Sunday, April 14, 2024

McCarthyism: The long shadow of a false narrative

Sen. Joseph McCarthy's anti-communist crusade lasted only four short years. Seven years after the Wheeling speech he was dead. The caricature of the man embedded in the historical narrative has persisted for decades. (Every one knows McCarthy is bad even if they do not know what he actually did.

Long after his fall, McCarthy and his supporters haunted the nightmares of the leading public intellectuals in the U.S. His brief ascendency upended their once rosy view of democracy.

In 1949, Arthur Schlesinger confidently announced that “we are changing from a market society to an administrative society.” For twenty years urban progressivism was in the driver's seat. FDR had won four elections while he expanded the federal government and staffed his alphabet agencies with intellectuals and the graduates of the best universities. Then unsuitable men like McCarthy and Nixon had garnered public support by attacking the competence, honesty, and loyalty of these same progressive avatars.

This demanded an explanation.

One explanation had the now obvious advantage of being true:

There is no mystery about Joe McCarthy. He just doesn't like Communists. What is so peculiar about this point of view that it calls for an explanation.
John T. Flynn

For there is one thing that the American people know about Senator McCarthy: he, like them, is unequivocally anti-Communist. About the spokesmen for American liberalism, they feel they know no such thing. And with some justification.

Irving Kristol
For young, ambitious intellectuals in the 1950s, this viewpoint was a nonstarter. It was an article of faith that the internal communist threat was nonexistent and that McCarthy was a liar. The key question, then, was why did millions of Americans believe his absurd lies?

One influential group of scholars and pundits thought they found the answer in psychology and sociology.

In The New American Right (1955) seven contributors set out to explain the McCarthy phenomenon and the nature of post- New Deal conservatism. It is a classic example of the Left diagnosing conservatives instead of debating them. (Here again we see ostensible liberals adopting the methods of LeninThink.

The editor, future neocon Daniel Bell, found McCarthy puzzling and in need of explanation because he had done the unthinkable: he attacked “intellecuals, Harvard, Anglophiles, internationalists, and the Army”. Bell could only conclude that the movement was not a rational reaction to real issues:
“The theme of conspiracy haunts the mind of the new rightists.”

These “new conservatives” fell victim to conspiracy theories because they were uneducated, close-minded, losing ground economically, or anxious about their social status.

The net message was clear. The new, post-McCarthy right was not a legitimate political movement. It was symptomatic of social and psychological pathologies. There was no reason to engage its arguments or care about its issue. Better to ignore and marginalize them.

As I said, classic Lenintink:

Don't argue with them, Make them stink in the nose of the world. Make people curse and abominate them, Make them shudder with horror.
Willi Munzenberg

This line of thinking also underlies much of Richard Hofstadter's work – especially Anti-intellectualism in American Life and The Paranoid Style in American Politics. Hofstadter took to calling this new right wing “pseudo-conservative” – a term he borrowed from Marxist thinker Theodor Adorno of the Frankfurt School.

James Pierson:

According to liberal writers like Richard Hofstadter and, Daniel Bell, and others, the far right were disconnected from reality, its followers semi-delusional in their belief that communism represented a domestic threat to the United States.
In short, a multi-decade academic industry took root that was based on an egregious fallacy. “Commie subversion” was not a paranoid delusion; it was a central feature of Soviet statecraft and a prime function of the CPUSA. Once again, McCarthy was directionally correct while his critics were wildly wrong.

It is also worth noting that while Bell, Hofstadter, et. al. were sorely vexed by rightwing conspiracy theories, they ignored the popular leftwing conspiracy theories such as those which posited grovernmental frame-ups of Alger Hiss, Judith Coplon, and the Rosenbergs.

Saturday, April 06, 2024

McCarthyism: The competence canard (2)

The initial case against Sen. Joseph McCarthy declared that he was engaged in a veritable witchhunt-- a demagogic campaign against an imaginery problem. He confused liberals with Communists and progressive idealists with Stalinist agents. He conjured up fanciful networks of conspirators out of thin air to frighten ignorant and parochial voters.

When the VENONA files and Soviet archives came to light, this leftwing dogma was shattered. It turned out that the New Deal was penetrated from top to bottom by conspiratorial networks working for the benefit and at the direction of Stalin's spy organs.

It was (and is) an article of faith among the Left that McCarthy was, is, and must ever be “unredeemable”. So the revelations created a big problem.

What to do? What to do?

The “solution” united far Left academics, New Republic liberals, and neocons like Ron Radosh. The new narrative seemed to address the most troubliing facts while still condemning McCarthy: There had been spies in the 1930s and during WWII, BUT Harry Truman and J. Edgar Hoover had cleared them all out by 1950. So McCarthy was still whipping up public hysteria over a nonexistent problem.

