THE SOVIET WORLD OF AMERICAN COMMUNISM by Harvey Klehr, John Earl Haynes, and Kyrill M. Anderson

(Yale University Press; 1998; ISBN 0-300-07150-7; $35.00), reviewed by Joseph T Major

RECEIVED $ 3 000 000

(three million US dollars)

Gus Hall


The Soviet World of American Communism, Document 45, p. 155

The above receipt came from the archives of the Russian Center for the Preservation and Study of Documents of Recent History (RTsKhIDNI), the keepers of the to-be-preserved-forever [Khranit Vechno, the equivalent of "Top Secret"] records of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. That $3 million in soft money didn't do either of them much good. The Communist Party was exempted from the regulations on reporting donations, but still . . .

This latest volume in Yale University's Annals of Communism series would have been unthinkable ten years ago, derided as malicious fabrications invented by a vast right-wing conspiracy. Nowadays, though, the people who had been regarding "American Communists as a courageous and idealistic band of rebels" [p. 3] are now in good Ministry of Truth routine denying that they had ever believed or said what they had been so eager to expound their full faith and credit in, while yet adhering to the same old practices.

American Communist leaders at times presented themselves as just another political organization, in the same tradition as Norman Thomas's Socialist Party or Daniel DeLeon's Socialist Labor Party; a totally indigenous organization. Even at the time this was not believed, as those who read Eugene Lyons's The Red Decade (1941) had the wit to observe. The papers herein display the breadth and depth of Soviet control of the CPUSA and its ancestors, bringing up some familiar old names again. Far from being independent, the CPUSA was the most slavish of followers of the Soviet line.

John Reed (last seen in The Secret World of American Communism getting a donation from the great land of socialism) and other Bolshevik activists emulated the revolutionary Lenin and left the bourgeois counterrevolutionary deviationist Socialist Party to found the Communist Labor Party on August 31, 1919, pledging allegiance to the socialist motherland and the Communist International. Meanwhile, Charles Ruthenberg and others left the bourgeois counterrevolutionary deviationist Socialist Party to found the Communist Party of America on September 1, 1919, pledging allegiance to the socialist motherland and the Communist International. Clearly something had to give.

Thus we have Document 1 [p. 19], dated March 17, 1921, a direct order to the two Communist parties to shut up and merge. That did not work. For a year the two factions debated the question of which one was the authentic revolutionary vanguard of the American proletariat. The Comintern issued Document 2 [pp. 19-21] by way of answer, ordering the feuding factions to place themselves under the discipline of the Party. That settled it.

In 1924 the now unified Communist Party of America made its first effort at participating in a popular front. Naturally, they blew it, since they were not masters of their own fate. Minnesota was the home of an indigenous American radicalism; its Farmer-Labor Party called for the establishment of a "cooperative commonwealth" not only in their own state but throughout the country. In 1924 they sought to take the first steps towards this goal by running Senator Robert La Follette for President.

The C.P. of A. participated in this campaign through multiple front organizations and pulled out of it when Moscow said nyet. Document 3 [pp. 26-7] describes how the internal factionalism connected with the decision to support the La Follette campaign was submitted to the Comintern for resolution, and Document 4 [pp. 27-9] is the marching orders for the Communists to turn against La Follette. Lyons had described the chaos that ensued in the wake of this order, and here they point out how it ended up marginalizing the C.P. of A., all because of the internal Soviet power struggle.

But what would you expect from a party that couldn't even blow its own nose without directives from Moscow. (You would think they were working for a Japanese company.) Document 5 [p. 30] is an order from Comintern leader (and Yuri Andropov's future patron) Otto Kuusinen ordering a plenum (officers' meeting) of the C.P. of A. and dictating its policies, while Document 6 [pp. 30-1] orders revisions to the policy document produced therein.

This subservience continued throughout the next decade. The authors refer to historical claims to the contrary, decisively rebutting them with citations from the archives where the most trivial of internal CPUSA matters were refered to Moscow for decision.

