Whittaker Chambers

Defected Communist spy, writer, editor

Whittaker Chambers (1 April 19019 July 1961) was an American writer and editor, who first served in the Soviet underground and later, under subpoena before the House Un-American Activities Committee, alleged that he had run several spy rings of former Federal officials, including Alger Hiss.



Time magazine (1939-1948)

  • The Wizard of Oz (M. G. M.) should settle an old Hollywood controversy: whether fantasy can be presented on the screen as successfully with human actors as with cartoons. ("The New Pictures," August 21, 1939)
  • All children are afraid of the night; when they grow up, they are still afraid, but more afraid of admitting it. ("Night Thoughts," May 8, 1939)
  • When the train of history makes a sharp turn, said Lenin, the passengers who do not have a good grip on their seats are thrown off. Last week the Communist Limited had just about completed the dizzy turn from the Communazi Pact to the Battle of Britain, and U. S. literary liberals were spattered all over the right of way. ("Revolt of the Intellectuals," January 6, 1941)
  • The book begins with the clang of a cell door closing in a GPU prison. It ends with a shot in the back of the head in a murky passageway of the prison cellar. It moves with the speed, directness, precision and some of the impact of a bullet. ("Brightest in Dungeons," May 26, 1941)
  • "What statesmanship! What vision! What power! We have known nothing like it since my ancestor, Peter the Great, broke a window into Europe by overrunning the Baltic states in the 18th Century. Stalin has made Russia great again!" ("The Ghosts on the Roof," March 5, 1945)
  • Once upon a time, when the Yewnited States was just a little shaver among the nations, but already very spoiled along the literate Eastern fringes, there lived younder in Tennessee a lovable old man with a tongue like a rat-tailed file and a face so hard they called him Old Hickory. ("The Old Deal," October 22, 1945)
  • Toscanini was hailing a great artist, but that voice was more than a magnificent personal talent. It was the religious voice of a whole religious people — probably the most God-obsessed (and man-despised) people since the ancient Hebrews. ("In Egypt Land," December 30, 1946)
  • In the 20th Century, treason became a vocation whose modern form was specifically the treason of ideas. ("The Circles of Perdition," December 8, 1947)
  • Reinhold Niebuhr's new orthodoxy is the oldtime religion put through the intellectual wringer. It is a re-examination of orthodoxy for an age dominated by such trends as rationalism, liberalism, Marxism, fascism, idealism and the idea of progress.

Witness (1952)

New York: Random House, 1952
  • Two faiths were on trial . Human societies, like human beings, live by faith and die when faith dies... At heart, the Great Case was this critical conflict of faiths; that is why it was a great case. (p. 4)
  • Tragedy occurs when a human soul awakes and seeks, in suffering and pain, to free itself from crime, violence, infamy, even at the cost of life. The struggle is the tragedy - not defeat or death. That is why the spectacle of tragedy has always filled men, not with despair, but with a sense of hope and exaltation. (pp. 4-5)
  • A man is not primarily a witness against something. (p. 5)
  • The last war simplified the balance of political forces in the world by reducing them to two . For the first time, it made the power of the Communist sector of mankind (embodied in the Soviet Union) roughly equal to the power of the free sector of mankind (embodied in the United States). It made the collision of these powers all but inevitable. For the world wars did not end the crisis. They raised its tensions to a new pitch. They raised the crisis to a new stage. All the politics of our time, including the politics of war, will be the politics of this crisis. (p. 7)
  • My eye came to rest on the delicate convolutions of her ear-those intricate, perfect ears. The thought passed through my mind: "No, those ears were not created by any chance coming together of atoms in nature (the Communist view). They could have been created only by immense design." (p. 16)
  • In 1937, I began, like Lazarus, the impossible return. I began to break away from Communism and to climb from deep within its underground, where for six years I had been buried, back into the world of free men. (p. 25)
  • I wanted my wife to realize clearly one long-term penalty, for herself and for the children, of the step I was taking. I said: "You know, we are leaving the winning world for the losing world." (p. 25)
  • He was a Southerner with the fine abandon some Southerners have about firearms and related matters. "Well, sir," he said with immense pleasure, "you've bought the right gun. Just hold it in front of you, squeeze the trigger, and, brother, it will be fay-ya-you-well." (p. 58)
  • [Stalin's] purge caused me to examine the meaning of Communism.... I had always known of course that there were books critical of Communism.... I had never read them because I knew that the party did not want me to read them..... the first book I read... was called I Speak for the Silent [by] Professor Vladimir Tchernavin.... He was a little man in the Communist world, gentle, humane, good.... Suddenly for no reason at all he was arrested and carried away by the secret police.... Now for the first time, I believed that slave labor camps existed.... I said ‘this is evil, absolute evil. Of this evil I am a part.’ ... If Communism were evil, what was left but moral chaos? .... The rags that fell from me were not only Communism. What fell was the whole web of the materialist modern mind – the luminous shroud which it has spun about the spirit of man, paralyzing in the name of rationalism the instinct of his soul for God, denying in the name of knowledge the reality of the soul.... (pp. 79-83)
  • Then he asked in German (the only language that we ever spoke): "Ist die Sowjetregierung eine faschistische Regierung? - Is the Soviet Government a fascist government?"… I sat silent for some moments. Then I said: "Ja, die Sowjetregierung ist eine faschistische Regierung - the Soviet Government is a fascist government"… Krivitsky turned for the first time and looked at me directly. "Du hast recht," he said, "und Kronstadt war der Wendepunkt - You are right, and Kronstadt was the turning point." (pp. 459-460)
  • Yet, so strong is the hold which the insidious evil of Communism secures upon its disciples, that I could still say to someone at that time: "I know that I am leaving the winning side for the losing side, but it is better to die on the losing side than to live under Communism." (p. 25)
  • I cannot ever inform against anyone without feeling something die within me. I inform without pleasure because it is necessary. (p. 456)
  • No one mentioned Communism or the Hiss Case until we sat over our coffee in the living room. Mrs. Philip Jessup had just used her personal good offices to try to get me off TIME. Luce was baffled by the implacable clamor of the most enlightened people against me. "By any Marxian pattern of how classes behave," he said, "the upper class should be for you and the lower classes should be against you. But it is the upper class that is most violent against you. How do you explain that?" "You don't understand the class structure of American society," said Smetana, "or you would not ask such a question. In the United States, the working class are Democrats. The middle class are Republicans. The upper class are Communists." (p.616)
  • "The story has spread that in testifying against Mr. Hiss I am working out some old grudge, or motives or revenge or hatred. I do not hate Mr. Hiss. We were close friends, but we are caught in a tragedy of history. Mr. Hiss represents the concealed enemy against which we are all fighting, and I am fighting. I have testified against him with remorse and pity, but in a moment of history in which this Nation now stands, so help me God, I could not do otherwise." (pp. 694-695) (televised testimony of August 25, 1948)
  • The Hiss Case has turned my wife and me into old people - not a disagreeable condition. But we who used to plan in terms of decades, now find a year, two years, the utmost span of time we can take in. (p. 798)

