In other words, the decade following the Russian Revolution saw the communist parties rise to prominence in Europe, replacing the Social Democratic parties as the prime representative of the general public, especially in such countries as France and Italy.
There were sound reasons for liberal capitalists to feel threatened by the rise of communism. This came to be termed as the “red scare” by the Western intelligentsia, although it carries with it derogatory connotations. When Adolf Hitler’s National Socialist Party captured power in 1933, the reality of aggression and threat to democracy became patent. The tussle for power between the Right and Left ends of the political spectrum was at its most intense during the period leading up to the Second World War.
“Between 1919 and the end of World War a few governments were overthrown from the Left, and all anti-democratic regime changes, by coup, conquest or by other means, were moves to the Right. Not all the Right-wing parties were fascist, and for that matter, that the differences between fascist movements and regimes were substantial. Communists no doubt benefited and continued to benefit from such confusions”. (Mccauley, 2007)
If the consolidated Eastern European states in the shape of USSR are the torch bearer for communism, then the United States of America represented its antithesis. The antagonism between the two emerging powers started right at the birth of the Soviet Union, when the USA refused to acknowledge its legitimacy. The differences between the two blocs were very deep, cutting across political, economic and social lines. The USA, in spite of suffering a catastrophic economic recession and Wall Street collapse the preceding decade, could not abandon its capitalist ideology. The Soviet political organization was oriented toward the people as opposed to business interests. Each bloc saw the other as a huge threat to its very existence. It is at this juncture that a greater threat to both emerged in the form of Hitler’s fascism. It is the threat of fascism under Hitler that coerced an impossible alliance between the Soviet Union and the United States of America prior to the Second World War (Shuklian, 1995).
The rapid growth of communism rattled the liberal capitalist West. The concerns of the Western capitalists were not confined to the realm of abstract and applied political philosophy. For them, it was the ‘revolutionary’ element of the rise of communism in Russia and Eastern Europe that caused concern. Incidentally, “it brought Western revolutionaries, hitherto critical of Marxism, which they identified with peaceful moderation, to rediscover it as an ideology of revolution and, in doing so, to bring about the rapid decline of anarchism and revolutionary syndicalism—except, for a while, in Spain” (Mccauley, 2007). In summary, the decades after 1917 till the ultimate collapse of the Soviet Union saw the spirit of the Russian Revolution manifested itself across continents, albeit in a smaller scale, and with less bloodshed. But as far as Western Europe is concerned, the end of the Second World War put paid to communist and socialist movements. Though they maintain a token presence, their political significance is negligible. Moreover, in the large parts of Europe— Great Britain, Germany, Scandinavia—Marxist or any other kinds of socialist beliefs were rarely espoused by intellectuals, and “even rarer in the milieu from which most of them came, even the French revolutionary history that formed part of socialist culture was not well known during the second half of the twentieth century” (Mccauley, 2007).
If communism challenged the capitalist economic system, then communism in turn was challenged by more liberal democratic societies. It also did not help that after 1945 communist governments across the world curtailed democratic processes both internal to their party and externally to the general public. Some socialists argued that the ends justified the means, although, unfortunately, the desired objectives were not always met. Given the collapse of the enterprise started in Petrograd with the onset of the October Revolution, the unfeasibility of the goals it set itself to achieve by the means considered as appropriate by socialists and under the historic conditions in which it was undertaken, cannot be denied. Outside the USSR and the other states in which communist parties adopted revolutionary methods to attain power gave their citizens little choice in the matter. Moreover, the appeal of this enterprise in Europe was always limited to intellectual elite, though some of them were talented ones. The only period of time when communism may have taken on hegemonic proportions was a relatively brief one between 1943 and 1950s (Mccauley, 2007). Hence, this should be the base-line of any discussion of the history of communist threat and influence in the West. The threat it posed to the liberal democratic West was succinctly captured by the following passage: