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Logic and rhetoric
“”...a rather obvious attempt to discredit bankers by casting Lionel Barrymore as a 'scrooge-type' so that he would be the most hated man in the picture. This, according to these sources, is a common trick used by Communists.
|—FBI memorandum (13,533 pages long) on It's a Wonderful Life|
“”And you ain’t done nothing if you ain’t been called a Red.
|—Faith Petric, an actual red|
Red-baiting is a notorious bullshitting tactic used almost exclusively by the right-wing. It consists of making a false and/or groundless accusation that some person is a communist or fellow traveler, often with the aim of discrediting them or destroying their reputation. Essentially, everything that certain people dislike is to be considered Communist plots. As such, red-baiting is a form of guilt by association, a fallacy which Stalin himself used to justify some of his crimes.
Red-baiting was a very popular tactic during the American Red Scares, beginning with the First Red Scare in the aftermath of World War One, when the recent Russian Revolution combined with growing demands for workers rights and opposition to American imperialism and militarism connected with the recent war: this made American society's more conservative members fearful of communist revolution. During the war a series of draconian laws were implemented which restricted civil liberties, including the 1917 Espionage Act, and the the Sedition Act and Immigration Act in 1918. January 1919 saw a general strike in Seattle, the first of several major strikes across the country through the year including the Boston Police Strike; on May Day there was violence in Boston, Cleveland, and elsewhere between leftists, police, and far-right "patriot" organisations. There were also race riots in cities from Chicago to Arizona. In response at the end of the year were the two Palmer Raids, in which 10,000 alleged subversives were rounded up; this led to the foundation of the American Civil Liberties Union. In 1920 tensions dissipated: J. Edgar Hoover, then boss of the General Intelligence Division, and attorney general Mitchell Palmer made dire predictions of an imminent communist revolution which conspicuously failed to come to pass, the AFL labor union tried to discourage police strikes, and a series of court cases released agitators. Warren G. Harding, elected at the end of the year, struck a conciliatory note amid a general sense that things had got a bit crazy.
The most famous instance was the Second Red Scare in the 1950s; its most notorious practitioner was Republican senator Joseph McCarthy of Wisconsin, for whom McCarthyism is named. It was less bloody than 1919, largely focused on a series of dramatically-staged hearings into alleged communism, followed by the sacking of anyone suspected of communist sympathies, most famously the Hollywood blacklist. The broadcast hearings of the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) and other congressional committees whipped up paranoia about communists subverting American institutions, which led to Harry Truman's "Federal Employees Loyalty Program" under Executive Order 9835 and several state loyalty acts, as well as restrictions in civil liberties by the McCarran Internal Security Act of 1950. But more importantly, the tactic was successful in dividing American liberals from those to their ideological left in subsequent decades. Thus, Democratic Wisconsin Congressman Robert Kastenmeier instructed his staffers in the 1960s to avoid contact with student activists at the University of Wisconsin at Madison. Madison was in his constituency, and the likely result of this de-linking was that the students were even more radicalized.
A variety of wingnuts also exploited the Red Scares by using red-baiting to claim that their opponents were all commies, thus handily pushing their own agendas. A notable example is the Mormon and John Birch Society member W. Cleon Skousen, who published a book entitled The Naked Communist. This book outlined a 45-point "communist" program including such planks as the legalization of homosexuality (in reality, communist countries were not known for being "gay Meccas"), expansion of civil rights (again, communist countries were not known for being bastions of freedom), and an increased role for psychiatrists (we're not going to say it a third time). Skousen and his books have been a major inspiration for Glenn Beck.
It was employed to political ends in apartheid-era South Africa, where the "rooi gevaar" (red danger) was used as a means to keep the white population afraid of the looming communist menace just waiting to take over the country. This threat proved to be mythical when the African National Congress happily scrapped its socialist economic program as part of a compromise to legally take power.
Red-baiting has also been employed by right-wing anti-science and denialist movements to tar scientists who made ideologically-inconvenient discoveries as dirty commies. This tactic was seen prominently in the anti-relativity, anti-water fluoridation, and anti-vaccination movements (see image) as well as global warming deniers.
When McCarthy and other anti-communist figures in the U.S. government went after lefties in the Hollywood movie industry, it resulted in the harassment of some people who were in a position to make quite a bit of noise. A great many allegorical works, written in opposition to Red-baiting, poured out of Hollywood and Broadway during that time, including Arthur Miller's play The Crucible, Stanley Kramer and Carl Foreman's film High Noon, and play and film versions of Inherit the Wind, the latter of which caused a tempest in a teapot when creationists mistook its allegory for flat factual claims.
These efforts, as well as the reckless and paranoid behavior of McCarthy, saw a sort of stigma settle over emphatically anti-communist views. With this state of affairs, the term "red-baiting" has itself seen some fallacious use, mostly as an attempt to ridicule criticisms of communism in which no false accusations are actually made.
For example, the term is occasionally used with regard to the affair of the "Hollywood Ten," screenwriters who were brought before the House Un-American Activities Committee in 1947 to testify concerning their political activities. This, however, ignores that: (1) the Hollywood Ten actually were communists; (2) they were arrested only when they refused to answer questions of whether they were. The charge was contempt of Congress; they were not prosecuted for being communists, which was not a crime.