While it is true that Truman instituted procedures to remove security risks he was hardly a determined redhunter. He took action only after his party suffered a landslide defeat in the 1946 elections and lost both the House and Senate.

To critics, the Truman security program looked like a political fig leaf rather than a dedicated effort to identify and root out the “Red webs” which stretched throughout the whole of the federal government.

That is what the “never caught a spy” canard attempts to hide. McCarthy and other critics were not hunting spies: they were warning that our spy hunting bureaucracy was failing to carry out its mission.

On this question McCarthy and his allies were right. His critics were wrong then and are wrong today.

Truman himself never owned up to the unprecedented scope of the Soviet apparatus that had penetrated FDR's alphabet agencies. At every turn he was prone to minimize the evidence when it was presented to him, to dismiss credible charges as red herrings, and to attack whistle blowers. For fifty years after the Katyn massacre only one government organization published the truth about the Soviets's guilt: The Madden committe in the House of Representatives. Truman opposed this inquiry and his State Department lobbied against its formation.

Truman wanted to abolish the House Committee on Unamerican Activities-- a committee which actually did “catch a real spy”. It also identified Russian assets who went on to service the atomic spies and the Britain's Cambridge Ring. Neither Truman nor Hoover cared to follow up.

The Truman administration also had an odd penchant for defending Soviet agents when thay came under public scrutiny. Alger Hiss, Harry Dexter White, Lauchlin Currie, and Laurence Duggan wee all defended by Truman or members of his cabinet.

This is hard to reconcile with the modern image of Truman as a more effective spy hunter than McCarthy.

The Truman security program was more political theater than anything else. HST's closest political aide admitted as much to Carl Bernstein decades later.

"There was no substantive problem. It was a political problem. We did not believe there was a real problem. A problem was being manufactured. There was a certain element of hysteria."
Clark Clifford
As was the case with the Tydings Committee, Truman and his allies were vexed by the political embarrassment the communists presented to his party; the risk they presented to the country was of lesser concern.

As a consequence the Truman security program was half-hearted and insincere. Its primary purposes was to show that the executive branch was doing something about the problem of Stalinist infiltration of the executive branch without embarrassing the Democrats or the administrative state.

McCarthy was slipshod in his methods and sometimes exaggerated the danger. The Truman administration was consciously dishonest in addressing the problem. Yet, the anti-McCarthy narrative is so locked in place that even some conservatives and most neocons praise Truman in order to condemn McCarthy.

McCarthy must remain unredeemable no matter what new revelations come from the archives.

Sunday, March 31, 2024

Rejoice! He is risen!

Now upon the first day of the week, very early in the morning, they came unto the sepulchre, bringing the spices which they had prepared, and certain others with them.

And they found the stone rolled away from the sepulchre.

And they entered in, and found not the body of the Lord Jesus.

And it came to pass, as they were much perplexed thereabout, behold, two men stood by them in shining garments:

And as they were afraid, and bowed down their faces to the earth, they said unto them, Why seek ye the living among the dead?

He is not here, but is risen: remember how he spake unto you when he was yet in Galilee,

Saying, The Son of man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, and be crucified, and the third day rise again.

And they remembered his words,

And returned from the sepulchre, and told all these things unto the eleven, and to all the rest.

It was Mary Magdalene, and Joanna, and Mary the mother of James, and other women that were with them, which told these things unto the apostles.

And their words seemed to them as idle tales, and they believed them not.

Then arose Peter, and ran unto the sepulchre; and stooping down, he beheld the linen clothes laid by themselves, and departed, wondering in himself at that which was come to pass.

Luke 24: 1-12

Sunday, January 28, 2024

McCarthyism: The competence canard

McCarthy's most effective enemies went to great pains to paint themselves as committed anti-communists. They claimed that McCarthy was an unserious, perhaps dishonest, crusader, while they were serious, competent opponents of Stalin and his machinations.

In his famous CBS News program “See It Now” Edward R. Murrow put it this way:

When the record is finally written, as it will be one day, it will answer the question, Who has helped the Communist cause and who has served his country better, Senator McCarthy or I? I would like to be remembered by the answer to that question.
Murrow and Co. won that battle. The were the smart anti-communists and could be trusted while McCarthy was a menace and a useful idiot for Stalin.

But was he right? Were he and his allies more competent and dedicated to the American cause than the senator? Were they really more effective adversaries of the communists?

The evidence suggests that they were not. The critics, like almost all later historians obfuscated about the issue at hand and asked us to judge McCarthy by the wrong standard (“he never found a spy”). If the senator often was too quick to lump fellow travelers with actual spies, his most famous opponents were stubbornly blind to the evidence against actual spies and potential mSoviet assets.


