Lee Pressman during testimony to a U.S. Senate subcommittee on March 24, 1938
|Born||July 1, 1906
New York City
|Died||November 20, 1969
Mt. Vernon, New York
|Alma mater||Cornell University (B.A., 1926)
Harvard Law School (J.D., 1929)
|Employer||Chadbourne, Stanchfield & Levy, Agricultural Adjustment Administration, Works Progress Administration, Resettlement Administration, Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO), Progressive Party|
|Known for||membership in Ware Group|
|Political party||Communist Party of the United States of America|
|Children||Anne Pressman, Susan Pressman, Marcia Pressman|
|Parent(s)||Harry Pressman, Clara Pressman|
|Relatives||Irving Pressman (brother)|
Lee Pressman (July 1, 1906 – November 20, 1969) was a labor attorney and a US government functionary publicly exposed in 1948 for having been a spy for the Soviet foreign intelligence network during the middle 1930s as a member of the Ware Group. Months before, Pressman lost his job as counsel for the Congress of Industrial Organizations as a result of a purge of Communist Party members and fellow travelers from that organization.
- 1 Career
- 2 Espionage allegations
- 3 Personal and death
- 4 Subsequent findings
- 5 Writings
- 6 See also
- 7 References
- 8 External sources
Pressman received his bachelor's degree from Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, and a law degree from Harvard Law School. At Harvard, he was in the same class as Alger Hiss, and they both served on the Harvard Law Review:
Mr. Hiss: ... Lee Pressman was in my class at the Harvard Law School, and we were both on the Harvard Law Review at the same time."
New Deal service
Pressman was appointed assistant general counsel of the Agricultural Adjustment Administration (AAA) in 1933 by Secretary of Agriculture Henry A. Wallace. Early in 1934, while he was an official of the Federal government, Pressman joined the Communist Party USA at the invitation of Harold Ware, a Communist agricultural journalist in Washington, DC: "I was asked to join [the Communist Party] by a man named Harold Ware"
Pressman left government service in the winter of 1935-36 and went into private law practice in New York City with David Scribner as Pressman & Scribner. Clients included the Marine Engineers Beneficial Association (MEBA), the United Public Workers CIO, and other unions.
Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO)
In June 1936, he was named a counsel of the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO—later AFL-CIO) for the Steel Workers Organizing Committee (SWOC—later, the United Steelworkers of America), appointed by union chief John L. Lewis as part of a conscious attempt to mobilize left wing activists on behalf of the new labor federation. In 1938, Pressman moved back to Washington, DC to become full-time general counsel for the CIO and the SWOC. He remained in this position for the next decade. (According to his obituary in the New York Times, he was general counsel from 1936 to 1948.)
In his role as the CIO's general counsel, Pressman was influential in helping to stop the attempt to deport Communist Longshoreman's Union official Harry Bridges. He continued to interact with Brides well into June 1948, as longshoremen continued to threaten strikes on the Atlantic and Gulf Coasts and Bridges remained president of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union.
In February 1948, Pressman was fired from his job as CIO counsel, reportedly as a byproduct of a factional struggle within the federation in which anti-Communist labor leader Walter Reuther emerged triumphant. Time magazine (anti-communist) gloated, "Lee Pressman and his Communist line are no longer popular in the C.I.O., where Walter Reuther's right wing is in ascendancy." (On March 4, 1948, CIO president Philip Murray announced his replacement by Arthur J. Goldberg.) Pressman went into private legal practice in New York City following his firing. In March and April 1948, however, it was clear that the CIO still used his services, even after "firing" him. In March 1948, he joined CIO attorneys in opposing Government attorneys, who had declared that "the Taft-Hartley Law's ban against expenditures by labor unions in connection with Federal elections permissibly limited Constitutional guarantees of freedom of speech and of the press." In April 1948, he represented the CIO before the Supreme Court in a case about barring of expenditures by labor unions for political purposes. (Felix Frankfurter, then Supreme Court Justice, taught at Harvard Law while Pressman was a student there.)
