Workshop Content

Photo of a Soviet and American Flag (blended image)
Photo of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg in prison.

Among the topics we will cover in the seminar are the impact of the Russian Revolution and the Great Depression on American communism, the impact of communism on American culture, particularly literature, folk music and the movies, the impact of communism on American Jews and Blacks, American anti-commuism, particularly McCarthyism, and the extent of communist involvement in Soviet espionage against America.  We will read one novel, two plays and three autobiographies, and excerpts from several historical accounts.  In addition, we will watch several movies, both documentaries and dramas dealing with the communist experience in America.

The seminars will be interactive and discussion-based.  Occasionally, I will offer brief lectures or introductions, raising questions or pointing out pertinent issues from the reading.  I hope and expect that the controversial and thought-provoking readings will stimulate participants to explore these issues with each other, with me serving as arbiter, referee, or information source.

I will ask everyone to select a topic related to American communism on which to do further reading.  It may involve going into more depth on something we have or will discuss.  Or, it might involve an issue we will not study as a group.  For example, someone might want to explore Communist efforts to recruit Hispanics or Chinese-Americans.  A science teacher might look at espionage at Los Alamos.  A participant might examine a prominent writer or artist who had communist ties- Howard Fast or John Dos Passos or Aaron Copland.  These topics will be selected after an individual meeting with me early in the seminar and I will be available every day for meetings and consultation.  No written paper will be required, but during the last week, each participant will give a very brief ten minute summary of his/her topic to the entire group.

Tentative Syllabus

June 24 Arrival; welcome dinner at Director’s home
June 25 Morning:  Introductory Session; Visit to Special Collections
Afternoon: Viewing of Reds
June 26 Morning: Discussion of Reds, and the impact of the Russian Revolution on American radicalism; Documents from Russian Archives
Afternoon: Viewing of Seeing Red; Klehr, “Seeing Red Seeing Red”
June 27 American Depression and American Communism: John Steinbeck, In Dubious Battle
June 28 Isserman visit to discuss alternative views of American Communism; Readings: Isserman, “Open Archives and Open Minds; Traditionalists versus Revisionists after Venona,” Klehr, “Reflections of a Traditionalist Historian,”
July 2 Dramatic Reading in Class: Clifford Odets, Waiting for Lefty
July 3 Blacks and Communism: Richard Wright, American Hunger
July 5 Folk Music and Communism: Folk singer Laurel Weiner visit;
Reading: Weiner, “Where Have all the Lefties Gone?,” “Painting the Culture Red”
July 6 Anti-Communism: Whittaker Chambers, Witness; Primary Source Documents
July 9 Soviet Espionage in America, Venona and Vassiliev; Primary Source Documents from Russian and American Archives
July 10 Jews and Communism: Ronald Radosh, “Cold Case; Ethel and Julius
Rosenberg,” Michael and Robert Meeropol, “Exonerate Our Mother, Ethel Rosenberg,” Excerpts from Melech Epstein, The Jew and Communism, Harvey Klehr, “Jews and American Communism”
July 11 Anti anti-communism: Lillian Hellman, Scoundrel  Time
July 12 Gabrick visit; Teaching strategies
July 16 Reading and Discussion, Arthur Miller, The Crucible
July 17 Viewing and discussion, "On the Waterfront"
July 18 The Hollywood Blacklist; excerpts from Elia Kazan, A  Life; Murray Kempton, “The Day of the Locust”
July 19 Participant essays and discussions
July 20 Participant essays and discussions; concluding comments

Possible Documentaries and Films

  • Seeing Red
  • American Reds
  • Hollywood on Trial
  • The Good Fight: The Abraham Lincoln Brigade in the Spanish Civil War
  • Secrets, Lies and Atomic Spies
  • The Wobblies
  • The Internationale
  • At Home in Utopia
  • My Son John
  • The Cradle Will Rock
  • Invasion of the Body Snatchers
  • The Crucible
  • The Front
  • Point of Order
  • Big Jim McClain
  • Mission to Moscow