[Marxism] Re: Harry Magdoff as a Soviet Spy?
brian_shannon at verizon.net
Mon Jan 9 20:01:31 MST 2006
On Jan 9, 2006, at 8:08 PM, George Snedeker wrote:
> The following statement comes from the NYT obit for Harry Magdoff.
> "Harry Magdoff fell in love with Marxist thought at 15 and became
> an influential socialist economist, author, editor and commentator
> - and, some said, a Soviet spy."
> Who besides Nixon has made the claim that he was a Soviet spy?
Lauren Kessler's 2003 biography of Elizabeth Bentley (“Clever Girl,”
Harper-Collins) tells us about this period and has a little bit of
information on Magdoff. Bentley was drawn into spying for the USSR.
She turned to the government in 1945 and for several years provided
information to the FBI and various government agencies. It is an
interesting biography and presents a useful evaluation of what made
Elizabeth Bentley tick.
Unfortunately the author has little understanding of the Communist
Party, makes no attempt to situate Bentley's activity within the
context of WWII, and makes no attempt to interpret Bentley's claims
within that context.
In fact, very little of what Bentley "revealed" was of any use to the
government. My recollection is that no criminal charges were filed
and indeed some of those "accused" managed to hold on to their jobs.
One even successfully sued her. Bentley, however, had an excellent
memory and some of her testimony dovetailed with other testimony
involving the Rosenbergs and helped convict them.
That Bentley reported to representatives of the Soviet Union is
unquestioned. However, it is not clear how many of those who provided
her with information knew what her role was regarding the Soviet
Union as distinct from the American CP. It is even less clear whether
a person who may have been in a "group" that she had contact with,
but who had no personal contact with Bentley, knew of Bentley's role
or of the role of the leader of the "group."
Many of the members of the CP or in its periphery felt that passing
on information regarding the Soviet Union's ally during the war was
completely legitimate. They saw little or no patriotic conflict.
The U.S. government bureaucracy was formed in the 20s and 30s and
earlier and was made up of people who were completely hostile to
socialism or communism. They were the educated elite at a time when
only a small percentage of the population graduated from college.
Although many books have been written about the Left on college
campuses, we should not forget that that group was relatively young
and had little impact on the government. In fact, after college most
of the young leftists worked with antigovernment associations.
However, at the beginning of WWII, a few did enter or were drawn into
government work, primarily at low level positions
The alliance with the Soviet Union meant that those who supported the
new alliance had to work with—and around—the older entrenched
bureaucrats. This was most obvious regarding various "missions" to
Moscow, which were created by Roosevelt in order to work with Stalin.
Most of the State Department bureaucrats were too inflexible to
understand that they needed to change their colors during the war,
whatever their attitude was before, and would be after, the war.
In some respects, the post-war McCarthy period was an effort to get
rid of the few people that believed there could be peace between the
two systems. McCarthy himself was only one element in this. The purge
of those neutral to the Soviet Union began as the war was winding
down. Truman, of course, became part of it
Magdoff's association with the so-called Victor Perlo group of
economists working in the government should be understood in this
The material below is retyped from "Clever Girl."
The [Perlo] network consisted of Victor Perlo, a Columbia University-
trained mathematician and economist who was, at the time, a
statistician with the War Production Board.... At the first meeting,
Bentley also met Edward Fitzgerald and Harry Magdoff, both War
Production Board employees like Perlo, and Charles Kramer, an
economist with the Senate Subcommittee of War Mobilization. ...
Like the Silvermaster network, the Perlo Group was less a phalanx of
trained spies than a loose association of men who knew each other
through their work.... Although Perlo was more often than not the one
who made the trip, a number of the others did as well, which meant
that, in flagrant violation of professional tradecraft, a least six
members of the group knew that Bentley was their handler. ... They
brought minutes of the War Production Board and its different
committees, interdepartmental economic summaries, plans and proposals
for the occupation of postwar Germany, documents on trade policies
after the war, and reports on commodities in short supply in the
United States. Kramer contributed Capitol Hill gossip; Glasser
supplied Treasury Department information; and Wheeler provided copies
of OSS reports about worldwide political development. (pp 98-99)
At one point, agents worked assiduously to verify a meeting that
Bentley said took place. She remember that it was a rain Sunday in
March, and she remembered that one of the men at the meeting, Harry
Magdoff, had been off work recovering from an operation. Agents ...
found confirmation that he'd been on sick leave following gallbladder
surgery ... (137-38)
Within the various government departments, some positions were
abolished, some people were forced out, and some were allowed to
resign. ... Magdoff and Fitzgerald left their Commerce Department
In April of 1953, the Senate Internal Security Subcommittee called
hearings to investigate what it referred to as the "interlocking
subversion on government departments," using Bentley's pas testimony
as a guide.
On April 16, Nathan Gregory Silvermaster took the stand, proclaiming
in an opening statement that he was "a loyal citizen [who] never
betrayed the interest of the United States." ... Silvermaster not
only refused to answer questions about his activities and
associations, he also declined to tell the subcommittee the subject
of his doctoral dissertation (Leninist economics).* ... The parade of
witness that spring also included [several names], Harry Magdoff,...
all named by Bentley, all of whom consistently took the Fifth.
That summer, the subcommittee issued its report, a fifty-page summary
of thee years of investigation and three and a half months of
hearings. There was, indeed, the committee concluded, a communist
conspiracy. Communists had infiltrated the federal government, helped
each other gets jobs and promotions, and protected one another from
exposure. ... The so-called Jenner Report echoed much of Bentley's
past testimony, lending official credence to her allegations. But in
fact, the committee had gotten nothing from its witnesses. No one had
admitted anything. No one had slipped up. No indictments resulted.
* Legal advice is often to simply take the Fifth Amendment for
everything. Otherwise, you may waive refusing to answer follow-up
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