In Sinclair Lewis's It Can't Happen Here (1935), an internal revolt splits the Democratic Party and denies President Roosevelt the nomination and re-election. While the pathetic Union Party of Gerald L. K. Smith, the heir of Huey Long's national organization (brother Earl got the Louisiana machine) was a potential source of factionalism of the form conceived by Lewis, the Rooseveltian concerns were directed more at a splitoff of the left wing of the party.

The Farmer-Labor Party had continued to prosper in Minnesota; other center-left regional political groups flourished in Wisconsin (the Progressive Party), California (Upton Sinclair's EPIC [End Poverty In California], which was graced by a retired naval officer named Heinlein), New York (the American Labor Party), and the Northwest (Oregon and Washington "Commonwealth" federations). All these might combine to create a nationwide progressive federation, and it was therefore incumbent that the CPUSA be involved, too. However, the leaders of these state parties had read It Can't Happen Here too, and decided to back Roosevelt, so they generally backed Roosevelt, which the CPUSA ended up doing.

The Comintern continued to pull the strings of the CPUSA. Document 7 [pp. 37-9] delivers a mild criticism of the CPUSA's authentic labor leader William Z. Foster, while Document 8 [pp. 39-40] orders the discontinuance of their popular slogan "Communism is Twentieth Century Americanism". Document 9 [pp. 44-6] contains an evaluation of and recommendations for the proposed new CPUSA Politburo that is, the Comintern was deciding who would run the CPUSA! Document 10 [p. 47] shows that it was approved, and Document 11 [pp. 47-8] orders the dismissal of one of the proposed candidates, a man with a long and impressive record in labor activism. And indeed he was expelled, the way that Foster never quite got the leadership role he had seemingly earned.

Communist influence in American labor unions was a matter of concern in the fifties. Efforts of the Party to gain influence in the American labor movement dated back to the twenties, though. In spite of a romantic preference for the radical activist Industrial Workers of the World (IWW; the "Wobblies") among the American comrades, Moscow sensibly ordered them to leave that marginalized movement for the mainstream American Federation of Labor (AFL), and then for John L. Lewis's Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO), where they achieved disproportionate influence. Document 13 [pp. 58-68] is a report to the secretariat of the Comintern describing these relations, showing how occasionally the CPUSA did indeed act independently. Document 14 [pp. 70-1] shows that the Comintern leaders were concerned about this.

In 1984 Orwell describes a reversal of alliances that occured in the middle of a speech, and how the speaker urged his audience to tear down the posters which had been put up by agents of Goldstein, denouncing Oceania's perpetual ally. In real life the closest approach to this seems to have been the Palestinian Communist Party paper which on that epochal day in August 1939 denounced Nazism in the morning edition and praised Hitler's dictatorship of the proletariat in the afternoon edition. The Nazi-Soviet alliance of 1939 actually caused a few members and supporters (e.g. Frederik Pohl) to reconsider. It will be no surprise that the CPUSA unconditionally supported it nevertheless. Document 15 [pp. 81-3] contains the Comintern orders to Earl Browder on the proper line to take in the struggle, and Document 16 [pp. 83-4] discusses the selection of fellow-travelers who would be suitable for disseminating the new Soviet line. One is Isaac Asimov's "grand old man of humanism", Corliss Lamont. Eugene Lyons had a less complimentary view of him, and this document would support Lyons over Asimov.

On June 22, 1941, Soviet policy was rather abruptly forced to change, and CPUSA policy changed likewise; from "The Yanks Are Not Coming!" to "The Yanks Are Not Coming Too Late!" Document 17 [pp. 88-91] shows how shallow and trivial the subsequent CPUSA devotion to the war effort was. Dated June 20, 1941, it calls for unflinching opposition to the U.S. defense effort, and declares all the participants in the war to be morally equivalent. Of course, two days later all that had never happened. And in any case the CPUSA had disaffiliated itself from the Comintern, so why were they still acting like a wholly-owned subsidiary of it?

