The United States has a considerably long history of harshly suppressing socialist and communist thought, whether through union-busting, arresting political prisoners, or simply misguiding the public on the beliefs and history of socialists. While the two Red Scares are taught to students in bourgeois history classes, many US citizens believe socialism is akin to Bernie Sanders or Joseph Stalin, leaders that promote capitalist or state control over the means of production, not workers’ control over the means of production. Meanwhile, US society has media outlets like Fox News claiming Keynesian politicians are socialist and popular politicians calling Barack Obama “radical communist” with a socialist agenda. While it is true that younger generations are developing a more positive attitude toward the term “socialism,” how many can actually define socialism as “worker’s democratic control over the means of production” and not “the Nordic model” or Castroite Cuba?
Suppression of socialist ideas has existed decades before the first Red Scare. While the Red Scares were based on repressing socialist thought both for the sake of threatening workers from emancipating themselves and reducing domestic threat from a competing military superpower, anti-socialist actions from the government had served the former’s purpose in the 19th century as well. This is shown with instances such as the Railroad Strike of 1877 in which the US government deployed military forces against the unionists who were striking against low wages, resulting in bloody conflict between the workers and the military, as well as the Pullman Strike of 1894 in which workers boycotted trains that carried cars by the Pullman Company; this led to army troops intervening, resulting in the deaths of 30 workers. Socialist Party candidate Eugene V. Debs was arrested for sedition for encouraging resistance to the World War I conscription. Though he claimed to support transition to socialism through “perfectly peaceable and orderly means,” he was a major threat to the capitalist bureaucracy and sent to prison so that the government could try to reduce distraction from the working class struggle and continue to propagate authoritarian policies.
Continuing into the 20th century, the First Red Scare led to aggressive, anti-freedom policies to restrict the ideas allowed in US society. For instance, the Palmer Raids arrested and deported suspected socialists and other leftists simply for their political views — a thought crime. It was illegal to display a red flag in twenty-four states by 1920, which often resulted in at least five to ten years of prison. During the Second Red Scare, communism was directly associated with the corrupt degenerated workers’ state of the Soviet Union, which limited the exposure of US citizens to anarchism and other non-authoritarian left-wing ideologies. By associating the Soviet Union to socialism, the Soviet Union was brainwashing its citizens that state capitalism cares for the rights of workers and the United States was indoctrinating its citizens into thinking that all socialist movements would result in authoritarianism; of course the United States focused on Stalinist Russia and not revolutionary Catalonia. During the Red Scare, subscription to radical leftist politics risked the survival of the worker. The Levering Act in California required state employees to make an oath swearing to not be a member of the Communist Party and many actors with leftist views were blacklisted; the Communist Control Act of 1954 simply prohibited action in any “communist organization.” As stated by historian Eugen Kogon, “primitive, simplistic anti-Communism is all too often used as a common denominator for diverse efforts to perpetuate one’s own power in a democratic system, convert opinions into dogma, and kill off all opposition, even silent.”
When a state-capitalist bureaucracy opportunistically posing as communist results in the death of citizens, all of communism is blamed. When capitalist corruption results in the constant deaths of workers, the anti-communist media will not blame capitalism. While capitalism can be reformed to be less damaging to workers, it remains a system based on the unjustified power of capitalists over the workers and it remains politically unstable, as the profit incentive can always sneak up in “democratic” capitalist republics to cause lobbying and other corruptible government practices to create anti-worker policies. Furthermore, separate capitalist states drives the incentive to harm the environment for profit, encourage crimes such as theft that would be unfathomable in communist society, and waste valuable resources, causing pointless jobs that waste workers’ time instead of contributing anything to society. The point is, the profit incentive needs to be removed.
The United States has used both deadly and subtle tactics to pursue its capitalist goals. A subtle vernacular method to reduce class consciousness is by changing the definition of “working class.” Instead of meaning all wage slaves of capitalists, it has come to mean workers who are low-income or bordering poverty. Larger campaigns to crush socialism is seen through the USA’s many coups and attempted coups of left-leaning countries and replacement with dictators, seen in countries such as Nicaragua, Iran, and Chile. As anti-socialist propaganda has decreased class consciousness and accurate knowledge about socialism, it is the goal of modern socialists to educate and unite the working class. Essentially, we must teach what the government wants to hide.