Tag Archives: Stalin

The origins of the Cold War

This podcast aims to look at three key areas – why the alliance between the USA and the USSR broke down in 1945, how Stalin take control of eastern Europe in 1945 and America’s reaction to it, and the consequences of the Berlin Blockade.

The podcast opens with a short explanation of the deteriorating relationship between the USA and the USSR through the Second World War.  It goes on to present an overview of the two major Allied conferences – Yalta and Potsdam – and outlines the key agreements and disagreements that emerged from them.

Opening with an extract from Churchill’s famous Iron Curtain speech, the second part of this episode explores the way in which Stalin extended Soviet control over eastern Europe to establish a ‘buffer zone’ of communist states around the USSR.  It then goes on to detail the USA’s response in terms of the Truman Doctrine and the Marshall Plan.  Examples are given of each.

The third section of the podcast focuses on the Berlin Blockade of 1948-9.  It begins with the background of the divided Germany after the Second World War.  An explanation is then given of how Berlin became further divided between the communist and non-communist zones leading to Stalin launching the Berlin Blockade.  The Allied ‘air lift’ is then described.

The episode finishes with some exam tips on how to answer a question about who was to blame for the Cold War in a balanced way.


Yalta Conference

Brief introduction to the Yalta Conference

On the 4th February 1945 the Yalta Conference began. Attended by the “Big Three” Allied leaders, the conference saw United States President Franklin D. Roosevelt, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill and Soviet Premier Joseph Stalin meet to discuss the government of post-war Europe.

Berlin Blockade

The end of the Berlin Blockade

This short podcast presents an overview of how and why Stalin chose to end the Berlin Blockade.

Khrushchev's Secret Speech

Khruschev’s criticism of Stalin in his ‘secret speech’

Shortly after midnight on the 25th February 1956, Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev delivered his ‘secret speech’, officially called “On the Cult of Personality and Its Consequences”, in a four hour “closed session” at the end of the 20th Party Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. Laying the foundation for his wide-reaching de-Stalinisation campaign, the speech was a vehement denunciation of Stalin’s abuses of power and his creation of a personality cult.

Khrushchev’s speech signalled a dramatic reversal of Soviet policy, which he said had come about due to Stalin’s misinterpretation or misrepresentation of Marxist-Leninist doctrine. The ‘secret speech’ allowed Khrushchev to distance himself from the worst crimes of the Stalin’s rule, even though he himself had been responsible for thousands of deaths during his rule.  Additionally, and of great significance for the West, Khrushchev also advocated a policy of “peaceful coexistence” rather than continue Stalin’s policy of preparing for an inevitable war.

Although the full details of the speech were only supposed to reach the public gradually, rumours of its contents spread quickly. Israeli intelligence officers finally obtained a full copy of the speech, and passed it to the United States government, who leaked it to the press at the start of June. Although Khrushchev had, by this point, begun to implement de-Stalinisation the printing of the speech in the New York Times on the 5th June dictated demands for a faster pace of change in Eastern Europe. Large-scale change was, however, still slow. Poland’s government granted some concessions in October, but the situation in Hungary ended very differently.

The causes and effects of the Nazi-Soviet Pact

On 23rd August 1939, Vyacheslav Molotov and Joachim von Ribbentrop – the Soviet foreign minister and the German foreign minister – signed the Treaty of Non-aggression between Germany and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, otherwise known as the Nazi-Soviet Pact.

Outwardly it was a guarantee that neither side would fight against the other in war, but a ‘secret protocol’ also outlined how Eastern Europe would be divided between the two countries. This agreement cleared the way for the Nazi invasion of Poland just nine days later.

Stalin’s Communist USSR distrusted Hitler’s Nazi Germany, knowing that ultimately Hitler intended to invade and annex Russia. Similarly, Britain distrusted Stalin due a fear of Communism. Although talks took place between Britain and Russia in early August 1939 regarding a possible alliance against Hitler, they were never taken seriously by the British government who sent their representative by a slow boat and gave him no authority to actually make any decisions.

Frustrated, Stalin’s government received Ribbentrop later that month. He proposed the Nazi-Soviet agreement which, in the face of continued British reluctance to form an alliance, was accepted. The Soviet government almost certainly knew that Hitler would break the non-aggression pact at some point and would invade Russia, but at least the pact delayed that and gave time to prepare.

