"[T]his book you're doing tends to serve the Communist purpose" announces Roy Brewer near the beginning of his interview transcript in Red Scare. America's anticommunist high-tide years remain a battleground of unresolved political conflicts still fresh in the minds of those who lived through them. Brewer's comment, prefacing a fervid account of his fight against Communists in Hollywood unions during the late 1940s, is just one indicator among many in the book that great care must be taken to explore the topic as history.
Griffin Fariello conducted almost 150 oral history interviews while preparing Red Scare, eventually selecting narratives from 71 individuals for inclusion and organizing these into 18 topical chapters. His stated purpose in writing Red Scare was to "rescue a chapter of history from our habitual `forgettery'" and the book is clearly directed at a public audience rather than an academic one. Fariello makes clear from the outset his agreement with a previous generation of revisionist historians that the Truman administration's commitment to an anticommunist agenda, starting with Truman's March 1947 Executive Order establishing the Federal Employees Loyalty Program and continuing with a wider and more insidious range of measures, was a disaster for American liberty. Fariello has no sympathy for the Communist Party of the United States, and in several passages he severely criticizes it as an undemocratic organization that repelled countless individuals initially attracted to it as a possible vehicle for pursuing radical goals that had been percolating in various ways for years. Yet he does not view the Party as having represented a threat to U.S. security at any point in its history.
The real focus of Fariello's book is the way communism was used as justification for the enactment of a new set of repressive laws and the establishment of government-sponsored bodies to pursue increasingly reactionary agendas, resulting in a witch hunt that profoundly affected the lives of thousands of people. To convey his themes in human terms, Fariello collected personal accounts from individuals who were forced out of jobs, subjected to multiple investigations, sent to prison, placed under continuous surveillance, blacklisted, and otherwise harassed in large and small ways. Red Scare includes chapters on some of the best-known episodes of the era - the 1949 Peekskill riot, the Hiss and Rosenberg cases, the Hollywood Ten - as well as chapters on teachers, unionists, entertainers, anti-segregationists, peace activists, and others.
One of Fariello's key themes in Red Scare is the way anticommunists in government rapidly achieved the legal authority to conduct highly intrusive investigations against individuals and organizations on the flimsiest of pretexts. The Executive Orders and laws enacted to fight communism accorded great power to investigating bodies and placed the burden of proof upon those accused of "subversive" activity. With such authority in hand, Congressional committees, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and Executive branch Departments created an infrastructure for rooting out individuals suspected of possible "disloyalty," and this model was quickly adopted at the state government level, among educational authorities, and in various private industries.
As many of Fariello's subjects attest, once one came under the scrutiny of a loyalty investigation life could become quite difficult. Along with constant surveillance (including phone wiretaps) and the threat of imprisonment, those under scrutiny were usually identified as such to neighbors, friends, employers and co-workers. FBI officials exerted pressure on friends, relatives and associates to dissociate themselves from someone under investigation, often resulting in job loss and social ostracism. Blacklists functioned in various industries to prevent targeted individuals from obtaining new jobs, and public denunciation by an anticommunist organization could foment hate mail, threatening phone calls, and even violence.
Because Red Scare is not concerned with evaluating the impact of anticommunism in connection with the supposed threat of communism in the United States, Fariello does not take great pains to separate the narratives of admitted Communist Party members from those who denied membership or those for whom the question remains ambiguous. Historian Ellen Schrecker criticized Fariello for failing to press his subjects on this issue, arguing the Party's policy of demanding that members conceal their identity "gave its enemies the potent weapon of exposure and transformed the mere fact of belonging to the party into an unnecessarily sensitive issue." When this obfuscation is carried into historical work, Schrecker argues the result is a misleading portrait of the anticommunist endeavor that "makes it appear more random and unpredictable than it really was."
Fariello's portrait, however, may be more accurate than Schrecker suggests. If, as post-revisionist historians like Richard Gid Powers and John Earl Haynes now argue, a fair assessment of anticommunism must take account of its pluralism and acknowledge that there were many anticommunisms rather than portraying it as a monolith, then it is quite possible to see how a variety of agendas having little to do with communism could be pursued under the cloak of anticommunist inquiry. Communists were involved in labor organizing, struggles against segregation and racism, and peace activism, but they hardly constituted the largest or most important constituents for these movements. After World War II, however, government supporters of segregation, a larger military, and an anti-labor posture found it difficult to confront these movements directly or muster wide support for their positions without recourse to red-baiting. By including narratives from people who worked in each of these movements, Fariello cautions us against misusing the Communist Party's own history and policies to limit our understanding of McCarthyism.
While the book does not offer a complete portrait of the anticommunist crusade, it does provide the largest collection of personal accounts not taken under oath from those who experienced government persecution firsthand. Regardless of whether one agrees with Fariello's interpretation of the era, the stories in Red Scare should be read by anyone with a serious interest in the subject. With [people] like Paul Craig Roberts routinely drawing parallels between the Democratic Party and nazis, and bozos like Ann Coulter wanting us to believe Cold War liberals were engaged in "treason" for the last 50 years, you know we're not so far removed from the time of McCarthy.