On the surface the politics of Joseph Stalin and Senator Joe McCarthy were diametrically opposed. Underneath, however, they were frighteningly similar.
At first glance it does not seem that Joseph Stalin of the USSR and Joe McCarthy of the American Senate had much in common. They embraced political ideologies that were polar opposites, Stalin was a totalitarian, McCarthy believed in the democracy he served.
Stalin was the supreme leader of a Communist empire that consisted of Russia and all the small countries surrounding it. His tenure as leader of the Soviet Union was bloody, he rose to the top of the political heap by killing off anyone he saw as a threat. Stalin punished any perceived opposition with death or deportation to labor camps. His reign of terror that lasted from his coming to power in 1941 to his death in 1953.
Joe McCarthy was an elected official in a representative democracy. The political ideology he espoused was freedom and free speech. McCarthy was elected to the Senate in 1947 and served as the Republican representative for Wisconsin until his death in 1957.
Both men made such an impact on history that their ideologies and eras bear their names, McCarthyism and Stalinism. Neither “ism” is regarded with any degree of approval by history.
Even before the Russian Revolution Stalin was sneaky and underhanded with political rivals. He made false accusations of spying, disloyalty and subversion against those he wanted out of the way. He was not above planting evidence to discredit and disgrace rivals.
By 1936 he had discrediting opponents down to a fine art. In order to make his actions look legitimate he put his enemies on trial. These trials were mere kangaroo courts, the verdict was never in doubt. The most innocent remark could be reported and the speaker executed. By the time the USSR entered the second world war Stalin had succeeded in removing or assassinating a good portion of the military, social and political leaders.
Senator McCarthy did not have anyone executed or assassinated. At least, not physically. He destroyed reputations and assassinated characters. He sent America on the biggest, most hysterical witch hunt in all of its history. McCarthy, however, was not hunting witches. He was hunting Communists and he found them everywhere. This was at the height of the Cold War, when the fear was that the “Reds” were going to drop an atom bomb any moment. The mere mention of Marx or Russia was enough cause to be hauled in front of a Senate Committee and questioned about being a communist sympathize.
The Senate hearings were as much a kangaroo court as Stalin’s “trials”. The unfortunate souls being questioned about “Un-American activities” did not go to a gulag or execution but their regular lives were pretty much destroyed. Almost all of McCarthy’ s victims lost their jobs. Some never worked again.
Why They Did It
Pre Revolution Russia was poor. Post Revolution it was even poorer. Stalin knew that agriculture and industry had to be modernized. Small holdings were to be merged into collective farms. The peasants resisted having their land taken away but Stalin went ahead with his plans in spite of opposition.
In the beginning the ideals of Communism were admirable. The problem was the peasants did not want to be part of a collective. During Stalin’s early days he believed he was doing the right thing for his poverty-stricken nation.
McCarthy also believed he was doing the right thing for his country. His tenure as Senator overlapped Stalin’s time by six years. He had plenty of evidence that Communism was a bloody failure, he didn’t want that happening in the U.S. The problem was, McCarthy had no evidence at all to support the charges of being communist agents that he brought against innocent citizens. They were as trumped up as the charges Stalin laid.
Both men had noble ideals and both went terribly wrong. It is estimated that more than a million Russians died during Stalin’s attempt to drag the Soviet Union into the twentieth century. The supreme irony is that all those deaths were in vain. The Union of Soviet Socialist Republics never did measure up to the lofty ideals Karl Marx outlined in the Communist Manifesto.
Joseph Stalin has gone down in history as a bloody tyrant.
There was little or no death toll in the McCarthy era. The damage he caused was social and political. Nearly 26,000 innocent people lost their jobs and saw the destruction of their careers. They also lost their faith in the American political and justice system, they had been betrayed by their homeland.
Joseph McCarthy almost managed to bring freedom of expression to its knees. He certainly managed to induce paranoia in his compatriots.
Both men earned a place in history. The question is, who would want it?