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.