The Left and the Rosenberg Case

Historian Staughton Lynd inadvertently reveals the real concern of members of the Political Faith.

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First, a note about Staughton Lynd for younger readers. In the late 1960’s and early 70’s, Lynd was somewhat of a household name. Life magazine, then the nation’s leading popular newsweekly, had a cover photo of Lynd and the radical activist Dave Dellinger being pelted with fake blood and eggs on its cover; along with Tom Hayden and the Communist Party historian Herbert Aptheker, Lynd took a trip to Vietnam in 1965-66, from which they returned extolling the virtues of Vietnamese Communism and urging U.S. unilateral withdrawal from the war. Lynd at the time was a Professor of History at Yale University. His activism and his trip to Hanoi led the university to not renew his teaching contract, and he was fired.  (Were he in a similar position today, he would be immediately offered a  Distinguished Professorship at scores of American universities.) Lynd was so popular among the Left, that when Lyndon B. Johnson was President, Students for Democratic Society offered a button, proclaiming “Lynd not Lyndon.”

Eventually Lynd decided to leave history and to become a full-time activist, first as a community organizer and later as a labor lawyer in the union town of Youngstown Ohio, where he practices law today. This does not stop him, at times, from returning to historical inquiry. His own field of expertise was in events of the 18th and 19th Century. But now, he was evidently compelled to write about something of which he knows next to nothing—the favorite topic of return for American leftists, the Rosenberg case.

In the current issue of the decades old Marxist magazine Monthly Review, founded in 1949 by Leo Huberman and Paul M. Sweezy, Lynd has an article titled “Is There Anything More to Say About the Rosenberg Case?” I have read his article, and my comments on it will follow. But I would answer the question he raises in the title with a firm NO, since his own piece adds nothing of substance to understanding the real issues in the case.  What Lynd does do, however, is reveal something   that is of great importance to understanding the mindset of the Left in America—which is certainly not the intent he had in writing about the case.

So let me now turn to Lynd’s argument. First, Lynd’s bias is revealed immediately in what he cites as sources for his discussion. He is impressed with the book by the late Walter Schneir, Final Verdict:What Really Happened in the Rosenberg Case, which I have reviewed here and here, and which Harvey Klehr and John Earl Haynes discussed here. Lynd believes the new conspiracy theory developed by Schneir in his book, but while he cites the old book by Klehr and Haynes on Venona, he seems not to be aware of their most recent book.  In Spies: The Rise and Fall of the KGB in America, which appeared in 2009 and came out in a paper edition last year-they present new material about the Rosenberg case. Had Lynd read this book, it would have harmed his own argument in favor of the Schneir’s book. Since it is very easy for him to find out about its publication, one must assume that Lynd is a very sloppy historian.

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