THE SECRET WORLD OF AMERICAN COMMUNISM by Harvey Klehr, John Earl Haynes, and Fridrikh Igorevich Firsov

(Yale University Press; 1995; ISBN 0-300-06183-8; $25.00), reviewed by Joseph T Major

"I've come to you with a proposal, Arkady Borisovich."

"Can't you see that I'm done for? What proposal?"

"For three quarters of a century we've lived with lies, to the point that they came to seem more real than truth. Even today, there are lies that I still don't recognize, they're so deeply ingrained. It's the same for you. How much more so for ordinary Russians! We have a lot of digging to do before we get to the bedrock. I intend to appoint a commission to write the definitive history of our country since 1917. All the archives will be thrown open. Think of it the minutes of the Politburo, the dossiers of the KGB! I want you to chair the commission."

Levin mumbled something about his age, about his ideological objections to the Military Revolutionary Committee. But he accepted in the end, as Sasha knew he would. No one who had dedicated his life to history could turn down the chance of a first look at the papers that had been meant to remain sealed forever.

Moscow Rules, Robert Moss, p. 387

In The American Black Chamber, America's Ace of Codebreakers Herbert O. Yardley described the decoding of messages recovered from a Soviet courier whose airplane had been forced to land in Latvia. One of those messages said:

December 23, 1919

Send money. Italy and France are urgently in need. Large pearls sell well here; sapphires in England. The Secretariat asks urgently for material. Money should be distributed through this Zentrale before the conference. In November, Secretariat elected PAUL LEVI, BRONSKI, ZETKINISH. Secretary is in touch with Holland. The Communistic is issued here and I am also publishing the Russian Correspondence.

A branch has been installed in Vienna. At present no news from CARLO; he works well. ABRANOWICH, Paris, was there. Contact already established from here with all countries. Good progress is being made. Congress will meet surely January, February. RADEK will make detailed report to you. RADEK or BUCHARIN is absolutely needed here. Please send larger sum, as soon as ready. KOPP is really not able at present. My name now is THOMAS. Regards, JAMES.

The American Black Chamber, pp. 159-160

And they did send gems. The Comintern accounting shows that on February 20, 1920, 275,000 rubles' worth of "value" valuta (jewels, gold, or other valuables) were sent to Germany for use by THOMAS, following the dispatch of 639,000 rubles' worth on October 28, 1919, 250,000 rubles' worth on September 9, 1919, and 300,500 rubles' worth of valuta and some cash on May 30, 1919. Yardley might have been interested in this confirmation of his efforts. He had concluded that "It seems obvious that all the names are aliases" [loc. cit.] but THOMAS made a mistake in using the names of Comintern leaders Nikolai Bukharin and Karl Radek. See Stephen Koch's Double Lives (1994) for more on the activities of the Comintern in Germany. One wonders who could THOMAS have been. Willi Münzenberg (the protagonist of the Koch book) perhaps?

The principal interest the editors of this book have in this list [The Secret World of American Communism, Document 1, pp. 22-24], however, is in the funds dispatched to American Communists. And on the list are four payments of valuta in ruble amounts of 209,000, 500,000, 1,011,000, and 1,008,000 on various dates in 1919 and 1920 to various American agents. The last was to a genuine hero, an idealist concerned only with the suffering of the downtrodden, a man independent of any government or so goes the word on John Reed. (It's interesting to note that the payment to Reed, taking inflation into account and using a high assumption of the value of the ruble, is about equal to the $20 million gross for Warren Beatty's Reds, the filmic eulogy of Reed, which however cost $40 million to make.) But John Reed isn't the only icon to be smashed by this unwanted witness.

