First Red Scare 1917

The First Red Scare was a period in American history that stretched from 1917 to 1921. During this period, the American government launched large-scale measures against Bolshevism and anarchism. The government believed that the Bolshevists and anarchists wanted to topple law and order in USA. This was clearly not true but since the Bolshevists had recently succeeded in Russia, the government was overly paranoid.


In 1917, Russia underwent a violent revolution. During this revolution, the Bolsheviks overthrew the upper classes of the society and established a Bolshevik government. Soon afterwards, Russian withdrew from the World War I although it was formerly an ally of USA and other Allied Powers.

The success of the Bolsheviks in Russia scared many nations in Europe as well as USA. Since Bolsheviks believed in a violent revolution, it was thought that they would try to launch similar revolutions in other countries as well. These fears led to the First Red Scare in USA.

The End of World War I

Until 1918, American society and the government were busy in the World War I. As the war came to an end, they suddenly realized that a large number of people from southern and eastern Europe were immigrating to USA. This was mainly because Europe had suffered a lot during the war and there weren’t many opportunities.

So people from these parts of Europe came to USA in search for jobs and a livelihood. In USA, many started thinking that these immigrants are bringing revolutionary ideas to America and that they may try to bring about a revolution in USA as well. This significantly contributed to the First Red Scare.

Labor Strikes in USA

The conditions of the laborers in USA weren’t very good at the beginning of the 20th century. So the labor formed unions and these unions often went on strike in order to gain better rights from their employers. But the corporations as well as the American government thought that these unions were fueled by Bolshevik ideas. So rather than listening to their rightful demands, the government started taking strict actions against the unions.

Propaganda by Corporations

The main issue of the labor unions was with the major corporations. These corporations forced the laborers to work a lot but didn’t pay them enough. And if they asked for more rights, the laborers were replaced with new ones. When the labor unions started striking, the corporations used propaganda to fuel the Red Scare. They claimed that the labor unions were backed by revolutionaries and that the laborers wanted to overthrow the government. This turned the American public and the government against these unions.

Result and Aftermath

Hundreds of immigrants were deported during the First Red Scare. Many more were jailed on suspicion of revolutionary ideas. One of the prominent government officials who led the charge against imaginary revolutionaries was U.S. Attorney General A. Mitchell Palmer.

He had hundreds of people jailed during the Red Scare and then claimed that the radical will try to attempt a revolution in May, 1920. The month passed peacefully and everyone realized that Palmer had been a kind of radical himself in over-reacting to an imaginary threat. Soon the press and the government also realized that they were over-reacting and so ended the First Red Scare in USA.

Red War on the Family: Sex, Gender, and Americanism in the First Red Scare 1st Edition

Learn More about the First Red Scare in 1917 at Wikipedia