Ideological differences Stalin vs Truman During the Second World War, the usa and the ussr

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Causes of the Cold War Review

Ideological differences - Stalin vs Truman

During the Second World War, the USA and the USSR had co-operated because they needed each other to defeat Hitler. President Roosevelt of America had got on well with Joseph Stalin of Russia. However, Roosevelt died in 1945. He was replaced by Truman who was strongly anti-Communist and, as the war came to an end, the relationship between America and Russia fell apart.

By 1948, a Cold War had developed - a war without fighting. After 1949, it had to be a war without fighting because both superpowers had the atomic bomb, and a war with nuclear arms would destroy the Earth

In 1945, Harry S Truman became president of the USA, determined to confront Communism. He is reported to have told his advisers:  

"The Russians only understand one language - how many armies have you got? I'm tired of babying the Soviets."

But this was not the only cause of trouble. Historians believed that the wartime alliance between the Soviet Union and America was also wrecked by the huge differences between the two countries in:  

  • Politics - America was capitalist, Russia was communist.

  • Lifestyle - America had freedom and a two-party democracy; Russia had secret police and a one-party state.

  • Aims - America wanted Germany to recover as a trading partner; Russia wanted to weaken Germany and create a buffer zone of friendly states around Russia.

The collapse of the wartime alliance led to a Cold War between the two superpowers.  



1. The richest country in the world.

1. The biggest country in the world.

2. A democracy with free elections, led by an elected president.

2. A one-party state led by a dictator. There were elections, but you could only vote for the Communist Party.

3. Freedom of speech and belief.

3. State control: censorship, secret police, terror and purges.

4. Capitalism - private ownership and the right to make money.

4. Communism - state ownership of the means of production, and the belief that wealth should be shared.

5. Led by Truman, who believed that Communism was evil.

5. Led by Stalin, who believed that capitalism was evil.

6. Had the atomic bomb - but was scared of Russia's conventional army.

6. Had the biggest army in the world - but was angry that Truman had not warned that he was going to drop the atomic bomb.

7. Feared the spread of communism throughout the world.

7. Was angry because America and Britain had invaded Russia in 1918-19 to try to destroy communism.

8. Angry about the Nazi-Soviet Pact that was a major factor in starting the Second World War.

8. Believed that America and Britain had delayed opening the second front (attacking France) to let Germany and Russia destroy each other on the eastern front.

9. Wanted reconstruction - to make Germany a prosperous democracy and a trading partner.

9. Wanted to wreck Germany, take huge reparations for the damage done during the war, and set up a buffer of friendly states around Russia to prevent another invasion in the future.

Yalta and Potsdam

The Yalta and Potsdam conferences were called to help the Allies decide what would happen to Europe, and in particular Germany, at the end of the Second World War.

Yalta - February 1945: Germany was not yet defeated, so, although there were tensions about Poland, the big three - Stalin, Roosevelt and Churchill - managed to agree to split Germany into four zones of occupation, and to allow free elections in Eastern European countries. Russia was invited to join the United Nations, and Russia promised to join the war against Japan when Germany was defeated.  

Potsdam - July 1945: Germany had been defeated, Roosevelt had died and Churchill had lost the 1945 election - so there were open disagreements. Truman came away angry about the size of reparations and the fact that a communist government was being set up in Poland. Truman did not tell Stalin that he had the atomic bomb.

It will help if you are able to describe the huge differences between Yalta and Potsdam - the issues were the same, but the goodwill to overcome them was gone, because the countries no longer needed to stick together. Note how not all the broken promises were by Stalin:  



Churchill, Roosevelt and Stalin

Attlee, Truman and Stalin

Germany to be split into four zones.

Arguments about the details of the boundaries between the zones.

Germany will pay reparations.

Disagreements about the amount of reparations Russia wanted to take. It was agreed that Russia could take whatever it wanted from the Soviet zone, and 10 per cent of the industrial equipment of the western zones, but Britain and the US thought this was too much.

A government of 'national unity' to be set up in Poland, comprising both communists and non-communists.

Truman was angry because Stalin had arrested the non-communist leaders of Poland.

Free elections in the countries of eastern Europe. This part of the agreement was called the Declaration of Liberated Europe.

America and Britain were alarmed because communists were coming to power in the countries of Eastern Europe.

Russia would help against Japan when Germany was defeated.

Truman dropped the atomic bomb so that Japan would surrender before Russian troops could go into Japan. America had the bomb in July 1945, but Truman did not tell Stalin about it. When he saw how he had been tricked, Stalin was furious.

To help you remember these points, you could draw up a table of How Relations Deteriorated in 1945, using the words in bold.  


deteriorated over  


- four zones

deteriorated over

- details of the boundaries


deteriorated over



deteriorated over



deteriorated over



deteriorated over



deteriorated over



deteriorated over


Soviet expansion in Eastern Europe

What was Churchill talking about when he mentioned an "Iron Curtain!" in his speech at Fulton, Missouri in 1946?

The Iron Curtain

Twenty million Russians died during the Second World War, so Stalin said he wanted a buffer zone of friendly states around Russia to make sure that Russia could never be invaded again.  

Stalin was planning the takeover of Eastern Europe. During the war, Communists from the occupied countries of Eastern Europe escaped to Moscow and set up Communist governments in exile there. As the Red Army drove the Nazis back, it occupied large areas of Eastern Europe and Churchill in the so-called percentages agreement - agreed that Eastern Europe could be a Soviet "sphere of influence".  

