|Russia Table of Contents
The end of the common cause again exposed the underlying hostility between the capitalist countries and the Soviet Union. And the favorable position in which the Soviet Union finished World War II rapidly made it the prime postwar threat to world peace in the eyes of Western policy makers. The so-called Cold War that emerged from that situation featured Soviet domination of all of Eastern Europe, the development of nuclear weapons by the Soviet Union, and dangerous conflicts and near-conflicts in several areas of the world.
Although the Soviet Union was victorious in World War II, its economy had been devastated in the struggle. Roughly a quarter of the country's capital resources had been destroyed, and industrial and agricultural output in 1945 fell far short of prewar levels. To help rebuild the country, the Soviet government obtained limited credits from Britain and Sweden but refused assistance proposed by the United States under the economic aid program known as the Marshall Plan (see Glossary). Instead, the Soviet Union compelled Soviet-occupied Eastern Europe to supply machinery and raw materials. Germany and former Nazi satellites (including Finland) made reparations to the Soviet Union. The Soviet people bore much of the cost of rebuilding because the reconstruction program emphasized heavy industry while neglecting agriculture and consumer goods. By the time of Stalin's death in 1953, steel production was twice its 1940 level, but the production of many consumer goods and foodstuffs was lower than it had been in the late 1920s.
During the postwar reconstruction period, Stalin tightened domestic controls, justifying the repression by playing up the threat of war with the West. Many repatriated Soviet citizens who had lived abroad during the war, whether as prisoners of war, forced laborers, or defectors, were executed or sent to prison camps. The limited freedoms granted in wartime to the church and to collective farmers were revoked. The party tightened its admission standards and purged many who had become party members during the war.
In 1946 Andrey Zhdanov, a close associate of Stalin, helped launch an ideological campaign designed to demonstrate the superiority of socialism over capitalism in all fields. This campaign, colloquially known as the Zhdanovshchina ("era of Zhdanov"), attacked writers, composers, economists, historians, and scientists whose work allegedly manifested Western influence. Although Zhdanov died in 1948, the cultural purge continued for several years afterward, stifling Soviet intellectual development. Another campaign, related to the Zhdanovshchina, lauded the real or purported achievements of past and present Russian inventors and scientists. In this intellectual climate, the genetic theories of biologist Trofim Lysenko, which were supposedly derived from Marxist principles but lacked a scientific foundation, were imposed upon Soviet science to the detriment of research and agricultural development. The anticosmopolitan trends of these years adversely affected Jewish cultural and scientific figures in particular. In general, a pronounced sense of Russian nationalism, as opposed to socialist consciousness, pervaded Soviet society.
Onset of the Cold War
Soon after World War II, the Soviet Union and its Western allies parted ways as mutual suspicions of the other's intentions and actions flourished. Eager to consolidate influence over a number of countries adjacent to the Soviet Union, Stalin pursued an aggressive policy of intervention in the domestic affairs of these states, provoking strong Western reaction. The United States worked to contain Soviet expansion in this period of international relations that came to be known as the Cold War.
Mindful of the numerous invasions of Russia and the Soviet Union from the West throughout history, Stalin sought to create a buffer zone of subservient East European countries, most of which the Red Army (known as the Soviet army after 1946) had occupied in the course of the war. Taking advantage of its military occupation of these countries, the Soviet Union actively assisted local communist parties in coming to power. By 1948 seven East European countries--Albania, Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Poland, Romania, and Yugoslavia--had communist governments. The Soviet Union initially maintained control behind the "Iron Curtain" (a phrase coined by Churchill in a 1946 speech) through the use of troops, security police, and the Soviet diplomatic service. Inequitable trade agreements with the East European countries permitted the Soviet Union access to valued resources.
Soviet actions in Eastern Europe generated hostility among the Western states toward their former ally, but they could do nothing to halt consolidation of Soviet authority in that region short of going to war. However, the United States and its allies had greater success in halting Soviet expansion in areas where Soviet influence was more tenuous. British and American diplomatic support for Iran forced the Soviet Union to withdraw its troops from the northeastern part of that country in 1946. Soviet efforts to acquire territory from Turkey and to establish a communist government in Greece were stymied when the United States extended military and economic support to those countries under the Truman Doctrine, a policy articulated by President Harry S. Truman in 1947. Later that year, the United States introduced the Marshall Plan for the economic recovery of other countries of Europe. The Soviet Union forbade the countries it dominated from taking part in the program, and the Marshall Plan contributed to a reduction of Soviet influence in the participating West European nations.