We can easily dismiss McCarthy's most persistent critic – Drew Pearson. His anti-communist stance was purely for show. Any man who employes two Soviet assets as reporters is hardly an astute investigator of Soviet subversion.

Pearson was also consistently wrong about the public spy cases. He defended Harry Dexter White, Lauchlin Currie, and Laurence Duggan when they were named by ex-operatives like Elizabeth Bently and Whittaker Chambers as Soviet agents.

The VENONA files confirm the guilt of all three.

Murrows record is not much better. He denounced the accusers of Laurence Duggan – a friend and former colleague – "A dead man's character is being destroyed." At CBS he hired Stephen E. Fleischman to work on the award-winning "CBS Reports". Fleischman was a member of CPUSA throughout the 1950s.

Murrow promoted the Democrat canard that Annie Lee Moss was a victim of mistaken identity. She wasn't: she was a CPUSA member which made her a risky emplyee for the Army's code office. If Murrow had admitted that then he would have had to concede that McCarthy had a point in questioning the existing security procedures.

Murrow's campaign was not just against McCarthy. He was also an intense critic of most internal security procedures in the federal bureasucracy. Take the case of Milo Radulovich. As Murrow framed the issue, the Army's security program was so irrational that they were punishing Radulovich because his sister and immigrant father subscribed to some publications from their home country of Ukraine, According to Murrow this was anti-communist paranoia in which unfounded suspicions merged with guilt by association to deny a man his dream of becoming a meteorologist.

Years later, Radulovich's brother-in-law admitted that he was a member of the CPUSA as was his wife (Radulovich's sister.) They remained loyal party members even after Khrushchev's speech and the brutal occupation of Eastern Europe.

The case of Milo Radulovich, then, is much more complex than Murrow and other enemies of McCarthy led us to believe.

Elmer Davis was anti-McCarthy long before Murrow took up his cudgels. During WWII he headed up the Office of War Information. Based on VENONA decrypts, the OWI may rank as the #1 agency for spies per capita. Under Davis the OWI worked to suppress the truth about the Katyn massacre and the Soviet's plan to Stalinize Poland. After the war he defended Alger Hiss and denounced witnesses like Whittaker Chambers as “fake patriots” and “professional anti-communists.”

At a minimum Davies's counterintelligence skills are somewhat suspect. Moreover, when he attacked McCarthy and other congressional investigators, he was, in essence, working to suppress the truth about his own failings at OWI.

Histories of this era never acknowledge this last point. Like the Tydings committee, the motivations of McCarthy's critics are always treated as pure.

Wednesday, January 17, 2024

Coaching and Cowpens

At the beginning of the American Revolution, the Continental armies lost more battles than they won.

No surprise. The British army was one of the best in the world. Washington's army was in the process of creation. On the day of battle colonial militia often made up a large portion of his forces. These men frequently broke ranks and fled when faced with British bayonets.

Nonetheless, colonial officers still treated these poorly trained and equipped troops as if they were well-drilled professionals. Then, when their line broke and the battle was lost, they filled their reports and letters with complaints about the militia and their cowardice and refusal to stand and fight.

The Revolution was won when Americans found generals who were willing to adjust their tactics and strategy instead of insisting that their soldiers carry out conventional orders that were beyond their training and ability.


Daniel Morgan was such a leader. At Saratoga he understood that his company of Virginia riflemen could have a decisive role. The key was to take advantage of their long range accuracy to disrupt and destroy British command and control. At Bemis Heights and Freeman's Farm his tactics denied Gen. John Burgoyne the decisive victory he needed to save his army.

In the Southern Campaign he first wore down British forces by avoiding battle. (His commander, Nathaniel Greene, understood as Mao did, “that there is in guerrilla warfare no such thing as a decisive battle.”

At Cowpens (17 January 1781) Morgan chose to stand and fight against the pursuing forces led by Banastre Tarleton. The ground was favorable (with the Broad river at their backs, retreat was not an option for the militia) and British troops were tired and frustrated after chasing Morgan across South Carolina.

What sets Morgan's battle plan apart is his handling of the militia which made up half or more of his army. He did not include them in his main battle line nor did he expect them to stand up to a British bayonet charge. Instead, he placed them forward of his regulars and asked them to fire two volleys. Then, they would withdraw behind his regulars.

Historian Robert Wright notes that part of Morgan's tactical genius was that he did not “ask a man to do more than he was physically capable of doing." He did not pretend that militia could stand up to the experienced troops at close quarters. At the same time he did not ignore what capabilities they did possess nor did he treat them with contempt.

The other key to the victory was that Morgan made sure that his Continentals understood that the militia's withdrawal was planned rather than evidence of an impending rout. He went from campfire to campfire the night before the battle – encouraging the men and explaining his plans.

