In answer to the appeal of the English judge, Earl Jowitt, that American psychiatrists look into the “baffling” case of Chambers and Hiss, a psychoanalyst has spent six years investigating the two men. There was the difficulty that Chambers would not let himself be interviewed and died in the course of the investigation. However, he had left enough evidence in the court records and a published autobiography, as well as in the memories of friends and acquaintances, to enable Dr. Zeligs to piece together a psychoanalytic portrait. There was the further difficulty for an “analytic biography,” as he calls his book, that while Hiss gave Dr. Zeligs many hours and a full volume of letters, he was not submitted in any sense to psychoanalysis by the author. One will object that a true relation of analyst and analysand would have made it impossible for the analyst to write this book. But does not the whole enterprise of an “analytic biography” of a living person risk indelicacy and violation of a doctor’s code? And if the man has been convicted of a crime that he continues to deny, is there not a contradiction or at least a paradox in anyone’s undertaking to make a portrait of him “in depth” while pretending, as Dr. Zeligs does pretend, that his standpoint is one of “careful analytic neutrality”? He tells us that his study was made “in the spirit of pure inquiry,” that he has maintained “a proper equidistance” from his two subjects and has “no political ax to grind.” “It was not my intent,” he writes, “to confirm the guilt or establish the innocence of Hiss”—as if our understanding of a man’s life and character can be independent of the judgment of guilt or innocence in such a case. Obviously, the story would be different for an investigator who accepts the verdict of the court than for one who doesn’t.
Here are the pictures of the two men that result from Dr. Zeligs’s study:
Chambers was a pathological liar, an impostor, a psychopath, a paranoiac, an overt homosexual, a fratricide, a forger guilty of framing his friend Alger Hiss, and in the end a suicide.
The neutral “portrait in depth” of his victim shows him to be a kind cultured gentleman, loyal to friends and family, warm but reserved, scrupulously logical and accurate, strict in the performance of duties, and so impersonal and disinterested in pursuing truth as to weaken his effectiveness in self-defense and to make his book strangely unemotional though it concerns a frame-up.
Dr. Zeligs’s characterization of Chambers, I must say at once, is largely conjectural, and the account of Hiss lacks altogether the depth analysis applied so freely to Chambers. As a school-mate and old friend of Chambers, I find the picture drawn by Dr. Zeligs insensitive and crude. It is clear throughout the book that Dr. Zeligs takes Hiss’s innocence for granted and regards Chambers as guilty of having framed his former friend. He accepts Hiss’s testimony without question, while rejecting as false whatever Chambers has said that contradicts it and utilizing as true those statements of Chambers that lend themselves to psychoanalytic speculations concerning his guilt. He hopes to confirm Chamber’s crime by his unconscious and Hiss’s innocence by his outward behavior. But Dr. Zeligs is unable to prove this new verdict; on the contrary, he must assume it in his “analysis” in order to justify his characterization of the two men. This is the central weakness of the book, the source of many errors, wild guesses, confusions, and bad faith. I would respect Dr. Zeligs more had he stated on the first page that he believed in the innocence of Hiss. But not much more—the book would still be shoddy, a misuse of psychoanalysis.
THAT THE AUTHOR puts “fratricide” into the title of his book is a measure of his irresponsibility and bias. From the mixed feelings of Chambers as a child towards his younger brother, Richard, Dr. Zeligs conjectures fratricidal fantasies; and from Chambers’s deep depression and despair at his brother’s suicide, he infers not just feelings of guilt, but the moral onus for the brother’s death in an imagined suicide pact, to which Dr. Zeligs often alludes as a fact but for which he offers no evidence. Yet he is able to write:
What actually happened is of great interest but not of great importance; the fact is that in subsequent events Whittaker behaved as if he had helped Richard toward his death [p. 90]…Richard’s suicide was, in point of fact, a solitary self-executed act, an event anticipated and consummated by his own mind and hand. Nevertheless, it must also be regarded as representing one half of a double suicide pact in which the inducements and seductions of Whittaker’s motives and magical fantasies played their role [p. 97]…Following Richard’s death, he had to seek out another brother figure as an object of his love/hate [p. 98].
