The Growth of the anti-Communist Movement
The Growth of the anti-Communist movement
The Communists never lacked for enemies. Even before the Bolshevik Revolution
gave birth to the American Communist party, many of the groups and individuals who were to become its main opponents had been actively fighting other radicals. Over the course of the twentieth century, they became increasingly concerned about Communists and by the late 1940s a wide-ranging anti-Communist network was in place whose members were to take the lead in the national crusade against domestic communism. What differentiated these people from their fellow Americans was not their anti-communism, which most Americans shared, but its intensity. Zealous partisans who often made the eradication of the so-called Communist menace a full-time career, in some respects they were the mirror image of the Communists they fought. They came into their own during the McCarthy period, staffing the main organizations in the field and imposing their agenda on the rest of the nation.
The anti-Communist network was not a monolith, but a coalition that gradually attracted groups and individuals. Each element in the network appealed to a different constituency and used its own tactics; the mixture of offensives became far more potent than any single campaign would have been. Yet for all its diversity, anticommunism was indisputably a movement of the political right. Though liberals and even socialists joined the network, they did not set its tone. Instead, they enlisted in an ongoing crusade whose parameters had long been established by conservatives and whose main effect was to bolster right-wing social and economic programs. Over time, even those men and women who had originally been leftists of one kind or another often ended up on the far right.
Historians have noted the roots of American anticommunism in what they refer to as the nation's countersubversive tradition: the irrational notion that outsiders (who could be political dissidents, foreigners, or members of racial and religious minorities) threatened the nation from within. Projecting their own fears and insecurities onto a demonized "Other," many Americans have found convenient scapegoats among the powerless minorities within their midst. Native Americans, blacks, Catholics, immigrants--all, at one time or another, embodied the threat of internal subversion. By the twentieth century, the American "Other" had become politicized and increasingly identified with communism, the party's
While this countersubversive tradition cannot in itself explain why McCarthyism came to dominate American politics during the late 1940s and 1950s, it does help account for its emotional impact and for its characteristic paranoia. It is also possible that, at least in part, McCarthyism was the mid-twentieth-century manifestation of a continuing backlash against the modern, secular world. Accordingly, as some historians suggest, the political demonology embodied in cold war anticommunism may well reflect deep-seated anxieties about individual autonomy, gender identity, and the perceived loss of community. Such an interpretation, though still largely speculative, is compelling. Certainly, it is not hard to conceive of the existence of the countersubversive tradition as a subterranean source of popular irrationality and xenophobia that could be exploited by ambitious politicians or special-interest groups to direct hostility against the opponents of their choice.
By far the most important of these special interests were those segments of the business community who opposed organized labor. From the 1870s until the McCarthy period, these employers identified the labor movement with the Red menace of the moment--whether anarchists, socialists, Communists, or Wobblies, as members of the radical Industrial Workers of the World were called in the early twentieth century. This tactic of Red-baiting made it possible to confront unions without having to address economic issues. Businessmen and their allies in the press insisted that workers' demands were not based on legitimate grievances but were creations of outside agitators, usually foreign-born, bomb-wielding Reds. Such charges invariably surfaced during periods of labor unrest and accompanied almost every major strike wave of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.
Closely allied to the industrialists in the business of cracking down on labor militants and repressing leftists were the forces of law and order-- private detective companies, local and state police, and, later, federal agencies like the FBI and military intelligence. Many of these groups had been formed specifically to fight radicalism and crush labor unrest and it was not uncommon for them to be subsidized by local businesses. But they had their own interests as well. Because of the authoritarian mind-set that law enforcement work breeds among its practitioners, opposition to radicalism was widespread. Moreover, their own bureaucratic interests, including the desire to present themselves as protecting the community against the threat of internal subversion, inspired them to exaggerate the danger of radicalism.
