Witnesses: Jozsef Peter
to Whittaker Chambers,
succeeded Max Bedacht as the head of the Communist Party underground
in the United States during the 1930s. Peter denied this,
but was eventually expelled from the country. In 1983, while
living in Budapest, Peter wrote his autobiography, which is
excerpted here, translated from Peter's native Hungarian.
In the portion that follows, Peter discusses Chambers' allegations
and the impact they had on his life.
the outbreak of World War II, organized workers were employed
in each important plant of the trusts. During the labor fights
the number of members of the Party increased five times. In
1938 the Party already had 75,000 members. It could have had
much more but the best activists were involved in the organization
of the CIO [Congress of Industrial Organizations] and they
did not pay enough attention to the making of the Party. In
those days I spent much time in the various centers of the
automobile, steel and rubber industries.
accomplished the task of concentrating Party activity, the
Central Committee charged me with cadre affairs. The effective
membership of the Party was appraised, as well as those who
were willing to join the Party. The boarding schools of the
Party which offered three-month courses improved the formation
of Party cadres. It was a part of my scope of duties to look
after communists and sympathizers in the cultural field. So
I got into contact with Hollywood and Broadway. The semi-legal
organizations of those in the cultural field (writers, actors,
artists) and of other intellectuals, besides having great
impact on their own field, gave significant financial support
to the Party.
was my job to unite these groups and to organize their Marxist
monopolies could not just sit back and watch the triumphal
expansion of the CIO. In 1938 they went on the offensive against
it. They resorted to the legend of the "red ghost," their
old gun. A committee was established to investigate anti-American
activity. It made investigations all over the country. The
CIO was accused of organizing communist violence and "assisting
the making of Soviet America." Strike leaders were summoned
to appear before the Committee by the dozen.
Soviet-German Pact was used to boost anti-Soviet agitation.
Contemporary to the war against the Soviet Union there was
a campaign against the Communist Party. Communists were arrested
and condemned, one after the other. In 1940 Congress passed
the Smith Act, which imposed a severe punishment on those
advocating the overthrow of the government and organizing
subversive actions. The Act ordered the registration of non-citizens.
The fingerprints of 3,600,000 immigrants were recorded in
Handbook of Organization" played a significant role in the
chase against the Party. It was used to underline their charges.
situation required the reorganization of the Party machinery
in order to make possible the Party activity under bad circumstances.
This task was given to me. I had to work and live underground
in some critical moments following from the nature of my task.
I worked in a factory for a time. I was in contact with the
Party through a member of the Political Committee. I could
take up open Party activity only after the end of the war.
political climate began to change in June 1941 when Hitler
attacked the Soviet Union and the tide was turning after December
7 (Pearl Harbor).
campaign against the Party calmed but the building of the
underground structure of the Party could not halt. The nature
of the task was to make use of those sympathizing with us.
I had to establish contacts, usually personally. I toured
the country from New York to California.
[Earl Browder, formerly the head of the Communist Party],
after the signing of the agreement in Teheran, worked out
the so-called Teheran Thesis. He misunderstood the agreement
of the Soviet Union, United States and Great Britain and arrived
at the conclusion that "if the Soviet Union can cooperate
with imperialist powers, the Communist Party can also live
in peace with the capitalists." There was only a short step
from here to his proposal forwarded in 1944, according to
which the Communist Party should be disbanded and a Communist
Political Union should be formed.
May 1944, the Party congress adopted Browder's proposal.
the leader of the French Communist Party, criticized harshly
Browder's theory as a "notorious revision of Marxism" by which
Browder distorted the diplomatic proclamation in Teheran.
The Party, in a special congress in July, passed a resolution:
"Nothing accounts for the dissolution of the Party." Browder
did not accept the criticism. He was expelled from the Party.
Cold War against civil rights, against the Party and the trade
union movement started right after the end of the war, at
the end of 1945 and beginning of 1946. Some 3,500,000 organized
workers in 1945, and 4,600,000 in 1946 went out on strike
against the freezing of wages. Strikers attained considerable
wage hikes in the coal, automobile, steel and electric industries.
considered the old anti-Red campaign to be the most effective
way to break down the trade unions. A pamphlet from the Chamber
of Commerce wrote that "Moscow had conquered the media of
radio, films, publishing, theater and television in the United
States." It urged the congressional Committee to examine these
fields. And the Committee set to work immediately. Large numbers
of writers, scientists, artists, physicians, directors, actors
and journalists were summoned.
public was informed by alarming news through the press and
radio channels. "The Red Army is planning the occupation of
Detroit," "Soviet submarines off Californian coasts" and similar
phrases. Many were the victims of this fierce witchhunting.
Hundreds of those investigated were laid off, were blacklisted
(among them the Ten from Hollywood), were imprisoned, because
they were not willing to be moles. Due to these examinations
12 people committed suicide, among them high-ranking government
officials, ambassadors, writers, actors. Five died of heart
ordered the examination of the loyalty of government officials,
because Soviet agents allegedly had made their way into the
administration. Nobody knew his accuser or the charge.
FBI had kept me constantly under surveillance since the end
of the 1930s, but especially in the last ten years. In those
days we lived in the house of a sympathizer. He kept me informed
about the activities of the FBI agents who shadowed us from
a rented apartment. The press wrote about me endlessly. In
articles under shocking headlines, journals blared that Peter
is "Soviet spy No. 1, the leader of the underground movement,
an agent provocateur inciting to the violent overthrow of
this increasing chase after me, there was the statement of
an informer, W. Chambers, which he gave before the Nixon Committee.
