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Hiss: guilty as charged
by Sam Tanenhaus

 

 

The Alger Hiss case, as by now every-one must know, did not end with Hiss's conviction in 1950 on two counts of perjury. For no sooner had the verdict been pronounced than Hiss launched a massive legal campaign that lasted three decades and included every conceivable attempt to have the conviction overturned until, in 1983, the Supreme Court refused for a third and final time to hear the case.

 

Simultaneously a parallel campaign, equally tireless, was being waged in numerous books and articles. This campaign kept alive the belief that Hiss had not lied about his secret career as a Soviet agent and that he had been railroaded by the chief witness for the prosecution, the late Whittaker Chambers. But it was not until October 29, 1992, two weeks before Hiss's eighty-eighth birthday, that he and his partisans enjoyed a major breakthrough. On that day the New York Times reported that General Dmitri A. Volkogonov, an adviser to Russian President Boris Yeltsin and the chairman of that country's Military Intelligence archives, had examined mountains of confidential files and concluded from them that the espionage charges against Hiss were, in Volkogonov's words, "completely groundless."

 

Since the general neglected to substantiate his findings, they were met with skepticism by scholars of the Hiss case and by Sovietologists. But not by the media. The day the Times story appeared, the three major television networks each publicized Hiss's supposed exoneration on the evening news, and CNN sounded a drumbeat all day long. The next morning's headlines repeated the story: Hiss had been cleared.

 

This spectacle was too much even for Volkogonov, who soon had second thoughts. On November 24, he published a sheepish letter in Moscow's Nezavisimaya Gazeta retracting his initial claim. His search of the archives, he now admitted, had consisted mainly of discussions with KGB employees. On December 17, the Times published a follow-up which included Volkogonov's further admission that he himself had spent a total of two days combing files, and the few documents he had seen "give no basis to claim a full clarification" of Hiss's role as a spy. The general added that Hiss's emissary to Moscow, John Lowenthal, "pushed me hard to say things of which I was not fully convinced." Volkogonov's categorical avowal of Hiss's innocence was, after all, "only my personal opinion as a historian."

 

An opinion overvalued from the outset. Not because Volkogonov, the author of a biography of Stalin, lacks credentials as a historian; but because it was risible for him to think - if he really did - that Russian intelligence (or any intelligence agency) would ever release the name of a sensitively placed and still living spy and thereby jeopardize the cooperation of agents in the future.

 

This fact alone should have tempered the jubilant response to Volkogonov's first statement, but a certain romance has accrued in the past year to the Soviet archives. Many seem to imagine that on a shelf somewhere in the bowels of Foreign Intelligence (formerly KGB) or Military Intelligence (GRU) there must repose a file labeled, "Hiss, Alger" with a cross-reference to "Chambers, Whittaker." If such a file does not exist, Hiss was not a spy. Case closed.

 

Serious researchers look at the matter differently. They understand that whatever shreds of documentation on Hiss survived first the ritual upheavals of the Soviet Union, and then its collapse, probably consist of fugitive references buried in places where the appointed destroyers or cleansers of files might not think to look.

 

And so it is not surprising to learn that Alger Hiss's name has surfaced among confidential papers in at least one Communist repository - the History Archive of the Ministry of the Interior in Budapest, Hungary. Its holdings include a dossier on the American diplomat Noel Field, a Communist agent living in Europe in May 1949, when he was spirited off to Prague and then to Hungary as part of the international purge ordered that year by Stalin.

 

In February 1992, a Hungarian historian, Maria Schmidt, came upon interrogations of Field conducted by the Hungarian secret police in 1954, as part of Field's "rehabilitation." On at least four occasions, Field named Hiss as a fellow spy. Field also told of his anxiety when he learned of Whittaker Chambers's testimony before the House Committee on Un-American Activities (HUAC) in August 1948. He further told how Hiss and Hede Massing - a former Comintern agent who testified at Hiss's second perjury trial - had competed in the mid-1930's to recruit Field for espionage work. The Hungarian dossier includes letters to Field from Hiss (correspondence between the two has also surfaced elsewhere - for instance in FBI files). And there are transcripts of phone calls monitored after Field's release from prison. In these he muses on the coincidence that he and Hiss - the one imprisoned in Hungary, the other in the United States - were given their freedom on precisely the same day.

