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Last November, a Boston citizen mailed a letter addressed simply, "Kremlin on the Charles, Cambridge 38, Mass." Without a question it was delivered to the Eliot House room of the student leading the Censure McCarthy campaign.
That this could occur, and that the Post Office probably never gave it a second thought is not surprising. For years, the name "Harvard" has been equivalent in many minds to "communist", or at least to "pinko".
Applicants to the University have often questioned this reputation; their assurance of its exaggeration is echoed by those already here, and most of those who have been here in the past. For it becomes a little absurd when vague charges are balanced, for example, against the record of 174 Harvard men who are president or directors of the country's hundred largest industrial corporations, the University's eight Nobel prize winners, four senators, twenty-five congressmen, and three governors, to mention only the most prominent. It is then indeed difficult to believe in the 'red' reputation of a university which has been described as the the "last refuge of the Puritan."
The real exaggeration is the result of many things--a forty-year old myth, a troubled era, banner headlines in the Boston papers, a senator's unchecked charges, a few prominent names, a book or two, hate, and a little jealousy.
An allusion of Communist domination of Harvard arose partly because of actual happenings at the University, partly from the people who closely watch it. Boston papers have seldom been sympathetic. Their headlines in 1938 when a Communist was appointed "teaching counselor" were twice as big as those when President Pusey was elected in 1953. Last year when a rumor came from Washington that McCarthy would travel to Boston to investigate subversive activity in the metropolitan area, one Boston paper ran a seven-column banner: "McCarthy Goes to Harvard to Clean Up Reds."
But the trouble runs deeper than the Boston press, and it is not a phenomenon of recent years alone. In 1912, revolutionary leader John S. Reed '10 was able to write a statement which sounds surprisingly familiar today. "What's wrong with Harvard?" he asked. "Something is the matter. Numerous letters from alarmed alumni pour into the President's office every day, asking if Socialism and anarchy are on the rampage among undergraduates. When faculty members speak in the Midwest, someone always rises to ask if Harvard is really the hot-bed of hair-brained Radicalism that newspapers allege. Old grads shake their heads mournfully and agree the place is going to the dogs. Harvard is more restless, more turbulent, more individual in its thoughts than ever before."
The modern sentiment echoed in such a statement is not merely the result of the differences in outlook between East and West. Though the undergraduate from the Midwest has his share of stories to tell about his home town's opinion of Harvard, so also does the Eastern student. The division is far more part of a sharp cleavage between the intellectual and the "man in the street." A large segment of the population has long associated things it does not like with the name "Harvard," the representative of the intellectual. So it is somewhat natural that when "communist" became the national sea word, it too was applied to the University.
From Oregon to the Kremlin
Ironically, Harvard men themselves have often provided fodder for such charges in their testimony before congressional committees about former Communistic activities. That Harvard people--by and large--have been quite willing to talk about past associations has often been overlooked. Many critics see only that there is much information about Harvard's red history available, and conclude in their non sequltur manner that there really was an unusual concentration of communism here. So Harvard is blamed, rather than praised, for having its story told almost completely while activities on other campuses are still shrouded in speculation and rumor.
Other incidents have intensified this popular conception of the University. I Led Three Lives, for instance, Herbert Philbrick's expose of party activities in the Cambridge Youth Council and at Harvard--perhaps one of the most publicized volumes of the decade, sold millions of copies and ran in newspaper installments in practically every large city.
In the years following John Reed, chance has singled out many individuals, like him, were both associated with Harvard and sympathetic to the growing world Communist movement. For most of these men, attachment to Communism was but a passing fad, as temporary as their educational association with the University, and quite unrelated to it. For a few, Communism formed the central point of their lives, often changing them, always narrowing their future paths. An examination of the careers followed by several of these men demonstrates just how little validity there is in much of the popular impression of Harvard.
