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Deeper into sin

"Deeper into sin" Continued...

Issue: "Schock factor," Jan. 31, 2009

There were few takers, but Jarvis Tyner, the CP candidate for VP that year, consoled me: "Just remind them that Jesus' daddy was a carpenter, so Jesus came from working class stock." One member of the small Oregon CP did come from a proletarian background and was known as "the man who fixes cars." The others were "red diaper babies" still loyal to the faith of their fathers, or discombobulated bourgeois kids like me.

But there was always a greater sucker. One Saturday afternoon, knocking on doors for signatures on a petition to get the Communist Party on the ballot in Oregon, I interrupted a man watching baseball on television. He did not want to sign the petition, but after we discussed the Boston Red Sox pitching staff he agreed to sign, saying, "If Communists like baseball they can't be all bad." (Ask Cubans who suffered under failed pitcher Fidel Castro for half a century.)

In August 1972, I hitchhiked 600 miles to San Francisco to talk with comrades on People's World, the party's West Coast newspaper, and to take part in a demonstration commemorating (and scorning) use of the atom bomb at Hiroshima. My attitudes were politically correct-on the trip down I slept one night on the grass at an Interstate rest stop but woke up at 6 a.m. cursing that fascist governor, Ronald Reagan, for turning on the sprinklers and soaking me.

In San Francisco I passed out copies of People's World outside a union hall during a strike, played chess in the evenings, and stayed in the apartment of a young Communist woman. Two weeks later, hitchhiking back to Oregon along the coastal highway, I went to sleep on a beach and awoke surrounded by fog so thick my hand in front of my face was invisible. That wasn't the only thing I couldn't see, even in bright sunlight.

To build better ties with my Russian comrades, I then traveled across the Pacific on a Soviet freighter. By day crew members taught me Russian. The evening brought chess matches against Mischa, the ship's chess champion, while other sailors looked on and made jokes about Boris Spassky and Bobby Fischer-then rivals for the world chess championship-going at it. Sometimes we watched Soviet movies, particularly action pictures-Bolsheviks vs. Czarists-that were like knockoffs of bad Westerns.

The sailors told me that the ship's commissar bugged their rooms, but that seemed justifiable to me: Exposed to capitalism in ports, the sailors needed help to avoid bourgeois thinking. When I crossed Siberia on the Trans-Siberian Railroad, several Russians at stops stuck in my hands pieces of paper with their names on them, hoping that an American would get word of their plight or continued existence to relatives or Westerners, but I threw away those notes.

Then the train pulled into Moscow. It was time for some meetings.

To be continued . . .

Read other episodes in this multi-part biographical series.

Marvin Olasky
Marvin Olasky

Marvin is editor in chief of WORLD News Group and the author of more than 20 books, including The Tragedy of American Compassion. Follow Marvin on Twitter @MarvinOlasky.

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