Salient. An Organ of Student Opinion at Victoria College, Wellington, N.Z. Vol. 14, No. 8. July 12, 1951
Douglas Hyde's "I Believed . . — His God Did Not Fail — Neither Hate—Nor Bitterness
Douglas Hyde's "I Believed . .
His God Did Not Fail
Neither Hate—Nor Bitterness
"From one mental straitr jacket into another"—that is the way the progress from the Communist Party into the Catholic Church is usually described by the intelligentsia. Douglas Hyde, one-time news editor of the Communist "Daily Worker" and now on the staff of the "Catholic Herald" made that transition, and found no strait-jacket. "I was enjoying to the full the freedom that comes from the self-imposed discipline of the mind, which springs from a belief in that absolute truth which so many of our generation have rejected or forgotten." What the critics forget is that there is no middle way, that is, no middle way that is not a vacuum. One is either for or against evil.
"Six men—who left the Movement disillusioned—called their story 'The God That Failed.' They lost a faith, even though it was a bad one and, in most cases, found only a vacuum. That has been the tragedy of many of the best of our day. Communism took their best years, claimed their whole mind and soul as of right, then left them with nothing but their disillusionment and an unbounded cynicism."
Hyde's story is an intensely absorbing account of his political pilgrimage, and nothing that is not relevant to this theme is included. Unlike so many autobiographies, there is no cluttering up with inconsequential bric-a-brac, how he likes his eggs cooked or his wine labelled. It takes him less than a page to describe his meeting with and marriage to his wife, and his private life is never intruded save where necessary.
Hyde was born in Bristol of nonconformist, liberal parents, and at an early age received "the call to preach." He had already found Darwin's "Origin of Species" an adequate explanation for all things visible and invisible and had joined the International Class War Prisoners' Aid, a communist front organisation. His "call" however, was largely emotional, and stimulated by his brother's death. He was worried by the number of unemployed, by the poverty of the working classes, and became Influenced by the Indian National Movement, another front organisation. And realising this, he believed what so many others have believed, that one can change the character of a Communist organisation from the inside.
"There were, I argued, two ways of dealing with a movement such as the Indian National Movement. One was to denounce it as revolutionary and to fight against it. The other was to get into it and Christianise it, which was what some Christian missionaries were attempting. I favoured the second line of action . . . . ."
Like others to their cost, he found eventually that ho was the one who changed, not the organisation.
It was suggested to him that he should read Burton's "The Challenge of Bolshevism," written by a Quaker back from Russia. "I have it before me as I write. It did for my generation of communists what the Dean of Canterbury by his books and lectures does today. It lulled my doubts about the Marxists' militant atheism. It provided a bridge by means of which the man with some religious belief could cross with a clear conscience into the camp of unbelief. . . . In communism this sincere Quaker found honesty of purpose, intellectual integrity, a higher morality and a system which would prepare the way for a Christianity purified and reborn . . . This was the link. . . I was able now to read with an 'open mind' Engels' 'Anti-Duhring,' the 'A.B.C. of Communism,' the works of Lenin and others which formerly I would have rejected because of their atheism."
In the Party
It was not long before [unclear: he] was a [unclear: pay] member, and soon afterwards his Christianity had gone the way of his "call." Yet one should not forget that primarily he was led into the party by his desire to do good, to help the poor, the unemployed, to light for the workers' paradise. And as he lost his belief in God, he gained a bitter hatred. "'What we need is a jolly good healthy hate,' I would say with terrific conviction, and I would seek to awaken and spread that class hatred which was beginning to flourish as one of the fruits of the great depression and on 'which we placed our hopes."
His apprenticeship was spent working for the Party in the streets of Bristol, and as his work took him to North Wales he soon became organiser there for the party. He even used his still unrevoked right to preach to put across the party line in 1938 he went to London, in 1940 joined the "Daily Worker" where he stayed until 1948, finally becoming news editor, with a break during the war when the paper was banned and he ran an "Industrial General Information" News Agency which supplied "nark" stories to the press, and information to the Comms. In 1948 he became a Catholic.
