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An Essay on Historical Writing on Domestic Communism

and Anti-Communism

By John Earl Haynes


[A edited and modified version of this essay appeared as  

"The Cold War Debate Continues:

A Traditionalist Looks at Historical Writing on

Domestic Communism and Anti-Communism"

 in The Journal of Cold War Studies 2,1 (Winter 2000)]


The domestic side of the Cold War has been a contentious area of scholarly debate. And the most sensitive part has been the history of the Communist Party USA (CPUSA) and the inextricably linked issue of domestic anticommunism. One symptom of the strong emotions these issues still raise and the fear that the intellectual status quo will be upset appeared in a 1998 editorial reprimand of traditionalist scholars by the nation’s leading newspaper, the New York Times. The editorial, entitled "Revisionist McCarthyism," thundered that America should "beware the rehabilitation of Joseph McCarthy" and denounced "a number of American scholars" -- the editorial mentioned no names -- who "armed with audacity and new archival information . . . would like to rewrite the historical verdict on Senator McCarthy and McCarthyism."[1] The strange aspect of this incident was that the likely targets of the editorial had made no attempt to rewrite the verdict on McCarthy. In a joint response, Ronald Radosh, Harvey Klehr, and this author noted that the new evidence on the CPUSA and espionage offered no vindication of McCarthy, stating:


In The Secret World of American Communism, two of us stated that "[i]n McCarthy's hands, anticommunism was a partisan weapon used to implicate the New Deal, liberals, and the Democratic Party in treason. Using evidence that was exaggerated, distorted, and in some cases utterly false, [McCarthy] accused hundreds of individuals of Communist activity, recklessly mixing the innocent with the assuredly guilty when it served his political purposes." And, in The Amerasia Spy Case, two of us made the point that "precisely because Senator McCarthy was reckless and made false charges, actual Communists who engaged in and contemplated espionage sought to claim the status of victims."[2]


A year after its editorial, the Times carried a second piece conveying the message that debate should end. The New York Times Sunday Magazine rarely carries articles of any length about scholarly debates, but in November 1999 it devoted a lengthy cover story (embellished with eight color photographs, two of them full page) to a historical argument. The essay, entitled "Cold War Without End," had a number of themes, but predominant was a world-weary complaint that it did not want to hear any more on the subject, judging that the issue chiefly interested only Jews concerned about "acceptance and assimilation" and certain persons with "unresolved feelings of personal betrayal" as well as "the Oedipal conflicts of red-diaper babies," all of whom had failed to "process the news that the war is over."[3]

The Cold War on the ground is over and the apocalyptic threat of a civilization-destroying nuclear world war has receded into the shadows. The Soviet Union is no more, and Communists and communism, although not gone, are going. But communism and the Cold War in history are far from over. This past century has seen war, revolution, mass murder, human butchery, terror, and cruelty on an extraordinary scale. Making historical sense of this appalling phenomenon rightly will be a major preoccupation of scholars in the coming decades. Communism and anticommunism played central roles in that ghastly century, and frantic calls from those content with the existing academic consensus that "it is time to move on"[4] or a variant denouncing historians who are "too zealous in setting the record straight"[5] likely will be ignored. This essay will review the historiography of the discussion to this time.

The forty years that followed the founding of the CPUSA in 1919 produced much polemical and journalistic writing, some of high quality and enduring value, but little scholarly history. Starting in the late 1950s, however, scholarly examination began and grew slowly until the late 1970s. At that point a huge increase in publication occurred and continues. The 1987 Communism and Anti-Communism in the United States: An Annotated Guide to Historical Writings listed hundreds of books, articles and dissertation, 2,087 entries in all. If a new edition were prepared today, it would contain twice as many citations.[6] In a literature as vast as this generalizations are subject to numerous qualifications and exceptions. That caveat stated, one can discern four broad waves of scholarship.

The First Wave

The late 1950s and early 1960s produced the first substantial volume of scholarly studies. The ten books of the "Communism in American Life" series commissioned by the Fund for the Republic embodied both the strengths and weaknesses of this initial consideration.[7] The books broke new ground because very little preceded them, but this pioneering role took a toll. For example, the lack of detailed monographic studies of particular incidents and controversies greatly handicapped Robert W. Iversen’s The Communists and the Schools; Iversen tried to write a synthesis when there was no body of scholarship to synthesize. On another front, David Shannon’s The Decline of American Communism: A History of the Communist Party of the United States Since 1945, suffered acutely from the absence of archival resources for post-WWII events and relied largely on published sources.

While many books from this era have become dated, several continue to have value. Daniel Aaron’s Writers on the Left remains a basic text on the influence of communism on literature although there are now several competing accounts. Irving Howe and Lewis Coser’s The American Communist Party, A Critical History, part of this first wave of scholarship, although not part of the Communism in American Life series, remained until the 1990s the best one-volume comprehensive history of the CPUSA and can still be read with profit. Two books from the first wave, however, remain without peer. Theodore Draper’s The Roots of American Communism and American Communism and Soviet Russia, The Formative Period tell the story of the party up to 1929. Archival resources were more available for this early period, and Draper personally collected an array of primary documentation. Draper also wrote on the era prior to the party’s spread into mainstream institutions and the lack of complementary research handicapped him less than those who worked on later decades.

The political attitude of these pioneering scholars varied; most were liberals, radicals or socialists and a few were conservatives. But whatever their orientation, these writers regarded Communism as an antidemocratic political movement that sought to replace America’s system of democratic liberties with a tyrannical regime and also regarded the CPUSA as subordinate to Soviet Communism. In part these attitudes reflected the late 1940s ideological civil war between anti-Communist liberals and a Popular Front alliance of liberals who sought accommodation with the Soviet Union abroad and cooperation with American Communists at home. Both anti-Communist and Popular Front liberals claimed to be the legitimate successors to Roosevelt’s New Deal, and their internecine struggle over the direction of liberalism was hard-fought and intensely emotional. The election of Harry Truman in 1948, Henry Wallace’s crushing defeat, and the expulsion of Communists from the labor movement marked the triumph of anti-Communist liberalism. Because the victorious anti-Communist liberals regarded Communists as illegitimate participants in liberal and labor institutions, they often saw such participation as the results of infiltration and refused to recognize Popular Front liberals as fellow heirs of the New Deal. When they looked back at the 1930s and 1940s, they tended to interpret the New Deal in their own image and understated the extent to which some New Deal politicians and institutions quietly welcomed Communist participation. The historical framework of David Shannon in The Decline of American Communism and Max Kampelman in The Communist Party versus the CIO particularly embodied this view.[8]

In the 1950s, Senator Joseph McCarthy and right-wing anti-Communists attacked liberals as front men for a Communist conspiracy. In response, some of the scholars of the first wave pursued a defensive agenda. Ralph Roy’s Communism and the Churches, for example, defended various religious bodies from right-wing attack and, in the process, seriously understated the extent to which various religious figures had found common grounds with the communism in the 1930s and 1940s. This defensive political stance also intensified the tendency of anti-Communist liberal scholars to minimize the extent and attribute Communist involvement in liberal institutions to infiltration and manipulation. This conspiratorial image of communism enabled anti-Communist liberals, facing partisan attacks from conservative anti-Communists, to deny an ideological link between communism and Roosevelt’s New Deal, banish the attraction of a Popular Front stance in the 1930s from memory, and explain away Communist participation in New Deal institutions by presenting liberals as the victims of Communist subversion. The New Deal and its legacy were further protected from taint by asserting that successful Communist infiltration had been restricted to a few isolated areas of liberal and labor activities. The Communist role in the CIO was acknowledged but minimized, and its role in mainstream liberal politics was said to be confined chiefly to New York (the Communist role in the American Labor Party was too public to ignore).

The Second Wave

The scholars of the second wave focused on American anticommunism, not American communism. They regarded McCarthyism and the popular anticommunism of the late 1940s and 1950s as despicable phenomena that had inflicted grave damage on American culture, subverted democratic liberties, and ruined countless innocent lives. What gave these scholars their cohesiveness was the extent to which they placed the blame for McCarthyism on anti-Communist liberals. In the mainstream histories written in the 1950s and early 1960s, anti-Communist liberals usually had received positive and often glowing treatment. The often pugnaciously ‘revisionist’ historians of the late 1960s and early 1970s, however, presented a highly negative evaluation. Although these writers differed among themselves on some matters, their common approach can be seen in The Specter: Original Essays on the Cold War and the Origins of McCarthyism, a volume that brought together major revisionist scholars in a collection of essays that battered anticommunism in general, but anti-Communist liberalism in particular, from every quarter. To these revisionists, anti-Communist liberals had legitimated an inherently evil impulse, anticommunism, and thereby set the stage for its logical product, McCarthyism, as well as partial responsibility for the Vietnam War, both evidence of the immorality of opposition to communism.[9]

The revisionists of this second wave had little to say about American communism. If one were to read the revisionists’ books and essays and nothing else one would gain the impression that the CPUSA was largely a figment of the imagination of anti-Communists. At times anti-Communists are treated as paranoid individuals embarked on a witch hunt for nonexistent witches. At other times, anti-Communists are treated as cynical opportunists who consciously created a mythical Communist conspiracy to fool an ignorant public in order to serve their political needs and justify their semi-fascistic actions. The American Communist party, to the extent it shows up in revisionist histories at all, was treated as an organization of little importance. Communist activities were seen as far too insignificant to have justified counter action. While anti-Communist liberal scholars of the first wave tended to marginalize Communist participation in the New Deal, the revisionists of the second wave tended to make it invisible. In revisionist histories, those whom the anti-Communist liberals fought were often vaguely defined as progressives, social liberals, or activists in some undifferentiated reform coalition in which it might be acknowledged that Communists played some vague and unspecified role. Often, the only Communists one found were those skeptically referred to as ‘alleged’ Communists. In The Politics of Fear, for example, Robert Griffith defined McCarthyism and other varieties of anticommunism as hostility to radicalism unconnected to the antidemocratic characteristics of the CPUSA or Soviet communism:


It was a natural expression of America’s political culture and a logical though extreme product of its political machinery. What came to be called ‘McCarthyism’ was grounded in a set of attitudes, assumptions, and judgments with deep roots in American history. There has long been a popular fear of radicalism in this county.... The mobilization and political articulation of these is the anti-Communist ‘persuasion.’[10]


And in Griffith’s eyes, radicalism constituted a very good thing and opposition to it a very bad thing.

In revisionist writing the Soviet Union appeared as a nation without unusual characteristics; it was often absolved of responsibility for the Cold War. The attitude toward the USSR varied from blasé agnosticism to indifferent acknowledgement that the Soviet regime was not an admirable one. Where the anti-Communist liberal historians of the first wave had often seen Nazism and Stalinism as ‘brown’ and ‘red’ varieties of a common totalitarian impulse, revisionists treated seeing similarities in the two regimes as little more than "emotion and simplism," in the words of two leading revisionists, Leslie Adler and Thomas Paterson. In "Red Fascism: The Merger of Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia in the American Image of Totalitarianism, 1930’s-1950’s," they explained that while Nazism was a destructive movement, "the Marxian philosophy looked for social and economic improvement among disadvantaged people" and defined Soviet communism as a "system proclaiming a humanistic ideology and failing to live up to its ideal." To describe Stalinism as a system that was "failing to live up to its ideal" (what system does not?) is a truth that minimize and distorts the murderous reality of Stalinism.[11] Revisionist writings contain an obvious contrast between righteous indignation and emotional abhorrence toward Joseph McCarthy and McCarthyism and cool aloofness toward Joseph Stalin and Stalinism. Indifferent to the nature of the Soviet regime, revisionists either dismissed as irrelevant or treated as incomprehensible the hostility toward Soviet communism shown by anti-Communist liberals.

