Red Scare

"I hardly recognize this country anymore. The government's got us seeing Communists in our soup!"

The communist menace. Formerly a common villain source for Big Bad or henchmen villains in the Spy Drama, it's now a Discredited Trope since the end of the Cold War, although an even more Eastern revival of sorts is possible (see below). Instead, rogue former Soviet scientists tend to be in vogue in the role of the Mad Scientist who works for the Big Bad, as well as The Mafiya.

The Red Scare allows any of the presumably First World heroes to suddenly have counterparts in the (Communist) Second World or (non-aligned) Third World. The Red Scare can produce all manner of reasonably honorable characters that are nevertheless rivals of the heroes or antagonists simply because of geopolitics. Likewise, the Red Scare can include elements that are meant to invoke the fear of the Cold War as well. A General Ripper character is often seen in this situation, usually on the American side but occasionally amongst the Soviets too.

Expect the technically inaccurate descriptor "Russians" to be used a lot. While much of the Soviet leadership was indeed Russian, some weren't, most particularly Josef Stalin, who was Georgian (and, no, we don't mean like Jimmy Carter).

The Red Scare is different from Dirty Communists due to the fact that Red Scare focuses on the overarching effect of the Cold War while Dirty Communists are merely horrible people that serve the Soviet State. There is significant overlap between the two groups, however. In general, one can be one of the Dirty Communists as well as being part of the Red Scare.

Ultimately, the Red Scare only qualifies if it is meant to invoke Cold War tensions and feelings as opposed to simply being Russian or communist villains. Communist China has also produced its own variety of Dirty Communist villains as well as Red Scare ones but not nearly, in the past, to the same extent. However, as memories of the Soviet Union fade, and China grows in economic and military power, the People's Republic seems to be emerging as the new "red menace" of choice (see also Red China, Yellow Peril, and China Takes Over the World).

See also Dirty Communists. Brown Scare is an equivalent, though less frequently-used, term for irrational fear of fascism or right-wing extremists.


Contrast Why We Are Bummed Communism Fell.


