When you write a book, particularly one that requires several years of research, you tend to encounter a bunch of unexpected information. Sometimes you find things that, if reported, will undoubtedly prompt partisans to demand you explain yourself. For me, this begins that process of explaining, given that one of the major characters in my new book on American Communists, Dupes, is Frank Marshall Davis.
Allegations regarding Davis’s Communism are sure to infuriate the Left because of the influence Davis once had over our president. He was a drinking buddy of Barack Obama’s maternal grandfather, Stanley Dunham, and spent time with young Obama. He turns up in the president’s memoir, Dreams from My Father, shrewdly identified only as “Frank”: “I was intrigued by old Frank, with his books and whiskey breath and the hint of hard-earned knowledge behind the hooded eyes.” Recently, a U.S. Communist-party official confirmed the relationship, bragging in a speech of the Communist Davis’s formative influence over Obama. And yet when the allegations surfaced during the 2008 campaign, they went virtually unreported in the mainstream media.
After an almost four-year-long sojourn in which I tried to ascertain whether Davis was a progressive duped by Communists, or, conversely, a Communist who duped progressives, I determined the latter. No doubt, this conclusion — which means the leader of the free world was strongly influenced by a Marxist — will bring the unholy wrath of liberals. Yet, they should brace themselves for another kind of anger. Once they read what Davis did and wrote, they might redirect their rage. In truth, Davis’s targets were mainly Democrats, and especially a Democratic icon, Harry Truman. What Davis said about Truman was unbelievably outrageous. Worse, he said it because it was the Moscow line.
Since the early 1990s, I’ve been absorbed with archives from the Soviet and Communist world — I’ve looked at every kind of declassified holding. In recent years, I’ve concentrated on an extraordinary cache of material from the Comintern Archives on Communist Party USA (CPUSA). This material is utterly damning to the American Left, especially in its vindication of the worst fears and warnings of anti-Communists. Not surprisingly, our illustrious “scholars” in the academy are studiously ignoring it.
When I heard the accusations that Davis was both a Communist and a former mentor of Obama’s, I began noticing his name in documents, from House and Senate investigations to materials for hideous Communist fronts such as the American Peace Mobilization, a group that supported or opposed Hitler based entirely on whether he was signing non-aggression pacts with Stalin’s USSR or invading Stalin’s USSR. This group also unrelentingly demonized Franklin Delano Roosevelt.
I learned that Davis served as an editor and writer for a Communist-line publication, the Chicago Star, in the 1930s. I next learned that the Midwest native had flown thousands of miles away to Hawaii to take up permanent residence, just when American Communists were looking to launch a publication there, namely the Honolulu Record. Subsequently, Davis wrote a weekly column for that publication.
With the help of two super-impressive researchers, including one living in Hawaii, I procured Davis’s weekly “Frank-ly Speaking” columns for the Record. These writings flawlessly parroted official Soviet propaganda and portrayed the likes of Harry Truman, George Marshall, and other courageous Democrats as colonialist-imperialist-fascist-racist monsters. Davis even denounced the Marshall Plan. As any student of this era knows, only the Soviet Union, via the public voices of Stalin and Molotov, took this absurd position.
In column after column, Davis claimed Truman craved not only a “third world war,” but to “rule Russia.” Davis said that Truman’s “fascism, American style” was motivated by an anti-Communism that was fueled by veiled racism. Davis repeatedly asserted that the Soviet Union not only desired peace — as Stalin seized Eastern Europe, while also killing tens of millions of his own people — but had abolished poverty, unemployment, and even racism.
Such examples from Davis are so voluminous that they constitute the longest chapter in my 600-plus-page book. Summarizing them here is impossible. But here are three telling examples.
#page#In a Feb. 9, 1950, piece, Davis pushed the Communist line that framed Truman as the butcher of Hiroshima, a man who used the bomb not to end World War II and save lives — with Stalin’s enthusiastic support — but to try to take the world. “When we dropped the atom bomb on Hiroshima,” wrote Davis, “we believed the world was ours. Having defeated the Axis powers on the battlefront, we were ready to show the Russians who was boss of this world.”
In a Jan. 26, 1950, column, titled “Free Enterprise or Socialism,” Davis painted a stark picture of an America on the verge of another Great Depression, the fault of a “virtual dictatorship of Big Business.” He concluded that in the face of “still rising unemployment and a mounting depression, the time draws nearer when we will have to decide to oust the monopolies and restore a competing system of free enterprise, or let the government own and operate our major industries.”
