An American left-wing economist who worked for government agencies and congressional committees during the New Deal and World War II, took an active part in the labor and Communist movements of the period, and served as a source for the Soviet Union’s NKGB foreign intelligence in 1944-1945.
Kramer was born Charles Krivitsky on December 14, 1906 in New York City, the son of Russian-Jewish parents who had come to the United States in the 1890s. He studied at New York University, where he received BA and MA degrees in economics, and attended night classes at the New School for Social Research. At an early age he began working to help his family, holding summer jobs as a farm laborer, sailor, stenographer and translator. In the early 1930s, he got involved in labor organizing and left-wing politics, and during the presidential campaign of 1932 he helped the campaign of the CPUSA by disseminating party literature. In 1932-1933, he worked at the Institute for Social and Religious Research, which was financed by John D. Rockefeller, to promote Protestant social services as a way of attenuating the hostility between business and labor. In 1933 Kramer joined the CPUSA after taking part in its work for two years.
That same year Kramer was hired by the Agricultural Adjustment Administration (AAA) as an inspector of the working conditions of farm laborers. In 1935 he helped to organize the National Youth Administration, a New Deal Agency that operated from 1935 to 1943 as part of the Works Progress Administration (WPA), and in 1936 he drafted the program for this agency. From 1936 to 1941 he was a senior investigator for the U.S. Senate Subcommittee Investigating Violations of Free Speech and the Rights of Labor — commonly known as the LaFollette Civil Liberties Committee after its chairman, Senator Robert M. LaFollette (R) of Wisconsin. In 1937, Kramer temporarily left government service to assist the Congress of Industrial Unions (CIO) in its effort to organize professionals, clergy and liberal-minded businessmen in support of its position regarding strikes.
Throughout this period, Kramer was part of the CPUSA’s “Washington, D.C. group” and was known for his left-wing views and his support of the left wing of the CIO — though his party membership was not widely known. Beginning in the early 1930s, he was also part of the party’s so-called informational work — gathering materials and analyses on a broad spectrum of domestic and foreign policy issues for the use of the party leadership.
From 1938 to 1942, Kramer worked as an investigator, mediator and auditor at the New York office of the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), investigating violations of the 1935 National Labor Relations Act (also known as the Wagner Act). 1
In 1942 Kramer moved to Washington, D.C. to work for the Office of Price Administration as Head Economist in the Administrator’s Office, where he conducted economic and statistical analyses. However, he soon shifted to the U.S. Senate Subcommittee on War Mobilization, often referred to as the Kilgore Committee after its Chairman, Harley M. Kilgore, the liberal Democratic Senator from West Virginia. Kramer’s immediate supervisor was Herbert Schimmel [LINK to Schimmel]. According to Kramer, he tried at the Subcommittee to “accelerate economic mobilization for war needs,” scrutinized the connections between American companies and German cartels and tried to exert “progressive pressure upon foreign and domestic policy.” 2
During the 1944 election campaign, Kramer took time off to work at the Democratic National Committee headquarters, where he did research and wrote speeches. In early 1945, he drew up a draft of the economic program and prospectus for “Businessmen of America, Inc.” — a public advocacy group that was initially formed in early 1944 as “Businessmen for Roosevelt” and finally became “The New Council of American Business.” 3 Kramer also worked for the U.S. Senate Wartime Wealth and Education Subcommittee, chaired by the lifelong liberal Democratic Senator from Florida, Claude Pepper, during the time when Pepper sponsored a bill to provide equal pay for equal work for women (1945) and introduced a bill calling for universal healthcare for all Americans (1946). 4 During the 1948 Presidential election, Kramer worked for the United States Progressive Party that ran former Vice President Henry A. Wallace for president on an independent ticket.
By that time, Kramer had been for more than two years one of the principal subjects of an FBI investigation of Soviet espionage launched in early November 1945, following the defection of Elizabeth Bentley to the FBI. Bentley claimed that Kramer was a leading member of an espionage ring headed by Victor Perlo. Kramer was interviewed by FBI agents on August 27, 1947 but “refused to discuss his activities during the period when he was employed by the US Government.” 5 In the summer of 1948, Kramer was publicly identified by Bentley and Whittaker Chambers, another defector from the Soviet cause, as a member of the Communist and Soviet underground in the 1930s and during the World War II. When called to testify before the House Committee on Un-American Activities (HUAC), Kramer refused to answer any questions about his Communist background. He continued to work for the Progressive Party until it disbanded in 1955, after which he moved to Oregon.
Kramer was identified as an NKGB source appearing under three cover names, the latest of which was “Mole” [LINK to MOLE], in several World War II intelligence cables that were partially decrypted in the course of the Venona operation and released in 1995-1996. That identification was confirmed in the notes on the “Mole” file made in the early 1990s by Alexander Vassiliev, a former KGB foreign intelligence officer and journalist, in the course of his research in the SVR files. Vassiliev later smuggled these notes out of Russia. 6
- Charles Kramer’s autobiography, written in March 1945 for his NKGB contact, Cit. in Aleksander Vassiliev, “Istochniki v Vashingtone,” ss. 103-105, 110. (Alexander Vassiliev, “The Sources in Washington,” pp. 103-105, 110), a Russian manuscript of several draft chapters probably written in 1996 for Vassiliev’s America co-author, Allen Weinstein. In the Allen Weinstein Papers, 1948-2000, Collection No, 2204C61 – The Hoover Institution Archives on War, Revolution and Peace, Stanford University. Courtesy of Jeff Kisseloff. ↩
- Ibid., p. 106. ↩
- RE: Charles Kramer, December 18, 1945. – The FBI FOIA Silvermaster File, No 65-56402, Vol. 025, Part II, Serials EBF 621, PDF p. 179. ↩
- RE: Charles KRAMER, Underground Soviet Espionage organization (NKVD) in Agencies of the United States Government, February 21, 1946, The FBI FOIA Silvermaster file, Op. ct., Vol. 024, Serials 574-630 PDF 146; http://www.claudepepperfoundation.org/news_studyguide.cfm ↩
- Charles Kramer memo, in FBI FOIA Silvermaster File, Vol. 144, Serials 3620X3-3646, PDF p. 177. ↩
- Alexander Vassiliev, White Notebook #3, posted at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, Cold War International History Project. www.wilsoncenter.org/topics/docs/VassilievNotebooks ↩