Armand Hammer: Soviet Capitalist

Who says that Communism and Capitalism can’t share the planet? Apparently Armand Hammer was a Soviet hero and an American capitalist simultaneously.

When Armand Hammer (1898-1990) had taken over Occidental Petroleum in 1956, it was nearly bankrupt, and he had transformed it into an international powerhouse by making deals with foreign governments for oil concessions. Now Occidental was the fourteenth largest industrial company in the United States. Though he owned less than one percent of Occidental’s stock, he was the chairman, and he ran the company as if it were his fiefdom.

Hammer himself had been dealing with theSoviet Union, secretly and overtly, for seventy years, trafficking in everything from pencils and czarist art to petrochemicals, and he had learned the unwritten rules of doing business in a government-controlled economy (socialism). Hammer had served as a middleman to the West for some of the most powerful Soviet politicians of the century, including Lenin, Stalin, Khrushchev, Brezhnev, and Gorbachev.

Hammer’s overriding concern in his last few months was protecting his reputation after his death. He had worked tirelessly for seven decades to present himself as a philanthropist, a patron of the arts, and a peace broker. His collection of international awards included the Soviet Union’s Lenin Order of Friendship Among the Peoples, which no other American capitalist had been, or will ever be, awarded. Hammer even had himself nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize.

Hammer’s posthumous reputation depended on the removal of blemishes from his record. To this end, he had his lawyers file Freedom of Information requests for access to all the U.S. government’s investigations of him, investigations that extended over sixty years. They could then attempt to expunge from them allegations filed by the FBI and other intelligence services pertaining to Hammer’s long career in Soviet Russia as Lenin’s chosen capitalist. After all, such reports, without access to Soviet files, remained unsubstantiated hearsay.

In 1989, Hammer had succeeded in persuading President Bush to grant him a full pardon for the only crime he had ever been convicted of: an illegal contribution to Nixon’s 1972 presidential campaign, which had been used in the Watergate cover-up. Now he exerted his power and authority to prevent damaging secrets about his life and work from surfacing posthumously in the inevitable legal battles over his estate.

Armand Hammer had denied his Jewish heritage for most of his life. When he had gone to Russia in the 1920s, he had identified himself as an atheist. Armand’s father, Dr. Julius Hammer, had been one of Lenin’s main supporters in the United States. Julius had helped organize the notorious left-wing faction of the Socialist Party, which became the Communist Party in 1919. When his first child was born in 1898, he named him Armand for the arm-and-hammer symbol of the proletarian revolution. Nowadays, the arm-and-hammer is also the symbol of the Socialist Labor Party of America (SLP).

Since Armand Hammer had to hide the secret tasks that he had undertaken for the Soviets, he constructed a story about coming to Lenin’s attention accidentally and falling into a humanitarian role in the early Soviet Union. Hammer covered this data in his pseudo-autobiographical The Quest of the Romanoff Treasure (1932).

For more than a half century, and up until the week he died, Hammer had diligently constructed the legend of his life. The tale of an American capitalist who made a fortune in Communist Russia and became a great humanitarian eventually came to be accepted as fact by everybody. What Hammer did not foresee was that after his death, the Soviet Union would collapse and spew from its archives the secrets that would expose the dark truth.

The Examiner