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Frederick Vanderbilt Field (April 13, 1905 – February 1, 2000) was an American leftist political activist and a great-great-grandson of railroad tycoon Cornelius "Commodore" Vanderbilt, disinherited by his wealthy relatives for his radical political views. Field became a specialist on Asia and was a prime staff member and supporter of the Institute of Pacific Relations. He also supported Henry Wallace's Progressive Party and so many openly Communist organizations that he was accused of being a member of the Communist Party.[1] He was a top target of the American government during the peak of 1950s McCarthyism. Field denied ever having been a party member but admitted in his memoirs, "I suppose I was what the Party called a 'member at large.'"[2]

Frederick Vanderbilt Field
Born(1905-04-13)April 13, 1905
DiedFebruary 1, 2000(2000-02-01) (aged 94)
EducationHotchkiss School (1923)[1]
Harvard University (1927)
London School of Economics
Parent(s)William Osgood Field
Lila Vanderbilt Sloane
RelativesCornelius Vanderbilt (great-great-grandfather)
Samuel Osgood (ancestor)
Cyrus Field (ancestor)


Early yearsEdit

Field was born on April 13, 1905, a scion of the wealthy Vanderbilt family and a descendant of Corneilus Vanderbilt.[1] A 1923 graduate of the private Hotchkiss School, Field went on to attend Harvard University, where he participated in undergraduate life as chief editor of The Harvard Crimson and a member of the Hasty Pudding Club.[1] Matriculating in 1927, Field spent a year at the London School of Economics, where he was exposed to the ideas of Harold Laski, the Fabian socialist political theorist, economist, and writer.[1] First coming into politics as a supporter of the Democratic Party after returning to the United States, he was disillusioned by the Democrats' unwillingness to take a more uncompromising position toward social reform and endorsed Norman Thomas, the Socialist presidential candidate in 1928 and became a member of the Socialist Party. Having attracted significant attention as an unlikely endorsement for Norman Thomas, Field was cut off without a penny by Frederick William Vanderbilt, his great-uncle, from whom he had been promised an estimated fortune of more than $70 million.[1]

Institute of Pacific Relations and radical politicsEdit

Upon Field's return from England in 1928, Edward Clark Carter of the Institute of Pacific Relations (IPR) introduced him to Y.C. James Yen, who was then in the United States to raise money for his Chinese Mass Education Movement. After touring the country as Yen's personal assistant, Field joined the IPR, a group that brought together government and non-governmental elites to study problems of the Pacific rim nations, as an assistant to Carter. Field "took no pay; he was, in fact, one of the institute's most generous contributors."[3] He published several reference works on the Asian economy and organized conferences and publications.

As he grew older, his politics became more radical. He described the IPR as "a bourgeois research-educational organization" funded by the Rockefeller and Carnegie foundations and some of the biggest corporations in the US, which he claimed subsidized his publication of proposals "as anticapitalistic as the articles he wrote for The New Masses and The Daily Worker."[4] New Masses was identified by one scholar as the "semi-official spokesman of Communist letters"[5] He was also Executive Vice-President of the Council for Pan American Democracy, which John Dewey's Committee for Cultural Freedom alleged in 1940 was under "outright communist control"[6] and Provisional secretary of the Board of Directors for the Jefferson School of Social Science, associated with the Communist Party.[7]

He wrote a memo cautioning Owen Lattimore, editor of the IPR quarterly Pacific Affairs, with regard to a certain article that "the analysis is a straight Marxist one and... should not be altered."[8] He donated money and time to Communist causes in the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s,[1] and during the war, he generously donated money to organizations close to the Soviet Union.[9]

In his autobiography, Field confesses that during this period he "uncritically accepted" Soviet accounts of their political purges and that was "taken in." "Stalin was infallible," he recalled. "[A]ll my Communist surroundings told me so. So was [American Communist Party Secretary Earl] Browder, although on a lower level of sanctity, and so were the other CP [Communist Party] leaders."

