Jacob Liebstein was born in Hrodna, in modern day Belarus, on 15th December 1897. The family arrived at Ellis Island on 15th September. From that date Jacob adopted the name Jay Lovestone. His parents set up home in the Lower East Side, but later moved to the Bronx.
As a young man he became a follower of Daniel De Leon. In 1915 he became a student at the City College of New York. Lovestone became friends with Bertram Wolfe and the two men joined the Socialist Party of America and the Intercollegiate Socialist Society.
Lovestone was also a supporter of the Russian Revolution and joined the Communist Propaganda League. Lovestone graduated in June 1918. The following year he began studying at the New York University School of Law. In February 1919, Lovestone joined forces with Bertram Wolfe, John Reed and Benjamin Gitlow to create a left-wing faction in the Socialist Party of America that advocated the policies of the Bolsheviks in Russia.
On 24th May 1919 the leadership expelled 20,000 members who supported this faction. The process continued and by the beginning of July two-thirds of the party had been suspended or expelled. This group, including Lovestone, Earl Browder, John Reed, James Cannon, Bertram Wolfe, William Bross Lloyd, Elizabeth Gurley Flynn, Ella Reeve Bloor, Charles Ruthenberg, Rose Pastor Stokes, Claude McKay, Michael Gold and Robert Minor, decided to form the Communist Party of the United States. By the end of 1919 it had 60,000 members whereas the Socialist Party of America had only 40,000.
In 1921, Lovestone became editor of the party newspaper, The Communist, and sat on the editorial board of the The Liberator. Lovestone associated himself with the group led by Charles A. Ruthenberg that favoured a strategy of class warfare. Another group, led by William Z. Foster and James Cannon, believed that their efforts should concentrate on building a radicalised American Federation of Labor.
Lenin died on 21st January 1924. The group led by William Z. Foster believed that Joseph Stalin should become the new leader in the Soviet Union. However, Lovestone's faction supported Nikolay Bukharin. When Stalin emerged as the victor, Lovestone lost a certain amount of influence in the American Communist Party.
It was decided that because William Z. Foster had a strong following in the trade union movement that he should be the party candidate in the 1924 Presidential Election. Foster did not do well and only won 38,669 votes (0.1 of the total vote). This compared badly with the other left-wing candidate, Robert La Follette, of the Progressive Party, who obtained 4,831,706 votes (16.6%).
The Comintern eventually accepted the leadership of Lovestone and Charles Ruthenberg. As Theodore Draper pointed out in American Communism and Soviet Russia (1960): "After the Comintern's verdict in favor of Ruthenberg as party leader, the factional storm gradually subsided. Membership meetings throughout the country 'unanimously endorsed' the new leadership and its policies. At the Seventh Plenum at the end of 1926, the Comintern, for the first time in five years, found it unnecessary to appoint an American Commission to deal with an American factional struggle.... Ruthenberg's machine worked so smoothly and efficiently that it made those outside his inner circle increasingly restless. Beneath the surface of the factional lull, another rebellion smoldered, with the helpful encouragement of Cannon, who had touched off the anti-Ruthenberg rebellion three years earlier."
On the death of Charles Ruthenberg in 1927 Lovestone became the party's national secretary. Lovestone, James Cannon and Bertram Wolfe attended the Sixth Congress of the Comintern in 1928. When Wolfe defended Lovestone against the criticism of Joseph Stalin, he was expelled from the party and was under virtual house arrest in Moscow for six months before he could obtain an exit visa.
While in the Soviet Union James Cannon was given a document written by Leon Trotsky on the rule of Joseph Stalin. Convinced by what he read, when he returned to the United States he criticized the Soviet government. Lovestone gained favour with Stalin by leading the purge of Cannon and his followers. Cannon now joined with other Trotskyists to form the Communist League of America.
By this time Joseph Stalin had placed his supporters in most of the important political positions in the country. Even the combined forces of all the senior Bolsheviks left alive since the Russian Revolution were not enough to pose a serious threat to Stalin.
