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COLD WAR: 1945-49 (6 of 8)

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Berlin Airlift and Stalin's losing Strategy

Stalin against Tito

In early 1948 the Soviet Union was stalled in its negotiations with Tito's Yugoslavia regarding a trade treaty. The Soviet Union postured, claiming that the Red Army had liberated Yugoslavia. Relations worsened. In March, Moscow withdrew its military and civilian advisers from Yugoslavia and accused the Yugoslavs of ideological perversions. The Yugoslavs rejected the charges and complained to the Soviet Union about its recruiting spies within Yugoslavia Communist Party, its military, police and its enterprises.

Berlin Airlift

Stalin had another irritant. In mid-June the Western powers issued a new currency in their zone, but not in their zone in the city of Berlin. The Soviet Union issued a new currency in their German zone, and on June 23 the West issued the new currency, the Deutschmark, also in Berlin. The Soviet Union retaliated that day by cutting the West's access by rail and road to Berlin. They offered to drop the blockade if the Deutschmark was withdrawn. The US and Britain stood firm and on June 26 they began what was called the Berlin Airlift. C-47 transport aircraft that day took off from bases in England and western Germany and landed in West Berlin – 32 flights carrying a total of 80 tons of provisions.

Stalin continued to posture that he couldn't be shoved around. On June 28 a special session of the Cominform was held in Romania that the Yugoslavs refused to attend. The Cominform expelled Yugoslavia and called on Yugoslav communists to overthrow their leader, Tito.

Despite what had been his previous talk of a coming war with the capitalist West and the need for unity in his bloc, Stalin did not want war. There was to be no shooting down of air transport planes flying into Berlin. Yugoslavia was an easier target, and in September the Soviet Union annulled its treaty with Yugoslavia. Stalin's faithful allies – the regimes in Hungary, Poland, Bulgaria, Romania and Czechoslovakia – followed suit.

The Berlin Airlift was on-going. By February 1949 the average daily delivery of goods by the US and Britain by airplane to West Berlin was 5,437 tons. In March it increased to 6,328 tons per day. In April this climbed to 7,845 tons per day. More tonnage of goods was being transported by air than had been delivered to West Berlin by truck, rail and barge prior to March 1948. note73

North Atlantic Treaty Organization

While the US and Britain were conducting their airlift they were considering a defense organization for Europe. US intelligence had no information telling them that the Soviet Union was preparing to march into Western Europe or even thinking about it, but there was belief that a defensive force should be established. On 4 April 1949 five nations joined together in a defensive alliance called the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). It was the first ever military alliance that the US had joined when there was no war. Membership soon increased to twelve: Belgium, Canada, Denmark, France, Iceland, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Britain and the United States. Parties to the treaty pledged their faith in "the purposes and principles" of the UN and their "desire to live in peace with all peoples and all governments." They pledged their determination "to safeguard the freedom, common heritage and civilization of their peoples, founded on the principles of democracy, individual liberty and the rule of law" and to "seek to promote stability and well-being in the North Atlantic area."

The official communist newspaper in the Soviet Union, Pravda, expressed a new concern. In place of a fear of a remilitarized and hostile Germany, a press campaign began that Western Germany would be a strategic military place from which US aggression might be launched. NATO was associated with US economic dominance, and the Soviet press accused the US of aiming at a hegemonic order and aggravating the divide between its bloc and the West.

The Berlin Airlift Negotiated

Stalin expressed a desire for peaceful resolution in a hint that he wanted a settlement of the crisis being played out in the Berlin Airlift. The United States began secret negotiations with the Russians: the Jessup-Malik negotiations. In May, the Soviet Union lifted its blockade and the Western powers lifted a counter blockade. Stalin had gained nothing with his blockade, but both sides claimed victory. An open meeting between the Soviets and the Western powers took place. The closing communiqué of this meeting acknowledged that no agreement had been reached on the economic and political unity of Germany, but it did describe Germany's occupation powers as duty bound to take necessary measures which would assure a normal functioning of traffic and other communications to and from Berlin.

