Moral Cretinism Part VII
The CPUSA, Stalin and Espionage
A Book Review
Ideological struggles and Academic one upmanship is as old as, well, academia and no doubt will exist as long as man exists a recent example of this is the victory dance academic one upmanship performed after the fall of Communism.
Or to give a more particular example the case of spying for the Soviet Union and the American Communist party. Case in point the book In Denial by John Earl Haynes and Harvey Klehr.1 In the book our heroes, (Because that is how they see themselves), pat themselves on the back and do a victory dance.
Now they do have a point and in fact much more than a mere point. It is a fact that a certain section of American Academia and some, so-called leftists, demonstrated amazing blindness to reality by a cavalier dismissal of claims that members of the American Communist party were involved in espionage and the party was basically a toadying shill for the Soviet Union. Frankly those Academics (?) deserve being dumped on. The fact that some still refuse to face reality is very annoying.
For example in the book our authors detail how, in the past, evidence that the Rosenbergs were involved in spying for the Soviet Union was ignored, greeted by cries of perjury and forgery and government frame-up and not evaluated or taken into account.
An excellent example given by our authors is the entry in the American National Biography published in 1999, (The full series is 24 volumes).2 The entry on the Rosenbergs is by a Prof. Norman Markowitz who was (is?) a member of the Communist Party of the United States, or CPUSA. An odd choice the authors say and I agree. In the article Prof. Markowitz rejects the best modern scholarship about the Rosenberg case which concludes that they were indeed guilty of espionage and further rejects both the Venona cables and the large amount of data from the former Soviet Union that indicates that they were indeed spies! Perhaps the most egregious piece of double talk is Prof. Markowitz’s praise of Walter and Miriam Schneir’s Invitation to an Inquest,3 which Prof. Markowitz proclaims shows that the Rosenbergs were innocent of spying. Well it is an omission amounting to wilful distortion to omit to mention that in 1995 on the basis of the newly released Venona cables the Schneir's concluded that the Rosenbergs had in fact been involved in spying. Prof. Markowitz would have known that but kept that out of his entry for the purpose of making political points. It is in fact disgusting and contemptible.3
Also of great interest is the continual refusal of so many to accept that the CPUSA was a Soviet tool used to advance Soviet interests and subservient to Moscow and how the leadership of the CPUSA accepted this and worked for Soviet aims. Thus we learn that accusations that the CPUSA received significant funds from the Soviet Union were in fact true. We learn that the notion still accepted by many, that the CPUSA was “independent” of Moscow are so much nonsense that the organization was slavishly subordinate to Moscow and to a large extent controlled by it are in fact true.4
Instead we read in what the authors call the “revisionist” literature endless recitations CPUSA involvement in various social issues, from race-relations to folk music. We have detailed analysis of CPUSA involvement with various groups and a portrayal of the CPUSA as a group of idealists who advanced social justice issues. Labelling this as to a large extent a crock is correct. No doubt many were attracted to the CPUSA for reasons of idealism and advancing social justice. It would be indeed unfair to deny that the CPUSA was involved in good and worthwhile ventures and causes. (Here a critique; the authors do in fact seem to deny this and paint the party and its member in a shade of the blackest black.) However, and it is a big however, the party supported one of the most vile tyrannies of all time, Stalin’s Soviet Union, and worked to establish a similar tyranny in the USA. In this respect they were little different from Nazis. Further during the 1930’s and forties the CPUSA was indeed used, with the knowledge of its leadership, by the Soviets has a recruiting ground for spies. Several hundred it seems. Further many of those people seemed to have had little problem spying for the Soviets. Their American patriotism seems to have been remarkably flexible. No doubt the great majority rationalized it has not really treason because they were working for the “real” interests of mankind, and the USA, and advancing the cause of “peace” and human “progress”. That these are and were rationalizations of support for what was at the time, self evidently, a vicious brutal tyranny is clear. In other words we are talking here about true believing fanatics, who were oblivious to evidence.
