Joseph P. Lash

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Joseph P. Lash was a prominent radical leader, who considered himself "a full-time revolutionary."[1] He became a close friend of First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt and later became her biographer.

Contents

American Student Union

In 1935, Lash, head of the Student League for International Democracy (SLID), a Socialist group, engineered the merger of SLID with the National Student League, a Communist group. The resulting organization was the American Student Union (ASU), a Popular-Front group,[2] of which Lash was executive secretary during 1936-39.[3]

In 1937 Lash successfully solicited Communist Party funding for the ASU from CP boss Earl Browder.[4] Lash attacked those who criticized Stalin's bloody purges for "cast[ing] doubt on the integrity of Soviet justice"[5] and called Trotskyites "the syphilis of the working class."[6] In 1938, ex-Communist William G. Ryan, a veteran of the Spanish Civil War, testified before the Dies Committee that the ASU was a "front" organization "completely controlled by the Communist party."[7]

In July 1939, Lash wrote that he was "ready to take out a C party card."[8] In the wake of the Nazi-Soviet pact, at the 1939 ASU national convention, an amendment labeling Russia an aggressor was defeated, as was a proposal to put the question to a referendum.[9] The Socialist Party brought charges against Lash for collaborating with the Communist Party and Lash resigned from the SP, a move he wrote about in the official Communist Party organ New Masses. That December, the ASU ousted Lash.[10] In 1940, Lash co-wrote a book published by International Publishers, the official Communist publishing house. His co-author, James Wechsler, was a leader of the Young Communist League (YCL), a group that was fully subsidized by the CPUSA.[11]

Lash would later deny having joined the CP—calling himself a "non-Party Bolshevik"[12]—although he had been a May Day speaker.[13] "Joe Lash may not admit it today," said Gil Green, leader of the YSL during the Popular Front years, but while Lash was a leader of the student movement,"he joined the CP."[14]

Personal life

In 1935, when Lash was heading the SLID, an article appeared in Liberty magazine under the pen name J. G. Shaw, alleging that the SLID was a Communist front for college students, and that the male members occasionally seduced female recruits. "You can't afford to laugh at them—as I did," wrote Shaw, "and a thousand other fathers who see their daughters put on the road to Hell—too late." Eighteen-year-old Nancy Bedford-Jones responded to this article with one of her own, entitled "My Father is a Liar!" in the Communist Party organ New Masses: "The author of these slanderous lies is my father—H. Bedford-Jones... America's most prolific writer [who] has entranced millions of readers for two decades," she wrote. "How the Red-baiters and mudslingers will welcome this new angle! ... We call upon the youth of America," etc.[15] Shortly thereafter, Miss Bedford-Jones became Mrs. Joseph Lash.[16] But in 1939 Eleanor Roosevelt introduced Lash to Mrs. Gertrude Wenzel Pratt,[17] wife of the prominent New York philanthropist Eliot Pratt.[18] She was a contact of Aleksej Sokirkin, First Secretary of the Soviet Embassy in Washington, D.C. for Soviet intelligence, which was cultivating Mrs. Pratt as a conduit to the First Lady.[19] Mrs. Roosevelt played matchmaker for the couple[20] and they began an affair.[21] By 1944 Lash had divorced Nancy; with the First Lady's support and counsel,[22] Pratt divorced her husband and married Lash.[23]

HUAC

In 1939, Lash and other ASU leaders were summoned to testify before the House Committee on Un-American Activities on Communist influence in student organizations. On the train to Washington, they met First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt. Mrs. Roosevelt counseled Lash and the others on how to handle themselves before the committee. As a witness in the hearing, Lash gave evasive answers, refusing to acknowledge Communist control of ACU.[24] He reportedly mocked the committee chairman, Martin Dies (D-Tex.), singing:

If you see an Un-American lurking far or near,

just alcoholize with Martin Dies and he will disappear.[25]

