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.

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 witchhunt. 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 demagogoue who launched a withchunt.

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.

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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


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Wednesday, June 14, 2023

An unlikely hero

Harry Gold was a Philly chemist who worked as a courier and spy for Soviet intelligence for over a decade. He was central to the operations that sent atomic secrets from Los Alamos to Moscow.

He was a diligent and effective agent, yet he possessed neither the ideological fervor of the Rosenbergs nor the greed of Aldrich Ames.

Allen Hornblum notes in his biography of Gold that he was "one of the most denounced, slandered, and demonized figures in twentieth-century America."

The calumny heaped upon Gold during his life and long after his death was only partially due to his disloyalty and criminal acts. It had far more to do with his confession to those acts and his naming of others who had similarly served the Soviet Union. Harry Gold was the human tripwire that brought down a host of Americans who had spied for the Soviet Union during the 1930s and 1940s.

When confronted by the FBI, Gold quickly confessed and revealed everything he knew about the Soviet spy apparatus in America.

Much of the American Left despised Gold for that confession. For decades they portrayed him as a liar and neurotic fabulist as they sought to exonerate their sainted Rosenbergs.

Hornblum's biography corrects those slanders. The Harry Gold in this book comes across as decent and generous. What most impresses is his stoicism in the face of adversity. He owned up to his crimes, did his time without whining, and then did his best to rebuild his life after his parole.

Monday, May 01, 2023

McCarthy and History: Tainted sources and rotten fruit

The first draft of the history of McCarthyism was written by people whose own history has been ignored and covered-up.

Historian David Greenberg makes an interesting point about Watergate and the resurgence of anti-anti-communism in the 1970s:

Nixon's mendacity in Watergate and kindred crimes had the perverse effect of making all his previous victims seem virtuous -- even the scoundrels.
While Watergate helped rehabilitate Stalinists and traitors like Alger Hiss, the Rosenbergs, and Lillian Hellman, VENONA and the Soviet archives did nothing change the image of Joseph McCarthy.

The calcified narratives of McCarthyism are especially puzzling given the weak and corrupt sources which created it. The anti-McCarthy movement embraced lock-step Stalinists and actual Soviet spies. It then turned them into martyrs and victims of a “Red Scare”.

This smacks of desperation. But then the anti-McCarthy crusaders had good reason to be desperate.


Can you smear a real spy?

A striking aspect of our ossified “history” of McCarthyism is that the declassified documents do not just shed light on the senator and his targets. Perhaps even more interesting (and important) is what we have learned about the journalists and pundits who shaped the first draft of that history.

The one-time owner of the New Republic, Michael Straight, wrote a book about the Army-McCarthy hearings. Trial by Television appeared in the bibliographies of all the best and most fashionable books on the Red Scare and McCarthyism.

The book had a special piquancy because McCarthy had attacked Straight during the senator's investigation into Gustavo Duran who had married Straight's sister.

Duran entered the final and decisive confrontation. Members of the American embassy in London questioned his British friends, including the military historian Captain Basil Henry Liddell Hart, and Henry Walston, whose wife was a sister of Duran's wife. (So, too, was Michael Straight's wife-- McCarthy did not let pass the opportunity to smear the proprietor and editor of the New Republic .)
David Caute, The Great Fear: The Anti-Communist Purge Under Truman and Eisenhower
Then, in 1983, Michael Straight admitted that he had been a member of the infamous Cambridge spy ring.

That is, by any standard, quite the plot twist. Yet it made no discernible difference to the narrative.

Old habits die hard and much of journalism is little more than habitual pronouncements affirming the conventional wisdom.

The narrative, after all, “is controlled in the retelling of the story.”

BTW, McCarty was right about Duran as well.

Gustavo Duran "was a firmly committed Stalinist operative, serving the apparatus so flawlessly that he soon graduated to secret police work, in which, he quickly became a favored protege of the Soviet NKVD chief in Spain, Alexander Orlov, the man who, on Stalin's direct personal order, murdered Nin."
Stephen Koch, The Breaking Point: Hemingway, Dos Passons, and the Murder of Jose Robles


Cedric Belfrage was another self-proclaimed “victim” of McCarthyism.
But the case which most forcefully demonstrated the government's refusal to tolerate criticism from the far Left was that of Cedric Belfrage, cofounder of the ALP's National Guardian, a resident alien of British nationality who had served briefly as an Allied press officer in Germany and had been named by Elizabeth Bentley as a wartime Soviet 'courier'. In 1950 Belfrage had been summoned to Immigration Service headquarters, where he refused to answer questions concerning his writings, views and associations.
David Caute, The Great Fear: The Anti-Communist Purge Under Truman and Eisenhower

McCarthy ordered an immigration officer to be present when an alien of long standing took the Fifth Amendment. The alien was Cedric Belfrage, an author who wrote for Hollywood fan magazines, had been Sam Goldwyn's press agent, and who had traveled to the Soviet Union in 1936. After taking the Fifth, Belfrage was arrested on a deportation warrant, held at Ellis Island, and then deported to Great Britain.
Haynes Johnson, The Age of Anxiety: McCarthyism to Terrorism
Belfrage later wrote a book about his ordeal at the hands of paranoid Americans. When VENONA and Soviet documents revealed that he did, in fact, pass secrets to Moscow, it changed nothing in the minds of journalists and popular historians.

