Jews and the Left

A Review of “Revolutionary Yiddishland: A History of Jewish Radicalism” — PART 2

Cover of the original 1983 French edition of Revolutionary Yiddishland

Go to Part 1.

The Pale of Settlement

The Revolutionary Yiddishland of the book’s title refers to the former Pale of Settlement which was comprised of twenty-six governorships in Eastern Europe where Jews were allowed to live, but only in cities and towns. Out of the eleven million Jews in the world in the early twentieth century, Russia held more than five million, and of these, four and a half million resided in the cities and towns of the Pale. For the authors, this “Yiddishland” was not just a geographical territory, but a “social and cultural space, a linguistic and religious world.”[i] According to historian John Klier, the much-maligned Pale of Settlement was the only response the tsarist authorities could come up with when faced with how to deal with the “fanaticism of ultra-Orthodox Jewry” which was “unassimilable to official purposes.”

The social hierarchy of Jews in the Pale was, according to Brossat and Klingberg, made up of a wealthy financial bourgeoisie, a middling bourgeoisie which was “intellectual and commercial,” and “an immense Jewish proletariat.”[ii] The use of the term “proletariat” to describe poorer Jews in the Pale is questionable given that they typically operated as petty traders rather than industrial employees. Jewish peddlers were notorious throughout the Pale as smugglers of contraband (as referenced in Gogol’s Dead Souls). This large number of poorer Jews was the direct result of the Jewish population explosion in Eastern Europe in the nineteenth century when their numbers grew from about 1.5 million at the beginning of the century to almost eight million by 1913.

This Jewish “proletariat,” a hotbed of radicalism characterized by “powerful organization,” played a “decisive part” in the “strikes and insurrections that broke out right across the Pale in the course of the 1905 Revolution.” Regarding revolutionary agitators at this time, Tsar Nicholas II claimed that “nine-tenths of the troublemakers are Jews” who also dominated the newspapers where “some Jew or another sits … making it his business to stir up passions of people against each other.”[iii]

The late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries saw millions of these poorer Jews migrate to destinations as diverse as North and South America, France, South Africa, Australia and Palestine. The ideological zealotry of these Jewish migrants directly influenced American immigration policy around this time, with Muller noting:

The image of the Jew as Communist played an often overlooked role in the history not only of Jews in America, but of the millions of Jews in Eastern Europe who would have liked to emigrate to the United States after World War I, but who were prevented from doing so by the immigration restrictions enacted in the early 1920s, culminating in the Reed-Johnson Act of 1924. For those restrictions were motivated in part by the identification of Jews with political radicalism.’[iv]

The prominent Jewish intellectual and writer Chaim Bermant observed that “To many minds, at the beginning of this [twentieth] century, the very words ‘radical’ and ‘Jew’ were almost one, and many a left-wing thinker or politician was taken to be Jewish through the very fact of his radicalism.”[v] Read more

A Review of “Revolutionary Yiddishland: A History of Jewish Radicalism,” Part 1 of 3


Alain Brossat and Sylvie Klingberg’s Revolutionary Yiddishland: A History of Jewish Radicalism was first published in France in 1983. A revised edition appeared in 2009 and an English translation in 2016. Intended for a mainly Jewish readership, the book is essentially an apologia for Jewish communist militants in Eastern Europe in the early to mid-twentieth century. Brossat, a Jewish lecturer in philosophy at the University of Paris, and Klingberg, an Israeli sociologist, interviewed dozens of former revolutionaries living in Israel in the early 1980s. In their testimony they recalled “the great scenes” of their lives such as “the Russian Civil War, the building of the USSR, resistance in the camps, the war in Spain, the armed struggle against Nazism, and the formation of socialist states in Eastern Europe.”[i] While each followed different paths, “the constancy of these militants’ commitment was remarkable, as was the firmness of the ideas and aspirations that underlay it.” Between the two world wars, communist militancy was “the center of gravity of their lives.”[ii]

