When I think of former-Communist memoirs, I think of Witness. The story in Witness is much simpler. Chambers was a Soviet agent and he became a Conservative. That’s a narrative that both sides can easily comprehend.
Budenz’s story will make you more uncomfortable. His political ideology doesn’t seem to change at all as he moves from Catholicism to Communism (as a Soviet agent) and then back to Catholicism (as an active anti-Communist). Communism for him, is completely synonymous with the positions of the Soviet Union. Eventually he leaves "Communism" and becomes a Catholic. Again, at no point do any of his political opinions seem to change – if they did, he apparently didn’t think it worth mentioning in his memoirs.
Frankly, the memoir isn’t that good. It’s somewhat jumbled and much of it is about his Catholic beliefs, which are not extraordinary. It’s the whole "working for the Soviets" bit that’s interesting. He’s somewhat cagey on these details. So, instead of trying to make sense of his writings, I’ll just summarize the interesting anecdotes.
Budenz starts his political career in the labor movement. He uses "labor movement" and "progressive movement" interchangeably and notes that this movement was dominated by Communists in the ’30s and ’40s, by which he means paid agents of the Soviets. He’s shocked during this time to find out the whole labor movement is basically a front for Soviet interests. This fact is discussed openly by Earl Browder, who is the first person Budenz encounters who is really open about the Communist agenda.
There’s a funny story in the book about Budenz using the "Don’t Tread on me Flag" as part of labor movement propaganda. The Communists at the time eventually latched on to it as well, along with the slogan "Communism is Twentieth-Century Americanism." Good stuff.
Anyway, here’s how Budenz characterizes the various socialist movements of the early ’30s:
The Norman Thomas Socialists were moving toward the extreme Left, which embraces a sort of pacifism. The Social Democrat Federation, more realistic and serviceable to labor – although more set in its methods – had abandoned independent political expression as a party. The Debs Socialists, who were ever inclined to their own peculiar "American" way of talking and acting, were moving into the Democratic Party."
The actual policies of "Communism" – remember Budenz uses the term as synonymous with the policies of the Soviets – is changing constantly throughout this time period. Budenz moves into it as it doesn’t work against what he believes the US should be doing and moves out of it as it appears to solely advance Stalin’s goals. For example, Budenz gets excited when the Communists relax their opposition to uniquely American forms of socialism (for lack of a better world). Budenz wants to unite "forward-looking groups" regardless of national origin and nation differences. When the Communists get too-pro-Soviet, he balks.
One of Budenz favorite themes as a Communist writer was to compare Communists to Abolitionists. One of his favorite pieces was an editorial written on this subject on the anniversary of John Brown’s death in 1935. I can’t find the article, but I bet it’s worth a read.
When Budenz was editor of the Midwest Daily Record – a Communist newspaper – he was particularly happy that Harry Hopkins and Adolph Sabath were subscribers and admirers. He seemed to have had lots of conversations with "friends of Harry Hopkins" and his views seemed to show up later in statements and actions by FDR. I’m sure this is purely coincidental though.
There’s an interesting paragraph in the book in which Budenz’s spy ring is informed of Truman’s attitude to the Soviets. They begin by noting that Truman plays card with Harley Kilgore and Senator Wallgren, both of whom were "considered friends of the Soviet Union." It was also taken as a given that Hugh De Lacy (or here – for a very different description) could influence Wallgren "in the right, pro-Soviet direction." In the end however, these promising signs didn’t pan out. The best they could conclude was that Truman "is uncertain, wishy-washy and can only be frightened into pro-Soviet action by charging that he is not doing what Roosevelt would have done." Heh, the methods of the bureaucracy don’t seem to have changed much since the ’40s.
There’s also some interesting discussion of the Soviet efforts to get General MacArthur removed. Of course, MacArthur was eventually removed by Truman, but this is also surely coincidental.
Budenz never comes across as sympathetic in any way. He doesn’t seem repentant for any of his activities (maybe briefly for his involvement in the Trotsky’s killing, but it’s hard to say). Frankly, by the end of the book, I was glad it was over – he was making me uncomfortable.