Labour History

Political Activism, Academic Freedom and the Cold War: An American Experience

Labour History (2010), 98, (1), 183–205.

Abstract

Professor Lyman Bradley was chairman of the German Department at New York University and an executive member of the Joint Anti-Fascist Refugee Committee, listed by the US Attorney General as a subversive organisation. In 1951 he was fired and his long academic career ended. His dismissal, the first by the New York University on political grounds, raises broader concerns about the character of university governance and the fragility of academic freedom in the modern age. In most accounts of academic McCarthyism there have been two historiographical tendencies. One emphasises the overwhelming power of institutions that were allied with McCarthyism; such political power rendered impotent any academic resistance. The other argues that academic McCarthyism was only effective because professors were too timid or frightened to act publicly or collectively in defence of academic freedom. This study will demonstrate that neither can solely explain Bradley’s political persecution. The denial of civil liberties and the violation of academic freedom required three interlocking factors: a powerful congressional committee, a determined University administration and a complicit academic staff.

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Endnotes

1.Jim Allen, ‘Aspects of V. Gordon Childe’, Labour History, no.12, May1967, p.52;‘Childe, Vere Gordon (1892-1957)’, Australian Dictionary of Biography, Vol.7,Melbourne University Press,, 1979, p.636;Sally Green, Prehistorian: A Biography of V. Gordon Chile,Moonraker,, 1981, pp.29-30. Allen correctly states that F.B. Smith’s claim that Childe was appointed to the University of Queensland in 1921 only to see it vetoed by the University Senate (see forward toVere Gordon Childe, How Labour Governs: A Study in Workers’ Representation in Australia,Melbourne University Press,, 1964, p.v), is wrong. Evans, instead, discusses Childe’s‘academic elimination’ by Queensland University in September 1919; seeRaymond Evans, ‘“Social Passion”: Vere Gordon Childe in Queensland’, inP.W. Gathercole,Terence H. Irving,Gregory Melleuish(eds.), Childe and Australia: Archaeology, Politics, and Ideas,University of Queensland Press,, 1995, pp.24-6. The only reference in Childe’s security files is a comment by Robin Gollan that Childe left Australia because‘his left wing opinions made it difficult for him to get a job here’. ASIO report, 10July1957, National Archives of Australia [NAA]: A6126, item 279, folio 13. Google Scholar

2.Russel Ward, A Radical Life: The Autobiography of Russel Ward,Macmillan,, 1988, p.237. See alsoDavid McKnight, Australia’s Spies and their Secrets,Allen & Unwin,, 1994, p.154;Stuart Macintyre andAnna Clark, The History Wars,Melbourne University Press,, 2003, pp.6-7. Google Scholar

4.McKnight, Spies and their Secrets, p.154. Google Scholar

5.Frank Crowley, ‘The Ward Fabrication’, Quadrant, May, 2004, pp.30-33. In contrast, a contemporary of Baxter referred to the‘political test’that had been used to ‘exclude’ Ward.L.C. Woods, Against the Tide: An Autobiographical Account of a Professional Outsider,CRC Press,, 2000, p.202. Google Scholar

6.Ward, A Radical Life, p.255. Google Scholar

8.SeePhillip Deery, ‘Science, Security and the Cold War’, War & Society, vol.17, no.1, May1999, pp.81-99. Google Scholar

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10.SeeMcKnight, Australia’s Spies, ch. 13. Google Scholar

11.Spry to Menzies, 9 April 1952, NAA: A6119, item 431, folio, 68;McKnight, Australia’s Spies, p.147. See alsoS.G. Foster andMargaret M. Varghese, The Making of the Australian National University 1946-1996,Allen & Unwin,, 1996, p.126. This was most likely modelled on the procedures initiated by the Attlee Labour Government’s Cabinet Committee on Subversive Activities in 1948-49; seePeter Hennessey andGail Brownfield, ‘Britain’s Cold War Security Purge: The Origins of Positive Vetting’, The Historical Journal, vol.25, no.4, 1982, pp.965-74. Google Scholar

