Alger Hiss: Why He Chose Treason


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FP: Your thoughts on the Left’s continuing denial? And why does the silence surrounding Hiss’s  guilt continue?

Shelton: The Hiss case was a high profile espionage case representing two distinct ideological perspectives.  Battle lines were drawn when the case broke in 1948 with two opposing views and little middle ground.  The right championed Chambers; he had a lasting influence on the fledging conservative movement of the 1950s that was launched by William F. Buckley. For its part, the left viewed any attack on Hiss as an attack on the New Deal, Roosevelt, Yalta, and the UN. However, as the evidence unfolded and became more compelling and cumulative, some on the left (Leslie Fiedler, I.F. Stone, Sidney Hook, Lionel Trilling, Arthur Schlesinger, Murray Kempton, and later John Kenneth Galbraith and Daniel Patrick Moynihan) started deserting Hiss. And today, especially after the release of the KGB files, Hiss’s band of supporters has greatly diminished.  Yet those few, with their blind spots, who hold on to their version of reality, continue to deny Hiss’s guilt because they still believe his guilt would cast a dark shadow on the New Deal and Roosevelt. The Hiss case became the touchstone for many intellectuals on the left. Rather than assimilate the body of evidence against Hiss, they focused on what he stood for — his message and advocacy of collectivism and the need for government control over society –and not his actions — committing espionage.

FP: Why do you think Hiss went to his grave denying what he had done?

Shelton: Well, since one cannot get inside Hiss’s head, the next best thing is to understand the mindset of a Communist.  The former managing editor of the Communist Party’s Daily Worker from 1940-1945, Louis Budenz, claimed Hiss’s defiance was a result of Party discipline. He claimed Communists needed to be “steeled” – this was Communist morality derived from the interests of the class struggle.  Budenz maintained that Communist morality means employment of illegal or illegitimate methods to conceal facts.  He said the Communist is not a pathological liar, but, referring to Hiss, claimed he resorts to perjury and lies when on the witness stand in the interests of the Party; it is done under Party orders and for Party purposes.  This is a cardinal feature of Communist morality.  If Budenz is correct, and I think he is, then it is a measure of Hiss’s commitment that he pursued for a half century a persona of righteousness.   From his perspective, he was supporting the side he believed to represent social justice and equality and therefore he was not guilty.  He was truly a committed Communist, and maintaining his innocence was important to serving the cause.

FP: Will the files of Soviet military intelligence, the GRU, Hiss’s employer, ever be opened?

Shelton: I do not think they will be made available in the foreseeable future, especially as long as the current political situation in Russia exists. Even with the US promoting its policy of pressing the “reset button,” Moscow is still not cooperating with either the US or the UN with regard to Syria and Iran, for example. In the foreign policy article “Russia and the Changing World,” Putin accused the West in general and the US in particular of meddling in the internal affairs of states to induce regime change under the guise of “promoting democracy,” and of destabilizing the Middle East by supporting “the so called Arab Spring.”  Putin opposes any additional sanctions on Iran or any sanctions against Syria.  US interventionism is given as the main reason nations like Iran or North Korea may be seeking nuclear capabilities to essentially defend their sovereignty. The only true path to effective nonproliferation is, according to Putin, the containment of the US global threat (Moskovskiye Novosti, February 27).

This political mindset as well as the background of President-elect Putin (who takes office in May 2012) – that of a former KGB official and product of that mindset – would seem to mitigate a policy of any transparency regarding Soviet military intelligence files.  The political environment in Russia, I think, would have to change dramatically for Moscow to ever reveal GRU files. The GRU is organizationally part of the General Staff of the Ministry of Defense and has its own record of accomplishment independent of the KGB/FSB/SVR. The Russian military is quite proud of the GRU’s successes and is not about to break faith with its history and recruited assets, even if they are long dead like Hiss. Moreover, probably next to USSR Politburo files, military files are viewed as sacrosanct.  Finally, it must be stressed that Russian intelligence operations (including those of the GRU) against the US and NATO, are at Cold War levels. Why would they start opening their operational files?

FP: What do you hope your book will help achieve?

Shelton: To return to my answer on why I think this book adds to the body of Hiss literature:

I would hope that the Hiss saga will be seen not just as a spy case but in a larger ideological and historical context — that Hiss will be examined against the Communist ideology that determined his actions and behavior. Integral to this story is the fundamental fascist nature of the Soviet system and the historical realities of the crimes of that belief system. Despite Stalin’s mass murders, Moscow had seduced many Americans, including Hiss, to support the Soviet Union; to place internationalism above national loyalty. I would also hope that Hiss is seen as an important historical figure of the 20th century, and that his actual role at Yalta will become accepted.  He wasn’t an ordinary run of the mill spy.  He was a top-level government official who from his position at the State Department was able to do more than steal classified material; he was able to function as an agent of influence to serve Moscow’s foreign policy objectives. Of course he wasn’t operating alone in a vacuum to affect policy.  Others, such as Harry Dexter White at Treasury and the pro-Mao lobby at State Department, as well as the many Soviet sympathizers throughout the Roosevelt administration, also were acting as agents of influence, whose operations were coordinated by GRU operatives and requirements.  Taken together, this capability of influence operations to affect US policy has been an important adjunct to the conduct of Soviet foreign policy.

