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Raymond Challinor

The Origins of the Cold War

(July 1970)

From International Socialism (1st series), No.44, July/August 1970, pp.30-35.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

An entire generation has grown up amid the Cold War, with the threat of nuclear holocaust ever-present. It therefore becomes highly apposite to ask two questions. How did it start? What were international relations like before it began? Some well-meaning people, believing that the ending of the Cold War has overriding importance, look back with nostalgia to the time when Britain, the United States and Russia lived in friendship with each other. They seek to end the Cold War without fundamentally altering existing political systems. They do not realise that the present international tension is the product of rival imperialisms, of state capitalism in Russia and monopoly capitalism in America. Rather these misguided people see the conflict in facile terms, as a consequence of misunderstandings, and believed that all would be well if these could be eliminated.

Of course, it is an illusion to believe that understanding necessarily leads to agreement. Indeed, this journal – International Socialism – is living proof of this fact. The more fully we understand the capitalist system, the more implacable our hostility becomes. But it is also equally wrong to regard the period of East-West friendship as some kind of bygone golden age; it was much more another kind of hell.

In his fine book, The Politics of War, Professor Kolko describes the cordial atmosphere that prevailed at the Yalta conference just 25 years ago:

The dinner meetings were often extremely cordial and personally friendly, so much so that Stalin and Churchill uttered effusive words equal to the occasions again and again, with Roosevelt making plainer, less eloquent homilies by virtue of his more limited oratorical talents, but also imbibing the atmosphere of goodwill. Churchill, who fought Bolshevism everywhere and had in prior weeks advocated the suppression of the Left by bullets and blood, could now talk of ‘Stalin’s life as most precious to the hopes and hearts of all of us,’ pledging ‘We shall not weaken in supporting your exertions.’ Stalin could reply in kind, even more expansively, toasting ‘In the history of diplomacy I know of no such close alliance of three Great Powers as this ... an alliance for lasting peace.’ ‘... the atmosphere at this dinner was as that of a family,’ like the relations between our countries, the less verbally agile Roosevelt could chime. [1]

The alliance between America, Britain and Russia rested on shared objectives. The Axis threatened their vital economic and political interests. Consequently, they all had a common concern to defeat it. Moreover, once the Axis was vanquished, they could enjoy the spoils of victory – in other words, their unity was based on the cohesive power of impending plunder.

Allied statesmen were singularly uninhibited about expressing themselves in terms of power politics. Churchill described the Big Three as a ‘very exclusive club’, where the entrance fee was ‘at least five million soldiers or the equivalent’. Stalin appears not to have uttered the remark so often attributed to him – ‘The pope? How many divisions has he got?’ – but he nevertheless believed that military might should be the supreme political arbiter. At the second Yalta plenum session, he said France’s views should be disregarded since she ‘had only eight divisions in the war’. Despite mounting democratic platitudes, Roosevelt likewise concurred with the opinion that the powerful few should dictate to the rest of the world. He declared ‘that the peace should be written by the three powers represented at this table’. To which Churchill added: ‘The eagle should permit the small birds to sing and care not wherefore they sang.’

Capitalist politicians often talk about defending the smaller nations from attack. It gives an idealistic tinge to their sordid dealings. Britain’s declaration of war against Germany in 1939 was ostensibly because of Hitler’s invasion of Poland. In fact, the underlying reason was to protect the extensive investments of British businessmen in the Balkans, wealth that was becoming more and more vulnerable as a result of Germany’s Dracht nach Osten [1*] – the drive to the East. Likewise today, NATO politicians suddenly feel obliged to refer the importance of the independence of small countries when Russia violates them, such as the suppression of the Hungarian uprising in 1956 and the military occupation of Czechoslovakia in 1968. What nauseating hypocrisy this all is was exposed in the ‘peace’ negotiations: the Big Three did not spare a thought for the right of peoples to self-determination and national independence.

