Saturday, 20 August 2011

The strange journey of Jay Lovestone - from American communist to mole for the C.I.A.

A post-war propaganda poster 
Jay Lovestone speaking at a union rally in 1938
Jay Lovestone is not a name familiar to everyone. He was in fact an extremely influential figure in American public life during the period from  the 1920's, right up to the Cold War -- when the Cold War  was raging at its hottest. To say that he ran the ideological gamut from A to B would be an understatement of glaringly bizarre fact. Starting out in his youth with a commitment to international socialism, by the time he'd reached his  dotage Lovestone was  loved as much as he was feared, his mission in life being the protection of his beloved adopted country America from the menace of Russian communism.

 Lovestone grew up on the streets of New York's Lower East Side after migrating with his parents and siblings from modern day Belarus (at the time Lithuania), and was born in 1897. Originally known as Jacob Liebstein, he was first attracted to the socialist theories of Daniel de Leon and on de Leon's  death in 1914, attended the funeral with 3000 other mourners. One can only wonder what kind of dynamic place New York's Lower East Side, must have been at the time. It was a  haven for Jews, Poles, Irish and Italians  escaping either the pogroms of eastern Europe, poverty, or any other kind of political upheaval imaginable during the war years and their bitter aftermath. America must surely been a haven for them as they were allowed to pursue their basic freedoms of speech and assembly that they had previously been denied. From our own historical vantage point  we can only contemplate what the Lower East Side must have been like for a bright boy like Lovestone.

 He entered  college, dabbled in student politics and dropped out of law school in order to be a career member full time of the Communist Party. He helped to form the Communist Party of America in 1919 along with the legendary John Reed as a representation of a left slanting Leninist group that believed in the on-going revolution of the masses. With the death of Lenin in 1924 the Bolsheviks were reduced to factional in-fighting and the Americans, it could be argued, were no match for the ruthlessness, and bitterness of ideological conflict that the Europeans were so expert at since the French Revolution. Lovestone, as one of the prime factional leaders of his party, followed the doctrine of Bukharin, whilst other more conservative communists preferred to follow Stalin. This was, in hindsight, a disastrous judgment on Lovestone's part, for when Stalin purged Bukharin from the Soviet Politburo in 1929, Lovestone suffered the consequences. Lovestone made the journey to Moscow from New York to state his case, but Stalin brushed him off as a lightweight, pointing to a cemetery outside the window where they were talking, and exclaiming that this was where Lovestone would end up if he peristed in adhering to the doctrine of the disgraced Bukharin. Lovestone was eventually expelled from the party, but this only made a difference in 1938 when Bukharin was shot. This put the Bukharinites in the graveyard which Stalin had planned for them, if not literally, then certainly metaphorically, and as a symbol that the American's one-sided  battle for ideological supremacy with the Russians was at an end once and for all.

 Lovestone developed a virtual network of spies, and informers in his efforts to keep the American trade union movement, through his contacts with the AFL-CIO, free of what were then known as communist infiltrators, or agitators. Amongst a host of other activities abroad that were never monitored or commented upon at home in America, it is clear from a document freely available on the web and linked here, that Lovestone was responsible for the Free Trade Union Movement in South America. The group was nothing more than a front for American business interests. It has been subsequently  blamed for its inflammatory influence on the rise of a number of fascist dictators in the region  whose powers were only challenged after decades spent  repressing the political rights of  their own populations.

When the CIA was created in 1947, Lovestone's connection to it through his association with the head of counter-intelligence James Angleton was never discovered till the CIA was put to heel by a number of government investigations into its activities in the period 1974-76. There was an internal war going on within the CIA itself as new head William Colby was attempting to get rid of Angleton, maintaining that his paranoia from years of counter-intelligence work was making him unproductive and a millstone around the agency's neck. Long-time associate George Meany, the President of the AFL-CIO, a shadowy figure despite (or because of) his pre-eminence in the history of American labor, took it upon himself to get rid of Lovestone as it was too embarrassing for the union to have to admit its connection with James Angleton.

I have always found it difficult to explain the nature and somewhat alarming  extent of American patriotism. It seems almost a necessary evil for some Americans, in order that they may re-assure their fellow Americans that they are not traitors, or outsiders The sea change that came over Lovestone after he was expelled from the party seems difficult to explain, except for the fact that he had met Stalin in person, and felt threatened by him. Well...let's fact it. He was threatened by him. It seems like a superficial motivation, but being threatened by someone as powerful as Stalin could not have been a pleasant experience  It appears to be something that stayed with Lovestone for the rest of his life. Unfortunately within the context of the cold war and McCarthyist  manouevres to expose enemies of the state, Lovestone's sea change exhibits a small minded jingoism, comparing himself as a sophisticated American in contrast to the peasant Stalin.   I would interpret Lovestone's sea change as an example of  an unwritten  propaganda subtext that   ruling elites at the time used  in their battle for supremacy,  by converting  the hearts and minds of the general population to a more global way of looking at the world. I believe that Lovestone was probably used in some form or other and merely went along with it because he felt ashamed  to have other Americans think that he didn't love his country.

 In a book review of Lovestone's biography  published in the New York Times, I was surprised to find him described as a 'fanatic'. Maybe this is correct, but I would also suggest that he was just less of a fanatic than the rest of the fanatics who existed at this particular historical point in time. He was also unlucky enough to have been caught, thanks to the emergence  of a new honesty and openness that was emerging in American society in the '70s. By the time of his death in 1990 Lovestone was not known to the public and must have felt a man out of his time, as rapproachment with the Soviet Union became a reality and a new world order emerged which had no time for the kind of native American idealism that I would argue Lovestone's life exemplified, for better or worse. It is a strange journey indeed and one that hopefully will receive more attention from academics and other writers in the future.

Articles referred to in this article include: Jay Lovestone on Wikipedia here; Edward Jay Epstein on the wars of the CIA article here; Thomas Braden article  on Spartacus here; Questions and Answers to American Trade Unionists from Joseph Stalin available at  here; New York Times book review Under the Beds of the Reds here.

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