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How a Stealth Communist Wrote the New Deal National Labor Relations Act, and Hid his True Beliefs

You may not have heard of Leon Keyserling -- he was one of the bright young men who rushed to our nation’s Capitol to work for FDR after he was elected president, and who helped to fashion a great deal of the New Deal legislation. As his obituary in The New York Times pointed out:

As an aide of Senator [Robert F.] Wagner, a Democrat, [NY] Mr. Keyserling helped draft such measures as the National Industrial Recovery Act of 1933, the Social Security Act of 1935 and the National Labor Relations Act, also known as the Wagner Act.

Later, as his Wikipedia entry shows, he went on to work for President Harry S. Truman and continued to advise him on major domestic programs.

His most recent biographer, Donald K. Pickens, argues that Keyserling was what he calls a representative of “integrative liberalism,” which he defines as a phrase that best explains the realistic and pragmatic quest for a “deeper national community” that would unite all Americans around economic growth and a government commitment to programs to help the needy and regulate business. Hence, it would be a “country in which no one is left out.” According to FDR’s other aide, Rexford Tugwell, it meant a series of programs which they helped build for the New Deal that was accomplished “without resort to revolution or abandonment of the Constitution.”

His previous biographer, W. Robert Brazelton, argues that Keyserling believed in economic growth as the prerequisite for progress, but that he understood that some sectors of the economy were weaker than others, as were some groups in society, and hence that meant the federal government had to institute policies to maintain full employment. In other words, like other mainstream liberals, he believed the economy needed government programs to keep it in keel, and that it was the job of government, not the free market, to create full employment.

You might wonder, at this point, why I am even writing about him. The answer comes from a review that appeared recently in The Times Literary Supplement (London) of July 12, 2013, by David Hawkes, a review that unfortunately is not available online.  Hawkes offers the first review of a recent book by a left-wing historian named Landon Storrs titled The Second Red Scare and the Unmaking of the New Deal Left.

Storrs presents a typical left-wing narrative of the 1930s. As she develops her story, Professor Storrs argues that the Red Scare of the 1950s forced out of government an entire group of reformers who believed in social-democracy, and who were dismissed and marginalized by McCarthyite zealots who quashed dissent in the name of fighting subversion, as those fighting to oust them failed to distinguish between mainstream socialists and Communists. As the publisher’s summary states:

Storrs demonstrates how the Second Red Scare undermined the reform potential of the New Deal and crippled the American welfare state.

In her book, Storrs tells us that Keyserling and his wife Mary were “prime targets of the anticommunist right.” Both “publicly dismissed their experience” with the loyalty investigations of the 1950s, she writes, “as fleeting manifestations of Red Scare hysteria.” Nevertheless, when Leon Keyserling advised Truman, Storrs acknowledges that the couple “took leading roles on behalf of policies that were at the top of conservatives’ most hated list, including price control, high wages, strong protection of union rights, and the European Recovery Plan.” The essence of what they supported were policies that favored “directing more of productivity’s gains to wages rather than profits.”

Later the Keyserlings would dissemble, arguing that they had always been political centrists though they were actually on the left of the Democratic Party. Later they would serve Lyndon B. Johnson and his Great Society endeavors, and are remembered by many, Storrs writes, “as loyal Johnson Democrats who favored Cold War military spending, backed U.S. policy in Vietnam, and argued that poverty could be eliminated through economic growth rather than redistribution” of wealth.

It is at this point that historian Storrs uncovered the hidden truth about Leon and Mary Keyserling, a truth that undermines her own thesis, and comes as a revelation that many might have missed, if not for the Hawkes review: Both were not only secret Communist sympathizers and members of various Party front groups, but Leon Keyserling actually advocated violent revolution while he was in the New Deal writing reform legislation!