ANTICOMMUNISM was a stance rather than a movement. It did not revolve around a principal anticommunist organization or a core ideology. Anticommunists were defined by what they were against rather than what they were for. Rather than a single anticommunism, there were numerous varieties, and since the 1917 Bolshevik revolution in Russia a multitude of civil, political, and religious organizations incorporated anticommunism as a subsidiary part of their activities while countless single-purpose and usually short-lived anticommunist organizations sprang up. The various anticommunisms did not follow a common agenda aside from their shared opposition to communism or even approve of each other. At times government authorities prosecuted, persecuted, and harassed Communists; at other times the government was indifferent and nongovernment organizations spearheaded the anticommunist cause.
Varieties of Anticommunism
Conservative and patriotic anticommunism found expression through such private organizations as the American Legion, the American Chamber of Commerce, and the Veterans of Foreign Wars as well as through the Republican Party and the conservative wing of the Democratic Party. On the left, the American Federation of Labor and its leader, Samuel Gompers, were hostile to communism from 1917 onward, resenting Communist attempts to sub-ordinate trade unions to party control and judging that independent unions could operate successfully only in a democratic polity. The smaller Congress of Industrial Organizations contained a number of Communist-aligned unions, but in 1950, headed by the United Steelworkers of America leader Philip Murray and the United Auto Workers chief Walter Reuther, it, too, concluded that American trade unionism and communism were incompatible and expelled its Communist faction.
Communism's militant atheism and the suppression of Christianity in the U.S.S.R. sparked strong religiously based anticommunism among both Protestants, particularly Evangelicals, and Roman Catholics. Roman Catholics were aroused in the 1930s by the violent suppression of the church in Spain by a government in which Communists were dominant. Catholics became further mobilized after 1945 by communist persecution of Catholics in Eastern Europe. Catholic lay organizations such as the Knights of Columbus, Catholic Daughters of America, Cardinal Mindszenty Foundation, Catholic War Veterans, and the Association of Catholic Trade Unionists became actively anticommunist. The Soviet takeover of Eastern Europe also aroused hostility among ethnic Americans with forebears from the region. Polish Americans through such organizations as the Polish American Congress played a significant role in shifting the Democratic Party to an anticommunist stance in the post–World War II period.
In the 1940s and 1950s Republicans often used anticommunism as a partisan weapon against Democrats and liberals, seeking to link them to communism. Richard Nixon (R-Calif.) gained national prominence as a member of the House Committee on Un-American Activities investigating Soviet espionage, while Senator Joseph McCarthy (R-Wis.) used anticommunism in a demagogic fashion to accuse prominent members of the Truman administration of treason. The conservative Democratic Senator Pat McCarran of Nevada authored the sweeping Internal Security Act of 1950 and chaired the Senate's Internal Security Subcommittee's investigations into communism. Anticommunism became ascendant among liberal Democrats after World War II when Communists and their allies, dissatisfied with President Truman's increasing hostility to Soviet foreign policy, made a bid for the leader-ship of liberalism. In 1948 left liberals hostile to Truman's Cold War policies joined with Communists to create the Progressive Party as an alternative to the Democratic Party and backed Henry Wallace as a left alternative to Truman's reelection. In the ensuing intraliberal civil war, anticommunist liberals, working though the Americans for Democratic Action, argued that liberal belief in political democracy and such fundamental liberties as freedom of speech, press, and association precluded cooperation with communism, which rejected those in theory and practice. Communists and their allies suffered a catastrophic political defeat when Wallace and the Progressives did very poorly, and the Democratic Party came under the firm control of Truman's Cold War Democrats and such anticommunist liberals as Senators Hubert Humphrey (D-Minn.), Paul Douglas (D-Ill.), and Henry Jackson (D-Wash.). Other left anticommunisms included that of the Socialist Party, particularly in the 1930s and 1940s under the leadership of Norman Thomas, which saw communism's rejection of political democracy as a betrayal of the basic values of socialism, and that of a number of intellectual figures grouped around the literary journal Partisan Review, who came out of the Trotskyist movement and regarded the Stalinist regime as a nightmarish distortion of their earlier idealistic hopes.
On the fringes of politics a variety of extremist anticommunist groups appeared that variously defined communism as a vast conspiratorial menace secretly manipulating the government or as the front for a Jewish or Masonic plot. Notable in the 1950s was the John Birch Society, which regarded the Republican President Dwight Eisenhower as part of the communist conspiracy, and the claim by the anti-Semitic demagogue Gerald L. K. Smith that fluoridating drinking water to prevent cavities was really a communist plot to poison the American public.
President Woodrow Wilson welcomed Russia's March 1917 revolution that removed the tsar. The November Bolshevik revolution, however, threatened the United States and its World War I allies. Lenin withdrew Russia from the war, enabling Germany to shift troops to the western front and threatening to overwhelm French and British forces. The United States rushed hundreds of thousands of hastily trained soldiers to France. Linkage in the public mind of Bolshevism with the German enemy grew stronger when it became known that imperial Germany had transported Lenin to Russia from exile and provided financial aid in hope of destabilizing the Russian state. The first congressional inquiry into communism, the 1918–1919 hearings conducted by Senator Lee Overman (D-N.C.), began as investigations into "pro-Germanism" that evolved into a hostile exploration of Bolshevism. President Wilson sent troops to occupy Murmansk, Archangel, and Vladivostok to seize military supplies sent earlier to Russia and assist anti-Bolshevik forces, but withdrew them by early 1920 without serious clashes with Communist troops. The United States refused diplomatic recognition to the new Soviet government until 1933.
