CESNUR - Centro Studi sulle Nuove Religioni diretto da Massimo Introvigne

L. Ron Hubbard, Kenneth Goff, and the "Brain-Washing Manual" of 1955

by Massimo Introvigne

For further and more updated information, see Does Scientology Believe in Brainwashing? The Strange Story of the Brain-Washing Manual of 1955
PowerPoint presentation for Massimo Introvigne's paper at the International Conference on Scientology, Faculty for Comparative Studies of Religions, University of Antwerp, Jan. 25, 2014

brainwashingStill mentioned today, and the subject matter of considerable controversy, is a document published in the 1950s, when, one after the other, several different editions were published of a book known as Brain-Washing: A Synthesis of the Russian Textbook of Psychopolitics. The book is, ostensibly, a summary of manuals circulating in the Soviet Union, allegedly written by the chief of the secret police, Lavrenti Beria (1899-1953).

The text opens with a discourse by Beria addressed to “American students at the Lenin University ”. It goes on by stating some key ideas of dialectical and historical materialism, before examining “psychopolitics” in itself. It suggests creating in the victims an “artificial exhaustion” through drugs and pain, before “implanting” communist doctrines through hypnosis. The process is presented under the name PDH, “pain-drug hypnosis”[1]. In the 1950s a frequent objection to brainwashing theories was that, according to academic hypnologists, ultimately an individual in hypnotic trance would not perform acts radically contrary to his or her will and best interests. The “Manual” claims that this objection in fact comes from communist propaganda: “It is in the interest of Psychopolitics that population be told that an hypnotized person will not do anything against his actual will, will not commit immoral acts, and will not act so as to endanger himself. While this may be true of light, parlour hypnotism, it certainly is not true of commands implanted with the use of electric shocks, drugs, or heavy punishment”[2]. The booklet then relates brainwashing to a larger picture, where two main dangers for the communists are indicated: American individualism (to be substituted, through brainwashing, by a form of group thinking), and religion.

The “Manual” was reprinted some twenty times, and quoted even more often; it played an important role in the discussion on brainwashing. The question of its authorship remains controversial. A curious character, Kenneth Goff (1909-1972), constantly claimed that he was the one who compiled it. Goff was a member of the U.S. Communist Party in the 1930s. He later converted to Fundamentalist Protestantism, only to evolve later towards anti-Semitism, neo-Nazism, and Identity Churches [3]. In the 1940s and 1950s Goff published several autobiographical books and pamphlets, where he graphically described both his conversion and his previous “conditioning” as an American communist by Soviet agents[4]. In 1955, the “Manual” (without mentioning Goff at all) was published by the Church of Scientology, with the indication “Published as a public service by the Church of Scientology”, and with an “editorial note” signed by a professor Charles Stickley, about whom no information is available (in all the other editions, there is also an “editorial note”, but Goff is indicated as its author)[5]. Both the early Goff edition, and the edition published by Scientology, include references to Christian Science and Dianetics as groups that Communist psychopolitics should try to discredit; the Goff version also includes Pentecostals, not mentioned in the Scientology edition.

Critics of Scientology have no doubt that the book was authored by Lafayette Ronald (“L. Ron”) Hubbard (1911-1986), the founder of both Dianetics and Scientology. For example, Bent Corydon is very positive when he claims, based on a statement by Hubbard’s son L. Ron Hubbard Jr. (Ron DeWolf, 1934-1991), that “Dad wrote every word of it”, having apparently been influenced by John Sanborn (1922-) who at the time assisted Hubbard in editing his works[6]. (Subsequently, DeWolf was to state under oath that Corydon had incorrectly quoted many of his statements.) This version has been repeated by countless anti-Scientology works, and has been even quoted as a “confession” by Hubbard that he did indeed know about brainwashing.

In fact, it is alleged by critics, Hubbard discussed brainwashing in several other works, thus “confessing” that he was capable of using it. The latter argument is somewhat contradictory. In fact, Hubbard’s works expose brainwashing as something that should not be practiced, not only for moral reasons, but also because, in Hubbard’s system, brainwashing represents all that Scientology regards as reprehensible and harmful in modern psychiatry. The practice of brainwashing could only end up in disaster, and convert those subject to it into pathetic victims, as such of no much use to any organization[7].

Scientology critics are often confusing two different meanings of the word “brainwashing”, the first referred to techniques using drugs and physical violence in connection with “hypnosis”, and the second to religious indoctrination. The word used, “brainwashing”, is the same, but the meaning is different. Hubbard regards “brainwashing”, in the first meaning, as something very much real (but to be avoided and exposed). In the second meaning, on the other hand, “brainwashing” for Hubbard is just another false argument used by critics in order to assault Scientology and other religions.