In the Thieves’ Kitchen

Something of the contempt with which small nations were treated can be gathered from Churchill’s own account of how he reached agreement with Stalin, at Moscow in October 1944, about the Balkans:

The moment was apt for business, so I said, ‘Let us settle about our affairs in the Balkans. Your armies are in Roumania and Bulgaria. We have interests, missions and agents there. Don’t let us get at cross-purposes in small ways. So far as Britain and Russia are concerned, how would it do for you to have 90 per cent predominance in Roumania, for us to have 90 per cent of the say in Greece, and go 50-50 about Yugoslavia?’ While this was being translated, I wrote on a half-sheet of paper:






The others





Great Britain

















The others



I pushed this across to Stalin, who had by then heard the translation. There was a slight pause. Then he took his blue pencil and made a large tick upon it, and passed it back to us. It was all settled in no more time than it takes to set down ...

After this there was a long silence. The pencilled paper lay on the centre of the table. At length I said, ‘Might it not be thought rather cynical if it seemed we had disposed of these issues, so fateful to millions of people, in such an offhand manner? Let us burn the paper.’ ‘No, you keep it,’ said Stalin. [2]

In the disregard they showed for human life and values, the Big Three displayed a barbaric depravity reminiscent of the worst of the Roman emperors. For example, at the Teheran conference in 1944, Stalin, whose path to power in Russia had been along a trail of blood, moved a toast to the death of at least 50,000 German officers. Roosevelt thought this an excellent idea. But Churchill refused to drink, saying ‘Great Britain could never admit the killing of prisoners of war’. This led to a slight quarrel. [3] However, no such disagreement arose at the Yalta conference:

The President said that he had been very much struck by the extent of German destruction in the Crimea and therefore he was more bloodthirsty in regard to the Germans than he had been a year ago. And he hoped that Marshal Stalin would again propose a toast to the execution of 50,000 officers of the German army.

Marshal Stalin replied that everyone was more bloodthirsty thaiv they had been a year ago ... He said the Germans were savages and seemed to hate with a sadistic haired the creative work of human beings.

The President agreed with this. [4]

Then the Big Three drank their ghoulish toast. Later, Roosevelt’s chief adviser, Harry Hopkins, admitted to Stalin ‘he looked forward to what for him would be a pleasant spectacle, the present state of Berlin and he might even be able to find Hitler’s body.’ [5]

In such a frame of mind, Allied leaders could contemplate mass murder of both soldiers and civilians with equanimity. This was clearly revealed when they came to discuss the fate of Silesia and East Prussia at the fourth Yalta plenary session. Stalin said there would be no problem since the Germans fled from those regions before the oncoming Red Army. Churchill then replied that this was only a partial solution since they had simply fled into the heartland of Germany and would have to be handled there.

’We have killed six or seven million,’ Churchill continued, ‘and probably will kill another million before the end of the war.’

’One or two?’ asked Stalin.

’Oh, I am not proposing any limitation on them,’ replied Churchill.

The Allied statesmen watched the collapse of Germany like vultures, ready to grab any tender morsels. Stalin wanted to take German factories to be re-assembled in Russia. He also wanted millions of German workers used as force labour in Russia. This method of re-building the battered economy of USSR neatly fitted in with the interests of British capitalism: Churchill made it plain that, while Russia grabbed German factories and workers, Britain would be free to snatch Germany’s export markets. So the alliance rested upon a confluence of exploitive interests.

Behind this lay an even greater kinship of interests: the desire to crush revolutionary forces that were emerging in every country as the war drew to a close. The Big Three were conscious that the Old Order was very vulnerable. In Germany the capitalist class – particularly the big capitalists like Krupps, IG Farben and Thyssen – had supported fascism financially and in every other way. In other European countries under German occupation, the ruling classes had reached a detente with Hitler. They discovered that it was not only prudent but profitable to support the Nazis war effort. This meant they had become politically discredited, completely alienated from the rest of the population. At the same time, the majority of the people in these countries wanted to see new societies built after the war, not reconstruction along the old lines. What made things even more dangerous, many of them were not merely left-wingers but also armed and disciplined members of resistance movements.

In these circumstances, the Big Three found the restoration of bourgeois society a difficult, delicate operation. For, with greater justification than when Marx first uttered it in 1848, it could be said, ‘A spectre is haunting Europe – it is the spectre of communism.’ Fortunately for the various ruling classes, capitalism found its saviour in Joseph Stalin – a man who already possessed great experience at exterminating Bolsheviks.

