Communism In and Out of Fashion: The American School of Classical Studies at Athens and the Cold War

Posted by Jack L. Davis

Jack L. Davis, Carl W. Blegen Professor of Greek Archaeology at the University of Cincinnati and a former director of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens (2007-2012), here contributes an essay about attitudes of the ASCSA and its members toward Communists and Communism in the 20th century.

“Feeling they were witnessing the demise of capitalism, many writers moved left, some because their working class origins helped them identify with the dispossessed, others because they saw socialism or Communism as the only serious force for radical change, still others because it was the fashionable thing to do; they went where the action was.”
Morris Dickstein, Dancing in the Dark (2009), pp. 16-17.

DancingDark_smallIn 1974, when I first arrived at the American School of Classical Studies at Athens (ASCSA or the School hereafter), we youngsters were told that we should not express our political views in public. The ASCSA’s institutional mission might be hurt, were it perceived not to be neutral. In September 1974 that was certainly a reasonable position for the ASCSA to assume. Yet I was curious. In 1974, I was myself radicalized, and had definitely headed left. I could not condone U.S. policy in respect to the Junta, or the suppression of the Left in Greece. Could I say nothing? Had the ASCSA always maintained a position of strict neutrality? Or were its postures more convenient than sincere?

A decade ago I explored ASCSA’s decision to excavate at Colophon, politics aligned with the Megali Idea (Μεγάλη Ιδέα) and Greece’s annexation of Asia Minor. More recently, in a special issue of Hesperia titled Philhellenism, Philanthropy, or Political Convenience: American Archaeology in Greece, we (Natalia Vogeikoff-Brogan, our colleagues, and I) studied unofficial relationships between the ASCSA, the U.S. State Department, the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), and quasi-governmental institutions, such as the American Red Cross.

Here, as another case study in ASCSA policy, I examine attitudes of the ASCSA and its members toward Communists and Communism. Early in the 20th century Marxism and Russia attracted the attention of some members of the ASCSA, reflecting the more general phenomenon described by Morris Dickstein in Dancing in the Dark (2009). But mounting tensions between the U.S. and Russia in the Cold War restricted the expression of divergent opinions by School members.

Poster by Hugo Gellert, 1935

Poster by Hugo Gellert, 1935

On July 1, 1954, faculty and alumni of the Institute for Advanced Study (IAS) in Princeton released a joint statement to the New York Times. Harold Cherniss, head of the School of Historical Research, cabled Homer A. Thompson (professor at IAS and director of the Athenian Agora Excavations) in Athens to ensure that the joint statement was unanimous. Physicist Robert Oppenheimer, the so-called “Father of the Atomic Bomb” and director of the IAS, after days of grueling testimony, had been found blameless by the House of Representatives Un-American Activities Committee. The McCarthy witch-hunts were in overdrive. Now was the time for faculty of the IAS (among them archaeologists Hetty Goldman, Benjamin Merritt, and Homer Thompson) to affirm their devotion:

 We, who have known him [Oppenheimer] as a colleague, as Director of our own institution, and as a neighbor in a small and intimate community, had from the first complete confidence in his loyalty to the United States, his discretion in guarding its secrets, and his deep concern for its safety, strength, and welfare.

Robert Oppenheimer

Robert Oppenheimer’s most recent biography.

Oppenheimer was an extraordinary polymath, a brilliant theoretical physicist and founding director of the Los Alamos National Laboratory. At Los Alamos, he had evolved into a gifted leader (recommended reading is American Prometheus: The Triumph and Tragedy of J. Robert Oppenheimer). Born in Manhattan into a wealthy, secular Jewish family, educated at Felix Adler’s Ethical Culture School, precocious and obnoxious, by his own account, he excelled in nearly ev ery academic subject. Oppenheimer loved rocks, poetry, and languages. At the age of nine he challenged an older girl cousin: “Ask me a question in Latin and I will answer you in Greek.” Oppenheimer was accused of betraying his country because of previous associations with the Communist Party and its members, including a former lover. He only admitted to being a “fellow traveller,” sympathetic to the beliefs of the party.

At least a couple students of the ASCSA also flirted with Communism in the first half of the 20th century. Ida Carlton Thallon (Mrs. Bert Hodge Hill), was certainly intrigued by socialism, captivated by the passion of her more famous friend, Jane Harrison. Mary Beard dismisses any notion that Harrison’s ideas represented an “incipient communism,” but she certainly was enthralled by potential of the Soviet Union. To the Russian literary critic Dimitry Mirsky, Harrison “described herself as a philosophical Radical, with a dash of the Bolshevik.” She herself wrote: “The Bears [Russian] revolution has made me so happy—it is the best and biggest thing the War has brought and does justify our faith in them and it is splendid that there has been so little bloodshed.” (After her death, Mirsky died in a gulag!)

