Friday, August 31, 2007

McCarthyism is the term describing a period of intense anti-Communist suspicion in the United States that lasted roughly from the late 1940s to the late 1950s. This period is also referred to as the Second Red Scare, and coincided with increased fears about Communist influence on American institutions and espionage by Soviet agents. Originally coined to criticize the actions of U.S. Senator Joseph McCarthy, "McCarthyism" later took on a more general meaning, not necessarily referring to the conduct of Joseph McCarthy alone.
During this time many thousands of Americans were accused of being Communists or communist sympathizers and became the subject of aggressive investigations and questioning before government or private-industry panels, committees and agencies. The primary targets of such suspicions were government employees, those in the entertainment industry, educators and union activists. Suspicions were often given credence despite inconclusive or questionable evidence, and the level of threat posed by a person's real or supposed leftist associations or beliefs was often greatly exaggerated. Many people suffered loss of employment, destruction of their careers, and even imprisonment. Most of these punishments came about through trial verdicts later overturned, or extra-legal procedures that would come into general disrepute.

Origins of McCarthyism
There were many anti-Communist committees, panels and "loyalty review boards" in federal, state and local governments, as well as many private agencies that carried out investigations for small and large companies concerned about possible Communists in their work force.
In Congress, the most notable bodies for investigating Communist activities were the House Un-American Activities Committee, the Senate Internal Security Subcommittee and the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations. Between 1949 and 1954, a total of 109 such investigations were carried out by these and other committees of Congress.

The institutions of McCarthyism

The Executive Branch
In the federal government, President Harry Truman's Executive Order 9835 initiated a program of loyalty reviews for federal employees in 1947. Truman's mandate called for dismissal if there were "reasonable grounds... for belief that the person involved is disloyal to the Government of the United States."

McCarthyism Loyalty-security reviews
In Many Are the Crimes: McCarthyism in America, historian Ellen Schrecker calls the FBI "the single most important component of the anti-communist crusade" and writes: "Had observers known in the 1950s what they have learned since the 1970s, when the Freedom of Information Act opened the Bureau's files, 'McCarthyism' would probably be called 'Hooverism.'" COINTELPRO actions included planting forged documents to create the suspicion that a key person was an FBI informer, spreading rumors through anonymous letters, leaking information to the press, calling for IRS audits, and the like. The COINTELPRO program remained in operation until 1971.

J. Edgar Hoover and the FBI

Main article: House Un-American Activities Committee HUAC
In the Senate, the primary committee for investigating Communists was the Senate Internal Security Subcommittee (SISS), formed in 1950 and charged with ensuring the enforcement of laws relating to "espionage, sabotage, and the protection of the internal security of the United States." The SISS was headed by Democrat Pat McCarran and gained a reputation for careful and extensive investigations. This committee spent a year investigating Owen Lattimore and other members of the Institute of Pacific Relations. As had been done numerous times before, the collection of Scholars and diplomats associated with Lattimore (the so-called China Hands) were accused of "losing China," and while some evidence of pro-communist attitudes was found, there was nothing to support McCarran's accusation that Lattimore was "a conscious and articulate instrument of the Soviet conspiracy". Lattimore was charged with perjuring himself before the SISS in 1952. After many of the charges were rejected by a Federal Judge and one of the witnesses confessed to perjury, the case was dropped in 1955. In less than a year, McCarthy was censured by the Senate and his position as a prominent force in anti-communism was essentially ended.

Senate Committees
On November 25, 1947 (the day after the House of Representatives approved citations of contempt for the Hollywood Ten), Eric Johnston, President of the Motion Picture Association of America, issued a press release on behalf of the heads of the major studios that came to be referred to as the Waldorf Statement. This statement announced the firing of the Hollywood Ten and stated: "We will not knowingly employ a Communist or a member of any party or group which advocates the overthrow of the government of the United States[…]" This open capitulation to the attitudes of McCarthyism marked the beginning of the Hollywood blacklist. In spite of the fact that hundreds would be denied employment, the studios, producers and other employers did not publicly admit that a blacklist existed.
At this time, private loyalty-review boards and anti-communist investigators began to appear to fill a growing demand among certain industries to certify that their employees were above reproach. Companies that were concerned about the sensitivity of their business, or who, like the entertainment industry, felt particularly vulnerable to public opinion made use of these private services. For a fee, these teams would investigate employees and question them about their politics and affiliations. At such hearings, the subject would usually not have a right to the presence of an attorney, and as with HUAC, the interviewee might be asked to defend himself against accusations without being allowed to cross-examine the accuser. These agencies would keep cross-referenced lists of leftist organizations, publications, rallies, charities and the like, as well as lists of individuals who were known or suspected communists. Books such as Red Channels and newsletters such as Counterattack and Confidential Information were published to keep track of communist and leftist organizations and individuals. Insofar as the various blacklists of McCarthyism were actual physical lists, they were created and maintained by these private organizations.