At a time when other erstwhile loyal friends of the Soviet Union were becoming disillusioned by Stalin's Great Purge, Field defended the Moscow Trials "because Comrade Stalin says so, we have to believe the trials are just."[10]

Since the IPR aimed to be nonpartisan and, in theory, still attempted to include even the Japanese point of view, he collaborated with his friend Philip Jaffe to set up the journal Amerasia in 1937 as a vehicle for criticism of Japanese attacks in China. Jaffe later pleaded guilty to "conspiracy to embezzle, steal and purloin" government property after Office of Strategic Services and FBI investigators found hundreds of government documents, many labeled "secret," "top secret," or "confidential," in the magazine's offices.[11]

In 1941, he left his position at the IPR but served as a trustee until 1947.[12] Field attended the 1945 United Nations founding conference in San Francisco as an IPR representative, and also as a writer for the Daily Worker.[13]

American Peace MobilizationEdit

In 1940, Field became executive secretary of the American Peace Mobilization (APM), a position for which he had been recruited by Earl Browder himself. "Some time before the APM was formally organized," wrote Field, "Earl Browder asked me if I would accept the executive secretaryship if it were offered me."[14] At APM, Field emerged as a committed pacifist, demanding that the United States stay out of the war in Europe, at least while the Hitler-Stalin pact lasted.[15] His reasoning, as he would explain in his autobiography, was that "the European war in those early stages was one between rival imperialists, the British Empire and the Nazi Reich."[16] By summer of the following year, however, Field came to a complete turnaround: on June 20, 1941, in his capacity as executive secretary, he suddenly called off the organization's "peace picketing" of the White House[17] reversing himself to demand immediate war on Germany[18] – just two days later, Nazi Germany would launch its surprise invasion of the Soviet Union.

According to the McCarran Committee's IPR Report, Lattimore, along with President Franklin D. Roosevelt's Administrative Assistant Lauchlin Currie (identified in the Venona decrypts as the Soviets' White House source codenamed "Page"),[19] tried in 1942 to get Field a commission in military intelligence,[20] but, unlike Duncan Lee (Venona code name "Koch"), Maurice Halperin ("Hare"), Julius Joseph ("Cautious"),[21] Carl Marzani, Franz Neumann ("Ruff"),[22] Helen Tenney ("Muse"), and Donald Wheeler ("Izra"), all of whom got into the OSS, Field was rejected as a security risk.[1]

In 1944, dissident IPR member Alfred Kohlberg submitted to IPR Secretary General Edward C. Carter an 88-page analysis alleging that the institute had been infiltrated by pro-Communist elements. Among other things, Kohlberg alleged that Field was a member of the National Committee of the Communist Party.[23] In 1945, former Soviet spy Elizabeth Bentley told FBI investigators that she had attended a conference in Field's home earlier that year.[24] Also present, she alleged, were Browder, John Hazard Reynolds, head of the United States Service and Shipping Corporation (a Comintern front organization for Soviet espionage activities)[25] and "Ray" Elson (Identified in the "Gorsky memo" under the cover name "Irma")[26]

In 1945 Field was one of the founding members of the Committee for a Democratic Far Eastern Policy, which tried to influence US policy to stop supporting the Kuomintang government in China, and after 1949 to recognize the People's Republic of China.[27]

On April 22, 1948, Louis Budenz, former managing editor of the Daily Worker, advised FBI investigators, "Field is a Communist Party member."[28] In 1949, Field identified himself in Political Affairs as an "American Communist."[29]

Anti-colonialism and Pan-AfricanismEdit

Vanderbilt Field was the main donor to the Council on African Affairs, an anti-colonialist and Pan-African organization.[30]

Civil rights activitiesEdit

Field took an active role in the operation of the Civil Rights Congress, a leftist group of civil rights advocates formed from the merger of the International Labor Defense (ILD), the National Negro Congress, and the National Federation for Constitutional Liberties in Detroit in 1946. The organization concentrated on legal action and political protest, notably publicizing the 1955 lynching of 14-year-old boy Emmett Till and publishing the 1951 document We Charge Genocide. It also helped to pioneer many of the tactics that would be employed by later civil rights workers.[1][31] Field simultaneously acted as both secretary and trustee of the Civil Rights Congress bail fund.[1]

