Lisette and Sam Kutnick Abraham Lincoln Brigade collection
Scope and Contents
Materials collected by Lisette (Lee) and Sam Kutnick over the course of their political work in the San Francisco Bay Area. Roughly one-half of the collection consists of typed transcripts of letters (circa 1937-1938) written by members of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade from the Spanish Civil War to family and friends in the Bay Area, collected by Lisette (Lee) Kutnick when she served as secretary of the Friends of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade in San Francisco. Kutnick gathered and typed copies of letters received by friends, as well as many addressed to her and her husband Sam. The letters span the period when the Americans arrived in Spain in early 1937 and continued to the end of 1938 when most of the American volunteers returned home.
The letters document daily life behind the lines and in the trenches, including their food, training, learning Spanish, recreation, and interactions with Loyalist soldiers. Many are told with humor as well as the affirming the righteousness of their cause. The political dogma of the Communist Party can be seen in many letters. Undoubtedly some of the hardships were edited out for families and friends and some letters were censored. Among the prolific writers are Maurice Hawkins, Boleslaw “Slippery” Slivan, and Alphaeus Prowell (an African-American volunteer who died in Spain). Also notable are handwritten letters from Fritz Orton to “Paul,” most likely Paul Ryan better known by his pseudonym Mike Quin. Quin writes about Fritz Orton in the collection of his articles in On the Drumhead (page 84).
The other large part of this collection contains materials related to Sam Kutnick’s work on the County Personnel Committee of the Communist Party of the United States of America (CPUSA). This committee was charged with investigating CPUSA members for political and personal transgressions, recommending names to County Leadership for expulsion from the Party. There are handwritten notes with lists of names for further research, correspondence with other County or District Committees to share information on members, correspondence from Party members recommending others for investigation, and files related to the investigation of specific local Party members. These files show how cases were built against members and their associates, sometimes resulting in a chain reaction of expulsion. For example, Vern Smith was expelled for being suspected of homosexuality, then Harrison George was expelled for associating with Vern Smith after his expulsion and for organizing a “renegade, anti-Party group” before Lenny Fels was then expelled for continuing to associate with Harrison George.
Of note are the files of M. Vicker and Jane Barnes protesting and appealing their expulsions. Other material of interest includes two letters from The Crusader in which the anonymous author sends anti-Communist materials and challenges recipients to leave the Party.
- Kutnick, Sam (Person)
Collection is open for research.
Copyright has not been assigned to the Labor Archives and Research Center. All requests for permission to publish or quote from materials must be submitted in writing to the Director of the Archives. Permission for publication is given on behalf of the Labor Archives and Research Center as the owner of the physical items and is not intended to include or imply permission of the copyright holder, which must also be obtained by the reader.
Lee Kutnick (1914-2010), born Lisette Levy, was a community and union organizer who supported a variety of leftist causes, including the Communist Party of the United States of America. In the early 1930s, she moved to San Francisco and married Sam Kutnick. From 1937 to 1938, Lee served as the Secretary of the Friends of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade (ALB). She received, transcribed, and circulated letters sent from ALB members including those written by her cousin, Douglas “Dud” Wayne Male, who fought and died as part of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade. Lee worked as an office worker for more than 50 years as a member of OPEIU Local 3 and served on the executive board of Local 3 from 1983 to 1986. Lee Kutnick worked until the age of 87 in the office of Sheet Metal Workers Local 104.
Sam Kutnick (1908-1966) was an active member of the Friends of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade and corresponded with many of the Bay Area anti-fascists fighting in the Spanish Civil War. Sam was a member of the Communist Party of the United States of America and worked on the San Francisco County Personnel Committee for the Communist Party which worked to maintain the “purity” of the Party by investigating and expelling suspected infiltrators, factionalists, and “social deviants.” Due to his involvement in the Communist Party, Sam Kutnick experienced repression and harassment from the United States government. Sam was a member of the Miscellaneous Culinary Employees Union Local 110 from 1959 until his death in 1964.
The Spanish Civil War (1936-39) began when a Nationalist faction supported by the military, Catholic church, and conservative groups instigated a coup d'etat against the left-leaning Popular Front government which had won electoral control of the Spanish Republic. This insurrection was met with armed resistance by the Loyalists, a coalition of leftist groups including the Confederación Nacional del Trabajo (CNT), a confederation of anarcho-syndicalist labor unions.
The Spanish Civil War was a popular cause for international anti-fascists who showed solidarity with the Loyalists by traveling to Spain to fight on the front lines as members of International Battalions, such as the Abraham Lincoln Brigade. The Abraham Lincoln Brigade (ALB) was a racially integrated battalion composed of 2,800 anarchist and communist volunteers from the United States. Members of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade fought in various battalions (such as the Lincoln Battalion) as shock troops, suffering a high rate of casualties in battle.
