Review of “Men Without Faces” by Louis Budenz

I reviewed another of Budenz’s book here. Budenz was Communist agent in the US before changing his mind and speaking out against communism. I’ll have a few more reviews of books like this before I write something up on all of them.

In this book (which I’m pretty sure used to be available in full view, but apparently is not any longer), Budenz goes to great lengths to emphasize that the Communists in the US were actively and knowingly serving Stalin.

Much of the book is also devoted to explaining how Communists in the US worked. However, for readers of this blog, his analysis is very easy to summarize. Through various well-placed agents and operatives in The Cathedral, a relatively small numbers of Communists were able to have an out-sized influence on American opinions and policies. The Cathedral at the time includes significant union membership, but is otherwise the same as today’s. The best example in the book is a meeting at the University of California that is sponsored by the University and includes Communists and movie industry types and is devoted to getting FDR re-elected. The meeting was chaired by this dude. From that initial meeting eventually sprang "the Progressive Citizens of America and finally the Progressive Party."

One also can’t help but being struck by the fact that the goals of the Communists consistently line up with the goals of the "non-Communist" progressives. In the early thirties, the goals of the Communists (as received from the Stalin) were fourfold according to Budenz: "defense of the Soviet Union, the Red conquest of China, social insurance and self determination in the Black Belt [of the US]." Interestingly (and potentially surprising depending on your views) all of these goals were achieved with the help and support of the US government (the last two goals were part of a broader Communist goal at the time to establish a separate "Negro republic" in the US, which was obviously not achieved, though it was abandoned by the Communists).

Budenz is particularly critical of "campaigns being launched [by the Soviets] in the name of democracy to create sedition among the youth, the Negroes and Mexican-Americans." Throughout the book there are numerous examples of the Communists referring to themselves as democrats (see e.g. the Wikipedia entry for "American Youth for Democracy" which automatically re-directs to the Young Communist League USA – there’s no difference anyway) and progressives or loving Jefferson and Lincoln.

There are lots of other good little historical tidbits. For example, Budenz remembers being particularly excited when FDR commuted the sentence of Earl Browder (Wikipedia has nothing on this other than noting that Browder, who ran the CPUSA, later supported FDR and the New Deal).

Budenz has some weird interactions with Harry Hopkins (per Wikipedia: "one of Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s closest advisers" – indeed), even though Hopkins knew Budenz was a Communist. Hopkins was apparently very interested in Budenz’s thoughts on Stalin. Maybe it’s cause he wanted to make out.

Frederick Vanderbilt Field‘s (yeah, that Vanderbilt) name comes up in a lot of interesting circumstances too.

You may also be interested in Judith Coplon and Steve Nelson.

When one reads lots of these narratives of former Communists, one is struck by the human ability to rationalize. This time period is particularly interesting, because many of these people initially joined the Communists to fight the Fascists. Then, the Communists and Fascists embrace each other, so they all find a way to support Fascism, largely by hating the US or Britain. Then the Communists and Fascists break so they hate Fascism again, but they have to embrace the US and Britain. They’re all smart people by all objective measures of intelligence, and yet they’re idiots. Sadly, they did tremendous damage to so many others’ lives.

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6 Responses to Review of “Men Without Faces” by Louis Budenz

  1. ivvenalis says:

    So Progressivism and Communism were closely related ideologies. This is obvious and was at least strongly implied (certainly unintentionally) even in my public school history. Good American liberals supported Communism, and therefore the Soviet Union, in its early days. No surprise; I’m sure Wilson wouldn’t have minded if the Hapsburgs had ended up like the Romanovs, and for the same reasons. But, once Stalin gained power, the Soviet Union soon ceased to be “progressive”. Nonetheless the liberal narrative in favor of the Soviet Union continued lurching on, zombie-like.

    Once the USSR (quite rightly) became the bogeyman after WWII, all these important people who had aligned themselves with the Soviet project from the 1920s up through 1949 found themselves in a rather awkward position. Since they all knew each other, and had connections with other powerful people, they thought they could make a clean break. Hence the hatred of Nixon, McCarthy, and others was both ideological and motivated by fear. McCarthyism was a purge, as its architects intended. Communists sympathies were no longer acceptable.

    I think most everything you’ve posted is “impolite” but uncontroversial. The Progressives were soft Communists (hence the venerable “pinko” moniker). The liberal response (now, not then) is elision rather than heated denial. It’s the connection between the pre-WW2 political radicals and the 1960s political radicals that’s much more contentious and important. Were you planning on trying at this knot later on? None of these men seem to have made much of an impact, either philosophically or materially, on American society. Others in the Cathedral must have been responsible for the modern order.

  2. There is a copy of the ebook (looks like a google book) here.

  3. Funny, I hadn’t heard about the “negro republic” idea before. On the whole I’m in favor of it. I promise I’m not a communist though.

  4. red says:

    Foseti, have you read Debt: The First 5,000 Years?

    It’s a pretty interesting read even if the Author seems to be a Marxist.

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