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  • The Blacksad album Red Soul takes place in the midst of a full on Red Scare. Complete with propaganda and paranoia. There's even a Joseph McCarthy Expy in one Senator Gallo.
  • Marvel has had a huge roster of communist villains, including the Super-Apes, led by the Red Ghost. In this case they ditched the xenophobic slant by making their commie leader a simpleton, and turning the apes into simian supremacists. In general, Marvel's communist villains were divided sharply along the Dirty Communists lines and The Rival.
    • Being a weapons designer, Iron Man had a host of these and (inevitably) so did Captain America. Though most of Iron Man's former villains reformed, while Captain America had his time as a communist basher retconned.
    • Omega Red was an X-Men villain of the Dirty Communists variety.
  • The Tick had a villain called the Red Scare that made a heavily modified appearance in the Live Action series.
  • Superman: Red Son
  • Evil Commies from The DCU are a little fewer between as DC preferred more fantastic stories than Marvel in the Silver Age, but some exist, such as the Red Panzer.
  • Tintin in the Land of the Soviets, which was blatant propaganda that had people gust burning straw to make it look like the actually empty factories were producing goods..
  • The Volgans of Invasion! and ABC Warriors - originally, they were intended to be the actual USSR, but the writers were ordered to change the names to avoid antagonising the Soviet embassy.
  • The Russian Mega-Cities, East-Meg 1 and 2, in Judge Dredd were frequently treated like this in the 70s and 80s. In one story, East Meg 1 invades and actually manages to conquer Mega-City 1, forcing the Judges into guerrilla warfare.
  • In one story by Wilhelm Busch, an "Inter-Nazi" appears (no relation to Those Wacky Nazis). Probably supposed to be an internationalist / social democrat. To further explain, "Nazi" is an old Bavarian and Austrian diminutive of the name Ignaz (Ignatius). Not surprisingly it has fallen into disuse since 1945...
  • The New Adventures of Superboy #26-27 (1982) featured a flashback to 1962, where Superboy faced Russian spies attempting to sabotage a Project Mercury space launch, which the Boy of Steel saves (in secret, at the request of President Kennedy). Superboy tells the saboteurs: "What your bosses print in Pravda about me is lies! I am not a hoax—and you will spend a lot of time in an American prison remembering that!"
  • The Fade Out deals heavily with The Hollywood Blacklist and how it ruined many people's lives.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • James Bond and his films made use of the Red Scare even when they avoided Ian Fleming's Dirty Communists trope use. From Russia with Love, For Your Eyes Only, and The Spy Who Loved Me all deal with the West's rivalry with the Soviet Union without actually parodying the villains. Agent XXX from The Spy Who Loved Me was even a love interest.
    • The Renegade Russian trope was used prominently in the movies, in order to avoid insulting the Soviet Union.
  • The Hunt for Red October presents the threat of a rogue Soviet ballistic missile sub commander starting a nuclear war as the pretext for a hunt for a Defector from Commie Land.
  • Rambo III is the only one of the series to explicitly deal with the Soviet Union.
  • Red Dawn has both Dirty Communists elements and Red Scare elements. The remake goes with the Yellow Peril version.
  • Red Scorpion has the distinction of being a Cold War movie made by a future government official.
  • A recurring joke (and pun) in Clue. "Communism is just a red herring."
  • Good Night, and Good Luck. took a look at the Real Life Red Scare. Notable for having people complain that the Real Life footage of U.S. Senator Joseph McCarthy was "over the top acting" and accuse the producers of faking it to make him look like a Strawman Political. Another case of Reality Is Unrealistic.
  • Examined and subverted in the '60's comedy The Russians Are Coming, the Russians Are Coming, in which the titular Russians have accidentally run aground on a small New England island, and are just trying to get a motorboat to pull their submarine free. However, thanks to the Red Scare, the entire island promptly whips itself into a frenzy over the Russian "invaders" and bloodshed is only very narrowly averted.
  • The thriller No Way Out uses a Witch Hunt for a supposed Soviet mole in the Pentagon as the cover-up for a murder committed by the Secretary of Defense. The twist is that the protagonist leading the investigation is also the person they are trying to frame, and is actually a Soviet mole.
  • This plays a big part in Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, which is set during the time of the true Red Scare and features Dirty Communists as villains. When Indy's long-time friend becomes a traitor, the FBI suspects Indy himself, and he's nearly fired from his teaching job because of it. (The Dean manages to reduce this to a "temporary leave of absence, and resigns out of protest because of it.) A character that shows up briefly is Indy's former CO from World War II, who clearly thinks that the obsession over the Red Scare is absurd.
  • In the Australian film Newsfront, Prime Minister Menzies calls for a referendum on a law outlawing the Communist Party, and enabling the imprisonment of any person that two Cabinet Ministers declare a communist. The leader of the Australian Labor Party opposes the law, saying it will lead to a police state. The newsreader threatens to resign rather than quote the latter comment because he's worried about being denounced as a communist himself.
  • The notorious John Wayne vehicle Big Jim McLain goes so far as to endorse the Red Scare, showing Wayne's HUAC investigator unraveling a Communist conspiracy in Hawaii.
  • More recently Trumbo, a biopic of screenwriter Dalton Trumbo focusing on The Hollywood Black List.
  • Bridge Of Spies makes the American hatred for Communists in this time period abundantly clear; attorney James Donovan gets harsh glares and his family is threatened simply for doing his job of defending the Soviet spy Rudolf Abel. There is also a scene featuring American schoolchildren watching a nuclear war safety video.

  • Mocked in the John Wyndham Cosy Catastrophe novel The Kraken Wakes with the minor character of Tuny; she continues to insist the Russians are behind the book's ever-escalating attacks on humanity from the depths of the sea, when it's soon made clear they couldn't possibly be doing it.
  • In Shanghai Girls, which partially takes place in The Fifties,the Louie family is investigated for being Communist sympathizers. This happens because they are Chinese immigrants (only Pearl's daughter Joy was born in America) and because Joy is a member of a Communist organization at her college.
  • The Astounding, the Amazing and the Unknown by Paul Malmont has several sci-fi writers during WW2 investigating Weird Science left behind by a deceased Nikola Tesla. At the same time the writers are under investigation for being members of a Communist spy ring because one of them wrote a pulp magazine story predicting the use of the atomic bomb (he got the idea from scientific journals). Two agents try to question L. Ron Hubbard on his connection with "known communists" Robert A. Heinlein and Isaac Asimov.

