Keeping the Faith

The Soviet World of American Communism is the first important study of the relations between American Communists and the USSR since Theodore Draper’s American Communism and Soviet Russia, published in 1960.1 It is also in effect a continuation of that earlier work. Draper’s history covered the period that ended with the expulsion of the dissident Communist Jay Lovestone and his followers from the American Party in 1929. He was able to draw on some thousand pages recording the minutes of conferences held by the American Party’s inner core of leadership.2 In their new book, two American scholars, Harvey Klehr and John Earl Haynes, have collaborated with a Russian scholar, Kyrill M. Anderson, to comb through the far more copious files, lodged in Moscow, of the Communist International (or Comintern), the administrative body set up by Lenin to direct the activities of national Communist parties outside the Soviet Union.

The authors reproduce ninety-five documents and make use of many others in their accompanying narrative, which provides a history of the American Communist Party’s ideological and political development, under the strict guidance of the parent Party in Moscow, from 1919 (when the American Party was founded) until 1943 (when the Comintern was formally dissolved). Klehr et al. have also included assorted documents from later periods. The material they have found, they write, reinforces the idea that “the American Communist party was a creature of the Comintern and, through it, of the Soviet Union.”

This is a familiar conclusion, reflecting Draper’s own book of 1960. But The Soviet World of American Communism adds to what has become a steady accumulation of evidence in the 1990s about the power of the Comintern, thanks to the opening of archives in the former Soviet Union, the central repository of Communist documents from around the world. In a previous book, Klehr et al. reproduced a list of sums paid out by the Comintern in 1919-1920, including one million rubles’ worth of jewels and other valuable objects entrusted to the journalist John Reed so he could help finance an American version of the revolution he had described so vividly in Ten Days That Shook The World.3 In the new book the editors include a letter, dated 1987, written by the Party’s General Secretary Gus Hall and sent to Anatoly Dobrynin, then a high official in the Secretariat of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union,4 making the case for the American Party’s annual stipend to be doubled, to $4 million. Hall cites the costs of maintaining a revolutionary outpost in New York City, “the decaying heart of imperialism.” Taxes keep soaring, and “the upkeep of our headquarters building goes up every year.” Moscow met him halfway in 1988, giving him “three million US dollars.” It was the last such contribution the Party got. When Hall denounced the Gorbachev reforms a year later, the handouts stopped altogether.

It is fitting, but not surprising, that Hall should have made glasnost and perestroika the occasion for…

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