29.7.05

PICKING AT OLD SCABS? Book Review No. 24 is John Earl Haynes and Harvey Klehr's In Denial: Historians, Communism, and Espionage. The book has a sobering roll call of American communist sympathizers, many originally from Finland, who were subjected to extreme measures by the NKVD. That's in the context of arguing, once again, that the academy is full of communist sympathizers who continue to refuse to read and understand and accept the conclusions of the authors' prior investigations of Soviet archives. (I think one of their previous books is in the stack of candidates for this year's 50 ...)

Alas, to a great extent, the book is yet another recitation of the controversies that roiled the coming of age of a cohort of intellectuals too young to be called to Korea and too old to be called to Vietnam (but just the right age to come up for tenure just as the older cohorts of the Baby Boom were entering college -- talk about being born on third base! -- and to make common cause with the noisiest of those Baby Boomers who were subject to the draft to perpetuate what Alan Charles Kors has correctly characterized as a "generational swindle"): Whittaker Chambers, Alger Hiss, Joseph McCarthy, Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, Richard Nixon. In some ways the book is a Doppelganger to the efforts of many intellectuals who came of age in that era to overplay -- particularly as they age and reminisce -- their support for the Rosenbergs and opposition to McCarthy as somehow of a piece with resisting the Vietnam war or with compelling real fascists to surrender, the coming-of-age challenges of respectively the younger and older cohorts. My. Eyes. Glaze. Over. Perhaps in 100 years the maturing of the red diaper babies will provide a middling dissertation topic to a middling graduate student at a middling doctoral program, if such things still exist. Anybody else who looks at the history content standards the red diaper babies had a hand in writing who sees more emphasis on McCarthy than on Moon shots will wonder what the fuss was about.

There's a subtheme in the book of somewhat greater relevance, namely the fury of some of those academicians of that certain age who Messrs. Haynes and Klehr suggested were not paying sufficient attention to the evidence of communist oppression available in the Moscow archives after the Soviet Union posted its discontinuance notice. It transpired that the authors, as well as a few other researchers making use of declassified Soviet era archives, received financial assistance from openly anti-communist foundations such as Olin and Bradley. (Disclaimer: several Karlsons have provided surplus value appropriated by the Bradley Foundation. We called it "working our way through college." Or "supporting a family.") Some of their critics have called their previous work into question precisely because it was funded by foundations with an ideological bias, something that continues to trouble some academicians today.

Case in point: this essay in Inside Higher Ed by Donald Lazere, who attempts to compare and contrast the motives of Olin, Scaife, Bradley, et. al. (I believe those are the financiers of the Vast Right Wing Conspiracy) with those of the foundations that are more likely to support the academic establishment.
The same cannot be said for more liberally inclined foundations like Ford, Rockefeller, Carnegie, and MacArthur, in relation either to corporate sponsors or the Democratic Party. The very fact that these foundations fund projects that are often antithetical to their corporate patrons’ class interests is evidence that their motives are philanthropic, not propagandistic; they fund precisely the kind of projects least likely to attract corporate sponsorship.
Oh, come. Stack the review panel with reviewers sympathetic to leftist causes and then defend the outcome as "objective." Don't universities have affirmative action offices to second-guess the actions of hiring committees that, sight unseen, put together a short list comprising entirely white males based on their review of portfolios?

University Diaries has some related thoughts on Professor Lazere's column.

As far as In Denial is concerned, it is the scrap over whether there are ways of funding research that can promote quality scholarly objectivity that are more important than whether or not a few (aging?) academicians accepted Soviet propaganda at face value.

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