THE AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF AN AMERICAN COMMUNIST by Peggy Dennis

THE AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF AN AMERICAN COMMUNIST

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Peggy Dennis' account of her 33 years as the wife and co-worker of Eugene Dennis, a top Communist Party official imprisoned under the Smith Act, is the story of personal life subsumed to world historical struggle and the whims of Moscow bureaucracy. Dennis presents a wrenching picture of courage in the face of the arbitrary and stupid decrees of the Comintern and, later, in the face of the anti-Red hysteria of McCarthyism. She explicitly disavows any intent to discuss ideology and calls this ""the personal story of two very politically involved people"" but Party politics and the inescapable ""factionalism"" and ""sectarianism"" play a large, and on the whole dreary, role. By contrast, the story of Peggy and Gene Dennis' early years of marriage (never made legal because they proudly scorned such bourgeois conventions) when Gene, the rising young Party activist was summarily sent from their home in L.A. to New York, Moscow, the Philippines, South Africa, and Shanghai--while Peggy was delegated to chores elsewhere--almost strains credibility; they were, she explains, transferred and separated according to Party expediency for many months at a time. Their infant son, Tim, who arrived with Peggy in Moscow in 1930 was never permitted to leave. She and Gene saw him intermittently when they were there and for the last time in 1941; they were not to see their son again until shortly before Gene Dennis' death from cancer in 1960--Tim was by then a translator to Khrushchev and 30 years old. Their sacrifice for the movement was unstinting (some will see it as preposterous), though Peggy was beset by motherly and feminist stirrings that went against Party policy. In later years, after her beloved husband's death, she experienced other stirrings and in 1976 she resigned her 50-year membership in the Party, objecting to its ""divine rights franchise over the class struggle"" and its slide into hopeless conformity. One may wonder why this obviously intelligent woman didn't rebel at the Stalin purges, the Soviet-Nazi pact of 1939, or the Czech invasion--all of which made her profoundly uncomfortable. Her lucidity and strength of personality give the narrative a weight which it would not otherwise have.

Pub Date: Oct. 14th, 1977
Publisher: Lawrence Hill