It's 4:30 a.m. and I'm sitting at Dulles International Airport waiting to board a flight for Oaxaca, Mexico. The airport is only about 20 miles outside Washington, DC, and as I look across the terminal at the nearby newsstand, I notice Bob Woodward's new book, Fear. The book's title is premised on a quote from the current president, “Real power is—I don't even want to use the word—fear.” I'm always hesitant when making connections across time—context is so critical—however, I can't help but think about the ways fear has shaped our current politic climate. Fear of immigrants and brown people, violence in the inner cities, fear of the decreasing status of white men, fear of a weak military, fear that the United States has lost its position as the global superpower. These fears animate action, often to the detriment of marginalized groups. Scared people make bad decisions. It's worth noting, too, that in his book on the Trump administration, Beautiful Country Burn Again, journalist Ben Fountain calls fear “the herpes of American politics.” A disease that can't be cured, only the symptoms can be treated.
In this quarter's issue, Adam J. Hodges and his astute cadre of authors have provided us an opportunity to re-examine the First Red Scare and the Red Summer of 1919, and contemporary comparisons leap off the pages. In his introduction, Hodges reminds readers that fear of Bolshevism had “an unprecedentedly wide chilling effect” on the radical politics of the United States. These fears unleashed campaigns of intimidation and terror, as well as outright violence against labor activists, African Americans and immigrants, as well as women seeking to exercise full citizenship. Making simple contemporary comparisons is not this forum's goal, however. Instead, the authors here ask us to consider how all of these groups were not only affected by the Red Scare, but also shaped it and worked through and around it. In doing so, they might also provide us a way to understand our current political milieu and path forward. Indeed, in the opening article, “Against Intolerance,” Laura Weinrib asserts that the Red Scare was a key moment in the redefinition of American liberalism, a process contested by progressives and conservatives alike. Emily Pope-Obeda shifts attention to deportations in “Expelling the Foreign-Born Menace” and argues that the backlash against immigration in the United States was part of a global trend of nation-states policing their borders. In “New Women in Red,” Julia L. Mickenberg, rather than focusing on the vicious reprisals they faced for praising the Bolsheviks, illustrates how and why Revolutionary Russia appealed to American feminists. The final article in the forum, Hodges's own “Understanding a National and Global Red Scare/Red Summer through the Local Invention of Solidarities,” reminds us that the events historians have grouped as “The Red Scare” and “The Red Summer” were often local responses to local conditions, and that we should seek to understand the global interconnections of these events through the lens of localities.
Following the special forum, this issue offers two additional important contributions. Richard Schneirov provides an analysis of Samuel Gompers's 1893 address at the Chicago World's Fair in his article “Uncovering the Contradictions in Samuel Gompers's ‘More.’” In his address, Schneirov argues, Gompers sought to bridge and contain different intellectual and political strains within the broader labor movements. The author concludes that Gompers's thinking can be understood as two sets of contradictory discourses—“labor republicanism as distinguished from socialism and apocalyptic change as distinguished from evolutionary development.” Finally, Brian Stack and Peter Boag's, “George Chauncey's Gay New York: A View from 25 Years Later” takes a deep dive, both into the methodological and theoretical innovations of this highly influential book, as well as the ways that scholars build upon and challenged its conclusions.
It seems fitting, actually, to close out this note by acknowledging the important work Chauncey's book did and continues to do. In addition to all those other fears animating our current political climate (fears that in many ways mirrored others now a century old), fear and misunderstanding of LGBTQ people also shapes our public discourse. It's important to remember, and perhaps find solace in Chauncey's argument that despite its best efforts, the repressive state failed in the early and mid-twentieth century; given time, activism, and education, people's fears can and do subside. We hope you find the articles and reviews in this issue as stimulating as we did.