Just how serious was the threat of Communism in America?

My opinion is that it was a serious threat indeed. Communists set up their own tyrannical governments and committed many atrocities in many countries: Roumania, Yugoslavia, Russia, Ukraine, Afghanistan, Cambodia, Cuba, Nicaragua, China, Tibet, Poland, East Germany, Czechoslovakia, Estonia, Latvia, North Korea, Vietnam, etc. They never succeeded in replacing the US government, but I believe they would have if they could have.

During the 1940’s and 1950’s, there were many Americans in positions of power and influence who secretly supported the Communists. Some were spies, e.g., Klaus Fuchs, who stole atomic secrets. Some affected policy, e.g., Alger Hiss, who had a senior government position. Some affected public opinion, e.g., Pete Seeger.

Most American Communists and Fellow Travelers were well-motiviated. They thought they were working for the good of America. However, despite their beliefs, their actions supported a tyrannical government that would imposed a dictatorship if it could have, just as it did in many other countries.

tomndebb disagrees. He wrote:

So, was the threat of American Communism overblown or real?

Both real and overblown.

Stalin was evil, insane, and an expansionist. Anyone who supported him or made excuses for them (and there were quite a few her in the U.S.) deserves our everlasting contempt. There were genuine Communist spies working to give nuclear secrets to the Soviet Union, and those people deserved what they got (mine are the driest eyes in the house when people bring up the poor, martyred Rosenbergs).

But VERY few American Marxists were in a position to do real harm to American security. Dalton Trumbo was a turd, and I shed no tears for him- but really, what were idiots like him in a position to do for Stalin? Ultimately, American communism was pretty well limited to academia and a few small pockets of intellectuals and artists. A pretty feeble movement, really, one that deserved our scorn, but not one that warranted as much attention as it got.

I think, in the face of the Great Depression, the threat of communism could have been pretty substantial. People were out of work, desperate, even starving, and for the most part, society didn’t seem to feel especially obligated to do anything about it.

In a situation where a substantial part of the population is dangling on the ragged edge of desperation, the political situation is NOT stable. Historically, SOMEONE usually steps up to the plate and turns that desperation into political power… and the Communists were already there, with infrastructure and rhetoric.

Instead, the FDR administration created a buncha government makework jobs, to ease the desperation factor and stabilize society.

The Republicans and the upper class have hated FDR ever since…

We came much closer to a coup by wealthy nutcases than we ever did by communists, if that means anything.

Totally overblown… the chance didn’t warrant McCarthy. There was danger of course from spying and treason by more fanatical communists… but not of overthrowing. Europe is/was more intelectual and was more prone to it than the intelectually backward US.

Still it was a convenient was of scaring the populace… a still very common tactic nowdays.

To be fair to your list of “communist” countries you should include the “right wing” or “democratic” countries that commited attrocities in the fight against communism. (Many or most supported by the US) Including most of Latin America, Iraq and many african countries.

What utter crap.

I would say no the risk wasn’t that great apart from the usual security issues with espionage etc.

Look at a lot of European countries which still have/had socialist/communist influences . UK, France etc. They’re not exactly Russia 1918 - 1980’s

What utter crap.

I would say no the risk wasn’t that great apart from the usual security issues with espionage etc.

Look at a lot of European countries which still have/had socialist/communist influences . UK, France etc. They’re not exactly Russia 1918 - 1980’s

december, is the quoted discussion in a thread? I ask in order to get some context. In that quoted text tom~ refers to some “names mentioned” that in his view were not a real threat of overthrowing the USA, and I’m left to imagine to whom it could refer.

astorian has a sensible take on it – there were elements of real threat, but there were also crass abuses out of all proportion. And the way to contain the real threats was good counterintelligence work, not public bullying of screenwriters and the like. Just to take a couple of names from december’s OP, how can we conceivably place Pete Seeger in the same threat category as traders in nuclear secrets? Also, in any case, there would have been a considerable number of American Communists or sympathizers that were in it out of a sincere belief that the workers indeed were oppressed and needed to take over, but not destroy, the country. Many of them were guilty of nothing worse than naive willful blindness.

