Republicans Fear America Will Become Communist…Really?

Photograph Source: Chad Davis – CC BY 2.0

In a speech after his indictment for mishandling classified documents, Donald Trump said, “At the end of the day, either the Communists destroy America, or we destroy the Communists.” Adding that “we will cast out the communists.” Meanwhile, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a law designating November 7 as “Victims of Communism Day.” DeSantis said this was “to ensure that history does not repeat itself.”

Democratic campaign strategists recommend ignoring these statements; do “not take the bait.” Don’t get into a dialogue about communism. If you dignify them with a response – their message will only resonate with the MAGA base. However, even if true, it will likely be repeated as election campaigns roll out. Ignorance is not bliss.  We cannot have a vibrant democracy if one side concedes the debate floor to the other side.

To ignore confronting this doomsday prophecy is, in effect, elitist. It betrays an attitude that only uneducated people would follow this thinking. By remaining silent, the perceived threat, but not the reality, of a communist takeover will increase. It shows that the Democrats lack the stamina to refute the Republican’s narrative logically.

Jon Schwarz of The Intercept wrote of the revival of this red-scare tactic. The author concluded that people, since 1945, have been the same, so beware. People are the same in many ways, but that recognition does not provide a pathway for countering disinformation. Going forward demands a rational response to counter the fantasy that our nation is under a communist attack from within our boundaries.

Let’s begin by identifying what action would bring about communists ruling America. It could result from a violent revolution, an election victory, or a secret cabal within the federal bureaucracy.

Communists Controlling America Through Revolution

The world’s first communist party was formed when V. I. Lenin created the Bolsheviks. It was previously a faction of a revolutionary Marxist-oriented Russian social democratic party. Lenin, and Leon Trotsky, became the lead spokesmen demanding that a true communist state could only exist after a bourgeois democratic government was eliminated.

Their resulting new ruling government would eradicate capitalism and establish a dictatorship of the workers. In time the state could also be eliminated. Lenin refined Marx’s evolutionary theory of economic and political change to enable Russia to survive as a lone communist state within a capitalist world. Later revolutionary Marxist-Leninist parties were formed worldwide to achieve a communist future in their countries.

America has had and continues to allow Marxist-Leninist communist parties to exist. They began shortly after the Russian Revolution. The main party, the Communist Party USA, has gone from espousing a rigid Marxist-Leninist philosophy to adopting a tamer version. The party had never sanctioned violent activities.

During the sixties, when revolutionary rhetoric was at its apex on college campuses, the Communist Party was shunted aside as ineffective and irrelevant. More radical and youth-dominated parties emerged with revolutionary rhetoric. By the end of the seventies, small groups like the Weathermen had either disbanded or remained as endless talking circles defining Marxist theory.

The reality of a Marxist communist revolution in America is a delusion. After a hundred years of organizing, communists accomplished less than President Donald Trump almost accomplished in only four years: toppling the Federal Government. The January 6 insurrection (described by some Republicans as a harmless unguided tour of Congressional offices) came the closest of any past action from any leftist party to stop the orderly transition of presidential power.

If you expect a revolution to overthrow the government, look to the diehard MAGA adherents. Meanwhile, orthodox Marxists are in the libraries reading incomprehensible tomes on why a revolution to eliminate the bourgeois democracy is inevitable sometime in the future.

Communists Controlling America Through Elections

So, let’s turn to the election route for a communist takeover of America. It’s difficult to believe people voting for candidates who don’t think our democracy has legitimate elections. Then again, since Donald Trump lost the 2020 Presidential election, forty percent of Republicans believe our democratic presidential election was corrupt.  Those thinking that democracy doesn’t work for them are often attracted to parties and political leaders who promise a new political order that will deliver what they want, which is seen as achieving true democracy.

Since America’s Communist Party was created in 1919, its political perspective and subsequent policies have drifted from strictly adhering to ML’s revolutionary dogma to actively supporting liberal reformist policies. In the tradition of Marxist movements fragmenting, America’s communist party began as two competing factions. Nevertheless, they shared a common objection. While one proclaimed that it had “only one demand: the establishment of the Dictatorship of the Proletariat,” the other announced that it did “not propose to ‘capture’ the bourgeoisie parliamentary state, but to conquer and destroy it.”