"I Believed" is an unofficial history of the Communist Party in England from 1930 onwards. It is sufficiently detailed to be a first class textbook for budding communists on how to organise cells, win members to the party, infiltrate innocent organisations, to run illegal newspapers, to sabotage industrial output—in short, to be communists. It is also a textbook for Christians on the true nature of the Communist Party.
Much of its value lies in its application to present day manifestations of the party's workings. There is sufficient information here to chart the party's course by the few rocks which are openly evident, and to determine the lay of the subterranean connections. As you read this book, bear in mind the Peace Movement in all its trappings. The winning over of Christians by using their ideals of active Christianity and convincing them that Communism and Christianity can and should exist together until eventually they find they are atheistic communists is not a new phenomenon.
Following the Line (I): The Nazis
One of the party landmarks is the Nazi victory over the German Branch of the Communist Party in the early '30's, and is, as Hyde says, "vital to an understanding of the communists' methods." The Comintern and members believed by 1930 that Germany was in the bag. "The shock to the world communist leaders, caused by Hitler's virtual destruction of the mighty German Communist Party was terrific. And so, in approved Marxist fashion, the Comintern did a complete switch. The Communists disdain to conceal their views and aims,' said Karl Marx, and Friedrich Engels in the Communist Manifesto, and that, so far, Had been the attitude of the Communist Parties everywhere. Communism was militantly atheistic and we said so, publicly blas pheming at our meetings, caricaturing God in our Press. We had our League of Militant Atheists, and gloried in its title and its intentions. We proclaimed the bankruptcy of marriage, the futility of the family, the freedom of unrestricted sexual intercourse. And we practised these things too.
"But the new situation created by the Nazis' successes ended all that . . . .Books published before that date, which stated our position with frankness, such as the 'A.B.C. of Communism' were withdrawn and destroyed. (Thoroughness was carried to a point in the Soviet Union where the two authors of that work were, in fact, liquidated). That is still the tactic today, and in the intervening years the technique has been developed to a point where the communists' public propaganda never at any time bears any relation whatsoever to their real aims as expounded in their textbooks and as taught in the privacy of their members' study classes."
Following the Line (II): Spain
Spain was another landmark. The party sent its own members to fight, to learn "the art of insurrection in practice so that it might one day be applied at home; to get experience of the barricades, to learn to use the modem weapons of death and destruction for the cause of communism." Too many died, and the recruiting campaign, already strong, of non-communists was stepped up, cannon fodder for the party's aims. Besides the down-and-outs, shipped over before they sobered up, there were the men who died "for the defeat of what they believed to be the decadent and the corrupt and for a brave new world . . . They died with hatred in their hearts and the slogans of the Revolution on their lips, and they died gloriously. There lies the strength of Communism. It is its ability to take hatred, desire for retribution by those who have been ill-used, youthful idealism and the desire for a cleaner world, and then to harness all these powerful horses to its chariot." The effect of that campaign is still with us. "The widespread, often quite unreasoning and almost instinctive hostility to everything to do with Franco Spain, which still survives to this day, is a tribute to our achievement."
Educative, too, but not edifying, is his account of his infiltration of a London Labour Party branch, selecting the keenest and most intelligent members, leading them into the party; and then, having got every likely man or woman at executive level a member, revealing to them at a private meeting that all were communists. None had suspected the others. "Then," says Hyde, "we got down to business." So much so that in 1945, when they realised that most of their election candidates had forfeited their deposits, they found they had at least eight or nine "crypto-communists" in Parliament as Labour members.
Concluded on page 8.)
Changes for Expediency
The war with Germany meant several changes of policy. The line of action if Russia was involved was clear. It was laid down by the Comintern at the 7th World Congress, "to work with all the means at their disposal and at any price for the victory of the Red Army over the armies of the Imperialists. "And this line was taught in England. Party members believed it was more patriotic to be true to Russia and thereby to the better England which would eventuate after the Imperialist defeat and the establishment of the workers' paradise, than to the England of the present.
