[Marxism] The Rosenbergs

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Wed Jun 16 10:33:06 MDT 2004

Two nights ago, HBO showed a documentary on the Rosenberg case. Here's 
an excerpt from their website:

 >>HEIR TO AN EXECUTION captures the personal story of the Rosenbergs, 
deftly setting up the political backdrop of the prevalent anti-communist 
mood of the country at the time and shows how the fifty-year-old event 
still reverberates with the relatives they left behind and their 

HEIR TO AN EXECUTION is the story of a family torn apart on June 19th, 
1953 when Julius and Ethel Rosenberg were executed for "conspiracy to 
commit espionage." When their names were seared into history that day, 
as both martyrs and "Atom Spies," the young Jewish couple left behind 
two orphaned boys - Michael, ten years old and Robert, six years old. 
Ivy Meeropol, the eldest granddaughter of the Rosenbergs, and Michael's 
daughter, embarks on a remarkable journey into her family's past that 
sheds new light on a chapter in American history and provides a personal 
perspective on the iconic event.

"Before they were immortalized by the strange machinations of history, 
Julius and Ethel Rosenberg belonged only to their families and friends," 
commented Ivy Meeropol. "This film is an attempt to reclaim them as such 
and challenge the simplistic definition that's allowed them to go down 
in history as 'The Atom Spies.'"

The filmmaker explores the events and ramifications of the execution on 
the Rosenberg family, particularly their two orphaned sons. In spite of 
an extended family of siblings, no one would step forward to take in the 
two boys. In fact, Ethel Rosenberg's brother, David Greenglass testified 
against her and his brother-in-law, providing the main evidence the 
government had to convict them. Michael and Robert were eventually 
adopted by complete strangers to the Rosenbergs, a couple named Ann and 
Abel Meeropol. The Rosenbergs' sons grew up believing in their parents' 
innocence and as adults they aggressively pursued the truth about their 
case. In the film they reflect on the circumstances of this event in a 
new, more personal, way.<<

full: http://www.hbo.com/docs/programs/heir/synopsis.html

If at all possible, I would strongly urge you to look for this 
documentary if it is scheduled again or if it becomes available in 
DVD/Video. It marks a very important turning-point in the way that the 
left must now engage with this colossal injustice, since for the first 
time some of the most determined partisans of the Rosenbergs, including 
their sons, admit that Julius Rosenberg was transmitting top-secret 
information to the USSR.

 From the 1950s through the 1980s, the Rosenbergs were widely regarded 
as completely innocent victims of a witch-hunt. Through books like 
Walter and Miriam Schneir's "Invitation to an Inquest", the case was 
made that they were simply framed up.

In 1983 Joyce Milton and Ronald Radosh wrote a book that tried to prove 
their guilt. Radosh has a well-deserved reputation as a rat. His most 
recent book makes the case that the Spanish people were better off with 
a Franco victory than with a Popular Front government. Like his fellow 
neoconservative David Horowitz, Radosh was a 60s radical--in his case 
the CPUSA.

Eventually the so-called Venona files released by Russia in the 1990s, 
as part of an effort to mollify anti-Communist opinion in the USA, 
substantiated the guilt of Julius Rosenberg. Even the Schneirs were 
forced to admit in a July 5, 1999 Nation Magazine article that a spy 
named "Antenna" in the files was Julius Rosenberg in all likelihood. 
During the interview in the HBO documentary, the Schneirs admitted to 
Ivy Meeropol that they felt disappointed that they were not aware of 
this to begin with. They seemed to feel like they had been caught in a lie.

When I first joined the SWP, I asked Dick Roberts (our leading economics 
expert who became a Christian not long after dropping out in the 1980s 
and losing a bundle in the 1987 stock market crash) if he thought they 
were guilty. Sure, he said. He also said that there was nothing to hide. 
If you were for the survival of the Soviet Union and if you were privy 
to atomic secrets, why wouldn't you communicate them to the Russians?

This was the view of Abe Osheroff, a long-time friend and comrade of the 
Rosenbergs who fought in the Spanish Civil War. In his interview with 
Ivy Meeropol, he says that he knew all along that Julius Rosenberg was 
on the lookout for strategic military technology that he could pass 
along to the Russians, including an advanced machine gun for fighter 
planes. Furthermore, he would have done the same thing himself.

