Secret Cables of the Comintern 1933-1943

Title:                      Secret Cables of the Comintern 1933-1943

Author:                 Fridrikh I. Firsov

Firsov, Fridrikh I. (2014), Harvey Klehr, and John Earl Haynes; translated by Lynn Visson. Secret Cables of the Comintern 1933-1943. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press

LCCN:    2014001760

HX11.I5 F55713 2014

Scope and content

  • “Drawing on secret and therefore candid coded telegraphs exchanged between Communist Party leaders around the world and their overseers at the Communist International (Comintern) headquarters in Moscow, this book uncovers key aspects of the history of the Comintern and its significant role in the Stalinist ruling system during the years 1933 to 1943. New information on aspects of the People’s Front in France, civil wars in Spain and China, World War II, and the extent of the Comintern’s cooperation with Soviet intelligence is brought to light through these archival records, never examined before”– Provided by publisher.


  • Ciphered Communications and the History of the Communist International — Subventions — The Popular Front — The Spanish Civil War — The International Brigades in Spain — The Comintern and the Terror — The Comintern and the Chinese Communist Party : Divergent Priorities — The Nazi-Soviet Pact — The Comintern, the Communist Parties, and the Great Patriotic War — Dissolution of the Communist International — Conclusion: The Comintern, 1919-1943.



  • Russian Title: Sekretnye kody istorii Kominterna.

Date Posted:      September 23, 2015

Compiled and Reviewed by Hayden B. Peake.[1]

The Communist Internationale (Comintern) was the Soviet umbrella organization through which Stalin controlled communist parties· throughout the world between 1919 and 1943. Radio telegraphy was the primary means of communication with the parties from Moscow, although enciphered letters and invisible inks were also employed. In 2005, Nigel West revealed that the British had secretly intercepted and decrypted some 14,000 messages between the Comintern and the Communist Party of Great Britain (CPGB).[2] Codenamed MASK, the traffic identified party members and revealed financial transactions, policy decisions, and operational exchanges with the Comintern’s intelligence organization, the Foreign Liaison: Department (OMS).

After the collapse of the Soviet Union, coauthor Fridrikh Firsov, an archivist in the Russian Center for the Preservation and Study cf Documents of Contemporary History, gained access to millions but not all of the Comintern cipher cable exchanges with many of the other national communist parties. Working with American scholars Harvey Klehr and John Earl Haynes, Secret Cables of the Comintern provides insights into Soviet foreign policy as it describes the Comintern’s struggle to establish a worldwide communist order during the final 10 years of its existence. [sic]

The authors describe in detail the cipher communications practices employed and what they revealed about the Comintern organizational structure, its administrative practices, how it financed the various parties, and the subversion operations it attempted. Of particular interest is the rationale that was disseminated to explain the Hitler-Stalin Pact to the astonished faithful, and the Comintern’s role in the Spanish Civil War, especially the International Brigades. And although the Comintern didn’t engage in terrorist acts, it was called upon to explain and justify those performed by Stalin and why it was necessary to turn over innocent party members to the party’s law enforcement arm, the People’s Commissariat for Internal Affairs (NKVD), when so ordered.

The Comintern had its own intelligence element that sometimes became involved with NKVD and Red Army military intelligence matters. One interesting example discusses the links between the Red Orchestra’s leader, Leopold Trepper, (p. 218) and his networks in Belgium and France. Then there is the administrative battle between Comintern headquarters and the American Communist Party (CPUSA). When Bill Donovan recruited Milton Wolff, an experienced, communist Spanish Civil War veteran, for OSS, Wolff sought CPUSA approval and got it; but when Comintern headquarters was notified, the approval was revoked. The CPUSA appealed and was sternly rebuked; Wolff was forced to withdraw. The story is not new, but the discovery of the Comintern role is.

Secret Cables of the Comintern shows how the nominally political Comintern was linked throughout its existence to the Soviet intelligence services, especially during WWII. Many of its orders came directly from Stalin, (p. 247) but when it became a political impediment, Stalin shut it down. There is much new detail in this impressively documented account. Students of Soviet intelligence will get a better understanding of how the communist movement made inroads so rapidly in many nations of the world.

[1] Hayden Peake, “Intelligence Officer Bookshelf,” The Intelligencer: Journal of U. S. Intelligence Stuidies (21, 2, Spring/Summer 2015, pp. 125-126)Hayden Peake is the Curator of the CIA’s Historical Intelligence Collection. He has served in the Directorate of Science and Technology and the Directorate of Operations. Most of his reviews cited have appeared in recent unclassified editions of ClA’s Studies in Intelligence. These and many other reviews and articles may be found online at

[2] West, Nigel (2005). MASK: MI5’s Penetration of the Communist Party of Great Britain. New York: Routledge

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