The Red Scare

"Red Scare" is the name given retroactively to two periods in the history of the United States filled with distinct anti-Communist
The Soviet Union at its greatest extent, with 15 republics (soviets).
The Soviet Union at its greatest extent, with 15 republics (soviets).
sentiments, one during the end of World War I and the second after World War II into the 1950s. These periods were filled with an anti-Communist hysteria and persecution of suspected Communists, unionizers, and other radicals.

The First Red Scare was fueled by fears that a revolution similar to the Bolshevik revolution in Russia might occur in the United States, and occurred from 1917 to 1920. The Second Red Scare began after the rise and expansion of the Soviet Union, as well as the rise of Communism in China, Cuba, and Korea, the Iron Curtain in Eastern Europe, a spate of uncovered espionage activities, and the acquisition of the atomic bomb by the Soviet Union. It ran from approximately 1947 to 1957.

The 1st Red Scare

external image Come_unto_me%2C_ye_opprest.jpgThe first Red Scare was a reaction to the rise of communism, anarchism, and radicalism among American citizens and European immigrants, beginning in 1917 during WWI and ending in 1920. This scare was heightened by the creation of the Soviet Union and booming labor groups as a result of WWI. During this period there was a pate of bomb attacks by anarchists, as well as several strikes, some of which turned violent. Communists and anarchists were not the only targets in this time, but also union leaders, pacifists, foreigners (mainly Italians and Germans), and several religious groups including Hinduism. This period ended when Mitchell Palmer, the Attorney General, predicted that there would be a massive anarchist uprising on May Day, 1920 that never occurred.

The 2nd Red Scare

Communists killing Freedom
Communists killing Freedom

After World War II, increased fears of communism and Communist infiltration of the government, fueled by events in Asia and Eastern Europe, led to large-scale persecution of left-wing ideologists and anyone suspected of having ties to the Communist party. Several Loyalty Acts passed by Congress with little opposition gave great power to the government concerning its employees, leading to unconstitutional firings, and many private Loyalty Review Boards were instituted by private employers to root out and fire anyone with communist sympathies.

Loyalty review boards were instituted in the state, local, and federal government, as well as many in industry and other private sectors. These boards examined employees for any connection to the Communist party or similar leftist organizations. Once fired by one of these boards, it could be very hard to find employment again.

Many hundreds of suspected Communists were imprisoned, and thousands lost their jobs. Often the connections between the Communist party and the victims of the scare were tenuous, and persecution was really for a different reason. A common punishment for "Communists" was blacklisting. Blacklists were instituted in many fields, from education to entertainment to the law. Perhaps the most famous was the Hollywood blacklist that had some 300 people, actors, directors, and producers alike. Those who were on the blacklists were denied work. Many famous people, such as Charlie Chaplin, Pete Seeger, Langston Hughes, Arthur Miller, Orson Welles, Aaron Copland, and J. Robert Oppenheimer, suffered some persecution or blacklisting during this time. Pete Seeger, a folk musician and activist, was one person blacklisted in 1957 by the House Un-American Activities Committee. He remained on that list and was not allowed to perform on television until 1967.

The Crucible is a direct parallel to this period of injustice and mass hysteria. It showed how, once suspected, there could be no escaping the illogical and circular reasoning used by the courts, and that hysteria could cause irrational and wrong decisions at any time in any place, even one that claimed to be just and democratic.

The 3rd Red Scare

Governor Palin feels awkward around those who are "Anti-American"
Governor Palin feels awkward around those who are "Anti-American"

After Governor Palin's (Alaska, R) remarks about being "pro-America" a Congresswoman Michelle Bachmann (Minnesota, R) said there should be an investigation of "Anti-American's" in Congress. This is almost identical to the McCarthy era witch hunts. Knowing what we know now about Sen. McCarthy, we can pretty accurately assume that people will see the connection before letting this issue get out of hand.


Born and raised on a Wisconsin farm, Joseph McCarthy (November 14, 1908 – May 2, 1957) was a bright scholar. He earned a law degree at Marquette University in 1935 and was elected as a circuit judge in 1939. This promotion was unprecedented because he became the youngest to be appointed to that position. At age 33, McCarthy volunteered for the United States Marine Corps and served during World War II. He successfully ran for the United States Senate in 1946.

