Communism In Russia And "Cold War" With U.S.A

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The idea of socialism had been making the rounds in European intellectual circles when in 1948 Karl Marx published the Communist Manifesto. He believed to create an equal society it needed to be classless and stateless, and that to achieve this (and the liberation of the peasant class from the imprisonment of poverty) he theorised the government would need to control all means of production. Russia, a monarchy at the time, was ruled by Tzar Nicholas II who had fallen increasingly out of favour. After rampant poverty compounded by losses suffered during WWI, famine was a nationwide epidemic and in 1917 the ‘February Revolution’ broke out. The army, sent in to deal with protests, experienced defection as soldiers joined the workers.

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The military lost control, Tzar Nicholas abdicated (later to be assassinated with his family), and a provisional government took his place. Vladimir Lenin returned from exile as did Leon Trotsky, who is acknowledged as the engineer of the Bolshevik Revolution. A number of people rejected the government’s backing of WWI and joined with Lenin’s Bolshevik party who used this revolutionary momentum to overthrow the government and pull Russia out of WWI. Lenin’s slogans of ‘Bread, Land, Peace and All Power to the Soviets” hit home with the public but failed to achieve him the required votes and so he overruled the voting system and used his army to repress meetings of the democratic assembly. The Russian Civil War broke out, lasting from 1918-22. Lenin emerged victorious and the Soviet Union formed with Russia and 15 neighbouring states. Lenin’s Red Terror fear campaign weaponised famine. He deliberately underpaid peasants for their crops who in return stalled production leading to mass starvation. Anyone who opposed Lenin was deported to slave labour camps and hundreds of thousands faced execution.

At Lenin’s death in 1924 Joseph Stalin came into power and during the Great Terror of 1936-39 took things a step further; targeting fellow communists and ordering the deaths of nearly all of his Bolshevik comrades, Trotsky included. The famines and widespread starvation continued. After WWII the differences between capitalism and communism again came to the fore and one by one the surrounding countries fell to communism, some as a safeguard against a fascist revival, some seeking a reprieve from extreme poverty, others were liberated by the Red Army who simply never left.

Lacking a history of stable democracy Eastern Europe was fertile for the seeds of communism. The Warsaw Pact was a military treaty signed by Albania, Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, Romania, Poland, Hungary and Russia declaring they would come to each other’s aid and effectively setting up a border of communism referred to as the ‘iron curtain’. Yugoslavia also fell under communism, however the leader Josef ‘Tito’ Broz refused to be in alliance with the USSR. Later in 1961 the Berlin Wall was erected to keep people from fleeing communist East Germany.

The downfall of the Soviet Union can be traced back to pressures of the Cold War. Tensions between communism and democracy played out between the US and the USSR who competed in a nuclear arms race and the ‘space race’. The cost of this put a heavy burden on the Soviet economy. In 1985 new president Mikhail Gorbachev began working to improve US relations and in 1989 they mutually declared an end to the Cold War. This same year year the Berlin Wall was deconstructed and communist governments across Bulgaria, Romania and Czechoslovakia came to an end.

The USSR ceased to exist in 1991. Despite the crimes of the secret police across the Eastern Bloc during this time a number of the older generation who had been taken care of by the system (particularly in countries with a milder brand of communism) found themselves without access to proper healthcare or a pension after the fall of the regimes. Although many had been seeking freedom, it should be acknowledged that there do remain some people who are nostalgic for the old days.

10 October 2020

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