He found him nine years later in the person of Alger Hiss. Dr. Zeligs would like to believe that Chambers “first discovered Hiss from reading about him in the American Magazine and the Baltimore Sun and was drawn to him before he actually met him…He had already developed an unconscious affinity for Hiss on the basis of that publicity.” (This conjecture eliminates once and for all Chambers’s testimony that he met Hiss in the underground Communist group in Washington.) The fact that Hiss had had a brother, Bosley, who like Richard Chambers had died in 1926, made the identification with Hiss even stronger. Dr. Zeligs also finds significant the resemblance to “Crosley,” the name under which Chambers introduced himself to Hiss.
Chambers “insinuated himself into Hiss’s life.” Their “relationship rekindled Chambers’ fratricidal fantasies. The gentle personality and attractive physique of Alger Hiss were reminiscent of his brother Richard. Thus the psychological mold was cast. And Hiss’s typewriter caught Chambers’ fancy as an object he could put to use…” (Perhaps it resembled the typewriter of his brother Richard.) “As a potential piece of Hiss’s identity, it was something Chambers could secretly use in the service of both his erotic fantasies and his destructive schemes. Armed with either typing samples or a duplicated machine, Chambers had in his possession the makings of a ‘lifesaver,’ a magical (yet real) weapon which he could use at some future time against a friend who, like most of the friends in Chambers’ paranoid system, was destined to be transformed into a concealed enemy” (p. 374).
To this unconscious preparation Dr. Zeligs adds a conscious motive supplied by Hiss’s testimony.
It was sometime during the year 1936, according to Hiss, that he had his last contact with Crosley. Chambers had phoned and asked for a loan and Hiss told him that he did not want to see him any more because he had shown himself to be a sponger. Cast out by someone he had earlier admired and envied, Hiss was thereafter tagged as his “secret enemy.” Thus, I submit, the first seeds of revenge were implanted in Chambers’ mind, and it happened at a time when the Hiss typewriter could already have been appropriated by Chambers (either switched with a duplicate or typing samples taken [p. 376].
Without sensing the limits of the reader’s credulity, Dr. Zeligs has Chambers prepare his means of revenge in 1935 before the motive existed; his unconscious was already pushing him to the predetermined fratricide. That Chambers waited until 1948 to carry out his revenge does not disturb the argument. There is an answer: Chambers “stored a revengeful plot in his memory just as he forged a card of identity or hid a document or a roll of microfilm; both the idea and its material implementation were buried for future use.”
DR. ZELIGS FORGETS that it was Hiss’s action for libel that brought out the hidden documents. Without that unfortunate law suit the charge of espionage and the ensuing indictment for perjury would not have been made.
In tracing back to the years 1935-36 a plot to frame Hiss, he forgets, too, certain obvious facts of the record. Chambers had named six government employees besides Hiss as members of an underground Communist group. It was Hiss who singled himself out in 1948 by denying the charge; his brother Donald also denied it, but the others refused to speak. In the House hearings before the trials, espionage was not charged and the matter might have ended there for Alger Hiss as for his brother Donald who brought no suit for libel. Hiss’s past would have been suspect in some quarters, but he would have retained the confidence of the eminent friends who disbelieved the charges. Hiss, however, brought a lawsuit against Chambers (for damages of $75,000) and it was then that Chambers as the defendant introduced the documents of espionage as evidence. Before that he had avoided the imputation of espionage to the underground group; it would have incriminated him no less than the others.
In spite of his disclaimer, Dr. Zeligs re-opens the case which has been closed by the court. His aim is to break down the evidence on which Hiss was convicted. He presents again the arguments of Hiss’s lawyers that the incriminating documents were typed by Chambers on a machine he had forged as a replica of the Hiss’s Woodstock typewriter. But he gives up the defense’s unplausible idea that this forgery was carried out by Chambers in the short time between the libel suit (September 27, 1948) and mid-November when the papers were disclosed, and also the idea that the forged machine was then planted, with the help of the FBI, where the Hiss defense would trace it—from the maid who received the original typewriter from the Hisses in 1938 to its eventual owner. Besides being improbable, this story implies that Chambers knew the Hisses in January, 1938 when—according to Hiss’s testimony—they gave the typewriter to their maid. Hiss had sworn that he had had no contact with Chambers after 1936.
