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I.f. Stone Lied For Tyrants

I suppose there are still readers of The New Republic who remain fans of I.F. Stone. Of course, his death 20 years ago limits that nostalgic cohort to the middle-aged and older. And, of course, only to a small cohort among them.  But every so often at some party off Brattle Street or on Central Park West--the last time it happened actually was in Bel Air--someone hears that I (only sort of) run TNR and goes into a fervent turmoil about how there are no Izzy Stones left. I point out that Stone was only on our staff for a very short time and, at that, long long ago. He did his real service, such as it was, on the Nation (where his Stalinist politics were very congenially received and still would be) and PM, the dreamy New York afternoon paper that expired for lack of ads (unwanted) and lack of readers (getting more savvy by the day).

In any case, I.F. Stone has been at the center of controversy for all the years after he went to the righteous judge. The original question was: was he a communist, a matter that probably did not interest the almighty? Who knows anyway whether he was a card-carrying party member? Maybe someone. But that he lied for the tyrants is unquestionable. In 1952, he published a sheer piece of invention entitled The Hidden History of the Korean War, which was about how Chiang Kai Shek wanted to make a killing in soybean futures. This ruined his reputation for honesty but even that would not trouble the comrades. With the Vietnamese war, he became something of a hero. He looked like someone who couldn't hurt a fly, sort of like Lavrenti Beria, if you remember his ghost. If you don't it's all right.

Then the Soviet Union collapsed and, mirabili dictu, the records of the all of the intelligence bureaus and the different organs of the secret police begin to open. It is from such sources that we know definitively about the guilt of Alger Hiss, of Julius (and Ethel) Rosenberg, and all the other big fry and small fry who preferred Stalin's perfect tyranny to the imperfect governance by F.D.R. and Harry Truman. As it happens, these communist sympathizers knew that they were on the right side of history and that the mere liberals would be thrown into its dustbin.

Among the people who surfaced in these subterranean documents was I.F. Stone. He had climbed the ladders of respectability. Harvard even awards annual prizes (the source of the cash for which is unknown and unknowable) in his name. But he did espionage for Stalin. John E. Haynes, Harvey Klehr and Alexander Vassiliev are about to publish a book called Spies: The Rise and Fall of the KGB in America with Yale University Press. I've not read the galleys completely. But I've read the 20-odd pages on Stone. They are devastating. Poor Izzy! He will always have attached to his adopted name his code-name, "Pancake." (His real name was Feinstein.)

Spies will be out near the end of May. There is a preview, so to speak, by the authors in the May issue of Commentary. Fascinating and restrained.