It is interesting to compare Stalin’s role with that of Lenin after the First World War. While Stalin praised the decisions taken at Yalta, Lenin attacked those of Versailles:

We see a monstrous intensification of oppression. We see a reversion to colonial and military oppression far worse than that which existed before. The Versailles Treaty has put Germany and a number of other vanquished countries in conditions in which economic existence is materially impossible, in conditions of utter lack of rights and degradation. [6]

Lenin denounced ‘the thieves’ kitchen’ in 1919; Stalin was one of the main thieves in 1945. Differences did not end there. Lenin was deeply imbued with the spirit of socialist internationalism whereas Stalin had nationalist prejudices. Frequently, in his speeches, Stalin would utter racialist remarks, such as ‘the Germans are savages’ or the Poles are ‘quarrelsome’. It is obvious he did not believe that, as the Communist Manifesto said, workers have no fatherland. Such sentiments were alien to Stalin, who pressed the claims of the Kremlin bureaucracy for fresh territory in Tsarist terms. He wanted slices of northern China because, he told Roosevelt, they belonged to Russia before the Russo-Japanese war of 1904. He introduced his own draft of the agreement at Yalta on February 8, 1945, with the following reactionary preamble: ‘The former rights of Russia violated by the treacherous attack of Japan in 1904 should be restored, viz. ...’ He went on to justify the grabbing of the Manchurian railway with the argument that ‘the tsars had use of the line.’ [7] Stalin’s inspiration came from the Romanov dynasty rather than from revolution.

Lenin made it clear his attitude was totally different:

My task, the task of a representative of the revolutionary proletariat, is to prepare the world proletarian revolution as the only salvation from the horrors of world war. I have to reason not from the point of view of ‘my’ country ... but from the point of view of my participation in preparing, preaching and hastening the world proletarian revolution. (Emphasis in original – RC) [8]

This policy of Lenin was the exact opposite of Stalin’s policy in 1945, and the reason for this must be sought in Russia’s internal regime. By a series of measures in the twenties and thirties, the Kremlin bureaucracy had installed itself as the ruling class of a state capitalist society. If, at the end of the Second World War revolution broke out in any part of Europe, it might easily spread and endanger the Stalinist regime in Russia. Therefore, the Kremlin had a vested interest in trying to maintain the status quo. A further advantage that might arise for Stalin from such a policy: by playing a counter-revolutionary role – in other words, helping the United States and Britain to make capitalism secure in Europe – he was likely to endear himself to them. In turn, America and Britain might reciprocate and show their goodwill by letting the Russian rulers plunder defeated Germany even more viciously.

Holding Off Revolution

In the grand design of the Kremlin, its obedient servants – the CPS in the various countries – had a vital part to play. As Professor Kolko rightly remarks, ‘the Communists throughout Europe inhibited decisive action by the local leftists, giving the Old Order a breathing spell.’ [9] He continues by saying: ‘If the Russians had not given the West a respite, in fact Washington may have realised its worst fears everywhere in 1945. For only Russian conservatism stood between the Old Order and the revolution.’ [10] Professor Kolko proves this thesis with a wealth of factual material, which makes his book extremely valuable. Let me cite some of it:

In 1943, Marshal Badoglio, the fascist general who had led Mussolini’s invasion of Abysinnia, is placed head of the provisional government in that part of the country occupied by Allied troops. Both Badoglio and the king, Victor Emmanuel, ‘were universally regarded as remnants of the equally widely hated fascist order’. (p.46) Yet, the Russian government recognised this regime and called upon the Italian people to support a coalition government under Badoglio’s leadership. (p.52) The Italian CP obeyed this instruction, and Badoglio praised Togliatti as ‘the most effective collaborator’. (p.54) This co-operation was given despite the fact that ‘many anti-fascists were still in prison’ (p.56) and that Badoglio’s government ‘strongly opposed any serious dismissal of the fascists’. (p.57) Liberals like Sforza ‘and the Socialists under Pietro Nenni were consistently more troublesome than the Communist party. For one thing, they were not under Moscow discipline, which was now a moderating factor.’ (p.55)

The large and influential French CP ‘helped to disarm the Resistance, revive a moribund economy, and create sufficient stability to give the Old Order a crucial breathing spell – and later took much pride in its accomplishment’. (p.95) ‘The unity of the nation, Thorez never tired of reiterating, was a categorical imperative.’ (p.95) CPers joined a coalition government under De Gaulle’s leadership. As a minister, Thorez ‘banned strikes, demanded more labour from the workers, and endorsed the dissolution of the FFI’. (p.95) He even urged ‘miners to send their wives and daughters into the pits to increase production’. [2*] (p.444) ‘De Gaulle appreciated Thorez.’ (p.94) Foreign Minister George Bidault assured the Americans he was ‘the best of the lot’. (p.94)

