Book reviews

Bella Dodd’s School of Darkness (Devin-Adair, 1963; originally published 1954)

Communists in 1954, Democratic Socialists in 2020: Dodd still relevant

Bella Dodd’s autobiography is as relevant in 2020 as it was in 1954.  The Communists she writes about in 1954 are the Democratic Socialists of 2020.

A foremost Communist activist in the 1930s and early 1940s, Dodd was expelled by the Communist Party when she opposed its callous treatment of ordinary members and Party leaders.

However, Dodd’s autobiography is not just about politics.  Her reversion to Catholicism saved not only her life from an inhuman and intolerant political movement, but, as she hoped, her own soul.  As a narrative of a spiritual journey, therefore, Dodd’s 250-page work is a stunning work of twentieth-century Catholic feminism.

The twenty-first century reader would find several ideas expressed in 1954 familiar in 2020 politics.  For example, conservative intellectuals can understand that the agnosticism and pragmatism that Dodd found in the Communist Party of yesteryear is just as rampant in the Democratic Party of today (27-8).  Also, contemporary conservatives would understand her claim that “the radicals of today are the conservatives of tomorrow” (40)—anecdotal proof that today’s violent Antifa youth will one day become, to their disgust, Republican.

Teachers and faculty can learn the most from Dodd.  Her style of teaching in the 1920s was what we would now call facilitative (38).  Her disgust over the meaninglessness of degrees and dissertation research (45) echoes the opinions of today’s students (and faculty) who wonder why most courses in certain subjects function like sociological attacks on Western civilization instead of, for example, courses in English where grammar and research paper writing should be taught.

Of course, Dodd’s return to Catholicism was gradual, and the steps of her return to the Faith can help today’s New Evangelizers understand how millennials can rediscover the faith of their parents and grandparents.  To support those who think sacramentals are important in the life of any religious person, Dodd notes that Benediction had a lasting impression on her (23).  Seeing how corrupt the Communist Party was and how it considered human beings expendable (much like how the Democratic Party of today devalues human life, whether unborn or elderly), Dodd asserts the simple yet obvious idea that “God is the cure for godlessness” (136).  Even when she was most active in the Communist Party, Dodd says that she always read the New Testament (223), anecdotal evidence of the importance of scripture in the conversion process.

Most important, however, are Dodd’s soul-wrenching statements that, after experiencing the hatred and dehumanization of the Communist Party, she “had to learn to love.  I had to drain the hate and frenzy from my system” (224).  Finally, the solidarity that she thought she could find in socialist and Communist activity she later found at the Mass (236).  These ancient elements were enough to persuade Dodd to renounce Communism and return to Catholic Christianity.

The same steps can be followed by anyone who wants to leave the equally dehumanizing and atheistic Democratic Party of today.

Certainly, her conclusion chapter is naïve.  She claims that “our civilization [is] a life-giving force” (247), but it would be an inappropriate and anachronistic counterargument to suggest that she could see into the future where abortion would be legalized throughout the nine months of pregnancy for any reason whatsoever as it was in 1973, four years after her death.  How proud she would be, though, to see a vibrant pro-life movement in 2020, fulfilling her claim.

Similarly, while she was too optimistic about youth in her time (248-9), Dodd would have had no idea that the juvenile delinquents of the fifties would be matched by the Woodstock libertines of the sixties.  She would have rejoiced to see today’s young people who affirm human life by rejecting abortion, infanticide, and euthanasia forced on the nation by the Democratic Party.

Overall, Dodd’s is a remarkable autobiography of a twentieth-century woman who lived genuine feminist ideals.

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