The Nazi-Soviet Pact was broken less than two years after it was signed, when Nazi forces invaded the Soviet Union in Operation Barbarossa on the 22nd June 1941. All the territory gained by Russia under terms of the ‘secret protocol’ was lost in just a matter of weeks.

Lenin reading Pravda

The origins of Pravda, the official newspaper of Communist Russia

Pravda, the official newspaper of what became the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, was first published on 5 May 1912.

Prior to the foundation of the CPSU many revolutionary socialists belonged to the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party. It was the RSDLP that had originally split into Bolshevik (majority) and Menshevik (minority) factions in 1903.

An early version of Pravda appeared that year, although at the time it was a journal without political affiliation. Its editorial board gradually began to include active members of the RSDLP and, by 1909 when its headquarters moved to Vienna, the board was dominated by Bolsheviks under the editorship of Leon Trotsky.

The Central Committee of the RSDLP had first suggested making Pravda its official mouthpiece in 1910, but it wasn’t until the Mensheviks were expelled from the party in January 1912 that this happened. The Bolshevik leader Vladimir Lenin moved the paper to St Petersburg and the first edition was published on 5 May, the anniversary of Karl Marx’s birth.

The first edition of the newspaper consisted of just four pages, and focused on workers’ issues. As its circulation increased to as many as 60,000 copies by July 1914, Pravda was shut down by the tsarist government censors.

Despite this suppression, Pravda continued to be printed under a serious of pseudonyms. The newspaper formally reopened following the February Revolution of 1917 and by 15 March it was being co-edited by Joseph Stalin following his return from exile.

Pravda remained the official newspaper of the Soviet Communist Party until it was abolished in 1991. The newspaper continues to exist, albeit not as a daily publication.

Trotsky expelled from the Communist Party

Why was Trotsky expelled from the Communist Party in 1927?

Trotsky had been a key figure in the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917. He soon became one of the members of the first Politburo that was founded to manage the transition to a communist state, alongside the Bolshevik founder Vladimir Lenin, and the USSR’s future leader Joseph Stalin.


As Lenin’s health began to fail in the early 1920s, it initially appeared as though Trotsky would be his successor. Following Stalin’s alliance with Zinoviev and Kamenev in the troika, however, Trotsky soon found himself marginalised and he became the subject of rumours about his health and capability to serve in government.

Stalin subsequently emerged as the leader of the USSR following Lenin’s death in 1924. Trotsky’s Left Opposition faction was a vocal critic of many of Stalin’s policies but, with Trotsky himself being increasingly side-lined from government decisions, he was removed from his position as war commissar in 1925 and from the Politburo itself the following year.

Having organised a demonstration by the Left Opposition to celebrate the tenth anniversary of the Bolshevik Revolution, Trotsky was accused of fomenting and organising a counter revolution. He, along with his recent ally Zinoviev, was expelled from the Communist Party on 12 November 1927 while 98 of his supporters met the same fate a month later.

Trotsky was soon exiled to Alma Ata, a small town in Kazakhstan, but within a year had left the USSR completely. He never returned, eventually being granted asylum in Mexico where he was assassinated with an ice pick by an NKVD agent.

First Five-Year Plan

The USSR’s first Five-Year Plan

On the 1st October 1928, the Soviet Union introduced Joseph Stalin’s first five-year plan.

The plan set a series of economic goals to be achieved between 1929 and 1934, with the intention of rapidly industrialising the country in case of war with the West. Based on Stalin’s policy of Socialism in One Country, the five-year plan called for a complete change in the culture of the Soviet Union that affected agriculture just as much as industry.

A vital ingredient in being able to fulfil the industrial goals of the five-year plan was increasing agricultural productivity, since this would release peasants and farm labourers from the land and allow them to become industrial workers. The first five-year plan is therefore probably most famous for the introduction of the policy of collectivisation, where hundreds of peasants were put together to work on enormous farms that covered thousands of acres.

The dramatic increase in food output per peasant as a result of mechanisation on these farms freed up former agricultural workers to move to the new factories instead, with the number of industrial workers almost doubling between 1928 and the end of the plan in 1932. However, significant opposition to the process of collectivisation meant that overall productivity remained low in many areas and caused famines as Party officials seized food for the cities and left the agricultural workers with nothing.

In the factories, however, production soared. Although the targets were constantly revised to the point where the targets would never be achieved, the first five-year plan firmly set the USSR on the road to becoming a world superpower.

Industrialisation and the Five Year Plans