The obsessive anticommunism of FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover may well have been typical of the beliefs of the nation's law enforcement agents. Embracing the middle-class, small-town values of family, flag, and church,
His first opportunity came during the Red Scare of 1919-20 when, as a young official in the Department of Justice,
Though the furor soon abated, the Red Scare left an important legacy. Not only did it give J. Edgar Hoover his lifelong mission, it also fostered the development of an anti-Communist community, with an institutional base in the nation's most important patriotic organizations and small business groups. Like
The anti-Communist network that these people nourished expanded during the labor struggles of the 1930s. Conservatives within the American Federation of Labor (AFL) had long struggled against radicalism within the labor movement. The presence of Communists in the CIO allowed its enemies, within both the business community and the AFL, to charge that the new unions were run by Reds. Moreover, because of the
They received support from Congress. For years the American Legion and its allies had been demanding that the nation's lawmakers investigate communism and do something to curb it. Their efforts resulted in a few hearings with no lasting impact. But by the end of the 1930s, as conservative lawmakers in both major parties began to turn against the New Deal, the professional patriots found a receptive audience. The result was the creation in 1938 of the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC), which was to become, along with the FBI, one of the main institutional centers of McCarthyism. For the small-town politicians in the right wing of the Republican party and their conservative southern Democratic colleagues, HUAC's anti-Communist investigations offered a more effective way to fight the New Deal than opposing its economic and social reforms. The committee also appealed to those politicians who, like its first chair, the xenophobic Texas Democrat Martin Dies, subscribed to the ideology of countersubversion.
From the start, HUAC was to focus on the alleged Communist influence in the labor movement and New Deal agencies. It took testimony from ex-Communists, American Legion officials, and other representatives of the anti-Communist right, as well as from the CIO's labor opponents. It eagerly pursued evidence that Communists had infiltrated the government. Committee staff members joined local Red squads in illegal raids on local Communist party headquarters and the offices of front groups in
By the late 1930s the anti-Communist coalition had expanded far beyond the traditional right. Many of its new recruits, among them conservative trade union leaders and Socialists, came from groups that had themselves once been under attack. The Catholic Church was one such group. The church had long been antagonistic to "atheistic" communism; the Spanish Civil War accentuated that hostility, for the Catholic hierarchy was as fiercely committed to Franco as the Communist party was to the Loyalist regime. The Soviet takeover of the traditionally Catholic countries of
Perhaps the most important recruits to the anti-Communist cause during this period were former fellow travelers and ex-Communists. Some had been fairly high-ranking party leaders who were expelled from the party during the sectarian warfare of the 1920s and early 1930s. Others abandoned communism for their own ideological or personal reasons. They quickly became important members of the anti-Communist coalition, for unlike the Legionnaires, antilabor businessmen, and right-wing politicians, they actually knew something about the party, their alleged expertise gaining greater respectability for what had been until then a rather haphazard cause. They also embarked on the task of educating the rest of the nation about the evils of communism. In the process, they made careers for themselves as witnesses, publicists, and staff members for the various organizations that made up the anti-Communist world. By the 1940s, they had become ubiquitous figures at trials, deportation proceedings, and congressional committee hearings. It is hard to conceive of McCarthyism without the former Communists; the support they gave the rest of the network was indispensable.
The career of Benjamin Mandel was typical. A former
By the 1940s, the professional anti-Communists had coalesced into an informal network. They shared a worldview that they assiduously sought to disseminate through whatever means they could. As journalists, consultants, and committee staffers, they worked closely together, sharing information and helping each other find jobs and publishers. They socialized frequently, conscious that they had become, as one of them jokingly suggested, "Red-Baiters Incorporated." The interconnections within the network were striking. Some of
Chronologically, the last group to join the anti-Communist coalition was the liberals. When the signing of the Nazi-Soviet Pact in August 1939 transformed American Communists from dedicated antifascists to critics of the
Despite intense opposition from isolationists who wanted the
Private organizations also turned against the party during the Nazi-Soviet Pact period. Some labor unions threw party members out of leadership positions and others passed resolutions condemning Nazism, fascism, and communism. These "Communazi" resolutions popularized the concept of totalitarianism, which treated communism and fascism as but variants of the same repressive, authoritarian creed. The purges spread to the academic community where several colleges and universities, most notably the City College of New York, dismissed Communist professors. Even the American Civil Liberties Union turned anti-Communist and expelled a leading party figure from its board of directors.
For almost two years, until Hitler's invasion of the