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Albert Gates

The Horrors of Chambers

Fact and Fantasy in Chambers’ Revelations

(September 1952)

From The New International, Vol. XVIII No. 5, September–October 1952, pp. 245–264.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

The abundant skill of Whittaker Chambers as a writer is revealed in the way he has dramatized his career as a second-rate Stalinist functionary in the legal as well as the illegal apparatus, making himself appear as a star performer. Without the fortuitous circumstances of the Hiss case, however, Chambers could never have been catapulted to such public fame. Yet, in less skillful hands, the story of his “ordeal” in the long pages of The Witness [1] might well have been a bore. Despite the chiaroscuro tones of this utterly humorless work, and the atmosphere of unrelieved doom and gloom which pervades its pages, the book is an exciting narrative.

What makes the book important is the political climate of our times, for, whatever else it may contain, The Witness is concerned with the essence of politics in the Western world today: the struggle to defeat world Stalinism, the mortal enemy of bourgeois society, as well as of socialism, the working class and all humanity.

Chambers confronts the reader with a dilemma: the necessity of a war against Stalinism which, he asserts, capitalism cannot win. This does not, by any means, reflect the prevailing mood of the bourgeoisie. The problem faced by it, and especially its liberal wing is how to organize a successful struggle against Stalinist totalitarianism without at the same time destroying all of organized society.

The dominant trend is toward war. The Right would wage that war with or without the maintenance of democracy and democratic institutions ... it all depends. The liberal wing also believes that war is inescapable, but it would prefer to wage the war democratically, through the extension of its new ideal, the “mixed economy,” as the means of curbing reactionary monopoly capitalism.

In the present world situation, Chambers’ book is a call for a Crusade of the Right. That is why the liberals, unavoidably united with the most backward segments of society around the principle of pure and simple anti-Stalinism, have been shocked by the essentially reactionary nature of The Witness. Pure and simple anti-Stalinism, on the other hand, seems to me to explain Sidney Hook’s extravagant commentary in his critical review of the book when he wrote that “this volume (is) one of the most significant autobiographies of the twentieth century ... throws more light on the conspiratorial and religious character of modern communism, ... than all the hundred great books of the past combined (how the hundred great books of the past could have shed any light on the twenty-five year old Stalinist phenomenon, only Hook could venture to suggest).” Time will show that The Witness does far less for our understanding of the Stalinist phenomenon than dozens of other books have done, including several writings of Hook himself. It teaches us less than nothing about the basic characteristics of Stalinist totalitarianism.

The outstanding characteristics of Stalinism have been described long ago, while Chambers was still one of its agents, by the socialist and Marxist movement, by the Trotskyists of the Thirties, and above all, most intelligently, by the Independent Socialist League and the New International.

The Witness is typically American in reflecting the political thinking of a section of the most powerful bourgeoisie in the world, its saber-rattling and its insularity. It is inconceivable that such a work could have been produced in Europe where the witchhunt atmosphere is absent; it is inconceivable that a European Stalinist agent, in breaking with that movement, would have embraced God and Religion in so primitive and philosophically reactionary way that Chambers did. At least, we know of no such similar occurrence though there have been many agents of the Stalinist underground who did break with it. In the majority of those instances, the men broke on avowedly political grounds without seeking safety and salvation in the supernatural.

What surprises is not that Stalinism was able to spawn a Whittaker Chambers, but that so tiny a figure as he could, as a result of the Hiss case, in the current political climate of the country, rise to the level of an important figure. What saddens is that this depressing book is hailed by so many as a work of genuine stature, even by critics who assert that there isn’t a single important thought in the book, or by those who reject almost every historical, political, and philosophical premise of the author.

One or two of the more perspicacious reviewers of the The Witness, correctly observed that the book would redound to the ultimate benefit of Stalinism, for Chambers reveals in his thinking, his religious conversion and zeal, his medieval philosophy, and above all, in his present politics that he remains a Stalinist type. Throughout the book there is ever-present, whether consciously or not is of no importance, that reverence for power, typical of Stalinist cynicism which Chambers has in abundant quantity.

If you take Chambers’ belated description of the evolution of his break with Stalinism as the gospel truth, then you must conclude that he was not fully possessed of all his senses. But he was, and the book shows him to be an extremely conscious and often sagacious interpreter of his acts and his goals.

Despite Chambers’ contention that his break with Stalinism was the result of a protracted evolutionary process, the facts show that it must have occurred rather abruptly. Though intending to convey that the process of disillusionment was a long one, Chambers himself unwittingly reveals that it occurred rather swiftly.

Until now, even the most critical reviewers have granted that the book is an “honest” account of Chambers travail, his role in the Stalinist party, his political doubts, and finally, his resolution to sever all ties with Stalinism. Yet we believe that giving Chambers all the benefit of doubt, his account of the break with Stalinism strains logic, if not credibility. Unhappily, the political situation, has made an objective appraisal of the book difficult. Critics may, for example, deplore Chambers’ reactionary attack on philosophy, science, materialism and the significance of modern industrialism, as Hook does. They may, also, deplore his attack on the New Deal and Roosevelt as many others do. But for all of that, the unifying force of pure and simple anti-Stalinism, which makes of the fight against Stalinism a simple thing, excuses many things, and the critics lend their several authorities to raise the stature of the man and to strengthen his essentially reactionary influence. The failure to understand the nature, significance and place of Stalinism in modern history leaves many critics confused and disarmed.

We believe that there is one other factor which makes itself felt in the reviews and which explains in part the perplexity of so many critics. It has to do with Chambers’ religious conversion, which lies like an opaque film over his story. Yet it is considered bad taste to question a man newly come to God. It just isn’t done. The assumption is made, that since the man has turned to God and religion, his description of the conversion must be true. How can a man lie about something so close to his soul? What right has another man to judge? If the story of his conversion is true (can it be false?), then everything else he writes about himself must, by the same token, be true. For no man can bare his soul as Chambers did and not be truthful about it. Fortunately, the literature of modern psychology and psychoanalysis teaches us much about the complexities and contradictions of man’s conduct; it warns us against accepting the obvious, the expressed and avowed motives, and prepares for the surprises of the unconscious, the unavowed, the concealed. Good manners aside, the truth is more important than Chambers’ conversion. He has no right to use God and Religion as a shield, but if he does so use them, they should be ignored, if we are to seek the truth and judge the credibility of his testimony.

Chambers bares much of his character by what has already been termed the masochistic revelations of an unattractive personality. There are moments when he writes as though he lay on an analyst’s couch describing the very depths of the childhood and family misery that went into forming the character of the man. Though we are unable to understand the full significance of the traumata of his childhood life, the effects these had on the malformation of his personality, are described somewhat fully by the author himself.