The Belfrage case also illustrates how government secrecy often puts traitors and bureaucrats in a tacit alliance. MI5 and MI6 were not keen to pursue Belfrage because it would have revealed clandestine British activities before Pearl Harbor.

Cedric Belfrage, the WW2 spy Britain was embarrassed to pursue
Further, after the embarrassment of Burgess and Maclean's escape, the intelligence bureaucrats were not anxious to air additional dirty laundry.


Nigel West describes, in his study of MI6 chiefs At Her Majesty’s Secret Service, how senior MI6 officers were concerned that the pursuit of moles might harm the chances of getting their gongs.
Drew Pearson's syndicated column was a mish-mash of political gossip, official leaks masquerading as investigative journalism, and wild invective aimed at his long list of enemies. He cut corners, relied on bribery and blackmail, and was rarely troubled by the need to verify or fact-check a juicy and useful “scoop”. Yet, in the Red Scare narrative, he is a hero because he attacked McCarthy early and often.

Anti-McCarthyism is the left-wing's St. Crispin day. Bashing Joe gentled their condition “be they ne'er so vile”.

The Senator struck back by pointing out Pearson employed as a “leg man” one David Karr who had formerly worked for the New Masses-- the newspaper of the CPUSA. Pearson dismissed this as a youthful indiscretion of a kid who was eager to gain experience as a sportwriter.

Historians and journalists trusted the muckraker and chalked up another example of slander by McCarthy.

We now know that not only was Karr literally a card-carrying member of the CPUSA, but that he also had a history of contacts with Soviet intelligence. Those contacts went on for decades after Pearson vouched for his probity and loyalty.

Drew Pearson also represents a key faction of the anti-McCarthy cabal. Most of the Senator's opponents took great pains to present themselves as dedicated anti-communists. They maintained that they were opposed McCarthy because he was reckless, crude, and attacked innocent people. They insisted that people like themselves were better anti-communists because they were wiser and more thoughtful than the bumptious senator from Appleton, Wisconsin.

Historians have accepted their self-appraisal with little skepticism. It is probably worth re-evaluating their assessment.


Sunday, April 09, 2023

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

Friday, April 07, 2023

"Wood, and nails, and colored eggs"

First Posted 22 March 2005 ​

This passage from Martin Bell's remarkable little book The Way of the Wolf: The Gospel in New Images seems especially timely this Easter season.

God raised Jesus from the dead to the end that we should be clear-once and for all-that there is nothing more important than being human. Our lives have eternal significance. And no one-absolutely no one-is expendable.

Colored Eggs

Some human beings are fortunate enough to be able to color eggs on Easter. If you have a pair of hands to hold the eggs, or if you are fortunate enough to be able to see the brilliant colors, then you are twice blessed.

This Easter some of us cannot hold the eggs, others of us cannot see the colors, many of us are unable to move at all-and so it will be necessary to color the eggs in our hearts.

This Easter there is a hydrocephalic child lying very still in a hospital bed nearby with a head the size of his pillow and vacant, unmoving eyes, and he will not be able to color Easter eggs, and he will not be able to color Easter eggs in his heart, and so God will have to color eggs for him.

And God will color eggs for him. You can bet your life and the life of the created universe on that.

At the cross of Calvary God reconsecrated and sanctified wood and nails and absurdity and helplessness to be continuing vehicles of his love. And then he simply raised Jesus from the dead. And they both went home and colored eggs

Saturday, February 18, 2023

McCarthyism: Historiography frozen in time

When Facts cannot overcome the narrative

In his (very good) biography of Sen. McCarthy (1982), Thomas C. Reeves summed up the verdict of history:

Perhaps no other figure has been portrayed so consistently as the essence of evil. He is our King John.
Forty years later this remains largely true. Despite all the revelations about Soviet espionage and subversion, McCarthy remains a litmus test for historians and journalists alike. Even scholars who explore the communist's secret war against America usually conclude with a ritualistic declaration that these disclosures do not prove that McCarthy was right or mitigate the evil that was McCarthyism.

To be anti-McCarthy is part of the catechism of faith that one must proclaim in order to be accepted in academia or “prestige journalism”.

Ann Coulter:

McCarthyism is one of the markers on the left's Via Dolorossa. It is their slavery, their gulag, their potato famine. Otherwise, liberals would just be geeks from Manhattan and Hollywood.
And what great evils did McCarthy perpetrate to become this linchpin of liberal faith?

