Red Scare

A Red Scare is the promotion of a widespread fear of a potential rise of communism, anarchism or other leftist ideologies by a society or state. It is often characterized as political propaganda.[1][2][3] The term is most often used to refer to two periods in the history of the United States which are referred to by this name. The First Red Scare, which occurred immediately after World War I, revolved around a perceived threat from the American labor movement, anarchist revolution, and political radicalism. The Second Red Scare, which occurred immediately after World War II, was preoccupied with the perception that national or foreign communists were infiltrating or subverting U.S. society and the federal government. The name refers to the red flag as a common symbol of communism.

First Red Scare (1917–1920)Edit

A political cartoon from 1919 depicting the October Revolution's impact on the Paris peace talks

The first Red Scare began following the Bolshevik Russian Revolution of 1917 and the subsequent wave of Communist revolutions throughout Europe and beyond. Domestically, these were the intensely patriotic years of World War I, with anarchist and other left-wing social agitation aggravating national, social, and political tensions. Political scientist and former member of the Communist Party Murray B. Levin wrote that the Red Scare was "a nationwide anti-radical hysteria provoked by a mounting fear and anxiety that a Bolshevik revolution in America was imminent—a revolution that would change Church, home, marriage, civility, and the American way of Life".[4] Newspapers exacerbated those political fears into anti-foreign sentiment because varieties of radical anarchism were becoming popular as possible solutions to poverty, often by recent European immigrants (cf. hyphenated-Americans). The Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), also known as the Wobblies, backed several labor strikes in 1916 and 1917. These wartime strikes covered a wide range of industries including steel working, shipbuilding, coal mining, copper mining, as well as other industries necessary to make wartime necessities. After World War I ended, the number of strikes increased to record levels in 1919 with more than 3,600 separate strikes that spanned from steel workers, to railroad shop workers, to the Boston police department.[5] The press portrayed them as "radical threats to American society" inspired by "left-wing, foreign agents provocateurs". Those on the side of the IWW claim that the press "misrepresented legitimate labor strikes" as "crimes against society", "conspiracies against the government", and "plots to establish communism".[6] Opponents, on the other hand, saw these as an extension of the radical, anarchist foundations of the IWW, which contends that all workers should be united as a social class and that capitalism and the wage system should be abolished.[7]

In 1917, as a response to World War I, Congress passed the espionage act of 1917 to prevent any information relating to national defense to be used to harm the United States or aid her enemies. The Wilson administration used this act to make anything "urging treason" a "nonmailable matter" . Due to the espionage act and the then Postmaster General Albert S. Burleson, 74 separate newspapers were not being mailed.[8]

A "European Anarchist" attempts to destroy the Statue of Liberty in this 1919 political cartoon.
A bomb blast badly damaged the residence of Attorney General Mitchell Palmer in the spring of 1919.

In April 1919, authorities discovered a plot for mailing 36 bombs to prominent members of the U.S. political and economic establishment: J. P. Morgan Jr., John D. Rockefeller, Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, U.S. Attorney General Alexander Mitchell Palmer, and immigration officials. On June 2, 1919, in eight cities, eight bombs simultaneously exploded. One target was the Washington, D.C., house of U.S. Attorney General Palmer, where the explosion killed the bomber, who evidence indicated was an Italian-American radical from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Afterwards, Palmer ordered the U.S. Justice Department to launch the Palmer Raids (1919–21).[9] He deported 249 Russian immigrants on the "Soviet Ark", helped create the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), and used federal agents to jail more than 5,000 citizens and search homes without respecting their constitutional rights.[10]

Yet, in 1918, before the bombings, President Woodrow Wilson had pressured the Congress to legislate the anti-anarchist Sedition Act of 1918 to protect wartime morale by deporting putatively undesirable political people. Law professor David D. Cole reports that President Wilson's "federal government consistently targeted alien radicals, deporting them... for their speech or associations, making little effort to distinguish terrorists from ideological dissidents."[9] President Wilson used the Sedition Act of 1918 in order to limit the exercise of free speech by criminalizing language deemed disloyal to the United States government.[11]