On colonialism the French CPers ‘stance was for all practical purposes one of “Progressive Empire” and at no time did they advocate immediate colonial independence’, (p.442) ‘During mid-1945 the Communists severely condemned the first post-war stirring of the independence movement against French control in Algeria as “fascist” uprisings.’ (p.443) CPers were in the government that sent troops to Indo-China to restore French colonial rule and fight against Ho Chi Minh.

Professor Kolko does not deal with the British Communist Party, which has always been small and insignificant. Nevertheless, it is interesting to examine its role. In industry, communists led the speed-up campaign, broke strikes and called for the victimisation of militants. The CP supported Conservative candidates in parliamentary bye-elections. [11] Not merely the Trotskyists but also socialists like James Maxton, MP, and Fenner (now Lord) Brockway were described as ‘Hitler’s agents’ and Trotskyists. [12] A CP pamphlet recommended: ‘Expose every Trotskyist you come into contact with. Show other people where his ideas are leading. Treat him as you would treat an open Nazi.’ In other words, this was a clear incitement to use violence against the Left. At the same time, the Communist Party displayed affection towards the Right. In his history of the CP, Professor Pelling tells how, as the 1945 general election approached, the party called for a peace-time coalition government:

(Pollitt said that)
there should be a ‘new National Government’ which should include ‘representatives of all parties supporting the decisions of the Crimea Conference’. Believing that Winston Churchill, with all the prestige of an architect of victory, would be invincible at the polls, the party favoured the maintenance of the coalition at the end of the war – or, as Dutt put it, ‘the firm united stand of the majority supporters of Crimea in all the principal parties’ ... Unfortunately for the Communists, the Labour Party leaders were in no mood for a coalition, having decided, with a shrewder sense of political realities, that they stood a good chance of winning an election as an independent force. [13]

The CPs policy at the 1945 general election had strange repercussions the following year, when the party applied for affiliation to the Labour Party. At the 1946 Labour conference, Herbert Morrison, speaking for the national executive, advised delegates to reject the resolution. With delightful irony, Morrison showed that the Labour Party’s line had, at the general election, been far to the left of the Communists, who had advocated a ‘policy which was inconsistent with the principles either of Karl Marx, the doctrines of class consciousness, or the doctrines of class struggle’. He continued: ‘Behind this policy for the General Election there was, first of all, a belief that Labour could not get a clear parliamentary majority. That was defeatism, just before the election began.’ Morrison castigated them for advocating ‘a policy of full co-operation with capitalism and a complete desertion of socialist principles ... They are not a Party of the Left as far as I can see.’ [14]

That a Labour leader like Morrison, an extreme right-winger, could adopt a political position to the left of the Communist Party merely indicates how right-wing the CP happened to be. The same situation prevailed throughout the world: wherever possible, the CPS attempted to direct popular forces into channels that were harmless to the ruling class. But to this general pattern, there appears to have been three kinds of deviation:

The Exceptions

First, where the Communist Parties entirely owed their power and influence to their own exertions and were therefore in a position where they could disregard the conservative Moscow line (e.g., in Yugoslavia). Second, where the Communist Party was too small and the Resistance Movement too large for the CP to control it (e.g., in Greece). Third, where the society was in such an advanced state of degeneration that it was in practice impossible for the Communist Party to maintain the status quo (e.g., in China).

Let us analyse these three situations in turn.

(1) After the German invasion of Yugoslavia in 1941, a three-sided conflict developed. There were the Chetnik guerrillas, led by Mihailovic, who wanted to restore the reactionary monarchy. Then there were the partisans, led by Tito, only about 5 per cent of whose membership were initially communists. These two resistance movements became openly hostile to each other – indeed, probably fought more among themselves than with the German invader – because Mihailovic realised that, if Tito’s partisans gained large popular support, they would constitute a serious (and armed) threat to the restoration of King Peter’s monarchical despotism. Tito and his comrades also represented a long-term threat to the Russian bureaucracy since their growing popularity came from appealing to Pan-Slav nationalism, federal principles and national equality, ideas which were at variance with the Kremlin’s desire to extend its influence throughout the Balkans.

