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A Covert Life: Jay Lovestone: Communist, Anti-Communist, and Spymaster
 
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A Covert Life: Jay Lovestone: Communist, Anti-Communist, and Spymaster [Hardcover]

Ted Morgan
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)


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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

A Covert Life tersely chronicles the life of one of the more obscure warriors of the cold war. Jay Lovestone, born Jacob Liebstein, cut his teeth as a youth in the leftist street culture of New York's Lower East Side. Although present at the formation of the U.S. Communist Party in 1919, he was forced out of the Comintern in 1929 by Stalin's political maneuverings. By the end of the Depression, Lovestone broke cleanly with the Soviets and, after World War II, founded the Free Trade Union Commission, an AFL-backed movement that organized noncommunist labor unions outside of the United States. He also developed an intelligence-gathering unit within the organization that traded information with the CIA until the mid-1960s.

Lovestone lived a fairly reclusive life, shunning the spotlight that some of his more colorful colleagues and coconspirators, such as James Jesus Angleton and George Meany, craved. As a result, Ted Morgan's biography emphasizes Lovestone's political fights both within the Communist Party and against it. Although Morgan believes that his subject's anticommunist beliefs were genuine, one finishes A Covert Life with the conclusion that Lovestone's motivations lay in his obsessive love of political intrigue rather than the ideological passions that moved both the far left and extreme right for much of the 20th century. While the book doesn't dwell in what Vivian Gornick called "the romance of American communism," it does present a precise portrait of how this ideology was stifled and how the American labor movement aided the intelligence community in combating Soviet influence over international labor. --John M. Anderson

From Publishers Weekly

Morgan (biographer of Winston Churchill, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, William S. Burroughs and Somerset Maugham) turns his attention this time to the not-so-famous but intriguing Jay Lovestone (1897-1990). Born Jacob Liebstein, Lovestone kept reinventing himself, altering not only his name but also his resume, his personality and his ideology. He was a youthful leader of the American Communist Party during the 1920s, when many intellectuals found the Soviet experiment irresistible. Some of the most absorbing passages of the book?helped greatly by recently opened Comintern files to which Morgan had access?concern the ferocious infighting among American Communists. Lovestone and a band of his supporters went to Moscow in 1929 to plead their case before a special Comintern committee headed by Stalin. Lovestone found himself on the wrong side of Stalin, expelled from the American Communist Party and, most frighteningly, stuck in Russia with no friends and without his passport. He escaped Moscow, made his way back to the States and embarked on a successful career as a professional anti-communist. He collaborated especially closely with CIA spymasters, including James Angleton. Of Lovestone's contributions to the Cold War, Morgan writes: "He was the coach rather than the player, the master kibbitzer, the prompter in the box, not the actor in the stage." Morgan does a great job of summarizing Lovestone's work, but, precisely because Lovestone threw himself almost exclusively into that work, there is very little with which to humanize him. Readers looking for more than a symbol of a century's ideological turmoil may find Morgan's Lovestone at once remote and exhausting.
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Kirkus Reviews

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 Yorks 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 leaders 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 Lovestones 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. -- Copyright ©1999, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved.

Review

Praise for A Covert Life

A major contribution to the history of the Cold War and a terrific tale of intrigue, intellectual passion, and betrayal. Relying on extraordinary new documents from the files of the FBI, Morgan has brought one of the Cold War's most effective spies out of the shadows."
--Kai Bird, author of The Color of Truth: McGeorge Bundy and William Bundy, Brothers in Arms

A masterly tale about one of the master strategists of the Cold War. This is a truly important as well as engrossing contribution to the history of our times."
   --James Chace, author of Acheson: The Secretary of State Who Created the American World

A joy to read . . . One by one, the dark places in America's Cold War are coming into the light. The work of that bizarre man Jay Lovestone is one of those important unknowns; Ted Morgan was all prepared and on the spot the day Lovestone's most private papers were unsealed. He has come up with an absorbing narrative that will change the way we think of the American labor movement and its undercover role in fighting Communism."
--Peter Grose, author of Gentleman Spy: The Life of Allen Dulles

An outstanding achievement...Every student of the Cold War will need A Covert Life on a nearby shelf."
--John Earl Haynes, co-author of The Secret World of American Communism

This wonderful book bristles with revelations and breakthroughs . . . a compendium of open larceny and amorous escapades by some of the starchiest of our Cold War icons."
--Burton Hersh, author of The Old Boys: The American Elite and the Origins of the CIA

