Document 6: Interview with Howard Costigan

Albert Canwell, First Report: Un-American Activities in Washington State.
([Olympia]: Joint Legislative Fact-Finding Committee on Un-American Activities,1948), 359-67.

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Examination by Mr. Houston:

Q. Will you please state your name?

A. Howard Gary Costigan. . . .

Q. Mr. Costigan, will you explain the circumstances surrounding your being solicited for membership into the Communist Party? The occasion, and what brought it about?

A. Well, in 1935 we formed the Washington Commonwealth Federation. It was not formed with the support of the Communist Party; as a matter of fact, the Communist Party was sharply in opposition to its formation. At that time the Commonwealth Federation was an organization of liberals, of labor, and of generally progressive groups that were supporting the Roosevelt administration. In 1935 the Communist Party was intent upon establishing a third party, called the Farmer-Labor Party. . . . Following the 1936 plenum of the Communist Party held in New York, the . . . [Communist Party instituted what was known as the] Popular Front, and it was—it was considered the Democratic front in the United States. Following this change of policy, the Communist Party . . . became completely [anti-Nazi] in its program and was thoroughly opposed to what it had previously called the Class Struggle Line.

Following that decision, the Communist Party through Trade Union affiliations and through liberal organizations, penetrated the Washington Commonwealth Federation to the point where many of the members of the Executive Board of the Commonwealth Federation were Communists. That is, I mean by that, they were not open Communists; they were covered, or secret Communists.

So during that—and I was told then by Morris Rapport [the head of the Communist Party in Washington State] that the general policy of the Communist Party would remain [anti-Nazi], it would therefore not in any sense of the word counter the program of the Roosevelt administration.

Well, one thing that must be said for the Communist Party members, they're very hard workers, and among other things they attend meetings regularly, they are diligent in pursuing whatever line they're at the moment supposed to be pursuing; and from 1937 through 1939, until the Soviet-Nazi Pact was signed, they were the most ardent and perhaps the most conservative supporters of Roosevelt and the Washington Commonwealth Federation. I was at no time put in the position of taking Party discipline during that period. I was at no time asked to perform functions other than that which I would have performed in any instance, because I was completely supporting the W.C.F. policy and the W.C.F. policy became their policy.

However, in 1939, with the arrival of the startling switch in the Party line, I then began to recognize for the first time that the Communist Party membership were primarily interested in the Soviet Union's foreign policy; and that despite the fact that they had been pro-Roosevelt up to that time. They had even . . . gone so far as to say that Roosevelt was without doubt the greatest leader in the world, as far as the people were concerned. They suddenly discovered, without any change on his part, that he was the number one war-monger in the world. And that was a little difficult for a lot of people to understand. Included among those who found it difficult, was your witness. I attempted for some period of time thereafter, to get the progressive forces within the W.C.F., many of whom were probably Communists during that period of time, to accept . . . the idea that Roosevelt was still as sound. . . . I found that it was impossible, and the Executive Board by that time had been so thoroughly penetrated by the Communist Party that it was necessary for me to leave the Commonwealth Federation. . . . Of course, as soon as [I left] . . . I began to feel the heat. And the heat was intense.

Q. The Communist Party has pursued a course of vilification and persecution?

A. Well, all you have to do is to take a look at the "New World" [a pro-communist newspaper published in Seattle] . . . to find out that I am probably hated more than anyone in the Pacific Northwest by the Communist Party. As a matter of fact, I see no particular reason. I am perfectly willing to testify before this committee. I have nothing I want to cover up. As a matter of fact, I haven't anything to lose; that is, at least I haven't a job to lose, because your headlines last week from these committee rooms, saw to the fact that my job was taken too. So—

Q. You have lost your job since this—

A. Oh, yes,—

Q. —hearing began?

A. —I mean, some of the more flamboyant testimony last week helped to do that.

Q. You mentioned the "New World," Mr. Costigan.

A. Pardon me for interrupting you, but as I am trying to make that point, in 1946 [when Costigan unsuccessfully campaigned for the U.S. Senate against a pro-communist candidate] I spent a lot of money, which I didn't have, to try to make it clear that I was bitterly opposed to . . . the Communist Party. It's undemocratic. . . . Anybody who opposes the Communist Party line is immediately out. As a matter of fact, there is only one inexorable rule in the Communist Party, I've learned both as one who has had to oppose it and one who worked with it during the period when it was following the Roosevelt policy, and that is that under any circumstances any compromise can be made, any issue can be promoted or discarded, any—even the people's kind of progressive issues, any movement can be built or wrecked, as long as it satisfies the current policy of the Soviet Union. In other words, its foreign policy line. That is an absolute must, for continuing membership in the Communist Party is that you become complete servient—subservient to the Soviet foreign policy.

