From the July 6, 2009 edition of Pajamas Media
July 6, 2009
by Ronald Radosh
Once again, the left/liberal intelligentsia is showing its never-ending love affair with the late journalist I.F. Stone. The event this time- it seems Stone is brought out of the woodworks every few years as a mythological hero from the past they can celebrate- is publication of D.D. Guttenplan’s hagiography, American Radical: The Life and Times of I.F. Stone.
The Los Angeles Times proved to be the most sycophantic. First, it ran an  op-ed by Guttenplan himself heralding Stone as one of
If Gutteplan’s op-ed was not enough, yesterday’s edition  featured a completely uncritical and rave review of his book by a man whose remains a starry-eyed unreconstructed Old Leftist- who believes every cause he took part in has been proved to have been on the right side of history. It was written by novelist, screenwriter and journalist Clancy Sigal, once a friend of mine who stopped speaking to me after publication of the book my wife and I wrote, Red Star Over Hollywood.
Resembling anything but a real review, Sigal’s piece is a continuation, in effect, of Guttenplan’s op-ed—a hagiographical tribute meant to complement Guttenplan’s own hagiography. (To be fair to the paper, Sigal’s review might have been commissioned before Guttenplan submitted his op-ed. But the right hand should know what the left hand is doing. In any case, having run the op-ed, it should have cancelled the Sigal review and substituted another.)
Sigal admits from the start that Stone always was a hero to him. So how can anyone who believes this do anything but praise Guttenplan to the skies, and be immune to seeing anything potentially problematic with his book? Of course, Sigal makes his own serious errors. He attributes FBI investigations of Stone to
Sigal, of course, thinks that the charges against Stone were nothing but a “fairy tale,” and oblivious evidently to the material that appears in the Haynes-Klehr-Vassiliev book Spies:The Rise and Fall of the KGB in America, he writes that what he calls a “smear” comes only from “a purported KGB agent’s report to Moscow of his wartime lunch, or lunches, with Stone.” Here Sigal confuses the words made by Oleg Kalugin to different people about his lunches with Stone decades later with what appeared in Venona and dealt with the 1930’s. Perhaps Sigal should do some reading before writing about all this.
Sigal goes so far as to praise Stone’s tendentious 1953 book The Hidden History of the Korean War, which even a sympathizer of Stone like the historian Norman Kaner wrote in 1971, in an little known essay on “I.F. Stone and the Korean War,” that “Stone went so far as to suggest that President Rhee in collusion with Chiang Kai-shek had deliberately provoked the North Koreans into attacking. He furthermore implied that certain high military officials, including General MacArthur, were aware of these machinations.” Kaner thought Stone had some valid criticisms to make about US policy, but he acknowledges that Stone’s re-examination of the war’s origins “detracted from Stone’s credibility as a commentator on the Korean War.”
What Sigal thinks makes the book “outstanding” is what he calls “a colorful, rambunctious left-of center American cavalcade, from the Great Depression to the Vietnam War.” Indeed, this is precisely what makes the book weak.
An antidote, fortunately, may be found in David Oshinsky’s wise and nuanced  discussion in Slate, the online magazine. Oshinksy, a serious centrist liberal and a first-rate historian, who justly won the Pulitzer Prize two years ago for his book on the polio scare in America, knows how to critically evaluate a book and deal with both its strengths and weaknesses. He acknowledges, for example, that he sees good reason to view Stone “as a superb investigative reporter and a writer of lasting impact.”