 

A year after Mrs. Schmidt first saw the Field file and requested photocopies of it, Hungarian officials have at last agreed to release selected documents. These seal the case against Alger Hiss.(*)

 

But then the case was sealed long ago. Or should have been. In 1977, Allen Weinstein interviewed a Czech historian, Karel Kaplan, who had uncovered documents very much like those found by Mrs. Schmidt. Weinstein summarized their contents in his landmark study, Perjury: The Hiss-Chambers Case (1978), but cultural amnesia proved too potent, and this key evidence was forgotten amid the clamor surrounding Volkogonov's declaration. And so, once again, it is necessary to spell out the terms of Alger Hiss's guilt.

 

The Hiss case began on August 3, 1948, when Whittaker Chambers, a senior editor of Time magazine and a self-confessed ex-Communist, appeared as a witness before HUAC. Chambers testified that in the 1930's he had been attached as a courier to a Communist cell formed in Washington, D.C. The cell had been organized by Harold Ware, a well-known Communist, and its members included eight government officials whom Chambers named and identified. The last was Alger Hiss, a former Assistant Secretary of State who had presided over the founding conference of the United Nations in 1945 and in February 1947 had left the government to assume the presidency of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. The committee subsequently interviewed all eight alleged Communists. Six declined to answer the questions put to them, pleading the Fifth Amendment protection against self-incrimination. Not one of the six would say whether he was a Communist, whether he knew Chambers, or even whether he knew Hiss.

 

The two remaining witnesses, Alger Hiss and his brother Donald, were more forthright. Or seemed to be. Both emphatically denied Chambers's allegations. Alger Hiss was better known than his brother - indeed, than any of the seven others named by Chambers - and was also more aggressive in his rebuttal of Chambers's claims. It was, then, Hiss's testimony that the committee followed up on in what soon became a contest between two witnesses - Chambers and Hiss.

 

From that moment forward, the Hiss defense has rested on the argument that Hiss was by far the more credible witness, that in fact Chambers was, in Hiss's phrase, a "psychopathic liar." This argument has rested in turn on two admitted inconsistencies in Chambers's testimony.

 

The first concerns the matter of espionage. Chambers initially told the committee that the Ware group had not been a spy ring but a cell whose members aimed to infiltrate high government posts in order to influence policy. But on November 17, 1948, having been sued by Hiss for slander, Chambers appeared at a pre-trial deposition bearing copies of confidential State Department documents typed on Hiss's Woodstock typewriter. He also had memos handwritten by Hiss, and later produced rolls of microfilm. Most of this material, Chambers said, had originated with Hiss, who had passed it on to Chambers himself for transmittal to the Soviet Union.

 

A question now arose: why had Chambers withheld the documents before and perjured himself on the matter of espionage? Because, said Chambers, he had wanted to protect Hiss, to tax him only with the allegation that he had once been a Communist, which was not, after all, a crime.

 

Hiss's defenders maintain, however, that Chambers told the truth in his initial testimony - there had never been any espionage. The documents, they say, were fakes, manufactured by the FBI or HUAC (or both) as part of a frame-up. Yet several acquaintances of Chambers knew of the documents long before he produced them in 1948. One was his wife's nephew, Nathan Levine, who testified that in 1938 he had hidden in the dumbwaiter of a Brooklyn apartment a sealed envelope given him by Chambers for safekeeping. After Hiss lodged his suit for slander, Levine had taken Chambers to the apartment and helped him extract the package. It was stuffed with papers and microfilm.

