The Cold War as a self-fulfilling prophecy

After the Second World War, Stalin’s over-riding aims were peace and a buffer. Peace was to be attained by continuing the Grand Alliance with the UK and the USA, which would contain Germany from future aggression. The buffer against a potentially resurgent Germany was to be developed by encouraging the new democracies in eastern Europe that would be friendly to the Soviet Union. He calculated that the UK and USA would be quite amenable, given the social-democratic turns in those places and his urging of West-European communist parties to take it easy and assist with postwar reconstruction. He assumed that everyone would see the logic of having a buffer, just as they did in Western Europe.

The problem was that the other members of the Grand Alliance did not share Stalin’s assumptions and calculations. They saw the Soviet Union as a threat and with undue haste enlisted what would become West Germany as an ally (along with a goodly number of genuine Nazis). And that threat was regarded as immediate – if the Soviet Union didn’t collapse as a result of the massive war strain. They also assumed that Stalin was a conniving communist setting out the establish puppet states as a basis for world domination. It was, as Roberts points out, ‘a classic case of the self-fulfilling prophecy: the west’s overly defensive actions and reactions in response to a perceived threat provoked a counter-reaction in the form of a tightly controlled Soviet-communist bloc in Eastern Europe and a militant communist challenge in Western Europe – the very thing London and Washington had feared all along’ (Stalin’s Wars, p. 253).

Stalin was no fool, though. Already in late 1945 he observed:

Do not believe in divergences between the English and Americans. They are closely connected to each another. Their intelligence conducts lively operations against us in all countries … everywhere their agents spread information that the war with us will break out any day now. I am completely assured that there will be no war, it is rubbish … Whether in thirty years or so they want to have another war is another issue. This would bring them great profit, particularly in the case of America, which is beyond the oceans and couldn’t care less about the effects of war. Their policy of sparing Germany testifies to that. He who spares the aggressor wants another war (Roberts, p. 302).

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9 thoughts on “The Cold War as a self-fulfilling prophecy

  1. The UK and the USA “saw the Soviet Union as a threat”

    The question is: what sort of threat.

    I am going to have to read Robert’s book. I know his work on ‘der Pakt’: he is very thorough.

    My view on the Cold War is that, for the West, it was primarily an internal conflict waged against its own working class.

    The Soviet Union was used as a bogie to frighten and divide the domestic population. Any opposition could be discredited by linking it to this supposed external threat. This was highly effective in isolating and ultimately splitting Communist parties.

    The demonization of Stalin, with which you are gallantly combating, is just one example of the internal nature of the Cold War.

    Ironically, it was greatly facilitated by a Soviet leader: Khrushchev.

    By the way, on our own little struggle in Lewisham: we appear to won.

    It’s not official yet, but our sources in the Labour Party have told us that Lewisham’s elected Mayor, Sir Steve Bullock has reversed a previous decision to sell off five council houses. The U-turn came during a meeting of Bullock’s council ‘cabinet’ on Wednesday. The properties will now be refurbished and used to house local people.

    Even better the work will not be given to large contractors. Instead it will be done using local trades people and include a training programme of apprenticeships. This will help the Lewisham economy in two ways, local jobs will be created and the money will stay in the local area.

    This is exactly what People Before Profit proposed when we occupied the houses..

    Our reaction is to be statesperson like:

    “This is a victory for common sense”, said Barbara Raymond, (LPBP’s candidate the London Assembly election), echoing Napoleon’s gloss on the retreat from Moscow.

    1. My sense is that that was one significant component, especially since Stalin and the rest in the USSR certainly did not want any form of ‘cold’ or ‘hot’ conflict. They desperately wanted peace after too many years of turmoil and war losses. But the opposition to communism is also deeply internal to bourgeois states, as Lenin saw very well (State and Revolution and elsewhere). This is why any communist revolution that does not have a strong army on its side is bound to lose, since the attacks on it from outside will be vicious and long.

      Congratulations on the victory in Lewisham, by the way! Next, Greece. Who would have thought that a genuinely left-wing party in a small country could threaten the whole EU?

      1. The real trap is to remain within a liberal democratic framework, since that sets the clear boundaries of what may be done. At some point, it’s necessary to seize power. Parliamentary means are fine, especially for propagating your position and gauging to some extent your mass support, but ultimately the point is to overthrow that very system. OK, all that’s pretty obvious. If Syriza doesn’t, will KKE have the guts to do so? Do they have the means to do so?

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