Today when Americans think of communism, it brings back memories of a dark time. Fears of communism in America were a manifestation of political anxiety over the infiltration of international influences, namely tied to Soviet Russia, during the 20th century. The philosophical basis of this fear was based on the significant differences between capitalism and communism as economic systems while the most noteworthy historical examples of it were the Red Scare after World War I, McCarthyism in the 1950s and the Cold War.
There were several reasons that caused the fear of communism in the United States. These include the Red Scare and McCarthyism, the association communism had with the Soviet Union, The Cold War and finally, the simple fact that communism was the complete opposite of capitalism.
Historical Background of Communism's Roots
Communism in America began as a state ideology which emerged in Russia following the Bolshevik Revolution in 1918. Led by Vladimir Lenin, this populist uprising toppled the regime of Czar Nicholas II. Previously part of the Social Democratic Labour Party, the Bolsheviks used Lenin's charismatic leadership institutionalize their communist ideology in a new Soviet state.
So, why did Americans fear it? Well, the "American Dream" that most people have historically associated with the United States comes from a capitalist system which emphasizes independent economic production and trading in a free market economy. This is the opposite in communism, which is an economic system in which a governing body plans and regulates the economy and responsibility for production is shared equally by a society. Naturally, this made Americans afraid of what they didn't know, didn't understand and didn't practice themselves.
The Red Scare and McCarthyism
Another factor that caused communism fears in the U.S. was the fear of the spread of communism itself. Following the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia as well as a series of anarchist bombings on U.S. soil after World War I, the Red Scare began in the U.S. in 1919. Bred out of Americans' nationalist fervor during the war, the Red Scare was a defensive societal response to the perceived spread of communist elements in the U.S. The Red Scare lasted until the mid-1920s and resulted in the occasional suspension of civil liberties since people suspected of having communist ties were sought after and typically persecuted. The effects of the Red Scare were mainly felt on the political left by individuals whose criticisms of and opposition to Red Scare tactics were largely stifled by fears of retribution.
The Red Scare eventually caused chaos in the United States. Joseph McCarthy was the U.S. senator from Wisconsin who led the effort to expose and purge domestic communists throughout the 1950s. McCarthy claimed that there were known communists working to subvert the U.S. government from within. As a result, suspected communists, including members of the American political left and the entertainment industries, had their names blacklisted, thus barring them from many work opportunities and restricting certain civil liberties such as freedom of speech.
The paranoia generated by the Red Scare and McCarthyism had significant effects on the social and political landscape of America. In addition to the communist political party being decimated, other left-wing and moderate political organizations were restricted from reforming or even criticizing McCarthy's anti-communist tactics because of the fear of being deemed unpatriotic or even disloyal to the United States.
The Cold War
The Cold War was a political standoff between the capitalist United States and the communist Soviet Union that occurred during the second half of the 20th century. In the United States, the Cold War caused increased feelings of nationalism and anti-communist spirit. For Americans during the Cold War, communism was not so much recognized for being an economic system or a legitimate political affiliation as it was a symbol of the Soviet Union and therefore a threat to the American way of life. Although the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991 brought an end to the Cold War, conversations of communism in America continues to carry negative connotations and even inspire fear in the United States into the 21st century.