Oliver Carlson

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Oliver Carlson (1899–1991) was founder of the Young Communist League of America among other Communist organizations and then served as an anti-communist government witness who specialized in Communist infiltration in Hollywood.[1][2][3][4]


Oliver Carlson was born on July 31, 1899, in Gotland, Sweden. In 1919, he was a member of the Intercollegiate Socialist Society. He studied law for one year at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor.[1][5]



In 1914, Carlson joined the Young People's Socialist League (YPSL) while living in the Muskegon and Detroit, Michigan, areas.[5] In 1918-1919, Carlson served as YPSL national secretary.[3]

YWL and YCL[edit]

After the Communist Party formed in 1919 in the US, Carlson became a communist.[3] During Winter 1920-1921, Carlson (as "H. Edwards") attended a second convention of the United Communist Party in Kingston, New York, which voted to establish the "Young People's Communist League." In April 1921, he attended a congress in Germany of the Young Communist International, where he received funding. The meeting then moved to Moscow, which Carlson (as "Tucker") attended.[2][5]

In January 1922, as the Workers Party of America formed, the Party agreed to found a National Organizing Committee (NOC) for the Young Workers League of America (YWL), with Carlson as secretary. The group started a second publication called Youth, soon changed to The Young Worker with Carlson as both YWLA secretary and Young Worker editor, Martin Abern as secretary, and Harry Gannes as business manager.[2] In May 1922, the Young Communist League of America (YCLA) formed at an underground gathering, to which Max Bedacht spoke. The group published Young Communist quarterly during 1922.[2] In July 1922, Carlson visited to comrades in Gary, Indiana.[5][6]

In January 1924, Carlson, now ex-editor, gauged circulation of the Young Worker at 7-8,000 copies per issue.[2] After attending the 4th world congress of the Young Communist International, leadership shuffled, with three secretaries (John Williamson, Martin Abern, and Carlson), Max Shachtman as editor, and Abern and Carlson as heads of the education department (among other positions).[2][5]

Communist Summer Schools[edit]

In 1925, Carlson became head of Communist Summer Schools, sponsored by the Workers Party of America.[3] During Summer 1926, the Young Workers League of America (YWL) ran several pioneer camps and summer schools: Chicago, Waino, Wisconsin; Waukegan, Illinois, and Winchedon, Massachusetts. During Summer 1927, the YWL ran four schools in Boston, a town in Ohio, Waino, and Winlock, Washington. Carlson directed the Winlock school. During 1928, Carlson directed a YWL school in Woodland, Washington.[2][7]


In 1928-9, Carlson joined the Communist League of America (CLA), headed by James P. Cannon, Max Shachtman, and Martin Abern. CLA members had been expelled from the Communist Party USA for Trotskyism as "Cannonites." He was one of the CLA "Musteites," other being Louis F. Budenz, Arnold Johnson, J.B.S. Hardman, and Benjamin Mandel.[8] By late 1931, Carlson was out and seeking readmission to the CLA: he would not gain re-admittance.[9] (In 1934, the CLA folded into A.J. Muste's American Workers Party to form the Workers Party of the United States.)

University of Chicago[edit]

In 1930, Carlson taught political science department at the University of Chicago, where "I made a special study of the propaganda techniques of the Communist movement both abroad and in this country."[1]

During 1939-1940, he studied "the problem of Communism" in the state of California, which he published as A Mirror for Californians in 1941.[1] According to Carlson in 1947, "has a good deal of information about the Communist movement in California, and in one chapter dealing with Hollywood I devote a part of that chapter to a discussion of the Communist infiltration in Hollywood up to that time." Carlson then read several pages from a chapter in the book called "There Is No Town Called Hollywood."[1] (A May 1941 review in The New York Times reports that the book focuses on four main actors in California history: Denis Kearney, Hiram Johnson, Upton Sinclair, and Francis Townsend and also discusses Harry Bridges.[10])


As early as 1944, Carlson's name appears among others listed by the Legislature of the State California as "friendly witnesses." Others include Earl Warren.[11]

On October 24, 1947, during hearings before the House Un-American Activities Committee, Carlson described himself as a writer and teacher, residing in Los Angeles. He told the committee, "I specialize in the field of political science, more particularly in the field of propaganda techniques. I have worked in that field for about 20 years or more." He testified that the Communist Party had sent people from New York to "run" Hollywood. He named V.J. Jerome and Eli Jacobson. He described Jacobson in detail: New Yorker, "charter member of the Communist Party," and associated in Los Angeles of film director Beryl La Cava and magazine editor Kyle Crichton. In the mid-1920s, Jacobson was a director of the New York Workers School, whose teachers included: Alexander Trachtenberg, William Z. Foster, Jack Stachel, and William W. Weinstone.

