Review of “This my Story” by Louis Francis Budenz

Budenz was Communist and became an anti-Communist and this book is his memoirs.

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.

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16 Responses to Review of “This my Story” by Louis Francis Budenz

  1. Vladimir M. says:

    Apparently, another book by Budenz, Men Without Faces, can be
    found online, hosted on a rather strange website. I’ve skimmed through it a bit; it also has some interesting mentions of Hopkins, and the part about Henry Wallace is quite fascinating. This book is definitely going high up my reading list along with This Is My Story.

  2. B says:

    Have you read Blacklisted By History?

    • Foseti says:

      Yes, I reviewed it on the blog as well

      • josh says:

        I can’t read it. Was this on an old blog?

      • Foseti says:

        Bummer. I guess it’s gone. I’d recommend it with some reservations – most of which revolve around the fact that it’s not a first hand account

      • B says:

        The really interesting parts of the book, I thought, were between the lines. I mean, speculating on the motivations of the Truman White House hiding State’s security files, and the motivations of the Ike White House in imposing their gag order on the entire executive branch. You also have to wonder about the kind of deal that was offered Nixon, Symington et al that made them turn from anti-Communist crusaders to either complacency or anti-McCarthyists on the drop of a dime. Did somebody tell them to get down or lay down?

        Symington, by the way, was one of the main congressmen involved in the covert war in Laos 15 years later. According to Roger Warner’s book, he went from enthusiastic support of the CIA’s secret efforts to leading the pack in condemnation when they were leaked to the NYT. Just an interesting little footnote.

  3. RS says:

    > 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.”

    Here I think you write ‘Wallgren’ accidentally ; you meant Truman — ?

  4. josh says:

    Just read Men without Faces. Moldbug is right. Even people closely involved miss the boat by thinking the Ruskies were running the show. He really thinks Dean Acheson was a rube.

  5. Vladimir M. says:

    josh,

    There’s a combined review of Blacklisted by History and James Burnham’s The Web of Subversion here:
    https://foseti.wordpress.com/2010/01/14/books-on-communists-in-the-us-government

    I’ve read Blacklisted by History, and I’d say it’s definitely not the only book you should read about McCarthy. It doesn’t present a complete and coherent account of his life and career, and it’s limited to several episodes that Evans selected to demonstrate how much the conventional history is remote from reality. This results in a one-sided and one-dimensional positive revisionist account that certainly won’t give you a full and realistic picture of McCarthy’s person, life, and work. However, this doesn’t mean that the book is not worth reading — reading it along with a more detailed mainstream account and using it to discount the biases, distortions, and slanders of the latter is probably the closest you can get to a realistic and unbiased history of McCarthy.

    (I should also add that I haven’t read Arthur Herman’s book, which I think is the most recent mainstream book on McCarthy. Some reviews indicate that it discards at least some of the conventional lies and cliches against McCarthy, so it might be closer to reality than any previous mainstream account. The book is high on my reading list, so I might write more about it in some later thread. I still suspect that Blacklisted by History will be a useful corrective to it nevertheless.)

  6. Handle says:

    I’ve always thought one of the cosmic ironies about all was that for these true believer American Communists, there really was no single grand plot – no central planning or totalitarian, organized, and hierarchical conspiracy with a fully formed shadow government (or shadow bureaucracy).

    What you merely had instead was a group of like-minded fellow-travelers in a sort of informal club who were therefore naturally predisposed to spontaneously coordinate their actions for the sake of “the cause” or “progress”.

    Spontan Gleichschaltung” = Everyone getting themselves on the same collective circuit and program – and without any need for the “Intelligent Designer” or “Central Conductor”.

    It’s not my favorite Moldbug neologism, but “The Cathedral” doesn’t need a Cardinal. Even single components like the press never needed something like Journ-O-List for its members to already know what they should do in any circumstance. If your Soldiers are sufficiently experienced and well-trained, the platoon can function just fine without a Lieutenant. If your Officers are smart and know the doctrine and the role they are supposed to play and they have the proper attitude and motivation, then The Corps does not need a General.

