Soviet Spy Harry Dexter White

I thought this was an interesting article on Harry Dexter White, an important American architect of the post-war monetary system who spied for the Soviets for over a decade.  The one disconnect I had was this:

Over the course of 11 years, beginning in the mid-1930s, White acted as a Soviet mole, giving the Soviets secret information and advice on how to negotiate with the Roosevelt administration and advocating for them during internal policy debates. White was arguably more important to Soviet intelligence than Alger Hiss, the U.S. State Department official who was the most famous spy of the early Cold War.

The truth about White's actions has been clear for at least 15 years now, yet historians remain deeply divided over his intentions and his legacy, puzzled by the chasm between White's public views on political economy, which were mainstream progressive and Keynesian, and his clandestine behavior on behalf of the Soviets. Until recently, the White case has resembled a murder mystery with witnesses and a weapon but no clear motive.

Only in academia could folks see a "chasm" between admiration for the Soviets and an American progressive who grew up a supporter of Robert La Follette and later of the New Deal.  The problem, I think, is that White seems to have shared the gauzy positive view of Soviet economic progress and success that was also rooted deeply in American academia (not to mention the NY Times).  I don't know what the academic situation is like today, but as recently as 1983, for example, I had a professor at Princeton who went nuts at the mere mention of Hannah Arendt's name, apparently for the crime of lumping Stalin's communism in with Hitler's fascism as two sides of the same totalitarian coin.


  1. mesaeconoguy:

    Bastiat nailed these people as far back as 1850

    And Will Durant saw it up close, and bucked the highly fashionable Rex Tugwell bandwagon trend of Stalinist/communist admiration.

    Don’t even mention the Durants to modern leftists – they either have no idea who they are, or their heads explode instantly.

  2. mesocyclone:

    There are plenty of useful idiots still out there.

    For example, how many Hollywood productions feature any of the powerful and moving stories of Soviet persecution? A favorite enduring myth of that crowd is the "persecution" of Hollywood communists (never mind that it was full of them, one of whom a relative of mine who was never caught). Another is that Joe McCarthy was not only out of bounds, but wrong about everything. In fact, he was right about a whole lot.

    There are lots of folks still denying that various proven spies were ever spies - even with the Venona transcripts now available for years.

    As an aside, Venona was an incredible cryptoanalytic feat - up there with Ultra and Purple. The Soviets were using a one time code and Signal Corps and NSA largely cracked it. Apparently the Soviet office responsible for producing one-time pads, faced with the typical central planning requirement to up their output every year, sent out some duplicate pads. That was enough!

    (Ironically, when I went looking for the link, NSA's server was very slow. Someone is probably running a DDOS on them. Sigh)

  3. marque2:

    Wow I didn't even know there were Stalinists in 1850!

  4. nehemiah:

    The Communist Manifesto was written in 1848. Marxism was launched. It took a few decades for it to manifest itself in Russia under Lenin and then Stalin.

  5. marque2:

    I was being a bit tongue and cheek there, there were not any Stalinists (adherents to the Stalin style of Communism) in 1850 - as Stalin wasn't even born until 1878. I do suspect mesaeconoguy meant something else - whether there were communists already in the 1850's or whether he was talking Stalinists in the 1950's - he probably should be the one to clear it up.

  6. mesaeconoguy:

    Beat me to it, thanks.

  7. mesaeconoguy:

    You bet there were, and there was actually a Marxist back then, too.

    His name was Karl Marx.

  8. mesaeconoguy:

    No, I meant what I said - what would become totalitarian statism, in a very primitive form, was in existence even back then.

    Of course, Stalin elevated it significantly, and gave the world a glimpse into utopian socialist hell.

    Which was praised widely by the most clueless demographic extant - academics.

  9. marque2:

    Actually there weren't - since Stalin had not been born. There could have been Marxists as you note above, But thanks for elaborating a bit below. Now I understand what you mean.

  10. marque2:

    You like to give yourself ^'s :P

  11. mesaeconoguy:

    Technically, you’re right, but the philosophical movement which led to Stalinism arose in 1848, and the strains of statism we see today originated then as well.

  12. mesaeconoguy:

    No you can't. It won't let you.

  13. mesaeconoguy:

    By the way, I am (and I suspect you are) implicating modern leftism directly with Marxist origin.

    Larry, you ok with that?

  14. markm:

    Totalitarian statism, or at least the desire for it, is much older than communism. See for instance Han Fei and the other Chinese Legalist "philosophers". Or King Canute's advisors, whom he mocked by commanding the tide to stop.

    But before the late 19th Century, two things were missing. One was the technological ability to really control a nation in that much detail; wise kings settled for enforcing a minimal set of laws, while those unwise enough to try to decree everything about their subjects' lives found themselves unable even to stop murder and armed robbery in their capital city, let alone to influence events in places weeks away by the fastest mail service. Many ancient regimes (China, Egypt, Rome, the Ottoman Turks, Russia, Louis XIV's France, and Prussia) had the idea of a vast all-encompassing bureaucracy. A few of them even had a mostly competent bureaucracy. But to be competent across an empire also required instantaneous communications (telegraph), fast transportation (railroads), and data processing equipment (at a minimum punch card tabulators such as used for the 1890 census).

    The second thing was the ideology to cloak the murderous corruption inevitable in a bureaucracy given totalitarian power. That's where Communism comes in. They say they are for freedom and equality while promoting a system that produces a privileged elite and enslaved masses. Leftists abhor war, but somehow it always becomes necessary. Leftists abhor violence within their society, but somehow it becomes necessary to drive tanks over those protestors. Leftists pretend to promote individual freedom, but actually classify people into groups and deal with the alleged leaders of these groups rather than individuals. But all that doesn't matter because they say their *intentions* were good.

    And when the leftist lies became too obvious to ignore, there was fascism - which is a simply a less dishonest version of socialism. They don't lie about equality, but claim to promote the absolute rule of the superior people. (It's still a lie - fascist elites are sociopaths and thugs - but it's smaller and easier to keep buried than the contradictions of leftism.) They exalt war and explicitly gain and keep power by violence. They are all about group membership, and openly denigrate individualists. They don't destroy the business owners and managers (and then discover that factories don't run without competent bosses), but partner with the more cooperative big corporations, taking a cut in return for suppressing competition.

    And finally (in true Hegelian form), there's the current synthesis of socialism and fascism that rules the Democratic party and is all too well supported by the Republicans, too: the political partnerships with major corporations, the lies that they seek equality while giving more power to the powerful, the politicians that deplore war while out of power and send both troops and drones to distant lands when in power, and the support by both parties for the drug war and unrestrained police power.

  15. mesaeconoguy:

    100% agreed, excellent points.

  16. marque2:

    Marxism is so passe with Larry, he is Beyond Marxist!

  17. Jim Hodge:

    Jim Hodge - Allied
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