The Third Wave

The third wave of historical writing began in the late 1970s with the appearance of a very large number of essays and theses on a broad array of Communist activities. Partially as a consequence of the growing availability of archival collections, this third wave has supplied what the pioneers of Communist history lacked, an extensive base of monographic studies. Three books from this era fill out the chronology of the CPUSA begun by Draper. His two volumes had carried the story to 1929. Harvey Klehr’s The Heyday of American Communism: The Depression Decade, Maurice Isserman’s Which Side Were Your On? The American Communist Party During the Second World War, and Joseph Starobin’s American Communism in Crisis, 1943-1957 took it to the CPUSA’s near extinction in 1957.[12] All three books display a high level of scholarship with extensive use of archival resources and remain the basic texts on their eras. Klehr’s Heyday covers the most important era of the party’s history and provides a political and institutional history of the CPUSA but also casts a wider net with coverage of Communist activity in the labor movement, among students and blacks, its influence among intellectuals, and its Popular Front relationship with elements in the New Deal coalition. Isserman concentrates on the CPUSA during WWII and ends with the ouster of Earl Browder as party chief in mid-1945. Starobin had been a mid-level CPUSA official in the late 1940s and early 1950s who became a academic historian after he left the movement. His personal knowledge of many of the events and the personalities of the CPUSA significantly augmented the still thin documentary record for the postwar period.

In addition to these three basic texts, other broad syntheses appeared. Guenter Lewy’s 1990 The Cause that Failed: Communism in American Political Life combined a summary of party history with an examination of liberal anticommunism and the relationship of civil liberties, peace groups, and the New Left with communism. In 1991 Fraser Ottanelli offered The Communist Party of the United States from the Depression to World War II, a revisionist alternative to Klehr’s Heyday. Finally, in 1992 Klehr and this author published The American Communist Movement: Storming Heaven Itself, a one-volume history from origin to 1990, the first comprehensive survey of the party since Howe and Coser’s 1957 book.[13] The interpretive approaches in the third wave ranged from criticism of the CPUSA for insufficient revolutionary vigor,[14] to partisanship for communism,[15] to admiringly positive with some mild negative evaluations, to largely critical accounts. The latter two constituted the major poles of interpretation.

Those who took a critical view of American Communists were often likened to the Communism in American Life authors and referred to as ‘traditionalist,’ ‘orthodox,’ or ‘Draperian.’ Certainly most critical scholars shared the judgment of those pioneers that the CPUSA was a antidemocratic political movement closely tied to Soviet Communism. For example, at the end of his 1957 The Roots of American Communism, Theodore Draper had written of the CPUSA’s shifts in policy in its early years that


The first change of line was every other change of line in embryo. A rhythmic rotation from Communist sectarianism to Americanized opportunism was set in motion at the outset and has been going on every since. The periodic rediscovery of "Americanization" by the American Communists has only superficially represented a more independent policy. It has been in reality merely another type of American response to a Russian stimulus. A Russian initiative has always effectively begun and ended it. For this reason, "Americanized" American Communism has been sporadic, superficial, and short-lived. It has corresponded to the fluctuations of Russian policy; it has not obeyed a compelling need within the American Communists themselves.


He concluded that within four years from its founding, the CPUSA had been "transformed from a new expression of American radicalism to the American appendage of a Russian revolutionary power."[16] Thirty-five years later Klehr and this author agreed, stating in The American Communist Movement that:


Every era in the history of the American Communist movement has been inaugurated by developments in the Communist world abroad. The Russian Revolution led to the formation of the first American Communist party. Soviet pressure led to the abandonment of an underground Communist party. Comintern directives led American Communists to adopt an ultrarevolutionary posture during the late 1920s. Soviet foreign policy needs midwifed the birth of the Popular Front in the mid-1930s. The Nazi-Soviet Pact destroyed the Popular Front in 1939, and the German attack on the Soviet Union reconstituted it in 1941. The onset of the Cold War cast American Communists into political purgatory after World War II, and Khrushchev’s devastating exposé of Stalin’s crimes in 1957 tore the American Communists apart.... Within the limits of their knowledge, American Communists always strove to do what Moscow wanted, no more, no less.[17]


However, while they and other third wave historians critical of the CPUSA shared this basic Draperian premise, their views differed in other ways. They saw a more significant Communist role in domestic American affairs in the 1930s and 1940s than that described by the pioneering generation. Although none saw Communists as predominant, they wrote of a powerful Communist role in the CIO, in liberal politics in New York, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Washington, Oregon, and California, and in a variety of cultural and intellectual arenas. They also saw that role as less conspiratorial and described the circumstances that led non-Communists to find common ground with Communists in the 1930s and 1940s.[18]

These traditionalist scholars, however, were a minority of those writing about domestic communism in the late 1970s, 1980s, and early 1990s. Most academics writing on the issue maintained a harshly negative view of anticommunism, much like that of the revisionists of the second wave. But while earlier revisionists had often depicted anti-Communists as having attacked only ‘alleged’ Communists and an insubstantial Communist party, these third wave revisionists depicted American Communists as very real and, on balance, very good. They saw Communists as the key element in the dynamism of the CIO and the spark behind most of the significant radical and liberal reform movements of the 1930s. In a 1985 essay Maurice Isserman called those who took a positive view, of whom he was a prominent spokesman and among the ablest scholars, the "new historians of American communism." He described them as largely veterans of the New Left who sought to answer through historical study questions presented in their own radical political experience. He commented that:


In place of the ‘formalism of traditional radical historiography,’ with its top-down emphasis, the new history of Communism has examined particular communities, particular unions, particular working class and ethnic cultures, particular generations, and other sub-grouping within the Party. Though critical of the CP’s authoritarian internal structure, and its overall subservience to the Soviet Union, the new historians have been alert to the ways in which the American CP was shaped by the environment in which it operated and by the people who enlisted under its banners. . . . The new Communist history begins with the assumption that nobody was born a Communist, and that everyone brought to the movement expectations, traditions, patterns of behavior and thought that had little to do with the decisions made in the Kremlin or on the 9th floor of Communist Party headquarters in New York.... [T]he new historians of Communism are willing to see American Communists... as a group of people involved in, shaping, and shaped by an historical process.[19]


The "new historians" have poured out hundreds of essays and dozens of books on an astounding array of topics: Communist influence on folk music, drama, poetry, and various literary figures, Communist activity among Jews, Finns, Italians, Blacks, Mexicans, and Slavs of various sorts; CPUSA work among Alabama and Arkansas sharecroppers, grain farmers in Iowa, South Dakota, and Minnesota, and dairy farmers in New York; Communist influence on social gospel Protestants, professional social workers, and socially conscious lawyers, even on Communist influence in sports, and scores of studies of Communist activities in the labor movement.[20] This body of research demonstrated beyond cavil a significant Communist role in certain areas of American life, a role as yet rarely acknowledged in standard histories of the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s. Not surprisingly, in a body of writing as varied as this, the quality of research ranges from abysmal to splendid. In the latter category, for example, the thorough analysis of Mark Naison’s Communists in Harlem During the Depression produced what will likely be the definitive work on the subject.[21]

Taken as a whole, this literature is strong on periphery and weak at the core. Individual Communists working in one area are in the forefront while the Communist party remains in the background, often a vague presence. Revisionist literature offers a Communist movement where local autonomy, spontaneity, and initiative rule and orders from the center don’t exist or are ignored. This literature often conveys the impression that there were two Communist parties. One consisted of the CPUSA headquarters in New York to which was attributed the regrettable part of Communist history: subordination to Moscow, support for Stalin’s purges, cheers for the Nazi-Soviet Pact, contempt for political democracy, and fervent belief in Marxism-Leninism. The other Communist party, the real party in the eyes of revisionists, consisted of idealistic rank-and-file Communists who rooted themselves in the wants and needs of the workers, were inspired by the populist traditions of the American past, and paid little attention to Earl Browder in New York and even less to Joseph Stalin in Moscow.

This implicit two-party theory has allowed scores of revisionist scholars to echo Fraser Ottanelli’s admiring description of the CPUSA as the "foremost expression of left-wing radicalism during the depression and the war years" or Steve Rosswurm’s endorsement of the largest Communist-led union, the United Electrical, Radio, and Machine Workers of America, as a "moral beacon of the labor movement."[22] The term "implicit" is appropriate here because few revisionist studies attempt to comprehend the American Communist movement’s history as a whole. Most articles and books dealt with a limited geographic area, a small time span, a single incident, a specific ethnic or racial group, a particular union, or some other partial aspect of Communist history. Revisionist writers asserted habitual disregard of the CPUSA orders by local Communists and what amounted to a two-party analysis of the CPUSA’s history but did not present a broad analysis showing this to be typical Communist behavior. Isserman, while justifying the revisionist approach, recognized the misleading impression that could be conveyed collectively by the multitude of specialized studies. He commented that "it would be a mistake to regard the Communist Party at any point in its history as if it had been simply a collection of autonomous, overlapping sub-groupings of Jews, Finns, blacks, women, longshoremen, East Bronx tenants and baseball fans, who were free to set their own political agenda without reference to Soviet priorities."[23]

Indeed, the CPUSA was not organized on a congregational basis. In its heyday it was highly centralized, rigidly disciplined, and run by a full-time paid bureaucracy controlled by a hierarchy answerable only to a tiny group of top leaders who were themselves vetted, approved and often picked by Moscow. Too few revisionists heeded Isserman’s sensible stipulation and continued in the late 1980s and into the 1990s to produce numerous articles and dissertations in which American communism appears as an amorphous movement resembling more the chaotic New Left of the late 1960s than the rigid reality of the CPUSA in the 1930s. Only a few revisionists studies centered on the CPUSA itself and even fewer with the party over a lengthy period.[24] There is no revisionist equivalent to the traditionalist one volume histories (Howe & Coser and Klehr & Haynes) that cover the entire history of the party and must, consequently, provide a comprehensive narrative. And, decidedly, it is difficult to image a revisionist-style interpretation that deals with the central themes and major episodes of the party’s rise and fall: the contradictions would render the narrative incoherent.

Even those revisionist accounts that deal with only a segment of party history run into difficulties. Fraser Ottanelli in The Communist Party of the United States from the Depression to World War II had to deal with the CPUSA’s reaction to the Nazi-Soviet Pact, something most revisionists with their specialized or localized studies can avoid discussing in detail. In the late 1930s the party had centered its successful Popular Front policy around antifascism, an international alliance against Nazi aggression, and support for President Roosevelt. The Nazi-Soviet Pact of August 22, 1939, required a drastic shift, given the party’s subordination to Moscow’s foreign policy. The CPUSA did not hesitate for even one day and immediately endorsed the Pact without reservation. However, the Comintern had not given the CPUSA any forewarning or policy direction and the CPUSA had to guess what the full implications of the Pact were. Initially the party presented the Pact as a blow against Nazi aggression and, after the German attack on Poland on September 1st, cheered Polish resistance to the Germans. Two weeks later, mid-September, the Comintern informed the CPUSA that this was a wrong guess and provided some guidance on the proper interpretation of the Pact, and one point was that Polish resistance was not to be cheered. Obediently, the party immediately denounced the Polish government as fascist and abandoned Poland to its fate. And its fate was, a few days later, invasion and annexation of half its territory by the USSR. The Comintern’s directive, however, did not deal with domestic policy, and Browder sought to salvage what he could of the Popular Front alliance by not directly attacking Roosevelt, although the party had shifted to a stance hostile to Roosevelt’s foreign policy. In mid-October, the Comintern informed Browder that was an incorrect interpretation and ordered a complete break with Roosevelt. He did so, throwing away the policies under which the CPUSA had thrived since 1935. The only reasonable lesson of this episode is one of the primacy of Moscow’s wishes over domestic American considerations. Yet to Ottanelli the episode proves the reverse: "the unwillingness of American Communists to accept the implications of the new course of Soviet policy is in itself an unequivocal refutation of any notion that the United States Communists automatically aligned themselves to the ‘twists and turns’ of Moscow’s policies."[25] Thus Ottanelli transmuted a scant few weeks of wrong guesses about what Moscow wanted, promptly corrected when instructed, into maverick independence, a conclusion utterly at variance with the plain evidence.