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13.David Marr, Barwick,Allen & Unwin,, 1980, pp.155. For further instances of the academic freedoms of anthropologist being denied or diluted, but in the 1930s not 1950s, seeGeoffrey Gray, ‘“Piddington’s Indiscretion”: Ralph Piddington, the Australian National Research Council and Academic Freedom’, Oceania, vol.64, no.3, 1994, pp.217-45;Geoffrey Gray, ‘The “ANRC has Withdrawn its Offer”: Paul Kirchhoff, Academic Freedom and the Australian Academic Establishment’, Australian Journal of Politics and History, vol.52, no.3, 2006, pp.362-77. Google Scholar

14.The dismissal of Sydney Sparkes Orr in 1956, has been re-interpreted as a sexual harassment case, not an academic freedom case; seeCassandra Pybus, Gross Moral Turpitude: The Orr Case Reconsidered,Heinemann,, 1993. Google Scholar

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17.David R. Holmes, Stalking the Academic Communist: Intellectual Freedom and the Firing of Alex Novikoff,University Press of New England,, 1989;Lionel S. Lewis, The Cold War and Academic Governance: The Lattimore Case at Johns Hopkins,State University of New York Press,, 1993;Charles H. McCormick, This Nest of Vipers: McCarthyism and Higher Education in the Mundel Affair, 1951-52,University of Illinois Press,, 1989. Google Scholar

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23. New York Times, 20December1945;‘Proceeding Against Dr. Edward K. Barsky and Others’, HUAC, 79thCongress, 2ndSession, Report No. 1829, 28 March 1946. Google Scholar

24.However, one non-veteran was Jessica Mitford, who became the San Francisco director of the JAFRC, which for her was ‘awfully interesting’.Peter Y. Sussman(ed), Decca: The Letters of Jessica Mitford,Weidenfeld & Nicolson,, 2006, p.116(letter, 27March1944). Google Scholar

25.The British Consul in Madrid conservatively estimated that that 10,000 Republicans were shot in the first five months after the war; the killings continued well into the 1940s.Paul Preston, The Spanish Civil War 1936-39,Weidenfeld & Nicolson,, 1986, pp.167-8. Google Scholar

27. New York Times, 22July1947. In fact Treasury Department investigators spent a full two weeks in the JAFRC office examining financial records. Minutes, JAFRC, 20 June 1946 Stern Papers, Box 2, Folder 1. Google Scholar

28. New York Times, 22July1947. Google Scholar

29.Howard Fast, Being Red,Houghton Mifflin Company,, 1990, p.148. Google Scholar

30.Fast, Being Red, p.144;Henry Cadbury, ‘Introduction’inHelen Bryan, Inside,Houghton Mifflin, 1953, pp.ix-x;Lily Kingsley, ‘She Wouldn’t Let Them Down’, PM, 1July1947. This remarkable woman awaits a scholarly study. There is a brief obituary in theNew York Times, 11September1976, a fleeting discussion of her role in establishing Swarthmore College inGlenda Elizabeth Gilmore, Defying Dixie: The Radical Roots of Civil Rights, 1919-1950,W.W. Norton,, 2008, pp.219-20, and her own lengthy (305 pages) but unrevealing account, Inside, about her three months in the Alderston’s Federal Penitentiary for Women in 1950, but nothing else. Google Scholar

31.Fast, Being Red, pp.144, 151. Google Scholar

32.Cadbury, ‘Introduction’, p.ix. Google Scholar

33.Congressional Record. Proceedings and Debates of the 79thCongress, 2ndsession, 16 April 1946, p. 3840. Google Scholar

34.‘Investigation of Un-American Propaganda Activities in the United States. Executive Board Joint Anti-Fascist Refugee Committee’. HUAC Hearings, 79thCongress, 2ndsession, 4 April 1946, p. 105. Google Scholar