Morgan's leadership and insight won a signal victory. In less than an hour he had routed Tarleton (over 80% casualties) and sent the remnants racing back to Cornwallis. He had shaped his tactics to fit the forces he had at hand in a rare feat of flexibility combined with insight.

It is remarkable that it was the poorly educated backwoodsman, not the better educated generals who had the insight and intelligence to get the most out of the militia.


When it comes to football coaches, there are few men with that capacity and courage. Instead, the prevailing ethos is “losses are acceptable if they can be blamed on injuries or a weak roster or dumb players.

From Ron Jaworski, Games That Changed the Game:

With some teams, the difference between their first-string and back-up quarterback isn't that much, but if your number one guy is a superstar, its an entirely different story. One time, Jon Gruden and I were attending a Colts practice before one of our ESPN games, and we were standing next to their offensive coordinator, Tom Moore. Tom is 'old school' in every sense of the word. He's been in the NFL for over thirty years and has signaled in every play call of Peyton Manning's career. As we watched, we were surprised to see Manning taking virtually all the reps in the session. Jon asked Tom why he wasn't giving some snaps to Peyton's backups. Moore is a man of few words, but when he talks, those words carry weight. He looked us both in the eye, paused for a moment, then said in that gravelly voice of his, 'Fellas, if "18" goes down, we're fucked. And we don't practice fucked.'
Old school coaches like Don Shula built their teams for resilience when things went badly. Shula twice took teams to the Super Bowl when forced to play most of the season with his back-up quarterback. In his undefeated 1972 season, Earl Morrall, not Bob Griese, started a majority of Miami's 17 victories.

Owners and fans now accept the idea that without a healthy franchise QB a team is doomed to mediocrity or worse. No one remembers that Joe Gibbs won three Super Bowls with 3 different Qbs (two of them castoffs from other teams).

Bill Walsh created the West Coast Offense out of necessity when he coached in Cinncinnati. Lacking both a strong-armed QB and a powerful running game, he developed his offensive system which revolutionized the pro passing game.

Now coaches and coordinators are often given a pass of a year or more because “it takes time for players to learn a new system”. In a league with a salary cap, free agency, and short playing careers, why do journalists accept that a coach should insist that players adapt to his system instead of adapting the system to the players he has? To accept this excuse we have to admit that coaches are calling plays that they know their players are unlikely to execute.

Monday, January 15, 2024

McCarthyism: No sauce for the gander (part 2)

One McCarthy opponent deserves special consideration. Sen. Millward Tydings (D-MD) tried to put an end to McCarthy's career right at the beginning of his crusade. He chaired the committee which investigated the Wheeling speech and the veracity of Joe's charges (Subcommittee on the Investigation of Loyalty of State Department Employees ). Its report is still routinely cited as proof that McCarthy lied and had no basis for accusing the Truman administration of being soft on subversion.

Tydings was a segregationist Democrat who voted with the Southern bloc that obstructed civil rights legislation for decades. In defense of the fillibuster Tydings declared that “It was cloture that crucified Christ on the cross.” All this is rarely mentioned by those who portray his campaign against McCarthy as a battle for civil liberties.

The Tydings committee also set the template for many of the “McCarthy hearings”. The Senator was the one called to face accusations, not the one making them. Far from having unchallenged power, he was challenged at every turn.

Tydings is specifically interesting for his peronal connections to the pro-Stalin elements in the FDR administration.

Tydings married the daughter of Joseph E. Davies, who FDR appointed ambassador to Moscow. While there he vouched for the fairness of the purge trials during Stalin's Great Terror.

After he returned he wrote a memoir, Mission to Moscow that even Soviet propagandists thought overdid it in its praise of Stalin. He was part of the clique which tried to purge long-time Russia experts like Loy Henderson and George Kennan from the State Department because they were insufficiently pro-Stalin. He also sought to deny asylum to Soviets agents who defected to the US.

Davies and his wife (Marjorie Merriweather Post) became great collectors of Russian art. They were able to acquire plenty of first rate pieces thanks to their friends in the Kremlin who had looted Russia (and Russians) on behalf of the Revolution and the Party.

After the Wheeling speech Tydings saw the danger that the “soft on communism” charge represented to the Democratic party in the upcoming election. He wrote Truman to warn him:

I strongly recommend for your own welfare, for the welfare of the country and lastly for the Welfare of the Democratic party that the present Communist inquiry not be allowed to worsen, but that you take bold, forthright and courageous action which I presume to say will do as much as anything I can think of to give you and your administration and party a tremendous advantage in the coming elections.
As Klehr and Radosh noted:

Senator McCarthy cynically used the Amerasia affair even though he was indifferent to the facts of the case. But so too did Senator Tydings, who preferred to find convenient scapegoats rather than be embarrassed by the truth.
Tydings, as chairman of the committee tasked with investigating communist infiltration of the State Department, instead used the committee to attack and discredit McCarthy. Its report was nakedly partisan. Tydings himself had strong personal and political reasons to see that the anti-communist issue was dead and buried before the 1950 election.