While communism in Europe in the early- to mid-twentieth century was characterized by economic dysfunction, systematic oppression, summary executions, and the elimination of entire ethnic groups, Brossat and Klingberg wistfully recall it as a time when European Jewry “failed to achieve its hopes, its utopias, its political programs and strategies.” Instead, the messianic dreams of radical Jews were “broken on the rocks of twentieth-century European history.” A product of their ethnocentric infatuation with the “romance” of Jewish involvement in radical political movements, Revolutionary Yiddishland is Brossat and Klingberg’s hagiographic attempt to resurrect a history that is today “more than lost, being actually denied, even unpronounceable.” Read more

Lenin’s Willing Industrialist: The Saga of Armand Hammer, Part 5: Coda to a Life of Lies

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Doctor Armand Hammer made it clear that he would be remembered and that, not only would his memory be secure in immortality, but he would also exert influence over what didn’t get remembered about him. The memory of the bad things that he had done would die with him, while the good he wanted people to believe he’d done would be his legacy, even if it was largely a lie. Armand Hammer claimed that he “pursued two of the greatest goals I can imagine — world peace and a cure for cancer” (Hammer 468). These may have been his stated goals, but it’s doubtful that they were ever his real intentions.


The idea that Hammer wanted world peace is directly at odds with how he earned his money. War, upheaval, and revolution had provided his point of entry in the two major ventures that created his empire and helped make him one of the largest players on the geopolitical scene in the twentieth century. His friend and fellow titan-of-industry John Paul Getty reminded  Hammer of this fact in his autobiography As I See It. According to Mr. Getty, when someone cornered him at a party and made the requisite “‘tell-me-the-secret-of-making-millions’ question I furrowed my brow and said, ‘Actually, there’s nothing to it. You merely wait for a revolution in Russia’” (Hammer 150).

War had been good to Armand Hammer. Although Armand Hammer talks proudly in his autobiography of supporting the campaign to bomb Germany into submission in World War II, the good Doctor also had a blast in the aftermath of the Great War. Read more

Lenin’s Willing Industrialist: The Saga of Armand Hammer, Part 4: The Real King of Oil, and the Importance of using a Bagman

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Although the definitive biography of the Jewish billionaire Marcel Reich is called The King of Oil, the title probably belongs to industrialist Armand Hammer, for perhaps no one did as much to alter the political and economic geography of the global oil scene than he did. Others may have accumulated more wealth with oil, but few used their wealth to exert such leverage.

As in all of Armand Hammer’s endeavors, the narrative he prefers to tell of how he succeeded in gaining a foothold in the global oil scene is a self-serving fairytale that doesn’t bear close scrutiny. In Hammer, he claims that he managed to outbid the Seven Sisters oil cartel by extending an offer to King Idris to search for an oasis in Kufra, Libya. Just as Armand Hammer ostensibly wanted to feed the Russian peasants so many years before, he would now quench the thirst of an impoverished and tiny Middle Eastern nation languishing in “its medieval poverty” (Epstein 228). This story, which “has all the elements of a fairytale — a good king, a kingdom imprisoned by lack of water, and a wise man who shows the king how to lift the curse from his small kingdom — became the conventional account of how a small, inexperienced American oil company got the richest prize in Libya” (Ibid.).

His narrative of supposed “enlightened altruism” (Epstein 23) hid the fact that he had paid a “multimillion dollar bribe to a key official in the Libyan royal court” (Ibid.). In Hammer’s defense, a certain level of bribery was de rigeur when operating in oil concessions at the time. A “financial editor who specialized in the internal operations of Standard Oil Company of New Jersey, the parent company of Esso Libya” (Blumay 116), told Hammer’s PR flack that any “company involved in the Libyan auction bribes the ministry” but that what distinguished Armand Hammer’s bribe from the usual ones on offer was “the astonishing amount of money that Doctor Hammer threw around” (Ibid.). Read more

Lenin’s Willing Industrialist: The Saga of Armand Hammer, Part 3: The Faberge Fraud and Other Sleaze

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One day while Armand Hammer was browbeating his PR man Carl Blumay by rattling off his list of accomplishments, he mentioned that in addition to being a “great industrialist” (Blumay 362) he was also a “distinguished philanthropist and art collector” (Ibid.). He capped his speech by claiming that he may, in fact end up living forever.

