Readers who followed my series on Bella Dodd‘s School of Darkness — the eye-opening memoir of her years in the Communist Party in New York — will recall the name Earl Browder.

Browder was the head — General Secretary — of the Communist Party in the United States in the 1930s and first half of the 1940s. Chapter Thirteen of Dodd’s book tells the story of his expulsion from the Party — as she witnessed it.

Communist Party pamphlet Wikipedia 406px-37-howard-this4thofjulyBrowder’s Wikipedia entry also includes insights into the CPUSA, among them the penny propaganda pamphlets which used American history and patriots to Communism’s own warped ends. I received a comment at the time I blogged on Dodd’s book from someone who said it sounded like ‘conspiracy theory’. Well, here it is in black and white. Click the picture to enlarge. It even includes one of the slogans about which Dodd wrote:

Communism is the Americanism of the 20th century.

The pamphlet pictured at right was printed in 1938, when Browder was General Secretary.

Earl Browder — early history

Browder was born in Wichita, Kansas in 1891. Mark Kansas in your mind for now — more on it and Communist connections in a moment.

Browder’s father was a populist. According to a University of St Andrews site, he was also an unemployed schoolteacher. One wonders if he had unconventional ideas which did not go down well with school boards and parents. The St Andrews biography tells us that it was he who homeschooled young Earl and taught him about socialism. Earl ended up joining the Socialist Party in Wichita when was 16.

As a young man, he moved to Kansas City and joined the AF of L union of his trade, the Bookkeepers, Stenographers and Accountants union — in line with his employment at the time.

Earl Browder-earl-prison1917_WikipediaBefore he was 20, he had served two prison terms. One was between 1917 and 1918 for subverting the draft law and nonregistration. Browder vocally and actively opposed the Great War. He later served another year in prison between 1919 and 1920 — this time in Leavenworth, Kansas — for co-founding and editing a radical newspaper, The Workers World.

After his release, Browder joined the United Communist Party (UCP). He later met up with a former associate William Z ‘Bill’ Foster — also a friend of Bella Dodd’s — and found work as managing editor of the Trade Union Educational League newspaper, The Labor Herald.

In 1921, he was part of an American delegation to Moscow as part of a Russian effort to form a confederation of international labour unions. Browder was representing Kansas miners.

A fellow traveler, also a member of the American delegation — Agnes Smedley — wrote a friend about Browder (see Primary Source 1 at the link, emphases mine):

In Moscow, amid great poverty, Ella Reeve Bloor wore lace dresses over silk coloured slips; also long strings of coloured beads, rings, etc. And she lived with an idiot. Earl Browder, a young, dainty man of some 25 or 26 who bought (and wore) baby-blue silk Russian smocks in the market; and long black silk ribbons which he wore as belts. And then he, with his baby white skin and fair toothbrush moustache, posed in Moscow as the delegate from the Kansas miners. So help me gawd!! It was awful! I was so disgusted I couldn’t even protest. I hate female men above all. And then to have them say they represent miners when I know they haven’t been within a thousand miles of a mine. And Mother Bloor posed as the representative of five or six organizations, from the far West to Massachusetts!

Later, in 1928, he and another activist, Kitty Harris, lived briefly in Shanghai as part of a Comintern effort, the Pan Pacific Trade Union Secretariat, to engage in clandestine labour organising.

Dodd’s book gives a good insight into Browder’s leadership of the Communist Party during the 1930s and the early 1940s.

Between 1941 and 1942, Browder served another prison term for use of a passport fraudulently obtained. During his months in the Atlanta Federal Penitentiary, the Party executed a vociferous campaign for his release. Not surprisingly, it worked.

In June 1945, his fellow comrades stripped him of party leadership and membership. It was at that time that they formed the current Communist Party of the United States of America (CPUSA).