He accused a government officer from Washington, A. Hiss,
of being a Soviet spy and he involved me, too, in the case.
learned that Nixon, in the name of the Committee, summoned
me under threat of a fine. The Party decided that I would
have to avoid the delivery of the summons.
October l947 four FBI agents surrounded and arrested me in
a town near my underground hiding place. I was taken to New
York City. Here, after having taken my fingerprints and photos
in the center of the office, I was carried to Ellis Island.
From here the attorney of the Party liberated me, not immediately,
by paying $5,000 dollars security. I was carried to the Immigration
Office building where the prison van entered the gate to the
cellar at the back of the building. I was taken to the head
of the office by elevator where Carol King, a liberal attorney
sympathizing with the Party who took on my defense without
compensation, had been waiting for me. After the official
procedure, seeing the crowd of journalists and photographers
waiting for us at the central gate, the attorney was indignant
and protested against the unlawful action of the Office which
had informed the press. She demanded that I be able to leave
the building unobserved. After a long debate the office head
backed off and I was taken from the building through the cellar
the Ellis Island episode I went underground on the order of
the Party to avoid Nixon's citation. First I stayed in a comrade's
10th floor apartment in New York which I could not leave for
weeks. Then I was received by an old Hungarian couple. I had
contacts with the Party by means of my wife. I could not call
the apartment. We could not meet personally. We chose the
number of a phone booth on the street. I went to the booth
on a given day some minutes before the time stated and I waited
for the call. The next phone conversation: by agreement.
had to change my place because of certain suspicious signs.
I got the new address which the Party had indicated to my
wife during the next phone conversation. It was late evening
when I arrived at the apartment on the other side of the city.
I rang. The man opening the door looked at me, surprised.
I understood that he was unfamiliar with my case. I apologized,
saying that I was mistaken. I had to risk going back to the
did not call on the next day. My wife reported to comrade
Dennis, the general secretary of the Party, that l had disappeared.
They decided to wait another day and in case l did not give
a sign, they would announce my disappearance.
following day l was able to get in contact with them. The
same day l arrived at the corn farm of a Hungarian comrade
about 100 kilometers from New York City. He had machines,
it was easy to help him. I listened to the radio news regularly.
My case was mentioned in every program. It is clear from the
published minutes of the Committee that they hunted for me
unceasingly. Finally the Immigration Office set the day of
examination, and my attorney received the citation.
Party told me to appear on the citation of the Immigration
Office, otherwise the $5,000 bond would be lost. So l left
the farm and l arrived in time. The attorney had been waiting
for me, but the citation [subpoena] of Nixon, the member of
the Committee, was also there. The Immigration Office called
in the witnesses, one after the other. The defectors, the
informers who had infiltrated the Party, offered their evidence
willingly. One of the defectors, among others, told a stunningly
to his statement, armed groups were trained in the cellar
of the building of the Party committee in New York State.
Their goal was the violent overthrow of the government. The
training was lead by Peter.
had to mention here that the attorney ignored the witnesses'
evidence on the order of the Party. However, it would have
been very easy to prove that the witness lied. The building
had a cellar indeed, but there was a huge machine where the
Party paper was printed. In the cellar, there was not even
space for the paper bales necessary for the printing.
is characteristic of the Cold War atmosphere that this pure
fabrication was quoted by the press on the front pages, with
alarming headlines. There were other witnesses who claimed
to have heard my lecture at the Lenin School in Moscow. Among
the evidence there was a forged passport used in 1931. They
could not start a penal procedure against me because of the
statute of limitations.
hearing of the witnesses and the presentation of the evidence
ended the same day. There was no decision. In the meantime
I had to appear before Nixon. Nixon arrived alone in New York.
There was much fuss. Press, television, dozens of photographers.
A confrontation with Whittaker Chambers, a former member of
the Party and police informer who, among others, had called
me a Soviet spy in the course of the interrogation of the
Committee. On Nixon's question, whether I knew the witness,
I refused to answer, referring to the Fifth Amendment of the
Constitution on the order of the Party. The press, waiting
for a scoop, left, disappointed. Nixon put aside my case for
a time because the election campaign took all his time.
Immigration Office made the decision. I was expelled from
the U.S. as persona non grata for subversive activity. Comrade
Endre Sik, ambassador in Washington, brought my passport personally
to New York. The following day I left for home by plane.
my arrival (May 1949) comrade Rakosi received me. At the end
of our conversation he called in comrade Karoly Kiss and they
discussed my future assignment. If I remember well, he mentioned
the Department of Party and Mass Organization.
some time, comrade Kiss took me on a sightseeing tour, and
he informed me discreetly about the decision of the Political
Committee, according to which comrades returning from the
West could not work in the central apparatus of the Party
for some time. Later I was assigned to the publishing house
of the Party - Szikra, Kossuth. Here I worked for the International
Department as head of section, department head, later editor-in-chief.
After my retirement I continued to work. I was named chairman
of the editorial board of Nemzetkozi Szemle (International
the last more than thirty years l have done voluntary work
in the National Trade Union, in TIT, in MNDSZ. I was a member
of the International Working Committee of the Central Committee,
and I have given lectures at the Party Academy, at the Military
December 7, 1983.
to The Witnesses