The Red Menace: A Striking Gallery of Anti-Communist Posters, Ads, Comic Books, Magazines & Films


By its very nature, pro­pa­gan­da dis­torts the truth or tells out­right lies. It tar­gets our basest impulses—fear and anger, flight or fight. While works of pure pro­pa­gan­da may pre­tend to make log­i­cal argu­ments, they elim­i­nate nuance and over­sim­pli­fy com­pli­cat­ed issues to the point of car­i­ca­ture. These gen­er­al ten­den­cies hold true in every case, but nowhere, per­haps, is this gross exag­ger­a­tion and fear mon­ger­ing more evi­dent than in times of war.

Socialism 1909

And while we’ve all seen our share of wartime pro­pa­gan­da, we may be less famil­iar with the decades-long pro­pa­gan­da war the U.S. and West­ern Europe waged against social­ism and Com­mu­nism, even decades before the Cold War era. It may sur­prise you to learn that this offen­sive began even before the start of World War One, as you can see above in a British Con­ser­v­a­tive Par­ty poster from 1909.

Russian anti-Communist 1918

Rep­re­sent­ing social­ism as an ape-like demon stran­gling some sort of god­dess of “pros­per­i­ty,” this strik­ing piece of poster art sets the tone for almost all of the anti-Com­mu­nist pro­pa­gan­da to come in the wake of the Russ­ian Rev­o­lu­tion. At least since this ear­ly graph­ic sal­vo, Com­mu­nists and social­ists have gen­er­al­ly been depict­ed as ter­ri­fy­ing mon­sters. See, for exam­ple, an ear­ly, post-WWI exam­ple of Russ­ian anti-Com­mu­nist pro­pa­gan­da above, por­tray­ing the Com­mu­nist threat as an apoc­a­lyp­tic horse­man of death.

German anti-Communist 1919

Norwegian anti-Communist

As the per­ceived threat increased, so too did the scale of the mon­strous car­i­ca­tures. In the post-WWI era Ger­man and Nor­we­gian posters above, Godzil­la-sized Com­mu­nists lay waste to entire cities. Below, in “Bol­she­vism Unmasked,” an exam­ple from the Sec­ond World War, the skele­tal Com­mu­nist destroy­er strad­dles the entire globe.

Bolshevism Unmasked

Occa­sion­al­ly the racial dimen­sions of these depic­tions were explic­it. More often, they were strong­ly implied. But a 1953 Cold War exam­ple below is par­tic­u­lar­ly unsub­tle. Show­ing a scene lit­er­al­ly right out of a schlocky Para­mount hor­ror film, fea­tur­ing actress Janet Logan, the text tells us, “In case the Com­mu­nists should con­quer, our women would be help­less beneath the boots of the Asi­at­ic Rus­sians.” At the top of this rather lurid piece of agit-prop, we’re also told that “many Amer­i­can men would be ster­il­ized” should Rus­sia win the “next world war.”

If Russia Should Win

In the 50s and 60s, pop cul­ture media like film and com­ic books lent them­selves par­tic­u­lar­ly well to anti-Com­mu­nist pro­pa­gan­da, and they were exploit­ed relent­less­ly by gov­ern­ment agen­cies, pro­duc­tion com­pa­nies, and cor­po­ra­tions. Films like I Mar­ried a Com­mu­nist (below) and The Red Men­ace (top), both from 1949, offered sen­sa­tion­al­ized pulpy takes on the red scare.


In these peak Cold War decades, anti-Com­mu­nist sen­ti­ment flour­ished as the U.S.’s for­mer ally the Sovi­et Union became its pri­ma­ry ene­my. Com­ic books pro­vid­ed the per­fect plat­form for the broad strokes of anti-Com­mu­nist pro­pa­gan­da. As psy­chi­a­trist Fredric Wertham waged war against the cor­rupt­ing influ­ence of com­ic books, adver­tis­ers and the gov­ern­ment found them increas­ing­ly effec­tive at spread­ing mes­sages. “If there was any enti­ty that believed in the pow­er of com­ic books to indoc­tri­nate and instruct as Wertham did,” writes Greg Beato at Rea­son, “it was the U.S. gov­ern­ment.”

Is This Tomorrow?