The Russian leaders showed their displeasure with Tito’s partisans. They recognised King Peter as the rightful ruler of Yugoslavia. They refused to read Tito’s proclamations over Moscow radio. They even sent a Russian military mission in 1943 and military aid to Mihailovic.

‘It was during this period that a telegram Stalin received from the Partisans which began, “If you cannot send us assistance, then at least do not hamper us”, profoundly shaped his impression of Tito. Georgi Dimitrov, the leading Bulgarian communist, reported that Stalin “stamped with rage”.’ [15]

Nevertheless, despite Stalin’s disapproval, the Yugoslav partisans succeeded, largely by their own efforts, in expelling German troops from their country. This achievement, which was accomplished at immense personal cost, was nothing less than miraculous: it is not generally known that the Yugoslav partisans kept more German and Italian divisions engaged than the Allies did in North Africa nor that they killed 477,000 German and Italian soldiers and took 559,434 prisoner. [16]

After making such tremendous sacrifices, the Yugoslav partisans were in no mood to accept orders from Moscow. They were not prepared to see the Humpty-Dumpty-like figure of King Peter re-installed in his Belgrade palace again. Stalin’s orders were disobeyed.

(2) In Greece, too, the resistance movement already had considerable power before British troops arrived. The National Liberation Front (EAM), a coalition of six political parties, had created the People’s Liberation Army (ELAS) in 1942 to combine the armed and political struggle. Professor Kolko gives some idea of their success:

By liberation the EAMS labour organisation controlled the entire working class, and it helped lead strikes in occupied territories throughout the war; the EAM itself administered two-thirds to four-fifths of Greece and claimed one and a half million members out of a total population only five times that figure – a claim, even if exaggerated, that probably was not far from the unknown truth. [17]

Professor Kolko continues:

Of all the groups in the EAM, the Communists were the most willing to submerge social objectives to the needs of a United Front and the only group willing to explicitly designate Greece, as early as 1943, as part of the general British sphere of influence after the war. [18]

But the Greek Communist Party (KKE) had only a small membership and were unable to direct EAM in the way they wished. For the Greek people had good reason to hate British capitalism and fight against it again dominating their economy. Thraldom to Britain began early in the 19th century. By the end of the War of Independence in 1821, Greece owed British bankers £5m, though she had only borrowed one-third of that amount. Between 1825 and 1898 Greek governments borrowed £140 million from London banks, although she only received a small fraction of that figure. By 1945 all loans had been paid for sevenfold (interest, carrying charges, etc), but still none of the principle had been paid off. By 1935, Greece was setting aside one-third of her total income for servicing these loans. Even during the depression of the thirties, British bankers compelled Greece to pay interest in gold in spite of the fact that Britain itself was off the gold standard. A neo-colonial situation accompanied this economic domination, as Hal Draper, an American socialist, described:

‘The money that the Greek government did receive from the loans went largely into maintaining an army and navy, which served as a British adjunct. The poverty-stricken people of Greece were the slaveys and bondsmen of British capital.’ [19]

In 1945, Britain was as determined to re-assert its control as the Greek people were to prevent this happening. Sixty thousand British troops, under General Scobie, fought with ELAS to re-establish the Old Order. When ELAS laid down their weapons, savage repression ensued:

There was casual terror of random assassinations and beatings, the systematic repression by security committee and court-martial that simply arrested EAM supporters and detained them without trial. The government tightly controlled trade unions, and charged former EAM underground government tax collectors with robbery and looting ... When the British Parliamentary Legal Mission visited Greece at the end of the year they reported that with a very minimum of 50,000 prisoners. [20]

The British authorities used Royalists and fascists in their reign of terror. As Professor Kolko points out, Stalin remained loyal to British capitalism: ‘No one heard a word of reproach of British policy in Greece from the Soviet Union throughout this bloody period and Churchill appreciated it’. When, in January 1945, Churchill tried to justify the Allies armed intervention in Greece, he told Parliament that British troops were there to prevent a situation ‘in which all forms of Government would have been swept away, and naked, triumphant Trotskyism installed. I think Trotskyism is a better definition of Greek Communism and certain other sects than the normal word. It has the advantage of being equally hated in Russia ‘. [21]

Churchill used the term ‘Trotskyist’ very loosely to denote organisations that

  1. were not amenable to Moscow’s control and
  2. threatened British interests.

