Comments on John Earl Haynes', "The Cold War Debate Continues: A Traditionalist View of Historical Writing on Domestic Communism and Anti-Communism,"Journal of Cold War Studies, Volume 2, Number 1(Winter 2000).
By Ellen W. Schrecker, University of Yeshiva
Will the domestic Cold War never end? As historians, can't we just call
a truce and examine whatever pieces of the historical record challenge us intellectually without having to take sides? Apparently not. The title
of John Earl Haynes's recent review essay in the Journal of Cold War Studies, "The Cold War Debate Continues," says it all. The piece
not only describes the debate but engages in it as well. To be fair, the subtitleidentifies the article as a "traditionalist view," thus warning
readers that the author has not produced the usual more or less disinterested survey of the scholarly literature on domestic communism and anticommunism, but a partisan defense of his and his collaborators' own work. Even so, I'm not sure why the controversy continues or why Haynes assumes that it will do so "for many years to come."[i] Increasingly redolent of political antiquarianism, the controversy about communism
Actually, Haynes and I are not always in disagreement. Along with all other historians of communism and anticommunism, I owe him an enormous debt for his devoted labor in compiling regular bibliographical surveys of recent work in the field for the Newsletter of the Historians of American Communism. I also agree with his periodization of the field and even, for the most part, with his characterization of much of the scholarship within it. His distinction between traditionalists and revisionists makes considerable sense, though one could - especially as we reach the present - affix political labels as well. In addition, he is largely, though not entirely, correct in ascribing to each of the generations (he calls them "waves") a specific problematic that more often than not arises from that generation's own political experiences.
Haynes' genealogy is straightforward. In the 1950s and early 60s the founding generation of anticommunist traditionalists sought to defuse
the red-baiting of liberals by Joseph McCarthy and his allies. Presumably
if they exposed American communism as what one of my physicist friends calls a "piffle plague" and showed how tainted and marginal it really
was, they would be demonstrating their own anticommunist credentials while depriving McCarthy et al. of theirs. The second generation revisionists of the late 60s and early 70s derived their agenda from opposing the Vietnam War.
They turned against the Cold War liberalism of their predecessors, showed little interest in communism, and focused, instead, on the domestic manifestations of Cold War anticommunism. The third generation of scholars, many of whom had emerged from the New Left in the late 1970s
and 80s, returned to the study of communism, but this time, with a few exceptions, from a more sympathetic perspective. The dissolution of the Soviet bloc and the opening of the Kremlin archives brings us to the present wave of historiography, one dominated largely by the traditionalists who are using the new materials to, as Haynes puts it, "celebrate the West's moral victory over the Soviet Union."[ii] Yet Haynes' historiographic perspective is too narrow. Not only does he overlook some important work, but he also isolates his survey from the broader intellectual context within which the historians of American communism and anticommunism operated. During the early years of the Cold War, when questions of communism seemed so central to American politics, the issue engaged some of the best minds in the nation. Many of the people who wrote about American communism (often as part of the Ford Foundation's Fund for the Republic project on "Communism in American Life")
were also card-carrying New York Intellectuals as well as members of the consensus school of history. Not only did they structure the early historical study of communism, but they also provided a template for understanding McCarthyism. For some reason, however, Haynes never mentions that aspect of their work, even though their interpretation, enshrined in a 1955 volume edited by Daniel Bell, still retains some influence. Reflecting that generation's temporary infatuation with social psychology, its most effective proponent, the brilliant historian Richard Hofstadter, argued
- with little or no empirical evidence - that McCarthyism represented a marginal and essentially irrational "pseudo-Conservative revolt,"motivated in large part by the status anxieties of upwardly mobile ethnics and downwardly mobile WASPs.[iii]
In addition, Haynes overlooks other sources that may have been just as significant in shaping our understanding of American communism and anticommunism: FBI files, in particular, but also the many memoirs and oral histories of American Communists. Neither set of materials is without its problems, but they are both, in their very different ways, utterly indispensable, as valuable for giving us insight into the _mentalite_ of key players as they are for the factual information they contain. Sophisticated historians know the need for a critical reading of a memo from J. Edgar Hoover or the memoirs of a longtime party leader like Peggy Dennis. But they also know the need for using as many different kinds of sources as possible.