35.[Association of American University Professors],‘Report of Investigating Committee’[1957], p.5, n. 2, in RG 3.0.6. Records of the Office of President /Chancellor New York University, 1951-1965, Administrative Subject Files, Box 15, Folder 1, NYU Archives. The confidential report continued that Bradley ‘was not allowed to bring his counsel into the hearing room, he was not allowed to leave the room with his counsel during the questioning, and he was not allowed to read his written statement’. Google Scholar

36.‘Investigation of Un-American Propaganda Activities in the United States. Executive Board Joint Anti-Fascist Refugee Committee’. HUAC Hearings, 79thCongress, 2ndsession, 4 April 1946, pp. 9-10. Google Scholar

37.‘Statement issued by Honorable John S. Wood, of Georgia, Chairman, House Committee on Un-American Activities’, 24January1946, in Stern Papers, Box 2, Folder 1. Google Scholar

38. New York Times, 17April1946(‘17 Foes of Franco Voted in Contempt’). For the JAFRC this was an improvement upon the vote of 8 March when the House approved the citation of Barsky alone by a staggering majority of 339-4. Between then and 16 April, Barsky believed, the JAFRC campaign to influence Congressmen was bearing fruit. See his report to the Executive Board, JAFRC Minutes, 28March1946, Stern Papers, Box 2, Folder 1. Google Scholar

39. New York Times, 17July1947. After the guilty verdict, five of the 17 members ‘purged’ their contempt of Congress by recanting and resigning from the Board; they were given suspended sentences. The remaining 11 (excluding Bryan) served notice of appeal and were released on bond. It remains unknown what the 11 thought of the other five. Google Scholar

40.Barsky et al v. United States167 F2d 241 (1948);New York Times, 19March1948. Google Scholar

41.The right of witnesses to refuse to testify before Congressional committees and state agencies was upheld by the Supreme Court in the late 1950s; seeSlochower v. Board of Higher Education, 350 U.S. 551 (1956);Watkins v. United States, 354 U.S. 178 (1957);Sweezy v. State of New Hampshire, 354 U.S. 234 (1957) Google Scholar

42.Bradley, Professor Bradley States His Case[p.3]. An exception was Professor Harlow Shapley, but he was at Harvard not NYU. He wrote that‘the disciplining of a heroic, gentle and highly altruistic professor is simply a disgrace’.In Fact, 17November1947, cited inThe Evening News, 24November1947, in Bradley Papers, Box 2, Folder 14. See also his similarly heart-felt letter to Chancellor Chase, 18 August 1947, in Bradley Papers, Box 2, Folder 11. For FBI surveillance of Shapley (his dossier was 461 pages), seeTony Ortega, ‘Red Scare at Harvard’, Astronomy, vol.30, no.1, January2002, p.42;Peter L. Steinberg, The Great ‘Red Menace’: United States Prosecution of American Communists, 1947-1952,Greenwood Press,, 1984, pp.35-6. Google Scholar

43.A year later, this was still substantially the case.Bradley ‘deplored the fact that the WSC [Washington Square College] faculty either individually or collectively had done nothing’.The Evening News, 22November1948. Google Scholar

45.However, from the late 1940s years until 1955, under the moribund leadership of Ralph Himstead, the AAUP was ineffective and dysfunctional. SeeSchrecker, No Ivory Tower, pp.319-32. Google Scholar

46.Cited inibid., p.312. Nor did the American Civil Liberties Union, which was deeply divided and weakly led; seeSamuel Walker, In Defense of American Liberties: A History of the ACLU,Oxford University Press,, 1990), pp.175-6. It was not until the mid-1950s that it publishedAcademic Freedom and Academic Responsibilities,ACLU,, 1956, in RG 3.0.6. Records of the Office of President/Chancellor New York University, 1951-65, Administrative Subject Files, Box 15, Folder 1, NYU Archives. Google Scholar

48.‘NYU Cracks Down on Bradley’, PM, 23July1947;New York Times, 23July1947. Google Scholar

