Red scare Britain
: Anti-communism in British government and politics during the early Cold War, 1945-56

  • Matthew Gerth

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


This thesis examines governmental and political anti-communism in Britain during the early Cold War. It seeks to understand how domestic anti-communism exhibited itself in different facets of the British nation including state policies, political rhetoric, party politics, and the trade union movement. To this end, the thesis argues, in hindsight, an overreaction to the threat of communism occurred during the period: a red scare predicated on the fear of fifth columnists, Soviet spies, agent provocateurs, fellow travellers, and crypto-communists. This exaggerated reaction to the ‘red menace’ has attracted relatively little attention compared to the contemporaneous phenomenon of American McCarthyism. Indeed, too often, the blatant and public excesses of the American Red Scare have eclipsed the less overt and shadowy anti-communism employed in Britain. Due to the societal, governmental, and institutional variances between the US and the UK, the British red scare manifested differently. Nevertheless, as this study shows, in Britain – just as in the United States – the issue was politicised with state repression, redbaiting, and the ‘othering’ of fellow citizens. It is also clear that, on the state level, a consensus form of anti-communism came into being which neither the Conservative nor the Labour parties contested. Leaders of the Labour party designed this consensus and were the chief proponents of a more strident response to domestic communism. The thesis also shows that pressure from the United States government contributed to heighten counterinsurgency measures and increased anti-communist policies of the British government. Yet, at the same time, the negative reaction in the British public to the excesses of the American red scare moderated the response
Date of AwardJul 2021
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Queen's University Belfast
SupervisorPaul Corthorn (Supervisor) & Alexander Titov (Supervisor)


  • Anti-communism
  • Labour Party
  • red scare
  • British McCarthyism
  • Kenneth de Courcy
  • Lord Vansittart
  • Waldron Smithers
  • Cold War
  • anticommunism

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