1930 October 3

Fish Committee Begins Hearings on Communism in Washington State


The Fish Committee of the House of Representatives, named for Rep. Hamilton Fish (R–New York), was a brief precursor to the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC), which began operating on May 26, 1938. Fish was arguably the most vocal anti-Communist in Congress in these years, and his committee’s hearings attacked leftists, liberals, and others with the standard anti-Communist tactic of guilt-by-association, accusing people because of their beliefs and associations rather than for any criminal actions.

HUAC was one of the most vicious instruments of the anti-Communist Cold War between 1938 and 1975. The committee called people to testify about the political beliefs and associations, without reference to any alleged criminal activity. HUAC operated on the principle of guilty-by-association, in which someone was presumed to be subversive because of membership in an organization or associations with certain people, no matter how far in the past or how briefly. The most insidious part of HUAC’s process was the demand that witnesses “name names”; that is, identify other people who they suspected were Communists or attended specific meetings. Witnesses who declined to testify under the Fifth Amendment were labeled “Fifth Amendment Communists,” and many lost their jobs for doing so.

Arguably, the two most famous events in the history of HUAC were the Hollywood Ten hearings that began on October 27, 1947, in which ten directors and screenwriters refused to testify and were blacklisted as a result; and the anti-HUAC protests in San Francisco that began on May 12, 1960, and resulted in two films, one by HUAC itself and a rebuttal by the ACLU of Northern California.

Read about the hearings: http://depts.washington.edu/labhist/cpproject/fish-hearings.shtml

Learn more: Griffin Fariello, Red Scare: Memories of the American Inquisition: An Oral History (1995)

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