 

This meant that Chambers had lied in his August 1948 HUAC appearances, when he disavowed any knowledge of espionage in the Ware group. Or had he? A look at the testimony makes it clear that even in his first HUAC appearance Chambers did not rule out espionage as a function of the Ware group and, in fact, subtly implied the opposite. As he said in his opening remarks on August 3, 1948:

 

The purpose of this group was not primarily espionage. Its original purpose was the Communist infiltration of the American government. But espionage was certainly one of its eventual objectives. [Emphasis added.]

 

These qualifications, significant in themselves, are doubly so if we understand Chambers to have been addressing not only the committee but also those he was informing against. Someone following Chambers's remarks closely - someone such as Alger Hiss - could detect in them an implicit warning, a warning amplified by the overt plea that concluded Chambers's prepared statement:

 

I should like, thus publicly, to call upon all ex-Communists

 

who have not yet declared themselves,

 

and all men within the Communist party

 

whose better instincts have not yet been corrupted

 

and crushed by it, to aid in this struggle

 

while there is still time to do so. [Emphasis

 

added.]

 

In the moment of his very first public testimony, Chambers wished to give those he named a chance to come forward on their own and thereby spare themselves the full brunt of his knowledge.

 

Especially Hiss. For it was Hiss, Chambers believed, who above the rest had "better instincts." He had, too, "a great gentleness and sweetness of character," and was nothing less than Chambers's best friend in thirteen years as a Communist, the two men bound in a harmony of feeling that exceeded even the unique camaraderie fostered by the party's clandestine culture. Some months after he had himself broken with Communism, Chambers had risked reprisal by visiting Hiss at his home and begging him to leave the party as well. A memorandum written in 1938 by the journalist Herbert Solow, whose counsel Chambers sought at the time he defected, includes this notation recorded on December 17, 1938:

 

He [Chambers] feels hesitant about breaking

 

his story open because he does not wish to

 

cause trouble to some agent whom he regards

 

as a sincere and devoted person.

 

Ten years later, summoned as a witness by HUAC, Chambers still wished to protect the "sincere and devoted" Hiss insofar as it was possible, even at the cost of perjury.

 

The second of Chambers's purported lies has to do with the date he gave for his break with the Communist party. On many different occasions Chambers said he had broken in late 1937. Yet some of the documents he produced in response to Hiss's suit were dated as late as April 1938. How could he have received them at that time if he had ceased being a Communist several months earlier?

 

Chambers's explanation was that he had been mistaken about the date of his defection. It must have occurred later than he initially thought. Later, additional documentation confirming the 1938 break came from sources other than Chambers himself.

 

Still, skeptics say, the discrepancy remains, and it undermines Chambers's reliability as a witness. There are two answers to this. First, as sound as Chambers's memory was, he had a terrible head for numbers. Dates, in particular, gave him trouble. In FBI interviews he bungled the date of the single most traumatic event in his life, his younger brother's suicide, which he placed in 1925 instead of 1926. And he also mistakenly placed his own enrollment in the Communist party in 1924 when he actually joined in 1925.

 

The second reason Chambers flubbed the date was that his defection happened gradually and was preceded by an escalation of disenchantment from which it was impossible to isolate a single, decisive incident. This experience was typical of ex-Communists, as it is typical of anyone who frees himself from the clutches of a suffocating faith.

 

In Chambers's case, he had begun to waver in his belief as early as 1936, and in 1937 he wrote a letter to his good friend, the art historian Meyer Schapiro, confessing the doubts planted in his mind by the Moscow show trials. Not long after this, Chambers himself was ordered to go to Moscow. Instead, he plotted his escape. This too occurred in stages, for he had to be careful not to alert his confederates even as he purchased a getaway car and procured a government job that took him outside the closed circle of party activities. In later years, it was the stunning realization that he would quit the Communist party - the moment of revelation, fear, and release - that seemed paramount. The first chapter of Chambers's memoir Witness opens with this sentence: "In 1937, I began, like Lazarus, the impossible return."

