Red Conspirator: J. Peters and the American Communist Underground
By Thomas Sakmyster
University of Illinois Press. 280 pp. $50
By Murray Seeger
He entered the country in 1924, a Hungarian Jew and veteran of the Austro-Hungarian Army in the Great War. His name was Sándor Goldberger and he was a Communist. When he had applied for a visa at the U.S. embassy in Prague, he concealed his Jewish origins and claimed he was a medical doctor. An immigration officer caught both lies but no matter. Goldberger gained admittance, and overcame one of the major obstacles to his becoming the leader of Communist conspiratorial activities in the United States in the 1930s.
Within days of his arrival, Goldberger filed the first papers toward naturalization and found his way to the headquarters of the Hungarian Federation of the Workers Party in Yorkville, the Hungarian-German neighborhood on the upper East Side of New York City. A short man with a broad physique, he could easily have been mistaken for a neighborhood pharmacist. He worked for eight months painting faces on dolls and then was taken on as a full-time agent of the Hungarian branch of the Communist Party-USA.
As József Péter, as he was now known, the new agent worked from Chicago, selling subscriptions to the Hungarian-language party newspaper, Új Előre, and enlisting members into the Hungarian Federation. The campaign was hardly a success; in 1925, there were 550 members in the Midwest industrial belt and four years later there were only 205, mostly in Cleveland, the largest Hungarian community in the United States.
Péter was undaunted; he was a true believer who amazed his new friends with his ability to argue a hard ideological line. But he was also charming and ingratiating, and eventually party sachems promoted him to be national secretary of the Hungarian Federation and editor of Új Előre. He gained more attention by consolidating the printing of all party papers, including the Daily Worker, in the building on Union Square that became party headquarters. This efficiency so impressed then-Party Secretary Jay Lovestone that Péter was made an alternate member of the Central Committee.