In March 1948, Pressman's name appeared in the New York Times as legal counsel of the Furriers Joint Board. The thousand-member Associated Fur Coat and Trimming Manufacturers, Inc., had asked for a return to pre-WWII two-season wage scheme plus compliance with affidavits from non-communist union leaders per the Taft-Hartley Act. The latter condition put pressure on two CPUSA union leaders, Ben Gold and Irving Potash. "In a unique turn of events," Pressman cited a Taft-Hartley Act provision to block a lockout. He sued for a temporary injunction based on failure by employers to give 60-day lockout notice to workers, plus failure to provide thirty-day notification to Federal and state mediation services. He also helped get Potash set free on $5,000 bail while awaiting deportation hearings.
Pressman continued private practice. He continued to represent the MEBA, e.g., over a restraining order against strikes on the Atlantic and Gulf Coasts in 1948. At the Supreme Court he represented Philip Murray (1886–1952), Scottish-born steelworker and American labor leader, first president of SWOC and USWA, and longest-serving president of the CIO.
Also in March 1948, Pressman joined a group of lawyers in defending five "aliens" against deportation hearings due to their Communist ties. Pressman represented all five, at least some of whom had their own attorneys: alleged Soviet spy Gerhard Eisler (represented by Abraham J. Isserman), Irving Potash of the Fur and Leather Workers Union, Ferdinand C. Smith of the National Maritime Union (Pressman); Charles A. Doyle of the Gas, Coke and Chemical Workers Union (Isadore Englander), and CPUSA labor secretary John Williamson (Carol Weiss King). Pressman went on to join Joseph Forer, a Washington-based attorney, in representing the five before the U.S. Supreme Court. On May 5, 1946, Pressman and Forer received a preliminary injunction so their defendants might have hearings with examiners unconnected with the investigations and prosecutions by examiners of the Immigration and Naturalization Service. (All attorneys were members of the National Lawyers Guild.)
On May 16, 1949, the United Public Workers read aloud their general counsel Pressman's letter, summarized by the New York Times:
The Congressional proposal to prohibit payment of Federal wages to members of groups whose leaders refused to swear they were not Communists violated the constitutional rights of civil service workers.
Mr. Pressman contended that the proposed ban would deprive civil service workers of freedom of speech, press and assembly under the first amendment, would violate their right to participate in political activity under the ninth and tenth amendments and would impose a test of "guilt by association" in contravention of the fifth amendment.
"One of the most basic doctrines in American jurisprudence is that individuals may not be prosecuted for acts except for those for which they are directly responsible. It is this doctrine which precludes any individual from being adjudged guilty because of association, rather than because of his own personal guilt. It is this doctrine which is directly violated by the proposed rider."
On May 19, 1948, Securities and Exchange Commission official Anthon H. Lund accused Pressman of interfering in a lawsuit filed against the Kaiser-Frazer car manufacturing company in a Federal District Court in New York City. He specified that between February 3 and 9, 1948, Harold J. Ruttenberg, vice president of the Portsmouth Steel Corporation, had contacted Pressman for advice on "how to go about filing a stockholder's suite against Kaiser-Frazer." Later in May, during testimony before an SEC board of inquiry, Pressman declared he had "absolutely nothing to do with" the suit. "I have not been requested by anyone to suggest the name of a lawyer who would file a lawsuit against the Kaiser-Frazer Corporation." He stated, "I demand that I be given the opportunity to examine Mr. Lund under oath on the stand to determine who gave him that inaccurate information." The trial's examiner Milton P. Kroll informed Pressman, "You have been given the opportunity to state your position on the record. Your request is denied."