Cold Friday (1964)

New York: Random House, 1964
  • A nation's life is about as long as its reverential memory. (p. 40)
  • The Columbia faculty was not, of course, composed wholly of young skeptics and esthetes. By any count of academic noses, they were a small minority. (p. 119)
  • Trotsky was essentially a Western mind. Lenin was a Russian, and unlike most other revolutionary exiles, wherever he went he was a Russian. (p. 186)
  • Die goldene Medina. The accent was not on the golden (except in the sense of some mysterious Light), but on the Medina - that is, the city of hope, the city of deliverance. (p. 281)
  • The satellite revolt was not sparked from the West. It was sparked by Communism itself. (p. 315)

Odyssey of a Friend (1969)

New York: Putnam, 1969
  • It is in fact no exaggeration to say that we live in terror that Senator McCarthy will one day make some irreparable blunder that will play directly into the hands of our common enemy and discredit the whole anti-Communist effort for a long while to come. (p. 52)
  • Now, the Communists recognized at once (or, more probably, after they had stirred things up a bit) that Senator McCarthy is a political godsend. (p. 57)
  • Conservatism is alien to the very nature of capitalism. (p. 229)

Whittaker Chambers Wikiquote page

Ghosts on the Roof: Selected Journalism of Whittaker Chambers, 1931-1959

Washington, D.C.: Regnery Gateway, 1989
  • With the exception of Granville Hicks, probably none of these people was a Communist. They were fellow travelers who wanted to help fight fascism. How should they know the Lenin was the first fascist and that they were cooperating with the party from which the Nazis had borrowed all their important methods and ideas?... After Stalin’s Purge, the Nazi-Soviet Pact, Russia’s grab of half of Poland, the 1940 betrayed the full nature of Stalin’s hand with the attack on Finland, the seizure of part of Rumanian, and all of the Baltic States. Fellow travelers began to jump off the train. The Revolt of the Intellectuals., Time (p. 61)
  • Meanwhile the intellectuals, refugees once more in their lonely remodeled farmhouses in Connecticut and the Berkshires, thought it over. Comrade Hicks, who had been closest to the Party, knew most about it, thought Communism was daily growing more like fascism. (p. 61)
  • A state is as sound as its thriftiest citizens. A social order is sick when it has to tax its thrifty citizen to provide for its poor. When a social order has no other choice but to so, that social order is doomed. The Anatomy of Fascism, The American Mercury, April 1944 (p. 94)
  • Fascism began with the first trade union and the first cartel… Meanwhile, the Left developed its own form of cartelization—syndicalism, chiefly under the theoretical inspiration of the French engineer, George Sorel, whose hardboiled Reflections on Violence was so much appealing to our youth than the ponderosities of Das Kapital. For Sorel not only had the knife between his teeth; he accepted the more sweeping Marxist ideas too—class war, seizure of the instruments of production by the workers, the expropriation of anybody who owns anything. (p. 95)

Notes from the Underground (1997)

Washington: Regnery, 1997)
  • Lenin was a Great Russian peasant et rien de plus, mais r-r-rien de plus. Oh yes, he was a dialectician, the only true one among them. But most of all he was a Russian and that is to be a peasant.
    • p. 274
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