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Created 70 years ago, Stalin Peace Prize went in 1953 to former Voice of America chief news writer Howard Fast

The International Stalin Prize for Strengthening Peace Among Peoples was created 70 years ago on December 21, 1949 by a decree of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet in honor of Joseph Stalin’s seventieth birthday.

One of the several recipients of the 1953 Stalin International Peace Prize was American writer, journalist and Communist Party USA activist Howard Fast who ten years earlier had been the chief news writer for Voice of America (VOA) radio broadcasts in the Overseas Division of the U.S. Office of War Information (OWI). After getting hired by OWI in December 1942, Fast was recruited early in 1943 to be the chief English news writer for the Voice of America radio programs to Europe. His primary patron was the first VOA director John Houseman who also hired many other Soviet sympathizers and Communist Party members to produce wartime VOA broadcasts.

Office of War Information (OWI) personnel record card for Howard Fast who became the chief news writer and news director for the Voice of America (VOA). His title is listed as Senior Script Editor (English).

After becoming aware of the large number of Soviet agents of influence at the U.S. wartime propaganda agency, the State Department with the backing from the U.S. Army Intelligence and with approval from President Roosevelt’s close friend and foreign policy advisor, Under Secretary of State Sumner Welles, refused to give U.S. passports to both Howard Fast and John Houseman for their planned government travel to North Africa on VOA business in 1943. 1 Both Houseman and Fast resigned form their positions with VOA. Houseman left in mid-1943. Fast left in early January 1944 and became a Communist Party activist and reporter for its newspaper The Daily Worker.

Fast received his Stalin Peace Prize on April 22, 1954 at the Hotel McAlpin in New York at a ceremony reportedly attended by about 1,000 guests. The U.S. State Department again had refused to give him a U.S. passport, this time for his private travel to the Soviet Union.

In his acceptance speech at the ceremony in New York, Fast praised the Soviet Union as a “monumental force” for peace.

 It is a peace prize; nothing can ever change that, and nothing will–and when, even for a moment, the tissue of lies and slander erected between this land of ours and the Soviet Union, is parted, is brushed aside, we see beyond this prize a monumental force for the peace of mankind. 2

In his memoir Being Red, published in 1990, Fast expressed no remorse for receiving and keeping the Stalin International Peace Prize which he collected one year after Stalin’s death. Following Nikita Khrushchev‘s denunciation of Stalin‘s crimes in 1956 during the Twentieth Party Congress, the prize was renamed as the International Lenin Prize for Strengthening Peace Among Peoples. All previous recipients were asked to return their Stalin Prizes so they could be replaced by the renamed Lenin Prize. It is not known whether Howard Fast exchanged his Stalin Prize.

The International Committee, headed by [French poet and longtime Communist Party member] Louis Aragon, awarded me the Stalin International Peace Prize. This consisted of a beautiful leather-bound diploma case, a gold medal, and $25,000 [about $235,000 in 2019 dollars], which revered our slide to poverty. …and considering the hundreds of thousands of my books printed in the Soviet Union, for which no royalties had ever been paid, the $25,000 aroused no guilts for undeserved gratuities. 3

Even after leaving the Communist Party, Howard Fast was largely unrepentant and insisted that while at VOA he knew very little about Stalin and the Soviet Union. “We were a party of the United States,” Fast wrote about the Communist Party USA, failing to mention that for decades the Party’s leadership was receiving money from Moscow.

In the 1990s, Howard Fast still showed great pride about his key role as the first chief writer of VOA news, promoter of Russian propaganda via the Soviet Embassy in Washington and censor of “anti-Soviet and anti-Communist” information. The “anti-Soviet propaganda” he rejected happened to be true information about Stalin’s genocidal crimes, such as the deaths of thousands of children deported with their parents to the Soviet Gulag, many of whom also died from slave labor, starvation and lack of medical care. Other true news kept out of VOA broadcasts were the brutal executions of thousands of Polish military officers who after the German and Soviet attack on Poland in 1939 under the secret terms of the Hitler-Stalin Pact became prisoners of war in the Soviet Union. 

In Being Red, Fast proudly declared that he had kept information critical of the Soviet Union out of the wartime VOA broadcasts when Soviet Russia was by then America’s main military ally in the war against Nazi Germany.

As for myself, during all my tenure there [VOA] I refused to go into anti-Soviet or anti-Communist propaganda.  4

Many other pro-Soviet propagandists worked on Voice of America radio broadcasts during World War II, some of them staying on for a few years after the war.

One of Fast’s friends at the Voice of American that period was writer, editor and translator from Poland Mira Złotowska. She was later better known as Mira Michałowska after she had married in 1947 a high-ranking diplomat who worked for the communist regime in Warsaw. She translated into Polish Fast’s best-selling book Citizen Tom Paine and had it published in Poland in 1948 as Obywatel Tom Paine. The book had a second edition in 1952. She translated and published in Poland four more of Howard Fast’s novels and short stories.

Fast was also a friend of another wartime VOA Polish Service writer and editor Stefan Arski, aka Artur Salman, who after the war became one of the major anti-U.S. propagandists for the Communist Party in Poland.

Howard Fast eventually left the Communist Party in 1956 or 1957, after Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev revealed Stalin’s crimes, but he remained unapologetic about his promotion of Soviet “news” in VOA’s World War II broadcasts. His memoir Being Red, published in 1990, is a testimony to his journalistic naïveté, arrogance and ability to manipulate readers into believing that to fight Fascism one had to become a Communist. For a journalist, he was supremely naive. In a 1998 radio interview, he described how staff members of the Communist Daily Worker cried when they read Khrushchev’s speech for the first time:

“And we heard this speech, and many of us wept. Because we did not know, and would not believe, the truth about the Soviet Union.
We had erected a Socialist state to our beliefs and to our dreams, and this for us was the Soviet Union.” 5

Anti-communist American journalist Isaac Don Levine, who was born in Russia in 1892 and reported extensively on the Soviet Union for most of the 20th century, noted in an article published in May 1950 that the United States government had been duped by Soviet propaganda during World War II, in no small measure due to the work of such pro-Soviet early Voice of America journalists as Howard Fast, although he did not mention any names in his article.

It has at least dawned upon our helmsmen in Washington that the Kremlin has garnered one victory after another, in Europe as well as in Asia, with the aid of poisonous propaganda. But does Washington realize that the Soviet victories in Europe as well as in Asia have been greatly facilitated by our own succumbing to the enemy’s poison?

(…)

Simply because we had ourselves swallowed the poisonous propaganda which we are now called upon to counteract in Europe and Asia. 6

When the pendulum swung from a near complete tolerance of Soviet interference to the paranoia during Senator Joseph McCarthy’s hunt for Communists who were by then already largely gone from the U.S. government, Fast served a brief prison term after being convicted in the 1950s on charges of contempt of Congress for refusing to reveal names of members in a Soviet front organization. 

Fast was at the same time a talented, best-selling author of dozens of books, including Spartacus, which was made into the 1960 Hollywood movie directed by Stanley Kubrick and starring Kirk Douglas, Laurence Oliver and Jean Simmons. At the time of the film’s release, its screenwriter Dalton Trumbo was still blacklisted as one of the Hollywood Ten. Howard Fast was also blacklisted but was no longer a Communist Party member since 1956 or 1957. Trumbo was a Communist Party member from 1943 to 1948. He had left the Communist Party much earlier than Howard Fast. The blacklisting of former Communist Party members and suspected Soviet sympathizers in Hollywood came to its final end soon after the release of Spartacus.

The Voice of America management today (2019) in a way still continues to blacklist its former chief news writer Howard Fast for different reasons by refusing to admit that he had worked for the organization in an important position, was a protege of VOA’s first director John Houseman and spread Soviet propaganda and disinformation in his radio broadcasts transmitted to Europe. Fast’s undeniable claim to fame as a prolific and bestselling writer of more than 70 books has been ignored by the VOA management, which in its November 2019 online “VOA Authors” presentation lists the current Voice of America director Amanda Bennett with the largest number of published books (six). In other online articles and videos, VOA continues to glorify Fast’s boss, John Houseman, as a defender of truthful journalism.

Such a persistent refusal to learn and acknowledge its own history of being deceived by Soviet propaganda makes the Voice of America particularly vulnerable to being again misled by Vladimir Putin’s far more sophisticated disinformation war being currently waged against Europe, Canada and the United States. In recent years, two VOA programs lauded American communist winner of the Lenin Peace Prize Angela Davis as a fighter for human rights. The VOA Russian Service used until recently as a freelancer a former Russian TV anchor who prior to his employment with VOA produced an anti-U.S. propaganda film with anti-Semitic overtones.

Notes:

  1. Under Secretary of State Sumner Welles April 6, 1943 memorandum to Marvin H. McIntyre, Secretary to the President with enclosures, Franklin D. Roosevelt Library and Museum Website, Box 77, State – Welles, Sumner, 1943-1944, http://www.fdrlibrary.marist.edu/_resources/images/psf/psfb000259.pdf. The Welles memorandum is also accessible at: State – Welles, Sumner, 1943-1944, From Collection: FDR-FDRPSF Departmental Correspondence, Series: Departmental Correspondence, 1933 – 1945 Collection: President’s Secretary’s File (Franklin D. Roosevelt Administration), 1933 – 1945, National Archives Identifier: 16619284, https://catalog.archives.gov/id/16619284. Also see: Ted Lipien, “First VOA Director was a pro-Soviet Communist sympathizer, State Dept. warned FDR White House,” Cold War Radio Museum, May 4, 2018, http://www.coldwarradiomuseum.com/state-department-warned-fdr-white-house-first-voice-of-america-director-was-hiring-communists/.
  2. Howard Fast, “On Receiving the Stalin Peace Award,” http://www.trussel.com/hf/plots/t590.htm.
  3. Howard Fast, Being Red (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1990), 318.
  4. Howard Fast, Being Red (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1990), 23.
  5. Pacifica Radio’s Democracy Now, April 8, 1998, “Interview with Howard Fast,” https://www.trussel.com/hf/democnow.htm
  6. Isaac Don Levine, ed., Plain Talk: An Anthology from the Leading Anti-Communist Magazine of the 40s (New Rochelle: Arlington House, 1976), 52-53.

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