Communist Party candidates reached their high-water mark while the capitalist economy was failing during the Great Depression. They received about 100,000 votes in several elections during the 1930s. William Foster, the communist presidential candidate in 1932, promised that when they came to power, “all the capitalist parties—Republican, Democratic, Progressive, Socialist, etc.—will be liquidated.…”

Not waiting for that to happen, most of those suffering during the Great Depression favored FDR’s tangible reforms over the vision of a future communist society. Foster received less than 1 percent of the vote, and the communists subsequently denounced Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal as “social fascist.”

Over time, America’s communist party dropped its revolutionary rhetoric and began promoting progressive policy legislation. It supported the civil rights and anti-war movements, organized against police abuse and mass incarceration. It resisted climate change by most recently endorsing the Green New Deal legislation by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

In other words, the communists in the US started to participate as just another political party in the democratic legislative arena. This is a similar practice to what communist parties were doing in seven other functioning democratic countries (including Spain and Brazil), where they have been or are part of the ruling party. Most had about 2 percent communist representatives in their parliaments, where the ruling party needed small parties to cobble together a majority to govern.

Support for communism occasionally peaks in some opinion polls. According to a 2019 poll conducted by YouGov, communism received a 36 percent approval rating compared to 50 percent for capitalism. Professor of political theory at San Jose University, Lawrence Quill, said that these theories are so broad they lend themselves to endorsement by very different sorts of people looking for very different things.

The poll measured attitudes, not election preferences. Just two decades ago, membership in the Communist Party was below 2,000. The chance of any communist party’s path to controlling our government through elections is zero.

Communists Controlling America through the Federal Bureaucracy

Republicans know that the communists will not initiate a revolution or win elections. But they do fear the federal government intruding on their lives, such as using public money to provide social security to everyone, forbidding their children from working in factories, or providing public health care to women who seek abortions.

These can be big-budget public policies they do not need or want. On the cultural front, the conservative think tank Heritage Foundation reported that “cultural Marxism today presents a far more serious and existential threat to the United States than did Soviet communism.” What are they referring to?  Is big government, like communism, attacking their Christian beliefs? Is it doing that by eliminating the freedom to discriminate with whom where one wishes to work, live with, and serve?

Government employment has expanded to provide both services and regulation of the marketplace. The upside is that more acceptable conditions exist for safe working, sustainable environments, healthy living, and affordable housing. However, more government workers translate into a bigger, more distant, and deeper bureaucracy, which can breed alienation. Unfortunately, that condition afflicts every type of sizeable secular organization serving multiple purposes. And it provides a feeding ground for sprouting conspiracies when government policies do not align with a sector of the population.

In 1950, it generated McCarthyism, named after Senator Joseph McCarthy, who claimed to have a list of members of the Communist Party USA  working in the State Department. The late fifties saw the explosive growth of the John Birch Society, founded by Robert Welch, who believed that American liberals acted as “secret Communist traitors.” Fear of an internal communist takeover had Congress publicly questioning citizens if they were communists in this grand scheme.

Today, that search has morphed into Republicans trying to find those in the “deep state” who unfairly helped impeach and indict Donald Trump. Republican candidates, like Trump and DeSantis, need a boogeyman to scare voters. Communists had been ideal because of their revolutionary fervor and association with the Soviet Union. Being a member of the Communist Party has been dropped as a meaningful charge, mainly because the party is no longer linked to a foreign county.

But what does the gradual growth of a state’s bureaucracy have to do with fearing communism? Nothing. The five proclaimed communist countries that exist (ironically, Russia is not one) resulted from internal revolutions, not elections or the gradual growth of bureaucracy.

The real threat to our democracy is the acquiescence to authoritarian actions. Democrats must show that authoritarian regimes have emerged from socialistic, theocratic, or democratic governments. That happens when the executive, legislative, and judicial government branches are under absolute control by one person or political party.

The first step in protecting our democracy is to have a public campaign to advocate retaining laws that uphold election procedures that have ensured fair elections for all political parties. Democratic governing is not achieved by storming the Capital to overturn an election after it was certified by all fifty states and confirmed by over 50 court cases.

When Republicans claim that socialists, Democrats, and federal employees belong to some manipulative communist-like cabal hidden within government, they undermine our democracy. They should look in the mirror and see that it’s not communists tearing apart the democratic norms that keep our institutions functional; it is them.

Nick Licata is author of Becoming A Citizen Activist, and has served 5 terms on the Seattle City Council, named progressive municipal official of the year by The Nation, and is founding board chair of Local Progress, a national network of 1,000 progressive municipal officials.