Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

Harriet Parsons

Drive Spies and Provocateurs Out of the Communist Movement


Published: Workers Herald, Vol. 1, No. 2, September 1980.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
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To revolutionary communists, the exposure of the existence of the FBI’s COINTELPRO (Counter Intelligence Program) was no surprise. The state’s intelligence activities against revolutionaries, particularly anti-capitalist working class fighters, extends back beyond the period of the Palmer Raids in 1919-1920. U.S. capitalists feared the prospects of revolution in the U.S. following the successful Bolshevik Revolution in Russia. Before World War I, the private armies of the capitalists, the Pinkertons, infiltrated and destroyed union organizing efforts, strikes, and workers’ organizations such as the railroad strike and rebellion of 1877 and the militant Molly Maguires in the coal fields. COINTELPRO and the other nameless campaigns waged against revolutionaries today are only a continuation of the policy of international capital to suppress the proletarian revolution.


The state’s tactics fall into two broad categories, spying and provocation. Spying includes wiretapping, electronic surveillance, Watergate-style “black bag” jobs, mail cover operations, and informant activities. According to bourgeois liberal sources today, these forms have turned up a list of over 20 million “subversives” all of whom are allegedly cross-referenced in a computerized FBI Name Index.

The government boasts that over 87% of the information on revolutionaries collected by the state comes from informants, members of organizations solicited by the police or people placed within a group to gather information. Once in the organization, the informants worm their way into key positions in order to have access to critical information about the leadership and tactical plans. For example, in her book A Fine Old Conflict, Jessica Mitford (a member of the CPUSA during its most revisionist period) recalls discovering that the district membership secretary of the CPUSA in California had been a police informant for years, regularly turning over the CPUSA’s secret membership list to the state. In the Black Panther Party, the FBI had the cooperation of Fred Hampton’s bodyguard and the notorious “Othello” supplied police with detailed floor plans of offices and homes and accounts of the habits and movements of Black Panther Party leaders. “Othello,” an infamous FBI informant in the Black national revolutionary movement, posed for years as a movement hanger-on. He would steal address books and membership lists, as well as any other pertinent information in files, offices and unguarded homes.

While some informants are placed in organizations to gather information, many more come from within. They are weak cadres, preyed upon and blackmailed by the police. A common technique of the state, seen frequently in Germany under fascism, and elsewhere as well, is the recruitment of informants from within the Communist Party or other radical organization while they are in prison. Arrested cadres who talk to the police at all – whether because they have been tortured or because they believe they can mislead the police, but are in fact caught – are immediately placed in a double bind. If they don’t cooperate further with the police, the police will kill them or expose them to the comrades who will then expose them as traitors.

But far more important than the spying activities is the action of provocateurs to discredit and destroy the revolutionary movement. Numerous articles in the Communist International during the 1930s on the experience of the German, Polish, and Italian parties under fascism, and a pamphlet published by the Communist Party of Greece (M-L) document the major tactics of the state. We have in the U.S. current examples to demonstrate the application of these tactics today. In many cases, the aim of the spy activities is to collect information to facilitate the provocation, to crush the revolutionary movement and destroy its mass support.

The first provocative attack is usually on the line and leadership of the Party. Agents within the Party will attempt to slander the organization and belittle its ability to carry out its revolutionary tasks and win mass support. Or these agents will directly undermine the work of the Party by failing to carry out their assigned tasks, by misrepresenting and distorting the Party’s political line, by creating factions within the Party and encouraging in-fighting.

In some cases, agents within will try to push the line of the organization to an incorrect position on the right or left so as to discredit the Party’s work among the masses. The role of these provocateurs is to alienate the Party from the masses and to this end the provocateurs frequently advocate adventurist, terrorist action. The Communist Party of Poland in the 1930s suffered greatly from the infiltration by the Defenzia, the Polish Nazi secret police. The Defo arrested large numbers of cadres and was able to replace many of them in the party with police agents who rose to leadership positions. The agents worked to distort the line of the Party to make the masses doubt it, and even sent false reports to the Comintern undermining the mass movements in Poland – trying to break the ties between the Comintern and the CPSU(B), on the one hand, and the Communist Party of Poland on the other.

Excellent examples of this technique can be seen in the government’s disruption of the mass organizations engaged in the anti-war movement in the 1960s. This was revealed in the state’s prosecution of the Viet Nam Veterans Against the War (VVAW) for a plot to bomb the 1972 Miami Republican convention. The man who pushed this plot against the united opposition of the other vets, and secured a weapons stockpile, was a government agent. Cril Payne testified in his book on the FBI’s infiltration of the Weathermen that FBI agents often offered to supply dynamite and weapons to the radicals to encourage terrorist action which would raise public sentiment against them and make them vulnerable to legal prosecution.