Isserman in his historiographic essay differentiated the "new historians" from Draper and earlier scholars not only by their interpretive stance but also methodologically, placing them in "the new social history."[26] It is a point embraced by many revisionists who often termed themselves social historians and disparaged traditionalist scholars for their "old style political history."[27] Draper, who had turned to other subjects after publication of American Communism and Soviet Russia in 1960, returned to the history of American communism in 1985. In two essays reviewing scholarship in the field, he lauded Klehr’s work and criticized those taking a social history approach. Draper regarded the ‘new historians’ depiction of Popular Front communism as the romanticized nostalgia of "left-wing intellectual Yuppies" for an authentic populistic radicalism that the New Left had failed to achieve. Draper later included these essays in a new edition of American Communism and Soviet Russia along with some comment regarding his own membership in the Communist party in the 1930s.[28]

Draper’s essays and the heated exchanges that followed suggested that traditionalist scholars regarded the social history approach championed by revisionists as acceptable as a supplement to political history but also as a device many revisionists used to evade key issues confronting historians of American communism. The CPUSA was, after all, a political party engaged in a permanent political campaign. American Communists were intensely political and viewed the world through political lenses: not only conventional political issues, but all of life, including music, art, literature, and personal social relationships were interpreted from a political perspective. They found it difficult to take seriously revisionists disparagement of a political history of so thoroughly a political phenomenon. Draper later referred to the revisionists as producing a "genre of books about Communists-without-communism."[29]

Traditionalist scholars also found it difficult to credit the depreciation of political history by scholars whose commitment to radical politics was obvious. Just as no one reading the Communism in American Life series could miss the anti-Communist commitment of its authors, few reading the revisionists could miss their radical political orientation. A number of these historians were also associated with or publish in those journals (Radical America, Radical History Review, Science and Society, Socialist Review, and Marxist Perspectives) that fused scholarship with a radical political perspective. Many revisionists explicitly defined their historical work as part of a radical agenda. Paul Lyons, an early revisionist whose 1982 Philadelphia Communists, 1936-1956 many cited as a model ‘new historians’ grass-roots study, stated that he regarded Communists as "people committed to a vision of social justice and a strategy of social change that make them my political forebears. And like my biological parents, they merit a love that includes--in fact, requires--recognition of their faults and errors. Needless to say, such a love also rests on an honoring." He stated further that he regarded his book as a "contribution" toward the achievement of "socialist cultural hegemony." In his 1985 essay, Isserman allowed that the new historians had their origins in radical political commitment. He maintained, however, that their perspective later shifted away from a partisan "search for a usable past."[30] In his case that was true, but other revisionists have retained their commitment to blending history with political action. In 1994 Allan Wald, a revisionist who has published numerous essays and books on cultural history, most notably The New York Intellectuals: The Rise and Decline of the Anti-Stalinist Left from the 1930s to the 1980, wrote that:


United States capitalism and imperialism remain absolute horrors for the poor and people of color of the world, and ultimately hazardous to the health of the rest of us. Therefore, the construction of an effective oppositional movement in the United States remains the most rewarding, and the most stimulating, task for radical cultural workers. That is why I choose to assess the experience of Communist writers during the Cold War era from the perspective of learning lessons, finding ancestors, and resurrecting models of cultural practice that can contribute to the development of a seriously organized, pluralistic, democratic, and culturally rich left-wing movement.[31]


In addition to dominating the field by weight of numbers, revisionists also denounced the scholarship of traditionalists. In 1993 twelve revisionists published essays in New Studies in the Politics and Culture of U.S. Communism. In the volume’s opening essay Michael Brown dismissed the writings of Draper, Starobin, and Klehr as not scholarship at all, stating that their texts were only "an extraordinary overtly tendentious type of satire" and linked the appearance in the 1980s of "orthodox" historical writings about communism to "the introduction of durable fascist element at the center of the United States polity," an apparent reference to the election of President Ronald Regan. In contrast, he praised the work of Isserman, Keeran, Lyons, Naison and Schrecker, commenting that "what appears to be sympathy" for the CPUSA "is in fact simply a willingness to accept responsibility for the only perspective from which a critical historiography can proceed."[32]

While it is not difficult to differentiate ‘traditionalists’ from ‘revisionists,’ the latter includes a large number of scholars with a variety of views that sometimes clash. Those revisionists who take the view that the CPUSA was never or almost never wrong have denounced those who, while judging the party’s history positively, were critical of aspects of CPUSA history. For example, Isserman’s Which Side Were You On? established him as one of the leading new historians. However, he offered a positive portrayal of the 1943-1945 attempt by Earl Browder to Americanize the party. But Moscow denounced Browder’s reforms, he was ousted in mid-1945, and "Browderism" became a Communist heresy. Consequently, Isserman’s views on Browderism earned him a rebuke from hard-line revisionist and Rutgers historian Norman Markowitz who labeled Isserman as one of a "new group of anti-Communist caretakers." Although Mark Naison’s presented a highly positive portrayal of Communist activities in Harlem, his noting the CPUSA's subordinate relationship to the Comintern prompted the revisionist academician Gerald Horne to denounce Naison for "rot" and "bad scholarship" in the CPUSA theoretical journal.[33]

But while revisionists clashed among themselves on some matters, most shared a hostility to capitalism, to anticommunism, and to American society and its constitutional order. These convictions were strongly felt and constituted a driving force in the sympathetic treatment of communism. They saw American Communists, whatever their faults, as kindred spirits in the fight against capitalism and established American institutions. Many of these new historians acknowledged a variety of Communist shortcomings, but they did not regard those shortcomings as of importance compared to Communism’s contribution to the long term fight to destroy capitalism and reconstruct American culture according to radical values.

Radicalism by itself was not the determining factor; many of the pioneering anti-Communist historians (and some of the recent ones as well) were also hostile to capitalism and adhered to some variety of left-wing ideology. Far more important is the extent to which radicalism was combined with a commitment to political democracy, liberty, and pluralism. Those radicals who placed a high value on democracy and freedom regard Communists as opponents rather than as colleagues. When discussing the viewpoint of the "new historians," Isserman commented that:


To a certain extent, the new historians of American Communism, and the traditionalists like Klehr, are speaking at cross-purposes. The new historians have conceded what Klehr called the ‘essential clue’ to the nature of the American CP: that its political line changed in accord with the prevailing winds from Moscow. They have then gone on to ask new questions.[34]


Isserman, however, only partly identified what traditionalists meant when they look at the link between American and Soviet communism. Isserman appeared to understand that relationship as the inappropriate projection on to the American scene of political themes current in the Soviet Union. Traditionalists certainly saw that in the CPUSA link to Soviet Communism, but much more as well: they saw an indication of the inner-nature of the American Communist Party, a manifestation of its essential antidemocratic character and an indication that had it been successful, the CPUSA would have reconstructed the United States on the model of the Soviet Union. This point is not conceded or even much discussed by most revisionists.

Many revisionists also take a determinedly parochial approach toward American communism. Transnational historiography is not part of the revisionist agenda. Only a few compare or contrast American communism with Soviet communism. Not only do many revisionist treat the CPUSA’s headquarters in New York as of little importance, they treat Soviet communism as a massive irrelevancy. Given the primacy of the USSR in the mind of American Communists, the lavish attention given to Soviet matters in the CPUSA press, and the constant repetition of lessons from the Soviet experience by party officials and organizers, this lack of concern about Soviet communism by historians of American communism borders on the absurd.[35] This flaw has equal force regarding revisionist evaluation of anticommunism in American life. Neither a philosophical rejection of Marxism-Leninism or fear of the popular support commanded by Earl Browder or other CPUSA leaders inspired the fervor of American anticommunism. Rather, anti-Communists feared what they saw in the Soviet Union and loathed the CPUSA not for itself but for the Soviet communism which they believed American Communists wished to bring to America. And yet, many of the revisionists seek to explain anticommunism as if the history and character of communism in the Soviet Union, Eastern Europe, and China were irrelevant.

By the measure of books and essays, revisionists easily won the historiographic contest. At the end of the 1980s it would have been difficult to name a dozen scholars who were actively writing in a traditionalist mode. In contrast, scores of scholars took a revisionist approach, and theirs was the prevailing consensus in the historical profession, in textbooks, and set the tone for the Journal of American History, the American Historical Review, and the papers presented as historical conferences. Then came the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of Soviet communism.

The Fourth Wave

With the end of the USSR and the Cold War, long closed archival sources began to open up. Revisionists were not as eager to explore Moscow’s newly opened archives as traditionalists. After all, revisionists thought well of the Communist movement, and veteran Communists over the years had not merely revealed but had shouted everything positive or exonerative about the movement they could. Probably no political body, and certainly not the CPUSA, hides its positive accomplishments (or exculpatory justifications for something that went wrong) from public inspection. No one was so naive about the CPUSA that they thought it had hidden away in Moscow a trove of documents about unknown incidents that made the party look good. No one expected that hidden in a Comintern file would be a report that the American party’s Political Bureau had secretly send a stern letter to Comrade Stalin in 1937 expressing doubts about the Great Terror and demanding that Bukharin and Zinoviev be given an opportunity to defend themselves before an unbiased commission. Nor did anyone expect to find records that the CPUSA’s leaders discussed breaking with Moscow over the Nazi-Soviet Pact. The best revisionists could hope for from the archives was nothing new.

Traditionalists, of course, had different expectations and eagerly made their way to Moscow. In the summer of 1992 Harvey Klehr became the first American scholar to examine thousands of pages of Comintern records of its activities in the United States, and in January of 1993 this author became the first American historian to examine the records of the CPUSA itself, an archive secretly shipped to Moscow decades earlier. Three books derive from those trips to Moscow: The Secret World of American Communism (1995), The Soviet World of American Communism, (1998), and Venona: Decoding Soviet Espionage in America (1999).[36]

The first two books reprinted the actual texts of 187 documents chiefly from the Russian State Archive of Social and Political History that holds the records of the Comintern, the CPUSA, and the CPSU up to the death of Stalin. Few of the documents revealed totally unexpected information. Rather, they provided documentary evidence, even decisive proof in a number of cases, about matters that had been ambiguous or contested due to the scarcity of evidence or skepticism regarding the sources.[37] These volumes reprinted documents showing that secret subsidies for the American Communist movement, once ridiculed as ‘Moscow gold’ and the product of the overheated imaginations of anti-Communists, were lavish and continued until the final years of the USSR, and included a hand signed receipt from Gus Hall, head of the CPUSA, along with a KGB cover letter to Anatoly Dobrynin, former Soviet ambassador to the U.S and then a member of the CPSU secretariat, reporting delivery by a KGB officer of $3,000,000 in cash to the CPUSA in 1988. These documents also confirmed international businessman Armand Hammer’s role as a conduit of Soviet subsidies to the CPUSA in the 1920.

