Review: A Covert Life: Jay Lovestone: Communist, Anti-Communist, and Spymaster, by Ted Morgan

Jay Lovestone, who is largely forgotten today, led an extraordinary life – much of it in the shadows. He was one of the founders of the Communist Party in the US, and rose to become its general secretary by the late 1920s. He survived the various faction fights in the Communist International until 1929, when he bet on the wrong horse. In supporting Bukharin against Stalin, Lovestone very nearly signed his own death warrant. He managed to escape from Soviet Russia and returned to the US, no longer having a political home. For a decade or so, he and few hundred supporters tried their best to curry favour with the Stalinists and be readmitted to the ranks of the Party. They failed, despite doing things like declaring the Moscow show trials to be free and fair. By the time Stalin and Hitler had signed their 1939 non-aggression pact, Lovestone knew that his time as a Communist was finished. He was recruited by David Dubinsky, the leader of one of America’s largest unions, to run international labour work, including building support for the US entering the war on the Allied side. Lovestone continued in that role, as the head of the American labour movement’s international work, for some three decades. His main job – indeed his only job – was to fight against the Communists that had previously been his comrades. Lovestone used the tactics of the Stalinists against the Stalinists. He was manipulative, deceitful and utterly ruthless. And once he started the work, he never looked back. He died an embittered and lonely man. Ted Morgan tells the story well, though he has a tendency to bounce around a bit and sometimes it’s hard to pick up the thread of Lovestone’s life.