excerpt from Masters of Deceit: The Story of Communism in America and How to Fight It, by J. Edgar Hoover, 1958 *

Mass Agitation

The Party's attack is geared to the wide variety of American life. Communism has something to sell to everybody. And, following this principle, it is the function of mass agitation to exploit all the grievances, hopes, aspirations, prejudices, fears, and ideals of all the special groups that make up our society, social, religious, economic, racial, political. Stir them up. Set one against the other. Divide and conquer. That's the way to soften up a democracy.

Agitation must be carried on in specialized fields: among women, among youth, among veterans, among racial and nationality groups, farmers, trade unions. That's the responsibility of the Party commissions.

The approach always has two sides: (1) the deceptive line designed for public consumption, and (2) the real Party line designed to advance communism.

Thus the Party, through its specialized and immediate demands, is able to gain entree into various groups and create favorable working conditions for future revolutionary action. Very quickly, for example:

-- a veterans' meeting endorses "peace."

-- a nationality festival passes a resolution for "peace."

-- a youth affair favors "peace."

-- a neighborhood group comes out for "peace."

-- a women's rally fights for "peace."

Whatever its composition, the group, once under communist control, is switched to the Party line. The feigned interest in legitimate demands is merely a trap.

Even holidays are used to enhance the Party's aims. For example, the Daily Worker once headlined a story "Mothers' Day to Be Marked by Peace Tables..." Postcards should be distributed on Mother's Day, the story continued, "declaring the deepest need of all American mothers to be a ban on A and H-bombs..."

Also planned, according to the story, were special Mother's Day leaflets and placards as well as balloons for the children reading "World-Wide Ban of A and H-bombs."

Many people sincerely believe, for many reasons, that these bombs should be banned. However, to communists, the true meaning of peace and banning the A- and H-bombs is weakening the United States and advancing Russian aggressive aims.

And so it goes. A discussion may start about the low price of oats, better working conditions on the second shift, equal pay for women, the death rate among Eskimos, but it will end with the endorsement of "peace"; "amnesty for the Smith Act victims"; "repeal of the Internal Security Act of 1950 and the McCarran-Walter Immigration and Nationality Act."

Scattered, variegated, and inarticulate interests, under Party guidance, are brought into a common denominator: support for the Party line.

The Party line, in fact, is the sum total of all Party demands at any given time. You must learn to see it as a whole. Some demands are always present and seem innocent enough, such as those for higher wages, lower taxes, and better housing. But, remember, communists don't really care about genuine social reforms. These immediate demands are strictly for agitational purposes. They serve to arouse people and to cause tension. William Z. Foster says very candidly: "Our Party is a revolutionary Party. It aims not simply to ease conditions a bit under capitalism for the workers but to abolish capitalism altogether."

If ever achieved, these demands will be restated in more extreme form.

The attack is primarily agitational. Propaganda, although valuable, is a long-range softener, to be handled chiefly on an intellectual level by the educational department; agitation is immediate, inflammatory, conducive to acute discontent, the specialty of the field organizer.

Here is an example of how agitation works:

The communists publish a story: John Doe has been arrested, the charge is murder. Of course it is a tragic event. Crime always brings sorrow. It reflects maladjustment in society and points up abuses that genuinely need correction. But the communists aren't interested in John Doe. They do not try to discover the true facts in his case, study his background, or improve his condition. Here in the day's news is a human tragedy that can be exploited for propaganda purposes. That is enough.

The Party machinery springs into action, typical of thousands of mass-agitation campaigns.

The communist press publicizes the case with pictures, an interview with the wrongdoer, stories about his family. It carries heart-rending and sentimental accounts, without regard to truth or the suffering of the victim of the crime or the sorrow of his loved ones.

If the arrested person is a member of a minority group, or a veteran, the father of ten children, a union member or unemployed, the agitational appeal is broadened. "Union Member Framed on Murder Charge." "Unemployed Veteran Railroaded to Jail." "Father of 10 Arrested on False Charges." Almost always the charge of "police brutality" is thrown in too.

Such campaigns are sometimes carried on for months or years, with varying degrees of intensity. The Party is a self-appointed collector of "victims" of "framed evidence," "lynch justice," "Gestapo brutality," "academic witchhunts."

The Party searches American life for agitational points: the eviction of a family, the arrest of a Negro, a proposed rise in transit fares, a bill to increase taxes, a miscarriage of justice, the underpayment of a worker, the dismissal of a teacher, a shooting by law-enforcement officers. Some of the cases, unfortunately, do reflect mistakes or blemishes in American society. Others are twisted by the Party into agitational items.

Once the decision has been made to continue the campaign, the next step is probably the formation of the XYZ Committee to Save John Doe: a communist front, born at 9:00 A.M., full grown by 10:30 A.M., mailing out letters by noon. This gives the illusion of organized interest, focuses attention, and masks communist participation. Purpose (deceptive) is to gain "justice" for the defendant; purpose (real): to advance communism.