Tydings CommitteeEdit

In 1950, Budenz testified before the Tydings Committee to personal knowledge that Field was a Soviet espionage agent.[32] Questioned, Field refused to answer on grounds of potential self-incrimination.[33] The following year, former Soviet spy Whittaker Chambers testified before the McCarran Committee that NKVD "handler" J. Peters told him, in 1937, that Field was a member of the Communist underground.[34] Herbert Romerstein, former head of the office to Counter Soviet Disinformation at the United States Information Agency, and the late Eric Breindel placed Field in the GRU apparat, alleging that he "was an agent of Soviet military intelligence."[35]

Yet, writers Kai Bird and Svetlana Chervonnaya, examining the archives in an article of The American Scholar, disagree:

Documents show that he was in contact with various Soviet representatives in the United States beginning in early 1935. Some of these interactions may be described as 'active measures' on behalf of the Soviet Union. Still, what we know does not prove that Field was a full-blown Soviet agent.[36]

As secretary of the Civil Rights Congress bail fund, Field refused to reveal who had put up bond for eight Communist Party officials, who had jumped bail and disappeared after being convicted by the Truman administration Department of Justice for violations of the Smith Act. Convicted of contempt of court since he would not provide the names of any of his Communist friends, Field served two months of a 90-day sentence in federal prison at Ashland, Kentucky, in 1951.[1]

Mexican exileEdit

Field at one point moved with his wife to Mexico in a "self-imposed exile", but he kept up many of his associations. A 1962 visit by Marilyn Monroe was monitored by the FBI out of concern over the actress's connections to Communism, and a "mutual infatuation" between her and Field concerned both "some in her inner circle, including her therapist", according to investigators' files. There was "dismay among her entourage and also among the (American Communist Group in Mexico)." Those file notations were kept redacted until a FOIA request in 2012.[37]


He died on February 1, 2000 at the Walker Methodist Health Center in Minneapolis, where he had been living since his return from Mexico in 1983.[1]

Published worksEdit

Books and Scholarly PublicationsEdit

  • From Right to Left: An Autobiography (Lawrence Hill, 1983)
  • Thoughts on the Meaning and Use of Pre-Hispanic Mexican Sellos (Dumbarton Oaks, Trustees for Harvard University, 1967)
  • China's Greatest Crisis (New Century Publishers, 1945)
  • China's Capacity for Resistance (American Council, Institute of Pacific Relations, 1937)
  • Economic Handbook of the Pacific Area (Doubleday, 1934)
  • American Participation in the China Consortiums (Pub. for the American Council, Institute of Pacific Relations by the University of Chicago Press, 1931)


