Natalie Solent

Politics, news, libertarianism, Science Fiction, religion, sewing. You got a problem, bud? I like sewing.

E-mail: nataliesolent-at-aol-dot-com (I assume it's OK to quote senders by name.)

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Tuesday, February 22, 2005
So it seems to be spies' day. Let's draw the threads together. There were some notable injustices carried out at the behest of MI5 during World War II, one of them detailed in today's first post - but heaven knows the threat was real. The Campaign for Nuclear disarmament are angry at the way they were spied upon - staying silent about the fact that there were real enemy spies among them, as alluded to in the last post - and yet CND might justifiably retort that the case officers who cut their teeth bugging them are now gnawing away at everyone's civil liberties. The vast majority of CND members were perfectly law-abiding and patriotic. Me, for instance.

The trouble with talking about spies is that there's always a "but".

Which brings me to an email written by my regular contributor A Regular Contributor, or ARC as he is familiarly known. He writes:

saw your B-BBC post on McCarthy, which gave me a number of thoughts. As you say, there are two messages any discussion should convey.

The collapse of communism has seen a number of things skillfully downplayed. That much communist infiltration, spying and fellow travelling was going on, some of it very vicious, is one of them. The programme you posted on was typical of many who talk of '50's witchunts' as though they pursued an impossible crime, mere suspicion of which was proof of idiocy or corrupt pretence. There are exceptions (I once saw a good programme on late-period communist spies revealed after the fall of communism which I _think_ I recall as being on the BBC), but in general the PC attitude (that only people as vile as McCarthy could ever wish to make a noise about such things) is proof against all revelations. These days, the facts are not denied; they're just not mentioned. A vast opportunity for reporting, for insight programmes and for historical research arose when communism collapsed. The contrast between the interest shown in the nazis and in the communists by those who make their living doing such work is astounding.

It was quite by chance that I came across just one example of the kind of thing that was done and how it impacted the history we know. In the mid-30s, some 'lady bountiful' decided that a youth movement would be good for the U.S. and tried to start one. The U.S. communists recognised an opportunity and quickly got some of their youth activists (affiliation and connections with each other well concealed) to turn up as helpers. Being early off the mark, combined with secret mutual help and ballot-stuffing, ensured that the youth-leaders of the movement were a solid block of (unacknowledged) communists. Once in place, they found it easy to ease the (now very disgruntled) lady bountiful and her friends out of the organisation as old-fashioned (i.e. insufficiently left-wing) fuddy-duddies, leaving them as recognised representatives of U.S. youth.

During the late 30's they found it easy to keep their true alliegance hidden and their membership high; this was the era of the popular front and anti-fascism. Even then, the movement also did 'good work' defending Stalin's show trials, etc., helped by agents sent over from Russia. In August '39 however, Stalin made the pact with Hitler and they had to defend it - which they did. Suddenly, U.S. youth wasn't so anti-fascist, was ever so worried about getting drawn into the war, wanted Roosevelt to stop supplying those wicked war-mongering British capitalists, etc - or so its apparent leaders assured everyone. While the movement lost support and membership internally, it was able to conceal this from the public. Delegations called on the president to tell him his pro-British policies were war-mongering - and were received and covered in the papers. A belief that U.S. youth was hostile to involvement was widely accepted, and can often be found taken for granted in books and pamphlets published at the time by people across the political spectrum. Thus they did their bit against the lend-lease bill that passed by just one vote.

On June 22nd 1941, they had to reverse themselves again, of course, luckily for them as it left them less exposed when the U.S. entered the war at the end of the year.

ARC then apologises for the fact that, being separated from his sourcebooks on all this at the present, he is vague on precise dates and names. Hence also all these "IIRC"s. He continues:

The book '50 years' (IIRC) has a good write-up of how the communists took over the youth movement, written by one of them whose experiences with 'Max' (the Russian agent sent over to instruct them how to handle the show trials) caused him to become disillusioned.

Interestingly, this book was written because of McCarthy. Years later, the author found himself one of those in trouble during that era. Like you, he had two messages to get across. One was that McCarthy's methods of reasoning and investigation were a bad joke. The other was that the dogmatic assumption of the PC left of his day, that everyone accused (whether by McCarthy or someone less absurd) must be innocent, was ridiculous. Having been involved, he knew how likely it was that the more reputable accusations (e.g. against Alger Hiss) were true, and how certain it was that there were spies in place.

As for McCarthy himself, the more one looks, the odder (and nastier) he seems. His first political contest was for a judgeship; IIRC he campaigned on the platform that his opponent was too old, being 73. In fact, the opponent was 66 years old having been born in 1873, so it looks like a calculatedly-deniable lie ("Ah didn' say 73, ah said 1873"). When McCarthy ran for congressman, the local communists were ordered to support him by the party. Several people have pointed out that, with McCarthy-ite reasoning, this would be enough to get him labelled as a communist agent. Those of us who prefer more solidly grounded logic will rather suspect only that some dialectical reasoning led, as usual, to bizarre conclusions. After the war, he devoted himself to getting the SS men who had murdered their US prisoners at Malmedy reprieved on technicalities. You could see this as far-right behaviour - helping the SS - or far-left behaviour - getting murderers acquitted on technicalities. One thing it massively is not is the behaviour of a US patriot. It seems impossible that McCarthy could have had any more doubts of their actual guilt than anyone else has ever had. His sudden launch into the anti-communist issue can be seen as merely a wholly cynical nose for what could gain votes; in view of the evidence, I find it irrational to suppose that he himself ever gave a damn about betraying one's country. I find it hard to rid myself of the suspicion that something even stranger was going on in his murky psychology, but as he died within a few years and left little evidence, we shall probably never know.

Meanwhile his name continues to prove useful to PC people uneager to confront their past.