In 1950, Browder appeared before Senator Joseph McCarthy’s committee investigating un-American activities.  He pleaded the Fifth in order not to incriminate his former comrades; he also denied being involved in espionage. Although he was charged with contempt of Congress for his testimony, Judge F Dickinson Letts ordered Browder’s acquittal, ruling that the committee had not acted legally. In other words, Browder was let go on a technicality. This is not dissimilar to Bill Ayers being let go in the 1970s because of a procedural fault on the part of the authorities which outweighed his probable guilt.

Browder died in 1973 in Princeton, New Jersey. Although he was no longer a member of CPUSA, he never renounced his socialist sympathies. He and his one-time Russian law professor wife Raissa Berkmann raised three sons — all of whom became leading mathematicians — William, Felix and Andrew. More about them in a moment.

Communism, Hawaii and the Kansas connection

To many of us, Kansas appears to be a homespun, prairie state of farms and small towns.

Therefore, it might come as news to some that it had — and has — active Communists. The same is true of Hawaii before it became the 50th state in 1959. In 2008, I read that after Franklin Roosevelt’s death during the Second World War life became hot for Communists on the mainland. This intensified in the 1950s with McCarthy’s investigations.

Among those moving to Hawaii in subsequent years were a number of fellow travellers from Kansas and other parts of the Midwest. President Obama’s grandparents, the Dunhams, and Frank Marshall Davis made that journey. Other Communists found Hawaii a fertile ground for organising sugar cane plantation workers. Their communitarian traditions were natural companions to an international class and racial struggle.

CPUSA historian Gerald Horne gave a speech in 2007 at New York University. He said:

When these sources are explored, I think scholars of the future will be struck by, for example, the response in Honolulu when tens of thousands of workers went on strike when labor and CP leaders were convicted of Smith Act violations in 1953 – a response totally unlike the response on the mainland. Of course 98% of these workers were of Asian-Pacific ancestry, which suggests that scholars have also been derelict in analyzing why these workers were less anti-communist than their Euro-American counterparts.
In any case, deploring these convictions in Hawaii was an African-American poet and journalist by the name of Frank Marshall Davis, who was certainly in the orbit of the CP – if not a member – and who was born in Kansas and spent a good deal of his adult life in Chicago, before decamping to Honolulu in 1948 at the suggestion of his good friend Paul Robeson.
Eventually, he befriended another family – a Euro-American family – that had migrated to Honolulu from Kansas and a young woman from this family eventually had a child with a young student from Kenya East Africa who goes by the name of Barack Obama, who retracing the steps of Davis eventually decamped to Chicago.

In Hawaii, Davis gained a reputation for anti-American positions. These are no different from left-wing positions today. Try not to be too taken in by Occupy and Obamacare, because:

CPUSA assigned Frank Marshall Davis to Honolulu where he began writing for the Communist Newspaper, the Honolulu Record in 1948. In his columns, Davis flawlessly mirrored official Soviet propaganda – he blamed American capitalism for starting World War II, denounced the Marshall Plan, preached wealth redistribution, nationalization of industry and government healthcare, while bashing Wall Street. Davis also helped organize the Communist controlled ILWU (union) in a failed effort to take over the Hawaiian government in 1949. The Hawaii NAACP chapter complained to its national office, “Comrade Frank Marshall Davis suddenly appeared on the scene to propagandize the membership with the purpose of converting it into a front for the Stalinist line.” In 1956, Davis was subpoenaed by the Senate Subcommittee on Un-American Activities and pleaded the fifth.

As for the Dunhams:

Stanley Armour Dunham was born March 23, 1918, came from the oil-town of El Dorado, Kansas, the “other side of the railroad tracks.”  He attended El Dorado High School and worked on oil rigs during the Depression.

In 1926, eight year old Stanley Dunham discovered his mother’s body after she has committed suicide. Stanley’s father then abandoned the traumatized boy, leaving Stanley in the care of his maternal grandparents in El Dorado, Kansas.

The emotionally damaged boy grew into a rebellious teenager. Stanley punched his High School principal and becomes a drifter, hopping rail cars to Chicago, then California, then back again. At age 20, he married Madelyn Payne on the night of her Senior Prom.

The newlyweds didn’t tell her parents of the marriage until after she had her high school diploma in hand ...

