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New Perspectives on Communism in the U. S.

Author Harvey Klehr. He's co-authored a new book that examines how the Soviets controlled the American Communist party. The Communist Party as it existed in the United States is the only radical party in America to be governed by a foreign country. "The Soviet World of American Communism" draws information from documents in recently opened Soviet archives (with co-authors John Earl Haynes & Kyrill M. Anderson; Yale University Press). Klehr is a professor of Politics and History at Emory University.


Other segments from the episode on June 15, 1998

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, June 15, 1998: Interview with Harvey Klehr; Interview with Ellen Schrecker; Review of Budapest String Quartet albums.


Date: JUNE 15, 1998
Time: 12:00
Tran: 061501np.217
Head: Harvey Klehr
Sect: News; Domestic
Time: 12:06

TERRY GROSS, HOST: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.

Today, we're focusing on new information and analysis about communism and McCarthyism in America. Much of the new information comes from Soviet archives which were opened after the fall of communism.

Our first guest, Harvey Klehr, has made two trips to Moscow and has read the released documents of the Communist International, or Comintern, which supervised activities of communist parties around the world. He says these documents show that the American party was heavily funded and controlled by the Soviets.

Klehr is the co-author of the new book "The Soviet World of American Communism" which is part of the Yale University Press "Annals of Communism" series. Klehr is a professor at Emory University.

I asked him why he thinks the subject of his new book, Soviet control over the American Communist Party, is so important.

HARVEY KLEHR, PROFESSOR POLITICS AND HISTORY, EMORY UNIVERSITY; CO-AUTHOR, "THE SOVIET WORLD OF AMERICAN COMMUNISM": Well, it's been a very contentious issue over the years. From really the origins of the American Communist Party back in 1919, there were Americans who claimed that it was controlled by the Soviet Union; that it was not a really American organization.

In the 1930s, when the Communist Party for the first time in this country began to grow in strength, critics attacked the party because of its Soviet connections. And perhaps even more importantly in terms of the controversy that the Communist Party engendered in this country, critics, particularly from the right, often attacked the New Deal and Franklin Roosevelt because of their supposed connections with communism and the Communist Party.

And then during the McCarthy period in the 1940s and early 1950s in the United States, when the issue of communist subversion, domestic communism, became one of the primary political issues in the United States, the whole question of whether the American Communist Party was connected to the Soviet Union was a subject of enormous controversy and caused a lot of careers and lives to go on the line.

GROSS: Now you say in your new book that the American Communist Party was never an independent political organization. It never made decisions autonomously. Give us the big picture based on the documents you found in the Soviet archives -- the big picture of how much control the Soviet Communist Party exerted over the American Communist Party.

KLEHR: Well, the control in a sense really began almost from the moment that the American Communist Party was created. Actually, in 1919 when American communism came into existence, two communist parties were formed in this country. And immediately, both of those communist parties sent delegates to Moscow to get approval and recognition from the Soviet Union. It was as if the Soviet Union owned the franchise and here you had two potential local franchisees running for an imprimatur.

And from that very moment on, the American Communist Party had the habit of looking to Moscow for decisions; to resolve their disputes when they could not agree on an issue. And for money -- again, from the very beginning of its existence, the Communist Party received enormous amounts of financing from the Soviet Union.

GROSS: You say that the Soviet funding enabled the Communist Party in the United States to pay organizers, to publish newspapers, support a variety of educational and union activities. And it enabled the American Communist Party to create an infrastructure greater than it could have supported through membership dues and contributions of party members.

How much money would you say the Soviets typically contributed per year to the American Communist Party? I know this all depends on inflation and all of that ...


KLEHR: Right.

GROSS: ... but give us a sense.

KLEHR: Well, it varied enormously over the years. One of the documents that we found that was actually reproduced in a previous book that we published called "The Secret World of American Communism," indicated that in 1919 when John Reed (ph), who was the journalist -- the hero of the Warren Beatty movie "Reds," and one of the founders of the American communist movement -- John Reed was sent to Moscow. He was one of the delegates from one of these competing communist parties seeking recognition.