Yet the Tydings committee report is still used as conclusive evidence that McCarthy never had evidence for his charges. Hence, he was just a drunken demagogue stoking populst paranoia.

Note the legerdemain at work to maintain the narrative. McCarthy's crusade must be viewed through the lense of his political opportunism, personal faults, and tactical missteps. The political motives, personal interests, and repellant beliefs of his opponents are carefully excluded from the analysis.

Friday, December 29, 2023

McCarthy and his critics: No sauce for the gander

I've noted before that Joseph McCarthy's negative image has remained unchanged despite the flood of revelations about Soviet intelligence activities in the US. Further, that much of the damaging material on McCarthy focuses on his personal behavior and that of his staff, his pre-Senate career, and his aptitude as a television performer. Finally, that much of the “evidence” used to disparage the senator is of dubious value-- unsourced gossip, innuendo, and partisan hype.

Which supposedly adds up to something like this: The investigations were partisan exercises, not serious fact-finding. McCarthy was a Republican cat's-paw and a tool for the China Lobby. His popularity was fueled by bigotry and populist resentment. McCarthy, a lifelong liar and braggart, was not to be trusted. The messenger and the message could be rightly dismissed. Red scare. Witchhunt. Paranoid style. Anti-intellectualism. Case closed.

It is better to be approximately right than precisely wrong.
― Warren Buffett
But what if McCarthy was approximately right while his critics were wrong on both the big questions and exact details? That is one question that is studiously avoided in the mire of the journalism of personal destruction.

Another question this time relating to the narrative: What happens if we applied the “scrutinize the messengers; don't trust liars” rule to McCarthy's critics?


If McCarthy is untrustworthy because he exaggerated his war record, then what of his nemesis Edward R. Murrow? The doyen of CBS News and secular saint to journalists everywhere lied his education and experience as he scrambled for a toehold in the world of eastern media and NGOs.

Take the worst things said and written about McCarthy and he still looks angelic compared to his most persistent critic-- Drew Pearson. The discovery that he employed not one, but two Soviet assets should have prompted at least some rethinking about the Narrative. Then there is his collusion with Moscow to protect his brand and their operations. Surely Pearson's unfounded and libelous attacks on the anti-communist Secretary of Defense James Forrestal deserve examination. (Forrestal and McCarthy were polar opposites in nearly every respect. Practically the only things they had in common was a fierce opposition to Joe Stalin and sustained calumny at the hands of Drew Pearson.

Pearson cheated on his wives and cheated his business partner who helped launch “Washington Merry-Go-Round”. Pearson, a Quaker, took advantage of his patriotic partner who joined the army after Pearl Harbor. Robert Allen lost an arm; Drew Pearson gained a business.

Pearson's legman Jack Anderson admitted that he committed perjury to cover up his and Pearson's crimes in their Get McCarthy crusade. Yet Anderson's gossip-filled “biography” of the senator is still cited by writers today.

As is Richard Rovere's biography. What is not often mentioned is that Rovere – who covered McCarthy as the New Yorker's Washington correspondent – wrote for the CPUSA's New Masses during the 1930s. The Narrative demands that we trust this one-time Stalinist stooge to properly assess the extent of communist subversion and the possibilities of liberal cover-ups.


If McCarthy's critics were held to the same standard that they apply to the senator, then the melodramatic Good vs. Evil framing falls apart. And we cannot have that.

McCarthy must be portrayed as evil because he represented a threat to the newly empowered experts and the mediators of democracy.

For all the moral posturing and journalistic justifications, the treatment of McCarthy was simply liberals, left-wingers, and communists following the Munzenberg template.

Don't argue with them, Make them stink in the nose of the world. Make people curse and abominate them, Make them shudder with horror.
While claiming to uphold American values, McCarthy's enemies often resorted to Stalinist tactics.

During the 1950s the friends and supporters of McCarthy complained bitterly about the 'double-standard' employed by his liberal critics. In particular, they charged that the righteous people who condemned his name-callng were the same people who called him a Nazi, a jackal, and a thug; that the people who yelled loudest at his 'dirty' tactics were the same people who spread rumors of his alleged homosexuality and hired spies to infiltrate his office and dredge up material about the personal habits of his aides. Needless to say, the liberal press ignored these shameful and frequently illegal acts; they were too busy portraying the senator as an enemy of democractic institutions and free society.