It appears that a rather repulsive act, not uncommon among children, which occurred at school in his early boyhood, imbedded itself so deeply in Chambers consciousness that he is able to write: “I think it was at that point that I developed a deep distrust of the human race.” His whole early life was one of solitude. He had no love from his father, and no friends. He felt himself unattractive to girls and avoided their company. The absence of family warmth, of the lively existence of children’s society, the sympathy and affection of mature people, only added to a bleak, empty and harmful environment. These explain in part, the cold, suspicious and essentially cynical nature of the man he became.

Chambers reached maturity in the years following the First World War. The economic and political world crisis of the time had a radicalizing influence upon him. He describes this development as it occurred while attending Columbia University. A trip to Germany during the inflation period of 1923 confirmed his radical views. He came back from Europe a communist. Now, the reasons why a man becomes a socialist are many: some are attracted by its ennobling ideal; others by intellectual conviction that Marxism supplies the answer to evils of modern society and the hope for the future of man; still others become socialists through the economic, political and social pressures of capitalism. Once a socialist, however, a man becomes attracted to its ideal, its promise for mankind, no matter how his political conversion occurred. Insensitive indeed is the man who becomes a socialist and who has no regard or emotional feeling for the promise of the good society which socialism conveys. Such a man may cite scripture, and understand “historical law,” and the “processes of history,” but he remains a poor socialist, indeed.

Chambers conversion to socialism is a cold-blooded process, based on an icy objectivity. He saw Europe and he saw capitalism in disintegration. He was convinced that it was a doomed society. The future was represented by the Russian Revolution. Placed alongside the decay of European capitalism it reflected the power of the new, the promise of the future, and above all, it was successful!

In accepting Marxism and the pre- Stalinist communist movement, Chambers says little about its theories and principles, its program and policies, its strategies and tactics. The book is ideologically barren and this is all the more striking if we bear in mind the stages of political development which through Chambers lived. This, too, is an index of the man, for it becomes apparent that in becoming a socialist, he was motivated solely by a personal war with society and was never able to transcend this narrow motivation in the interest of the greater ideal. One can detect in Chambers’ “political system” a respect for power per se. He was picking a winning side and this is reflected in the way he became a member of the Communist Party and the work that he did. You do not feel any surge in the man upon becoming a socialist; there is no sentiment, no emotion.

This is what we do learn! Whittaker Chambers joined the Communist Party in 1925. Almost immediately he became a functionary of the party by obtaining a post on the Daily Worker, of which he soon became an editor. Even though he was assigned to a branch, night work on the paper prevented his attendance at meetings. Although other night workers attended day branches, Chambers never sought out the affairs of the basic unit of the party. He was a member at the top, and as a result, became identified with the party bureaucracy.

In a party riven with factionalism, going through the process of transformation into a Stalinist organization, he manages to work quietly doing his job, i.e., writing upon the instruction of political superiors. He never expresses his own ideas, his own interpretations of events and problems, but merely writes on reflecting the rapidly changing positions of the party. Chambers says, he was repelled by the struggles which raged around him. He tried to rise above them. He was offended and aghast at the bitterness of the factional quarrels when there was so much to do towards the building of the party. Foster Group, Lovestone Group, Cannon Group, the expulsion of the Trotskyists which marked the first decisive step in the Stalinization of the party – all of this, the real political life of the organization, interested him not at all. There is not a single reference to a single political idea in this whole section of the book.

The story he tells, however, is incomplete. His indifference to the political struggles, to the ideas in dispute, and to the great schisms which developed, above all in the Communist International, were balanced off by a faith in the current party leadership, the Lovestone faction. It happened to be the leadership of the party, and that was enough for Chambers. He supported that leadership and that is why he had the reputation in the party of being a Lovestonite. It was this adherence to the Lovestone leadership which was responsible for his subsequent sabbatical leave in 1931 and 1932, an action which Chambers now describes as his first “break” with the Stalinist movement.

Although he “left” the party, the party did not take him seriously. And even when he refused to appear before the Control Commission as requested, the party permitted him to write for the New Masses, its cultural magazine. In 1932 he became the editor. Chambers could never have assumed this post if there was any question about his loyalty, and he does not in fact, deny that he was loyal to the now completely Stalinized party. It was as editor of the New Masses, that he joined the party underground relinquishing a post he enjoyed so much. After a brief period with the party underground he graduated into the Russian military intelligence.

Now, in The Witness, Chambers describes with considerable skill that almost from the very beginning he was assailed by doubts about the movement and his work in it. He describes himself as an almost innocent man, more gullible than the average. His doubts about the movement drew him to religion. All of this began, he says, years before he actually broke with Stalinism!

Now, let us see what it is that strains logic and credibility, in the Chambers story. On page 26, he writes: “There is a difference between the act of breaking with Communism, which is personal, intellectual, religious, and the act of breaking with the Communist Party, which is organizational. I began to break with Communism in 1937. I deserted from the Communist Party about the middle of April, 1938.” (Emphasis mine – A.G.) The reader is asked to focus these dates sharply in mind, for they reveal Chambers’ effort to absolve himself from Stalinist guilt, in what we shall attempt to show is reconstruction of his political biography.

We use the word reconstruction, because that is the only accurate way to describe the kind of personal history which Chambers has written. We do not doubt Chambers, the Stalinist; we do not challenge his description of the Stalinist conspiracy, or rather, that single aspect of it which engaged him. But we do say that the autobiography which he constructs is entirely too smooth, too pat, too self- serving for complete acceptance. Let us see why.

1925. The Witness recites the events which led to the suicide of his brother Richard Chambers. Whittaker Chambers had a close relationship with his brother though their lives followed different paths. The brother lived a hopeless existence, finding life oppressive and not worth living. Like Chambers, he had a strong suicidal urge. But where Chambers saw a way out of life’s despair in the hope of socialism and in the activities of its movements, Richard Chambers saw only emptiness, wastefulness, uselessness. They conversed quite openly on the matter of suicide, Richard trying to convince Whittaker that they ought to take their lives, the latter urging his brother to become a socialist and find a reason for living. He pleaded in vain, for his brother replied that all were alike – capitalism socialism, communism, freedom, dictatorship – life itself was oppressive and therefore nothing mattered. Unable to convince his brother, Chambers found himself saying suddenly: “The Kingdom of God is within you.”