In the countries that the Red Army "liberated", communist-dominated governments took power. The Communists made sure that they controlled the army, set up a secret police force, and began to arrest their opponents. Non-Communists were gradually beaten, murdered, executed and terrified out of power. By 1949, all the governments of Eastern Europe, except Yugoslavia, were hard line Stalinist regimes.  

In 1946, in a speech at Fulton in the USA, Churchill declared that an Iron Curtain had come down across Europe, and that Soviet power was growing and had to be stopped. Stalin called Churchill's speech a "declaration of war". In 1947, Stalin set up Comintern - an alliance of Communist countries designed to make sure they obeyed Soviet rule.

It will help if you are able to describe some details of the Soviet takeover of power:  






The Communists immediately took power.



In the 1945 elections, a Communist-led coalition was elected, but the Communists executed the non-Communists.

East Germany


East Germany was the Soviet zone of Germany. In 1949, they set up a Communist-controlled state called the German Democratic Republic.



In the 1945 elections, a Communist-led coalition was elected to power. The Communists gradually took over and in 1947 they abolished the monarchy.



Stalin had promised to set up a joint Communist/non-Communist government at Yalta, but then he invited 16 non-Communist leaders to Moscow and arrested them. Thousands of non-Communists were arrested, and the Communists won the 1947 election.



The non-communists won the 1945 elections with Zoltan Tildy as president. However, the Communists' leader, Rakosi, took control of the secret police (the AVO), and executed and arrested his opponents. Tildy was forced to resign and Cardinal Mindzenty, head of the Catholic Church, was imprisoned. By 1948, Rakosi had complete control of Hungary.



A coalition government was set up and led by the non-Communist Benes. However, the Communists' leader Gottwald made sure they controlled the radio, the army and the police. Gottwald became prime minister and set up a secret police force. Non-Communists were arrested. In 1948, Communist workers went on strike, the non-Communist minister Masaryk committed suicide and Gottwald took over the government.

1. Non-Communists were arrested in Poland, Hungary and Czechoslovakia.

2. The Communists used radio in Czechoslovakia.
3. The Communists joined a coalition government at first, but plotted to take over Bulgaria, Romania, Poland and Czechoslovakia.
4. Non-Communists were executed in Bulgaria and Hungary.
5. The Communists used the secret police to gain power in Hungary and Czechoslovakia.
6. Communists won power in an election in Poland.
7. The Catholic Church was attacked in Hungary.

Truman Doctrine and Marshall Plan

In 1947, two important events occured:
1. President Truman warned the American Congress that it was America's job to contain communism - this became known as the Truman Doctrine.
2. General George Marshall came up with a plan to help Europe recover from the war using American money - this became known as the Marshall Plan.

By 1947, Greece was one of the few countries in Eastern Europe that hadn't turned communist. The Communist rebels in Greece were prevented from taking over by the British Army.  

America was becoming increasingly alarmed by the growth of Soviet power. So, when the British told Truman they could no longer afford to keep their soldiers in Greece, Truman stepped in to take over. In March 1947, he told the American Congress it was America's job to stop communism growing any stronger. This was called the Truman Doctrine. It is often said that Truman advocated containment (stopping the Soviet getting any more powerful), but Truman did not use this word and many Americans spoke of "rolling back" communism.  

In June 1947, General George Marshall made a visit to Europe to see what was needed. He came away thinking Europe was so poor that the whole of Europe was about to turn Communist. Marshall and Truman asked Congress for $17 billion to fund the European Recovery Programme nicknamed the Marshall Plan - to get the economy of Europe going again. Congress at first hesitated, but agreed in March 1948 when Czechoslovakia turned Communist. The aid was given in the form of food, grants to buy equipment, improvements to transport systems, and everything "from medicine to mules". Most (70 per cent) of the money was used to buy commodities from US suppliers: $3.5 billion was spent on raw materials; $3.2 billion on food, feed and fertilizer; $1.9 billion on machinery and vehicles; and $1.6 billion on fuel.  

Stalin forbade the Cominform countries to apply for Marshall Aid.

Who was to blame?

Historians have changed their views about who was to blame for the Cold War over the years:  

Soviet historians  

  • They blamed the United States.

The Traditionalists  

  • All western writers before the 1970s, and many since, blamed the Cold War on the Soviet Union and its "attempt to impose its ideology on the rest of the world".

The Revisionists  

  • In 1959 the historian William Appleman Williams was the first to suggest that America was to blame.

  • The Revisionists said America was engaged in a war to keep countries open to capitalism and American trade.

  • Revisionists said that Truman's use of the atomic bomb without telling Stalin was the start of the Cold War.

The Post-Revisionists  

  • John Lewis Gaddis first published this idea in 1972.

  • The post-revisionists argued that neither Russia or America was to blame, but that the Cold War was the result of misunderstandings on both sides, and the failure to appreciate each other's fears.

After the collapse of Communism  

  • Russian historians such as Zubok and Pleshakov have been able to study the Soviet Union's secret files for the first time.

  • These files show that Soviet leaders during the Cold War were genuinely trying to avoid conflict with the USA. This puts more of the blame back on America.

  • Modern historians stress the Cold War as a clash between capitalism and communism.

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