There is a good bit of truth to this contention. McCarthy's critics could be hypocritical and cruel. Many viewed him as the new Hitler, a man to be stopped quickly and at all costs. The means were often irreleva

David M. Oshinsky, A Conspiracy So Immense: The World of Joe McCarthy

Mediated democracy and the temptations of Leninism

On the utility of “Fascist”

The essence of “McCarthyism”: The Administrative State strikes back

Friday, November 17, 2023

McCarthyism: More Philby parallels

All of the Cambridge spies worked to minimize and conceal their communist activity at university. For Maclean and Blunt it was as simple as brushing it off as youthful exuberance and naïve idealism. Kim Philby and Guy Burgess went so far as joining fascist and pro-Nazi organizations at the behest of their Soviet masters.

To be a good conspirator one had to be a chameleon.

As the case of Drew Pearson illustrates, Moscow was always willing to help a useful asset hide their true colors.

The Cambridge spies were successful, in large measure, because the British establishment was happy to trust them as they were “the right sort of people.” Their “explanations” were accepted without question and their past was never scrutinized.

Antony Percy:

The fatal misconception that leading officers in MI5 harboured, namely that communism in well-educated Britons was a mere affectation of no consequence, encouraged them to ignore the warning signs and trust such characters because of their obvious intelligence and savoir-faire.
As historian and some time intelligence officer Hugh Trevor-Roper put it:

I hasten to add that, although I myself knew of Philby’s communist past, it would never have occurred to me, at that time, to hold it against him. Indeed, I was rather cheered than depressed by this unusual recruitment. My own view, like that of most of my contemporaries, was that our superiors were lunatic in their anti-communism. Many of our friends had been, or had thought themselves, communists in the 1930s; and we were shocked that such persons should be debarred from public service on account of mere juvenile illusions which anyway they had now shed: for such illusions could not survive the shattering impact of Stalin’s Pact with Hitler in 1939.
The same thing happened in the US where Soviet agents like Alger Hiss and Harry Dexter White never lacked for establishment defenders.

Just something to keep in mind when reading anti-McCarthy polemics today.

For instance, this is Ronald Radosh attacking M. Stanton Evans for his pro-McCarthy Blacklisted by History:*

Consider his treatment of liberal editor James Wechsler. Evans acknowledges that calling Wechsler to testify was a “dubious move,” and that McCarthy “should never have had the editor before the committee.” But Wechsler was called and questioned, and McCarthy’s treatment of him reflects why so many regarded him as a bully and a demagogue. All one has to do is read the transcripts. You will not find them quoted in Evans’s book. What you will find is that McCarthy told the fierce anti-Communist editor that he had not really broken with the Communists, and was “serving them very, very actively.” This was preposterous, since the Communist Daily Worker regularly attacked Wechsler for being anti-Communist. McCarthy thought that was all a big ruse so that Wechsler’s New York Post readers would believe him when he attacked McCarthy in his own paper.
Note how Radosh accepts at face value (“fierce anti-Communist”) Wechsler's claim that he broke with the communists in the mid-1930s and became their committed opponent. No mention of the fact that the editor somehow managed to find it within himself to work along side outright Stalinists at The Nation and PM. Nor that the anti-McCarthy anti-communist worked side by side with communists and fellow travelers to bring down Martin Dies when his HUAC was uncovering Stalin's network in the 1940s.

As for the attacks by the communist press – please see the strange case of Drew Pearson.

Radosh, a Red Diaper baby and former leftist, shares much in common with the useful idiots who protected and promoted Philby, Burgess, and the other Soviet spies. There is the quick acceptance of the of claim to have broken with the Stalinists with no interest to see if it is really true. There is the same fear that the wrong sort of people are using the spy issue and are attacking the right kind (our kind) of people. There is, finally, the rather bizarre belief that the best people to root out communists are people who were once duped by the communists.

Antony Percy:

The voices and influence of those who recognised the starkness of the Communist threat best (Knight, Archer, Curry, and even Kell) were being drowned by those with leftist sympathies or who were too indulgent to the socialist cause.
Daniel J. Flynn cut to the heart of the issue:

While Whittaker Chambers, Sidney Hook, and James Burnham gained a level of respect as anticommunists, those anticommunists never foolish enough to have supported the Communists are almost uniformly portrayed as clumsy oafs whose zeal clouded their judgment. Another criterion that helps determine whether intellectuals’ anoint anti-Communists as heroes or goats involved the dichotomy between men of action and men of ideas. Intellectuals, naturally, favor the latter. From the sidelines, the anticommunist intellectuals were free from the mud and grime. But on the field, Pat McCarran, J. Edgar Hoover, and Joe McCarthy got dirty. The opposition’s game plan remained the same regardless of the adversary: declare a witch hunt, focus on inaccuracies, smear the accuser, and hubristically portray Communists as defenders of civil liberties.
* In the pages of National Review no less.