The record of the party in England during the war is one of the switches of policy coinciding with switches of Russian foreign policy. The war was originally seen as "conflict with the best interests of the capitalist class and one which must contribute to the world fight against fascism, and, therefore, indirectly aid communism." For that reason the party supported the war as an "antifascist struggle." Then Russia entered Poland, a "great new peace move."
The party's Central Committee had spent several hours discussion at a meeting "to draw up a stirring manifesto to the British people calling upon them to sacrifice all in the great anti-fascist struggle."
After the text was finished the British Comintern representative, fresh from Moscow entered, took one look at the manifesto and told them to scrap it. "It was, he said, an Imperialist war. The Comintern had said so, and that meant opposing it in the classical Marxist way . . . Pollitt, the General Secretary, and J. R. Campbell, a Political Burean member, both refused to accept the new line, although they publicly recanted some time later. The remainder of the Committee . . and the Comintern delegate . . . proceeded to redraft their manifesto . . . but this time declaring it to be an imperialist war in which the workers could have no part."
Change of Face (I): After 1941
Hyde gives detailed accounts of the extent to which they were prepared for underground activity, printing presses all over the country, and they actually produced dummy copies of the "Daily Worker" at a time when it was banned. At this time, remember, the war was still an imperialist one.
In 1941 Russia entered the war and "transformed it from an unjust war into a just one," and the fight was a common one with Stalin and the U.S.S.R. Every action was directed for, instead of against, the war effort. The campaign to lift the Daily Worker ban commenced, and this is where similarity with the Peace Campaign is most marked. Resolutions from Trade Unions, from Trades Councils, support from Trades Councils, support from intellectual non-communists, "leftist university professors, artists, musicians, actors, writers, clerics,—anyone who could be brought to say that the ban was an affront to democracy—even though we knew quite well what we would do with freedom of the press and Democracy when the Revolution came." Labour and Liberal M.P.'s joined the protest, the Press took up the cry. "Thousands of resolutions had been passed, committing probably some six to eight million people. How many had actually voted on the question it is impossible to say. It is unlikely that they exceeded 100,000. Twenty people at a trade union branch can pass a resolution in the name of hundreds or even thousands . . . The votes, as is usual with such campaigns, were duplicated over and over again . . ."
Change of Face (II): After Marshall Aid
Until the [unclear: Mrhall] Aid programme, the line in industry remained one of higher production, increased efficiency. The Comintern was re-established. The new line arrived, reversal of the entire industrial policy. "It would not be possible," said a Political Bureau member," quickly to raise the standard of life of the people in the new democracies since theirs were mainly peasant economies. But there was another way of raising their relative standards and that would be by reducing that of the countries of the West. 'And that shouldn't take the Party long,' he added."
His pushing of the home front effort had been Hyde's last sincere link with the party. Now that was gone. Simply and fully, he tells the story of how, through reading Catholic literature in the course of his work, he became attracted to the Church and finally, with his wife and family, entered.
Words about Women
A word about the women of the Party. "They tend," says Hyde, "to take on the outward impressions of the Marxist mould much more obviously than does the average male member. . . . 'We get women into the Party and they are all right for just as long as they remain obscure,' one Political Bureau member complained to me, 'but within twelve months of our turning them into Marxists they are about as attractive as horses.' . . . It is something of which the Party leaders are themselves painfully aware."
No Hate—No Bitterness
More than anything, however, the value of this book lies, not in its laying open of the political manouvres of the Party, nor in the inefficiency of M.I.5, but in Hyde's exposition of the motives of those who join and the Marxist psychology. His case is the more effective in that he always speaks of his old comrades with respect for them as individuals, and never descends to bitterness in fact, he mentions only by Christian name any of his former associates who are not well-known, and whom he could injure if he revealed their surnames. In that lies his strength—he sees all Communists as souls to be saved, whatever they think of him.
The six one-time Communists called the story of their disillusionment, "The God that Failed." "My God," says Hyde "has not failed."