1948 political bids
Pressman was important enough in American politics to have Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. single him out as recent example in Schlesinger's concept of the Vital Center as first described in a long New York Times article in 1948 entitled "Not Left, Not Right, but a Vital Center." In it, Schlesinger argues first that the 19th Century concept of "linear" spectrum Left and Right did not fir developments of the 20th Century. Rather, he promoted the "circular" spectrum of DeWitt Clinton Poole, in which Fascism and Nazism would meet at the circle's bottom with Soviet Communism (Leninism, Stalinism). He himself promotes the term "Non-Communist Left" (NCL) as an American modification of Leon Blum's Third Force. He cites as example the ascendancy of Walter Reuther in the CIO and ouster of Lee Pressman:
Newspapers will doubtless continue to refer to Walter Reuther as the leader of the Right wing of the CIO, whereas, as every automobile manufacturer knows, Reuther is to the Right only in the sense of being profoundly pro-democratic and anti-Communist... Instead of backing the Non-Communist Left as the group in Europe closest to the American progressive faith in combining freedom· and planning, the CIO, for example, maintained a disturbing silence over foreign affairs; and altogether too many liberals followed Communist cues in rejoicing at every Soviet triumph and at every Socialist discomfiture. The Wallace Doctrine of non-interference with Soviet expansion prevailed in these years. In recent months, the conception of the non-Communist Left has made headway in the United States. On the moderate Right, men like Senator Vandenberg and John Foster Dulles have recognized its validity. The fight against Communist influence in the CIO, culminating in Walter Reuther's victory in the United Auto Workers and tile discharge of Lee Pressman as CIO general counsel, has finally brought the CIO side by side with the AFL in support of the Third Force in Europe.
Schlesinger was carefully noting the entrance of Pressman into national politics.
Progressive Party support
Pressman became a close adviser of Progressive Party 1948 presidential candidate Henry A. Wallace. In fact, when his former AAA boss Rexford Tugwell joined the Progressive Party campaign in early 1948, "he did so on condition that Lee Pressman would serve as its secretary."
By June 1948, the New York Times cited him as "general counsel" for the "National Labor Committee for Wallace."
At the party's convention (July 23-25, 1948), Pressman served on the committee (under Rexford Tugwell, who had helped create and directed the AAA back in the early 1930s) to create a platform that the New York Times summed up as "endorsing Red foreign policy."
At the time, the Washington Post dubbed Pressman, Abt, and Calvin Benham "Beanie" Baldwin (C. B. Baldwin) as "influential insiders" and "stage managers" in the Wallace campaign. However, he was reportedly "forced out because of his Communist line."
During the 1948 convention, the New York Times described as follows:
Lee Pressman, who, for years, exerted a powerful left-wing influence as counsel for the CIO, is secretary of the Platform Committee, which will hold another executive session at 10 A. M. Friday before preparing its final draft for submission to the 2,500 delegates who are expected at the convention's closing session next Sunday.
American Labor Party candidacy
On June 9, 1948, Pressman declared that he himself was running for public office as the candidate of the American Labor Party for U.S. Congress in the 14th District of New York (Brooklyn). He ran against Abraham J. Multer. Multer used Pressman's communist association against him early on by claiming that he had received his "certificate of election" from the Daily Worker (CPUSA newspaper), thanks to its condemnation of him. Meanwhile, he faced condemnation from New York state's CIO head Louis Hollander, who promised to oppose Pressman's candidacy.
Communist affiliation continued to hound Pressman's campaign. Days before the election, headlines in the Brooklyn and New York area were still appearing, like this from the Brooklyn Daily Eagle: "Pressman: Candidate for Congress, Long Active in Pro-Red Groups."
In 1939, former underground Communist Whittaker Chambers privately identified Pressman to Assistant Secretary of State Adolf Berle as a member of a so-called "Ware group" of Communist government officials supplying information to the secret Soviet intelligence network.
On his own behalf, Pressman declined to answer questions regarding Communist Party membership, citing grounds of potential self-incrimination.
During the superheated political environment which surrounded the Korean War, Pressman seems to have stepped back from his previous communist affinities. In 1950, Pressman resigned from the American Labor Party because of "Communist control of that organization," which was reported in the press and which signaled HUAC that Pressman was at last ready to talk.
Called again before Congress to give testimony on Communist Party activities, Pressman reversed his previous decision to exercise his Fifth Amendment rights and gave testimony against his former comrades. Pressman stated:
In my desire to see the destruction of Hitlerism and an improvement in economic conditions here at home, I joined a Communist group in Washington, D. C, about 1934. My participation in such group extended for about a year, to the best of my recollection. I recall that about the latter part of 1935— the precise date I cannot recall, but it is a matter of public record — I left the Government service and left Washington to reenter the private practice of law in New York City. And at that time I discontinued any further participation in the group from that date until the present.