In 1929 Nikolay Bukharin was deprived of the chairmanship of the Comintern and expelled from the Politburo by Stalin. He was worried that Bukharin had a strong following in the American Communist Party, and at a meeting of the Presidium in Moscow on 14th May he demanded that the party came under the control of the Comintern. He admitted that Jay Lovestone was "a capable and talented comrade," but immediately accused him of employing his capabilities "in factional scandal-mongering, in factional intrigue." Benjamin Gitlow and Ella Reeve Bloor defended Lovestone. This angered Stalin and according to Bertram Wolfe, he got to his feet and shouted: "Who do you think you are? Trotsky defied me. Where is he? Zinoviev defied me. Where is he? Bukharin defied me. Where is he? And you? When you get back to America, nobody will stay with you except your wives." Stalin then went onto warn the Americans that the Russians knew how to handle troublemakers: "There is plenty of room in our cemeteries."
Jay Lovestone realised that he would now be expelled from the American Communist Party. On 15th May, 1929 he sent a cable to Robert Minor and Jacob Stachel and asked them to take control over the party's property and other assets. However, as Theodore Draper has pointed out in American Communism and Soviet Russia (1960): "The Comintern beat him to the punch. On May 17, even before the Comintern's Address could reach the United States, the Political Secretariat in Moscow decided to remove Lovestone, Gitlow, and Wolfe from all their leading positions, to purge the Political Committee of all members who refused to submit to the Comintern's decisions, and to warn Lovestone that it would be a gross violation of Comintern discipline to attempt to leave Russia."
William Z. Foster, who had already gone on record as saying, "I am for the Comintern from start to finish. I want to work with the Comintern, and if the Comintern finds itself criss-cross with my opinions, there is only one thing to do and that is to change my opinions to fit the policy of the Comintern", now became the dominant figure in the party.
Lovestone and his supporters, including Benjamin Gitlow, Bertram Wolfe and Charles Zimmerman, now formed a new party the Communist Party (Majority Group). Later it changed its name to the Communist Party (Opposition), the Independent Communist Labor League and finally, in 1938, the Independent Labor League of America. Its journal, The Revolutionary Age, was edited by Wolfe.
Jay Lovestone went to work for the International Ladies' Garment Workers' Union (ILGWU). Its leader, David Dubinsky, later arranged for him to work for Homer Martin, the President of the United Auto Workers, who was in conflict with members who he accused of being members of the American Communist Party. This strategy did not work and Martin was eventually ousted from power.
In 1943 Lovestone became the director of the ILGWU's International Affairs Department. The following year David Dubinsky arranged for Lovestone to join the AFL's Free Trade Union Committee. He was also active in the American Institute for Free Labor Development, an organization sponsored by the American Federation of Labor. Later it also received secret payments from the CIA. This began a long-term friendship with James Jesus Angleton, Director of Operations for Counter-Intelligence.
In 1963 Lovestone became director of the AFL-CIO's International Affairs Department (IAD), which arranged for millions of dollars from the CIA to aid anti-communist activities internationally, particularly in Latin America. The AFL-CIO president George Meany discovered in 1964 that Lovestone was involved with the CIA and instructed him to break-off contact with James Jesus Angleton. Lovestone agreed to do this but when Meany discovered in 1974 that he was still working with Angleton he forced him from office.
Jay Lovestone died on 7th March, 1990.
(1) Theodore Draper, The Roots of American Communism (1957)
Weinstone and Lovestone-twenty-two and twenty-one respectively in 1919 - came from Russia as children and embraced socialism in their teens. Lovestone was also a former De Leonite. Unlike virtually all the other early Communist leaders, their radical apprenticeship was served in the student movement. They were leaders together of the Intercollegiate Socialist Society's chapter at the College of the City of New York." It was not literally true, as was sometimes said disparagingly, that they went from City College into the leadership of the American Communist movement, but the statement was close enough to hurt at a time when the student movement did not rank high as a preparatory school for Communist leadership. In the three years between Lovestone's graduation from City College in 1918 and his first full-time job in the Communist movement, he studied accountancy and lap, and held various short-term jobs such as statistician and social worker.
(2) Jay Lovestone, quoted in Theodore Draper, American Communism and Soviet Russia (1960)
Everybody was rallying to endorse Stalin. I was not only a personal friend of Bukharin, but I had fundamental agreement with him on international questions, though on Russian questions I had agreement with Stalin and not with him. In that meeting I objected to the American Communist Party lining up. I said, "We will wear no Stalin buttons, and we will wear no Bukharin buttons, and we will not engage in gangsterism against Stalin or Bukharin." I said that Stalin was my leader as leader of the Communist Party; that I respected him, had high regard for his opinion and caliber of thinking.... Saying that, a cable was sent to Moscow. That cable was passed around throughout the International, and that pretty much served as the blot on my political death certificate in my relations with the Stalin leadership.
