My Weekly Reader 21 March 2017.

During the Twenties, the Soviet-controlled Communist International (Comintern) adopted a policy called “class against class.”  The Communist Parties of Europe and America excoriated democratic Socialists and bourgeois liberal parties as “social fascists” with which there could be no co-operation.  Then Hitler came to power in Germany.  The Comintern soon espoused creation of “Popular Front” alliances to save democracy.   This change of course often aroused deep suspicion among more-than-once-burned Socialists and anti-Marxist bourgeois liberals.  “Progressive” western intellectuals were a different matter.   They rallied in droves to the idea of a “Popular Front.”

The Soviet intelligence services trolled these waters, recruiting agents and agents-of-influence.  Ernest Hemingway counted among those wiggling in the net.[1]  Like many other people, Hemingway became convinced that only the Soviet Union and the foreign communist parties in its service really opposed a Nazi take-over of Europe.  Hemingway joined a Communist front organization, the League of American Writers.  In 1936 he made the first of several trips to Spain to report on the Republican resistance to the right-wing military coup that had won the support of Fascist Italy and Nazi Germany.

On these reporting and material-gathering trips, Hemingway came to know Alexander Orlov, the Soviet secret intelligence service (NKVD) chief in Spain.   Orlov marked Hemingway for possible recruitment by the NKVD.  After the publication of “A Farewell to Arms” (1940), set in the Spanish Civil War, Hemingway began preparing for a trip to China to report on another preface to the Second World War.  Jacob Golos (1889-1943), a Soviet intelligence officer operating in the United States, recruited Hemingway.[2]  On that trip and afterward, Hemingway somehow always managed to miss connections with his assigned NKVD contacts.

American intelligence suffered a similarly un-productive relationship with the writer.  During the Second World War he filed reports with the F.B.I. on suspicious doings in Cuba, while rigging out his fishing boat as a sub-chaser.   During the Liberation of France, he crossed the line from war correspondent to combatant.   Less than a year later, the struggle against “fascism” ended with the complete victory of the “Grand Alliance.”  Most of the heavy lifting in that struggle had been done by the Red Army; the rest had been done by Western social fascists and bourgeois liberals.  This unpopular front died soon after victory.

Then the onset of the Cold War led to a hunt for Soviet agents in America.  Hemingway feared that his own sterile contacts would lead to his public disgrace, if not something worse.  He became paranoid about the F.B.I.  All the same, although a “premature anti-fascist,” Hemingway proved a laggard at dropping Communism even as its crimes became ever more obvious.   This reluctance is all the more remarkable because so many post-war events laid bare the realities Hemingway had chosen to ignore.  In 1948, Elizabeth Bentley, the lover of Jacob Golos and herself a Soviet agent, made spectacular revelations about Soviet espionage against the United States during the Second World War.  In 1953, Alexander Orlov, the senior NKVD officer he had met in Spain, published The Secret History of Stalin’s Crimes.  In 1956 the Soviet crushing of the Hungarian uprising caused many of the remaining Western Communist intellectuals to flee the party.   Nevertheless, Hemingway celebrated the initial victory of Fidel Castro’s revolution in Cuba.  A great writer, Hemingway was sometimes a fool.

[1] Nicholas Reynolds, Writer, Sailor, Soldier, Spy: Ernest Hemingway’s Secret Adventures, 1935-1961 (2017).  Reviewed by Harvey Klehr, WSJ, 14 March 2017, p. A15.

[2] Golos had been handling the cell centered on Julius Rosenberg.

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