The Spy Who Stayed Out in the Cold

The Spy Who Stayed Out in the Cold

A Covert Life: Jay Lovestone, Communist, Anti-Communist, and Spymaster
by Ted Morgan
Random House, 1999, 402 pp., $29.95


American labor has played a central role in U.S. foreign policy over the past six decades. Yet because of the difficulties in attaining a balanced grasp of a subject so enshrouded in controversy and secrecy, little of worth has been published about it thus far.

Ted Morgan’s study of the career of Jay Lovestone, the former leader of the Communist Party who became the foreign operations confidant of the AFL-CIO’s George Meany is, therefore, most welcome. Though providing a flawed interpretation, Morgan has unearthed a good deal of new information that will serve as a valuable source for future historians.

Since early in this century, disillusioned ex-radicals have often served as foreign-policy advisers to the labor movement. But the role of Jay Lovestone over three decades beginning in the 1940s was exceptional.

In 1927, at the age of twenty-nine, Lovestone became general secretary of the Communist Party of the United States (CPUSA). He retained that post for the next two years, aided by his growing friendship with Nicolai Bukharin, the eminent Bolshevik theoretician and head of the Communist International. But as Stalin consolidated his power, he conducted a purge of his potential rivals. First it was Trotsky, Kamenev, and Zinoviev; then he moved to eliminate Bukharin. In 1928, Stalin executed a sharp turn to the left by adopting the “Third Period” policy, which radically quickened the pace of industrialization and collectivization in the Soviet Union and predicted imminent capitalist collapse and global revolutionary upheaval. Bukharin, who remained an exponent of moderation in domestic policies and of a more realistic view of Western capitalism, was branded a “right deviationist.”

Lovestone had supported Stalin’s purge of Trotsky, but his close relationship with Bukharin assured Stalin’s enmity. Seeking to insulate his party from the ruinous consequences of third-period extremism, Lovestone vainly sought the acceptance of his “American Exceptionalist” doctrine, which viewed American capitalism as strong and ascendant. Though Lovestone and his supporters possessed overwhelming support in the CPUSA, he was removed at Stalin’s behest in 1929 and his supporters expelled.

Organizing a tiny dissident communist group, Lovestone at first supported Soviet policies and sought readmission. By the late thirties, with the Moscow trial and execution of Bukharin, he underwent a change of heart and increasingly moved toward anticommunism. By 1941, when Garment Workers leader David Dubinsky introduced Lovestone to the American Federation of Labor’s secretary-treasurer George Meany, Dubinsky was able to say, “The son of a bitch is okay, he’s been converted.”

In the 1920s and 1930s, Dubinsky had engag...

Socialist thought provides us with an imaginative and moral horizon.

For insights and analysis from the longest-running democratic socialist magazine in the United States, sign up for our newsletter: