Red Harvest: The KGB in America | The Nation


Red Harvest: The KGB in America

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What is this proof? On page 144 of Spies we see what purports to be Vassiliev's handwritten Russian notes. Halfway down the page it says: "'Blin' ('Liberal's' lead)--Isidore Feinstein, a commentator for the New York Post." Liberal, according to the authors, was Frank Palmer, managing editor of Federated Press, a labor wire service. The English text claims that this note comes from an April 13, 1936, memo from KGB New York to Moscow, though whether Vassiliev was summarizing or transcribing we are not told. Farther down the same page is another handwritten Russian text, which claims (in May 1936) that "Relations with 'Pancake' [Stone] have entered 'the channel of normal operational work.' He went to Washington on assignment for his newspaper. Connections in the State Dep. and Congress." (The single quotes around "normal operational work" are clearly meant as the historical equivalent of furious cello bowing on the soundtrack.) "Over the next several years, documents recorded in Vassiliev's notebooks make clear, Stone worked closely with the KGB."

About the Author

D.D. Guttenplan
D.D. Guttenplan
D.D. Guttenplan, who writes from The Nation's London bureau, is the author of American Radical: The Life and Times of I...

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This is a blanket claim for which the authors supply precisely two instances: in May 1936 Blin reported that Karl Von Wiegand, Berlin correspondent for the Hearst agency, "had been ordered to maintain friendly relations with Hitler." Also that William Randolph Hearst supposedly had a deal to supply the Nazis with copper. Von Wiegand, disagreeing with Hearst's policy, reportedly "turned to Pancake's boss for advice." Then in an August 1936 memo it was suggested that Pancake let William Dodd Jr., son of the American ambassador to Germany, know "that he has the means to connect him with an anti-Fascist organization in Berlin." That's it--I.F. Stone's entire espionage career! He passed along gossip about Hearst and was in contact with Dodd--in 1936 a man whose sister, Martha Dodd Stern, if Spies is to be believed, had for two years been the lover of a KGB agent in Berlin and was already on Moscow's books herself.

If Haynes and Klehr weren't so serious, this would be funny. But since they are, perhaps I can be forgiven for pointing out that the KGB file that Vassiliev now says includes Agent Pancake's confidential report on Hearst (File 35112, volume 5) is not the one (File 3463, volume 1) he credited with the claim in The Haunted Wood that "a New York Post reporter codenamed 'Blin' volunteered information" about William Randolph Hearst. Though he had exactly the same material in front of him, in The Haunted Wood Vassiliev never identified Blin. Of course, anybody can make a mistake. But the mistakes in Spies all tend to go in the same direction.

When Spies quotes from VENONA 1506, the authors leave out the figure for Blin's income; they also leave out the words "it seems," transforming what is clearly the writer's speculation into a firm report of Blin's willingness to make extra income. Spies cites a 1944 KGB report on Victor Perlo, an economist at the War Production Board, saying that in 1942-43 Perlo "secretly helped 'Pancake' [Stone] compile material for various exposés by the latter." Judging by how frequently his name appears in VENONA, Perlo seems to have been a very energetic source for the Soviets; at the time of his death in 1999 he was chief economist of the CPUSA, where his contributions to Marxist-Leninist thought apparently merited a full-length article in the Great Soviet Encyclopedia. That he also acted as a source for Stone, whose coverage of defense production in PM and The Nation was described as "absolutely essential in the public interest" by Harry Truman, at the time chair of the Senate Defense Committee, merely shows that Stone was a good reporter.

Of course, Spies cites this as evidence that despite Stone's vociferous, and very public, criticism of Moscow and the CPUSA after the Nazi-Soviet Pact, he "quickly reverted to a pro-Soviet position." But Spies also says that in 1945 the KGB, trying to assess the damage caused by Elizabeth Bentley's defection, asked Perlo for a list of people he knew "who had a present or past connection with a Soviet intelligence agency." The language is loose enough to cover a range of interactions, from witting agent to unwitting source. Nathan Gregory Silvermaster, according to VENONA an energetic clandestine agent, is on the list, as is Alger Hiss. So is Al Blumberg, the very public head of the CPUSA in Baltimore, linked to Herbert Schimmel, who in the 1940s was on the staff of the Senate Subcommittee on War Mobilization; neither man was ever suspected of spying. But Perlo's list does not include I.F. Stone. Nor, though Spies quotes from it only selectively, does Gorsky's later, and far more comprehensive, inventory of American sources.

If Hayes and Klehr can't be relied on to acknowledge internal evidence that contradicts their thesis, their command of the external evidence--the overall historical context--is even less convincing. Ever since Arthur Schlesinger Jr. outed him in a footnote to The Politics of Upheaval, it has been known that the "Abelard Stone" who in 1933 wrote that FDR's election had closed "the road to a Soviet America, the one way out that could make a real difference to the working classes" was I.F. Stone. It is also perfectly true, as Haynes and Klehr observe, that this view "reflected the position of the CPUSA." Indeed, it is probably fair to say that 1933 represented the perigee of I.F. Stone's relationship with the Communist Party. But any honest account of Stone's path would also note that Abelard Stone's fear that the New Deal was heading toward fascism was widely shared by many on the left, like the Socialist leader Norman Thomas, who never went anywhere near the CP. More important, Stone published his remarks in Modern Monthly, a Trotskyist magazine whose editor, V.F. Calverton, had just been denounced by the CP as "a maturing fascist" and "sex racketeer."

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