Of course, we know that it was standard practice for the Stalinists and their successors to seek to “use” sincere revolutionaries in order to position themselves to play their own power game – but that only worked if the home-grown revolution had some legs of its own to stand on already before going pro-soviet (e.g. Cuba). The times were, however, not propitious for home-grown revolution in the USA. The circle of white academic types the ideology attracted was too narrow, and it did not speak the language of their potential best hope for uprising – disenfranchised minorities(*). And in any case, revolutions are NOT succesful if the only people revolting are the powerless. It takes an appreciable chunk of the mainstream joining up.

(*And the [at the time of Stalin] viciously antirreligious rhetoric of communism would further alienate communities where the church was a key part of daily life)

Oh, and :rolleyes: to Rashak for insulting the USA in the process fo saying there was a real danger

During the depression, there was a very minor threat from both Communists and Fascists; if things had gotten worse, that threat would have been exacerbated. Many were attracted to the politics of extremism by the seeming inability of “conventional” politicians to solve the crisis, and the seeming success of fascist and communist regimes.

Following WW2, the US emerged as the most wealthy, powerful, and self-confident country on the planet. Much of the rest of the world was in ruins; the facists were totally discredited; the US had more than recovered from the malaise of the '30s. The threat of a Communist take-over at that time was exactly zero (or some diminisingly tiny percentage approximating zero).

There are a number of issues here.

First is the threat of Soviet spies. Every country has spied on every other country since ancient times. What makes this different is that the world was largely divided into two camps, and the subversion of American could mean the collapse of the American camp, which would have been disastrous for all of humanity. The Soviet spies that were discovered, such as Hiss and the Rosenbergs, were treated the way they deserved, IMO.

The second issue is the threat posed by Communist and Socialist sympathizers that had little to no influence on policy. In this fear, I’d say that these people posed very little threat to American society. During the times of the great depression and before, communism and socialism were inextricably tied to issues such as collective bargaining, minimum wages, works programs, the 40-hour workweek, and many other worker-friendly programs. That is one of the reasons that, after FDR’s reforms, the communists lost a great deal of support. Many of their former supporters had gained what they wanted, and didn’t subscribe to the Communist calls for worldwide revolution.

I believe that McCarthy and his like posed a much greater threat to American society. They sued people’s generalized fear of Communism to attack their enemies and suppress dissention. They scared people in government, academia, and the arts into conformity. America is founded on the idea of freedom of expression.

Stalin, the USSR, and Soviet spies could threaten American society with missiles and bombs. By attempting to silence his political opponents and repress dissent, McCarthy threatened the very foundation of the United States in a way that Stalin never could.

The CPUSA was generally considered to be a joke back in the 1950s. Weren’t most of its members FBI informers?

Rashak Mani: " Totally overblown… the chance didn’t warrant McCarthy. There was danger of course from spying and treason by more fanatical communists… but not of overthrowing. Europe is/was more intelectual and was more prone to it than the intelectually backward US."

Mister Mani, please correct your implication that communism is intelectual. Communism is a a silly thought construction that enslaves. Free elections rarely bring communists to power. Self aggrandizing people who chant the mindless slogans of pseudo-intellectuals are forced to impose communism on the poor helpless masses by gunpoint and initimation.

No, communism never had chance of establishing a beachhead in the United States. Until now. Today the politically correct group joins the cradle-to-grave group in an attempt to dumb down the american people. Fatcat Socialism is but a slippery slope that leads to the inescapable cattle pens of state communism.

And yet we slide…

It comes from the McCarthyism thread. I started a separate thread because I see the harm done by McCarthy as a separate issue from the risk of Communism.

This thread could be broken down to at least 3 issues: The threat posed by:
– Communism
– the Communist Party of the USA
– individual Communists and fellow travelers

I think Communism was a huge threat. We spent zillions of dollars and decades of foreign policy emphasis and several wars to deter its spread. Peoples who were taken over by Communists suffered greatly. We avoided that fate, although the cost was enormous.

