Back in 1994 the Monitor marked the fifteenth anniversary of the passing of radical journalist I.F. Stone with an unsentimental look at the career of the detestable old commie symp. The column was picked up by FrontPageMag.com and generated comment on several other conservative websites and blogs.
The feedback to the piece was almost all positive, but there was one complaint that animated many readers who contacted the Monitor. What bothered them was that no mention had been made in the column of Stone’s employment by the KGB, allegations of which had been circulating for years after Stone’s death and that seemed to have been confirmed with the opening of KGB files following the demise of the Soviet Union.
As the Monitor saw it, however, the evidence based on those initial KGB reports seemed somewhat circumstantial, and besides, there was more than enough with which to damn Stone based on his own prolific writing.
But as Harvey Klehr, John Earl Haynes and Alexander Vassiliev make clear in their new book Spies: The Rise and Fall of the KGB in America (Yale University Press), there can no longer be any doubt about Stone’s ties to Soviet spymasters.
Stone, born Isadore Feinstein, was praised in life and eulogized in death by mainstream journalists for his supposed independence and iconoclasm, and he remains an iconic figure to many in the media.
In 1953, after years of writing for liberal and left-wing publications, he started his own newsletter, I.F. Stone’s Weekly, which by the time Stone closed it down in 1971 enjoyed a circulation pushing 70,000.
By then, of course, the tenor of the times was such that Stone, unemployable in the 1950’s, had became a regular recipient of awards and accolades from his peers. Forgotten or overlooked in the rush to lionize Stone was his history as a shameless apologist for Stalin.
Stone’s insistence on viewing the Soviet Union as worthy of support, even in the face of the Moscow Trials and Stalin’s purges and executions, led his otherwise sympathetic biographer Robert Cottrell to write that “there was something disingenuous in [Stone’s] willingness to suspend judgment or to refuse to criticize still more forcefully the terror that was being played out in Soviet Russia….”
Cottrell described how Stone came to be seen by anti-Communist leftists as “an apologist for the hammer-and-sickle”; how Richard Rovere, a writer during that period for The New Masses, a radical journal, viewed Stone as a Stalinist who played “fast and loose with the facts”; and how James Wechsler, a writer with The Nation and later an editor at the then-liberal New York Post, dismissed Stone as “a fairly regular apologist for the Communists.”
When a group of American writers and academics broke ranks with the pro-Soviet Left in 1939 to form the Committee for Cultural Freedom, Stone and other die-hards signed on to a vociferous public campaign lambasting “the fantastic falsehood that the USSR and the totalitarian states are basically alike” and commending the Soviet Union for “steadily expanding democracy in every sphere.”
Stone would not split with the Soviets until 1956, disillusioned by a visit he made to Moscow in the spring of that year and the Hungarian crisis a few months later. But he never lost his instinctive hostility to free market capitalism, nor was he ever inclined to extend to the United States even the slightest benefit of doubt in any international dispute.
(On Israel, Stone consistently toed the leftist line. Before 1948 he was opposed to the idea of a Jewish state, preferring a binational arrangement for Arabs and Jews, and his attacks on Israel became ever more frequent and shrill after the Six-Day War. By the mid-1970s the viciousness of his diatribes was such that the non-Jewish novelist James Michener termed them “palpably anti-Zionist, probably anti-Israel, and potentially anti-Jewish.”)
Talk of possible KGB ties, which began to circulate in the early 1990’s, was pooh-poohed by Stone’s defenders as nothing more than an attempt to smear the reputation of a fearless speaker of truth to power. And, as the authors of Spies acknowledge, those earlier reports “were suggestive but not conclusive.”
Now, however, the authors present new evidence, based on KGB files, indicating that Stone (codename: Pancake) did indeed have ties to Soviet intelligence.
“The documentary record,” they write, “shows that I.F. Stone consciously cooperated with Soviet intelligence from 1936 through 1938. An effort was made by Soviet intelligence to reestablish that relationship in 1944-45; we do not know whether that effort succeeded.
“To put it plainly, from 1936 to 1939 I.F. Stone was a Soviet spy.”