Regarding communism and teaching, Carlson testified that William Wolfe of the ILGWU education department ran a People's Education Center, succeeded by Sidney Davison (sent from New York). Herbert Biberman taught there (Soviet theater), as did Guy Endore Robert Lees. Advisors included Lees, Lawson, Healey, Herbert Sorrell, Frank Tuttle, and Sondra Gorney.[1][12]

Later life[edit]

In 1985, Carlson was living in Carlsbad, California.[5]

Personal life and death[edit]

Mrs. Oliver Carlson was a sponsor of the Hollywood League of Women Shoppers, along with Frances Farmer, Lillian Hellman, Mrs. Boris Karloff, and others.[1]

Oliver Carlson died aged 91 on March 4, 1991, in California.[citation needed]


In addition to his works and congressional testimony, historian Harvey Klehr interviewed Carlson, available the Harvey Klehr Papers at Emory University.[13]



  • "The Road Before Us: Keynote Speech at the First National Convention of the Young Workers League, Brooklyn, NY" (May 13, 1922)[14]
  • "Our First National Convention" (May 1922)[15]
  • "New Internationalism" (1922)[6]
  • "The Aims and Methods of Young Workers Education" (August 1927)[16]
  • "Recollections of American Trotskyist Leaders" (1977)[17]



See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g "Hearings regarding the communist infiltration of the motion picture industry". US GPO. 1947. pp. 237–254, 534 (wife). Retrieved 29 October 2018.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g Young Communist League of America (1921-1946). University of Nebraska Press. Retrieved 29 October 2018.
  3. ^ a b c d "Early American Marxism: Document Download Page for the Year: 1927". Marxists.org. Retrieved 29 October 2018.
  4. ^ Ross, Jack (15 April 2015). The Socialist Party of America: A Complete History. University of Nebraska Press. pp. 608 (details). ISBN 9781612347509. Retrieved 29 October 2018.
  5. ^ a b c d e f Davenport, Tim (23 May 2016). "OLIVER CARLSON not JOHN EDWARDS (Davenport)". H-NET HOAC. Retrieved 30 October 2018.
  6. ^ a b Carlson, Oliver (August–September 1922). "New Internationalism". Young Worker: 2 (Gary), 7–8 (article). Retrieved 29 October 2018. {{cite journal}}: Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  7. ^ "A Brief History of Youth Leagues in the American Communist Movement". League of Young Communists USA. 15 January 2018. Retrieved 29 October 2018.
  8. ^ Paul Le Blanc; Alan M. Wald; George Breitman, eds. (1 December 2016). Trotskyism in the United States: Historical Essays and Reconsiderations. Haymarket Books. ISBN 9781608467532. Retrieved 29 October 2018.
  9. ^ Boorman, Nicolas Dylan (15 April 2015). American Trotskyism and the Minnesota Farmer-Labor Party from Origins to 1936 (PDF) (Thesis). San Francisco State University. p. 55. Retrieved 29 October 2018.
  10. ^ Duffus, R.L. (11 May 1941). "The State of Infinite Contrasts" (PDF). The New York Times. p. 18. Retrieved 29 October 2018.
  11. ^ Senate, California. Legislature (9 April 1944). The State of Infinite Contrasts. p. 1203. Retrieved 29 October 2018. {{cite book}}: |work= ignored (help)
  12. ^ Ryskind, Allan (5 January 2015). Hollywood Traitors: Blacklisted Screenwriters Ð Agents of Stalin, Allies of Hitler. Regnery. pp. 191–193 (Carlson), 234 (Davison). ISBN 9781621572060. Retrieved 29 October 2018.
  13. ^ "Harvey Klehr Papers, 1901-2004". Emory University. 5 January 2015. Retrieved 29 October 2018.
  14. ^ Carlson, Oliver (June–July 1922). "Hearst: The Road Before Us: Keynote Speech at the First National Convention of the Young Workers League, Brooklyn, NY" (PDF). Young Worker. Retrieved 29 October 2018.
  15. ^ Carlson, Oliver (June–July 1922). "Our First National Convention" (PDF). Young Worker. Retrieved 29 October 2018.
  16. ^ Carlson, Oliver (1927). "The Aims and Methods of Young Workers Education" (PDF). Red Dawn. Retrieved 29 October 2018.
  17. ^ Carlson, Oliver (1977). "Recollections of American Trotskyist Leaders". Studies in Comparative Communism. 10 (1–2): 161–164. doi:10.1016/S0039-3592(77)80002-1. Retrieved 29 October 2018.
  18. ^ Carlson, Oliver; Bates, Ernest Sutherland (1936). Hearst: Lord of San Simeon. Viking Press. ISBN 9780837128474. Retrieved 29 October 2018.
  19. ^ Carlson, Oliver (1941). A Mirror for Californians. Bobbs-Merrill.
  20. ^ Carlson, Oliver (1953). Handbook on propaganda for the alert citizen. Studies of the Foundation for Social Research. Retrieved 29 October 2018.

External sources[edit]