(COLD WAR: 1945-49 – continued)
Dorothy Ray Healey, in Los Angeles, 1949. People who believed in freedom sent her to prison, but rulings based on the U.S. Constitution freed her. She was prosecuted under the Smith Act. She was a tough-minded, charming and a zealous ideologue who had read a lot, including the writings of Stalin, and after 1956 she cursed the verbal support she had given to him.
A 1949 cartoon by Herblock.
Communists believed in eliminating capitalist exploitation. They saw employer profits as exploitation and argued that none of the labor of working people should benefit capitalists, hence the description of the Soviet Union as a "workers' state." Anti-communists saw this as simplistic nonsense. Many in the US through the Cold War were to view Communists as bomb throwers wanting to impose a tyrannical political system on their nation. Members of the US Communist Party, on the other hand, believed that revolutions were possible only with mass support. They held that for a revolution to work there had to be the kind of support from the masses that would produce an election victory if an real democratic election were allowed.
Anti-Communists, if they heard this explanation, would dismiss it as more nonsense and more Communist lies. They had examples of Communists coming to power in Poland and then in Czechoslovakia in the spring of 1948 other than democratically. Anti-Communists in the U.S. were not inclined to compare conditions next to the Soviet Union, with occupation by the Soviet army, Stalinism and Russian security, to conditions elsewhere in the world regarding the spread of Communism, including the United States. Also there was confusing rhetoric coming from U.S. Communist Party leadership that was conforming to Stalin's party in the Soviet Union.
Anti-Communists had in mind the right and freedom of property ownership and the right to innovate and invest in a business enterprise. Viewing Stalinist persecutions and cultural repressions, they saw Communists as a threat to freedom. "Freedom" was a word they were to use often through the Cold War. In the Soviet Union was a dearth of any kind of private enterprise. In East European countries, families were having the small businesses they had invested much of their labor and wealth in confiscated by the government.
While Truman was fighting for funds to combat poverty and Communism in Europe, some Congressmen spoke of their fear of Communist propaganda in Hollywood filmmaking. These were members of the House on un-American Activities Committee – HUAC. In 1945, Congress had created HUAC to investigate "un-American propaganda" of domestic or foreign origin.
HUAC began public hearings on communist influence in the film industry in the autumn of 1947. According to a former Communist Party leader in Southern California, about 300 actors, writers, directors and designers in the film industry were members of the Communist Party in the postwar forties. And no doubt there were more who were Marxist in outlook but who did not belong to the Party. But by the autumn of 1947, the Hollywood communists had hardly succeeded in spreading much sympathy for communism. Anti-communism was sweeping the nation.
It was the duty of Congress to investigate for the sake of passing legislation, and the hearings began with friendly witnesses, including heads of studios and the actors Robert Taylor, Ronald Reagan and Gary Cooper – the studio heads wanting to preserve respect for their businesses. Inviting Hollywood communists to testify was not necessary for gathering information. These hostile witnesses would not give the committee any useful information, but calling them did serve the purpose of exposing them and punishing them. And bringing the hostile witnesses before the committee and the newsreel cameras did benefit the Congressmen by showing their drive against what was popularly believed to be evil.
Most hostile witnesses refused to answer whether they were or had ever been members of the Communist Party, which was public exposure enough to end their careers. They were protected by the Fifth Amendment to the Constitution from having to incriminate themselves. The hostile witnesses refused to answer questions put to them, citing the Fifth and the First Amendments, and the public began speaking with derision toward "taking the Fifth." Those who refused to answer questions were charged with contempt of Congress. They were found guilty in April, 1948 and sent to jail for around a year. There they were joined by HUAC chairman, J, Parnell Thomas, convicted of having padded the payroll of his congressional staff.
The Supreme Court declined to take up the question whether their use of the Fifth Amendment disqualified them from prosecution, Supreme Court justices thereby saving themselves from having to make a ruling that would have been extremely unpopular.