Thallon met Harrison in Athens in 1901 and described her as “charming.” They corresponded, and in August 1916 saw each other at the so-called Russian meeting in Cambridge. A bit earlier, on June 29, 1916, Harrison had written to Thallon: “… We are still immersed in war and personally I am immersed in Russian. I really think you must take up that fascinating tongue. It is the most repaying language — barring Greek — I have ever worked at” (ASCSA Archives, Ida Thallon Papers Box 3, folder 5).

Heinrich (Henry) Immerwahr (director of the ASCSA, 1977-82), a committed Marxist prior to the Stalinist purges, escaped Nazi death camps with help from the U.S. Embassy and the ASCSA. So far as I know, his former leftist politics made him no less welcome in Athens or in the U.S.

Not all students of the ASCSA were so enamored with Russia and Marxism. Suzanne Allinson (member 1910-11), daughter of Francis G. Allinson, professor of Classics at Brown University, married Henry Crosby Emery, an economist and professor at Bowdoin and Yale. In 1917, they toured Russia as he studied the health of its industries and financial institutions, but fled the outbreak of the Revolution (and were briefly taken prisoner by the Germans), departing with very negative impressions of Communism. In 1919 Emery published an essay in The Yale Review that was harshly critical of the Bolsheviks (“Bolshevism: An Analysis of a World Movement after Experiences in Russia during the Revolution”).


With the end of WW II, in Greece Communism became more real than theoretical, as struggles for power between the government and former resistance forces erupted. The U.S. supported the government of George Papandreou and the ASCSA supported the U.S. in its efforts to rebuild and stabilize Greece. Both Alison Frantz and Carl Blegen held appointments at the American Embassy and Loring Hall was rented to the State Department. (An earlier post to this blog by Despina Lalaki, titled “On Communism and Hellenism: An Archaeologist’s Perspective,” examined the role that Carl Blegen played in promoting U.S. policy in the years following WW II, with particular reference to his unpublished book manuscript, “The United States and Greece.”)

German forces withdrew from Greece in October 1944, and the Greek government in exile returned to Athens from Egypt. But Communist EAM (The National Liberation Front)-ELAS (The Greek People’s Liberation Army) controlled most of the country. On December 3, 1944, a pro-EAM demonstration in Athens ended in violence and a house-to-house struggle with British and monarchist forces followed (the so-called Dekemvriana). The Varkiza Agreement of February 12, 1945 suspended the conflict, ELAS was disarmed, and a coalition government was formed.

Homer A. Thompson, Director of the Athenian Agora Excavations (1947-1967)

Homer A. Thompson

In the midst of the “Dekemvriana,” on December 6, 1944, Homer Thompson (not yet director of the Athenian Agora excavations) stumbled across an unmarked frontier and entered ELAS-controlled Athens; he was on his way to the Austrian School of Archaeology to visit archaeologist Kostantinos Kourouniotis. The fact that he wore his Canadian officer’s uniform no doubt contributed to his four-day detention by ELAS.

Thompson’s classified report to his superiors emphasizes that he does not intend to present “an apology for EAM-ELAS but rather a record of their state of mind at the time in question.” He does to set forth their grievances in an objective manner, concluding that: “… the British policy was right in principle” in supporting the Papandreou government but “… frequently suffered from lack of tact in its application or through misunderstanding of the Greek temperament.”

The “Dekemvriana” had been all but inevitable: “… All through the ages, the Greeks when under strain have given way to what they themselves call ‘stasis,’ that is, factional rivalry which is aggravated by intransigence in their political relations and inevitably ends in civil strife.” He was reminded that Byron had written from Messolonghi (University of Toronto Quarterly 15.2 [1945-46] 170-181): “The Greeks appear in more danger from their own divisions than from the attacks of the enemy.”

Excerpt from H.A. Thompson's "Athens During the Civil War: 1944," University of Toronto Quarterly, 15:2, 1946, p. 173. ASCSA Archives, Homer A. Thompson Papers.

Excerpt from H.A. Thompson’s “Athens During the Civil War: 1944,” University of Toronto Quarterly, 15:2, 1946, p. 173. ASCSA Archives, Homer A. Thompson Papers.



Democratic elections in March 1946 were supervised by international monitors (AMFOGE, The Allied Mission to Observe the Greek Elections) — and members of the ASCSA played an important role. A plebiscite would decide if Greece was to be a monarchy or republic, after parliamentary elections.