He was given more than $1 million worth of gold and jewels to bring back to the United States to help establish the young American communist movement. That -- that initial down payment was a one-time fee. But in the 1920s, for example, the communist -- the Soviet Union and the Comintern would provide in a given year $50-, 60-, 70,000 to the American party. It's sometimes hard to figure out exactly how much money they were given in a particular year because there were often special subventions.

For example, the budget of the party in a given year might be $25- or $30,000, but then there would be a special appropriation to support the Daily Worker -- the party newspaper; or another $5- or $10,000 would be sent to finance a meeting of the party's organization for black Americans.

So there were a lot of different sources of money to different parts of the party. We estimate in the book that in the 1920s, the Soviet Union and the Comintern were providing somewhere between one-third and two-thirds of the party's annual budget.

GROSS: Now you say that the party saw nothing wrong with accepting money from the Soviets. On the other hand, the American party didn't want anyone to know that they were taking this money. I guess the reasons why are obvious, but why don't you address them anyways and tell us how the American party covered up the money that it was getting.

KLEHR: Well, the -- obviously, the party had several reasons for not letting people know that the Soviets were funding them. First of all, it was illegal. This was money that was being brought into the country illegally -- smuggled in. Secondly, the party was concerned that it would be tarred as a Soviet tool if people knew that the Soviet Union was paying the party budget.

And actually the party may have had another reason for hiding the money if -- if people knew that they were getting all this Moscow gold, as it was sometimes derisively referred to, it would have been harder to raise money in this country as people would be more reluctant to give money to the party, saying: "Why don't you just get it from Moscow?"

So that the party had a number of reasons for concealing it. The most important one, clearly, was the fact that it would have been used by the party's enemies. And so they -- they took a number of different measures to get the money in. In the 1920s, it was often brought in by couriers -- seamen, often, would carry money or jewels between Moscow and the United States.

There's considerable evidence that we present in the book that beginning in the 1950s, the KGB agents brought the money in; often Soviet diplomats brought the money into the United States and then gave it to emissaries of the party.

And in this period of time, the amounts were really staggering. We found some receipts which are reprinted in the book, for example, that in the 1980s, the Soviet Communist Party, there was no more Comintern by this time, the Soviet Communist Party was providing the American Communist Party $2- to $3 million a year.

GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guest is Harvey Klehr, and he's co-author the new book The Soviet World of American Communism. And it's about the Soviet influence on the Communist Party, and it's based on recently-released documents from the Soviet archives.

You say that one of the most telling illustrations of the American Communist Party's loyalty to Stalin is this: Their reaction to the non-aggression treaty between Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union, which was signed in August of 1939.

First of all, just refresh everybody's memory about what this agreement was.

KLEHR: Well, the -- the Soviet Union and the American Communist Party had been staunch anti-fascists. And then in August of 1939, the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany completed a non-aggression pact which opened the way for the German invasion of Poland, the beginning of World War II; the Soviet seizure of the Baltic nations and part of eastern Poland; and really the outbreak of the Second World War.

GROSS: Now, the American Communist Party never challenged the Soviets when they signed this pact with Hitler.

KLEHR: That's right. The American -- the American party, which had been staunchly pro-collective security and anti-Nazi was confused for a couple of days. The party didn't know quite what to make of this pact. But then Browder (ph) -- Earl Browder, the party leader -- received a short-wave radio transmission from Moscow ordering him to switch gears; to attack the Roosevelt Administration; telling him that the Second World War was now a war that -- between Nazi Germany on one side and Britain and France on the other side -- in which both sides were equally culpable. It was an imperialist war and the American communists really shouldn't care who won.

GROSS: In fact, let me quote a little bit from a memo from the Soviets to the American party: "At issue here is not only fascism, but the very existence of the entire capitalist system. The issue of fascism is secondary. The main and fundamental issue is the struggle against capitalism, against bourgeois dictatorship."

Yeah, so they're saying, you know, well, it's really not about fascism here. It's ...

KLEHR: Right. If fascism, in the words I think it was Molotov who said "fascism is a matter of taste." He was the Soviet foreign minister. Well, for several years communists had been screaming about fascism, and now suddenly they had discovered that, well, fascism was really not an issue at all.

