Hysteria Observed During the Red Scare

The Red Scare

Did the Russian revolutionaries believe that the stream of change in which they were inserted by 1917 would expand farer than the old tsarist patrimonies? If for them it could exist doubts about a widely worker reaction, for the foreign government that were being witness, it was a risk that it would be necessary to suppress at any price. In United States, the claims of social change resound deeply in a old tradition of conflict labor, and the shadow of a red menace inside the ranks of the own society soon became a reality in the public opinion. The following great collective hysteria originated during the next years has been known as the Red Scare. The principal objective of this study is to analyse in what extend the fearful expectative of a collapse of the traditional pillars of the “North American” ways of life by radical hands could be real.

For that, first of all, it will be necessary to put forward the characteristics that this Scare is uphold, through a short cover of facts in the historic line. Continuously it will be checked what similar movements or feelings could be sense with anteriority in the country. In a second part, once already dissected the public fears, their main scary means will be analysed in the real situation of the moment, in order to establish if it was good found this hysteria. It is convenient to underline that this work is centred in the study of the reality that was hindered behind the hysteria, and not in the degree that this hysteria could have reached in the country.

The different expressions of the Red Scare can be divided by the answers that they gives way to. The social body reacted with mobs against possible radicals, but also trough citizen organizations that pressured in all the possible ways the measures against them. The news of the Bolshevik Revolution were channelled trough the press in sensational information. The war there was not abroad and against the Kaiser, but inside the nation and under the Third International influence (H. C. Peterson and Gilbert C. Fite, 1957, pp.286-287). This, joint together with crude labor unrest during 1919. In April, 36 bombs hindered in mails were discovered. The destinies were public officials and the action was hold responsible to anarchist elements. Two months later, in several cities of the East two explosions take part in the same time. The public authorities soon saw well-prepared Anarchist action. All this helped to rise the public claims toward the increasing of repression of radicals.

In the political spheres, the Congress received multitude of restriction bills inside this frightened atmosphere. Although most of the bills remained in this condition without becoming in official laws. The great amount of bills make necessary a great time to revise all, in the other hand, the political organs were concentred in the peace treaties of the post-war period, and finally, some politicians saw with fear a dangerous reduce of the civil liberties (Donald Johnson, 1963, pp.----). But it would be the deportation of aliens carried by the Immigration authorities the expressive action of the repression.

During the war, the Immigration law of October 1918 initiated actions toward the deportation of some members of the International Workers of the World. The law judge as objects of expulsion from the country all those who made expression of anarchism, syndicalism or violent action. Although the Immigration authorities barely got some final deportations, the way of a future widespread operation for suppression of radical elements were under way. However, the actions from the government against radicals could be checked from before the war, but it would be this one which provided the methods to carry a efficient work of repression. Then, while the United States was embarked in a total war overseas, the government resort to different tools to face the discontent or the opposition to the war inside his own territory. The Espionage law of June 1917 was one of the most hard measures in order to finish with domestic opposition. From ambiguous principles the law establish as a crime any attempt to block the war effort, supposing a real cutting of the liberty of free speech. But the way to establish a firm control security in the country would lead to following repressive laws, like the Sedition Act (H. C. Peterson and Gilbert C. Fite, 1957, pp. 16-17 and 208-221).

Although once in the European fields it could be breath the end of the struggles, the suspiciousness against internal enemies did not finished in the United States. The news, at the end of the conflict, of the control of the Russian Revolution by the German government, made easy to translate the glance toward the Bolsheviks as the new façade of the external enemy (John Highman, 1966, pp.---), and subsequently a change in the nature of the internal one. In November 1919, and January 1920 two great raids launched over possible Communist objectives. The Union of Russian Workers of the World was the first prey of Attorney General Palmer, the brain of the government operation. The preys in January would be the members of the Communist and Communist Labor parties, although it would not hinder the temporal imprison of some Wobblies. Despite the result of the raids had been the arrest of several thousand of suspects, only were deported a little but significant part of them (William Preston Jr., 1963, pp.----).

Who were the main objectives in persecution of the Red Scare? It has noticed that the hysteria –both in public opinion, as in the politic and the government spheres- responded to irrational fears towards hiding radical enemies inside the nation body. But looking to the past one could see that this witch hunt focused in the class struggle was not new. The role of the labor radical, menacing all the American way of life, had already been presented with anteriority during the previous century, although the strength and characteristics of this fear varied in different degrees.

