Many younger people think democracies over-reacted to the dangers of communism. Did they really?

A lot of contemporary younger people think many 20th century democracies vastly over-reacted to the real dangers of communism. I’m 51 so the whole Red Scare zeitgeist of the 40’s through the 60’s was a bit before my time.

It’s easy for us to have hindsight now, but in looking at history it appears the communists were very serious about a social revolution wiping out representative (capitalist) democracies. While communism turned out the be not such a a great way (over the long run) to run countries economically, the seriousness of the threat when communism was ascendant was very real to westernized people reading that the communists intended to destroy their way of life.

So… in the context of their time and the threat communism presented at that time did western democracies over-react to the dangers of communism or not?

An over reaction would suggest that communism was quashed in short order. Actually it took about 40 years after the initial concern following WWII. Most of my life time.

Given the number of people killed by Communist nations:

And the infiltration of the US government, military, and political organizations by Soviet spies and sympathizers, I’d say it was a very real threat and that the actions taken to prevent anything bad from happening were, if anything, fairly understated–probably thanks to how good life actually was in the US. But I can see why you wouldn’t want to rely on the level of local cheer when mass murder and starvation are the threat.

IANA historian but I would submit that there is a difference between

A. Communist political philosophy
B. The Stalinist/Soviet empire
C. ‘The commies are coming to turn our families into state hatcheries’ scare tactics in use.

Throw in the fresh memory of what the Nazi’s showed us could happen and how fast it could happen and I’d say

A. World communisim was never gonna happen.
B. Josef Stalin was a man to be feared.
C. They were just doing what Goebbels did, what Limbaugh does.

Hell yes. The commies had enough trouble keeping their own country running. Russia was a poor country and they should have taken care of their people first. A space and arms waste was great for their national respect, but it was a huge cost to pay.
The American military needs to have a horrible enemy to keep their fingers in Americas piggy bank.They will always exaggerate the danger to make it look like they saved us. Then we will spend even more. In America it always about money.
Now the terrorists are trying to take over the US. They are the enemy with no country and no centralized army that we can justify warring with forever. They are the perfect foe. They can not surrender and they can keep regenerating as long as we wage war against them.
The dangers are always exaggerated. Don;t trust the military or politicians to tell the truth.

I think the phrase “massive over reaction” would be a huge under statement. Actually I think a vital communist/socialist party is an essential ingredient in a healthy democracy, to balance out the fringe right (or as you in America call it, the Democrats :wink: ).

Regarding atrocities committed by “communist nations” I think that any authoritarian government is a big mistake whether driven by communist ideology (as Soviet), Free Market Conservatism (Chile) or Fascism (Italy). The view of the average American when it comes to communism/socialism is incredibly immature, as I imagine the image of the US was in communist Russia. It’s based on cold war propaganda and is similar to someone basing their view of cannabis on the movie “Reefer Madness”.

The problem is mostly one of “anti-communists” conflating a lot of things, based on the red flag of the word communist, leading to a lot of really bad decisions in the West.

The Soviet Union was a world power that was antagonistic to the West and was willing to enslave nearby countries to ensure that its borders were protected from invasion.
It was never a power that actually considered conquering the world, although that is the story employed to rationalize Western overreaction.

The communist movement probably would have liked to eventually overtake rthe entire world, but it was a shattered and scattered set of conflicting movements from the time of Trotsky that never had a hope of actually accomplishing its goal. The Chinese break with the Soviet Union, the Soviet support for and Chinese opposition to the communist regime of Vietnam, the way in which (protected by the Romanan/Bulgarian buffer), Tito refused to toe the Soviet line, and numerous other events made the lack of cohesion among “communists” apparent to everyone who did not need the communist boogeyman to scare their opponents or rationalize their own efforts to deny freedom to other people.

If the differences among communists of different nationalities had been recognized earlier, the West could have probably allowed several “communist” revolutions to succeeed, initially, only to subvert them with cash or allow them to crash and burn in their own unsuccessful efforts at socialism. Instead, the West, (primarily but hardly exclusively the U.S.), was quite happy to allow tin horn dictators to suppress and sometimes destroy democratic efforts in Greece, Iran, South Korea, South Vietnam, Chile, Indonesia, Philipines, and several Central American and African nations, to say nothing of the silly if tragic suppression of people in the U.S., itself, with witch hunts of various sorts all in the namer of “stopping communism.”

The Soviet threat was real, in the sense that major military nations always jockey for power and attempt to undermine the safety and influence of other nations. It was never real in the sense of the Soviet Union wishing to invade and conquer the West. Wrapping up that genuine threat as a matter of fearing worldwide communism was just stupid fear mongering. It was easier–because slogans are easier than thoughtful discussion–to get political support for a lot of foolish actions by crying “we’ve got to stop the commies,” but it caused a lot of grief that was totally unnecessary. (Opposing the Soviets in other ways would probably have also resulted in various tragedies, but I suspect that they would not have been as far reaching or as prolonged.)

Initial concern following WW2? There was the Great Red Scare just after WW1, for heaven’s sake. The Russian Revolutions had just happened, the Czar was dead, and the Russian Empire was morphing into the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, had dropped out of the war, and had sued for peace.

And there’d been a lot of socialist agitation before WW1. The Haymarket Affair happened in the 1880s. The disadvantages of centralized planning hadn’t become apparent, and it wasn’t until the later 1920s that holes started to appear in the USSR’s image as a brave new revolutionary world.

For a non-communist, but still socialist, view of things, read HG Wells’ later works, suich as The Shape of Things to Come and The World Set Free. Here we have works written in the 1930s speaking of the collapes of the capalist order due to wars and overextension, and a new ‘Modern State’ society springing up amidst the decay.

But if you look at what happened, the Communist rebellions happened in poorer countires and areas, ones without an inclusive social tradition, or where people were starving, and had nothing to lose by rebelling.

The US and its allies would have been better off supporting policies that benefitted the people who would otherwise rebel. And they did to some degree–look at what the Marshall Plan did for Europe.

But they should have extended that to SE Asia and South America and Central America and all the other places, sat down with all those dictators, and said, “Look. We don’t care what you call yourselves. We do care that the people aren’t being treated fairly. We won’t support you if you don’t treat your own people well.” Instead, too often they seemed to say, “You’re anti-Communist? Great! We’ll support you, no matter what you do, if you help us oppose the Russians.”

So I don’t think the US overreacted, but it definitely didn’t react in the most efficient dirrection.

Yes and no. It was a threat and a real threat and a big threat. But it was not as big a threat as it was made out to be. (I’m 47). Stalin was really damn dangerous and Mao and Castro took the money and property of corporations/rich people. Unsurprisingly, corporations/rich people, who happened to control our government at the time (and still do) saw this as a real danger to their way of life, which it was. Mao and Castro never intended us much harm, but Stalin was a crazy, paranoid motherfucker who cozied up to Hitler rather than us because he thought Hitler was safer. The two sides in the Cold War were highly suspicious of each other and continued their arms race and spy vs. spy shit. Gorbachev eventually became convinced after his meetings with Reagan that this was all idiotic and that the West was never going to invade and used that insight to dismantle the occupation of Eastern Europe which had gone on for 45 years. Note in my version that Reagan gets some credit here, but not all the credit his followers take. Gorbachev had essentially the same information his predecessors had, a less paranoid state of mind and a crashing economy. His choice was to either be a Stalin and crack down on this or go the route he took, which was Glasnost. Reagan and Gorbachev taking personal measure of each other and liking what they saw was very helpful, but it was not the only factor as the Republican propagandists insist. The two systems were set up to be wary of each other.

Our own paranoia in Vietnam and China particularly did not let us see the opportunities for diplomatic and economic breakthroughs as early as we could have. Had not Mr. Dulles been our secretary of state in the 50s, we could have opened up diplomatic relations then with China and the Vietnam fiasco might not ever have happened. Mao and Ho were very anxious to work with the US as soon as possible. We saw them as the Soviet Union’s puppets, which they were not and did not want to be. But our view was based on Stalin and the Korean war experience and perhaps understandable.

Personally, I’d consider that part of the overreaction. We had a Holy War mentality; the enemy was absolutely evil, we were absolutely right, anything was justified to win, anything was better than letting them win in any way, and “them” was defined as broadly as possible. So, we supported anyone who claimed to fight “communism”, no matter how far from actual communism their opponents were or how brutal they were in doing so. And at the same time, we raised capitalism up from a morally neutral economic system into a sacred cause ( literally sacred in some cases ). It wasn’t just directly against the “godless Communists” that America overreacted; it was in it’s own internal politics. And religion; there was a strong religious component in all this, the war against Communism wasn’t just a Holy War metaphorically; for many or most Americans, it was literally a Holy War.

The initial concern followed WWII? Have you read history (in either Canada or the United States) in any of your lifetime? The Communist Party spent time being illegal in both countries well before WWII, and Marxism in general caused “concern” even before that.

It was a mutual abhorrance relationship. Capitalists who did not really expecially believe in capitalism, apparatchiks for whom Marxism was simply the environment in which they realized their ambitions, both were convinced that other guy was a fanatic, with no respect for human life, etc., etc. Frankly, to this very day I am flabbergasted that we got through the Cold War without dropping the Big One.

Hell, maybe there is hope, maybe we are fundamentally sane. Maybe.

Rather than worrying about dates, (although previous responses are correct), I will reiterate that this statement is one more conflation of communism and the Soviet Union.

