A Communist for the RCMP

A Communist for the RCMP

The Uncovered Story of a Social Movement Informant

By Dennis Gruending, Foreword by Gregory S. Kealey


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In 1941, the RCMP recruited Frank Hadesbeck, a Spanish Civil War veteran, as a paid informant to infiltrate the Communist Party. For decades, he informed not only upon communists, but also upon hundreds of other people who held progressive views. Hadesbeck’s “Watch Out” lists on behalf of the Security Service included labour activists, medical doctors, lawyers, university professors and students, journalists, Indigenous and progressive farm leaders, members of the clergy, and anyone involved in the peace and human rights movements.

Defying every warning given to him by his handlers, Hadesbeck kept secret notes. Using these notes, author Dennis Gruending recounts how the RCMP spied upon thousands of Canadians. Hadesbeck’s life and career are in the past, but RCMP surveillance continues in new guises. As Canada’s petroleum industry doubles down on its extraction plans in the oil sands and elsewhere, the RCMP and other state agencies provide support, routinely branding Indigenous land defenders and their allies in the environmental movement as potential terrorists. They share information and tactics with petroleum industry “stakeholders” in what has been described as a “surveillance web” intended to suppress dissent. A Communist for the RCMP provides an inside account of Hadesbeck’s career and illustrates how the RCMP uses surveillance of activists to enforce the status quo.


“The Canadian government has made exceptional efforts to erase or seclude documents related to decades of RCMP dirty tricks, but A Communist for the RCMP provides stunning insights into the nuts and bolts of the force’s infiltration campaigns. Dennis Gruending provides a rich and masterful narration of previously unseen informant files, creating an unrelenting account into the everyday work of RCMP infiltration. This book makes it clear that the RCMP have always been governed by the politics of capitalism and settler colonialism; it is a must-read for anyone looking to understand the politics of RCMP spying.”

– Jeffrey Monaghan, associate professor, Carleton University; co-author of Policing Indigenous Movements: Dissent and the Security State

“In this fascinating and well-researched book, Dennis Gruending pulls open Cold War curtains to detail the life of an RCMP informant focused on catching perceived subversives instead of actual ‘criminals.’ Too often, Cold War tales of espionage and surveillance have focused on what the other side did to us. A Communist for the RCMP chronicles what we did to ourselves over decades in the name of anti-communism. In the eternal struggle for civil liberties, Gruending exposes what the state is prepared to do against those who peacefully challenge the status quo.”

– Steve Hewitt, associate professor, Department of History, University of Birmingham; author of Snitch: A History of the Modern Intelligence Informer

A Communist for the RCMP makes a compelling and timely contribution to our understanding of police surveillance in Canada. Gruending’s detailed account of RCMP informant Frank Hadesbeck’s life tells the story of Canada’s nefarious and disruptive surveillance practices. In the process, and given the ease with which the state and corporations monitor our lives and intimate habits today, we are reminded, if we needed it, that ‘Big Brother’ is still watching.”

– David Austin, author of Fear of a Black Nation: Race, Sex, and Security in Sixties Montreal

“The RCMP monitored the activities of tens of thousands of ordinary Canadians during the twentieth century, but we know little about how and why they did so. Gruending shares the story of Frank Hadesbeck, an informant who capitalized on his credibility as a Spanish Civil War veteran to infiltrate communist, socialist, and labour movements for over thirty years. At a time when we are all increasingly aware of being surveilled, this book offers fascinating insight into the motivations and operations of one of those who watched.”

– Lesley Wood, associate professor, Department of Sociology, York University; author of Crisis and Control: The Militarization of Protest Policing

A Communist for the RCMP by Dennis Gruending is an amazing exploration of the RCMP recruitment of Frank Hadesbeck, a Spanish Civil War veteran, as a paid informant told to join the Communist Party. Aside from decades of spying on the CP he also did surveillance work on union, anti-war, and Indigenous activists. Hadesbeck’s secret notes make visible the organization of broad ranging security investigations of the Left and social movements by the RCMP.”

– Gary Kinsman, author of The Regulation of Desire: Queer Histories, Queer Struggles; co-author of The Canadian War on Queers: National Security as Sexual Regulation

“In the gripping style of a spy novel, Gruending recounts the rich story of Frank Hadesbeck’s life as an informant for the RCMP. Through a narrative of Hadesbeck’s surveillance of communists, trade unionists, academics, Indigenous leaders, and others, we learn of the disturbing breadth of the RCMP’s spying program. This story seems especially resonant at a time when the RCMP and CSIS—not having fully reckoned with this sordid past—are confronted with accusations of spying on Muslim communities and Indigenous activists, while also gaining expanded authority to protect the public against white supremacist violence.”

– Fahad Ahmad, assistant professor, Department of Criminology, Toronto Metropolitan University

“Gruending’s biography of long-time RCMP informant Frank Hadesbeck is ground-breaking. Although we already know much about the force’s use of informants and spies, never before have we seen their work from the ground up. Here we have a mole’s eye view, provided through the notes Hadesbeck secretly took and kept—against his handlers’ explicit orders—from 1941 to the mid-1970s. We also get to see how the Mounties cast their net for ‘dangerous’ individuals and movements well beyond the Communist Party. Virtually every social movement participant who dared question the status quo was treated as a potential enemy of the state (including those who advocated for medicare) and ended up on the force’s ‘Watch-out lists.’ This book is an eye-opening exploration of just how casually our security services violate the privacy and civil rights of Canadians.”

– Jim Mochoruk, professor, Department of History, University of North Dakota

A Communist for the RCMP is a stark reminder and a cautionary tale for the present. It reveals how when searching for actual threats in the Cold War, forces were influenced by confirmation bias, accepted the sole word of an informant, and targeted individuals on the basis of their political beliefs—these are not strategies we wanted then or want now from our domestic security services.”

– Dennis Molinaro, Ontario Tech University


Chapter 1 Hardscrabble Youth
Chapter 2 The Spanish Coup
Chapter 3 Fighting Fascism
Chapter 4 Stranded in Spain
Chapter 5 Homecoming
Chapter 6 Recruited by the RCMP
Chapter 7 Building a Surveillance State
Chapter 8 Undercover in Calgary
Chapter 9 Internment and Human Rights
Chapter 10 A Married Man
Chapter 11 Communists versus Social Democrats
Chapter 12 Cold War in Saskatchewan
Chapter 13 Medicare as Communist Plot
Chapter 14 Betraying a Comrade
Chapter 15 Casting a Wide Net
Chapter 16 Spying on the NDP
Chapter 17 Hadesbeck’s Handlers
Chapter 18 Winding Down
Chapter 19 Memoirs
Chapter 20 A Double Life
Chapter 21 Suppressing Dissent
A note on the publisher and the RCMP