Sometimes the provocation takes the form of spreading rumors that honest leaders are police agents, having known agents act friendly towards the targeted leader, planting fake receipts for money supposedly received from the secret police and other sordid tricks. In some cases, the state did not wait for rumors to do their dirty work, it simply murdered the leaders it felt to be most effective and most dangerous.

The state will go to great lengths to infiltrate the leadership of the Party. It will create arrest records for its agents to give them credibility with the movement; it placed agents in factories to give the Communist Party information of the economic and political situation and in that way worm the agent into the Party. Agents will work hard to advance themselves and gain ever greater access to Party secrets. The Gestapo (1930-1940) employed several techniques for getting into the leadership of the Communist Party of Germany, all facilitated by the conditions of illegality under which the Party worked. In some cases, the Gestapo worked hard to unite isolated local party units, to build district unity and thus to open up a route to the Central Committee of the Party. Special agents trained in Marxist-Leninist theory and agitation and propaganda would be placed in areas where the Party had been smashed by a series of arrests. These agents would pull together the fragments of the Party, posing as representatives of the Central Committee, carry out distorted Party work in the area and, finally, complete the smashing of the Party in that region.

The success of the state in its campaign to infiltrate the leadership of the international Communist movement historically can be seen in the list of top party officials who were self-confessed agents: Malinovsky, a CPSU(B) representative to the Duma was a czarist agent; John Gates, editor of the Daily Worker; Maurice Malkin, National Agit/Prop director for the CPUSA; and numerous district membership secretaries and leaders in the CPUSA. However, in the process of sowing their seeds of destruction, these state agents were forced simultaneously to further the revolutionary struggle. Lenin said this in his discussion of Malinovsky:

Malinovsky, as a member of the Central Committee of the Party and a deputy in the Duma, was forced, in order to gain our confidence, to aid us in establishing daily papers, which even under the Tsar knew how to carry on the fight openly against the opportunism of the Mensheviks, and to preach the fundamentals of BoL s-hevism....With one hand, Malinovsky sent to jail and to death scores upon scores of the most active Bolsheviks, while with the other hand he was compelled to aid in the training of scores and scores of thousands of new adherents through the medium of the legal press.... [Quoted in The Struggle Against the Provocateur, p. 655]

Another common tactic of the police in their campaign against the Party is to create factionalism and internal dissension. Police agents will consciously undermine the functioning of democratic centralism, refuse or fail to carry out the line of the Party, and pull together around themselves a faction of people within the Party opposed to the line. These factions will then compete for hegemony, distracting the Party from its work among the masses, distorting the line of the Party, and pushing agents to the fore in the leadership while true communist leaders are slandered and put down. In some cases where the Party is especially weak or weakened by in-fighting, the state may simply form a second “revolutionary” organization ready to collect revolutionary forces and encourage further splintering. The Communist Party of Greece was plagued in the 1930s by the state’s factionalist activities. In one case, the police were so blatant as to arrest all the members of one faction and none of another though all attended the same meeting. This encouraged the view that the faction not arrested was connected with the police.

There is no end to the ingenuity of the capitalist state bent on the destruction of the revolutionary movement. The Gestapo distributed revolutionary literature in working class neighborhoods and then searched and arrested anyone who did not turn in the Communist material to the police. This scheme identified Party sympathizers in the working class, and made workers hesitant to accept Communist literature for fear that it came from the Gestapo.


Trotskyists and Trotskyist organizations have a special place in the government’s arsenal for their role in stirring up counter-revolution and their activities as police agents. The Socialist Workers’ Party, the largest Trotskyist organization in the U.S., has been boosting itself as the leader of the revolutionary movement with reports of the alleged FBI break-ins at SWP offices, and the attention the FBI has given the SWP, because – according to it – it is such a potent threat to the established capitalist order. This lie is akin to the lie that the FBI is trying to bust up the Ku Klux Klan. Rather, the state props up the SWP to use it in fighting true revolutionaries. The current activities of the SWP on behalf of the state are consistent with the historical nature of Trotskyism.

After Leon Trotsky was kicked out of the CPSU(B) for his counter-revolutionary line and sabotage work, Trotsky made an agreement with Hitler and the fascists. In return for Trotsky’s wrecking within the USSR (the murder of Kirov being one example), Hitler would name him to head the Soviet government after the Nazis took over. Trotskyist groups around the world fought against the USSR, the Comintern and its policies, and the Communist Parties in the individual countries. The Trotskyists in Poland were such complete agents that the Defo (the Polish secret police) printed and distributed Trotskyist literature in the prisons to recruit members for these agent goon squads. Trotskyists in alliance with the fascists disrupted Communist activities and created incidents to give the police an excuse to move in and make arrests. And the Trotskyists were the loudest voices in spreading police rumors about honest cadres to discredit them.

The role of the Trotskyists, particularly the SWP, has been the same in the U.S. Maurice Malkin, a former CPUSA member and top functionary, was a Trotskyist, close friend of Leon Trotsky, and an agent. After his betrayal of the CPUSA, Malkin became a CIA agent in Mexico.

