Wheeler, Donald Niven (1913-2002)

An American scholar, dairy farmer and long-time member of the Communist Party of the USA who was accused by Elizabeth Bentley in the 1940s of spying for the Soviet Union during World War II.

Wheeler was born in 1913 on his father’s farm in White Bluffs, Washington. His father was a descendant of the Puritans who initially settled in Massachusetts in the 1600s. Wheeler would later describe his early political development as a curious mixture of agrarian radicalism, utopian socialism and faith in militant trade unionism. He was taught to admire Eugene Debs, along with John Brown, Lincoln and Lenin. Wheeler attended Reed College in Portland, Oregon and in 1935 won a Rhodes Scholarship to study at Oxford University.

At Oxford, Wheeler studied Philosophy, Politics, and Economics – and joined the university branch of the Communist Party of Britain in December 1935. On campus, he was active in the Popular Front against fascism. In October 1937, Wheeler went on to post-graduate work at the University of Paris, but dropped out to work with a group of Americans working on behalf of the International Brigades in Spain. In the later part of 1938, he returned to the United States. He taught briefly at Yale University before joining the U.S. Department of the Treasury. In 1940-1941, he was clerk of the Senate Banking and Currency Committee. Then, from 1941 to 1946, he served as section chief of the Research Division of the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), the American wartime strategic intelligence agency. Among Wheeler’s achievements were his highly accurate estimates of German war casualties and his role in preparing the OSS Strategic Bombing Survey, which bolstered the argument for opening a Second Front against Nazi Germany in Europe in 1944.

Blacklisted in the early Cold War years, Wheeler and his family moved to a dairy farm in Sequim, Washington, where they became the mainstay of the local Communist Party club, whose activities included sponsoring a delegation to the 1963 civil rights March on Washington.

In 1968, Wheeler returned to Oxford and completed his doctorate, and in 1970 he became an associate professor of economics at Brandon University in Manitoba, Canada. He has been described as “a writer on many topics,” “a man of encyclopedic knowledge, a passionate teacher,” and “an outspoken foe of war, racism and capitalist exploitation” who “never wavered in his belief in socialism.” 1

  1. “Donald Wheeler, Communist, dies at 89.” – People’s Weekly World, November 23, 2002. http://www.pww.org/article/articleview/2419/0/