Indeed, he had been married to an Arab woman, although he assured me that Arab families were just like Jewish families, which was too much for a good old boy like himself to deal with. I voiced the fears that had been troubling me of late, about my growing suspicion that the entire Left was harboring a disturbing new anti-Semitism that made no sense.

Why was it that Zionism, which is, after all, Jewish people's nationalism, was not to be tolerated, while Arab nationalism or black nationalism was kosher? I told McQueen that I was bothered by the fact that Israel was criticized as if there were nothing redeeming about it. Yet it was the labor Zionists and socialists who founded the modern state of Israel, who created the kibbutzim, one of the most successful of all socialist agricultural institutions in the world.

Israel's pioneers were progressive people, fighting for justice, and at that point willing to compromise with the Arabs when the Arabs were not willing to compromise with them.

McQueen surprised me by agreeing that there was a disturbing note of anti-Semitism in the Left, especially the New Left that perplexed and bothered him as well. McQueen confirmed my worst fears, for I had come to the Left because of my experiences as a Jew. Yet I was not now prepared to endorse the political Right, whose creation fascism ultimately is.

I still think that democratic socialism is a solution to the monopoly capitalism we have now. It's the only defensible one for me.

Still, as I write this, I am less moved by the stirring books of yesteryear that so formed my being. I suppose that idealism always takes a back seat to a certain cynicism or even religiosity as one grows older. Maybe that is just the inevitable process of age at work. I came to realize that I am of the post-Second World War American generation of radicals, for whom Howard Fast was our Tom Paine, Jack London and Upton Sinclair rolled up in one.

In fact it was Fast's “Citizen Tom Paine” that first made me aware of American history, not the history they taught me in elementary school in the ’50s, but real history. Making meaning out of the world was my early obsession, and I read everything that I could. And like a lot of others, I was very taken with Fast's novel “Spartacus,” which was eventually made into the 1960 movie of the same name.

I liked Howard Fast and Herbert Aptherker, who wrote about slave rebellions and American history. I didn’t get to meet Fast until years later, in the late 1980s. Naturally we first talked about Aptheker. Aptheker had told me that Fast had "sold out" over money. That was the real reason he had left the party. He blamed Fast's wife for this. He said the moment his income fell below $250 a week (in the ’50s), Fast gave in to the pressure and left the Communist Party. Now, years later, I interviewed Fast and, naturally, I wanted to tell him my Aptheker story. But it soon became clear that he had a different interpretation of the same events.

Fast was also, at this point in his life, a Jewish nationalist, but then a lot of Jews became communists because of anti-Semitism. Fast wrote a book in 1990 called “Being Red: A Memoir,” talking about his experiences as a communist. The American party in the late 1940s still had thousands of Yiddish-speaking workers from the garment industry, the cigar industry and various other sectors. The Jewish section of the party even had its own newspaper, Freiheit. The Jewish section had heard enough even in the late '40s before the "Doctors Plot" confirmed Stalin's obsessional anti-Semitism. At one point the National Committee of the Communist Party of the United States decided to issue a formal charge of anti-Semitic practices against the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, charging that "the entire leadership of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union was ridden with anti-Semitism."

Fast went to Europe where he met a member of the Soviet's national committee, a writer like himself. The fellow listened to Fast and blandly informed him that there was no anti-Semitism in the Soviet Union, and that was all there was to it. The matter never became public, but many Jews left the party convinced that there was a strange new kind of anti-Semitism at work in the Worker’s Paradise.

Recently I began contemplating my experience with the party in light of nearly everyone's claim that capitalism has vanquished socialism forever. I'm not so convinced. I think that we are only a few years behind the Soviets in terms of a general collapse. The collapse might be, at first, more cultural and political than economic. This country's culture and politics have become so debased it is hard to think that this is not intertwined with our economic travails as well.
The real genius of Huxley’s “Brave New World” was that it so well predicted what would happen to the culture; it's happening now in our music, our books and our films.

We may be the world's top gladiators at the moment, but that is a dubious recommendation from the country that once produced writers the likes of Mark Twain, Jack London, Sinclair Lewis, Upton Sinclair and John Steinbeck.
There was a lot of pain connected with my experiences with the party. To this day, I suspect that had the US Communist Party really gained enough power to run society, it would have been a disaster. I still believe that some degree of socialism is as necessary to capitalism as a degree of capitalism is probably necessary to socialism. A genuinely mixed economy is the only thing that makes sense.

What's the point of a society unless there's a basic social contract between it and its citizen? But the people I knew in the Communist Party were not the ones to lead the revolution. I would not have wanted to see the name of socialism so discredited in this country, just as it has been discredited in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe by communist parties there.

That does not, however, validate the opposite, which is fascism. 


Lionel Rolfe is the author of "The Uncommon Friendship of Yaltah Menuhin & Willa Cather," (American Legends/California Classics Books), "Fat Man on the Left: Four Decades in the Underground" and "Literary L.A." (California Classics), among other works.

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