THE Christian Science Monitor's first Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, Edmund Stevens, always denied he was a Communist. Newly released documents from the Soviet archives indicate that Stevens joined the Communist Party in the United States.
According to the Russian records, Stevens, who won the Pulitzer in 1950, joined the Young Communist League (YCLUSA) in 1931 and the American Communist Party (CPUSA) in 1938.
The disclosure of Stevens's affiliation is in the book ''The Secret World of American Communism,'' which was released yesterday by the Yale University Press. The information was a surprise to the Christian Science Publishing Society, which had made attempts in the past to determine if Stevens was a Communist.
David Cook, editor of the Monitor, says: ''If Stevens did join the party, whether as a youthful experiment, out of a deeper commitment to communism, or as a means of securing an exit visa for his family, the fact should not have been hidden.''
Stevens's son, Edmund Jr., who now lives in Boston, hypothesizes that his father may have joined the party in an effort to get his family an exit visa from the Soviet Union. It was a time when Stalin was purging opponents, and many people, including foreigners, felt in danger.
The new book's authors -- Harvey Klehr, John Earl Haynes, and Fridrikh Igorevich Firsov -- found the first reference to Stevens in a July 1942 inquiry from Pavel Mikhailovich Fitin, the head of foreign intelligence for the NKVD -- a forerunner of the KGB -- to the Communist International (Comintern). The Comintern directed Communist movements around the world. Stevens at the time was trying to get a visa to enter Russia as an adviser to Gen. Russell Maxwell, an aide to W. Averell Harriman, one of President Franklin Roosevelt's most trusted assistants.
The reply from Comintern informed Fitin about Stevens's Communist affiliation, including the assertion that in 1926 the then-16-year-old belonged to a school organization of Italian fascists for two months in Rome.
Apparently the Comintern pulled out of its files a 1938 letter from Edward Browder, the general secretary of the CPUSA. Mr. Browder stated: ''I knew Edmund Stevens when he was working in the American youth movement, and I found his work to be satisfactory. For our part there are no objections to his being given work in Moscow, where he could be useful.''
The Comintern said it had no more recent information about him. Mr. Klehr says there is no indication that Stevens did any espionage work for Soviet authorities.
Most Americans who knew Stevens are not surprised by the latest revelations. Theodore Draper, author of the ''Roots of American Communism,'' knew Stevens from their college days. Stevens, a student at Columbia University, was a leader in the National Student League, which Draper -- also a member -- says ''was led by Communists and was considered a Communist student movement.'' Draper says he himself was not a Communist.
Ties to US and USSR
Former Monitor correspondent Daniel Sneider met Stevens in Moscow in 1990. ''Even then there were allegations he [Stevens] had been KGB for a long time,'' says Mr. Sneider. Part of the reason for the allegations was Stevens's long stay (on and off for 57 years) in Moscow and his privileges -- such as being allowed to own a three-story mansion in the city.
Stevens also had good relations with Americans in power. According to the book, he was able to get an exit visa for his Soviet-born wife, Nina, after Ambassador Joseph Davies interceded.
Nina Stevens, now living in Moscow, says she never knew her husband was a member of the Communist Party. Though she knew he had leftist leanings, she says she believes her husband lost any personal interest in communism after Stalin purged the party in the mid-1930s.
''I don't think he would care if someone put him on a list of Communists. He didn't care much what people thought. As his war dispatches showed, there was very little communism left in him. He had dropped it completely. He was very critical of the regime here.''
Stevens, who worked for many news organizations, including Time magazine, reported from many capitals around the world for the Monitor, where he first started writing freelance articles in December 1939. In May 1940 he received a Soviet visa and asked to cover the country for the Monitor. He was hired as a full-time staffer in November 1942.
When he was later denied another visa, according to Monitor records, Wendell Wilkie, a GOP presidential candidate, appealed to Vyacheslav Molotov, the Russian prime minister. In December 1943, Stevens arrived in Moscow. Then, in 1945, he left the Monitor to begin a lecture tour.
He returned to Moscow for the Monitor in January 1946. By late 1949, Stevens, frustrated with Russian censors, left the country to write a 44-part series, ''This is Russia Un-Censored,'' for which he won the Pulitzer in 1950. Though he resigned in 1955.