Chambers reproduces this incident in the book for the obvious purpose of impressing the reader with his innate religiosity; that even though he became a communist and then a Stalinist, he was not one of the Godless, but really a believer, if unconsciously. Is this really credible? We have only Chambers’ word that the event occurred as he described it. The reader should remember that at the time it occurred, Chambers was about to embrace the Communist Party. He had no strong religious background and regarded himself as an atheist. He was endeavoring to win his brother to his beliefs, to make a communist of him and to inspire him to live on the basis of a new revolutionary doctrine. The brother rejects Chambers’ plea in behalf of the vitality of life and struggle. “I was,” said Chambers, “speaking as a Communist.” But if all that Chambers could finally find to say in answer to his brothers’ mood is that “the kingdom of God is within you,” we can understand Richard’s laughter and reply: “That’s junk.” In any case, it would seem that this final plea, coming from a revolutionary, a communist, a man who would redeem the world, was about all that Richard Chambers needed to convince him that his way out was the only one.

1928. We have already mentioned the fact that Chambers was a functionary from the beginning of his membership in the Communist Party. The pages dealing with the first years of his membership are noteworthy in their failure to refer to the ideas of the pre-Stalinist party, the program it followed or the activities that occupied it. Yet these were important years in the political history of the movement. It was precisely then that the historic struggle between Stalin and the Left Opposition was taking place in the Russian party and the State. Stalin was already reaching out to take over the Communist International which he did speedily.

This great dispute was no mere struggle for power. It revolved around the basic ideas of Marxism and socialism. It saw the adoption of the anti-Marxist doctrine of “building socialism in one country.” There was involved the whole matter of what program the International should follow, which course of internal construction should be taken by the Russian party. The International was shaken by the conflict, yes, even the isolated and somewhat backward American party. Behind the apparently blind and pointless factionalism in the American party, was Stalin’s fine hand manipulating all, fanning the factional quarrels today, cooling them tomorrow, but always keeping them alive until he succeeded in breaking down a recalcitrant native leadership into a docile Stalinist cadre. What has Chambers to say about all this? Literally, not a word!

Yet, in 1928, when he read the cable announcing the deportation of Trotsky to Alma Ata, in Siberia, Chambers wrote that the event left an “ineradicable char” on his mind! Why? There is no motivation for the remark. So “ineradicable” was this “char,” that Chambers soon became an agent of Stalin.

The relation of this incident is one important test of Chambers’ credibility. It might be said that in those years it was quite possible that Trotsky was a hero in the eyes of Chambers as he was to the revolutionary movement everywhere. There is no evidence of this, however, in Chambers’ book. The deportation and expulsion of Trotsky was accepted by him, as it was by most party members, as a necessary step in the defense of the Revolution against one of its brilliant, but erratic and undisciplined sons. In any case, we have Chambers’ word that his revolutionary heroes were of another type altogether. Ordinarily, a person, young or old, when becoming a socialist has his heroes, but as a rule they are the great masters of socialism, Marx, Engels, Kautsky, Plechanov, Lenin, and Trotsky, or such great leaders as Kier Hardie, Jean Jaurès and Eugene V. Debs. In the case of Chambers they are none of these, none of the thinkers and none of the great leaders. They are Djerjinsky, the organizer of the revolutionary Tcheka; Eugene Levine, who when sentenced to death for his participation in the Bavarian Soviet of 1919, said: “We communists are always under the sentence of death”; and the Russian revolutionary Kalyaev, who in protesting the flogging of prisoners in Siberia, drenched himself in kerosene and set himself aflame! The name, Carl, one of which Chambers assumed in the underground was in honor of a young Lettish terrorist named Karl Trauberg. The attraction of these personalities for Chambers seems indicated; they were symbols of the conspiratorial, of physical struggle, of terror, of pain, of death.

So, we say, Chambers comment about Trotsky’s deportation, a sentiment which was not repeated when the Trotskyists were expelled from the American party, seems incredible and illogical, when placed against the evolution of his career.

1929. In this year, Jay Lovestone, indisputable leader of the Communist Party, supported by the overwhelming majority of the membership, was removed with his faction, from the leadership of the party. They were shortly thereafter expelled from the party and reconstituted themselves as the Communist Opposition. Chambers, who supported that leadership, and was known in the party as a Lovestoneite, remained silent throughout the period of the official campaign against the Lovestoneites, whose greatest crime was that they supported Bucharin, the official leader of the Communist International, at the precise moment when Stalin’s “corridor congress” had already decided to remove Bucharin and to destroy him politically and, eventually, physically.

The Foster faction, together with the craven renegades of the Lovestone group, was subsequently to reconstitute a new leadership in the party whose only claim to this position was a declaration of unquestioned faith in the leadership of Stalin. Chambers writes that he was “confused and troubled” even though he survived the purge of the party after Love- stone’s expulsion. He said he felt he had “no moral right to continue editing the Daily Worker where I had daily to set forth a political line with which I found myself in deep disagreement ...”

The events surrounding the expulsion of the Lovestoneites were “something for which nothing in my Communist experience had prepared me and which would soon cause my first break with the Communist Party,” Chambers writes. At the time he thought the event had simply “the imprint of the peculiarly malevolent character of Joseph Stalin, his personal perversion of what in itself was good.” It was only much later that he learned that it “was not that Stalin is evil, but that Communism is more evil, and that, acting through his person, it found its supremely logical manifestation.” So at that time his break was not an intelligent one, he adds, and therefore was not a real break at all.

What Chambers felt at the time really was outrage at the decapitation of a leadership which he supported. The Lovestoneites, however, were expelled in 1929 and Chambers’ outrage did not assert itself until ... 1931! How did he break with the party? He merely walked out of the Daily Worker office. He did not rise to his feet and protest, he did not write anything, he did not publicize his break (he was to repeat the same thing in 1938), and ... he did not join the Lovestoneite or any other political current outside of and opposed to the Communist party. He was, in effect, a non-dues paying, non-card holding party member.

The test for this is the attitude of the party toward him. This we know by years of experience. Chambers never responded to calls from the Control Commission to appear and explain his conduct. Yet, he managed to write for the party’s cultural magazine, in 1931 and 1932. He became the editor of that magazine in 1932. Now this could never have happened if the party had regarded Chambers persona non grata, and Chambers knows this to be the fact. The party permitted him to contribute to the New Masses and to become its editor because it regarded him to be a safe member and a victim only of pique. If his appointment as editor of the New Masses is not sufficient proof of this, then certainly his invitation to become a member of the underground apparatus, clinches the point.

1932–1938. We have passed through “the kingdom of God,” the “ineradicable char,” his “first break with the Communist Party.” Chambers’ career in the Stalinist movement now begins to zoom. In June 1932, he was “invited” to become a member of the party’s illegal apparatus. The invitation created a minor crisis for Chambers, but it was short-lived. Despite the objections of his wife he did join the party underground. Before long he was assigned to the Russian Military Intelligence and remained with it until he broke away in the middle of April 1938.