 

These two discrepancies aside, Chambers was a remarkably straightforward witness, who did not even have an attorney present at his HUAC sessions. Hiss, on the other hand, was repeatedly evasive and equivocal. But he, did not seem so at first. Here is the opening statement he made to HUAC on August 5, 1948:

 

I am not and never have been a member of

 

the Communist party. I do not and have never

 

adhered to the tenets of the Communist party.

 

I am not and never have been a member

 

of any Communist-front organization. I have

 

never followed the Communist-party line, directly

 

or indirectly. To the best of my knowledge,

 

none of my friends is a Communist. . . . To

 

the best of my knowledge, I never heard

 

of Whittaker Chambers until in 1947, when

 

two representatives of the Federal Bureau of

 

Investigation asked me if I knew him and various

 

other people, some of whom I knew and

 

some of whom I did not know. I said I did not

 

know Chambers. So far; is I know, I have never

 

laid eyes on him, and I should like to have the

 

opportunity to do so.

 

So categorical was Hiss's denial of Chambers's charges that two days later Chambers was summoned before the committee for a closed session and challenged to substantiate his original testimony. This time he explained that Hiss had known him not as Whittaker Chambers but as "Carl," a Communist alias. Under close questioning from Congressman Richard Nixon, who alone had been skeptical of Hiss's testimony, Chambers now provided such particulars as he could dredge up of his relationship with Hiss, which had ended ten years before.

 

Chambers meticulously described the interior of Hiss's home, where he often had stayed overnight. He commented on Hiss's enthusiasm for bird-watching (thus was introduced the famous prothonotary warbler) and described Hiss's car, a Ford - "it was black and very dilapidated" with "hand windshield wipers." He remembered Hiss telling him that as a small boy in Baltimore he had loaded a wagon with bottles of spring water and sold them to neighbors. He remembered so much and in such specificity of detail that, in the view of the committee, Hiss's contention that he had never known Chambers was badly shaken, if not yet destroyed.

 

Some of Chambers's reminiscences leaked into news stories the following day, and Hiss, reading them, shifted tactics. In his next appearance before the committee (August 16), he abandoned the pretense that he had not known his accuser and admitted that the photograph of Chambers he had been shown earlier "ha[d] a certain familiarity." In fact, it might belong to a man Hiss had known in 1935 as "George Crosley," a freelance writer interested in interviewing him for a series of articles on munitions-a man physically identical to Chambers, who had sublet Hiss's apartment, been given use of Hiss's car, and cadged small sums he failed to repay.

 

Crosley, said Hiss, was a raffish character, who "purported to be a cross between Jim Tully, the author, and Jack London," with a weakness for telling tall tales about his many "escapades." These were, Hiss suspected, more often imagined than real, and he had not been surprised when Crosley completed none of his proposed articles. This was in keeping with his having welshed on the rent and on Hiss's loans. Chambers's confidence game went on for some months before Hiss wised up. "I had been a sucker and he was a sort of deadbeat; not a bad character, but I think he just was using me for a soft touch."

 

This depiction of "Crosley" was ingeniously, constructed. It drew on genuine attributes of Chambers's personality - his tendency to romanticize his experiences and to exaggerate his exploits - and was instantly familiar to his oldest friends. Hiss's description thus stood as paradoxical proof that his friendship with Chambers was rather close. Even so, Hiss would not commit himself to a positive identification of Crosley-Chambers (as he was soon to call him) until he saw the man face to face.

 

This was arranged the following day, when Nixon staged a surprise meeting in a Manhattan hotel room. After some improbable by-play involving Hiss's examination of Chambers's dentures, Hiss identified the man standing before him as "George Crosley." He was adamant, however, that his short-lived relationship with Chambers had had nothing to do with Communism. He himself had not been a Communist; it had not crossed his mind that Chambers might be one. The subject never came up, not even in the lulls between Chambers's tall tales.

