Library of Congress Senator Joseph McCarthy standing at microphone with two other men, most likely discussing the Senate Select Committee to Study Censure Charges (Watkins Committee) chaired by Senator Arthur V. Watkins, June 1954.

Anticommunism's Two Faces: The Irresponsible Won Out

In This Review

Not Without Honor: The History of American Anticommunism

By Richard Gid Powers
The Free Press, 1995
527 pp. $30.00
Purchase

After the Second World War, there was belated acknowledgment in the United States of the role of "premature antifascists," those who had opposed fascism before it became acceptable to do so. Now that the Cold War is over and even Russian politicians and writers denounce communism, it is time, Richard Gid Powers proposes in Not Without Honor, to acknowledge those Americans whose unfashionable early opposition to communism has won them honor abroad even if, as he claims in the last sentence of his interesting book, "in their own country they are still without honor."

Anticommunism in America, Powers, a professor at the City University of New York, makes clear, was hardly a monolithic movement. Anticommunist sentiment drew from the left as well as the right, from trade union halls as well as corporate boardrooms, from the soapbox as well as the pulpit; its adherents included the labor leader Walter Reuther as well as Francis Cardinal Spellman, the socialist Norman Thomas as well as Senator Joseph McCarthy. But within this diversity Powers discerns two main tendencies. One consisted of those whom he calls, rather awkwardly, "countersubversive anticommunists," persons "obsessed with uncovering plots that were, for the most part, figments of their own imagination." The other consisted of "responsible Americans with an anticommunism rooted in a realistic and principled view of the world."

The conflict between these two forms of anticommunism provides the drama in Powers' narrative. The ironic point made in the first three-quarters of the book is that the disbelief generated by irresponsible anticommunism overwhelmed the reasoned arguments of responsible anticommunism and succeeded in discrediting the anticommunist cause. But in the last quarter Powers curiously shifts ground and seems to regard the demise of irresponsible anticommunism as a blow to the republic.

THE ANTICOMMUNIST DIVIDE

Powers begins in the 1920s, when, following the excesses of Attorney General A. Mitchell Palmer and the Red Scare of 1919-20, the countersubversives, proclaiming that a revolutionary left organized by Moscow was on the verge of

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