(3) Theodore Draper, American Communism and Soviet Russia (1960)
The chairman of the American Commission, Kuusinen, presided. He opened the meeting by reading the report of the commission, embodied in the proposed "Address" of the Executive Committee of the Comintern. Then Gitlow read a declaration in the name of the ten American delegates stating that they could not accept the Address because it would promote "demoralization, disintegration and chaos in the Party." This declaration warned that acceptance "would make it absolutely impossible for us to continue as effective workers in the Communist movement."
One after another, leading members of other parties appealed to the Americans to remain faithful to the Comintern and give their approval to the commission's proposals. All the other Americans present, especially the large contingent from the Lenin School which had been efficiently mobilized for the occasion, rose and called upon the delegation to obey the will of the Comintern. As this long proces¬sion of hostile speakers dragged on, the isolation of the ten Americans increased steadily and the pressure on them mounted visibly.
Of all the speeches made before the Presidium voted, the most important was of course Stalin's. He devoted most of his speech to the evils of factionalism and the virtues of discipline. He conceded that Lovestone was "a capable and talented comrade," but immediately accused Lovestone of employing his capabilities "in factional scandal-mongering, in factional intrigue," and he scoffed at the idea that Lovestone was so talented that the American party could not get along without him. Foster, he added, had not repudiated the "concealed Trotskyists" in his group in time, because "he behaved first and foremost as a factionalist."...
The last American to speak was Gitlow, and he parted company with the other delegates for the opposite reason. As the recently appointed party Secretary, Gitlow had potentially more to lose by the new set-up demanded by the Comintern than anyone else. An irascible man, he could not bow his head with the heartsick resignation of Bedacht or contain his anger with the cold calculation of Lovestone. Instead Gitlow declared that not only did he oppose the Presidium's decision but that he would go back to the United States to fight against it.
Gitlow's outburst brought Stalin to his feet. Usually Stalin spoke so softly that he forced his listeners to lean forward to hear him. Now he shouted in anger. The published version of this speech is comparatively mild and self-controlled, but witnesses agree that it hardly does justice to the fury in his voice and the violence of his language.
According to the official account, Stalin paid tribute to the "firmness and stubbornness" of the eight American hold-outs, but admonished them that "true Bolshevik courage" consisted in submitting to the will of the Comintern rather than in defying it. He assailed Lovestone, Gitlow, and Ella Reeve Bloor by name for acting like anarchists, individualists, and strike-breakers, and concluded by assuring them that the American Communist party would survive the downfall of their faction.
But, according to Wolfe, Stalin also shouted: "Who do you think you are? Trotsky defied me. Where is he? Zinoviev defied me. Where is he? Bukharin defied me. Where is he? And you? When you get back to America, nobody will stay with you except your wives."
According to Lovestone, who later called it the "graveyard speech," Stalin warned the Americans that the Russians knew how to handle strike-breakers: "There is plenty of room in our cemeteries."
Stalin stepped down from the platform and strode out first. Guards and secretaries flocked after him. No one moved until he had walked down the aisle. But as he reached the Americans, he stopped and held out his hand to the Negro delegate, Edward Welsh, who stood next to Lovestone.
Welsh turned to Lovestone and asked loudly, "What the hell does this guy want?" and refused to shake Stalin's hand.
The American delegates, totally shunned by everyone else, walked out into the gray dawn and bought oranges from a street peddler.
Lovestone still hoped that all was not lost. The cable to the two caretakers, Minor and Stachel, arrived in New York on May 15, the day after the Presidium's meeting. He counted on them, especially on Stachel, to carry out the plan to take over the party's property and other assets, and he wanted to get back to the United States quickly enough to bring the delegation's story to the party membership before the Comintern could mobilize all its forces against him.
The Comintern beat him to the punch. On May 17, even before the Comintern's Address could reach the United States, the Political Secretariat in Moscow decided to remove Lovestone, Gitlow, and Wolfe from all their leading positions, to purge the Political Committee of all members who refused to submit to the Comintern's decisions, and to warn Lovestone that it would be a gross violation of Comintern discipline to attempt to leave Russia. The "loyal" American Communists - Bedacht, Foster, and Weinstone - were permitted to leave Russia immediately. Also dispatched to the United States was a special Comintern representative, the secretary of the American Commission, Mikhailov (Williams), sent secretly to take charge of the shake-up in the American party.
© John Simkin, March 2013