How many ways have progressives worked with the Kremlin over the years? The examples are legion. When I was researching my book Dupes, the biggest challenge was sifting through all the self-described “progressive” individuals or organizations to figure out which were closet communists cloaked as liberals, and whether they collaborated with Moscow. When Congress in 1961 published its major investigation of communist front-groups, titled, “Guide to Subversive Organizations and Publications,” one of the most popular title listings in the massive index was “Progressive.”
Progressive here, progressive there, progressive everywhere.
In fact, if you want a case of collusion between an American political party and Moscow in a presidential election, forget sniffing around 2016. Go back to 1948, where progressives created the smelly blueprint.
That year, the Progressive Party ran for president one Henry A. Wallace.
Wallace had been FDR’s vice president and was America’s preeminent dupe to Marxist-Leninists. He was horribly pro-Soviet. One of the stupidest things FDR did (and that’s saying something) was to make Wallace his vice president. Wallace’s public remarks defending Stalin’s USSR were so bad that Democrats demanded he be expelled as FDR’s running mate in 1944, even as FDR’s ideologically unhinged wife, Eleanor, protected him.
FDR merely moved Wallace, retaining him as secretary of commerce in another of FDR’s departments penetrated by communists and Soviet agents of influence. (Long before that, in 1933, FDR had made Wallace secretary of agriculture, which was so infiltrated that the worst of all Depression-era government communist cells — the Ware Cell — operated out of it.)
Harry Truman mercifully replaced Wallace. It would have been devastating for America and the world if Wallace, rather than Truman, had been the sitting vice president ready to replace FDR upon the New Dealer’s death in April 1945. That is one huge bullet that history dodged.
Nonetheless, Wallace still managed to work directly with Moscow. The great Cold War historian John Lewis Gaddis notes that “there is Soviet documentation that Wallace was regularly reporting to the Kremlin in 1945 and 1946 while he was in the Truman administration.”
Many good historians have shown that connection, particularly Allen Weinstein and Alexander Vassiliev in their 1999 work, The Haunted Wood, though more material has since emerged from archives. One of the best historians who has followed Wallace is Ron Radosh, himself an ex-communist, who in a January 2017 piece for the Daily Beast tried to remind modern progressives of what their earlier namesakes had done in 1948. Radosh wrote this devastating assessment of Wallace:
In October of 1945, while he was still secretary of Commerce, Wallace secretly met in Washington, D.C. with Anatoly Gorsky, the station chief of the NKGB (forerunner of the KGB). KGB files show that Wallace told Gorsky that he wanted to share the secrets of the a-bomb with the Soviets, complained that Truman was being influenced by an “anti-Soviet group” in government that wanted the Anglo-Saxon bloc to have dominance in the world, and that he hoped that the Soviet Union could help Wallace’s “smaller group significantly.”
For a member of the President’s Cabinet asking the Soviets to intervene to help his side win an internal battle within the administration was more than indiscreet. It was the action of a willing tool of Moscow.
Radosh’s point is crucial. Here, Wallace was acting not as an unwitting, clueless dupe, but as a willing, fully aware accomplice.
Radosh notes that if Wallace had received the Democratic Party nomination for vice president in 1944 (instead of Truman), he would have made the infamous Harry Dexter White his secretary of the treasury and given a major White House position to another Soviet spy, Laurence Duggan. The decoded Venona papers revealed that Moscow hoped that Duggan would aid the USSR “by using his friendship [with Wallace for] extracting … interesting information.”
Thankfully, President Truman fired Wallace. The final straw for Truman was an awful speech Wallace delivered at Madison Square Garden favoring the recognition of Soviet areas of influence. American communists loved the speech. “He did this while Secretary of State James F. Byrnes was in Europe, negotiating with the Soviets,” writes Radosh. “Byrnes immediately told Truman that if not repudiated immediately, Wallace’s words would be taken as policy and would undermine Byrnes’ attempts to modify Soviet behavior.”
Truman canned Wallace. This made Wallace a martyr and even greater hero to the American far left.
Moscow’s Man in Washington
As the Cold War erupted, Henry Wallace erupted — for the side of Moscow. In October 1947, as members of the Hollywood Ten — every single one of which was a Communist Party member — were called to Washington to testify to their infatuation with Stalin’s state, Wallace joined forces with the communist front-group, the Progressive Citizens of America, in jointly calling for the abolition of House Committee on Un-American Activities. This thrilled American communists; they further realized they had a dutiful pal.
Wallace became a poster boy for the Daily Worker. “Has America gone crazy?” the Daily Worker approvingly quoted Wallace denouncing the House committee hearings. “Is the Un-American Activities Committee evidence that America is travelling the road to fascism?” The former vice president urged his fellow Americans that they “must destroy” the committee. If they did not, the evil “HUAC” would “destroy many of the foundations of democracy and Christianity.”
Yes, “HUAC” would do that, not communism or the USSR. The admirer of the Soviet experiment was worried about threats to democracy and Christianity — in America, that is, by our Congress, not the Politburo.
