AFTER LONG SILENCE by Michael Straight
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It was Michael Straight, as is now known, who informed on Anthony Blunt in 1963--after 26 years of silence. His memoir is intended to explain 1) how he let himself be recruited by Blunt as a Soviet spy in 1937; 2) that he did no actual spying, and soon broke away; 3) why he waited so long to blow the whistle on Guy Burgess and Blunt. The prime interest, however, is the identity and trajectory of Michael Straight: b. 1916; Whitney scion; son of the founders of The New Republic; raised at Dartington Hall, the radical utopian community established by his mother and her second, agriculturalist husband; entangled, at 16, in London School of Economics left-wing politics; protÉgÉ of Keynes--and student-Socialist/student-Communist--at 1934-37 Cambridge. Repeatedly, Straight speaks of his guilt at inheriting wealth; his desire to please, and fear of offending; his yearning to belong ""to some brotherhood."" ""Intellectually, I was a follower of Keynes; emotionally I was dependent upon James and John. Sadly, in those days I separated my head and my heart."" So this is in some respects a familiar apologia--but not entirely: for at the same time Straight moves ""from the outer fringes of the Socialist Society to the inner core of a Communist cell,"" he is writing to his mother: ""I don't know why I do what I do. . . there's no sound basis for communism at Cambridge. . . . Worse still, I'm bringing new people into the movement, wondering all the time if I'm damaging their lives."" Thus, Straight seems never to have been committed--or duped. He was told by Blunt, on the authority of ""The International,"" that he should return to the US upon graduation (which he'd never thought of doing), and become a Wall Street banker; he rejected the Wall Street role, but not the ""entrapment."" As a volunteer researcher/writer at the State Dept., he passed along a few of his own, non-sensitive reports to his Soviet-agent contact; then he got out of State, and out of the government, and saw no more of the agent. (The man, he later learned, vanished in 1942.) He ran into Burgess intermittently, gathered he had been behind Blunt, and repeatedly considered turning him in; but he needed a spur. In 1951, during the Korean War, he threatened Burgess; a few: months later, Burgess and MacLean defected. (Blunt, he thought, had quit.) Then, in 1963, Straight was offered an arts-administration post by JFK; turned it down, to avoid disclosure; and laid the ghost by going to the FBI. Blunt, he says, later thanked him (that, of course, was before Blunt's unanticipated public disgrace). Straight, meanwhile, had devoted himself to The New Republic, liberal causes, and--to his regret--the Wallace candidacy. That is another very considerable story, but also part of why Straight feels he must ""work my passage home."" It's not a sympathetic or appealing story--but it has luminaries galore and inescapable grab.

Pub Date: Feb. 21st, 1983
Publisher: Norton