But pri­vate enti­ties did their share in the com­ic book war against Com­mu­nism as well. Wit­ness a par­tic­u­lar­ly wild exam­ple, Is This Tomor­row?, above. Pub­lished by the “Cat­e­chet­i­cal Guild Edu­ca­tion­al Soci­ety” in St. Paul, MN, this 1947 com­ic impli­cates gov­ern­ment reg­u­la­tion of busi­ness, social wel­fare pro­grams, anti-reli­gious sen­ti­ment, and “peo­ple giv­ing up their sil­ly ideas about ‘sacred­ness’ of life” in a fiendish­ly orches­trat­ed plot to take over Amer­i­ca. Work­ers who embrace Com­mu­nist doc­trine are lit­tle more than dupes and pawns. You can read the whole fever­ish sce­nario here.

red menace anti soviet propaganda 3

These car­toon scare tac­tics may seem out­landish, but of course we know that red scare pro­pa­gan­da had real effects on the lives and liveli­hoods of real Amer­i­cans, par­tic­u­lar­ly those in the arts and acad­e­mia. Free­think­ing, left-lean­ing cre­ative types and intel­lec­tu­als have long been tar­gets of anti-Com­mu­nist para­noia. The Amer­i­can Legion Mag­a­zine cov­er above illus­trates the fear—one still very preva­lent now—that col­lege pro­fes­sors were bent on cor­rupt­ing young, mal­leable minds. “Par­ents,” the mag­a­zine states, “can rid cam­pus­es of com­mu­nists who cloak them­selves in ‘aca­d­e­m­ic free­dom.’” At the height of the red scare, many col­lege pro­fes­sors, like Stan­ley Moore at Reed Col­lege, were dragged before the House Un-Amer­i­can Activ­i­ties Com­mit­tee and sum­mar­i­ly fired.


More con­fi­dent, it seems, than the pro­pa­gan­da of pre­vi­ous decades, the Cold War vari­ety shrunk the Com­mu­nist threat back to human dimen­sions. But Com­mu­nists were no less mon­strous than before—only more insid­i­ous. They looked like your neigh­bors, your co-work­ers, and your chil­dren’s teacher. Instead of pur­vey­ors of brute force, they were depict­ed as devi­ous manip­u­la­tors who used ide­o­log­i­cal machi­na­tions to per­vert democ­ra­cy and crip­ple cap­i­tal­ism. As in the Amer­i­can Legion col­lege pro­fes­sor cov­er sto­ry, edu­ca­tion was often posed as the cul­tur­al bat­tle­field on which—as the heat­ed Canadair ad above states—“Communism could take the citadel from with­in” by spread­ing “doubts about the old ways” and insin­u­at­ing “ideas of athe­ism, reg­i­men­ta­tion and false ide­al­ism.”


Post-WWII, of course, the great­est threat was not a full-scale invasion—it was total nuclear anni­hi­la­tion. It was a grim possibility—as Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove satir­i­cal­ly point­ed out—in which no one would win. Web Urban­ist points us toward one par­tic­u­lar­ly chill­ing and dis­hon­est piece of pro­pa­gan­da dis­trib­uted by the gov­ern­ment. In the poster above, we are assured that “After total war can come total liv­ing.” Unless the hap­py cou­ple is gaz­ing out over a man­i­cured sub­urb in the after­life, this scene of “total liv­ing” post-nuclear war is absurd giv­en the strat­e­gy of Mutu­al­ly Assured Destruc­tion. Nev­er­the­less, what the poster depicts is an ana­logue of the Sovi­ets’ total­i­tar­i­an ethos—it’s a future of total ide­o­log­i­cal puri­ty, in which the Earth has been cleansed of the hulk­ing mon­strous hordes of Com­mu­nism, as well as, pre­sum­ably, the cryp­to-Com­mu­nist teach­ers, artists, intel­lec­tu­als, and bureau­crats who threat­en from with­in.

via Web Urban­ist/io9/Kuriosi­tas

Relat­ed Con­tent:

How to Spot a Com­mu­nist Using Lit­er­ary Crit­i­cism: A 1955 Man­u­al from the U.S. Mil­i­tary

Sovi­et Artists Envi­sion a Com­mu­nist Utopia in Out­er Space

The Curi­ous Sto­ry of How Boot­legged Hol­ly­wood Movies Helped Defeat Com­mu­nism in Roma­nia

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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Comments (17)
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  • JOE says:

    Yeah how could any­one have made such pro­pa­gan­da I mean clear­ly his­to­ry shows how benev­o­lent Com­mu­nism was and is. And left­ist cre­atives and intel­lec­tu­als were under attack? The hor­ror.

