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The Debate over Soviet Espionage By: Ronald Radosh
Pajamas Media | Wednesday, August 12, 2009


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I last wrote about the controversy over the book Spies some time ago.  Now, once again, it is time to turn to the ongoing debate once more. It seems that it never ends, despite the belief of some people that questions like whether or not Alger Hiss was guilty is of interest only to people over 60.

Of particular interest is the continued use of the term “McCarthyism” to describe serious historians who have concluded, based on careful research, that a lot of people accused of being Soviet agents in the 1950’s turned out to have been the real thing. This is the tactic I mentioned that was used by the writer Amy Knight in a lengthy review of their book that was in the Times Literary Supplement on June 26th.(not available on line) Knight referred in passing to the “McCarthyite style” of John Earl Haynes and Harvey Klehr. As Knight saw things, Haynes and Klehr were trying to retroactively punish Cold War dissenters by branding them as Soviet agents, and she wrote, “to silence those who still voice doubts about the guilt of people like Alger Hiss, Harry Dexter White, I. F. Stone and others”.

The authors of Spies replied in a brief tough letter, which you can read for yourself. It is a model of how Haynes and Klehr use the facts and documents as a basis for making judgments, not ideological agendas for which they bend facts for their own purposes.  As for the charge of McCarthyism against the two authors, anyone who has read their work knows that they have consistently argued over the years that to prove that evidence is what convicts people like Alger Hiss, Harry Dexter White and others as spies in the court of history, is not to vindicate the campaign of the late junior senator from Wisconsin, Joseph McCarthy.

In the review of their book by Christopher Andrew, the dean of British historians of Soviet espionage, Andrew makes the following  point:

As well as attracting well-deserved praise, the US edition of Spies has provoked outrage from those who claim that it smears the reputation of some American radicals. The outrage reflects the fact that, thanks chiefly to the malign legacy of Senator Joseph McCarthy’s witch-hunts, “Stalin’s Americans” remain a far more sensitive area of research than “Stalin’s Englishmen”. President Truman was right to claim in 1951: “The greatest asset that the Kremlin has is Senator McCarthy.” McCarthy ultimately did more for the Soviet cause than any agent of influence the KGB ever had. His preposterous, self-serving ­crusade against the “Red Menace” made liberal opinion around the world skeptical of the reality of Moscow’s intelligence offensive against the United States.

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Ronald Radosh, Prof. Emeritus of History at the City University of New York, is an Adjunct Fellow at the Hudson Institute.


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