Trans-Atlantic social commentator Taki (Peter Theodoracopulos) reports in The Spectator that for some reason The Big Bagel Times seemed to be uninterested in this book. And indeed, The New York Times (to give it its proper name [for the edification of our more easily confused motortown recipient]) has only obliquely referred to a controversy over Soviet documents, which (they pointed out) are often incomplete, contradictory, and misleading. Especially, by an amazing coincidence, when they contradict Times doctrine. (They seem to have given up trying to give back Walter Duranty's Pulitzer Prize.)

The Spectator itself had a review by David Caute, author of The Great Fear, who was understandably dismissive of a book showing that his principal work on how the CPUSA was a ordinary political party with no secret agenda or department, unjustly persecuted by a fascist government, was less than totally sound. You can see what the PC Line on this book is going to be.

The archives that had been meant to remain sealed forever have been opened. This is one of the first, and surely to be one of the more notorious, books of documents from the archives of the Russian Center for the Preservation and Study of Documents of Recent History (RTsKhIDNI). As Sasha Preobrazhensky said above, there are lies that people still don't recognize, they are so deeply ingrained.

This is indeed the secret world of American Communism, discussing the secret plans and plots of the revolutionary vanguard of the oppressed American proletariat. Like their comrades and associates in the successive Lefts up to the present, the young CPUSA, founded in 1921 by a merger of the Communist Party of America and the Communist Labor Party, both founded in 1919 (the latter by John Reed and others), officially believed in an imminent coming of an American Iron Heel (unfortunately for their vocabulary, Benito Mussolini's movement was still two years away from seizing power, and so they utterly lacked a short term with which to denounce anyone who disagreed with them), and to be prepared for the mass imprisonments and executions consequent on that (talk about projection) they prepared an underground apparatus. Such a structure would be useful for preparations for the forthcoming triumph of the will of the people.

It would also be useful, say, for the foreign policy of an ideologically like-minded nation. But to bring this glorious moment about would require the work of many, some of a sort that one would think would be more bourgeois than not. Explorer Sir Ranulph Fiennes, Bt. gushed like a schoolboy about the absolutely fabulous job he was doing for his wonderful new boss: "Last week, in the middle of the previous chapter of this book and with ten hours' warning, Dr. Hammer had me rush to the other end of Europe to hand papers to a very important foreign gentleman which, all things being well, will end a current war. . . The Doctor is the embodiment of the citizen-diplomat, mediating between the Soviet Union and the USA." [Living Dangerously (Atheneum Press, 1988), p. 249]

Well, maybe that had been the case at the time, but fifty and sixty years earlier Dr. Armand Hammer and his father Dr. Julius had been having rather a different end in mind when sending papers to foreign gentlemen. Document 3 [p. 29] is a letter from the father to the son regarding the payment of $6400 to some associates of theirs. And Document 4 [p. 29] gives some idea of what those associates were; it is a telegram from Charles Ruthenberg, then head of the Communist Party of the USA, to the Soviet Communist Party's International Relations Department, concerning the failure of Hammer to hand over $7000 due them. [In this document, however, it should be noted that "Hammer" may be a code name.] And the Drs. Hammer apparently continued their efforts on the behalf of the world communist movement through at least 1930. Dr. Hammer the citizen-diplomat had been on James Angleton's little list (see Cold Warrior by Tom Mangold, p. 304) of those who wouldn't be missed. It looks as if Angleton may have merely been behind the times.

The Party under its various names was nothing if not hard-working in its underground efforts. Document 7 [p. 35], a letter to the Comintern offices in Moscow, sets out directions for secret communications (and is written on official Party letterhead(!)). Document 8 [pp. 34-7] and Document 9 [pp. 37-40] set guidelines for underground work and other factors of organization for the class struggle. Document 9, however, comes across sounding more like a Chamber of Commerce or Lions Club internal cheerleading memo: "Our unit meetings can be made alive and interesting if 90% of the time is used for Marxist-Leninist education and discussion of Party campaigns and no time of the meeting is spent on doling out to each comrade endless amounts of tickets, Western Workers, leaflets and other assignments. These practical steps are vitally important and they can be handled easily . . . " [p. 37] It sounds like the Rotary Club of Jordan as dreamed of by P. J. O'Rourke: "Okay, fellows, any member who hasn't drunk the blood of an infidel dog since the last meeting has to stand on his chair and sing 'I'm a Little Teapot.'" [Give War a Chance, p. 169] And given the quotas for unearthing Trotskyists and Lovestoneists (see Document 27, pp. 89-90, and Document 37 [pp. 133-8] for more of this) perhaps the parallel is even more appropos. Rather like O'Rourke's descriptions of these people's ideological heirs continuing the struggle in Central America:

Some of these life-style leftovers had gone so far as to don the red and black Sandinista neckerchief, which, like the neckerchief of Paraguay's fascist Colorado Party, is an item of apparel identical to that worn by the Boy Scouts. In Nicaragua the effect was of a scout troop gone deeply, seriously wrong, growing older and older but never graduating to Explorer and earning merit badges in "Lenin," "marijuana" and "poor hygiene."

"Return of the Death of Communism"

Give War a Chance, pp. 59-60

Chapter Six "A Milquetoast Takes Command" of Eugene Lyons's The Red Decade [pp. 63-69], discusses Earl Russell Browder, the Great Leader of the revolutionary vanguard of the American proletariat, and finds him endowed with the supreme progressive virtue, namely absolute and unquestioning subservience to Stalin, and markedly lacking in any revolutionary fire or zeal. The documents herein give an extra insight regarding that rise to power, for that drab unprepossessing appearance, while inadequate for a revolutionary, was ideal for a spy controller and so Browder was.

Another segment of the Comintern network was its labor union organization, the Profintern. In order to promote its ends in the Far East, the Pan-Pacific Trade Union Secretariat (PPTUS) was established in 1927, with Browder as its General Secretary. He spent the next two years in Asia and returned to the U.S. in 1929. Document 15 [p. 50] and Document 16 [p. 51] deal with the relationship between Browder and one of his subordinates, Harrison George, an IWW leader who had been a Communist mole in the Wobblies. Document 18 [p. 53] is the minutes of a PPTUS meeting signed by George and by Tsutomu Yano, who would later recruit people for the Sorge spy ring in Japan.

Associated with the PPTUS and its covert activities was "independent" journalist Agnes Smedley. Document 20 [p. 62] is a letter from Browder to Georgi Dimitrov asking for decisions on three proposals, the last of which concerns CPUSA assistance for Agnes Smedley. She got it, though as Document 21 [pp. 64-6] shows, she was considered to be extremely unreliable, and Document 23 [pp. 68-9] describes the last straw that broke the back of their relationship, where Smedley remained in contact with someone who had "fallen into the hands of the enemy".

Meanwhile back in the States, the domestic secret apparatus was flourishing under the direction of a Hungarian veteran of Bela Kun's brief rule in the Magyar once and future kingdom, a man with many names but a single nature, as we see in Document 24 [pp. 74-9] "Autobiography of J. Peter of C.P.U.S.A." J. Peter had apparently had an interesting life and Document 25 [pp. 80-1] confirms one of his claims therein: "1936-38 worker in the secret apparatus of the CPUSA CC." This information is not entirely new. In Witness Whittaker Chambers named "J. Peters" as his superior in the apparatus, and in Perjury Allen Weinstein tracked him down in Hungary, to which he had returned after being deported from the U.S. in 1948 (as "Alexander Stevens"; he was also known as "Isidor Boorstein" and Weinstein talked to "Joszef Peter") [op. cit., p. 646].

Peter was dismissed from his post in June of 1938 and replaced by one Rudy Baker. (General Pavel A. Sudoplatov has groused that Moscow Center had been out of touch with its American spy rings due to "the purges of intelligence officers in 1937-38." [Special Tasks, p. 229]) Document 27 [pp. 87-94] is Baker's report on his rings with special attention to the struggle against Trotskyists and Lovestoneites. Curiously enough, Whittaker Chambers had defected from the spy apparatus in April of 1938 (Witness, pp. 26-55; see also Perjury, pp. 306-332). Do you think there could be a connection?