Pressman indicated that in at least one meeting of his group, perhaps two, he had met Soviet intelligence agent J. Peters. Although Pressman made no mention of having himself conducted intelligence-gathering activities, his 1950 testimony provided the first corroboration of Chambers' allegation that a Washington, DC communist group around Ware existed, with federal officials Nathan Witt, John Abt and Charles Kramer named as members of this party cell.
Personal and death
Upon his death, TIME magazine (never a friend of Pressman's) wrote:
Died. Lee Pressman, 63, the C.I.O.'s legal counsel from 1936 until 1948, when his far-left politics finally cost him his job and career; of cancer; in Mt. Vernon, N.Y. Pressman never made any bones about his Communist leanings, often supporting the Moscow line. Yet as a union lawyer he was tops; he played a major role in negotiating the original C.I.O. contracts with such industrial giants as U.S. Steel and General Motors, and ably fought labor cases before the Supreme Court.
In 1948, Anatoly Gorsky, former chief of Soviet intelligence operations in the United States, listed Pressman, code-named "Vig," among the Soviet sources likely to have been identified by US authorities, as a result of the defection of Soviet courier Elizabeth Bentley three years earlier.
Following the fall of the Soviet Union, archival information on Soviet espionage activity in America began to emerge. Working in Soviet intelligence archives in the middle 1990s, Russian journalist Alexander Vassiliev discovered that Pressman, codenamed "Vig," had told only fragments of the truth to Congressional inquisitors in 1950. Working with historians John Earl Haynes and Harvey Klehr, Vassiliev revealed that Pressman had actually remained "part of the KGB's support network" by providing legal aid and funneling financial support to exposed intelligence assets. As late as September 1949, Soviet intelligence had paid $250 through Pressman to Victor Perlo for an analysis of the American economic situation, followed by an additional $1000 in October.
A 1951 Soviet intelligence report indicated that "Vig" had "chosen to betray us," apparently a reference to his 1950 public statements and Congressional testimony. Historians Haynes, Klehr, and Vassiliev indicate that the assessment was an overstatement, however. With his carefully limited testimony before HUAC and in his unpublicized interviews with the Federal Bureau of Investigation it is instead charged that Pressman:
...Sidestepped most of his knowledge of the early days of the Communist underground in Washington and his own involvement with Soviet intelligence, first with Chambers's GRU network in the 1930s and later with the KGB. He had never been the classic 'spy' who stole documents. Neither his work in domestically oriented New Deal agencies in the early 1930s nor his later role as a labor lawyer gave him access to information of Soviet interest. Instead, he functioned as part of the KGB espionage support network, assisting and facilitating its officers and agents. He gambled that there would not be anyone to contradict his evasions and that government investigators would not be able to charge him with perjury. He won his bet...
Pressman left one posthumously published memoir, a microfiche transcript of Columbia oral history interview:
- The Reminiscences of Lee Pressman (1975)
- Chambers, Whittaker (1952). Witness. Random House. pp. 346, 624. ISBN 0-89526-571-0.
- "End of the Line?". Time. 16 February 1948. Retrieved 19 March 2017.
- Marion Dickerman and Ruth Taylor (eds.), Who's Who In Labor: The Authorized Biographies of the Men and Women Who Lead Labor in the United States and Canada and of Those Who Deal with Labor. New York: The Dryden Press, 1946; pg.286.
- Newman, Roger K., The Yale Biographical Dictionary of American Law, Yale University Press, 2009. Cf. p.437, entry on Lee Pressman
- "Hearings regarding Communist espionage in the United States Government". Archive.org. 5 August 1948. Retrieved 23 May 2015.
- "Lee Pressman, Labor Lawyer Ancl Ex-C.I.O. Counsel, 63, Dies". New York Times. 21 November 1969. p. 47.
- "Hearings regarding Communist espionage in the United States Government". Archive.org. 28 August 1950. p. 2845 (Communist group) 2850 (met Ware), 2860 (started law practice). Retrieved 26 May 2015.
- Raskin, A. H. (17 May 1948). "Union Heads Plan Mass Lobby Move: United Public Workers to Take 500 Delegates to Washington if Senate Debates a Bill". New York Times. p. 12. Retrieved 18 March 2017.
- Hearings Regarding Communism in the United States Government — Part 2, pg. 2849.