Madelyn Lee Payne was born in October 26, 1922, in the tiny Kansas town of Peru.  When she was 3, Rolla Payne moved his young family to the nearby boomtown of Augusta, population about 5,000.

Rolla and his wife, Leona, a teacher, lived in a “company house” at the edge town.  The one-story frame house had three bedrooms, an indoor bathroom, a front porch that went the full width of the house and another enclosed one out back where Leona Payne did the family laundry.

Behind the house were the racks where the oil company stored its pipe and about 100 feet away was the office where Rolla Payne worked.  Next door was the empty lot where the Paynes and other neighborhood kids played baseball.

In Hawaii, Madelyn began working at Bank of Hawaii in 1960 and became one of their first female vice presidents in 1970.

Other well-known Communists from Kansas include James P Cannon (1890-1974 — a contemporary of Earl Browder, 1891-1973), who was a founding leader of the Socialist Workers Party and a founding member of the Communist Labor Party of America (CLP), forerunner of the Communist Party of America (CPA).

But I digress. Back to the Browder family.

The Browder sons

Earl Browder’s sons — William, Felix and Andrew — had a keen interest in science and mathematics. We know more about William and Felix than we do Andrew, although all distinguished themselves as research mathematicians.

William

William — born in 1934 — honed his interest as a child with toys:

I progressed through architect (based on Lincoln Logs and Tinkertoys), mechanical engineer (Erector sets), chemist, and finally physicist, after the excitement of the atomic bomb. It was in the pages of the ‘New York Times’ in August 1945 that I first read the description of the atom and nuclear fission and learned the atomic number and weight of the isotopes of uranium. I had read some wild science fiction before that, but this was a wilder reality.

He preferred science to mathematics and entered MIT with an intention to major in physics. During his first two years, he discovered that his physical dexterity — necessary for performing lab experiments — was not as good as those of his fellow students. He also discovered a love of mathematics once he began studying mathematical physics.

William graduated from MIT with a BSc in Mathematics in 1954 and earned a PhD from Princeton a few years later. In 1957, he began a teaching career, moving from mathematics instructor at the University of Rochester (New York) and Cornell. He served as a Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of Chicago and Oxford University. He was a professor of mathematics at both Cornell and Princeton. He also spoke at international mathematics conferences.

The St Andrews biography tells us that his speciality is something most mathematicians are unlikely to study in depth:

Browder was one of the inventors of surgery theory, which unifies methods and techniques from several branches of topology and applies them to the classification of high-dimensional manifolds. Peter Kahn writes:-

This procedure has wide-ranging, deep applications in every area of the topology of smooth manifolds, including transformation groups, classification of manifolds, and imbedding and immersion theory. Analogous techniques and applications hold for PL and topological manifolds.

He has been an active and contributing member of the American Mathematical Society as well as a past president.

Felix

Felix is Earl Browder’s eldest son. He was born in Moscow in 1928 and Andrew was born there in 1932. William was born in New York in 1934.

Thanks to his influence at home, Felix was an insatiable reader by age four and was considered a child prodigy.

Earl Browder was close to all his three sons and encouraged intellectual activity as a family. William recalls that they often played chess and read newspapers as children.

Felix is said to have read a book a day from the time he was five years old. He attended Yonkers High School (New York) and won a Regents scholarship to MIT at the age of 16. It took him only two years to earn his Bachelors degree in 1946.

He then pursued graduate study in mathematics at Princeton, where he earned his PhD at the age of 20. His thesis concerned

nonlinear functional analysis and its applications. This area and partial differential equations have been my focus in the sixty years since, in particular nonlinear monotone operators from a Banach space to its dual.

That same year — 1948 — he began teaching at MIT then became an instructor at Boston University in 1951.

He was drafted in 1953 to serve the US Army in the Korean War. Before he could serve, however, he required the endorsement and testimony of mathematician Norman Levinson before the House Committee on Un-American Activities. Levinson assured the Committee that Felix shared none of his father’s Communist leanings.