Tensions between the United States and the Soviet Union became especially strained over the issue of Germany. At the Potsdam Conference of July-August 1945, the Allied Powers confirmed their decision to divide Germany and the city of Berlin into zones of occupation (with the eastern sectors placed under Soviet administration) until such time as the Allies would permit Germany to establish a central government. Disagreements between the Soviet Union and the Western Allies soon arose over their respective occupation policies and the matter of reparations. In June 1948, the Soviet Union cut off the West's land access to the American, British, and French sectors of Berlin in retaliation for steps taken by the United States and Britain to unite Germany. Britain and the United States thereupon sponsored an airlift that kept the beleaguered sectors provisioned until the Soviet Union lifted the blockade in May 1949. Following the Berlin blockade, the Western Allies and the Soviet Union divided Germany into two countries, one oriented to the West, the other to the East. The crisis also provided the catalyst for the Western countries in 1949 to form the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO--see Glossary), a collective security system under which conventional armies and nuclear weapons would offset Soviet forces.
While the Soviet Union gained a new satellite nation in the German Democratic Republic (East Germany), it lost its influence in Yugoslavia. The local communists in Yugoslavia had come to power without Soviet assistance, and their leader, Josip Broz Tito, refused to subordinate the country to Stalin's control. Tito's defiance led the Communist Information Bureau (Cominform--founded in 1947 to assume some of the functions of the Comintern, which had been abolished in 1943) to expel the Yugoslav party from the international communist movement in 1948. To avert the rise of other independent leaders, Stalin purged many of the chief communists in other East European states.
In Asia the Chinese communists, headed by Mao Zedong and assisted by the Soviet Union, achieved victory over the Guomindang in 1949. Several months afterward, in 1950, China and the Soviet Union concluded a mutual defense treaty against Japan and the United States. Hard negotiations over concessions and aid between the two communist countries served as an indication that China, with its independent party and enormous population, would not become a Soviet satellite, although for a time Sino-Soviet relations appeared particularly close. Elsewhere in Asia, the Soviet Union pursued a vigorous policy of support for national liberation movements, especially in Malaya and Indochina, which were still colonies of Britain and France, respectively. Thinking that the West would not defend the Republic of Korea (South Korea), Stalin allowed or encouraged the Soviet-equipped forces of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (North Korea) to invade South Korea in 1950. But forces from the United States and other members of the United Nations came to the aid of South Korea, leading China to intervene militarily on behalf of North Korea, probably at Soviet instigation. Although the Soviet Union avoided direct participation in the conflict, the Korean War (1950-53) motivated the United States to strengthen its military capability and to conclude a peace treaty and security pact with Japan. Chinese participation in the war also strengthened China's independent position relative to the Soviet Union.
The Death of Stalin
In the early 1950s, Stalin, now an old man, apparently permitted his subordinates in the Politburo (enlarged and renamed the Presidium in October 1952) greater powers within their respective spheres. Also at the Nineteenth Party Congress, the name of the party was changed from the All-Union Communist Party (Bolshevik) to the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU--see Glossary). Indicative of the Soviet leader's waning strength was top aide Georgiy Malenkov's presentation of the political report to the congress in Stalin's stead. Although the general secretary took a smaller part in the day-to-day administration of party affairs, he maintained his animosity toward potential enemies. In January 1953, the party newspaper announced that a group of predominantly Jewish doctors had murdered high Soviet officials, including Zhdanov. Western historians speculate that the disclosure of this "doctors' plot" may have been a prelude to an intended purge directed against Malenkov, Molotov, and secret police chief Lavrenti Beria. When Stalin died in March 1953, under circumstances that remain unclear, his inner circle, which for years had lived in dread of their leader, secretly rejoiced.
During his quarter-century of dictatorial control, Stalin had overseen impressive development in the Soviet Union. From a comparatively backward agricultural society, the country had been transformed into a powerful industrial state. But in the course of that transformation, many millions of people had been killed, and Stalin's use of repressive controls had become an integral function of his regime. The extent to which Stalin's system would be maintained or altered would be a question of vital concern to Soviet leaders for years after his passing.
Source: U.S. Library of Congress