Harold Maskell “Hal” Ware (August 19, 1889 – August 14, 1935) was an American Marxist regarded as one of the Communist Party’s top experts on agriculture. Whittaker Chambers alleged that during the early 1930s he was a member of the so-called “Ware Group,” a covert group of operatives within the United States government which aided Soviet intelligence agents.
Harold Ware, best known by his nickname “Hal,” was born on August 19, 1889 in Woodstown, New Jersey, the fourth child of Ella Reeve Bloor and her husband, Lucien Bonaparte Ware. Two of Hal’s three older siblings died in early childhood.
Hal’s mother, Ella Bloor, was converted to the ideas of socialism during 1894 and 1895, when the family lived in Philadelphia. She became a lifelong activist in the labor movement, an early member of the Social Democracy of America, organized by Victor L. Berger and Eugene V. Debs and a founder of the Communist Party of America. Young Hal was thus raised in a politically radical household, a childhood later colloquially known as that of a “Red Diaper Baby.”
When he was 15, a case of measles left young Hal with what doctors believed to be an early case of tuberculosis. His divorced mother moved with Hal and two brothers to the country for a year, while the rest of the family lived with his father in Philadelphia and attended school there. While his mother raced off to Wilmington every week to speak and organize literature sales, she being the Delaware state organizer for the Socialist Party, Hal seems to have taken fondly to rural life. Although he would return to school in the big city the following year, his orientation towards the countryside was firmly established.
Following his graduation from high school, Hal Ware enrolled in a two-year course in agriculture at Pennsylvania State College, later Penn State University. He married young, but his first wife, Margaret (Stephens), died 3 weeks following birth of their second child, a daughter named Nancy Stephens Ware. Following graduation, with the financial help of his father he bought a grain and dairy farm near Arden, a small town southwest of Pittsburgh, where he learned about the process of farming firsthand. His brief experience as a working farmer made him almost a unique figure among pioneer members of the American Communist Party, a group almost exclusively composed of urban laborers, factory workers, or intellectuals, mostly foreign-born.
In these pre-war years, Hal Ware proved to be something of an agricultural innovator. He was one of the first local farmers to use a tractor in the fields. As he couldn’t afford new agricultural implements for his machine, he was forced to innovate, welding together two harrows designed for use by horses and similarly trying to adapt other horse-drawn gear for use in mechanized agriculture.
After three years, Hal had had enough. He sold out and took a job in a shipyard as a draftsman, a job for which he had a natural faculty. He continued at this task throughout the war years, until the armistice of November 1918 ended the torrent of government funding of the shipbuilding industry.
Although he was not a delegate to its founding convention, Harold Ware was a member of the Communist Labor Party of America (CLP) from the year of its origin, 1919, as were his mother and older sister, Helen. Hal and his family stayed through the CLP organization throughout its permutations — merging into the United Communist Party in 1920, into the Communist Party of America in 1921, and into the “aboveground” Workers Party of America in 1922. This organization would, after one more intermediate name-change, emerge as the Communist Party USA in 1929.
Almost immediately after it was launched, federal and state authorities moved against the fledgling communist movement, forcing its adherents to make use of pseudonyms and to conduct their activities in secret. During this so-called “underground period” of the party, the agriculturally-oriented Hal made use of the party-name “H.R. Harrow,” publishing under that by-line in the secret communist press. The pseudonym seems to have been a pun on his real given name, Harold.
In 1921, eager to study the plight of migrant farm workers firsthand with a view to organizing them for the Communist Party, Ware took a six-month trip around the United States, working the harvests through the South to the Midwest to the Northwest and then back east again through the Upper Midwestern states. This experience, combined with his previous agricultural experience, cemented Ware’s place as the Communist Party’s leading agricultural expert.
That fall, in addition to articles he wrote for the “underground” and “aboveground” Communist press, Hal Ware compiled an exhaustive survey of American agriculture, including maps showing the distribution of types of farms, farm incomes, and so forth in different sections of the country. This research was transmitted to the Communist International in Moscow, where it was read and praised by Lenin himself. The distinction between the preparation of such original research material for the international Communist movement and Ware’s involvement a decade later in collecting government documents for the same purposes is a fine one indeed.
In the last days of 1921, Hal Ware attended the founding convention in New York of the so-called “Legal Political Party” attached to the underground CPA, the Workers Party of America. He was elected as an alternate to the governing Central Executive Committee of that organization. Ware was not typically a member of the Communist Party’s top committees, however, preferring to confine his efforts to the agricultural sector rather than to engage in the rough-and-tumble world of factional party politics.
Collective farming in Soviet Russia
Hal Ware helped come up with the idea of using funds raised by the Friends of Soviet Russia organization to construct a model collective farm in Soviet Russia, thereby helping to alleviate the great Russian famine through production of grain on the spot while additionally demonstrating the benefits of modern agricultural technique firsthand. An appropriation of $75,000 was granted for the project, with Hal’s half-brother, Carl Reeve, traveling around the country showing a motion picture depicting the horrific conditions in Russia as part of the effort to help raise funds. Funding in hand, Ware went to the J.I. Case Farm Implement Co. and brokered a deal for 24 tractors and the necessary implements.