Also reprinted were numerous Comintern orders to the CPUSA: some set policy, others dictated the membership of the CPUSA’s Political Bureau, and others micromanaged internal CPUSA personnel decisions. Among these were Comintern instructions, all obeyed, on how to interpret the Nazi-Soviet Pact and what stance to take in the wake of the Nazi attack on the USSR in June 1941. Revisionists had also doubted Whittaker Chambers’s evidence about the existence of a CPUSA underground organization led by J. Peters. Comintern documents, however, confirmed the existence of this "secret apparatus," Peters’s role as its leader in the mid-1930s, and its infiltration of U.S. government agencies. Other documents dealt with American Communists felled by Stalin’s Terror whose fate was covered-up and some who were arrested with the support of American Communist leaders. These included a former senior CPUSA official, Lovett Fort-Whiteman, former national organizer of the American Negro Labor Congress, who died in the Gulag in January 1939, Thomas Sgovio, former American Young Communist League officer, who was arrested in Moscow in 1938 and imprisoned in the Gulag for twelve years, and several hundred Finnish-American Communists who emigrated to Soviet Karelia and who were arrested and executed during the purges of the late 1930s.

Documents in The Secret World of American Communism united two streams of historical writing that had been largely separated: the histories of American communism and Soviet espionage. Revisionists rarely discussed the matter as part of CPUSA history. Neither Ottanelli nor Isserman, for example, examined the party’s role in espionage in their volumes on the CPUSA in the 1930s and 1940s. A substantial CPUSA role in Soviet espionage did not, of course, fit well with revisionist themes. Traditionalists, however, didn’t give the matter much attention either. It was irrelevant to Drapers’s history of the party’s early years. In his history of the party in the 1930s, Klehr supported the conclusions of Alan Weinstein’s study of the Hiss-Chambers case by expanding on the background of the CPUSA underground and its links to Soviet intelligence, but espionage was a minor theme in his story. Joseph Starobin did not take up the issue in his history of the party in the postwar era. Howe and Coser gave the matter all of two sentences, suggesting only a minor role for American Communists in Soviet espionage. Klehr and this author in our one volume history of the party gave it considerably more attention: accepting the guilt of Alger Hiss and Julius Rosenberg and the testimony of Elizabeth Bentley and Louis Budenz about the Communist role in espionage. Still, we concluded that "espionage was a sideshow to the party’s main activities," and stated that:


Ideologically, American Communists owed their first loyalty to the motherland of communism rather than to the United States, but in practice few American Communists were spies. The Soviet Union recruited spies from the Communist movement, but espionage was not a regular activity of the American C.P. The party promoted communism and the interests of the Soviet Union through political means; espionage was the business of the Soviet Union’s intelligence services. To see the American party chiefly as an instrument of espionage or a sort of fifth column misjudges its main purpose.[38]


Soviet espionage, rather than being treated as an element of the history of American communism, was examined in isolation or as part of the story of American anticommunism. In addition, while the body of journalistic and polemical literature on Soviet espionage in the United States is huge, scholarly literature has been far more limited. In part, this has been due to the scarcity of archival resources compounding the inherent difficulty of a field in which deception, misinformation, and secrecy are rampant. Two major espionage cases, however, went to trial and the court proceedings and what followed from them did make available a great deal of documentary material regarding the Alger Hiss -- Whittaker Chambers case and the Rosenberg espionage trial. The first, and for a long time the only, full-scale scholarly treatments of these causes célčbres were Allen Weinstein’s Perjury: The Hiss-Chambers Case (1978) and Ronald Radosh and Joyce Milton’s The Rosenberg File: A Search for the Truth (1983).[39] Both were thorough and detailed reviews of the evidence in the trials, voluminous government files made available by the Freedom of Information Act, and an impressive array of other archival material and oral histories. Weinstein concluded that Chambers had told the truth on the essential points while Hiss had not. Radosh and Milton concluded that the Rosenbergs had been engaged in espionage, and that in addition to the atomic espionage through David Greenglass for which he was convicted, Julius Rosenberg had been the central figure in a espionage apparatus consisting of engineers that Julius had met as a young Communist.

Both books met with a storm of criticism from revisionists, some of it vicious. Although several polemical and journalistic accounts have appeared that backed the Rosenbergs’s and Hiss’s innocence, these were not of scholarly quality and no revisionist academics attempted an alternative account.[40] Although scores of revisionist essays and books assert or are premised on the view that Alger Hiss was an idealistic New Dealer thrown into prison on the perjured testimony of a sick anti-Communist fanatic (Whittaker Chambers) and that the Rosenbergs were innocent progressives railroaded into the electric chair on trumped-up charges of espionage, revisionist accounts of the case deal only with isolated parts or secondary matters.[41] No revisionist attempted a comprehensive scholarly examination of the case of the caliber of Perjury or The Rosenberg File. It was a measure of the power of the case made by Weinstein, Radosh and Milton that in the 1980s many revisionists fell back to a stance of agnosticism. For example, in 1987, Robert Griffith, a leading revisionist, wrote that "I remained unconvinced of Hiss’s guilt or innocence" and in regard to the Rosenbergs, "Here, too, I remained something of an agnostic."[42] Given revisionism’s domination of the academic establishment, it is not surprising that the National Standards for United States History, which has received the backing of the leaders of the historical profession and is used as a guide for grade school history teachers, described these two cases with language crafted not to imply guilt while not being so foolhardy as to actually assert innocence.[43] In contrast to the careful skepticism regarding Hiss and Rosenberg and absence of a discussion of the CPUSA the National Standards displayed no agnosticism or ambiguity toward McCarthyism and domestic anticommunism, painting them in dark and ugly colors. This selective agnosticism allowed revisionists to maintain their basic interpretation of America in the late 1940s and 1950s as a nightmare in red where paranoid anti-Communists witch hunters instituted a regime of political repression against innocent idealists

Aside from the Hiss and Rosenberg cases, scholars largely ignored those other espionage episodes that became public (the Soble spy ring), treated as ambiguous cases where guilt was clear (Judith Coplon), or treated them as frauds (Elizabeth Bentley). Bentley’s story of several major CPUSA-linked Soviet espionage rings in Washington contributed greatly to the development of popular anticommunism in the postwar period and hostile revisionist historians have overwhelmingly rejected her story, typically ridiculing her as the "Blond Spy Queen." Although allowing that some of her story might be true, Herbert Packer said:


no witness’s story is better calculated to inspire mistrust or disbelief than Elizabeth Bentley’s. The extravagance of her claims about her espionage contacts, the vagueness of her testimony about the content of the secret material that she allegedly received, the absence of corroboration for most of her story, and above all, her evasiveness as a witness, all combine to raise serious doubts about her reliability.[44]


David Caute, whose The Great Fear: The Anti-Communist Purge Under Truman and Eisenhower constituted a central text of the revisionist cannon, painted her as unbelievable. Earl Latham found Bentley’s story credible, but he was the last of the "Communism in American Life" authors; and in 1966 he noted the consensus view that Bentley’s charges were the "imaginings of a neurotic spinster."[45] The absence of any detailed scholar investigation of the Bentley affair allowed this consensus to continue until the mid-1990s.

The opening of some Russian archives in the early 1990s, however, changed this situation. Although the archives of the KGB and the GRU remained closed, there were a few back doors into them. These intelligence services on occasion used other Soviet agencies for their work, and KGB and GRU material can be found in the largely open archives of other agencies. Klehr and this author found GRU, KGB, and even Naval GRU material in the records of the Comintern and copies of stolen U.S. State Department documents in the records of the CPUSA. We found KGB-Comintern exchanges, some of which were reprinted in The Secret World of American Communism, that directly corroborated elements of the stories about Soviet espionage that had been told by Elizabeth Bentley, Whittaker Chambers, and Louis Budenz and showed as well direct links between the CPUSA as an institution with KGB’s spying against the United States. The history of the CPUSA and the history of Soviet espionage were no longer separate matters, and the revisionist consensus began to give way.

Sam Tanenhaus’s Whittaker Chambers: A Biography in 1997 reinforced the argument for Hiss’s guilt and the essential accuracy of Chambers’ story, a point strengthened by a reissue the same year of Weinstein’s Perjury with new documentation from Moscow further confirming Hiss’s role as a Soviet spy. Joseph Albright and Marcia Kunstel, also in 1997, published Bombshell that documented the espionage activities of Theodore Hall, a young Communist physicist who worked at Los Alamos, and Morris and Lona Cohen, two American Communists who became career KGB agents and carried out spy mission in the U.S., Great Britain, and other nations. Four major books on Soviet espionage appeared in 1999: Allen Weinstein and Alexander Vassiliev’s The Haunted Wood: Soviet Espionage in America -- The Stalin Era that used a set of documents from the KGB’s archive; Christopher Andrew and Vasili Mitrokhin’s The Sword and the Shield: The Mitrokhin Archive and the Secret History of the KGB, based on material brought out of Russia by a retired KGB archivist; this author and Harvey Klehr’s Venona: Decoding Soviet Espionage in America, based on the Venona documents as well as Comintern and CPUSA documents from Moscow archives, FBI files, and other American archives; and Nigel West’s Venona: The Greatest Secret of the Cold War.[46]

The latter four books overlap in part and tell the same story from the perspective of independent sets of documentation. They show a formidable Soviet espionage offensive against the United States, starting in the 1930s and reaching a peak during the final years of World War II. Hundreds of Americans, most Communists, assisted Soviet espionage and Soviet intelligence sources included dozens of mid-level government officials but also impressively high level ones as well: not only Alger Hiss but also Lawrence Duggan, long-time head of the State Department Division of the American Republics; Lauchlin Currie, a senior White House aide to President Roosevelt; Duncan Lee, a senior officer in the Office of Strategic Services; and, most significantly, Assistant Secretary of the Treasury Harry White. And Elizabeth Bentley, the much disbelieved Blond Spy Queen? Her story was true. All four books also drove home the point that not only did Soviet intelligence services recruit individual American Communists, but dozens of CPUSA officials, from the party’s lowest levels to its very highest, and the party as an institution, actively assisted Soviet espionage against the United States. Klehr and this author concluded that:


espionage was a regular activity of the American Communist party. To say that the CPUSA was nothing but a Soviet fifth column in the Cold War would be an exaggeration; it still remains true that the CPUSA’s chief task was the promotion of communism and the interests of the Soviet Union though political means. But it is equally true that the CPUSA was indeed a fifth column working inside and against the United States in the Cold War.[47]