Initially, the press praised the raids; The Washington Post said, "There is no time to waste on hairsplitting over [the] infringement of liberty", and The New York Times said the injuries inflicted upon the arrested were "souvenirs of the new attitude of aggressiveness which had been assumed by the Federal agents against Reds and suspected-Reds".[12] In the event, the Palmer Raids were criticized as unconstitutional by twelve publicly prominent lawyers, including (future Supreme Court Justice) Felix Frankfurter, who published A Report on the Illegal Practices of The United States Department of Justice, documenting systematic violations of the Fourth, Fifth, Sixth, and Eighth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution via Palmer-authorized "illegal acts" and "wanton violence". Defensively, Palmer then warned that a government-deposing left-wing revolution would begin on 1 May 1920—May Day, the International Workers' Day. When it failed to happen, he was ridiculed and lost much credibility. Strengthening the legal criticism of Palmer was that fewer than 600 deportations were substantiated with evidence, out of the thousands of resident aliens arrested and deported. In July 1920, Palmer's once-promising Democratic Party bid for the U.S. presidency failed.[13] Wall Street was bombed on September 2, 1920, near Federal Hall National Memorial and the JP Morgan Bank. Although both anarchists and communists were suspected as being responsible for the bombing, ultimately no individuals were indicted for the bombing in which 38 died and 141 were injured.[14]

In 1919–20, several states enacted "criminal syndicalism" laws outlawing advocacy of violence in effecting and securing social change. The restrictions included free speech limitations.[15] Passage of these laws, in turn, provoked aggressive police investigation of the accused persons, their jailing, and deportation for being suspected of being either communist or left-wing. Regardless of ideological gradation, the Red Scare did not distinguish between communism, anarchism, socialism, or social democracy.[16] This aggressive crackdown on certain ideologies resulted in many supreme court cases over the debate to free speech. In the case of Schenk v. United States, using the clear and present danger test the espionage act of 1917 and the sedition act of 1918 were deemed constitutional.[11]

Second Red Scare (1947–1957)Edit

The second Red Scare occurred after World War II (1939–1945), and is known as "McCarthyism" after its best known advocate, Senator Joseph McCarthy. McCarthyism coincided with an increased and widepread fear of communist espionage that was consequent of the increasing tension in the Cold War through the Soviet occupation of Eastern Europe, the Berlin Blockade (1948–49), the end of the Chinese Civil War, the confessions of spying for the Soviet Union that were made by several high-ranking U.S. government officials, and the outbreak of the Korean War.

Internal causes of the anti-communist fearEdit

The events of the late 1940s, the early 1950s—the trial of Ethel and Julius Rosenberg (1953), the trial of Alger Hiss, the Iron Curtain (1945–1992) around Eastern Europe, and the Soviet Union's first nuclear weapon test in 1949 (RDS-1)—surprised the American public, influencing popular opinion about U.S. National Security, which, in turn, was connected to the fear that the Soviet Union would hydrogen-bomb the United States, and fear of the Communist Party of the United States of America (CPUSA).

In Canada, the 1946 Kellock–Taschereau Commission investigated espionage after top secret documents concerning RDX, radar and other weapons were handed over to the Soviets by a domestic spy-ring.[17]

At the House Un-American Activities Committee, former CPUSA members and NKVD spies, Elizabeth Bentley and Whittaker Chambers, testified that Soviet spies and communist sympathizers had penetrated the U.S. government before, during and after World War II. Other U.S. citizen spies confessed to their acts of espionage in situations where the statute of limitations on prosecuting them had run out. In 1949, anti–communist fear, and fear of American traitors, was aggravated by the Chinese Communists winning the Chinese Civil War against the Western-sponsored Kuomintang, their founding of the Communist China, and later Chinese intervention in the Korean War (1950–53) against U.S. ally South Korea.

A few of the events during the Red Scare were also due to a power struggle between director of FBI J. Edgar Hoover and the Central Intelligence Agency. Hoover had instigated and aided some of the investigations of members of the CIA with "leftist" history, like Cord Meyer.[18] This conflict could also be traced back to the conflict between Hoover and William J. Donovan, going back to the first Red Scare, but especially during World War II. Donovan ran the OSS (CIA's predecessor). They had differing opinions on the nature of the alliance with the Soviet Union, conflicts over jurisdiction, conflicts of personality, the OSS hiring of communists and criminals as agents, etc.[19]


Early yearsEdit

By the 1930s, communism had become an attractive economic ideology, particularly among labor leaders and intellectuals. By 1939, the CPUSA had about 50,000 members.[20] In 1940, soon after World War II began in Europe, the U.S. Congress legislated the Alien Registration Act (aka the Smith Act, 18 USC § 2385) making it a crime to "knowingly or willfully advocate, abet, advise or teach the duty, necessity, desirability or propriety of overthrowing the Government of the United States or of any State by force or violence, or for anyone to organize any association which teaches, advises or encourages such an overthrow, or for anyone to become a member of or to affiliate with any such association"—and required Federal registration of all foreign nationals. Although principally deployed against communists, the Smith Act was also used against right-wing political threats such as the German-American Bund, and the perceived racial disloyalty of the Japanese-American population, (cf. hyphenated-Americans).