In May 1922, Hal and Cris Ware left their three children in America and departed for Soviet Russia along with their tractors, implements, a complete medical unit, and several tons of food supplies. Also making the voyage was a doctor who spoke Russian and a group of American farmers to operate the machinery. The group had been assigned land in the village of Toikino in Perm guberniia, a substantial distance from any centers of population; they eventually gathered their equipment and arrived. Local peasants were taught the basics of machine operation and 4,000 acres (16 km2) were put under the plow. The project was severely hampered by the difficulty in obtaining fuel, which had to be hauled by peasant wagons some 40 miles (64 km) from the nearest train stop.
At season’s end, the American crew left for Moscow, where they were received as heroes and sent home to America with thanks.
Hal and Cris Ware’s marriage seems to have ended upon their return. Cris took a job in the National Office of the Workers Party as head of the Committee for Protection of Foreign-Born Workers. She was reported in the Communist Party press as having died of “acute pancreatitis, a rare disease of one of the digestive organs of the stomach,” rumored to be a cover story for a botched illegal abortion, on September 27, 1923.
The next year, 1923, Soviet authorities were eager to expand the Toikino experiment of 1922. The Soviet People’s Commissariat of Agriculture offered a large tract of fertile land in the Kuban region, just north of the Black Sea for another model farm. Working with the Friends of Soviet Russia organization, Hal Ware organized a party of 40 to make the trip, including agricultural specialists, a doctor, and a nurse. Ware arrived in Soviet Russia to inspect the land designated for the project only to be told by Soviet officials that the deal was off — local peasants had begun to allocate the land reserved for the project amongst themselves. An alternative site in the North Caucasus was hastily located, but the project was delayed.
While in Russia Hal met Jessica Smith, a young woman who was in the country on behalf of the Quaker famine relief effort, the American Friends Service Committee. The two fell in love. Back in New York City, the pair were married in January 1925 by Rev. Norman Thomas, later a key political leader of the American Socialist Party.
Ware spent the bulk of 1925 raising funds for his Soviet farming venture. This farm was organized as a Russian-American joint venture, with Harold Ware the project’s American Director. Ware wound up working as the director of the state farm for three years, with the project taking over and profitably operating four flour mills as well as the task of rural electrification.
During the winter of 1928-29, Ware returned to the United States, where he attempted to interest American agricultural equipment manufacturers in the Soviet market. He managed to convince a number of companies to send test tractors and implements along with mechanics to assemble the products. He stayed in the USSR through the collectivization campaign of 1929-30.
Return to America
In 1931, Ware set to work in earnest on organizing farmers and farm-workers in America. In the company of Lem Harris, another Communist Party agricultural expert, he made a year-long survey of American agriculture, echoing his research of 1921. The pair travelled by car around the United States, visiting nearly every state in the union, studying the sometimes desperate conditions which resulted from the collapse of agricultural prices associated with the Great Depression.
Shortly after completion of this task, Ware established a research center in Washington, DC called Farm Research, Inc. and recruited personnel to run it. The institute, funded by the Communist Party, published a newspaper called The Farmers National Weekly continuously throughout the years of the Great Depression.
In his 1952 memoir, Witness, former Communist Whittaker Chambers wrote that from the time of Ware’s death to his defection from the Communist Party in April 1938, he had been a member of the “Washington spy apparatus” headed by Colonel Boris Bykov, a Russian military intelligence officer. Chambers wrote that in addition to the four members of this group identified by Lee Pressman under oath to Congress in 1951:
There must have been sixty or seventy others, though Pressman did not necessarily know them all; neither did I. All were dues-paying members of the Communist Party. Nearly all were employed in the United States Government, some in rather high positions, notably in the Department of Agriculture, the Department of Justice, the Department of the Interior, the National Labor Relations Board, the Agricultural Adjustment Administration, the Railroad Retirement Board, the National Research Project — and others.
Chambers further wrote that “by 1938, the Soviet espionage apparatus in Washington had penetrated the US State Department, the US Treasury Department, the Bureau of Standards and the Aberdeen Proving Ground in Maryland. These individuals “supplied the Soviet espionage apparatus with secret or confidential information, usually in the form of official United States Government documents for microfilming,” Chambers stated.
In the 1930s, Hal Ware was employed by the federal government, working for the Agricultural Adjustment Administration (AAA), a New Deal agency which reported to the Secretary of Agriculture but was independent of the Department of Agriculture bureaucracy. According to Chambers, he also “organized that Washington underground” in which he was later to work. Introduced to him in the spring of 1934, Chambers described Ware at length:
“He was as American as ham and eggs and as indistinguishable as everybody else. He stood about five feet nine, a trim, middle-aging man in 1934, with a plain face, masked by a quiet earnestness of expression wholly reassuring to people whom quickness of mind makes uncomfortable. Nevertheless, his mind was extremely quick….
