(FORTUNE Magazine) – Gee, and he seemed like such a nice old man. When Dr. Armand Hammer, chairman of Occidental Petroleum, died nearly six years ago at the age of 92, obituary writers praised him as a tireless servant of East-West peace, a corporate statesman, an art collector, a humanitarian. When he wasn't kissing babies, it seemed, he was dedicating bridges. Sure, a few sorehead investors complained about his gallivanting around the world at their expense aboard Oxy's caviar-laden jet. But what chairman doesn't have his critics?

Now, however, Edward Jay Epstein, author of Dossier: The Secret History of Armand Hammer (Random House, $30), shows Hammer to have been something else entirely: a traitor.

That word, to modern ears, sounds as quaint as "victrola." But Epstein gives it teeth by putting Hammer's perfidy in context.

Russia in 1921--as now--was on the ropes. The communists had power, but revolution had sunk the country into chaos. Agriculture nearly collapsed. The city of Moscow went without running water for 22 years. Western pro-capitalist powers blockaded the communists, refusing to trade. Yet Lenin vowed not only to restore Russian glory but eventually to destroy capitalism itself. How? By exploiting capitalist greed.

Capitalists, he said, would sell Russia the rope with which to hang them. He meant that if Western businessmen thought they could profit from relieving Russia's immediate distress, they would force their governments to allow them to export grain, tractors, medicine, and other essentials. And whom did Lenin select as rope salesman No. 1? Armand.

Hammer, born in New York in 1898, was quite literally born into the bosom of Marxism and suckled at the proverbial red teat. His father, physician Julius Hammer, held the first membership card in the U.S. Communist Labor Party and was praised by Lenin's lieutenants as a "convinced" communist and "sincere" comrade. His eldest son's name was a homage to communism. (arm and hammer: get it?)

When Armand was 23 and about to graduate with a medical degree from Columbia, Julius sent him to Russia to confer with Lenin. On a cold October day Armand arrived at the Kremlin, where "he exchanged his passport for a pink pass" and entered Lenin's office. So well did the two hit it off that Hammer later said he would have jumped out the window had Lenin asked him to.

He didn't. Instead, Lenin proposed a deal: Hammer would become a Russian government conces-sionaire, through whom capitalists would have to go to sell certain commodities. If Hammer induced U.S. companies to trade, not only would he be serving Russia, but the commissions would make him rich as well. Abandoning the practice of medicine, Hammer set to work.

He brokered a wide variety of deals--in one case earning Russian hard currency by finding U.S. buyers for what he called the "Romanov treasure." (In fact, it was mostly junk taken from the lost-and-found lockers of Moscow hotels.)

With each deal, he helped prop up communism and progressed a little further on his own peculiar way to wealth. It wasn't Ben Franklin's way, but it worked.

"Competing in a free market was not Hammer's strength," writes Epstein. "He learned a mode of business very different from that taught in the west"--one predicated on "getting government concessions and holding on to them." Wealth was really just a matter of buttering up or threatening the right officials--and when necessary laying down a few bribes. (In later years he recorded the giving of such bribes for blackmail purposes, using microphones hidden in his cuff links.)

The Hammer technique worked just as well with other governments, including Washington, which, during World War II, granted him an exclusive franchise to manufacture booze for domestic consumption. But his greatest windfall came from Libya.

By 1956, Hammer had acquired a small California oil company with sales of only $30,000 a year--Occidental Petroleum. What he needed to catapult it to the big time was exclusive access to a huge pool of oil. Libya had one, but Oxy appeared to have little chance of outbidding the Seven Sisters--the cartel that controlled middle eastern and Latin American oil production.

The Sisters hadn't reckoned with the Doc. In no time, Hammer bestowed finely targeted bribes to Libyan officials and, more important, found a sweetener guaranteed to win favor from Libya's King: Oxy offered to drill wells to bring water to the monarch's parched ancestral village.

It was a ploy Hammer would use often --first paying bribes, then giving the bribed officials a fig leaf: It was the Doctor's humanitarianism that had swayed their decision, Oxy could insist. The Seven Sisters never knew what hit them, since, as Epstein says, Hammer had been "prospecting at a different level."

Over the decades Hammer continued traveling to Russia, hobnobbing with its leaders to the point that both the CIA and the FBI suspected him of being a full-fledged agent. The FBI privately characterized him as "a type who would do business with the devil if there was a profit in it." And James Jesus Angleton, the CIA's chief of counterintelligence, suspected Hammer of being the Capitalist Prince (a turncoat U.S. millionaire, given that sobriquet by the Soviets). Epstein never demonstrates that Hammer practiced espionage, but he leaves little doubt that Hammer, whether for ideological or selfish reasons, commercially aided a regime that had pledged enmity to the U.S.

Nor was Hammer's personal life any less duplicitous or slimy. When his wife got wind that he was having an affair with Martha Kaufman, who ran his art collection, he had his mistress change her name to Hilary Gibson and wear heavy makeup, glasses, and a wig. According to Epstein, the ruse fooled his wife for years.

Dossier isn't particularly well written. It's repetitious and badly edited. But it has one incomparable virtue: It reminds a reader that treachery isn't quaint, nor does it ever go out of style. Its adherents aren't all wild-eyed sheikhs or toadies to King George. Some have worn well-tailored suits and sat behind big desks.

It's a pity we don't have a national holiday to commemorate them all. May I suggest December 7? This Pearl Harbor Day, why not remember Dr. Hammer in some creative manner of your own devising. He's housed in a private, plainly marked crypt in Westwood Memorial Park, Los Angeles. Say, 800,000 blinis, sent collect?