He displayed the same inexactitude over ‘Bolshevism’, as Kolko shows: ‘When the Russians did send a mission to Tito, Churchill relates, they discouraged the introduction of Bolshevism in Yugoslavia.’ [22]

(3) The corruption and chaos in China in 1945 beggars description. Perhaps the venality of Chiang Kai-Shek and his Kuomintang warlords is best shown by a few facts:

Henry Morgenthau, Secretary to the us Treasury, described Chiang Kai-Shek’s clique as ‘just a bunch of crooks’. General Stilwell, an American adviser in China, shared this view; as did his successor Wedemeyer. [24] Despite such criticism and the tremendous cost, the United States was determined to back Chiang Kai-Shek to the utmost. It did this, first, because it saw that China was potentially a good market for us exports once the war had ended. Secondly, because the lavish aid made Chiang’s clique a stooge government, which would do whatever USA ordered. The United States bought for itself an extra vote in the ‘peace’ negotiations.

The Kremlin rulers, simply concerned with their interests as a ruling class, were prepared to support Chiang Kai-Shek irrespective of the consequences for Mao Tse-tung. This had clearly been shown in an earlier period, when Japanese victories over Chiang threatened the balance of power in the Far East and thereby endangered the interests of the Russian state:

By the end of 1939, they (i.e., the Russians) supported the Kuomintang government against the Japanese and therefore against the Communists, for the arms Russia sent to Chiang would also be used against Mao’s forces. As the rest of the world hesitated for fear of alienating Japan, Russia sent Chiang weapons. In the last two months of 1939 almost two-thirds of the arms shipped to Chiang through Rangoon were of Russian origin ... Russia gave Chiang’s governments vast credits, amounting to well over 50 million dollars by mid-1940 ... [25]

Subsequently, Stalin was equally accommodating with the Americans. He assured them that he wished to see a strong China united under Chiang’s leadership. He ridiculed Mao and his followers, explaining to an American diplomat, ‘The Chinese communists are not real communists – they are “margarine” communists.’ [26] At the same time, Stalin wrote to Mao, urging them to ‘unite with, be included in and under the National Government in China’. [27] Mao attempted to comply with Stalin’s policy and opened unity negotiations with Chiang Kai-Shek. But such a course of action proved to be impossible: Chiang did not want co-operation but capitulation. Thus Mao and his followers were perforce compelled to fight – compelled to fight a regime which was so riddled with corruption it was unable to fight. Nemesis for Chiang – the complete downfall of the Kuomintang on the Chinese mainland – came by 1949.

In all three types of situation instanced above – in Yugoslavia, Greece and China – the internal dynamics, the push of forces beyond Stalin’s control, resulted in developments that the Kremlin bureaucracy did not want or encourage. It was only with the outbreak of the Cold War, when the Russian leaders wished to cause inconvenience to Western capitalism, that a switch of policy occurred. Only then did Stalin offer verbal (although not armed) support for the resistance in Greece and for Mao’s campaign in China, or show some gratitude to Tito. These changes in policy were an effect of the Cold War rather than one of its causes.

Myth and Reality

The view that Russia in 1945 was hell-bent on world domination, and used the various Communist Parties as tools towards this end, is a myth that has been peddled in Western countries to justify re-armament. The truth is that Russia emerged from the Second World War m an extremely battered state, quite incapable of fighting a further global conflict. She had borne the brunt of struggle: for most of the war Russia was fighting 70 to 75 per cent of the German army; Britain, America and the other allies fought the rest. [28] Consequently, Russian casualties were colossal, as Isaac Deutscher relates:

When, after the war, the first population census was carried out in the Soviet Union, it turned out that in the age groups that were older than 18 years at the end of the war, that is, in the whole adult population of the Soviet Union, there were only 31 million men compared with 53 million women. For many, many years only old men, cripples, children and women tilled the fields in the Russian countryside. Old women had to clear, with bare hands, the immense masses of rubble from their destroyed cities and towns. And this nation which had lost 20 million men in dead alone – and only think how many of the 31 million men that were left alive were the cripples and invalids and the wounded of the world war and how many were the old-aged – this nation with so tremendous, so huge a loss, this nation was supposed to threaten Europe with invasion! [29] (Emphasis in original)