One couldn't tell the difference between Nazi Germany and democratic Britain and democratic France -- or -- and democratic America, for that matter.

GROSS: Well, how did the party line change after the Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union?

KLEHR: Well, it changed dramatically and very, very quickly. The day before the invasion, the American party, one of its front groups, had been sponsoring demonstrations outside the White House opposing aid to Great Britain; opposing American intervention in any way, shape or form.

After the Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union, the American party received frantic cables and short-wave radio transmissions from Moscow ordering them to change their position immediately, which they did. Instead of saying "stay out of the European war," the new slogan was "all out aid to the Allies."

And the American Communist Party immediately began agitating for full American support for Britain, France and the Soviet Union. And of course, the American party was delighted when America entered World War II after Pearl Harbor.

GROSS: My guest is Harvey Klehr, co-author of the new book The Soviet World of American Communism. We'll talk more after a break.

This is FRESH AIR.

My guest is Harvey Klehr, co-author of the new book The Soviet World of American Communism about Soviet control over the American Communist Party. It's based on documents from recently-opened Soviet archives.

Another example you give about how the American Communist Party toed the line of the Soviet Party was during the purges -- the Stalinist purges -- which the American party didn't officially object to. You tell a new story within that larger story, about a group of American and Canadian Finns who had settled in the Karelian (ph) region of the USSR which bordered on Finland. Tell us the story of these people.

KLEHR: Well, I think it's one of the most tragic stories in the book. The Finns were one of the largest ethnic groups represented in the American Communist Party. In the 1920s, perhaps half of the Communist Party was composed of Finnish Americans. Even later on as other ethnic groups became more prominent in the party, there were still large numbers of Finns. Indeed, Gus Hall, the current head of the American Communist Party, is Finnish -- Finnish-American.

In the late 1920s and early 1930s, there developed in the United States and Canada among Finnish-Americans and Finnish-Canadians what was called "Karelian fever." Karelia was a region of the Soviet Union adjacent to Finland, whose inhabitants were of Finnish descent and spoke a Finnish dialect.

And thousands of Finns from the United States and Canada were recruited to go to Karelia to help build socialism there. The party supported this; provided money. And as I say, several thousand people went.

In the mid-1930s, these people got caught up in the purges and thousands of them were arrested -- virtually all the adult males were arrested, charged with being traitors, counter-revolutionaries, Trotskyites, wreckers and so on -- and sent to the Gulag, where most of them were murdered.

The American Communist Party knew these -- had to have known that these charges were false. Many of the people that were arrested had been leaders in the Finnish Communist movement in this country. The American party piled on. They endorsed the Soviet charges. They accused these people that had been arrested of being traitors. A handful of families managed to come back from Karelia to the United States and they were attacked here. The party denounced them as traitors; warned them not to make a stink about what had happened.

All together, it was an extraordinarily horrible episode and it's one that -- that really has not been written about very much by American historians, even though as I say, several thousand Americans and their families were caught up in the Gulag and in the Soviet purges.

GROSS: The American Communist Party didn't protest the purges while they were happening. What happened in 1956 after Khruschev condemned the purges?

KLEHR: Well the -- that was really one of the things that helped destroy the communist movement in the United States. When the leader of the Soviet Union announced that Stalin had committed mass murder and that many of the people who had been killed or sent to the Gulag were innocent, American communists suddenly were forced to accept the fact that it was the truth, even though most Americans had long known about this.

But it was devastating to American communists. There were a lot of nervous breakdowns. People quit the moment. People felt betrayed. They felt that their lives had been based on a lie. The American party split apart. There were a couple of other issues involved, but the revelations of the purges were certainly one of the major factors in destroying what was left of the American Communist movement in the mid-1950s.

GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guest is Harvey Klehr. He's co-author of the new book The Soviet World of American Communism. And it's about Soviet control of the American Communist Party. And it's based on recently-released documents in Soviet archives.

You say in your book that many leftists are unwilling to acknowledge that an organization -- the Communist Party -- that seemed to speak for the disenfranchised and argued for equality, was actually tied to a foreign power; and that the American Communist Party could neither choose its own leaders nor set its own agenda. Do you want to elaborate on your thoughts on that?