Stalin made a number of concessions to allied opinion during the war, including transferring the operations of the Comintern to other offices of the Soviet Communist Party and abolishing the name of the International. Hoping for a similar acceptance, Earl Browder urged and presided over the dissolution of the CPUSA in 1944, re-establishing it as the Communist Political Association, without waiting for the go-ahead from the former Comintern.

In April 1945, the French Communist journal Les Cahiers du communisme published an article criticizing Browder's action. Copies of the magazine reached the U.S. in May; in June, Browder was deposed as head of the CPA, and in July the CPUSA was refounded. Browder was subsequently expelled from the party, in 1946.

In later years, Browder commented that this rejection of his doctrine of postwar Soviet-American cooperation was the first sign of the oncoming Cold War [note that April 1945 was before the atom bomb was even tested, much less used]. This thesis was not the most welcome in certain circles. The article was, it was generally accepted, a message from Moscow, but it was still a matter of contention whether it was merely ordered or actually dictated.

Document 18 [pp. 100-1] is the first page of the article, in Russian, in the Bulletin of the Information Bureau of the CC VKP(b): Issues of Foreign Policy for January 1945; Document 19 [p. 104] is its French translation, the article as published. They dictated it.

Herbert O. Yardley's indiscreet revelations in The American Black Chamber included deciphered messages describing Soviet financing of other Communist Parties, and The Secret World of American Communism gave some examples. The authors begin their discussion of this topic with a short discussion of the previously-known history of such financing. The chapter "Moscow Gold" also contains a number of reports on how the money was spent. Money was coming in through a number of different routes, often earmarked for a specific purpose, and sometimes wires got crossed.

And sometimes they had to make do with who they could get as a courier:

Make arrangements to pay Armand Hammer personally 6,495 dollars in Berlin at the office of The United American Company (Alamerico) Augsburger Str. 47, and he will give orders, if necessarily by telegram, for their New York office to pay this money to Moness for C. E. Ruthenberg.

The Soviet World of American Communism, Document 29, p. 134

One can only hope that Hammer robbed, cheated, and swindled the Soviets as much as he robbed, cheated, and swindled everyone else he ever dealt with. Document 30 [p. 134] and Document 31 [pp. 134-5] further chronicle the involvement of the Hammers in the international Communist effort, and the authors approvingly for once cite Dossier, Edward Jay Epstein's biography of Armand Hammer. [They do not seem to be particularly favorable towards "premature anti-Communists." Lyons is never even mentioned, much less cited, and the reference to John Barron's Operation SOLO is disdainful.]

In the thirties they found more reliable couriers. Whittaker Chambers mentions in Witness his CPUSA associate Max Bedacht, "who had children to the number of acht." Bedacht became the new courier, and Document 40 [p. 146] is his introduction from Browder to whom it may concern, while Document 41 is an internal memo from one M. A. Moskvin to his superior urging that Bedacht be given a visa. "M. A. Moskvin" was Mikhail Trilisser, head of the intelligence directorate of State Security, and the memo is to Nikolai I. Yezhov, People's Commissar of Internal Affairs, presumably to be read during breaks in the purges of the Yezhovshchina. And indeed, as the authors point out, apparently much of the financing of overseas communist parties in this period was done through the intelligence organs, the NKVD's GUGB (Chief Directorate of State Security) and the Red Army's Chief Reconnaissance Directorate (GRU).

For Soviet subsidization in the fifties, sixties, and seventies, one has but to read Operation SOLO. Document 42 [pp. 152-3] is Comrade Hall's plaint for more help, now that all unknown to him the U.S. government wasn't helping any more, and Document 43 [pp. 153-5] is his begging letter for a raise which as you will see, by comparing Document 44 [p. 155], a receipt for $2 million, and the above-cited subsequent Document 45, for $3 million, he got.

Having a nomenklaturaette of its own, one paid for by the revolutionary workers and peasants of the great socialist motherland, the CPUSA could intervene with numbers of activists at events. Having not only numbers but full-time workers on hand made them by default significant activists in political coalitions. Of course, this dedication tended to be nullified by their gross ineptitude and slavish obedience to the Moscow line.