In the 70s of the nineteenth century it could be found some initiatives to relate labor clash with overseas origins. In the international framework, the Commune of Paris in 1871 showed the potential danger that could supposed the consolidation of socialist movements in the nations. In the other hand, inside the United States, the Molly Maguires, a secret society of Irish-roots immigrants, covered with a shelter of murderess and menaces all the anthracite region in Pennsylvania. The old violent traditions of protest of the original homeland were now transplanted to the new world finding new expressions in the labor clash (Kevin Kenny, 1998, pp. 11-12). Also looking to the economic background of the moment, the prosperous post-Civil War period were now in a clear worsening. The strikes and other labor protest actions spread widely in the North American territory as never before, and in the trade unions and in their leadership could be now found a greater number of members that were immigrants (John Highman, 1966, pp. 30-31). The fear toward the radical also began to establish relation with the foreign role.

But the first great national hysteria among the whole body of the society, came from the facts that take part in Chicago during the first days of May 1886. The deaths of several policemen and labor workers in a rally met in the Haymarket Square, originally organized by anarchist elements, shattered all the nation. The press made echo through all the society about the tragedy and the government began to take action to prevent new labor clashes, but principally, to seek the responsible persons inside a global atmosphere of lust for revenge. In the other hand, moderate labor union leaders soon clearly established a posture of critic and distance towards the possible radicals that participated in the strike. Eventually, were found some culprits: eight anarchist, most of them German immigrants. At the moment a stereotype of the anarchist began to consolidate as a dangerous throwing-bomber foreign, source of disorder, specially linked with German backgrounds (Frank H. Brooks, 1993, pp.----).

The next decades would see the breaking out of new labor unrest, like the Homestead lockout or the Pullman strike. Although the anti-radical movement did not reach a so high level as it reached at the end of the second decade of the twenty century. The objective of this sight toward the previous years is to clarify that the great hysterias were not a exclusive product of the post-war period and it could be checked before, but also, that the antiradicalism used to came linked with a immigrant basis in the popular thought. However, were the radicals a so high potential danger like they were presented? Did the immigrants conform the real source of it? How could the immigrants radicalize the labor movement?

The main focus of the American radicalization in the post-war years came from three forces: The Communist, the Wobblies, and the Anarchist movements (Stanley Coben, 1964, pp.-----). But the fact if they constituted a real menace for United States was unlikely. First, the Communist were grouped principally in two organizations, the Communist and Communist Labor party. They were the result of the Bolshevik Revolution influence inside the Socialist party, that saw how his internal ranks where divided by the international events (James Weinstein, 1967, pp. 177-181). The Communist party were identified from the beginning with the Soviet state and the tactics drew up by Lenin, but the importance of this group was far for noteworthy. The connections of the Communist with the whole body of the American workers were weak, and there was not a direction in his actions from the Bolsheviks yet (Eric Foner and John A. Garraty, 1991, pp.---).

Secondly, the I.W.W. were not already the main force that had been in previous years. They had been accused of defend foreign radical ideas: the syndicalism and the French anarchism; but also the predilection for the use of violence to reach their objectives. This conception of the Wobblies added to their anti-war stand made them to be considered as traitors, and so, they were the object of anti-syndicalism laws and the federal Espionage Act. Most of the leaders and great number of the member were sent to prison during the war years (Philip S. Foner, 1965, pp. 157, 557-558). The old influence that once they exerted in the labor class was far from the situation of 1919 and 1920. The power of the I.W.W. was in a quick decline.

Thirdly, the anarchist, after the war, were in a worse position than the two others. There were several reasons for that. From the eighties, the basis of the American anarchism had been divided between those who preach the fight trough moderate means –the education of the masses and the passive resistance toward the government-, and those who plead for radical methods, the anarcho-communist (Philip Taft and Philip Ross, 1969, pp.---). Since the repression that followed the Haymarket Affair their power had been undermined, and the division already existing had been consolidated (Frank H. Brooks, 1993, pp.---), although they began to recover their influence from the first decade of the twenty century. But during the war, the anarcho-communist groups were opposed constantly to the war, and offered support to the Bolshevik Revolution. This became them in one of the principal targets of federal repression, by imprison or deportation (Charles A. Madison, 1945, pp.---). The subsequent lack of principal leaders and a strong membership would weaken any power of this movement in the following years.

So, did the radical elements had strength enough to suppose a real menace how it had been believed? The main forces of the considered radicals were fragmented, with a weak leadership and damage membership. The First World War had supposed a wonderful background for the government at the time of carrying out an effective suppression of radical labor dissatisfaction. The Wobblies or the anarchist saw the diminish of their power of action as never before. And movements that began to take shape after the war, like the Communist and Communist Labor parties, had not consolidate enough coordination and support to threaten the American way of life, as it had been imagined.