Why did he join the underground? We believe it was in accordance with the man’s nature. The misanthropic Chambers, remember, had always a “deep distrust of the human race.” He “never had any real friends” and always felt that “I am an outcast.” Evidently, never very comfortable in his relations with either individuals or groups of people, he felt attracted to a clandestine, lone existence, where responsibility for his actions would be on the heads of others. Despite his “misgivings” he is able to explain: “As a Communist, I felt quiet elation at the knowledge that there was one efficient party organization and that it had selected me to work with it.”

The “quiet elation” was for a man of his temperament really enthusiasm. The ordinary person is repelled by the kind of activities and existence which composes the life of the espionage worker. It is a life based on subterfuge, misrepresentation, disguise, and entrapment of people. The espionage agent is a silent servant in a profession whose aims and strategy are uncontrolled by the participant. Independence of thought and action would violate the profession’s credo: carry out instructions. Yet the circumscribed existence which his new role required gave Chambers a sense of being and power. Listen to how he describes his own reaction:

“There was also a little electric jab in the thought. In the nature of its work, such an organization could not pick its personnel at random. Therefore, for some time, it must have been watching me. Unknown to me, eyes must have been observing me. ... It was clear that, reaching out, from where I could not tell, something completely unforeseeable had happened to me, which could only mean a turning point in my life.”

(My friend, Max Shachtman, told me that as early as 1929, long after the expulsion of the Trotskyites from the party, Chambers confided to him that he was then working for the GPU. Just exactly what this meant is hard to ascertain. Chambers may have acted as a courier on occasion, used his address for secret mail, or run errands for the illegal apparatus. The point is, that Chambers told this to Shachtman with evident pride. No greater responsibility could have been given him than to work for “the Russians.” This helps to explain why Chambers so readily joined the GPU apparatus at a time when he presumably “broke” with the Party. And we are right in assuming that the party knew its man well.)

Chambers dropped out of all public life. From then on and for the next six years he remained a devoted, indefatigable worker for the Stalinist underground apparatus. It was an unspectacular activity, sometimes of little or no value, since he was more often than not a courier. But all of this was only preparation; before long he was assigned to one of the Stalinist cells in Washington to act as the liaison between the Russian representative of the Intelligence and the cell of government workers. In the book version of his life, Chambers asserts that even though he functioned in this apparatus and carried out instructions, the seed of his break was long ago implanted, unconscious though it may have been. The reasoning is teleological. The break began with the affirmation: The Kingdom of God is within you; it continued with Trotsky’s deportation and the expulsion of the Lovestonites. So that even if Chambers did dig deeper into the Stalinist movement and serve it in a most loyal and efficient manner, this was only the conscious, the material, and therefore, superficial man acting. The soul of Chambers was preparing itself for the inevitable break with Stalinism. The reader therefore, should have nothing but compassion for the material Chambers, the Stalinist agent.

Within this period of six years, Chambers alludes to several important episodes to prove that in reality (that is, reality for a mystic) he was moving away from Stalinism.

Episode one: 1933. In that year, when he was already an underground agent, his wife became pregnant. The decision to have the child was a turning point in his life, because “If the points on the long course of my break with Communism could be retraced, that is probably one of them – not at the level of the conscious mind, but at the level of unconscious life.”

Episode two: 1935–36. The great purges in Russia began in 1934 and lasted for four years. Along about 1935 or 1936 Chambers began to feel that something was wrong! Let him describe in his own way:

“In 1935 or 1936, I chanced to read in the press a little item of some nine or ten lines, perhaps less. The story said that Dmitri Schmidt, a general in the Red Army, had been sentenced and shot in Russia. I have forgotten whether it said ‘for treason’. I had never heard of Dmitri Schmidt before. I still do not know anything more about him. He is a ghost who appeared to my mind a few hours after his death, evoked by a few lines of type.

“I do not know why I read and reread this brief obituary or why there came over me a foreboding, an absolute conviction: Something terrible is happening.” (Emphasis mine – AG)

Why is it incredible that Chambers should be shocked at this event and that it should give him reason to pause? Because up to that point, and after it, he remained indifferent to the violence of the Stalinist counterrevolution. Trotsky had been deported from Russia and hounded by Stalin across the European continent. Zinoviev, Kamenev and Bucharin had been arrested and jailed. Rakovsky was in exile. The terror after the Kirov assassination went on unabated. Frame-up trial followed frame-up trial. The pistol shots in the Lubianka rang without cease. Hundreds and thousands of the outstanding figures of the revolution had been destroyed or were wasting away in Siberia. The suffering of none of these touched Chambers. He lived through a counter-revolutionary terror which began in the late twenties and remained indifferent to it, according to his own story, until he read an item about the execution of an unknown Red Army General. But if it gave him cause for disturbance, enough to call it to the attention of his underground boss, J. Peters, it had no effect upon his work. It changed nothing in his way of life. He continued on as a Stalinist agent with even greater enthusiasm – if one is permitted to use such a word in relation to Chambers – than ever.

In an effort to lessen his guilt of silence and acquiescence to Stalin’s reign of terror, and to explain away his own culpability in remaining an agent of this regime, Chambers dates the Stalinist counter-revolution to coincide with his final break in the year 1938, when in fact it had already taken place almost ten years before. It was the success of that counter-revolution which made the purges and trials possible. The success of the counter-revolution also brought Chambers into the Stalinist apparatus. So Chambers does not want the reader to miss his kindly, Christian compassion for those purged: He writes:

“The human horror of the Purge was too close to me to grasp clearly its historical meaning. I could not have said then, what I knew shortly afterwards, that, as Communists, Stalin and the Stalinists were absolutely justified in making the Purge. From the Communist viewpoint, Stalin could have taken no other course, so long as he believed he was right. The Purge, like the Communist-Nazi pact later on, was the true measure of Stalin as a revolutionary statesman. That was the horror of the Purge – that acting as a Communist, Stalin had acted rightly.”

By what Communist, and not Stalinist, theory? What idea? What single thought? By none! Every totalitarian, reactionary, terrorist movement, carries on its violence against individual man and society because it believes itself to be in the right. Every dictator destroys any opposition to his rule, unleashes a reign of violence against the people because he believes himself to be right. The dictator and the totalitarian movement behave in this fashion – in the name of society and for the good of the people. But why must the rest of the world accept the premises of their terror and violence? Chambers can write as he does, because despite his conversion, despite his Christianity, he remains in ideology, in temperament, a Stalinist. Stalin is not a great revolutionary statesman; he is an evil counterrevolutionary who has set back the progress of society. He represents power, the evil inherent in unbridled power, power for reactionary purposes. It is this power which still fascinates Chambers.