Art was very important to Armand Hammer, or rather being perceived as someone who was a knowledgeable collector of great art was important to the public image he was intent on constructing.

In his autobiography Hammer explains that his goal was to amass an eclectic collection of the world’s greatest artworks to share with the public who otherwise wouldn’t get to enjoy fine art. In an interview with Charlie Rose he declared that “Great works of art should not be held in the private and exclusive property of rich men. They should be shared with and enjoyed by everybody, for the education of the young and the enrichment of the lives of all humans” (Hammer 260). That his philanthropy was really an enterprise linked to everything from tax fraud to forgery should come as no surprise to those familiar with the wide chasm between Hammer the PR creation and the real Armand Hammer. He told Carl Blumay, his trusted employee of more than a quarter-century, the following when talking about what he was going to do with a particular batch of paintings: “I’m not going to sell them. … If I donate them to a museum or a school, the tax law enables me to base my deduction on the appreciated value, not on the purchase price. The more I inflate their value, the more I’ll be able to write off” (Blumay 22). Blumay’s recollection is corroborated by a Washington Post review headlined “An Exhibition of Losers by Major Masters,” by Paul Richards, who “speculated that the entire [exhibition] was an attempt by Hammer to inflate the value of the collection so that he could claim a fat tax deduction” (Blumay 173). Read more

Lenin’s Willing Industrialist: The Saga of Armand Hammer, Part 2: A Lucrative Relationship with Lenin and Stealing German Technology

Armand Hammer made his first fortune in Russia. In his autobiography, Hammer, he speaks without irony about how the Romanovs, “those once-powerful rulers…treated Russia as their playground and their treasure house” (140). It is hard to read about Hammer’s time in Russia without concluding that he is projecting, that he enjoyed the good life among the relics and treasures of liquidated royalty while the people outside of the palace where he resided (more on that later) were immiserated.

The power of the Politburo certainly seduced him, and even more was he seduced by the cult and charisma of Vladimir Lenin, whom he “knew personally” (Blumay 29), concluding that he had “never met a gentler, more compassionate man” (Ibid.). The Bolshevik Revolution had a profound impact on the entire Hammer family. When it happened on November 7, 1917, Armand was only nineteen years-old. His brother, Victor, who was four years younger, recalled it as “a dream come true” (Blumay 40). In his words, “A mere 11,000 men had seized control of one-sixth of the world! We saw…Lenin and Trotsky as gods” (Ibid.)—an entirely mainstream attitude among American Jews at the time.

It wasn’t enough for Armand Hammer to merely cultivate a relationship with Lenin, however. He had designs of modeling himself in the man’s image. His brother Victor claimed that “Armand began to harbor the notion that someday he could be just as powerful and important as Lenin. The only difference is that Armand wanted to be a lot richer” (Blumay 45).

Hammer established a relationship with Lenin and his credibility with the Communists by acting as his father’s proxy in deals between the Comintern and Russia. To “combat rampant inflation, the Russians began issuing gold-backed currency, the chervonetz. In order to obtain the mining concession for Armand, Julius agreed from Sing-Sing to put up $50,000 in gold as collateral, which was to be used to help underwrite the new currency” (Blumay 45). In return for acting as a conduit between his father and the Russians, Armand Hammer was granted his first major concession in Russia, ostensibly to sell wheat to help the starving Russians. This was in addition to acquiring an asbestos mining concession. Both Armand Hammer and the Communist government would profit from the business transaction. The Russians themselves didn’t get much out of the deal, especially those starving peasants from whom Hammer was nominally agreeing to import grain, in exchange for extracting money and asbestos. Read more

Lenin’s Willing Industrialist: The Saga of Armand Hammer, Part 1 of 5

Oh, would some Power give us the gift
To see ourselves as others see us!
-Robert Burns

There are few things that provide quite as illuminating a contrast as comparing a man’s testament of his own life against those accounts given by others (friend and foe, alike). In that spirit, then, here is an account of the life of Armand Hammer, the Jewish businessman, oil magnate, concessionaire and art collector, who in his telling was a crusader for human rights and the scourge of cancer. The picture that emerges of Dr. Hammer in the eyes of others (and sometimes in declassified documents and secret recordings) is a quite different face than the one Hammer presented to the world. Here is Part One of a five-part series.

