Red Scare

Everything About Fiction You Never Wanted to Know.
In Soviet Russia everything is the other way round.[1]

The communist menace. Formerly a common villain source for Big Bad or henchmen villains in the Spy Drama, its now pretty much a Discredited Trope since the end of the Cold War, although an even more Eastern revival of sorts is possible (see below). Instead rogue former Soviet scientists tend to be in vogue in the role of the Mad Scientist who works for the Big Bad, as well as ruthless Russian mafia types.

The Red Scare allows any of the presumably First World heroes to suddenly have counterparts in the East. The Red Scare can produce all manner of reasonably honorable characters that are nevertheless rivals of the heroes or antagonists simply because of geopolitics. Likewise, the Red Scare can include elements that are meant to invoke the fear of the Cold War as well. A General Ripper character is often seen in this situation, usually on the American side but occasionally amongst the Soviets too.

Expect the technically inaccurate descriptor "Russians" to be used a lot. While much of the Soviet leadership was indeed Russian, some weren't, most particularly Josef Stalin, who was Georgian (and, no, we don't mean like Jimmy Carter).

The Red Scare is different from Dirty Communists due to the fact that Red Scare focuses on the overarching effect of the Cold War while Dirty Communists are merely horrible people that serve the Soviet State. There is significant overlap between the two groups however. In general, one can be a Dirty Communists as well as being part of the Red Scare.

Ultimately, the Red Scare only qualifies if it is meant to invoke Cold War tensions and feelings as opposed to simply being Russian or communist villains. Communist China has also produced its own variety of Dirty Communist villains as well as Red Scare ones but not nearly, in the past, to the same extent. However, as memories of the Soviet Union fade, and China grows in economic and military power, the People's Republic seems to be emerging as the new "red menace" of choice (see also Red China, Yellow Peril, and China Takes Over the World).

See also Dirty Communists.


See also In Soviet Russia, Trope Mocks You.

Contrast Why We're Bummed Communism Fell.

Examples of Red Scare include:

Comic Books

  • The Blacksad album Red Soul takes place in the midst of a full on Red Scare. Complete with propaganda and paranoia.
  • Marvel has had a huge roster of communist villains, including the Super-Apes, led by the Red Ghost. In this case they ditched the xenophobic slant by making their commie leader a simpleton, and turning the apes into simian supremacists. In general, Marvel's communist villains were divided sharply along the Dirty Communists lines and The Rival.
    • Being a weapons designer, Iron Man had a host of these and (inevitably) so did Captain America. Though most of Iron Man's former villains reformed, while Captain America had his time as a communist basher retconned.
    • Omega Red was an X-Men villain of the Dirty Communists variety.
  • The Tick (animation) had a villain called the Red Scare that made a heavily modified appearance in the Live Action series.
  • Superman: Red Son
  • Evil Commies from The DCU are a little fewer between as DC preferred more fantastic stories than Marvel in the Silver Age, but some exist, such as the Red Panzer.
  • Tintin in the Land of the Soviets.
  • The Volgans of Invasion! and ABC Warriors - originally, they were intended to be the actual USSR, but the writers were ordered to change the names to avoid antagonising the Soviet embassy.
  • The Russian Mega-Cities, East-Meg 1 and 2, in Judge Dredd were frequently treated like this in the 70s and 80s. In one story, East Meg 1 invades and actually manages to conquer Mega-City 1, forcing the Judges into guerrilla warfare.
  • In one story by Wilhelm Busch, an "Inter-Nazi" appears (no relation to Those Wacky Nazis). Probably supposed to be an internationalist / social democrat. To further explain, "Nazi" is an old Bavarian and Austrian diminutive of the name Ignaz (Ignatius). Not surprisingly it has fallen into disuse since 1945...

Films -- Live-Action


  • Mocked in the John Wyndham Cozy Catastrophe novel The Kraken Wakes with the minor character of Tuny; she continues to insist the Russians are behind the book's ever-escalating attacks on humanity from the depths of the sea, when it's soon made clear they couldn't possibly be doing it.

