Tuesday, March 22, 2016

THE LATE HARVEY MATUSOW

* Back in McCarthyite times, Harvey Matusow was the young ex-Communist who specialized in naming former Communist folksingers before various inquisitorial tribunals. Not only folksingers, though. He once reported that there were 126 Communists in the Sunday Department of the New York Times (the total number of employees was 100). Harvey was proud of the fact that although he started out appearing before the Ohio Un-American Affairs Commission, he eventually worked his way up to what he called "the Palace of informing," Joe McCarthy's Senate committee. Then he got religion and wrote a book, False Witness, recanting his testimony and charging, among other things, that Roy Cohn got him to perjure himself as a witness in one of the Smith Act trials. He came down to The Nation's old offices at 333 Sixth Avenue to see if the magazine could help him find a publisher. Associate publisher Marty Solow did what he could, and eventually the book was issued by Cameron & Kahn in 1955. But the government then prosecuted him for perjuring himself--the second time around. It argued that his book was part of a conspiracy to undermine the Smith Act convictions of the Communist leadership against whom he had testified. And it tried unsuccessfully to implicate Nation editor Carey McWilliams and Solow in the so-called conspiracy. Harvey went on to serve time for perjury, invent a stringless yoyo and work for the homeless. By the time he died, he had changed his name to Job, because of the many misfortunes that had befallen him. Harvey was a sad and comic figure, but his story shows what can happen to a country and a culture when it abandons its democratic values and stampedes in a heresy-hunt masquerading as patriotism.

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