An Essay on Historical Writing on Domestic 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
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."
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."
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
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. 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. 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
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
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
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.
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
In revisionist writing the
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. 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. The interpretive approaches in the third wave ranged from criticism of the CPUSA for insufficient revolutionary vigor, to partisanship for communism, 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." 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
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
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
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. 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.
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
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." 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."
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
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
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." It is a point embraced by many revisionists who often termed themselves social historians and disparaged traditionalist scholars for their "old style political history." 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.
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."
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." 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:
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."
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
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
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
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
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
Traditionalists, of course, had different expectations and eagerly made
their way to
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. 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
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
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
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. 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. 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
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
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.
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." 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
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
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
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
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
While the opening of
Taking a different tack, Edward Johanningsmeier visited the archives in
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. 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
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
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. 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.
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
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.
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." 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." 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.
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
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."
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
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.
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."
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
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." 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." 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.
Schrecker also pointed to the motivation of Communist spies, stating that:
the men and women who
gave information to
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
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." 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
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.
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."
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
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
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." 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
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.
END OF TEXT
1. "Revisionist McCarthyism,"
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
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
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
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, "
28. Theodore Draper, "American Communism Revisited,"
29. Theodore Draper, "The Life of the Party,"
30. Paul Lyons,
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
33. Norman Markowitz, "The New Cold-War ‘Scholarship.’" Political
Affairs 62 (Oct. 1983), 27-38; Gerald Horne, "Communists in
34. Isserman, "Three Generations," 544.
35. In 1934 the American Communist poet Tillie Olsen (much praised in
revisionist literature) described Stalin’s
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
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
40. The chief polemical work supporting the innocence of the
41. A recent example of selective focus is the chapter on the
42. Robert Griffith, The Politics of Fear: Joseph R. McCarthy and the
Senate (second edition,
43. National Standards for
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
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
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
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
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
78. Ibid., 369 & 374.
79. Biskind, Peter, "Dirty Realism,"
80. Eric Foner, The Story of American Freedom (New York: Norton, 1999).
81. The latter from Biskind, the former from Schrecker.