Instead of this self-defeating story, Dr. Zeligs presents a new series of conjectures taken entirely from the book by Professor Herbert Packer (Ex-Communist Witnesses, Stanford 1962, pp. 40, 41). He quotes him as follows:
It is likely that if forgery was committed, it was done when Chambers still had at his beck and call all the services of the underground Communist operatives, skilled in all the black arts…. If the typewriter was forged at some time during Chambers’ days in the Communist movement, it could have been planted before the Hisses disposed of it, and the original Hiss machine could have been taken away and used to type the Baltimore documents. There would then be no problem of two typewriters turning up, for one would be in the hands of the conspirators (i.e. of Chambers). However, that one would not be 230099, as has been generally assumed, but would be the Hiss machine. It would presumably be destroyed after it had served its purpose. And the forged typewriter, 230099, would be left to go through the vicissitudes that were described at the trial [p. 373].
Dr. Zeligs is ready to believe this story because, as Packer points out, it fits the forgery hypothesis “far more neatly” than the “1948 theory”—that “Chambers somehow manufactured in three months [really six weeks: M.S.] a forged typewriter from samples of typing he had in his possession—which the defense adopted in support of the motion for a new trial” (p. 373).
From the way in which Dr. Zeligs quotes Packer, the reader will suppose that the law professor believes this story. But Professor Packer goes on to say:
The reader who has stayed with me to this point will no doubt be asking whether I really believe any such wild tale as the one I have just sketched. Of course I have no basis for believing it.
He shows then how acceptance of this story requires also that one accept Chambers’s account of his close relations with Hiss between 1935 and 1938, relations that Hiss has denied. “In short,” he concludes, “there is no reason why the theory of forgery by typewriter is inconsistent with Hiss’s guilt, if by ‘guilt’ we mean involvement in clandestine Communist activities.” Dr. Zeligs has taken over Professor Packer’s purely hypothetical story and quoted it as if it is Professor Packer’s idea of the probable history of the forged machine, withholding from the reader Packer’s accompanying remarks and his acute demonstration of its improbability.
BESIDES MISSING Professor Packer’s hypothetical tale, Dr. Zeligs goes him one better. For he is able to add another fanciful conjecture, this time based on psychology. Chambers had indeed confessed that he got rid of a typewriter. During the second trial he told of abandoning his Remington portable in 1940 on a New York train or street car because it reminded him of his painful past—it had been given to him in 1934 by the head of the first Soviet underground apparatus to which Chambers had been attached. Zeligs comments:
Like the arsonist who returns to the fire, Chambers deliberately brings to the attention of his adversary and the courtroom a compelling fact: his past need to get rid of his typewriter. In his mind his past life is interchangeable with the symbol of his guilt—the typewriter. To forget his past he gets rid of the typewriter. Yet on a more realistic level, if an examination of his (conceivably the Hiss Woodstock) typewriter would expose his past actions, it is not just an innocuous fetish but an incriminating piece of hard evidence that he had need to get rid of.
If the “Remington portable” that Chambers testified he had to dispose of “in 1940” was, in fact, the Hisses’ Woodstock on which he himself copied the stolen government documents, then Chambers’ actions, were he to have switched the Hiss machine in 1935 (that is, kept the original and left the fabricated one with the Hisses), would be consistent with both the design and motive of other known acts of forgery he committed [pp.375-76].
If Dr. Zeligs were a scrupulous investigator, it would have occurred to him during his six years of research to obtain from Chambers’s friends whom he interviewed some samples of Chambers’s typing before 1940. He could have determined then whether or not they were done on a Remington portable; and, if not, whether they resembled the typing of the Baltimore documents. That they do not resemble the latter I can assure him on the basis of the two kinds of type-face in the letters I received from Chambers. But of course it will be conceivable to Dr. Zeligs that the conspirator had three typewriters of which one was the Hiss Woodstock.