Davis’s May 18, 1950, article was a very important, albeit insidious, illustration of where Moscow stood on postwar Germany, and the unforgivable way American Communists followed in lockstep. The Bolsheviks had long wanted a “Sovietized” Germany, and the end of World War II, with Germany on the losing side and the USSR on the winning one, presented a golden opportunity. What stood in the way? America. Thus, the Communist party worldwide attacked American policy in West Germany. Here, too, the Soviets issued an unbelievable set of talking points, arguing that America wanted not a free West Germany but a revived Nazi Germany.
Ridiculous as this claim was, Davis characteristically saluted the red flag. “It is a known fact that many honest American officials have quit their posts in disgust over the way in which Western Germany is being handed back to the Nazis,” reported Davis. America’s policy of de-Nazification was a sham — “one of the big jokes of the 20th century.” It was, alleged Davis, the product of a racist-fascist-imperialist-capitalist conspiracy led by Democrats and Big Business: “The big industrialists who financed Hitler have been handed back their factories and the old school ties with Wall Street are almost as strong as they ever were.”
What kind of West Germany was America helping to its feet? According to Frank Marshall Davis, “It is the Germany of the master race theory. . . . The fascists we sought to exterminate in World War II as ‘the greatest threat to mankind the globe has ever known,’ are now our partners. . . . ‘What d’you say we kiss and make up?’”
Today, American politicians, including Barack Obama, travel to Berlin to make eloquent speeches about how the United States rightly stood beside Berliners in resisting the Soviet Union in those scary, early days of the Cold War. That wasn’t true for Frank Marshall Davis. Davis stood on the other side of the wall.
As someone who has long studied this period, I recognized Davis’s writing immediately as the crass propaganda pushed by Communists around the world at that time. Congress thought the same thing. Within only months of the appearance of these columns in the Honolulu Record, Davis’s name was appearing in investigations of the Communist movement. Eventually, in December 1956, he was called to testify before the U.S. Senate, where he pleaded the Fifth Amendment. In a Senate report in 1957 titled “Scope of Soviet Activity in the United States,” Davis was plainly listed as “an identified member of the Communist Party.”
Later, even sympathetic biographers would discern the obvious. A 1999 book, The New Red Negro, by James Edward Smethurst, a professor at the University of Massachusetts who earned his Ph.D. at Harvard, concluded that Davis “was almost certainly a CPUSA member.”
More conclusive was John Edgar Tidwell, a University of Kansas professor and Davis biographer. “Sometime during the middle of [WWII], [Davis] joined the Communist Party,” Tidwell recorded. In the introduction to a 2002 volume of Davis’s writing he edited, Black Moods: Collected Poems, Tidwell produced a letter by Davis to a Kansas friend he was recruiting to CPUSA. Davis wrote: “I’ve never discussed this with you and don’t know whether you share the typical American uninformed concepts of Marxism or not, but I am risking such a reaction by saying that I have recently joined the Communist party.”
#page#Later still, during the 2008 presidential campaign, further testimony on Davis’s party membership came from actual Communists themselves (I quote them in the book).
The real smoking gun, however, is Davis’s declassified 600-page FBI file, which was recently released through a freedom-of-information request by a fellow researcher. A cursory glance at these pages — which include accounts by informants and eyewitnesses — quickly reveals that Davis was a Communist. As evidence for readers, we have isolated and published about a dozen pages from the file in the appendix of my book, including one that lists Davis’s actual Communist-party number: 47544.
That number is consistent with those of the period. Consider the Communist-party numbers of some of the Hollywood Ten figures whom liberals laughably still defend as innocent lambs: John Howard Lawson (47275), Albert Maltz (47196), Alvah Bessie (46836).
In sum, a mentor of the current president of the United States was a Communist — and not only a party member, but an actual propagandist for Stalin’s USSR, a man who unceasingly demonized Democratic presidents and their policies and cherished ideals. Even in World War II, Davis was on the wrong side: He was flatly pro-Soviet and anti-American.
If you feel like you’ve been duped, or at least deprived of some significant background information about the man who is now the elected leader of the free world, you can thank our shameless, woefully biased media for failing to do its job.
– Paul Kengor is professor of political science at Grove City College. His books include The Crusader: Ronald Reagan and the Fall of Communism and the newly released Dupes: How America’s Adversaries Have Manipulated Progressives for a Century.