As Stephen Koch mentions in Double Lives (1994) [though not quite in these words], in the twenties and thirties the CPUSA believed in one man, one vote the man was Stalin. This voting rights act was enforced by "Comintern Reps", one of whom was the famous Hungarian "J. Peters", Joszef Peter, noted by Chambers, interviewed by Allen Weinstein, and profiled in The Secret World of American Communism.

Document 49 [pp. 170-3] contains an irony which would be amusing were it not so terrible. It is a report by a Comintern Rep on the opinions of various CPUSA leaders in 1929 regarding relationships between them and the Soviet Party. Lovestone, Bedacht, and Browder all urged adherence to the Soviet Party Line, while Foster wished for greater local autonomy. Within a few years, Lovestone, Bedacht, and Browder would all be expelled for deviation, while Foster remained in the Party even after the Secret Speech.

Agnes Smedley is one of those people who, in right proper Ministry of Truth doctrine, was passionately defended by the progressives and now that the issue of contention has been conclusively proven, will be denied by her former defenders. Though, since she turned against the Party Line in 1937 and was denounced, their defense has always been lukewarm. (They did spue her out of their mouth.) But the Comintern documents reveal how Smedley was directed and aided by covert Communist support.

If you have seen the movie White Nights with Mikhail Baryshnikov and Gregory Hines, you will recall the subplot about the black tap dancer who defected to the Soviet Union because racism was banned there, and speedily learned the meaning of "chernozhopi" and the purpose and contents of the internal passport. He should have taken heed of the misadventures of Lovett Fort-Whiteman (ironic name, that) the first black American to attend a Comintern training school.

Fort-Whiteman was an early Communist activist, but he fell afoul of the Party Line at the end of the twenties, when he did not support the new Party policy supporting an independent Negro nation in the Black Belt of the South. (Fletcher Knebel, Edwin Corley, and particularly Spider Robinson should have been aware of this; their black revolutions would almost certainly be infiltrated by Communists, with mostly adverse consequences.) To keep him from getting in the way at home, he was given a post in Moscow. There he got into trouble.

He disagreed with the Party Line again, as Document 64 [pp. 223-4] implies, and was sentenced to internal exile, and then the GULag for "Anti-Soviet agitation", by a NKVD special session. (Somehow the civil libertarians who praised the Soviet system never quite got around to mentioning these non-trial trials, much less Article 58, Section 10 of the criminal code which prescribed an unlimited sentence for even appealing for the weakening of the Soviet power; one thinks they envy a system that is so effective in "protecting rights.") Fort-Whiteman now found himself in a prison system far more rigorous than the Georgia chain gangs he had protested, and Document 65 [pp. 224-7] shows the result; it is his death certificate, dated January 13, 1939, less than a year after his imprisonment.

Other Americans were oppressed. The Soviet government had in the twenties encouraged the immigration of Finnish-Americans and Finnish-Canadians to Karelia to help build the economy of a border province. In the late thirties, they too encountered the rigors of the Great Purges. People with foreign connections were inherently suspect, and here were thousands of agents of American and British Intelligence, which revolutionary zeal demanded be shot. So the Finnish-American and Finnish-Canadian Communists who had come to the Soviet motherland to help build the great world of socialism found themselves among its victims. Just think of it as evolution in action.

And not surprisingly, those few who managed to escape by one means or another found themeselves being denounced as liars, agents of "an uncompromising struggle against the enemies of the USSR who have taken refuge in our country and who use our working class organisations to carry on their vile work on behalf of their Trotskyist and Fascist paymasters." [pp. 243-4, from Document 68 pp. 239-44] But why should one be surprised; this was the general reaction to any revelation of the immense crimes of any Communist regime, presented by its loyal followers and echoed faithfully by progressive opinion.

