The Great "Red Menace": United States Prosecution of American Communists, 1947-1952

The Great "Red Menace": United States Prosecution of American Communists, 1947-1952

The Great "Red Menace": United States Prosecution of American Communists, 1947-1952

The Great "Red Menace": United States Prosecution of American Communists, 1947-1952

Synopsis

During the years 1947-1952 the Cold War, the anti- communist foreign policy of the U. S. government, and the reassertion by the American Communist party of its allegiance to the Soviet Union, the international communist movement, and a literal Marxist-Leninist ideology gradually gave rise to an anti-communist hysteria and to the repression and persecution of American Communists. Author Peter L. Steinberg shows that both the Truman Administration and the Communist Party were in part responsible for the McCarthy era that followed. Both were reacting to the ideologiical warfare conducted by J. Edgar Hoover. Using his allies in government, Hoover took advantage of the Cold War atmosphere to demand demonstrable action against communists. The Truman Administration responded with a loyalty program that seemed to legitimze the American people's worst fears, leading to demands for further action. The Communist Party's decision to go underground played into the hands of its enemies. Steinberg sees the attack on American communists as a necessary prelude to the demand for patriotic conformity and as a factor contributing to the development of an internal political police.

Excerpt

While teaching high school American history in the 1960's and 1970's, I saw that for many young people historical perspective had skipped a generation. Social and political protest was widespread and a kind of innate radicalism grew among those who were viewing the inequities of American life for the first time. Groups such as Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) attracted many more people than those who actually joined. My students, many of whom came from Harlem, were particularly fascinated by the rise of the Black Panther Party. These organizations filled a political void which had existed since the era of "McCarthyism."

The new radical groups seemed to lack historical understanding and a coherent political theory or vision. As a result, they were vehicles of protest which had little chance of resisting the heavy pressure of government persecution. The SDS largely disintegrated with its remnants seeking an "underground" existence. The Panthers were destroyed as many leaders were killed, imprisoned, or fled into exile. The students in my classes were shocked by the violent confrontations which occurred and by the apparent inability of democratic society to accommodate radical criticism. There was little recognition that government actions were a continuation of policies begun during the Cold War against another radical organization--the Communist Party of the United States (CPUSA). There were few efforts among both radical youth and nonradical observers to link the previous generation with contemporary events.

This study is an effort partially to bridge the historical gap created by the onset of "McCarthyism." It examines government efforts to sup-

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