The Western Powers still had no written access rights to Berlin, other than the air corridor agreements of 1946-47. Berlin as a city half under communist control and half under Western control would continue as a problem, but the zones occupied by the Western powers, including those in Berlin, now became the German Federal Republic, a federation of German states also known as West Germany. Parliamentary elections were held in August 1949, and on September 15th the Federal Republic of Germany was officially declared. Theodor Heuss was elected first President of the Republic, and Konrad Adenauer was its chancellor.

West Germany and East Germany

In West Germany, the Americans had been gaining respect. Adenauer was openly associating himself with the United States and many Germans viewed their country's future as aligned with the United States. There was still the view that people who had abandoned Germany during World War II, such as Willy Brandt, had been traitors, but admiration for fascism was dying a natural death. Leftists in West Germany were blaming wars on capitalism, and some of Germany's Social Democrats wanted more central planning, but what was coming to the fore in West Germany was a belief that the best way to recover from the war was to let the economy run freely.

Business confidence had been rising in West Germany and other countries that had accepted the Marshall Plan business confidence had been rising. Between 1947 and 1949 these countries enjoyed a 25 percent rise in total output of goods and services. Agriculture was also improving, and agriculture was being revolutionized with the arrival of tractors and fertilizers from the United States. And in Inflation was being brought under control – except in France. The average European still could not buy a refrigerator, automobile, canned foods, washbasins or sinks, but goods were beginning to reappear in shop windows and life was becoming brighter. This was happening also in West Germany. Restrictions by the occupation forces were no more. West Germany had a skilled labor force and a new currency, the Deutschmark. It was the beginning of what would be described with exaggeration as an economic miracle.

Stalin's reaction to the creation of West Germany was the creation of a rival German government in the Soviet zone of occupation. The Soviet Union tried to make the regime in East Germany look democratic by creating a coalition government consisting of members of the Social Democratic Party and others who had opposed Hitler. But few Social Democrats in the Soviet sector were interested in joining such a government. So it was done in Stalinist fashion. Orders came down from Moscow compelling Social Democrats to join the government. Those Social Democrats who resisted mysteriously disappeared. Some others were sent to Buchenwald – a concentration camp in the Soviet zone that had been converted to Soviet uses. And some were sent to Siberia. The forced integration between the Communist Party and the Social Democrats in the Soviet zone produced what was called the Socialist Unity Party (Sozialistische Einheitspartei Deutschlands) – a party subservient to Moscow. The Soviet zone, on October 7, 1949, became the German Democratic Republic (GDR), or East Germany, with East Berlin as its capital. All this coercion was creating only a shaky stability for East Germany. In reality, the coercion was a demonstration of political weakness. Hearts and minds were providing the real political strength. It was political strength that Stalin was after, and within East Germany was support for the regime, from hardline party members to ordinary housewives who looked with hope to a system based on anti-capitalism, anti-fascism and government planning for "the people." But a hearts-and-minds advantage was accruing to West Germany.

More Purges and an Atom Bomb

In 1949, Stalin conducted another of his purges of Communist Party officials within the Soviet Union – the purged officials numbering more than one thousand. The Stalinist approach was also applied in Hungary and elsewhere in what some were calling Stalin's satellites. In Hungary, high ranking Communists, Laszlo Rajk and Tibor Szonyi were expelled from the Party accused of being "spies and Trotskyist agents of foreign and imperialist powers." Rokosi has seen Rajk as a rival and as insufficiently Stalinist. Trials of alleged Tito followers were held in Albania and in Bulgaria, where some party members favored cooperation with Tito. A lot of executions took place. Rajk's trial concluded on September 24. Four days later the Soviet Union abrogated its April 1945 treaty with Yugoslavia. Language used by communists was appearing as ridiculous as ever. Representatives of member nations of the Cominform met in late November, and the organization attempted to justify its Stalinism by employing the strongest invective it could. It declared that Yugoslavia had moved from bougeois nationsilsm to fascism.

Stalinism applied for the sake of security and power against the capitalist West would in the long run be a losing game. Success would require allies, and Stalinist methods were bringing discredit to Stalin's cause and would continue to cost him allies on the left side of the political philosophy spectrum.

Meanwhile the Soviet Union had been trying to add to its security by working on an atomic bomb, and on 29 August 1949 it successfully tested a bomb in a remote part of Kazakhstan.

Sources

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