The Plot Thickens

A Covert Life: Jay Lovestone: Communist, Anti-Communist, and Spymaster

by Ted Morgan
Random House, 402 pp., $29.95


The revolutionary certitudes of the young Jay Lovestone—born Jacob Liebstein in Lithuania in 1897—have a bizarre, antique ring now, only a decade after his death. Lovestone became a citizen and changed his name in 1919, the year he helped to found the American Communist Party. A tireless political infighter and street debater, he was ferocious with opponents—for example, the writer John Reed, famous for his firsthand account of the Russian Revolution, Ten Days that Shook the World, whom Lovestone attacked as “the so-called proletarian who lives on a sumptuous estate in Westchester.” Reed was dead within a year, buried in the Kremlin wall and added to the calendar of Communist saints. Lovestone’s road would have more twists and turns, but not yet. In a speech in Chicago, the center of the Russian-born, Russian-speaking radicals who dominated the new party, Lovestone celebrated “the inestimable progress made by the Communist Party of Russia.” Spouting this sort of stuff seems craven now, but in 1923 Lovestone like many others still sounded full of ingenuous hope and high spirits.

The Communist spirit has given tongue to the tongueless millions…. The sun never sets on the lands where Communist hearts beat in unison…. The Soviet government stands today as the granite foundation of the Communist system.

Illusions of this magnitude don’t die in five minutes. Twenty years later a young machinist for the army, training for duty overseas, bought the Communist romance entire and confided to his wife in a letter that he had “been reading a lot of books on the Soviet Union. Dear, I can see how farsighted and intelligent those leaders are. They are really geniuses, every one of them…. I believe that every time the Soviet government used force they did so with pain in their hearts….”

But instead of being shipped to the European theater, as he expected, the young machinist was transferred in the fall of 1944 to the high desert of New Mexico, where he was enjoined to secrecy and put to work making parts for models of a new kind of bomb. The geniuses in Moscow knew about this project, referred to it in secret communications as “ENORMOZ,” and authorized Alexander Feklisov, a Soviet intelligence officer attached to the consulate in New York City, to attempt to recruit the machinist as a spy. The pitch was made by the machinist’s brother-in-law, already a spy for the Soviets, who, using the third person, wrote for Feklisov a report in December 1944 describing how a first discussion had gone:

…Julius [the brother-in-law] inquired of Ruth [the machinist’s young wife] how she felt about the Soviet Union and how deep in general her Communist convictions went, whereupon she replied without hesitation that, to her, socialism was the sole hope of the world and the Soviet Union commanded her deepest admiration…. Julius then explained his connections with certain people interested in supplying the Soviet Union with urgently needed technical information it could not obtain through the regular…

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