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“Are you now, or have you ever been a member of the Communist Party?”

December 9, 2010
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In the late forties, an organization called House Un-American Activities Committee was formed in the US House. They undertook to eliminate the threat of Communism inside the US Government, as well as private society. Then, in 1952, as the anti-communist fervor continued, a man named Joseph McCarthy was elected to be the Senator from the State of Wisconsin. Suddenly, after a relatively inocuous start, he burst onto the political scene as a Communist hunter in the United States. He ultimately overstepped the bounds of investigative propriety, and left office under the burden of a destroyed reputation and a Senatorial censure. The question I have is simply this: were the people McCarthy sought American idealists who sincerely believed in Marxist ideals, or were they instead people who acted on behalf of the “communist” Soviet Union?

I believe that in a fervor to abolish the presence of the so-called communists who were actually no more than Stalinist/Leninist USSR sympathizers, and thusly actual national security threats, innocent, idealistic communists were persecuted as well. Fear that swept the nation up in pure, unadulterated hatred for those socialists who would threaten the way of American life, ensured that there was a blurring of the lines, and those academic, orthodox Marxists were thusly victimizes. Honestly, I believe that Marx’s concepts about how the world can function in his communist society are complete and utter foolishness, a possibility in a world where all men/women are angels, (a world that does not exist, according to the Federalist).  However that does not mean that people who sincerely believe in the possibility of a communist society should be persecuted for their beliefs. When the United States moved to expel communism like a disease, it, in the end, only brought itself to a level no better than those in the Soviet Union it sought to defeat in the unspoken war between the two nations. Therefore, I believe we must be able to differentiate between two kinds of communist, the ones who give up real communist ideals for the sake of a powerful state that one could say verges on being a different iteration of facism, and those who are harmless in the sense that they believe in real communism, which poses no threat since it can never actually exist, and has never existed in the world. Though I laud the efforts of those committees who made it their mission to eliminate the threat of those who called themselves communist in the name of working for the enemy of the United States, their zeal led them to convict innocent people of thoughtcrimes (often times, they weren’t even the innocent communists of which we earlier spoke, but merely citizens with ties others did not like, which was also a deeply disturbing situation to see them persecuted, as well). Because of the fact that innocent people were brought down, I cannot condone the historical events related to McCarthy and his communist hunts. The idea of fighting our enemy went too far and cost us a piece of ourselves. 
  1. blanchc permalink
    December 9, 2010 9:59 PM

    This is an interesting blog post. I don’t believe that the United States government took Communist hunting simply too far, but instead I believe that no Communist hunting should have ever taken place. Even if there were and still are legitimate Communists in America, if they weren’t and aren’t causing any harm or posing any threat, they should be allowed to hold their political view. Just as we allow Neo-Nazis (not that Neo-Nazis and Communists can really be compared) to express their opinions as long as they express them within the confines of the law. Simply prosecuting someone for holding a certain political belief shouldn’t happen in this country (even if the views seem morally deplorable).

  2. Whitney Spain permalink
    December 9, 2010 11:06 PM

    I agree with the comment that Blanche left above me. No communist hunting should have ever taken place. When reading this blog post the thought of the holocaust came into mind.

    These people who called themselves communist, were hunted down and killed simply because they shared different political beliefs then that of our nation. Same with the Jews during the Nazi era. The jews were placed in concentration and death camps just because they were Jewish. To Hitler jews were not “pure” blood and he treated them as a race that must be demolished.

    The fact of the matter is, just because a person is communist, doesn’t mean that they are a threat to the United States. The United States has been built around the idea of freedom. Therefore, men and women alike should be able to take upon themselves their own political beliefs with out being prosecuted for it. Killing others for not sharing the same belief is a terrible and deadly sin and should not be tolerated.

  3. David Hunt permalink
    December 9, 2010 11:28 PM

    I agree with your idea that not all of the people that were accused of being communist were actually die-hard Marxists. People often don’t understand the politics behind the ideas and therefore are just acting for the sake of accomplishing something. Also, some people were completely innocent and had no ties to communism, but the scare caused mass paranoia so these people were targeted as well. There is another reason that they were not all Marxists, and that is because the Russian communists were fundamentally different than Marxists. When Lenin developed his communist ideas, or Leninism, although it was similar to Marxism, the two did have many differences in their core beliefs.
    One major difference was that Lenin believed that socialism could be formed in states that had not previously been an industrial capitalist society. “The advance of industry, whose involuntary promoter is the bourgeoisie, replaces the isolation of the labourers, due to competition, by the revolutionary combination, due to association. The development of Modern Industry, therefore, cuts from under its feet the very foundation on which the bourgeoisie produces and appropriates products. What the bourgeoisie therefore produces, above all, are its own grave-diggers. Its fall and the victory of the proletariat are equally inevitable. ”( Marx believed that a society must go through a stage of capitalism, which in time would fall. Then the proletariat would rise up and communism would form. Another difference between the two is that Lenin said that the proletariat revolution had to be led by an outside leader or a “vanguard”.
    ( Marx though, believed that the proletariat could accomplish this takeover without external aid. Lenin also stated that these communist revolutions should be spread to other countries as well. This is the idea that terrorized the world (mainly the U.S.) during the Cold War.
    When Stalin came to power he also brought more new ideas to the table. Stalin’s ideas though were more extreme and even dictatorial than Leninism. First of all, political ideology was black and white in his society. Either you were communist and on his side, or fascist and against him. Also he believed that workers all over the world should owe allegiance to him. I think that it was these ideas, along with the shear difference of capitalism and communism that caused the Red Scare and the rise of McCarthy. Not only do people not like difference, but when the difference is so extreme, hatred and prejudice begin. So, the people that where persecuted were mostly not Marxist, but probably Leninists or Stalinists. While some were probably die-hard communists, others were simply persuaded by USSR propaganda, or just completely innocent.
    All of the information used in this post can be found at:

  4. Eric Tellem permalink
    December 10, 2010 12:56 PM

    I agree with the posts above. Mccarthyism started as an attempt to expose communists who were trying to help the Soviets, but ended up being a disaster. There were many who had no affiliation with communism and were accused and harassed just for being outspoken.

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