Attract attention by building up a bonfire of agitation. Suddenly, almost like magic, a "women's" group in Oregon, a "farmers"' meeting in Oklahoma, a "consumers"' conference in West Virginia pass resolutions: "Save John Doe!" Literature is scattered, other groups contacted. The Party becomes the agitational base. Who is John Doe? The members don't know, except that he's the newest twist in the Party line. That's enough!

The Party has now started a mass-agitation campaign. Its success depends on securing noncommunist support. Members contact community leaders, such as judges, members of the city council, doctors, lawyers, clergymen, educators, social workers, trying to obtain statements or testimonials.

The communist is no longer a shadowy figure deep underground or meeting secretly at night. He is knocking on doors, seeing prominent people, attending city council meetings.

I feel that John Doe has been wrongly arrested [or convicted, as the case may be]. I am compelled in the interests of justice to demand that he be released.

That is a typical testimonial to be sent to authorities and the press.

The technique of obtaining testimonials is always to start with a sympathizer, the kind who will authorize his name for any communist campaign. Some are so "controlled" that headquarters uses their names without consultation, even preparing their statements. Others are contacted on each occasion.

They next reach out for other prominent sympathizers. Officers of communist fronts make good signers. They usually have imposing "titles." Next, branch out to the lukewarm, those who are on the fence; sometimes they will sign, other times they will not. If not, they must be sold. Finally come the unsuspecting noncommunists, with contact being made either in person or on the telephone.

"Mr. X, I'm So-and-So from the XYZ Committee to Save John Doe. I was just over at Mr. Y's office. You know him, don't you?"

"Yes," will come the reply. That gets the interview off to a good start.

"This is a case I am sure will interest you. You are a lawyer and here is an individual who is the victim of injustice.... Have you heard about it?"

"No." That's good, the field is clear.

On and on. "Dr. F, Rev. 0, etc., have given statements ... The man signs. Another "innocent victim." Did he know the communist identity of the solicitor? No. Did he know that the XYZ Committee to Save John Doe was a communist front? No. Did he realize that by making the statement he was aiding the communist movement? No. For sincere, honest reasons of their own, entirely unrelated to communism, many individuals may support John Doe. This, of course, does not make them communists. To call them communists is an injustice, but it is not unjust to point out that the Party always seeks to exploit such personal convictions for partisan propaganda.

The cause of communism must be linked with as many elements in society as possible. Our fight for John Doe is your fight, the communists say to labor unions, Negro, professional, cultural, and nationality groups. Today he's being "persecuted." Tomorrow it'll be your turn. Join with us and we'll fight together.

... we Communists join with every other democratic-minded American, irrespective of views, in the common fight to preserve a common democratic heritage.

Deceptive: the communists are fighting for our "common democratic heritage"; real: to gain the support of noncommunist groups (even "... those who do not accept Socialism as a final aim"). As Lenin instructed, seize allies everywhere. Use them for the advantage of furthering communism.

Mass agitation is most effective in capturing the support of noncommunists. By securing even the temporary allegiance of an individual, as in a testimonial, the Party gains. In this way communist propaganda enters the orbit of that individual's personal influence. "Why," a friend will say after reading the testimonial, "if So-and-So endorses that organization [or issue], it must be OK." The dupe becomes a communist thought-control relay station. That's why communists are always eager to secure the support of doctors, clergymen, teachers, and other persons highly respected in their communities. The more widely known the person, the better.

Circulating petitions is another favorite communist technique for capturing noncommunist support.

A young woman stands on the sidewalk. A housewife, carrying a package, comes out of the grocery store.

"Pardon me," the young woman says, approaching her. "Wouldn't you like to help a young man win his freedom?"

The appeal is attractive. The housewife stops. "We have a petition to the governor asking for the release of John Doe. He's sentenced to die...." The housewife looks at the petition. It contains nothing communist. There is no hammer or sickle or mention of Russia. It is just a statement that we the undersigned believe that John Doe should be released. "You can help a lot by signing...."

She signs and so do thousands of others. Party teams are everywhere, on street corners, at factory gates, in bus terminals. Sign here, please. Won't you send a telegram or write a letter? Here's a sample all fixed up. Just sign it. Would you like a leaflet? Won't you call the governor's office? Come to our rally tonight. Write a letter to the newspaper. Is your club meeting soon? Have it pass a resolution. Your pastor can help. Have him call a protest meeting.

The pressure is tabulated in thousands of letters, resolutions, and telegrams, ten, a hundred times the number of all Party members in the United States.

Agitation campaigns are of all types, local, state, and national:

-- dealing with the high cost of living;

-- against a rise in transit fares;

-- opposing a bill in Congress or a state legislature;

-- protesting the showing of a "Fascist" movie;

-- urging amnesty for convicted Smith Act "victims";

-- demanding "peace"; "repeal the draft"; "more aid to schools";

-- protesting the arrival in town of some celebrity not liked by the Party.

