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When Allen Weinstein wrote Perjury: The Hiss Chambers Case, which was published in 1978, and when the late Joyce Milton and I wrote The Rosenberg File which was published in 1983, the response of both the academic and the political Left was the same: these books were a parody of real history, were written to justify the witch-hunt of the FBI and the McCarthyites in the 1950’s, as well as to give ammunition to the attempt of Ronald Reagan to start a new Cold War. Both Weinstein and I were assaulted with major attacks on our scholarship, our integrity, our politics, and our personal honor.
We were told that we wrote on behalf of Right-wing foundations that sponsored our research; that we tailored our conclusions to fit the assumptions of our Right-wing sponsors that Hiss and the Rosenbergs were guilty, and to retroactively justify the climate of suspicion and paranoia that existed in the McCarthy years. We were told, over and over, that we were the new McCarthyites, doing our best to dishonor those heroes who stood up for civil liberties in terrible times, and to defame the memory of those who were truly innocent and sought only to carry on both the legacy of the New Deal and to fight for peace at a time of a phony war scare against the Soviets.
Now we are living in the 21st Century, and these fights about Hiss and the Rosenbergs have all but ended. When Morton Sobell, the Rosenberg’s co-defendant confessed in 2008, and when Venona and other documents from the former Soviet Union proved Alger Hiss’s guilt, most reasonable people accepted the verdict. They were indeed, as we argued back then, Soviet spies. As if to make this point clear, the June 8th Daily Beast website links to an op-ed I had about this very argument a while back.
So the question arises. What accounts for the uproar and clamor about the new magisterial book co-authored by John Earl Haynes, Harvey Klehr and Alexander Vassiliev, Spies: The Rise and Fall of the KGB in America.? To read about this essential book, the best thing to do is go to this review by Anne Applebaum, the Washington Post columnist who won a Pulitzer for her book on the Gulag. Applebaum captures its essence and summarizes the author’s great accomplishments. Applebaum understands the irrationality of both the true believers on the Left, like the Nation magazine former editor Victory Navasky - who she writes shows “a pathological inability to believe that there really were Soviet spies in America,” and far Right columnist Ann Coulter, who shows a similar inability “to make distinctions between liberal Democrats and paid foreign agents,” and who implies all liberals are guilty of “treason”.
The Klehr-Haynes-Vassiliev volume, then, provides the final word on the extent and nature of Soviet espionage during the KGB’s heyday in America, during the 1930’s and 40’s, to the collapse of its American network after the defection of Elizabeth Bentley in 1945. But strangely, despite the fact that their 703 page book contains only seven pages on the case of journalist I.F. Stone, a plethora of so-called “reviews” have appeared that discuss only those few pages, and concentrate the reviewers’ fire only on their attempts to prove the opposite of the conclusion reached by Haynes and Klehr, that I.F. Stone was, from 1936 to 1938, a Soviet agent who did work for the KGB. Yet, as John Haynes writes in a soon to be published manuscript, “those associated with The Nation have denounced Spies with the combination of rage and maliciousness that marked past assaults on Weinstein and Radosh. To our surprise, however, the defense of Hiss and Rosenberg, while not disappearing, has taken a back seat to the defense of I.F.Stone.”
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