Books on Communists in the US government

In The Web of Subversion, James Burnham lays out the evidence of Communist infiltration of the US government as it existed in 1954 (when the book was published).  I'm going to contrast Burnham's account of this infiltration with the recently written Blacklisted by History by M. Stanton Evans.

Burnham's book is about a third the size of Evans'.   Burnham relies mostly largely on the testimonies of Elizabeth Bentley and Whittaker Chambers.  Evans has the added benefit of additional testimonies from people who later renounced Communism, the Soviet archives (it seems the Soviets were better than the Americans at only two things: 1) spying and 2) keeping records), and FBI files.  What is most fascinating is that there is not much that Evans knows that Burnham didn't also know.  This fact raises some interesting questions.

Burnham's book is a bit easier to read.  In some ways it's more informative.  Evans' may leave you thinking that we only know stuff now because of recent findings, particularly Venona.  Evans' spends most of his time tracing Communist infiltration of government, but he also spends a lot of time on McCarthy.

McCarthy clearly got screwed.  He was basically correct about everything.  The tactics that we associate with "McCarthyism," ironically enough, were basically only applied against McCarthy.  He was correct all along, yet he ended up censured and soon dead from booze.  Most of the people he "martyred" were quickly given high paying jobs in international organizations and were heroes in the elite set, which was the only set these people had any dealings with.  At worst, they might be forced to open "a theatre in Greenwich Village called Club Cinema to air mostly foreign-language titles, with occasional live performances."  I did not make that up, it's real.  To get a sense of how McCarthyism worked, just (carefully) read the Wikipedia pages of some of McCarthy's "victims."

Take, for example, Solomon Adler.  Mr Adler gets called out by Chambers and Bentley.  (As an aside, I can't recommend Chambers' book Witness highly enough, I'll read Bentley's as soon as I can get my hands on a copy).  After getting "martyred" Adler had to tough-it-out working for Cambridge University and then as a propagandist for the ChiComs (Chinese Communists) – he helped translate Mao's works into English.  Adler is perhaps not the best example, since Wikipedia almost brings itself to say that Adler was actually a Communist who spied for the USSR on the US government and helped undermine US efforts in China.  Adler thereby helped bring Mao to power and kill something like 60 million people.  Viva la revolucion!  The list could go on for days.  It's interesting that Wikipedia can't quite bring itself to say that all of these people were in fact Communists or fellow-travelers working to undermine the USG.

Here is a list of McCarthy "victims" from from Evans: Harold Glass­er; Cedric Bel­frage; David Karr; T. A. Bis­son; Mary Jane Keeney; V. Frank Coe; Leonard Mins; Lauch­lin Cur­rie; Franz Neumann.  Reading their wiki pages is illuminating – I'll edit their wiki pages to say they were communists and we'll see how long the powers that be let it stand despite the overwhelming evidence.  Or try Annie Lee Moss.  Wikipedia says (presumably seriously), "Among some conservative authors, the evidence of Moss's Communist Party membership has been used as part of an attempted vindication of McCarthy.  Historians with a mainstream view of McCarthy have placed little importance on the issue of Moss's guilt [emphasis mine]."  It doesn't matter that McCarthy was right and therefore it doesn't matter that these people sold hundreds of millions of other people into slavery and death!  After all, McCarthy was sometimes kind of a jerk!  That's the argument from "mainstream" historians.

Before I ramble on any more, it's worth noting why this discussion matters.  Burnham finds a quote to sum this up perfectly, from Vishinsky:

At present the only determining criterion of revolutionary proletarian internationalism is: are you for or against the USSR, the motherland of the world proletariat?  An internationalist is not one who verbally recognizes international solidarity or sympathizes with it.  A real internationalist is one who brings his sympathy and recognition up to the point of practical and maximum help to the USSR . . . is the holy duty of every honest man everywhere and not only of the citizens of the USSR.