Meanwhile, papers were disappearing in Washington. Document 32 [pp. 111-2] is a copy of a letter from U. S. Ambassador to France William Bullitt to Assistant Secretary of State R. Walton Moore. Document 33 [pp. 113-7] is a copy of a letter from U. S. Ambassador to Germany William Dodd to President Roosevelt. Whatever were these doing in the CPUSA's files? It may interest you to learn that Alger Hiss started work in the State Department in September of 1936, just before these letters had been written. However, we mustn't impugn the distinguished father of the assistant editor of The New Yorker alone, since other Soviet sources were there at the time, including Julian Wadleigh, Laurence Duggan, and Noel Field.

The struggle against Trotskyites reached down even into the Party's youth organization [pp. 141-2] the Young Communist League. (There is nothing here about trouble with the President of the YCL Flatbush III Chapter bringing in science fiction fans, not to mention Cyril Kornbluth's anticipating his majority [Frederik Pohl, The Way the Future Was, pp. 52-6 and 78-81]. Sorry.) It also reached out to Trotsky's organization, setting things up in Mexico for the time when Ramón Mercader came by to pick Lev Davidovich's brains.

That former YCL chapter president has groaned that "[from] 1940 on the Communist apparatus became a lot less benign and a hell of a lot more conspiratorial," [The Way the Future Was, p. 52] but as you see he hadn't seen the conspiratorial part that early. [Pohl also notes the use of Party names but none mentioned here.] Document 41 [pp. 148-9], Document 42 [p. 149], Document 43 [p. 149], Document 44 [p. 150], and Document 45 [p. 150] recount the less than benign effort to get a conspiratorial agent codenamed MAX (and named Boris Irmovich Daneman) to go back (and face vyshaya mera like a man?). The record is incomplete, though, and it doesn't say what finally happened to MAX.

It's been complained that apparently Clifton Amsbury hasn't done a thing since 1938, the terminal year for membership eligibility in the two organizations he boasts about. The Secret World of American Communism not surprisingly has nothing whatsoever about First Fandom, but it does include some unpleasant revelations about the Abraham Lincoln Brigade. "I had volunteered to join the Abraham Lincoln Brigade in Spain. . . They would have none of me," Pohl says [The Way the Future Was, p. 80] and it looks as if he had been lucky there. A fellow named Albert M. Wallach hadn't been.

Most histories of the International Brigades treat Wallach as a shirker, liar, coward, and deserter, who nevertheless hadn't been executed as the lying McCarthyites had claimed. Document 47 [p. 162] hints at a rather different story. Wallach, it says, had been talking to the American consul in Barcelona and associating with the F.A.I., the Spanish anarchists, and so clearly was a spy. Document 48 [pp. 164-183] lists a number of "Suspicious Individuals and Deserters from the XVth Brigade" including Albert M. Wallach of the Abraham Lincoln Battalion (its proper designation) [p. 169 and p. 182]. Add to this Document 49 [pp. 184-6] describing the wonderful boost to morale that the trial of a dozen deserters was and you might guess that whatever happened to Wallach wasn't good and it's just as well they would have none of the future author of The Way the Future Was he had already been asking too many questions as it was. (Another fellow mentioned in connection with this incident was one Joe Dallet, whose widow Kitty would later marry J. Robert Oppenheimer . . .)

And speaking of atom bomb issues; Sudoplatov respected his superior officer General Pavel Fitin, chief of the NKVD/NKGB Intelligence Directorate (ancestor of today's Russian SVR, their Foreign Intelligence Service (Sluzhba Vneshnei Razvedki) , who took several risks in standing behind his subordinates. Fitin also commended successful subordinates and Document 58 [p. 206] is a forwarding of a message which is said to be from Rudy but is signed "Son". "Son" as well wrote a report to his superior, Document 59 [pp. 208-212], that begins: "Brother: Year 1942 has been characterized by difficulties arising from the war, difficulties we were not equipped to cope with and on the whole have not solved up to this time."