KLEHR: Well, there's been a -- over the past decade or two -- a fierce debate among American historians who study American communism and the American left, about the nature of the party. And on the one hand, there are people that I suppose have the same interpretation that John Haynes, my co-author, and I do -- share -- which is that the party really was a creature of the Soviet Union.

And on the other hand, a group of historians who -- many of whom came out of the New Left -- who saw in the party an authentic home-grown American radicalism, and believed that were it not for McCarthyism and the McCarthy era that there would not have been the disjunction between the old left of the Communist Party in the 1930s and sort of the new left of the 1960s; that McCarthyism had destroyed this essential continuity in the American left.

I think that the documents that we uncovered in Moscow make it very, very clear that the American party was never independent. Lots of people joined the Communist Party for very noble kinds of motives. And the party certainly was involved in many activities and campaigns that promoted worthwhile causes.

But the party did not do that on its own. It did not do that out of its own volition; out of some kind of internal thrust. It did it because of what was going on in the Soviet Union and what its Soviet overlords were telling it -- was telling it to do.

GROSS: A little later in our program, we're going to be hearing from Ellen Schrecker who's the author of a new book on McCarthyism in America called "Many Are The Crimes." I'd like to have you share your impressions of her book, if you would.

KLEHR: Ellen Schrecker has done a prodigious amount of research and has a lot of very interesting information in her new book. I disagree with her evaluation and interpretation of the American communist movement, however. She says that the American Communist Party was both a tool of the Soviet Union and a independent native American movement.

I don't think that an organization can be both those sorts of things. Certainly, most of the members of the American Communist Party thought of themselves as independent, but the party itself was a very hierarchical organization whose leadership very, very closely controlled the campaigns and the activities that the members embarked on. And I think that she vastly underestimates the extent to which its fealty to the Soviet Union colored its activities, and colored the responses of most Americans to it.

I don't think it's any accident that the McCarthy phenomenon was at its most virulent in a period when the United States was fighting a hot war in Korea against two communist powers. And many Americans were literally enraged that some of their fellow citizens would be supporting communist regimes against which Americans were fighting and dying.

GROSS: Well needless to say, we'll ask her her impressions of your book. I want to thank you very much for talking with us.

KLEHR: It's been a pleasure.

GROSS: Harvey Klehr is the co-author of The Soviet World of American Communism. He's a professor at Emory University.

I'm Terry Gross and this is FRESH AIR.

This is a rush transcript. This copy may not
be in its final form and may be updated.

Dateline: Terry Gross, Philadelphia
Guest: Harvey Klehr
High: Author Harvey Klehr. He's co-authored a new book that examines how the Soviets controlled the American Communist Party. The Communist Party as it existed in the United States is the only radical party in America to be governed by a foreign country. "The Soviet World of American Communism" draws information from documents in recently-opened Soviet archives (with co-authors John Earl Haynes & Kyrill M. Anderson; Yale University Press). Klehr is a professor of Politics and History at Emory University.
Spec: Government; Politics; Communism; McCarthy; Klehr
Please note, this is not the final feed of record
Copy: Content and programming copyright 1998 WHYY, Inc. All rights reserved. Transcribed by FDCH, Inc. under license from WHYY, Inc. Formatting copyright 1998 FDCH, Inc. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to WHYY, Inc. This transcript may not be reproduced in whole or in part without prior written permission.
End-Story: Harvey Klehr
Date: JUNE 15, 1998
Time: 12:00
Tran: 061502NP.217
Head: Ellen Schrecker
Sect: News; Domestic
Time: 12:30

TERRY GROSS, HOST: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.

Ellen Schrecker is a scholar of the McCarthy era. She's drawn on newly-released FBI files and private papers for her new book "Many Are The Crimes: McCarthyism In America." She looks at the origins of the hunt for communists and its impact on American politics and culture. Her previous book, "No Ivory Tower," examined McCarthyism and the universities.

Schrecker is a professor of history at Yeshiva University and has also taught at Harvard and Princeton.

I asked her first about her reaction to the new book by Harvey Klehr, who just joined us. Klehr concludes that the American Communist Party was funded and controlled by the Soviets. His book is based on newly-released documents from Soviet archives.

