Marion Abet, the sister of John Abt, was born in 1898. She married Howard Bachrach, who worked at the Agricultural Adjustment Administration (AAA). Marion Bachrach joined the Communist Party of the United States but her husband refused to become a member.
In 1935 became a member of the Harold Ware Discussion Group. Harold Ware also worked as a consultant to the AAA established a "discussion group" that included Alger Hiss, Nathaniel Weyl, Laurence Duggan, Harry Dexter White, Abraham George Silverman, Nathan Witt, Julian Wadleigh, Henry H. Collins, Lee Pressman and Victor Perlo. Weyl later recalled that every member of the Ware Group was also a member of the CPUSA: "No outsider or fellow traveller was ever admitted... I found the secrecy uncomfortable and disquieting." (1)
The Soviet agent, Whittaker Chambers, worked very closely with Ware. He was put him in touch by Joszef Peter, the "head of the underground section of the American Communist Party." It was claimed that Peter's design for the group of government agencies, to "influence policy at several levels" as their careers progressed". "The Washington apparatus to which I was attached led its own secret existence. But through me, and through others, it maintained direct and helpful connections with two underground apparatuses of the American Communist Party in Washington. One of these was the so-called Ware group, which takes its name from Harold Ware, the American Communist who was active in organizing it. In addition to the four members of this group (including himself) whom Lee Pressman has named under oath, there must have been some sixty or seventy others, though Pressman did not necessarily know them all; neither did I. All were dues-paying members of the Communist Party. Nearly all were employed in the United States Government, some in rather high positions, notably in the Department of Agriculture, the Department of Justice, the Department of the Interior, the National Labor Relations Board, the Agricultural Adjustment Administration, the Railroad Retirement Board, the National Research Project - and others." (2)
Hope Hale Davis and her husband, Karl Hermann Brunck, were both members of the Communist Party of the United States (CPUSA). They were invited to the home of Charles Kramer, for their first meeting. Also in attendance were Marion Bachrach, Mildred Kramer and Victor Perlo. Kramer explained that the CPUSA was organized in units. "Charles... explained that... we would try to limit our knowledge of other members, in case of interrogation, possible torture. Such an idea, he admitted, might seem rather remote in the radical Washington climate, but climates could change fast. In most places members of units knew each other only by their Party pseudonyms, so as not to be able to give real names if questioned."
Kramer explained that as members they were expected to contribute money to the CPUSA: "Basically they would be ten per-cent of our salary, plus occasional extras. We had been warned of this... Charles was explaining that more was expected of us as a privileged group. Our salaries - even in the Depression - were far above the average comrade's. We were permitted - in fact, urged - to win career advancement, usually impossible for open activists. Extra assessments from us would help support comrades who could not make public appeals for funds. While rallies in Madison Square Garden could collect money for such causes as the Scottsboro Boys, there were unknown comrades in the South living on almost nothing - eating with the sharecroppers they were trying to organize - alone and always in danger of being beaten up or shot. We could think of our money going to help them."
Kramer also told the group that in future they should obtain their copies of the Daily Worker and the New Masses from him instead of newsstands. "We must keep away from any place where leftists might gather. We must avoid, as far as possible, associating with radicals, difficult as that would be in Washington." Even outspoken liberals such as Jerome Frank and Gardner Jackson "were out of bounds". Kramer added "we couldn't go near any public protests or rallies."
