The benign view of American Reds -- flat-out lies Truth: The record proves Hiss, the Rosenbergs, Harry Dexter White, Larry Duggan et al. were active Soviet espionage agents.

The Argument

February 23, 1997|By John E. Haynes | John E. Haynes,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Reading Sam Tanenhaus' "Whittaker Chambers: A Biography" (Random House, 610 pages, $35) left me with a question: How long can the American intelligentsia maintain a lie? How long before our academics and intellectuals begin to accept the truth about American communism and anticommunism in the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s?

Throughout the more than 40 years of the Cold War a public consensus supported a foreign policy opposing the expansion of Communist rule, while within American academic and intellectual circles a dramatic shift in attitudes occurred.

Since the late 1960s the dominant academic view has been that anticommunism met the one-time legal definition of obscenity: something utterly without redeeming social value.

Similarly, in the wider circles of opinion leaders, elite magazines and the higher media, a view developed that in the era 1945 to 1960 "the statute books groaned under several seasons of legislation designed to outlaw dissent." There "stalking their prey across the land, two-by-two, prowled the FBI, J. Edgar Hoover's G-men, hunters of radicalism" in a land that was "sweat-drenched in fear" of its own paranoid fantasies, to quote from one of the most influential books of this view, David Caute's "The Great Fear: The Anti-Communist Purge under Truman and Eisenhower" (Simon and Schuster, 1978).

This sinister portrait of America in the 1940s and 1950s rests on a series of widely accepted facts of what happened in that time: an idealistic New Dealer (Alger Hiss) thrown into prison on the perjured testimony of a sick anti-Communist fanatic (Whittaker Chambers); innocent progressives (the Rosenbergs) railroaded into the gas chamber on trumped-up charges of espionage; and dozens of blameless civil servants having their careers smashed by the smears of a "professional anti-Communist" (Elizabeth Bentley) with one (Harry Dexter White, a top Treasury official) killed by a heart attack brought on by Bentley's lies and another (Laurence Duggan, a senior diplomat) driven to suicide by more of Chambers' malignant falsehoods.

To these individual injustices it is asserted that the witch-hunters added unjustified legal harassment and suspicion of American Communists based on false beliefs that the Soviet Union secretly funded the American Communist Party and controlled its leadership.

The reigning intellectual consensus further holds that the idea that the American Communist Party had any significant link with Soviet espionage was false. To quote Caute again, he drove home the message that concern about Communist spying was a paranoid fantasy by placing in emphasized type the unequivocal statement "there is no documentation in the public record of a direct connection between the American Communist Party and espionage during the entire postwar period."

In one variation or another these premises of the nature of the "McCarthy" era remain embedded in contemporary history texts, are taught in classrooms, and treated as fact in films and television documentaries. Without exception, each one is false. And false not merely as a difference of judgment about murky and confused events, but flat-out, unambiguously, documentedly false.

Since 1991, many Soviet bloc archives as well as long-classified American records have been opened for research, releasing a stream of long-hidden documents. Encrypted cables between KGB officers in the United States and Moscow confirm the participation in Soviet espionage of Hiss, the Rosenbergs, White, Duggan,and scores of American Communists. The KGB cables offer nearly as complete a vindication of Elizabeth Bentley's charges as one could ever expect to see.

These records also show the American Communist Party was an auxiliary to Soviet espionage, recruiting concealed members inside the government for spying, furnishing safe houses, providing couriers for conveying orders to Soviet sources and transporting stolen documents, and running background investigations on targets of KGB interest.

The records of the Communist International in Moscow show that Soviet funding of the CPUSA was extraordinarily heavy, stretching over 69 years from payments in 1919 of more than $1 million to a 1988 payment of $3 million delivered in cash by a KGB agent to the head of the American Communist Party.

Confirming guilt

Despite the strong desire of many in the academic world to see their nightmarish view of America confirmed by vindicating Alger Hiss and Julius Rosenberg, the only comprehensive studies that have appeared have actually confirmed their guilt. With the publication of "Whittaker Chambers" there are now two thorough scholarly books on the Hiss-Chambers case. Tanenhaus' massive biography joins Allen Weinstein's earlier "Perjury: The Hiss-Chambers Case" (Alfred A. Knopf, 1978).

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