Did he imprison thousands of American citizens who had committed no crime?

No – that was FDR and he remains a liberal saint in good standing.

Did he enforce segregation in federal employment and do nothing during the rise of the second KKK?

That was Woodrow Wilson. Again-- a liberal icon.

After all the moaning and wailing, the verdict ends up being anti-climatic:

He was not a would-be dictator. He did not threaten our constitutional system, but he did hurt many who lived under it.
David Oshinsky, A Conspiracy So Immense
How did the senator hurt them? He questioned their loyalty, honesty, and/or competence.

Oddly enough, that standard was never applied to Adam Schiff and the other Russian hoaxers.

Historical black holes: When Facts cannot overcome the narrative

Only a handful of historical figures get the McCarthy treatment. Usually, historians want to present a measured, nuanced view of any prominent figure. Only a few receive unalloyed opprobrium.

Like McCarthy, Gen. Douglas MacArthur has wound up in that category. He is routinely included on lists of the “worst generals” of WWII or the “most over-rated generals” American history.

Both men's historical standing is impervious to revision. Other figures, Ulysses Grant, for example, see their image rise or fall with changing mores and unsealed archives. For the two Macs reappraisal is treated as heresy.

Another similarity is that the enduring reputation is heavily based on their personality flaws as conveyed by journalists and enemies. Real accomplishments are treated almost as an afterthought while warmed-over gossip takes center stage. The Battle of the Bismarck Sea  becomes less a smashing victory and, instead, is an example of MacArthur's PR mania. Soviet spies in the White House and the Manhattan Project are less important than the denigration of Adlai Stevenson.


Wednesday, February 01, 2023

McCarthy and the intellectuals: Not that innocent

In the Standard Received Narrative of McCarthyism, the junior senator from Wisconsin did incalculable damage to American civil liberties. His wild charges, we are informed, cast a pall over our intellectual life. The best minds of a generation were hounded and blacklisted for uttering unpopular truths, for their youthful idealism, for their naivety in choosing friends and associates.

And it was all for nothing. True Communists were rare and even they were never a real threat to America.

Except that is not the way it was.

Robert Warshow:

For the intellectual, however, the Communist movement was the fact of central importance; the New Deal remained an external phenomenon, part of that 'larger' world of American public life from which he had long seperated himself-- he might 'support' the New Deal (as later on, perhaps, he 'supported' the war), but he never identified himself with it. One way or another, he did identify himself with the Communist movement.
The 30s intellectuals were anything but naïve.

Robert Conquest:

One of the things that gave even Stalinism its prestige in the west, even (or especially) among those who recognized that its methods were immensely ruthless, was the abstract, utoptian notion that there was a certain horrible grandeur in what was going on. Men of ideas, who had profoundly considered the laws of history, were creating a new society and taking upon themselves the guilt of the necessary merciless action.
Nor were they drawn into the Stalinist orbit because they were pacific do-gooders.

Tony Judt:

Western intellectual enthusiasm for communism peaked not in the time of 'goulash communism' or 'socialism with a human face,' but rather at the moments of the regime's worst cruelties: 1935-1939 and 1944-1956. Writers and professors and teachers and trade unionists admired and loved Stalin not in spite of his faults, but because of them. It was when he was murdering people on an industrial scale, when the show trials were displaying Communism at its most theatrically macabre, that men and women were most seduced by the man and his cult. Likewise the cult of Mao in the West.
Noel Annan:
The poets of the thirties were intoxicated with the idea of violence. You could not be sincere unless you were prepared to have blood on your hands. For Day Lewis it was the hour of the knife, for Spender light was to be brought to life by bringing death to the age-long exploiters. 'We're much ruder,' boasted Day Lewis writing to his scavenger press baron, 'and we're learning to shoot.'
Donald Rayfield
Chekisty and poets were drawn to each other like stoats and rabbits-- often with fatal consequences for the latter. They found common ground: the need for fame, an image of themselves as crusaders, creative frustration, membership of a vanguard, scorn for the bourgeoisie, an inability to discuss their work with common mortals. There was an easily bridged gap between between the symbolist poet who aimed to epater le bourgeois and the checkist who stood the bourgeois up against the wall.
Owen Lattimore, one of McCarthy's first “victims” – he was, really, he wrote a book about it – was so concerned about civil liberties that he defended the Moscow show trials and praised conditions in the Soviet Gulags.

Hemingway did not become the darling of the intellectual Left until he went to Spain and befriended one of Stalin's willing executioners. When he told Dos Passos in Madrid, “Civil liberties, shit. Are you with us or against us” he spoke for the large numbers of American intellectuals.

Dos Passos, who really did care about liberty and the dignity of man, saw his literary reputation destroyed and his character maligned because he preferred to think for himself rather than let Stalin do it for him.

