Phillip Deery, Red Apple: Communism and McCarthyism in Cold War.
New York not only had a strong tradition of dissent and was the only American city to elect communists to office, it was also the epicentre of the Communist Party of the United States of American (CPUSA). However, in vividly detailing the trials and tribulations to which some New Yorkers were subjected during the McCarthy era, Phillip Deery is reminding us all of a period of Cold War political repression that most certainly still has resonance, especially since 9/11. As Deery states in the final sentence of the book: 'Their collective stories illuminate the personal costs of holding dissident political beliefs in the face of intolerance and moral panic, and this is as relevant today as it was seventy years ago' (p163) The sense of McCarthyism as an aberration in American History remains pervasive. It was an anomalous era when excessive fear of Soviet intentions overwhelmed the nation's time-honoured traditions, particularly for due process and civil liberties. In the popular mind it remains an exception to what came before and after. Deery clearly suggests this is not the case. Moreover, what came after, as he points out, followed the victory of the persecutors: 'their actions crippled the left and stifled the forces of change' (p162).
The book is extremely well researched and highly readable and is very obviously a valuable addition to the wide-ranging and extensive literature documenting the outrages and infamy of that period in time. The format of the book is the presentation of six case studies, with each chapter self-contained. Whilst each study illuminates the impact of McCarthyism on the individual, taken as a whole, the book provides compelling insights into the phenomenon of McCarthyism. A photograph of the protagonists accompanies each chapter so the reader knows what they look like from the beginning. At the end of each chapter the reader certainly feels they know each as a person. Deery, however, doesn't simply delve into the archives to bring to the forefront lesser- known victims whose experiences might otherwise have been lost to history, albeit certainly of itself a commendable endeavour. What makes the book so special is the way he brings the six case studies to life. Deery clearly cares about these people and wants the reader to understand their motivations and how their attitudes changed and evolved as the Cold War progressed. His approach is non-judgemental and even-handed and compassionate. Deery's powers of exposition, underpinned by a deep understanding of the period and meticulous research, bring much needed fresh perspectives to the responses of progressive people confronted with the ubiquitous challenges inherent throughout the McCarthy era.
Deery examines the human costs to key individuals brought before the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) hearings on the Joint Anti-Fascist Refugee Committee, which resulted in the incarceration of its chairman, Dr Edward Barsky, and its executive board. He also explores the academic freedom cases of two New York professors, Lyman Bradley and Edwin Burgum. Both lost their jobs. He reveals the fascinating circumstances that led to the blacklisting of the communist writer Howard Fast, author of Spartacus, and how his subsequent defection from American communism, albeit not the left, led to his eventual rehabilitation. Equally intriguing is the visit to New York of the world-renowned Russian composer Dimitri Shostakovich. Forced by Stalin to attend the 1949 Waldorf conference, he was humiliated by Cold War liberals following a plan devised by 'Americans for Intellectual Freedom', despite their offering asylum to Shostakovich should he not wish to return to Russia. The final case study is O. John Rogge, one of the country's most prominent radical lawyers. Deery laments Rogge's neglect by biographers and Cold War scholars. Deery recounts Rogge's search for a 'Third Way', which made him despised and distrusted by left and right, clearly highlighting the extent to which Rogge's neglect, and that of others like him, represents a serious historiographical gap. Without doubt a more detailed study of Rogge will help understanding of the profound inner struggles caused those on the left during this momentous Cold War period, most particularly, with regard to the revelations about Stalin made by Khrushchev in his 1956 cataclysmic 'secret speech'.
Crucial to understanding the thinking of the American left in the 1940s was the common conviction that domestic fascism was rising and another war was imminent. Certainly the US in this period was not Stalin's Russia and McCarthyism was not Stalinism. American dissenters in the thousands faced marginalisation, discrimination, unemployment and even prison, but not death. Albeit, as Deery illustrates, some deaths can be attributed to the impact of McCarthyism, they were not, with the sole exception of the Rosenbergs, state executions. Nonetheless, the result was still the death of an innocent person. Deery recounts how the wife of one of the case studies committed suicide following an incognito call from the FBI. As a family member explained: 'the pressure and public disgrace proved too much' (p109). Interestingly the need to qualify discussions of American political repression with reminders that it was not as bad as the Soviet variety increasingly appear to be prerequisite for western authors dealing with the more reprehensible behaviour of America during the Cold War. Hence it is worth drawing another distinction: that American History and Russian History are very different and generated contrasting contexts against which their respective levels of oppression against their own and other peoples ought to be measured.
Deery does more than rescue personal stories that deserve to be heard. His case studies remind us that large swathes of the left, if not consigned to the historical dustbin in mainstream history, have been dismissed simply as 'dupes' and fellow-travellers, if not subversives and potential traitors. Deery demonstrates that during the McCarthy era the left was besieged, but it was never silenced. More than that, he shows that many on the left were people of courage and integrity looking to help make a better world, struggling amidst political confusion and propaganda campaigns to remain true to their own values. The personal costs, and in some cases tragedy, could be high.
Certainly a book for students and scholars, this is also a book that, at a time when the forces of progress seem to be once more on the rise, ought to be read widely.
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|Publication:||Twentieth Century Communism|
|Article Type:||Book review|
|Date:||Jul 1, 2017|
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