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Lovestone's Thin Red Line | The Nation

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Lovestone's Thin Red Line

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But another career had already begun, one with more potential than Lovestone had imagined since his days as a boy Bolshevik: intelligence operative. More properly, there was only a gap in this career. As documents released from the Moscow archives have revealed, until 1936 Lovestone worked quietly with Russian intelligence agents even while openly attacking Moscow's policies, obviously hoping to demonstrate the loyalty needed to re-establish his former position. In 1941 Dubinsky introduced Lovestone to AFL second-in-command George Meany, avowing, "he's been converted." Three years later, Meany made Lovestone head of the AFL's semisecret cold war division. By changing sides, Lovestone had come home to himself.

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Paul Buhle
Paul Buhle, who published the one-shot Radical America Komiks in 1969, is researching Yiddish and Jewish culture in...

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When it comes to the military budget, peacenik right and left are on the same side.

A half-century after the appearance of The Vital Center, Arthur Schlesinger Jr.'s spirited political polemic, we have more than sufficient cause to meditate on what might be called Dead Centrism.

Here, the ur-text of A Covert Life opens. Often haphazardly researched (Morgan provides no precise footnotes, only "sources" for text pages, and offers up old chestnuts like the claim that socialist leader Daniel DeLeon regarded himself as descended from Ponce de León), the book treats early cold war intrigue as the narrative high point. Careful readers will find such tasty details as Lovestone checking personnel files of the Truman Administration for Comsymps to be blacklisted, and using columnist Walter Winchell to air useful rumors and scandal against real and imaginary enemies. But most of the ground on Lovestone's international operations has been covered in other histories. It was detailed, using interviews with former high-level intelligence officials, in Ben Rathbun's equally eulogistic British biography of Lovestone's chief field officer, The Point Man: Irving Brown and the Deadly Post-1945 Struggle for Europe and America, a work curiously little deployed here.

By taking Lovestone's assumptions and actions at face value, Morgan misses the real importance of labor spy work. With the Marshall Plan operating in Western Europe and the East frozen into Stalin's cordon sanitaire, restabilization was inevitable, contrary hopes and fears notwithstanding. But what kind of Europe? Lovestone viewed the aspiration of non-Communist leaders like Léon Jouhaux and British Laborites for a "Third Way"--leading labor and socialistic governments on a course independent of either superpower--as a heresy exceeded only by Communism. Morgan does not explicate the widespread buying of votes and union officers (at low rates, in those distressed times). Nor were Lovestone and Irving Brown averse to propping up erstwhile Nazi collaborators (in Greece) or employing the Mafia to break certain unions' strikes. All these tactics, with the exception of the fascist connection, had indeed been standard in garment district wars for decades. Lovestone essentially internationalized business unionism.

A Covert Life slips worse in the treatment of Lovestone and the labor world after 1950. Even as Europe rumbled, the Third World skyrocketed in strategic importance, and Lovestone was clearly out of his depth. His CIA handler, the paranoid but powerful James Jesus Angleton, insured a rapid increase of covert funding. But unaccountably, Morgan does not bother to treat the hot spots of Latin America, where Lovestone's office assisted dramatically in a series of coups during the fifties and sixties, resulting in tens (and finally hundreds) of thousands of casualties thanks to US support of the region's business and military elite. Morgan's treatment of Africa is also clipped; he insists that Lovestone supported "moderate" nationalism, a convenient disguise for policies set to create reliable postcolonial friends of US business. The same is still more true of Southeast Asia, where anti-Communism quickly became synonymous with massive assassination ("neutralization") campaigns and carpet-bombing.

Morgan argues that by the sixties, the "great churning of worldwide activity was over." Not true. The Kennedy Administration set up formal international labor agencies estimated conservatively at a cost of $100 million per year, a figure that grew rapidly during the eighties. Decades of financial and political assistance could be arranged for Angola's Jonas Savimbi, world-class terrorist and key military ally of South Africa's apartheid government. Grand programs could be launched in vital corners of US influence like the Philippines, where the AFL-CIO's affiliate loyally supported the Marcos regime until it fell. And so on across the map. Lovestone himself, convinced until the end of his life that détente was only a Soviet ruse, became more and more of an anachronism, except of course in the hawkish command headquarters of the AFL-CIO.

The disclosure of CIA funding, fervently denied until exposure overwhelmed the familiar lies, was mortifying and enraging to George Meany's minions. Thirsting for revenge against union peaceniks, Lovestone threw himself into the failed presidential campaigns of Henry "Scoop" Jackson, the "Senator from Boeing." He also sought out the company of Henry Kissinger, who had begun writing for the AFL's CIA-sponsored press from Harvard in 1960. Lovestone raged at Nixon for recognizing China. He remained close to Angleton when decades-long CIA activities against US citizens were also finally exposed and the spy chief was propelled into retirement. Never one for personal loyalty, Meany simply dumped Lovestone in 1974, replacing him (in typical AFL fashion) with a son-in-law in need of a career boost.

But of course the world had not changed so much after all. Lovestone kept up contact with his good friends Alexander Haig and Daniel Patrick Moynihan, whose triumph over Bella Abzug in the 1976 senatorial primary was celebrated as the quashing of McGovernite-pacifist "New Politics." And he helped collect his papers in the Reagan Revolution homeland of the Hoover Institution, where his old friend Bert Wolfe held a sinecure. Morgan suggests that after 1979--that is, after Lovestone and Meany--the AFL-CIO built a new foreign policy independent of the CIA. Nothing could be less true, as the growing scholarship on the labor movement's abysmal Central America adventures conclusively demonstrates.

A Covert Life winds down with Lovestone in his coffin, at a memorial service in which (quoting a friendly former Carter official) "there were more CIA men...than labor men." Eight years later Meany successor Lane Kirkland, who offered heartfelt praise at Lovestone's bier, was cashiered by a labor movement that had nearly lost itself after practically abandoning domestic matters in search of one last, great international victory of business unionism. That strategy had already failed miserably, and we can even now wonder that a Jay Lovestone could wield so much power for so long, with so little support or even knowledge of those who paid the dues to keep the gold-plated offices shiny for their masters.

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