Hope Hale was encouraged to get articles on politics published in national magazine. Marion Bachrach told the group that she had recently had an a piece published in Atlantic Monthly. Bachrach was currently working on an article on education: "Marion reported that she was writing a profile of a typical American teacher, one lucky enough to be still employed. A quarter of a million teachers had no job, and a huge number worked without pay. In eighteen states they were paid in IOU vouchers called scrip, for which they could never get the stated value. Low as salaries already were, they were constantly being cut. Even so, Chicago owed back salaries amounting to $28 million. Marion's figures showed that at least 200,000 children couldn't go to school for lack of clothes. And there would be many more, she said, but for the teachers themselves. In New York City alone they had given over $3 million to buy hot lunches, shoes and so on, for the children who otherwise wouldn't be able to come to school. Marion planned to show the teacher in her everyday life, handing out her own lunch to hungry-eyed kids around her desk, slipping a sweater or a pair of socks to a cold child in the cloakroom. If teachers hadn't made these sacrifices the country's educational system would have fallen apart totally in the past five years." Bachrach said she hoped to get the article published in Scribner's Magazine. (3)
In 1937 Bachrach became the personal secretary to John T. Bernard, a Farmer-Labor Party congressman from Minnesota. After his election defeat in 1938 she returned to work as a journalist, including a period as the Washington correspondent for Picture Magazine, that was published in New York City. (4)
In August 1939, Isaac Don Levine arranged for Whittaker Chambers to meet Adolf Berle, one of the top aides to President Franklin D. Roosevelt. After dinner Chambers told Berle about government officials spying for the Soviet Union: "Around midnight, we went into the house. What we said there is not in question because Berle took it in the form of penciled notes. Just inside the front door, he sat at a little desk or table with a telephone on it and while I talked he wrote, abbreviating swiftly as he went along. These notes did not cover the entire conversation on the lawn. They were what we recapitulated quickly at a late hour after a good many drinks. I assumed that they were an exploratory skeleton on which further conversations and investigation would be based." (5)
According to Isaac Don Levine the list of "espionage agents" included Marion Bachrach, Alger Hiss, Donald Hiss, Laurence Duggan, Lauchlin Currie, Nathan Witt, Harry Dexter White, John Abt, Lee Pressman, Julian Wadleigh, Noel Field and Frank Coe. Chambers also named Joszef Peter, as being "responsible for the Washington sector" and "after 1929 the "head of the underground section" of the Communist Party of the United States.
Chambers later claimed that Berle reacted to the news with the comment: "We may be in this war within forty-eight hours and we cannot go into it without clean services." John V. Fleming, has argued in The Anti-Communist Manifestos: Four Books that Shaped the Cold War (2009) Chambers had "confessed to Berle the existence of a Communist cell - he did not yet identify it as an espionage team - in Washington." (6) Berle, who was in effect the president's Director of Homeland Security, raised the issue with President Franklin D. Roosevelt, "who profanely dismissed it as nonsense."
The Alien Registration Act (also known as the Smith Act) was passed by Congress on 29th June, 1940, made it illegal for anyone in the United States to advocate, abet, or teach the desirability of overthrowing the government. Eugene Dennis, William Z. Foster, Benjamin Davis, John Gates, Robert G. Thompson, Gus Hall, Benjamin Davis, Henry M. Winston, and Gil Green were all convicted under this act. After a nine month trial they were found guilty of violating the act and sentenced to five years in prison and a $10,000 fine. Thompson, because of his war record, received only three years. They appealed to the Supreme Court but on 4th June, 1951, the judges ruled, 6-2, that the conviction was legal.
This decision was followed by the arrests of 46 more communists during the summer of 1951. This included Marion Bachrach and Elizabeth Gurley Flynn, who was also convicted for contempt of court after telling the judge that she would not identify people as Communists as she was unwilling "do degrade or debase myself by becoming an informer". She was also found guilty of violating the Alien Registration Act and sentenced to two years in prison.
Miriam Moskowitz, also a member of the Communist Party of the United States, was at the Women's House of Detention when the two women were brought in. "They were lodged on my floor but in a different corridor so I did not see them until the afternoon recreation hour. I found them sitting on the roof and I introduced myself. Marian gasped. 'You're still here!' She took my hand and greeted me warmly. Gurley Flynn sat frozen, barely returning my greeting, and I was vaguely uncomfortable that she was signaling me that it was not a good idea for us to be seen hobnobbing together (spy and Communist fraternizing?). I disregarded her signals; for me it would have been a waste of a golden moment for companionship, no matter how ephemeral."
In her autobiography, Phantom Spies, Phantom Justice (2010), she recalled: "Marian and I talked animatedly; I described the absurd customs and conventions characteristic of life in jail which she would need to be sensitive to, and I also told her I was awaiting a decision on my appeal. It was so good to talk naturally and freely with someone who shared my universe!... When we returned to the floor Marian wished me well and embraced me. Gurley Flynn barely nodded good-bye." (7)
The authors of The Secret World of American Communism (1995) found a document in the Soviet archives written by Georgi Dimitrov and dated 20th November 1942 and marked "Top Secret" that stated: "Marion Bachrach - American, approximately forty years of age, born into a Washington family, an American citizen, member of the CPUSA. Has a disabled husband (Howard Bachrach) and a grown son... According to the comments of her American comrades, Marion Bachrach is a good and politically competent journalist." (8)
Marion Bachrach died in 1957.