Dr. Zeligs’s readiness to suppose that any sign of guilty feeling in Chambers is an evidence of crime—fratricide, forgery, and frame up—should not be taken as an example of psychoanalytic method. The misuse of psychoanalysis here exceeds anything I have read in wild applications of Freud’s concepts to biography and history. Freud was aware of the difficulties in applying psychoanalytic principles and techniques in the courtroom. In a lecture of 1960, at a legal seminar in Vienna, on the use of the Bleuler-Jung word association test to disclose a hidden complex in an accused person, he warned his hearers against concluding from an individual’s signs of guilt his responsibility for a particular crime. He gave as an example the frequent expressions of guilt among children (Gesammelte Werke, London 1941, VII, 3-15). I quote here Ernest Jones’s summary of Freud’s view: “A further problem lay in the fact that a guilty conscience may so often be found that signs of a complex may be elicited which do not in fact relate to the particular crime under investigation. It was indeed this reflection of Freud’s that as time went on was to prove a fatal stumbling block in what at first promised to become a useful aid to the legal profession” (II, pp.338, 339). This is a caution that Dr. Zeligs has completely ignored.
Besides his misuse of Professor Packer’s text, other details in the book raise doubts about Dr. Zeligs’s integrity as a scholar. In his bibliography are listed the publications of Hede Massing and Nathaniel Weyl who have testified that they knew Hiss as a fellow Communist in the party’s underground. (See especially Weyl’s interview in U.S. News and World Report, January 9, 1953.) Their names do not appear in Dr. Zeligs’s 450-page text. Were their statements read or were they interviewed by the psychoanalyst-investigator who describes his efforts over a period of six years to read and consult everyone who had known Chambers and Hiss or had written about them? In more than one case, in quoting those who have spoken of his two subjects but have refused to be interviewed, he tells of this refusal. Why is the important testimony of Weyl and Massing ignored?
IN THE SAME SPIRIT he casually denies evidence where it suits him to do so. When in a letter of 1924 to one of his teachers, Chambers speaks of a girl-friend, Zeligs asserts categorically that there is no evidence for the existence of such a person; he conjectures that Chambers’s mother was converted in his fantasy into that woman. A letter to me from Chambers written in the same month contradicts Dr. Zeligs’s willful fantasy on the subject.
On the other hand, he revives with relish the rumors of Chambers’s homosexuality that were circulated just before the first trial. It was whispered in 1948 that Chambers’s testimony was inspired by revenge for Hiss’s rejection of Chambers’s advances in 1935. A lawyer of Hiss came to see me then, fishing for information to support this idea. The psychoanalyst is equally credulous and more thorough. He reprints three poems by Chambers published in the 1920s and ’30s as evidence of “homosexual conflict” in the author; the interpretation is vague and hardly convincing. But he brings also what is to him a clinching proof: an anonymous statement about an overt homosexual act. The writer tells of putting up the indigent Chambers in his lodgings during a John Reed Club convention in Chicago in the winter of 1932:
In the middle of the night I suddenly awoke in the midst of having an orgasm. When I saw him laboring at my penis still in his mouth, I pushed him aside, while moving myself away from him. My shock was so great that I could not say a word…. Since I was completely dumbfounded, he started asking me to do the same thing to him. This was too much. The only words I could manage to speak were: You get out of here….He left immediately. [p. 216. The breaks are Zeligs’s.]
The attentive reader will recognize that the opening sentence of this anonymous document is the same as that of another statement about Chambers quoted earlier in the book (p. 78) and attributed to a Mr. Leon Herald who worked with him at the New York Public Library in 1927. Dr. Zeligs has not taken the trouble to check the date of the John Reed Club convention—it was not held in the winter of 1932 but on May 29 and 30. Elsewhere in the book an error of a few months in Chambers’s dating of an event excites Dr. Zeligs’s strongest suspicion of the witness’s hidden motives and reliability (just as an exact dating by a prosecution’s witness is for Hiss’s defenders a sign that the witness has been coached). Still, one would expect from a psychoanalyst a more critical attitude to this story and at least the reflection that it is, to use a favorite word of Dr. Zeligs in presenting his own conjectures, “conceivably” a wet dream.