After the non-aggression pact was signed between Hitler and Stalin in 1939 the communist party in the United States took an anti-war approach and were consequently treated with more hostility than they had been previously by the public because they were seen as to be working with the Nazis, however in 1941, after Nazi Germany invaded the Soviet Union, the CPUSA's official position became pro-war, opposing labor strikes in the weapons industry and supporting the U.S. war effort against the Axis Powers. With the slogan "Communism is Twentieth-Century Americanism", the chairman, Earl Browder, advertised the CPUSA's integration to the political mainstream.[21] In contrast, the Trotskyist Socialist Workers Party opposed U.S. participation in the war and supported labor strikes, even in the war-effort industry. For this reason, James P. Cannon and other SWP leaders were convicted per the Smith Act.

Wind downEdit

In 1954, after accusing the army, including war heroes, Senator Joseph McCarthy lost credibility in the eyes of the American public. He was formally censured by his colleagues in Congress and the hearings led by McCarthy came to a close.[22] After the Senate formally censured McCarthy, his political standing and power were significantly diminished, and much of the tension surrounding the idea of a possible communist takeover died down.

From 1955 through 1959, the Supreme Court made several decisions which restricted the ways in which the government could enforce its anti-communist policies, some of which included limiting the federal loyalty program to only those who had access to sensitive information, allowing defendants to face their accusers, reducing the strength of congressional investigation committees, and weakening the Smith Act.[23]

In the 1957 case Yates v. United States and the 1961 case Scales v. United States, the Supreme Court limited Congress's ability to circumvent the First Amendment, and in 1967 during the Supreme Court case United States v. Robel, the Supreme Court ruled that a ban on communists in the defense industry was unconstitutional.[24]

In 1995, the American government revealed details of the Venona Project, which when combined with the opening of the USSR ComIntern archives, provided substantial validation of intelligence gathering, outright spying, and policy influencing, by Americans on behalf of the Soviet Union, from 1940 through 1980.[25][26] Over 300 American communists, whether they knew it or not, including government officials and technicians that helped in developing the atom bomb, were found to have engaged in espionage.[23]