Some of Fitin's other subordinates have turned up again and again. Document 60 [pp. 218-221] is the curriculum vitae of one Morris Cohen. Now the SVR could justify identifying Morris Cohen since he was already known as a spy, having been jailed in Britain for his role in the Portland spy ring. Morris enthusiastically proclaimed then that "if circumstances require my presence elsewhere [than the U.S.], similar to the Spanish struggle against fascism, then I would go there." Nevertheless he went back home to the U.S. and his friends Julius and Ethel Rosenberg [who have been the subject of some interesting revelations themselves recently], and then in '48 "Emil R. Goldfus", who had been born William Fisher and would become famous as "Rudolf I. Abel." The SVR has reported that he died in June of 1995, following his wife Lona (neé Petka) who had died at the end of 1992. Let's hope that someone had told him about this book.

Meanwhile, CPUSA General Secretary Earl Browder was proving that Communism was 100% Americanism, since George Washington himself had said "The necessity of procuring good Intelligence is apparent & need not be further urged All that remains for me to add is, that you keep the whole matter as secret as possible. For upon Secrecy, Success depends in most Enterprizes of the kind, & for want of it, they are generally defeated, however well planned & promising a favourable issue." And Browder took the advice of the Father of Our Country to heart in procuring good Intelligence, and remembering well that upon Secrecy, Success depends in most Enterprizes of the kind, accordingly keeping secret certain kinds of secrets. Document 63 [pp. 235-6] is a telegram from Browder to the Executive Committee of the Comintern, listing various contacts he had made on behalf of the Party with important people in Mexico, Canada, and France. Its cover letter Document 62 [p. 235] puts it in context; a marginal note says "Comrades Stalin and Molotov were informed about this" and the letter itself is signed "L. Beria".

Spying was indeed a family affair in the Browder clan. Earl's sister Marguerite (Document 64 [p. 241] and Document 65 [p. 243]) and wife Raisa Borisovna Luganovskaya, later Irene Browder (Document 66 [pp. 244-5] and Document 67 [pp. 247-8]) were both involved in the Secret World.

If Browder hadn't denied under oath being involved in espionage, all this wouldn't have mattered quite so much. And for all that he was lying to Congress, I doubt that those who call others who have done so traitors would care, either. (But all the same, like the Rosenbergs, the Browders at that time had been spies, not traitors, performing espionage on behalf of a then-allied power.)

Going above Congress, though, Browder could try. Document 68 [p. 249], Document 69 [pp. 249-50], and Document 70 [pp. 252-3] report on Browder's back channel to President Roosevelt. Josephine Treslow Adams met Eleanor Roosevelt when in 1941 she was chosen to paint a portrait of the First Lady. They began a fervent if one-sided correspondence (on Adams's side) which led Adams to believe she had a back channel to the President. Browder sure believed it and so did others like Whittaker Chambers [see Odyssey of a Friend: Whittaker Chambers' Letters to William F. Buckley, Jr. (1969), p. 168 (yes, that should be "Whittaker Chambers's Letters")]. After failing to convince skeptics like J. Edgar Hoover and Isaac Don Levine, Adams declined even further and had to be institutionalized. Document 70 implies that the Soviets were wondering if they should take Adams seriously. It would be interesting to learn if they did.

In 1942 General Fitin was handed a prize. Document 71 [pp. 260-3] tells of how Colonel William J. Donovan thought it was a pity that he didn't have enough veterans of the International Brigades in his new organization, and how he was using the final Abraham Lincoln Battalion commander Milton Wolff to recruit them. Fitin apparently appreciated this opportunity to help out a struggling young competitor. Later on for some reason Wolff denied having been a Communist, but Document 72 [p. 264] shows otherwise. He also claimed to have been working for British intelligence, as a supporter of any anti-fascist policy, but his overt actions as Commander of the Veterans of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade conflict with that.

