The Alexander Hamilton Institute for the Study of Western Civilization (AHI) hosted Harvey Klehr, Andrew W. Mellon Professor of Politics and History at Emory University, for two speaking engagements. Professor Klehr, who directs Emory University’s Program in Democracy and Citizenship, spoke on September 23 to invited dinner guests at the AHI about Soviet espionage in the United States during the Cold War and on the related issue of McCarthyism. More than twenty undergraduates in attendance had prepared by reading chapter two of Klehr’s In Denial: Historians, Communism, and Espionage (co-authored with John Earl Haynes; Encounter Books, 2005). Professor Klehr discussed the impact on the historical profession of both the release of documents associated with the Venona counter-espionage program and the opening to researchers in the early 1990s of KGB archives after the collapse of the Soviet empire.
Despite overwhelming evidence of the Communist international’s persistent string-pulling of the Communist Party in the United States (CPUSA), left-leaning professors in the academy continued to deny a preponderant Soviet influence over the CPUSA or went into contortions to downplay what the windfall of new evidence clearly revealed about the extent and threat of Soviet espionage in the United States. Professors Klehr and Haynes themselves were smeared by members of the academic left as McCarthyites. Students left the AHI with a far better understanding of the existence of politicization in the academy and how ideology biases teaching and scholarship.
On Monday morning, September 24, Professor Klehr visited Hamilton College and spoke to students in History 254, “Recent American History: The United States, 1941 to the Present,” taught by Professor Maurice Isserman, himself a leading authority on the American left. In discussing “Communism and Anti-Communism in the 1950s,” Professor Klehr divided the historical interpretation of CPUSA into two camps: traditionalist and revisionist. The Venona cables and documents in Soviet archives have buttressed the traditionalist view that the Soviet Union had “continuing and obsessive control” over CPUSA. Indeed, as Professor Klehr stressed, the documents showed what the traditionalists themselves had hesitated to acknowledge, that the highest ranking members of CPUSA were “massively involved” in espionage for their Soviet masters.
“Harvey Klehr stands as a giant in his field,” commented AHI Charter Fellow Robert Paquette. “Three of his books have been nominated for the Pulitzer Prize. His experience as a purveyor of unpleasant truths to the academy holds lessons for all of us interested in high standards, educational reform, and a favorable climate for the conduct of honest scholarship. He has honored the AHI with his presence and opened the eyes scores of undergraduates about a plague of willful blindness that continues to infect the academy.”