Explainer: Cold war

The Cold War was a long period of tension between a group of countries(US and its allies in Europe) that opposed communism and another group of countries(USSR and other communist nations) that opposed capitalism. One group was led by the United States and another group was led by the Soviet Union. These two countries are known as superpowers. Although the two superpowers never officially declared war on each other, they fought indirect wars, which means they were involved in wars fought between other countries. It is called “cold” because it was not an actual “shooting war” between the US and the USSR.

Communism:

Just think of a world where everyone has equal amounts of wealth. Everyone has equal amounts of land, equal-sized houses, the same government-issued cars,  the same government-issued cell phones, etc. Although people do different jobs, they all get paid the same. Since everyone is equal, there are no divison of society based on social and economic status. People do not need to fight because all materials are shared in common through the government. Everyone works according to their ability, and everyone receives equally.

Such kind of world is a communist society. In simple terms, communism is a society in which private property do not exist and the government owns all things necessary, people are equal and every citizen will have a job, home to live and wealth is distributed equally.


In a communist form of government, there is just little scope for you to have ambitions. Since there is equality for everyone, one cannot expect to do something out of the ordinary. You cannot think of Personal growth or development under this political system.

In communism, there is no free media, and the rulers or the government are present in every aspect of life and are very powerful. The government would intervene in almost everything, which suppress the freedom of the citizens.

Another setback of communism is the fact that businessman cannot expect to make more money than the others. The economy which is practiced by most communist countries ties the hands of business people. Consequently, it is hard to get rich in these countries.

Capitalism:

Capitalism is an economic system in which government plays a secondary role. Companies and people who owned the company make most of the decisions, and own most of the property. Goods are usually made by companies and sold for profit.

In capitalism, people may sell or lend their property, and other people may buy or borrow it. If one person wants to buy, and another person wants to sell to them, they do not need to get permission from higher power. Capitalism emphasizes that those who work the best and hardest should, in theory, earn more than those who don’t. It encourages entrepreneurship because people can set up easily their own business under this as compared to other economic system.

Communists who do not support capitalism says it hurts workers, because companies make more money by selling things but  pays less to  the workers who make the things. Business owners become rich while workers remain poor and exploited. They also argue that society would be more efficient if people thought less about competing against one another for their own interests and thought more of working together for the overall good of society.

Capitalism encourages individuals and groups to pursue wealth through innovative and entrepreneurial activities. While some achieve success in finding wealth, other struggle to gain employment and resources. Governments don’t guarantee employment in a capitalist economy like they typically do in a communism. Capitalist countries often see a portion of their population struggling with poverty.Biggest drawback of this system is that private companies become so big that they become almost monopoly in their field which leads to exploitation by them in terms of charging the price for product or service which they produce and influencing the government.

Origin of Russian Communism:

Although cold war started in 1947 at the end of the Second World War but the origins of the Cold War date back to 1917 when communist revolutionaries called the Bolsheviks seized power in Russia.

Russia was ruled by a powerful ruler called the Tsar. The Tsar had total power in Russia. He commanded the army, owned much of the land. During the period of time before the Russian Revolution, life for the working class people  was very difficult. They worked for little pay and were exposed to dangerous working conditions. The ruling class treated the working class people like slaves, giving them few rights under the law and treating them almost like animals.

Slowly, the  desire for revolution began to spread. The people of Russia first revolted in early 1917. The revolution began when a number of workers decided to strike.  They began to riot. The Tsar, Nicholas II, ordered the army to suppress the riot. However, many of the soldiers refused to fire on the Russian people and the army began to revolt against the Tsar. After a few days of riots, the army turned against the Tsar. The Tsar was forced to give up his throne and a new government took over. The government was run by two political parties: the Petrograd Soviet (representing the workers and soldiers) and the Provisional Government (the traditional government without the Tsar). Over the next several months the two sides ruled Russia. One of the main group of the Petrograd Soviet was a group called the Bolsheviks. They were led by Vladimir Lenin and believed that the new Russian government should be a communist government.

In October of 1917, Lenin took full control of the government in what is called the Bolshevik Revolution. Russia was now the first communist country in the world. The new government took control of all industry and moved the Russian economy from a rural one to an industrial one. It also seized farmland from landholders and distributed it among the peasants. Women were given equal rights to those of men and religion was banned from many aspects of society.