 

Yet other Washington acquaintances of Chambers knew this essential fact about him. One was the radical novelist Josephine Herbst, whose husband John Herrmann reportedly was present on the occasion when Chambers and Hiss first met, at a Washington restaurant. Herbst and Herrmann knew Chambers as "Karl" (Chambers spelled it either way), and Herbst remembered Herrmann and Chambers discussing Hiss as "an important prospect" for Ware's espionage operation. Another of Chambers's contacts was Henry Julian Wadleigh, who, like Hiss, worked in the State Department in the mid-1930's. At Hiss's first perjury trial, Wadleigh testified that he had furnished Chambers with classified documents following the exact procedures Chambers said Hiss had used.

 

As for Hiss's own link with the Communist party, followers of national politics knew of his inclusion in a circle of young officials in the Roosevelt administration who drew fire for subverting the policies of the New Deal. In 1935, Hiss nearly lost his job in consequence of a legal opinion he had written while he was assistant general counsel to the Agricultural Adjustment Administration. The incident resulted in the dismissal of a number of Hiss's legal colleagues, three of whom were named by Chambers as members of the Ware cell: John Abt, Lee Pressman, and Nathan Witt.

 

Pressman eventually admitted he was a Communist. The others had deep associations with the party. Abt's wife, Jessica Smith, was the editor of Soviet Russia Today and the widow of Harold Ware. Witt was Pressman's law partner and, in the words of Walter Goodman in his study of HUAC, The Committee, had "flagrant Communist predilections" as secretary of the National Labor Relations Board. Another man named by Chambers, Henry Collins, was identified as a Communist by Lawrence Duggan, a colleague of Hiss in the State Department whom Collins had tried to recruit for espionage. (Duggan did finally become an agent; his name appears in the Hungarian archive. He committed suicide five days after Hiss's indictment.)

 

And yet Alger Hiss insisted that "To the best of my knowledge, none of my friends is a Communist." He skirted the contradiction by calling Abt, Pressman, and Witt "associates" rather than friends (there is evidence to the contrary). But how to account for Collins, whom Hiss had known "since we were boys in camp together," and later saw at Harvard and in Washington? Hiss found a useful solution when he came to write his memoir, Recollections of a Life: he simply omitted Collins's name from the book.

 

Additional evidence of Hiss's connections with the Communist party also came from witnesses other than his chief accuser. Hede Massing testified under oath that she and Hiss had crossed paths in Washington when both were in charge of underground apparatuses. And Nathaniel Weyl, a member of the Ware group not mentioned by Chambers, told the Senate Subcomittee on Internal Security in 1952 that Hiss had been a frequent and loyal member of the cell, present at many meetings and conscientious about paying his dues. Weyl, who is still living, reiterated his testimony in a recent interview. Hiss, he remembered, was "a true believer, a deeply committed Communist."

 

Hiss's dogged avowal of innocence carefully followed the line of defense prescribed by the Communist party. "In England," said a Russian in 1948, later quoted by Rebecca West in The New Meaning of Treason (1964),

 

persons detected in espionage on behalf of the

 

Soviet Union are instructed . . . to plead guilty

 

and to admit to the police their participation

 

in the particular crime of which they are accused,

 

and nothing more. In the United States

 

such persons are at present [that is, in 1948]

 

instructed to proceed in precisely the opposite

 

way and to deny everything.

 

Yet even as Hiss struck the posture of the wronged innocent, he set about defaming Whittaker Chambers by spreading various rumors. One was that Chambers had "peddled" fantasies of his own involvement in the Soviet underground in order to impress his superiors at Time magazine, when he applied for a job there in 1939. To this day Hiss and his surrogates repeat this falsehood. In fact, Chambers's revelations of his own espionage caused a furor at Time when the Hiss case broke and were one reason he was forced to resign in December 1948.