These four books on Soviet espionage combined with The Secret World of American Communism and The Soviet World of American Communism greatly strengthened the traditionalist case. In addition, several more specialized books appeared, again making use of Moscow archives, that added to the traditionalist surge. One was James G. Ryan’s Earl Browder: The Failure of American Communism (1997), the only published scholarly biography of this key CPUSA leader. Ryan began his research on Browder as a graduate student, and his 1981 dissertation unambiguously took a revisionist stance. By the time his book was ready, however, Ryan had the opportunity to examine Comintern and CPUSA records in Moscow, significantly modified his interpretive approach and incorporated traditionalist elements, concluding that Browder "could never quite bring the CPUSA legitimacy because he lacked the vision and courage to separate himself and the organization totally from a foreign monster."[48] Ted Morgan’s 1999 A Covert Life: Jay Lovestone: Communist, Anti-Communist, and Spymaster, a biography of one of the CPUSA’s dominating figures in the 1920s and later a leading AFL-CIO anti-Communist, also embodied a traditionalist approach.[49] Richard Gid Powers made use of the new Moscow-based research in his impressive Not Without Honor: The History of American Anticommunism (1996). Powers stated that "writing this book radically altered my view of American anticommunism. I began with the idea that anticommunism displayed America at its worst, but I came to see in anticommunism America at its best."[50] Like many before him, Powers condemned what he termed the "countersubversive" variety of anticommunism embodied in McCarthyism. But he saw that as only one, and not the predominant, type of anticommunism and brought to the fore the neglected history of liberal anticommunism as well as influential Jewish, Roman Catholic, labor-based, and socialist strains of anticommunism. He also discussed the role of anti-Semitism, anti-Catholic bigotry, and the antifascist "brown smear" in the politics of communism and anticommunism. This author’s 1996 Red Scare or Red Menace? American Communism and Anticommunism in the Cold War Era, also emphasized that "rather than a single anticommunism, there have been a multitude, with different objections to communism," stressed the key role of liberal and labor anticommunism in defeating Popular Front liberalism in the late 1940s, and concluded that:


America’s political system could not achieve the consensus needed for the cold war commitment while accommodating within that system a political movement that adhered to the ideology and promoted the interests of the cold war enemy. For all its sporadic ugliness, excesses, and silliness, the anticommunism of the 1940s and 1950s was an understandable and rational response to a real danger to American democracy.[51]


While the opening of Moscow archives invigorated traditionalist scholars, reaction among revisionists was decidedly mixed. To one strain of revisionism, the social and cultural historians who eschew politics and the party, the CPUSA archives in Moscow could be ignored. Indeed, the apotheosis of accounts that deal with Communists by leaving out the communism appeared in Michael Denning’s The Cultural Front: the Laboring of American Culture in the Twentieth Century (1997).[52] There isn’t much recognizable communism in the benign Popular Frontism of The Cultural Front. Stalin, the Gulag, and the Great Terror fade into the background along with most conventional politics and even the CPUSA itself as an institution. With the disagreeable matter of real politics removed, an idealized Popular Front of softly politicized art, literature, music, cinema, and theater is left behind and treated as more authentic. The impact of communism and Popular Front styles on the cultural arts cannot be gainsaid, and The Cultural Front presents an impressive analysis of Popular Front cultural modes. But at the center of the Popular Front phenomenon was the hard core of the CPUSA, its politics, and its drive for power. To leave out that core renders the history a hollow ball.

Taking a different tack, Edward Johanningsmeier visited the archives in Moscow when completing Forging American Communism: the Life of William Z. Foster, the only published scholarly biography of the long-time CPUSA trade union chief and chairman of the party from 1945 until 1961. Johanningsmeier assured his revisionist colleagues that the majority of documents in the Comintern’s archive dealt with "prosaic matters" and possessed "built-in biases and shortcomings as evidence"[53] The records of any sizable organization, be it a government agency, a labor union, a military unit, or a political party, are largely prosaic, possess biases, and have shortcomings: researchers habitually go through the prosaic, biased, and flawed to find the interesting and discern the evidential value. Consequently, the point of this remark is unclear except as an excuse to deprecate accounts based on Moscow’s archives.

As to what the documents said, Johanningsmeier termed those showing CPUSA subordination to Moscow as "diplomatizing" by American Communists who, he suggests, told the Comintern what it wanted to hear and then acted on the basis of American considerations.[54] In regard to documents on Soviet subsidies of the American party, Johanningsmeier called them "unsurprising." And those linking CPUSA leaders to Soviet espionage?, "this also is unsurprising." "Unsurprising" is an odd term because anyone whose knowledge of the CPUSA came solely from revisionist literature would find both the subsidies and links to Soviet intelligence very surprising since those were either ignored or denied. As for the subsidies, Johanningsmeier took the view that the Soviets did not link subsidies to Moscow’s leadership and argued that unless one can "link funds delivered to specific policy initiatives," then the payments were irrelevant to CPUSA subordination to Moscow. As for espionage, Johanningsmeier offers absolution through dilution. Since the documents connect CPUSA leaders and party cadre to intelligence work but most rank-and-file members were not spies, he saw no "significance of covert work" to the nature of American communism.[55]

The leading revisionist historian Ellen Schrecker dealt with the matter of espionage a different way, arguing that documents showing espionage may be reporting fiction. She wrote that:


A careful reading of the Venona decrypts leaves the impression ... that the KGB officers stationed in the United States may have been trying to make themselves look good to their Moscow superiors by portraying some of their casual contacts as having been more deeply involved with the Soviet cause than they actually were. These documents do not tell us, for example, whether some of the New Deal officials Bentley worked with were consciously spying for the Russians or just sharing confidences with political allies and friends. A case in point is a cryptic Venona message reporting that Harry Dexter White believed the Soviets could get better terms on a loan than the American government had offered them. Was he betraying his country or merely making small talk?[56]


Schrecker’s suggestion, one advanced by other revisionists as well, sees KGB operations in the U.S. resembling the 1959 comic film "Our Man in Havana" where a British expatriate in Cuba cons an incompetent British intelligence service into thinking he is a master spy by submitting fictitious reports from nonexistent sources.[57] In the real world, any modern intelligence service with sufficient resources and a modicum of sophistication adopts mechanisms to guard against field officer deceit and exaggeration as well as the threat of double agents. In the case of the KGB, a field officer who had identified a candidate for recruitment reviewed the case with the head of the KGB station and received permission to proceed. The next step was the "processing" of the candidate, to use Soviet tradecraft jargon. The intelligence officer gathered background information from various sources to verify the individual’s biography and assess his or her fitness for espionage work. The CPUSA’s liaisons with the KGB, Jacob Golos and Bernard Schuster on the East Coast and Isaac Folkoff on the West Coast, were often called upon to provide background material on prospective recruits. Sometimes the reports were not satisfactory, and a candidate was dropped. If they were positive, then the head of the KGB station would endorse the field officer’s recommendation and ask the KGB Moscow headquarters for "sanction" to proceed with "signing-on," as the KGB called the formal recruitment of a source.

Moscow’s sanction for a recruitment was not automatic or routine. Often the KGB headquarters asked its American station for additional documentation of a candidate’s fitness. The KGB headquarters also did its own independent checking, sending queries to the Communist International to see if its extensive records on the American Communist movement contained relevant information. One case involved Marion Davis, a candidate then working for the Office of Inter-American Affairs in Washington, whom the New York KGB wanted to recruit. The field officer report noted that she had earlier worked at the U.S. embassy in Mexico City and had had contact with Soviet diplomats. Not only did General Fitin of the KGB request Comintern records on Davis, he refused to sanction her recruitment until he received a report from the head of the KGB station in Mexico City. Once Moscow sanctioned a recruitment, the actual signing-on usually consisted of a meeting between the candidate and a professional KGB officer or, more rarely, with one of the KGB’s full-time American agents. The officer who conducted the signing-on then filed a report with Moscow confirming that recruitment was complete. The Moscow KGB expected its field officers to provide regular reports on a source’s productivity. The head of the KGB station in the United States also periodically shifted responsibility for contact with sources among his field officers. Under these circumstances, a faked or exaggerated source would show up quickly and entail severe consequences for the offending officer. In most cases Moscow expected the delivery of actual or filmed documents or reports written personally by the source. Those were delivered to Moscow by diplomatic pouch; and when a source failed to deliver material, Moscow demanded an explanation. Any system is prey to human incompetence and these KGB tradecraft practices did not guarantee perfect results, but they greatly reduce the possibility that the Venona messages are replete with field officer braggadocio.

Let us also examine Schrecker’s specific example, her suggestion that Assistant Secretary of the Treasury Harry White was only "making small talk," and a deceitful KGB officer inflated these remarks into an intelligence report that gullible historians found and mistakenly concluded that White was a spy. The import of this particular Venona message should be judged in conjunction with other evidence such as Whittaker Chamber’s 1939 statement (reaffirmed in the late 1940s) to Assistant Secretary of State Adolph Berle regarding Chambers personal knowledge of White’s assistance to a covert CPUSA network in the late 1930s and Elizabeth Bentley’s testimony to the FBI in 1945 regarding White’s assistant to the CPUSA-KGB network she supervised in 1943 and 1944.

Further, there are fourteen other Venona messages about White’s espionage aside from the one Schrecker questioned. Several of them report information from White delivered by Gregory Silvermaster, a U.S. government economist who ran a large Soviet espionage apparatus. Was Silvermaster exaggerating White’s "small talk" into espionage reports as Alec Guiness did in "Our Man in Havana"? The KGB avoided relying on a single contact with a source, particularly an important one, just to prevent such occurrences. White was very highly placed, and consequently, the KGB in mid-1944 verified White’s bone fides by sending a special officer, not its resident fieldman, to interview White. Kolstov, the cover name of the unidentified KGB officer, does not appear to have been a regular officer from the KGB stations in New York or Washington, but a visitor from Moscow, probably posing as a diplomat in a high-level Soviet delegation who could meet with a man of White’s seniority without attracting security attention. In a report to Moscow, Kolstov stated that:


as regards the technique of further work with us Jurist [White's cover name] said that his wife was ready for any self-sacrifice; he himself did not think about his personal security, but a compromise would lead to a political scandal and the discredit of all supporters of the new course, therefore he would have to be very cautious. He asked whether he should [unrecovered code groups] his work with us. I replied that he should refrain. Jurist [White] has no suitable apartment for a permanent meeting place; all his friends are family people. Meetings could be held at their houses in such a way that one meeting devolved on each every 4-5 months. He proposes infrequent conversations lasting up to half a hour while driving in his automobile.[58]


In 1945, while serving as a senior adviser to the American delegation at the founding conference of the United Nations, White met with another KGB officer, Vladimir Pravdin, and answered a series of questions about America’s U.N. negotiating strategy and how the Soviets could defeat or water down American proposals. To accept the characterization that the documents on White were exaggerated reports of "small talk" one must believe that Chambers and Bentley independently lied about White to American authorities while Silvermaster, Kolstov, and Pravdin similarly misled Soviet authorities about White. Schrecker ignores much evidence and treats other items in isolation and out of context. This is unreasonable.

