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Content Reading Guide: After World War I: The Rise of Communism
America was exhausted and divided after WW I. President Wilson never gained support for the USA to join the League of Nations. Many Americans wanted to practice isolationism, which is the removal of foreign involvement in Europe and the rest of the world. The goal of isolationism was to have a policy in which the USA simply focused on their own nation and did not get entangled in foreign affairs.
In the USA, Capitalism existed as the main form of economic activity and Democracy existed as the form of government. In Capitalism, private businesses can make a profit by selling goods and services. Private businesses controlled most of the economy. In Democracy, the people had the right to vote for leaders and other issues. This meant that there was no dictator and the people had a massive role in the government.
In 1848, Karl Marx published The Communist Manifesto. The book envisioned a new form of economic activity and government. Marx asserted that, instead of private businesses controlling the economy, the government should allocate resources to all equally, regardless of the difficulty of their job. He claimed this prevented the occurrence of some people being rich while others are poor. The strong government control meant that Democracy could not exist. The focus was not on the rights of individuals, but on the needs of the community.
Those who supported the USA’s economic and government system claimed Capitalism and Democracy gave individuals rights and power. Communists argued the USA’s policies created a system in which a few were very wealthy and most were poor. They asserted Communism would fix those problems. Those who supported America’s system claimed Communism would never deliver on its promises. Rather, people would lose rights, have no incentive to work, and they claimed dictators would not distribute resources fairly.
During World War I, Russia and the USA were both members of the Allies. However, at the war’s end, Russia experienced a Communist uprising against the government. Vladimir Lenin and the Bolsheviks (majority) Party made Russia into the first Communist state and assumed control of the entire nation. Lenin became Russia’s dictator in 1917.
Communism was spreading in Russia and many in America became afraid that the system would spread to the USA. Anarchism, the belief that there should be no state governments, was also spreading. Hysteria broke out in the USA and many feared these movements. This massive hysteria was called the Red Scare. From April to June of 1919, bombs were mailed to political leaders and Capitalists from Anarchists set to off and kill their recipients. In August of 1919, the Attorney General, Alexander Palmer, and head of the Bureau of Investigations, J. Edgar Hoover, arrested thousands and accused them of being Communists and Anarchists. Palmer entered homes without warrants, denied legal counsel to many, and the government deported hundreds of immigrants. These tactics were called the Palmer Raids.
During the early 1900s, many laborers joined forces to demand better pay and working conditions as a team. These teams of laborers were called unions. The Boston Police force went on strike, steel mills had strikes, and John Lewis led a United Mine Workers strike in the early 1900s. However, the hysteria of Communism caused unions to lose power. Many asserted the unions followed Communist ideas. Many unions denied these accusations. Nevertheless, unions were weakened by the Red Scare.