Another use of the term is in response to any suggestion that the Soviet Union was attempting to infiltrate and influence non-communist governments during its flourishing period (also satirized using the phrase "Reds under the bed"), equating these with far-out conspiracy theories such as those of the JBS. But it is a historical fact that there were a number of Soviet infiltrators working in non-communist countries, especially in the UK and USA. Some well-known examples:
- Soviet nuclear weapons were developed partially with information stolen from the U.S. atomic bomb project; German-born Briton Klaus Fuchs appears to have been the primary conduit for such information. (Note, however, that great powers spy on one another as a normal practice. Had the two post-war superpowers both been democratic or communist or one democratic and the other fascist, they would still have spied on one another's nuclear weapons programs.)
- George Orwell had great difficulty publishing his anti-Stalinist satiric fable Animal Farm. It was later revealed that a Soviet infiltrator in the British government had put pressure on publishers in this regard.
- Alger Hiss was a rather high-level American lawyer who ended up basically laying out the silverware at the Yalta Conference and chaired the founding of the United Nations in San Francisco, all while being a mole for Moscow. In 1948, Richard Nixon would create the Red Scare with his antics pulling secret documents out of pumpkins and laying all the groundwork for McCarthy to go bananas. The American left, for the most part, was duped into thinking Hiss was innocent, making themselves look absolutely idiotic for a couple of years.
- The Cambridge Five were a group of spies who worked their way up various posts in the British upper echelons sending intelligence to the Reds. The four identified agents were Kim Philby (cryptonym: Stanley), Donald Duart Maclean (cryptonym: Homer), Guy Burgess (cryptonym: Hicks) and Anthony Blunt (cryptonym: Johnson). They met at Cambridge University in the 1930's and became involved with left-wing groups in opposition to a noticeable pro-Hitler trend from some of the Royal Family members that wasn't too digestible. Also, two of the four were gay in a time when the left was the only real center of gay culture. Philby ended up in the right-wing papers, reporting from Guernica. At one point the Spanish Communists got him close enough to Francisco Franco for a quick murder-suicide, but Philby chickened out. He later nearly became the head of MI6 (British intelligence) which would have been an incalculable disaster. Even so, they did great damage before being found out and escaping into exile in the USSR.
Ergo, it's important to make the distinction.
“”Thus were two generations of Americans treated by their overlords until, in the end, at the word 'communism' there is an orgasmic Pavlovian reflex just as the brain goes dead.
Even in the present day, after the collapse of the Soviet Union and China's tacit abandonment of communism, Red-baiting is still popular among the American right wing. Glenn Beck and various talk radio figures liberally (ahem) use such terms as "communist" and "Marxist" to refer to anything they dislike.
Popular targets have included former U.S. President Barack Obama, who was said to be a crypto-communist pushing "Obamunism," and the Democratic Party; in 2009, the Republican National Committee was pressured to adopt a plank stating that the Democrats are a socialist party. Pope Francis has often been attacked as a Marxist by American wingnuts because of the Catholic Church's rejuvenated attention to poverty and social justice issues, despite the fact that the Catholic Church continues to be reactionary in regards to transgender rights and abortion.
There is at least one known example of the form of *ahem* argument, though not in keeping with the original intent, being used by people further to the left than the target. During a teachers' strike in Chicago against mayor Rahm Emanuel (previously a major participant in the aforementioned Obamunism), protesters were observed carrying signs exhorting the public to "Fight Rahmunism!"
Bizarrely enough, liberals have done this too in recent years. Probably the best examples are Elizabeth Warren and Harry Reid referring to Tea Party members as "anarchists." However, this may be because anarchism is not understood to be a left-wing political movement in the US.
- Roy Cohn — McCarthy's chief legal counsel
- Godwin's Law, often used conjointly
- Green-baiting and watermelon — The anti-environmentalist versions of red-baiting.
- Communist Infiltration of the Motion Picture Industry, (1947)
- See the Wikipedia article on May Day riots of 1919.
- See the Wikipedia article on First Red Scare.
- Cathy Wilkerson. 2007. Flying Too Close to the Sun. Seven Stories Press. ISBN 9781583227718. pp. 91-92
- Wade, Lisa, “Race Mixing Is Communism” - Protesters in Little Rock, Arkansas, (1959), posted 10.10.09. The smoking gun between "race mixing" and communism is supposed to be "The Jews". "The Jews" invented both to weaken or destroy "The White Master Race" ergo the mongrelization of white society CASE CLOSED.
- See the Wikipedia article on Political abuse of psychiatry in the Soviet Union.
- The Socialist Haunted World: Relativity, Fluoridation, and Climate Change as a Socialist Plot
- 'Red-baiting' denouement in Hollywood, The Guardian
- Seven years later, however, membership in the Communist Party USA was criminalized, when it was determined that that organization was exclusively a front for Soviet espionage; by that time very few of the U.S.'s communists were actually in the party, which contained more FBI informants than actual members. Communist party leaders were already convicted of sedition in 1949. The US Supreme Court later quashed both of these measures.
- John Ezard (21 June 2003). "Blair's babe". The Guardian. http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2003/jun/21/books.artsandhumanities.
- Jacoby, Susan, Alger Hiss and the Battle for History. Yale University Press, 2009. Jacoby herself says she is 98% certain that Hiss was guilty because he was simply not a good liar and slipped up in public. Hiss denied it to his death though.
- Vanity Fair, 1999.
- They eventually instead adopted a resolution stating that the Dems were restructuring the US along "socialist ideals" in order to ditch the soundbite while still tossing red bait towards... someone.
- Pope Francis addresses communist whispers, AP
- When liberals red-bait conservatives