He might have been a progressive country agent or a professor of ecology at an agricultural college. And yet there was something unprofessorially jaunty about the flip of his hat brim and his springy stride…. It is true that he liked to drive his car at breakneck speed almost as well as to talk about soils, tenant farmers and underground organization…
Harold Ware was a frustrated farmer. The soil was in his pores. Unlike most American Communists, who managed to pass from one big city to another without seeing anything in the intervening spaces, Ware was absorbed in the land and its problems. He held that, with the deepening of the agricultural crisis, and with the rapid mechanization of agriculture, the time had come for revolutionary organization among farmers.
When he came back from Soviet Russia in 1930, Ware carried with him $25,000 in US currency hidden in a money belt, funds from the Comintern for work among the farmers. It was with these funds that he had established Farm Research Inc. in Washington, DC. But his real mission was espionage, Chambers wrote:
“Once the New Deal was in full swing, Hal Ware was like a man who has bought a farm sight unseen only to discover that the crops are all in and ready to harvest. All that he had to do was to hustle them into the barn. The barn in this case was the Communist Party. In the AAA, Hal found a bumper crop of incipient or registered Communists. On its legal staff were Lee Pressman, Alger Hiss and John Abt (later named by Elizabeth Bentley as one of her contacts). There was Charles Krivitsky, a former physicist at New York University, then or shortly after to be known as Charles Kramer (also, later on, one of Elizabeth Bentley’s contacts). Abraham George Silverman (another of Elizabeth Bentley’s future contacts) was sitting with a little cluster of communists over at the Railroad Retirement Board.
Others named by Chambers included Henry H. Collins, Jr., Laurence Duggan, Nathan Witt, Marion Bachrach, and Victor Perlo. Others subsequently mentioned in these ranks included John Herrmann, Nathaniel Weyl, Donald Hiss, and Harry Dexter White. According to Chambers, Ware was in close contact with and directly reported to J. Peters, “the head of the underground section of the American Communist Party”:
…By 1934, the Ware Group had developed into a tightly organized underground, managed by a directory of seven men. In time it included a number of secret sub-cells whose total membership I can only estimate — probably about seventy-five Communists. Sometimes they were visited officially by J. Peters who lectured them on Communist organization and Leninist theory and advised them on general policy and specific problems. For several of them were so placed in the New Deal agencies (notably Alger Hiss, Nathan Witt, John Abt and Lee Pressman) that they were in a position to influence policy at several levels.
In his 1993 autobiography, John Abt, longtime attorney for the Communist Party USA confirmed that the Ware Group existed, that it was a secret Communist Party unit, and that Ware had recruited him and several of the others named by Chambers for the Party. Nathaniel Weyl and Hope Hale Davis also confessed to having been part of the Ware group, and Davis confirmed that it was engaged in illegal activity.
Death and legacy
Harold Ware was critically injured in an automobile accident in the mountains near Harrisburg, Pennsylvania on August 13, 1935 when his car collided with a coal truck. He died the next morning at the hospital in Harrisburg, never regaining consciousness after the crash.
Hal was memorialized with a chapter in the memoir written by his more famous mother, Ella Reeve Bloor, in 1940:
As a boy he loved the outdoors, was full of restless, eager vitality and bold curiosity. He had a startlingly vivid imagination, and an urge and talent for organizing that continued and marked his whole life. More than ordinarily shy, he forgot his shyness when engaged in one of his organizing ventures, and a flow of colorful, stirring talk would come from him so persuasive that those who heard him were completely carried away. He grew slim and tall, and when we moved to Arden was captain of the baseball team and a leader in tennis and other games. He missed a lot of school because of his siege of tuberculosis, but he read a lot and was always able to make up two or three years of ordinary schooling in a few months of intensive study. His interest in socialism began as early as I can remember.
Hal’s interest in agriculture began early. He started raising truck in a small garden in Arden, and sold it around the countryside. His keen sense of beauty showed in the way he fixed up his boxes of vegetables to sell, arranging them artistically in green boxes.
He first planned to study forestry. He used to tell me his dreams of a life in the open, alone on a hillside, a sea of green tree tops below him. While taking the entrance exams for Pennsylvania State College he found that the forestry course would take four years, while there was a fine two-year agricultural course. Beginning to feel, too, that he did not want to live away from people, but among them, he chose agriculture. His interest in economics and politics developed intensely at this time, and while at college he wrote me constantly for the latest news of the socialist movement. We were always very close to one another, and no matter how many months or years we were apart, we could always pick up where we had left off.”
After his death, attorney John Abt married Jessica Smith, Ware’s widow.
Hal Ware’s half-brother, Carl Reeve, was also a lifelong activist in the Communist Party.
Source: Wikipedia, on-line