However much they might whip up hysteria to deceive the masses, the overwhelming majority of Western politicians knew there was never the remotest chance of a Russian attack. Even the notorious John Foster Dulles admitted in one of his franker moments:

So far as it is humanly possible to judge, the Soviet Government, under conditions now prevailing, does not contemplate the use of war as an instrument of its national policy. I do not know any responsible official, military or civilian, in this Government or any Government who believes that the Soviet Government now plans by open military aggression. [30] (Emphasis added)

As one has to dismiss the charge against Russia, it is tempting to see the United States as entirely responsible for the Cold War. This explanation, which is frequently advanced by crers and fellow-travellers, has the virtue of simplicity. But such a uni-causal explanation, while containing an important element of truth, in my opinion does not lead to a full understanding of the highly complex international relationships that created the Cold War. There was a basic and fundamental incompatibility of America’s and Russia’s views of how the post-war world should develop.

The United States envisaged an international liberalisation. It wanted free trade and the right of business to invest anywhere in the world without let or hindrance. As the us State Department explained in 1944, ‘This doctrine in its pure form would provide that the capital and enterprise of all countries should have equal opportunity (even with the capital and enterprise of the country in whose territories the resources existed) to participate in the ownership and development of natural resources.’ [31] When the State Department talked of ‘equal opportunity’, it failed to add that some would be more equal than others. America, her economy expanded and strengthened by the war, would be very favourably placed compared to any other country.

Obviously, such a policy would give us capitalism hegemony over the world economy. A leading American statesman, Cordell Hull, openly recognised this fact when he said, ‘Leadership towards a new system of international relationships in trade and other economic affairs will devolve very largely upon the United States because of our great economic strength. We should assume this leadership, and the responsibility that goes with it, primarily for reasons of pure national self-interest.’ [32] It was a responsibility that Henry Wallace, the us vice-president, gleefully accepted. ‘The American business man of tomorrow,’ he said, would understand that ‘the new frontier extends from Minneapolis ... all the way to Central Asia.’ [33]

But America’s grandiose plans for post-war expansion conflicted with Russia’s interests at three sensitive points. First, there was the question of defeated Germany. The Stalinist bureaucracy, wanting to re-build Russia’s ruined economy, favoured wholesale looting and plundering. The American politicians, on the other hand, recalled what happened to Germany after the First World War: stripping her of productive potential made it impossible for her to fulfil the reparation requirements of the Versailles Treaty. Indeed, the United States, with its Dawes and Young Plans, had to pump more money into Germany than it obtained from Germany. Obviously, the us government did not want to see history repeat itself. It also had another reason for objecting to the Russian policy: the growth and stability of European capitalism would be impossible without an economically viable Germany. All this meant that America’s plans for long-term exploitation were not reconcilable with Russia’s for short-term exploitation.

But the Stalinist bureaucracy’s thirst for capital, the urgency of its need to accumulate, threw it into conflict with the United States in a second way. It proceeded to rifle Eastern Europe in a fashion that was reminiscent of the worst excesses of British imperialism in India and, in the course of its plundering, showed little concern for who happened to be the legal owner of the property they seized. Let me exemplify this point by taking the typical case of Rumania. In his book, Stalin’s Satellites in Europe, Y. Gluckstein wrote:

The most important machinery of the Ploesti Oil Refineries was dismantled by the Russian military authorities, and the Rumanians also had to hand over a fifth of the machinery of the textile and metallurgical industries ... It has been estimated that in fact Rumania, from the armistice to June 1, 1948, paid the USSR $1,785 million in goods, etc; a figure which would represent 84 per cent of Rumania’s national income for that period. [34]

As this vicious and inhuman policy of the Stalinist bureaucracy stripped Rumania of anything of value, the plight of the Rumanian people became appalling, as the Manchester Guardian described:

the peasants are moving away in gangs in search of food, meanwhile eating grass and acorns and even chewing clay-bearing soil to assuage their hunger. They have slaughtered their cattle or bartered it for grain and have even, it is said, consumed seed corn although the authorities soaked it in oil before distributing it. [35]

The American and British governments were not worried about the tremendous sufferings of the Rumanian people; their concern was simply limited to the fate of their investments. For only 15 to 20 per cent of the capital of Rumanian industry was owned by Rumanians; the rest belonged to foreigners, mainly British, French and American capitalists. [36] So the Russian attack on Rumanian property was, by proxy, an attack on Anglo-American interests. This was resented by Western capitalists not only when it occurred in Rumania but also as it happened elsewhere in Eastern Europe.