- "'Disaster' is Seen in a Ship Walkout: Declaration by Taylor Draws Heated Denial by Curran – Pier Strike Threatened". New York Times. 8 June 1948. p. 51. Retrieved 19 March 2017.
- Tower, Samuel A. (18 March 1946). "CIO Group for Aid to Russia as Way to Build Faith in U.S.". New York Times. pp. 1, 4, 5. Retrieved 22 November 2016.
- "CIO Officials Urge Closer Soviet Accord". Washington Post. 18 March 1946. p. 2.
- "CIO Names General Counsel". New York Times. 5 March 1948. p. 7. Retrieved 18 March 2017.
- Stark, Louis (6 March 1948). "Labor Rights Curb Legal, Court Told: Attorneys Back Taft Act's 'Incidental' Freedom Limit -- CIO Case in Advisement". New York Times. p. 7. Retrieved 18 March 2017.
- Wood, Lewis (30 April 1948). "Haste Is Charged on Taft Act Test: Frankfurter Hints Lawyers Put Abstraction to Court – Both Sides Deny It". New York Times. p. 10.
- "Fur Closing Voted to Force Contract: Employers Plan Halt April 2 -- Ask 2 Pay Rates, Union Anti-Communist Pledge". New York Times. 24 March 1948. p. 29. Retrieved 18 March 2017.
- "Potash Set Free on Bail of $5,000: Communist Had Been on Hunger Strike Pending a Ruling in Habeas Corpus Case". New York Times. 4 March 1948. p. 7. Retrieved 18 March 2017.
- "Arguments Heard in Ship Strike Ban: Unions Challenge Court Power but Government Counsel Contends Act Is Legal". New York Times. 19 June 1948. p. 29. Retrieved 18 March 2017.
- "Broad Results Predicted". New York Times. 22 June 1948. p. 14. Retrieved 18 March 2017.
- "Ruling on 5 Aliens Delayed by Court: Alleged Communists at Liberty on Bail as Judges Weigh Plea in Deportation Cases". New York Times. 11 March 1948. p. 13. Retrieved 25 March 2017.
- "Eisler, 4 Others Win New Hearings: Goldsborough Enjoins Their Deportation Pending Compliance With 1946 Law". New York Times. 6 May 1948. p. 18. Retrieved 18 March 2017.
- Cloke, H. Walton (27 May 1948). "Steel Man Levels 'Vilification' Cry: Portsmouth Phone Calls Data Given by SEC 'Misinformer' in Kaiser Case, He Avers: Stirs Uproar in Hearing". New York Times. p. 37. Retrieved 18 March 2017.
- Cloke, H. Walton (27 May 1948). "Pressman Denies Kaiser Suit Link: Contradicts Testimony of SEC Aide That He Was Consulted as to Lawyer for Action". New York Times. p. 37. Retrieved 18 March 2017.
- Schlesinger, jr., Arthur M. (4 April 1948). "Not Left, Not Right, but a Vital Center: The Hope of the Future Lies in the Widening and Deepening of the Democratic Middle Ground". New York Times. p. SM7. Retrieved 25 March 2017.
- Gall, Gilbert J. (1999). Pursuing Justice: Lee Pressman, the New Deal, and the CIO. SUNY Press. p. 236. Retrieved 19 March 2017.
- "Committee to Set 3D Party Conclave: Formation of a 700-Member National Organization for Wallace Announced". New York Times. 26 March 1948. p. 16. Retrieved 18 March 2017.
- "Wallace Assails U.S. Big Business: It and the Major Political Parties Are Undermining Our Future, He Says". New York Times. 23 June 1948. p. 16. Retrieved 18 March 2017.
- Lawrence, W. H. (26 July 1948). "New Party Blocks Ban on Endorsing Red Foreign Policy: With Communists in Control, Platform Is Adopted Avoiding Any Criticism of Russia". New York Times. p. 1. Retrieved 18 March 2016.
- Alsop, Joseph; Alsop, Stewart (25 July 1948). "Wallace Must Wonder Sometimes". Washington Post. p. B5.
- Alsop, Joseph; Alsop, Stewart (28 July 1948). "Progressives Open Doors To Other Like-Minded Groups". Washington Post. p. B5.