Be it as it may be, is Hubbard in any sense the “author” of the “Manual” as published by Scientology in 1955? It is true that the text does include a reference to Dianetics, and paragraphs germane to Scientology’s well-known concerns about psychiatry in general. Goff and his organization, the Soldiers of the Cross, always maintained that the compiler was none else than Goff himself, on the basis of information acquired when he was a Communist[8]. It is also true that what seems to be the earliest Goff edition of the “Manual” has no date[9], and there is no conclusive evidence of whether it had been published before, or after, Scientology’s edition of 1955. On the other hand, several themes about Communist “conditioning” were developed in works by Goff certainly published before 1955[10].

The argument used by some Scientology critics, that Goff died in 1943 (and could not have known about later development, nor as a consequence could he have written the book), is simply wrong. Goff remained active in the US right-wing subculture until the early 1970s, and in fact died in 1972. Those concluding that Goff is the “author” of the book should, on the other hand, face the objection that the style of the “Manual” is more sophisticated if compared with the somewhat crude style of Goff’s earlier works.

Hubbard’s version is told in two technical bulletins of 13 and 19 December 1955. According to the second bulletin, “two manuscripts” were “left at the front desk [of our Phoenix office] with the request that they be mailed back to their owner” (i.e. “Charles Stickley”), and “we are not sure exactly from whom these came”. Subsequently, according to the first bulletin, “it was discovered that a book called Psychopolitics (spelled with a K) is in the Library of Congress. It is in German. It was written by a man called Paul Fadkeller, and was published in Berlin in 1947. Although I may be misinformed, Hubbard goes on to say, and definitely do not read German, this book [the “manual”] is probably the Russian translation”. In the second bulletin, Hubbard also refers that he “read it off onto a tape, compiling the two manuals, and removing from them some of their very verbose nomenclature”. He decided to publish the text for the benefit of the auditors who may face victims of brainwashing[11].

“Paul Fadkeller” is, in fact, neo-Kantian German philosopher Paul Feldkeller (1889-1972). His text “published in Berlin in 1947” [12], a copy of which is in fact at the Library of Congress in Washington D.C., shares with the “Manual” only the first part of the title and the use (but with a quite different meaning) of the word “psychopolitics”. Hubbard’s story, apart from any controversy, is compatible with those who said that he, in fact, read the text onto a tape.

How, however, can Hubbard’s and Goff’s stories be reconciled? Perhaps, both may be right and combining their versions is not impossible. If one compares the “Manual” with the respective works of Hubbard and Goff (obviously, two very different authors), in both cases the style and the ideas are quite different[13]. It may perhaps be possible to solve this problem by suggesting, on the basis of the US government’s and the CIA’s interest in brainwashing in general in the 1950s, that the text was compiled by some governmental agency on the basis of a variety of sources (Soviet and US Communist documents, texts on psychopolitics in general, exposes of brainwashing allegedly practiced by both Nazis and Communists). This agency would then have sent the text more or less anonymously to several different organizations (Scientology, Goff’s group, and perhaps others), with sentences which would have captured their attention (including, for Scientology, a specific reference to Dianetics), in the hope that they will publish it[14]. This would confirm both the interest in brainwashing by the CIA and other U.S. governmental agencies during the Cold War and their dissemination of false documents about “Communist brainwashing” through a variety of sources.

[1] Brain-Washing: A Synthesis of the Russian Textbook of Psychopolitics, Los Angeles : The American St. Hill Organization, 1955, p. 36.

[2] Ibid., pp. 32-33.

[3] On Goff see the entry “Kenneth Goff” in Jeffrey Kaplan, Encyclopedia of White Power. A Sourcebook on the Radical Racist Right, Walnut Creek-Lanham ( Maryland )- New York - Oxford : Altamira Press, 2000, pp. 120-122.

[4] See, for example, Kenneth Goff, This is My Story: Confessions of Stalin’s Agent, Englewood ( Colorado ): The Author, 1948; Idem, The Red Betrayal of Youth, Englewood ( Colorado ): by the Author, 1948; Idem, Strange Fire, Englewood (Colorado): The Author, 1954.

[5] In 1970, Morris Kominsky (1901-1975), a left-wing activist and one-time candidate of the US Communist Party for governor of Rhode Island (in 1938), published a book whose intent was to expose the pathological anti-communism of the American right (The Hoaxers: Plain Liars, Fancy Liars, and Damned Liars, Boston: Branden Press, 1970). There, at pages 537-586, Kominsky published a detailed analysis of the “Manual”, whose aim was to show that it could not have been written in the Soviet Union. Kominsky had no doubt that the author was Goff, and published (ibid., pp. 547-549) the text of an interview with Goff himself. Goff claimed to have distributed 1,000 mimeographed copies of the “Manual” certainly before 1955, and even offered a $500 reward for any information about the mysterious Mr. Stickley.