All these people paid dues to the Soviet Communist Party while they were working for the US Government.  They gave secrets to the Soviets and they influenced US policy in such a manner that helped or allowed various countries to become Communist countries.  If you take Amerasia (in which these employees of USG helped Mao come to power); the same activities in Yugoslavia that helped bring Tito to power; and a few other cases, particularly Hiss being FDR's main adviser at Yalta (espeically if FDR was not performing), and you count these cases as part of one overarching criminal conspiracy, then you are left with the biggest crime in human history – by far.  The death toll (setting aside the cost of human misery) caused by these people runs over 100 million, easily.  Yet it is still hard to get any mainstream historical acknowledgment that these people even spied for the Soviets, despite mounds of modern, incontrovertible, documentary evidence.  Such a discrepancy demands explanation.  These books however, are more concerned with the workings of spy operation.

Here's Evans laying out the basic pattern of McCarthy's charges:

Pend­ing that, a few ob­ser­va­tions are in or­der about this group of cas­es. One is the pat­tern of ver­ifi­ca­tion. In the usu­al in­stance, we have some­one iden­ti­fied by Mc­Carthy as a Com­mu­nist, sub­ver­sive, or se­cu­ri­ty risk, or brought be­fore him to an­swer charges of this sort made by an­oth­er wit­ness. Typ­ical­ly, in me­dia/aca­dem­ic han­dling of such cas­es, the in­di­vid­ual in ques­tion would be treat­ed as an in­no­cent vic­tim of Mc­Carthy and/or his “paid in­form­ers.” Then, when the truth came out at last, it de­vel­oped that the al­leged vic­tim had been a Com­mu­nist or So­vi­et agent all along. Sel­dom if ev­er does the pro­cess work the oth­er way—in which some­one ini­tial­ly con­sid­ered a sub­ver­sive turns out to be a blame­less mar­tyr.

A sec­ond sig­nif­icant point about these cas­es is that, in ev­ery in­stance, the sus­pects weren’t mere­ly ide­olog­ical Com­mu­nists—though most of them were sure­ly that; they were al­so, in pret­ty ob­vi­ous fash­ion, Moscow agents, pledg­ing al­le­giance to the So­vi­et Union. This was to some de­gree in­her­ent in the na­ture of Venona, but would be true in oth­er cas­es al­so. The prob­lem with hav­ing such peo­ple in the U.S. gov­ern­ment, in oth­er words, wasn’t their po­lit­ical be­liefs as such, but the fact that they were fifth colum­nists work­ing for a hos­tile for­eign pow­er. All were part of a glob­al ap­pa­ra­tus, head­quar­tered in the Krem­lin, that was far greater in ex­tent than any­one back in the 1950s—up to and in­clud­ing Joe Mc­Carthy—could read­ily en­vi­sion.

A third such ob­ser­va­tion is that these cas­es were, by and large, deeply root­ed. Such as Adler, Coe, Keeney, and Neu­mann had been on of­fi­cial pay­rolls for a con­sid­er­able span of years pre­vi­ous to Mc­Carthy’s charges and still were in 1950. How they got there, and what had—or hadn’t—been done about them would be es­sen­tial as­pects of the sto­ry.

Yet we still vilify . . . wait for it . . . McCarthy!  Surely, no one ideologically opposed to the existence of the United States could infiltrate the USG today, right?  Interestingly, the process that allowed Hasan to stay in the Army, i.e. political correctness, is similar to the one that undermined McCarthy.

I don't have the time or space or interest to try to vindicate McCarthy.  He was right and his opponents were wrong.  If truth wins in the end, then McCarthy vindication is only a matter of time.  Read Evans book if you want thorough evidence vindicating him.  If justice eventually triumphs, someday a statue of Millard Tydings or maybe John Service will be built somewhere so that everyone who walks by can kick it and spit on it.

I'll have more to say soon.  I'm going to finish a book on Watergate and then try to write some thoughts on the Sixties, which I'm going to argue begin with the McCarthy era and end (victoriously for Progressives as the Communists called themselves) with Watergate.  It should tie in about 6 or 7 books that I've recently reviewed.

2 Responses to Books on Communists in the US government

  1. Good, clear-headed reviews. Thanks.

  2. Larry Olsen says:

    John Earl Haynes and Harvey Klehr, Venona: Decoding Soviet Espionage in America, Yale U. Press, 1999. Decoding of cables sent to the Soviet Union by Soviet diplomats reveals spy rings in U.S.

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