Henry Wallace, vice president under Roosevelt, replaced by Truman, still believed in the cooperation between the Soviet Union and the United States that Roosevelt had believed in. Between 1946 and '47, he and some other New Dealers believed that Truman was abandoning Roosevelt's formula for peace. Wallace at this time complained of propaganda in the press and over the radio suggesting the inevitability of war with Russia. Wallace was a religious man and opposed to communist ideology, but he believed that for the sake of peace and prosperity non-communists could work with communists. He was opposed to what was called Red baiting. He rejected a warning from former Secretary of War, Henry Stimson, that the Soviet Union had been pursuing "an obstructive and unfriendly" course. As Wallace saw it, the Cold War was Truman's fault.
In October, 1947, Wallace toured the Holy Land, and his devotion to peace intensified. From the Holy Land he went to the Vatican and met with Pope Pius XII, and when he departed he was further inclined to do something for peace and universal brotherhood. So moved, on December 2, 1947, he decided to run for the presidency as a third party candidate. His third party was called the Progressive Party. By December it was too late to get the party on the ballots in all states, but organization of the new party began, with Wallace leaving the details of party organization to others.
Rushing to join the Progressive Party were those on the Left experienced at organizing – Communist Party members. They too were blaming Truman for the Cold War, and they were upset and vocal about what they called warmongering.
At the Progressive Party's platform hearings a proposal was rejected that read:
Although we are critical of the present foreign policy of the United States, it is not our intention to give blanket endorsement to the foreign policy of any nation.
During the early months of 1948, rejection of this proposal was focused on by the press, and communist participation in the Progressive Party was widely publicized. Wallace held to his principle of rejecting "red baiting" – in other words not criticizing communists. He believed that communists had a right to participate peacefully in politics and that people could work side by side with communists. He saw that the communist issue was hurting his candidacy and suggested publicly that if the communists left the Progressive Party he might lose a hundred thousand votes but would gain four million. He wanted the communists to leave, but the Communist Party chose not to heed his suggestion.
Wallace wrote an open letter to Stalin expressing desire for peace, and in mid-May Stalin wrote back, saying that,
...a peaceful settlement of differences between the USSR and the United States are not only possible but also doubtlessly necessary to the interests of general peace. [note]
Truman played the peace card by announcing that he was prepared to send Chief Justice Fred Vinson to Moscow on a special mission, but Secretary of State Marshall disliked the idea, seeing it as a mere election gimmick. He knew that diplomatic channels were routinely open without any special mission.
During the campaign, Woody Guthrie sang for Wallace. Paul Robeson and W.E.B. Du Bois supported Wallace. The old union leader A. Philip Randolph did not.
Einstein sympathized with Wallace. He had supported Wallace's desire to ban atomic weapons, and in a letter to Wallace's publisher he described Wallace as one of those who are above selfish interest who can save us "from the threatening domestic and international situation." [note]
Wallace knew he was losing but he labored on. He suffered abuse from crowds, and as a martyr he drew on his Christian faith, saying what he believed he should say, including speaking up for civil rights to hostile white audiences in the deep South.
It was widely believed that the Republican Party candidate, Thomas Dewey (a believer in civil rights even for Communists), was headed for victory. President Truman had been suffering from low approval ratings, down into the thirty percent range.
The election results were a shock. Truman won 49 percent of the vote against Dewey's 45 percent. The Democrats won back the Senate and the House of Representatives. For the presidency a state's rights candidate, Strom Thurmond, won 2 percent, or 1,169,063 votes. Henry Wallace managed to win over the Prohibition Party candidate, with 1,157,176 votes. The communists, who had stuck with Wallace to the election, again showed an unimpressive influence on Americans.
Indeed, many in the labor movement had been offended by Wallace's third party candidacy and were abandoning any sympathies they had had for the communists. The Communist Party was losing its influence within the Labor movement.
Through 1948, the top leadership of the Communist Party USA was being prosecuted under the Smith Act of 1940 (otherwise known and the Alien and Registration Act) which outlawed conspiring to advocate forcible overthrow of the government. Making conspiracy illegal made possible the apprehending of ideological enemies rather than those who had committed overt criminal acts. Using the conspiracy charge, a handful of Nazi sympathizers had been convicted in July 1942 for violating the Smith Act, and the U.S. Communist Party had delighted in those prosecutions, but In 1948 they changed their minds about the Smith Act.
