Was Franklin Roosevelt a Communist?
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John Beaty in his 1951 book, The Iron Curtain Over America, asks the following rhetorical question (p. 187):
In solemn truth, do not seven persons share most of the responsibility for establishing the Communist grip on the world? Are not the seven: (1) Marx, the founder of violent Communism; (2) Engels, the promoter of Marx; (3, 4, 5) Trotsky, Lenin, and Stalin; (6) Franklin D. Roosevelt, who rescued the tottering Communist empire by recognition (1933), by the resultant financial support, by his refusal to proceed against Communists in the United States, and by the provisions of the Yalta Conference; and (7) Harry S. Truman, who agreed at Potsdam to the destruction of Germany and thereafter followed the Franklin Roosevelt policy of refusing to act against Communists in the United States—the one strong nation which remains as a possible obstacle to the Communist world power.
Upon first thought one might be inclined to drop Truman from the list on account of the institution of the Truman Doctrine in 1947 and the stand he took against the Communists in Korea in 1950, but if one puts the loss of China, North Korea, and ultimately the former French Indo-China to the Communists on his account, which is amply justified, Truman deserves his place. He is the odd man out only in that no one could ever charge that his policies resulted from anything resembling a pro-Communist ideology on his part. Rather, they were a product of the team that he inherited from FDR and the generally pro-Soviet mood of the country that had been fostered by a decade or so of propaganda by the dominant U.S. opinion molders. Truman can also be excused for simply being in over his head when he assumed the presidency.
Roosevelt is a different matter entirely. One needn’t go past the pages of my own web site to gather enough evidence to support the assertion that FDR himself must have been a Communist. Consider what FDR told Rep. Martin Dies in 1940:
I do not regard the Communists as any present or future threat to our country, in fact I look upon Russia as our strongest ally in the years to come. As I told you when you began your investigation, you should confine yourself to Nazis and Fascists. While I do not believe in Communism, Russia is far better off and the world is safer with Russia under Communism than under the Czars. Stalin is a great leader, and although I deplore some of his methods, it is the only way he can safeguard his government.
His protestation of a lack of belief in Communism is completely belied by his words here and in many, many ways by his actions. Dies notes that those pro-Soviet, pro-Stalin views match what he told Cardinal Spellman in 1943:
His aide memoire is completely in accord with the opinions Roosevelt expressed to me over the years. Specifically, the President had said that Russia was our natural ally; that the Russian people were much better off than they had been under the czars; and that he thought that the Russians would get about forty percent of the world, and the capitalist regimes would retain sixty percent.
Unfortunately, Roosevelt’s policies seemed to have been designed to make sure that the prediction in that last paragraph would come true. The Yalta Conference near the end of the war was just the capper on a global war strategy that from beginning to end could hardly have been better crafted to further the interests of Joseph Stalin and world Communism. Having been attacked by the Japanese, the American public along with many of the country’s military leaders wanted a greater emphasis upon the Pacific theater and defeat of the Japanese and less upon the war with the Germans, but Stalin wanted it otherwise and that’s what he got from Roosevelt. In the battle against the Germans, our British allies favored an attack in the Eastern Mediterranean and up through the Balkans, but, again, Stalin wanted a different strategy from us. He feared that we would occupy Eastern Europe and dictate the peace in that area before his troops could arrive. Stalin, therefore, pushed for us to attack across the English Channel at the earliest possible date to take German pressure off the Soviet Union while keeping non-Communist allied forces as far away from his sphere of interest as possible. Only fierce British resistance probably prevented the allies from making a premature attack across the channel, but we finally did carry out Stalin’s wishes.
From the beginning we lavished supplies and equipment upon the Soviet Union far beyond the requirements of military necessity. Worst of all was Roosevelt’s unilateral declaration at the Casablanca Conference early in 1943 that we would only accept unconditional surrender to conclude the war. Our rigid adherence to that policy virtually to the very end* undercut the strong anti-Nazi elements within Germany, assuring that there would not be a separate peace between the non-Communist adversaries that would in some degree deprive the Soviet Union of the spoils of victory, and that the Japanese would continue to fight until the Soviet Union could enter the Pacific war and promote Communism in the East. This unconditional surrender policy resulted in the Roosevelt administration spurning a number of serious peace overtures from the anti-Nazi, anti-Communist military leadership of Germany in 1943. Later, we were to do the same thing with respect to the Japanese emperor.
Defenders of Roosevelt’s complete capitulation to Stalin at Yalta argue that we were simply accepting facts on the ground achieved through Soviet military success, and there is some truth to it, but only because of previous concessions to Stalin at Tehran and through our overall pro-Soviet military strategy. The absolute worst things Roosevelt did at Yalta were to agree to the return of refugees from Russia to their Soviet oppressors known as Operation Keelhaul and the offering of inducements to Stalin to enter the war against the Japanese. George N. Crocker in Roosevelt’s Road to Russia best captures the folly of that last position:
[In Honolulu] on July 27 and 28, 1944, [FDR] had discussed the war in the Pacific for many hours with General Douglas MacArthur, who had flown up from Australia, and Admiral Chester W. Nimitz, commander of the naval forces in the Pacific. MacArthur and Nimitz, in the presence of Admiral William D. Leahy, had told him that “Japan could be forced to accept our terms of surrender by the use of sea and air power without an invasion of the Japanese homeland.” Since then, what was left of the Japanese fleet had been crushed in the Battle of Leyte Gulf in October, the Philippines had been retaken, B-29’s were bombing Japan from Guam, Tinian, and Saipan, and Japanese peace feelers had been put out.
When Roosevelt went to Yalta, he kept MacArthur and Nimitz far away. He asked them nothing, told them nothing. In view of what he did at Yalta, this would seem an incomprehensible neglect on his part to avail himself of the counsel of the two men most qualified to give it. The only explanation that makes any sense is that he already knew what their advice would be, that it was not compatible with his plans, and that he did not welcome having their opinions—overwhelmingly authoritative as they would be—presented. At this stage, elementary statesmanship, for the security of American interests in the Far East, required that the Soviet Union be, at almost any cost, dissuaded, discouraged, and forestalled from entering the war with Japan. Roosevelt went to Yalta and secretly did just the opposite. (pp. 242-243).
Rather than depending upon the foreign policy expertise of Secretary of State Cordell Hull at his various strategy powwows with Winston Churchill and Joseph Stalin, he depended almost exclusively upon the former social worker right-hand man Harry Hopkins. Hull was not even allowed to attend the meetings. The main qualification that Hopkins had, other than the “people skills” that author David Roll is almost rhapsodic about in The Hopkins Touch is that he was an even stronger partisan of Stalin and Communism than Roosevelt was. For a brief summary of Hopkins’ pro-Communist activities see my recent article, “Harry Hopkins and FDR’s Commissars.”
Roosevelt did take his Secretary of State to Yalta, but this time that was the rubber-stamp front man Edward Stettinius. Stettinius played a much less significant role at Yalta than did his putative underling at the State Department, the Soviet spy Alger Hiss. Only from reading the recent book Stalin’s Secret Agents by M. Stanton Evans and Herbert Romerstein did this writer learn that FDR had asked for the somewhat obscure Hiss by name to be on his Yalta team. This is very nearly the most damning piece of evidence of all suggesting that FDR himself must have been a Communist. After all, he had been informed by his security chief Adolf Berle back in 1939 upon very good inside information from Whittaker Chambers that Hiss was a Soviet espionage agent. His “refusal to proceed against Communists in the United States,” as John Beaty puts it, was even worse than that. He refused to proceed against Communist spies at the highest levels of his own government, Soviet agents that possibly included even Harry Hopkins himself.
The Contrary Evidence
It is a less trivial defense than one might think, but one might say that Roosevelt wasn’t learned or smart enough to be devoted to any particular ideology, whether it be Communism or anything else. He was nobody’s intellectual. He was hardly known to have read a serious book of non-fiction about anything unless it had a nautical theme, and the American Communism of the Red Decade was largely a disease of the intellectuals. Roosevelt was not an “ideas” person, he was a people person, much more strongly influenced by the exigencies of the moment or by whatever strong personality was able to get close to him and bend his ear than by any sort of ideological inclination or independent thought or study.
Here is how Crocker fashions his negative answer to our title question in Roosevelt’s Road to Russia:
Through his sources of information in the United States, some of whom were in high places, Stalin knew that Franklin D. Roosevelt could be relied upon to see at least this phase [the Soviet reaping of the war spoils] of the program through. He was not mistaken.
