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The politics of anticommunism in Massachusetts, 1930-1960

Judith Larrabee Holmes, University of Massachusetts Amherst


This dissertation tells the story of how anticommunism operated on the state and local level in Massachusetts from the depression through the 1950s. Using analytic tools from both political history and social history, it asks: what initiatives were driven by anticommunism, who were the people behind these initiatives, why did they want to suppress political dissent, and where did their ideas originate. The findings show that anticommunism on the state and local level was far more complex than has been appreciated. In Massachusetts, political ideas travel through a prism of class and ethnicity before taking shape as political actions. Neither the pluralist analysis of McCarthyism as a mass based movement from below, nor the revisionist analysis of McCarthyism as an elite rivalry over political power adequately explain what happened in Massachusetts. A more accurate picture reveals pockets of anticommunist activity throughout the state. These pockets were peopled with conservative Yankees, professional anticommunists, Catholic legislators and opportunist labor leaders. However, the ideas driving each group were quite different. What this study shows is the usefulness of anticommunism in helping Americans find common political ground across class and ethnic differences. For most people it was a lot easier to agree on what was un-American than it was to agree on what was American. Massachusetts anticommunists maintained an unbroken thread of activity throughout the period of this study, 1930 to 1960. Evidence of anticommunism and antiradicalism during the Second World War--expressed as opposition to conscientious objectors and support for the Christian Front--links the "little Red Scare" of the depression to postwar McCarthyism. The same groups of people supported anticommunist initiatives during the cold war as had during the depression and war years. The Catholic Church continued to be the single most influential source of anticommunism. Union leaders used anticommunist Catholic labor doctrine to oust rivals from power within the electrical workers union. A legislative commission dominated by socially conservative Irish Democrats investigated subversion among liberal Yankees. Cold war anticommunism on the state level was driven by ethnic conflict not party rivalry.

Subject Area

American history|Political science

Recommended Citation

Holmes, Judith Larrabee, "The politics of anticommunism in Massachusetts, 1930-1960" (1996). Doctoral Dissertations Available from Proquest. AAI9638970.