Red Scare

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Red Scare Terrorist Bombing on Wall Street.

Red Scare is a term used to describe a period of widespread fear of communism. The first Red Scare occurred during the time of World War I in the presidency of Woodrow Wilson. The second Red Scare occurred during the end of the 1940s to the late 1950s.

As a result of the Palmer Raids, a total of 556 suspected communists and anarchists were deported.[1][2][3]


The Communist Party of the United States of America (CPUSA) was organized at Moscow's behest in 1921, merging John Reed’s Communist Labor Party with the Communist Party of America, organized by a former socialist, Midwesterner Charles Emil Ruthenberg. The Russian Bolsheviks saw themselves as leaders of a worldwide revolutionary movement. There was a good deal of disorder, and no small amount of criminal behavior.

The state of New York, along with the Federal Government, targeted radical groups and institutions. New York's Lusk Committee was tasked with seeking out Bolshevism with one of its primary targets being the Rand School of Social Science.[4][5]

Enemies of the left targeted

For a more detailed treatment, see 1919 United States anarchist bombings.

On May Day, 1919, some 36 bombs were sent by mail to prominent politicians, judges, and other “enemies of the left.” [6] The New York Times wrote of a “nationwide bomb conspiracy.” The home of Attorney General A. Mitchell Palmer in Washington was damaged by a bomb which went off prematurely and killed the bomber.

Palmer raids

Palmer, the “Fighting Quaker,” responded with major cross-country raids—the Palmer Raids—on radical organizations, including the New York-based Union of Russian Workers, on November 7–8, 1919, the second anniversary of the Bolshevik Revolution. On January 2, 1920, Federal agents arrested more than 4,000 Communists in 33 different cities. The Washington Post warned “[t]here is not time to waste on hair-splitting over infringement of liberty.” J. Edgar Hoover, a 24-year old Justice Department official, located a U.S. Army trans-port, termed the “Soviet Ark,” to take a shipload of radicals home, and invited Members of Congress to see them off at Ellis Island. He now emerged as a national figure, whilst his superior, the Attorney General, began making plans to run for President.

The unrest did not last. May Day 1920 passed without incident. With his credibility damaged, Palmer saw his presidential aspirations erode. Warren G. Harding, running for President against Democrat James Cox, said that “too much has been said about Bolshevism in America.” [7] The Wilson administration, leaderless following Wilson's stroke on October 2, 1919, had become undisciplined and erratic. Such intervals would recur, with both parties involved, but now a sense of civic order returned. Theodore Draper observed,

Ironically, the Palmer raids came as a blessing in disguise to the foreign-language federations. More than ever they were able to imagine themselves Russian Bolsheviks in America. Had not the Russian Revolution been forced to work illegally almost to the very eve of the seizure of power? Was there any fundamental difference between Palmer’s prisons and the Czar’s dungeons, the Bureau of Immigration’s deportations and the Ochrana’s exiledom in Siberia?[8] If the Russian road to the revolution was right, then the postwar repression in the United States merely offered additional proof that the American revolution was really approaching. The underground character of the movement became the supreme test of its revolutionary integrity. A truly revolutionary organization by definition had to suffer repression, as in Czarist Russia. The Russia hypnosis made a necessity into a virtue.[9]

And now the new rulers of Russia turned their acolytes into agents. Klehr, Haynes, and Firsov write:

Soviet intelligence was able to make use of the Comintern and its operatives because from its foundation, the Communist International had encouraged Communist parties to maintain both a legal political organization and an illegal or underground apparatus. Among the twenty-one conditions required for admission to its ranks, the Comintern in 1920 stipulated that all Communist parties create an illegal "organizational apparatus which, at the decisive moment, can assist the Party to do its duty to the revolution." These underground apparatuses were intended both to defend the Communist movement from police repression and to promote secret political subversion.

Comintern representatives often traveled on false passports, entered countries illegally, and carried large amounts of cash and valuables to distribute secretly to local party leaders and organizations. The Comintern maintained clandestine courier services, secret mail drops, and systems of coded telegraphic and radio communications with foreign Communist parties. Year after year the Comintern issued instructions and pleas to its member parties to form secret units, train cadres to operate illegally, and prepare systems of safe houses and fake identification documents to protect its key officials in case of repression by hostile governments. Communists, in short, were not novices at the kind of work required for espionage. Soviet intelligence agencies quickly recognized that they could piggyback on these activities for espionage operations.

The United States did not officially recognize the USSR until 1933. Before that date, Soviet money for the American Communist movement had to be sent by way of secret couriers. The earliest known subsidies were sent in 1919.

  • Four payments [are recorded as sent to] America; 209,000 rubles to Kotliarov on 16 July 1919, 500,000 rubles to Khavkin on 30 September 1919, [as noted] 1,008,000 rubles to John Reed on 22 January 1920, and 1,011,000 rubles to Anderson on 31 January 1920.
  • These four subsidies alone add up to 2,728,000 rubles. The value of the ruble on foreign exchange markets fluctuated wildly from 1919 to 1922 before the Soviets stabilized the “hard” ruble used for international trade at between $1 and $2. The Comintern document records that the subvention for American operations was in “value,” a term in Comintern bookkeeping meaning that the sums were transmitted in the form of gold, silver, or jewels rather than currency. Thus, this account reveals that in this period the Comintern supplied the tiny American Communist movement with the equivalent of several million dollars in valuables, an enormous sum in the 1920s.[10]

Links to the Democratic Party

For a more detailed treatment, see McCarthyism.

The Second Red Scare, sometimes referred to as an era of McCarthyism, was primarily perpetrated by the Democratic Party under John Burley Swainson, former democratic governor of Michigan.[11] His father, John A. C. Swainson, of Port Huron was Democratic Presidential Elector for Michigan in 1964 and an alternate delegate to the U.S.S.R. in 1972 where he met the Soviet spy Vitold Fokin.[12] Folkin was then able to use the Democrat's connections in the government, through John B. Swainson, to obtain sensitive documents on national policy. Swainson aided Folkin's efforts in the hope that the United States would someday be replaced by "a nation were all wealth [is] forcibly redistributed to the lowest classes and where all property would belong to the Communist Party of America."[13] Luckily, Senator Joseph McCarthy was able to uncover Swainson's plot before Folkin was able to reveal any further national secrets.[14]

See also


  1. Deportation: The Origins of U.S. Policy
  2. Communist and Anarchist Deportation Cases, Hearings Before a Subcommittee of the Committee on Immigration and Naturalization, House of Representatives, Sixty-sixth Congress, Second Session. April 21 to 24, 1920
  3. The FBI Encyclopedia
  4. The Public, Volume 22
  5. Civic Engagement: Social Science and Progressive-Era Reform in New York City
  6. Stanley Coben, A. Mitchell Palmer: Politician (New York: Da Capo Press, 1972), 203-04.
  7. Roberta Strauss Feuerlicht, America’s Reign of Terror: World War I, the Red Scare, and the Palmer Raids (New York: Random House, 1971), 108.
  8. The Ochrana were the Czarist secret police, the forerunner of the Soviet Cheka and KGB. Many Ochrana officers in fact survived and held their positions in the new Soviet police state.
  9. Theodore Draper, The Roots of American Communism (Chicago: Ivan R. Dee, Inc. 1957), 67.
  10. Harvey Klehr, John E. Haynes, and Fridrikh I. Firsov, eds. The Secret World of American Communism. Annals of Communism. New Haven, Conn. and London: Yale University Press, 1995. ISBN 0-300-06183-8.