Samuel Dickstein: Congressman, New York judge, HUAC Committee member… and Soviet spy

The infamous House Un-American Activities Committee, associated with the excesses of the Second Red Scare in the popular imagination, perhaps should have investigated one of its own members. Samuel Dickstein, a Democratic congressman from New York from 1923 to 1945, was well-known as a fierce interrogator of communists and especially fascists. His conduct during hearings was extreme even by the general standards of the Committee, contributing to his eventual decision to leave Congress.

In spite of this, Dickstein was accumulating $1,200 a month from the NKVD (later the KGB) in exchange for congressionally protected information on fascist elements. There is no evidence that he provided any valuable information to the Soviet Union, and his financial support from the NKVD ceased upon stepping down from the Committee. There is, however, considerable evidence that Dickstein assisted individuals aiding the Soviet Union in obtaining visas to, and eventual citizenship in, the United States.

After his twenty year stint in Congress, Dickstein served on the New York Supreme Court, serving in this post until he died in 1954. Dickstein’s red-tinted racket was not revealed until 1999, when relevant Soviet files were uncovered by authors Allen Weinstein and Alexander Vassilev. By this time, his name had been added to a street in New York (which still bears his name), and he had achieved relatively high posthumous acclaim.

As Dickstein was on their payroll, Soviet spymasters gave him the codename “Crook.” In this nickname is evidence of character such duplicity and lack of character that even Dickstein’s benefactors did not have true respect for him. Only recently has his legacy begun to reflect his character.

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