(Feingold’s article appeared on Theatermania, 4/29.)
To what extent were the people accused of Communism in postwar America's red scare actually dangerous or treasonous subversives? In most cases, probably not at all. A lot of them — and I have encountered a great many of them over the years — were liberal-minded, educated people, seriously concerned about solving America's social problems. If you had invited them to help you overthrow the government by force or violence, most, I imagine, would have laughed in your face. Certainly it is hard to conceive of the well-paid screenwriters who were stigmatized as the "Hollywood Ten," or the gentle-souled Group Theatre actors who suffered from the blacklist, hefting Kalashnikovs on the barricades, though it is very easy to picture them helping Southern blacks register to vote, or circulating petitions for the recall of some particularly odious right-wing officeholder. The Communist ideal was their superstition, like the pinch of salt tossed over a Salem housewife's left shoulder — a wish to placate spirits that might be dangerous if enraged.
Certainly, there were "real" Communists — Soviet secret agents and their suppliers of information — at work in classified industries. We had terminated the war with Japan by exploding the atomic bomb, and had elected not to share its secrets with our Soviet former allies, whose subjugation of Eastern Europe as a set of satellite states had demonstrated imperial ambitions equivalent to Hitler's. While leftists debated the issue of shared atomic power, believers in key places simply smuggled out sufficient data for the USSR to build its own nuclear weapons.