Other revisionists, however, dealt with the new evidence in a more realistic fashion. When The Secret World of American Communism appeared in 1995 with its collection of Moscow documents, Maurice Isserman recognized that revisionists had to deal seriously with the new evidence, stating "no one will be able to write about the C.P.U.S.A. in the future without reference to this volume."[59] Initially he expected that the new evidence required only limited modification of the revisionist stance and interpreted the documents narrowly, allowing that some American Communists participated in Soviet espionage but minimizing the extent. But as more information appeared, Isserman adjusted his views and in 1999, noted that earlier there had been "sufficient ambiguities and blank spots in the available evidence to offer a last ditch in which the remaining defenders of Alger Hiss and Julius Rosenberg could take their stand," but "with the publication of ... The Haunted Wood ... that ditch just disappeared."[60] By this he did not mean he was adopting the traditionalist position. Rather, he indicated that:


The "new" history of American Communism and what might be called the new history of Communist espionage need not be mutually exclusive, let alone antagonistic, historical inquiries. If this reviewer were to rewrite "Which Side Were You On?" today, it would certainly be influenced by the revelations contained in books like "Venona" and "The Haunted Wood." By the same token, some of the concerns and themes raised by the new history of American Communism are not irrelevant to those who seek to decipher the mixture of faith and breach of faith that created a romance of the clandestine among some American Communists during World War II.[61]


Other revisionists looked at the evidence and adjusted as well. Vernon Pedersen’s 1987 history of the Communist Party of Indiana, a master’s thesis, presented a revisionist narrative. But after visiting the Moscow archives, his 1993 dissertation on the Maryland Communist Party incorporated many traditionalist themes in a way similar to James Ryan’s change of perspective between his 1981 dissertation and 1997 published biography of Earl Browder.[62]

The most ambitious defense of revisionism, Ellen Schrecker’s Many Are the Crimes: McCarthyism in America (1998) takes an entirely different approach. This is a big book, 573 pages, and Schrecker, who has written several earlier books in this area, has combined extensive archival research with voluminous reading of the secondary literature. It is easily the most impressive revisionist book of the fourth wave. Schrecker combined an examination of anticommunism with an analysis of CPUSA history, a sensible, even necessary approach. Schrecker noted, too sweepingly but with considerable accuracy in regard to the academic world, that "there is a near-universal consensus that much of what happened during the late 1940s and 1950s was misguided or worse."[63] This consensus, however, takes as a premise the revisionist view that the CPUSA was a normal, albeit radical, political movement, more rooted in American traditions than subordinate to Moscow, and had no significant involvement with Soviet espionage. For example, David Caute’s influential 1978 book, The Great Fear, had placed in emphasized type the 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."[64] The new evidence refuted this assertion and threatens to sweep away the foundations of the "near-universal consensus" on anticommunism. Consequently, in bringing the revisionist interpretation up to date Schrecker needed to offer an account of the CPUSA that took cognizance of the new evidence.

Although rarely going into specifics, she offered harsher assessments of the CPUSA than had most revisionists of the earlier era. On the party’s internal life, she wrote that "discipline was central to the CP’s identify" and:


In their political work (and for many activists in their daily lives as well) Communists were expected to comply with party directives. Even during its more reformist phases, where there was little difference between the aims and actions of the ‘big C’ and ‘small c’ Communists, the American Communist party never abandoned its demand for conformity. It was -- in theory and in ways that shaped the behavior of its members -- a tightly organized, highly disciplined, international revolutionary socialist organization.[65]


Further she remarked that:


The rapidity and unanimity of the party’s flips and flops indicates, as if such proof were necessary, how little self-government the American party had. Its quasi-military culture precluded real debate. Members of a vanguard party, lower-level cadres actually prided themselves on their discipline. As one labor organizer recalled, "edicts were handed down and we didn’t examine them."


She noted at several points the party’s habit of secrecy and deception and the existence of an undergrown arm, commenting that "militance or moderation of the CP’s current line seemed to make little difference. There was almost as much secrecy during the Popular Front and World War II as there had been when the party took a more openly revolutionary stance." She also agreed that the CPUSA required its supporters in the labor movement to put party policy above union goals despite the high price that required, writing that the CPUSA’s "demand that its labor cadres back the Progressive party destroyed whatever influence the party had within the mainstream of the labor movement."[66]

As for the party’s relationship with the USSR, Schrecker stated: "even when the party grew during the 1930s and 1940s and took on the trappings of a much more Americanized reform movement, it never wavered in its internationalism and its support for the Soviet Union as the world’s main socialist regime" and "it was unthinkable for American Communists to defy what they interpreted as a directive from the Soviet Union." She observed that this deference to the Soviet Union included conscious support for Stalin’s terror, remarking that "Peggy Dennis, the wife of the party’s future general secretary, was actually in Moscow during the purges and saw several friends disappear. She knew what was happening, but accepted it ‘as part of the brutal realities of making a revolution, of building an oasis of socialism in a sea of enemies.’" On the matter of spying, she says "it is clear that some kind of espionage took place during the 1930s and 1940s" and "as the evidence accumulates, it does seem as if many of the alleged spies had, indeed, helped the Russians."[67]

A traditionalist scholar could have written those observations, and they sound very damning. But what did Schrecker see as the appropriate response of the American body politic to a CPUSA that she describes as quasi-military, secretive, maintained a covert arm, required its members to obey its instructions outside of the conventional political arena, supported mass terror, was funded by and subordinate to a foreign tyranny, and had assisted that tyranny in espionage against the United States? Nothing hostile or critical according to Many are the Crimes. In looking back at the 1930s and 1940s, Schrecker depicted in a negative light all varieties of criticism of or opposition to communism. She stated that the "term McCarthyism is invariably pejorative" and then applies that pejorative term to any opposition to communism. Joseph McCarthy, his allies and imitators she termed McCarthyists, but there were "many McCarthyisms" including "a liberal version ... and there was even a left-wing version composed of anti-Stalinist radicals." Of the latter, she took the view that "Socialists and other left-wing anti-Communists functioned as a kind of intelligence service for the rest of the [anti-Communist] network."[68] Consequently, weighted in the balance and found wanting are Harry Truman, the Americans for Democratic Action, the AFL, the CIO (its non-Communist majority under Philip Murray), Trotskyists, Lovestoneists, Socialists, Roman Catholics, the FBI, Partisan Review and the "New York intellectuals," Sidney Hook, Hubert Humphrey, Morris Ernst, Norman Thomas, Walter Reuther, and on and on.

As for espionage, Schrecker whittled down her broad statement that "many of the alleged spies had, indeed, helped the Russians" to not very many and those who were left received absolution. Schrecker admitted to Julius Rosenberg guilt but refused to accept that of Hiss: the case remains "problematic" and she attacked Whittaker Chambers credibility. As for the large espionage networks described by Elizabeth Bentley, Schrecker denounced her as a "melodramatic, unstable, and alcoholic woman" who was "not a reliable informant" and who "fabricated parts of her original account." Schrecker did not specify what was fabricated and added that "something had been going on."[69] But what? In Schrecker’s view, nothing bad:


were these activities so awful? Was the espionage, which unquestionably occurred, such a serious threat to the nation’s security that it required the development of a politically repressive internal security system? It may be useful to take a more nuanced position and go beyond the question of guilt or innocence to ascertain not only how dangerous the transmission of unauthorized information was, but also why it occurred. Because espionage is an issue that carries such heavy emotional freight, it is usually treated in a monolithic way that overlooks distinctions between different types of spying and different types of spies.[70]


Schrecker also pointed to the motivation of Communist spies, stating that:


the men and women who gave information to Moscow in the 1930s and 1940s did so for political, not pecuniary reasons. They were already committed to Communism and they viewed what they were doing as their contribution to the cause ... [and] ... it is important to realize that as Communists these people did not subscribe to traditional forms of patriotism; they were internationalists whose political allegiances transcended national boundaries. They thought they were ‘building .. a better world for the masses,’ not betraying their country.[71]


One might regard these latter observations as justifying the suspicion with which security officials regarded Communist who worked in sensitive positions. If wished to protect American secrets, would one trust someone whose "political allegiances transcended national boundaries," "did not subscribe to traditional forms of patriotism," or regarded given secrets to the USSR as "not betraying their country" but as "building .. a better world for the masses"? Many people would regard trusting national secrets to such a person as a foolish act. But not Schrecker. She regarded these observations as exculpatory: they spied for a good cause, and she treats imposition of security measures on Communists, even on those engaged in espionage, as a moral outrage. Although she agreed that Julius Rosenberg was engaged in espionage, she labeled his firing from a defense plant on security grounds as an example of "inquisitorial" tactics by American authorities.[72]

Schrecker stated "I do not think that I conceal my sympathy for many of the men and women who suffered during the McCarthy era nor my agreement with much (though not all) of their political agenda."[73] Indeed, she did not conceal her admiration for Communists as "progressives" devoted to the same causes that she supports. Many are the Crimes, to use an in vogue academic word, ‘privileges’ Communists. Their flaws, shortcomings, and imperfections receive understanding or palliation; for example, in the statement that "the party’s secrecy was the understandable -- though deleterious -- response to the official and unofficial harassment that it often faced. Its rigid discipline kept the organization united in the face of repression and of the frequent changes in its line. Even its tie to the Soviet Union, the fatal flaw of American Communism, could be, in certain circumstances, genuinely advantageous from the CP’s perspective" or "though many of these zigs and zags were charted in response to directions from Moscow, a more independent organization would still have experienced similar shifts between revolution and reform." She dismissed violation of American passport and others laws by American and foreign Communist agents as "technically illegal" and criticized enforcement of those laws against Communists.[74] At one point Schrecker remarked that "Communists were not good allies. They were secretive, authoritarian, opportunistic, and insulting." Given that, one might think that a reluctance to work with Communists would be understandable, but in view of the privileged status Schrecker accords the CPUSA, she regarded it as the responsibility of non-Communists to accommodate Communist habits. She blamed the "sensitivity, perhaps even hypersensitivity to communist tactics" for the Socialist party’s failure to "cooperate effectively with the CP."[75]

As for anticommunism and anti-Communists, again to use voguish academic terminology, Schrecker ‘demonized’ them as the ‘other.’ Fervid opposition to communism, Schrecker explained, "tap[ped] into something dark and nasty in the human soul," and she held it responsible for most of the ills of American society since 1945. Many are the Crimes indicted anticommunism for destroying the civil rights movement’s ties to the "anti-imperialist left" and thereby "deprived the African nationalists of their main American ally, thus indirectly strengthening that continent’s colonial regimes." Deprived of its Communist element, "most civil rights groups in the 1950s were conservative, respectable, and small -- and posed little challenge to the entrenched Southern way of life." Schrecker held anticommunism responsible for the Taft-Hartley act and added "debilitating as Taft-Hartley was, it was not solely responsible for labor’s disastrous failure to replenish its ranks. Here, again, the anticommunist crusade bears much of the responsibility, for it diverted the mainstream unions from organizing the unorganized." Anti-Communists also bore responsibility for the failure of national health insurance, increased inefficiency in government (talented people left government service) and the inability of the government to generate unbiased foreign intelligence and foreign policy analysis due to security regulations removing people with Communist ties for diplomatic and intelligence duties.[76]

Anticommunism’s baleful influence on culture, according to Schrecker, included the slow development of feminism, elimination of talented musicians from orchestras, dull television programing (which gets a page and a half and concludes that "the patterns of institutional restraint and self-censorship established during the McCarthy era are still around"), promoting in Hollywood "the good guy/bad guy polarization of the Westerns, the unthinking patriotism of the war movies, the global triumphalism of the bible epics, and the constricted sexuality of the romantic comedies." Because of McCarthyism, "in the fine arts, for example, serious painters abandoned realism" and a "more subtle form of censorship destroyed the artistic vision of the Popular Front, marginalizing entire schools of representation and severing the connection between art and social responsibility." Anticommunism also got the blame for retarding the progress of science, crippling higher education, and Richard Nixon’s abuse of presidential powers. Finally, in an ominous, but to this author opaque, concluding observation, Schrecker stated "only now, under the impact of a globalized, yet atomized, capitalist system, political repression may have become so diffuse that we do not recognize it when it occurs."[77]

In addition to the direct evils of anticommunism, Schrecker also offered crimson dreams of a far better America that would have come about if only American Communists had been allowed to operate without criticism or restraint: "We are looking at a lost moment of opportunity, when in the immediate aftermath of World War II the left-labor coalition that McCarthyism destroyed might have offered an alternative to the rigid pursuit of the Cold War and provided the basis for an expanded welfare state" and "we encounter a world of things that did not happen: reforms that were never implemented, unions that were never organized, movements that never started, books that were never published, films that were never produced. And questions that were never asked." She observed that "at a time when most of their fellow citizens were ignorant and uninterested, Communists knew about the world and cared about it. They belonged to an international movement that alerted them to what was going on in places like South Africa and Vietnam and helped them do something about it."[78]

Triumphalism and the Lost Cause

In this post-Soviet fourth wave of scholarship, revisionists have accused traditionalists of ‘triumphalism.’ This is chiefly a complaint that traditionalists were pleased by the outcome of the Cold War. Probably most were. Most traditionalists, all of them that this author knows, disliked communism. Certainly the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 filled this author with great joy and the hauling down of the Soviet flag on December 25, 1991 was occasion for celebration.