Upon leaving the Army in 1955, Felix became Assistant Professor of Mathematics at Brandeis. He moved to Yale in 1956 and remained there as Professor until 1963. He then became Professor of Mathematics at the University of Chicago, where he remained until 1986. His final teaching position was at Rutgers, where he also served as Vice-President for Research from 1986 to 1991.

Like William, Felix was also an active and valued member of the American Mathematical Society.  He also served as president (1999-2000).

President Clinton presented Felix with the National Medal of Science for his eponymous mathematics theory (Tatler, April 2013: ‘Gonzo Justice’, Keith Dovkants, p. 146).

Years on, Felix remains a voracious reader. His library contains, in his words:

thirty-five thousand books. The library has a number of different categories. There is mathematics, physics and science as well as philosophy, literature and history, with a certain number of volumes of contemporary political science and economics. It is a polymath library. I am interested in everything and my library reflects all my interests.

Bill Browder — the next generation

Felix’s son William, 48, is every bit as brilliant as his father and uncles.

His career trajectory is somewhat different, although with a nod towards Russia.

Bill, as he is known, graduated summa cum laude with a degree in economics at the University of Chicago and earned his MBA at Stanford Business School.

Bill Browder Wikipedia 800px-William_F._Browder_-_World_Economic_Forum_Annual_Meeting_2011He worked for Boston Consulting Group’s Eastern European practice, a post based in London. From there, he moved to Salomon Brothers, where he managed the Russian proprietary investments desk.

Bill has since given up his American citizenship, adopting British nationality.

In 1996, with the liberalisation of the Russian economic and political situation, he teamed up with billionaire Edmond Safra (now deceased) to create Hermitage Capital Management. At the time, Safra was chairman of Republic National Bank of New York. Together they put $25m of seed capital into Russia in an attempt to profit from the new privatisations and to increase their investor base.

In 2004, David Walker wrote an article on Hermitage for Hedge Funds Review. Walker explains:

Many equity hedge fund managers use post-tax or post-expense profits as a metric. In Russia, Browder says, it makes more sense for him and his team of 16, including forensic accountants, to analyse a company’s ‘post-stealing’ profits. So Hermitage uses publicly available corporate data – surprisingly plentiful in bureacratic Russia, Browder says – to work out what they think a company is stealing, embezzling, losing through poor management and paying in back-handers. Interviews with present and former employees, customers and suppliers – “most of it spurious, some of it true” – supplement this data. From this comes a ‘profit-before-stealing’ concept.

Because of the impaired state – often unrealised – of so many listed firms in Russia, Browder calls what Hermitage does “distressed equity or equity work-outs” rather than the traditional long/short.

This type of business carries serious political risk. It requires a degree of corporate infiltration and incurring government opposition — even as Browder supports Vladimir Putin:

Following the Russian financial crisis of 1998 Browder continued the business of Hermitage investing in Russia, despite significant outflows from the fund. His fund became a prominent activist shareholder in the Russian gas giant Gazprom, the large oil company Surgutneftegaz, RAO UES, Sberbank, Sidanco, Avisma and Volzhanka.[4] Browder exposed management corruption and corporate malfeasance in these partly state-owned companies.[5] He has been quoted as saying: “You had to become a shareholder activist if you didn’t want everything stolen from you”.[1]

In 1995-2006 Hermitage Capital Management was one of the biggest foreign investors in Russia[6] and Browder has amassed a significant fortune through his management of the Fund. In 2006 he earned an estimated £125-150 million.[7] In 2007 he earned a further £125-£150 million.[8]

In March 2013, the bank HSBC which is the trustee and manager of the Hermital Capital Management, announced that it would be ceasing the fund’s operations in Russia. The decision was taken amid a libel court case in London and a trial in absentia for tax evasion in Moscow, both against Browder.[9]

This is what the aforementioned Tatler article is about. Investigative journalist Keith Dovkants — who wrote for the London Evening Standard for many years — did an exceptional job in revealing the intrigue that surrounds Bill Browder’s company’s work and those out to stop it. It’s far too complicated for me to understand, but Russophiles might be able to get a copy of the magazine at their library. The article, ‘Gonzo Justice’, is in the April 2013 issue, pp. 144 – 147 and finishes on page 187.