49.When Fast spoke, more than 1,000 students and faculty attempted to crowd into the 450-seat auditorium in the School of Education; the overflow required him to repeat his talk.New York Herald Tribune, 19December1947. His visit also aroused intense opposition. For example, A.J. Thompson found it ‘shocking and disgusting’ that Fast was allowed to ‘spread Anti-American Propaganda’ and recommended that ‘the place be fumigated’ after he has given his ‘Hate America speech’. Bradley papers, Box 2, Folder 2. Google Scholar

50.See leaflet,‘Professor Bradley Banned’, Bradley Papers, Box 2, Folder 14. Google Scholar

51.Chase to John Gerdes, 24 March 1948, Bradley Papers, Box 2, Folder 5. There were, of course, precedents for purges of radical academics (especially by the Rapp-Coudert Committee) but not at NYU, whose commitment to academic freedom was stronger. SeeSchrecker, No Ivory Tower, ch.3. Bradley’s dismissal was soon paralleled by events at the University of Washington in 1948-49; seeCommunism and Academic Freedom: The Record of the Tenure Cases at the University of Washington,University of Washington Press,, 1949. Google Scholar

52.SeeBarsky et al v. United States334 US 843. Google Scholar

54.According to Bradley’s FBI files, Bradley married Francine Brustein, who was eight years older than he, on 31 May 1934; they divorced on 12 July 1948. He married Ruth Leider, nee Rosie Marshak (born in 1904 to Russian parents), an activist lawyer and widow with three children (her husband, Daniel, a Romanian-born labor attorney, died suddenly in 1944 at the age of 40) on 2 August 1948. Daniel Leider’s brother, Ben, aNew York Postreporter, was the first American to be killed in the Spanish Civil War. Like Bradley, Ruth was involved with the JAFRC from the outset and was one of those imprisoned in 1950. After his divorce, Bradley moved into Ruth’s home at 60 Sidney Place, Brooklyn. Google Scholar

61.The director of the American Civil Liberties Union of New York wrote that‘the record of New York University in matters of academic freedom has over the years given us almost no cause for intervention’. Roger N. Baldwin to Pollock, 18 December 1947, Bradley Papers, Box 1, Folder 9. Google Scholar

62.A close friend of Pollock’s, the Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at Ohio’s Oberlin College, wrote; ‘These are difficult days for liberals like you and me. Sometimes I think there are not many of us left’. Carl Wittke to Pollock (‘Dear Tom’), 20 December 1947, Bradley Papers, Box 1, Folder 9. When Chase was Chancellor of the University of North Carolina in the 1920s he publicly defended the teaching of evolution within the specific framework of academic freedom; seeLouis R. Wilson, ‘Chase, Harry Woodburn’, Dictionary of North Carolina Biography, Vol.1(:University of North Carolina Press, 1979). Google Scholar

63.For reference to Chase’s postwar anti-communism, seeThomas T. Frusciano&Marilyn H. Pettit, New York University and the City,Rutgers University Press,, 1997, p.178. Google Scholar

65.SeeFast, Being Red, p.246. Google Scholar

72.SeeBarsky et al v. United States339 US 971. The decision was 5-2, with dissenting Justices Black and Douglas supporting the petition for rehearing. Google Scholar

73. New York Herald Tribune, 30May1950. Google Scholar

74.See‘Three Anti-Franco Women at West Virginia Prison’, Daily Worker, 20June1950. Google Scholar

75. Bryan v. United States, 183 F. 2d 996 (1950);Bryan v. United States, 340 U.S. 866 (1950). Google Scholar

77.SeeAlbert Maltz, ‘Fast Plea’, The Saturday Review, 14August1948. The above is based on Fast’s highly evocative account of their three months in jail. SeeFast, Being Red, pp.247-68. Fast described Bradley as ‘a wonderful, modest gentleman’ as well as ‘erudite and philosophical’ (pp.174, 248). After his release, in a characteristic act of thoughtfulness and kindness (according to his stepson), Bradley wrote to the Department of the Interior praising the administrative skill of the Warden at Mill Point. Correspondence, William Leider to author, 19 March 2009. Google Scholar

