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Last year marked the 75th anniversary of the Hiss-Chambers espionage case, which gripped America in 1948 and still provokes controversy. Take a deep factual dive into the story of two brilliant, fascinating men, sensational Congressional hearings, spy documents hidden in a dumbwaiter shaft and a pumpkin, the trial of the century, and the launch of Richard Nixon’s career. Comments and politely phrased corrections or criticism are welcome by the writer and narrator, at



Jan 25, 2023

Photo: Craig Whitehead on Unsplash

The backdrop of this case is American Communism — infatuation with it and disillusionment with it.  Communism predicted a violent upheaval that would produce a better life.  In actual practice, it produced only drab, poverty-stricken dictatorships that killed and starved millions.  Around 1935, the American Communist Party stopped acting revolutionary and posed as “liberals in a hurry.”  It got a few hundred Americans to join the Communist underground and work secretly for the Soviet Union.  The issue is whether Hiss was one of those people.

Further Research Episode 4:  Podcast 4:  The great book of Communism is Das Kapital, by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels.  I’ve always found it impenetrably dense and boring; to follow it you have to know a lot about 19th century factories.  The best short (and readable) works expounding Communist theory and action plans are two by Marx, The Communist Manifesto and The 18th Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte.  Among the many works from the Soviet Union describing Communism, the best short ones, in my opinion, are Lenin’s “What Is To Be Done?” and Stalin’s “The Foundations of Leninism.”  

The best books about the reality and results of Communism are the short “Communism: A History,” by Richard Pipes and the long “The Black Book of Communism: Crimes, Terror, Repression,” by Stephane Courtois and others.

Two excellent descriptions of what it felt like to live in the 1930s and lose faith in laissez-faire Capitalism, and perhaps briefly to fall for Communism, are (1) Alistair Cooke's book about the Case, "A Generation on Trial: U.S.A. v. Alger Hiss" (Knopf 1950 and 1952), the first Chapter, titled "Remembrance of Things Past: The 1930s," and (2) Murray Kempton's essays about the radicals of the 1930s, "Part of Our Time: Some Ruins & Monuments of the Thirties" (Simon & Schuster 1955 and The Modern Library 1998), the first chapter, titled "A Prelude."

All these books are available on Amazon.

Questions:  What do you think was the appeal of Soviet Communism in the 1930s?  What did Communism have that fascism, socialism, and The New Deal lacked?

If you came to believe in Communism, what would make you lose your confidence in it?  The obvious lack of democracy in the Soviet Union, the American Party’s slavish adherence to every 180 degree change in the Party line from Moscow, the purge trials of 1936-38, and Stalin hopping into bed with Hitler in their 1939 Non-Aggression Pact? 

Does Communism sound like a secular religion — with its all-encompassing philosophy, sacred texts, worshipped founders, and martyrs?

Might part of Communism’s appeal in the 1930s, compared to conventional religion, be that (1) it claimed to be rational, even scientific, (2) it promised paradise here on earth in just a few years (you don’t have to wait for heaven), (3) you don’t have to work for it (it’s on the inevitable ‘timetable of history’), and (4) it frees the individual from any sense of personal sin?

If you devoted your life to Communism and the Party and became disillusioned, what would you do?  Decide you had a bad picker when it came to politics and move on to baseball or real estate?  Remain a Marxist but not a Party member — hope another group will form and be “real Communists”?  Become a Socialist, or ‘get real’ and join the Republicans or the Democrats?  Or, like Chambers and a few others, make anti-Communism the mainspring of the rest of your life?