The Old Left has had a tough time of it for the last 10 years. Cause celebres such as Alger Hiss and the Rosenbergs that once got them out in the street to clench their fists have now been revealed to have been what the Right always said they were: agents of Stalin. And now they have lost one of their best rationalizers, historian Michael Wreszin.
At first glance, Wreszin, the author of a biography about the almost feverish anti-Stalinist Dwight MacDonald, would seem to be sturdily in the liberal anti-communist camp—what used to be known as the Vital Center. But his behavior and stances proved otherwise; indeed, Wreszin would be the kind of foe MacDonald would have broken his lance on.
This behavior dated back to the 1980s. According to Historian Ronald Radosh, Wreszin once took a drunken swing at him for daring to confirm the Rosenbergs’ guilt. Even in his writings, he projected his own leftist hopes on inappropriate subjects. Take MacDonald. Wreszin would always claim that MacDonald shed his Cold War positions in the sixties for one last socialist hurrah with campus radicals. But MacDonald’s letters, which incidentally Wreszin edited, showed that MacDonald retained his Cold War era views up to his death. MacDonald castigated those “cretins” at the Academy Awards for giving a standing ovation to Lillian Hellman and refused to have Alger Hiss as a cocktail guest. Asked if he regretted his part in a demonstration against a pro-Stalin meeting in 1949, known infamously as the Waldorf Conference, MacDonald, a year before his death, said no.
My own encounters with Wreszin occurred via H-HOAC, a discussion group for those specializing in the study of American Communism. When Wreszin celebrated Dalton Trumbo as a civil libertarian, I countered by showing that Trumbo during the War bragged of keeping anti-Stalinist works from reaching the screen and that as an editor of a Hollywood daily refused to print an opponents’ article against the Soviet Union. To the author’s claims that Trumbo was not honoring free speech, Trumbo replied that free speech led to fascism.
Wreszin tried to give me as much of a drunken swing as emails would allow. He personally told me to quit “raising hell” on the discussion log. Confronted with the evidence about Trumbo, Wreszin emulated the writer by saying that Trumbo was correct in censoring the films since they were “reactionary.”
Wreszin will no doubt be admitted into the Valhalla of departed leftists such as Lillian Hellman and Trumbo. This time around though he will also be portrayed in the time-honored method of a Left that attempts to camouflage anti-democratic tendencies in the guise of liberal anticommunism.