    Live-Action TV 

  • Satirized by Bob Dylan in "Talkin' John Birch Paranoid Blues", in which the POV character buys a little too much into the Red Scare:
    Now Eisenhower, he’s a Russian spy
    Lincoln, Jefferson and that Roosevelt guy
    To my knowledge there’s just one man
    That’s really a true American: George Lincoln Rockwell
    I know for a fact he hates Commies cus he picketed the movie Exodus

    Professional Wrestling 

    Tabletop Games 
  • Paranoia parodies Cold War paranoia: the whole of Alpha Complex is ruled by The Computer and the biggest perceived threats are Communists, followed by Mutants and the general catch-all Traitor. In fact, the only thing worse than being a Communist is being a Commie mutant traitor.
    • Furthermore, in a universe where color is used to define rank and membership in a caste system, Red (the color/rank of typical Player Characters) is the second most common, just barely above Black (the bottom of the barrel, representing chemically mind-controlled drone labor that the PCs somehow rose above, usually through hard work accusing a fellow citizen of treason).
    • It should also be noted there are in fact Communists around, but they only exist because they decided that anything The Computer hates so fervently must have something going for it.
    • And of course, the central irony of Paranoia: Alpha Complex is for all intents and purposes a Stalinist state, although the exact flavor of totalitarianism has varied from edition to edition.
  • Sahuagin ("sea devils") in Dungeons & Dragons are an evil underwater openly cannibalistic (in a sort-of-sensible way: their motto is "meat is meat") race. They are also very collectivist and address each other as "comrade."

  • The Crucible famously was written as an analogy for 1950s Cold War paranoia (basing its analogy around similarities between those events and the Salem Witch Trials in the late 17th century). For writing it, its author, Arthur Miller (later Mr. Marilyn Monroe), was blacklisted for a period.
  • An early John Osborne play called Personal Enemy focuses on an American serviceman captured in the Korean War who refuses to be repatriated after the war ends. Throughout the play his friends and family members are accused of Communism, hounded by HUAC agents and even declared to be homosexuals.
  • In That Championship Season, Scranton mayor George Sitkowski is fighting a tough battle for re-election against the younger, more dynamic Norman Sharmen. He and his former basketball coach, whom he still relies upon for life advice twenty years later and who regards Joseph McCarthy as a personal hero, have discovered that Sharmen has an uncle who was accused of being a Communist twenty years earlier, and plan to use this information to discredit him. George's former basketball teammates - among whom are one of his top donors, Phil Romano, and his campaign manager, James Daley - are sceptical, since it is now 1972 and no-one cares about Communists in the family anymore. Phil still tries to use this information to blackmail Sharmen when he refuses a side-switching donation/bribe, but Sharmen simply laughs and says it was his cousin, not his uncle, and hangs up on Phil.