FP: Christina Shelton, thank you for joining Frontpage Interview.

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  • scotsirish

    ….."Despite Stalin's mass murders, Moscow had seduced many Americans………to support The Solviet Union, to
    place internationalism above national loyality."

    This says it all. Treason is treason and the veil has been lifted……but again the denial is so deep.

  • clarespark

    A very concise interview. There was good reason to suspect the New Deal progressives for collectivist propaganda. I recommend this summary of mine of their appropriation of Nazi or German techniques of mind-management in the late 1930s-early 1940s by the most respectable progressive leaders. See http://clarespark.com/2010/04/18/links-to-nazi-sy…. Read all four segments. It is shocking material.

  • AntiSharia

    Hiss will always have supporters, it's sad but true that there are people that prefer their fantasy to reality. But as John Adams said it best "facts are stubborn things" Hiss was a spy and FDR's administration was crammed full of Marxists. Roosevelt knew and didn't care. He couldn't admit that he allowed communists into the government, and besides they wanted to expand the power of the state as much as he did so what did FDR care?

    • Tom

      FDR was just as much of a communist as the rest…he was just better at disguising it. Worthless destroyer of all that America stood for. If one looks at his blatant effort to "pack" the supreme court in order to get around the constitution's limited government philosophy of the times, it is clear that the rule of law meant nothing to him. That, alone, is the key mark of a pure communist. The ends justify the means. We have another in that office today! We need to rid our country of all of them, Til we do, there will be constant turmoil and too many setbacks.

  • tagalog

    It becomes increasingly clearer year after year that Whitaker Chambers had his finger on the truth of collectivism and republican democracy. Whitaker Chambers, who was so roundly excoriated for all his shortcomings up to and including the state of his teeth.

  • Western Spirit

    Some people like being a collectivist, a borg, because in this way they escape being alone, which is what we all are essentially, an individual and alone in life and death.

    original people, though, can't stand being confined to being a robot in a collective and rebel. that's why the creative are the first to go under the blade in a collective,

  • Indioviejo

    Very good interview, and I will buy this book. Alger Hiss' has puppils through out govenment today. The spying against our nation, the entrenched hatred, the seeding of communist goverment workers is evident. The culmination of ereding our nation's values came with the election of the Manchurian POTUS. His real work of destruction is happening before our eyes and most applaud it.

  • Ghostwriter

    His family called him a "nice,caring man." I wonder what they would have said of him if the Soviets took over this country and they'd be on the first trains to the new gulags.

  • Larry

    Hiss and his fellow communists in the SD were the ones who so carefully gave the advice to Marshall that saw him sell out the Nationalists in China just when they were in the process of destroying the PLA. Their actions were backed up by H.D. White at Treasury who screwed the Kuomingtang on funding.

  • Gloria Stewart

    I am very much looking forward to reading Ms Shelton's book. May I suggest another book to readers of Front Page? Whittaker Chambers' book Witness is the best book to read to understand the appeal that Marxism has to people – the siren song that its devotees such as Alger Hiss hear when they study it. Chambers called Communism the second oldest religion in the world. It tells what happens when you hear the whispered words "You can be like God".

    Shortly before Hiss' death his attorney wrote to General Dmitry Volkogonov, the then curator of the recently opened Soviet archives. He said that his client was blind and near death and wanted exoneration. What Volkogonov said was widely misinterpreted. He said in effect that he could find nothing in his archives that tied Alger Hiss to spying for the Soviet Union. The truth was – and Volkogonov almost immediately clarified this – that the archives contained KGB files, and Hiss worked with the GRU and the Comintern.

    Actually the US broke the Soviet code during World War II and knew of Hiss' activities. We could not let on as this would cause the Soviets to change the code. We called the decoded papers the Venona Transcripts. Despite what President Truman said during the Hiss-Chambers controversy, he knew the truth and feared that spy revelations would harm the Democratic party. At the time of Chambers' testimony Hiss was the head of the Carnegie Foundation where he could do no harm. He escaped a trial for espionage because the statute of limitations had expired for espionage during a time when the US was not at war. He suffered a relatively mild penalty for perjury for one who altered history to the detriment of the West.

    • Maxie

      "Despite what President Truman said during the Hiss-Chambers controversy, he knew the truth and feared that spy revelations would harm the Democratic party."

      Thus validating the old assertion that, for Democrats, it has always been party before country. Very much in evidence in the current regime. For the Left, hatred for the conservative worldview is all-consuming.

  • joy52

    Interesting the influence of the Státe Dept.

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