April 1946: US Cultural Relations Attache Carl W. Blegan (R) and J. W. Foster standing in headquarters of the Allied Mission For Observing Greek Elections (AMFOGE). (Photo by Nat Farbman/Time & Life Pictures/Getty Images)

April 1946: US Cultural Relations Attache Carl W. Blegan (R) and J. W. Foster standing in headquarters of the Allied Mission For Observing Greek Elections (AMFOGE). (Photo by Nat Farbman/Time & Life Pictures/Getty Images)

AMFOGE was a project of America, Britain, and France. Five senior American monitors, holding ambassadorial status, reported to Henry Grady, chief of the American President Line shipping company. One of them, Herman Wells, president of Indiana University (IU), supervised Thessaloniki. In his biography, Being Lucky: Reminiscences and Reflections, Wells wrote:

“I think our mission could not have been successful without the knowledge that the archaeologists imparted to us about Greece, both ancient and modern. In truth, American archaeologists became our most important informational resource in observing the Greek elections. The happy outcome of this delicate and significant task represented America’s first diplomatic victory on behalf of the West in the series of Cold War events…”

Peter Topping (from 1952, director of the Gennadius Library of the ASCSA) was Wells’ personal assistant. Shirley Weber, director of the Gennadius Library, Carl Blegen, and Alison Frantz were the critical “archaeologists” he mentions.

Not all members of the ASCSA considered AMFOGE a success. David Moore Robinson of Johns Hopkins University (and also the excavator of Olynthus) and Robert Scranton of the University of Chicago, both visiting professors in 1946-47, criticized U.S. policy in American newspapers.

In a contribution to the Baltimore Sun in November 1947, titled “Dr. Robinson Finds Greece Graft Ridden,” Robinson reported that Greeks believed that America was acting in its own self-interest. He claimed that United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation (UNRAA) grants (largely funded by the U.S.) accomplished little, and he reported extravagant waste (even lavish parties at the Grand Bretagne Hotel). As for ELAS bands, Robinson wrote: “All these bands are not necessarily Communist. There have been bands in the hills of Macedonia since medieval times so this is nothing new. They are simply the descendants of those people.”

Scranton had already described similar conditions in Greece in a letter to the New York Times (July 10, 1947), titled“Cessation of Oppression”:

[In Greece] “… difficulties are aggravated and exploited by foreign powers for their own national and international ends… The present Greek government is almost hysterically afraid of communism — a word which has come to mean, in Greece, any but an extreme rightist stand … most people live in fear for life and liberty. Many of them join the guerrillas, where Communists are doubtless to be found, simply as the only effective means they see of opposing the Government … The chief and exceedingly difficult objective of the American loan to Greece must be to serve the people, and no part of it should be used in the suppression of their just rights and Liberty.”

Scranton 1947

Excerpt from Robert Scranton’s  letter to the New York Times in 1947.

Such frank public statements put the ASCSA in a particularly uncomfortable position when Moscow radio began to quote Scranton. Thallon had been “left-curious.” Immerwahr was also an idealist. But in the Cold War expressions of sympathy with the Left, in opposition to official U.S. policy of the U.S., had practical consequences, which leadership of the ASCSA found threatening.


Former ASCSA director Charles Morgan wanted to know “… what steps have, or can be, taken to put the perennial bad boy [Robinson] in restraints.” Louis Lord, chairman of the Managing Committee of the School was furious and sent an open letter to staff (ASCSA AdmRec, box 310/8, folder 2, November 14, 1947). In it he invoked Section II, paragraph 1, of the Regulations of the Managing Committee:

“No communication, even of an informal nature, should be made by any member of the School to the public press unless it has been approved and its publication authorized by the Director … The American Government is supporting, at a great deal of expense, the present government in Greece. However faulty that government may be, and however inefficient may be our efforts to help, it seems to me that our duty as members of the School is to help our government’s efforts if we can… .”


The ASCSA professors of the IAS defended free speech in a time of oppression. Scranton and Robinson favored tolerance of ideas and opposed U.S. policy. Two members of the ASCSA (Emily Grace and Kevin Andrews), however, were much more vocal in their opposition to American policy, and both took action, albeit in very different ways.

Emily Grace Kazakevich (ASCSA member 1936-37), sister of Agora amphora-scholar Virginia Grace, was born into a well-to-do New York City family of cotton importers. After Bryn Mawr College, Emily received a Ph.D. from Yale, her thesis titled The Sparta of Agis and Cleomenes: A Study of the Ancient Literary Sources. Her husband, Vladimir Kazakevich, though a White Russian, dreamt of receiving Soviet citizenship. Both Emily and Vladimir were committed Marxists (in the 1940s they had translated Communist works into English). They both believed that the U.S. was capable of starting a third world war.

Emily Grace, Doreen Canaday, Margaret (Miggy) Hill, and Lucy Shoe

(From left to right), Emily Grace, Doreen Canaday, Margaret (Miggy) Hill, and Lucy Shoe, Malia, Crete 1938. ASCSA Archives, Doreen Canaday Spitzer Papers.

