Philip Jenkins. Cold War at Home: The Red Scare in Pennsylvania 1945-1960. Chapel Hill and London, England: University of North Carolina Press, 1999. 271 pp. $49.95 (cloth), $18.95 (paper), ISBN 978-0-8078-2498-6.
Reviewed by Kenneth C. Wolensky (Division of History, Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission, Harrisburg)
Published on H-Pol (February, 2000)
Communism and Anti-Communism in the Keystone State, 1945-1960
Pennsylvania State University professor Philip Jenkins provides a sweeping analysis and discussion of Communism and anti-Communism in Pennsylvania during the height of United States and Soviet post-World War II tensions in his book Cold War at Home. At the outset the author explains why the history of Pennsylvania's 'Red Scare' is an important part of the broader history of Cold War politics and tensions in the United States: the Keystone State was a major industrial powerhouse with longstanding traditions of radicalism and conservatism. Therefore, it provided fertile territory for Communists and anti-Communists alike. The author's thesis is novel. It has not been explored in any great depth by anyone to date. The evidence presented by Jenkins and the organization of the book add credibility to his arguments.
Jenkins points out that Communism had been a fringe movement in Pennsylvania in the 1920s. By the Depression it enjoyed remarkable growth. Yet, total membership in the Communist Party likely never exceeded 6,000. Anti-left rhetoric, on the other hand, could trace its roots to the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries when labor upheavals -- a frequent occurrence in Pennsylvania's industrial environment -- were often blamed on radical forces. Such rhetoric increased during the anti-Bolshevik panic of 1919-20 and, later, during the Depression. A more formalized anti-Communist crusade emerged in the post-World War II era against a backdrop of heightened national concerns over red infiltration of organized labor, government, and other sectors of American society.
Jenkins examines Communist influences and reactions in several arenas. These include the labor movement, teaching and academic professions, ethnic communities, religious groups and organizations, and state politics. It is clear from his discussion, which relies heavily on relevant primary and secondary sources, that Pennsylvania experienced its share of the post-World War II Red Scare. And, the story made sensational headlines. Though the anti-Communist crusade in Pennsylvania can be understood within the national context of anxiety and fear, the consequences, Jenkins concludes, were not far reaching or long lasting. Pennsylvania historiography barely mentions accounts of the period. Yet, the crusade did successfully weaken the Communist party, discredited those who were associated with it, and, though unfortunate as it may seem, ruined many careers, reputations, and livelihoods.
Among the greatest strengths of this book are its readability and its critically important contributions to the broader history of the Cold War. Moreover, the book makes an important contribution to growing historical scholarship on Pennsylvania (and American) ethnic, labor, social, and political history. Another strength is its use of important primary sources including records from the House Un-American Activities Committee's investigation of communist activities in Philadelphia, papers of the Pennsylvania Department of the American Legion, and presidential papers from the Harry S. Truman Library in Independence, Missouri. Finally, the organization of the book is to its credit. Topical chapters, such as Saving Labor and The Struggle for Ethnic Communities neatly organize the story and provide an excellent backdrop for the finale which analyzes the broader impact of the Communist and anti-Communist movements in Pennsylvania.
The book could be strengthened in a few ways, though. First, it should have been rooted in a broader historiography of the Cold War. While its intentions are clear in focusing exclusively on Pennsylvania, the reader does not really come away with any intellectual understanding of Cold War literature and where this work fits into such historiography. Second, the author could have included a few photo images that would bring some of the central actors to life. For example, an image of anti-Communist Judge Michael Angelo Musmanno would be helpful as he was one of the Commonwealth's leading crusaders in the war against Communists. At the opposite end of the spectrum was radical activist Steve Nelson, an important figure in twentieth century Pennsylvania history and a leading proponent of an alternative economic system, particularly in the depths of the Great Depression and, later, in the postwar years; a photo of Nelson would also have been useful. Finally, a map of the state would have been extremely helpful to those unfamiliar with Pennsylvania's geography.
In sum, Cold War at Home is highly recommended for scholars and students of this important period in American history. It is also likely to be useful for those interested in studies of ethnicity, labor, and politics in a state that has had its share of a controversial past.
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Kenneth C. Wolensky. Review of Jenkins, Philip, Cold War at Home: The Red Scare in Pennsylvania 1945-1960.
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