First Red Scare

From Ohio History Central
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Ruthenberg , Charles Emil (Funeral).jpg
Communist Party leader Charles Emil Ruthenberg in casket surrounded by saluting children, 1927. Ruthenberg was the son of German immigrants and a native of Cleveland, Ohio. In 1909 he joined the Socialist Party and quickly became an active organizer. When the United States entered World War I in 1917 Ruthenberg's political activities became increasingly radical. He was arrested for speaking out against the war and began to identify with Russian communists. Eventually he became Secretary General of the Workers (Communist) Party of America. When he passed away his ashes were interred at the Kremlin in Moscow.

As World War I was ending, a fear-driven, anti-communist movement known as the First Red Scare began to spread across the United States of America. In 1917, Russia had undergone the Bolshevik Revolution. The Bolsheviks established a communist government that withdrew Russian 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. It suggested that the working class would overthrow the middle class.

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. Fueling this fear was the mass immigration of Southern and Eastern Europeans to the United States as well as labor unrest in the late 1910s, including the Great Steel Strike of 1919. 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.