University of Maine history professor Nathan Godfried gave this week’s lecture as part of The Socialist and Marxist Studies Series, a weekly talk given since 1988. Godfried is a specialist of 20th century American history with research interests in the history of mass communication, American labor history and film history. Godfried’s presentation was titled, “Better Dead than Red: The History of Red-Baiting in the United States.”
The talk began with Godfried explaining the history behind his subject of discussion. The presentation has been done by other historians, however, his own work focuses on activists in the media during the mid 20th century. He also talked about how during the 1870s, the “reds” were those that identified as socialists, communists, anarchists and cynicalists. In 1871, there was a radical socialist and revolutionary government that came and ruled Paris, which is known as the Paris Commune.
Godfried then began to talk about the anti-red crusades and the diverse forms in which they took place. The anti-red supporters believe that socialism and communism are and have been a supreme and unqualified evil that was visceral beyond law and reason as well as foreign influences that have resonated through time. There were also three major periods of time where there were major instances of red-baiting: the 1880’s, the first Red Scare and the Age of McCarthy.
The first Red Scare emerged after World War I, and was an anti-communist movement that spread across the U.S. It involved Russia, which had undergone the Bolshevik Revolution, where they established a communist government that withdrew troops from Russia during the war. The U.S. believed that Russia had let down their allies, including the U.S., by withdrawing from the war. Also, the theory of communism an ideology spread through the revolution and the belief was that the working class would overthrow the middle class, according to the Ohio History Central website.
The Age of McCarthyism was known for the practice of accusing people of subversion or treason without enough evidence, and is traced back to the previous U.S. Senator Joseph McCarthy. This was also known as the Second Red Scare. It spanned from 1947 to 1956 and included political repression and the spread of fear through campaigning with Communist influence. Some common phrases that are associated with McCarthyism include paranoia and hysteria, as well as overreaction to threats without action.
Godfried also mentioned the importance of not dismissing these events. He added that the process of demonization does make it easier for people in power to retain their power. With that comes the importance of looking at everything in its context, understanding that there are reasons why certain groups were red-baited over other groups through concrete economic and social issues.
Some examples of red-baiting that Godfried mentioned throughout include The American Legion, which started in the aftermath of WWI. During this effort, there were grassroot efforts made by veterans that came together for comodorotory and fun/doing good works and advancing patriotic goals. Their ways of practice promote 100 percent Americanism.
The problem with The American Legion, Godfried added, is that the group was a product of several upper class individuals who were worried about the spread of radicalism in Europe, and the group was originally funded by a $100,000 loan from JP Morgan and Company. The membership to get into the group was not too high up on the capitalist spectrum and consisted mainly of middle and lower class entities. The organization did manage to stay away from political statements, but became involved in counter-revolutionary activities.
The Maine Peace Action Committee is one of the sponsors of these talks. The group meets every Wednesday at 3 p.m. in the Virtue room of the Maples Building. Doug Allen, a professor of philosophy at UMaine asked students in attendance to consider attending these meetings. Currently their biggest topics of discussion include the issue of gun violence, how to approach situations that arise and how to act and respond in nonviolent ways.
Allen also encouraged students to consider adding a minor in Socialist and Marxist studies. The minor is in the course catalog and is constantly being updated. To get more information on the minor, Allen recommends stopping by his office in The Maples building or scheduling a meeting.