ELLEN SCHRECKER, PROFESSOR OF HISTORY, YESHIVA UNIVERSITY; AUTHOR, "MANY ARE THE CRIMES: MCCARTHYISM IN AMERICA": Well, I think the new documents are extremely important. A number of historians besides Harvey Klehr and his colleagues have been working in these archives and are finding really very valuable material about American communism. So that we do begin to flesh out a picture of an organization that I think to a certain extent was an appendage of the Soviet Union.

But I think Harvey Klehr's take on American communism is a little one-sided because it was also an American party. Yes, it slavishly followed the Soviet line with regard to a number of issues, especially international issues that were crucial to the Russians. American communists did, to their shame, to their moral degradation -- they did support the purges.

At the same time, in the United States with regard to American issues, they operated with a certain amount of independence mainly because the Russians weren't necessarily that concerned with a local rent strike or a local organizing campaign in a union.

So that you have this very complicated organization. And I think the interpretation in Harvey Klehr's book is a little too flat; it's a little too one-sided. It doesn't really grasp the reality of American communism.

GROSS: Now your book, "Many Are The Crimes: McCarthyism In America," is based in part on new information from Soviet archives and from the Freedom of Information Act FBI files here in the United States. What's some of the new information that you have gotten access to for your book?

SCHRECKER: Well, I used the Freedom of Information Act in my research to get a look at FBI files. What I wanted to do, though, was different from what other historians have been doing up until now. I wanted to look at as many different kinds of files as I could, rather than concentrate on one or two cases. So that what I discovered was a wide range of FBI practices that gave me an understanding of how the FBI was really at the center of the McCarthy period.

I used these files, many of them other people had gotten a hold of, to put together a case -- a sort of overview of FBI practices; of the fact that the FBI was always tapping people's phones; was always using illegal methods; was very -- what's interesting is the FBI was an investigative organization and we sometimes forget that what it was investigating for was to put together prosecutions that could be used in criminal cases.

So what one sees is the FBI criminalizing people's ordinary political practices. And that's what I found by using a large number of FBI files.

GROSS: You say that had we known in the 1950s what we know now, now that the Freedom of Information Act files on the FBI have been opened, McCarthyism probably would have been called "Hooverism."

SCHRECKER: That's right. J. Edgar Hoover was, if anybody, the mastermind of this anti-communist political repression of the late 1940s and 1950s. He had been obsessed with communism since the Russian revolution and had really worked out the machinery that was erected during the McCarthy period that was so incredibly effective; that machinery of trying to identify people as communists and then of using sanctions against them -- mainly economic sanctions.

In other words, Hoover was very interested in having communists be fired from the government, certainly, but also from private industry; from local governments. And he had implemented, for example, a program in the early '50s called the "responsibilities" program, where he told governors and school superintendents what people to fire. So he was very much involved at the center.

The other thing that he did was create the kinds of tests -- political tests -- that were being used to identify communists.

GROSS: Like loyalty tests?

SCHRECKER: Not just loyalty tests -- sort of reality tests. In other words, the Communist Party was secret. People did not go around with little badges saying "Hi, I'm Ellen Schrecker. I'm a communist." And this was different from communism in Europe, say. American -- the American party thought it was going to be repressed and so they wanted to keep -- for reasons of protection -- they wanted to keep their membership secret. So the main problem the FBI had was figuring out who was a member of the Communist Party.

And what they did was they devised this notion of guilt by association. If somebody belonged to certain organizations, signed certain petitions, had certain kinds of books or subscribed to certain kinds of newspapers -- if you put all of these facts together, you could then come up with a sort of profile that in the 1950s was sort of looked on as a "duck" test. If somebody walked like a duck, waddled like a duck, quacked like a duck, looked like a duck -- then probably they were ducks.

And the FBI sort of designed these duck tests, as it were. And then they were used by the House Un-American Activities Committee; by local school boards; by Hollywood blacklisters as ways of identifying people as communists.

GROSS: Now when you say "tests," were there any, for instance, government employees who literally had to take a test?

