Dear Comrade, Follow the Feds

How the FBI broke into the revolution business.

Image courtesy of Repeater Books

Sometime in the late fall of 1962, a document began circulating among members of the Communist Party USA based in the Chicago area, titled “Whither the Party of Lenin.” The document was a broadside against Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev, denouncing his “shameful retreat” in the Caribbean during the Cuban Missile Crisis.

The two-page statement closed with a call to action: “Comrades: The time has come to throw off the shackles of revisionism and return to the Revolutionary Principles of Lenin, Stalin and Mao.” The paper was signed “The Ad Hoc Committee for a Scientific Socialist Line.” Anyone receiving the broadside was thus on notice that there was a pole within the pro-Soviet party proclaiming itself “anti-revisionist” and tilting toward China and Maoism.

While polemics passing back and forth within old left formations was nothing novel, there was in this something of note. It was not the work of factionally inclined CP comrades, but rather the counter-intelligence imagination of the FBI.

From this initial effort sprang an initiative that would continue well into the 1970s. “The Ad Hoc Committee for a Scientific Socialist Line” would ultimately become “The Ad Hoc Committee for a Marxist-Leninist Party,” a mysterious entity that exerted its influence over the US left through a blend of misinformation, provocation, and the deployment of well-placed informants.

At its peak in 1944, the Communist Party of the United States had just shy of 80,000 members. Throughout the 1950s there would be a precipitous drop: 25,000 in 1952, 11,000 in 1957, and 5,000 in 1962. While cadre were hemorrhaging from the group, FBI informant penetration remained more or less constant. In 1958 they had 408 active CP members serving as informants; in 1962 they reported 431.

Yet even with all this the Bureau was not content. While informants were critical in supplying a steady stream of information, the Bureau saw its mission against the CP as being proactive. Specifically, they sought at every turn to under-mine, destabilize, and ideally destroy.

The FBI, keenly aware that the Sino-Soviet schism in 1962 was at a critical juncture, outlined their objective as being “to take advantage of recent international events to frustrate the Communist Party (СЗ).” They noted that in the Chicago area there were a group of “hard-core ‘Stalinists’” who had been “at odds with the CPUSA leadership since the Twentieth Congress of the CP-Soviet Union at which Khrushchev denounced Stalin.” Those in this group “are extremely militant and they hold the view that peaceful co-existence with capitalism is a sell-out of Marxism-Leninism.” This was the target demographic for their new disruptive program.

Given the success of “Whither the Party of Lenin,” the Chicago office followed up with five more news-letters, all in relatively short order. The second Bulletin picked up on the theme of the first, charging the American party with being revisionist and slavishly “parroting Moscow’s soft line approach to imperialism.” Read on its face, the document comes across as a radical, even revolutionary statement.

The CP’s leaders leapt to the conclusion that outside left political forces were responsible. It is revealing as to the internal life of the CPUSA — and this is no doubt true for other Marxist-Leninist forces — that they did not at first assume there were forces more hostile to them than Trotskyists.

The Bureau, in taking stock of their accomplishments, reported that three CPUSA members were expelled because of the dissension caused by the bulletins. In the Chicago area, the Party “was bogged down because of the resulting controversy” and national Party leaders were concerned about the bulletin.

Copies of the AHC Bulletin contained a Chicago Post Office box address at the bottom of the newsletter. Unfortunately for anyone writing to the AHC, their correspondence was not going to the proto-Maoist group. Government files show that anyone writing to the “Ad Hoc Committee for a Marxist-Leninist Party” was actually writing to the FBI, who in turn assumed the writer was grist for a new security investigation.

Every piece of evidence obtained on the Ad Hoc Committee for a Marxist-Leninist Party suggests that the entity had a significant impact on the myriad individuals and organizations it was leveled against in its twenty-year run. Still, the organization — which was a conduit for the Bureau’s informant work and much else — to this day is an unknown quantity despite having operated for over twenty years.

In researching the topic, some people familiar with the intricacies of the New Communist Movement, on hearing of the true nature of the AHC, responded with incredulity, to the effect that the FBI simply could not be sophisticated enough to write the Ad Hoc Bulletins — particularly the later ones. While it is possible that the later AHC Bulletins had the input of former communists, every-thing discovered in this work shows that the FBI was able to swim comfortably in the waters of Marxist nuance — whether they used surrogates or their own personnel to do this would seem to be beside the point.

As the Communist veteran and Bureau informant Morris Childs remarked, “The Bureau as a whole is the most dedicated organization I’ve ever known, maybe with the exception of the early Bolsheviks.”

Adapted from A Threat of the First Magnitude: FBI Counterintelligence & Infiltration from the Communist Party to the Revolutionary Union, 1962–1974 (Repeater Books, 2018)

End Mark

About the Author

Aaron J. Leonard is a writer and historian. He is the author of A Threat of the First Magnitude: FBI Counterintelligence & Infiltration From the Communist Party to the Revolutionary Union - 1962-1974 (Repeater Books, 2018).

Aaron J. Leonard is a writer and historian. He is the author of A Threat of the First Magnitude: FBI Counterintelligence & Infiltration From the Communist Party to the Revolutionary Union - 1962-1974 (Repeater Books, 2018).

Filed Under