Lenin’s Willing Industrialist: The Saga of Armand Hammer, Part I: Roots and Russia

In public relations agent Carl Blumay’s account of his more than twenty years in service to Armand Hammer, The Dark Side of Power: The Real Armand Hammer, he  relates how carefully Hammer crafted his “disarming, grandfatherly public persona” (Blumay 363) and how the man behind the meteoric rise of Occidental Petroleum never missed an opportunity to disprove the darker rumors surrounding his empire. During his career at Occidental, Blumay himself had become a prop in this campaign, conscripted against his will at times. When, for instance, word of “Occidental’s revolving door” (363) hire-and-fire policy was making the rounds, Dr. Hammer made a constant routine of asking the PR man in public how long he had been working with Hammer. He did this to present an image to the world of “the eighty-one-year-old paterfamilias of one of the world’s great multinational corporations standing side-by-side with his devoted sixty-eight-year-old retainer of a quarter century” (Ibid.). Hammer performed this routine using Blumay so frequently that it eventually approached the level of vaudeville with Blumay gritting his teeth in a forced smile while replying with the requisite “twenty-five years” to the day’s audience, whether it was at a board meeting, fundraiser, or an art gallery.

One would be hard-pressed to find a more auto-hagiographic tale than the one related in Steve Weinberg’s Hammer: The Armand Hammer Story, which “told the entertaining story of a saintly but shrewd man whose life consisted of one triumph after another” (Blumay 437). The book’s coauthor put it mildly when he said that “a lot of sanitizing went on” (Ibid.) in the writing. He was being a bit more candid when he related that “[Hammer’s] character was my creation in a fictional enterprise.” Although the author was compensated to the tune of $500,000 plus another roughly $72,000 in expenses for casting his quarry in a nigh-on saintly light, he still walked away from the project feeling as if he had “flogged every atom of my soul.”

The steps that Armand Hammer took to exaggerate (or even invent) certain aspects of his business abroad (especially in Russia) while downplaying others, were sometimes undercut by his vanity and paranoia.

Hammer’s Nixonian obsession with recording and espionage, “what he called James Bond stuff” (Edward J. Epstein, Dossier: The Secret History of Armand Hammer, 18), involved using moles, spies, and hidden surveillance techniques he’d picked up during his extensive stays in the Soviet Union to gain intelligence and leverage on others. “Hammer found this secret taping system especially useful for recording sensitive events, such as the disbursement of bribes to which he did not want even his confidential secretaries to be privy” (Ibid.). One of Hammer’s mistakes in this enterprise was to enlist his son Julian in the cloak-and-dagger. Julian Hammer was a quintessential case of affluenza, a princeling who seemed to be above the law. Armand Hammer’s son had been arrested for shooting and killing his friend at the age of 24. Numerous other violent and very public outbursts involving guns and drugs followed, but his police record eventually disappeared from the county files. (According to Armand Hammer, this was none of his doing and was probably attributable to poor clerical competency among California public sector employees.)

The main problem with Hammer’s bugging and surveillance operation, though, was not familial nepotism, but that he was unknowingly collecting a trove of evidence against himself that could be potentially damning one day, assuming it fell into the hands of a journalist who wasn’t a friend or on his payroll. Hammer counted the Sulzberger’s New York Times among his allies going back at least as far as when The Times’ notorious Walter Duranty (who won a Pulitzer for his work in covering up the Holodomor) helped him craft his first autobiography, The Quest of the Romanoff Treasure. This tight relationship with the Times might help explain why he initially let the Gray Lady’s own Edward J. Epstein into his orbit. The journalist who eventually defected from the standard effusive and glowing picture of Dr. Armand Hammer was able to gather enough information to write The Secret History of Armand Hammer, which forms a perfect tonic to the poisonous myths surrounding one of the most consummate sociopaths of the modern era. Carl Blumay claims that Epstein would have never gotten close to Armand Hammer during his tenure working PR for him. But Armand’s obsession with “the notion of using his friendship with Times publisher Arthur Sulzberger” (Blumay 392), along with an over-weaning desire for fame and attention, caused him to lower his guard. It also led to the first public revelations regarding just what Armand Hammer had been up to in Russia, and on behalf of the Communists in America.