Marion Bachrach - American, approximately forty years of age, born into a Washington family, an American citizen, member of the CPUSA. Has a disabled husband (Howard Bachrach) and a grown son.
Until 1938, Marion Bachrach worked as personal secretary to Barnard, a progressive US congressman. In 1938, due to Barnard's losing his re-election bid, she was dismissed from this position and began working as the Washington correspondent for the newspaper, PM....
According to the comments of her American comrades, Marion Bachrach is a good and politically competent journalist.
We set out for our first Party meeting on a mild winter evening. To passersby we must have appeared as we were meant to - just one more strolling pair of lovers. "Act as if you're visiting us socially," Charles had murmured, bending over my desk with his finger on a line of milk-price figures.
As we walked I must have said it felt strange to go to a meeting on the very Euclid Street where at age eighteen I had lived with my mother in a "light housekeeping" room. Refusing to go to Iowa university as a poor "town girl" I wanted to be "independent." But Mother had come with me to Washington.
The Kramer apartment was not in one of those row houses, where everyone sees who comes and goes. In a modern building, with an unusual entrance at the back, it seemed almost too obviously suited for conspiratorial purposes.
There was no lobby, just a bare, open stairway, where we found Charles leaning over the fourth-floor railing. As we reached the top he greeted us with a warm smile I had never seen before.
In the office I had first met him as a morose man named Krevisky. The change to Kramer had not caused much comment, perhaps because he never took part in the camaraderie of the staff. Among all these vocal New Dealers his silence had made me curious. When I came to know him better I would realize that he had to keep his lips shut tight to hold in his rage and scorn.
Inside the apartment his wife Mildred was waiting, a shy southern girl with ash-blond hair and the pallor of the Appalachian children whose pictures we had been publishing in our articles about how Subsistence Homesteads would better their lot. Beyond her, in the light of a bridge lamp, a boy knelt trying to untie a bundle wrapped in brown paper. He looked up distractedly, biting his lip and brushing back his hair, when Charles spoke his name, Victor Perlo. A mathematical prodigy, he had been at City College in New York with Charles. Now at age twenty-one he was a full-fledged statistician. The other member of the unit, Marion Bachrach, looked small and hunched in a deep canvas sling chair. But her face was fine-featured, with intelligent brown eyes and smiling, receptive lips.
Charles began talking in an assured voice I hardly recognized as his. He explained that though there might be changes - a comrade had already been drawn away to head another unit - we would try to limit our knowledge of other members, in case of interrogation, possible torture. Such an idea, he admitted, might seem rather remote in the radical Washington climate, but climates could change fast. In most places members of units knew each other only by their Party pseudonyms, so as not to be able to give real names if questioned. But here in Washington, where the New Dealers were always meeting one another socially, we'd run the opposite risk, of using the Party name at the wrong time. But though they would be used only on official records, we should each choose one now.
I listed myself as Mary MacFarland, after my strong-willed, talented musician aunt who had died in Mother's arms at the age of twenty. To me she was a romantic figure; for exactly the opposite reasons Hermann chose the unremarkable name, Walter Becker.
Continuing about precautions, Charles warned us that Marion's husband, who as a nonmember must be kept in ignorance, caused practical problems. Marion had made every effort to bring him close enough to recruit, but though sympathetic he had the typical liberal's fear of committing himself. Charles turned to Marion. "is that a fair statement?"
"Let's just put it," Marion said, "that he's a wise old bird."
Charles smiled, but in a strained way. Even I, new to the Party, felt a slight shock. It would take a while to learn that under Marion's mischief was a dedication deeper than that of many comrades who religiously parroted the official line.
She would rise to the next-to-highest national rank in the Party, be indicted under the Smith Act, and escape trial only by death. Charles went on to say that Marion was a writer who had published in Atlantic Monthly. We would hear later about her project.
But first came collection of dues. Basically they would be ten per-cent of our salary, plus occasional extras. We had been warned of this. It had given Hermann some concern, since he sent a regular stipend to his friend Ernst, who was on the last lap of his doctorate in chemistry. But we could manage, I was sure. Mary and I had proposed a consumer column to McCall's magazine which they seemed about to take. And in free-lancing I had ranged from Snappy Stories to the New Yorker.