There were several attempts to introduce legislation or apply existing laws to help to protect the United States from the perceived threat of Communist subversion.
The Alien Registration Act or Smith Act of 1940 made it a criminal offense for anyone to "knowingly or willfully advocate, abet, advise or teach the[…] desirability or propriety of overthrowing the Government of the United States or of any State by force or violence, or for anyone to organize any association which teaches, advises or encourages such an overthrow, or for anyone to become a member of or to affiliate with any such association". Hundreds of Communists were prosecuted under this law between 1941 and 1957. Eleven leaders of the Communist Party were charged and convicted under the Smith Act in 1949. Ten defendants were given sentences of five years and the eleventh was sentenced to three years. All of the defense attorneys were cited for contempt of court and were also given prison sentences. In 1951, twenty-three other leaders of the party were indicted including Elizabeth Gurley Flynn, a founding member of the American Civil Liberties Union. By 1957 over 140 leaders and members of the Communist Party had been charged under the law.

Popular support for McCarthyism
Those who sought to justify McCarthyism did so largely through their characterization of Communism, and American Communists in particular. The CPUSA was said to be under the complete control of Moscow, and in fact, there is documentary evidence that the general policies of the CPUSA were set by the Soviet Communist party.

Views of Communists
It is difficult to estimate the number of victims of McCarthyism. The number imprisoned is in the hundreds, and some ten or twelve thousand lost their jobs. Victims of McCarthyism
The nation was by no means united behind the policies and activities that have come to be identified as McCarthyism. There were many critics of various aspects of McCarthyism, including many figures not generally noted for their liberalism.
For example, in his overridden veto of the McCarran Internal Security Act of 1950, President Truman wrote "In a free country, we punish men for the crimes they commit, but never for the opinions they have." This exchange reflected a growing negative public opinion of McCarthy.

Critical reactions
As the nation moved into the mid and late fifties, the attitudes and institutions of McCarthyism slowly weakened. Changing public sentiments undoubtedly had a lot to do with this, but one way to chart the decline of McCarthyism is through a series of court decisions.
A key figure in the end of the blacklisting of McCarthyism was John Henry Faulk. Host of an afternoon comedy radio show, Faulk was a leftist active in his union, the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists. He was scrutinized by AWARE, one of the private firms that examined individuals for signs of communist "disloyalty". Marked by AWARE as unfit, he was fired by CBS Radio. Almost uniquely among the many victims of blacklisting, Faulk decided to sue AWARE in 1957 and finally won the case in 1962.

The decline of McCarthyism
Though McCarthyism might seem to be of interest only as a historical subject, the political divisions it created in the United States continue to manifest themselves, and the politics and history of anti-Communism in the United States are still contentious. One source of controversy is the comparison that a number of observers have made between the oppression of liberals and leftists during the McCarthy period and recent actions against Muslims and suspected terrorists. In The Age of Anxiety: McCarthyism to Terrorism, author Haynes Johnson compares the "abuses suffered by aliens thrown into high security U.S. prisons in the wake of 9/11" to the excesses of the McCarthy era.

McCarthyism Continuing controversy
Since the time of McCarthy, the word "McCarthyism" has entered American speech as a general term for a variety of distasteful practices: aggressively questioning a person's patriotism, making poorly supported accusations, using accusations of disloyalty to pressure a person to adhere to conformist politics or to discredit an opponent, subverting civil rights in the name of national security and the use of demagoguery are all often referred to as McCarthyism.

See also