To understand Armand Hammer, it is necessary to first know something about his father, Julius Hammer. Julius Hammer was a Jewish immigrant from Russia who came to New York ostensibly to practice medicine and thrive as a small businessman. He founded a pharmaceutical supplies concern called Allied Drug and Chemical Corporation. This company was created in “a secret partnership with the Bolshevik government” (Blumay 40). State Department files claim Armand’s father was “one of the first to establish one of the ‘front’ corporations and purchasing agencies” that were controlled by “Soviet-Jewish elements under the direction of the Soviet Government of Russia” (41).

The depth of Julius Hammer’s ideological zealotry is hardly disputed, even by Armand Hammer’s own account (though he soft-pedaled his father’s fanaticism as misguided, starry-eyed idealism – a standard (and largely false) account of Jewish involvement in Communism). Victor Hammer, Armand’s brother, said he got his name because it meant “victory over capitalism” (Blumay 38). Armand Hammer would sometimes claim his father named him after Armand Duval, a character in La Dame aux Camélias by Alexandre Dumas, fils, but later in life Hammer would admit that he was named in honor of the arm-and-hammer symbol of the Socialist Labor Party. “Decades later, Armand would use the arm-and-hammer-insignia as the flag on his yacht” (Epstein 35).

A Scotland Yard report confirmed the elder Hammer’s unalloyed ardor for Communism, and also that he worked in tandem with Ludwig Martens (a Russian-born communist appointed ambassador to the United States by Vladimir Lenin) to help grow the “Communist Party of the United States in America” (Blumay 36), especially in New York, alongside Jewish-American economist Isaac Hourwich.

Edward Epstein corroborates this report from across the pond, and also shows that Julius Hammer’s circle of fellow-travelers included not only intellectuals, but men of action, revolutionaries such as Boris Reinstein “who had been expelled first from Russia and then Germany, Switzerland, and France for his radical activities” (Epstein 34). Reinstein had done two years in prison for his involvement in a terrorist bombing, as well. He and Julius Hammer had both come “from Jewish ghettos in the same area of southern Russia” (34).

In later life Armand Hammer would try to downplay his father’s Jewish identity (and his own) to grease the wheels of his oil concessions in the Middle East, since Israel was not exactly enjoying popularity among the various pan-Arab revolutionaries when he made his successful wildcat play for Libya. Armand would even ridiculously claim that he and his family were Unitarians, but the record shows that Julius Hammer was a strongly-identified Jew. Like many Jews though, he yearned to have it both ways, to reap the benefits of assimilation while gaming the nepotistic perks that come with what John Derbyshire calls “absimilation” (sic). Although this attitude displayed by Julius Hammer (and inherited by his sons) may seem schizophrenic on the surface, it reveals itself as simply expedient when studied closer: When being Jewish proved an impediment to making money, the Hammers downplayed being Jewish. In those circumstances when it was advantageous to be Jewish, no such pains were taken.

Armand Hammer’s brother Victor claimed in his talks with Carl Blumay that his father was “violently anti-Semitic” (38),  but to say that he was extremely cautious would be more accurate. Armand Hammer was given toward a tendency to invoke the specter of pogroms at a moment’s notice in his memoirs, but according to Victor Hammer “Pop’s parents were merchants who prospered under the Czar and denied being Jewish” (Ibid.). Dr. Julius Hammer’s obscurantism extended to his medical practice (more on that later), with Victor claiming that “every time he delivered a baby, if Jewish parents gave their children what he considered a Jewish-sounding first name, he changed the name on the birth certificate.”

