Harvey Klehr sits down with FrontPageMag

Historians in the News

[Jamie Glazov is Frontpage Magazine's editor. He holds a Ph.D. in History with a specialty in Russian, U.S. and Canadian foreign policy.]

Frontpage Interview’s guest today is Harvey Klehr, Andrew Mellon Professor of Politics and History at Emory University. He is the author of the new book, The Communist Experience in America: A Political and Social History.

FP: Harvey Klehr, welcome to Frontpage Interview.

So what inspired you to write this new book, what is it about and how is it different from other works?

Klehr: This book is actually a compilation of a number of articles that I have written over the past forty years. Several years ago I was approached by Irving Louis Horowitz, publisher of Transaction Books, who asked me to consider collecting a number of the essays I had written on the issue of communism. I tried to group them into several areas that illustrate both my own intellectual history and a coherent view of the communist phenomenon. And then I wrote an introductory essay about how I got interested in this topic and how an intellectual career can be shaped by a variety of factors, some of which flow logically from a topic and others which are based on serendipity. Looking back on my career was fun, although once you reach the point where you are asked to collect a lot of what you have written, there’s also the sense that you are also a bit of a dinosaur.

FP: Can you talk to us a bit about your own intellectual history and journey?

Klehr: In graduate school in the late 1960s I was influenced by Marxism. The first two published articles in the book explore the ways Marx and Lenin tried to understand America and how the USA might fit the Marxist paradigm for the development of capitalism. I was really curious about why the Left had done so poorly in America – it’s the only advanced industrial country in which a left-wing movement explicitly committed to socialism never came to power or seriously competed for power. My doctoral dissertation was on the theory of American exceptionalism. It led me to an interesting episode in the history of American communism – the moment in 1929 when Joseph Stalin himself presided over a Moscow commission that expelled Jay Lovestone and his followers from the CPUSA for the crime of American exceptionalism. Lovestone’s group, which included some fascinating people – Lovestone himself later became the fiercely anti-communist advisor on international affairs to George Meany, head of the AFL-CIO, Bert Wolfe became a noted historian of Russia, Will Herberg a prominent conservative theologian – had the support of 90% of the American party, but that meant nothing to Stalin....
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