[Alger] Hiss and [Whittaker] Chambers worked together as Soviet source and courier from late 1934 until the latter’s defection from the underground in 1938.Thus--despite the stereotype that all academic historians are (boo, hiss) revisionists--do we have an example of the resistance of some academic historians to revision. (Warning: generalizations imminent).
Two generations of controversy can be compressed into that spare, declarative statement from The Haunted Wood, by Allen Weinstein and former KGB officer Alexander Vassiliev. Alger Hiss was a Soviet spy. Not “according to Whittaker Chambers.” Not “an alleged Soviet agent.” After more than five decades, Hiss's treason can now be stated simply as fact.
But truth is rarely so simple, especially in a case that has stirred so many emotions and is so intertwined with issues larger than the veracity of the two men, Hiss and Chambers, who stood at its center. In December 1998, National Public Radio reported that “recent revelations have convinced some scholars that Hiss was guilty.” [Italics added.] For 30 years, defenders of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg protested their innocence; now they protest their sentencing, with bare mention, in many instances, of the ground that has shifted under the issue.
So often we hear (mostly from the political right) about the revisionism done by historians that has served to undermine the "true" history of our country. This, in turn, has led to a widespread assumption that all revisionism is bad. But then we have this. I would bet that this example of revisionism would be considered "good" by most on the right.
Meanwhile many of the historians on the left--who have been at the forefront of revisionism--have been reluctant to accept this particular instance. And here we have the commonality between the two: revisionism is good or bad depending on one's ideological predisposition. Of course, the necessary precursor to that is that the history that should (or shouldn't) be revised is good or bad depending on one's ideological predisposition.