Now in 1946 it seemed to me that, and it does today, that appeasement of potential aggressors is just as likely to undermine American security as it [when the Allies appeased the Nazis before WW II.] Well, it occurs to me there is no difference, except there's a greater menace in the totalitarianism of the Soviet Union. . . .

Q. Mr. Costigan, is it your testimony that the Communist Party has dual objectives? In other words,—

A. Well, I would say this, that the Communist Party . . . shifted on to the Democratic Party line [in 1936] and then they shifted off of it again in 1939, following the Soviet-Nazi Pact. However, [between 1936 and 1939] they were honestly, in the first place, interested in the social welfare of these groups that they penetrated, but they were interested in it, I later discovered, only in so far as it did not interfere with Soviet foreign policy. And as soon as they were able, they were good willing workers, they were perfectly capable of expressing an intelligent point of view on the subject, and when they had penetrated it sufficiently so that they gained control of an organization, they then put the screws on the organization for purposes of diverting it to Soviet foreign policy, no matter what it cost the liberal group they had penetrated.

Does that answer your question?

Q. Yes. In other words, they had a short-term objective, and yet always—

A. Always, as I said when I opened this, the basic objective of the Communist Party, its members, whether hidden or open, is to always follow the Soviet foreign policy. . . .

Q. Did you from time to time, during this period, meet with high officials of the Party—

A. How could I avoid it? I mean, after all I was on the—I presume I was on the political bureau. They kept calling me into meetings, and some of the meetings they held at my place and various other places around—I mean, I can't remember all of the facts that some of these witnesses who have terrific memories, almost photographic memories, can remember. Probably it is because I know too much. But—I mean, the point is that there were just too many meetings, and so on. So I'm not going to be able to give you statistical information of the type that I understand several witnesses gave, including the throwing of Party cards in people's faces and all that sort of thing. . . .

Q. Did you know a man by the name of William Pennock?

A. Certainly, he used to be my secretary.

Q. Will you explain the circumstances of his leaving you as secretary?

A. Well frankly, I had too many secretaries, and [so] I moved him into the Pension Union. I put him in there.

Q. Was Mr. Pennock a member of the Communist Party?

A. Well, I've never—again, I would just assume that he was a member of the Communist Party, by reason of the fact that I mean he was in all top fraction meetings at various times, and met on policy. It's certainly every indication. If you mean by seeing a Party card, I can't say that.

Q. No, I don't mean that. The members of the Communist Party don't go around displaying their cards do they, Mr. Costigan?

A. No, I've never seen one. And that's why I can't understand about having one thrown in somebody's face. And, it seems to me that we ought to keep to the realistic approach to this thing, as far as we can.

Q. Well, Mr. Costigan, we'll—

CHAIRMAN CANWELL: Pardon me, let me state here that is not an issue at the moment. There has been Communist Party cards admitted in evidence here, and I don't think—

THE WITNESS: Well, I've never seen one, that's all. I'm sorry.

Q. I might say, Mr. Costigan, that every Communist Party card that's been admitted in this hearing has been identified by the holder and owner of it as his own card. There's been no other cards submitted here.

Now, do you know a man by the name of N. P. Atkinson?

A. Yes, I know N. P. Atkinson.

Q. Was N. P. Atkinson active in the same way that you've described these others?

A. I would certainly say he was active. I don't know exactly whether it's in the same way, but I would say that he was a far more obstreperous belligerent follower of the Communist Party line than anyone I ever ran into contact with. He was always attempting to lecture people on what was the proper course to take, and how to properly interpret the Party line.

Q. Would your testimony be that Mr. Atkinson was a member of the Communist Party?

A. Well, I would say that if he weren't a member, they were certainly missing some good dues-paying prospect. . . .

Center for the Study of the Pacific Northwest