JAY VIVIAN CHAMBERS (April 1, 1901 – July 9, 1961), known as WHITTAKER CHAMBERS, was an American editor who denounced his Communist spying and became an intellectual leader of the American Conservative movement during the 1950s.
After early years as a Communist Party member (1925) and Soviet spy
(1932–1938), he defected from communism (underground and open party)
and worked at
* 1 Youth and education
* 2 Communism and espionage
* 2.1 Harold Ware * 2.2 Other covert sources
* 3 Break with Communism
* 3.1 Berle meeting
* 4 The Hiss case
* 4.1 "Red Herring" * 4.2 "Pumpkin Papers" * 4.3 Perjury
* 5 After the Hiss case
* 5.1 Witness
* 6 Personal life and death * 7 Awards * 8 Legacy * 9 See also * 10 References * 11 Further reading * 12 External links
YOUTH AND EDUCATION
Chambers was born in Philadelphia ,
After graduating from South Side High School in neighboring Rockville
Centre in 1919, Chambers worked itinerantly in Washington and New
Orleans, briefly attended
Williams College , and then enrolled as a
day student at Columbia College of
In his sophomore year, Chambers joined the Boar\'s Head Society and
wrote a play called A Play for Puppets for Columbia's literary
magazine The Morningside, which he edited. The work was deemed
blasphemous by many students and administrators, and the controversy
New York City
COMMUNISM AND ESPIONAGE
In 1924, Chambers read
Combining his literary talents with his devotion to Communism,
Chambers wrote four short stories in 1931 about proletarian hardship
and revolt, including Can You Make Out Their Voices?, considered by
critics as one of the best pieces of fiction from the American
Hallie Flanagan co-adapted and produced it as a
Can You Hear Their Voices? (q.v. Bibliography of
Chambers was recruited to join the "Communist underground" and began his career as a spy, working for a GRU apparatus headed by Alexander Ulanovsky (aka Ulrich). Later, his main controller in the underground was Josef Peters (whom CPUSA General Secretary Earl Browder later replaced with Rudy Baker ). Chambers claimed Peters introduced him to Harold Ware (although he later denied he had ever been introduced to Ware), and that he was head of a Communist underground cell in Washington that reportedly included:
Lee Pressman Assistant general counsel of AAA
John Abt Chief of Litigation for AAA (1933-1935), assistant general counsel of the WPA 1935, chief counsel on Senator Robert La Follette Jr. 's La Follette Committee (1936-1937) and special assistant to U.S. Attorney General (1937-1938)
Donald Hiss Brother of Alger Hiss; employed at Department of State
Nathan Witt Employed at AAA ; later moved to NLRB
Charles Kramer Employed at Department of Labor 's NLRB
George Silverman Employed at RRB ; later worked with Federal Coordinator of Transport, U.S. Tariff Commission and Labor Advisory Board of National Recovery Administration
Henry Collins Employed at National Recovery Administration and later Agricultural Adjustment Administration (AAA)
Nathaniel Weyl Economist at AAA ; later, defected from Communism himself and give evidence against party members
John Herrmann Author; assistant to Harold Ware; employed at AAA ; courier and document photographer for Ware group; introduced Chambers to Hiss
Apart from Marion Bachrach, these people were all members of Franklin
D. Roosevelt 's
OTHER COVERT SOURCES
Using the codename "Karl" or "Carl", Chambers served during the mid-1930s as a courier between various covert sources and Soviet intelligence. In addition to the Ware group mentioned above, other sources that Chambers dealt with allegedly included:
Harry Dexter White Director of Division of Monetary Research at Treasury
Harold Glasser Assistant Director, Division of Monetary Research, Treasury
Noel Field Employed at Department of State
Julian Wadleigh Economist with Agriculture ; later, Trade Agreements section of Department of State
Vincent Reno Mathematician at U.S. Army Aberdeen Proving Ground
Ward Pigman Employed at National Bureau of Standards, then Labor and Public Welfare Committee
BREAK WITH COMMUNISM
Juliet Stuart Poyntz (circa 1918), whose disappearance spurred Chambers to defect
Chambers carried on his espionage activities from 1932 until 1937 or
1938 even while his faith in Communism was waning. He became
increasingly disturbed by
Chambers ignored several orders that he travel to Moscow, worried that he might be "purged." He also started concealing some of the documents he collected from his sources. He planned to use these, along with several rolls of microfilm photographs of documents, as a "life preserver" to prevent the Soviets from killing him and his family.
In 1938, Chambers broke with Communism and took his family into hiding, storing the "life preserver" at the home of his nephew and his parents. Initially he had no plans to give information on his espionage activities to the U.S. government. His espionage contacts were his friends, and he had no desire to inform on them.
In his examination of Chambers' conversion from the political left to the right, author Daniel Oppenheimer noted that Chambers substituted his passion for communism for a passion for God. Chambers saw the world in black and white terms both before his defection and after. In his autobiography, he presented his devotion to communism as a reason for living, but after defecting saw his actions as being part of an "absolute evil."
