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Tolerance and the Cold War

November 30, 2003

Tolerating dissent or a variety of ideas was not a part of Stalinist Russia, the fascist states or other dictatorships. Within Stalin's Soviet Union, hostility toward the Bolshevik Revolution or toward Stalin could result in permanent exile to a labor camp. In the United States during the Cold War there was more toleration but also some unnecessary intolerance. Expressing support for Communism might cost one his teaching position or loss of other kinds of employment. And in the United States a few Communists in leadership positions within the US Communist Party and one within the Socialist Workers (Trotskyist) Party were jailed.

The rationale behind Stalin's intolerance of ideas was the improvement of society – building socialism. The rationale in the United States was to protect the "American way of life." There were many in the US who wanted to see people locked up for their philosophy rather than for actually having committed political violence. A few Communist leaders who had never thrown a bomb or delivered stolen secrets to the Russians were sent to prison for awhile. They had not been planning a coup, but they were accused of under the Smith Act of advocating the violent overthrow of the government. These were people viewed by most Americans as odious, but persecuting them did nothing to prevent any coup attempt or win the Cold War. It was Communist thinking, moreover, that any attempted take over would come in response to a coup from Rightwing forces trying to prevent socialism through democratic means.

The Communist parties in France, Italy and some other European nations were much larger in absolute numbers and per capita than the US Communist Party, and these other countries allowed the leaders of their Communist Parties to function freely and allowed Party members to function without persecutions such as loss of employment. With this freedom there would be no Communist takeovers in France and Italy – unlike those states that had been occupied militarily by the Soviet Union.

Tolerance regarding ideas that one despises is not always easy. It exists in politically mature democracies – and the United States is one of the world's politically mature democracies. In the US some who were politically infantile made death threats that didn't help. Eventually what won the Cold War was an urge to freedom, not suppressions of freedom.

Copyright © 2005-2013 by Frank E. Smitha. All rights reserved.