Historians 'In Denial' About Book · 04 January 2004

Historians 'In Denial' About Book

Targets of 'Explosive Exposé' Offer Responses

By Jacob Gershman--The New York Sun, 01/05

The book was called "an indictment of the historical profession." It was hailed as an "explosive expose" that would "send shock waves" through American history departments.

But four months after it was published, "In Denial: Historians, Communism, and Espionage" hasn't generated much of a reaction in academia.

Far from igniting a firestorm of debate, John Earl Haynes's and Harvey Klehr's 316-page condemnation of "revisionist" historians of American communism has fallen victim to silence. The authors say they have received little response from the scholars they criticize in the book for glossing over communism's crimes and the American Communist Party's involvement in Soviet espionage.

Liberal mainstream publications largely ignored the book, with reviews mostly appearing in conservative newspapers and magazines, such as the Washington Times, Commentary Magazine, and the Weekly Standard.

"I anticipated there would be more reaction than there has been," Mr. Klehr, a professor of history and politics at Emory University, said. "I thought we made some fairly serious charges against a large number of historians. We accused some of these people of being the equivalent of Holocaust deniers."

The lack of reaction to "In Denial" is a reflection of the difficulty that anticommunist historians, such as Mr. Klehr and Mr.Haynes have had in challenging the academic establishment on its assessment of American communism.

"Those who disagree with it are at the margins of the profession," Mr. Haynes, a 20th-century political historian in the Manuscript Division of the Library of Congress, said.

In recently written books, "The Secret World of American Communism" and "Venona: Decoding Soviet Espionage in America," Mr. Klehr and Mr. Haynes used information they collected from newly opened Soviet archives to show how the American Communist Party was heavily involved in Soviet espionage."In Denial" takes aim at historians who "have failed to confront new evidence."

A number of the historians targeted by Messrs. Klehr and Haynes say they haven't read the book.

Several said the authors misrepresented their views, but few have offered a rebuttal.

Some expressed surprise they were mentioned at all.

"It amazed me that anybody would devote that much attention to my work," Ellen Schrecker, a professor of history at Yeshiva University, said.

The book quotes her stating that anti-communism "tap[ped] into something dark and nasty in the human soul" and that "whatever harm may have come to the country from Soviet-sponsored spies is dwarfed by McCarthy's wave of terror."

In an interview with The New York Sun, Ms. Schrecker said the history of American communism was no longer a "live issue."

"Where is communism today? Where is the contemporary relevance?" she said.

Ms. Schrecker said she is "as anti-Stalinist as the next person." But she remains opposed to anti-communism, which she says has "tended to support a lot of political repression."

The book accuses Paul Buhle, a senior lecturer at Brown University, of making up claims that American communists provided military assistance to Israel in 1948.

Mr. Buhle told the Sun he hasn't read the book. "I'm not fretting about it," he said. "To be attacked by neoconservatives is a badge of honor."

Mr. Klehr and Mr. Haynes also go after Victor Navasky, publisher and editorial director of The Nation and a professor of journalism at Columbia University, accusing him of justifying Soviet espionage and "excusing those who engaged in it."

They quote Mr. Navasky stating that most those who spied for the Soviet Union were "patriots."

Mr. Navasky called the book "wrong and just false. [The authors] were factually incorrect. Of course, I believe there was Soviet espionage."

Mr. Haynes maintains his book's accuracy.

Another target, Eric Foner, a historian of the Civil War and Reconstruction at Columbia University who has written about American communism, says he hasn't read "In Denial."

" I don't even know why they are picking on me," he said.