Card-carrying Communist

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Card-carrying Communist is a term popularised during the Second Red Scare as a label for members of Communist Party. The term "card-carrying" widened in scope after the 1950s, and now refers to any "registered member of an organisation,"[1] or any "authentic"[2] or "dedicated"[3] person. The term is still considered derogatory when used in its Cold War context.[2]


One of the earliest uses of the term is a Daily People article written in 1912, describing "'Union-card' carrying members."[4] The term "card-carrying" originally had no political connotation, and was used to describe membership in any organisation.[5] During the Second Red Scare, the term was used as a label for members of the Communist Party, and was used in this manner by both the House Un-American Activities Committee investigations and Senator Joseph McCarthy.[4] In the context of politics, the term remains derogatory.[2] After the 1950s, the scope of the word expanded and is used for non-political applications.[4]

Contemporary usage[edit]

Michael Dukakis, the Democratic nominee for the 1988 presidential election, stated in an interview with Los Angeles Times reporter Robert Scheer, on the subject of the Meese Report and censorship, that "I'm a card-carrying member of the American Civil Liberties Union and I think you have to be very restrained."[2] George H. W. Bush, the Republican nominee, responded to the gaffe, arguing that "I am not a card-carrying member of the ACLU. I am for the people."[6] The incident led to a renewal in the usage of the term.[3] Dukakis responded to Bush's remark by stating that his membership in the ACLU served as "proof of his belief in the Bill of Rights."[6]

History of Communist membership cards[edit]

Senator Joseph McCarthy (pictured) alleged that the United States Department of State had been infiltrated by "card-carrying Communists."

In the early 20th century, labor union members did keep membership cards, using the cards to claim discounts or union jobs. Both the Industrial Workers of the World and the United Farmers used membership cards.[4] Early in the Cold War, there were Communist members who kept membership cards, although many also hid their membership.[4]

During the HUAC's investigation of the Hollywood Ten, some of the writers and directors were accused of having obtained Communist membership cards.[7]

Senator Joseph McCarthy claimed there were 57 card-carrying Communists working for the United States Department of State,[8] an allegation that was widely reported by American newspapers.[4] This figure was different from the 205 "bad risks" figure, confusing reporters.[9] The "57 card-carrying Communist" phrase first appears in a radio interview that McCarthy gave in Salt Lake City, and is the phrase that appears in the Congressional Record on the speech he gave at Wheeling.[10] McCarthy made a distinction between "card-carrying communists" and what he called "fellow travelers." A card-carry communist was considered a genuine member of the party, while a fellow traveler only sympathised with the ideology.[2]

Because of the advent of digital technology, the contemporary Communist Party USA does not use membership cards.[4]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Elizabeth J. Jewell (7 May 2006). The Pocket Oxford Dictionary and Thesaurus. Oxford University Press. pp. 112–. ISBN 978-0-19-530715-3. Retrieved 3 October 2012. 
  2. ^ a b c d e William Safire (9 November 2011). "Drop that Card". Quoth the Maven: More on Language from William Safire. Random House Digital, Inc. ISBN 978-0-307-79974-6. Retrieved 3 October 2012. 
  3. ^ a b Eric Partridge (2006). The New Partridge Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English: A-I. Taylor & Francis. p. 346. ISBN 978-0-415-25937-8. Retrieved 3 October 2012. 
  4. ^ a b c d e f g Wickman, Forrest (2 October 2012). "Do Card-Carrying Communists Really Carry Cards?". Slate. Retrieved 3 October 2012. 
  5. ^ Rosemarie Ostler (6 September 2011). "Card-Carrying Commies, Commiesymps, and Reds Under the Bed". Slinging Mud: Rude Nicknames, Scurrilous Slogans, and Insulting Slang from Two Centuries of American Politics. Penguin. ISBN 978-1-101-54413-6. Retrieved 3 October 2012. 
  6. ^ a b Anthony J. Eksterowicz; Glenn P. Hastedt (1999). The Post-Cold War Presidency. Rowman & Littlefield. p. 162. ISBN 978-0-8476-9159-3. Retrieved 3 October 2012. 
  7. ^ Richard M. Fried (28 March 1991). Nightmare in Red: The McCarthy Era in Perspective. Oxford University Press. p. 76. ISBN 978-0-19-504361-7. Retrieved 3 October 2012. 
  8. ^ Richard H. Rovere (12 April 1996). Senator Joe McCarthy. University of California Press. pp. 128–129. ISBN 978-0-520-20472-0. Retrieved 3 October 2012. 
  9. ^ Robert Griffith (1987). The Politics of Fear: Joseph R. McCarthy and the Senate. Univ of Massachusetts Press. pp. 53–54. ISBN 978-0-87023-555-9. Retrieved 3 October 2012. 
  10. ^ Edwin R. Bayley (22 October 1981). Joe McCarthy and the Press. Univ of Wisconsin Press. pp. 20–21. ISBN 978-0-299-08624-4. Retrieved 3 October 2012.