Adolf A. Berle (circa 1965), who ignored Chambers' report in 1939
The August 1939 Hitler-Stalin non-aggression pact drove Chambers to
take action against the Soviet Union. In September 1939, at the
urging of anti-Communist, Russian-born journalist
Isaac Don Levine ,
Chambers and Levine met with Assistant Secretary of State Adolf A.
Berle . Levine had introduced Chambers to
Walter Krivitsky , who was
already informing American and British authorities about Soviet agents
who held posts in both governments. Krivitsky told Chambers it was
their duty to inform. Chambers agreed to reveal what he knew on the
condition of immunity from prosecution. During the meeting, which
took place at Berle's home,
Woodley Mansion in Washington, Chambers
named 18 current and former government employees as spies or Communist
sympathizers. Many names mentioned held relatively minor posts or were
already under suspicion. Some names, however, were more significant
and surprising: Alger Hiss, his brother Donald Hiss, and Laurence
Duggan—who were all respected, mid-level officials in the State
Lauchlin Currie , a special assistant to Franklin
Roosevelt . Another person named had worked on a top secret bombsight
project at the
Aberdeen Proving Grounds
Berle found Chambers' information tentative, unclear, and uncorroborated. He took the information to the White House, but the President dismissed it, to which Berle made little if any objection. Berle kept his notes, however (later, evidence during Hiss' perjury trials).
Berle notified the
Federal Bureau of Investigation
(The FBI did interview Chambers in May 1942 and June 1945, without further action. Only in November 1945, when Elizabeth Bentley defected and corroborated much of Chambers's story, did the FBI begin to take Chambers seriously).
By the time of the Berle meeting, Chambers had come out of hiding
after a year and joined the staff of
By early 1948, Chambers had become one of the best known
writer-editors at Time. First had come his scathing commentary "The
Ghosts on the Roof" (March 5, 1945) on the
Yalta Conference (in which
Hiss partook). Subsequent cover-story essays profiled Marian Anderson
Arnold J. Toynbee
Most Time cover stories are written and edited by the regular staffs of the section in which they appear. Certain cover stories, that present special difficulties or call for a special literary skill, are written by Senior Editor Whittaker Chambers."
In a 1945 letter to Time colleague Charles Wertenbaker , Time-Life deputy editorial director John Shaw Billings said of Chambers, "Whit puts on the best show in words of any writer we've ever had... a superb technician, particularly skilled in the mosaic art of putting a Time section together." Chambers was at the height of his career when the Hiss case broke later that year.
During this period, Chambers and his family became Quakers , attending Pipe Creek Friends Meetinghouse near his Maryland farm.
THE HISS CASE
On August 3, 1948, Chambers was called to testify before the House
Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC). Here he gave the names of
individuals he said were part of the underground "Ware group" in the
late 1930s, including
The country quickly became divided over the Hiss–Chambers issue.
Harry S Truman
Hiss filed a $75,000 libel suit against Chambers on October 8, 1948. Under pressure from Hiss's lawyers, Chambers finally retrieved his envelope of evidence and presented it to the HUAC after they subpoenaed them. It contained four notes in Alger Hiss's handwriting, sixty-five typewritten copies of State Department documents and five strips of microfilm, some of which contained photographs of State Department documents. The press came to call these the "Pumpkin Papers" referring to the fact that Chambers had briefly hidden the microfilm in a hollowed-out pumpkin. These documents indicated that Hiss knew Chambers long after mid-1936, when Hiss said he had last seen "Crosley," and also that Hiss had engaged in espionage with Chambers. Chambers explained his delay in producing this evidence as an effort to spare an old friend from more trouble than necessary. Until October 1948, Chambers had repeatedly stated that Hiss had not engaged in espionage, even when Chambers testified under oath. Chambers was forced to testify at the Hiss trials that he had committed perjury several times, which reduced his credibility in the eyes of his critics.
The five rolls of 35 mm film known as the "pumpkin papers" were
thought until late 1974 to be locked in HUAC files. Independent
researcher Stephen W. Salant , an economist at the University of
Michigan, sued the U.S. Justice Department in 1975 when his request
for access to them under the Freedom of Information Act was denied. On
July 31, 1975, as a result of this lawsuit and follow-on suits filed
by Peter Irons and by
This story, however, as reported by the New York Times in the 1970s, contains only a partial truth. The blank roll had been mentioned by Chambers in his autobiography Witness. But in addition to innocuous farm reports, etc., the documents on the other pumpkin patch microfilms also included "confidential memos sent from overseas embassies to diplomatic staff in Washington, D.C."; worse, those memos had originally been transmitted in code, which, thanks to their (presumably) having both coded originals and the translations forwarded by Hiss, the Soviets now could easily understand.