Live-Action TV

  • MacGyver (where the Soviets get called Soviets)
  • Danger Man.
  • I Spy
  • Star Trek: The Original Series's Chekov was a subversion of this when most of the Russians in television were of the Dirty Communists variety.
  • Occasionally a point of discussion in M*A*S*H—although given the show's setting, this was to be expected. One episode in particular had Communism as a focal point of the plot; Margaret Houlihan was being investigated for having been friends, in college, with people who later turned out to be Communist sympathizers.
  • A Very Special Episode of Father Knows Best called "24 Hours in Tyrant Land", commissioned by the US government, had the cast pretend to live in a horribly repressive (read: Communist) regime, after not valuing democracy enough.
  • |Mission Impossible under various euphemisms.
  • The Red Glare episode from Cold Case.
  • Amerika


  • Satirized by Bob Dylan in "Talkin' John Birch Paranoid Blues", in which the POV character buys a little too much into the Red Scare:

Now Eisenhower, he’s a Russian spy
Lincoln, Jefferson and that Roosevelt guy
To my knowledge there’s just one man
That’s really a true American: George Lincoln Rockwell
I know for a fact he hates Commies cus he picketed the movie Exodus

Professional Wrestling

  • Many, many Evil Foreigners in Professional Wrestling. Ivan Koloff, Nikita Koloff, Crusher Kruschev, Boris Zhukov, and Nikolai Volkoff, to name a few. And just to play off the trope even more, every single one of them had a Fake Nationality. Even Volkoff, who was Yugoslavian rather than Russian.
    • Somewhat averted with Vladimir Kozlov, who got into the business far too late to capitalize on the Red Scare, but remains an Evil Foreigner (when he is a heel) regardless.

Tabletop Games

  • Paranoia parodies Cold War paranoia: the whole of Alpha Complex is ruled by The Computer and the biggest perceived threats are Communists, followed by Mutants and the general catch-all Traitor. In fact, the only thing worse than being a Communist is being a Commie mutant traitor.
    • Furthermore, in a universe where color is used to define rank and membership in a caste system, Red (the color/rank of typical Player Characters) is the second most common, just barely above Black (the bottom of the barrel, representing chemically mind-controlled drone labor that the PCs somehow rose above, usually through hard work accusing a fellow citizen of treason).
    • It should also be noted there are in fact Communists around, but they only exist because they decided that anything The Computer hates so fervently must have something going for it.
    • And of course, the central irony of Paranoia: Alpha Complex is for all intents and purposes a Stalinist state, although the exact flavor of totalitarianism has varied from edition to edition.
  • Sahuagin ("sea devils") in Dungeons & Dragons are evil underwater openly cannibalistic (in a sort-of-sensible way: their motto is "meat is meat") race. They are also very collectivist and address each other "comrade."


  • Destroy All Humans! parodies Cold War paranoia by making the citizenry brainwashed into believing all alien activity by the player character is the work of communists.
  • Command & Conquer: Red Alert is pretty much this trope made into a game series.
  • Part of the backstory for the Fallout universe is that the Red Scare never ended, but instead of Russia, it was China.[2]
    • Which gave us the awesome Liberty Prime, the one-robot anti-communist brainwashing army.
  • Call of Duty Black Ops takes place in The Sixties, so this trope was a given, with missions including sabotaging the Soviet missile program and stopping a plot to attack the United States with nerve gas.[3] Comes complete with a plot about a Manchurian Agent, revealed to be the player character.
  • Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater has a rare case of both sides of the Cold War being afflicted with this trope (in other words, the trope being both played straight and inverted). On the American side, the American government was actually afraid that the less stalwart elements of the military/CIA would defect after The Boss managed to "defect" to the Soviet Union, even placing several key members under house arrest. On the Soviet Russian side, more specifically the Volgin faction, he pretty much attempts to justify his actions by claiming that it's either kill or be killed and that they should weed out potential threats in a manner very similar to the Red Scare in America.

Web Originals

  • Imagine if Joseph McCarthy's Un-American Activities committee had never stopped. That's one of the major turning points of A World of Laughter, A World of Tears, where the Red Scare doesn't end. At all.
  • The Chaos Timeline has its own version, with the Socialists governing western Europe and the Red Pirates terrorizing the seas.