Although the documentary does not mention it, it is crucial to 
understand that Julius Rosenberg passed along this information when the 
USA and the USSR were allies. Although this was still unlawful activity, 
it was the height of hypocrisy to blame them for the Korean War as 
politicians did. Back in 1944 and 1945, most people assumed that the two 
superpowers would be allies for the foreseeable future. Of course, the 
imperialist strategists were already plotting out their new war against 
Bolshevism at this very moment.

The fight to save the Rosenberg's lives took none of this into account. 
They were seen as martyrs to the Cold War. This was true, whether or not 
Julius was involved in espionage. The trial was a travesty of 
justice--just as the trial of Mumia. We may never know exactly what 
happened on the streets of Philadelphia, but we do know what happened in 
the courtroom. A hostile judge and dubious testimony served to convict 
Mumia. The same thing happened in the Rosenberg trial. A Jewish judge, 
all too eager to convince American society that he was a "good Jew", was 
prejudicial against the Rosenbergs in every possible way.

The political campaign of the Rosenbergs was characterized by a certain 
kind of naiveté about the USA that reflected lingering illusions 
fostered by the Popular Front. You can spot a sign at one of the 
demonstrations in the documentary with the words: "Don't harm the 
prestige of the USA overseas"--as if anybody in a government that had 
recently leveled Hiroshima and Nagasaki (with CPUSA approval) would have 
any compunctions about railroading two Communist Jews.

A key factor that made Julius Rosenberg refuse to admit his guilt is 
that this plea would necessarily be attached to "naming names". It was 
not enough to "come clean". He had to become a rat, just like David 
Greenglass (his brother-in-law) who testified against him and Ethel. 
This is confirmed in an interview with a CIO official named Harry 
Steingart, now aged 103, who admitted that he would not be alive today 
if not for the integrity of the Rosenbergs.

The documentary also featured interviews with Morton Sobell, who was 
convicted along with the Rosenbergs but served 19 years rather than 
getting the death penalty. His prison memoir "On Doing Time" is a 
classic and still-in-print (used versions available from amazon.com). I 
got to know Morty in the late 80s when he came around the technical aid 
project for Nicaragua I was involved with. He had returned recently from 
Vietnam with a model of a low-cost hearing aid that he wanted to 
introduce into Nicaragua through our organization. Unfortunately, the 
Tecnica officers were reluctant to be tied publicly with Morty who still 
had the stigma of being an atom spy. This was not one of our finer 
moments, in my opinion. That being said, Morty can be cantankerous at 
times and did not help matters.

The circumstances of the Rosenberg martyrdom will likely never be 
repeated. It rests on the peculiar status of the CPUSA, which was 
committed at the highest levels to serve the interests of the USSR on 
the most narrowly conceived basis. If this meant applauding the bombing 
of Hiroshima or Nagasaki, so be it. In the case of the Rosenbergs, you 
had what appears to be a cavalier disregard for the web of associations 
between a man ready to *act nobly* for the survival of socialism in the 
USSR--no matter how flawed--and his comrades. If a socialist government 
is looking for friends to help out in countries organizing to destroy 
them, it seems much more useful to seek out people such as Ana B. Montes 
and not people with long-standing roots in the radical movement.

The New York Times
October 12, 2002 Saturday  Late Edition - Final

Pentagon Aide, a Cuban Spy, Is Described as Unapologetic


A high-ranking Pentagon intelligence analyst who spied for Cuba because 
she opposed American policies toward Latin America "in no measure 
apologizes for her betrayal of the United States," federal prosecutors 
said in a court document filed yesterday.

The analyst, Ana B. Montes, pleaded guilty to espionage last March, 
acknowledging that for 16 years she provided Fidel Castro's government 
with top-secret information, including the true identities of four 
American undercover intelligence officers.

Law-enforcement and intelligence officials said that Ms. Montes had been 
motivated by her political beliefs and apparently took no money from the 
Cuban government other than the payment of some expenses for her travel 
to meet with its agents.

In a memorandum filed in federal district court in Washington in advance 
of Ms. Montes's sentencing next Wednesday, the prosecutors said they 
were satisfied with her cooperation during debriefings.

"For over six months she has cooperated with various law-enforcement and 
intelligence components without reservation," they wrote.

Nonetheless, the prosecutors sharply attacked Ms. Montes's conduct, 
saying, "she condones a life of deceit and turns a blind eye to the risk 
she placed others in by compromising sensitive and highly classified 
military and intelligence information."

"Although she wishes she had never been caught," they continued, "she in 
no measure apologizes for her betrayal of the United States to the Cuban 
Intelligence Service."


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