If I was going to be a radical, I figured, I had a lot of reading to do. l began to spend a lot of time at Marshall‘s Bookstore, a local dissident hangout in a basement on 57th Street, down the street from my rooming house. I met an older student there named Dave Lerner, a frail, intellectual fellow with a fluttering heart who called himself a Social Democrat. Dave offered some uncomfortable ideas for me to chew on. My hero Franklin Roosevelt had thrown people in jail under the Smith Act, he told me, and the Soviets had done the same in the Moscow trials.
An avid New Dealer, and a Russophile in honor of the Soviets’ victory over Hitler, I was shocked. l didn’t believe a word of it. I remember poll watching that year for Emily Taft Douglas, a New Deal Democrat running for Congress against a right-wing Republican. She won because the election officials just cut up all the minority party votes, both the Republicans’ and the leftists’, and gave them away. l saw it myself: the official at my own polling station came over to me and handed me sixteen extra votes for Mrs. Douglas. When I objected, he almost had me arrested.
That and Dave Lerner got me to thinking. I read Trotsky’s The Revolution Betrayed and his History of the Russian Revolution. I explored the Communist Party, which right then was enthusiastically supporting the war effort, vowing not to organize any strikes and offering slavish subservience to Roosevelt, even after he dumped the progressive Henry Wallace. The party chairman, Earl Browder, had recently been quoted as saying he wanted to shake the hand of J.P. Morgan. For a first taste of Communist Party ideology, this seemed like pretty thin soup. Why be a Communist if you were a capitalist? Why not just stick with FDR?
Very soon I became convinced of the imminence of revolution, and naturally everything else had to take a back seat to that. I already was not paying a great deal of attention to my studies. I was at college to be away from my mother and to get some kind of an education, in that order, and my grades had begun to reflect my priorities. Now I had something even more important to think about, and school moved even further down the list. The idea that the system could last as long as it did never seriously entered my mind.
I joined the Young People‘s Socialist League after the November election.