[6] See Bent Corydon - L. Ron Hubbard, Jr., L. Ron Hubbard: Messiah or Madman?, Lyle Stuart Inc., Secaucus (New Jersey) 1987, pp. 101-111.

[7] In another text by L.R. Hubbard, included in All About Radiation (Man’s Inhumanity to Man) by a nuclear physicist and a medical doctor, London : Hubbard Association of Scientologists International, 1957, pp. 62-63, brainwashing is again connected with “torture”, and it is stated that the Soviets knew it since 1927-1928. It is also noted that “brainwashing was attempted on Mindzensky [sic]. It didn’t work but, for a moment, he quivered and wavered at his trial” – a reference to Roman Catholic Hungarian Cardinal József Mindszenty (1892-1975). In a technical bulletin of July 22, 1956, Hubbard wrote that “We can brainwash faster that the Russians. 20 secs to total amnesia against three years to slightly confused loyalty” (Idem., The Technical Bulletins of Dianetics and Scientology. Vol. II, 1954-1956, reprint, Copenhagen - Los Angeles : Scientology Publications, 1986, p. 474). The context, however, is an invitation to Scientology auditors to keep a higher moral standard, according to which not all what is technically possible should be practiced. However, in this case also, the effect of brainwashing is “total amnesia”, confirming that Hubbard used the work “brainwashing” with a meaning different from the prevailing literature of that time (“total amnesia” being something different from the conversion to new ideas).

[8] See Colonel Gordon “Jack” Mohr, “Editorial’s Note”, in the version he edited of Brain-Washing (Mind-Changing). A Synthesis of a Russian Textbook on Mass Mind-Control (Psychopolitics), Phoenix (Arizona): Lord’s Covenant Church-America’s Promise Broadcasts, 1982, pp. 4-5. Mohr, who was close to Goff for several years and part of the same subculture, is still certain to this date  that “Hubbard did not write the book” (letter by G.J. Mohr to M. Introvigne, June 5, 2001).

[9] See K. Goff, Brainwashing. A Synthesis of the Russian Textbook on Psychopolitics, Englewood (Colorado): Kenneth Goff, n.d.

[10] See for example K. Goff, This is My Story. Confessions of Stalin’s Agent, op. cit.

[11] L. Ron Hubbard, The Technical Bulletins of Dianetics and Scientology. Volume II: 1954-1956, reprint, op. cit., pp. 309-310 and pp. 312-313. In Corydon’s book, L. Ron Hubbard: Messiah or Madman?, op. cit., p. 103,  there is an allusion to the Feldkeller reference as follows: “Ron Jr.: (…) Years later, they [the Scientologists] snuck it into the Library of Congress, and somebody else came by, and said ‘Oh, look, it was found in the Library of Congress!’, which is a lot of baloney”. The problem here, however, is that the Library of Congress does not own either the Scientology or the Goff version of the “Manual”. It owns, on the other hand, the work by Feldkeller, quite well-known by the scholars of this German philosopher, and by no means “snuck” by Scientologists into the Library.

[12] See also Idem., Psycho-Politik. Zur Demokratisierung, politischen Erziehung und Säuberung, Berlin : Chronos-Verlag, 1947, where at pp. 106-110 there is a definition of “Psychopolitics”, quite different from the one found in the “Manual”.

[13] Some have remarked that «pain-drug hypnosis» and at least one other expression, «thinkingness,» are only found in the «Manual» and in Scientology publications. «Pain-drug hypnosis» is mentioned only in the «Manual,» in Scientology works, and in Goff (after the 1950s): but did Hubbard and Goff derived it from the «Manual» or viceversa? For «thinkingness,» however, there are pre-Hubbard precedents. On the other hand, L. R. Hubbard's position on hypnosis in his 1951 Science of Survival. Simplified, Faster Dianetic Techniques (Hubbard Dianetic Foundation, Wichita 1951, pp. 223-224) was the exact opposite of the Manual's: «an individual in an hypnotic trance will rarely perform an immoral act even though commanded to do so by the hypnotist, unless that individual would normally perform such acts.»

[14] The argument on which Hubbard's critics insist, that having received the tract from the Church of Scientology, the FBI suspected its authenticity, is not very telling, for often the FBI was not kept informed of CIA or military services projects in this or other fields.