Communist Discipline

by J. Edgar Hoover

8 October 2004

[Chapter 13 of Masters of Deceit, The Story of Communism in America and How to Fight It, Henry Holt and Company, New York, 1958]

In communist eyes the processes of education, the press, and "culture," which we considered in the last chapter, are not enough for molding the revolutionary. Important as they are, they must be supplemented by communist discipline, a discipline that enforces uniformity, ensures Party supremacy, and files fanaticism to a sharp cutting edge.

Modern-day communism, in all its many ramifications, simply cannot be understood without a knowledge of communist discipline: how it is engendered, how it operates, how it tears out a man's soul and makes him a tool of the Party. The very core of communism is discipline. Without it communism would lose much of its momentum, terror, and striking power.

The Party's constitution provides for disciplinary action. An elaborate "appeals" framework is provided whereby a series of "courts" is available to hear "charges," with the National Convention being the "court" of final resort. Generally speaking, disciplinary problems are handled, on all levels of the Party, by Review and Control Commissions (often called Security Commissions). They serve as the "courts" to discipline any member who might be hostile to the Party.

These "courts" must not be confused with courts as we know them in the American judicial system. Run by hardened, old-time comrades, they are weapons of Party discipline. "Sentences" are meted out on the basis of expediency, not justice. Rules of evidence, the fair balancing of opinions, and the seeking of truth play no role. Communist discipline is a repugnant totalitarianism.

Here is the account of one victim of communist discipline. John Lautner had been a member of the Communist Party for more than twenty years. He had risen through the ranks until he was a member of the National Review Commission of the Communist Party; he headed the New York Review Commission, was security officer for the Party headquarters building, then at 35 East 12th Street, New York City. He considered himself dedicated member of the Party.

One day in January, 1950, he was told to proceed to Cleveland, Ohio, to help in perfecting plans for the communist underground in Ohio. Upon arrival he was taken ostensibly to a Party meeting in the basement of a residence. There he was ordered to remove his clothes and for a period of several hours was subjected to the basest of indignities. He was told that he would not leave alive as six other communists, who Lautner said had "butcher knives," "revolvers," "rubber hoses," and a "recording machine," started questioning him about his knowledge of the underground, his army record, his relationship with Hungarian defectees, and his reports to federal agencies. He was accused of being an enemy agent, a spy, of hiring unreliable people to work in the Communist Party defense office, and protecting government "spies" in the Party. Actually, Lautner was innocent of these charges, and the Party's injustice inured to the government's benefit. Finally Lautner had the presence of mind to state that he had left at his hotel the name of one of the communist officials conducting the star-chamber proceedings. He was released and returned to New York, where he read in the Daily Worker that he had been expelled from the Party as an enemy agent.

Lautner even filed an appeal of this expulsion order but never received an answer. Several months later he came to the FBI with his story for the first time and since has testified in several legal proceedings. Such is the way communist "justice" is dispensed in the United States.

In this connection we must distinguish between the discipline that communism can exact when it is in state control, as in Russia, Hungary, and China, and when it is not. Communists in the United States cannot exact the death penalty; they cannot operate slave labor camps; they cannot deport families to isolated areas. Yet the disciplinary actions of the Communist Party, USA, as we shall see in the "purge" of Earl Browder in 1945, show unmistakably that communists in this country think and would like to act in disciplinary matters precisely as do communists behind the Iron Curtain. Moreover, the stronger the Party in this country, the more able it has been to enforce its discipline. Every Party member should realize that, by working to strengthen the Communist Party, he is thereby giving the Party greater power to discipline him in the future. Today, at most he can be expelled and vilified, unless he is subjected to the treatment given John Lautner. We can readily conjecture, however, recalling the purge trials under Stalin, what could happen here if communism ever controlled our government.

Communist discipline is a part of the everyday life of the Party. It is not something that can be developed overnight or learned exclusively from a book. It comes gradually from attending schools, reading, and doing Party work. A "conscience of responsibility," as one old-time member explained it, is created; a feeling that, whatever your personal desires and responsibilities, the Party's orders come first; that every task is surrounded by a Party "halo of sanctity," thereby becoming an emergency urgently demanding instant handling; that a "guilty" feeling arises if the member relaxes for a moment or doesn't do the job assigned by the Party "boss."

In the communist system, discipline means conscious and voluntary submission to the will of the Party. To obey Party instructions is regarded as a high ethical duty, to be undertaken joyously and willingly as an honor and privilege, never as bondage. Not to obey is unthinkable and a matter of personal shame and Party irresponsibility. This is the terrifying danger of communist discipline -- that in the name of freedom, by appealing to the most noble qualities in man, the human being is pushed into deepest tyranny.

Communist "courts" seek out those who do not "knuckle under" to communist discipline. If a mistake is made from bad judgment, a lapse of memory, or a lack of knowledge, that is one thing. This can be corrected by more "education." But if the member persists in error, that is, doesn't follow undeviatingly the Party line, he must be "flayed without mercy." " organization of real revolutionaries," says Lenin, "will stop at nothing to rid itself of an undesirable member."

Members may be disciplined for many reasons. One of the most serious is being a deviationist, that is, differing from the Party line. This charge has led to wholesale purges in the past, including the ousting of such leaders as Lovestone, Gitlow, Browder, and literally hundreds of lesser members.

The Party claims to be an "advanced" element, teaching the noncommunist masses the "glories" of socialism. As leaders, communists must be "in front" of the less informed yet not too far ahead to be out of sight. Just where to be at any given time is decided by the Party inner clique. Anyone disagreeing is a deviationist, guilty of either left-wing sectarianism or right-wing opportunism.

Some individuals, the communists say, may stray too far to the left. They want the Party to be more militant, to hurry up the revolution. They rush on ahead, forgetting to guide the noncommunists. That's wrong, says the Party. Such an attitude would isolate the Party, make it an ineffectual sect. These individuals are guilty of left-wing sectarianism. They must turn around and come back.

On the other hand, many members lag behind the correct position. They disregard the Party's role as an "advanced teacher" and allow it to work too closely with capitalism. They are right-wing opportunists, equally as guilty as left-wing sectarians. They had better rid themselves of this "capitalist complex" and catch up.

These terms sound massive. To communists, however, they are everyday expressions. Time after time in Party meetings the charge will be heard, "He's an opportunist," or, "He's a left-wing sectarian." To the communists that's like calling a man a thief or coward.

You can well imagine how these "errors" are corrected. Disciplinary scythes can cut down anyone disliked by the leadership. If you want to get rid of a comrade, accuse him of left-wing sectarianism or right-wing opportunism. He'll probably then be hauled into Party "court." Disciplinary vogues sweep the Party: for a while, left-wing sectarianism becomes popular, then right-wing opportunism. After Browder's removal in 1945 as a right-wing opportunist (also called revisionist), the style was to criticize opportunism. Since the Geneva Conference of 1955 the fashion has been to attack left-wing sectarianism.

Another serious error is chauvinism, applied to a member who supposedly thinks himself superior to others.

Any member can bring charges, no matter how silly, trivial, and stupid. That's a communist technique: always keep members in fear. Never must a comrade become secure, complacent or unconcerned. He must constantly be worrying about "what's coming next." This prevents the entrenchment of Party bureaucrats and the formation of cliques; it makes discipline easier to impose.

Perhaps, in his Party work or in his personal affairs, a member has given more attention to Mr. A than to Mr. B. If Mr. B's feelings have been hurt, he may bring formal charges. In one instance, a group of Party comrades made plans to hold a picnic, then invited two additional comrades. The two declined, saying that by being asked at the last minute they had been slighted. Result: they planned to bring charges of chauvinism.

There are different types of chauvinism: White chauvinism, for example, means that a white comrade, through word or deed, has "slighted" or shown that he feels himself better than a Negro comrade. If the reverse is true -- that a Negro member considers himself superior to a white comrade -- this leads to the error of inverted white chauvinism or Negro nationalism. Then there is male chauvinism, also called male supremacism, when men comrades "look down on" the position of women. In one instance a man was accused of disapproving of his wife's smoking. He was a male supremacist. If a woman thinks she is superior to a man, that's commandism.

