Red Harvest: The KGB in America
I don't find it at all hard to believe that in 1936 I.F. Stone would have happily traded information with a Tass correspondent, whether or not he suspected the man had other duties. That's what journalists did, and still do, including many, like Nicholas Daniloff, arrested by the Soviets in 1986, or Washington Post editorial writer Stephen Rosenfeld, whose relationship with Communism even Haynes and Klehr would find beyond reproach. And though the CP's attack on Calverton also probably lost them I.F. Stone, who soon became an enthusiastic New Dealer, Stone's overarching political preoccupation throughout the 1930s was the danger of fascism. It was fear of domestic American fascism, very much including the Hearst empire, during the Roosevelt recession of 1937 that led Stone to do something he still felt guilty about half a century later: change his name from Isidore Feinstein. It also happens to be true that, like "Blin," Stone went to Washington in May 1936, writing afterward to Thomas Corcoran, FDR's political lieutenant, "it was great fun to meet you and Ben Cohen and the beautiful Peggy." (The team of Corcoran and Cohen were the New Deal's foremost legal draftsmen; Corcoran's secretary Peggy Dowd, a famous capital beauty and a cousin of New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd, soon became Mrs. Corcoran.) But Stone's State Department contacts were nonexistent. He probably did know Frank Palmer (though as Spies notes, Palmer broke with the CP in 1937). Stone's brother Marc worked for Federated Press--and as A.B. Magil, a former editor of New Masses who knew both brothers told me, Marc Stone actually was a Communist.
Even if Spies proved that in 1936 Blin really was Stone (which it doesn't), there is no reason to assume, given Moscow's frequent recycling of cover names, that 1944's evasive "Blin" was the same man. At different times "Bumblebee" was Ethel Rosenberg's brother David Greenglass--or Walter Lippmann! And there is an abundance of evidence weighing against Stone's ever subjecting himself to any form of Communist discipline--let alone serving as a witting collaborator with the KGB. Indeed, it was Stone's use of Kremlin spies as a term of abuse in a 1936 Post editorial that first brought him to the attention of J. Edgar Hoover. "The FBI is carrying on OGPU tactics" against organized labor, Stone complained, which prompted the bureau to report: "He is of Jewish descent and [redacted] advises that he is very arrogant, very loud spoken, wears thick, heavy glasses and is most obnoxious personally." Stone was deeply grateful for Moscow's willingness to supply weapons to the embattled Spanish republic--a gratitude that, however misplaced, probably also inhibited his response to Stalin's purge trials. Yet he still wrote in 1935 that "Stalin is using the Kiroff assassination as an excuse for weeding out anyone who disagrees with his views," and in August 1936 he argued that charges of a terrorist plot by Old Bolsheviks, or "of a link between Hitler and Trotzky, seem fantastic." In January 1937, he told Post readers: "The Moscow trials require one to believe either (1) that Leon Trotzky is a monster or (2) that Joseph Stalin is a monster."
Nathaniel Weyl told me that in 1937, when he also was working at the Post, Stone asked for his help in finding "someone who could give him the true Soviet explanations of Stalin's actions as contrasted with the nonsense that Moscow was disseminating to the general public." Weyl said that he'd been part of a secret CP unit of fellow New Dealers that included Alger Hiss, though he added that nothing improper ever happened at their meetings. Weyl became an enthusiastic "friendly witness" in the 1950s, and by the time I spoke with him had long nursed a ripe hatred of Stone, with whom he'd sparred over Cuba in the 1960s. Which is one reason I believed him when he said that if Stone had been in the party, or had better Soviet sources, "he wouldn't have gone to me. He would have gone to Browder. I thought of him as a fellow traveler."
In 1937 Stone was a fellow traveler; he freely admitted as much. But when, in the fall of 1939, he wrote to his friend Michael Blankfort (a screenwriter who also became a friendly witness in the 1950s) that "I'm off the Moscow axis," he meant it. The pact disgusted him--and the CPUSA's slippery rationalizations disgusted him even more. When the Russians invaded Finland in November 1939, Stone compared the attack to the Nazi attacks on Spain.
Stone's disillusionment didn't drive him out of the left. Nor did it blind him to the role of the Red Army in the fight against Nazism. Bitter as he was during the period when, in his phrase, "the umbrella flew over the Kremlin," after Germany attacked the Soviet Union he rejoiced: Hitler "has 'landed' a huge anti-Nazi army on the Continent." The Russians had joined his fight. Stone's contempt for J. Edgar Hoover was more than enough to have kept him from running to the FBI in 1944. But "Blin" or blintz, he never again saw the Soviet Union through rose-colored glasses. Klehr and Haynes distort Stone's views on the Korean War, accusing him of reporting that South Korea "invad[ed] the Communist North," something he never did, just as they are wrong to claim that it was "not until the mid-1950s" that he "lost his illusions" about Stalinism. That had happened in 1939. His famous 1956 report from Moscow--"This is not a good society and it is not led by honest men"--was rather a warning to his fellow leftists that Khrushchev was no friend of freedom either.