Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

January 23, 2007

Alger Hiss accuser named Alger Hiss professor

Filed under: Academia,bard college — louisproyect @ 5:22 pm

I check in on the archives of the H-HOAC (History of American Communism) mailing list once a day. This is a list with scholarly pretensions but mostly reflects the neo-McCarthyite obsessions of two of the men who launched it, John Earl Haynes and Harvey Klehr. Today Haynes posted a link to an article in the Moonie-backed Washington Times about a book series titled Annals of Communism that was launched by Jonathan Brent, the editorial director of Yale University Press. The series “documents Soviet espionage in the United States, Russian efforts to manipulate the Spanish Civil War and a history of the gulag slave-labor camps.”

Jonathan Brent breaks the news to Dartmouth students that Stalin was evil

Now the enterprising Mr. Brent seems to have lined up a second job as Alger Hiss Visiting Professor at Bard College. This would be the equivalent of appointing Alan Dershowitz to the Edward Said Chair at Columbia University. It also invites comparisons with Ronald Reagan’s infamous appointments of men and women to head various government agencies whose aims they are utterly hostile to. When he was Secretary of the Interior under Reagan, James Watt said: “We will mine more, drill more, cut more timber.”

In a useful article on the Annals of Communism in the Nation Magazine, Eric Alterman quoted Arthur Schlesinger Jr, a key figure in the Cold War:

The [Annals] editors allowed “unsupported scattershot accusations” to go unchallenged and blacken the names of innocent people and “able public servant[s].”

Alterman also referred to the enthusiasm over the Annals at rightwing newspapers like the aforementioned Washington Times and the equally deranged Wall Street Journal, whose editorial page blared, “Moscow Stooges Unmasked.” They all proclaimed that documents unearthed by the scholarly snitches proved that the Rosenbergs and Alger Hiss were guilty as charged. Brent is quoted in a May 12, 1999 Houston Chronicle profile: “It made me feel complicated, and it made me try to understand who Hiss was in a way I had never done before, because I began with the assumption that he was innocent. I began with the assumption that the Rosenbergs were innocent.”

The Alger Hiss Chair at Bard College was previously occupied by Joel Kovel, a choice much more in keeping with the ostensible goals of those who paid good money to establish it. Kovel, a Green Party activist and erstwhile psychiatrist, is the author of “Red Hunting in the Promised Land: Anticommunism And The Making of America”, a book that described McCarthyism and related phenomena as a kind of low-grade mental illness. That certainly jibes with the portrait of Professor Brent contained in the Houston Chronicle:

Growing up in Chicago, Jonathan Brent rode the public bus to school every day.

During the long ride, he would read the sometimes garish ads that lined the sides of the bus, urging people to stop smoking or to visit local doctors.

It was the height of the Cold War, and one ad would have a lifelong impact.

“There was a picture of (Soviet leader) Nikita Khrushchev pounding the table with his shoe saying, ‘We will bury you,’ ” Brent said. “It was an ad for the United Nations, and it was burned into my psyche, as was Sputnik when it went up and the McCarthy trials. My parents sat me in front of the TV set with them. I didn’t know what was going on, but I overheard their conversation, and it made a big impression.”

When I was that age, I was instead dwelling on the size of classmate Deborah Goldstein’s breasts or how great it would be to own a Chevy convertible. All the while, poor Jonathan Brent was walking around haunted by the image of Sputniks and Khrushchev. Perhaps the Annals of Communism serves a therapeutic value for him, even if its scholarly value–as Eric Alterman points out–is lost on normal human beings.

When Professor Brent’s project was launched in 1996, it had to struggle with a shoestring budget of only $400,000 drawn from donations by the usual gaggle of ultraright foundations, including Olin, Smith Richardson, and Bradley. If such a paltry amount was insufficient to demonstrate to the American people that Communism was evil, there were fortunately other friends of democracy and free enterprise anxious to step into the breach. Among them was George Soros, a major donor to Bard College, who Brent ran into at a forum in Hungary in the mid-80s. They agreed that the world needed to learn that Communism was not a good thing, especially–one assumes–for global investors.

