- Series: Princeton Paperbacks
- Paperback: 608 pages
- Publisher: Princeton University Press; With a New preface to the paperback edition by Ellen Schrecker edition (August 9, 1999)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0691048703
- ISBN-13: 978-0691048703
- Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.5 x 9 inches
- Shipping Weight: 2.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #590,928 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Many Are the Crimes With a New preface to the paperback edition by Ellen Schrecker Edition
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"If the national memory is ever to reach closure on this tragic episode, Schrecker's analysis is a significant and compelling contribution."--William J. Preston, Jr., Los Angeles Times
"[Schrecker's] thoughtful and earnest new study, Many Are the Crimes, offers the most comprehensive view yet of the process that turned a legal, political, economic, and cultural crusade into `the home front of the Cold War.'"--Henry Mayer, San Francisco Examiner & Chronicle
"A valuable contribution for anyone who would understand the dynamics of the domestic cold war. [Schrecker] has provided an alternative framework that does much to put McCarthyism in America in perspective."--Victor Navasky, The Nation
"Nothing could be more welcome to students and scholars of United States history than the appearance in paperback of Ellen Schrecker's history of the anti-Communist mania which disgraced America in the 1940's and 50's. . . .Schrecker's book is distinguished from its forerunners by its comprehensive scholarship (soundly based in archival research), lucid exposition and calm intelligence."--Hugh Brogan, Time Literary Supplement
"The book's great value is that it brings together recent work on McCarthyism and wonderfully illuminates the relationships between the component parts of that protean culture, and its own extensive original research enhances its authority. It is a true work of scholarship. The depth of Ellen Schreckert's research, her careful analysis and her elegant prose command respect."--M.J. Heale, American Studies
From the Back Cover
"It's all here, carefully researched, well written, and with a detached view of both the pursuers and the pursued. Excellent."--John Kenneth Galbraith, Harvard University
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Top Customer Reviews
The author's approach is generally chronological, though she roams freely across the era to describe specific aspects of the anti-communism movement. She briefly covers the origins of the communist party/movement in the US and the longstanding efforts to suppress it starting with the Bolshevik Revolution in 1917 and the First Red Scare that quickly followed. More important to the author than ordered, factual details of anti-communism, that is the specifics of investigating committees, legislation, departments, officials, suspects, informers, etc, is the attempt to understand the broader aspects and implications of this political and cultural phenomenon that had become so pervasive by the late 1940s.
Anti-communism was not a grass-roots movement; in fact, in the 1930s communists were quite active in working class issues. The failings of laissez-faire capitalism in the 1930s left both working people and intellectuals open to the consideration of alternative economic systems, especially socialism. It was primarily elites, political conservatives and business executives, who fiercely opposed communists and so-called fellow travelers, such as key members of CIO-led labor unions. Employers could quite conveniently support purging communists from unions, while downplaying their anti-labor sentiments. Interestingly, upon Germany invading Russia in 1941, Communists became the strongest supporters of the "no-strike" pledge and opposed any actions that would hinder production. Communist leadership, without a touch of irony, actually proclaimed that "Communism is twentieth century Americanism."
Relations between the US and the Soviet Union worsened considerably after WWII; with that came intensified attacks on communists in the US. The political climate forced Truman to respond with Executive Order 9835 which established loyalty procedures for all civilian federal employees with the FBI having both screening and investigative responsibilities. In addition, attacks on the labor movement were renewed resulting in the passage of the Taft-Hartley Act in 1947, which required union leaders to file non-Communist affiliation affidavits. With the expulsion of eleven non-compliant unions by the CIO, the US labor movement essentially ceased to be a militant voice for working people. Insufficient vigor in eliminating identified "subversives" by some gov departments under the loyalty program only encouraged others to hunt for communists.
Hollywood presented a tremendous opportunity for publicizing the infiltration of communists into popular institutions. The show-trial hearings by the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) in 1947 forced Hollywood moguls to fire suspected communists, many of whom unsuccessfully invoked First Amendment rights, refusing to discuss their political affairs with the Committee. From this point, the entertainment industry maintained an updated and effective blacklist. Those in other professions who could likewise sway minds, such as professors and teachers, faced similar hearings and firings at the state level, usually with little opportunity to defend against anonymous accusers. The leftist lawyers of the National Lawyers Guild also came under intense scrutiny; a result was that many accused of being subversives had great difficulty in finding untainted lawyers to represent them.
A legal problem for the anti-communist movement was that belonging to political parties is not illegal in the US; communists had to be demonized sufficiently for the public to accept borderline legal actions. In contrast to normal Americans, communists were portrayed as being cut from the same cloth: sinister, devious, cunning, in thrall to Moscow, and atheistic - psychologically damaged, if not depraved. A justification for running roughshod over their rights was that they had in essence abdicated the protections of American freedoms by their seeming acceptance of Stalinism, including its brutalities. It was also widely held that they could never rescind their Party membership - once a Communist, always a Communist. Virtually all prosecutions of Communists were based either on questionable allegations of perjury or contempt citations for refusing to be badgered by Congressional committees. Invoking Fifth Amendment rights was hardly a route to exoneration; such individuals were assumed to be guilty and subsequently fired. The Smith Act of 1940 made it a crime to belong to any organization that advocated for the violent overthrow of any US government. Mostly through the efforts of FBI informants and using Communist literature dating back to Karl Marx, in a lengthy trial in 1949, the leaders of the US Communist party were found to be in violation of the Smith Act. Now it was actually illegal to be a Communist. The Supreme Ct, in essence, agreed that there was not a difference between advocacy and committing an act.
