Travels in the Soviet Union: Some Background

[Part 1 of 3]

Linus and Ava Helen Pauling traveled to the Soviet Union six times between the years 1957 and 1985. For the most part, Linus Pauling’s relationship with the Soviet Union was steeped in science, but he did speak on peace issues and the need to cease nuclear tests during his travels through the USSR.

Unlike many of his peers, Pauling did not see the Soviet Union purely as a threat, but chose to view it instead as a potential, and vital, partner in peace. Likewise, most of the Soviet scientists with whom he interacted were viewed as having pure motives for advancing their research agendas. Unfortunately, Pauling’s cordial relations with contacts in the Soviet Union caused others in the United States to be suspicious of his own true motives and political affiliation during the decades of the Cold War.

For those inclined to criticize Pauling, one group that raised eyebrows was the National Council of American-Soviet Friendship, of which Pauling was a member. For his part, Pauling affiliated with the group out of hope that it might live up to its name. Specifically, in a letter to the Council, Pauling expressed his desire that the council assist in establishing scientific links, particularly with respect to chemistry and medicine, between the Soviet Union and the United States. He believed that, above all else, the two countries needed to cooperate and ultimately desired to see an exchange of professors and students between the USSR and the US in near the future.

Pauling was also invited to attend the meetings of the Russian-American Club of Los Angeles. At one such gathering, in November 1945, he delivered a speech encouraging that the two countries work together in order to attain peace between all nations. Pauling likewise participated in events sponsored by Progressive Citizens of America, a group considered by some to be communist.

Generally speaking, Pauling was not one to take fright at the specter of communism. Whether or not this meant that he agreed with communist ideals was a matter of continuing debate during his life. A reasonable assessment might be that he had a very tolerant outlook of it all, truly believing that communism was not anything to be worried about; that it was just a set of ideals holding sway in another country and that those views should not affect scientific or diplomatic relationships between the United States and the Soviet Union. He was not naïve though. He was well aware that Moscow was not an innocent player on the world stage. Indeed, he believed them to be recalcitrant, but thought if the United States were to take the first step towards initiating peace, only good could result.

At home, these ideals only served to grow others’ suspicion of him. The start of the 1950s brought about the first wave of false claims being levied against Pauling and the sharpening of the FBI’s keen eye upon his activities. Newspapers would declare that he participated in communist activities and in 1955 declarations were made against him, especially by Louis F. Budenz, that he was a concealed communist. This charge in particular bolstered his FBI file, causing him to be watched and investigated for connection to any activities that may remotely have been related to communism.

On June 20, 1952, Linus Pauling officially denied Communist Party membership. Despite this denial, the FBI still maintained a close record of his associations, investigating and attempting to interpret his activities. Despite this, the Bureau had trouble finding current sources that would identify Pauling as a past or present Communist Party member. Effectively, the investigators were operating off of the testimony given by Budenz – a former Communist Party functionary – that Pauling was a concealed communist. Budenz also claimed that Pauling made monetary contributions to the party even though he was not openly a member. Pauling denied these allegations, stating that he was not a member and not a contributor, but was an advocate for the inclusion of Soviet scientists in international conferences and symposia. In the climate of the time, even this level of support was grounds for reprimand.

Another action that contributed to suspicion of Pauling was his appeal to the White House for the commutation of the death sentences handed down to Julius and Ethel Rosenburg. Pauling was keenly interested in the Rosenberg case and read widely of the details underlying their sentencing. His actions on their behalf were based in his analysis of these details, an analysis that led him to conclude that the death sentences were extreme and unjust. But no matter the reason, these sorts of actions made it difficult for him to convince others of his trustworthiness and his lack of association with the Communist Party. When he did give anti-communist statements in his speeches and talks, they were branded as being too weak.

The pressures on Pauling built up to the point where traveling overseas became extremely difficult. He was famously forced to issue an oath that he was not a communist in order to receive a limited passport to travel to England in 1952. Institutions also began to reject his affiliation with them, including the University of Hawaii, which rescinded its invitation to Pauling that he speak at a building dedication in 1951.

Eventually the climate of fear that permeated the Red Scare began to fade and it grew easier for Pauling to travel and to issue opinions on the Soviet Union that strayed from mainstream orthodoxy. Finally, in 1957, he made his first trip to the USSR where he was at last able to meet with many of the scientists whose right to participate in international meetings he had advocated over the much of the previous decade.