Does this mean the American people had elected a crypto-Communist as President? Or that this President, by shunting the third war, the secret one, out of sight, consciously intended harm to his country? It does not. No such inference is intended. To make it is to misapprehend the Roosevelt mentality.
Here we touch a delicate point. Roosevelt was no more a Communist than he was a Jeffersonian. Conversely, he was no more a Jeffersonian than he was a Communist. Ideologies were not the stuff of the cerebrations that took place in that handsome head. Here was no furrow-browed zealot for a system, no Karl Marx, no Adam Smith. In the presence of an argument between a socialist and a capitalist, he would be likely to steal the show with a charmingly put evasion. To Harold Ickes’ wistful plaint that it was “impossible to come to grips with him,” James F. Byrnes has added that “Franklin Roosevelt was not the same to any two men.” The man who, as we shall see, clandestinely obtained the recommendations of Earl Browder, the head of the Communist party, in the crucial months of the war, wore a different collar than the man who discussed affairs with Byrnes.
Most confounding of the notion that FDR could have been a devoted Communist, to my mind, was his admiration for and use of the career Republican politician, General Patrick J. Hurley. Hurley was a thoroughgoing American patriot and as such was a strong anti-Communist, an anti-Zionist, and an anti-imperialist as well. To get some appreciation of Hurley’s sentiments see “FDR’s Top Envoy Slaps Down Top Zionist” and “The Old Zionist Smear Machine.” Those articles are about Hurley’s work as FDR’s special envoy to the Middle East in 1943. In that position, Hurley’s anti-Zionism was hardly in conflict with Roosevelt’s own predisposition to oppose the Zionists’ ambitions in Palestine. But in August of 1944 Roosevelt put Hurley in a position where he could strike a very strong blow against Communism, at least Mao Tse-tung’s version of it. He sent Hurley as a special envoy to Chiang Kai-shek and in November he made him Ambassador to China. Hurley, in a very important move, sacked the Chiang-hating General “Vinegar” Joe Stillwell and had him replaced by the anti-Communist General Albert Wedemeyer.
Roosevelt’s confidence in Hurley is several times attested by General Elliott Roosevelt in As He Saw It. In Tehran the morning after the banquet at the Russian Embassy the President said:
I want you to do something for me, Elliott. Go find Pat Hurley, and tell him to get to work drawing up a draft memorandum guaranteeing Iran’s independence…I wish I had more men like Pat, on whom I could depend. The men in the State Department, those career diplomats…half the time I can’t tell whether I should believe them or not (pp. 192-193).
At the second Cairo Conference the President told his son:
That Pat Hurley…He did a good job. If anybody can straighten out the mess of internal Chinese politics, he’s the man…Men like Pat Hurley are invaluable. Why? Because they’re loyal. I can give him assignments that I’d never give a man in the State Department because I can depend on him…Any number of times the men in the State Department have tried to conceal messages to me, delay them, hold them up somehow, just because some of those career diplomats aren’t in accord with what they know I think (pp. 204-205)
Reading that passage from pp. 86-87 of Beaty’s The Iron Curtain Over America one can’t help but lament that FDR chose Harry Hopkins instead of Hurley to do his foreign policy heavy lifting during the war. As it happened, the one good thing that Roosevelt did to oppose the Communists was reversed by his successor Truman as Hurley was undercut by his Communist-sympathizing underlings and forced out. Furthermore, Roosevelt may not have had much of a choice in the matter when it came to the selection of Hopkins.
FDR Not His Own Man?
The impression one gets from Curtis Dall’s F.D.R.: My Exploited Father-in-Law is that far from just being Roosevelt’s flunky, Hopkins was close to being a co-President. He had the same sort of ambition and the same sort of cunning that FDR did, and beginning his career in New York City as a social worker he developed the same network among New York’s power brokers that Roosevelt did.