Unrestricted capitalism had resulted in enormous social problems in many countries and socialism and communism–with no history to demonstrte their failings–were each considered, by different groups, to be the appropriate response. That battle had been going on since the 19th century. In the few places where “pure” socialism was actually incorporated, its survival time was a bit shorter than the period of unrestricted capitalism–varying a bit from country to country. That, however, had rather litttle to do with the Soviet Union as a world power. The U.S. was never in danger of a “communist takeover,” even at the height of the Depression, and the many laws passed and lives ruined to prevent such an imaginary event was clearly an overreaction, as was the persistent support of the U.S. for right wing dictators who were at least as evil as their communist opponents in too many cases.

It’s not a recent development amongst the youth of today to see over-reactions against communism. I’m well - not as young as I used to be and it wasn’t an uncommon viewpoint when I was young. The USSR certainly was a threat to the west during the Cold War, but the fear of the communist boogeyman being beneath every bed led to over-reactions and an entirely polarized view of the world into us and them and communism being seen as a monolithic entity. If ‘they’ weren’t on our side they must be on the communists, if we weren’t backing a revolution the communists must be, and if we hadn’t overthrown a government the communists must have; and in all cases the communists took their marching orders from Moscow in a fairly hive-like fashion. Domestically foolishness such as the McCarthy hearings and COINTELPRO were the result. The Red Scare, over-reactions to it, and conflating anything too socialist or leftist as communist of course long predates the Cold War. There were Red Squads in police departments all over the US during the Red Scare after WWI. Gen. McArthur considered the Bonus Marchers to be a communist attempt to overthrow the US government which is why he disobeyed direct orders from President Hoover and attacked them. I guess he decided he had to destroy democracy in order to save it.

I’d even cite this as proof of over-reaction to communism and communist hysteria:

It was this exaggerated fear of the Reds infiltrating that led to McCarthy and COINTELPRO. Oh, and Invasion of the Body Snatchers.

Personally, I’ve suspected for a while that McCarthy himself was a Soviet infiltrator. He certainly did more damage to America than the folks he was railing against.

In the end, though, I think Exhibit A is the fact that when the Soviet Union did fall, it wasn’t our doing. It collapsed in on itself, because its system was fundamentally unsustainable. If we really believed our own rhetoric about how bad Communism was (or at least, the Soviet version of Communism), we should have just stood back and let it happen.

The answer “it would have fallen anyway, even if we did nothing” is a comfortable notion to us looking at the situation in hindsight half century after the fact, but is it true? If we did not aggressively resist the advance of communism it seems quite possible that communist ideologies could have locked up much of the developing world where have/have not disparities were especially acute, and the Soviet Union (for example) would have had access to those natural resources.

Would that have enabled them to hang on and build a true global communist empire? Who knows, but I think the notion that “We didn’t really need to do anything because it would have all failed anyway” is a bit too sanguine.

Saying it’s exaggerated ignores the point that it was real:

It might not ever have been a practical threat, but I think it would be safe to say that the Russians would have been quite happy to have made the US a Communist state if they’d not found it more important to start stealing technological information from the US to prop up their own image than to use the influence they had to foment revolution or whatever.

You’ll note that I said

Bolded part added; I certainly did not ignore the real threat by noting that the threat was exaggerated and led to democracy being undermined in order to defend democracy. What did the McCarthy witch-hunt for Reds do to actually fight communism? How was McArthur ordering the military to assault WWI Veterans in the nation’s capitol in direct defiance of orders from the democratically elected President of the United States furthering democracy to defend it against the Reds? What did police Red Squads infiltrating labor unions do to protect against communism when the unions weren’t actually communist? How did the travesty of COINTELPRO (quote from the report to Congress)

actually safeguard democracy by undermining it? Calling this over-reaction “understated” is rather bizarre; should more undermining of democracy have been done in order to protect democracy?

I would just note your identification of communism (or I guess Communism with a capital C) as a monolithic entity taking marching orders from Moscow, again in a hive-like fashion. This isn’t the way things played out in the real world; while Eastern Europe was clearly under the thumb of Moscow and did whatever it was told, China, Albania, Yugoslavia, North Korea, Vietnam et al clearly were not in lock-step with Moscow building a true global communist empire. I’ve nothing against the aggressive resistance to the advance of communism, but bear in mind much of the developing world was throwing off the shackles of colonialism at the time. With the mindset of “if this tin pot dictator isn’t in our pocket, they must be in the Communists”, well… mistakes were made.

The American Communist movements were very much a participant in the worldwide internecine conflicts of communism as a whole. Those in the Moscow-funded Party certainly were “a monolithic entity taking marching orders from Moscow;” there were also smaller groups taking marching orders from Beijing, from the Trotskyists, and so on.