The Second Red Scare and the Unmaking of the New Deal Left
Landon R. Y. Storrs

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In the name of protecting Americans from Soviet espionage, the post-1945 Red Scare curtailed the reform agenda of the New Deal. The crisis of the Great Depression had brought into government a group of policy experts who argued that saving democracy required attacking economic and social inequalities. The influence of these men and women within the Franklin D. Roosevelt administration, and their alliances with progressive social movements, elicited a powerful reaction from conservatives, who accused them of being subversives. Landon Storrs draws on newly declassified records of the federal employee loyalty program—created in response to claims that Communists were infiltrating the U.S. government—to reveal how disloyalty charges were used to silence these New Dealers and discredit their policies.

Because loyalty investigators rarely distinguished between Communists and other leftists, many noncommunist leftists were forced to leave government or deny their political views. Storrs finds that loyalty defendants were more numerous at higher ranks of the civil service than previously thought, and that many were women, or men with accomplished leftist wives. Uncovering a forceful left-feminist presence in the New Deal, she also shows how opponents on the Right exploited popular hostility to powerful women and their supposedly effeminate spouses. The loyalty program not only destroyed many promising careers, it prohibited discussion of social democratic policy ideas in government circles, narrowing the scope of political discourse to this day.

Through a gripping narrative based on remarkable new sources, Storrs demonstrates how the Second Red Scare repressed political debate and constrained U.S. policymaking in fields such as public assistance, national health insurance, labor and consumer protection, civil rights, and international aid.

Landon R. Y. Storrs is professor of history at the University of Iowa. She is the author of Civilizing Capitalism: The National Consumers' League, Women's Activism, and Labor Standards in the New Deal Era.