When most of us think of McCarthyism, we think of a bygone era where the American people viewed each other as spies and were untrusting of their neighbors. For a nation that claims to be Christian they sure chose a very UnChristian way of thinking. You’re supposed to Love Thy Neighbor not test their Patriotism with a bowl of borscht. But this era is hardly gone. McCarthyism has set its roots so deep into Americanism that it has always existed in our culture.
To understand how deeply rooted this insidious mindset really is, we have to go back to the early 1900s. The newly created Federal Reserve had realized that war is beneficial to Capitalism. And since they bankrolled, quite literally, Woodrow Wilson’s Presidency, it was important that he get America into World War 1. At this time in America, there was a pretty heavy Socialist & Communist presence in America. They stood for worker solidarity and equal rights. And they were vehemently anti-war.
Woodrow Wilson made the Espionage Act into law in 1917, which penalized anyone that criticized American militarism with imprisonment. While he was at it, he decided to imprison the corpses of the founding fathers for writing the First Amendment as well. Pesky little problem that freedom of speech, press and expression was to a budding fascist President! And really its a problem in Capitalism because that gives people the right to call out fascistic nature of Capitalism itself. We can’t have that. There’s so many resources that Capitalism has to steal from black & brown countries!
This piece of legislation was written to condemn the Socialist & Communist organizers of the Labor Movement. In 1918, Socialist & Labor Leader Eugene Victor Debs was arrested for giving a rousing anti-war speech in Canton, OH. Debs pointed out that the working class are used as cannon fodder for the rich’s wars and we are never at table when discussing the terms of peace. I’m pretty sure some of the Treaties of Paris say “No fat chicks and no socialists!” Capitalists only see equality in intolerance. They hate everyone that isn’t a prim & proper Capitalist equally!
But that didn’t stop Debs or the Labor Movement. Debs ran for President under the Socialist Party of America and won a million votes from prison! Imagine if he had been on level playing field. We would’ve likely seen America’s first Socialist President. And during the Great Depression of the 30s, it was the Communists and the Socialist that organized General Strikes across the nation. These strikes were immediately met with state sponsored violence as the National Guard was called in to fire live rounds at American citizens. This was under Democrat Franklin Delano Roosevelt.
Now you can call me crazy but when a government responds to a populace asking for better treatment & pay with armed gunman seems like a little bit of an overreaction. It would like be like kicking a child down a flight of stairs for asking for breakfast. And then the parent saying “Well that kid should’ve known better!”
Not only has the EspionageAct continued to be in use to this very day attacking journalists like Julian Assange & whistleblowers like Daniel Ellsberg, but you can also see it being used against anyone calling for a General Strike against authoritarian corporatists like Jeff Bezos, Elon Musk & the like. This is because the McCarthyism of the Espionage Act is used as way to champion Capitalism, an economic system that believes in endless profits on a finite planet.
Capitalism also preaches the lie that if you work hard enough, you too can be a billionaire like Bezos. And because of that, strikers and organizers are demonized as people getting in the way of your infinite wealth. In reality, Bezos and the like got their riches by abandoning their morals, ethics and humanity and seeing everything as dollar signs. Their brains so far removed from humanity that they can’t relate to other human beings. They just see meat sacks of currency!
The success of the Labor Movement in the 30s led to passing of the Wagner Act by FDR which strengthened Unions and allowed them to collectively bargain for the working class. In the 40s it became imperative that Unions had to be depowered so the oligarchs of the nation can have their cake and the cakes of the working class and eat it too. The Taft-Hartely Bill was passed by 2 Republican Senators and Democrat Harry Truman, which put shackles on the Union and pretty much criminalized collective bargaining. This also led to McCarthyism as we know it today.
It’s difficult to say that a movement who’s mission is empower the working class and create a good life for them is inherently evil. But if the United States can create a boogeyman that they could associate this movement with would mean that the American citizenry would fall in line using fear. That boogeyman was RUSSIA! The narrative was that Soviet spies were in America to steal our freedoms and make everyone grow Stalin-esque mustaches! And anyone that was a card carrying member of the Communist Party was a filthy Red and needed to removed from existence. That’s not an exaggeration, this witch hunt led to deaths of Americans in the Communist Party that were still trying fight on the behalf of the working class.
On June 19th, 1953, Julius & Ethel Rosenberg were executed by electric chair for being so-called Commie traitors. Julius Rosenberg was an engineer for the Army Signal Corps and was accused of selling atomic secrets to the Soviets. The person that turned them in was Ethel Rosenberg’s brother David Greenglass. That’s how toxic McCarthyism is! It pits families against each other! Ironic since most politicians run on family values! Unless your family includes people that have read a REAL history book, then the official policy is OFF WITH THEIR HEADS! Greenglass had confessed to turning over nuclear secrets through an intermediary and received a 10 year prison sentence. The Rosenbergs were first US citizens convicted and killed for alleged treason during peacetimes.
