A labor activist, journalist and American Communist Party official who denounced Communism in 1945 and then, in the late 1940s and early 1950s, was a key government witness in no fewer than 60 proceedings before Congressional committees, courts and loyalty review boards.
Born in Indianapolis, Indiana, Budenz was a descendant of one of the early settlers of that area. He was educated by the Jesuits at St. Xavier University in Cincinnati and St. Mary’s College in Kansas, before receiving his LL.B. from Indianapolis Law School and being admitted to the Indiana State Bar. He wrote for local Catholic newspapers and also for the Indianapolis News in defense of Catholic social principles. Drawn to labor struggles, he became an associate editor of The Carpenter, a newspaper published by the United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners, where he wrote a series of articles on the right to organize. He then moved to St. Louis to become associate director of the Central Bureau of the Catholic Central Union, a post in which he wrote one of the first articles on the use of labor spies and private detective agencies against the unions. Not long after this, he became critical of the Catholic Church – to the point where he ceased to be a Catholic – and became secretary of the St. Louis Civic League.
In 1921, Budenz moved to New York, where he soon became editor of Labor Age, a magazine supported by the officers of all the unions that later combined to form the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO). In that capacity, he began to be actively involved in organizational work for a number of unions, leading strikes in Kenosha, Wisconsin, Nazareth, Pennsylvania and elsewhere. Between 1925 and 1935, he was arrested – and acquitted – 21 times on charges stemming from his union activities. He became executive secretary of the Conference for Progressive Labor Action – an organization formed in May 1929 to promote industrial unionism and reform the American Federation of Labor – which in 1933 became the American Workers Party.
In October 1935, Budenz announced his allegiance to the Communist Party in the columns of the party newspaper, The Daily Worker, and subsequently became the paper’s labor editor and a member of its editorial board. Two years later, he went to Chicago to found that city’s Communist daily, the Midwest Daily Record, which had some early success but then lost many of its readers after the Nazi-Soviet Pact was signed on August 23, 1939. Budenz then moved back to New York, in February or March of 1940, by his own account, to become managing editor of the Daily Worker. He would later also become a member of the Party’s National Committee and president of the Press Company, Inc., which owned two party newspapers, The Daily Worker and The Sunday Worker. 1
Still, it appears from Budenz’s Comintern file that he was not completely trusted by the U.S. Communist Party brass. The file quotes from an early 1941 report to Comintern head Georgy Dimitrov, which says that Budenz “came to the Party from the group that used to be between the Lovestone and Trotskyite groupings.” 2
In October 1945, Budenz publicly denounced Communism and returned to the Catholic Church – in a ceremony at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City during which he also married his common-law wife of many years and had their three daughters baptized. He then took a job as an assistant professor of economics at the University of Notre Dame and a year later moved to Fordham, where he was to teach for 10 years.
After his renunciation of the Communist Party, Budenz spent the rest of his life on a personal anti-Communist crusade – while also operating as an informer. He became a tireless lecturer on the philosophy of Communism and the subversive techniques of the Communist Party. Beginning in late 1945, he was repeatedly interviewed by the FBI and, in the late 1940s and early 1950s, was a key government witness in some 60 proceedings before Congressional committees, courts and loyalty review boards. In his testimony, Budenz portrayed the American Communist Party as “exclusively an espionage and infiltration agency to destroy the United States,” 3 and named scores of names of Americans in many walks of life whom he claimed were Communists or “fellow travelers.” In nearly every instance, his charges were denied, and he was frequently accused of having falsely labeled well-known people as Communists for the sake of personal publicity. Moreover, Budenz himself testified under cross-examination in 1952 that he had earned more than $70,000 in the previous six years through his lectures, writings and testimony against Communism.
Formerly the author of numerous articles and pamphlets in support of Communist causes, Budenz wrote scores of articles for magazines and Catholic journals after 1945, as well as four books about the dangers and evils of Communism. His first book was an autobiography, This Is My Story, written in 1947. In 1950, he wrote Men without Faces; in 1952, The Cry Is Peace; and in 1954, The Techniques of Communism, a sort of a textbook on the theory and practice of Soviet Communism. After suffering a heart attack in 1962, Budenz resigned from Fordham University and lived in Middletown, Rhode Island, where he continued his writing, for the rest of his life. He was at work on his memoirs, Learning from Life, when he died. 4
Under repeated questioning by the FBI, Budenz told a confusing story about his relationship with a fellow Communist Party functionary named Jacob Golos – who was also an “illegal” resident of Soviet foreign intelligence. (This story was first told by Elizabeth Bentley, another defector from the Communist cause.) 5 However, in view of Budenz’s frequent exaggerations and falsifications while giving testimony, American historians dismissed his espionage story for many years. His name does not seem to appear in the Soviet intelligence cables from World War II that were partially decrypted in the course of the Venona operation.
Budenz’s name finally did appear in an intelligence context in early 2005, however, when notes on a KGB report from late 1949 were posted on the H-HOAC website. These notes were made in 1994, in the course of archival research for The Haunted Wood, a 1999 book by Allen Weinstein and Alexander Vassiliev. In addition, a report by Anatoly Gorsky, the former NKGB resident in the United States in 1944-1945, discussing American intelligence assets compromised by defections in the late 1930s-1940s, mentioned “Buben’s Group.” This was a group of six people, with “Buben” [“Tambourine”] identified as Louis Budenz. The group reportedly originated in the mid-1930s as part of an attempt by OGPU foreign intelligence to penetrate American Trotskyite organizations.
Watch for alerts on this website to see if some of the stories Louis Budenz told the FBI and a Congressional committee would withstand a fact check against documentation that is now available.
- The FBI Silvermaster File, No 65-56402, Vol. 150, Serials 3835-3896, PDF, p. 127; Louis Francis Budenz. – The Book of Catholic Authors, Walter Romig, Sixth Series, 1960 (www.catholicauthors.com/budenz.html); The New York Times, April 28, 1972 and October 11, 1945 People, Vol 13, No. 18, May 5, 1980. ↩
- Handwritten notation from the report to Dimitrov of May 8, 1941. – Louis Budenz file, fund 495, description 261, file 1807. Budenz’s file is not a “personnel” file but rather an “informational” one, mostly consisting of TASS reports and other references. ↩
- Budenz Testimony before the House Committee on Un-American Affairs, January 15, 1952, cited by: The FBI Silvermaster File, No 65-56402, Vol. 150, Serials 3835-3896, p. 216. ↩
- People, Vol 13, No. 18, May 5, 1980, Vol 13, No. 18; The New York Times, October 11, 1945, May 14, 1950 and April 28, 1972. ↩
- See, for example, Director to SAC, NY, FBI, December 11, 1946. – The FBI Silvermaster File, Vol. 082, Serials 1862-1865, p. 370; Director, FBI to Assistant Attorney General, Terence L. Caudle, January 27, 1947. – Ibid., Vol. 089, Serials 1938-1979x, PDF, pp. 49-52; Director, FBI to SAS, NYC, Sept. 16, 1948. – Ibid., Vol. 143, Serials 3551-3620×2, PDF p. 33; Signed statement by Elizabeth Terrill Bentley, dated November 30, 1945. – Ibid, Vol. 006, Serials 220-233, PDF p. 38. ↩