Joseph Zack Kornfeder

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Joseph Zack Kornfeder

Joseph Zack Kornfeder (1898–1963), also known as Joseph Zack and to his friends as "Joe," was an Austro-Hungarian-born American who was a founding member and top leader of the Communist Party of America in 1919. Zack was a Representative of the Communist International to South America from 1930 to 1931, before quitting the Communist Party in 1934.

After his wife, who he had to leave in the Soviet Union, was arrested by the secret police during the Great Terror of 1937-38, Zack moved to a position of vehement anti-Communism, testifying before the Dies Committee of the US Congress as a friendly witness in 1939 and the Canwell Committee of the Washington State Legislature in 1948.


Early years[edit]

Joseph Zack Kornfeder, perhaps better known by his mother's maiden name as "Joseph Zack," was born in Trenčín, Austria-Hungary (now Slovakia) on March 20, 1898. Zack's parents were ethnic Austrians and they raised their son as a Roman Catholic.

As a young man, Joseph went to Spain, where he joined the Spanish Socialist Workers' Party at age 16.[1] This early knowledge of Spanish would later be put to use by the Comintern when it stationed him to Central America.

The family emigrated to the United States in 1915, landing in New York City, where they made a home. Zack took a job as a garment worker and joined the Socialist Party of America within a year after his arrival.[2]

Political career[edit]

Zack was a founding member of the Communist Party of America (CPA) in 1919. He seems to have left the CPA along with C.E. Ruthenberg in April 1920 to join with the rival Communist Labor Party of America (CLP) in establishing the United Communist Party (UCP). He is known to have used the pseudonyms "A.C. Griffith" and "J.P. Collins" during the underground period, occasionally contributing articles to the party press on trade union-related matters. Zack was elected a member of the unified Communist Party of America following its formation at a unity convention held at the Overlook Mountain House near Woodstock, New York in May 1921.[3] He emerged as an outspoken advocate of elimination of the underground form of political organization in 1921. Zack resigned from the CEC of the CPA on April 17, 1923, to help make way for Earl Browder, Robert Minor, and Alfred Wagenknecht, who were coopted to the 10-member body at that time.[3]

Zack was a delegate to the ill-fated 1922 Bridgman Convention of the CPA which was raided by police on August 22. Zack was arrested in the Justice Department-directed operation and was held for about four months, finally being released around the start of 1923 on $5,000 bail. Zack was involved in the Communist Party's activities among the trade unions, conducted by William Z. Foster's Trade Union Educational League (TUEL). Zack was chosen as the head of TUEL's National Committee of the Needle Trades Section, which was organized November 22, 1922. During the bitter internecine factional struggle which swept the American Communist movement during the 1920s, Zack was a loyal partisan of the faction headed by Bill Foster and Jim Cannon.[4]

In 1926, Zack married a Russian woman, with whom he had one son. Zack attended the Comintern's International Lenin School and sat as an American representative to the Executive Committee of the Communist International (ECCI), where he was made a member of ECCI's Anglo-American Secretariat, charged with Communist affairs in the English-speaking countries.[4]

In 1930, Zack was dispatched as a Comintern Rep to South America, where he remained until the fall of 1931. While Zack was at the Comintern's disposal abroad, his wife and son remained in Moscow. In the fall of 1931, Zack was jailed in Venezuela, only gaining his release through the efforts of the United States Department of State. Home in the United States with his American citizen wife and New York City-born son still in the USSR,[5] Zack was named the Secretary for the Eastern District of the Trade Union Unity League (TUUL), successor to TUEL.[4]

Following his return from Central America, Zack made multiple appeals to CPUSA General Secretary Earl Browder, without success to allow his wife and son to return to the United States.[6] Zack later claimed that Browder coerced him into signing receipts for $1500 in Comintern funds that were supposed to have been sent to support Zack's efforts in Central America but never sent as a quid pro quo for the return of his wife and son — a promise upon which Browder never delivered.[6]

Break with Communism[edit]