See alsoEdit

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  1. ^ "McCarthyism and the Red Scare | Miller Center". 2017-12-20. Retrieved 2021-10-17.
  2. ^ "Red Scare · Decoding Political Propaganda · Nabb Research Center Online Exhibits". Retrieved 2021-10-17.
  3. ^ "Red Scare | Modern American History". Retrieved 2021-10-17.
  4. ^ Levin, Murray B. (1971). Political Hysteria in America: The Democratic Capacity for Repression. Basic Books. p. 29. ISBN 0-465-05898-1. OCLC 257349.
  5. ^ "Labour Movements, Trade Unions and Strikes (USA) | International Encyclopedia of the First World War (WW1)". Retrieved 2019-11-01.
  6. ^ Political Hysteria in America: The Democratic Capacity for Repression (1971), p. 31
  7. ^ "Preamble to the IWW Constitution". Industrial Workers of the World. Retrieved 2009-08-20.
  8. ^ May 2019), Deborah Fisher in. "Espionage Act of 1917". Retrieved 2019-10-31.
  9. ^ a b Cole, David D. (2003). "Enemy Aliens" (PDF). Stanford Law Review. Stanford Law Review, Vol. 54, No. 5. 54 (5): 953–1004. doi:10.2307/1229690. ISSN 0038-9765. JSTOR 1229690. OCLC 95029839. Archived from the original (PDF) on August 15, 2011.
  10. ^ "The Red Scare []". Retrieved 2019-10-31.
  11. ^ a b Cowley, Marcie K. "Red Scare". Retrieved 2019-10-31.
  12. ^ Farquhar, Michael (2003). A Treasury of Great American Scandals. Penguin Books. p. 199. ISBN 0-14-200192-9. OCLC 51810711. A Treasury of Great American Scandals.
  13. ^ Hakim, Joy (1995). War, Peace, and All That Jazz. New York, New York: Oxford University Press. pp. 34–36. ISBN 0-19-509514-6.
  14. ^ Gage, Beverly (2009). The Day Wall Street Exploded: A Story of America in its First Age of Terror. New York: Oxford University Press. pp. 160–161. ISBN 978-0-19-514824-4. OCLC 149137353. The Day Wall Street Exploded.
  15. ^ Kennedy, David M.; Lizabeth Cohen; Thomas A. Bailey (2001). The American Pageant. Houghton Mifflin Company. ISBN 978-0-669-39728-4. OCLC 48675667. The American Pageant.
  16. ^ O. Dickerson, Mark (2006). An Introduction to Government and Politics, Seventh Edition. Toronto: Nelson. ISBN 0-17-641676-5.
  17. ^ Canada. The report of the Royal Commission appointed under Order in Council P. C. 411 of February 5, 1946 to investigate the facts relating to and the circumstances surrounding the communication, by public officials and other persons in positions of trust, of secret and confidential information to agents of a foreign power, June 27, 1946. Ottawa: E. Cloutier, Printer to the King.[verification needed]
  18. ^ Mocking Bird Archived 2006-06-19 at the Wayback Machine, John Simkin, Spartacus Schoolnet
  19. ^ See for example Wedge: The Secret War between the FBI and CIA, by Mark Riebling
  20. ^ Johnpoll, Bernard K. (1994). A Documentary History of the Communist Party of the United States: Volume III Unite and Fight, 1934–1935. Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Press. pp. xv. ISBN 978-0-313-28506-6. OCLC 27976811.
  21. ^ Countryman, Edward (2010). "Communism". In Kazin, Michael; Edwards, Rebecca; Rothman, Adam (eds.). The Princeton Encyclopedia of American Political History. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. p. 175. ISBN 978-0-691-12971-6. OCLC 320801248. Retrieved May 3, 2011.
  22. ^ "McCarthyism []". Retrieved 2019-10-31.
  23. ^ a b Storrs, Landon R. Y. (2015-07-02). "McCarthyism and the Second Red Scare". Oxford Research Encyclopedia of American History. doi:10.1093/acrefore/9780199329175.013.6. ISBN 978-0199329175.
  24. ^ Cowley, Marcie K. "Red Scare". Retrieved 2019-11-01.
  25. ^ "Venona and the Russian Files". The Hiss Case in Story. Harvard, NYU. 2010. Archived from the original on May 14, 2011. Retrieved 2010-07-28.
  26. ^ Commission on Protecting and Reducing Government Secrecy. "A Brief Account of the American Experience" (PDF). Report of the Commission on Protecting and Reducing Government Secrecy. VI; Appendix A. U.S. Government Printing Office. p. A-7. Archived from the original (PDF) on May 14, 2011. Retrieved 2006-06-26.

References and further readingEdit

  • K. A. Cuordileone, "The Torment of Secrecy: Reckoning with Communism and Anti-Communism After Venona", Diplomatic History, vol. 35, no. 4 (Sept. 2011), pp. 615–642.
  • Albert Fried, McCarthyism, the Great American Red Scare: A Documentary History. New York: Oxford University Press, 1997
  • Joy Hakim, War, Peace, and All That Jazz. New York: Oxford University Press, 1995.
  • John Earl Haynes, Red Scare or Red Menace?: American Communism and Anti Communism in the Cold War Era. Ivan R. Dee, 2000.
  • John Earl Haynes and Harvey Klehr, Venona: Decoding Soviet Espionage in America. Cambridge, MA: Yale University Press, 2000.
  • Murray B. Levin, Political Hysteria in America: The Democratic Capacity for Repression. New York: Basic Books, 1972.
  • Rodger McDaniel, Dying for Joe McCarthy's Sins. Cody, Wyo.: WordsWorth, 2013. ISBN 978-0983027591
  • Ted Morgan, Reds: McCarthyism in Twentieth-Century America. New York: Random House, 2004.
  • Robert K. Murray (1955). Red Scare: A Study in National Hysteria, 1919–1920. University of Minnesota Press. ISBN 9780816658336. Retrieved 17 May 2020.
  • Richard Gid Powers, Not Without Honor: A History of American Anti-Communism. New York: Free Press, 1997.
  • Regin Schmidt (2000). Red Scare: FBI and the Origins of Anticommunism in the United States, 1919–1943. Museum Tusculanum Press. ISBN 978-8772895819. OCLC 963460662.
  • Ellen Schrecker, Many Are the Crimes: McCarthyism in America. Boston: Little, Brown, 1998.
  • Landon R. Y. Storrs, The Second Red Scare and the Unmaking of the New Deal Left. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2012.
  • William M. Wiecek, "The Legal Foundations of Domestic Anticommunism: The Background of Dennis v. United States", Supreme Court Review, vol. 2001 (2001), pp. 375–434. JSTOR 3109693.

External linksEdit