A COVERT LIFE by Ted Morgan

A COVERT LIFE

Jay Lovestone: Communist, Anticommunist, and Spy

KIRKUS REVIEW

Pulitzer-winning journalist, biographer, and historian Morgan (A Shovel of Stars: The Making of the American West 1800 to the Present, 1995, etc.) throws scattershot light on 20th-century Communism, labor, and US intelligence through a shadowy figure who passed through all these worlds. Born in Lithuania in 1897, Jacob Liebstein emigrated with his parents to the US at the age of ten and settled on New York’s Lower East Side. Caught up in the fervor of the Russian Revolution, he forsook Judaism, took the name Jay Lovestone, and became a member of the American Communist Party. By the age of 29, his workhorse habits, intellect, and zeal had propelled him to the leadership of the party. But in 1929 he was expelled for defying Joseph Stalin in front of the Comintern Congress. Involuntarily detained in the Soviet Union, Lovestone made a hairbreadth escape. After breaking definitively with Communism, in the early 1940s Lovestone linked up with George Meany, in time becoming the AFL leader’s foreign-policy adviser and liaison to the CIA. Lovestone retained a talent for intrigue and a conspiratorial mindset that led him to collaborate for more than 20 years with CIA spycatcher James Angleton. Often incurring the antipathy of CIA handlers and other labor leaders, the abrasive but effective Lovestone helped splinter off non-Communist union organizers from Moscow-controlled insurgents in France and Italy, and established free trade unions as a bulwark against Stalin in West Germany. In 1974, this unregenerate Cold Warrior was ousted from his AFL-CIO post when his continuing involvement with Angleton was exposed. Morgan has uncovered much in newly opened archives of the Kremlin, FBI surveillance, and Lovestone’s personal papers at the Hoover Institution that will be invaluable to future Cold War historians. But he mixes mindless trivia, say, of his subject’s love life, with items of real significance, and he fails to follow up tantalizing points (e.g., he mentions only in passing that Whittaker Chambers was a Lovestone sympathizer in the 1930s). A revealing and yet at times frustratingly truncated biography of an early American dissident from the God that failed.

Pub Date: March 1st, 1999
ISBN: 0-679-44400-9
Page count: 416pp
Publisher: Random House
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15th, 1999




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