SCHRECKER: Not really tests. There were sort of loyalty questionnaires. The main thing that these "political tests" -- and I do use the word figuratively, not literally -- these political tests were trying to determine was people's views. So that if somebody was called up before a loyalty board, suspected of communist affiliations 'cause they had signed certain petitions or belonged to certain organizations, they would often be asked their views on things like American foreign policy. Did you support the Marshall Plan in Western Europe? Did you support integration? There was a lot of racial stuff that came out during this period because the Communist Party supported integration very early-on. So that in many instances whites, who had views in support of desegregation in the south, could be sort of viewed as tainted in some way.

GROSS: You say that Hoover's main target in his war against communism was the trade unions. Why?

SCHRECKER: Hoover was interested in looking for communists in the trade unions because they were there; because the American Communist Party had focused most of its efforts in the 1930s and 1940s on unions; on organizing unions; and had in fact gotten a certain amount of influence in a number of important industrial unions in this country. So that when Hoover went after trade unions, he was doing it in part because he wasn't particularly sympathetic to them, but also because the communists were there.

GROSS: How much influence do you think the communists actually had on American trade unions at the time?

SCHRECKER: The Communist Party contained people who were very active as union organizers; who had gotten in in the early years of organizing in certain industries. And they did have control of about 20 percent of the unions that were part of the CIO. They couldn't make these unions sort of follow a Russian line. You know, they were essentially ordinary trade unionists. And to the extent that they imposed a "communist agenda," it was a matter of running editorials in the union papers or having resolutions passed at the union conventions. But it didn't actually affect what they did in their day-to-day labor activities.

GROSS: What techniques did Hoover use to infiltrate the trade unions?

SCHRECKER: What's very interesting -- I've looked at a number of the trade -- the FBI files for the unions. And Hoover had informers, of course. He also had bugs in the union offices. He tapped their phones illegally. He also subscribed to the union newspapers. I mean, there was a lot -- you think of the FBI as being very devious and unconstitutional, but a lot of what Hoover and the FBI did was go to meetings, get leaflets, read newspapers.

And he had a pretty good idea of what the communist-led trade unions were doing. He tried as best he could -- and he had a lot of support. There were a lot of anti-communists within the labor movement who wanted to get the communists out of the labor union. So Hoover was not the only person who was focused on eliminating communist influence within the labor movement.

GROSS: My guest is Ellen Schrecker, author of the new book "Many Are The Crimes: McCarthyism in America." We'll talk more after a break.

This is FRESH AIR.

Back with Ellen Schrecker, author of a new book about McCarthyism called "Many Are The Crimes."

Now, you -- you describe Hoover and the FBI as creating the infrastructure in the war against communists in America. When does Joseph McCarthy actually come onto the scene? And how closely did he work with Hoover?

SCHRECKER: Well, McCarthy appeared in American history in the beginning of 1950 by which time that movement, McCarthyism, to which he gave his name, really had been underway for at least three years. And McCarthy is one of a number of figures who in my book I call an "anticommunist network" -- a group of professionals who were really dedicated to eradicating all the influence of the Communist Party in this country.

And these anticommunist professionals sort of flocked to McCarthy's side when it was very clear that this individual had a real sort of demagogic gift for getting media attention; getting a lot of publicity; making a big fuss; and hurting the Democratic Party.

And so Hoover was feeding McCarthy information -- a number of these sort of private anticommunist professionals were feeding him information; writing his speeches. And what I discovered in my book was that these people were all in contact with each other. And when they found McCarthy as their spokesperson, they sort of descended on him and just threw tons of material at him, which he then sort of funneled out into the public.

GROSS: What are some of the new things you feel like you learned about McCarthy's role in McCarthyism in America?

SCHRECKER: Well, I think the main thing that I've discovered is that McCarthy was, as I said, really kind of amplifying the voices of these other people in the anticommunist network. McCarthy was able to amplify scenarios that had been worked out, especially the most important one, and it was one that was used by the Republican Party in the early 1950s, was that of the "loss" of China; that -- the notion that there had been communists in the State Department who had betrayed China to Mao Tse Tung.

And McCarthy made that in the beginning the main target of his early allegations.

GROSS: One of the things you do in your new book is look at the impact of the McCarthy purges on life in America. Give us an overview of what you think the biggest impact was.

