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The Beginning of the Communist Movement in the USA

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Impacts of the First Red Scare

The emergence of a communist government after the Russian Revolution in November 1917 introduced a communist threat in the United States, which grew in 1919 when the Soviet Union established the Communist International, whose purpose is to inspire revolution and spread communism. Fear intensified when a series of bombings occurred in the spring of 1919 that included bombings in cities and explosive parcels delivered to businessmen and politicians. The American Communist Party, which formed in 1919, and other radical groups were presumed responsible for the bombings. During the height of the Red Scare in 1919 and 1920, there was paranoia about a communist revolution in the United States and the government took measures that suppressed civil liberties .

During the Red Scare, the U.S. government and the people began seeing every form of instability or protest as a sign of radical threat. One of the events that started the Red Scare was a series bombings in 1919. A report from The Morning Tulsa daily world shows bombings that occurred in eight cities at around the same time (D). This event suggested a nationwide conspiracy and people had imagined there were a large number of radicals in the United States but in reality, there was only a modest number of real radicals. Antiradical newspapers depicted labor activism and strikes depicted as the working class trying to overthrow capitalism in the United States. For example, the steel strike of 1919 was portrayed in a cartoon from New York World showing a striker holding up a flag labeled “Red” symbolic of communism (A). In another cartoon from the New York Evening Telegram, labor activism is shown as creating disorders and riots which will lead to Bolshevism, and Bolshevism will lead society into chaos (B). The large number of laborers being immigrants only justified their views because immigrants were seen as those who supported communism.

The Red Scare also caused the government to enact laws that suppressed civil liberties. Many states had enacted peacetime sedition laws limiting the freedom of speech and imposing harsh penalties on people who promoted communism. One of these laws in Kansas prohibited carrying and displaying “any red flag, standard or banner distinctive of bolshevism, anarchy, or radical socialism” (C). In a speech, Jane Addams, a prominent social activist, expresses dissent of how “hundreds of poor laboring men and women” were being arrested for seeking the “right of free speech and free thought” (F).

The U.S. government also carried out injustices by arresting and convicting people. Attorney General A. Mitchell Palmer orchestrated a series of raids on alleged radical centers known as Palmer Raids. A report from The Ogden Standard reports that more than 200 people were arrested in one night and were all to be deported (E). More than 6000 people were arrested throughout the raids, although most were later released. Mass numbers of weapons and explosives were also intended to be uncovered during the Palmer Raids, but only three pistols and no dynamite was found. The Palmer Raids violated the personal privacy of people and made false arrests on the basis of suspected radicalism. Fear of communism had also caused two people to be unfairly tried and sentenced to death in the case of Sacco and Vanzetti. Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti were Italian immigrants and confessed anarchists who were accused of murder. The evidence against them was questionable and “scores of keen legal minds…say that the evidence is wholly insufficient” but they were biasedly deemed guilty by Judge Webster Thayer because they were anarchists (G). Although public support for them grew to large amounts, requests for a new trial or pardon were all denied and Sacco and Vanzetti were unjustly executed.

After the emergence of a communist government in Russia, fear of revolution and communism spread through the United States causing a Red Scare. The Red Scare that lasted from 1919 to 1920 created paranoia about communism spreading onto the United States and caused the government to take measures that suppressed civil liberties. The first Red Scare ended soon after Attorney General A. Mitchell Palmer’s predicted May Day uprising failed to happen. However, communist tensions with other countries continued which led the United States into the Cold War and then a second Red Scare.

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