The First Lady "electrified the Washington press corps by appearing in the hearing room as a gesture of moral support to the witnesses."[26] At first Mrs. Roosevelt sat at the back of the audience knitting, but when Lash began to falter under questioning, the First Lady arose. "She moved to the front of the committee room so that [Dies and committee members] would be more respectful in their questions," according to Roosevelt biographer Blanche Wiesen Cook. "She sort of came to [Lash's] rescue."[27] The First Lady later told one of Lash's companions that she could not understand why Lash had seemed "so uncertain in his replies" to the committee's questions. After the hearing, Mrs. Roosevelt invited Lash and his comrades to the White House for dinner.[28] Lash began a correspondence with the First Lady,[29] who invited Lash alone to the Roosevelt estate in Hyde Park, N.Y. She once brought the President by to hear Lash's views on American youth.[30]

Attempt to secure a commission

Throughout the duration of the Nazi-Soviet pact, Lash had been an ardent pacifist, fomenting student anti-war strikes and attacking ROTC as "a vast propaganda effort to make the war system... colorful and appealing." Even before the pact, in 1937, Lash had written:

American youth does not intend to lay down its life in shell holes around Shanghai or Timbuktu. The program of the American Student Union states that 'we will not support any war which the United States Government may undertake' for we recognize that such a war would be imperialist in character.[31]
Gertrude Lash with First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt. Mrs. Lash was identified by Venona project investigators as an American citizen who cooperated with KGB intelligence. Mrs. Lash later served on the Foundation Board of the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Presidential Library.
But following the breakdown of the Nazi-Soviet pact, Lash tried to get a commission in the U.S. Naval Reserve, with the backing of Mrs. Roosevelt. When he was turned down, the First Lady intervened on his behalf, asking the attorney general "if it would be possible for you to run down for me through the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Colonel Donovan's Naval Inspectors and the Dies Committee, what they really have on Joe Lash."[32] After Pearl Harbor, Lash was drafted into the Army.

Eleanor Roosevelt was responsible for involving Lash in FDR's presidential campaign of 1940 as the director of the Democratic National Committee's Youth Committee. In time Lash became one of the First Lady's most trusted advisers.[33] In the early 1940s, the extraordinary relationship between Lash and Mrs. Roosevelt led to rumors that the two were romantically involved.[34] Washington Post columnist Westbrook Pegler was apparently referring to Lash and his ex-wife, the former Nancy Bedford-Jones, when he wrote in 1942 that an acquaintance of the First Lady

formerly was a fair haired boy of the Communist Front, married a young campus cutie who has been infected with the Moscow principles and celebrated her marriage with a piece in a Muscovite paper, entitled "My Father was a Liar" was divorced, and now, at the age of 32, is held up to the American people by Mrs. Roosevelt as a person fit for leadership of American youth. He, also, is on Mrs. Roosevelt's private payroll, the money for which is derived from the commercialization of the Presidential office.[35]

Mrs. Roosevelt responded by asking the FBI to investigate Pegler for "sedition."[36]

G-2 surveillance

FBI memo relaying G-2 report of surveillance of Lash with First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt
In a 1943 Federal Bureau of Investigation memorandum, George C. Burton, Chief of the Liaison Section of the FBI's Division V (National Defense),[37] reported to FBI Assistant Director Mickey Ladd that Colonel John T. Bissell, Chief of the Counter Intelligence Corps (CIC) of the War Department's Military Intelligence Division[38] relayed to him a report from Colonel Leslie R. Forney, Chief of the Military Intelligence Service's Counterintelligence Group,[39] that pursuant to surveillance of Lash, the Counterintelligence Group had bugged Lash's room and obtained a recording made one night when Lash and Mrs. Roosevelt shared adjoining rooms at a Chicago hotel.

Gen. Bissell relayed to Burton a report from Col. Forney that news of this recording had leaked to the White House. Forney and General George V. Strong, Assistant Chief of Staff for G-2[40] (Army Intelligence),[41] were summoned to report to the White House "with the complete records of this matter" at approximately 10:00 p.m. They were received by the President, Thomas E. Watson, Executive Officer of the Division of Plans and Policies, and top FDR adviser Harry Hopkins—whom Ishkak Akhmerov (the leading NKVD illegal in the United States)[42] identified as "the most important of all Soviet wartime agents in the United States,"[43] according to Oleg Gordievsky, the highest-ranking KGB officer ever to defect.[44] According to Bissell, Forney and Strong played the recording:

This recording indicated quite clearly that Mrs. Roosevelt and Lash engaged in sexual intercourse during their stay in the hotel room. Forney advised Bissell that after this record was played Mrs. Roosevelt was called into the conference and was confronted with the information and this resulted in a terrific fight between the President and Mrs. Roosevelt.

