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Jewish World Review Oct. 26, 2000 / 27 Tishrei 5761

Evan Gahr

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Remembering Gus Hall, that 'all-American' kinda guy -- BE GRATEFUL for small favors -- especially from the New York Times.

The Grey Lady, on its news pages and particularly obituaries, traditionally obscured or entirely expunged the Communist Party USA ties of prominent Americans. To tell the truth, after all, reeks of "McCarthyism" -- at least in the minds of those animated by an obsessive anti-anti-Communism. No wonder that over the years the Times would on some occasions even identify Victor Perlo, the CPUSA's official economist and most likely a World War II era Soviet Spy, as merely an "economics consultant." And when Stalinist actress Rosaura Reveultas died in 1996, the Times obit explained she had starred in "Salt of the Earth," a "Pro-Labor Film of the 50s," as if it were merely that decade's "Norma Rae." In fact, "Hollywood 10" members who were hard-core Communists produced the film in conjunction with a Communist-controlled union.

Perhaps it's a bit remarkable that when longtime American Communist Party leader Gus Hall died this month, the Times actually called him a Communist (as opposed to a "political consultant to left-leaning activists.")

Yet, the October 17 news obituary gave virtually no indication that the Communist Party USA was for all intents and purposes an auxiliary of Moscow. As the recently decoded Venona intercepts or cables indicate, the CPUSA had served as the nexus of Moscow's (often successful) effort to recruit spies. Without the spy angle, or really any delineation of his party's Moscow-subsidized domestic activities, Hall sounds like just another misguided idealist-- another liberal in a hurry. True to form, the New York Times October 21 editorial, "American Bolshevik," called Hall's life story a "genuine American tale." The Minnesota-born Hall, in the best tradition of "Midwestern stubbornness," had never waved from his Communist orthodoxy. (Does this bit about Hall as the quintessential American sound a bit too reminiscent of the Party slogan that "Communism Is Twentieth Century Americanism"?)

Still, the Times in its obituary and editorial did acknowledge that, Hall's suggestions to the contrary, the Soviets had "bankrolled" him for decades.

"In 1992 the Moscow daily Izvestia reported that Mr. Hall had been the recipient of $40 million in Soviet assistance between 1971 and 1990."

But he who pays the piper doesn't always call the tune. It was impossible to tell from the obituary that the Soviets reaped some impressive dividends from the so-called Moscow Gold they dispensed to Hall. Leave aside, for a moment, outright spying. CPUSA fronts, such as the National Lawyers Guild and even the U.S. Peace Council, insured that Moscow's interests surreptitiously figured in domestic policy debates. For example, when Hall's Moscow Gold was confirmed in 1992, New York Post editorial page editor Eric Breindel cited this dividend: the "Communist Party USA through the party-controlled U.S. Peace Council -- played a major part in the 1982 nuclear freeze campaign, even determining the nature of the rhetoric (condemnation of the USSR was virtually verboten) at the huge Nuclear Freeze Rally in Central Park that year."

In an op-ed piece, which appeared opposite the Times editorial that depicted Hall as American as baseball and apple pie, Nation publisher Victor Navasky attempted an even bigger snow job. Navasky, is of course the country's premiere anti-anti-Communist. (Has anyone in the thick of these debates ever noted the postulate that two negatives make a positive?)

Navasky's piece, "My Hunt for Moscow Gold," left readers with the distinct impression that the question of Moscow's funding of the CPUSA was open to debate -- perhaps even yet another figment of the right-wing imagination. This argument is undoubtedly a tough sell any day, but particularly when it appears opposite an editorial that acknowledges the funding!

Navasky told how in 1983 he met the genial Hall at party headquarters on 23rd St. in Manhattan. Navasky hoped to examine Hall's books to investigate a much ballyhooed allegation that the Soviets had funded the Party at a crucial point in the mid 1950s. In their meeting, Hall suggested the Party was dirt poor during that time period. But Hall deflected Navasky's request to inspect the books. He told Navasky to write a letter formally seeking permission. Navasky did. Some three weeks later, all said no.

Notice in this scenario Hall sounds like the stonewalling official, Navasky is the objective journalist in search of just the facts. If so, he might be interested to know that in their 1998 book, The Secret World of American Communism, historians Harvey Klehr and John Haynes used the former Soviet Union's own archives to establish that Moscow did fund the CPUSA in the 1950s and throughout its history.

The reality of course, is that Navasky, author of Naming Names, which turns the liars and Communists of the "Hollywood 10" into heroes, has devoted much of his career to sanitizing domestic Communism. For years, the Nation was the magazine of last resort for anyone who professed the innocence of the Rosenbergs or Alger Hiss.

More recently, Navasky served as consultant to a federally-funded 1998 exhibit on the Hollywood 10 which managed to obscure the hard-core party ties of most of these "victims" of McCarthyism. The exhibit at the District of Columbia Jewish Community Center depicted the Hollywood 10 as just a bunch of naive do-gooders and First Amendment paladins, tripped up by the Red Scare. They were hopelessly "idealistic" perhaps, but certainly not venal, let alone shills for a foreign power.

In his October 21 op-ed, Navasky peddled much the same line about the Party in general. Indeed, Navasky's real purpose, it seemed, was to obscure Moscow's ties to the CPUSA. He searches for Moscow Gold and comes up empty-handed, which suggests the CPUSA was independent after all. Indeed, toward the end of his piece, Navasky uses his failed search for Moscow Gold to abruptly segue into an indictment of a "new cadre of cold war historians" who are "intent on seizing fragments from cold war archives, ambiguous intercepts from cables between Moscow and its American-based agents and other ephemera to prove that the American Communist Party was indeed at the center of a nest of spies. "

Actually, it was, of course. This was pretty much a truism before Venona, and beyond dispute afterwards. As liberal journalist Nicholas Von Hoffman wrote in the Washington Post in 1996, "The sum and substance of this growing body of material [from Venona] is that: Ethel and Julius Rosenberg, executed in June 1953 for atomic espionage, were guilty; Alger Hiss, a darling of the establishment was guilty; and that dozens of lesser known persons such as Victor Perlo, Judith Coplon and Harry Gold, whose innocence of the accusations made against them had been a tenet of leftist faith for decades, were traitors or, at the least, the ideological vassals of a foreign power."

But Navasky is too shrewd and too careful a writer to say Alger Hiss and all the rest were not guilty. Instead, he professes a certain amount of agnosticism on the subject, a dispassionate analyst in contrast to various pseudo-scholars on the right. "While most illusions about Soviet-style Communism may be exhausted, the paranoia about Gus Hall's old party... seems still to be alive."

In other words, those dumb conservatives are still living in the past. But who really hasn't caught up with the times? Conservatives and just plain honest historians? Or the anti-anti-Communists who cling to outdated canards and manifest falsehoods -- of which countless idiots in the media and culture still find quite useful?

JWR contributor Evan Gahr is an adjunct fellow at the Hudson Institute. To comment click here.


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© 2000, Evan Gahr. This piece is adapted from The American Spectator online.