Analysis: The timeliness of the Alger Hiss case

Susan Jacoby

Susan Jacoby

Susan Jacoby, author of Alger Hiss and the Battle for History, has written a noteworthy opinion piece on the symbolism of the Alger Hiss spy case. The veteran reporter and author’s piece was published by The Los Angeles Times on March 22, 58 years to the day after Hiss began serving a 44-month prison sentence. Alger Hiss was a US State Department official and alleged former member of the Communist Party USA (CPUSA). He served as US President F.D. Roosevelt’s chief aide during the 1945 Yalta Conference, and at the 1945 San Francisco Conference that established the United Nations Charter. In 1948, former CPUSA member Whittaker Chambers alleged that Hiss had been a covert communist sympathizer who had used his State Department privileges to supply classified government documents to the Soviets. Hiss was convicted of perjury, not spying, and never admitted collaborating with the Soviets. Susan Jacoby, who says she is “95% certain that [Hiss] did pass on government documents”, considers the Hiss case to be symbolic of the politics McCarthyism, which continue to split America today. “Ask people what they think about the McCarthy era today and you have a good idea of where they stand on civil liberties violations associated with US anti-terrorist efforts”, she writes. Behind this symbolism is the need by both left and right “to vindicate not only their verdict on American history but the governmental policies they espouse today”, she writes. Jacoby also suggests that the Hiss case is becoming increasingly timely as the US experiences its worst economic calamity in over 70 years, which has deepened the ideological trenches between left and right. She sees the latter as leading “a revival of right-wing, anti-New Deal, anti-socialist and even anti-communist rhetoric that seems to belong to another era in the distant past”. It is therefore ironic, she concludes, that “the emblematic traitor of our day is not a left-wing intellectual figure like Alger Hiss but the capitalist crook Bernard Madoff”.

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Expert news and commentary on intelligence, espionage, spies and spying, by Dr. Joseph Fitsanakis and Ian Allen.

2 Responses to Analysis: The timeliness of the Alger Hiss case

  1. Ignatz Zablonsky says:

    The right wing is still trying to use Hiss to smear Democrats. See

  2. Randy says:

    Most scholars agree that Mr Hiss was guilty of something-lying at the very least. The sweet irony to me is Nixon’s role in the process that put Mr Hiss in prison and then later only a pardon likely saved Nixon the same ignominious fate. Hiss is a curoisity. Nixon is a punchline, the poster boy for what all politicians hope they never become. And then who would aspire to be a Wittaker Chambers either.

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