According to Burton's memo, Bissell said he subsequently learned that "the President had ordered that anybody who knew anything about this case should be immediately relieved of his duties and sent to the South Pacific for action against the Japs until they were killed."[45]

Shortly thereafter, Bissell replaced Strong as Assistant Chief of Staff for G-2,[46] and the CIC was ordered to cease its domestic investigations, to destroy its investigative records, and to ship its agents out to overseas theaters.[47] The reason, according to Gen. Willard Holbrook Jr., chief of CIC, was that one CIC investigative report had proved "personally embarrassing" to "certain powerful politicians" who were "high in the Roosevelt administration."[48] According to New Mexico State University historian Joan M. Jensen, "The 'embarrassing' information involved the surveillance of Eleanor Roosevelt and her friend Joseph P. Lash..."[49] The official history of the CIC states that the speedy dissolution of the CIC “left little doubt that someone—possibly Communists who still held key positions in government—was determined to halt CIC investigative activities in the United States.”[50]

References

  1. David E. Pitt, "Joseph P. Lash Is Dead; Reporter and Biographer," The New York Times, August 30, 1987
  2. Herbert Romerstein and Eric Breindel, The Venona Secrets: Exposing Soviet Espionage and America's Traitors (Regnery Publishing, 2000) ISBN 0895262754, p. 172
  3. David E. Pitt, "Joseph P. Lash Is Dead; Reporter and Biographer," The New York Times, August 30, 1987
  4. Herbert Romerstein and Eric Breindel, The Venona Secrets: Exposing Soviet Espionage and America's Traitors (Regnery Publishing, 2000) ISBN 0895262754, p. 172
  5. Robert Cohen, When the Old Left was Young: Student Radicals and America's First Mass Student Movement, 1929-1941 (Oxford University Press US, 1997) ISBN 0195111362, p. 384, n. 93
  6. Robert Cohen, When the Old Left was Young: Student Radicals and America's First Mass Student Movement, 1929-1941 (Oxford University Press US, 1997) ISBN 0195111362, p. 384, n. 96
  7. "American Youth Congress labelled 'Communist Front'," The Victoria Advocate, November 29, 1938, p. 1
  8. Robert Cohen, When the Old Left was Young: Student Radicals and America's First Mass Student Movement, 1929-1941 (Oxford University Press US, 1997) ISBN 0195111362, p. 168
  9. "A Communist 'Front'," (Williamsport, Pa.) Gazette and Bulletin, January 10, 1940, p. 6
  10. Herbert Romerstein and Eric Breindel, The Venona Secrets: Exposing Soviet Espionage and America's Traitors (Regnery Publishing, 2000) ISBN 0895262754, p. 173
  11. Herbert Romerstein and Eric Breindel, The Venona Secrets: Exposing Soviet Espionage and America's Traitors (Regnery Publishing, 2000) ISBN 0895262754, p. 172
  12. Robert Cohen, When the Old Left was Young: Student Radicals and America's First Mass Student Movement, 1929-1941 (Oxford University Press US, 1997) ISBN 0195111362, p. 383, n. 90
  13. "National Defense: Lash to the Mast?" Time, November 24, 1941
  14. Robert Cohen, When the Old Left was Young: Student Radicals and America's First Mass Student Movement, 1929-1941 (Oxford University Press US, 1997) ISBN 0195111362, p. 383, n. 90
  15. "The Press: My Father Is a Liar," Time Monday, September 9, 1935
  16. Hal Draper, "The Student Movement of the Thirties: A Political History" in Rita James Simon, ed., As We Saw the Thirties: Essays on Social and Political Movements of a Decade (University of Illinois Press, 1967), p. 175 et seq.
