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.
As historian and some time intelligence officer Hugh Trevor-Roper put it:
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.
The same thing happened in the US where Soviet agents like Alger Hiss and Harry Dexter White never lacked for establishment defenders.
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.
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:*
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.
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.
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.
Daniel J. Flynn cut to the heart of the issue:
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.
* In the pages of National Review no less.
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.