 

But the most improbable of Hiss's assertions found unexpected support from General Volkogonov, when he said of Chambers:

 

I only found that he was a member of the . . . American

 

Communist party, and I think that

 

he also only had contacts through party channels,

 

could have had party contacts but not

 

intelligence contacts.

 

Since Chambers furnished many details of his six years in the underground, Volkogonov's remark was seized on by Hiss's partisans as clinching evidence of Chambers's inability to distinguish fact from fiction and as justification of their intensive efforts to discredit the entire burden of his testimony.

 

Hiss's defenders have said, for instance, that Chambers fabricated his reminiscences of Boris Bykov, the Soviet spymaster who, according to Chambers, asked Hiss to procure classified documents from the State Department. Yet a number of Communists knew Bykov to be the spy chief Chambers said he was. A description of Bykov nearly identical to Chambers's own was given to the FBI by another member of the Washington ring, the photographer Felix Inslerman. Two other Communists, the photographer William Edward Crane and the literary agent Maxim Lieber, a good friend of Chambers in the Communist party, also knew Bykov.

 

Corroboration came as well from a Russian source, Nadezhda Ulanovskaya, whom Chambers knew in the New York underground as "Elaine" (in Witness he calls her "Maria") and whose husband, Alexander Ulanovsky ("Ulrich"), was Chambers's first spymaster. In a memoir published in 1982, Ulanovskaya mentions that her husband's successor in the United States was Boris Bykov, whom she describes, precisely as Chambers does, as having "bright red hair." When the Ulanovskys met Bykov in 1939, he told them Chambers had "turned out to be a traitor" and quit the party; in fact, Bykov was "waiting to be arrested any second" for letting him flee. Ulanovskaya's detailed summary of her dealings with Chambers in 1932-33 corroborates Witness in almost every particular. Chambers's account of the underground is thoroughly accurate, she writes, save for a few addresses he got wrong.

 

One last example of Chambers's knowledge of the Soviet underground has been confirmed by my own researches in the KGB archives. It concerns a cause celebre in 1937-38, the "Robinson-Reubens Affair." This incident centered on the plight of a married couple (the husband was Latvian, his wife American) who while visiting Moscow were arrested and detained by Soviet police. American officials in Moscow, learning of the couple's predicament, demanded permission to visit "Ruth Marie Reubens" in jail, but the Soviets would not grant it.

 

It soon emerged that the couple had departed from New York on two sets of forged passports, one identifying them as "Robinson," the other as "Reubens." The Soviets said "Arnold Reubens" had been arrested as a Nazi agent. In fact, he was a Soviet agent - a high-ranking officer, possibly a major, in military intelligence - who had been recalled from the United States as part of the great purge, and who had taken his wife along as insurance against arrest. The tactic failed, but Mrs. Reubens's plight created a diplomatic crisis. One of the documents Chambers produced in 1948 was a note, handwritten by Alger Hiss, that included confidential jottings on the incident and how it was being handled by the charge d'affaires in Moscow.

 

Chambers knew "Arnold Reubens" as "Ewald." They had met through connections in the New York underground. When "Ewald" and his American wife disappeared, Chambers guessed what had happened, and it fed his doubts about his own safety. If the American embassy could not secure the release of Mrs. Robinson-Reubens, an American citizen, what hope of escape had Chambers should he too be summoned "home"?

 

In 1938, no non-communist American was better versed in the Robinson-Reubens Affair than Chambers's old friend Herbert Solow, who had written a series of investigative articles on it for the New York Sun. It was owing in part to Solow's expertise that Chambers sought his counsel in the trying time of his defection. At several meetings, Chambers sketched the story of his underground activity while Solow quizzed him closely. When the subject turned to Robinson-Reubens, Chambers said, as Solow later remembered, that "this man Reubens is a Latvian and his true name is Ewald." This was news to Solow, and when he later interviewed the Soviet defector, Walter Krivitsky,

 

I said Robinson's true name is Ewald. Krivitsky

 

almost jumped out of his seat. He said, "My

 

God, did they get him too?" . . . In other words,

 

when Krivitsky heard the name Ewald, he recognized

 

. . . a comrade in the Communist service.

