The fear of communism in the United States was a manifestation of political anxiety over the infiltration of international influences, namely tied to Soviet Russia, during the 20th century. The philosophical basis of this fear was based on the significant differences between capitalism and communism as economic systems, while the most noteworthy historical examples of it were the Red Scare after World War I, McCarthyism in the 1950s and the Cold War.

Historical Background

The American capitalist system emphasizes independent economic production and trading in a free market economy. The opposite is communism, an economic system in which a governing body plans and regulates the economy and responsibility for production is shared equally by a society. Communism as a state ideology emerged in Russia following the Bolshevik Revolution in 1918. Led by Vladimir Lenin, this populist uprising toppled the regime of Czar Nicholas II. Previously part of the Social Democratic Labour Party, the Bolsheviks used Lenin's charismatic leadership institutionalize their communist ideology in a new Soviet state.

The Red Scare

Following the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia, as well as a series of anarchist bombings on U.S. soil after World War I, the Red Scare began in the U.S. in 1919. Bred out of Americans' nationalist fervor during the war, the Red Scare was a defensive societal response to the perceived infiltration of communist elements in the U.S. The Red Scare lasted until the mid-1920s and resulted in the occasional suspension of civil liberties, as people suspected of having communist ties were often terrorized and jailed. The effects of the Red Scare were mainly felt on the political left -- by individuals whose criticisms of and opposition to Red Scare tactics were largely stifled by fears of retribution.


Joseph McCarthy was the U.S. senator from Wisconsin who led the effort to expose and purge domestic communists throughout the 1950s. McCarthy claimed that there were known communists working to subvert the U.S. government from within. As a result, suspected communists, including members of the American political left and the entertainment industries, had their names blacklisted, thus barring them from many work opportunities and restricting certain civil liberties such as freedom of speech. The paranoia generated by McCarthyism had significant effects on the social and political landscape of America. In addition to the communist political party being decimated, other left-wing and moderate political organizations were restricted from reforming or even criticizing McCarthy's anti-communist tactics because of the fear of being deemed unpatriotic or even disloyal to the United States.

The Cold War

The Cold War was a political standoff between the capitalist United States and the communist Soviet Union that occurred during the second half of the 20th century. In the United States, the Cold War caused increased feelings of nationalism and anti-communist fervor. For Americans during the Cold War, communism was not so much recognized for being an economic system or a legitimate political affiliation as it was a symbol of the Soviet Union and therefore a threat to the American way of life. Although the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991 brought an end to the Cold War, communism continues to carry negative connotations and even inspire fear in the United States into the 21st century.