Most revisionists had an converse attitude toward communism and an opposite reaction to the outcome of the Cold War. Indeed, one variety of revisionist writing in the post-Soviet period has taken on a ‘Lost Cause’ quality. Analogies can distort, but they can also illuminate. The South’s Lost Cause myth held sway among White Southerners in the first half of the 20th century: it was waning by the time of this author’s youth in the Deep South but was far from gone. Like much revisionist writing about American communism, advocates of the Lost Cause presented the Southern Confederacy as a tragic but noble cause, although exactly what the cause was, was left vague. States rights often got emphasis, and this author once sat through a lecture on unfair tariffs as the casus belli. As for slavery, it was in the back of the pack as a cause, and, anyway, slavery wasn’t so bad. This insistence that slavery was not at the heart of the Confederate cause is very similar to the tendency of some revisionists to produce what Draper called "Communists-without-communism," banishing the CPUSA’s Marxist-Leninist goals to a back room. One recent example of how deep this attitude has become accepted in intellectual circles is the comment by the popular cultural historian David Biskind that the CPUSA was "little more than a ‘conspiracy’ of well-meaning liberals to raise the minimum wage and secure social justice for ‘Negroes.’"[79] Another is the lavish praise accorded American Communists in Eric Foner’s The Story of American Freedom (1999).[80] Foner is a major figure in the historical establishment, having been elected president of both the Organization of American Historians and the American Historical Association and holding the prestigious position of DeWitt Clinton Professor of History at Columbia University. His bizarre romanticized portrait of these Stalinist loyalists as the carriers of the torch of freedom and democracy in the 1930s illustrates the tenacious support for revisionism within the academy.

In the South’s Lost Cause narrative the steadfast bravery of Southern soldiery looms large as well as the glorification of Confederate military leaders: the dogged aggressiveness of Stonewall Jackson, the unschooled tactical genius of Bedford Forrest, and, above all, the revered gentleman soldier Robert E. Lee. But of the many Southern political leaders that brought about secession and set the Gray armies on their march, only CSA President Jefferson Davis got much attention in the Lost Cause narration, and he had a lower profile than the military commanders who reported to him. Similarly, in the Lost Cause myth of revisionist American Communism the CPUSA and its top leaders fade into the background and the picket-line bravery and occasional martyrdom of its labor organizers comes to the fore. There was a deplorable evil in the Lost Cause version of Civil War history, but it wasn’t slavery, it was Reconstruction. Captured in the classic Lost Cause film "Birth of a Nation," the South saw itself as the victim of a repressive and harsh military occupation with honest Southerners abused by turncoat scalawags and cruel carpet baggers. The revisionist equivalent of Reconstruction is McCarthyism, ex-Communists are scalawags, and congressional committees play the carpet bagger role.

In his 1928 epic poem "John Brown’s Body," Stephen Vincent Benét tells the story of the American Civil War. "John Brown’s Body" is poetry, not history, but it is poetry informed by a man who steeped himself in the scholarship of that conflict. Benét used his poem to deflate the then very powerful Lost Cause illusions of the White South. He did this both by offering an accurate description of the issues in the conflict but also by deliberate anachronism. At points some of his characters offer up not what was true for the time but what the White South had come to insist had been true.

One of the poem’s characters, Clay Wingate, represents the White South’s cavalier image of its history. Wingate in 1861 prepares to join the Confederate cavalry and ponders why he and the South are going to war. Was he going to war to preserve slavery? Wingate says firmly:


It wasn’t slavery,

That stale red-herring of Yankee knavery.


(In this one can almost hear revisionists denouncing bringing up Stalin as the ‘stale red-herring of anti-Communist knavery.’) And what did Wingate say he was fighting for?


something so dim that it must be holy.

A voice, a fragrance, a taste of wine

A face half-seen in old candleshine...

Something beyond you that you must trust,

Something so shrouded it must be great.


Wingate’s flowery explanation sounds very noble, and much like revisionists who insist that Communists were fighting not for Marxism-Leninism but for noble but vague causes such as "social justice" and "progressive political reform."[81] Benét rejects Wingate’s self-deception and in the conclusion of "John Brown’s Body" tells the White South that the dimly seen object of Wingate’s veneration was "the sick magnolias of a false romance," a rhetorical camouflaging and forgetting of the centrality of slavery to the war. Benét also speaks to the Lost Cause myth of the kind slave master with contented slaves. Benét allows that perhaps there were rare individuals who took slavery and "tamed [it] into mercy, being wise," but that even these "could not starve the tiger from its eyes, Or make it feed where beasts of mercy feed." And he concludes by urging White Southerners to acknowledge slavery’s evil and:


Bury this destiny unmanifest,

This system broken underneath the test,...

Bury the whip, bury the branding-bars,

Bury the unjust thing [that is slavery]...

And with these things, bury the purple dream

Of the America we have not been.


One can no more starve Stalin out of the eyes of American communism and make it feed where beasts of democracy feed than the White South could make slavery into a benign institution. And one ought to bury the crimson dream of a benign American communism that never was.



Return to Articles and Essays Return to Historical Writings




1. "Revisionist McCarthyism," New York Times (23 October 1998) A22

2. Ronald Radosh, John Earl Haynes, and Harvey Klehr, "Spy stories: The Times vs. history," The New Republic (16 November 1998), 15-16. The latter reference is to Harvey Klehr and Ronald Radosh, The Amerasia Spy Case: Prelude to McCarthyism (Chapel Hill, N.C.: University of North Carolina Press, 1996). A year latter a book appeared that actually came close to matching the claimed target of the Times's ire, Arthur Herman’s Joseph McCarthy: Reexamining the Life and Legacy of America’s Most Hated Senator, (New York: The Free Press, 1999) the first ever full-scale scholarly defense, albeit qualified, of McCarthy.

3. Jacob Weisberg, "Cold War Without End," New York Times Sunday Magazine (28 November 1999), 116-123, 155-158.

4. Anna Kasten Nelson, "Illuminating the Twilight Struggle: New Interpretations of the Cold War," The Chronicle of Higher Education (25 June 1999), B6.

5. David Oshinsky, "McCarthy, Still Unredeemable," New York Times (7 November 1998) A20.

6. John Earl Haynes, Communism and Anti-Communism in the United States: An Annotated Guide to Historical Writings (New York: Garland, 1987). Citations since 1987 can be found in the author’s quarterly "Writings on the History of American Communism" in the Newsletter of the Historians of American Communism, a publication that has appeared continuously since 1982.

7. Theodore Draper, The Roots of American Communism (New York: Viking Press, 1957); Daniel Aaron, Writers on the Left: Episodes in American Literary Communism (New York: Harcourt, Brace and World, 1959); Robert W. Iversen, The Communists and the Schools (New York: Harcourt, Brace and Co., 1959); David Shannon, The Decline of American Communism: A History of the Communist Party of the United States Since 1945 (New York: Harcourt, Brace and Co., 1959); Theodore Draper, American Communism and Soviet Russia, The Formative Period (New York: Viking Press, 1960); Clinton Rossiter, Marxism: The View from America (New York: Harcourt, Brace and Co., 1960); Ralph L. Roy, Communism and the Churches (New York: Harcourt, Brace and Co., 1960); Nathan Glazer, The Social Basis of American Communism (New York: Harcourt Brace, and World, 1961); Frank S. Meyer, The Molding of Communists; The Training of the Communist Cadre (New York: Harcourt, Brace and Co., 1961); Earl Latham, The Communist Controversy in Washington: From the New Deal to Mccarthy (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1966).

8. Max Kampelman, The Communist Party vs. the C.I.O.: A Study in Power Politics (New York: F.A. Praeger, 1957).

9. Robert Griffith and Athan Theoharis, eds., The Specter: Original Essays on the Cold War and the Origins of McCarthyism (New York: New Viewpoints, 1974). Authors in the volume include Leslie Adler, Richard Fried, Robert Griffith, Peter Irons, Ronald Lora, Donald Crosby, Michael O’Brien, Norman Markowitz, and David Oshinsky.

10. Robert Griffith: The Politics of Fear: Joseph McCarthy and the Senate (Lexington: University of Kentucky Press, 1970), 30-31.

11. Leslie K. Adler and Thomas G. Paterson, "Red Fascism: The Merger of Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia in the American Image of Totalitarianism, 1930’s-1950’s," American Historical Review 75,4 (April 1970), 1049, 1061 & 063..

12. Harvey Klehr, The Heyday of American Communism: The Depression Decade (New York: Basic Books, 1984); Maurice Isserman, Which Side Were Your On? The American Communist Party During the Second World War (Middletown: Wesleyan University Press, 1982); Joseph Starobin, American Communism in Crisis, 1943-1957 (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1972).

13. Guenter Lewy, The Cause That Failed: Communism in American Political Life (New York: Oxford University Press, 1990); Fraser M. Ottanelli, The Communist Party of the United States from the Depression to World War II (New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 1991); Harvey Klehr and John Earl Haynes, The American Communist Movement: Storming Heaven Itself (New York: Twayne Publishers, 1992).

14. Staughton Lynd, "The Possibility of Radicalism in the Early 1930s: The Case of Steel." Radical America 6 (Nov.-Dec. 1972), 37-64; John Gerassi, "The Comintern, the Fronts, and the CPUSA" in New Studies in the Politics and Culture of U.S. Communism, Michael Brown, Randy Martin, Frank Rosengarten, and George Snedeker, eds., (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1993), 75-90.

15. Roger Keeran, The Communist Party and the Auto Workers Unions (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1980); Gerald Horne, Black and Red: W.E.B. Du Bois and the Afro-American Response to the Cold War, 1944-1963 (Albany: SUNY Press, 1986), Communist Front? The Civil Rights Congress, 1946-1956 (Cranbury, N.J.: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 1987) and Black Liberation/Red Scare: Ben Davis and the Communist Party (Newark, Del.: University of Delaware Press, 1993).

16. Draper, The Roots of American Communism, 395.

17. Klehr and Haynes, The American Communist Movement, 4 & 179.

18. Major traditionalist books from this era include: Aileen S. Kraditor, "Jimmy Higgins:" The Mental World of the American Rank-and-File Communist, 1930-1958 (New York: Greenwood Press, 1988); Bert Cochran, Labor and Communism: The Conflict that Shaped American Unions (Princeton: University Press, 1977); John Earl Haynes, Dubious Alliance: The Making of Minnesota’s DFL Party (Minneapolis, University of Minnesota Press, 1984); Harvey Klehr, Communist Cadre: The Social Background of the American Communist Party Elite (Stanford: Hoover Institution Press, 1978); and Lowell Dyson, Red Harvest, The Communist Party and American Farmers (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1982).