. Still another cause for disciplinary action is the charge of being an informer. Ever since 1949, when FBI informants testified at the first New York Smith Act trial, communists have been terrified of informers. They go all-out to catch "spies." Member after member, completely innocent of the Party's charges, has been expelled. "If you have to kick ten guys out to get the right one," a comrade explained, "that's the way to do it." In one instance Party officials without any authority searched the home of a member "under suspicion." In another instance an anonymous letter was received at national headquarters charging, among other things, that a high Party official was "a big bag of wind." The Party instantly collected typewriting samples, hoping to catch the culprit.

The Party, as part of its disciplinary program, encourages what is called self-criticism. The communists point to this technique as proof of the democratic nature of their Party. Actually, however, self-criticism plays into the hands of the ruling clique, enabling it to detect discontent and criticism of its leadership. It becomes an effective disciplinary technique to keep the members in submission.

Members are encouraged to criticize themselves and others. A well-established Party admonition is: "Test your work against Marxist-Leninist principles. Is anything wrong? Why did the registration program fall short? Are the officers of the club doing their duties properly? Why weren't more pamphlets sold?" The membership is expected to bewail its errors, to say, "We were wrong. Have mercy on us. We will do better." They prostrate themselves before Party bosses. For those who don't "confess," there are others to point out their errors. What else could be asked?

When a comrade confesses, the communist custom is for other members to heap abuse on him, often in the most sarcastic and sneering manner. "You're a deviationist." "You're a chauvinist!" The idea is to drive the member to the lowest depths of humiliation.

When Earl Browder was deposed in 1945, a national officer suggested that he be given a job scrubbing floors at national headquarters. Browder later told the Yonkers, New York, commmunist club, "If there had been any evidence that there existed a real need for my services in this capacity, I would gladly have given them."

Members often work themselves into a state of frenzy, tearing apart their best friends. Sometimes self-criticism becomes contagious, with Party sections and committees confessing en masse.

Tongues are sharp, but comrades soon learn whom to criticize. To attack a fellow comrade, especially one you don't like, is the thing to do. In attacking the club chairman the comrade had better take things a little slowly. If he is a friend of the chairman's superior and thinks he can get the chairman's job, then it's proper. If not, he should be content with self-criticism. Good Party manners would say "no" to disparaging a state or national leader, unless one was assigned as a "hatchet man" for another top official. Communist criticism flows more safely downward than upward.

Criticism is encouraged -- but it must be of the right kind. An organizer isn't doing his job. To criticize him is proper; that's constructive criticism, designed to make the Party stronger. "But this criticism," one high official said, "must never depart from the line of the Party...."

That's the crux: Criticism must be limited to how the Party line can best be advanced. Anything else is destructive criticism. It's like a house full of furniture. A comrade is permitted to discuss how the furniture can be arranged, whether the blue chair should be in the front room or the bedroom. But as soon as he questions the size of the house, whether a new room should be added, or the entire house destroyed and rebuilt, well that's just too much. The Party line must not be questioned.

Some members learn the hard way. They push criticism too far and are quicly put in place.

John was highly regarded as a club chairman. He was aggressive and a hard worker. Promotion was his reward. He was sent by the National Committee to another city as a secontion organizer. Soon things began to hum. He reorganized some clubs. He shifted other Party activities. He was putting his ideas to work.

Then he went one step too ar. He suggested that the state organization, headed by his superior, could be improved. John should have known better. An organizer can work out new schemes to sell the Daily Worker, to recruit members, and to reshuffle clubs; in fact, that is Party initiative. But he doesn't criticize state chairmen and, as John did in this instance, threaten to take up the matter directly with national headquarters.

John quickly became the fellow who "went up fast, down faster." State headquarters, in a special report, severely criticized him and recommended additional Party training. The result: He was recalled and assigned to an insignificant desk job. He had to learn his lesson.

Destructive criticism may lead to factionalism, which, in Party eyes, is open rebellion. A member holds a critical opinion. Others agree and soon a faction, or group hostile to the Party line, is formed. Every resource of the Party is mobilized to destroy it.