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Wednesday, October 25, 2023

McCarthyism: A Philby footnote

Interesting talk by the biographer of Soviet spy Guy Burgess.

Near the end of the video he addresses a key question about the fall of the Cambridge Ring: Why did they use Burgess to save Maclean when that meant Philby would be caught in the blowback?

Lownie put that question to a former KGB man who answered that it did not matter because the Soviet Union "had so many spies" in the west that Philby and Burgess were expendable.

Maybe that was just braggadocio from an old guy who worked for the side that lost. There is, however, no getting around the fact that the KGB seemed to toss away two valuable spies for no good reason.

As Verne Newton put it: "Moscow did not gamble with Philby's future. They did not even sacrifice it. They threw it away."

The key point, it seems to me, is that Philby, Burgess, and Maclean were British spies with access to American secrets. That should have made them especially valuable. Yet, there is no denying that Moscow treated them with a carelessness bordering on contempt.


Something else to ponder:

Robert Lamphere, the FBI agent who was central to exploiting the VENONA breakthrough, wrote this in his memoirs:

I must admit that I initially doubted that Philby was an active Soviet spy. I reasoned that a real Soviet agent would have worked harder at establushning closer relations with me and other key people; I understood that Philby had concentrated on the CIA, which was certainly a KGB target, but why hadn't he taken the opportunity to penetrate the FBI as well? Since Philby hadn't spent much time on us, I temporarily concluded that he must not have been an active spy.
Philby's indifference is particularly notable because he arrived in Washington a few months after Moscow lost a well-placed source within the DOJ who fed them valuable information about FBI counterintelligence (Judith Coplon).

One possibility is that they were not seen as valuable at Dzerzhinsky Square. Perhaps the paranoid Stalinists who ran the spy agencies deemed the Cambridge Ring too good to be true, i.e. double agents.

Another possibility is that the KGB and GRU actually did have many active sources in London and Washington-- so many that they could afford to lose Philby and Burgess just to help Maclean avoid interrogation.

If this is true it requires a radical revision of the McCarthy narrative.

The first draft of history declared that there was never a communist underground in Washington; the senator was a demagogue who launched a witch-hunt. The revised (current) narrative holds that there were communist agents but Harry S. Truman and John E. Hoover had smashed the spy rings. McCarthy is still a demagogue who launched a witch-hunt.

If Lownie's source is correct, then that narrative is wrong. Soviet intelligence still had assets in place and the government was not doing enough to root them out.


Thursday, July 27, 2023

The wilderness of mirrors and games journalists play

One easy trick to turn a partisan into an honest reporter

When collussion is part of building a brand

Winston Churchill called columnist Drew Pearson “the most colossal liar in the United States”. He was, for a time, the most influential journalist in America. He was an early and persistent critic of Sen. Joseph McCarthy. Pearson and his “leg man” Jack Anderson wrote much of the first draft of the history of McCarthyism.

Churchill had a point. Pearson lied about the targets of his muckraking (these also included Richard Nixon, Gen. Douglas MacArthur, Whittaker Chambers, and James Forrestal.) He lied about the Soviet spy on his staff.

Most intriguingly, he lied about his method and his relations with powerful politicins.

Pearson posed as an honest muckraker: the dauntless investigator rooting out corruption and wrong-doing. He was attacked by all sides because he did not play favorites. Joe McCarthy hated him, but so did Harry Truman.

It was only a pose – a carefully cultivated pose designed to fool the rubes.

Early in the Kennedy administration, Pearson explained to Pierre Salinger how he wanted to play the game:

I suggested that when the going got tough and I got too much hell from Republican editors, I would ask Kennedy a favor—namely, that he do to me what Harry Truman did: blast me. This would really set me up with the press. Salinger said that when the time was desperate to call on him.
Salinger was happy to play the game because he knew Pearson was on his team. The reporter was perfectly willing to let JFK know what question he woulld as at a news conference so the President could prepare a response.

In his diary, Pearson recorded a similar agreement with Khrushchev's son-in-law. The brave scourge of Joe McCarthy and James Forrestal needed to collude with Soviet apparatchiks to bolster his anti-communist credentials.

Did the Soviets play along with Pearson because they thought he was on their team? That the Soviets agreed to play the game shows that they viewed Pearson as a useful asset.

His value went beyond his attacks on anti-communists and cold warriors. The Mitrokhin archives show that the KGB saw Pearson as an effective conduit for disinformation.