If anything definite can be said about the revolutionary's hero, himself, John Reed it is that he simply was not a product of any institution, let alone Harvard. He came to Cambridge in 1906, a product of a proper Eastern prep school and one of the wealthiest families in Oregon. During the fourteen years following, he had graduated, spent months in jail, become a famous American war correspondent, written several books, taken a leading part in the Russian revolution, been elected to the Executive Committee of the Communist International in Moscow, died of typhus in Russia, and been buried in the Kremlin's Red Square, as a hero and victim of the Russian revolution, as the Soviet Union's own Lafayette.
What had happened to the bright young boy with the proper background? The first and perhaps obvious guess--that Harvard "subverted him"--is the wrong answer.
Bums workingmen husky guys
Reed came to Harvard already a rebel; his father, whom he idolized was a liberal crusading Western Marshall, an intimate of liberal writer Lincoln Steffens. At Harvard, young Reed's spontaneity, his free spirit, and his refusal to fit into the aristocratic mold for which his past fitted him, deprived him of much of the social prestige readily available to him. Although he became the Lampoon's ibis and gained entrance to Hasty Pudding because the club needed someone to write its show's lyrics, he could not win admission to the more exclusive clubs or to the Crimson, then dominated then by arch-aristocrats who disapproved of Reed. His most political act was to join the Cosmopolitan Club, a semi-official effort to debate the day's international issues.
While classmate Walter Lippmann joined the College's Socialist Club, Reed did not. Nor did he learn radicalism in class. Another classmate, the late journalist Heywood Broun was able to quip later that he himself became a Communist because he went to see the Boston Red Sox play instead of listening to his economic's professor's lecture refuting Marx. But John Reed was not interested enough in his studies to learn Marxism in the classroom.
Harvard was no mechanism in developing the individuality of this mythical hero of two later generations of would-be revolutionaries. His career as a writer, his reaction against the World War, his associations, and inborn rebelliousness more surely led Reed to communism. For, to Reed, revolution was, as John Dos Passos '16 writes, "a voice as mellow as Copey's, Diogenes Steffens with Marx for a lantern going through the west looking for a good man, Socrates Steffens kept asking why not resolution? Jack Reed wanted to live in a tub and write verses; but he kept meeting bums workingmen husky guys he liked out of luck out of work why not revolution?"
So Reed slowly turned to Communism--finally attaining leadership in Russia itself. Four years after graduation, in 1914, Lippmann had already written an article, "The Legendary John Reed." By 1920, when Reed died in Moscow, he was a real myth, probably one of the most singular of the University's graduates. The singular class of 1910's 25th reunion report commented, "The soul of this man whom we knews and loved goes marching on in the garments of a Soviet saint, and in his name in our own land little struggling clubs of painters and writers attack the foundation of the existing social order."
In many ways the ten years following Reed's death proved a decade of insanity. Prosperity was the backdrop both for obsessions with baubles and scientific progress. It was a decade of protest and agitation: against God and for lipstick; against long skirts and for bobbed hair. Later years have called this the "Lost Generation." In spite of its aims, its main distinction seemed to be aimlessness. Its members tossed off old values and traditions, but they went no place. This was a class of revolutionaries without an excuse for a revolution.
At first there were reactions against the new liberalism, such as it was. At Harvard the most notable revolt occurred in 1920. A European liberal was causing a stir in Cambridge. Harold J. Laski, later famed as an economist at London University's School of Economics, and then a tutor in the division of History, Government, and Economics here, caused the Lampoon to depart from its humorous ways. In its own words, the Lampoon "dipped its pen in vitriol," and castigated Mr. Laski, dedicating a whole issue to the radical who had advocated anarchy in a Boston Milk Strike. From cover to cover, in cartoon, verse, and prose, he was represented as the worst of Bolsheviks--morally and politically.
More a Farmer than a Summa
Immediately the Yard was in an uproar; the controversy flamed for weeks, extending to alumni, other universities, and to editorial columns all over the nation. Hundreds rallied to Laski's defense, accusing the Lampoon of misrepresenting the views of students and of doing Laski "great injustice." Although President Lowell and the Corporation refused to respond to demands for Laski's removal, he resigned four months later to go to London, a full professor.
The forces which were prompted such a Lampoon in 1920 grew weaker in many ways as the decade were on. The developments of the twenties and their results in the thirties can be seen by looking at the history of Granville Hicks '23.
