‘How to spot a Communist’ (1947)

In March 1947 the American magazine LOOK published an article by Leo Cherne, entitled ‘How to spot a Communist’. A typical piece of Cold War propaganda, it provides readers with advice on how to recognise potential communists and communist sympathisers in their midst:

“The real Communist is not a liberal or a progressive. He believes in Russia first and a Soviet America. He accepts the doctrines of dictatorship as practiced in Russia. And he is prepared to use a dictator’s tactics of lies and violence to realise his ambitions.

Because the whole Communist apparatus is geared to secrecy, it is not always easy to determine just who is a Communist. But whether he is a Party card-holder or a fellow traveler, the American Communist is not like other Americans. To the Communist, everything – his country, his job, his family – take second place to his party duty. Even his sex life is synchronised with the obligations of the [communist] cause…

There is no simple definition of an American Communist. However, certain general classifications can be set up. And if either a person or an organisation falls within most of these classifications, that person or organisation can be said to be following the Communists’ lead. These classifications include:

1. The belief that the war waged by Great Britain and her allies during the period from August 1939 to June 1941 (the period of the war before Russia was invaded) was an “imperialistic” war and a game of power politics.

2. The support of a foreign policy which agrees always with that followed by Soviet Russia, and which changes as the USSR policy changes.

3. The argument that any foreign or domestic policy which does not fit the Communist plan is advanced for ulterior motives and is not in the best interests of either the people or world peace.

4. The practice of criticising only American, British and Chinese policies, and never criticising Soviet policies.

5. Continually receiving favourable publicity in such Communist publications as the Daily Worker and the New Masses.

6. Continually appearing as sponsor or co-worker of such known Communist-front groups as the Committee to Win the Peace, the Civil Rights Congress, the National Negro Congress and other groups which can be described as Communist-inspired because they fall within the classifications set forth here.

7. Continually charging critics with being “fascists,” no matter whether the criticism comes from liberals, conservatives, reactionaries or those who really are fascists.

8. Arguing for a class society by pitting one group against another; and putting special privileges ahead of community needs as, for example, claiming that labour has privileges but has no responsibilities in dealing with management.

9. Declaring that capitalism and democracy are “decadent” because some injustices exist under those systems.

Of course, actual membership [of a communist party] is 100 percent proof, but this kind of proof is difficult to obtain. These are the five basic layers that the Communists rely on for their strength:

1. The Party member, who openly or secretly holds a membership card.

2. The fellow-traveller, who is not a Party member but who is carefully trained to follow the Communist policy.

3. The sympathiser, who may disagree with some policies, but who is in general agreement with Communist objectives.

4. The opportunist, who is unconcerned with Party goals or tactics but who believes… that the party can be used to his own advantage.

5. The muddled liberal, who despite deep disagreement with the Communist Party’s ultimate goals, co-operates with Party members in front organisations.

How not to be a sucker for a ‘left hook’

Most Americans want to help a good cause, but don’t want to help Communists hiding behind a good-cause label. Here are tips:

1. Check credentials: Before you join or help a group, find out if it opposed Britain’s “imperialistic” war and favoured isolationism before Russia was invaded in 1941; if it supported the “people’s” war after Russia was invaded; if it now favours the veto as used by Russia in the UN.

2. Signing petitions… are you getting your name on a Communist list?

3. Contributing money… check carefully, you may be paying a Communist.

4. On the escalator… is your support of one group involving you in causes you didn’t know about? Check all affiliations.

5. Resolutions… does the group you support suddenly endorse other groups you know nothing about?

6. Politics… is your non-partisan group endorsing candidates? Who are they?

7. Speakers… who are the outsiders invited to address your meetings?

8. Fly-by-night issues… does your group support policies also supported by the Communist Party, and then forget those policies as soon as the Party line changes?

9. Double standard… is it sensitive about American policy in China and British policy in Palestine, but quiet about Russian policy in Iran, Poland, Rumania, Bulgaria?

10. Literature… does literature handed out at meetings endorse Party causes?

11. Social life… are you urged to buy tickets to other groups’ events? You may be contributing to other causes.

12. Demonstrations and conferences… does the local group which was set up to study the cost of living, for example, send delegates to conferences which pass resolutions on atomic energy control?

13. Membership… watch who joins and who resigns. Harold Ickes recently resigned from the Independent Citizens Committee of the Arts and Sciences; Marion Hargrove quit the Duncan-Paris Post of the American Legion and the National Committee to Win the Peace.”