For a show of democracy, the Party's constitution says:

Every officer and member shall have the right to express a dissenting opinion on any matter of Party policy with respect to which a decision has been made by majority vote of the appropriate Party committee or convention, provided that such dissenting officer or member does not engage in factional or other activity which hinders or impedes the execution of such policy. [Emphasis supplied.]

In other words, in practice any criticism that "hinders" the Party line is called factionalism and is forbidden.

Often, factionalism becomes so pronounced that an entire group is expelled. The Communist Party, with its unreasonable discipline and rigid structure, is pecularliarly susceptible to factionalism. There are in America today a number of Marxist factions (called splinters), each small in number and with varying degrees of hostility to the Communist Party.

Noncommunists will have difficulty in understanding the utter inhumanity of communist discipline. It is a discipline that pervades every facet of life, drives wedges between husband and wife, and separate families. The best friends today, because of a Party action, may become the bitterest enemies tomorrow.

A Party member heard that her husband, a high-ranking functionary, had just been expelled. The shock was terrific.

He claimed that he was innocent. "I didn't do anything," he stated. And he was right. The charges were completely false. But she refused to believe. She double-checked with Party headquarters. They said he was guilty. The more she thought about it, the angrier she became. Her eyes grew bitter and her mouth curled with scorn. Finally her decision was made.

"Get out of this house," she ordered. "I don't want you around. You're a traitor. Now, OUT!"

Without hesitation she accepted the Party's version, refusing to believe her own husband. The wedge of Party discipline had conquered. The husband was driven away from his own home and his own child. Loyalty to the Party supersedes all emotions of love and mercy and justice.

In California the parents of a young lady were Party members. Both had held high offices in their section. They objected to their daughter's staying out with another Party member until four and five o'clock in the morning, and claimed it was injuring her health and her progress in school. The daughter's boy friend complained to a Party functionary that he was being discriminated against because he was a Negro. The girl's mother, a former section chairman, defended her action. The daughter then took the floor and charged her parents with chauvinism. They were expelled and the daughter then married the complainant.

The Party's constitution provides a number of specific penalties of increasing severity, including expulsion.

The mildest Party penalty is reprimand, usually designed to assist Party members in correcting their mistakes. This may take the form of private censure, such as, "You had better be on time in the future," or "Your work wasn't well organized." Somewhat more severe is public censure, whereby through written notice or public announcement a comrade is reprimanded. In this way others know of the Party's disapproval.

Then there is probation. This may involve a shift from one type of work to anoher or an assignment to special tasks. If the offender is a paid Party official, he may be demoted (for example, from a state office to a minor position) or transferred to another city. Next is suspension, usually for a specific length of time. This amounts to a temporary relief of assignments. The most severe penalty, next to expulsion, is removal from office. In such instances the comrade may be stripped of all Party assignments and demoted to being a mere rank-and-filer. This is a hard jolt, especially with the whole Party watching. These acts are object lessons to the membership. "Comrade, be careful. Don't you do the same." Fear plays an important role in communist discipline.

The most drastic penalty, of course, is expulsion, and thousands of case examples, even of the highest leaders, form mute evidence.

Once the communists turn on a comrade, the treatment is complete. for example:

Earl Browder, onetime General Secretary, was expelled in February, 1946, for

....developing factional activity and for betraying the principles of Marxism-Leninism and deserting to the side of the class enemy -- American monopoly capital.

Sam Donchin, Associate Editor, Daily Worker, until shifted to leadership position on the Party's Education Commission, was also expelled. The Daily Worker on March 12, 1951, in announcing his expulsion, said, "Donchin was expelled for factionalism, anti-Party activities, hostility to the line of the Party and to the Party leadership, and white chauvinism."

The announcement continued: "Donchin tried to cover up his factionalism in the name of criticism and self-criticism in the Party. He demagogically tried to identify criticism and self-criticism in the ranks of the Party with a right to carry on factional conduct in the Party."