Episode three: 1936. In the summer of that year, the Chambers and Hiss families went house-hunting to Bucks County, Pennsylvania. The Chambers family found a lovely stone house near New Hope. The family, including Chambers’ mother, spent a congenial holiday there during the Christmas of 1936. Of what importance is this sentimental vignette to the Chambers’ story? Merely this: “In retrospect, it is clear that our life in the stone house had influences on us which, at the time, and even much later, we did not realize. I suspect that in that simple, beautiful and tranquil haven, and from the warm neighborliness of the Marshalls, a subtle chemistry began its work, which if it were possible to trace it, would be found to have played an invisible part in my break with Communism.” (Emphasis mine – A.G.)

Episode four: 1937. At this time Chambers is supposed to have read Assignment in Utopia by Eugene Lyons, and its “fierce indictment of the Soviet Government and Communism ... was one of the books that influenced my break with Communism.”

Episode five: The exact year is not stated, but sometime in this period, Chambers states that he read Prof. Vladimir Tchernavin’s I Speak for the Dead. The book had such a profound effect upon Chambers that he concluded about Russia and Communism: “This is evil, absolute evil. Of this evil I am a part.” He is now shaken for the ... how many times was it, six, eighth, tenth time?

It would appear from Chambers autobiography that he was in an almost continuous process of breaking with Stalinism. The dates run closely together: 1928, 1929, 1931–32, 1933, 1935, 1937. By 1937 life had become completely intolerable and he must break quickly with his movement. But not yet. He was to go on for another year and half, quietly, efficiently and loyally executing all his assignments.

In 1937, after the purges, the stone house, Lyons and Prof. Tchernavin, Chambers was preparing the introduction of his new boss, Col. Bykov, to Alger Hiss. Of Bykov, he said: “He was, in general, so unimpressive, his manner was so rude and his cynicism so habitual, that I was afraid that his effect on a man like Alger Hiss ... would be a little short of disastrous.” And so solicitous was Chambers about the underground, that even though he was breaking with the Communism which was “absolute evil,” he began “... to prepare Alger for a disillusionment. I warned him not to expect too much, that Bykov was by no means the best that the underground had to show, but that in him we served the party and not the man.” (Emphasis mine – A.G.)

At another undated meeting with Col. Bykov in this period, he took the initiative to suggest contacting for the underground, an explosives chemist, with whom another apparatus had once had relations. Still later on in 1937, he spent an evening with Julian Wadleigh at which both discussed their troubled lives. Chambers says “it was the night when I faced the fact that, if Communism were evil, I could no longer serve it, and that that was true regardless of the fact that there might be nothing else to serve, that the alternative was a void.” It was that void, having no one to serve, that kept Chambers working on for another year in the Stalinist apparatus, and caused him to remain silent for so long after he broke with it.

Chambers speaks of the “screams” of Stalin’s victims, and their effect upon the devoted Stalinist. What Chambers does not say, is that through the whole period of the several Moscow Trials, the formation of the American Committee for the Defense of Leon Trotsky, and the Commission of Inquiry into the Moscow Trials, headed by John Dewey, he was silent – the screams did not reach his ears. He would not have been the first Stalinist to have heard and remained silent. What is incongruous is that he remained silent when he already believed his movement to be “absolute evil.”

Of what purpose is this summary of Chambers’ rationalization of his career as a Stalinist agent? Is it only to say as Manes Sperber writes in the The Burned Bramble that all of it is “as untrue as all autobiography?” No, there is truth there, but Chambers cannot tell the whole truth; he is not an objective historian or politician.

The story of how he broke with the apparatus and the movement forces doubts about his version of the affair and the purposes of his actions. Was he disillusioned truly with Stalinism? Very likely. But the book does not, despite its great length, make very clear the propelling reasons for it, except that he lost faith and believed the movement was evil. But he had not yet joined a church. In the whole period between the preparation for the break, the break itself and his future association with the church, he devoted his time to a brief attempt to win to his side those people in the apparatus whom he liked; then he went into a silent underground of his own. Safeguarding the life of his family and his own from the long arm of Stalinist vengeance was his paramount aim. What Chambers did when he became an informer, however, was something he was determined not to do in 1938.

I believe it is fair to say that Chambers wished only to retire to an anonymous existence; to leave the party quietly and to live quietly. The great motives which he now spins for his “courageous” decision to come out into the open are part of the vast construction of the book.

In 1938, Chambers decided that the only way to escape the vengeance of the Stalinist underground was to go underground from the apparatus itself and to show the party that he meant it no harm, planned no public demonstration or exposures. His own awareness of the problem is clearly stated in the book:

“When a man deserts from such a concentration of hidden power as I have described, and the much greater power that lurks behind it, he challenges the underground in the one condition without which it cannot exist: its secrecy. The mere fact that the deserter, by an act of his own will, stands outside the control of the Communist Party is a threat. All revolutionary experience shows that there is only one guarantee of a deserter’s silence: his death. Both the Communist Party and the deserter know, too, that if he goes to the police and informs against it, it will scarcely be worth the party’s while to kill him. Thus, a race often develops in which the party’s killers try to reach the fugitive before he can reach the police.”

Actually, experience has shown that not everyone who has quit the Stalinist underground, made public his break with Stalinism and put himself at the disposal of a national state, escaped the Kremlin’s pistol. But many have survived by doing exactly what Chambers described above. Why, then, did not Chambers avail himself of this measure of safety? Apparently because none of the great and moving principles which he now describes as the reasons for his course during the Hiss affair were in his consciousness then.

So quietly did Chambers depart his post, and so clear did he make it to the Party that he intended it no harm, that when he began to work for Time, the Stalinists and Stalinoids welcomed him and told him how glad they were that he got the job and not that Trotskyist, Philip Rahv. It is impossible, of course, to speculate what the Party and the illegal apparatus actually thought about Chambers actions. It is possible that in the beginning they believed that Chambers was merely repeating his action of 1931 and 1932; that it was harmless pique asserting itself once more. For, again, Chambers did nothing, said nothing, wrote nothing. The apparatus and the party were safe from exposure. This was true for a time, but as we now know, it was not a short time. Almost a decade passed before Chambers, who made one timid effort in 1939, spoke out fully and completely. He cannot, even with his own interests uppermost in mind, and with amazing skill for rationalizing the past, make out a good case for the long years of his silence. After reading the long chapters on the period in which he finally decided to become informer, it becomes clear that the decision to do so lay more in the pressures which were imposed upon him from the outside than from any inner moral urgings.

