Columbia University and Communism

In 2009 the University of Alabama won its seventh AP-recognized national championship in football. Crimson Tide fans could probably be forgiven for thinking that their school is the nation’s all-time number one in football, but in reality there are several other universities with comparable records of excellence on the gridiron.

When it comes to left wing politics, however, one university stands alone as the all-time champion. Columbia University has been a training ground for America-hating radicals since at least the start of the twentieth century. The left has had to take new directions since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, but before that, leftist scholars from Columbia often expressed their loathing of the American way by supporting Soviet-centered Communism, as the following examples will show.

CE Ruthenberg

In 1909 CE Ruthenberg received his law degree from Columbia. This was eight years before Lenin’s Bolshevik Revolution established with world’s first Communist nation, and ten years before Lenin’s government established the Communist International. (The Communist International, or “Comintern,” was the network of subordinate Communist parties the Soviet Union established in foreign countries, for purposes of subversion.)

Having no Communist party to join, Ruthenberg became active in the Socialist Party USA.

In 1919, upon the establishment of Comintern, Ruthenberg became a leader of one of the two or three different American Communist parties vying for Russian recognition and support. The Russians forced the rival parties to merge in 1922, under the name Communist Party of the United States of America (CPUSA). Ruthenberg was the first Executive Secretary of the CPUSA, a position he would hold until his death in 1927. After his death, Ruthenberg’s body was cremated, and an urn containing his ashes was placed in the Kremlin wall in Moscow.

Isaiah Oggins

Isaiah Oggins enrolled at Columbia in 1917. He worked as a Soviet agent in the US  for several years, but was arrested by Soviet authorities  in 1939, during one of Joseph Stalin’s paranoia-driven purges. Oggins was sent to a prison camp that year. In 1947 he was executed.

Harry Dexter White

In 1922 Harry Dexter White enrolled at Columbia. He would go on to become one of the most influential Soviet agents in the Roosevelt and Truman administrations. During WWII he reported directly to Treasury Secretary Henry Morgenthau, and served as liaison between the Treasury Department and the State Department. He then went as the United States’ official representative (unofficially representing the Soviet Union) to the Bretton Woods conference where the World Bank and International Monetary Fund were founded.

Paul Robeson

In 1923 Paul Robeson received his law degree from Columbia. He turned from law to show business and was soon using his fame to promote and support Communist causes. In 1934 he went on a pilgrimage to the Soviet Union. In 1952 the Soviet government awarded him its Stalin Peace Prize. In 1954 he wrote a magazine article in praise of Vietnamese Communist leader Ho Chi Minh, who would soon be fighting a war against the United States.

Whittaker Chambers

In 1925 an ex-Columbia student named Whittaker Chambers  joined Ruthenberg’s Communist party. Chambers had become friends with Isaiah Oggins while both of them were students. In 1932 Chambers began his career as a Soviet spy, reporting indirectly to the party’s new General Secretary, Earl Browder. Eventually he would renounce Communism and give the names of dozens of his fellow spies to the FBI.

Philip Jessup

In 1927 Philip Jessup received his PhD in law at Columbia. In the 1940’s Jessup held several high level positions in the US State Department. He played a key role in undermining American support for Chinese leader Chiang Kai-shek, thus facilitating Mao Zedong’s ascent to power, and all the carnage that resulted therefrom. In 1951 Joseph McCarthy forced Jessup to admit that he belonged to five different Communist front groups, and that he had a close and ongoing relationship with Soviet agent Frederick Field.1


Rex Tugwell

In that same year Columbia professors Rexford Tugwell and George Counts traveled to the Soviet Union with Columbia law student Carlos Israels, and several other left wing scholars and union leaders.2 When they made the trip, the United States was still refusing, after ten years, to officially recognize the Soviet Union. Mainstream labor leaders like John L. Lewis and William Green refused to have anything to do with the Soviets.3 The Soviet economy was moribund, and dictator Joseph Stalin needed loans and technology from the free world to keep his grip on the country.4

Tugwell and his companions toured Russia and wrote about what they saw in glowing terms. Especially impressive to Tugwell was the collectivization of agriculture, which, he believed, was the path to efficient food production. The accounts Tugwell and his fellow pilgrims wrote of their travels in the Soviet Union helped encourage the transfers of credit and technology that Stalin needed to maintain control of the country.

When Columbia law school grad Franklin Roosevelt was elected President in 1932, he made Tugwell and two other Columbia scholars his “brain trust,” with Tugwell serving as Undersecretary of the Department of Agriculture. Tugwell was never a Communist, but his fondness for centralized government control over the private sector was one of the underpinnings of Roosevelt’s left wing New Deal policies.

Roosevelt, who could never believe anything bad about Stalin, soon gave formal recognition to the Soviet Union.

Chi Chao-ting

Chi Chao-ting was born in China and came to the United States in the 1920’s to study. He joined the Communist party soon after his arrival in the US. He was already a committed Communist when he enrolled in the graduate program in economics at Columbia in the 1930’s. During WWII he infiltrated Chiang Kai-shek’s Chinese government on behalf of Chiang’s Communist enemy Mao Zedong. After Mao defeated Chiang in 1949, and Chiang fled to the island of Taiwan with his supporters, Chi Chao-ting gave up all pretense of not being a Communist, and moved to Maoist China.5

Elizabeth Bentley

In 1935 Elizabeth Bentley joined the Communist party while working on her masters degree at Columbia.  In 1938 she started an adulterous relationship with Soviet spy Jacob Golos. Upon Golos’ death in 1943, she took over his network of spies, reporting directly to Communist Party Secretary Earl Browder, and passing the collected information to Soviet diplomat Iskhak Akhmerov. In 1945 she left the party and started cooperating with the FBI, as fellow Columbia graduate Whittaker Chambers had done a couple years earlier.

The Foner Brothers

In 1941 the City College of New York fired over fifty faculty members who were believed to be Communists. The allegations were made by the state legislature’s Rapp-Coudert Committee, a committee formed to investigate subversive activities in the state’s educational system during the period of the Hitler-Stalin partnership that had the Communist Party USA opposing England in its war against the Nazis. Among the faculty members terminated were Columbia graduates Jack and Philip Foner, the father and uncle, respectively, of current Columbia professor of history Eric Foner.

Bernhard Stern

In 1953 Columbia professor Bernhard Stern was called before a Senate committee, and questioned by Joseph McCarthy about a book he had written praising the Soviet Union, and comparing Soviet Communism favorably to American capitalism. He took the Fifth when asked about his Communist Party membership.6

This is not by any means an exhaustive list of Soviet sympathizers at Columbia during the period before 1991. It’s just a few easy-to-find names that turn up in books like Blacklisted by History and The Venona Secrets. These examples are presented to show the larger pattern, which is that Columbia faculty and graduates have always been over-represented in the ranks of Soviet sympathizers in this country.

In 1991 the Soviet Union sank ignominiously onto the ash-heap of history, and Soviet sympathizers in this country were left without a cause. Next week’s post will look at the left wing causes Columbia scholars have adopted since the fall of Soviet Communism.

Al Fuller

1M. Stanton Evans, Blacklisted by History, pp. 402-409
2Amity Shlaes, The Forgotten Man pp. 47, 48
3ibid., p. 49
5Blacklisted by History, pp. 100, 101
6ibid., p. 470

Back to top.

20 thoughts on “Columbia University and Communism

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Back to top.