The SWP actively supports the state and its flunkeys in the working class, the trade union bureaucrats. Recently, in Birmingham, Alabama, SWP cadres went into the mines and carried on open anti-communist agitation against supporters of the RPO(ML). In several cases they engaged in red-baiting; in others, they engaged in provocative action to separate mass contacts from the RPO(ML) supporters. This is blatant police work. No real socialist would agitate against someone who advocates revolution and the dictatorship of the proletariat!

Spying and provocation by the state will continue as long as the capitalists are in power, because the preservation of their class rule depends on the destruction of the revolutionary movement. Their determination, cunning, and resources must never be underestimated. But eternal vigilance, a firm root among the masses, and strict adherence to democratic centralism and the unity of the Party will eventually lead to the exposure of even the most hidden agents. Recognizing that it is impossible to keep out all agents, the Party must still do everything in its power to do so. It must recruit actively and secure its cadres through a firm ideological grounding tested in practice, in mass work.


Adherence to democratic centralism – unified implementation of the Party line, regular reporting top to bottom, close check-up on fulfillment of tasks – is critical to the defeat of state infiltration and provocation. Not carrying out assigned tasks, undermining the Party’s work, distorting the Party line, complaining and creating opposition factions objectively aids the enemy. At all times, the Party’s security and the security of the individual cadres depends on the correct functioning of democratic centralism. Strict application of the “need-to-know” principle and maintenance of Party secrecy protects the Party from complete exposure and destruction by agents. Gossip and talkativeness among Party cadres is of the greatest benefit to the police and destructive to the Party. Likewise, cadres who conduct their personal lives in an unprincipled manner invite police blackmail and disruption of their work.

Although there may be few arrests or blatant acts of provocation during periods when the Communist Party is fundamentally a legal organization, this is not a period of lull in police activity. Provacateurs attempt to lure the Party into actions which will provide grounds to legally “outlaw” the Party. This is the time when agents are directed to worm their way into the Party, when information on cadres is collected, when quiet steps are taken to thwart the Party’s ability to go underground. The development of the illegal network, the preparations for going underground, must be laid well during this period. And at all times, the Party must be on its guard against attempts to turn it away from the correct Marxist-Leninist line and isolate it from the masses.

Vigilance by all cadres for violations of democratic centralism, factional activity, suspicious conduct, stories that don’t fit, unexpected wealth, excessive curiosity, and repeated patterns of failures, arrests, etc. will almost always lead to the exposure of agents and informers. Despite elaborate police cover stories, just the ease with which details of a project would fall together under the repressive conditions of Nazi Germany was a good sign to vigilant communists that the hand of the Gestapo was at work.

When agents are uncovered in the Party, they must be exposed to the masses along with the methods they have used to infiltrate and harm the Party. The struggle against informers, agent provocateurs, and Trotskyists is another front of the struggle against the capitalist class. Exposure, public denouncement and elimination of agents protects the Party and the masses it fights for from the intrigues of the capitalist state. Remaining silent about the discovery of an agent can endanger the masses who may be preyed upon again by the same person and continue to damage the Party organization. Exposing the tactics of the state and its agents, and teaching cadres and the masses the discipline of vigilance strengthens the Party and furthers the revolutionary struggle. To quote from the experience of the Comintern,

Thus the struggle against provocation can be correctly carried on only as a component part of the general revolutionary class struggle for the overthrow of capitalism. And likewise there can be no real class struggle against capitalism unless a relentless, irreconcilable struggle is waged against provocation as a means of disrupting the working class, as an instrument of bourgeois rule.

But that means that it is fundamentally wrong to undertake the struggle against provocation as a separate campaign, carried through as a shock-campaign, after which the matter is allowed to rest. Not a campaign, but systematic, persistent daily mass struggle against provocation – this is the task before the Communist Parties, a task to which the Communist Parties do not pay enough attention. [The Struggle Against the Provocateur, The Communist, 1930s, p. 647]


1. Bobrovskaya, C. “Know Your Enemies! The Insiders Methods of Work of the Fascist Secret Police.” The Communist International, Vol. XV, No. 2, Feb. 1938, pp. 187-192.

2. Bobrovskaya, C. “Expose the Dark Machinations of the Fascist Secret Service.” The Communist International, Vol. XV, No. 3, March 1938, pp. 304-307.

3. Intelligence Activities and the Rights of Americans, Book II. Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1976.

4. Volkman, Ernest. “Othello,” Penthouse, February, 1980, pp. 69+.

5. Payne, Cril. Deep Cover. NY: Newsweek Books, 1979.

6. Sventsitski, Y. “Provocateurs At Work.” The Communist International, Vol. XV, No. 2, Feb. 1938, pp. 193-196.

7. “The Struggle Against Agent Provocateurs.” Communist Party of Greece (ML), English edition, 1978.