Wallace adhered to the Soviet-CPUSA line on all the major foreign-policy issues of the day, blasting the Marshall Plan, the creation of NATO, and defending Moscow’s stance everywhere from Berlin to Prague. It was easy to predict where Wallace would stand on an issue. One simply had to see where Stalin stood.
And so, America’s reds and pinkos and fellow travelers knew that they had their boy for the presidential election of 1948. They swarmed to Wallace. Wallace attracted a dedicated mix of closet communists and progressive dupes, with the latter including a glistening parade of oblivious Hollywood celebrities ranging from Katharine Hepburn to Gene Kelly, who were rolled again and again by communist Hollywood screenwriters Dalton Trumbo and John Howard Lawson.
To be clear, Henry Wallace himself was not a member of the Communist Party, but communists throughout America rallied to him as someone they could count on more than any other candidate. The comrades placed their hopes in Wallace in 1948. In the groundbreaking book, The Secret World of American Communism, Harvey Klehr, John Earl Haynes, and Fridrikh Igorevich Firsov described it well: “In 1948 Communists threw all of their strength into Henry Wallace’s presidential campaign and supported the Progressive Party as a Popular Front alternative to the Democrats.”
The extent to which that is true is overwhelming. The list of hardcore communists who flocked to Wallace and sought to control him was thousands upon thousands, and could not begin to be summarized here.
Among the direct Soviet agents working for Wallace was Lee Pressman, who, we now know, had the KGB codename “Vig.” He covertly assisted Soviet intelligence (both the KGB and GRU) for a decade-and-a-half. Publicly, Pressman put on another face. He masqueraded as a proud “progressive,” joining Wallace’s presidential campaign and becoming the principal author of Wallace’s pro-Soviet platform.
Another was Victor Perlo, namesake of the infamous Perlo Group that penetrated the Roosevelt administration, especially the Department of Commerce. Perlo served the Motherland with dedicated Soviet hands such as Frank Coe, Harold Glasser, Charles Kramer, and Harry Dexter White. Perlo was hired as an economist for the Progressive Party and was instrumental in developing the party’s 1948 platform.
There were so many of the Pressman-Perlo mold in the Wallace fold. Anyone with any knowledge of the Wallace campaign knows of the extraordinary level of communist penetration and control.
My friend Mike Shotwell, author of the wonderful memoir, Immersed in Red, had a Stalinist stepfather (who, naturally, publicly proclaimed himself not a Stalinist but a “progressive”) who was Wallace’s chief campaign organizer in Minnesota. Mike writes at length about how Orville’s attraction to Wallace was entirely because of the hope that Wallace would be Stalin’s man in the White House. Orville worked together with the likes of Victor Perlo.
Here again, Ron Radosh puts it well:
In 1948, Wallace announced that he would be an independent candidate for President on a new third party, named the Progressive Party after the ticket Theodore Roosevelt ran on in 1916. Wallace’s new party was created by American Communists acting on behalf of instructions from Moscow, which told CP leaders that war with the U.S. was imminent, and that Western Communists should no longer work within Popular Front governments, and had to break and create a movement against the new anti-Soviet policies being adopted. As the independent left-wing journalist I.F. Stone wrote at the time, “If it had not been for the Communists, there would be no Progressive party.” John Gates, editor of the CP paper The Daily Worker, wrote in his memoir that the Communist Party was “most instrumental in influencing Wallace to make [the]…decision” to run.
Among the sources cited by Radosh is I.F. Stone, who, according to historians John Earl Haynes, Harvey Klehr, and Alexander Vassiliev, from 1936 to 1939 had been a Soviet spy. Stone’s testimony is especially damning: If not for the communists, there would have been no Progressive Party.
The Progressive Party and Henry Wallace and their 1948 presidential campaign were (to borrow from John Brennan’s phrase for President Trump) “wholly in the pocket” of the Kremlin.
Harry Hay and Frank Marshall Davis
So much could be said of this and its broader implications for the evolution of the American left in the decades to follow. Here are merely two telltale examples of Communist Party USA members who supported the Progressive Party’s Wallace campaign in 1948. Both have key relevance to today’s political and cultural battles.
One was Harry Hay, the pioneering “gay” communist and defender of NAMBLA, the North American Man-Boy Love Association. Hay practiced the homosexual lifestyle before he practiced communist organizing. He was brought into the communist orbit by his lover, Will Geer, an actor later famous for his role as “Grandpa Walton” in the hit 1970s TV series, The Waltons.
Harry Hay’s homosexual lifestyle was a blackmail problem for Communist Party USA. He thus left CPUSA in the early 1950s, after roughly 17 years as a member. In 1951, he collaborated with a group of homosexual-Marxist friends and associates in the Los Angeles area in forming the Mattachine Society. Here’s the key point as related to this article: Hay and friends came together through the Progressive Party presidential bid of Henry Wallace. They originally conceived their group as something called “Bachelors for Wallace.” They described themselves as “progressives” — “us progressives,” said Harry referring to his gang.
