The Red Scare, The House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC), McCarthyism and Blacklisting

In keeping with the New Deal, there was more tolerance of liberalism in the United States during the 1930s. Sometimes based on altruistic ideas of common good, improvement of the working class or other acceptable intellectual concepts such as anti-fascism, and sometimes based on more pragmatic considerations, such as a solution to the perceived failures of the capitalist economic system, leftist “progressive” philosophies, including communism, were not the diabolical movements during the years between the World Wars that they became after World War II. To many, they were viewed as social reforms. (Donaldson, pp. 3, 6-8; Denning, p. 5; Denselow, p. 8.)

The Communist Party in America (CPUSA) had tens of thousands of members in the years between the wars—which was not all that much. In keeping with the times, between the mid-thirties and the mid-fifties an estimated 300 film directors, actors, writers, and designers joined the Communist Party. (Denselow, Id.) Although a large part of the leadership of the student movements of the Depression Era was made up of communists, the majority of the rank and file of student organizations were not communists. (Rob. Cohen, p. xvii.)

The Popular Front of the 1930s and 1940s was a mixture of young artists, writers, intellectuals, radical moderns, anti-fascists, anarchists, immigrants, unionists, and others who, if not members of [the Communist Party] at least shared sympathies with [it].” (Conforth, African American Folksong and American Cultural Politics- the Lawrence Gellert Story,p. 2.) During the Popular Front years of the late 1930s and World War II, the CPUSA took an increasingly centrist political stance. (Rossinow, p. 103.) But, it turned more left again after the war. (Id.) The CPUSA, to the minimal extent that it was a force in American politics, was eliminated when Nikita Khrushchev revealed the Stalinist atrocities in 1954. (Isserman, pp. 3-4.)

As discussed below, during the “red-scare” and “McCarthyism” of the late 1940s and 1950s, those prior liberal associations would come back to haunt many of the so-called Reds, or communists. “Anyone who’d joined a committee against racism… anyone who’d supported the “wrong side” in the Spanish Civil War, anyone who seemed suspiciously idealistic, one-worldly, permissive, well-read, or immune to the lures of materialism, was suspect[ed to be a communist].” (Cantwell, p. 347, quoting Klien, Woody Guthrie.)