assess stalins role in the collapse of wartime alliance

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the extent in which stalin was responsible for the collapse of the wartime alliances is a debate that historians continue to discuss today. the orthodox view is that stalin was primarily responsible, however, revisionist and post-revisionist historians from the 1970s onwards have challenged this view, placing responsibility alternatively on the us, and other factors.

Submitted: August 06, 2016

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Submitted: August 06, 2016



Assess Stalin’s role in the collapse of the Wartime Alliances: 


The extent in which Stalin was responsible for the collapse of the wartime alliances is a debate that historians continue to discuss today. The orthodox view is that Stalin was primarily responsible, however, revisionist and post-revisionist historians from the 1970s onwards have challenged this view, placing responsibility alternatively on the US, and other factors. 


Stalin’s responsibility in starting the collapse of the wartime alliances, and his responsibility in starting the Cold War is largely attributed to his expansionist foreign policy, which the West perceived as being aimed at spreading Communism throughout Europe and perhaps beyond. This posed a threat to the capitalist world as communism represented the political and economic antithesis of the capitalist way of life. This fear of communism originated from the success of the Bolshevik Revolution in 1917, many years before Stalin’s rise to power, however, throughout Stalin’s regime the West refused to believe that the USSR had abandoned its aim of world revolution, thus increasing mutual suspicion and tensions between the two sides. 


Indeed, many of Stalin’s foreign policies before, during and after the Second World War did give evidence to support the West’s suspicions. The Comintern, an organization to facilitate contact between communist groups around the world, encouraged communist groups to stir up unrest across Europe, and this served as tangible evidence for the West of the USSR’s continuing desire to spread revolution. Furthermore, the power vacuum left behind by the defeat of Nazi Germany gave Stalin the opportunity to spread communism throughout Eastern Europe. The geopolitical situation of Europe post-WWII, referred to by Churchill as the ‘Iron Curtain’, with most of Eastern Europe under the Soviet sphere of influence, played an extremely important role in confirming fears in the West of Soviet expansionism. The imposition of communist governments in Eastern European counties such as Czechoslovakia and the Berlin blockade in 1948-49 further reinforced these fears. The expansion of the Soviet sphere of influence into Eastern Europe led to the belief that the only way forward was containment, which became the basis of USA’s side of the Cold War.  


Another factor that contributed greatly to the West’s suspicion of the USSR was the Long Telegram of 1946, which perpetuated the concept of totalitarianism: the need of the Soviet government to present its people with a foreign threat which would mobilize the people and thus strengthen the government’s position. This telegram painted the unfavorable picture of a Soviet government that was framing the West in order to keep themselves in power, when they would otherwise have been very unpopular. The Long Telegram convinced those in the West that due to the totalitarian, oppressive nature of the USSR, aggressive and expansionist foreign policy was to be expected. Thus, Stalin’s foreign policy, which was perceived by the West as being aggressive and aimed at world revolution, served to seriously threaten the security of the capitalist world and thus increase tensions and conflict between the East and West.


However, one must also consider the context in Russia after the Second World War. Russia had suffered enormous human, material and economic losses during the Second World War, having borne the brunt of the fighting against Nazi Germany. In the first half of the 20th century alone, Russia had already been invaded three times. Furthermore, there was a well established suspicion of the West stemming from long term factors such as the Russian Civil War, and the foreign intervention of Western powers on the Whites’ side; Appeasement, and the fear that Western powers were allowing Hitler to advance on Russia; and during WWII at the delay in opening a second front, which confirmed Stalin’s suspicions that the Western powers wanted Hitler to weaken the USSR.  This can be supported by the fact that Stalin did little to support the communists in the Greek Civil War, and did not try to encourage communist parties in France and Italy; this neutrality in countries far from Russia’s borders suggests that Stalin prioritized the security of the USSR over world revolution. Thus, it can be argued that rather than trying to spread communism, Stalin was imposing USSR-friendly governments in Europe in order to ensure Soviet security and create a buffer zone against future invasions. Taking this into consideration, some responsibility can be lifted from Stalin, as this suggests that he did not deliberately set out to threaten the West. However, this does not mean that all responsibility can be lifted from Stalin; while he may not have been intentionally provocative, his foreign policy did nonetheless pose a threat to capitalism as stated previously, and thus still served to increase tensions between the two sides. 


On the other hand, the responsibility for the collapse of the wartime alliances cannot be placed solely on Stalin and the USSR. Revisionist historians argue that an important factor in the start and extension of the Cold War was the misunderstanding on USA’s part of Soviet foreign policy aims. Although Soviet foreign policy aims were possibly defensive in nature, as mentioned previously, historians such as William Appleman argue that the US government was too clouded by fears of world revolution to understand Stalin’s defensive aims. Furthermore, the US had seen no fighting on their soil during either of the World Wars, and so failed to understand the Soviet obsession with security, seeing Soviet expansion into Eastern Europe as acts of world revolution. 


Furthermore, revisionist historians also argue that some of USA’s responsibility for the start of the cold war can also be attributed to several US foreign policies that provoked the USSR. During the Second World War, the US contributed to rising tensions between the two sides firstly by delaying in opening up a second front, which raised Stalin’s suspicions that the Western powers wanted the Nazi army to destroy the USSR; and secondly by dropping the atomic bomb on Japan without consulting Stalin, which made Stalin suspicious that the lack of consultation was due to the fact that the US was planning to destroy Russia with the atomic bomb next. This is supported by historian Alperovitz, who argues that the use of atomic bombs in Japan was primarily aimed to demonstrate the US’s military dominance to the Soviet Union. After the Second World War, the USA headed the Marshall Plan, which provided financial aid to European countries ravaged with war. Although some historians argue that this was a genuine attempt to rebuild the European economy, other historians interpret Marshall aid as a method to combat economic devastation and thus combat communism. Like the expansion of the Soviet sphere of influence in Eastern Europe, these elements of US foreign policy served to increase tensions between the two sides by seriously threatening the safety of the USSR and strengthen Stalin’s suspicions that the West were aiming to destroy the USSR. 


The USA’s provocation of Stalin can also be largely attributed to Truman’s attitude towards the USSR and communism. Truman hated communism, which was reflected in his ‘Iron Fist’ approach towards dealing with the USSR. This approach can be seen in the way that he treated Soviet representatives such as Molotov and the consequential breakdown in the wartime alliance, for which Truman is at least partially responsible for. It can also be seen in the Truman Doctrine, in which the US announced that the US would support Greece and Turkey to stop them falling into the Soviet sphere, thus outright declaring their opposition to the USSR and thus provoking conflict between the two sides. Many historians have regarded this as the official start of the cold war; this would thus put considerable responsibility on the US, at least in the immediate term. Historians such as William A. Williams have criticized this hardline approach as being unnecessarily provocative towards the USSR, thus placing some responsibility on Truman for increasing tensions between the two sides. 


Overall, while Stalin’s foreign policy, defensive or not, played an extremely important role in heightening the fear of communism and tensions between the East and West, USA’s provocative foreign policies cannot be disregarded in creating mutual suspicion. Ultimately, as stated by historian John Gaddis: “neither side can bear sole responsibility for the onset of the Cold War. ” 






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