The Rosenbergs have been smeared and some authors have even questioned their Judaism despite them being pretty devout. There’s records of Ethel Rosenberg attending synagogues regularly and teach her kids about the Jewish faith. They denied her Judaism in an effort to say Communists are godless fiends. Despite the clear evidence that Ethel Rosenberg was a Communist and a practicing Jew. In philosophies like Socialism & Communism, it doesn’t matter what you believe in as long as you’re not hurting other people with your beliefs.
The Rosenbergs were a warning to anyone that wanted to join the Communist Party or the Socialist Party. And considering that Eugene Debs was able to get a million votes from prison, that was a threat to the duopoly that had wars to wage and resources to steal. But it’s completely acceptable for the CIA to run coups & destabilize nations with a puppet regimes. Careful America your hypocrisy is showing.
The Red Scare has continued and infected entertainment as well. In order to prevent Hollywood Unions from gaining traction the House Un-American Activities Committee was investigating the film industry for Communists. The film industry was already being censored by the overly religious and taking away things like passionate kissing, smoking, cursing and anything generally fun from movies. Movies couldn’t be about the human condition but this manufactured view of happiness.
In fact the Oscars were created as a way to keep the industry in line. MGM’s owner at the time said “If I got them cups and awards, they’d kill themselves to produce what I wanted”. And we still see this mentality today. Social media doesn’t show a lot of subversive content. If you want to go viral then you have to color within ideological lines of Democrat vs. Republican. Anything outside of that is too dangerous for the human mind to absorb. We get little sparks of joy when someone smashes that like button and those buttons are pushed when we bend the knee to the social media giants.
And think about how much Hollywood controls our perceptions of history and mirrors what the State Department wants us to say. How many movies about the Labor Movement exist? I can’t really think of a Eugene Debs or Mother Jones bio pic. But I can think of at least 438 films about how the American marine fought all the odds to save freedom. There’s plenty of shows that depict the CIA and the FBI as good guys and no movies showing the power of the working class organizing against the oligarchs. The only time we see a positive look at Unions is in Star Trek Deep Space 9, which has an episode titled Bar Association and it’s all about Unionizing against a tyrannical boss.
McCarthyism went into a short hibernation for part of the 90s. It subtly resurfaced in legislation that justified making rich richer and keeping the working wages stagnant. It also popped in the several times Joe Biden wanted to cut social programs that help low income & elderly communities. It continued to use fear as a way to justify deregulating large corporate industries for the sake of profits. Instead of blaming the Russians, it was the immigrants. If you didn’t fully assimilate into American culture and fawn over manifest destiny, then you might as well be a Freedom stealing Commie Pinko Red!
After 9/11 McCarthyism added Muslims to the list. And it was used a way to pass the Patriot Act so the United States can spy its own citizens. Take that you filthy Reds & Browns! You’ll never be able to hide now! This proves the only spies in America is the Deep State & the State Department spying on their own citizens. And this Islamaphobia makes sense considering a lot of Muslim nations before American interference were Socialist, Secular, Democracies, with more equal rights than America. And that made America look bad consider that PR campaign for the nation had been “Greatest Country To Have Ever Been Formed!”
Most recently we have the debunked Russiagate conspiracy that brought McCarthyism back into the fold. You had anchors on CNN and prominent political figures like Hilary Clinton levying false Russian asset claims on outsider candidates. And again Americans fell for the false narrative hook line and sinker because fear is a powerful motivator. Despite it being proven false, corporate media pundits continue to claim that Russia is the reason that we’re all in poverty, can’t get healthcare and continue to experience state sponsored violence.
McCarthyism remains to be the most insidious piece of propaganda ever invented. It uses fear to convince people to abandon their believes and their neighbors. It creates a climate of endless paranoia and justifies stripping freedoms away from us. But if we can get educated and learn the real history of this country then this propaganda will no longer have any power in our society. McCarthyism has prevented us from getting organized, because the Capitalist know that true change doesn’t come from legislation, but from power of the organized working class. Don’t forget that.
Krish Mohan is a socially conscious, Indian standup comedian and writer who regularly tours the country. He performs at small theaters, bars, comedy clubs, colleges, DIY and house venues. With his quirky attitude, charming personality, and intelligent humor, Krish captivates and engages audiences of all backgrounds, tackling hot button topics like race, religion, war, immigration, while adding an optimistic, philosophical & sociological twist!