Long after world communism and its American variant have been discredited, a strange effort to resurrect its memory and glamorize its "heroes" is taking place both at New York University and the Museum of the City of New York. A glimpse of the museum exhibit is provided on our page one today by Ronald Radosh. And NYU, in conjunction with the Tamiment Institute, once an educational force for the anti-Communist left wing of the 1930s, has announced a slew of programs under the auspices of a new Center for the United States and the Cold War.
The programs begin tomorrow with a meeting coinciding with the recent announcement that the Communist Party of the United States has given the Tamiment Institute its archives. That was reported in the New York Times earlier this week. Rather than a scholarly assessment of American communism and its history, the meeting tomorrow appears to be more similar to a communist caucus in the 1930s. It includes only one neutral figure.
The program includes a panel discussion on American communism with current members of the American Communist Party, well-known fellow travelers, and a few left-wing trade unionists and also includes a singing tribute to a deceased East Harlem communist leader. Called a "Symposium on the History of the CPUSA and Progressive Politics Today: Relating the Past to the Present," the panel's purpose is not to examine the nature of American communism, but to show how it can be viewed as a role model for today's activists.
The most prominent program is, scheduled for April 5 and is called "Alger Hiss and History." That day's panels are noteworthy for the absence of major writers who have painstakingly proven Hiss' guilt and activity as a Soviet spy. The keynote address is by the former editor and publisher of the Nation, Victor Navasky, a man long known for his credulous belief in Hiss's innocence. Sessions include participation by both Hiss' son Tony and Hiss' adopted son Timothy Hobson.
One panel, called "Repression, Espionage and the Red Scare," is particularly glaring. It includes historian Ellen Schrecker, who has written in her well-known book on McCarthyism that American communists "did not subscribe to traditional forms of patriotism," because they were "internationalists whose political allegiances transcended national boundaries." In other words, their spying was either necessary or excusable. Was their espionage, she actually asked, really "so awful"?
Ms. Schrecker's fellow panelists include like-minded academics, all of whom view Hiss exclusively from the perspective of a victim of the Red Scare. This center of learning does not have the participation of John Haynes, who with Harvey Klehr has written three major books on Soviet espionage and American communism. It certainly appears that their perspective was meant to be excluded. The organizers of the event seem to want only those who, as their announcement states, see the case as one that "reinforced Cold War ideology and accelerated America's late 1940s turn to the right."
If the Cold War center's new panels are not enough, the Museum of the City of New York is joining NYU in opening an exhibit celebrating the so-called Abraham Lincoln Brigade and its role in supposedly forging anti-fascist unity in New York of the 1930s. Accompanying the exhibit are their own panels and events. These include celebrations of the old communists. Historian Peter N. Carroll, the man who edited the catalog and has written a hagiographical book on the Lincoln Battalion, leads one panel.
Another panel has Paul Robeson Jr. celebrating his father's role as a "towering figure" in support of Republican Spain and anti-fascism. It will be illuminating to see whether the younger Mr. Robeson will let his audience learn about his father's support during the McCarthy era of the American government's persecution of Trotskyists, whom the senior Robeson compared to the Ku Klux Klan and therefore not worthy of the protection of American civil liberties. Nor will they learn about Robeson's lifelong commitment to Stalin and Soviet totalitarianism.
The NYU series also includes a session on the Rosenberg case, held in conjunction with a group called "The Committee to Re-open the Rosenberg case," whose members still believe the couple was framed and innocent. Even that case is seen by the NYU sponsors only through the prism of the "Red Scare." And here too, they include no one who holds a different point of view.
We are not afraid of an open and nuanced discussion of communism, including the fact that not all persons who fell under its spell were evil and that some had idealistic motives, though most who did, if they were honest, left or died trying. But it is a tragedy that the spore of American communism has been nursed in our universities. And a shock that such propaganda would be mounted by a museum financed in part with money forced from the wallets of hard-working New York City taxpayers and overseen, in part, by such ex-officio representatives as Mayor Bloomberg, Comptroller William Thompson, and Chancellor Klein.