McCarthyism – No Longer a Dirty Word

"McCarthyism" might no longer be a dirty word.

It's a word that has been used in the pejorative sense ever since U.S. Senator Joe McCarthy waged his "witch-hunt" on suspected Communist sympathizers and spies in the 1950s. It took on a negative connotation because McCarthy was seen as a red-baiter who engaged in fear-mongering and making baseless accusations.

It turns out, however, that McCarthy did not engage in any "witch-hunt" at all. The evidence now demonstrates that the communist threat was actually far greater than even McCarthy himself anticipated. Moreover, recent disclosures reveal that most of McCarthy's accusations were far from "baseless" — they were dead-on.

McCarthy has been rehabilitated.

I now wonder what my former left-wing colleagues in academia have to say. I'll never forget how they reveled in demonizing McCarthyism. They always referred to it as if it was this great dark force – and as if they had been its primary victims. Their outrage over their supposed victimization always implied that McCarthyism was somehow just lurking around the corner. Everyone was supposed to fill up with total dread. Thank goodness, therefore, that the world had the left-wing academics to fight the oppressive right-wing oligarchy. Without them, McCarthyism would surely return.

I always couldn't help wondering whether my left-wing colleagues were suffering from a serious form of brain damage – or whether they were schizoid or delusional. The discrepancy between the energy they put into denouncing, and fearing, McCarthyism and what McCarthyism actually entailed, was pretty profound. In the context of the communist witch-hunts that liquidated millions of people in the 20th century, what was McCarthyism? But my colleagues never stopped prostituting their favourite line: "Yes, there was Stalin, but hey, we had McCarthy." Right.

If McCarthy had never existed, my Marxist colleagues would have had to invent him.

The Venona Project files have now made things a little uncomfortable for the radical academics who built their professional careers on agonizing over the dark ghost of McCarthyism.

The Venona transcripts are thousands of Soviet intelligence messages that were intercepted and decoded over four decades by the FBI and the NSA (National Security Agency). Released over the past few years, these files prove that there was a large-scale Communist penetration of the U.S. government, and that Communist spies passed on valuable information to the KGB.

The deciphered Venona cables confirm that the American Communist Party successfully established secret caucuses in government agencies throughout the 1930's and 1940's. They prove that 349 Americans had covert ties to Soviet intelligence — much as McCarthy had charged. They also indicate that Alger Hiss, who was accused in 1949 of spying for the Soviets, did leak material — even though he denied his guilt. On top of this, the number 349 is clearly a low estimate, because out of 25,000 intercepted telegrams, only 2,900 were decoded.

Many of the spies detected in Venona were investigated for espionage in the early 1950s, and were brought before the House Un-American Activities Committee. Although the U.S. government had accumulated enough evidence through Venona to charge these spies, many of them were never prosecuted, because the government could not expose its success in cracking the Soviet codes. The names of the spies therefore remained a secret until now. Thus, while McCarthy's critics attacked him for his "baseless" accusations, we now know that the U.S. Senator was right in making most of them – but he was hung out to dry.

McCarthy, therefore, had every legitimate reason to ask the famous question: "Are you or have you ever been a member of the Communist Party?" That's because the American Communist Party was doing severe damage to U.S. security interests, and it was financed and run entirely by Moscow — something that McCarthy's critics denied for decades.

So I wonder: what do the left-wing academics have to say now? We don't know, because their silence about the Venona files is deafening. But a serious question remains: if they so vehemently disapproved, and were so scared, of McCarthyism, then what exactly were the ingredients of their lives that led them to this disposition?

The bottom line is that, if McCarthy had engaged in the same behaviour against the Nazis, and their sympathizers, statues of him would be prominent in many of our cities today. Because of political correctness, however, there will be no statues of McCarthy in the near future. But at least we now know that accusing someone of "McCarthyism" is no longer necessarily a putdown.

It might even be a compliment.

July 20, 2001