Domestically, in 1919–1920 anarchists were suspected in a series of bombings that killed at least thirty-five persons and injured hundreds. U.S. Attorney General A. Mitchell Palmer, in cooperation with local police and aided by citizen volunteers, rounded up several thousand radicals in the "Palmer Raids." More than a thousand alien radicals were deported and several hundred citizen radicals were imprisoned under state antisubversion laws. Anarchists bore the brunt of government prosecutions in the "red scare," but the newly organized Communist parties were driven underground. By 1921 fear of world revolution subsided when Soviet attempts to spread beyond Russia failed. The United States and most state governments ceased legal attacks on radicals, and the FBI ended most of its surveillance of revolutionaries. The Communist Party surfaced as a legal, aboveground organization. Public hostility to communism remained pervasive but passive.
In 1930–1932 a House of Representatives committee chaired by Hamilton Fish (R-N.Y.) investigated reports of a vast Communist conspiracy but was discredited by reliance on forged documents that had been sold to the National Civic Federation, a business-led anticommunist group. In 1936, President Roosevelt, concerned about fascist subversion, authorized the FBI to reenter the internal security field, and it undertook surveillance of both fascists and Communists. In 1938 the House of Representatives created a Special Committee on Un-American Activities, chaired by Martin Dies (D-Tex.), to investigate domestic Nazis and Communists. Dies, a conservative Democrat who disapproved of Roosevelt's New Deal, emphasized linking Communists to Roosevelt's reforms.
The Communist Party, USA (CPUSA) supported the August 1939 Nazi-Soviet Pact and assailed Roosevelt's policies of assisting those nations fighting Germany. Fearing Communists would become a "fifth column" in time of war, the Roosevelt administration imprisoned Earl Browder, CPUSA chief, for using a false passport. Several states also prosecuted Communists under local antisubversion laws, but in most places Communists continued to work openly. After the Nazi attack on the U.S.S.R. in June 1941, the CPUSA shifted to support the war policies of the Roosevelt administration, federal attacks on the CPUSA ceased, and Roosevelt released Browder from prison in 1942.
In 1947 President Truman, concerned that Soviet espionage services had recruited American Communists as spies, established a security program for government employees that excluded Communists from government jobs. In 1948 the Truman administration indicted the top leadership of the CPUSA under the sedition sections of the Smith Act; they were convicted and imprisoned in 1950. Republicans, using the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC, successor to the Dies committee), began to attack the Truman administration as lax in regard to Communist espionage. HUAC hearings were often known for a circuslike atmosphere, but they were successful in beginning the process that led to the 1950 conviction of Alger Hiss for perjury regarding spying for the U.S.S.R. After the outbreak of the Korean War and with American troops fighting Communist soldiers, public anticommunism became heated, and Congress passed a series of stern anticommunist laws. American courts, however, rendered key sections of these laws inoperable, and the Communist Party continued to operate openly. A Supreme Court decision in Yates v. United States in 1957 rendered the Smith Act nearly unusable as a prosecutorial tool against seditious speech.
By the mid-1950s the CPUSA had become a tiny movement without significant influence. The CPUSA's marginalization, along with the death of Stalin in 1953, the end of the Korean War, and the stabilization of the
Cold War, reduced the fervor of public anticommunism and its salience as a partisan political issue but not its pervasiveness. The Vietnam War of the 1960s, however, resulted in the discrediting of anticommunism in the eyes of those opposed to American involvement, and some liberals adopted the view, similar to that of Wallace and the 1948 Progressive Party, that cooperation with communism was acceptable and repudiated the Cold War policies begun by Truman. Public hostility to communism and the Soviet Union, nonetheless, remained strong, as demonstrated by the election to the presidency for two terms (1981–1989) of Ronald Reagan, a veteran anticommunist who called the U.S.S.R. an "evil empire" and challenged it to tear down the Berlin Wall, increased military expenditures, and sharpened America's Cold War policies.
Haynes, John Earl. Red Scare or Red Menace? American Communism and Anticommunism in the Cold War Era. Chicago: Ivan R. Dee, 1996.
O'Neill, William L. A Better World: Stalinism and the American Intellectuals. New Brunswick, N.J.: Transaction, 1990.
Powers, Richard Gid. Not Without Honor: The History of American Anticommunism. New York: Free Press, 1995.
Schrecker, Ellen. Many Are the Crimes: McCarthyism in America. Boston: Little, Brown, 1998.
John Earl Haynes
See also Blacklisting ; McCarthyism ; Progressive Party, 1948 ; and vol. 9: The Blue Book of the John Birch Society ; Censure of Senator Joseph McCarthy ; Senator Joseph McCarthy: The History of George Catlett Marshall, 1951 ; The Testimony of Walter E. Disney .
"Anticommunism." Dictionary of American History. . Encyclopedia.com. (July 18, 2018). http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/anticommunism
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