These internationalist fighters were supported by groups of radicals in their home country including the Friends of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade (FALB) in San Francisco. The Friends of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade advocated for their comrades overseas, exchanging letters and gifts between San Francisco and Spain. Members of FALB collected and published letters from Spain to raise money and support for the cause of international anti-fascism.
When the war was over, leaving fascist dictator Francisco Franco in control of Spain, the Friends of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade was disbanded and the Veterans of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade (VALB) was created to support returning veterans, aid refugees of the Spanish Civil War, and to continue the fight for peace, democracy, and civil liberties. Upon their return to the United States, surviving members of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade were harassed and surveilled by the United States government and blacklisted by the House Committee on Un-American Activities (HUAC) as part of the Red Scare.
The VALB was on the United States Justice Department list of subversive organizations from 1953 to 1971 and members were denied employment and housing opportunities due to their political beliefs and willingness to take up arms against fascism.
The Communist Party of the United States of America (CPUSA) was formed in 1919 after splitting from the Socialist Party of America. CPUSA was centered around the belief that workers were united as a social class under capitalism and entitled to control the industries in which they labored. CPUSA was known for opposing white supremacy and advocating for racial integration and civil rights for Black people. The Party and its members were deeply involved in the labor movement in the United States in the early 20th century, organizing and supporting trade unions, worker organizations, and strikes. As anti-capitalist sentiments surged during the Great Depression, the organizing successes of the Communist Party in the United States were followed with intense State repression.
The Red Scare and McCarthyism positioned the Left as a subversive element that threatened the social order of the United States. Due to fears around the domestic and international spread of Communism undermining the United States’ imperialist agenda, members of the U.S. Intelligence apparatus worked alongside federal lawmakers, weaponizing fear as a tactic to silence dissent and enforce loyalty to the US government. Known and suspected communists and other radicals were subject to arrests, widely publicized trials, social sanctions and denunciations, and deportations under the Immigration Act of 1918. The House Committee on Un-American Activities (HUAC) operated from 1938-1975 to investigate suspected Communists, resulting in those targeted losing employment and facing social isolation.
Due to this repression and other internal tensions within the Left movements in the United States at the time, CPUSA turned inwards to inspect, surveil, and purge itself of undesirable members at the County, Regional, State, and National levels.
3 Linear Feet (7 boxes)
Language of Materials
Materials collected by Lisette (Lee) and Sam Kutnick over the course of their political work in the San Francisco Bay Area. The collection contains typed transcripts of letters (circa 1937-1938) written by members of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade from the Spanish Civil War to family and friends in the Bay Area, collected by Lisette (Lee) Kutnick when she served as secretary of the Friends of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade in San Francisco. Kutnick gathered and typed copies of letters received by friends, as well as many addressed to her and her husband Sam. The letters span the period when the Americans arrived in Spain in early 1937 and continued to the end of 1938 when most of the American volunteers returned home.
The collection also contains materials from Sam Kutnick’s work on the County Personnel Committee of the Communist Party of the United States of America (CPUSA) in the late 1940s and early 1950s. This committee was charged with investigating CPUSA members for political and personal transgressions, recommending names to County Leadership for expulsion from the Party. There are handwritten notes with lists of names for further research, correspondence with other County or District Committees to share information on members, correspondence from Party members recommending others for investigation, and files related to the investigation of specific local Party members.
This collection is organized into four series, roughly arranged according to chronology:
SERIES 1: Abraham Lincoln Brigade SERIES 2: Sam Kutnick Papers SERIES 3: Lisette Kutnick Papers SERIES 4: Assorted Publications
Collection is available onsite.
This collection was donated to the Labor Archives by Esther Kutnick, daughter of Lee and Sam Kutnick; accession number 2007/033.
The following books and pamphlets have been relocated to LARC's Ephemera and book collection: "The Yanks Are Not Coming" stickers; pamphlet, "Story of the Imperial Valley," by Frank Spector, Int’l Labor Defense Pamphlet No. 3; Migratory Labor in California, State Relief Administration of California, 1936; Early Master Teachers, W.P.A., 1940
- Finding Aid to the Lisette and Sam Kutnick Abraham Lincoln Brigade Collection
- Finding aid written by Leah Sylva in 2021.
- 2002, revised 2014 and 2021
- Description rules
- Describing Archives: A Content Standard
- Language of description
- Script of description
- Language of description note
- Finding aid written in English