THE controversy

Two recently published books carrying the main title I Was a Communist for the F.B.I. both of which tell the Matt Cvetic story:

I Was a Communist BookThe first, written by Seton Hall University Professor of History Daniel Leab, is subtitled Unhappy Life and Times of Matt Cvetic (2000) Leab is the General Secretary of the Historians of American Communism [REF]. His book is the story of a scoundrel who would become a "Professional Witness" at the HUAC Hearings. The Cvetic presented by Leab was not only an unreliable witness, but a figure to be scorned. Leab sees Cvetic as a little man who is inflated by a media that serves the "Radical Right." He places a great deal of emphasis on Cvetic's drinking, misogyny, and mercenary tendencies. One reviewer writes "This book stands as an eloquent testimony of the depths to which America sank in the 1950s and is a timely reminder of the dangers of the media culture of celebrity." —Nick Cull, University of Leicester

Book I Was A CommunistR.E. "Gus" Payne portrays Cvetic in a much different light in his 2002 work, I was a Communist for the FBI: The true life and times of undercover agent Matt Cvetic. Payne recognizes Cvetic as a man with faults, but treats him less as a wretch, placing him in an almost heroic light. "It is not our intention here to eulogize Cvetic but, simply, to give him recognition for what he did. What he did was courageious (sic) and perilous. For nine years, he lived under extreme pressure, at all times in fear of being discovered as a mole."

Payne's earlier work, Caught in the Crossfire: The R.E. "Gus" Payne Story (1994), tells the story of "an innocent man caught in a deadly trap." CveticThis is Payne's personal story of his time as an investigative journalist. He was indicted on federal charges when he got involved in an F.B.I. investigation of Organized Crime. "Although he thought he was working with the Feds, the FBI's clandestine methods resulted with him being charged with extortion and conspiracy." Eventually he would expose the F.B.I. Agents who tried to frame him.

Cvetic would be remembered heroically by conservative talk show host George Putnam: "In the mid-1950s, Matt Cvetic told his story on my Los Angeles television show. He told of the tortures that followed, of his aversion to Communism, of his love for America. But what followed was absolute HELL. Once accepted by the Party, his very life would be on the line were he to be exposed, yet he had to convince the "Reds" that he was a Communist." [ref]

Although they had been asked several times to participate in the media send up of Cvetic during the time of the movie and the radio show, the F.B.I. appears to have been semi-officially embarrassed by Cvetic. During the time he was working for the Bureau his record showed continuous praise from his supervisors. The Special Agents in Charge of the Pittsburgh F.B.I. office called Cvetic "a valuable source" and was impressed by his "detailed reports on Party plans, policies, and personnel." Director Hoover noted the value of the information Cvetic provided, saying he was "the best possibility the Bureau has to get into the inner circle of the Communist Party." When he surfaced publically in 1950, Cvetic felt he was owed some public recognition for his work. However Hoover and the Bureau began to distance themselves from Cvetic. Under the Freedom of Information Act there are several internal memoranda detailing request for the Bureau to comment or participate in the production of both the film and radio show. [ref] Most of the memos state that the official position of the Bureau was "neither approving or disapproving."

 


I Was A Communist for the FBI