He was the exception.

In the 1930s to be an intellectual was to be on the Left, and to be on the Left it was necessary to be Stalin-friendly if not an outright Stalinist. One might not support the party line in public, but one never opposed it publicly. Dos Passos dared to do it, and paid the price.

Many of the journals that wailed about McCarthy in the 1950s joined in the politically motivated “literary execution” of Dos Passos in the 1930s.

Intellectual life, for the intellectuals shaped by the 1930s was defined by willful blindness.

Richard Wright:
They denounced books they had never read, people they had never known, ideas they could never understand, and doctrines they could not pronounce.
Edward Dmytryk:

I found out that I couldn't read a book by Koestler because he was an ex-Communist. I remember saying to Adrian [Scott] 'I've been reading a very good book.' He said 'What?' I said, 'Koestler's Darknes at Noon.' He said, 'Oh my God! Don't tell anybody that!' I said, 'What do you mean?' He said, 'He's an ex-Communist-- you're not supposed to read him!

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Thursday, January 19, 2023

McCarthy and the New Deal: Target-rich environment

In his essay, Irving Kristol chides Sen. Joseph McCarthy for erasing the distinction between liberals and Soviet agents – of treating every “New Dealer as being by nature an embryonic Communist.” McCarthy and other anti-communists deserve to be called to account for their recklessness when they fail to distinguish between their political opponents and communist traitors. But we must also note that in the years since the “Red Scare” an equally wrong-headed idea has taken hold: that McCarthy, et. al. had no reason to criticize the FDR/HST administrations and had no evidence to back any of their charges.

In 1940, FDR himself told Martin Dies of the newly reconstituted House Committee on UnAmerican Activities:

I do not agree with you. I do not regard the Communists as any present or future threat to our country. In fact, I look upon Russia as our strongest ally in the years to come. As I told you when you began your investigation, you should confine yourself to Nazis and Fascists. While I do not believe in Communism, Russia is far better off and the world is safer with Russia under Communism than under the tsars. Stalin is a great leader, and although I deplore some of his methods, it is the only way he can safeguard his government.
Gary Kerr, A Death in Washington
This attitude permeated his administration and even his family. Eleanor, for example, intervened in 1944 to prevent the deportation of Raissa Browder – the Russian-born wife of the head of the CPUSA and a Stalinist operative in her own right. Son James happily rubbed shoulders with communists in Hollywood and China.

FDR and his administration actively covered up the Soviet's responsibility for the Katyn Massacre. The president himself colluded with Stalin to hide from the voters that the dictator was to have a free hand in post-war Poland.

It must be said that when McCarthy accused the New Dealers of being “soft on communism” he did not know the half of it. The VENONA files were still top secret. The soviet documents were still locked away in Moscow.

That's the thing that is often overlooked in the historiography of McCarthyism. The senator may have selected the wrong targets, but he was addressing a real problem. His critics, on the other hand, often defended the wrong targets and denied that there was or ever had been a real problem.


Saturday, January 14, 2023

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

In the March, 1952 issue of Commentary magazine, Irving Kristol gave the best explanation for the continued appeal of Joseph McCarthy and his anti-communist investigations.

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.
“'Civil Liberties,' 1952—A Study in Confusion”

The American people had good reason to distrust the spokespeople for American liberalism. By 1952 there was plenty of evidence that communists agents had operated in the heart of government for two decades. The testimony of Krivitsky, Chambers, Gitlow, Gouzenko, and Bentley had laid it all bare. Yet liberal leaders and ex-New Dealers continued to stridently deny this manifest truth.

Kristol pointed out that by denying the obvious, those leaders were helping to make McCarthy's case for him.

Mr. Biddle, like Mr. Barth, refuses to admit what is now apparent: that a generation of earnest reformers who helped give this country a New Deal should find themselves in retrospect stained with the guilt of having lent aid and comfort to Stalinist tyranny. This is, to be sure, a truth of hindsight, an easy truth. But it is the truth nonetheless, and might as well be owned up to. If American liberalism is not willing to discriminate between its achievements and its sins, it only disarms itself before Senator McCarthy, who is eager to have it appear that its achievements are its sins.
The rise of Joe McCarthy was propelled, in large part, by the refusal of progressives and New Dealers to admit to any mistakes. Having claimed that social scientists and academic experts were better guides than the Founding Fathers, they were now revealed to be inept at the most important obligations of government.

In short, McCarthy and other congressional investigators were an existential threat to their public standing and newly acquired power.

Stephen Koch:

Any very public housecleaning of the Washington penetrations would have handed the populist right an all-too-powerful blunt instrument for attacking Yalta, containment, and their own position in power.
Double Lives

Why bureaucracies fail (II): Can experts admit to mistakes?

Hoover, McCarthyism, and the FBI