Real Life

  • Played straight in Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, East Germany, the Gulags...
  • A feedback comment on an article on Fanfic suggested, in all seriousness and in the year 2005, that supporting the right of fans to write Fanfic made you a Communist.
  • The biggest Red Scare was, of course, in America roughly between 1945 and 1970 (after which the doctrine of detente, or peaceful coexistence, became standard for a time), and particularly during the early 1950s, when even being suspected of having Communist sympathies could get you fired for "Un-American Activities". Despite its popularity, it did have numerous vehement opponents, among whom was President Harry Truman. The big Red Scare died out along with its poster-child Joe McCarthy's fall from grace. (Though it's interesting to note that there is declassified evidence exonerating him. Doesn't make him a good guy, but it is something to think about.)
    • It didn't just get you fired. You were blacklisted, meaning that you couldn't get a job anywhere.
    • President Truman's opposition to the HUAC was perhaps spurred by the knowledge that there were Communists, such as Alger Hiss, in prominent positions in his administration, and he wanted the chance to ease them out before this embarrassing fact was made public.
    • It wasn't just a government project either. Among the creepier things that NGOs created, this poster from the Keep America Committee calls the following communist: The Polio Vaccine (or, as they call it, polio serum), mental hygiene (psychology), and water fluoridation.
    • It should be said that, while McCarthy was "exonerated" in the sense that there actually were Soviet agents in the U.S. government, he had no objective way of knowing who they were, given that his famous list of communists was an election-time Ass Pull. In the end, McCarthy's record is stained by the simple fact that he did not catch a single Soviet agent.
      • If there were not Soviet agents in the US, Beria would not have been doing his job and he had far worse faults then professional incompetence. Nontheless, known party members would hardly be the first choice except as red herrings.
      • As opposed to HUAC, which did. Alger Hiss for starters; and most of the Hollywood Ten really were Communist Party members, and had agreed to "Party discipline" (ie, obeying orders from Moscow.)
    • The general intellectual level of the whole thing was summed up (unintentionally) by Sam Goldwyn. Telling a secretary to fire one of his producers, he added that the man was a communist. The secretary protested: "Sir, he's an anti-communist." Goldwn replied: "I don't care what sort of communist he is! I don't want him working in my studios."
  • The Red Scare is Older Than They Think; a period in 1919-1920 was called the First Red Scare. The Palmer Raids were carried out under the Wilson Administration during this time to crack down on Communists, anarchists, leftists, and various other radicals and anti-war activists. They make the McCarthy hearings look like an Oxford Union debate.
  • This type of thing has been going on since the 1850s, ever since labour rights became a large issue. A good example would be the Chartist movement in England.
  • A similar "White Scare" happened in Taiwan, too, except that one ended up with a lot more people in prison (it didn't help that Red China got very, very close to retaking Taiwan after the Nationalists fled there and the threat of invasion was quite real for some time).
  • Finland had its most notable Red Scare after the Civil war in 1918, which the (non-Communist) Reds lost. The communist party was banned and the Investigative Central Police started hunting Soviet spies. Ironically, the anti-communist Lapua movement became a much bigger threat to peace and order during the 1930s and the government re-focused on suppressing right-wing extremism.
    • Also interesting to note: The vast majority of Finnish communists sided with their homeland during the Winter War. Other Finns expected them to side with their fellow Communists (aka the Soviets), but the Finnish commies had no intention on siding with with Josef Stalin after his purges.
  • YMMV on whether this counts as 'real life', but Francis E. Dec, a schizophrenic with a cult following (like Plan 9 from Outer Space cult following, not Church of Happyology cult following), was so worried about the Red Scare that he tore down his brother's house's red wallpaper, and then spent months scraping the red paint that was underneath off. Granted, when the Communists are in league with the Mafia, Catholics, aetheists, Nazis, Jews, blacks, the medical community, and the CIA, all under leadership of the Mad Deadly Frankenstein Computer God and for the sake of killing (or "sneak executing") Dec, you take that shit seriously.
  1. Also, "Dll uftsya fyazedfm dyaz 'elfig tf tss"?
  2. Or rather, it was Russia at first, but over time, as Russia lost prominence, China because the de facto Red country, helped by the fact that the Chinese were Communists as well
  3. The latter being prepetrated by a renegade faction of the Soviets, however