I'm reading Upton Sinclair's 1927 novel Oil! It is well-known that he was a socialist, and of course, the notion of socialism is a strong theme in his writing. In Oil!, a young man is enrolled in a university in California. His friends don't seem to care for his socialist views so far but I'm struggling to put this in context. In around 1920, how popular was the idea of socialism/support for the Soviets, both among students and faculty at US universities?

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    You'd probably have to 1st establish whether socialism was even associated with the USSR at that point. Which makes this 2 different questions. The Soviet Union was only formed in 1922. And Socialism was not yet seen as uniquely Russia-centric phenomenon. Rather the transformation of parts of the Russian Empire into this new socialist entity was seen as a (welcomed or unwelcomed) success of these new socialist ideas.
    – wrod
    May 19, 2023 at 4:59
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    More suitable on H.SE politics.meta.stackexchange.com/questions/5836/… May 19, 2023 at 7:06
  • Popular might be too strong a word. Some campuses had some students who were left leaning. Although just a story, The Way We Were, was written by Arthur Laurents "based on his college days at Cornell University and his experiences with the House Un-American Activities Committee".
    – Fred
    May 20, 2023 at 9:20

1 Answer 1


The First Red Scare in the U.S. was a period of time lasting from about 1918-1920 in which news of the Russian Revolution led to increased fear of similar communist revolution occurring in the United States and an increased rise of government raids on organizations believed to be planning such a revolution, which had a chilling effect on radical leftist speech of the time.

As such, if it was popular among college campuses at the time, it was not openly discussed out of fear of retaliation. Given that historically the U.S. has never embraced socialism/communism and that U.S. foreign policy was actively supporting anti-Bolshivic forces in Russia, it was likely not to have caught a firm hold in America at any level in the 1920s. While there were socialist organizations in the U.S. as early as 1848, the popularity of such organizations was never high enough to reach widespread numbers.

  • Some citations would help this answer. Also, US foreign policy and public perception are not necessarily too well aligned; staunch support for Israel or Saudi Arabia have much support in Congress that among the general population.
    – Rekesoft
    May 22, 2023 at 8:26

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