But he manages to see right away that Guttenplan is trying to “smooth every blemish,” and by treating Stone as a prescient hero who was correct about all he considered, takes away Stone’s humanity and whitewashes the inexcusable. Oshinkshy notes correctly that Stone was “a dogged apologist for the
Oshinksy continues to nail Guttenplan for seeing “no contradiction between Stone’s soft spot for Stalinism, on the one hand, and his journalistic integrity, on the other.” Stone, he notes, never wrote about the Gulag, the Soviet suppression of free speech, and regularly ignored—till it had ended way after Stalin’s death-the “mass murder in the
Oshinksy’s main point is that rather than being an independent radical, “radicalism and independent thinking were mutually exclusive elements for Stone, with the former dominating the latter.” Stone essentially viewed the world through the lens of the
One might also compare Oshinsky’s review to that by historian Jackson Lears that  appeared in yesterday’s New York Times Book Review. Lears’ review, like Sigal’s, is positive. That the NYTBR ran this kind of piece is strange, given that a few years ago, when journalist Myra MacPherson published her biography of Stone, All Governments Lie, editor Sam Tanenhaus chose Paul Berman as reviewer, and like Oshinksy today, Berman  treated Stone critically and essentially viewed MacPherson’s book as a faulty apologia. On
Berman was discussing the same I.F. Stone characterized by Jackson Lears yesterday as “a revered sage” whom he believes Guttenplan has shown to be a man who, clearly disagreeing with Berman’s view, has “continuing relevance to our own time.” Lears has a right to admire Stone, and his review has none of the exuberant type of apologia that scars Clancy Sigal’s piece. Yet, in its own way, Lears makes arguments that are not wrong. On the Korean War, he writes that Stone “did not claim- as his detractors have charged-that the South Koreans solely instigated the war.” One has only to look at the Stone book on the Korean War, as well as the Kaner essay I cited earlier, to know that this is not exactly precise.
He also writes that it was Stone’s views that “aroused the suspicion of the F.B.I.,” when it again was clearly what they found in the Venona transcripts, and not Stone’s columns. Lears also thinks Stone was completely correct in his analysis of
Finally, much more has appeared that takes up the issue in a thorough fashion. The  blog by Jefferson Flanders is of special interest. Take a look at the section of Stone and the KGB, as well as the important exchange between
I cannot emphasize enough how important this article is. Anyone who doubts that Stone worked for the Soviets at one time, or who thinks he was a completely independent radical, had better read this article.
That [his New Dealism] was matched by his fervent belief-which some would label a self-delusion-that the New Deal state and the world’s only socialist state were separated by just a few degrees, and could coexist amiably.
Using this logic, it was a virtuous act to cooperate with Soviet intelligence.
Stone would actually be serving the best interests of his fellow citizens and the country. A socialist
, ushered in with the critical help of Communists, was inevitable, in his view. America
The Hidden History makes [Oleg] Kalugin’s claim about a pre-1956 relationship[with the KGB] more plausible. Soviet intelligence would have welcomed a book that blamed the conflict on U.S. warmongers, possibly even bringing forgiveness for Stone’s earlier transgressions, such as his enthusiasm in the late 1940s for Tito.
The usefulness of The Hidden History in influencing public opinion in nonaligned countries like
was palpable. India
And finally, let me end by presenting
Stone was an authentic, muckraking radical in the best American tradition. Yet he also personifies, perhaps uniquely, the tragic encounter between indigenous radicalism and Soviet Communism during the twentieth century, including the subordination of the former to the latter for decades, resulting in the enervation and long decline of the progressive impulse in American political life.
To paraphrase Orwell, Stone’s sin was being anti-fascist without being,for too long, anti-totalitarian.
Amen! How unfortunate that a major publication like the NYTBR did not ask Max Holland, a man of the Left and a contributing editor of The Nation, to review the Guttenplan biography.
Ronald Radosh is an adjunct fellow at the Hudson Institute; Prof. Emeritus of History at the City University of New York, and the author of many books, including "The Rosenberg File;" "Divided They Fell: The Demise of the Democratic Party, 1964-1996," and most recently, "Commies: A Journey Through the Old Left, the New Left and the Leftover Left."
Home | Learn About Hudson | Hudson Scholars | Find an Expert | Support Hudson | Contact Information | Site Map
Policy Centers | Research Areas | Publications & Op-Eds | Hudson Bookstore
Hudson Institute, Inc. 1015 15th Street, N.W. 6th Floor Washington, DC 20005
Phone: 202.974.2400 Fax: 202.974.2410 Email the Webmaster
© Copyright 2013 Hudson Institute, Inc.