  17. Trude Pratt Lash (1908-), Eleanor Roosevelt Papers, George Washington University
  18. Trude Pratt Lash (1908-), Eleanor Roosevelt Papers, George Washington University
  19. Soviet intelligence considered putting Pratt in contact with Elizabeth Zarubina, wife of Vasily Zarubin, NKVD station chief in the U.S. from 1941 to 1944. Venona KGB 786-787 New York to Moscow 26 May 1943, National Security Agency
  20. Wolfgang Saxon, "Trude Wenzel Lash, 95, An Advocate for Children," The New York Times, February 6, 2004
  21. Joseph P. Lash, Love, Eleanor: Eleanor Roosevelt and Her Friends (Doubleday, 1982), ISBN 038517053X, p. 370. Cf. Janon Fisher, "Did Army Tape Eleanor Roosevelt Having an Affair?," APBnews.com, January 31, 2000
  22. Trude Pratt Lash (1908-), Eleanor Roosevelt Papers, George Washington University
  23. David E. Pitt, "Joseph P. Lash Is Dead; Reporter and Biographer," The New York Times, August 30, 1987
  24. Herbert Romerstein and Eric Breindel, The Venona Secrets: Exposing Soviet Espionage and America's Traitors (Regnery Publishing, 2000) ISBN 0895262754, p. 173
  25. Janon Fisher, "Did Army Tape Eleanor Roosevelt Having an Affair?," APBnews.com, January 31, 2000
  26. David E. Pitt, "Joseph P. Lash Is Dead; Reporter and Biographer," The New York Times, August 30, 1987
  27. Janon Fisher, "Did Army Tape Eleanor Roosevelt Having an Affair?," APBnews.com, January 31, 2000
  28. David E. Pitt, "Joseph P. Lash Is Dead; Reporter and Biographer," The New York Times, August 30, 1987
  29. Janon Fisher, "Did Army Tape Eleanor Roosevelt Having an Affair?," APBnews.com, January 31, 2000
  30. David E. Pitt, "Joseph P. Lash Is Dead; Reporter and Biographer," The New York Times, August 30, 1987
  31. "National Defense: Lash to the Mast?" Time, November 24, 1941
  32. Joseph P. Lash, Love, Eleanor: Eleanor Roosevelt and Her Friends (Doubleday, 1982), ISBN 038517053X, p. 370
  33. Joseph Lash (1909-1987), The Eleanor Roosevelt Papers Project (George Washington University)
  34. David E. Pitt, "Joseph P. Lash Is Dead; Reporter and Biographer," The New York Times, August 30, 1987
  35. Westbrook Pegler, "Fair Enough: Mrs. Roosevelt's Public Life," The Washington Post, February 12, 1942 ("Eleanor Roosevelt," The American Experience, PBS)
  36. David Witwer, "Westbrook Pegler, Eleanor Roosevelt, and the FBI: A History of Infamous Enmities and Unlikely Collaborations" Journalism History, Vol. 34, Issue 4 (Winter 2009)
  37. Society of Former Special Agents of the FBI (Turner Publishing Company, 1998) ISBN 1563114739, p. 108
  38. Testimony of John T. Bissell, Room 2C637 Pentagon Building, Washington, DC, 14 September 1944, p. 2, Part I of Pearl Harbor Investigation conducted by Colonel Carter W. Clarke, Testimony and findings concerning handling of certain top secret documents, Top Secret. Reprinted as Joint Committee Exhibit No. 147, Pearl Harbor Attack, Part 34: Proceedings of Clarke Investigation, Hearings Before the Joint Committee on the Investigation of the Pearl Harbor Attack, Congress of the United States, (United States Government Printing Office, 1946), p. 8 (PDF p. 30)
  39. Frank J. Rafalko, ed., Vol. 2, Ch. 1: Counterintelligence in World War II, p. 31 (PDF p. 32), in A Counterintelligence Reader: An American Revolution Into the New Millennium (Office of the National Intelligence Executive)
  40. Thaddeus Holt, The Deceivers: Allied Military Deception in the Second World War (Skyhorse Publishing Inc., 2007) ISBN 1602391424, p. 250