A Covert Life is a story as full of energy as Jay Lovestone. Anecdotal, human, and sexy, it shines a brilliant light into the murk and deceits of the Cold War spy trade. For the intelligence connoisseur, not to be missed."                                
--David Kahn, author of The Codebreakers        

In this fascinating study, Ted Morgan not only removes the veil hiding one of the Cold War's most mysterious figures, but also illuminates the secret links between the CIA and the American labor movement."
--Ronald Steel, author of Walter Lippmann and the American Century

From the Inside Flap

The extraordinary life of Jay Lovestone is one of the great untold stories of the twentieth century. A Lithuanian immigrant who came to the United States in 1897, Lovestone rose to leadership in the Communist Party of America, only to fall out with Moscow and join the anti-Communist establishment after the Second World War. He became one of the leading strategists of the Cold War, and was once described as "one of the five most important men in the hidden power structure of America."
        
Lovestone was obsessively secretive, and it is only with the opening of his papers at the Hoover Institution, the freeing of access to Comintern files in Moscow, and the release of his 5,700-page FBI file that biographer and Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Ted Morgan has been able to construct a full account of the remarkable events of Jay Lovestone's life.
        
The life Morgan describes is full of drama and intrigue. He recounts Lovestone's career in the faction-riven world of American Communism until he was spirited out of Moscow in 1929 after Stalin publicly attacked him for doctrinal unorthodoxy. As Lovestone veered away from Moscow, he came to work for the American Federation of Labor, managing a separate union foreign policy as well as maintaining his own intelligence operations for the CIA, many under the command of the legendary counterintelligence chief James Angleton. Lovestone also associated with Louise Page Morris, a spy known as "the American Mata Hari," who helped him undermine Communist advances in the developing world and whose own significant espionage career is detailed here. Lovestone's influence, always exercised from behind the scenes, survived to the end of the Cold War and the demise of the Soviet Union.
        
A Covert Life has all the elements of a classic spy thriller: surveillance operations and stings, love affairs and bungled acts of sabotage, many thoroughly illegal. It is written with the easy hand of a fine biographer (The Washington Post Book World called Ted Morgan "a master storyteller") and provides a history of the Cold War and a glimpse into the machinery of the CIA while also revealing many hitherto hidden details of the superpower confrontation that dominated postwar global politics.

From the Back Cover


Praise for A Covert Life

A major contribution to the history of the Cold War and a terrific tale of intrigue, intellectual passion, and betrayal. Relying on extraordinary new documents from the files of the FBI, Morgan has brought one of the Cold War's most effective spies out of the shadows."
--Kai Bird, author of The Color of Truth: McGeorge Bundy and William Bundy, Brothers in Arms

A masterly tale about one of the master strategists of the Cold War. This is a truly important as well as engrossing contribution to the history of our times."
--James Chace, author of Acheson: The Secretary of State Who Created the American World

A joy to read . . . One by one, the dark places in America's Cold War are coming into the light. The work of that bizarre man Jay Lovestone is one of those important unknowns; Ted Morgan was all prepared and on the spot the day Lovestone's most private papers were unsealed. He has come up with an absorbing narrative that will change the way we think of the American labor movement and its undercover role in fighting Communism."
--Peter Grose, author of Gentleman Spy: The Life of Allen Dulles

An outstanding achievement...Every student of the Cold War will need A Covert Life on a nearby shelf."
--John Earl Haynes, co-author of The Secret World of American Communism

This wonderful book bristles with revelations and breakthroughs . . . a compendium of open larceny and amorous escapades by some of the starchiest of our Cold War icons."
--Burton Hersh, author of The Old Boys: The American Elite and the Origins of the CIA

A Covert Life is a story as full of energy as Jay Lovestone. Anecdotal, human, and sexy, it shines a brilliant light into the murk and deceits of the Cold War spy trade. For the intelligence connoisseur, not to be missed."
--David Kahn, author of The Codebreakers        

In this fascinating study, Ted Morgan not only removes the veil hiding one of the Cold War's most mysterious figures, but also illuminates the secret links between the CIA and the American labor movement."
--Ronald Steel, author of Walter Lippmann and the American Century

About the Author

Ted Morgan is the author of biographies of Franklin Roosevelt, Winston Churchill, Somerset Maugham, and William S. Burroughs, and of the histories A Shovel of Stars and Wilderness at Dawn. He lives in New York City.
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