The Cold War
A New History

Author: John Lewis Gaddis

The Penguin Press

According to Gaddis, Stalin believed that the "the disproportionate burden the Red Army had borne in defeating Hitler gave the U.S.S.R. a moral claim to substantial, perhaps even preponderant, influence in shaping the postwar settlement." Stalin, Gaddis writes, wanted "security for himself, his regime, his country, and his ideology, in precisely that order." Stalin wanted territorial concessions at the expense of Iran and Turkey, naval bases in the Mediterranean and to punish Germany through military occupation, property expropriations, reparations payments, and he was looking forward to transforming Germans ideologically. "All of Germany must be ours, that is, Soviet, communist," he commented in 1946. To achieve his objectives he wanted to maintain the goodwill of the British and United States. He wanted neither a cold nor hot war. Clinging to his Marxist perspective, he believed that another economic crisis would eventually arise among the capitalist powers and that it would produce conflict between capitalist powers. "The inevitability of wars between capitalist countries remains in force," he insisted, as late as 1952. This, he believed would bring more people to Marxist-Leninist socialism as an alternative. It would not be necessary to confront the Americans and British directly in order to advance his brand of socialism. He saw disgusted Europeans embracing communism as an alternative. Meanwhile he would continue speaking with hostility toward the capitalist West in order to keep the people of the Soviet Union loyal to his rule and way of looking at the world.

Despite the brutality that the Soviet Union inflicted upon the Germans at the end of the war, Stalin was under the illusion that  the regime he installed in his zone in Germany would win the hearts and minds of enough Germans that the whole of Germany would turn communist. Stalin had not expected the success of communist revolution in China. There is no evidence that Stalin had a long-term strategy in Asia, writes Gaddis, but Stalin was quick to see opportunities in Mao's success and to seek ways in which he might use the Chinese without doing irreparable damage to his relations with the West. Stalin proposed to Mao a "second front" against the capitalist west. Also Stalin gave a "green light" to Kim Il-sung to invade South Korea, and he encouraged Ho Chi Minh to intensify his offensive against the French in Indochina. This, of course, did not turn Mao or Ho Chi Minh into Stalin's puppets. Graddis writes of various powers during the Cold War as seeking support from either the United States or the Soviet Union for their own purposes rather than as puppets of either. 

Rather than the crisis for capitalism that Stalin expected, by the time of his death in 1953 a new age of prosperity had begun. Writes Gaddis:

World manufacturing output quadrupled between the early 1950s and early 1970s. Trade in manufactured products increased by a factor of ten. Food production rose faster than population growth. Consumer goods once considered luxuries – automobiles, refrigerators, telephones, radios, televisions, washing machines – became standard equipment.

Gaddis draws these economic observations from Britain's Marxist historian, Eric Hobsbawm, and Graddis writes: "Of course much of humanity remained poor," Hobsbawm acknowledged, "but in the old heartlands of industrial labor what meaning could the [communist} international's  'Arise, ye starvelings from your slumbers' have for workers who now expected to have their car and spend their annual paid vacation on the beaches of Spain?"

On the other hand, by 1971 the economies of the Soviet Union and its East European satellites were stagnating. By 1981 living standards in the Soviet Union had deteriorated to such an extent that life expectancy was declining. Opinion, as Stalin had hoped, was to decide the issue of capitalism versus his brand of socialism, but opinion worked against his brand of socialism – and against the Soviet Union itself. 

Copyright © 2008-2014 by Frank E. Smitha. All rights reserved.