The CPUSA was controlled by the Communist Party in the USSR, although it often claimed to be independent. Individual Communists did what they could. Even those who did little damage were part of a conspiracy that did enormous damage.

I want to dispute a few of tomndebb’s assertions:

I don’t know what they desired in their hearts, but their actions supported international Communism, which did have the goal of overthrowing the US government.

They supported propaganda efforts which weakened the resolve of the US to resist Communism’s spread. Fortunately, Americans were spared that fate, but the people of many other countries were not spared.

Sure. But, any member of the CPUSA supported the CPUSA which was controlled by the international CP, whose goal was to to overthrow the government.

I have highlighted this sentence because it’s so remarkable. (It’s just a coincidence that it’s highlighted in red. ;)) No, Joseph Stalin and George Bush are not comparable. That’s an appalling comment.

Adjacent land like Cuba, Nicaragua and Angola? :confused:

Oh, I get it. The USSR only wanted power over its area, but its area was the whole world. The quest for world domination sounds so much better when you explain it in those terms.

I agree. However, the witch hunts did help create an atmosphere where Soviet spying was taken more seriously.

I’m not suggesting what penalty they ought to have suffered. I am saying that their allegiance ought not to have been secret. When an oil expert speaks about oil, it would be nice to know whether he’s controlled by an oil company. And, when a “human rights expert” speaks about human rights, it would be nice to know that he’s controlled by the Communist Party.

I don’t accept this sort of equivalence argument. Our government was so much better than the USSR’s that it’s fair to say that we were the good guys and they were the bad guys.

It seems to me that you are mixing together the threat posed by the Soviet Empire and its imperial ambitions, and the internal threat of a Communist take-over in the US.

The spy threat was really an aspect of the first.

The second was the focus of much of the McCarthy commie-hunts, and I think most people would agree that the threat of an internal communist take-over was practically nil.

I posed this question in a thread some time ago and didn’t get much of a response, but have we learned anything from the Soviet archives that reveal the extent to which the USSR targeted the US? Did they have realistic plans to take over the US with military force or didn’t they?

It was a real and dangerous threat to the United States. Apart fromthe usual “useful idiots”, all evidence today reveals that communists had indeed infiltrated the top levels of the US government, by the mid-1940’s. How elese do you explainthe Russians getting hold of:
-the complete plans for the atomic bomb
-the complete blueprints for the uranium enrichement process (as used at Oak Ridge, TENN)
-the complete plans for the hydrogen bomb
The Rosenbergs and Harry Gold were NOT ALONE-they were assisted by unknown higher-ups. possibly including the late Dr. Oppengheimer (everybody laughed at Dr. Teller, but history has proven him right).
And, the communists hasd successfully infiltrated many labor unions…witness the dock workers in San Francisco 9under harry Bridges-a known communist).
Peopl make light of it, but the fact is, more and more is coming out on just how serious was the threat from the CPUSA.
PS-is Earl Browder still alive?

Browder died in 1973. He lost his position as party chairman in 1944, though, and was expelled from the party in 1946, for saying that there could be peaceful coexistance between capitalism and communism.

And the Manhattan project spies were Julius Rosenberg, Harry Gold, David Greenglass, Klaus Fuchs, and Ruth Greenglass, with Anatoli Yakovlev as their controller, as well as (although the evidence is weaker against them) possibly Morton Sobell and Ethel Rosenberg.

There’s no evidence that Dr. Oppenheimer was involved.

Communism was never (at least after the 30’s) a serious threat to America itself the way it was a threat to Cuba or El Salvador or something. There was no chance a Communist uprising would happen here, no matter how much Pete Seeger sang.

The Soviets, of course, were a threat to American interests, and, with nuclear missiles, a threat to America itself, but that doesn’t mean the American Communists were a threat, except to the extent they engaged in espionage against America, which some did, but most didn’t.

IIRC, the Soviets got the bomb through espionage in Canada, not the US.


Really? This is not what I heard. Any elaboration?

I don’t think in any of the nations that went communist were there longstanding traditions and history of democracy, as there was and is in the US.

Most of them were in transitional governments after the overthrow of a monarchy or a dictatorship, or taking over directly.