- Childs, Marquis (24 July 1948). "Calling Washington: Wallace's Stage Managers". Washington Post. p. 9.
- "Nobody Here But Us Chicks". Time. 21 August 1950.
- Weart, William G. (20 July 1948). "Wallace Backers Begin on Platform: They Name 74 to Committee Headed by Tugwell and Open Philadelphia Quarters". New York Times. p. 1. Retrieved 18 March 2017.
- Lawrence Kestenbaum (ed.), "Lee Pressman," Political Graveyard.com Retrieved August 9, 2010.
- "Will Run for Congress On Brooklyn ALP Ticket". New York Times. 10 July 1948. p. 22. Retrieved 18 March 2017.
- "1,700 Attend Rally to Fight Communism". New York Times. 17 July 1948. p. 4. Retrieved 18 March 2017.
- "State CIO to Fight Pressman, Rogge: Hollander Voices Opposition to Candidates for Congress Backed by Third Party". New York Times. 11 July 1948. p. 5. Retrieved 18 March 2017.
- "Kings Republicans to Aid Two Democrats To Insure the Defeat of Labor Candidates". New York Times. 16 July 1948. p. 4. Retrieved 18 March 2017.
- Moscow, Warren (19 July 1948). "Tammany Majority Bloc Declines To Consider Withdrawing Valente: Bloc in Tammany Sticks". New York Times. p. 1. Retrieved 18 March 2017.
- "Pressman: Candidate for Congress, Long Active in Pro-Red Groups" (PDF). Brooklyn Daily Eagle. 24 October 1948. Retrieved 19 March 2017.
- Klehr, Harvey; Haynes, John Earl; Vassiliev, Alexander (2009). Spies: The Rise and Fall of the KGB in America. With John Earl Haynes and Harvey Klehr. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press. pp. 426–428. Retrieved 19 March 2017.
- Testimony of Whittaker Chambers, House Committee on Un-American Activities, Hearings Regarding Communist Espionage in the United States Government, August 3, 1948.
- "The Road Back". Time. 4 September 1950.
- Hearings Regarding Communism in the United States Government — Part 2, p. 2844.
- Hearings Regarding Communism in the United States Government — Part 2, pp. 2855-2856.
- "Milestones: Nov. 28, 1969". TIME. 21 November 1969. Retrieved 26 March 2017.
- "Gorsky Report: Dec 23, 1949". History News Network. 30 April 2005. Retrieved 18 March 2017.
- Pressman, Lee (1975). The Reminiscences of Lee Pressman. Glen Rock, NJ: Microfilming Corp. of America.
- "Hearings Regarding Communist Espionage in the United States Government (Alger Hiss Case), Part 1 - Committee on Un-American Activities, US House of Representatives". Washington, DC: US Government Printing Office. 948. pp. 1022–1028.
- "Hearings Regarding Communism in the United States Government — Part 2 - Committee on Un-American Activities, US House of Representatives". Washington, DC: US Government Printing Office. 1950. pp. 2844–2901.
- Chambers, Whittaker (1952). Witness. Random House. p. 799. ISBN 0-89526-571-0.
- Gilbert J. Gall, "A Note on Lee Pressman and the FBI," Labor History, vol. 32, no. 4 (Autumn 1991), pp. 551–561.
- Gall, Gilbert J. (1999). Pursuing Justice: Lee Pressman, the New Deal, and the CIO. SUNY Press. Retrieved 19 March 2017.
- John Earl Haynes and Harvey Klehr, Venona: Decoding Soviet Espionage in America. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1999.
- Klehr, Harvey; Haynes, John Earl; Vassiliev, Alexander (2009). Spies: The Rise and Fall of the KGB in America. With John Earl Haynes and Harvey Klehr. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press. p. 428. Retrieved 19 March 2017.
- Pressman, Lee (1975). The Reminiscences of Lee Pressman. Glen Rock, NJ: Microfilming Corp. of America.
- "Records of the Progressive Party". University of Iowa Libraries. June 2002. Retrieved 19 March 2017.
- Epstein, Marc J. (1972). The Progressive Party of 1948. University of Iowa Press. Retrieved 19 March 2017.