    This is how someone like Hayek would describe the organic emergence of traditional cultural institutions and of order and self-regulation in economic markets in a free enterprise systems. He makes the further comparison to Biological Evolution in The Constitution of Liberty. “Automatische Ordnung” or something like that (I’m quite rusty).

    My point is – it’s ironic that the very people who were trying to defend what they believed to be “The Constitution and the Free Enterprise System” from the Communists could never really figure this out even though they frequently observed it in action. They just couldn’t stop imagining that there was some highest-level international-communist-conspiracy-management-team somewhere in the Kremlin or the Politburu or KGB that was pulling all the strings everywhere and everyone on the whole red-list had a secret identity card, number, and rank somewhere in that vast synthesized structure.

    They saw everything through that erroneous lens, and the single frame of foreign espionage. But spying was only an ancillary aspect of the broader phenomenon. With intelligence gathering, you have active recruiting, but you also have “walk-ins”. What do you call it when practically everybody’s an eager walk-in? And what if further you notice that only a small fraction of the help they’re giving you has to do with actually handing over secrets, or requires any instructions or guidance at all, and that they would be doing the same things and providing the same assistance if sufficiently empowered and enabled whether they were “organized” or completely independent?

    Conversely, it’s equally ironic that the whole generation that was so enthusiastic about and enraptured with the supposed power, efficiency and superiority of central planning and the whole notion of the rational-materialist democratic command-society (“The New Republic”), didn’t really that they were marching from victory to victory without the need for any sort of similar governing arrangement over themselves.

    So, they Central Planners are being successful without any Central Plan, and the Spontaneous Order crowd is constantly looking for that Central Plan based, ultimately, in Moscow. I find this thought amusing. It makes you wonder what it made the folks in Moscow think at the time, at least, in those times when they weren’t so busy being utterly terrified of Stalin.

    • B says:

      I don’t know-to me, reading Chambers and Koestler, it very much seems that there was a hierarchy and a shadow government in place. I mean, it stands to reason-if they had those for China and Finland, why not for the US? But aside from that hierarchy and shadow government, which seem to have been rather shabby, especially after its Soviet minders had gotten purged and replaced (think of the sophisticated and cosmopolitan Ivanovs being replaced by Gletkin-like peasants in uniform,) there was a large clique of polished socialites who were willing to work with them. And if my intuition serves me right, those socialites had their own hierarchy and table of ranks-I mean, how could they not? It’s only natural.

      Here’s an interesting question, though. Say Stalin hadn’t purged his government, foreign intelligence and Comintern apparatuses of the sophisticated urbane revolutionaries and replaced them with uncouth peasants. If guys like Bystroletov (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dmitri_Bystrolyotov) had not been replaced by guys like Chambers’ repugnant handler, wuld the Cathedral and the Kremlin still have had their falling-out? Would those sophisticates have killed Stalin in the 1940s?

    • B says:

      Either wordpress ate my comment, or Foseti didn’t like it. In brief, there was definitely a shadow government built by the USSR-they had one for Finland and Korea, why not for the US? And there was also an American indigenous hierarchy, which used the Communist apparatuses just as surely as they themselves were used. I think that part of the reason that the US turned on the USSR after the war, (the USSR, after all, stayed true to its nature) was that the sophisticated and urbane members of the USSR’s foreign apparatuses like Bystrolyotov had been purged and replaced with uncouth pig-faced peasants in ill-fitting suits. In the terms of Darkness at Noon, the Ivanovs and Rubashovs had been replaced with Gletkins.

  7. josh says:

    Handle,

    In their defense, their *was* a Moscow conspiracy. There were also a number of other conspiracies; the round table group, the Rockefeller/Carnegie Foundations, Morgan and his cronies. There just wasn’t a single grand conspiracy coordinating the various conspiracies.

  8. […]  The split between the first two factions is known as the Cold War.  Although there are several personal stories that describe this split, this one is the best (Whittaker Chambers’ memoir is great, but he […]

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