Charles was explaining that more was expected of us as a privileged group. Our salaries - even in the Depression - were far above the average comrade's. We were permitted - in fact, urged - to win career advancement, usually impossible for open activists. Extra assessments from us would help support comrades who could not make public appeals for funds. While rallies in Madison Square Garden could collect money for such causes as the Scottsboro Boys, there were unknown comrades in the South living on almost nothing - eating with the sharecroppers they were trying to organize - alone and always in danger of being beaten up or shot. We could think of our money going to help them.
I hardly needed his persuasion any more, I suppose, than my mother had needed the minister's persuasion to find somehow an extra quarter or half dollar for a foreign missionary. And Party dues of ten percent-thirty dollars out of my three hundred a month seemed quite normal to one whose mother tithed. She had given to the Lord's work ten percent of an income that was sometimes as low as fifteen dollars a month, even including what my oldest brother earned by chopping wood for neighbors.
Hermann was taking out his penknife; he cut the cord that Victor Perlo had been struggling to untie. (When he told me later that he had seen the address - John Smith on Third Street northeast I had visions of a murky cellarway over beyond the Capitol. A dark figure was emerging with this bundle, hurrying across the sidewalk, glancing over his shoulder, tossing his burden into a shabby black coupe and speeding away. One day I would take my turn at being that dark figure.)
On the floor were stacks of the Daily Worker, the thick red Communist, the red and white Communist International, the violent black and white New Masses, and the mimeographed agitprop bulletin.
Hermann declined New Masses, saying he had bought it at the newsstand on Pennsylvania Avenue. Charles told him sharply never to go there again. We must keep away from any place where leftists might gather. We must avoid, as far as possible, associating with radicals, difficult as that would be in Washington. Even liberals, outspoken ones such as Gardner Jackson, Charles said, looking my way, were out of bounds. This saddened me. Pat had been so kind a friend.
Obviously, Charles added, we couldn't go near any public protests or rallies.
This disappointed me, remembering Trafalgar Square, feeling part of a huge crowd unified in the same uplifting urgency. But these directives carried their own charge, setting our group apart, preparing us to face our own hard challenges.
The literature we had to buy cost almost ten dollars. This, plus the dues, almost exactly equalled the wages I paid Mamie, the cheerful woman who now brought Claudia home for lunch and put her to bed. Hermann had insisted on hiring her after going once with me to pick up Claudia after work. Sitting on the nurse's lap she had seemed quite contented, but at her first sight of me large round tears had spurted from her eyes, splashing on the floor. Mamie must stay, whatever else we gave up to the Party.
When Victor Perlo had bundled up the leftover literature, he gave a report on the national news, starting with Roosevelt's appointment of Joseph P. Kennedy as chairman of the new Stock Exchange Commission. He called it a capitulation to the most vicious political elements. A Wall Street operator himself, Kennedy had made his millions in bootlegging. Such facts were probably a fraction of the truth, Vic said; but enough to rid us of the illusion that FDR was "any better than a glorified ward heeler."
These words were painful to hear. I knew Roosevelt was a politician, but nothing I learned about his compromises could keep his voice from stirring me physically. Sometimes I spent a night in erotic, idolatrous contact with him, waking to a sense of privilege which might stay with me for days. When I told Hermann about my dream he did not laugh. He envied me in a way; he himself could not remember ever having dreamed. Because I was a posthumous child, he said, I was even more vulnerable than most, but the whole population right now felt a childlike need of a father figure. I resisted this. I had no wish to share that private intimacy with 120 million people.
Marion reported that she was writing a profile of a typical American teacher, one lucky enough to be still employed. A quarter of a million teachers had no job, and a huge number worked without pay. In eighteen states they were paid in IOU vouchers called scrip, for which they could never get the stated value. Low as salaries already were, they were constantly being cut. Even so, Chicago owed back salaries amounting to $28 million.
Marion's figures showed that at least 200,000 children couldn't go to school for lack of clothes. And there would be many more, she said, but for the teachers themselves. In New York City alone they had given over $3 million to buy hot lunches, shoes and so on, for the children who otherwise wouldn't be able to come to school.
Marion planned to show the teacher in her everyday life, handing out her own lunch to hungry-eyed kids around her desk, slipping a sweater or a pair of socks to a cold child in the cloakroom.
If teachers hadn't made these sacrifices the country's educational system would have fallen apart totally in the past five years.
