Massachusetts

Top FDR Advisor Isador Lubin Accused of Pro-Soviet Views

When Isador Lubin walked out of the Federal Trade Commission building in Washington, D.C., on March 16, 1950, he must have been exhausted but relieved. The ordeal had ended.

While waiting for the baleful day,  he thought he would go crazy. Now, he may have felt some pleasure in his performance and those of his witnesses.

Isador Lubin was, until his death in 1978, one of the country’s leading economists and statisticians. He rose to great influence in the administrations of Franklin D. Roosevelt and Harry S. Truman. A member of Roosevelt’s White House inner circle of advisers during World War II, he represented the U.S. government at the U.N. during the Truman administration.

Isador Lubin

And yet the Loyalty Review Board held a hearing to determine Isador Lubin’s loyalty to the U.S. government.

His goal throughout his ordeal before the loyalty board was to  secure ‘unequivocal vindication’ of his ‘devoted loyalty and patriotism.’

Loyalty Board

Isador Lubin belonged to the thousands of government employees who appeared before a loyalty board between 1947 and 1953. Appointed the U.S. member on the United Nations Economic and Employment Commission in late 1946, he became subject to Executive Order 9835. Signed by President Truman on March 21, 1947, the order required a loyalty investigation of every person in or entering the federal government.

The order also created a Loyalty Review Board under the Civil Service Commission.

The Truman administration created the loyalty program to respond to public fears, stoked by the Republican party, that Communists had infiltrated the government. The loyalty program screened more than 4.7 million government employees for loyalty.

Lubin’s years of public service in the Roosevelt and Truman administrations did not protect him from charges of disloyalty.

Isador Lubin

He was born in Worcester, Mass., on June 9, 1896, to Jewish immigrants.  His father, Harris Lubin, for many years a peddler, operated a clothing store. In 1930, the business was nearly pulled under by the Depression.

He graduated from Clark University in 1916 and then went on to do graduate work at the University of Missouri. There he worked with and befriended economist Thorstein Veblen, a harsh critic of capitalism.

Lubin then taught at the University of Michigan, the University of Missouri and the Brookings Institution. He also  advised two U.S. Senate committees.

isador-lubin

Statistician Isador Lubin with statistics

From 1933 to 1946, he served as U.S. commissioner of Labor Statistics under Labor Secretary Frances Perkins. In that position, he reorganized how the bureau gathered information on employment, manufacturing, and the cost of living. Known as Roosevelt’s ‘favorite economist,’ Lubin served as his special statistical adviser from 1941 to 1945. In that position he assembled and interpreted statistics on American and British manufacturing production.

The Communist Threat

In March 1945, Roosevelt, shortly before his death, appointed him head of the U.S. delegation to the Allied Reparations Commission. The commission, which met in Moscow, was to develop a program of German reparations with Britain and the Soviet Union.

In January 1946, with the commission’s work finished, Lubin resigned from the Truman administration. He became president of a theatre auditing company owned by Hollywood movie studios. But he quickly found the world of private business much less satisfying than government work. At the end of the year, he returned to the administration.

Like most Americans, Lubin had deep concerns about Communist influence in the government. For that reason, he may have joined the liberal, anti-communist Americans for Democratic Action in 1947.

What he thought about the loyalty program is not known. Whatever objections to it he privately harbored, they were not compelling enough for him to quit the administration.

Moreover, he may have believed the mandatory loyalty investigation was a formality in his case. The FBI had investigated him in 1941-42 and found no wrongdoing or misconduct.

The Investigation

The FBI kept tabs on Isador Lubin, however, updating its file on him every so often. A report from 1947 found “considerable information. . . which would suggest Communist or pro-Soviet sympathies.”

“It appears that Lubin has associated with a number of persons having Communist tendencies, as well as with persons suspected of involvement in Soviet espionage activities,” the report said.

On the strength of the FBI’s information, the Justice Department recommended a full field investigation of him. Launched in September 1948, the FBI interviewed his friends, neighbors, government colleagues and acquaintances.

The FBI sent the results of the investigation — a series of field reports — to the Civil Service Commission in December 1948. While the reports contained abundant material complimentary to Lubin, they also contained derogatory information.

Faced with conflicting information, the Loyalty Review Board panel assigned to Lubin’s case could not reach a ‘definite conclusion’ on his loyalty. The panel split over whether the FBI’s information furnished “reasonable grounds” for believing Lubin disloyal. It was, however, unanimous in thinking he was “unsuitable” for government employment.

Meanwhile, the White House pressed the Board for a recommendation on what action, if any, it should take against Lubin.

The panel looked to two persons the FBI had interviewed for help in making a final judgment. One was a longstanding FBI confidential informant. But the bureau refused to make her available to the panel or provide information on her. The other declined to help.

Stymied, the panel saw one way forward: notify Lubin of the charges against him and go into them in a hearing.

The Charges

Lubin learned of the charges, perhaps for the first time, on October 21, 1949, in a letter from the chairman of the Loyalty Review Board.

They were compiled from his FBI file and the FBI’s investigation. He had associated with groups on the attorney general’s list of subversive organizations. Lubin had ‘expressed contempt and hatred for the United States and for Americans.’ And he had ‘stated unequivocally’ in the presence of ‘high Russian officials’ in 1945 that the U.S. would go into a a severe depression.

Lubin’s claim of a depression, the letter said, influenced Soviet foreign policy toward the U.S.

The most important charges appertained to his actions as a member of the American delegation to the reparations commission. During the negotiations, he ‘openly advocated the Russian cause and attempted to influence the Committee [U.S. delegation] toward a sympathetic understanding of the Soviets.’

He also tried to secure ‘favorable commitments for the Soviets by excluding American claims or, at most, to obtain only token reparations for American claims.’ He had unauthorized contact with the Soviet delegation. His attitude ‘raised doubts’ among his fellow delegates as to which side he supported in the negotiations.

Edwin Pauley

The charges undoubtedly shocked Isador Lubin. He correctly connected charges involving the reparations commission to Edwin W. Pauley. The oilman and former treasurer of the Democratic Party had replaced him as head of the U.S. reparations delegation after Truman became president. Lubin and Pauley had deeply disagreed over several aspects of the reparations problem.

Unbeknownst to Lubin, Pauley first made his allegations to the FBI in September 1945. During its recent investigation, the FBI interviewed him several times. The panel wanted to interview him, but he refused.

Their disagreement reflected their different backgrounds and temperaments. But more fundamentally, it showed their differing assessments over whether Germany or the Soviet Union represented the greater threat to peace.

For Lubin, it was Germany. For Pauley, it was the Soviet Union.

Pauley interpreted Lubin’s anti-German attitude to mean he was pro-Soviet.

The Hearing

March 16, 1950 was a cold day in Washington. At the Federal Trade Commission building, Lubin’s attorney Robert P. Patterson joined him.

Patterson was a friend and former Undersecretary of War in the Roosevelt administration and Secretary of War in the Truman administration.

Lubin had some idea of how the hearing would work. He had served as a witness at a friend’s hearing in 1948.

His fate rested with Dr. Burton L. French, a former congressman; John K. Clark, former president of New York State Law Examiners; and Dr. Meta Glass, former president of Sweet Briar College. If they decided he was disloyal, he stood to lose more than his U.N. job. His reputation would be destroyed and his nearly 20-year government career over.

No transcript exists of the hearing, but the strategy Lubin and Patterson employed is clear: prove his loyalty. They focused first on planting in the panel’s mind an image of Lubin’s character. They relied on witnesses and affidavits from prominent members of the Roosevelt administration.

Friends in High Places

The witnesses swore to ‘his excellent moral character, his high sense of honor, his trustworthiness.’ Those who spoke on his behalf included U.S. Sens. Herbert Lehman and Paul Douglas, as well as Ambassador W. Averell Harriman,

They also included Congressman Jacob Javits, Perkins, former presidential Press Secretary Jonathan W. Daniels, and former director of the OSS William J. Donovan.

Lubin then took the panel through a well-rehearsed account of his upbringing, education, employment, political activities, religious and professional affiliations, and philanthropy. Along the way, he played up his anticommunism, opposition to the Soviet Union’s foreign policy, support of American institutions and economic system, and his wartime work.

The charges that were the basis for the hearing were dealt with last. Lubin’s associations with the organizations on the attorney general’s list were explained away as favors to a friend or was acceptable because of the presence of prominent public figures on their boards. To refute the reparations charges, Lubin and Patterson used, in addition to Lubin’s testimony, the memoirs and accounts of those who knew intimately the Roosevelt administration’s reparations policy. They also used the testimony and affidavits of government officials who participated in or observed the Moscow reparations negotiations.

Isador Lubin with Eleanor Roosevelt.

Postscript

Lubin’s and Patterson’s strategy carried Lubin safely through the hearing, as he learned a few weeks later. The panel then cleared him of disloyalty.

Clark, the panel’s chairman, told Patterson that the ‘board had never seen such an array of distinguished witnesses.’ He also said, that ‘from the outset there had never been the slightest doubt in the minds of the panel’ as to Lubin’s loyalty.

And so Isador Lubin got the vindication he wanted.

President Truman held Lubin in high regard. In May 1950, after reading the FBI’s reports and the panel’s transcript of the hearing, concluded Lubin was loyal and that no action should taken against him.

Following the president’s lead, the Civil Service Commission declared Lubin eligible for government employment.

The Civil Service Commission then declared him eligible in June for government employment.

Lubin continued to represent the Truman administration at the U.N. until 1953.

Isador Lubin never spoke openly about the investigation or his loyalty board hearing, as far as is known. He made an indistinct reference to the hearing in one of his oral histories.

There are many possible reasons why he did not say more about them. Perhaps the experience was too painful, embarrassing, and humiliating. To discuss it would involve reliving the ordeal all over again. And it might even raise new questions about his loyalty.

This little-known but important episode in Isador Lubin’s life belongs to the larger story of his life that will one day be told.

The author of this story is Francis Wyman. He has worked in advancement at the Boston Athenaeum, Boston College, and Wentworth Institute of Technology. He is researching Lubin for a possible biography of him.  For source material for this story, click here

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