  41. U.S. Army Deputy Chief of Staff for Intelligence, G2
  42. Douglas O. Linder, The VENONA Files and the Alger Hiss Case, The Alger Hiss Trials, 1949-50, Famous Trials (University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Law, 2010)
  43. Christopher Andrew and Oleg Gordievsky, KGB: The Inside Story of Its Foreign Operations from Lenin to Gorbachev (New York: Harpercollins, 1990) ISBN 0060166053, p. 287
  44. Peter B. Niblo, Influence: The Soviet Task Leading to Pearl Harbor, the Iron Curtain, and the Cold War (Oakland, Ore.: Elderberry Press, 2002) ISBN 1930859147, p. 65
  45. J. Edgar Hoover, Official & Confidential File, #102. Cf. M. Stanton Evans, Blacklisted by History: The Untold Story of Senator Joe McCarthy and His Fight Against America's Enemies (New York: Crown Forum, 2007), ISBN 978-1-4000-8105-9, p. 82; Ian Sayer and Douglas Botting, America's Secret Army: The Untold Story of the Counter Intelligence Corps (Grafton, 1989) ISBN 0246126906, p. 43; Anthony Summers, Official and Confidential: The Secret Life of J. Edgar Hoover (G.P. Putnam's Sons, 1993) ISBN 0399138005, p. 146; Ted Morgan, FDR: A Biography (Simon and Schuster, 1985) ISBN 0671454951, p. 672; Christopher Andrew, For the president's eyes only: secret intelligence and the American presidency from Washington to Bush (HarperCollins, 1996) ISBN 0060921781, p. 131; Joseph P. Lash, Love, Eleanor: Eleanor Roosevelt and Her Friends (Doubleday, 1982), ISBN 038517053X, p. 493; Bill Hutchinson, "Eleanor Had WWII Tryst With Sergeant," New York Daily News, February 2, 2000; Kevin Dowling, "Secret sex sessions of Mrs Roosevelt," The Birmingham Post (England), February 3, 2000; "FBI files claim Franklin Roosevelt sent soldier to die in jealous rage," The Scotsman, February 2, 2000; Janon Fisher, "Did Army Tape Eleanor Roosevelt Having an Affair? FBI Files Show FDR Ordered Her Alleged Lover Sent Overseas in WWII," APBNews.com, January 31, 2000 (Archive); United Press International, "Wife's Alleged Affair Irked FDR, Reading Eagle, April 23, 1982, p. 54; Associated Press, "Army Agents Bugged Eleanor's Room?" Daytona Beach Morning Journal, March 11, 1982, p. 15A; United Press International, "Author Says Army Spies Watched Mrs. Roosevelt," Ocala Star-Banner, April 2, 1982, p. 5C
  46. John F. Kreis, ed., Piercing the Fog: Intelligence and Army Air Forces Operations in World War II (U.S. Government Printing Office, 1996) ISBN 1428914056, p. 357. Cf. Frank J. Rafalko, ed., Vol. 2, Ch. 1: Counterintelligence in World War II, p. 34 (PDF p. 35), in A Counterintelligence Reader: An American Revolution Into the New Millennium (Office of the National Intelligence Executive)
  47. On November 5, 1943 the Army ordered all CIC agents out of Washington, D.C. The following day, the Army Inspector General submitted a devastating report on the CIC. In February, 1944 the position of Chief, Counter Intelligence Corps was abolished and CIC Headquarters was dissolved. General Background, History of the Counter Intelligence Corps (New York: Garland Publishing, 1989), pp. 68-74
  48. General Background, History of the Counter Intelligence Corps (New York: Garland Publishing, 1989), p. 67-68
  49. Joan M. Jensen, Army surveillance in America, 1775-1980 (Yale University Press, 1991) ISBN 0300046685, p. 228
  50. General Background, History of the Counter Intelligence Corps (New York: Garland Publishing, 1989), p. 70
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