The Essence of McCarthyism

Donald Trump at the Republican National Convention, together with his wife, Melania Trump (in green) and two of his children. Photo: EFE

The phenomenon made famous by Joseph McCarthy is to disparage and neutralize any manifestation of the left. The subterfuge they use is that it will be communism.

By Rafael Rojas (Confidencial)

HAVANA TIMES – At the Republican Party’s National Convention during the entire week of August 24-27, we heard a reiterated accusation. Speakers repeated that Joe Biden and Kamala Harris and the Democrats will lead the nation to Communism if they arrive at the White House. The anti-Communism of the US right manages to surmount the fall of the Berlin Wall and the new century. Never since 1989 has that anachronistic ideological tendency been so strong.

Trumpism has breathed new life into anti-Communism in the United States. We heard it from all kinds of speakers that week. From professional politicians, to former UN Ambassador Nikki Haley, to Vice President Mike Pence. Likewise from Trump’s children and from Cuban-American businessmen and politicians such as Maximo Alvarez and Jeanette Nunez. All of them used indiscriminately the terms “socialism”, “Marxism”, and “Communism”. When they alluded to the first or the second, the third term was the one they had in mind.

Confusion over Socialism and Communism

This confusion between Socialism and Communism is widespread among right-wing conservatives in the United States. There’s a historic explanation for this, having to do with the weakness of the Socialist organizations in that country. The left has traditionally been hegemonized as liberalism in the Democratic Party. The error, or more accurately, the deliberate identification of social democracy and democratic socialism with Communism has its origins in the McCarthy phenomenon.

Anticommunism gave form to a doctrine of national security that justified the repression of any leftist movement. This doctrine flourished not only in the 50s when Joseph McCarthy set up his witch hunts. It also took hold in the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s. According to this view of national security, any leftist movement could eventually become Communism. Applied to the United States foreign policy in Latin America, the doctrine wrought havoc.  Under that doctrine, the US supported coup d’etats like the ones that overthrew Jacobo Arbenz in Guatemala, Joao Goulart in Brazil, and Salvador Allende in Chile.  It also translated into backing military dictatorships, like the ones in the Southern Cone, the Andean region, and Central America.

The essence of McCarthyism is discrediting and, in the worse cases, the neutralization of any manifestation of the left. This takes place under the excuse that it will inevitably lead to Communism. That Communism that the left might propitiate is nothing other than the so-called “real Socialism” of Josef Stalin in the Soviet Union and in the Eastern European countries after the Second World War.

Lumping all opponents together

According to the McCarthy tradition that Trump has now revived, Communism is a version of political evil in which liberals, populists, social democrats and anarchists are all lumped together. All the currents of the Democratic party are Communist according to the new McCarthyism. From the democratic socialism of Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren or Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez to the moderate liberalism of Kamala Harris, Beto O’Rourke or Joe Biden, all of them are labeled Communist.

Never, not even during the McCarthy era, did they reach the extreme of defining all liberalism as Communism.  The difference resides in that during the years of the Cold War the USSR and the Soviet bloc still existed. Communism was something real. Now it’s once again a phantom, as Marx said. As such, it lends itself more easily to the alterations of truth that Trumpism practices daily.

The new McCarthyism isn’t of course, a phenomenon exclusive to the United States. We see it in Italy with Salvini, in Spain with Avascal, in Brazil with Bolsonaro, in Bolivia with Anez, and in El Salvador with Bukele. It sometimes raises its head in Mexico through sectors of the right. These who erroneously label the populism of the left, or revolutionary nationalism in Mexico as “Communist”. Such distortions show how little they know about the history of the many frictions between the Cardenas factions and Communist parties within the Mexican left in the twentieth century.

Read more opinion articles in Havana Times.

5 thoughts on “The Essence of McCarthyism

  • Mark Stevens: Except that Sen. Joseph McCarthy never found any communists who had infiltrated the U.S. government. But he sure did a whole heap of damage to millions of lives.