Answered one of the former questions that it was suggested, now is necessary to consider about the role of the immigrant in the Red Scare. Since the last years of the nineteenth century a substantial increasing of the immigration was checked, and in a few years the rate of entries in the country almost was doubled. The fact that the foreigners that arrived to the United States’ harbours were in great proportions ethnically different from the previous one, contributed to call to this new arrivals as part of the “new immigration”. The weight of the Irish, German and other population of the North East of Europe were being counter-balanced by high inflows of Austro-Hungarians, Italians or Russians; that although they could have seen previously in North American ground, it was not in such high quantities (Roger Daniels, 1990, pp.----). Could these new ethnicities bring the labor movement in a more radicalized area?

The American labor class is characterized by the continuous development of his practices and habits. The fact that the constant arrival of new working class from the Old World made difficult any attempt of establish and consolidate a static and homogenous labor tradition. The United States’ customs served as soil for the foreign cultures and practices, enrichment itself with these new external expressions (Herbet Gutman, 1973, pp.---). So, and utilising a practical Marxist terminology, it is logical to suppose that the introduction of foreign radical traditions could promote the destabilization of an already altered labor relations system toward a clear clash struggle.

The assimilation of the new comers in the labor world of United States took different patterns and results. Not all the mass of the new immigrants could be grouped in the same standard canons. The majority of the Italian immigrants were unskilled o semiskilled workers, and their cultural traditions made it easy for some them to associate soon with some radical movements, especially the anarchism or the syndicalism (Roger Daniels, 1990, pp.---). But this could contrast with the other communities of immigrants, like the Russian Jews, with a more stronger trade union orientation in their labor traditions. The new unskilled foreigners supposed from the beginning a problem for other skilled workers, being used much of the time as strikebreakers but also as low-wage labours. This, together with the usually strong cultural differences made difficult to associate in a larger working-class unity (Thomas J. Archdeacon, 1984, pp.---). In other hand, the skilled immigrants, although in appearance more prepared for an introduction in the ranks of the skilled natives, found different kinds of resistances at the time to be organized by craft unions. Not only the nativist groups, but also some moderate trade unions, found barriers for the assimilation in the language, ethnicity or radicalism of the new groups. Although when the external exigencies thus reclaimed, they could be tried to joint them in the native labor union: either by the necessity for a effective pressure over the business class, or for channelled the immigrant forces in order to avoid uncontrolled labor competence (Robert Asher, 1982, pp.---).

As it has been pointed, the role of a foreign radical was very limited. The moderate trade unions and labor organizations were in their majority reticent toward immigrants and radical ideas. The American Federation of Labour, one of the labor organization that gave best expression to the demands of the skilled worker of United States, refuse to accept in their ranks to immigrants or unskilled workers among others (Philip S. Foner, 1964, pp. 280-281). So, the way of self-expression for the radicals would be through small or medium unions of limited action or by the insertion in one of the main radical groups of the moment. But, as it has been discussed before, these ones were debilitated or in decline and they did not suppose any serious menace.

Was the Red Scare the logical answer to a series of real menaces inside the society of the United States? The answer is negative. The fear of the red menace came from two basic elements. First, individuals that make apologise of extreme ideology –and some times followed by active actions- that pretend a deep or total reform of the different orders that constituted the basis of the life of United States; the so called radicals. And second, the foreign element that was supposed to carry the radical doctrine inside the national territory from Europe trough different ways: traditions, practices, teachings.

The organizations or movements, that could gather these radical doctrines in order to carry to practical actions, were far for be a serious menace during 1919 and 1920. The action of the government and different citizen organizations during the First World War against pacifist or traitors had already undermined their structure and membership basis. The lack of effective leadership, organization and coordination of action was clear. In other hand, the new radical movements that had born as result of the pre-war events, were too recent to show enough consolidation within them, and get a widespread layer of supporters.

The foreign elements that could portrait radical doctrines had few procedures to influence in the North American society in a secure way. Different cultures, practices, habits… made difficult a correct assimilation of the environment that received them. So, the possible foreign radicals, having denied the support of the conservative and moderate sectors, only could really insert their methods in the already existing North American weakened radical movements. The hysteria observed during the Red Scare, was a clear distortion of the precise reality of the period. But in the human affairs, the reality as it is seen by its contemporaries, usually is not observed in its correct measurements.


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