Hiss could not be tried for espionage at this time, because the evidence indicated the offense had occurred more than ten years prior to that time, and the statute of limitations for espionage was five years. Instead, Hiss was indicted for two counts of perjury relating to testimony he had given before a federal grand jury the previous December. There he had denied giving any documents to Whittaker Chambers, and testified he had not seen Chambers after mid-1936.
Hiss was tried twice for perjury. The first trial, in June 1949, ended with the jury deadlocked eight to four for conviction. In addition to Chambers's testimony, a government expert testified that other papers typed on a typewriter belonging to the Hiss family matched the secret papers produced by Chambers. An impressive array of character witness es appeared on behalf of Hiss: two U.S. Supreme Court justices, Felix Frankfurter and Stanley Reed , former Democratic presidential nominee John W. Davis and future Democratic presidential nominee Adlai Stevenson . Chambers, on the other hand, was attacked by Hiss's attorneys as "an enemy of the Republic, a blasphemer of Christ, a disbeliever in God, with no respect for matrimony or motherhood". In the second trial, Hiss's defense produced a psychiatrist who characterized Chambers as a "psychopathic personality" and "a pathological liar ".
The second trial ended in January 1950 with Hiss found guilty on both counts of perjury. He was sentenced to five years in prison.
AFTER THE HISS CASE
Chambers had resigned from Time in December 1948. After the Hiss Case, he wrote a few articles for Fortune , Life , and Look magazines.
In 1952, Chambers's book Witness was published to widespread acclaim.
The book was a combination of autobiography and a warning about
the dangers of Communism.
Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. called it "a
According to conservative commentator George Will in 2017: Witness became a canonical text of conservatism. Unfortunately, it injected conservatism with a sour, whiney, complaining, crybaby populism. It is the screechy and dominant tone of the loutish faux conservatism that today is erasing Buckley’s legacy of infectious cheerfulness and unapologetic embrace of high culture. Chambers wallowed in cloying sentimentality and curdled resentment about “the plain men and women” — “my people, humble people, strong in common sense, in common goodness” — enduring the “musk of snobbism” emanating from the “socially formidable circles” of the “nicest people” produced by “certain collegiate eyries.”
William F. Buckley Jr. started the magazine National Review
, and Chambers worked there as senior editor, publishing articles
there for a little over a year and a half (October 1957–June 1959).
The most widely cited article to date is a scathing review, "Big
Sister is Watching You", of
In 1959, after resigning from National Review, Chambers and his wife visited Europe, the highlight of which was a meeting with Arthur Koestler and Margarete Buber-Neumann at Koestler's home in Austria. That fall, he recommenced studies at Western Maryland College (now McDaniel College) in Westminster, Maryland.
PERSONAL LIFE AND DEATH
A farm in
Carroll County, Maryland
In 1930 or 1931, Chambers married the artist Esther Shemitz (1900–1986). Shemitz, who had studied at the Art Students League and integrated herself into New York City's intellectual circles, met Chambers at the 1926 textile strike at Passaic, New Jersey . They then underwent a stormy courtship that faced resistance from their comrades, with Chambers having climbed through her window at five o'clock in the morning to propose. Shemitz identified as "a pacifist rather than a revolutionary." In the 1920s, she worked for The World Tomorrow , a pacifist magazine.
The couple had two children, Ellen and John during the 1930s. (Communist leadership expected couples to go childless, but like many Chambers refused, a choice he cited as part of his gradual disillusionment with communism. )
In 1978, Allen Weinstein's Perjury revealed that FBI has a copy of a letter in which Chambers described homosexual liaisons during the 1930s. The letter copy states that Chambers gave up these practices in 1938 when he left the underground, attributed to newfound Christianity. The letter has remained controversial from many perspectives.
Chambers died of a heart attack on July 9, 1961, at his 300-acre (1.2 km2) farm in Westminster, Maryland . He had suffered from angina since the age of 38 and had previously suffered several heart attacks.
Cold Friday, his second memoir, was published posthumously in 1964
with the help of
Duncan Norton-Taylor . The book prophetically
predicted that the fall of Communism would start in the satellite
states surrounding the
* 1937 -
Order of the Red Star
Chambers's book Witness is on the reading lists of The Heritage
The Weekly Standard
In 1984, President
In 2007, John Chambers stated that a library with his father's papers should open in 2008 on the Chambers farm in Maryland. He indicated that the facility will be available to all scholars and that a separate library, rather than one within an established university, is needed to guarantee open access.
On January 6, 2010, the Medfield farmhouse at Pipe Creek Farm, in
In 2017, the
Bibliography of Whittaker Chambers
* History of Soviet espionage in the
* ^ A B C D E F G H I J K Chambers, Whittaker (May 1952). Witness.
New York: Random House. pp. 799 (total). LCCN 52005149 .
* ^ "Whittaker Chambers". Find A Grave. Retrieved September 25,
* ^ A B Packer, George (22 February 2016). "Turned Around". The New
Yorker. Retrieved 24 February 2016.
* ^ Staff."A Sad, Solemn Sweetness",