The author makes clear that the FBI was the foremost body during the entire McCarthy era that investigated claims of Communist membership, clandestinely kept elaborate lists of suspected members and other leftists, and provided information to virtually all of the leading investigative bodies. In fact, finding subversives of any stripe was an obsession of J. Edgar Hoover, the head of the FBI. The FBI also maintained a large network of informants, some of whom were paid, but thousands of others served implicitly as members of such organizations as the American Legion. Several of the leading figures in this network were ex-Communists. Over several years, these same individuals were in great demand by various committees and prosecutors to finger suspected Communists. Years later, it became obvious that most of them lied to maintain their value to anti-communists, a fact not unknown to the FBI. To support their mission of monitoring subversive activity, the FBI expanded from a few hundred agents to upward of ten thousand. The author, semi-seriously, suggests that "Hooverism" is actually more apropos than is "McCarthyism" to name the period.
Sen. Joe McCarthy is of relative secondary importance in the author's telling of this era. McCarthy was actually a bit of a Johnny-come-lately to the entire repressive apparatus. He made a splash in the early 1950s by declaring that the State Dept had 205 Communists on the payroll, a number with no basis in fact. Given his penchant for playing to the press, for about three years his was the leading face of the anti-communist movement. However, his blustering, bullying, rash, opportunistic, and alcoholic manner and behavior finally led to his irresponsible accusations against Army personnel from his perch as head of the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations. His fall was swift after the Eisenhower administration turned a cold shoulder to him and he was formally censured by the Senate in Dec, 1954. Perhaps it is fitting that the out-of-control McCarthy remains as the foremost symbol of the extremism of McCarthyism.
It is difficult to quantitatively assess the impact of McCarthyism. The sum total of those prosecuted for matters related to being a communist probably amounts to a few hundred with many being acquitted or winning on appeal. The loyalty programs dismissed at most a few thousand, but even more preemptively resigned. The author somewhat captures the personal toll of McCarthyism by examining many cases where individuals were pursued at length by investigative bodies until their lives were essentially ruined. Among them were China hands John Stewart Service and Owen Lattimore; the general secretary of the US communist party Eugene Dennis convicted under the Smith Act; Clayton Jencks head of the Mine-Mill workers; and the Hollywood Ten who ran afoul of the HUAC. Even the author's sixth-grade teacher was caught in the hunt for communists. Some of them were undoubtedly Communists; none of them even remotely were interested in violent acts against the US.
More broadly, McCarthyism was most certainly a society-wide assault on American ideals of freedom of thought, speech, and assembly. It should give anyone pause to realize that a democratic nation with many safeguards in place to protect individual freedoms went down this path. It is alarming that political and social elites were at the forefront of this unfortunate episode in our history; presumably they do not possess the power to subvert American freedoms. Beyond individual suffering, McCarthyism cast a pall across America. The author shows that it did curtail expressions of alternative political views among those who normally do so. In some respects those conducting the witch-hunts were successful. The Communist Party, a voice from the Left, was destroyed. Non-communist liberals definitely turned more moderate as "vital center" liberals. The labor movement became merely a part of the Democratic Party coalition, essentially toothless in being a strong force in shaping the workplace for American workers.
The book is a very good look at the McCarthy phenomenon. Due to numerous bodies and persons involved and the many threads of the period, the story is not easily told. It is difficult to assimilate all that occurred in a well-ordered, coherent pattern. The author is not unmindful of security needs, but that subject is only minimally discussed and by no means is thought to trump freedoms essential to a democracy. One could quibble with the author concerning her extolling the virtues of the Communist Party as an independent voice from the Left. The Party was never really big enough to have much influence. And it alone of all leftist political movements in US history had ties to a foreign state, not the most desirable situation.
The book is a more verbose version, with additional details, of Richard M. Fried's "Nightmare in Red," 1990. Both are quite good.
As to those who raise Venona files and other unearthed KGB documents as rehabilitating McCarthyism, finally justifying his crusade, one need only examine the single case of John Hopkins academic Owen Lattimore to see how vapid, inept, and morally deceitful was both McCarthy and his subsequent rehabilitators. One must ask that if Stalin's victims could have been "proven," through declassified German files, to have been in contact with the Third Reich, would that have justified the back-stabbing, sweeping purges, and mass terror inflicted on Soviet society?
For every single "enemy of the people" smashed by Yezhov/McCarthy were a thousand whose only crime was to think the opposite of those who ruled them. Fortunately, McCarthy and his supporters never got the chance for mass bloodletting - no doubt much to their regret - and their victims could be rehabilitated. But the lasting damage to social justice and democracy in America lingers yet, and is still a warning to our time. Even in the "New Age" of the "War on Terror" with its Patriot Act and Homeland Security, its protagonists must tiptoe around the excretia deposited across the American cultural and legal landscape by Joseph McCarthy and his fans.
However Schrecker should also be applauded for her objectivity, whereby she makes every effort to reveal both sides of the argument despite her hostility to McCarthyism. For example she details how the Communist Party threw away the good practical work it was doing in the 30's in favour of Leninist and stalinist dogma, thus providing several of the nails for it's own coffin.
The only real weakness in this book is it's poor organisation. Instead of relaying the tale chronologically, Schrecker opts for a subject by subject account, thus resulting in much going back and forth. Overall however, it is certainly worth a read due to the important subject matter, and the worrying fact that it is probably one or two terrorist bombs from happening again (though on a lesser scale) to muslims.
Those who criticise the book on the grounds that some of the persecuted were actually spies, have missed the point Schrecker is trying to make. Besides which, in my opinion those who leaked atomic secrets saved millions of lives- if America had had a monopoly of nuclear weapons the USSR would probably be a steaming pile of radioactive human carcasses (see Nixon's bombings of Cambodia for indications as to the cheapness of civilian lives in US foreign policy).