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You are there--at the founding of the American Communist Party, under Stalin's glare in Moscow, on a Rockefeller-Center scaffolding with Diego Rivera--and you needn't be ""political"" to savor the experience. Bertram Wolfe (1896-1977), in his later years a full-time anti-Communist (Three Who Made a Revolution, 1948, etc.), didn't look back in anger; and these unfinished memoirs, covering only his years as a revolutionary, have a picaresque flavor more suggestive of Mark Twain than Karl Marx. As a Brooklyn boy of ten, Wolfe entered upon a crisis of faith--""What could be wrong with going to the library to read the Tract Rosh Hashanah on Rosh Hashanah?"" (and why ""could a hermaphrodite sound the ram's horn only for other hermaphrodites?"")--that left him a confirmed unbeliever. Working his way through college as a mail clerk, he saw P.O. operations halt in search of concealed copies of Margaret Sander's ""delicate,"" almost prudish The Woman Rebel. Just graduated in 1917 and implacably antiwar, he launched a peace-movement newsletter that also fell afoul of the Post Office and then, decisively, of the Espionage Act. Because the Socialist Party was antiwar, he joined up (totally ignorant ""of what socialism meant""); and found himself ""in an exciting new world."" On hand were Morris Hillquit, Upton Sinclair, Max Eastman, Scott Nearing--and Lenin's ""men of confidence,"" most intriguingly: physician/jailbird/promoter/art-purveyor Julius Hammer and his ubiquitous son Armand (so-named, we're told, because the Socialist Labor Party's emblem was a workingman's arm holding a hammer!). But in the factional struggles that followed socialism from Europe, Wolfe, still antiwar after U.S. entrance, found himself on the left. The Russian Revolution had occurred. And ""Had not Lenin split again and again?"" So Wolfe and his young cohorts forced a break. . . which led to his long years of underground CP activity. . .and culminated in his own break with the Party in 1928 when Stalin--disregarding Wolfe's appeal--insisted on calling the shots in the U.S. . . . whereupon Wolfe joined the American Communist opposition. Some of those years Wolfe spent in California, serving the Cause as ""Arthur Albrecht,"" sometime bookkeeper and cook; for several others he was in Mexico (whence his connection with Rivera); still later he lunched with Hemingway and Dos Passos in Civil-War Spain. There are some 750 eventful pages here--a treasury of clandestine hijinks and epic confrontations that amplifies Theodore Draper's histories of U.S. Communism and might turn others on to the American radicalism that once excited Wolfe.

Pub Date: June 24th, 1980
Publisher: Stein & Day