Hey, Mister, you want dirty book?
- Who Paid the Piper? The CIA and the Cultural Cold War by Frances Stonor Saunders
Granta, 509 pp, £20.00, July 1999, ISBN 1 86207 029 6
E.P. Thompson called it the ‘Natopolitan’ world: that is, not just Nato plus all the Cold War military and political institutions that were integral to it, but also a mentality whose web extended over a lot more activity and thought, even in the minds of individuals, than anyone at the time had suspected. Of course there were the revelations in the mid-Sixties about Encounter and the CIA, and later in the US and Britain a stream of disclosures about covert counter-insurgency in every form, from secretly underwritten academic research to assassinations and mass killings. Yet it still gives me an eerie feeling to read about people like George Orwell, Stephen Spender and Raymond Aron, to say nothing of less admirable characters of the Melvin Lasky stripe, taking part in surreptitiously subsidised anti-Communist ventures – magazines, symphony orchestras, art exhibitions – or in the setting up of foundations in the name of ‘freedom’ and ‘democracy’ against Soviet totalitarianism.
One of the rare dissenters, Charles Burton Marshall, is quoted here as saying that this bizarre operation to ‘counter Communism’ by trying ‘to break down ... doctrinaire thought patterns’ and anti-American attitudes throughout the world was ‘just about as totalitarian as one can get’. Marshall belonged to an Orwellian US Government agency called the Psychological Strategy Board (PSB) and his kind of common-sense voice, commenting on the enterprise from within, isn’t ever heard from again. On the other hand, Frances Stonor Saunders’s gripping book is stuffed with names of individuals, organisations and publications, whose sleazy history she gives in painstaking detail.
Unfortunately, not all of her information is fully accurate or complete. It is, for example, careless to place the artist Frank Stella in a travelling delegation of grown men when he would have been about ten years old, and to quote from books without supplying page numbers or publication history. The chapter on CIA infiltration of the art world is riddled with howlers (that John Hay Whitney had his ‘own’ museum is one among several mistakes of this sort), but the gist of her argument about Abstract Expressionism and its uses as propaganda is correct, if not wholly original.
Who Paid the Piper? is even so a major work of investigative history, an extremely valuable contribution to the all-important post-World War Two record. The dispiriting truth it reveals, or confirms, is that few of ‘our’ major intellectual and cultural figures resisted the blandishments of the CIA, whether in the form of cushy foreign jaunts, under the table subsidies – Partisan Review, Commentary, Sewanee Review, Kenyon Review were its beneficiaries, in addition to Encounter, and all its French, German, Italian and even Arabic and Indian offshoots – or contracts for organisations such as the Congress for Cultural Freedom and the Ford Foundation, which seemed at first to exist for scarcely any purpose other than to further US foreign policy and provide cover for the CIA’s machinations. Ford’s present reputation and munificence in Asia, Africa and Latin America are still tainted by this highly political history.
Saunders sets out her themes very ably in the introduction, which situates the covert projection of US policy objectives in the context of the Marshall Plan, the postwar reconstruction of Europe (especially Germany) in competition with the Soviet Union, and the creation of a massive apparatus of cultural propaganda, one of whose main purposes ‘was to advance the claim that it did not exist’.
The full text of this book review is only available to subscribers of the London Review of Books.
Vol. 21 No. 21 · 28 October 1999
Edward Said (LRB, 30 September) ignores the fact that Encounter, even if it was subsidised by the CIA, enriched the cultural life of this country, and no doubt others, from the Fifties to the Eighties to an unrivalled degree. The breadth and depth of its coverage of politics, literature, film and theatre were unique. It had plenty of left-wing contributors, and it was a wonderful read.
The Marshall Plan, pace Said, succeeded in salvaging much of Europe from wartime devastation. The Soviet Union managed to delay the recovery of Eastern Europe by half a century; in the end, mercifully, it failed. Heaven knows, the CIA made many appalling mistakes in many parts of the world. Subsidising Encounter was emphatically not one of them.
Shepton Mallet, Somerset
Vol. 22 No. 5 · 2 March 2000
In his review of Frances Stonor Saunders’s Who Paid the Piper? The CIA and the Cultural Cold War (LRB, 30 September 1999), Edward Said has maligned me and Partisan Review. Among other things, Said reports that ‘Saunders’s account of Partisan and its editor, the insufferably pretentious William Phillips … is devastating’; that the magazine was on the CIA payroll; and ‘had been carried financially by Henry Luce’, the owner/editor of Time-Life – just because Daniel Bell, who was a friend of ours, arranged for a one-time gift of $10,000. Said also implies that, later on, Allen Dulles – chief of the CIA – kept the magazine afloat. When answering Saunders’s questions, I told her that I did not know why the Luce organisation was interested in making a contribution to Partisan Review, but that literary magazines have always lost money and needed financial help from like-
minded people. (Said, who at the time also wrote for Partisan Review, must have been aware of that fact.) Yes, the American Committee for Cultural Freedom allowed contributions to the magazine to be exempted from tax after the IRS ruled that our exemption should be revoked – because we sold copies on news-stands. Yes, we once received $2500 from the Farfield Foundation which, as we found out much later, did funnel some CIA funds. But, according to Jack Thompson, then director of the Foundation, whom I recently contacted, this money came from a private donor. Moreover, when asked by Saunders why we hadn’t sued when others implied that we had been funded by the CIA, the editor, Edith Kurzweil, told her that unfortunately little magazines did not have the money for it. Said knows that too. Moreover, the sums Saunders claimed we received at most would have covered between 5 and 10 per cent of one year’s budget.