Formation of the Soviet Union:

Upon achieving victory, the Bolsheviks absorbed regions other than Russia. The Union of Soviet Socialist Republics(USSR) or Soviet Union, however, did not officially come into existence until December 1922 . In the Ukraine, the Bolsheviks allied themselves with a Ukrainian socialist party called the Borotbists, and took over the government. In Azerbaijan, Armenia, Georgia, and other regions huge Bolshevik armies simply advanced and conquered the country. Finally the USSR came into existence. The Russia was just one of the many ‘republics’ that composed the Soviet Union. Think of it this way: Russia was the most powerful and largest ‘republic’ within the Soviet Union.

The Soviet Union was a communist country. Communists believed that their ideology was superior to that of the democratic, capitalistic countries of the West. They believed that communism would eventually take over the world and they wanted to speed that process as much as they could.

America’s policy planners make plans to grow their wealth and control over the world economy. US corporations are important for the  US to control over the world wealth. Communism is the biggest threat to interests of US corporations. Communism could expand quickly and shut doors to US corporations.

Western capitalists were stricken with fear of communism spreading and taking root in countries like the United States. Politicians and capitalists were already working to suppress worker dissatisfaction and unionism in the US. They thought,if communism enters America , it would increase militant unionism. Unrest would lead to strikes, which would led to  public disorder and possibly political violence, such as riots and assassinations. By 1919 there was already some evidence of this militancy, with an outbreak of strikes by coal miners, steel workers and police in Boston.

However this fear died down by late 1920 but the United States was strongly opposed to communism. It felt that communism was economically inefficient and that it crushes people’s fundamental human rights. For these reasons, it wanted to prevent the spread of communism.

Start of Cold war:

The second World War broke out in 1939 and in 1941 Hitler’s Germany attacked USSR dragging it into the war. Stalin was the leader of Soviet Union at that time.

US entered the war in 1941 but in reality US was already helping the Allies(Great Britan,China,France,USSR etc) since 1939.

Allies won the second world war.

Everyone thought that as the USA and the USSR fought together during World War Two, their relationship after the war would be  friendly. This never happened and any appearance that these two powers were friendly during the war is illusory. Before the war, America had depicted the Soviet Union as almost a devil. The Soviet Union had depicted America likewise, so their ‘friendship’ during the war was simply the result of having a mutual enemy – Nazi Germany.

USA was now a superpower but it wasn’t alone, the war rapidly industrialized Soviet Union, it’s economy was now in direct competition with the Americans. An ideological differences which was already present since the 1920’s now developed into a full fledged rivalry. After World war two the USA and USSR were the only superpowers capable of maintaining political influence. Russia started spreading communism to rest of the world either directly or indirectly.

Truman Doctrine:

America wanted to stop the spread of communism. USA came with Truman policy to stop the spread of communism. This policy drive the US to aid any nation militarily as well as economically if its stability was threatened by USSR or communism. But this became a pain in the neck for both sides. Nations threatened to join the other side if they did not receive aid from one side.

Marshall Plan:

US also came up with Marshall plan.The Marshall Plan was an American initiative to aid Europe. The US wanted to remove trade barriers, rebuild war damaged regions, modernize industries and make Europe prosperous again. It was a counter to threats such of communists seizing power in Eastern Europe. The USSR was also offered aid under this program but they not only refused, they also blocked the aid to Eastern European countries.The twin policies of Truman Doctrine and Marshall Plan helped Europe very much.
This marks the beginning of the Cold War between the Soviet Union and United States of America.In short the cold war was like……..
USA would try dispose every pro-USSR government and then install a Pro-USA government, USSR would try to do the same to all pro-USA governments.

Countries, which supported capitalistic ideals and chose to ally with United States of America, were termed as First World countries.These countries are also called developed countries. For eg:- U.S.A., U.K., Germany, France etc.
Likewise, countries which had communistt ideals and chose to ally with Soviet Union during the cold war era were Second world countries.Second World Countries consisted of USSR and it’s allies.

When the world got divided in two blocs, there were some countries that chose to remain neutral. These countries formed a movement called Non Aligned Movement. This movement was spearheaded by India, Indonesia, Egypt, Ghana and Yugoslavia.

Although the two superpowers never officially declared war on each other, they fought indirect wars(proxy wars), which means they were involved in wars fought between other countries. These were wars fought between other countries, but with each side getting support from a different superpower. Examples of proxy wars include the Korean War, the Vietnam War, the Yom Kippur War, and the Soviet Afghanistan War. The United States and the Soviet Union also tried to fight the Cold War by demonstrating their power and technology. One example of this was the Arms Race where each side tried to have the best weapons and the most nuclear bombs. The idea was that a large accumulation of weapons would prevent the other side from ever attacking.