19. Maurice Isserman, "Three Generations: Historians View American Communism," Labor History 26,4 (Fall 1985), 539-40.

20. The CPUSA put major emphasis on union work. While most revisionist studies in this area are specialized, those with a broader focus include Harvey A. Levenstein, Communism, Anticommunism, and the CIO (Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1981) and Steve Rosswurm, ed., The CIO’s Left-Led Unions (New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 1992) with essays by Nancy Quam-Wickham, Bruce Nelson, Karl Korstad, Rosemary Feurer, Ellen W. Schrecker, Mark McColloch, Gerald Zahavi, and Tom Juravich.

21. Mark Naison, Communists in Harlem During the Depression (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1983).

22. Ottanelli, The Communist Party of the United States, 5; Rosswurm, The CIO’s Left-Led Unions, x. Rosswurm is quoting and ratifying the evaluation of another revisionist historian, Frank Emspak, given in the revisionist Encyclopedia of the American Left, Mari Jo Buhle, Paul Buhle, and Dan Georgakas, eds. (New York: Garland Publishing, 1990), 788.

23. Isserman, "Three Generations," 544-545.

24. Isserman’s Which Side Were You On?, one of the few party-centered studies, focuses on the period from late 1939 to 1946, with brief summaries on the 1930s and the late 1940s. Ottanelli’s The Communist Party of the United States from Depression to World War II has a somewhat greater span, covering the party from the late 1920s to 1940 with a concluding chapter quickly taking story to 1945.

25. Ottanelli, The Communist Party, 194.

26. Isserman, "Three Generations," 538.

27. Gary Gerstle, "Mission From Moscow: American Communism in the 1930s." Reviews in American History ((December 1984), 561.

28. Theodore Draper, "American Communism Revisited," New York Review of Books 32,8 (9 May 1985), "The Popular Front Revisited," New York Review of Books 32,9 (30 May 1985), American Communism and Soviet Russia (New York: Vintage, 1986).

29. Theodore Draper, "The Life of the Party," New York Review of Books 41,1 (13 January 1994), 47.

30. Paul Lyons, Philadelphia Communists, 1936-1956 (Philadelphia, Temple University Press, 1982), 18 & 238; Isserman, "Three Generations," 537.

31. Alan Wald, "Communist Writers Fight Back in Cold War Amerika" in Styles of Cultural Activism: From Theory and Pedagogy to Women, Indians and Communism, Philip Goldstein, ed., (Newark, Del.: University of Delaware Press, 1994), 218; Alan Wald, The New York Intellectuals: The Rise and Decline of the Anti-Stalinist Left from the 1930s to the 1980s (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1987).

32. Michael E. Brown, "Introduction: The History of the History of U.S. Communism" in Brown, Martin, Rosengarten, and Snedeker, New Studies in the Politics and Culture of U.S. Communism, 21 & 28. By "critical historiography" Brown meant critical of American society, not critical of the CPUSA. Other authors in this volume include Rosalyn Baxandall, John Gerassi, Marvin Gettleman, Gerald Horne, Roger Keeran, Mark Naison, Stephen Leberstein, Ellen Schrecker, Annette Rubinstein, Alan Wald, and Anders Stephanson. Wald later disassociated himself from what he termed were Brown’s "oddball opinions" and suggested that few revisionists shared Brown’s views. Alan Wald, "Search for a Method: Recent Histories of American Communism," Radical History Review 61 (1995), n. 10, p. 173.

33. Norman Markowitz, "The New Cold-War ‘Scholarship.’" Political Affairs 62 (Oct. 1983), 27-38; Gerald Horne, "Communists in Harlem During the Depression," Political Affairs 63 (September-October 1984), 36-38. Isserman in "Three Generations" differentiated the "new historians" from revisionists such as Markowitz who were closest to the CPUSA’s self-perception of its history. Markowitz, a CPUSA member, is best know for The Rise and Fall of the People’s Century: Henry A. Wallace and American Liberalism, 1941-1948 (New York: Free Press, 1973).

34. Isserman, "Three Generations," 544.

35. In 1934 the American Communist poet Tillie Olsen (much praised in revisionist literature) described Stalin’s USSR in one of her poems as "a heaven ... brought to earth in 1917 in Russia." T. Lerner [Tillie Olsen], "I Want You Women Up North to Know," Partisan 1 (March 1934), 4.

36. Harvey Klehr, John Earl Haynes, and Fredrik Firsov, The Secret World of American Communism (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press; 1995), Harvey Klehr, John Earl Haynes and Kyrill Anderson, The Soviet World of American Communism, (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press; 1998), and John Earl Haynes and Harvey Klehr, Venona: Decoding Soviet Espionage in America (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press; 1999).

37. Revisionists treated with particular derision evidence from former Communists who had become critical of the party and evidence provided via a U.S. government counter-intelligence agency such as the FBI or by a congressional investigatory committee.

38. Klehr and Haynes, The American Communist Movement, 108.

39. Allen Weinstein, Perjury: The Hiss-Chambers Case (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1978); Ronald Radosh and Joyce Milton, The Rosenberg File: A Search for the Truth (New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1983).

40. The chief polemical work supporting the innocence of the Rosenbergs is Walter Schneir and Miriam Schneir’s Invitation to an Inquest: A New Look at the Rosenberg-Sobell Case (New York: Dell, 1968) while upholding Hiss’s innocence is John Chabot Smith’s Alger Hiss: The True Story (New York: Holt, Rinehart & Winston, 1976).

41. A recent example of selective focus is the chapter on the Rosenberg case in J. Hoberman’s Red Atlantis: Communist Culture in the Absence of Communism (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1998), 216-265.

42. Robert Griffith, The Politics of Fear: Joseph R. McCarthy and the Senate (second edition, Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1987), xxii-xxiii. Not all revisionists made use of such devices: Maurice Isserman, for example, stated his acceptance that Julius Rosenberg probably was guilty.

43. National Standards for United States History: Exploring the American Experience, Grades 5-12, expanded edition (Los Angeles, Calif.: National Center for History in the Schools, 1994).

44. Herbert L. Packer, Ex-Communist Witnesses, Four Studies in Fact Finding (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1962), 222.

45. David Caute, The Great Fear: The Anti-Communist Purge Under Truman and Eisenhower (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1978), 56, 108-109, 318, 343, 353; Latham, The Communist Controversy in Washington, 160.

46. Sam Tanenhaus, Whittaker Chambers: A Biography (New York: Random House, 1997); Allen Weinstein, Perjury: The Hiss-Chambers Case (New York: Random House, 1997); Joseph Albright and Marcia Kunstel, Bombshell: The Secret Story of America’s Unknown Atomic Spy Conspiracy (New York: Times Books, 1997); Allen Weinstein and Alexander Vassiliev, The Haunted Wood: Soviet Espionage in America -- The Stalin Era (Random House, New York, N.Y.: 1999; Christopher Andrew and Vasili Mitrokhin, The Sword and the Shield: The Mitrokhin Archive and the Secret History of the KGB (New York: Basic Books, 1999); Nigel West, Venona: The Greatest Secret of the Cold War (HarperCollins Publishers, London, U.K. 1999). The Venona documents were a body of nearly 3,000 KGB, GRU and Naval GRU World War II cables that had been secretly decoded by American and British cryptanalysts in the late 1940s and 1950s. The U.S. National Security Agency declassified and released the Venona messages in batches from 1995 to 1998.

47. Haynes and Klehr, Venona, 7.

48. James G. Ryan, Earl Browder: The Failure of American Communism (Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 1997), 274; "Earl Browder and American Communism at High Tide: 1934-1945," Ph.D. dissertation, University of Notre Dame, 1981.

49. Ted Morgan, A Covert Life: Jay Lovestone: Communist, Anti-Communist, and Spymaster (New York: Random House, 1999). Morgan’s book, although based on extensive archival research, is aimed at an educated public rather than a scholarly audience and has limited citations.

50. Richard Gid Powers, Not Without Honor: The History of American Anticommunism (New York: Free Press, 1996), 503.

51. John Earl Haynes, Red Scare or Red Menace? American Communism and Anticommunism in the Cold War Era (Chicago, Ivan Dee, 1996), 3, 200.

52. Michael Denning, The Cultural Front: the Laboring of American Culture in the Twentieth Century (New York: Verso, 1997).

53. Edward Johanningsmeier, "The Secret World of American Communism," Labor History 36,4 (Fall 1995), 635.

54. Edward P. Johanningsmeier, Forging American Communism: the Life of William Z. Foster (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1998), xii.

55. Edward Johanningsmeier, "The Secret World of American Communism," 635.

56. Ellen Schrecker, Many Are the Crimes: McCarthyism in America (Boston: Little, Brown, 1998), 180.

57. The revisionist Anna Kasten Nelson advanced this among other reasons to reject Weinstein and Vassiliev’s The Haunted Wood as well as this author and Klehr’s Venona in her "Illuminating the Twilight Struggle," B4-6. She doesn’t think much of documents in Soviet diplomatic archives either and deprecated John Louis Gaddis’s Now We Know: Rethinking Cold War History. Her sour dismissals are phrased as broad generalizations, and she avoids committing herself on specific cases, incidents or persons.

58. Venona 1119-1121 KGB New York to Moscow, 4-5 August 1944.

59. Maurice Isserman, "Notes From Underground," The Nation (12 June 1995), 846.

60. Maurice Isserman, "Guess What - They Really Were Spies," Forward (29 January 1999), 11.

61. Maurice Isserman, "They Led Two Lives," New York Times Book Review (9 May 1999), 35.

62. Vernon L. Pedersen, "Riding the Wave: The Indiana Communist Party, 1929-1934" (M.A. thesis, Indiana State University, 1987) & "Red, White And Blue: The Communist Party of Maryland, 1919-1949 (Ph.D. dissertation, Georgetown University, 1993).

63. Schrecker, Many Are the Crimes, x. In addition to many essays, her other books include No Ivory Tower: McCarthyism and the Universities (New York: Oxford University Press, 1986) & The Age of McCarthyism: A Brief History With Documents (Boston, Mass.: Bedford Books, 1994).

64. Caute, The Great Fear, 54. Emphasis in the original.

65. Schrecker, Many Are the Crimes, 5-6. "‘Big C’ and ‘small c’" are Schrecker’s version of the two Communist parties thesis.

66. Ibid., 22, 25 & 36.

67. Ibid., 10, 18, 21 & 166.

68. Ibid., x, xii, 75-76.

69. Ibid., 172-173, 175.

70. Ibid., 178-179.

71. Ibid., 181

72. Ibid., 108.

73. Ibid., xviii.

74. Ibid., 4, 8, 125.

75. Ibid., 77.

76. Ibid., 46, 375-376, 381, 390. Regarding the regrettable affects of anticommunism on the U.S. State Department efficiency, Schrecker specifically cited the removal of Carl Marzani, a former OSS official, from his State Department job. What goes unmentioned is that Marzani had been a secret member of the CPUSA, was recruited as a Soviet agent by the KGB in 1939, and, after his firing, set up a publishing firm that the KGB secretly subsidized.

77. Ibid., 399-402, 415. Revisionist historian Norman Markowitz applauded and endorsed Schrecker's demonized image of anticommuism, stating that "primal anti-Communism is generally associated with Vichy collaborators and Nazi occupiers in World War II, and later with U.S. Cold Warriors. The purpose of 'primal anti-Communism' was to suppress all forms of critical thought and dissent." Norman Markowitz, "Anti-Communism Old and 'New'," Political Affairs (August/September 1999), 16.

78. Ibid., 369 & 374.

79. Biskind, Peter, "Dirty Realism," Los Angeles Times (18 July 1999), Book Review section, p. 4.

80. Eric Foner, The Story of American Freedom (New York: Norton, 1999).

81. The latter from Biskind, the former from Schrecker.