  • Destroy All Humans! parodies Cold War paranoia by making the citizenry brainwashed into believing all alien activity by the player character is the work of communists.
  • Command & Conquer: Red Alert Series is this trope made into a game series.
  • Part of the backstory for the Fallout universe is that the Red Scare never ended, but instead of Russia, it was Chinanote .
    • Which gave us the awesome Liberty Prime, the one-robot anti-communist brainwashing army.
    • When you visit Tranquility Lane, the fail-safe that ends the simulation and kills the people trapped in it manifests as Chinese commandos.
    • A communist-hating book chute, of all things, gives us a pretty apt summary of pre-war America:
      Book Chute: If you haven't found any communists in your backyard, you aren't looking hard enough!
  • Call of Duty: Black Ops takes place in The Sixties, so this trope was a given, with missions including sabotaging the Soviet missile program and stopping a plot to attack the United States with nerve gasnote . Comes complete with a plot about a Manchurian Agent, revealed to be the player character.
  • Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater has a rare case of both sides of the Cold War being afflicted with this trope (in other words, the trope being both played straight and inverted). On the American side, the American government was actually afraid that the less stalwart elements of the military/CIA would defect after The Boss managed to "defect" to the Soviet Union, even placing several key members under house arrest. On the Soviet Russian side, more specifically the Volgin faction, he attempts to justify his actions by claiming that it's either kill or be killed and that they should weed out potential threats in a manner very similar to the Red Scare in America.
  • In The Bureau: XCOM Declassified XCOM started life as a counter to communist invasion or infiltration rather than aliens. All bets are off when the Sectoids attack and XCOM is the Closest Thing We Got.
  • Team Fortress 2: The very patriotic Soldier believes that the enemy Heavy is a Communist. But only the enemy Heavy, not the equally-Russian Heavy from his own team.
    • Heavy himself may or may not be an example. He sometimes makes 'redistributing the wealth' jokes, and has a large hammer and sickle painted on the side of one of his miniguns, but his backstory implies that he considers the KGB to be evil, as they murdered his father, and sentenced him and his family to work in a gulag.
    • In one of the supplementary comics, A Cold Day In Hell, Soldier arrives in Soviet Siberia to convince Heavy to re-join the team. Soldier initially plays this trope straight, acting suspicious of the warm coats and soup offered to him by Heavy's family and allies, but apparently makes an exception for Sensual Slavs, very quickly ending up romantically entwined one of Heavy's younger sisters.

    Web Comics 
  • In Housepets!, Duchess asks Boris to approach King and ask if he has purebred papers so she could use him for a dog show. Apparently he only asked King, originally a human born at the tail end of the Cold War, just for "papers". King was a bit unnerved.
    King: Oh, purebred papers. For a second I thought you were asking for something else.

    Web Originals 
  • Imagine if Joseph McCarthy's Un-American Activities committee had never stopped. That's one of the major turning points of A World of Laughter, a World of Tears, where the Red Scare doesn't end. At all.
  • The Chaos Timeline has its own version, with the Socialists governing western Europe and the Red Pirates terrorizing the seas.
  • Inverted in Reds, where a white scare holds sway during the years after the Red Revolution. Complete with many newly-elected Republican and Democratic (the few who didnt go into exile with the Military Junta or joined Harry Trumans Democratic Labor and Farmers League) members of the Peoples Deputies being prevented from taking their seats after refusing to swear the new oath of office.

    Western Animation 
  • Jonny Quest TOS (1964-1965). Three episodes ("Arctic Splashdown", "Pirates From Below" and "The House of Seven Gargoyles") involved Russian or Eastern European Communist villains and three had Chinese Communist villains ("The Quetong Missile Mystery", "Terror Island" and "Monster in the Monastery").

