The Moscow Club and Armand Hammer

Joseph Finder's book, The Moscow Club, reissued this past Christmas, is a fascinating 'what if' story. When the novel was first published in February 1991 it was not a historical thriller, but rather chilling prediction of events that would actually occur later that year. The book's fictional Soviet coup d'état became a reality when Mikhail Gorbachev was overthrown about six months later. What readers will find even more intriguing is his main character, who was based on Armand Hammer. American Thinker had the pleasure of interviewing Finder about his book.

Finder's past experiences gave him insight into the world of Soviet politics. Finder studied and wrote about Soviet affairs after receiving a master's degree from the Harvard Russian Research Center. His first book was a nonfiction work about Armand Hammer. The Moscow Club was to focus on Hammer, who owned Occidental Petroleum and befriended Vladimir Lenin. The book became a novel because, "After I did some research about him I found out he worked for the KGB, although it was not called that in the 1920's. I talked to some people in the CIA and realized there were things I wanted to say about Hammer but could not write it in a non-fiction book. My intelligence contacts were more willing to talk to me if I wrote a novel. I used the book as a way to tell a larger truth about Hammer, but realized a plot was essential to any thriller story. I wanted to make sure it was realistic so I got my contacts to give ideas about a coup: who would do it, how it would work, and what would happen. Would the fall of the current Soviet leadership at the time be good or bad for America?"

Furthermore, he told American Thinker that for his earlier nonfiction book, Hammer agreed to a two-hour interview, but after twenty minutes dismissed Finder. Why? Because he'd asked about Hammer's activities with the Russians, the Communist Party, and about his father, who was the founder of the American Communist Party. After the book was published, Hammer threatened him and his publisher with a libel suit. Finder realized, "you cannot sue unless you prove damages, which means he would have had to go through a process of discovery. Hammer would never do that because he had too much to hide. What he did instead is buy as many copies of the book as he could to keep it off the market."

While Benedict Arnold is known as a traitor in American history, Armand Hammer is known for his philanthropy. Once again the mass media has taken the mask for the reality. Apart from using Soviet-style tactics to thwart the author's freedom of speech and the press, Finder also believes that Hammer used his Soviet connections "to make money against the interests of America during the Cold War. The more he hung out with the Soviet dictators the more he resembled them. The former CIA counter-intelligence chief, James Angleton, told me he really believed Hammer wanted to overthrow the Democratic world. It is incredible how this billionaire industrialist was able to walk into the White House at will, while working with the Russians. Yet, journalists allowed Hammer to manage his own image by putting out this mythology on himself that they bought into."

The best thrillers are the ones based on facts. Finder seemed to have a crystal ball, predicting how the hardliner regime would eventually resume power at a time when many people thought the "bad-guys" were defeated. To emphasize the point that Russia will never turn into a democracy, he wrote in The Moscow Club, "But even if a snake sheds its skin, it's still a snake... So while we Americans are dazzled and mesmerized by the changes in Moscow, we all forget the long view. Seven decades of hardline Soviet elements will be just waiting in the wings to reclaim what they believe is rightly theirs. They'll not give up their power without a fight." Finder noted to American Thinker that he sees the same thing happening again today. America needs to be wary who its allies really are. "Is Turkey, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, even Russia a friend or enemy? Today, there is a response to the Middle East, in Libya, Iran, and with the Arab Spring. Just as with the Soviet coup, both then and now, events appear to be happening that we cannot control and we appear to be powerless to do anything about it."

Anyone who wishes to understand the Russian mentality, along with the true nature of the still widely-admired Armand Hammer, should read The Moscow Club. It reaffirms that America should be cautious and not overreact to events. As Finder stated, "Just because the Cold War has ended doesn't mean we should forget about Russia."

The author writes for American Thinker. She has done book reviews, author interviews, and has written a number of national security, political, and foreign policy articles.