SCHRECKER: The main impact of McCarthyism on the United States, I think, was the destruction of a kind of left perspective; the marginalization of a lot of inter-linked ideas about class; the notion that -- that there were class divisions in this country seemed to be sort of shoved under the rug.

You also saw for example within the civil rights movement, where the American left had been active in the 1940s -- the civil rights movement by the 1950s becomes focused not on questions of economics and economic injustice, but much more narrowly on questions of eliminating the legal injustices of segregation in the south.

You see a narrowing as well in terms of, say, the peace movement; that the whole notion of anti-nuclear disarmament, for example, because it was associated with American communism is marginalized throughout much of the '50s.

GROSS: In the 20 years that you've been studying communism and anti-communism in America, has your view of the Communist Party in America changed as a result of newer documents that have been released?

SCHRECKER: Yes, I think it has. To begin with, I guess I started with the assumptions that had been fairly common in the 1950s and '60s that McCarthyism was attacking "innocent victims." And what I discovered was that most of the people who were affected by McCarthyism had been in one way or another involved with, near the Communist Party; that in fact although these people were unjustly persecuted, they were not incorrectly targeted.

GROSS: So does the story become slightly less black and white to you now?

SCHRECKER: Exactly. This -- the story of communism and anti-communism in this country is a -- I like to view it almost as a kind of cable, you know, like a suspension cable with many different strands in it. And what we're seeing here is an incredibly complicated movement; a movement that had both very positive elements in it, if you tend to believe that support for desegregation is positive, which I think it is. But it also had these elements of uncritical support for the Soviet Union; a certain amount of espionage.

And it was a movement that sort of supported some of the most -- best ideals in American life and also was dogmatic. It was undemocratic. It fostered a kind of unthinking acceptance of what the American communists and Soviet communist leadership believed in. So it's a very, very mixed picture. And to present it as black and white is incorrect.

Also I would add that to present McCarthyism as sort of black and white is equally incorrect. This is a movement that I think is very complicated and many people joined it for many reasons, and we can't view them all as sort of, you know, evil. We can't demonize them just as we can't demonize the American communists.

GROSS: What have you found that led you to that conclusion -- that the anticommunists can't just be demonized. Who have you found who had motives that you consider to be more idealistic and truly democratic?

SCHRECKER: Well, it's not so much a matter of idealism or democracy, as sort of understanding how people could have embraced this sort of anti-communist consensus; why people who today look back on the McCarthy period and say: "Oh, how could we have done this?" And what I was really trying to do is figure out how they could have done it; how these very moderate liberal open-minded people could have bought into a movement that ultimately was pretty undemocratic.

And I think it had to do with the sort of plausibility of the Soviet threat; the plausibility of this notion -- this very demonized notion -- of what American communism was. Because what you have to realize was that communism was a secret movement. People didn't really understand it.

And what you had was this anticommunist network of J. Edgar Hoover; of the staffmembers in HUAC; of ex-communist professional witnesses -- who had their own scenario and their own vision of what communism was. And who were able to sell this vision to the rest of the country; to the American political elites; who then devised a program of anti-communism; of eliminating communists from labor unions, from movie studios, from universities -- because they had a demonized and largely sort of black and white image of American communism that they felt needed to be eradicated from American society.

GROSS: Well Ellen Schrecker, I want to thank you very much for talking with us.

SCHRECKER: Thank you very much, Terry.

GROSS: Ellen Schrecker is the author of "Many Are The Crimes: McCarthyism in America." She's a professor at Yeshiva University.

Coming up, new CDs of classic recordings by the Budapest String Quartet.

This is FRESH AIR.

This is a rush transcript. This copy may not
be in its final form and may be updated.

