Monthly Archives: October 2013

What were the origins of the Cold War?

oenny head

The origins of the Cold War can be detected as early as the time of the Bolshevik Revolution in 1917 in Russia. The new political ideology was a complete contrast to the USA’s capitalism and certainly created a fear factor among many Americans. The Bolsheviks were following an ideology which guaranteed a socialist takeover of capitalism, this undoubtedly meant some form of tension was likely to emerge. The primary reason no real form of conflict occurred between the superpowers pre-WWII, except for the Russian Civil War, was because the US had adopted an isolationist approach to the world and the Communists had to work on modernising and solidifying their position in Russia. The focus of both of the superpowers back on Europe allowed the potential for tension to collide and thus led to many disagreements and issues post-war. The war’s importance in the origins of the Cold War was to act as a catalyst for negative encounters to happen.

With the climax of WWII came the ascension of a new world order. The globe had become bi-polar in terms of political power. The devastation of war had left Europe weak, both USA and USSR had proven themselves to be the ultimate powers of the future. The main themes for why the Cold War originated are simple, aggression from the USA, from the USSR and their mutual misconceptions and suspicions of one another. The superpower aggression exerted was often out of fear of the other one.

During war there were indications that hostility was close by, regarding the superpower relations. The whole premise of their alliance was based on a common enemy and after this enemy was no more, there was no realistic way in which the two could retain a close bond, since they were both so fundamentally opposed to one another. Stalin was particularly worried by the Allies slow attempts to open up a Western Front during the war. One potentially fatal decision regarding relationship was the USA’s use of the atomic bombs in Japan. Stalin was alienated by this because Truman had failed to inform the Soviets of this plan to use these weapons and Stalin no longer knew what the USA was capable of. This action by Truman arguably led to the arms race emerging.

Many developments post-war really cemented the initiation of a Cold War emerging between the two nations. The USSR were particularly swift in adopting the Eastern European nations under their influence. This was an aggressive measure to the USA as it showed active Soviet expansion and Stalin acting against the Allied agreement that the Soviets would allow democratic voting take place in each nation. Arguably the USSR however were moving defensively as they knew that the USA had Western Europe under their influence and wanted buffer states as a form of protection. The USA then introduced the Truman Doctrine, in 1947, arguably aggressive, to contain Communist expansion and later, in 1949, NATO was introduced and actively intended to intervene in communist expansion. Although this organisation was not officially aimed at the USSR, in reality it clearly was.

The issue of what to do with Germany caused several concerns for East and West relations. The Berlin Blockade, initiated after the Allies tried to enforce a new currency on Germany, was a clear display of tension and was only averted by clever judgement from the allies who occupied the rest of Germany. The US after this decided to station permanent troops in West Germany and this marked a real change in their attitudes and position towards post-war Europe.

The image above: Capitalist Europe on the Upswing (1947), represents how Europe was effectively having to kowtow to USA for the Americans to aid them in their post-war recovery. They were desperate, and the only options for assistance at that time were the USA and the Soviet Union. The USSR refused Marshall Aid for the countries it had in its sphere of influence in Eastern Europe, Western Europe however relied on the USA. This image may have been more correct at the time but the Marshall Plan undeniably saved many of the Western European nations from years of distress and economic difficulty. West Germany, for example, gained a lot from the plan and it was arguably a catalyst for their economic miracle, which occurred for over a decade.

Judt, Tony. 2006. Postwar A History of Europe since 1945 London Penguin Books.

Freeze, Gregory L., 2009. Russia A History. Oxford University Press.

The First Five Year Plan and Stalin’s move to Collectivise

smite the kulaks

The First Five Year Plan seemed to represent a time of increased repression as the Soviet leaders attempted to force through their transformation from capitalism to socialism, whilst desperately trying to modernise and catch up with the advanced Western world. The collectivisation process was an attempt to socialise agriculture in USSR as well as modernise and improve the efficiency of the farming. The people were to work on shared land, the poor peasants mostly gained from it and the rich peasants, the kulaks, mostly lost out. In theory, the people were becoming more equal, by force. Politically this made sense to the ethos of the Bolshevik party but it was arguably done at this time to help the industrialisation drive, to improve the economic position of the nation. There was noticeable move away in the Five Year Plan from the market based economy before, the NEP. The agricultural part of the USSR needed to be able to support the efforts the proletariats were making in the cities, especially in the heavy industries.

The social dynamic of the USSR in the 1930s was transforming. This was a stage of much repression, the changing of classes, and the elimination of kulaks. Class divides in the peasantry were in parts intensified, the rich peasants were angered by the removal of their prosperity to support poor peasants who arguably had not worked hard, or earned, their improved status. The idea behind the collectivisation drive in social terms was that the kulaks were acting as a counter power to the Soviets in the rural areas of the USSR and the collective farms would win over the support of the middle peasants. The appeal to this class was through mechanical equipment as well as coercive measures. Those who weren’t particularly won over by these Soviet appeals were defined as kulaks, without having the credentials to really warrant the name. As with the industrialisation plan, the collectivisation also received intensified demands as it progressed. The original plan was to collective 20% of the arable land.

The ‘Smite the Kulak’ poster from 1930 shows how the Russian people, in particular the peasants, were being encouraged to oppose the kulaks and welcome collectivisation. The written message within the poster says ‘We will smite the kulak who agitates for reducing cultivated acreage.’ This suggests the Bolsheviks will enforce their will upon the kulaks to stop them from restricting the USSR’s agricultural capabilities. It claims the kulaks are the ones holding the nation back in this respect and must be stopped by the patriarchal Soviet powers. The kulaks certainly were the thorn in Stalin’s side during the collectivisation process, due to their unwillingness to lose their earned prosperity and status. He managed to deal with the problem, they were eliminated as a class and by 1933, 850000 to 900000 were imprisoned and sent to labour camps.


Freeze, Gregory L., Russia A History (Oxford University Press: Oxford 2009)