Today, their cohorts in the LGBTQ movement and wider liberal/progressive left aggressively redefine everything from marriage to gender to sexuality, and demonize and dehumanize and destroy anyone who disagrees or stands in the way of their fundamental transformation of human nature.
The other key figure is Frank Marshall Davis, who throughout the 1970s was mentor to a young man in Honolulu named Barack Hussein Obama. I wrote one of the few biographies of Davis, and I encountered Wallace’s name a bunch of times in that research.
Davis joined Communist Party USA during World War II (CPUSA no. 47544). He was a total apologist for Stalin’s Soviet Union, always toeing the Moscow line in his columns. He was so transparent in his ideological sympathies that he was called to testify before the Senate in December 1956 for his “Soviet activities.” He pled the Fifth. He was placed on the federal government’s Security Index — meaning that he could be arrested if a war broke out between the United States and USSR — and was under regular FBI surveillance.
Yes, that was Obama’s mentor, who’s mentioned repeatedly throughout Dreams From My Father.
A good comrade who, like all CPUSA members, swore a loyalty oath to “pledge myself to rally the masses to defend the Soviet Union [and] to remain at all times a vigilant and firm defender of the Leninist line of the party, the only line that insures the triumph of Soviet Power in the United States,” Davis during the 1948 campaign was all for Wallace.
In fact, Davis had been stumping for Wallace — and torching Wallace’s opponents — well before ’48. In September-October 1943, Davis penned a three-part series contrasting Winston Churchill with Henry Wallace. “Two influential leaders of the United States and Great Britain, Vice President Henry Wallace and Prime Minister Winston Churchill, are moving in opposite directions toward a postwar world,” wrote Davis. “Wallace wants peace and security for all the people in a universal brotherhood of nations; the only people Churchill gives a rap about are the white people of the British Empire… and America, he thinks, ought to use strong-arm tactics to bludgeon all other countries into submission.”
Davis finished his series by posing the choice between Churchill and Wallace in stark terms: “How about it? Are you willing to outtalk the imperialists, the isolationists, and the fascists: Or would you prefer World War III?”
Remember that bust of Churchill that Obama removed from the White House as soon as he got there? Well, Frank Marshall Davis detested Churchill.
Davis continued carrying the red flag for Wallace. Way back in July 1944, four years before the 1948 presidential race, Davis was writing columns with titles like (July 19, 1944) “We Need Wallace.”
Davis was the founding editor of the communist publication, the Chicago Star. His Star was on fire for Henry Wallace throughout its existence, essentially serving as Chicago’s flagship publication for the ’48 campaign. It was telling that at one point the Star ran “A Statement from Stalin” supposedly supporting Wallace’s presidential bid. This, in the Star’s mind, was the ultimate endorsement for its man, as was the backing of Paul Robeson, who Frank Marshall Davis idolized. Robeson, a gushing, fawning admirer of Joe Stalin, became co-chair of Wallace’s Progressive Party presidential campaign.
Yes, co-chair. Comrade Paul, who adored Stalin, was Henry Wallace’s campaign co-chair.
There’s much more I could write about Frank Marshall Davis’s support of Wallace, but I’ll finish with this lesson going forward.
After the Wallace campaign, Davis left Chicago for Party work in Hawaii. In Hawaii, once the Hawaiian Communist Party went underground, with Wallace’s Progressive Party having collapsed after the 1948 loss, Hawaii’s Reds changed their tactics, concentrating instead on infiltrating the Democratic Party, even running their members in local elections to seize delegate positions. One of those who not only urged this tactic but was himself elected to a Democratic precinct was Frank Marshall Davis. For America’s Reds, it was the start of a long march to operate within the Democratic Party, transforming it from the party of Harry Truman and John F. Kennedy to the party of Barack Obama and Bernie Sanders.
For many American communists, a third-party bid was a losing proposition. They would instead pursue a path of working from within one of the two dominant parties: the Democratic Party.
And as for America’s progressives today, in July 2018, who squawk and scream about the Kremlin’s influence in the 2016 presidential election, here’s what I say: you long ago forfeited your credibility.
For progressives to sanctimoniously complain of Russian involvement in a presidential election is the height of arrogance and hypocrisy. For literally over a century, these folks never gave a rip about what the Russians were doing to manipulate Americans. Quite the contrary, 70 years ago the Progressive Party hooked up with the Kremlin in a presidential election, replete with its own candidate. And all along, as Republicans and conservatives sensed and pointed out these outrages, the left shrugged and called them red-baiting paranoiacs. And now the left wants everyone to care about Kremlin meddling merely because Hillary Clinton was the target?
Don’t expect me to join your crusade, progressives. You’re too late — a hundred years too late.
Paul Kengor is professor of political science at Grove City College. His books include Dupes: How America’s Adversaries Have Manipulated Progressives for a Century; The Communist: Frank Marshall Davis, the Untold Story of Barack Obama’s Mentor; and The Politically Incorrect Guide to Communism.
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