It might initially strike one as odd that Soros would back such a red-baiting project, no matter its scholarly trappings, now that he has become a major villain on David Horowitz’s Frontpage and other outlets on the cesspool right. Soros is a major donor to Campaign for America’s Future, whose co-chair is one Robert Borosage, described by Horowitz as formerly the head of the “Institute for Policy Studies, a far left Washington think tank that has enjoyed close and unsavory involvements with Soviet and Cuban intelligence operations.”

So, how long will it take for the Annals of Communism to unearth Soros’s connections to Cuban intelligence operations, with Robert Borosage acting as a go-between?

Robert Borosage: George Soros operative and Cuban spy?

If all this sounds confusing, it might help to think of this in terms of hedging one’s bets. As a master arbitrageur (a investor who bets on currencies and other financial instruments in one market versus another), Soros is reducing his risks by supporting the right and the left simultaneously. He doles out buckets of money to Brent so that he can come up with dirt on American radicals, while at the same time funding some of these very radicals. In the long run, both he and Brent will end up on the losing side because the forces of history are against them. If official Communism failed, something more authentic will take its place since these words are as true as ever:

The development of Modern Industry, therefore, cuts from under its feet the very foundation on which the bourgeoisie produces and appropriates products. What the bourgeoisie therefore produces, above all, are its own grave-diggers. Its fall and the victory of the proletariat are equally inevitable.

–Karl Marx, Communist Manifesto


  1. Very interesting post, having lived through Nikita Khrushchev pounding the table with his shoe saying he will bury us.

    I’ve had it on my mind, that you should compile your posts as a book. I think they are that good.

    Comment by Renegade Eye — January 24, 2007 @ 9:23 pm

  2. Sincere thanks for the compliment. I am hoping to retire in the next 3 or 4 years. That should give me some time to work on some book projects.

    Comment by louisproyect — January 24, 2007 @ 9:26 pm

  3. Renegade Eye:

    Khruschev said that quote by Marx is what he meant, not confrontation and war and annihilation. He also denied, by the way, that the translator mistranslated “we will bury you” and said it was reasonable, though it didn’t have quite the ramifications in English that it does in Russian. “Your own working class will be your grave diggers.”

    It’s somewhat comparable to Ahmadenijad quoting Khomeini “The regime in Palestine will vanish from the pages of history.” First of all, it was a quote from Khomeini, just as Khruschev paraphrased Marx. Secondly, it didn’t mean what the Western press thought it did. The difference is, thanks to MEMRI the Khomeini quote was mistranslated as Ahmadenijad saying he would wipe Israel off the map. The “we will bury you” translation was immediate interpretatio n and, while it could have used some explaining, that’s actually Khruschev’s fault.

    In all cases, I think IF world leaders who also see themselves as being at the forefront of movements want help from others, they first need to not say things like Khruschev did or Ahmadenijad did. We also need more “tough love” on this in the world peace, justice and solidarity movement.

    Comment by Marion Delgado — February 2, 2007 @ 2:05 pm

  4. yeah i read half of it and yeah… um… very boring…:]

    Comment by unknown — October 23, 2008 @ 6:32 pm

  5. Weren’t Haynes and Klehr also produced as unimpeachable experts in a NOVA PBS documentary about so-called atomic espionage?

    Comment by Jay Rothermel — July 13, 2009 @ 2:58 pm

  6. Neo-McCarthyite – has a nice “I think thou doth protest too much” ring to it.

    Comment by RJ — July 15, 2009 @ 3:27 pm

  7. Frankly I’m a little amazed that people like you (still) exist, LP

    Comment by DT — November 8, 2010 @ 11:01 am

  8. In 1996 , the U.S.Government released the Venona Decryptions, and shortly thereafter a joint task force surveyed Soviet archives. , When all the new information was reviewed by peers and analyzed, it became certain that Hiss and the Rosenbergs, among many others were effective spies for the USSR.. Hiss and others were held up as examples of McCarthyism rhen abruptly became proof of immorality of the heights of educated American elites,

    Comment by Bill Pigman — March 31, 2015 @ 7:07 pm

  9. So the Rosenbergs were not guilty?

    Comment by doug1943 — January 26, 2017 @ 12:34 pm

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