American Communism: Early 1990s

Revisiting the Records of American Communism

This section of the website will revisit two questions at once, taking a new look at recorded information about American Communism and re-evaluating recent American research and writing in the field.

In 2003, two American Cold War historians, John Earl Haynes and Harvey Klehr, claimed in their book, In Denial, that a great part of American “academic writing about communism, anticommunism and espionage” was “marked by dishonesty, evasion, special pleading and moral squalor.” By that time, it had been more than 10 years since the day that the former Soviet archives opened their doors to domestic and foreign historians eager to fill in the gaps in their knowledge of recent and not-so-recent history. Among the imperatives heading the American research agenda was finding documentation to support the stories of Whittaker Chambers and Elizabeth Bentley, two major American defectors from the Communist cause, in order to settle old scores. Since the mid-1990s, it had become the consensus view that early mining of the Russian archives had produced overwhelming corroboration of the stories told by these two witnesses – and a “mountain” of evidence with respect to the guilt of those they had accused.

Upon closer scrutiny, however, it turns out that American research into the annals of American Communism has not, to date, produced a single document containing the names of Whittaker Chambers or Elizabeth Bentley – nor any records pertaining to the key people they accused. In 2003, therefore, I decided to retrace the steps of earlier researchers to see if this absence of pertinent documentation was indeed real.

In this section you will soon find many “firsts,” including:

  • The first documentary crosschecking of the stories Whittaker Chambers told about himself, the people he met and some of the events he described
  • Fascinating documents mentioned in Chambers’s stories
  • A first glimpse into the Comintern personnel files of some of the people appearing in the stories of Chambers and Bentley
  • Real-life stories behind the secret world of American Communism.

Click here for a first-ever glimpse into the documentary records from Chambers’s Communist Party past.