Speaking of Hoover, perhaps the most serious omission in Haynes' survey
is his failure to look at the scholarship on the FBI. Given how central the Bureau was in both providing information about American communism and coordinating much of the campaign against it, it is hard to understand
why Haynes ignores it. Cross-dressing aside, there is little debate within
the historical community about J. Edgar Hoover. Traditionalists like Richard Gid Powers and revisionists like Theoharis agree that the devious and reactionary FBI director disobeyed his superiors and engaged in illegal activities as he sought to increase his agency's power and stamp out communism. I am sure that Haynes does not condone Hoover's unconstitutional behavior, nonetheless, it is striking that he fails to mention his name anywhere in the article. But surely no study of the historiography of American anticommunism would be complete without at least acknowledging the scholarship on the FBI's crucial role.[vi] But Haynes is not, I think, particularly interested in anticommunism. Though he and I agree that the history of communism and anticommunism
is "inextricably linked," he devotes little attention to the latter.
There are perfectly valid reasons for such an omission, for it is one thing
to assert the existence of such links and quite something else to examine them. There is simply too much information out there for scholars who
are doing serious archival research to cover the entire waterfront. The operant phrase here is "specialization"; and whatever we think
It is for that reason, among others, that I find Haynes' treatment of
my own work misguided. I wrote primarily about anticommunism, not communism.
But, for some reason, complexity, nuance, and a willingness to see the world in other than black and white seem alien to Haynes' view of history.
As a card-carrying member of the American Civil Liberties Union who undertook the study of McCarthyism precisely because of my opposition to its depredations against freedom of speech, I find such a characterization personally offensive. No doubt, if I were a Russian historian, I would be even more distressed about the repressive nature of that society. But, I'm not and - to be quite frank - it's getting a little tiresome to have to explain yet again that _in this country_ McCarthyism did more damage to the constitution than the American Communist party ever did.
[i] John Earl Haynes, "The Cold War Debate Continues: A Traditionalist View of Historical Writing on Domestic Communism and Anti-Communism,"
[v] David Caute, _The Great Fear_ (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1978); Robert Griffith _The Politics of Fear: Joseph R. McCarthy and the Senate_ 2d ed. (1970; Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1987); Athan Theoharis, _Seeds of Repression: Harry S. Truman and the Origin of McCarthyism_ (Chicago: Quadrangle, 1971); and Richard Freeland, _The Truman Doctrine and the Origins of McCarthyis_m (New York: Knopf, 1971).
[vi] Athan Theoharis, a revisionist, has been particularly diligent in tracing Hoover's footsteps. See, in particular, Theoharis and John Stuart Cox, _The Boss_ (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1988). But the most thoughtful biography is that of the traditionalist Richard Gid Powers, _Secrecy and Power: The Life of J. Edgar Hoover_ (New York: Free Press, 1987). See also Kenneth O'Reilly, _Hoover and the Un-Americans: The FBI, HUAC, and the Red Menace_ (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1983 ); Curt Gentry, _J. Edgar Hoover: The Man and the Secrets_ (New York: Norton, 1991) and Theoharis, ed., _Beyond the Hiss Case: The FBI, Congress, and the Cold War_ (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1982).
[vii] Robin D. G. Kelley, _Hammer and Hoe: Alabama Communists During the Great Depression_ (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1990).
[viii] Ellen Schrecker, _Many Are the Crimes: McCarthyism in America_ (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1999; orig. ed., New York: Little Brown, 1998), ix-x. Haynes is not the only critic of my book to take me to task for not having taken The Haunted Wood into account, even though it was published nearly a year after my own book appeared. In a review of Many Are the Crimes that prompted an organized response by several historians of American foreign relations, Sam Tanenhaus cited Weinstein's as yet unpublished book to infer that I had overlooked important evidence of espionage. Sam Tanenhaus, "The Red Scare,"_ The New York Review of Books_, (January 14, 1999).
[ix] Bruce Craig, "Treasonable Doubt: The Harry Dexter White Case, 1948-1953" ( Ph.D. diss., American University, 1999), 588.