The Comintern had never quite been much as a genuine international cooperative body. As you know, it was dissolved in 1943 though it had not been effective in that role since the Great Purges. But it could still serve as a recruiting and informational organ, and several of the documents herein show this. The NKVD/NKGB and the GRU both found opportunities to ask about people who might be of interest to them. You may even have heard of one of them. Justice Department employee Judith Coplon was arrested in 1949 for passing information to the Soviet Union. Document 78 [p. 295] dated October 19, 1944 is a request to Dimitrov from Fitin for information on three American citizens. One of them is "COPLON (Kompid) Judy works in the US Justice Department".

Robert J. Lamphere, the FBI's counterintelligence chief in New York, writes in his anachronistically-titled memoirs The FBI-KGB War (when he began the struggle in 1944 it was the NKGB (People's Commissariat of State Security) and it became the MGB in 1946 (Ministry of State Security) and part of the MVD (Ministry of Internal Affairs) in 1953, only becoming the KGB (Committee of State Security) in March 1954, a year and three months before Lamphere's resignation in frustration from the Bureau) of the frustration of the Judith Coplon case. Coplon was tried twice for espionage in 1949 and convicted twice. However, the convictions were reversed on appeal.

The initial part of Lamphere's counterintelligence work involved working with decoded KGB messages. You may have heard something about these recently. Lamphere describes one message, for example, that referrs to a courier "Christian name, ETHEL, used her husband's last name" [The FBI-KGB War, p. 98]. The recently released VENONA decodings contain just such a reference (though I really think that the late Mrs. Rosenberg should not have been said to have had a Christian name). In the Coplon case he refers to a message that said "that a woman who in 1944 had been working for the Department of Justice in New York had been a KGB agent" [op. cit., p. 100]. A response to Document 78, perhaps?

In the review in The Spectator, David Caute backpedaled while minimizing, saying that in the first place he hadn't been so hard on Elizabeth Bentley and in the second place this still didn't prove anything. In her sensational testimony to the House Un-American Activities Committee, Bentley had named several people in government as members of Soviet spy networks. As she lacked any confirmation, and most of them took the Fifth Amendment, only two of them were ever convicted. Bentley was held in contempt by the progressive concerned vanguard for having been so out of line.

Presumably General Fitin and Chairman Dimitrov also thought so at the time, but in 1944 they seemed to have been having a different opinion. Document 90 [pp. 313-4] and Document 91 [p. 316], more memos from Fitin to Dimitrov, are interesting in this context. The first one asks for information on six people named by Bentley (and one who wasn't), and the second asks about a seventh. Interesting bit of anticipation there, don't you think? Don't you think the prosecutors might have been interested in seeing these?

The editors sum up these unwanted witnesses like this:

Like other popular movements, anticommunism produced oversimplification and exaggeration and attracted both opportunists and fanatics. The internal Communist threat to the United States was often wildly exaggerated. It is difficult to regard Senator Joseph McCarthy's assault on political civility as much more than the vicious partisanship of a political bully. For many politically aware Americans, endorsing the view that espionage and conspiracies were central to the Communist enterprise in America was akin to joining the ranks of the demagogues and paranoid extremists or to entering the uncomfortable world where the John Birch Society added Dwight Eisenhower to the ranks of the conspirators, where anti-Semites and paranoids spun elaborate tales of secret Zionist or Masonic bands plotting with Moscow to subvert white Christian America. . . But the Communist Party of the United States of America was also a conspiracy financed by a hostile foreign power that recruited members for clandestine work, developed an elaborate underground apparatus, and used that apparatus to collaborate with espionage services of that power.

The Secret World of American Communism, pp. 325-6