McCarthy rose suddenly to national fame in 1950 when he spoke about a list that he had regarding members of the U.S. government that were communist. This was a list "members of the Communist Party and members of a spy ring" who were employed in the State Department. McCarthy was not able to prove his charges. Joseph McCarthy headed the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations in 1953 and 1954, and during that time used it for a number of investigations towards the discovery of communists undermining American society. McCarthy first examined allegations of Communist influence in the Voice of America, and then turned to the overseas library program of the State Department. On occasion, books which showed strong Communist sympathies were burned. With the highly publicized Army-McCarthy hearings of 1954, during trials attempting to validate spy rings, McCarthy's support and popularity began to fade, as many prominent personalities in the media realized his craze (Edward R. Murrow). Later in 1954, the Senate voted to censure Senator McCarthy, making him one of the few senators ever to be disciplined in this fashion. McCarthy died at the age of 48.

Sen. Joseph McCarthy (R-WI), aka the Shame of Dairyland confers with an aide during a hearing.
Joseph McCarthy coined a phrase that has been used for years as a symbol of anti-Communist activity, but McCarthy was not the only activist against Communism, nor the only practicer of McCarthyism.

The FBI, under the leadership of J. Edgar Hoover, engaged in a number of illegal practices in its pursuit of information on Communists. These included breaking and entering, opening mail and illegal wiretaps. Evidence shows that law firms representing clients accused of anti-American activities were burglarized during Hoover's administration. The FBI used its illegally obtained information to alert prosecuting attorneys about the legal strategies of several accused for their communist tendencies. The FBI also used illegal undercover operations to harass and disrupt Communist and other dissident political groups. In 1956, Hoover was becoming increasingly frustrated by Supreme Court decisions that limited the Justice Department's ability to prosecute Communists. The FBI continued their anti-Communist operations until 1971.

The House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) was the most prominent and active government committee involved in anti-Communist investigations. Formed in 1938, the Committee soon focused on Communism after World War II. A significant step for HUAC was its investigation of the charges of espionage brought against Alger Hiss, a internationally renowned man famous for helping in the creation of the the United Nations, in 1948. This investigation ultimately resulted in Hiss's trial and conviction for perjury, and convinced many of the usefulness of uncovering Communist subversion. In the future, the witnesses and the accused brought before HUAC claimed their Fifth Amendment protection against self-incrimination. While this usually protected them from a contempt of Congress citation, it was considered grounds for dismissal by many government and private industry employers. In order to plead the Fifth Amendment, however, the accused person could testify about his own association with the Communist Party, but then that person would also have to "name names". Only a few of the accused used their First Amendment rights, that they had a right to free speech and free assembly, to protect themselves. Those who did, the Hollywood Ten and Pete Seeger, were convicted of contempt of Congress and sentenced to jail time.

Look here for one opinion on McCarthy, and here for another.

Red China

Chairman Mao was the founder of Red China. His state was a deformed workers' state, unexpected in its brutal repression of any sign of worker democracy. Once Mao took power and created a state based on the military hierarchies of his army, Mao distorted the workings of true Communism. He leaned on the peasantry and to a certain extent on the working class to destroy capitalism, but once they had been defeated he proceeded to eliminate any elements of workers' democracy that might have existed. He followed the example of Stalinism in Russia, a state where an elite few ruled over the masses of the proletariat workers and peasants for their personal gain. Mao's revolution fueled fears of a similar revolution in America.

In the words of the Chairman:
"Comrade Bethune's spirit, his utter devotion to others without any thought of self, was shown in his boundless sense of responsibility in his work and his

Chairman Mao meet, Andy Warhol
Chairman Mao meet, Andy Warhol

boundless warm-heartedness towards all comrades and the people. Every Communist must learn from him.
We must all learn the spirit of absolute selflessness from him. With this spirit everyone can be very useful to the people. A man's ability may be great or small, but if he has this spirit, he is already noble-minded and pure, a man of moral integrity and above vulgar interests, a man who is of value to the people."

from "In Memory of Norman Bethune" (December 21, 1939) compiled in Mao's 'Little Red Book'

Look here for other criticisms of the Red Scare Besides The Crucible.