Ronald Radosh: The Left and the Rosenberg Case: Historian Staughton Lynd Inadvertently Reveals Their Real Concern

[Ronald Radosh is an Adjunct Senior Fellow at The Hudson Institute, and a Prof. Emeritus of History at the City University of New York.]

First, a note about Staughton Lynd for younger readers. In the late 1960’s and early 70’s, Lynd was somewhat of a household name. Life magazine, then the nation’s leading popular newsweekly, had a cover photo of Lynd and the radical activist Dave Dellinger being pelted with fake blood and eggs on its cover; along with Tom Hayden and the Communist Party historian Herbert Aptheker, Lynd took a trip to Vietnam in 1965-66, from which they returned extolling the virtues of Vietnamese Communism and urging U.S. unilateral withdrawal from the war. Lynd at the time was a Professor of History at Yale University. His activism and his trip to Hanoi led the university to not renew his teaching contract, and he was fired.  (Were he in a similar position today, he would be immediately offered a  Distinguished Professorship at scores of American universities.) Lynd was so popular among the Left, that when Lyndon B. Johnson was President, Students for Democratic Society offered a button, proclaiming “Lynd not Lyndon.”

Eventually Lynd decided to leave history and to become a full-time activist, first as a community organizer and later as a labor lawyer in the union town of Youngstown Ohio, where he practices law today. This does not stop him, at times, from returning to historical inquiry. His own field of expertise was in events of the 18th and 19th Century. But now, he was evidently compelled to write about something of which he knows next to nothing—the favorite topic of return for American leftists, the Rosenberg case.

In the current issue of the decades old Marxist magazine Monthly Review, founded in 1949 by Leo Huberman and Paul M. Sweezy, Lynd has an article titled “Is There Anything More to Say About the Rosenberg Case?” I have read his article, and my comments on it will follow. But I would answer the question he raises in the title with a firm NO, since his own piece adds nothing of substance to understanding the real issues in the case.  What Lynd does do, however, is reveal something   that is of great importance to understanding the mindset of the Left in America—which is certainly not the intent he had in writing about the case.

So let me now turn to Lynd’s argument. First, Lynd’s bias is revealed immediately in what he cites as sources for his discussion. He is impressed with the book by the late Walter Schneir, Final Verdict:What Really Happened in the Rosenberg Case, which I have reviewed here and here, and which Harvey Klehr and John Earl Haynes discussed here. Lynd believes the new conspiracy theory developed by Schneir in his book, but while he cites the old book by Klehr and Haynes on Venona, he seems not to be aware of their most recent book.  In Spies: The Rise and Fall of the KGB in America, which appeared in 2009 and came out in a paper edition last year-they present new material about the Rosenberg case. Had Lynd read this book, it would have harmed his own argument in favor of the Schneir’s book. Since it is very easy for him to find out about its publication, one must assume that Lynd is a very sloppy historian....

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Arnold Shcherban - 2/22/2011

<The USSR got details of British initial research, from Klaus Fuchs and possibly John Cairncross, though Alan Nunn May was recruited later in Canada. Beria’s report to Stalin of March 1942 had the MAUD report and other British documents (Rhodes page 53, 58).

The project benefited from espionage information gathered from the Manhattan Project, which the Soviets code-named Enormoz. The intelligence obtained by Pavel Sudoplatov's agents under the control of Lavrentiy Beria from the Atomic Spies—Alan Nunn May, Klaus Fuchs, Theodore Hall and the Rosenbergs—was not however shared freely among the project's scientists, but was rather used as a "check" on the accuracy of their work. After the United States used its atomic weapons on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan, in 1945, and published the Smyth Report outlining the basics of their wartime program, Beria had the scientists duplicate the American process as closely as possible in terms of development of resources and factories. The reason was expedience: the goal was to produce a working weapon as soon as possible, and after Hiroshima and Nagasaki they knew that the Allied design would work.

Beria largely distrusted the scientists working under him, which was why he rarely gave them direct access to intelligence information after 1945. He was fond of having multiple teams of scientists working on the same problems, who would only find out the existence of the other team of scientists when they were brought together before Beria to explain the differences in their results with one another. Though Beria was not the chief of security at this time, his reputation for ruthlessness was always present, and the Soviet atomic bomb project received status as the highest priority of national security after 1945.

Scholar Alexei Kojevnikov has estimated, based on newly released Soviet documents, that the primary way in which the espionage may have sped up the Soviet project was that it allowed Y.Khariton to avoid dangerous tests to determine the size of the critical mass: "tickling the dragon's tail," as it were called in the U.S., consumed a good deal of time and claimed at least two lives; see Harry K. Daghlian, Jr. and Louis Slotin.>
Thus, the accusations brought upon Rosenbergs by the sentencing judge in regard to speeding up Soviet atomic project by years are soundly rejected by the new evidence (and at the time it's just did not exist.)