 

And I had obtained the name from Chambers.

 

When Chambers and Krivitsky finally met in 1939,

 

they stayed up till dawn trading information on

 

the Soviet underground.

 

I am now in possession of a copy of the Robinson-Reubens file housed in a division of the KGB archives. The file contains interrogations of Ruth Reubens and of her husband, whose real name was Arnold Ikal. At one point Ikal is asked what aliases he used in the United States. One of them was Ewald. The facts Ikal gives about his background match in almost every detail those given by Chambers, both in Witness and "The Faking of Americans," an unpublished manuscript he wrote in 1938 about the Communist passport operation in the United States.

 

In sum, there can be no doubt that, far from being a "psychopathic liar," Whittaker Chambers had been deeply involved in Communist espionage in the United States. He divulged, in truth, much less than he knew.

 

We are left to ask why there has been so persistent a belief in the innocence of Alger Hiss. The question was easy enough to answer at the time of the case. As the critic Diana Trilling wrote in Partisan Review in 1950, many

 

defend Hiss to defend their own areas of ideological

 

agreement with Hiss. And they defend

 

him so absolutely, with such emotions of outrage

 

. . . because they dare not contemplate

 

where they themselves might be blown by the

 

uncharted winds of fashionable doctrine. Hiss

 

must be innocent to prove that they themselves

 

are innocent.

 

Today the argument feels remote. There is no longer any reason to take up the cause of Alger Hiss out of greater loyalty to the "progressivism" of the Popular Front or to the state socialism repudiated in our day at its very source, the former Soviet Union. Nor can the case be made, as it once was, that Hiss must be defended in the name of the New Deal - its political and cultural legacy is secure. Not even Ronald Reagan, the most conservative President since Calvin Coolidge, sought to dismantle its programs. Nor, finally, can a plausible case be made for Hiss as generic Victim: if ever there was an exemplar of American privilege, a white Protestant male for the ages, it is Alger Hiss.

 

Hiss endures, it seems, as another kind of victim - the First Victim of the "witch hunts." Senator Joseph McCarthy did not barge onto the scene until after Hiss was convicted, so Hiss and his supporters are careful to blame not McCarthy himself but McCarthyism - the wider phenomenon of right - wing anti-Communism. In "McCarthy and the Intellectuals," an essay published in Encounter in 1954, the critic Leslie Fiedler remarked that

 

McCarthy seems still incapable of believing

 

that it really matters whether there are 200,

 

205, 81, or 57 Communists in a certain branch

 

of government. He [is] convinced that those

 

of his opponents who concern themselves with

 

such discrepancies are stupidly or insidiously

 

trying to divert attention from what really matters:

 

are there any Communists in the department

 

concerned?

 

Hiss's champions are oddly similar to McCarthy here. They cannot afford to concede the presence of a single Communist in high office. To do so means to admit the inadmissible - that the Right was by no means "hysterical" when it insisted that there was a threat of Communist subversion at home even as the Soviet Union posed a threat of expansionism abroad. And so for nearly half a century an unassailably guilty mall has been recast as a spotless innocent - and as a martyr. To his supporters, Alger Hiss is not a man but a symbol, and they have invested so much in his innocence that they may remain forever incapable of owning up to the truth.

 

(*) Mrs. Schmidt's completed findings will appear in an article not yet scheduled for publication. It includes new information not only on Hiss and Field but also on J. Peters, the Hungarian-born Communist who headed the underground apparatus of the American Communist party in the 1930's.
 
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