The Soviets must surely have been pleased with Pearson in the aftermath of the JFK assassination. He did yeoman's work to divert attention from one inconvenient fact: the assassin was a committed communist. Initially he led the “Blame Dallas” chorus which tried to tie the murder to conservatives and anti-communists. Later he promoted baseless conspiracy theories about anti-Castro Cubans and Mafia hit men. In between he attacked the Secret Service and the FBI.

There is an intersting footnote to Pearson's machinations. In his scathing review of M. Stanton Evans's Blacklisted by History, Ronald Radosh brought up the case of James Wechsler to illustrate McCarthy's perfidity:

Consider his treatment of liberal editor James Wechsler. Evans acknowledges that calling Wechsler to testify was a “dubious move,” and that McCarthy “should never have had the editor before the committee.” But Wechsler was called and questioned, and McCarthy’s treatment of him reflects why so many regarded him as a bully and a demagogue. All one has to do is read the transcripts. You will not find them quoted in Evans’s book. What you will find is that McCarthy told the fierce anti-Communist editor that he had not really broken with the Communists, and was “serving them very, very actively.” This was preposterous, since the Communist Daily Worker regularly attacked Wechsler for being anti-Communist. McCarthy thought that was all a big ruse so that Wechsler’s New York Post readers would believe him when he attacked McCarthy in his own paper.
In light of the Soviet's entente with Pearson, McCarthy's charge was hardly perposterous. A regime capable of running the Trust and dozens of other deception operations is more than capable of attacking an asset in order to make said asset appear independent. Stephen Koch notes that the Munzenbeg propaganda machine was happy to make use of non-communists and "innocuous" anti-communists "to provide it with the necessary air of independence."

McCarthy may have been wrong. He was certainly too undisciplined and impetuous to present the question effectively. But it was hardly a "preposterous" idea.

Wednesday, June 28, 2023

Harry Gold, McCarthy and the “Pink Dentist”

Harry Gold's career as a Soviet spy offers a vital but little understood insight into the Army-McCarthy hearings and the fake narratives that surround it.

The approved narrative from the patron saint of experty intellectuals:

Real Communists were usually too insignificant to warrant lengthy pursuit; McCarthy did not trouble himself much over an obscure radical dentist promoted by the army when he could use the case to strike at the army itself, and beyond the army at the Eisenhower administration.
Decades later, the song remains the same. From Sam Tannenhaus:

The best McCarthy could do was dredge up a 'pink' dentist at a military base in New Jersey.
We are supposed to understand that a pink dentist like Irving Peress could never be a spy because he had no access to secrets. Therefore, his promotion was no reflection on Army security procedures.

That “understanding” relies on a profound ignorance of how the Soviets operated. Gold's career shows that a successful spy ring requires a whole network of operatives who themselves have no connection to vital secrets.

Soviet espionage networks in the United States would not have been able to function without the assistance of a number of dedicated support personnel whose role was as essential as that of the sources who actually took documents from the government offices in which they worked or communicated secrets to which they were privy.
John Earl Haynes, Harvey Klehr, and Alexander Vassiliev, Spies
Further, Peress's profession made him especially attractive to the Soviets.

According to NKVD defector Alexander Orlov “the Soviets favored particularly the use of the surgeries of 'trusted dentists and physicians', which were the preferred sites for really important meetings.” They offered privacy and a convenient place to photograph documents. They were the perfect covert hub for communications and support. M. Stanton Evans notes that both the Bentley and Chambers spy rings included dentists as central figures. A dentist was also key player among the agents who surrounded Robert Oppenheimer in California.
Weinstein, Abraham: New York dentist who provided dental services for many CPUSA officials involved in its clandestine work as well as for many government employees who spied for the Soviets. The FBI concluded that Winstein acted as a communications intermediary; that many of the dental visits were a cover for passing of information to Weinstein, who then passed the information on to another party. Elizabeth Bentley identified a contact of Jacob Golos's who was a dentist and whom she knew only as Charlie. From her description, the FBI concluded that Weinstein was Charlie.
Philip Rosenblitt, a Communist dentist in New York, was part of the courier system for delivering Soviet money to Soviet intelligence networks in the United States.
Haynes and Kleher, Venona

Peress the man was never the real issue. His promotion, however, was an important matter for investigation. It suggested that the US Army was still lacksadaisical or worse when it came to security and counter-intelligence. This point was lost in the theatrics and agit-prop surrounding the Army-McCarthy hearings.

It remains absent in most of the histories of McCarthyism. In order to demonize McCarthy the Narrative must obscure that one key point: The Senator was broadly correct about the failures of the Administrative State to combat Soviet spying and infiltration.

As Nicholas von Hoffman put it back in the 1990s:

Point by point, Joe McCarthy got it all wrong and yet was still closer to the truth than those who ridiculed him.


The Katyn Massacre: Conspiracies and cover-ups