Louis Budenz was born in Indianapolis on 17th July, 1891. He was active in the trade union movement before joining the American Communist Party. It was claimed in Time Magazine that Budenz was arrested 21 times, never convicted. "Indirectly, Louis Budenz can thank his Irish mother for his arrests in the 1928 Kenosha hosiery strike, the 1930 Nazareth, Pa. textile strike, the 1934 Toledo Auto-Lite strike (and 18 others) because it was from her ruddy praise of Irish revolutionaries that little Louis developed his social perspective. For his 21 acquittals he can thank Indianapolis Law School which taught him the art of legal defense."
Budenz became a member of the National Committee of the Communist Party before joining the Daily Worker as a journalist. Journalists and cartoonists who provided material for the newspaper included Richard Wright, Howard Fast, John Gates, Louis Budenz, Michael Gold, Jacob Burck, Whittaker Chambers, Sandor Voros, William Patterson, Maurice Becker, Benjamin Davis, Edwin Rolfe, Elizabeth Gurley Flynn, Robert Minor, Fred Ellis, William Gropper, Lester Rodney, David Karr, John L. Spivak and Woody Guthrie. At its peak, the newspaper achieved a circulation of 35,000.
The Daily Worker generally supported the policies of Joseph Stalin. In the summer of 1932 Stalin became aware that opposition to his policies were growing. Some party members were publicly criticizing Stalin and calling for the readmission of Leon Trotsky to the party. When the issue was discussed at the Politburo, Stalin demanded that the critics should be arrested and executed. Sergey Kirov, who up to this time had been a staunch Stalinist, argued against this policy. When the vote was taken, the majority of the Politburo supported Kirov against Stalin.
On 1st December, 1934, Kirov was assassinated by a young party member, Leonid Nikolayev. Stalin claimed that Nikolayev was part of a larger conspiracy led by Leon Trotsky against the Soviet government. This resulted in the arrest and trial in August, 1936, of Lev Kamenev, Gregory Zinoviev, Ivan Smirnov and thirteen other party members who had been critical of Stalin. All were found guilty and executed. In January, 1937, Karl Radek and sixteen other leading members of the Communist Party were put on trial. They were accused of working with Leon Trotsky in an attempt to overthrow the Soviet government with the objective of restoring capitalism. Thirteen of the accused were found guilty and sentenced to death. Radek and two others were sentenced to ten years.
The Daily Worker supported Stalin's Great Purge. It also remained loyal to the foreign policy of the Soviet Union. It was argued that this was the best way to defeat fascism. However, this view took a terrible blow when on 28th August, 1939, Joseph Stalin signed a military alliance with Adolf Hitler. The leaders of the American Communist Party decided to support the Nazi-Soviet Pact. The editor, Clarence Hathaway, had doubts about this decision and he was replaced by the ultra-loyal, Louis Budenz. Time Magazine reported: "Last week grey-haired Louis Budenz, who could easily pass for a successful novelist slightly bulged at chin and waist, made news, not by a 22nd arrest but by becoming editor of a new Communist daily in Chicago."
John Gates pointed out that this created serious problems for the party and the Daily Worker. "We turned on everyone who refused to go along with our new policy and who still considered Hitler the main foe. People whom we had revered only the day before, like Mrs. Roosevelt, we now reviled. This was one of the characteristics of Communists which people always found most difficult to swallow - that we could call them heroes one day and villains the next. Yet in all of this lay our one consistency; we supported Soviet policies whatever they might be; and this in turn explained so many of our inconsistencies. Immediately following the upheaval over the Soviet-German non-aggression pact came the Finnish war, which compounded all our difficulties since, here also, our position was uncritically in support of the Soviet action."
Paul Buhle has argued that Budenz was "journalistically incompetent... who sought for a time to ride hard politically upon a staff grown more self-consciously professional". He added: "Pressed to glorify the Red Army and, soon, U.S. military triumphs, the Daily Worker retreated to a kind of shrillness even when - relative to other American papers - its interpretation of unfolding world events gave a more correct balance of Russia's importance in defeating Nazism."
In 1945 Budenz came under the influence of Bishop Fulton J. Sheen. After joining the Roman Catholic Church, he renounced communism and was replaced as editor by Morris Childs. He contacted J. Edgar Hoover and offered to provide the FBI with information on former members of the Communist Party. All told, Budenz was interviewed for 3,000 hours by Hoover's agents.
On the morning of 20th July, 1948, Eugene Dennis, the general secretary of the American Communist Party, and eleven other party leaders, included William Z. Foster, Benjamin Davis, John Gates, Robert G. Thompson, Gus Hall, Benjamin Davis, Henry M. Winston, and Gil Green were arrested and charged under the Alien Registration Act. This law, passed by Congress in 1940, made it illegal for anyone in the United States "to advocate, abet, or teach the desirability of overthrowing the government".
The trial began on 17th January, 1949. As John Gates pointed out: "There were eleven defendants, the twelfth, Foster, having been severed from the case because of his serious, chronic heart ailment." The men were defended by George W. Crockett. It was difficult for the prosecution to prove that the eleven men had broken the Alien Registration Act, as none of the defendants had ever openly called for violence or had been involved in accumulating weapons for a proposed revolution. The prosecution therefore relied on passages from the work of Karl Marx and other revolution figures from the past. The prosecution also used the testimony of former members of the American Communist Party to help show that Dennis and his fellow comrades had privately advocated the overthrow of the government. The most important witness against the leaders of the party was Louis Budenz.
After a nine month trial the leaders of the American Communist Party were found guilty of violating the Alien Registration Act and sentenced to five years in prison and a $10,000 fine. Robert G. Thompson, because of his war record, received only three years. They appealed to the Supreme Court but on 4th June, 1951, the judges ruled, 6-2, that the conviction was legal. It was later discovered that Budenz was paid $70,000 for his information during the trial.
Budenz became professor of economics at Fordham University and appeared in front of Joseph McCarthy and his Government Committee on Operations of the Senate, where he provided evidence against Alger Hiss and members of other left-wing groups. McCarthy praised Budenz for having "testified in practically every case in which Communists were either convicted or deported over the past three years; one of the key witnesses who testified against... Communist leaders."
Over the next few years Budenz wrote his autobiography, This is My Story (1947). In this book he admitted that Joseph Stalin ordered the assassination of Leon Trotsky and that Earl Browder was involved in the plot. As Trotsky's wife, Natalia Sedova, pointed out: "Everything we said in connection with the violent death of L.D. Trotsky is today being wholly confirmed by the confession of Louis Budenz, a former leader of the American Communist Stalinist Party, in his book, This Is My Story, published in March of this year. The testimony of this GPU sub-agent, who took part in the conspiracy against the life of L.D. Trotsky, introduces nothing factually new, but it does authoritatively corroborate everything that we said on the basis of general political considerations as well by taking into account the numerous facts which occurred during the years of our exile. The confessions of Louis Budenz throw light upon the entire activity of Stalin’s secret Apparatus, which has usurped power and which acts with bloody arbitrariness. According to Budenz, Earl Browder and Jack Stachel participated in the plot against Trotsky’s life."
Budenz several books about the dangers of communism including Men Without faces: The Communist conspiracy in the U.S.A. (1950), The Cry is Peace (1952), The Techniques of Communism (1954) and The Bolshevik Invasion of the West (1966).