Once a former member breaks with the Party and testifies or makes a public statement, he can expect a merciless campaign of vilification. On April 10, 1952, the well-known stage and screen director, Elia Kazan, appeared before the House Committee on Un-American Activities and testified that he had been in the Party for a year and a half in the 1930's and quit because of the regimentation and thought control that had been directed at him. Two days later he took a paid advertisement in the New York Times explaining his reasons. Daily Worker writer Samuel Sillen on April 17, 1952, gave Mr. Kazan the full treatment with such vitriolic words as:

We have seen a lot of belly-crawling in this time of the toad, but nothing has quite equaled last week's command-performance by Hollywood director Elia Kazan....Not even in Hitler days did renegade intellectuals sink so low.......Kazan is not content with being a toad. He must also be a philosopher of toadyism.

Communist discipline, however, is not blind or without a deceitful purpose. Individuals should not be expelled impulsively but should be shown the error of their ways. Only when he is deemed "unimprovable" is a member to be ousted. For this reason offenders are often compelled to perform special "disciplinary chores" to "earn their way back," to show through hard work, devotion, and acknowledging the supremacy of the Party that they should be readmitted to favor. In a Northern city, for example, an official in disfavor was placed in charge of arranging a mass meeting. He had to "prove" himself by doing the most menial tasks -- running errands, selling tickets, recruiting ushers -- he who used to be a keynoter himself. In most instances the more menial the task, the better. In Party eyes, a member who has gone through this self-abasement becomes a better comrade because of it. All thought of resistance is pounded out and he becomes a viable Party tool. He can be reprimanded, criticized, treated in a brutally unfair manner, yet he'll keep on working. Lash him, and he'll clench his teeth tighter. That's the true revolutionary, in communist eyes.

The key is always acknowledging the supremacy of the Party. Hence, one of the fastest ways "back" is to acknowledge it quickly and completely.

In a Midwestern section an old-time organizer was accused of conduct detrimental to the Party. In a report read at an executive committee he admitted his error. His conduct had been atrocious. Everything charged was true. He should have known better. He was ready to accept punishment. He even suggested his own removal as organizer. this attitude was exactly what the Party wanted. The state office did not relieve the organizer, though cautioning him that if his conduct were repeated, more severe action would be taken. The result: public (and mild) reprimand, not suspension or removal from office.

This explains why, in some instances, severe errors receive minor penalties, whereas small mistakes result in expulsion. The test is often not what a member did wrong but his attitude afer the error was committed. If the member is willing to admit his mistake, real or fictitious, accept punishment gladly, and still maintain absolute faith in the leadership, he will probably soon be restore to favor. If he tries, however, to defend himself in the light of the evidence, he must be dealt with harshly. On one occasion a member involved in domestic difficulties replied "none of your business" to an inquiry by the Party. He wasn't long in good standing. In Party language, he showed no "political capabilities," meaning he was not amenable to discipline.

The Communist Party has a systematic campaign of creating hatred against the expelled member. It is not enough just to expel him; he must be vilified, blackened, and made to appear the scum of the earth.

These individuals become "spies," "stool pigeons," "rats," "Trotskyites," "renegades," and "degenerates." To communists, ordinary curse words have no meaning. They have a vocabulary all their own. Hence, "opportunist," "deviationist," and "anti-Party" are their choicest terms of defamation, of characterizing a person as being the meanest, foulest, most black-hearted derelict imaginable.

The higher in the Party leadership the ousted member has risen, the greater must be the efforts to defame him. For example, Robert Wood, the Party's onetime Eastern railroad organizer, was expelled with an explosive statement in the Daily Worker on March 23, 1951, which said:

...various violations of Party discipline, for panic in the face of the fire of the class enemy, for acts endangering the Party, for issuing instructions in the name of the Party which were unauthorized and false, for acts of white chauvinism, and for conduct unbecoming and inconsistent with his post of Party leadership.

