Communism is a social, economic, and political ideology. Under a true communist system, all people are to be equal politically, economically, and socially. The people are supposed to own everything communally, from businesses, to food, and beyond. No social classes are to exist under a true communist system, as all people receive the same quality and quantity of possessions as everyone else.
Historically, many Americans have feared communism. This fear skyrocketed during World War I. As this war was ending, a fear-driven movement known as the first Red Scare began to spread across the United States. In 1917, Russia had undergone the Bolshevik Revolution. As a result of this event, that country tried to establish a communist government and withdrew its troops from the war effort. Americans believed that Russia had let down its allies, including the United States, by pulling out of the war. In addition, communism was, in theory, an expansionist ideology, spread through revolution. Many Americans feared that the communists in Russia, known as the Soviet Union following the Bolshevik Revolution, hoped to spread their ideology all over the world.
Once the United States no longer had to concentrate its efforts on winning World War I, many Americans became afraid that communism might spread to the United States and threaten the nation’s democratic values. Both the federal government and state governments reacted to that fear by attacking potential communist threats. They used acts passed during the war, such as the Espionage Act and the Sedition Act, to prosecute suspected communists. The Ohio legislature passed a law known as the Criminal Syndicalism Act, which allowed the state to prosecute people who used or advocated criminal activity or violence in order to obtain political change or to affect industrial conditions.
The overt patriotism coming out of World War I, as evidenced by anti-German sentiment in Ohio, helped to fuel the Red Scare. The federal government’s fervor in rooting out communists led to major violations of civil liberties. Ultimately, these violations led to a decrease in support for government actions.
This overwhelming fear of communism returned at the end of World War II. As World War II was ending, the Cold War erupted. This was an undeclared war between the Soviet Union and the United States. It is called the Cold War because neither the Soviet Union nor the United States officially declared war on each other, although both sides clearly struggled to prevent the other side from spreading its economic and political systems around the globe. In reality, the Cold War resulted from a failure to communicate between the two sides and preconceived notions that each side had of the other one.
Americans feared that the Soviet Union hoped to spread communism all over the world, overthrowing both democratic and capitalist institutions as it went. With the Soviet Union occupying much of Eastern and Central Europe following World War II, many Americans believed that this nation would continue militarily to spread communism.