The real explanation for his strange behavior is that there was no ideological basis to his break with Stalinism at the time it occurred. The following paragraph will show that in 1938 there was no doubt in his mind that his future as a Stalinist would remain unchanged.

Chambers has used God and religion as a shield for his equivocal conduct and only the great services he performed for the government freed him from the necessity of defending legally his own ambiguous activities and evasions which continued up to the very eve of the Hiss trial. For “until 1937, I had been, in this respect, a typical modern man, living without God, except for tremors of intuition. In 1938, here seemed no possibility that I would not continue to live out my life as such a man. Habit and self- interest both presumed it. I had been for thirteen years a Communist; and in Communism could be read, more clearly with each passing year, the future of mankind, as, with each passing year, the free world shrank in power and faith, including faith in itself, and sank deeper into intellectual and moral chaos.” (Emphasis mine – A.G.)

The sudden break followed. Chambers went underground without undertaking any great crusade for God and liberty. It was in 1938, some months after he quit the apparatus, that he first met Isaac Don Levine, the notorious “expert” on all things radical.

Chambers talked to Levine about writing “two or three pieces about the underground, notably the case of Robinson-Rubens. Nothing came of the project, about which, in any case, I was only half-hearted.” Levine urged “me to take my story to the proper authorities. I had said no.” Chambers was still wary. But Levine told him he would try to arrange a meeting with President Roosevelt and that reassured Chambers and he agreed. At this point the narrative is halted and months pass and we come now to the fateful year of 1939.

Apparently Levine did not succeed in arranging a meeting with Roosevelt and in the meantime Chambers began to work for Time magazine. He now made the acquaintance of General Walter Krivitsky. It was Krivitsky who convinced him to become an informer. Krivitsky is dead and there is no way to test the veracity of Chambers’ story, particularly that Krivitsky asked him to arrange for his instruction and communion into the Episcopalian Church, a tale which other acquaintances of the ex-general find hard to believe.

In any case, in September of 1939, almost a year and a half after he left the Stalinist apparatus, Chambers made his first disclosures to Adolph Berlt, then Assistant Secretary of State. The meeting was arranged by the insistent Levine. Chambers named the groups to Berle and listed the members who composed them and their activities. Berle made notes of his disclosures for the purpose of informing the President of Chambers’ story. The facts about what happened then become quote obscure. Roosevelt is supposed to have laughed away the charges against Hiss. The administration did nothing. And, Chambers, too, did nothing. Neither he nor Berle remember too clearly what he reported. All that remains of this meeting is a written memorandum which the assistant secretary made at the time.

Chambers returned to his post at Time magazine. He was next visited by the FBI in 1941, the first time he had ever seen its agents. They came to see him because Ludwig Lore, now deceased, had denounced him as a Stalinist agent. FBI agents came to see him again in 1942 and 1944. He claims to have told the FBI’s representatives part of the story of The Witness – not all of it by any means, however. They were as excited about it as Berle was in 1939. But nothing came of their visit in that year or subsequently.

Chambers now believes that it was because of the alliance between the U.S. and Russia during the war and the fundamental affinity between Stalinism and the New Deal. He asserts that the failure of the FBI to pursue their visits and to use his material was the “resolute lack of interest outside the FBI circles far above it (the Roosevelt administration) ... which was slowly becoming an open secret known to government officials and newsmen. Meanwhile my own feelings about informing underwent a decisive change.”

Chambers was now advancing up the promotional ladder at Time magazine and had decided that since the administration would do nothing about his disclosures, he would shift his fight against Stalinism to his columns in Time magazine!

Many of Chambers’ opinions about the role of the administration in this period are based on inferences, as he frankly admits. But he need not have retreated so quickly. He could have gone to the Un-American Committee of the House and thrown the spotlight of publicity upon the Stalinists. Surely, that reckless body could have accommodated him as they accommodated lesser lights in the period of its complete disregard for congressional decorum and legal procedure. But Chambers didn’t avail himself of this accommodating body. He preferred not to pursue the matter, because the initial impulse for his disclosures to Berle was not the desire to begin a crusade against Stalinism, but to respond to the political exigencies created by the Hitler-Stalin pact in August of 1939.

When war broke out in September 1939, Russia was an ally of Germany and was to remain so until August 1941, the month the Wehrmacht swept across the Russian borders. The correct inference to be drawn then, is that Chambers acted out of a cunning appreciation of the meaning of the Hitler-Stalin pact and the outbreak of the war, which must eventually involve the United States. In 1939 he had “no heart” for the business of informing. At the most he wanted to write a few articles on the underground and let it go at that. The pact and the war spurred Chambers on to Washington. But the first failure of the administration to respond enthusiastically convinced him to withdraw. And, of course, the evolution of the war which made Russia an ally of the United States undoubtedly militated against the hope that he might succeed after his first failure. It wasn’t until many years later, in the reaction which followed the war, that Chambers had his second chance, and under the pressures exerted upon him, became the witness that the government sought against the Stalinist agents in its midst. What happened in the years of 1947–48–49 are too familiar to require any comment by us. Hiss was finally convicted and Chambers felt himself vindicated. For us, that is of the smallest importance. Without prior knowledge of a single fact which Chambers related about the Stalinist conspiracy, our understanding and appreciation of Stalinism was sufficient for us to assume the existence of a vast Stalinist underground here and abroad, wherever it could establish itself.

Chambers, however, has given an insidious interpretation to the exposure of the underground. He has assisted the reactionary, Neanderthal elements of the Republican Party to make a political issue of the affair, namely, that the Stalinist underground conspiracy could only have existed and prospered in a Democratic, New Deal Administration. There is a partial, but insignificant truth in this. But the whole charge is dangerous because the truth is, and Chambers knows this to be a fact, that the Stalinists seek to penetrate any state administration and have succeeded on a world scale to do so, whether the regimes are reactionary, reformist, or even fascist. The Chambers line (and McCarthy’s and Nixon’s too) is dangerous and disarming because it proceeds on the theory that Stalinists could not penetrate a Republican administration. We are not experts on the profession of espionage but common knowledge compels a rejection of that theory. The only way any administration could neutralize the Stalinist conspiracy, or any other nation’s, is by counter-espionage, or the revelations of an ex-agent like Chambers.

In the very opening of his book, Chambers begs the forgiveness of society by describing the immensely moral and brave decision he made to act as informer. Naturally if he were going over to a winning side, it could be said, with considerable justification, that he became afraid and acted out of cowardice to embrace the most powerful political and military coalition in the present world situation. But, no. Chambers would have you believe quite otherwise. He writes about his elation at the decision to leave the Stalinist movement thus:

“This elation was not caused by any comparison of the world I was leaving and the world I was returning to. By any hard-headed estimate, the world I was returning to seemed, by contrast, a graveyard. It was, in fact, the same world I had abandoned as hopeless when I joined the Communist Party in 1925. Only, now, its crisis, which a few men could diagnose thirteen years before, had reached the visible brink of catastrophe. And still that stricken world did not know the nature of the catastrophe ...” (Emphasis mine – A.G.)