Dall, a New York stockbroker newly married to Roosevelt’s daughter Anna had an inside look at the maneuvering around his father-in-law before and after his election as President in 1932. The man who carried the most immediate weight with Roosevelt was his Dutchess County neighbor, New York City real estate mogul and Democratic Party kingmaker Henry Morgenthau, Sr., whom the the Roosevelt clan all called “Uncle Henry.” Uncle Henry, according to Dall, was able to prevail upon FDR to make his feckless son, Henry, Jr., his Secretary of the Treasury because FDR was beholding to the father for having had a big investment loss restored by Henry, Sr., some years before. Dall’s account of the appointment is tantalizing:
In due course, Henry was placed by FDR in a suitable “spot,” one for which he had no significant financial experience…The Secretary of the Treasury. However, in the minds of some important bankers here and abroad, Henry’s inexperience in that connection was his most important qualification for that post. It made him receptive to much needed “advice.” The “advice” extended in his direction, of course, was readily forthcoming.
Harry Dexter White, Henry’s close associate and busy right-hand man in the Treasury, was soon “dug up” for him. Who arranged that move? Certainly it was not provided by FDR. Was it Mr. [Bernard] Baruch or Henry’s father or some foreign banking group? Harry Dexter White became a profitable delivery boy for them but not for us. Certainly his disastrous financial manipulations aimed primarily to enrich the money powers were soon to become far more discernible to alert Americans than his reported New England internment, following his sudden heart attack, curiously acquired on the morrow of his overdue exposure before a Congressional investigation. (p. 85)
Find the hand pulling White’s (ne. Weit) strings and you will have found those pulling Roosevelt’s. Isaac Don Levine very distinctly remembers that White was among those named by Whittaker Chambers as members of the Soviet espionage ring in their meeting with Adolf Berle in 1939. Chambers doesn’t recall that but in his book, Witness, he says that White cooperated with his spy ring even though White was not a Communist Party member. If White was really working for the international bankers who were instrumental in bringing the Bolsheviks to power in Russia, one might say that by not being in the employ of Joe Stalin White was just cutting out the middleman.
White was later to become the principal author of the infamous Morgenthau Plan that called for the destruction of Germany’s manufacturing, vengefully reducing it to an economic wasteland ripe for Communist takeover. Recently it has been plausibly argued in two books that White was a moving force behind the provocative U.S. posture that led to the Pearl Harbor attack. See The Battle for Bretton Woods: John Maynard Keynes, Harry Dexter White, and the Making of a New World Order and Operation Snow: How a Soviet Mole in FDR’s White House Triggered Pearl Harbor.
Another person who, early on, exhibited a lot of influence on FDR was Felix Frankfurter. Again, Dall’s account is intriguing:
Naturally, at any gathering, I had to guess those who were “important,” those who were “relatively unimportant,” and, finally, those who were quite “unimportant!!!”
Seated around the dinner table at Hyde Park one Sunday noon in December of 1932 was the usual large gathering of interesting people.
One of them happened to be Professor Felix Frankfurter, who had arrived from Harvard University for a conference with FDR.
As I recall, he was placed on the right side of Mama; therefore, I knew he was regarded as “important.” She usually was flanked by the two most important personages then present. The President-elect and his mother took on the next echelon of importance during the meal.
Something puzzled me, however, concerning which I had recurring thoughts—why would a college professor at Harvard come all the way from Cambridge, Massachusetts, to Hyde Park to see FDR at this time? Could it be in connection with some new educational program at Harvard? Was it a social visit, or did Frankfurter want something for himself? Most callers did want something? What was it? (pp. 65-66)
The implied question in the passage is, “From what did this law professor derive his importance to Roosevelt at this time?” That leads to the question as to what powerful people were behind him and from what was their power derived. Whoever they were, they certainly accomplished a great deal through him. Let us fast-forward to the end of the 1940s as recounted by John Beaty:
In fact, Mr. Justice Frankfurter is frequently referred to by those who know their way around Washington as the “President” of the United States. In a recent “gag,” the question “Do you want to see a new picture of the President of the United States?” is followed up by showing a likeness of Frankfurter.