Today Hicks lives a secluded life in a little old red frame farm house on a dirt road a mile off the main highway which leads down from the mountains to Troy, New York. Thirty-two years after graduation he looks more like a small-town farmer than a Phi Beta Kappa and summa cum laude graduate of the University, a prolific writer, a one-time communist leader, a present anti-communist, the man responsible for Wendell Furry's being called to the congressional witness stand, and the friend who convinced Robert Gorham Davis '29 to testify to Congressman Velde.
From Gandhi to Birth-Control
Why did such a man become a communist? And what did his University life in the 1920's have to do with it? Hicks is in a way typical of the intellectual to whom the lure of communism during the thirties made sense. His later conversion to the party was by no means a direct result of his undergraduate activity at Harvard, but the spirit of dissent which he developed here, combined with the conditions of the time in which he lived were formative influences on his later decisions--both to enter and to leave the Communist party.
Hicks entered the College in 1919 as a scholarship student. A commuter for the first two years, he didn't even know that social clubs existed until many years after graduation. He found most of his social life in a Church's student group and in the Harvard Liberal Club.
John Reed's revolt against the status quo now was part of the intellectual atmosphere. Writings of the period indicate that men of the 1920's were constantly reminding themselves that many others only a little older had been killed in a war which they believed was wrong. Despite living in a "chicken in every pot" society, they could see sufficient examples of economic inequality to feel that something less than justice prevailed, and to want to do something about it.
So, as Hicks writes in his latest book, Where We Came Out, "Whenever the president of the (Liberal Club) discovered that some prominent dissenter was going to visit Cambridge or Boston he offered him the hospitality of the clubhouse. In exchange, the distinguished guest spoke at lunch."
But this interest in dissent was not confined to politics alone. The Liberal Club's guests included birth-controllers and disciples of Gandhi, as well as anarchists, communists, Socialists, pacifists, friends of Sacco and Vanzetti, and foes of the Versailles Treaty, Hicks writes, "We would listen to anybody who condemned the status quo and proposed to change it."
The Lampoon Turned Vitriolic
According to Hicks, however, his fellows were "more excited about Judge Lindsey's views on companionate marriage and Bertrand Russell's program of sexual freedom than about politics." Many of the intellectuals were merely interested in dissent for its own sake. Hicks emphasizes that those belonging to the Liberal Club in the 1920's were not at all the intense and serious young men of the next decade. From the point of view of the Young Communist League of the 1930's, they were frivolous dilettantes.
Life during the later twenties helped to clarify his protest. He writes of his experience in 1927 as an instructor at Smith College: "This was the middle twenties, and the spirit of the period was handsomely embodied on the Smith campus. Among certain conspicuous members of the faculty a pattern of ideas and values was accepted and promulgated that seems to me now the very essence of the decade. They all subscribed to at least three articles of faith. They believed first that science would prove the salvation of humanity, and they had unlimited confidence in the ability of the human reason . . . to solve any problem. Second, they proudly called themselves liberals, which meant that they advocated freedom of speech and laughed at Calvin Coolidge, but they were not democrats, for they shared H. L. Menckon's contempt for the 'booboisie." Third, they thought of themselves as the civilized minority. . . It meant one who a drank in defiance of the Prohibition amendment, b. looked with tolerance on violation of the marriage vows, c. was supercilious towards all religion, d. regarded politicians as rogues and patriotism as a bad joke invented by the American Legion and Daughters of the American Revolution, and e. took pleasure in shocking less--sophisticated members of society."
How The Money Rolls In
By 1929 the stock market had crashed. "Before the month was over," Norman H. Pearson narrates, "fifteen billion dollars in market value had been lost. By the end of the year, the total was an estimated forty billion. Whatever else happened, it was now obvious that the old reliance no longer obtained and that more and more people were beginning to realize this. What had second chiefy an ideological dilemma now became a dilemma in fact."