In order to leave no room for doubt, Chambers adds:

“I wanted my wife to realize clearly one long-term penalty, for herself and for the children, of the step I was taking: ‘You know, we are leaving the winning world for the losing world.’ I meant that, in the revolutionary conflict of the 20th century, I knowingly chose the side of probable defeat. Almost nothing that I have observed or that has happened to me since, has made me think that I was wrong about that forecast. But nothing has changed my determination to act as if I were wrong – if only because, in the last instance, men must act on what they believe right, not on what they believe probable.” (Emphasis mine – A.G.)

No doubt, but in the case of Chambers, he has discovered, late in life, to be sure, God, and it is God, the all-powerful, the omniscient and the omnipotent, that has given him the strength to go on with his great crusade, even though this same God and his newly found religion, failed him on several occasions in his great travail, and will eventually fail him if we take earnestly his opinion about the world struggle just quoted.

Chambers does not always remember what he writes in this large book. For elsewhere in its pages, he states the matter of his role in the following way. It was a question of whether this “sick” society could “still cast up a man whose faith in it was so great that he would voluntarily abandon those things which men hold good, including life, to defend it.” (Emphasis mine – A.G.)

Who is Chambers talking about? Himself, of course. For truly, is he not a brave man to have such faith in this society though it be “a graveyard,” the “losing world,” the one which will undergo “probable defeat” at the hands “of the future.” This is a man of great faith, indeed!

The story of Chambers’ return to God, religion, and the 15th Century, is dreary and despairing. It is essentially primitive; in parts it is altogether adolescent; it is his “enlightenment” through the adoption of new dogma, the religious dogma, the religious dogma of the believer. His assertions about God and Religion are Stalinist in manner and tone, for they proclaim that his is the God, the New Testament, the religion, in a world divided between the Believers and the Godless.”

At the risk of taxing my kind readers, I shall return once more to a new “origin” of Chambers disillusionment with Stalinism. While a number of “breaks” have been cited, all of them tending to show that Chambers actually began to break from the Communist Party even before he joined it, we are compelled to cite one other because it introduces us, at the same time, to Chambers’ religious conversion. His break with Stalinism began, as he claims and as you already know, before he “heard the screams” of Stalin’s victims. “I do not know how far back it began,” says Chambers this time. But “avalanches gather force,” you know, and he finds a new date for his break with Stalinism. The year nineteen thirty-four. He writes:

“... I date my break from a very casual happening (now he is certain, you see – A.G.). I was sitting in our apartment on St. Paul Street in Baltimore. It was shortly before we moved to Alger Hiss’s apartment in Washington. My daughter was in her high chair. I was watching her eat. She was the most miraculous thing that had ever happened in my life. I liked to watch her even when she smeared porridge on her face and dropped it meditatively on the floor. My eye came to rests on the delicate convolutions of her ear – those intricate, perfect ears. The thought passed through my mind: ‘No, those ears were not created by any chance coming together of atoms in nature (the Communist view). They could have been created only by immense design.’ The thought was involuntary and unwanted. I crowded it out of my mind. But I never wholly forgot it or the occasion. I had to crowd it out of my mind. If I had completed it, I should have had to say: Design presupposes God. I did not then know that, at that moment, the finger of God was first laid upon my forehead.” (Emphasis mine – A.G.)

God, indeed, had even spoken directly to Chambers. During his great personal crisis, when the Hiss case was brought into the open, and when he felt he could not go on, that he must surrender to his weaknesses, he heard His voice. It occurred one day as he was coming down the stairs of his home in Baltimore:

“As I stepped into the dark hall, I found myself stopped, not by a constraint, but by a hush of my whole being. In this organic hush, a voice said with perfect distinctness: ‘If you will fight for freedom, all will be well with you.’”

What God meant by freedom, Chambers does not say, but what the author of The Witness means is clear enough. He describes it by saying that “freedom is a need of the soul, and nothing else.”

No wonder Max Ascoli is forced to write:

“... it is difficult to see how Chambers’ god can keep his part of the compact, for he is a horribly weakened god, abandoned by large masses of men who have gone to the other side – the side which Chambers maintains is winning. There is not much hope to be found in this book that the trend may be reversed and that the attempt to stop Communism can be anything but a suicidal foray on the advancing conquerors. Yet, through Chambers, this god asks for the tribute of men ready to die.”

With that declaration, however, it is easy, to understand the evolution of this man from authoritarian Stalinism to authoritarian religion, from political dogma to religious dogma. Both conversions, the Stalinist and the religious, are coolly and calculatingly achieved with a similar cynicism about mankind, society and life in this world, and man’s real history.

What is wrong with this world, asks Chambers? Is it economics? Obviously not.

“Economics is not the central problem of this century. It is a relative problem which can be solved in relative ways (!). Faith is the central problem of this age. The Western world does not know it, but it already possesses the answer to this problem – but only provided that its faith in God and the freedom He enjoins is as great as Communism’s faith in man.”

Is this what will win the masses of the world, the great bulk of the peoples who inhabit Asia and Africa, to the struggle against Stalinism? Does a Stalinist break “because he must choose at last between irreconcilable opposites – God or Man, Soul or Mind, Freedom (Chambers’ brand) or Communism.” The Stalinists must be roaring out loud, indeed, if this is the Western program of struggle against it. But there is no halfway house for Chambers, the man who had “tremors of intuition,” to whom God has spoken directly and personally. He lumps together and condemns science, rationalism, the Enlightenment and human progress.

All of history is so simple that Chambers can pronounce: “There has never been a society or nation without God. But history is cluttered with the wreckage of nations that became indifferent to God, and died.”

Chambers reduces the world struggles to his own terms as: “Faith in God or Faith in Man? is the challenge.” And he answers this challenge by declaring that the world can only be saved by “Faith in God.” He identifies intelligence, science, materialism, rationalism and progress with man, and then equates these with Stalinism! Therefore, only theists can resist Stalinism and save mankind, asserts this morbid and cynical man. Mankind thus has only one of two alternatives: worship God or Stalin! Is it any wonder that a Pennsylvania judge called the book propaganda for Stalinism?