Dateline: Terry Gross, Philadelphia
Guest: Ellen Schrecker
High: Ellen Schrecker reexamines the McCarthy era in her new book, "Many are the Crimes: McCarthyism in America." (Little, Brown). She writes that despite the unfairness of the House Un-American Activities Committee, accusations were generally accurate. It's the first complete post-Cold War account of the McCarthy era. Schrecker is a professor of history at Yeshiva University in New York.
Spec: Government; Politics; McCarthy; Communism
Please note, this is not the final feed of record
Copy: Content and programming copyright 1998 WHYY, Inc. All rights reserved. Transcribed by FDCH, Inc. under license from WHYY, Inc. Formatting copyright 1998 FDCH, Inc. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to WHYY, Inc. This transcript may not be reproduced in whole or in part without prior written permission.
End-Story: Ellen Schrecker
Date: JUNE 15, 1998
Time: 12:00
Tran: 061503NP.217
Head: Budapest Quartet
Sect: Entertainment
Time: 12:00

TERRY GROSS, HOST: The Budapest String Quartet was the quartet-in-residence at the Library of Congress for 25 years, beginning in the late 1930s. They made many recordings during that time, some of them using the Stradivarius instruments that belonged to the library.

Bridge Records has been releasing a series of classic live performances from the Library of Congress, including performances by the Budapest. Classic music critic Lloyd Schwartz has a review.


LLOYD SCHWARTZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC CRITIC: The three Hungarians and the Dutchman that were the original Budapest String Quartet began one of the world's greatest musical ensembles. Eventually, the personnel changed. The Budapest Quartet I grew up with consisted entirely of Russians. Their playing was heftier, less sweet, but more incisive; darker and more dramatic than the original groups; maybe even deeper, though the early recordings are not short of profundity.

What I find especially reassuring from the precious live performances from the Library of Congress that Bridge Records has been releasing is the proof they provide that the recording studios captured the essential qualities of the playing.

SONY has reissued two albums of the splendid Budapest Beethoven recordings from the early 1940s. I yearn for them to reissue the Budapest's famous late Beethoven from the 1950s, with those amazing Library of Congress Stradivariuses. At least now we can hear those same quartets recorded live from the same period on those same instruments.


One of the great things about these live recordings is that they add so much new repertory to the Budapest Quartet discography. The latest CD, for instance, called "Souvenirs," includes only one movement of music that the Budapest ever recorded commercially. So we now have an elegantly sumptuous performance of Debussy's "Sacred and Profane Dances," with the great French harpist Marcel Granjani (ph).

We now have the only example of the Budapest Quartet playing Handel, also with Granjani; and two fascinating American works: Daniel Gregory Mason's (ph) "String Quartet on Negro Themes" composed in 1920; and two sketches based on Indian themes by Charles Tomlinson Griffiths (ph).

But I have to confess that my favorite selection on this album is a sensational arrangement of "Dinah" (ph) -- the 1925 Harry Axt (ph) song that may be the first international hit song introduced in a nightclub -- a show called "Plantation Review." Ethel Waters sang it and it made her a star.

A few years later, it crossed racial lines and became a number one hit for Bing Crosby. There were great recordings by the Mills Brothers, the Boswell (ph) Sisters, and Fats Waller before it eventually became Dinah Shore's theme song.

The Budapest Quartet was well known for its sense of humor. This witty arrangement teases us with classical allusions and pop styles. It's actually the second example I know of the Budapest Quartet horsing around. There's a pirated party record also dating from the late 1940s of the Budapest accompanying no less than Ezio Pinza in a hilariously scatalogical number that I can't quote on the air.

So here's the great Budapest String Quartet letting its hair down with Dinah, decades before the Kronos (ph) Quartet startled listeners with their crossover arrangement of Jimi Hendrix's "Purple Haze."



GROSS: Lloyd Schwartz is classical music editor of the Boston Phoenix. He reviewed two recent releases on Bridge Records of the Budapest String Quartet in live performances at the Library of Congress.

I'm Terry Gross.

This is a rush transcript. This copy may not
be in its final form and may be updated.

Dateline: Lloyd Schwartz; Terry Gross, Philadelphia
High: Review of the Budapest String Quartet CD "Souvenirs."
Spec: Lifestyle; Culture; Entertainment; Library of Congress; Budapest String Quartet
Please note, this is not the final feed of record
Copy: Content and programming copyright 1998 WHYY, Inc. All rights reserved. Transcribed by FDCH, Inc. under license from WHYY, Inc. Formatting copyright 1998 FDCH, Inc. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to WHYY, Inc. This transcript may not be reproduced in whole or in part without prior written permission.
Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.

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