Partisan Review, New York
Vol. 22 No. 9 · 27 April 2000
Attacking Edward Said has become such common sport that it is almost achieving vulgarity. Now, William Phillips (Letters, 2 March) has descended from the Olympian heights to join the game. A pity, then, that he never gets off the sidelines.
Phillips likes to pretend he is taking issue with Said’s account of my book, Who Paid the Piper? The CIA and the Cultural Cold War, whereas in fact his dispute is with the book itself. Said’s précis of my claims regarding Partisan Review – that it received some money from the CIA, that it was at one point carried financially by Henry Luce, and that Allen Dulles had an interest in helping to keep the magazine afloat – is a fair summary. There is nothing ‘malign’ in these claims, or in Said’s reporting of them. It is Phillips who abbreviates the issues raised in my book to the point of misrepresenting them. They are as follows.
In 1952, Partisan Review was on the brink of folding, in part because the US Treasury was threatening to remove its tax-exempt status. While efforts were made to convince the State Department that Partisan Review was a crucial vehicle for ‘combating Communist ideology abroad’ (Sidney Hook), Daniel Bell took a separate initiative, acting as an ‘intermediary’ in discussions with Henry Luce, who subsequently gave the magazine $10,000. (In his letter to me of 5 August 1998, Phillips wrote: ‘So far as I recall, the sum was $5,000, not $10,000.’ He now appears to accept that the sum was indeed $10,000.) The Luce grant was never publicly disclosed. The contributors were not informed; nor were some of Partisan Review’s associate editors.
As Phillips says, ‘literary magazines have always lost money and needed financial help from like-minded people.’ Whether Phillips knew it or not, and whether he likes it or not, certain individuals in the CIA saw themselves as ‘like-minded people’ who could ease Partisan Review’s financial difficulties. In early 1953, the magazine received a subsidy of $2500 from the American Committee for Cultural Freedom. The money came from the Farfield Foundation, a dummy front or ‘pass-through’ set up by the CIA in 1953 to provide the cashflow to its Congress for Cultural Freedom, of which the American Committee was a subsidiary. At the time this grant was made to Partisan Review, its co-editor William Phillips was cultural secretary of the American Committee. In the same letter to me Phillips wrote: ‘I don’t recall any grant of $2500 from the American Committee, and I don’t believe there was one.’ He thought that ‘no contributions to Partisan Review could have been received without my knowledge.’ The statement of disbursements of the American Committee for Cultural Freedom for the year ending 1953 clearly shows the grant was made.
Previously, Phillips was also unable to recall ‘ever receiving any grants from the Farfield Foundation’. His memory restored perhaps by seeing some of the documentation I sent him, he now acknowledges that the magazine did once receive a direct grant from the Farfield Foundation, though he disputes its CIA provenance. According to Phillips, Jack Thompson, the former director of the Farfield Foundation, has recently vouched that this particular grant was made by a ‘private sponsor’. In 1964, Stephen Spender asked Jack Thompson whether there was any truth to the rumour that the Farfield Foundation was backing Encounter magazine with CIA funds. He received an unequivocal denial. Within three years, however, the Encounter scandal had broken. Certainly, the financial reports of the Farfield Foundation which I have do not list any ‘private sponsor’ against the grant to Partisan Review. Perhaps Phillips should ask Jack Thompson to make public the relevant accounts of the Foundation (which was, after all, funded by the American taxpayer, courtesy of the finance department of the CIA).
Still, as I point out in my book, in the life of a magazine harried by financial crises, these grants hardly amount to much (Phillips’s own estimate is 5 to 10 per cent of one year’s budget). But in 1956, the question of PR’s tax-exempt status had again been raised at the Internal Revenue Service: not only did the magazine stand to lose this benefit in the future, but there was also talk of making all contributions to PR during and since 1954 retroactively taxable. By 1958, a solution was forthcoming: with (and only with) the CIA’s approval, the American Committee for Cultural Freedom, which had been suspended in January 1957, was revived for the sole purpose of ‘posing’ as official publisher of Partisan Review, an arrangement which allowed the magazine to benefit from the Committee’s tax-exempt status. Behind the scenes, the CIA chief Allen Dulles was a key figure in making this arrangement.
Partisan Review also received support from the Paris-based Congress for Cultural Freedom, in the form of subscriptions bought for individuals overseas who received the magazine free. From 1960, this arrangement boosted the magazine’s sales figures by 3000 copies a year, which were distributed outside of the US.
In May 1961, Phillips requested a grant from the Congress for Cultural Freedom to cover his travel expenses for a planned trip to Europe. This, despite his later concession that during the 1950s he had been ‘inclined to question’ the Congress’s ‘bureaucratic make-up and what was patently its secret control from the top’. In 1990, he wrote of those personalities who dominated the Congress for Cultural Freedom as ‘breezy, rootless, freewheeling, cynically anti-Communist orgmen’. He claimed to be ‘shocked by – and perhaps envious of – the nouveau riche look of the whole operation, by the posh apartments of the Congress officials, the seemingly inexhaustible funds for travel, the big-time expense accounts, and all the other perks usually associated with the executives of large corporations. After all, Partisan Review was always trying to make ends meet, and my experience had led me to believe that poverty was the normal condition for serious political outfits and literary magazines. As for secret funding,’ he continued, ‘it seems to me to violate the very nature of a free intellectual enterprise, particularly when the financing is by a well-organised arm of the Government, with its own political agenda.’
Frances Stonor Saunders