(One of the people cited in the description of the arrests is one Kaarlo Tuomi [p. 231]. John Barron discusses in KGB: The Secret Work of Soviet Secret Agents the story of Kaarlo R. Tuomi who defected in place as a double agent for the FBI against the KGB during his mission as an illegal undercover agent. The same Kaarlo Tuomi, apparently.)

And speaking of FBI spies; Document 73 [pp. 263-4], Document 74 [pp. 265-9], and Document 75 [pp. 270-1] are briefings delivered by a member of the CPUSA Politburo and editor of the Daily Worker to the highest levels of the Party cadre. Indeed, Document 73 is addressed "To Comrade I. V. STALIN" and the rest of the Politburo. It is a background briefing on American attitudes towards the foreign ministers' conference then going on. Document 74 covers discussions of various issues relating to the labor movement, and Document 75 discusses the matter of a third party. Since these discussions took place in April of 1947, the problems of the postwar realignment and the formation of the Progressive Party were of serious concern.

But the Party Line changed, and the party comrade who had given those briefings was fired as editor of The Daily Worker; his health declined and then miraculously improved, after which he resumed Party activities, becoming secretary in charge of relations with other Communist Parties. And Morris Childs had a second job on the side.

When the Sandinistas entered Managua in triumph, fresh from their victory over the tyrannical Yankee-backed oligarchy of the Somozas, one of the first things they did was to close down the Trotskyist and Maoist newspapers. This was a clear indication of which side they were on. And similarly, fifty years before, the CPUSA and its subsidiaries waged merciless war upon Trotskyites and other deviationists.

There were fewer Trotskyites in the U.S. than there were paid officers of the CPUSA. Nevertheless, only a few short years separated Fred Pohl from having to endorse such stirring sentiments as this passionate plea from the Young Communist League journal in 1930: "As for those who plotted the crippling of Soviet industry and Soviet farming and planned to have the only workers country ruled by the lords of money again to them DEATH! THIS SHOULD BE THE MESSAGE OF EVERY YOUNG WORKER TO OUR ENEMY CLASS, THE BOSSES OF THE WORLD." [quoted p. 273] You would think you were reading someone's fervid email flame.

Sometimes this solidarity came across as peculiar, and had certain persons known, decidely suspicious. Document 77 [pp. 277-8] is a resolution urging the removal of Gregory Zinoviev from his post in the Party leadership because of his Trotskyite leanings. Document 78 [pp. 278-9] denounces the Opposition Bloc of Zinoviev and Lev Kamenev. Document 80 [pp. 294-7] is a speech by Browder denouncing Trotsky for his role in the Kirov assassination, and saying that every American worker wanted to know about this. These are resolutions of the CPUSA, for all that they echo and parallel the ongoing struggle in the Soviet Communist Party.

Economist Murray Rothbard wrote an essay discussing the rise of authoritarianism in the U.S. in the 1930's. He presented as his brilliant insight that, in the terms of Indian activist Palme Dutt, the New Deal was "social fascism" thus showing his lack of historical insight. In the early 1930s, before the Popular Front, the Party Line was that all political movements were either Communist or fascist. Hence, the non-Communist leftist movements, from New Dealers to Social Democrats to Labour to, yes, the Farmer-Labor and Progressive Parties, were fascists pretending to be non-fascists, in fact "social fascists". And so, in the interests of the workers and peasants it was necessary to struggle against social fascism.

This requirement turned out not to be just a rhetorical trope, either. In 1934 the Socialist Party held a rally to protest the Austrian government's civil war against its Socialists. The Communists evidently planned to shout down the speakers, but due to lack of planning, they ended up starting a riot. (And nowadays the Politically Correct do the same thing it's been noticed that the New Left liked the old Communists!) Document 79 [pp. 286-91] is their postmortem on the incident, and their principal concern is that it was poor tactics.

In retrospect, it seems incredible to believe that all but two of the leaders of the revolution, the members of the first Politburo, were working actively to destroy the revolution they had just made. (The exceptions being Lenin and of course the Great Stalin himself.) Yet such was the received doctrine of the CPUSA, and indeed of progressive opinion generally in the non-Soviet world.