Screenwriter Michael Herr (whose credits include Full Metal Jacket and Apocalypse Now) mentions in his book on Stanley Kubrick that Jews can comfortably be themselves (that is Jewish) only in the presence of other Jews. The phenomenon is repeatedly apparent in the lives of both Armand Hammer and his supposedly “violently anti-Semitic” father.  Epstein describes this cultural milieu in which the younger Hammers came of age, in New York neighborhoods “strictly divided between Jewish and Irish immigrants” (34):

The burning issue was assimilation: should Jews remain within their own culture and seek a Judaic form of socialism, or should they seek a nonsectarian form? The Jewish radicals subscribed to the latter position. They passionately rejected ghettoization. In doing so, as social critic Irving Howe points out, “the Jewish radicals … hoped to move from the yeshiva to modern culture, from shtetl to urban sophistication, from blessing the Sabbath wine to declaring the strategy of international revolution. They yearned to bleach away their past and become men without, or above, a country” (34–35)

Despite such pronouncements, it was very typical for Jewish radicals to retain a strong Jewish identity, quite often implicitly and involving a great deal of self-deception.

That his father subscribed to radical, violent political revolution does not necessarily imply that Armand Hammer was foreordained to become a Communist, a Communist sympathizer, or a subversive agent of some kind. But it seems that the apple did not fall far from the tree. Despite enjoying all the advantages of American capitalism while incurring none of the costs of Communist revolution, Armand remained Red at heart. These paradoxes made life quite hard for PR man Carl Blumay since he was charged with making sure that allegations against Armand Hammer rarely made it to intelligence agency archives, that nothing unsavory would hinder Hammer’s position in politics or business, or be leaked to the press where the charges could hurt Hammer’s reputation with the public. When Carl Blumay was acting as aide-de-camp to Armand Hammer against one such round of allegations (this time from a member of the Catholic War Veterans), he took the complaint to Armand’s brother Victor and asked him “how to temper his brother’s Soviet ardor” (Blumay 36). Victor’s response was to laugh and to say, “Armand has always looked to the Kremlin with the same kind of reverential regard a deeply devoted Moslem pays to Mecca” (Ibid.).

Revolution (first in Russia and then in Libya) was good to Armand Hammer. Revolution was a kind of religion for him. And even better, revolution made him rich.

When Armand Hammer was pressed regarding his loyalties or his ideology, his answer rarely wavered. In Hammer, he says “I always … tell the Russians that I am a capitalist, that I believe our system is better than theirs and that I want us to coexist peacefully” (159). The pretext of peace glosses much of Armand Hammer’s description of his own philosophy. A claim to be helping the effort toward détente, a thawing of relations between East and West during the Cold War, and a desire to avert nuclear war (for the sake of future generations, of course) allowed him to increase his fortune as well as the influence of Communism, all while shifting attention away from his activities or hiding his true intent behind a veil of philanthropy.

As a result, his jaunts in his Gulfstream jet, OXY 1, to visit characters like genocidal dictator Nicolae Ceaușescu were written off as attempts to find some common ground between two opposing political systems. Incidentally, before Ceausescu was found guilty of genocide and executed, Hammer related to Carl Blumay that the General Secretary of the Romanian Communist Party was his “best friend” (251), not to mention “a great leader, a fine, warmhearted man, and a humanitarian who loves his people and has compassion for them” (Ibid.). The throwaway addendum that “he’s so easy to do business with” gets a little closer to the truth of why Hammer (as usual) was willing to look the other way to enrich himself while people were dying.

A memorandum from assistant director of domestic intelligence, William Sullivan, to J. Edgar Hoover classified “Hammer [as] a type who would do business with the devil if there was a profit in it” (Epstein 211). This was only slight hyperbole.