The truth is that Chambers has no genuine sense of values, no high purposes, no real moral faith in life and man. He is a self-confessed mystic, and a nihilist. He still retains a deep distrust of the human race, shows no passion for mankind, for the life itself. His return to the soil is a flight from life. That is why he concludes his book by describing his wait for death. No wonder, Ascoli wisely wrote that “According to Chambers, a well-spent life seems to be a form of staggered suicide.”

The vicious political conclusions of Chambers brought a sharp protest from his liberal critics. In ending his story he explained his difficulty in exposing the Stalinist apparatus not on his own malefactions but the obstructions of the Democratic administration resting upon the “philosophy” and practices of the New Deal. Here he joins hands with the most reactionary forces of American life.

“The simple fact,” writes Chambers, “is that when I took up my little sling and aimed at Communism, I also hit something else. What I hit was the forces of that great socialist revolution, which, in the name of liberalism, spasmodically, incompletely, somewhat formlessly, but always in the same direction, has been inching its ice cap over the nation for two decades. This is not a charge. My opinion of that revolution is not at issue. It is a statement of fact that need startle no one who has voted for that revolution in whole or in part, and consciously or unconsciously, a majority of the nation has so voted for years. It was the forces of that revolution that I struck at the pont. of its struggle for power.”

Elsewhere he writes:

“I saw that the New Deal was only superficially a reform movement. I had to acknowledge the truth of what its more forthright protagonists, sometimes unwarily, sometimes defiantly, averred: the New Deal was a genuine revolution, whose deepest purpose was not simply reform within existing traditions, but a basic change in the social, and, above all, the power relationships within the nations. It was not a revolution by violence. It was a revolution by bookkeeping and lawmaking.”

There follows then an indictment of Congress, the Supreme Court, and all other agencies of the government as the instruments of this revolution. Is Chambers naive? Does he really believe the above? Or is he a mischievous, malicious, diabolical creature. He may be all of that, but he is certainly an irresponsible one. The whole thing is simply incredible for below the level of the writing, in the man’s heart and mind, is a vicious hatred for all progress, even meagre bourgeois progress, if it violates in any way the dark, reactionary moods of the ex-Stalinist, Chambers. It would be a vain and thankless task to discuss this “statement of fact.” For Chambers, this indictment of so large a segment of American bourgeois society, the majority, it would seem, only narrows his host of believers and makes the struggle against Stalinism more hopeless even than he avers. In psychological terms, it would seem that in his own lunge toward self-destruction, he would take the whole world with him.

The absence of clarity of the liberals, ex-radicals, ex-socialists and ex-Stalinists on the nature of Stalinism, creates enormous political difficulties for them and prevents them, for example, from speaking out more bluntly on Chambers and his book. They have looked at the skilful writing and admired it. They have read his vigorous description and indictment of an aspect of Stalinism and praised it with far less intelligence than we had expected. Some are appalled at the book’s authoritarian tone, its religious absolutes, and its dogmatic assertions – the style of them borrowed from the Stalinist school of knowledge.

What they will not recognize and understand is that Stalinism is a new social and political phenomenon, without precedent in history, and the product of modern social conditions in bourgeois and Russian society. To say that it emerged from the mistakes, of the Russian Revolution, from the movement of Marxism and socialism, is not to say very much instructively about it. By the same token, Marxism, socialism and the Russian Revolution arose out of capitalism; they could arise out of no other social order.

Stalinism is a distinctively new social movement having nothing in common with the great ideas of Marx and the great ideal of socialism. The great Socialist vision of a classless society has been replaced with the reality of a Stalinist class society. Freedom from class oppression and exploitation has been replaced by a new class oppression and the worst exploitation that modern man has known. The hopeful democracy of the early Revolution, a Revolution which the Western bourgeoisie helped to strangle, has been replaced by the most immense and intense police regime known to us. There isn’t a single important idea in Marxism, not a single socialist ideal, embodied in the Stalinist regime. Stalinism is something new in social development and it should not be difficult to see its characteristics as a new exploitive society based upon collective, or more precisely, state ownership of the means of production – a new class division between the dominant bureaucratic collectivist regime and the mass of people. It is a productive system based in considerable part on slave labor.

Stalinism is the greatest enemy of the working class, of socialism, of the future. But by the nature of its system, it is also anti-capitalist. It employs socialistic slogans; it appeals to the masses demagogically, yet cleverly exploits its desires and needs. It is successful because the bourgeois world, reactionary and motivated by retrogressive self-interest, produced, in turn, by its class nature and class interests, does not begin to understand how to struggle against this vast plebeian movement.

The liberals and the Exs join the reactionaries in treating Stalinism as though it were socialism, the Russian system as Marxism. In this way they play into the hands of reaction; they stimulate opposition to the merest of reforms and the least of the hopes of the liberals. To reactionaries, the “mixed economy” is merely another form of collectivism and therefore socialism.

What great hope, what vision, what future do these new friends and defenders of bourgeois society offer the new generations of the Western world? None but war and military victory over Stalinism, a military victory that could never be achieved without the veritable destruction of all society. In ranting and raving, as the bourgeoisie does, that Stalinism is conspiracy, the liberals and the Exs strengthen the Kremlin. It is not the spy or the espionage organization, or even the Stalinist agitator, who threaten society. It is the objective social condition, the poverty, the misery, the hunger, the suffering and the hopelessness of present society that gives Stalinism its strength.

Granville Hicks almost touched the problem in his review of Chambers’ book when he wrote:

“I have talked to undergraduates about the character and the danger of Communism, only to be asked to give them a program that would do for their generation what Communism did for mine (he is referring to the dynamic character of Stalinism in the crisis of the Thirties), and I have realized with despair that I had failed to teach them the one lesson I wanted to teach – that our basic mistake lay in demanding the way of salvation.”

Was that the mistake? Or was it that he offered them no way of salvation. Having fled Stalinism, which he mistakenly identified with socialism, he now rejects socialism itself. In rejecting socialism, the common ailment of the Exs, he has nothing left to offer except that he failed to teach that “our basic mistake lay in demanding the way of salvation.” His dilemma will become even greater when he attempts to describe the ways of salvation. For he will remain where he is now, without any way of salvation but the counsel to await social doom and to hope in vain that somehow, somewhere and in some way, mankind will emerge from its present impasse. Who will be inspired with this message? It is on such emptiness that the “spirit” of Chambers soars.

The discussion over Chambers’ book emphasizes again that only socialism can free society from the threat of Stalinism, for as long as capitalism remains, as the barrier to all social progress, Stalinism will be with us. Of the many things that have been said about The Witness, one thing, however, has been omitted: it is, if nothing else, a well-invented book.

* * *


1. The Witness, by Whittaker Chambers, Published by Random House. 808 pages Index. $5.00.

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