Generally, but not universally; there was a Committee for the Defense of Trotsky, including a number of famous liberals. With some genuine conspiratoralists to hand, the CPUSA pounced, as Browder reported to the Comintern in Document 80 [pp. 304-6]. Why, Trotsky was the American Aaron Burr! And they took steps to ensure that this line was uniformly promulgated, as we see in Document 84 [p. 312], Document 85 [pp. 313-4], and Document 86 [pp. 314-7], showing that Party vigilance was ever necessary to ensure adherence to the Party Line and ward against the infiltration of Trotskyites, Lovestoneites, Loreites, and other such factional deviationists.

Jay Lovestone died in 1990 after a career of working with George Meany and James Angleton. And the Party only accused him of working with Trotsky in Document 83 [pp. 307-8], an example of how Stalinist thought tended to lump all opponents together regardless of their actual beliefs an agglutinatist tendency which has continued to this day, as one can see by examining the publications of Green Socialists, Campus Political Correctors, etc. But Communist Revolutionary Vigilance demanded unceasing effort, as Document 90 [pp. 326-30] demonstrates, with its tabulation of Trotskyists, Lovestoneists, and other such deviationists and indisciplined people who had got into the Party and now had been expelled for 1929-30.

And this continued, as shown in Document 91 [pp. 331-2], the beginning of a similar report for 1938, and Document 92 [pp. 332-3], the minutes of the meeting of the Party Central Control Commission ruling on the expulsion of three members. Two of these were Philip Rahv and Paul Dupee, who went on to found the liberal anti-Communist literary review Partisan Review.

Not even renown could save a deviationist from the inexorable arm of the revolutionary world proletariat. Edgar Snow could survive denunication by Whittaker Chambers, but the Party's revolutionary vigilance regarding deviationist statements in Red Star Over China was to be heeded. Document 94 [pp. 343-4] describes how Snow proved himself a loyal follower of the Party Line, rewriting the book to remove deviationist statements.

Chapter Five, "Fellowcountrymen", describes the CPUSA's reaction to the Secret Speech. As expected, the CPUSA leadership cadre denounced the Era of the Cult of Personality with the same fervor and even vocabulary that they had been using to defend said doctrines. Daily Worker editor John Gates actually proposed some reforms taking this new line into account, reorienting the party on "an American road to Socialism", instead of following Soviet policies. This policy quickly gained the support of the majority of the Party members, and as should have surprised no one, was a failure. Gates was denounced by Moscow, and simply dropped out, along with three-quarters of the membership of the CPUSA.

The authors conclude that the CPUSA's identification with the Soviet Union was the source of its strength and weakness. By associating itself with "the future that works" it proffered a connection to a genuine progressive accomplishment; by following the twists and turns and localisms of the Soviet Party Line, it turned itself into a shallow mockery of a revolutionary organization.

The problem with the liberal anti-communists was that they had no ideological defense against Communism, or its exculpators, the anti-anti-communists; they were in the end not too far from the Trotskyites and Lovestoneites, losing factions in a political struggle, but without significant disagreement on the ultimate end. It was only the shallowness, obsequiousness, and lack of competence of the CPUSA that prevented itself from becoming a significant player in the leftist world the radicalism of the twenties and of the forties showed how poorly it fit, and only the seeming success of the USSR in the thirties enabled it to make that The Red Decade.

But behind the buffonish, inflated, impotence of Browder, Dennis, et al. lay the evil empire of Lenin and Stalin and their heirs.

A forthcoming volume in the Annals of Communism series will discuss VENONA, the most terrible secret of all, the coded messages that failed to protect the identies of Donald Maclean and Alger Hiss, Julius Rosenberg and Teddy Hall, and the other spies and turncoats of the Soviets' Dar al-Harb. For all that it should be conclusive, it will get the same treatment; even ten years ago, its revelations would have been denounced as lies, but now they will be dismissed as passé trivialities, dismissed by those who heretofore had been foremost among the defenders of these "trivialities". Some things never change.