Anti-communism is the reaction and opposition to the ideology of communism. During the 20th century, as communism gained power and the fear grew that it would spread further, organized movements to address the rise of communism emerged throughout the free world. Anti-communism was at its peak in the periods following the beginning of the Cold War in 1947 and in 1977, during the 60th Anniversary of the 1917 Russian October Revolution. The fight against communism only abated when the Cold War ended in 1991.
The appointment in 1938 of Congressman Martin Dies (D-Texas) as chairman of the House Committee on Un-American Activities (HCUA) heralded the anti-communist era. Americans were vehemently opposed to socialism, atheism and the centralization of political powers that characterized the Soviet Union's communist regime.
The Red Scare and the Red Menace were terms used to refer to the threat of communism. The anti-communist movement was also called the anti-communist crusade. Initially, when the Cold War commenced, Americans appeared to be concerned about communism as an ideology. There were fears that the ideology would penetrate American society. People were more fearful that United States policy would be affected by communism than they were of possible Russian espionage; that society and culture would be influenced than the military being sabotaged. Anti-communists who fervently sought to eradicate the threat of communism considered the agreement reached between Soviet Premier Joseph Stalin and U.S. President Franklin Roosevelt towards the end of World War II to be a betrayal of the free world.
In 1946, the beginning of the post-World War II era, communism made a distinct departure from the mainstream of the American labor movement. Harry S Truman, President of the United States from 1945-1953, was responsible for ensuring the dismissal of hundreds of suspected communists from the ranks of government employees. Critics commented that Truman was more successful in containing communism in Western Europe and the Middle East than he was in quelling internal subversion. Reports were rife that communism had found its way into the executive branches of the federal government.
The anti-communist drive reached its zenith in the person of Wisconsin Senator Joseph McCarthy. Although McCarthyism, as the period and movement was known, was not an explicitly anti-communist movement, nevertheless there is an association between the man and the principles of anti-communism. In 1954, McCarthy estimated that there were 25,000 communists in the United States. His anti-communist activities were focused on domestic subversion, and thus were manifested as a particular aspect of the anti-communist movement in general.
When President Dwight Eisenhower (1953-1961) came to power, he was faced with an anti-communist movement that had gained ground since 1947. There were revelations of various activities, including break-ins, muggings and wiretaps, aimed at seeking out communists. There was a deep fear among the public that fellow communist travelers were working within the government, and that Russia was conducted espionage within the United States. The possibility that the American population would be brainwashed and influenced by the communist party or its sympathizers fueled the anti-communist crusade.
Nonetheless, together with his vice-president, Richard Nixon, who had entered the public stage in 1946 as a formidable anti-communist, Eisenhower was instrumental in removing Joseph McCarthy from the chairmanship of the Senate Committee on Government Operations and its Subcommittee on Investigations. When McCarthy left the central stage of the fight, the anti-communist movement changed. Anti-communism became a policy area that was handled by the government's security apparatus.
In 1958, Robert H.W. Welch Jr., a wealthy businessman, founded The John Birch Society (JBS) to heighten awareness of the communist threat. The society was named after an army captain and Baptist missionary who fell at the hands of the Chinese communists during World War II. Welch believed that communist infiltrators abounded. His movement set up libraries stocked with materials explaining the communist enemy, broadcast radio commentaries, organized letter campaigns, and aided groups such as the Committee for the Withdrawal of Recognition from the Soviet Union, the Committee for the Impeachment of Earl Warren and the Committee to Investigate Communist Influence in Vassar College.
The continuing antipathy of the United States to radical political ideologies manifested itself in the Alien and Sedition Acts of the 1970s. Public discussions of the communist subversion of American institutions took place.