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The Abominable I.F. Stone By: Jason Maoz
JewishPress.com | Monday, August 02, 2004

June 18 marked the fifteenth anniversary of the passing of I.F. Stone, who upon his death was eulogized by mainstream journalists for his supposed independence and iconoclasm and who still remains an iconic figure to many in the media. This despite (or perhaps because of) his long record as a vocal enthusiast of Soviet-style socialism and merciless basher of Israel long before the sport assumed widespread popularity.

Stone (born Isadore Feinstein) wrote for a number of liberal and left-wing publications before starting his own newsletter, I.F. Stone’s Weekly, in 1953. Within two years Stone had 10,000 subscribers, but the Weekly’s heyday, in terms of influence, came in the late 1960’s when its anti-government tone so perfectly fit the prevailing zeitgeist. The Weekly’s circulation peaked at close to 70,000 in 1971, the year before Stone, pushing 65 and not in the best of health, decided to close it down.

The tenor of the times had changed so completely that Stone, unemployable in the 1950’s, now became a regular recipient of awards and accolades from his peers. Forgotten or overlooked in the rush to lionize Stone was his history as a shameless apologist for the murderous Stalin.

Stone’s insistence on viewing the Soviet Union as worthy of support, even in the face of the Moscow Trials and Stalin’s purges and executions, led his otherwise sympathetic biographer Robert Cottrell to write that “there was something disingenuous in [Stone’s] willingness to suspend judgment or to refuse to criticize still more forcefully the terror that was being played out in Soviet Russia.... What could not be denied was that Stone, like many of his political and intellectual counterparts, continued to afford Russia and even Stalinist communism something of a double standard, fearing that to do otherwise would endanger...the very possibility of socialism.”

Cottrell described how Stone came to be seen by anti-Communist leftists as “an apologist for the hammer-and-sickle”; how Richard Rovere, a writer during that period for The New Masses, a radical journal, viewed Stone as a Stalinist who played “fast and loose with the facts”; and how James Wechsler, a writer with The Nation and later an editor at the then-liberal New York Post, dismissed Stone as “a fairly regular apologist for the Communists.”

When a group of American writers and academics broke ranks with the pro-Soviet Left in 1939 to form the Committee for Cultural Freedom, Stone and other die-hards signed on to a vociferous public campaign lambasting “the fantastic falsehood that the USSR and the totalitarian states are basically alike” and commending the Soviet Union for “steadily expanding democracy in every sphere.”

Stone would not split with the Soviets until 1956, disillusioned by a visit he made to Moscow in the spring of that year and the Hungarian crisis a few months later. But he never lost his instinctive hostility to free market capitalism, nor was he ever inclined to extend to the United States even the slightest benefit of doubt in any international dispute.

(At least Stone belatedly came to grips with the truth about the Soviet state, which is more than can be said for many readers of his Weekly — hundreds of whom angrily canceled their subscriptions when Stone finally brought himself to write, in the May 7, 1956 issue, that the Soviet Union “is not a good society, and it is not led by honest men.”)

On Israel, Stone consistently toed the leftist line. Before 1948 he was altogether opposed to the idea of a Jewish state, preferring a binational arrangement for Arabs and Jews, and though he came around to supporting the November 1947 UN vote on partition (coincidentally or not, so did Stalin), he soured on Israel as soon as David Ben-Gurion maneuvered the new nation onto the side of the West in the Cold War.

Stone’s attacks on Israel became more frequent and shrill after the Six Day War, and by the mid-1970’s the viciousness of his diatribes was such that the (non-Jewish) novelist James Michener termed them “palpably anti-Zionist, probably anti-Israel, and potentially anti-Jewish.”

Little wonder, then, that the notoriously anti-Israel leftist academic Noam Chomsky has said of Stone that he “made a contribution to educating Americans that can hardly be overestimated.” Indeed.

Jason Maoz is the senior editor of The Jewish Press. Jason Maoz can be reached at jmaoz@jewishpress.com.

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