Charles asked dubiously where she planned to publish this. In the Atlantic, Marion hoped, or Scribner's. Vic waved his hand urgently. When he got the floor he asked why she should glorify a group of fuzzy-minded liberals who were only postponing the moment when the workers would seize the means of education. He moved that the comrade point this out, showing how piecemeal charity was reactionary reformism; that these inequities could not be corrected under capitalism.
"But if she put that in," I asked before I could stop myself, "where could she publish her piece?"
"Exactly." Marion's grateful glance may have begun the collaboration that would bind us so close. She said that what Vic had outlined would fit into the Sunday Worker but would come as no surprise to its readers. Whereas she could reach a wider audience, one less political. And mightn't such readers one day become important to us? Having them friendly - or at least not hostile could make a crucial difference when the chips were down.
Charles thought she had a point there. The Party needed to "neutralize" potential class enemies. But Vic insisted that any valuable material we had must be used to strengthen the voice of the Party.
Hermann said in his reflective way that he was struck by how often the Times quoted quite radical statements by New Dealers. Didn't that suggest that the middle class at the moment was more ready to listen than we might assume? He proposed that our comrade use her material doubly. She could first follow her strong impulse, then afterward put her facts into form for Party publication.
"That's the second Gordian knot he's cut tonight," Marion cried.
The group agreed on a plan to have editorials ready to go into Party publications when Marion's article was published, calling attention to it and making any points that seemed strategically desirable.
It was the sort of consensus that Hermann often brought about during the next few months. Soon he would be put in charge of a new unit of high-powered, neurotic economists...
On the way home Hermann was silent at first. I wondered what Charles had asked him to do. But from now on we would have to have secrets from each other.
I couldn't hold back my relief at the prediction of Hitler's downfall. And I remember the doubtful way Hermann said he hoped they were right. But ever since 1924 he had heard the line, "Hitler can't last."
I suggested the Party might know things that we didn't know. There was Claud's dispatch in The Week about the illegal publications that kept appearing, in spite of Hitler. Sometimes a folded mimeograph would have "Horoscope" outside, and inside would be items of world news that had been suppressed in the newspapers.
Hermann agreed that this sort of mass operation was encouraging, and the great reason for working in the Party. But it may have been then that he spoke worriedly about the engineer's letter. What would happen if it landed in the hands of someone with poor judgment? Suppose this comrade met the engineer and thought from something he said that he was ready to be recruited. Whereas in fact the engineer was a Trotskyist, say, rabid against the Party. Wouldn't he betray the Consumers' Counsel rather than miss a chance to damage the Party? Our office was already suspect because of vocal liberals like Howe and Jackson. If it got out that a letter to the Consumers' Counsel had been given to the CP, the fat would be in the fire. A lot of powerful people were looking for just such an excuse to get rid of the whole group and put in their own puppets.
That was frightening. But surely, I said, the Party would understand the danger and be careful. Hermann hoped they would, but they were human, with built-in fallibility. I refused to let my spirits be damped. "We've joined," I said, "so we've got to trust them." And he agreed.
After a silent step or two, I suddenly stopped short on the sidewalk. The letter had not even been addressed to us. It had been passed on by the Consumer Board of NRA. Hermann laughed, saying that NRA might as well be hung for a lamb as a sheep. He had been talking out of fatigue, he said. The meeting, like all meetings, had been tiring.
Tiring? In my mood the word was unthinkable.
Arthur Koestler's memoir, Arrow in the Blue, describes his first meeting with a group of comrades as "one of those rare moments when intellectual conviction is in complete harmony with feeling, when your reason approves of your euphoria, and your emotion is as lover to your thought." It was true for me that night, though I couldn't have analyzed it if I had tried - though I wish I had. I just told Hermann that I'd never been so stimulated in my life. That delighted him. We hurried home newly elated toward another night together.
(1) Nathaniel Weyl, interview with US News & World Report (9th January, 1953)
(2) Whittaker Chambers, Witness (1952) page 31
(3) Hope Hale Davis, Great Day Coming: A Memoir of the 1930s (1994) pages 68-76
(4) Harvey Klehr, John Earl Haynes and Fridrikh Igorevich Firsov, The Secret World of American Communism (1995) page 318
(5) Whittaker Chambers, Witness (1952) page 76-77
(6) John V. Fleming, The Anti-Communist Manifestos: Four Books that Shaped the Cold War (2009) page 320
(7) Miriam Moskowitz, Phantom Spies, Phantom Justice (2010) page 147
(8) Georgi Dimitrov, letter to Pavel Fitin (20th November 1942)