Unlimited progress now seemed a hopeless dream. In his 25th reunion biography, Hicks writes, "For a long time I had been dubious about the values of an acquisitive society, but it was hard to quarrel with a system that was delivering the goods. When, however, the system broke down, I quickly became convinced that something had to be done about it. As Lincoln Steffens said, the Communists seemed to be the only people who were seriously trying to change the system, and I began to travel with the Communists."
The revolutionaries had at least found their cause.
A popular song of the 1920's had been "My God, How the Money Rolls In." After 1929, "Brother Can You Spare a Dime?" and "Sing Me a Song of Social Significance" took its place. When the economic system collapsed before those who had criticized it during the 1920's, they needed only a reasonable alternative to alienate themselves from it. They were convinced that something must be done. Seven million college-age young people were unemployed. Teachers were being fired; low salaries were being cut still further. Capitalism seemed on the rocks. And it appeared that only the Communist party was ready to adjust its program to the opportunity which presented itself. So, in a way, it was inevitable that the dissenters of the 1920's should become the communists of the 1930's. The new goal was not a chicken in every pot, but anything at all in the pot--in a word; economic security. Communism offered this.
For a long time after 1929, the association of Hicks and many others with the Communist movement was merely that of "traveling." Before 1935, the party made no real effort to recruit the intellectuals. In that year, however, the Popular Front was formed. Party discipline was temporarily relaxed and three programs which appealed to the liberals of the time were emphasized; opposition to fascism, organization of labor unions, and support of the New Deal. The slogan was "Communism is 20th Century Americanism."
Hicks had been discharged from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in 1936, apparently because of his own open communistic affiliation. In 1938, to the surprise of many, Harvard appointed him one of its new "Fellows in American History," a short-lived variation of the tutorial system. Each of the six fellows appointed at the time were approved by President Conant, but Hicks today doubts that Conant then knew he was a Communist. Whether the president knew it or not, however, he defended Hicks when the Boston press raised the "red" hue and cry.
The Cell's Influence
Corporation statements explained that Hicks was appointed for his capabilities and for his reputation in American literature, not because of his liberalism. A CRIMSON editorial hailed him as the producer of one of the best historical attempts at American literature since the Civil War, referring to his "Great Tradition," a Marxist interpretation of American literary history since 1870.
Already at Harvard when Hicks arrived was another figure who gained prominence because of his communist affiliation: Robert Gorham Davis '29, at present a professor at Smith College, then an instructor at the University. He joined the party in January 1937 and attended the same cell meetings as Hicks, Wendell H. Furry, Daniel J. Boorstin '34, now University Professor at the University of Chicago, and several other lesser-known graduate students and junior-grade faculty members.
The group met once or twice each week and had as many as fifteen members. Hicks differs slightly with Furry in describing its activities. Furry tells about a typical meeting as follows: "There was usually some discussion of current events; collections of dues; an "educational" period; and a discussion of the affairs of organizations of which some or all of the group were members ... The educational period was sometimes devoted to a book review given by one member. More often we would plow through a few pages in some "classic" we were studying . . . Our meetings were almost exclusively concerned with self-education . . .
"The activity of the members of the group in other organizations was the honest constructive attempt, which any group makes, to attempt to influence the policies of the organizations to which its members belong. The most notable such organization was the Teacher's Union, but the influence we exerted on it was through the two or three members we had on its executive committee of about ten. In all these organizations the communist membership was so small that there was little chance of getting a communist into a real key post."
Chowder & Marching Society
Hicks, however, claims that there was little study at all. "We spent most of the time discussing our activities in the other organizations, such as the Teachers Union," he says. The Communists, according to Hicks, as the most active group in the union, were able to influence most of its activities.
Party discipline within the cells relaxed during this period. "We got away with murder, as far as the Communist line is concerned," Hicks claims. "They didn't talk much about directives at that time. In the Harvard branch we all felt free, within fairly large limits, to disagree with party functionaries. . . It is therefore dangerous and unfair to assume that because an individual was once a member of the party he was its perfect and willing instrument." All who have testified agree that the group was not engaged in espionage or sabotage.