It was not merely that they lost large investments in the Balkans, but also that Americans were made to understand, by Russian conduct there, that the Stalinists’ method of exploitation was diametrically opposed to their own. Their modus operandi – relying upon the state to extract the maximum surplus value – was incompatible with the American method of relying upon giant corporations to extend us influence. Indeed, Russian state regulation, extending into and dominating East Europe, effectively roped this entire area off from the liberalisation of trade and investment which were an essential part of American postwar plans. Thus, a third source of conflict arose.

The Cold War should not be seen as a gigantic misunderstanding. Nor was it caused by the evil designs of any particular country or politician. But it developed because the imperialist interests of America and Russia did not coincide. Professor Kolko’s book, in a magnificent fashion, gives a wealth of factual detail on the origins of the Cold War. Unfortunately, he does not possess the theoretical knowledge to underpin his argument to prove this point.


1*. The German phrase is actully “Drang nach Osten”. – Note by ETOL.

2*. Fortunately, at that time, it appears that Lord Shaftesbury was alive and well and living in Paris! Despite Thorez’s pleas, French miners were not persuaded to permit female labour underground, conditions which in Britain were abolished in the 1840s.


1. Gabriel Kolko, The Politics of War, p.367.

2. Winston Churchill, Second World War, vol.vi, p.198.

3. J. Ciechanowski, Defeat in Victory, pp.292-3.

4. W. Bohlen’s account, cited by Hal Draper, Behind Yalta: The Truth about the War, in Labor Action, April 4, 1955.

5. R. Sherwood, Roosevelt and Hopkins, p.912.

6. V.I. Lenin, Selected Works, vol.x, p.182.

7. R. Sherwood, op. cit., p.866.

8. V.I. Lenin, Selected Works, vol.vii, p.177.

9. G. Kolko, op. cit., p.165.

10. Ibid.

11. If I may be permitted a personal footnote, I came into politics as a result of the Lancaster bye-election of October 1943. Communist Party members smashed an ILP election meeting and then went to offer their help to Brigadier-General MacLean, the Conservative candidate.

12. W. Wainwright’s pamphlet, Clear Out Hitler’s Agents, published by the Communist Party, August 1942. ‘A vote for Brockway is a vote for Hitler’ was used by the CP when Brockway stood as an ILP candidate at Cardiff in 1942, and at Lancaster the following year.

13. Henry Pelling, The British Communist Party, pp.130-1.

14. Report of the 45th annual conference of the Labour Party, Bournemouth, 1946, pp.170-1.

15. Vladimir Dedijer, Tito, p.232. Also Milovan Djilas, Conversations with Stalin.

16. Ygail Gluckstein, Stalin’s Satellites in Europe, p.238.

17. G. Kolko, op. cit., p.173.

18. Ibid.

19. Hal Draper’s article in Labor Action, April 4, 1955.

20. G. Kolko, op. cit., p.430. David Horowitz, in From Yalta to Vietnam, p.65, says that the Greek government spent half its budget on the army and police and only 6 per cent on reconstruction.

21. House of Commons debate, December 9, 1944.

22. G. Kolko, op. cit., p.153.

23. G. Kolko, op. cit., pp.209-213.

24. Ibid.

25. G. Kolko, op. cit., p.232.

26. Herbert Feis, China Tangle, p.140. Presumably Stalin was one of these discerning politicians who could tell the difference between butter and margarine.

27. Herbert Feis, op. cit., pp.271-273.

28. G. Kolko, op. cit., p.19.

29. I. Deutscher’s essay, Myths of the Cold War, published in Horowitz’s book, Revolution or Containment.

30. Cited D. Horowitz, From Yalta to Vietnam.

31. G. Kolko, op. cit., p.254.

32. G. Kolko, op. cit., p.253.

33. Ibid.

34. Y. Gluckstein, op. cit., p.59.

35. Manchester Guardian, March 5, 1947.

36. Royal Institute of International Affairs, South-Eastern Europe: A Political and Economic Survey, p.173.

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