  • Just a comment about Nick’s usual rant associating capitalism with the “far right”. Capitalism is supported by all democratic governments, whether they be Democratic Socialist, Liberal or Conservative. Even Communist governments adopt capitalism – as in China and Vietnam.
    There are Communist governments however that maintain the Stalinist interpretation of Marx/Engels’Lenin. They include Cuba and North Korea.
    Given any choice, people and their elected governments adopt capitalism.
    For Nick, the very concept of capitalism is to be derided and disparaged, so what is his alternative?

  • Of course, one has only to study history to learn that McCarthy was correct. The US government was infiltrated with Soviet communists intent on destroying capitalism. President Trump, unlike the last four Presidents, presents a clear choice for Americans. Freedom and capitalism that has lifted more people out of poverty worldwide vs socialism leading to communism, that led to the deaths of one hundred million in the the last century.

  • Right Wing Capitalists in the USA use the tactics described in the article for a variety of reasons.
    Let me give an example:
    In order to get away with their healthcare scam the perpetrators need to plant the seed in people’s minds that there is an enemy. They put across the myth that this enemy is anti-freedom. The terms that they use to describe this enemy, such as socialist or communist, are interchangeable.
    One of the biggest scams ever perpetuated by one bunch of people against another bunch of people is the US healthcare scam. This scam is a way in which people are milked of their hard earned cash due to their fear of being without healthcare if they don’t pay up. To the vast majority of comparable countries this scam is an abuse. It is backward. It is a sick and twisted way of rinsing a maximum amount of money out of decent hard working people.
    The way that the perpetrators get away with this scam is by describing any civilised alternative healthcare system which is more cost effective for the population as a lie told by the socialist/communist enemy. Unfortunately people in the USA have been brought up to believe that both socialism and communism are the work of the devil.
    There is, in actual fact, a whole history of struggle for a more just society that has simply been scrubbed out of the mainstream history-books of the USA.

    Let me give a further example:
    Capitalism has a history of dovetailing with the far right. There is a recent surge in this phenomenon. What we are currently seeing in the USA is very much a part of that surge. The USA is in the forefront.
    Capitalism in itself can be very mundane. Simply a dull, cynical and unjust money generating process as described in my healthcare scam example. Conversely, at its best Capitalism is capable of utter brilliance in terms of stimulating genius and invention.
    But Capitalism also has a nasty habit of walking hand in hand down some dark avenues with it’s big bad fascist brother.
    The upshot is the Capitalist/Fascist hybrid that we have seen repeatedly over the past century and sadly we are seeing it big style right now in these worrying times.

    This Capitalist/Fascist hybrid needs an enemy in order to flourish and grow. Whether this enemy is labelled Communist or Socialist is a question of mere semantics.

  • The confusion regarding the difference between democratic socialism, “socialism” and communism is widespread.
    The relevant question is whether the use is related to democratic forms of government with multi-party elections, or whether it is describing totalitarian rule”?
    Although Cuba is a one-party communist state with the sole party allowed being the Communist Party of Cuba, the Castro’s have endeavored to ease international criticism by talking of their system being “socialist”. Fidel Castro stated that he saw no difference between communism and socialism, saying that both were “socialismo”, but took care to use that word rather than communism, although he was a dedicated disciple of the Stalinist interpretation of communism.

    Raul Castro as a dictator, in re-writing and re-enforcing the Constitution of Cuba, took care to remove the words communist and communism and replacing them with socialist and socialism. However his Constitution commenced by stating that Cuba is a One-Party State, that of the Communist Party of Cuba.

    I differ from the view expressed by Rafael Rojas, that all the leading members of the Democratic Party are being being labelled as “communist” – he exaggerates. As one who daily sees and hears the US media, I hear the Republican Party endeavors to link them to Bernie Sanders and AOC as “socialists”.

    Only a couple of years ago, the word used in endeavors to besmirch democrats was “Liberal”. Sanders as a declared socialist provided reason for changing that to “socialist”.

    In Cuba, Communism is far from being “once again a phantom” or “populism of the left”, it is alive and well, daily practicing the repression which is its forte.

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