From the campaign of vilification there arises a fantastically bitter element of communist discipline and hatred. Every man, woman, and child in the membership must be mobilized against the accused. One Party manual, written by a top leader, recommended:

1. Photograph the spy, and print his picture in the Daily Worker and in leaflets and stickers...
2. Organize systematic agitation among the workers where the spy was discovered.
3. Mobilize the children and women in the block in the part of town where the stool pigeon lives to make his life miserable; let them picket the store where his wife purchases groceries and other necessities; let the children in the street shout after him or after any member of his family that they are spies, rats, stool pigeons.
4. Chalk his home with the slogans: "So-and-So who lives here is a spy." Let the children boycott his children or child; organize the children not to talk to his children, etc.

This represents the utter depths of depravity, hate and inhuman venom to which the Party will descend in order to wreak vengeance on an expelled member.

An expellee must have no association with any member of the Party -- even thought that member be his own father, mother, wife, or husband. "Associating with the enemy" is the usual charge. This means the splitting of families, the tearing apart of friends. In one instance a woman member was expelled. Her husband was instructed to leave her and the children. When he refused, he was expelled. Another member who remained friendly was also ousted. It becomes a dizzy merry-go-round of personal spleen.

Once a communist is expelled and there is a likelihood that he might become a government witness, then the communists go to work to compile such information as is available to discourage the witness from testifying for fear of exposure or of being discredited in cross-examination by a communist lawyer. In one case a woman rose to a prominent position in the Party. When she later left the Party, the communists reportedly compiled a large file of her early indiscretions and weaknesses. Consequently, she has always been most reluctant to testify.

Communist discipline has another facet often difficult for noncommunists to understand. In some instances penalties, expulsions, and exposure are not enough; the culprit must pay with his life. Nothing less is satisfactory. The world has witnessed, both in Russia and in the satellites, highly publicized "purge" trials.

The "crime" was not opposition to the Party, lack of loyalty, or unwillingness to sacrifice everything for communism. Rather, these victims were renowned for their devotion, often having spent their entire lives in the movement. Suddenly, within days, their whole position was overturned. They were accused of trying to destroy the very thing they had labored so long to create. How does this make sense?

Communism is cannibalistic. Its servants are periodically offered as sacrifices on the communist altar. If something goes wrong, the trouble lies, in communist eyes, not in the policy decreed on high but in its human instruments. Whenver the "infallible science" of Marxism-Leninism has been incorrectly applied, disciplinary action must follow.

The purge is characteristic of the communist movement everywhere. Lenin was a firm advocate of purges and urged: "If we really purging our Party from top to bottom, 'without respect for persons,' the gains for the revolution will really be enormous.

William Z. Foster, then Chairman of the Communist Party in the United States, said:

Communist parties, in line with Lenin's teachings, also constantly strengthen the fiber of their organization by cleansing their ranks of elements that have become confused, corrupted, worn-out, or defeated in the hard and complex struggle to build the forces of socialism in the face of a still powerful and militant capitalism.

A stocky, mustached man stood before the convention of the Communist Political Association in 1945. A few days earlier he had been the undisputed leader of communists in the United States. He was now a "renegade," an "enemy" of the foulest proportions! Earl Browder was fighting for his Party life.

Browder's crime was not disloyalty to the Party but obedience to a policy that, in his opinion, was in the best interests of communism. Moscow thought otherwise. Actually, Browder was a pawn of communist tactics and had to pay the penalty.

He was stripped of Party authority, accused of every conceivable Party crime -- by the very subordinates who had been his most loyal supporters. He was later expelled ignominiously, becoming a target of vilification for the entire membership.

Here was a "purge trial" grimly reminiscent, except for bodily punishment, of the infamous purges under Stalin. We need not wonder what Browder's fate might have been if communism had possessed the power of the state.

In our review of life in the Party we have seen how all communist processes are pointed to molding the revolutionary. He is the man who must carry out communist programs such as mass agitation, fronts, and infiltration, to which we now turn. If anywhere he falters, from the Party's point of view, the communist drive for mastery is weakened.

The ousted member in most instances frees himself from the communist thought-control machine. In him lies hope for regeneration. The deepest tragedy lies in the conscious and voluntary submission, day after day, of thousands of Party members. These fanatical devotees, giving their all for the Party, represent a real danger to our way of life.


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