    Real Life 
  • Downplayed in Eastern Europe and East Germany. Soviets liberated them from Nazis, while committing a few atrocities, then they installed sattelite regimes, ruthlessly suppressing opposition. They also supported post-WWII reconstruction and modernisation of economics. After The Great Politics Mess-Up, former Warsaw Pact countries fell in deep decay.
  • A feedback comment on an article on Fan Fic suggested, in all seriousness and in the year 2005, that supporting the right of fans to write Fan Fic made you a Communist.
  • The biggest Red Scare was, of course, in America roughly between 1945 and 1970 (after which the doctrine of detente, or peaceful coexistence, became standard for a time), and particularly during the early 1950s, when even being suspected of having Communist sympathies could get you fired for "Un-American Activities". Despite its popularity, it did have numerous vehement opponents, among whom was President Harry Truman. The big Red Scare died out along with its poster-child Joe McCarthy's fall from grace. It has been discovered by declassified evidence that there were some communists in the government. Doesn't make him a good guy and he was just making stuff up for national fame, but it is something to think about.
    • It didn't just get you fired. You were blacklisted, meaning that you couldn't get a job anywhere.
      • To be more precise, you were unable to get any job in an government organization or in a field related to information (education, culture, broadcasting etc.).
      • Hollywood also had its own blacklist. Many entertainers blacklisted in the '50s were unable to work for years.
    • President Truman's opposition to the HUAC was perhaps spurred by the knowledge that there were Communists such as Alger Hiss in prominent positions in his administration, and he wanted the chance to ease them out before this embarrassing fact was made public.
    • It wasn't just a government project either. Among the creepier things that NGOs created, this poster from the Keep America Committee calls the following communist: The Polio Vaccine (or, as they call it, polio serum), mental hygiene (psychology), and water fluoridation.
    • It should be said that, while McCarthy was "exonerated" in the sense that there actually were Soviet agents in the U.S. government, he had no objective way of knowing who they were, given that his famous list of communists was an election-time Ass Pull. In the end, McCarthy's record is stained by the simple fact that he did not catch a single Soviet agent. In fact, the single McCarthy accusee who actually was close to "guilty", Mary Jane Keeney, traded on her beating McCarthy's charges to deflect suspicion from her for years. Notably, he didn't accuse her of being what she was (a fully paid-up KGB agent) but instead a "Communist Party member", suggesting he pulled her name directly out his ass and it was simply his blind luck that she turned out to be a Red under the bed.
      • At best, McCarthy is a shining example of Nice Job Breaking It, Hero. In essence, he was so nuts that he made the cause he was fighting for look bad, which went a long way in discrediting it. In fact, Truman once said that, "I think the greatest asset that the Kremlin has is Senator McCarthy." Dwight D. Eisenhower similarly commented that the Kremlin ought to put McCarthy on their payroll. This view was reflected in The Manchurian Candidate, where an expy of Mc Carthy really is a Soviet agent working to discredit anti-communism and help the Communists seize control from the inside.
      • HUAC, on the other hand, managed to catch some genuine agents. Alger Hiss was exposed by them, for starters, and most of the Hollywood Ten really were Communist Party members and had agreed to "Party discipline" (i.e., obeying orders from Moscow). There's no evidence that the latter actually engaged in subversive activities, however; most were accused merely of past Communist Party membership or sympathy.
    • The general intellectual level of the whole thing was summed up (unintentionally) by Samuel Goldwyn. Telling a secretary to fire one of his producers, he added that the man was a communist. The secretary protested: "Sir, he's an anti-communist." Goldwyn replied: "I don't care what sort of communist he is! I don't want him working in my studios."
      • This quote has been attributed to numerous people and includes different scenarios, such as an anti-communist activist being beaten up by police with the same protest.
      • Even before the '50s, HUAC and its predecessors didn't help its case by targeting artists - filmmakers, playwrights, novelists - on exceedingly spurious charges. In the '30s, the Federal Theatre Project was attacked by the Dies Committee on the grounds that it produced plays by Christopher Marlowe and Euripides, authors HUAC felt promoted class warfare. In the early '40s, before America's entry into World War II, several isolationist Senators launched a probe of Hollywood producing antifascist films that they considered unduly left-wing. They were humiliated when a studio defense counsel questioned the Senators whether they'd actually seen the films in question (Confessions of a Nazi Spy, Man Hunt, etc.) and the Senators sheepishly admitted they hadn't. The investigation ended shortly afterwards.
    • In order to know how far this went, consider Michigan, which punished subversive opinions by life in 1950 or Tennessee who decided to up the ante the following year by punishing those advocating the overthrow of government with death by electrocution.
    • One side effect of the Red Scare was that it created a Crying Wolf effect when the West tried to point out actual communist atrocities. Most notably, the Cambodian genocide was originally dismissed by many as simply more anti-communist propaganda.