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l Nemy, Enid (February 7, 2000). "Frederick Vanderbilt Field, Wealthy Leftist, Dies at 94". New York Times. Retrieved 2008-05-11. Frederick Vanderbilt Field, who supported Communist causes in the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s and was once described as the Reds' pet blueblood, died Feb. 1 at the Walker Methodist Health Center in Minneapolis.
  2. ^ Field, Frederick V. From Right to Left. p. 169.
  3. ^ "Life of an Angel". Time. January 9, 1950. Retrieved 2008-05-11. Frederick Vanderbilt Field was news the day he was born, Apr. 15, 1905. He was a great-great grandson of Railroad Builder Cornelius Vanderbilt, marked by destiny and carefully drawn wills to be a man of wealth and solid respectability.
  4. ^ Ibid.*
  5. ^ James Burkhart Gilbert, Writers and Partisans: A History of Literary Radicalism in America (New York: Columbia University Press, 1992) ISBN 0-231-08254-1, p. 106
  6. ^ Eugene Lyons, The Red Decade: The Stalinist Penetration of America (Indianapolis: The Bobbs Merill Company, 1941), p. 376
  7. ^ Guide to the Jefferson School of Social Science
  8. ^ "Absent-Minded Professor?" Time, March 10, 1952
  9. ^ Bird and Chervonnaya, Op. cit. Archived 2007-10-02 at the Wayback Machine
  10. ^ Field, From Right to Left pp. 172–173.
  11. ^ Harvey Klehr and Ronald Radosh, The Amerasia Spy Case: Prelude to McCarthyism (Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 1996) ISBN 0-8078-2245-0, p. 38–39, 131.
  12. ^ Subcommittee to Investigate the Administration of the Internal Security Act and Other Security Laws, Senate Committee on the Judiciary, Interlocking Subversion in Government Departments, (Washington: U S Government Printing Office, 1954), pp. 8–10
  13. ^ FBI Report: Southern California Division, American Council, Institute of Pacific Relations, June 13, 1947, p. 3 Archived July 26, 2011, at the Wayback Machine (FBI file: Institute of Pacific Relations, Section 3, PDF p. 4)
  14. ^ Field, From Right to Lewft
  15. ^ "Picketers Picketed," Time, June 2, 1941
  16. ^ Field, From Right to Left
  17. ^ "White House Pickets Stop At 1,029 Hours," Washington Post, June 22, 1941
  18. ^ "Purely for Peace," Time, July 14, 1941
  19. ^ Robert J. Hanyok, "Eavesdropping on Hell: Historical Guide to Western Communications Intelligence and the Holocaust, 1939–1945" (Washington, DC: Center for Cryptologic History, National Security Agency, 2005, 2nd Ed.), p. 119 (PDF page 124)
  20. ^ M. Stanton Evans, "McCarthyism: Waging the Cold War in America Archived 2007-10-12 at the Wayback Machine," Human Events, May 30, 1997
  21. ^ Lee, Halperin and Joseph are identified in Venona decrypt 880 KGB New York to Moscow, June 8, 1943, p. 1 Archived July 5, 2007, at the Wayback Machine
  22. ^ "Alexander Vassiliev’s Own Translation of his Notes on Anatoly Gorsky’s December 1948 Memo on Compromised American Sources and Networks Archived 2007-09-27 at the Wayback Machine," October 2005
  23. ^ FBI Report: Institute of Pacific Relations, Internal Security–C, July 22, 1949, p. 9 (IPR file, Section 4[permanent dead link], PDF p. 11)
  24. ^ FBI Report: Underground Soviet Espionage Organization (NKVD) in Agencies of the United States Government[permanent dead link], October 21, 1946 (Silvermaster file, Vol. 82), p. 221
  25. ^ Lauren Kessler, Clever Girl: Elizabeth Bentley, the Spy Who Ushered in the McCarthy Era (New York: HarperCollins, 2003) ISBN 0-06-095973-8, p. 77
  26. ^ Alexander Vassiliev, Op. cit. Archived 2007-09-27 at the Wayback Machine
  27. ^ Garner, Karen (2009-06-01), Precious Fire: Maud Russell and the Chinese Revolution, Univ of Massachusetts Press, ISBN 1-55849-754-4, retrieved 2016-03-14
  28. ^ FBI Report: Institute of Pacific Relations, Internal Security–C, p.5 (FBI file: Institute of Pacific Relations, Section 4[permanent dead link], PDF p. 7)
  29. ^ Edward M. Collins, Myth, Manifesto, Meltdown: Communist Strategy, 1848–1991 (Westport, Connecticut: Praeger/Greenwood, 1998), p. 55 ISBN 0-275-95938-4
  30. ^ Nixon, Ron (2016). South Africa's Global Propaganda War. London, U.K.: Pluto Press. p. 10. ISBN 9780745399140. OCLC 959031269.
  31. ^ Salter, Daren. "Civil Rights Congress (1946–1956)". African American History. Quintard Taylor, Editor. Remembered & Reclaimed.
  32. ^ "Of Cells & Onionskins," Time, May 1, 1950
  33. ^ "In the Dark," Time May 8, 1950
  34. ^ Romerstein and Breindel, Op. cit., p. 433
  35. ^ Ibid., p. 57
  36. ^ Bird, Kai, and Svetlana Chervonnaya. "The Mystery of Ales". The American Scholar (Summer 2007). Internet Archive: Wayback Machine. Retrieved 3 April 2009.
  37. ^ Anthony McCartney (2012-12-28). "FBI removes many redactions in Marilyn Monroe file". Associated Press. Retrieved 2012-12-28.

Further readingEdit

  • Frederick Vanderbilt Field, From Right to Left: An Autobiography (Westport, Conn.: L. Hill, 1983). vii, 321p.
  • FBI Silvermaster File
  • Whittaker Chambers, Witness (New York: Random House, 1952), 382

External linksEdit