The Americans tried to portray the Soviets and other communists as having a cruel and dictatorial government which ignored human rights. Anti-communist sentiment influenced nearly all areas of life. Many Hollywood films and some cartoons, showing the Russians, as villans, eventually who will be defeated. There was a great supply of anti-communist literature being distributed in many locations, including pubs, churches, places of work and schools!. The US Government seized the opportunity to fund radio stations, which spread negative propaganda about communism.

The Soviets also used to portray the Americans and other Western capitalists as fat, greedy, money-worshiping businessmen who treated their workers as slaves.The media and press were mostly state-controlled and the government used it to publish their own propaganda.In schools, pupils were taught to be anti-American, and history was regularly rewritten to fit the official government view. Also, radio stations, and television channels showing propaganda, were funded. Many films were released portraying the West as imperialistic and expansionist.

The technological race between the USA and the Soviet Union wasn’t just on Earth. It also reached into space in what came to be known as the “Space Race”. Both sides competed against each other to explore inner space. The USSR started the Race by sending the first ever satellite, “Sputnik” into orbit. For the next half a century, both countries competed to be the first country to put a man in space or on the moon and to explore the planets.

The Cold War also gave rise to an unprecedented level of suspicion, mistrust and secrecy. The American and Soviet intelligence agencies, the CIA and KGB, increased their secret activities around the world, gathering information about enemy states. They also sponsored, supported and supplied underground movements, uprisings and conflicts, encouraging so-called ‘proxy wars’. Proxy wars include the Korean War, the Vietnam War, the Yom Kippur War, and the Soviet Afghanistan War. There were frequent accusations of spying. But the most important event of the Cold War came in 1962, with the discovery of Soviet-installed nuclear missiles in Cuba, not far from the United States coastline. Cuban missiles saw the superpowers move towards a war and possible nuclear exchange, before tensions were shortened by a secret deal. The intensity of the Cuban missile crisis soon gave way to a period of relative calm, between the mid-1960s and late-1970s.

Collapse of Soviet Union :

Soviet citizens had never enjoyed a standard of living comparable to people in the West – yet by the early 1980s it had deteriorated even further. Particular concern were shortages of food and consumer goods. The Soviet economy had always prioritized military and industrial production over the need for consumer goods.

Soviet Russia’s domestic economy became dull after years of military spending, shortfalls in natural resources, bureaucratic mismanagement and corruption. Russia’s rapid technological growth slowly reduced through the 1970s. By the 1980s, the USSR could not produce enough grain to feed its own population. Moscow relied on grain imports – including large amounts from Western countries, which proved embarrassing.

Mikhail Gorbachev was elected General Secretary of the Soviet Union in 1985. When he took over the Soviet Union economy was in bad shape and his idea was to reform the economy and modernize the political situation in the country.

Gorbachev allowed more freedom of speech and openness in government. Government officials would be held accountable to the people for their actions. This allowed people to protest and the media to report on issues for the first time. Many states used this new found freedom to express their desire for independence.

Gorbachev meant to restructure the Soviet economy to work more efficiently. He allowed some private ownership and released some of the tight control the government had on the economy.

With the new found freedom of Gorbachev’s reforms, some Soviet states began to rebel. The first states to demand their freedom were the Baltic states of Estonia, Lithuania, and Latvia

Soon more states wanted their independence including Armenia, Moldova, Ukraine, and Georgia. The central government of the Soviet Union began to feel the pressure of so many states wanting independence

With the communist government on the verge of collapse, Soviet hardliners decided to take action. In August of 1991 they kidnapped Gorbachev and announced to the world that he was too sick to govern. They would be taking over. When the Soviet citizens began to protest, the hardliners called in the military to shut them down. However, the soldiers refused to shoot and arrest their own people. Without the military to back them up, the takeover had failed. The Soviet Union Breaks Up On December 24, 1991. The Soviet Union was dissolved. At the same time Mikhail Gorbachev announced his resignation. The Soviet Union divided up into 15 separate independent countries including:

Armenia
Azerbaijan
Belarus
Estonia
Georgia
Kazakhstan
Kyrgyzstan
Latvia
Lithuania
Moldova
Russia
Tajikistan
Turkmenistan
Ukraine
Uzbekistan

Russia was considered the successor state of the Soviet Union. This meant that it kept the nuclear weapons and the Soviet Union’s seat on the Security Council of the United Nations. Many of the old Soviet Union states still have strong economic ties with each other. Some of the new countries have democratic governments while others are still under authoritarian rule.

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