An example of just how clueless these people were is provided in the book. After our authors detail how subordinate the CPUSA was to Moscow, how it supported over and over again the tyranny of the Soviet Union from the purges to the end of the Prague spring in 1968. For example they refer to long time Communist member Herbert Aphtheker, (1915-2003) an historian of real merit, (generally when he wrote about 19th century America), however he also wrote works of tendentious propaganda. He excused the tyranny of North Korea, justified the crushing of Hungary in 1956, denied the existence of Soviet anti-Semitism and justified the crushing Czechoslovakia in 1968. In short he was for much of his life a servile apologist for tyranny.5
This servile attitude carried over in much else and of course it turns out to be true that the Soviet Secret Services, both the civilian and military sides used the CPUSA party to recruit spies in order to get secrets and things of possible military, industrial and financial use for Stalin’s Russia. And at the same time members and leaders who displeased their Stalinist masters in Moscow would be dismissed from the CPUSA.
Thus although, as I mentioned above, Communists were involved in much work that can be labelled good, they were doing it in order to further the establishment of a Soviet styled tyranny, they simply did not recognize the Soviet Union in their doublethinkplusgood view of it as a tyranny but has an advanced “free” state, and decided that slavery was freedom. (And black was white no doubt.) Thus those who joined the CPUSA out of idealistic notions or ideas about working for justice in America were in effect being used. Certainly the gyrations that the CPUSA went to excuse atrocities like the Slansky trial and judicial murders in Czechoslovakia are stomach turning along with the way they used the Rosenberg case to distract attention from these farcical show trials.6
Our two authors also have a good time showing how even now all sorts of writers and historians, prevaricate, distort and even lie to minimize both the espionage and the subservience to Moscow. The example cited above concerning the Rosenbergs is just one of many examples.
However the book is marred by several flaws. I’ve already mentioned that they paint the CPUSA in very black hues and neglect that so many came to the party out of good motives and that members of the party did good things. However I agree that none of this excuses the way the CPUSA was and allowed itself to be used for espionage purposes or the brainless party members who did in fact spy, neither does it excuse the shameless and fanatical excuse mongering and outright lying in support of or in denial of Communist atrocities. The authors quite rightly point out that knowledge, and extensive documentation and evidence of mass Soviet atrocities, under Stalin, (Also Lenin) was available in the 1920s 30s and 40s. They quite reasonably quote Eric Forner’s comment that among his “Old Left”, (Generally short for Communist), friends that Stalin’s crimes had been discussed since 1956. (Several of Foner’s relatives, including his father, were members of the CPUSA.) Our author's are right in pointing out that this indicates a certain level of subservience to Moscow. Why? Because that is the year Khrushchev revealed Stalin’s crimes in his so-called “Secret Speech”.7 So it was ok to talk about Stalin’s crimes when the higher ups in the Soviet Union said it could be discussed. Of course vast amounts of information, documentation was available before hand but it was ignored and stayed ignored until permission was given to pay attention.
Another annoying problem is that the authors are anxious to score points, to crow in victory and to celebrate how right they are and wrong their enemies are. No I am not overdrawing the case. They do seem to consider those who disagree with them enemies and Soviet apologists. It is frankly quite childish at times. At the same time they frankly whine about how they are opposed by a monolithic academic establishment that opposes their findings. In other words they see themselves as victims of a monolithic ideologically driven establishment which they are heroically fighting. They conveniently ignore any evidence indicating that the establishment is not quite so monolithic.8
Further they engage in some pretty unpleasant distortion of their own. For example they label the historian David Caute an apologist, rake him over the coals for a comment he made in 1977 which they over interpret. The comment simply says that there is no documentation in the public record, as of 1977, establishing a link between the CPUSA and espionage. This comment was in my opinion defensible in 1977 and hardly a faux pas. What David Caute thinks now would be worth looking into but our authors don't seem to be interested. Oh and in their efforts to defame David Caute they forget that he wrote an major important work tearing apart Communists and so-called “Fellow Travellers”, that was quite hated by Communists when it was published.9
Also their handling of complaints concerning Allen Weinstein’s book Perjury,10 are not handled well. Allen Weinstein had conducted extensive in interviews with various people in the CPUSA which served as the source for many of his conclusions. Victor Navasky checked with many of the interview subjects of whom many disputed they had said X to Mr. Weinstein. Mr. Weinstein asserted that they had said X. When Mr. Navasky asked to see the interviews and certain other documents Mr. Weinstein at first agreed, then when Mr. Navasky showed up on the agreed upon date he was informed that Mr. Weinstein had changed his mind. That was in 1978 it is now 2011 and Mr. Weinstein continues to deny access to these documents to scholars unless they are of the same mindset has he is concerning the CPUSA and Alger Hiss, (Mr. Weinstein thinks he is guilty), and even so access is severely limited.11
Now by any stretch of the imagination this should make one question Mr. Weinstein’s scholarly credibility in that he husbands his sources so tightly. What is Haynes et al’s response to all this? Why absolute silence! Further they dismiss in a footnote as an “error” Mr. Weinstein made in confusing a Sam Krieger with another person.12 Our authors treat the whole thing as minor. It was not. Mr. Weinstein made statements concerning Sam Krieger which were in fact libellous. Mr. Kreiger sued Mr. Weinstein and his lawyers made a big song and dance about their massive supporting evidence. They utterly failed to produce it. And in fact rather than produce it settled by agreeing to remove the libellous comments and correct the book. Haynes et al treat this with silence.13 Further Mr. Weinstein’s favourable treatment by the historical “establishment” and the relentless excuse mongering for him concealing his evidence rather damages our author’s notion that the “establishment” is “revisionistic”.
Further Haynes et al treat seriously Mr. Weinstein buying access to the KGB archive in Moscow where he had a Mr. Vassiliev research and copy documents and translate them. Mr. Weinstein cannot read Russian and so the documents are translations from the Russian by Mr. Vassiliev. The KGB has since closed access to its archives so no one was or is able to check the documents. One doesn’t have to be a Soviet apologist to find this rather disturbing and dubious. But not our authors.14
A related matter in that our authors engage in an attack on historical “revisionists”, for getting the Soviet Union wrong. They skewer people like Arch J. Getty, Hough, Cohn and others and paint them with the brush of being apologists for the Soviet Union and by obvious implication enemies of America. It is largely gratuitous and beside the point except for the authors to crow “We were right!”. Of course it is and remains easy for modern day scholars to find errors in their works and certainly the very strong tendency for many revisionists to try to “normalize” the Soviet Union and get away from the totalitarian model of Soviet society and history did lead to some truly grotesque results. Arch J. Getty’s Origins of the Great Purges,15 is full of some supremely embarrassing stuff, outrageously downplays the number of victims and interprets the event in a way that can only be described has wilfully perverse. For example Stalin is described as a “moderate”!
However this one-sided portrayal of the “revisionists” does not describe them all by a long shot and further in the case of Arch J. Getty the man has produced some interesting and important work, which even our authors acknowledge and has significantly backed away from his rather outrageous notions. However it appears our authors are still fighting the battle against “godless Communism”, and all sorts of tactics fair or foul are warranted.
Among the foul tactics is a comment that Noam Chomsky “praised” the research of a Holocaust denier. This foul attack is footnoted to a worthless hatchet job.16 But then our authors make the following comment:
(Most revisionists hated Yeltsin for his role in defeating the hard-line Communist coup against Gorbachev and ending Soviet rule.)17
The comment is pure agit-prop and worthy only of contempt. The fact that the authors sink so low has to write this piece of drivel, for which they provide absolutely NO evidence, says a lot about their biases.
