GCSE and IGCSE History Revision

American withdrawal from the Vietnam War

Operation Frequent Wind

Operation Frequent Wind

Lech Walesa

Explanation of the Gdańsk shipyard strike led by Lech Wałęsa

On the 14th August 1980, workers at the Lenin Shipyard in the Polish city of Gdańsk led by electrician Lech Wałęsa began a strike that led to the formation of the Solidarity labour movement.

A decade of economic and political crises preceded the 1980 strike, but the Gdańsk strike spread throughout Poland and galvanised various other strike committees to join together for a common goal.

The trigger for the strike was the firing of a popular worker at the shipyard, a female crane operator and activist called Anna Walentynowicz. Just 5 months before her planned retirement, she was sacked for being a member of an illegal trade union. This move proved highly unpopular with the shipyard workforce, who demanded that she be reinstated.

Just a week after beginning the strike a governmental commission began negotiations with the strikers and, on the 30th August, they and representatives of the Gdańsk workers signed an agreement in which many of the strikers’ demands were met. The fact that political change, including the resignation of the Polish Communist Party’s General Secretary, had come from the workers’ action emboldened the people of Poland and fuelled the formation of the national labour union Solidarity.

Within two years up to 80% of the entire Polish workforce had joined Solidarity or one of its suborganisations, and they continued to use strikes to achieve political change. In March 1981, the crippling effects of 12 million people going on a four-hour warning strike demonstrated that the Communist Party was no longer the most powerful force in the country.

Solidarity in Poland

Solidarity

Solidarity and the fall of communism in Poland

A detailed explanation of why Poland was the first country in which the communist government fell.  Includes an interview with former Polish president Lech Walesa.  Taken from Curriculum Bites.

Gorbachev

Collapse of communism in eastern Europe

This is the final revision episode (for now!) in the series examining the Cold War for GCSE and IGCSE students.  Focusing on the collapse of communism in eastern Europe it assesses the effect of the Solidarity movement in Poland, and the role of Gorbachev, in bringing about the end of Soviet dominance in the region.  The second part of the podcast goes on to explore the specific experiences of major eastern European countries in the lat 1980s and early 1990s.

The podcast begins with Poland, where massive popular opposition to the government led to the establishment of the Solidarity trade union in the Gdansk shipyards.  The rise of Solidarity is described, along with the subsequent government clampdown under the government of Jaruzelski.  The impact of Solidarity is considered.

The second section looks at the USSR under the leadership of Mikhail Gorbachev.  His two key policies of perestroika and glasnost are explained, and their impact of Soviet foreign policy is assessed.

In the final section of the podcast, I describe the process through which the states of eastern Europe freed themselves from communist rule.  The most popular exam questions on the collapse of communism focus on asking WHY a certain event contributed to the end of the system, or ask to what extent a particular event was responsible.  Remember that to answer any of these questions you need to support your reason with solid evidence, and explain exactly WHY it contributed to the collapse of communism.

     

Eastern Europe 1949-89

Losing Soviet control over eastern Europe

These three videos present the events that led to the end of communism in the Eastern Bloc.

PART 1 – Gorbachev, the attitude of Honecker, Hungary 1989, Poland 1989, Warsaw Pact Summit 1989, the economic and political situation in East Germany, the crossing of East Germans through Hungary

PART 2 – East Germany’s 40th anniversay demonstration, fall of Honecker, fall of the Berlin Wall, the Velvet Revolution in Czechoslovakia

PART 3 – Uprising in Romania leading to the end of Ceausescu

Gorbachev and Reagan

The relationship between the USA and the USSR in the 1980s

Gorbachev’s involvement in nuclear disarmament negotiations between the Soviet Union and the USA.  The USA’s plans to develop ‘Star Wars’ and the collapse of talks at the Reykjavik in 1986.  From Curriculum Bites.

Glasnost Perestroika

Glasnost and Perestroika

The differences between the two terms ‘Glasnost’ and ‘Perestroika’ and the effects of these policies, from Curriculum Bites.

Tear down this wall!

‘Tear down this wall!’ – the story behind Reagan’s message to Gorbachev

On 12 June 1987, US President Ronald Reagan made a speech in front of the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin in which he called on the USSR’s leader, Mikhail Gorbachev, to ‘Tear down this wall!’

Reagan was in Berlin to celebrate the city’s 750th anniversary, and was scheduled to make a speech in front of 20,000 people to mark the occasion. His presence in the city was not universally popular, however, and there are reports of up to 50,000 people taking to the streets the previous day in anti-Reagan protests.

Tensions were also running high in the American President’s administration. There was considerable disagreement over whether the phrase ‘tear down this wall’ should even be included in the speech. The National Security Council and the State Department were particularly concerned that such a direct challenge to the Soviet Union would increase tensions between the two countries, and could damage the positive relationship that Reagan had begun to forge with Gorbachev. The President’s deputy chief of staff, Kenneth Duberstein, later reported that Reagan said he would include the phrase because ‘it’s the right thing to do.’

The President began his speech at 2pm, protected by two panes of bulletproof glass that were erected to shield him from potential East German snipers. TASS, the Soviet press agency, remarked that the speech was ‘openly provocative…war-mongering.’

Despite the highly emotive atmosphere in front of the Brandenburg Gate on the day, Time magazine later claimed that the speech received ‘relatively little coverage from the media.’ Even John Kornblum, a senior US diplomat who was based in Berlin at the time, stated on the twentieth anniversary of the speech that it ‘wasn’t really elevated to its current status until 1989, after the wall came down.’