His interpretation of slips which are for psychoanalysts signs of a repressed content betrays his constant bias. When Chambers in answer to a question dates the suicide of his brother on September 26 (“1926?”; “Yes, Sir.”) instead of September 9, Dr. Zeligs comments; “September 26 was not the date of his brother’s death—it was the date of his brother’s birth…. By substituting a birth date for a death date (or vice versa) he restored to life whomever he had earlier destroyed in fantasy” (96). In the second trial “he testified that Richard had died on September 19, 1926. Whether Chambers knew it or not (and it is likely that he did), September 19, 1926 was the birth date of Alger Hiss’s stepson, Timothy Hobson.”
IN THESE ERRORS in recalling what was to him a shattering experience, what an extraordinary memory Chambers had for other dates stored in his perverse unconscious! How well he must have known the Hisses to have retained after more than ten years the stepson’s birthday! But three hundred pages later (p. 407) Timothy testifies under a truth drug administered by a psychiatrist in 1953, that while he recalled Mrs. Chambers and her baby staying at the Hiss home on P Street in 1936, he could not remember the man’s visit on that occasion. Chambers was not a close family friend. Timothy would have spoken to that effect at the trials in 1949, but Alger Hiss responded: “I’d sooner go to jail than have them embarrass Timmy on the stand.” One must note the evasion here: for Chambers has also reported that he saw Timmy for the last time in December 1938 at the Hisses’ Volta Place residence when he came to persuade Hiss to leave the Communist Party and dined with the family. A question about that visit was in order, but is not to be found in Zeligs’s account of “the interrogation of Timothy Hobson in depth” when the interrogating lawyer “did not leave a single stone unturned.” With regard to the testimony under a truth drug, I may recall here that during the House hearings in 1948, Chambers was willing to take a lie detector test, but Hiss declined. This fact is ignored by Dr. Zeligs, though he could easily justify Hiss’s unwillingness to submit to such a test.
In keeping with his double standard in depth portraiture, the slips made by Hiss with reference to dates and addresses are passed over without comment by the author. Chambers, who was a visitor to the Hiss apartments and houses, remembers the streets, but Hiss misplaces his own address—where he admitted having invited Chambers—from 28th Street to 29th. His datings of the various removals and of the sale and purchase of cars were seriously off, and in the context of the questions so suspicious that the errors induced a general mistrust of his testimony as a whole.
The same bias appears when Dr. Zeligs interprets the emotional reactions of the two men. Chambers’s indignation on hearing for the first time that stories are circulating about him as a homosexual, is a sign that he has indeed a feeling of guilt for his homosexual acts. The rage of the ordinarily self-possessed Hiss when charged with membership in a Communist group ten or more years before—and nothing was said then of espionage—was so intense that he had to be restrained. But the psychoanalyst refrains here from comment on what is elsewhere one of his surest signs of a guilty mind.
The account of Hiss is designed to show that he was a good man incapable of the double life as government official and underground Communist that Chambers has described. At no point does Dr. Zeligs entertain the possibility that a man of high ideals, meticulous in carrying out his daily duties, and devoted to friends and family, could also be a secret member of the Communist Party and as such serve the cause with devotion. In quoting Chambers’s account of his former friend, written without benefit of psychoanalysis, but based on a more intimate association than his biographer could enjoy, Dr. Zeligs remarks “how rich in emotion are the memories of his friendship with Hiss.” And he quotes enough for us to see that the short characterization of Hiss by Chambers is much more nuanced and credible than the flat bland picture constructed by the analyst and documented by numerous letters and testimonies of friends. In describing Hiss’s “unvarying mildness,” Chambers also notes “a streak of wholly incongruous cruelty” in his comment on people, and especially a “strange savagery” in his remarks on Franklin Roosevelt. Chambers, who appeared to old friends as a complex character capable of great tenderness and poetic feeling, but also of violence and passionate illusions, was especially sensitive to such a discrepancy. And in speaking of it he does not destroy the unity of his picture of Hiss who appears also in a risky underground role. The credibility of Chambers’s warm feeling when he writes of his friendship for Hiss is obvious to the psychoanalyst who asks: “Is it conceivable that all of this, this expression of apparently deep emotion, could be fabrication? I suggest that it is not only conceivable but highly probable. On the basis of material evidence alone, such a conclusion would hardly seem justified.” But he is “forced toward such a conclusion” by his psychoanalytic study of Chambers. Much of what the latter says about his friendship with Hiss he dismisses as “fantasy.” He denies to Chambers the “capacity to feel, suffer, or love any human object” (p. 323).