But communist activity was not limited to graduate students. It caught the undergraduate fancy too. That Harvard was unusually notable in this sort of agitation is, however, a myth. In his book, The Age of Suspicion, James Wechsler describes a mass strike at Columbia lasting several days, when the editor of Spectator was expelled for writing communist editorials. A large percentage of the student newspaper staff and many campus leaders at Columbia were, according to Wechsler's description, members of the party or close fellow travelers.
At Harvard, on the other hand, perhaps the most notable incident of communist activity was the defeat of communism by a hastily-organized chowder society. The Young Communist League and some other left-wing groups urged students to cut their eleven o'clock classes on April 13, 1934, in order "to promote the cause of peace." The demonstrators were to attend a mammoth anti-war meeting on the steps of Widener. On the same day, however, the large and prominent right-wing elements of the campus organized under the leadership of the conservative CRIMSON. They called an extraordinary meeting of the Michael Mullins Chowder and Marching Society of Upper Plympton Street to be held at the same time and place as the communist meeting. Warned of the coming battle between the two groups, the entire student body of 3,000 poured into the Yard. Three hundred men strong, the Mullins Society marched into the ranks of the opposing peace strikers, Mullins, banners urging bigger and better imperialist wars, jingoism, and increased armament. The Society's three leaders were dressed as Hitler, Karl Marx, and a boy scout. Quickly the leaders of the strike tried to beat the drum for peace, but it was too late. The strike had been turned into a farce, and the YCL leaders ran in a shower of eggs, onions, and pennies.
Student communists had first appeared on the University scene in 1932 when a group organized in Leverett House D-41 to form the John Reed Club. Chiefly intellectual and rather tame, the group was devoted to the study of scientific Marxism and education. The Young Communist League formed soon after in a much more militant fashion. Its monthly magazine, the Harvard Communist, was issued from an anonymous post office box in Boston. Besides featuring the current party line in its columns, the magazine took an active interest in winning converts from among the most susceptible, the underdog. It drew attention to the plight of the commuters who, in the days before Dudley, still had to eat lunch in a crowded room in Phillips Brooks House.
Perhaps the most significant thing to note about these years of active communism among a few students at the University is that all testimony agrees that is the thirties, when the communists were stronger here than ever before or after, faculty members did no recruiting among members of the student body. Students generally were responding to the same influences as their teachers, and were turning to communism neither because of their teachers nor their courses. Rather, the environment, assisted by the Communist Party's own, Popular Front--now aimed specifically at liberal intellectuals caused their temporary allegiance to the party. Granville Hicks writes. "The party used the intellectuals for all they were worth, but its leaders were aware, as most people today are not, that there were limits--beyond which most of them could not be used." A merely intellectual bond with the Communist party was not enough. For as soon as the intellectual ties that bound many college professors and students to communism in the thirties were broken, most of them left the party. Despite their previous conception of themselves as the main bulwark against fascism, suddenly, after the Molotov-Ribbentrop non-agression pact of 1939, they found themselves incongruously in step with Hitler.
Those who had joined because of the party's anti-fascist line and who had, until then, overlooked many of the other consequences of communism, bolted. Disenchanted by the pact, Hicks and Davis quickly left the party, followed, according to Hicks, by "at least half the rest of the inntellectuals."
That half the intellectuals broke away is notable. But more intriguing is the half which remained in the party. Some, of course, felt there might still be a way to reconcile the Party's apparently contradictory positions. For some, the anti-fascist position had never been the party's main appeal anyway. Others were emotionally tied to the group as their only social outlet; some just hung on. "I don't know how anyone could remain intellectually honest and remain in the party after 1939," Hicks says. "Many people, of course, had nothing else to do, nowhere else to go. But others could have done anything. Take Wendell Furry, for instance. There was no reason why he need have stayed. In fact, when I testified before the House Committee, I was sure that Furry must have left the party shortly after I did."
A Magnified 'Red Decade'
And so the "Red Decade" that has been magnified and dramatized so much amounts ultimately to a number of liberals at the University sympathizing with communism; to about 15 graduate students and teachers out of a faculty of approximately 1878 teachers from the lowest academic grades actually joining the party, and to perhaps a slightly larger number, from college, temporarily banding together. According to all reports, most of these had quit the party
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