Although intelligence gathering had begun on the Communist activities of the Hammers since at least as early as 1921 (under the aegis of a young Justice Department assistant named J. Edgar Hoover), including “a tip from an informant alleging that Hammer was a courier for the newly-organized Communist International” (Epstein 22), it wouldn’t be the political activities of the Russian-Jewish émigré and his son that first exposed them to the light of the law. Rather it was the gross medical malfeasance of Dr. Julius Hammer and his son Armand, then still in medical school:

A woman had died after undergoing an abortion at the clinic at Hammer’s house. The dead woman was Marie Oganesoff, the 33-year-old wife of a Russian diplomat who had come to America from the Czarist regime. According to the testimony of her chauffeur, she had gone to the Hammer house for the abortion on July 5 and collapsed when she returned home later that day. … When questioned by prosecutors, Julius Hammer did not deny that an abortion had been performed, but he claimed that it was medically justified, and that he, as her doctor, had the right to make such a decision. Nevertheless, he was indicted (Epstein 42).

Julius Hammer had had earlier close calls with the law, having been surveilled in the belief that he may have been the one supplying material for bombs given to subversives and of furnishing dynamite to the radical Boris Reinstein. This suspicion was especially harbored by the NYC Red Squad formed initially “to counter a spate of anarchist bombings in Manhattan” (Epstein 36) and alluded to in an interview Victor Hammer gave to Carl Blumay, in which he admitted “Pop even gave dynamite to a young radical” (Blumay 39). Considering that Julius Hammer was a doctor involved in the pharmaceutical supply business, it would have been easy for him to amass precursors required to make explosives without arousing suspicion, although at this remove it is hard to say which violent crimes he either did or did not help facilitate.

But the law eventually caught up with him anyway.

On June 26, 1920, “the jury found Julius Hammer guilty of first-degree manslaughter. The judge then pronounced his sentence: three and one half to twelve years of hard labor at Sing-Sing” (Epstein 42).

The most provocative aspect of this whole morbid affair was that journalist Edward J. Epstein claims Armand Hammer knew that he had let his father go to prison as an innocent man (or at least one who wasn’t guilty of this specific crime in question):

He would keep his knowledge a secret for three decades. Then, afraid that he was dying, he explained to his longtime mistress that it was he, not his father, who had performed the illegal abortion in 1919. He was then only a first-year medical student, unlicensed to practice medicine, and would certainly have gone to prison if his father had not stepped in to take the blame. Ordinarily, doctors in New York State were permitted leeway in performing such abortions and were rarely prosecuted (46).

As with so many other aspects of Armand Hammer’s life (especially suspected crimes) there is an aura of mystery that remains, even after the files from the collapsed Soviet Union have been disgorged to prove Hammer’s guilt in other realms. Adding ‘back-alley abortionist’ and ‘manslaughter’ to his curriculum vitae would certainly run counter to the image Hammer yearned to project of himself, but it certainly rings truer than the implausible obstetrical escapades he describes in his autobiography. If Armand Hammer would have the reader believe that he “missed the lecture on breech deliveries” (Hammer 83) at Columbia College but was somehow able to skim through Cragin’s Obstetrics in the bathroom of an apartment, “memorize the illustrations on technique” (84) and then perform an emergency cesarean section on an imperiled woman giving birth, then one could be forgiven for thinking he was capable of killing a woman in a botched curetting, letting his father take the blame, and continuing on undeterred in his quest for money and power.

With the old radical warhorse Julius Hammer temporarily sidelined by his prison stint, his sons were ready to take up the mantle of world revolution. Armand was the older, more calculating, and ambitious of the two brothers, and it was while acting in his capacity as go-between for his father in prison and the Comintern on the outside that Armand Hammer would first execute his father’s wishes and then start to fulfill his own much grander schemes for power at any cost. Armand Hammer was about to become one of the most influential players on the global scene and would play no small part in shaping the twentieth century, mostly for the worse.

Go to Part 2.

Works Cited

Blumay, Carl. The Dark Side of Power: The Real Armand Hammer. Simon & Schuster, 1992

Epstein, Edward J. Dossier: The Secret History of Armand Hammer. Random House, 1996.

Hammer, Armand and Neil Lydon. Hammer: The Armand Hammer Story. Perigee Trade, 1988.