I HAVE NO DOUBT that if Dr. Zeligs believed in Hiss’s guilt, he could as easily construct an account of Hiss’s past and personality that would make his membership in an underground Communist group and his role in espionage a plausible psychoanalytic hypothesis, at least—to use his language—“a not inconceivable” possibility. I have already remarked on Dr. Zeligs’s avoidance of psychoanalytic concepts in portraying Hiss. He applies them, however, in explaining a family secret, the suicide of Hiss’s father which followed a business failure in the depression of 1907. This event is reported at length by Dr. Zeligs as crucial in the son’s life; it is ignored as a possible factor in Hiss’s admitted interest in social issues in the early 1930s. As a member of the International Juridical Association he helped to edit its monthly bulletin which reviewed in unsigned articles the issues of labor laws and civil rights important to the radical movement. Weyl, who has published an account of his own participation in the same underground group as Hiss is 1933-34, before the arrival of Chambers, has described Hiss as particularly “solemn and reverential toward communism and the Communist Party.”
Dr. Zeligs’s “analysis,” so far as explanation is concerned, has been conducted in almost total abstraction from history. You would not guess from his account that individuals in the 1930s were affected by the depression, the Communist movement and Nazism, and during the hearings and the Hiss trials by their knowledge of the Thirties and by the current cold war. Given their personalities, they would have done, according to Dr. Zeligs, the same things under other circumstances had they been born some decades earlier or later. The political sense of the trials and the careers of Chambers and Hiss is completely denied. The personal tragedy of Chambers, he writes, is not understood better through reference to the Communist movement “or the political anxieties of his generation. Nor is it in any sense a tragedy of history.” It was all due to his “childhood frustrations…. The fears and fantasies that filled his earliest years inexorably pre-determined his future thoughts and actions” (p.432). I believe this sentence is not just a rhetorical expression of a psychoanalyst’s feeling of satisfaction with the explanatory power of his science. It is an ad hoc statement of a principle through which he can ignore all that made Chambers’s testimony plausible and important: his actual experience in the Communist underground. In Dr. Zeligs’s view Hiss was a passive innocent victim of a fratricidal impulse latent in Chambers’s childhood; and even the documents and the typewriter are finally instruments of Chambers’s unconscious.
The Hiss-Chambers case was deeply disturbing and instructive because it showed that two men of decidedly different character, whose talents made it possible for them eventually to reach close to the top of their professions—the one in government service, the other as a writer and editor—and who had therefore presumably no strong incentive to rebel against a society in which they had the prospect of enjoying the greatest benefits, were nevertheless attracted by the Communist movement and engaged in secret work of a criminal nature. They could justify it inwardly by the thought that they were contributing in this way to the struggle for a good society, more in keeping with their idealism than the society in which they had lost confidence though it offered them a privileged status. No other case illuminates so brightly the attractions and temptations of radicalism in the 1930s. It is an extreme example of the hold of the Communist idea on the imagination of younger minds in that decade. Their rationality, their critical attitude to dogmas, their moral seriousness, were not proof against the seductions of a corrupt party propaganda at a time of general economic disarray and threatening chaos. By 1949 those who had broken with the Communist movement were more ready to believe Chambers’s story; it confirmed so much in their own experience and justified a break that had been a painful recantation of passionately held ideas and commitments. To those who had not come so close to the Left but had supported in a liberal spirit many causes of humane appeal advanced by the Communist front-organizations and had looked to Russia as a promising source of progress in spite of the reported repressions and intolerance, the revelations of Chambers, so welcome to Nixon and McCarthy, seemed merely an attack on that liberal spirit and its trust in a future unity of the liberal and radical.
February 23, 1967