The accusation against Communist Party leaders was that they conspired to willfully advocate and teach "the principles of Marxism-Leninism," and thereby meant to overthrow and destroy the government of the United States by "force and violence." This was a distortion or over-simplification of Marxism-Leninism, but no matter. The Communist Party's defense team would not be able to combat it. The Communist Party U.S.A. was conforming to the view of the Cominform and had difficulty making the case that it was opposed to violence. Communist Party leadership in the U.S. had been following Stalin's lead and had swung against what was known as Browderism. Earl Browder was Party Chairman in the U.S. from 1929 to 1945 and had been an advocate of a peaceful and democratic transition to Communism.
The notion of a peaceful evolution to Communism was being disavowed by Communists internationally. Eugene Dennis, Secretary General of the U.S. Party, announced that if Wall Street succeeded in plunging the world into war that it would be an unjust, aggressive and imperialist war. He pledged that his party would defeat "the war aims of U.S. imperialism and help bring the war to a speedy conclusion on the basis of a democratic peace." Truman was unimpressed by the statements of Dennis and his lawyer. He called the Communists a "bunch of traitors."
In the summer of 1949, at what was supposed to be a Paul Robeson concert in Peekskill, New York, people with rifles, presumably to assassinate Robeson, were routed from behind bushes near where Robeson was to sing. And the concert was broken up by a patriotic mob hostile to Robeson.
The trial against the Communist Party leadership had begun in January and ended nine months later. Ten of the eleven Communist Party leaders were convicted and sentenced to five years in federal prison and fined $10,000. The eleventh, a veteran with a Distinguished Service Cross, Robert Thompson, was sentenced to only three years. In 1951 the U.S. Supreme Court heard the case and sided with the prosecution. Some of the Communists went to prison. Some other Party members decided to go "underground" rather than serve time. In prison an inmate beat Thompson with a pipe, leaving him brain damaged.
Meanwhile, the Communist Party U.S.A. had been troubled by differences of opinion within the Party over the Soviet biologist Lysenko. A star among the world's radicals and America's own supporter of communism and revolution, Anna Louise Strong, was declared a "notorious spy" by Soviet authorities. The U.S. Communist Party initiated no inquiry and made no protest to the Soviet Union.
Americans were also concerned about spies. In the thirties a few Communists had managed to join the Roosevelt Administration. These were people who thought that Soviet-style economics was the best solution to the depression, and they saw the Soviet Union as the leading power against fascism and as the hope of humanity. The U.S. and the Soviet Union were not enemies during the thirties. And during the war, when the Soviet Union and the U.S. were allies, a few communists in the Roosevelt administration and some communists outside the administration were eager to help the Soviet Union and passed information to Soviet agents, some of it classified. In 1945 much of the spying for the Soviet Union had ended when a disillusioned communist, Elizabeth Bentley, exposed the Soviet spy operation in the United States.
One of the communist spies who became disillusioned with Stalinism in the late thirties, Whittaker Chambers, came forward in the late forties and accused Alger Hiss, a State Department official during the Roosevelt years, as having passed information to Soviet Agents. Beginning in August 1948, A special subcommittee headed by Congressman Richard M. Nixon, was investigating an accusation by Whittaker Chambers – a senior editor at Time Magazine – that a former State Department official, Alger Hiss, had spied for the Soviet Union. In December 15, 1948, Hiss was indicted on two counts of perjury. His trial began at the end of May and ended July 7 with a deadlocked jury.
Another trial against Hiss began on November 17, 1949 and ended in January 1950, with the new jury finding Hiss guilty on both counts. He was to serve 44 months in the federal penitentiary at Lewisburg, Pennsylvania. Meanwhile bigger things were happening in the world.
For Soviet espionage in the U.S. and also Alger Hiss, see The Haunted Wood, by Allen Weinstein and Alexander Vassiliev, Random House, 1999.
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