How Did Fear of Communism Affect American Domestic Policies?

How Did Fear of Communism Affect American Domestic Policies?

Fear of communism significantly affected American domestic policy with regard to both immigration policy and workers' rights. In the 1920s, the United States experienced its first Red Scare soon after Russia's Bolshevik Revolution of 1917 brought communism to the forefront of people's minds. In the 1950s, the U.S. experienced a similar wave of anti-communist fear during the first phases of the Cold War. Overall, this anti-communist fear led to both social and economic policies.

1 First Red Scare

The first Red Scare was a political and social response to real and imagined fears about leftist and anarchist forces in the U.S. after the Russian Revolution. In 1919, eight bombs exploded across the United States, targeting prominent political figures including Attorney General A. Mitchell Palmer. Palmer responded with the Palmer Raids, a series of arrests and deportations of major leftist figures. Palmer also put J. Edgar Hoover in charge of a new branch of the Bureau of Investigation to specifically investigate radical groups.

2 Suppressing Workers

Though the perpetrators of the 1919 bombings were anarchists, the Red Scare targeted leftists in general, including non-radical and non-violent socialists. Though socialism was a major force in American politics, its similarities to communism led many to fear socialist activity after 1917. Workers' strikes at this time were interpreted as attempts to lead the U.S. to communism, and socialist leaders such as former presidential candidate Eugene V. Debs were commonly jailed under the Espionage Act -- in Debs' case for a speech that called for resistance to the World War I draft.

3 Immigration Policy

The most significant reaction to the Red Scare, however, was in immigration policy. Fearing the influx of radicals and anarchists, the U.S. passed two major laws, first in 1921 to establish a quota system for all immigrants into the United States, and then in 1924 to use the quota system to limit the immigration of people from countries where anarchism and communism were more prevalent. The result was a rapid decline in immigration to the U.S.

4 McCarthyism

The U.S. experienced a second Red Scare in the 1950s during the Cold War after Senator Joseph McCarthy began using anti-communist rhetoric to accuse his political opponents of treason. Hoover, still director of the FBI, used his bureau to help investigate communist threats. Ultimately, many people would lose their jobs after being wrongfully accused of communism, and many, including a significant number of Hollywood actors and writers, were put on blacklists. McCarthyism declined after a public and judicial backlash in the late 1950s. Anticommunist fears, however, remained prevalent across the U.S.

Aatif Rashid writes on international politics and culture. His articles have appeared in magazines such as "The Oxonian Globalist" and online at Future Foreign Policy and ThinkPolitic. He holds Bachelor's degrees in English and history from U.C. Berkeley and a Masters degree from the University of Oxford.