To what extent were ideological differences the cause of the Cold War from 1941 to 1949?
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Sarah Humphreys To what extent were ideological differences the cause of the Cold War from 1941 to 1949? By 1945, the foundations for the Cold War were firmly in place. The two superpowers of the USA and the USSR had emerged as the representatives of two strongly opposed ideologies; communism and capitalism. This means of conflict had existed since 1917 and continued to stand at the forefront of disputes between the USA and the USSR long into the immensely tense years of the Cold War. To a great extent these foundations of the ideological battle between the two super powers was a major cause of the Cold War, however despite the existence of this factor, the Cold War was not yet inevitable. It was the post-revisionist interpretation of the policies and attitudes of both the USA and the USSR that developed during and after 1945 that led to the finality of the severe deterioration in relations. Therefore to a certain extent the ideological differences were the underlying cause of the Cold War, however other factors such as the growing lack of trust, American Imperialism and the Russian threat were also incredibly influential in the cause of the Cold War. The ideological differences between the USA and the USSR had existed since 1917, when the Bolshevik revolution and the Wilsonian Liberalism of 1918 laid down the rudiments of the polarised political, social and economic principles. The USSR's desire for communism was prominent as an issue in international relations when the Bolsheviks seized power in Russia in October 1917. The Bolshevik revolution gave Lenin and his Red Army the opportunity to illustrate communist ideals by putting them into practice. Lenin called for a state-owned economy; an economy in which all industries and agriculture are owned by the government on behalf of the people, and a one-party state; a political system in which there is only one political party to represent the people - the communists - and elections were contested between individual members of this party.
The issue of Poland may have illustrated the start of bad relations between the USSR and the USA that caused the Cold War. On 6th August 1945 the Americans exploded their first atomic bomb on Hiroshima in an attempt to end the war with Japan. Truman was fully aware of the power he automatically gained with such threatening arms behind him; especially with the fact he could not exert extensive pressure on the Soviet Union. It was hoped that Stalin would take notice of the bomb that caused enormous destructive damage and become more amenable in Europe. Stalin saw the failure of Truman to at least inform him of the bomb as a deep insult and, far from making Stalin more amenable, it increased his suspicions and distrust of US motives. Stalin was, after all, a wartime ally of the USA and it could be argued had a right to be informed. Above all the issue of the atomic bomb heightened the lack of trust and tensions between the two superpowers as an arms race followed, in which instead of working together the two super powers competed to gain the most powerful explosives. The heightened lack of trust was a key cause of the Cold War as both the USA and the USSR doubted the loyalty within their alliance. It was becoming increasingly difficult for both the USA and USSR to trust each other's intentions. However this lack of trust stemmed from the underlying factor of the ideological battle, leaving the ideological differences between communism and capitalism still more influential and significant than this lack of trust. American Imperialism was also very important in the build up of tension between the USA and the USSR. This revisionist interpretation of American Imperialism blames the American's expansionist policy as the cause of the Cold War. There are various events that to an extent can be used to justify this interpretation.
At the Yalta and Potsdam conferences in 1945 it had been agreed to divide Germany and its capital city Berlin each into four zones to be administered on a temporary basis by the wartime allies. The western zones were run by Britain, the USA and France. The eastern zones were run by the USSR. By 1948 the difference in living standards between the East and the West had become increasingly obvious as West Berlin was experiencing much prosperity due to the success of capitalism in a sea of communism. The USA then introduced a new currency in their economy in Berlin and for Stalin this was the final straw and he took action. All road, rail and canal links with West Berlin were severed. The blockade of the city was interpreted by the US government as the first stage of an attack on West Germany. Although this is unlikely Stalin did want to prevent the emergence of a separate West German state under US influence. The Berlin Blockade served as a key cause of the Cold War and can be interpreted as a significant part of the Russian threat as he tried to starve the West out of Berlin; land that they had a right to be in. This orthodox interpretation of the Russian threat was also incredibly significant in the break down of relations between the USA and the USSR. It was this series of events in which the Soviet Union's actions can be interpreted as aggressive that led to the heightening hostility and tension between the two superpowers. Although the Russian threat played a key part in causing the break down of relations in the Cold War, it was likely that again it was the result of the ideological differences. The ideological differences still stood at the core of these conflicts and actions of the Soviet Union; Stalin's Russia did not want to lose communist influence and power and therefore tried to expand into the satellite states, blockaded Berlin and introduced programmes such as Comecon and Cominform.
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