    • Concurrent with the anti-communist witch hunt was one against homosexuals employed with the government, the so-called "Lavendar Scare". The first reason for purging them was, as you'd guess, simple homophobia (they were declared "not proper persons" to employ). Secondly, because being openly homosexual could get you fired, they were vulnerable to blackmail by foreign agents who could coerce them to pass along information or be exposed. This rested on a catch-22, of course-they were only vulnerable in this way because they could not be open about their orientation. Perhaps ironically, McCarthy's chief counsel Roy Cohn was himself strongly rumored to be a closet homosexual, and this was a rumor present even in those days. The Army-McCarthy hearings, which arose when Cohn was unable to get a male friend (whom he was rumored to have a relationship with) exempted from military service causing McCarthy to accuse them of using this to interfere with his investigation of them, saw Army counsel Joseph N. Welch allude to this, infuriating Cohn. Since the hearings were broadcast on live TV, the public was exposed to McCarthy's tactics directly, contributing to his fall from grace, along with Cohn. Roy Cohn eventually died of AIDS-related illness in 1986, while still denying that he was a homosexual. Also ironically, the actual Soviet Union persecuted homosexuals as well, but the Soviets did it with the idea that homosexuality was "bourgeois decadence".
    • Interestingly accused communists just so happened to be critics of McCarthy. Mere coincidence? What do you think?
  • Among the tragic consequences of the general Western Red Scare was the wave of South American military dictatorships later involved in Operation Condor, which used anti-Communism as an excuse to come to power and enforce oppressive policies, the effects of which obviously extended beyond supposed sympathizers and party members. The operation itself was a brutal crackdown on Communism in those countries, and once again its effects extended way beyond that.
  • The Red Scare is Older Than They Think; a period in 1919-1920 was called the First Red Scare. The Palmer Raids were carried out under the Wilson Administration during this time to crack down on Communists, anarchists, leftists, and various other radicals and anti-war activists. They make the McCarthy hearings look like an Oxford Union debate. Thousands of resident aliens were deported for their political beliefs, with many others imprisoned. Some states went so far as to outlaw even advocating certain political beliefs under "criminal syndicalism" laws. Like the second Red Scare from a genuine threat (the 1919 anarchist bombings) but then got completely out of control.
  • This type of thing has been going on since the 1850s, ever since labour rights became a large issue. A good example would be the Chartist movement in England.
  • A similar "White Terror" happened in Taiwan, except that one ended up with a lot more people in prison (it didn't help that Red China got very, very close to retaking Taiwan after the Nationalists fled there and the threat of invasion was quite real for some time).
  • Finland had its most notable Red Scare after the Civil war in 1918, which the socialist Reds lost. The communist party was banned and the Investigative Central Police started hunting Soviet spies. Ironically, the anti-communist Lapua movement became a much bigger threat to peace and order during the 1930s and the government re-focused on suppressing right-wing extremism.
    • Also interesting to note: The vast majority of Finnish communists sided with their homeland during the Winter War. Other Finns expected them to side with their fellow communists (aka the Soviets), but the Finnish commies had no intention of siding with with Josef Stalin after his purges.
  • Francis E. Dec, a schizophrenic with a cult following (like Plan 9 from Outer Space cult following, not Church of Happyology cult following), was so worried about the Red Scare that he tore down his brother's house's red wallpaper, and then spent months scraping the red paint that was underneath off. Granted, when the Communists are in league with the Mafia, Catholics, atheists, Nazis, Jews, blacks, the medical community, and the CIA, all under leadership of the Mad Deadly Frankenstein Computer God and for the sake of killing (or "sneak executing") Dec, you take that shit seriously.
  • Italy had its Red Scare after World War I, ending in 1922 with Benito Mussolini taking over the country. Due to the Italian people still remembering what happened the first time, post-World War II attempts at igniting a new one failed miserably, to the point that during the Cold War Italy had the strongest Communist Party of the NATO, a party that was actually in power for a while.
    • Adolf Hitler did it too! The Nazis also opposed capitalism, however. Naturally, Hitler's opposition to both systems rested on the assertion that they were controlled by Jews.
    • In fact, the Nazi party arose directly from the right-wing militias marshaled to fight the German communists who set up a Bavarian socialist republic.
  • The Red Scare was used to legitimate the Suharto military regime in Indonesia. If you don't align with the state interest, then you're most likely a Communist sleeper cell. He was a strongman who ruled Indonesia for 32 effin' years after he toppled the previous government in a CIA-backed coup, during the escalation of The Vietnam War. These days, "beware of latent Communist danger" is never used except when you're mocking the old regime.
    • Although the Communist taboo is not quite dead-government officials still go apeshit on any sight of a hammer and sickle, and calling someone a Communist is one of the worst insults.
  • Noam Chomsky argues that this is a method of social control by accusing people who question the system of being communists.