  • Patrick778 says:

    In the 50s, there were also Red Men­ace bub­blegum cards, which pic­tured such things as Chica­go under poi­son gas attack. Col­lect ’em all!

  • Eric G says:

    So I gath­er, judg­ing from the dele­tions, that any com­ments remote­ly crit­i­cal of Com­mu­nism are not allowed? Dis­ap­point­ing. At least the sar­casm in the first com­ment went over some­body’s head.

  • AlexO says:

    Some­one point­ed out to me that in this mod­ern age, the next thing to be seen — and fol­low­ing the Red Men­ace trend — will be an anti-Islam­ic ter­ror­ism series.

  • Hanoch says:

    My guess is that the mil­lions sent to the gulags would find the ref­er­enced pro­pa­gan­da to be fair­ly accu­rate.

  • Mike says:

    This arti­cle ignores radio dra­mas such as “I was a com­mu­nist for the FBI” — pow­er­ful then, and strange now!

  • Joe says:

    I find the Canadair image to be more appro­pri­ate today than when it was print­ed.

  • Kyle says:

    The mil­lions killed by Stal­in, through the Five Year Plans and col­lec­tiviza­tion and forced star­va­tion and eth­nic cleans­ing and total war, did not feel the san­guine tinge of roman­ti­cism that Amer­i­ca’s clue­less intel­li­gentsia does before they were stripped of human iden­ti­ty and life itself.

  • Eric Williams says:

    Haha. I agree! Com­mu­nism is so safe and ben­e­fi­cial. That’s why every­one in North Amer­i­ca is mov­ing to Venezuela and North Korea today, just like they all want­ed to go live in Stal­in’s Sovi­et Union. Utopia!! (Note: sar­casm is implied for you snowflakes)

  • Jo Stalin says:

    Who in their right mind could think that com­mu­nists are mon­sters? In the “Is this Tomor­row” com­ic book, it is even sug­gest­ed that they use Hol­ly­wood to attack our morals…and that school teach­ers would push athe­ism on the stu­dents. How ridicu­lous! And then it claims that they would incite race and class war­fare. As if our Amer­i­can press and media would ever do such things. That book was so pre­pos­ter­ous that I must sug­gest that every­one steer clear of it!

  • Tim says:

    The rul­ing class was ter­ri­fied of com­mu­nism then and now. They are right to be ter­ri­fied as the vic­to­ry of the work­ers will spell their doom. Despite the recent set­backs the work­ers’ move­ment will be once again be reignit­ed as it’s fires are born out of the very con­tra­dic­tions of cap­i­tal­ism. These con­tra­dic­tions are unsolv­able, to “solve” them you have to break them and to break them you have to break cap­i­tal­ism. This is what must hap­pen and will hap­pen if human­i­ty is not to per­ish.

  • Jimmy says:

    True, the Red Scare stuff was heavy-hand­ed, but the Amer­i­can Legion and Canadair pieces on “edu­ca­tors” has a cer­tain con­tem­po­rary ring to it in view of the “Woke” social jus­tice profs cur­rent­ly re-writ­ing his­to­ry to pro­tect their snowflake stu­dents from “micro-aggres­sions”. Thank God these young inno­cents can snug­gle with their blankies in their safe spaces. Ban­ning speak­ers from cam­pus­es and stu­dent shout-downs are just as bad as the Red baiters of the 1950s.

  • dplace says:

    The US has been flood­ed with com­mu­nist that have learned the doc­trine of fas­cism and tak­en over the acad­e­mia, social media and polit­i­cal left wing par­ty while claim­ing self right­eous­ness.

  • Lex says:

    Well said, Tim. Thank you for your insight

  • R says:

    I think, dplace, what you meant to say is acad­e­mia and the polit­i­cal “left wing” has been purged of Com­mu­nists and replaced with Fas­cists and Anar­chists. They call them­selves Com­mu­nists. I haven’t read a whole lot of Lenin and Stal­in, but what lit­tle I’ve read has all been them crit­i­ciz­ing these kinds of fuck­wits. It’s hilar­i­ous actu­al­ly both these dudes are just exas­per­at­ed as hell by the same idio­cy you’re exas­per­at­ed by. High­ly rec­om­mend read­ing.

  • Brett says:

    Decades lat­er and still any­one to left of hitler is a com­mie. 😂

  • Dongle says:

    I thnik com­mu­nis­tism is so cool. Stal­in is my idole.

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