I was wondering over the weekend what to write for my next post, and although there are at least a few topics in the back of my mind, I found the answer when I came across an oddity on YouTube: Inside a Communist Cell (1961), a record released through the John Birch Society record label Key Records. This is the account of Karl Prussion, a man who was born into a communist family and named after Karl Marx. He was recruited into the CPUSA in his senior year of college in 1933. He apparently started having doubts as early as two years after and in 1938 the Dies Committee identified him as a communist (Kienholz). Prussion stated that from 1947 to 1959 he served as an informant for the FBI when he resigned to go public, as he believed that the United States was losing the battle. When people would write to the FBI about whether his story was true, all Hoover and the FBI would do was verify that he was a paid informant from November 1949 to July 1958, but would not comment on his opinions or ventures. He testified as a friendly witness before the House Committee on Un-American Activities in San Francisco on May 13, 1960 in the midst of the City Hall student “riots” in which students attempted to storm the hearings but were sprayed with fire hoses. Prussion was often invited to speak before conservative groups and his speeches were used as evidence for communist conspiracy in numerous facets of American life by conservatives. In my curiosity I listened to the whole record, and I found that at least some of what he said is at least plausible, but his recounting of a Communist cell meeting is suspect in accuracy especially considering some of his other statements outside the record.
In Inside a Communist Cell, Prussion claimed that he was arranged to be married to a communist he didn’t know beforehand. That he was married to a communist is at least verified, as according to Susan Gosman, whose parents were communist, “My mother was married to a man named Karl Prussion” and that he was a “vicious anti-Communist” (Gosman). Prussion also claimed that the communists initially planned for him to be a Methodist minister before he convinced them that he should instead be part of the labor movement given his history of violence. He singles out the influential Reverend Harry F. Ward, a co-founder of the ACLU, as a communist, and this actually checks out. That he was in the leadership of not one but two communist front groups is no accident: from 1934 to 1940 he chaired the League Against War and Fascism and was the honorary chair of the Civil Rights Congress. In 1953, the House Committee on Un-American Activites identified him as one of three communist ministers, which he disputed. Prussion’s charge that Ward was the contact man for him getting into the seminary is at least plausible if not probable. People involved with CPUSA and its fronts got to know fairly quickly where the true allegiance was: speaking out against the USSR or its leader was grounds for expulsion while the same couldn’t be said for the USA or its president. The notion that communists infiltrated the churches is interesting (albeit highly disputed) and I now know of at least two cases: Ward and Jim Jones, the latter whom strayed from his original intent to form an infamous death cult known as The People’s Temple.
As an added bonus, Prussion sings American Communist anthems in response to a question as to what communists sang. But the questions about him begin with his recounting of a Communist cell meeting.
Prussion’s recounting of a Communist cell meeting reveals communist infiltration of the missile industry through a ball bearing salesman who claims to know as a result of his work when and where missiles are fired, academia, trade unions, and the Santa Clara PTA, in the latter a speaker states that they are pushing for a resolution to ban atomic testing at the national PTA Association and expect it to be passed almost unanimously. According to Prussion, it was passed almost unanimously. Also, the notion of “peaceful coexistence” with communism and pushes to end atomic testing are revealed as communist plots, the former to get Americans off their guard. One of the speakers of the cell meeting regards as a successful propaganda campaign getting the press to refer to the House Committee on Un-American Activites as the House Un-American Activities Committee. This part of it actually makes sense, as the former sounds a lot more favorable than the latter. There is also a joke cracked about Sunnyvale’s City Hall banquet room that they call the Smolny Institute, and Prussion testified to this joke in the 1960 HCUA hearing. I find at least some of this story suspicious in how closely it resembles the conspiratorial right’s views, such as a speaking Communist stating that among their goals they must keep the US in the UN and that they must push for the fluoridation of water. Crusades against US membership in the UN and fluoridation of water were chief indicators of conspiratorial right philosophy. According to one of the speakers in Prussion’s recollection, the communists in California were trying and making strides in taking over the state’s Democratic Party, which again, was an idea the conspiratorial right was pushing. The questions begin with his recounting of a Communist cell meeting and they continue based on what I read about him outside this record.
From what I have been able to read up on Prussion, there are some things that bring his credibility into question. First, he swore under oath in a September 28, 1963 affidavit that Martin Luther King Jr. was a member of a whopping sixty communist front groups. On March 30, 1965, Rep. William Dickinson (R-Ala.) produced the sworn affadavit before Congress to allege that King was a communist. Prussion also at one point in a speech, “Insurrection at Watts”, before Young Americans for Freedom, claimed that President Lyndon B. Johnson was a communist (Prussion, 314). As I have written in a previous post about Dr. King, he was not discerning in where he sought aid for his cause. Another figure he sought aid for his cause was Vice President Richard Nixon. Second, Prussion joined the Board of Policy of Liberty Lobby, a cryptic organization that posed as conservative but had white supremacy and fascism as its under-the-surface aim, as that was the wish of its founder, leader, and Treasurer, Willis Carto. The organization’s Board of Policy ranged from very staunch anti-Communists to outright racists and anti-Semites. The common factor between all of them was the belief in conspiracy.
I have tried to discover what ultimately became of Prussion, but all I have found is that he attempted suicide in Oroville, California, with sleeping pills on December 11, 1965, apparently out of the belief that he was a target for assassination from communists (Prussion, 326). He was subsequently diagnosed with mental illness and paranoia. In January 1966, Prussion claimed there was a secret communist in Congress but didn’t name the person. Additionally, Prussion apparently didn’t resign from the FBI, he was terminated after revealing his status to a reporter and in January 1964 a California appeals court found in a case “that ‘the witness Karl Prussion is an unreliable witness and that his testimony be eliminated from consideration by the court in deciding this case.’ ” (Prussion) The FBI information on him ends there.
Prussion may have been telling the truth in at least some aspects of his background story and the information he acquired about communists. It is also confirmed that he was an informant for the FBI, but his recounting of the meeting is suspect, his wilder claims seem to have been efforts to command more attention and money for himself, and his diagnosis of mental illness and paranoia doesn’t help the case for his credibility. Prussion is certainly dead now and hasn’t had any influence for over fifty years but it was interesting to see if anything he said checked out.
Gosman, S. (2019, August 14). Memories of a Jewish American red diaper baby. People’s World.
Kienholz, M.L. (2012). The canwell files: Murder, arson, and intrigue in the evergreen state. Bloomington, IN: iUniverse.
Prussion, Karl K.
Link to Inside a Communist Cell: