Harry Dexter White
To the Editor:
McCarthyism as I understand it had (and still has) partly to do with playing fast and loose with the truth about a person’s life for political purposes. I can think of no better (i.e., worse) example than that provided by Peter Collier and David Horowitz [“McCarthyism: The Last Refuge of the Left,” January] when they refer to the late Harry Dexter White as an official in the Truman administration “who had committed suicide after being named as a Soviet agent.” In fact, Harry Dexter White suffered a heart attack in September 1947, four months after leaving the International Monetary Fund. When Elizabeth Bentley testified before the House Un-American Activities Committee, making her charges against White in July 1948, he said that he was “shocked,” that her charges were “fantastic,” and he asked to come before the committee, which he did on August 13, where he denied the Bentley charges and answered all of the Committee’s questions. Following the Committee hearing in Washington, White was taken ill with chest pains on the train to New Hampshire. The next day he saw a widely respected local practitioner in New Hampshire, whose diagnosis was heart trouble. White died of a heart attack late on the afternoon of Monday, August 16 at his summer home at Blueberry Hill. Rumors of mystery surrounding his death were dispelled by Dr. George S. Emerson, in an interview with the Boston Globe, which reproduced the death certificate reflecting the doctor’s finding that the cause of death was “coronary attack due to disease of coronary arteries of the heart.” This account of the causes of White’s death is further confirmed in Harry Dexter White: A Study in Paradox by David Rees, published by Coward, McCann, Geoghegan in 1973.
Messrs. Collier and Horowitz believe that the term “McCarthyism” as it is used today is too blunt an instrument. Perhaps they are right. If so, we need another term for such careless slurs.
Editor, The Nation
New York City
To the Editor:
This may add to the excellent article by Peter Collier and David Horowitz about the use by the Left of the term “McCarthyism” as a smear to silence any expression of concern about leftist connections to Leninism in our country.
Messrs. Collier and Horowitz speak knowledgeably about the use of the term to prevent discussion about persons in public life who may be working assiduously for the cause of Leninism. Thus we see how much easier it is to post a reporting team outside a house in Washington to find out if Gary Hart is with a woman other than his wife than to get any investigative reporter in all the United States to look into the political background of the man who chairs the vital Western Hemisphere subcommittee of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, George Crockett.
In that same vein, ABC’s Viewpoint program invited, among others, the key newsman from the Hart “investigation” to appear on a show about the press’s “duty” to fulfill “the people’s right to know.” But when a member of the audience, in the question-and-answer period, asked why the major organs of the American press consistently failed to look into the matter of Communism in our midst, Ted Koppel, the show’s moderator, rather quickly ended the “interruption.” But interestingly, the man who did the Hart “investigation” added something to the effect that the questioner’s question was a kind of McCarthyism.
Now the truth is that the Communist party, U.S.A. [CPUSA] has now and has always had a large stake in the screen of McCarthyism. Few persons recognize that McCarthyism is right in line with all the other “isms” that have played so large a role in the polemical history of the Communist movement: Leninism, revisionism, infantilism, Hitlerism, Stalinism, Marxism, ad infinitum and ad nauseam. In the dark recesses of time, in the early 1950′s, the exact originator of the term was lost—but you may be sure that among the survivors of the CPUSA of that era there remains great pride in their belief that they played a major part in making that term of opprobrium au courant then and forever. . . .
The CPUSA has always argued that any derogatory reference to Leninism is a “Big Lie.” This, of course, is to associate any derogatory truth about Leninism with Hitler’s propaganda technique. But Leninists tell lies about themselves all the time. . . . One is immediately reminded of Fidel Castro’s comment, after he had clamped Leninism on Cuba, “If we had told them [the people of Cuba] when we were still in the mountains what we were going to do when we came down from the mountains, they might not have let us come down from the mountains.” And reminded as well of Sandinista promises about how Nicaragua would be run—promises made before the Sandinistas got power. . . .
There is a question that is current on Capitol Hill today: does the Democratic leadership in the House really want a Communist spread to begin with Nicaragua, continue throughout Central America and Mexico and into our own country? But Jim Wright, the Speaker of the House, who is an honorable man, says that that kind of talk is “McCarthyism” and anyone who suggests such a thing is using a “McCarthyite” tactic. In other words, don’t talk about any spread of Leninism, any threat to our country or any other country—that’s McCarthyism, that’s McCarthyite tactics.
Which means that Leninism itself cannot be defined, for almost no one knows what Leninism is except the Leninists themselves. . . . Communism, yes; that’s what McCarthyism is against. Marxism, yes; Marxism is what people on both sides think is Leninism. But Marxism is not Leninism. . . . What Leninism is is the brutal pursuit of political power—no holds barred. Leninism is: anything is justifiable in the destruction of the capitalist system. . . . So you have the endless lies and cheating in instance after instance all through the history of Leninism from the coming to power in Russia in 1917 to the latest treaty that any Leninist nation has signed and broken. . . .
Leninism was called Stalinism in the 1930′s, but nobody realized that Stalinism was simply Leninism in the open. It took Solzhenitsyn to say that everything was already in place by Stalin’s time and it was Lenin who had put it in place before he died. . . .
So let us begin calling a Leninist a Leninist and Leninism Leninism. And by thus defining Leninism for what it is, we can show why the smear of McCarthyism has been patented by the Left. We must know our enemy, and that means defining him. To speak of the threats of Communism or of Marxism is to . . . lump too many things together and thereby confuse our own ranks. . . .
These are the things that need to be said in the battle against charges by the Left of McCarthyism. . . . We must say, point-blank, to those who call us McCarthyites: What do you know about Leninism? And what do you know about the nature and methods of Leninists? What do you know about the entire history of Leninism, its growth and development and its world intentions? If you do not know about Leninism in all its aspects, then your charges of McCarthyism are the clearest proof that you are under the domination of Leninism, naively or otherwise. . . .
Peter Collier and David Horowitz write:
Harry Dexter White had been accused of being a Soviet agent; he died soon after, as Victor Navasky writes, of a heart attack and not as a suicide. This now-corrected fact, however, has no bearing whatsoever on the point we were making about White, or indeed on any of the points in our article. The real question is, why is Mr. Navasky making such an issue of this relatively trivial matter, surrounding it with fusty rhetoric and hypertrophied accusation? We can only conclude that he is frustrated by his inability to find something more serious—something in our argument itself—to complain about, and so settles for a little piece of arcana instead. Since he hasn’t challenged the substantive points we made, we must assume that he endorses what we said.