There are wheels within wheels at work, and Bill has been uncovering them over the years. People involved with the Hermitage investigations have had strange things happen. One was imprisoned and has since died.  This particular man,  Dovkants reveals, was Sergei Magnitsky, 36, a lawyer on Hermitage’s legal team in 2007 (p. 146). He discovered that a theft of Hermitage documents led to a reregistration of the fund’s companies under a new owner, Victor Markelov, convicted of manslaughter. Fictitious debts were then created — a cooking of the books — after which Markelov applied for a £145m tax rebate from the Russian tax office.

Magnitsky uncovered the scam and the names of those involved, including several police officers. The same officers arrested and jailed him without due process — no trial. During that time, he became very ill with a variety of ailments, among them pancreatitis. The police refused him medical care and he was transferred to the dungeon-like Butyrka prison, where Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn was once held. He spent nearly a year in custody with no medical treatment.

Suddenly, in November 2009, the authorities transferred Magnitsky to a prison hospital. Dovkants tells us that eight members of the police riot squad beat him with rubber batons. Civilian doctors were called. The Moscow Public Oversight Commission, which has details of the episode, says that those doctors had to wait one hour and 18 minutes before being admitted. By then, Magnitsky had died. He was only seven days away from his release. He had been incarcerated for 358 days.

Browder runs Hermitage from London. As to Magnitsky’s death and posthumous trial:

Opalesque.TV released a video on February 8, 2010 where Browder spoke about Sergey Magnitsky’s ordeal during his eleven months in detention.[13]

In February 2013, Russian officials announced that Browder and Magnitsky would both be put on trial for evading $16.8 million in taxes. Both men will be tried in absentia.[14] Furthermore, as announced in March 2013, Russian authorities will be investigating Browder illegally obtaining Gazprom shares worth $70 million by his company Hermitage Capital. The investigation will be focusing on whether he violated any Russian laws when his fund, Hermitage Capital, used Russian companies registered in the region of Kalmykia which employed disabled veterans from the Soviet War in Afghanistan for tax break purposes[15] to purchase shares in the gas monopoly between 2001 and 2004, gain a seat on the board, and to exercise influence over its decisions. At the time, according to the Russian law, foreigners were barred from directly owning Gazprom shares. Browder has also been charged with trying to gain access to Gazprom‘s financial reports.[16]

Browder admitted seeking influence in Gazprom but denied any wrongdoing.[17] In his view, purchasing Gazprom shares was an investment in the Russian economy, while the desire to influence the Gazprom management was driven by the need to expose a “huge fraud going on at the company”. In the meantime, the scheme with Russian-registered subsidiaries entitled to tax advantages was practiced by other foreign investors at the time and was not illegal, according to him.[18]

Browder also said that he believes the trial is in response to the United States passing the Magnitsky Act, which blacklists Russian officials involved in Magnitsky’s death from entering the U.S. As claimed by The Financial Times, this trial is deemed to be the first in Russian history over a dead defendant.[19]

Amnesty International described the trial as “a whole new chapter in Russia’s worsening human rights record” and a “sinister attempt to deflect attention from those who committed the crimes he Magnitsky exposed.”[20]

It’s interesting that Earl Browder ran afoul of Moscow via the French Communist Jacques Duclos decades before. Now grandson Bill is experiencing similar difficulties with Mother Russia.

Like his grandfather, he has not given up on his own convictions, different though they are. Dovkants tells us that Bill is touring various countries, lecturing on corruption in Russia. He knows the risks are highly serious, however, he senses that if something unusual happened to him, it would cause a diplomatic incident.

Bill explains (p. 187):

‘Oh,’ he says, breezily, ‘they would kill me tomorrow — if they thought they could get away with it!’

Let’s hope he, his family and associates stay safe.  His revelations need to be exposed to the wider world.