So is the book fatally damaged by our author’s obvious biases and even distortions? Well no. The fact is the CPUSA and many of its members deserve this type of hatchet treatment and despite its flaws the book is in fact factually correct enough. Yes the CPUSA functioned as an arm of Soviet Imperialism. Yes the CPUSA provided lots of spies for the Soviet Union and the CPUSA leadership went along with that. Yes a large section of the historical profession stuck its head in the sand about the CPUSA and espionage and continues to do so. Yes both the Rosenbergs and Hiss were spies.
Finally our authors at the end of the book provide a list of 141 Americans,18 largely of Finnish descent and members of the CPUSA, who were murdered during the purges. They had gone to the Soviet Union to help build, what they thought was a better world. Instead they were accused of being spies and murdered en mass. It appears that hundreds were killed. Such was their reward for believing and working towards what they thought was a better future from a system that was in fact brutal and in the end anti-human and unsustainable. The subservient silence of the CPUSA and its true believing members to this atrocity speaks volumes. In their doublethink minds it went down the memory hole and that was no doubt doubleplusgood. That the CPUSA could swallow everything from the collectivization famine to the purges, the Nazi-Soviet Pact, to even the Soviet state murdering CPUSA party members, makes it entirely reasonable that some of their members could accept doing espionage for the Soviets and in effect engage in treason.
1. Encounter Books, New York, 2003. The authors also published several books of documents concerning the CPUSA, such as The Secret World of American Communism, another co-author is Firsov, Fridrikh Igorevich, Yale University Press, New Haven CT, 1995, and Venona: Decoding Soviet Espionage in America, Yale University Press, New Haven CT, 1999. Those books give in detail evidence concerning both the subordination of the CPUSA and the involvement of the CPUSA and its members in espionage for the Soviet Union. See also Haynes, John Earl, Anderson, Kyrill M., The Soviet World of American Communism, Yale University Press, New Haven CT, 1998.
2. Haynes et al, 2003, pp. 104-106.
3. See The Rosenberg File, Second Edition, Radosh, Ronald, Milton, Joyce, Yale University Press, New York, 1997, pp. ix-x, Haynes et al, pp. 198-201, Schneir, Walter, & Schneir, Miriam, Cryptic Answers, The Nation, August 14/21, 1995, pp. 152-153 and Invitation to an Inquest, Penguin, Baltimore, 1973.
4. Haynes at al, 2003, pp. 68-70.
5. IBID, pp. 40-42. The disgusting books and pamphlets justifying Soviet tyranny and indicating a servile, “Big Brother is always Right!”, attitude are: The Truth about the Korean War, in Masses and Mainstream, (The CPUSA magazine), August, 1950, The Truth about Hungary, Mainstream Pub., New York, 1957, The Fraud of “Soviet Anti-Semitism”, Current Book Distributors, Sydney, 1963, Czechoslovakia and Counter Revolution: Why the Socialist Countries Intervened, New Outlook Pub., New York, 1969.
6. Radosh, pp.347-360.
7. Haynes et al, 2003, p. 38.
8. IBID, pp. 227-233.
9. Caute, David, The Fellow Travellers, Second Edition, Yale University Press, New Haven CT, 1988. (Original 1973).
10. Knopf, New York, 1978.
11. See Wiener, Jon, Historians in Trouble, The New Press, New York, 2005, pp. 31-57. I should point out that Alger Hiss was almost certainly a Soviet spy in the 1930’s and therefore was indeed guilty of perjury. Haynes et al’s discussion of the case and the Venona cables make that quite clear. Haynes et al, 2003, pp. 141-162. See also Weinstein, Allen, Vassiliev, Alexander, The Haunted Wood, Modern Library, New York, 2000.
12 Haynes et al, 2003, p. 142.
13. Wiener, pp. 43-45.
14. Weiner, pp. 33-36. Mr. Vassiliev has also been critical of Mr. Weinstein. A fact not mentioned by our authors. Haynes et al, 2003, pp. 147-152.
15. Cambridge University Press, New York, 1985. Haynes et al, 2003, pp. 14-27.
16. Haynes et al, 2003, p. 13, 250.
17. IBID, p. 74.
18. IBID, pp. 235-247.