A Fine Old Conflict

I can’t stop reading Jessica Mitford. This latest is her recap of years as a Commie, title taken from the anthem, the Internationale, which she misheard as a teenager as “It’s a fine old conflict” instead of “‘Tis the final conflict.” Her writing style continues to be hilarious, but this book definitely felt lopsided and meandering at parts. Perhaps her best work was when she co-authored American Way of Death with her husband, or maybe her editors were much tougher then?

She gives an example of her first successful organization effort, that of other women recovering from childbirth in her DC hospital. When the nurse didn’t answer the bell after ten seconds, all the women agreed to wet their beds. The nurse was faced with nine beds to change and apparently learned to hop to it from this terrible “action.”

Decca escapes DC when she feels jealous of Bob (later her husband)’s attentions to other women. With daughter Dinky in tow, she heads to San Francisco. After a multi-day train trip, she plunks her kid in a hotel and asks the maid to watch her while she heads out for a drink. After she sits down, the hostess explains that an emergency wartime measure by the city forbade any women who were unaccompanied to be at a bar. WHAT?! Eventually she finds an apartment for $40/month in Mrs. Tibbs’s boardinghouse on Haight St. near Ashbury. “In 1943 it was just another run-down district of small shops and working-class homes.” Her work continued at the OPA (Office of Price Administration, a wartime effort to control prices), and the SF branch was housed along with other war agencies in the Furniture Mart at 10th & Market (now the Twitter building). It is here that she later hides from and then punches a photographer from the Examiner looking to get a photo of the blueblooded sister of Hitler’s “Nordic Goddess” who was working for the US government.  (The Mitford family dynamics are complicated, to say the least)

After marrying Bob, they move to Oakland and she continues to be knee-deep in leftist causes, including a jaunt to Mississippi in 1951 to protest the upcoming execution of Willie McGee. Fun fact—she became a US citizen in order to become a member of the Communist Party, because the American branch was only accepting citizens. From 1952-58, passports were arbitrarily withheld or revoked from Americans with Left leanings. “Thus for almost a decade only the true blue, the politically and intellectually untainted, were permitted to travel abroad. I have often wondered if this accounted for the generally low esteem in which American tourists were held by Europeans.” Decca has a great story about her and Bob continuing to press to get passports, eventually getting them, and then receiving word that it was a mistake and they were to hand them over immediately. Instead, they left the country and visited England.

They eventually left the CP after the FBI infiltration wiped out several local chapters and turned it into more of a bureaucratic nightmare. Despite this, her Red roots continued to haunt her, even getting her fired from a terrible job at the SF Chronicle attempting to poach advertisers from competing newspapers. She eventually discovered the freedom of being a writer, and began to churn out articles and books.