83.It is plausible to conclude that Pollock had read two recent and influential articles by a NYU faculty member, Sidney Hook; see‘What Shall We Do About Communist Teachers?’, Saturday Evening Post, 10September1949, pp.164-68;‘Academic Integrity and Academic Freedom’, Commentary, no.8, October1949, pp.329-39. Google Scholar

84.Pollock to Chase, 23 October 1950, marked‘Confidential – for discussion only’, Bradley Papers, Box 2, Folder 1. Google Scholar

85.The second charge mainly concerned Bradley’s claim in the Washington Square CollegeBulletin(18December1947) that the MLA had voted to retain him as treasurer irrespective of any sentence he might receive. Pollock learnt that such a vote of confidence had never taken place. On 23 December Bradley wrote to theBulletin(published, 8January1948) correcting his first statement, noting that the Association had not formally ‘taken sides in my case’ and that he was ‘amiss in betraying a confidential discussion’ amongst MLA members. Bradley may have erred, but this was hardly a hanging offence. The full details can be found in correspondence from William Parker (secretary of MLA) to Executive Council members, 4 November 1950, Bradley Papers, Box 2, Folder 9. The third charge related to a peaceful protest demonstration outside Pollock’s office; this is discussed below. Google Scholar

87.‘Statements Made Before Meeting of Council’, 26March1951, 32, Bradley Papers, Box 1, Folder 7. Google Scholar

89.‘Report of the Faculty Committee’, 26February1951, Bradley Papers, Box 1, Folder 6. The dissentient who rejected the first charge was Professor Hollis Cooley (Washington Square College of Arts and Science), a devoted civil libertarian who wrote a three-page explanation of his support for Bradley on each of the charges. Google Scholar

90.‘Statements Made Before Meeting of Council’, 26March1951, 27, Bradley Papers, Box 1, Folder 7. Google Scholar

91.SeeSigmund Diamond, Compromised Campus: The Collaboration of Universities with the Intelligence Community, 1945-1955,Oxford University Press,, 1992. In fact, according to Diamond (p.347, n. 35), the only contact was a memo from Hoover to NYU in 1954 advising it of ‘the sex deviate practices of an instructor.’ Insofar as communists or ‘fellow-travellers’ were concerned, Diamond (without access to Bradley’s FBI file) did not find any FBI/NYU relationship before 1955. Google Scholar

95.‘The FBI Responsibilities Program File and the Dissemination of Information File [1951-1955]’, microfilm copy (#9703: 8 reels), New York University. Google Scholar

96.‘Statements Made Before Meeting of Council’, 26March1951, 29-30, Bradley Papers, Box 1, Folder 7. Google Scholar

97.ibid., pp.34-45. Google Scholar

107.See judgment byMr Justice Cohen(Supreme Court) inNew York Law Journal, 27July1953, andBradley v. New York University, 124 N.Y.S. 2d 238 (Sup. Ct.1953). See alsoNew York Times, 26January1954;21May1954. In naïve hope more than realistic expectation, France wrote to the President, Carroll V. Newson in 1960 seeking to review the case and recover some of this salary. The response was negative. France to Newson, 12 April1960; Dudley Miller (NYU legal counsel) to France, 2 May 1960, Bradley Papers, Box 2, Folder 4. Google Scholar

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115.SAC New York to Director, 15 September 1955,‘Succinct Resume of Case’, 1. In this document, Yergan’s name was not blanked out; by 1955, as Gilmore suggests, ‘The FBI owned Max Yergan’.Gilmore, Defying Dixie, p.437. In other documents he is identified as ‘Confidential Informant T-23’. Google Scholar

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121.SeeMarvin E. Gettleman, ‘“No varsity teams”: New York’s Jefferson School of Social Science, 1943-1956’, Science & Society, vol.66, no.3, Fall2002, pp.336-59. Google Scholar

123.ibid. Google Scholar

125.Ellen Schrecker, foreword to Holmes, Stalking the Academic Communist, p.viii. Google Scholar

126.‘Law to back academic freedom’, The Australian, 7October2009. Google Scholar

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Deery, Phillip