Mass meetings. Rallies. Demonstrations. Picket lines. These, also used in other exploitation stages, now become imbued with "gravity." "John Doe Will Die in 2 Weeks. Wire the Governor. Demand His Release." "Save My Boy, Please. He's Innocent." "Where's America's Conscience? This Man Has Been Framed."

Sojourns. Treks. Pilgrimages. Motorcades. Encampments. The convergence on a selected spot, the state capital or Washington, D.C., of members and sympathizers from all over the country.

They arrive by train, battered old trucks, rented buses, hitchhiking. Get your tickets, meet at the station, don't miss the Clemency Train. Day after day the Daily Worker pounds this theme. An operational headquarters is set up, usually under a fancy Aesopian name such as "Liberty House" or "Inspiration Center."

Teams visit offices of legislators, officials of the government, and demand to see the governor or President. Make everyone think that "millions" are demanding clemency. A cascade of telegrams, letters, petitions, resolutions pours in, promoted by comrades back home. "The city was stirred today by the nation's demand for clemency for John Doe...." writes the Party's press agent. Probably 250 communists and their sympathizers were in town.

The hour of judicial decision or execution nears. The drama is heightened. "Prayer meetings" are held by communists, who do not believe in prayer. Then the super climax: a "vigil." The comrades start a marching line, twenty-four hours around the clock, demanding "mercy," "clemency." One day, two days, five days, twelve days, the line moves back and forth in front of the governor's mansion, or more dramatic, the White House. Placards read: "Mercy for John Doe." "Mr. Governor, Don't You Have a Heart?" Any testimonials secured from prominent individuals bob and weave in the marching line. Leaflets are handed out.

In two hours comes a new shift. Paraders walk silently, sometimes in single file, at other times two abreast, usually six to eight feet apart. This isn't supposed to be a flamboyant affair, but sad and mournful, designed to capture the emotions. Death is near! "Clemency Now -- Only 12 Hours Left." "Can America Allow an Innocent Man to Die?"

The shift is over. The members whisk back to "Liberty House," grab a bite to eat, hear a pep talk, then return for another "tour of duty." Cots are available for sleep. In this way a few fanatical comrades can attract the attention of thousands. Over the week end other comrades, off from work, "flood" into a city and, in the flaming words of the Party press, march by the "thousands" -- meaning probably 250 to 300. "There's Still Time to Act. Send Telegrams, Letters to the Governor." Mount the pressure. So long as John Doe is alive he must be exploited.

Birthday-card campaigns are initiated. Send John Doe a Christmas greeting. His picture is published. His "speeches" become "quotable scripture." A nine-year-old son visits him ... the child is shocked by the "watchtowers," "gigantic searchlights," "locked iron doors" ... the visit is over ... the little boy tells his mother, "After all, if Daddy didn't have such good political ideas he wouldn't be there in the first place." (He is a Smith Act "victim.")

The communist press will invariably superimpose its judgment on that of a jury and judge with a trumped-up charge that the homicide was justifiable, the evidence framed, or the witness had committed perjury. It will have a defense for the crime that would cause the person not familiar with the facts or the record of the trial to wonder. And the longer the lapse of time, the more real the trumped-up defense will sound to the uninformed. This might go on for years.

These campaigns are designed to dramatize communists and their front representatives as "champions" of the masses. They foster the illusion that these individuals are progressive, enlightened, and humanitarian, acting in the best interests of the American people. "We stand for freedom when everybody else is not interested." That is the illusion.

The real motive is to prepare both the Party and noncommunist society for revolutionary action. Members gain experience in mass work: the art of propaganda and agitation, organizing social discontent, guiding large numbers. Leadership, discipline, and organizational structure can be tested. Moreover, communists hope to make workers and the masses class-conscious, accepting the Party as their leader (in Party terms called radicalizing the masses). Sow seeds of discontent; weaken, divide, and neutralize anticommunist opposition; above all, undermine the American judicial process.

Experience over the years has demonstrated that every time communists are able to avert justice through technicalities, there is not only jubilation in Party circles but also increased urgings for more brazen Party action.


* from Masters of Deceit: The Story of Communism in America and How to Fight It, Henry Holt and Company, NY, 1958, by J. Edgar Hoover, Director, Federal Bureau of Investigation.

"EVERY CITIZEN has a duty to learn more about the menace that threatens his future, his home, his children, the peace of the world -- and that is why I have written this book."

Well, Hoover didn't actually write the book itself. It was written by Agent Fern Stukenbroeker, a Bureau researcher on subversive groups who was employed in the Crime Records Division. As researcher Frank M. Sorrentino explains, it appeared under Hoover's name as part of a public relations effort to portray the director as "an expert, a sage, almost a saint, ready to deliver the nation from the forces of evil."

more J. Edgar Hoover