In the fall of 1934, Zack abruptly quit the CPUSA, ostensibly over the party's departure from the ultra-radicalism of the so-called "Third Period." Zack made his way into the Workers Party of the United States (WPUS), formed at the end of 1934 by the unification of two small political organizations, headed by pacifist A.J. Muste and Trotskyist James P. Cannon, respectively. He remained a member of this organization for only a short time.[4]

In 1936, Zack made an appeal to the US State Department in an attempt to persuade the USSR to allow his wife and child out of the country.[7] The effort proved unsuccessful, a difficulty which became a catastrophe in 1937 when his wife ran afoul of the secret police during the Great Terror which swept the Soviet Union. Zack's wife was apparently arrested as the relative of an enemy of the people; she ultimately served 18 years in the labor camps of the Gulag, with the couple's son raised in a special home.[8] The arrest of his wife had the effect of turning Zack into a vigorous opponent of Joseph Stalin and the USSR.[4]

On September 30, 1939, Zack was called before the Dies Committee, before which he testified extensively as a friendly witness. In succeeding years, Zack established himself as an outspoken anti-communist, addressing conservative gatherings and writing on the dangers of Stalin's dictatorship.[4]

On February 3, 1948, Zack gave voluntary testimony to the Canwell Committee of the Washington state legislature.[9] Zack gave a lengthy account of his career in the communist movement, including details about his activities as a party organizer in the American labor movement and of his break with the Communist International.

Death and legacy[edit]

Joseph Zack Kornfeder died of a heart attack while checking into a Washington, D.C. hotel on May Day, 1963.[4]


  1. ^ Branko Lazitch with Milorad M. Drachkovitch, Biographical Dictionary of the Comintern: New, Revised, and Expanded Edition. Stanford, CA: Hoover Institution Press, 1986; pg. 230.
  2. ^ Harvey Klehr, The Heyday of American Communism: The Depression Decade. New York: Basic Books, 1984; pg. 131.
  3. ^ a b "Communist Party of America Officials," Early American Marxism website. Retrieved October 14, 2009.
  4. ^ a b c d e f g Staff. "Joseph Zack Kornfeder Is Dead; Ex-Official of U.S. Reds Was 65; Quit Party in '34 and Testified on It Often--Had Studied Subversion in Moscow", The New York Times, May 4, 1963. Accessed October 16, 2009.
  5. ^ Albert F. Canwell, et al., First Report, Un-American Activities in Washington State, 1948. Olympia, WA: Joint Legislative Fact-Finding Committee on Un-American Activities, 1948; pg. 453.
  6. ^ a b Canwell, et al., First Report, Un-American Activities in Washington State, 1948, pg. 454.
  7. ^ Max Shachtman, "The Case of Joseph Zack," The Socialist Appeal [New York], vol.3 no. 30 (July 23, 1938).
  8. ^ Morris Childs, "Last Days in Moscow," August 21, 1958, pp. 2-3 in "FBI SOLO Files - March 1958 to August 1960." Washington, DC: Federal Bureau of Investigation, August 2011; pdf pages 285-286.
  9. ^ The testimony appears in Albert F. Canwell, et al., First Report, Un-American Activities in Washington State, 1948. Olympia, WA: Joint Legislative Fact-Finding Committee on Un-American Activities, 1948; pp. 446-498.


  • "What Shall We Do in the Unions?" As "J.P. Collins." The Communist (New York: unified CPA), vol. 1, no. 3 (Sept. 1921), pp. 20–23.
  • Communist Front Organizations: Types, Purposes, History and Tactics. Columbus, OH: Ohio Coalition of Patriotic Societies, n.d. [c. 1940].
  • Communist Deception in the Churches: An Address before Circuit Riders, Inc., at a National Committee Conference in Cincinnati, Ohio, October 26, 1952. Cincinnati, OH: Circuit Riders, 1952.
  • Brainwashing and Senator McCarthy. New York: Alliance, 1954.
  • The New Frontier of War. With William Roscoe Kintner. Chicago: Regnery, 1962.

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