During the early years of the Great Depression, where a considerable number of American intellectuals threw in with the communist candidate for president in 1932, William Z. Foster, literary critic Edmund Wilson urged American Communists to take Marxism away from the Russians and “Americanize it.”
But this advice went unheeded and from 1932 onward, American Communists took their cues from Russia, a country with no democratic traditions. What may have been a lost opportunity, depending upon your point of view as to whether communism could be applied at all to American democracy, was briefly provided by Jay Lovestone, who helped found the American Communist Party (along with John Reed) in 1919. Lovestone then moved to Editor of The Communist, the Party’s newspaper. By 1927, he was the CPUSA’s national secretary.
He soon became embroiled in sectarian battles with the more hard-line members who wanted to graft Soviet communism onto the American version. Lovestone, by contrast, wanted to adapt Marxism to American democratic conditions.
These matters came to a head when Lenin’s death opened up a power struggle within the Soviet Union, and the CPUSA chose sides. Predictably, Foster threw in with Stalin, while Lovestone supported Nikolai Bukharin who favored a policy of adapting Marxism to each countries’ conditions.
Stalin garnered enough power to purge Bukharin in 1929, and, on cue, Stalin’s faction within the CPUSA demanded that Lovestone resign. Amazingly, Lovestone believed he could keep his position by making his case to Stalin and traveled to Moscow. There, Stalin directly threatened him, but Lovestone still refused to step down. Stateside, Lovestone was expelled from the Party not only for standing up to Stalin but for his policy of moderating communism to American conditions.
Lovestone used his contacts within the Party’s labor section to help keep Stalinists out. By 1944, Lovestone was organizing labor unions in Latin America and Europe that were not communist-controlled. With the Cold War now raging, Lovestone was recruited into intelligence work with the CIA and began feeding information about communist labor unions to famed CIA agent James Jesus Angleton in order to destroy communist influence in the international union movement.
By 1963, Lovestone was sending millions of CIA dollars to help anticommunist unions abroad. As the CIA’s illegal domestic spying activities became known in the late sixties, Lovestone was told by AFL-CIO head George Meany to terminate all contacts with the Agency. But Lovestone secretly did not complete comply. Upon discovering this, Meany eased Lovestone out
With his demotion, the AFL-CIO ceased any hawkish labor policies in Europe until Lovestone was re-recruited by the Reagan administration to secretly fund the Polish Solidarity movement.
Lovestone lived to see the country his comrades refused to separate from implode in 1989.