Mr. Justice Frankfurter is influential not only in counsel but in furthering the appointment of favored individuals to strategic positions. The so-called “Frankfurter boys” include Mr. [Dean] Acheson, with whom the justice takes daily walks, weather permitting (New York Times, January 19, 1949); Alger Hiss, Lee Pressman, David Niles, ** long a senior assistant to President Truman; Benjamin V. Cohen, long Counselor of the Department of State; David Lilienthal, long Chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission; John J. McCloy, Joe Rauh, Nathan Margold; Donald Hiss, brother of Alger, and “now a member of the Acheson law firm”; Milton Katz; and former Secretary of War Robert Patterson, “a hundred per cent Frankfurter employee” (all names and quotes in this paragraph are from Drew Pearson’s syndicated column, February 1, 1950). (p. 58)
Considering his own ethnic background, one should hardly be surprised at the heavy Jewish representation in the list, but that four of the eleven men on the list, Pressman, Niles, and the Hiss brothers should be likely Communist subversives is really quite striking. Furthermore, Acheson and Frankfurter publicly declared that Alger Hiss was innocent well past the time when it was evident that he was not.
On the night of his first encounter with Frankfurter, Dall was asked by Eleanor Roosevelt to keep Frankfurter company on their train ride back into New York City. After a period of some awkward silence it occurred to Dall to break it by mentioning a mutual acquaintance. Dall had gone both to high school and to Princeton University with James “Chink” Landis, who was at that time a colleague of Frankfurters at the Harvard Law School and had co-written articles with him. Dall broached the subject and here’s how the exchange went:
By now Frankfurter was eyeing me rather intently. Then he said, “What do you think of James today?”
“Well, Professor,” I replied, “I haven’t seen ‘Chink’ for a number of years. However, knowing his ability, I would say that he would do very well indeed in whatever undertaking he set out to accomplish. Some of his views, however, that is, some of his political views, I would say, are a bit too far to the left. I sometimes hear indirectly about him through my brother-in-law, Jimmy, and…”
I stopped talking, at that point, rather amazed.
The Professor’s face flushed with surprise and anger at my casual observation. He made no attempt at concealment. He glared at me and naturally our conversation ceased abruptly. Silence ensued.
I was quite taken aback at the unexpected turn of events and wondered what I could have said to cause such an unfavorable and violent reaction in the mind of the well-known Harvard “Legal Light.”
As the silence deepened, I became quite annoyed, in turn, at what appeared to me to be a rather unwarranted display of temperament on his part. (pp. 68-69)
Dall later discovered that Frankfurter was a close friend of the prominent political theorist, Harold Laski. Some Harvard law students who had been given a letter of introduction to Laski by Frankfurter took the liberty to ask him if he was a Communist. Laski responded without hesitation that he was. When asked if his friend Frankfurter was one as well, Laski paused for a bit and then asked, “Did you ask me if Felix was a Communist?”
“Yes we did,” was the response.
Laski then replied, “Well, no, I wouldn’t say that Felix is a Communist, but we are close friends. We talk to each other at least once every week, over the trans-Atlantic telephone.”
Who Were the Communists?
Rather to ask if Roosevelt was a Communist, the better question to ask is if the people with the real power who were behind him were Communists. The preponderance of evidence suggests that they were, or at least that they pursued the interests of the Soviet Union above the interests of the United States. One of main reasons for that was the lingering good will felt among the Jewish leadership in the United States toward the Soviet Communists because they had thrown out the hated Czars. The Jewish hatred of the Czars in the late 19th century and through much of the 20th century rivaled the residual hatred of the Nazis today. One can’t help but think that Roosevelt was just parroting what he had picked up from his handlers when he repeatedly compared Stalin favorably to the Czars. He was hardly a student of Russian history, after all.
The power and influence of Roosevelt’s Jewish handlers were at their height during the war years with the pro-Soviet Henry Wallace as Roosevelt’s heir apparent as Vice-President and the pro-Soviet Harry Hopkins at his side planning war policy. The insurrection among Democratic Party leaders that forced FDR to replace Wallace with Truman represented a vital beginning of the easing of the pro-Communist grip. The forced renunciation of the insanely vengeful Morgenthau Plan through outraged public opinion was another great step in the right direction.
* The United States dropped the “unconditional surrender” demand for Japan and allowed them to keep the Emperor only upon the urging of Secretary of the Navy James Forrestal. This happened after the Hiroshima and Nagasaki atomic bombings and the Japanese had responded in a conciliatory fashion, except that they refused to yield on the question of the Emperor. See how I set the popular film director straight on this question in “Oliver Stone on the Japanese Surrender.”
** Niles is also my prime candidate as the coordinator of the assassination of Secretary of Defense James Forrestal. See “Who Killed James Forrestal?”
March 28, 2014