How far do you agree with the view that the origins of the Cold War in 1945 and 1946 owed much to ideological differences and little to personalities and conflicting national interests? The Cold War marked a period of hostility between the superpowers; USA (and by extension, the West) and the Soviet Union. The hostility began after the Second World War, despite the supposed camaraderie between the two superpowers during the war as allies against Hitler and Fascism. Whether the schism between the superpowers was caused by their differing ideologies (capitalism versus communism) or a clash between national interests can be argued. I believe that the origins of the Cold War in 1945 and 1946 owed much to ideological differences as well as to personalities and conflicting national interests. Origins of the ideological differences between the superpowers stemmed from the ideas of Karl Marx which came into reality with the Bolshevik Revolution of October 1917.
The West responded by invading Russia in order to crush the Bolshevik Revolution. From 1918-1920 the Civil War broke out. The Bolshevik’s changed their names to Communists. The Communists won the war but their economy was left devastated. USA saw the communists as a threat to western capitalism; as a result the Soviet Union was barred from the League of Nations and regarded as a pariah state. This heightened the hostility between the USSR and the Western countries. The ideological differences between The West and USSR were divided economically and politically. Economically the West believed individuals should be able to compete with each other with minimal state interference. Whereas the USSR argued capitalism creates divisions between the rich and poor. Thus all businesses and farms should be owned by the state and goods would be disrupted equally. Politically the West supposedly believes in Liberal Democracy, whereas the USSR was a one-party state.
The idealism of President Wilson Woodrow and Franklin D. Roosevelt underpinned the view of USA. Whereas Marxist idealism and Stalinism underpinned the USSR’s view. USA struggled for a better world based on collective security, political self-determination and economic integration. On the other hand USSR struggled for a better world based on international socialism. Nonetheless peace, freedom, justice and plenty supposedly underpinned both countries views. USA aimed to achieve this by democracy/ Capitalism and international co-operation. USSR aimed to achieve its goals by spreading Soviet style Communism. In order to prevent the spread of Communism and protect Western Capitalism morals USA would stop at nothing.
Therefore it can be argued that the origins of the Cold War in 1956-1946 owed much to the conflicting ideological differences between the West and USSR. It can be argued that Winston Churchill aided to the cause of the Cold War because of his ideological differences with Stalin. His 1946 the ‘Iron Curtain’ speech certainly caused tension: it unveiled to the world Stalin’s increasing “Soviet sphere” and “increasing measure of control from Moscow”, strongly showing his disapproval of Stalin’s swooping over Eastern Europe and inferring his strongly anti-communist stance. While their relationship during the war could have been seen as constructive, ultimately Churchill’s anti-communist stance caused tension, inferring that ideological differences did have more input into the origins of the Cold War. Conversely, it can be debated that the origins of the Cold War 1945-1946 owed much to the clashing personalities and national interests of the countries. USA needed to establish markets and open doors to free trade. USA also had the desire to avoid another economic crisis of the magnitude of 1929.
President Truman and most of the post-war U.S administrations believed that ‘what’s good for America is good for the world’. USSR’s national interests varied. They needed to secure boarders and recover from the effects of WW2. The Soviet Union needed to regain strength as the ‘nursery of Communism’. Stalin believed that ‘what’s good for the USSR is good for workers of the world’. The leaders during 1945 created the grand alliance in order to defeat Fascism, regardless of their ideological differences. Franklin Roosevelt, for instance, was optimistic that he would still be able to work with Stalin after the war had ended, inferring a conciliatory and not necessarily biased nature against communism.
Regrettably, Roosevelt’s death in 1945 caused his vice-president, Harry Truman, to come in to office. Truman’s inexperience in foreign policy was reflected in his decision not to inform Stalin of the Manhattan Project. The atomic bomb was an incredibly destructive weapon; not revealing it to Stalin could infer that Truman intended to intimidate Stalin with it, doubtlessly increasing Stalin’s suspicion of America. Its use also ensured that Stalin had no part in the defeat of Japan. Stalin might have considered this a slight as Russia had historical tensions with Japan after the 1905 Russo-Japanese War, in which the Russians lost territory to their enemies.
As Truman had effectively stopped Stalin from enacting revenge on those who gave Russia an embarrassing defeat, it could be seen that Truman’s heavy handed foreign policy ideals caused the alienation of the Soviet Union, allowing the situation to plunge into one of mutual hostility, therefore contributing to the origins of the Cold War. Another major factor towards the conflicting national interests which contributed to the origins of the Cold War 1945-1946 was the question of Poland. The British had invested their interests in Poland’s freedom, as they had gone into the war to fight for its liberty from Germany, and the Polish government in exile was stationed in London. Conversely, Stalin had set up a Committee for National Liberation for the Polish in Moscow, framing a wish for communism as coming from the Polish people, as well as creating a new puppet government in Lublin, in the south east of the country. Poland was of significant importance to Stalin as the Polish corridor had been used to attack Russia twice in the previous thirty years; by having the country under his control, he could stop armies from making their way to the actual border of the USSR and attacking Moscow or Stalingrad, the latter of which suffered heavily from attack in the Second World War. Stalin’s biggest national priority was to protect the USSR from attack, and the buffer zone he intended to create (including Poland) was crucial for his plan.
The West saw this as a threat, as it appeared to be promoting the spread of communism. However from Stalin’s perspective he was trying to recoup the territory the USSR lost to Germany in both the treaty of Brest-Litovsk and the Nazi-Soviet Pact, and parts of the old empire that Russia had once. As Britain at the time still had most of its empire intact (India, the jewel in the British Empire’s crown, gained full independence a year later in 1947), Stalin could also be seen to regaining what was USSR’s previously. However USA’s national interests was not territorial; instead, it intended to help Europe rebuild itself. While this in itself seems innocent enough, its underlying motives potentially caused tensions which could have sparked the Cold War. Through aid supplied by the Marshall Plan, America aided Western nations which had previously been destroyed by the war to build their economies back up. The USA had not suffered the damage to its industrial districts that the Europeans had suffered during bombing; it therefore had goods to export, and needed a large, free market in which to sell those; which could only be gained through the spread of capitalism.
To a communist, this could be seen as an indirect attack on their ideology, and that this spreading of capitalism, though it promised freedom and liberty, could be inferred to make nations dependant on American goods and loans until their own economies recovered. Overall the core ideologies of the Western and Eastern powers formed the bases of the Cold War. National priorities such as the need for a free market to sell goods are often dictated by the ideology which the country supports. Therefore I believe that the origins of the Cold War 1945-1946 owed much to the ideological differences as well as to the clashing personalities and national interests.