Arnold Shcherban - 2/22/2011

<The 79-year-old David Greenglass confessed in an interview with CBS that he had committed perjury, encouraged by prosecutors, while testifying against his own sister, Ethel Rosenberg. She and her husband were sent to the electric chair almost 50 years ago. Greenglass, who was charged along with the Rosenberg family, with stealing the secret of the atom bomb for the Soviet Union, agreed to have a deal with the prosecution to save his life. But, in addition, he trumped up evidence against his own sister that she was involved in the spy ring. Due to Greenglass's story that his sister typed his reports to Moscow, the judge found Ethel Rosenberg guilty and imposed the death penalty. Now Greenglass says he does not remember who in fact typed those papers. Greenglass himself would not apologize for his role, saying he could not sacrifice his wife and children for his sister. His interview forestalled appearance of the book titled "The Brother. The Untold Story of Atomic Spy David Greenglass And How He Sent His Sister Ethel Rosenberg To The Electric Chair". The 1951 trial of the "spy couple" was one of the gloomiest episodes of the Cold War. The were the only Americans sentenced to death and executed for espionage to the Soviet Union.>
He also changed his testimony in regard to his sister two times after the first account given to FBI.
His own wife, who according to the evidence in the case, was definitely involved in the spy ring was acquitted entirely, apparently in exchange for the accusations against his sister.

Arnold Shcherban - 2/22/2011

Radosh writes about Stalin (actually about Soviet regime as a whole): "who was developing a foreign policy of aggression, meant to not only cement his hold on the Eastern European nations he already had subjected to the rule of local Stalinist thugs, but was seeking to do so as well in France and Italy, where he was actually close to success."
After WWII Soviet Union, neither under Stalin's dictatorship, nor later has never "developing a foreign policy of aggression", even now there just doesn't exist a single piece of solid evidence out there to legitimize such a statement.
As far as it is concerned Eastern European countries that happened to fall in the sphere of Soviet influence under the aggreements with the Western powers, the US inclusive,
Soviet Union just followed the suit of the UK and the US that in collaboration with Greek fascists used much more violence in suppressing the will of the majority in Greece, i.e., democracy, than Soviets did in Poland, or Czechoslovakia, collaborating with local communists.
In Italy and France the Left forces gained strong and wide support not because of insidious Soviet interference in the internal affairs of those countries, but because the Left had been in the first rows of resistance (sometimes the only resistant group) to Nazis and local fascists during just ended WWII, with communists suffered the greatest casualties among all the parties.
The last is true about other Eastern and Western European nations that fell under Nazi occupation.

Radosh goes further by stating: "Cuba was practically a Western output of the Soviet Union in that period, and never was independent. If anything, without a nuclear umbrella, Castro might not have been able to stay in power, and the Cuban people would have been able to create a free Cuba without being led by corrupt authoritarians of the Right or Stalinist totalitarians of the Left."

Cuba was Western output of the Soviet Union at the time, as much, as it was an Eastern output of the USA, before the Revolution of 1959.
It is well known that it was F. Castro who was continuously asking Soviet leadership for missile protection against very possible (especially, after the Bay of Pigs invasion) American full-scale aggression. (Just those facts clearly show who was not only developing, but actualizing "foreign policy of aggression'), not vice versa.
And, of course, American similar missiles based close to Turkish-Soviet border, were the manifestation
of purely peaceful intentions of the
US governments, and under no scenario
could produce any fear among Soviet

Arnold Shcherban - 2/22/2011

Just reading the choice of words in Judge Kaufman's Statement Upon Sentencing the Rosenbergs
gives one chills: "...upon the principals in this diabolical conspiracy to destroy a God-fearing nation,...>
Diabolical, really? To destroy the nation?
It's as greatly exaggerated and dramatized, as the real damage J. Rosenberg's espionage activity had caused and the value of the information he provided to the Soviets.

Arnold Shcherban - 2/22/2011

Neither ardent anti-communists' nor ardent pro-communists' historiography
of the Cold War and MUTUAL espionage is fair and true.
In the case of Rosenbergs, e.g., Julius was definitely a spy, which was admitted by Russians themselves, but as it is clear from the declassified Soviet documents pertaining to the case and the book of Julius' KGB handler (who wrote it living in UK in post-Soviet era) neither Julius nor Ethel handed to Russians any atomic secrets (the charge they have been sentenced to death on.)
Moreover, Ethel Rosenberg's espionage activity has not been proven even closely to reasonable point, not mentioning beyond it.
Even disregarding legal violations and abnormalities in Rosenbergs' case, their execution carried in peaceful, not war time was certainly excessive and brutal punishment based more on ideological struggle than on solid evidence.
Such treatment (and other cases against American Left whose only guilt was their proven or alleged membership in the US Communist party) of Rosenberg couple put American justice on one foot with comparable
"justice" of totalitarian regimes.

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