While employed at the U.S. Army’s Russian Institute at Cornell University, Vladimir began to feed high-quality intelligence to Russian operatives. When exposed in 1949 by fellow spy Elizabeth Bentley, he and Emily fled to Moscow.

John Watson, Canadian chargé d’affaires in Moscow and later ambassador, described the pair in chatty letters to the Canadian State Department (Moscow Despatches). (1948-1951): “Their apartment [in Moscow] was ‘very comfortable, and Emily, who is a complete blue-stocking and loathes housework, would have been happy, I think, to have lived there indefinitely ….” Trunks were covered with her mother’s Oriental rugs. In 1954-1956, however, he found her lonely. She worked mostly at home for the Institute of Ancient History and her spoken Russian was not excellent.

Emily was an important and collaborative scholar. Deborah Kamen (Greek, Roman, and Byzantine Studies 48, pp. 343–380), describes her life in a preface to an English translation of her article: “Were the χωρίς οἰκοῦντες slaves?” She corresponded with Moses Finley, Mike Jameson, and Ronald Stroud.

Last winter, Stroud, professor emeritus at Berkley, wrote me: “I never met Emily Grace Kazakevich, for she was still living in Moscow during the time of our acquaintance. I think that it was Moses Finley who first brought her work on Athenian homicide law and slavery to my attention … I corresponded with her for several years about Athenian law and exchanged offprints. … Parenthetically, I never mentioned Emily to her sister Virginia and, although she knew that we were often working on the same topics, VG [Virginia Grace] never mentioned her to me.”

Daniel Tompkins, professor emeritus at Temple University, sent me scans of Finley’s correspondence with Kazakevich, noting that it is disappointingly lacking in political context. Dan writes: “MIF [Finley] and EGK (Kazakevich] had an intermittent but interesting correspondence. It has interesting flashes, but sadly perhaps, as with many of these exchanges of letters, there is hardly anything about the Party, politics, Stalin, etc. I’m sure Emily had to be careful, and the old communists of Finley’s era seem to have been drilled to stay quiet.”

Emily voted with her feet, and left the U.S.


Another student of the ASCSA also vociferously opposed U.S. policy, particularly in Greece, and made Athens his home. Kevin Andrews, fellow of the ASCSA in the later 1940s and author of Castles of the Morea, acquired (in the words of Glenn Bugh, who prefaced the book’s new edition), “… a passionate hatred for American interventionism.” Under the Colonels “… he clearly felt the American School, staying true to its educational mission and its longstanding policy of non-involvement in Greek politics, was not vocal enough about the suspected CIA complicity with the Colonels. Andrews was consistent in his leftist political views: even before the Junta he had been critical of what he perceived as social coziness that existed between the School and the Monarchy.” (Andrews did present a copy of his book to Queen Frederika, who invited him to a party the next day.)

He was in his own words “a pain in the neck” for the ASCSA, but his political views were not an embarrassment for the ASCSA prior to publication of The Flight of Ikaros (1959). Director Jack Caskey gave him free room and board in Loring Hall and, in 1951, wrote: “Kevin is doing what I consider a very fine piece of work, which will be a credit to the School and will call attention to the Gennadeion.”

In November 1973 Andrews joined the Polytechnic strike and was beaten badly. After the fall of the Junta he renounced his U.S. citizenship in favor of Greek.

The Flight of Ikaros by Kevin Andrews.

The Flight of Ikaros by Kevin Andrews

Neither fish nor foul, the ASCSA is a private, non-governmental, non-profit institution, yet it is also the legal representative of all American archaeology in Greece. Good relations with the Greek state (the Ministry of Education or the Ministry of Culture) have been key to the ASCSA’s success. And close ties to the American Embassy have benefited the School in tangible and intangible ways. An American institution operating in a foreign environment that has at times been hostile to its existence may reasonably be concerned lest individual opinions be construed as reflections of institutional policy. But in the 21st century is there still no room at the ASCSA for political discussions? Given its independent, educational mission, might the ASCSA be, in fact, an ideal location for such debate?

4 Comments on “Communism In and Out of Fashion: The American School of Classical Studies at Athens and the Cold War”

  1. Glenn Bugh says:

    Nice piece, Jack. Very informative. . .and contextual.

  2. […] Communism at the American School of Classical Studies in Athens. […]

  3. Rania Balli says:

    Congrats Jack, so interesting as always..

  4. […] the second season, it featured good acting and it was fun to watch. Also see Jack Davis’s Communism In and Out of Fashion, Sept. 1, 2016.)  “Originally the Clock, which hangs on a wall in The Bulletin’s office at […]

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