Stalin and Truman: ideological differences

The attitudes of Stalin and Truman and the ideological differences
between the superpowers.

Beneath the surface of wartime cooperation, there was always a level
of distrust between the western allies and the Soviet Union (not least
because Stalin had signed the Non-aggression Pact with Hitler in 1939).
In part the causes of the distrust were ideological.

Truman and Stalin had very different ideological views

America’s political system was based on democracy. Its government
was chosen through free and regular elections. Indeed, most Americans
believed they had fought the war to preserve this political freedom
for themselves and for the peoples of the world. They saw America as
“the land of the free” and thought it was their duty to
protect individuals’ rights. One important right was the right
to economic freedom. The American economic system was capitalist. Under
a capitalist economy, industry and land is owned by private individuals
or businesses who try to make profits out of production.

Russia’s ideology, however, was based on communism. In theory,
this system places the good of the whole of society before individual
interests. Industry and land should therefore be owned not by individuals,
but by the state, and run for the benefit of society, not the profit
of a few individuals. To achieve this, however, it had been necessary
to develop a strong Communist Party with a firm control over the country.
Stalin had developed this power since he succeeded Lenin in 1924, so
that Russia had become a one-party state, in which the people’s
political and economic rights had been severely curtailed.

To many Americans, therefore, the Soviet Union was seen as little better
than an oppresive dictatorship, depriving its people of real freedoms
and anxious to spread its communist ideology abroad. At the same time,
communist economics threatened the American capitalist system. Similarly,
the Soviet communists took a very negative view of the American system.
To them, American political freedoms were just a con-trick to keep the
people happy. The real power was the power of the capitalist bosses
who owned America’s businesses and exploited the workers. The
capitalist world economy, obviously, posed a dangerous threat to communism
as it would constantly wish to expand into new markets.

Another reason for developing distrust between East and West was the
legacy of disagreements during the war on matters of tactics and strategy.
The delay in launching the invasion of northern France until June 1944
had angered Stalin who had wanted a second front to be established as
soon as possible. Thousands of Russian lives were being expended in
driving back the Germans and Stalin was mistrustful of the Allies’
reasons for delay. Did the Americans and British secretly hope that
the Nazis and Communists would destroy each other in the final stages
of the fighting?

What the USSR thought
of capitalism• The Soviets wanted to make sure that never again would
they face an invasion. Germany had invaded in 1914 and 1941. Stalin
wanted to protect Russia
• Stalin wanted compensation as the USSR had suffered the
loss of 28 million soldiers
• Stalin did not trust the West as they had fought against
the communists in the Civil War of 1918 – 1919
• Stalin believe that the British and Americans wanted Russia
to destroy itself fighting Germany
What the USA thought of communism.

• The USA and Britain had fought six years fighting Germany.
They did not want to see another dictator take control over Europe
• There was a fear that Stalin would treat the people of
Eastern Europe badly. Britain was very angry about the way that
Russia had treated Poland badly by setting up a pro – communist
government in Poland.


Just as Stalin was suspicious of the West, Roosevelt (the American
President) and Churchill (the British Prime Minister) were concerned
about Stalin’s motives.

Stalin’s foreign policy contributed to tension. His aim was to
take advantage of the military situation at the end of the war to strengthen
Russian influence in Europe. He therefore wanted to occupy as much German
territory as possible before the end of the war as well as land from
other states such as Finland, Poland and Romania. The Red Army proved
hugely successful in this strategy as the German forces collapsed, but
the price was increased suspicion from Stalin’s allies about his

There remains a fierce debate among historians and polititians over
Stalin’s motives. Some believe that Stalin was continuing the
traditional expansionist policies of the tsars, or else, that he was
determined to spread communism throughout the world now that ‘socialism
in one country’ had been established. Others believe that Stalin
was acting defensively: he wanted as wide a buffer zone as possible
to protect Russia from invasion from the capitalist West. Historians
taking this line of argument point to Stalin’s suspicions about
the delay over D-Day as evidence, together with memories of Anglo-American
involvement in the Civil War on the side of the Whites in 1918-20. Perhaps
even more significant was the failure of the Western Allies to inform
Stalin about the development of the atomic bomb until just before its
use against Japan. When Stalin’s request to share in the occupation
of Japanwa s rejected, it seemed clear that there could only be a heightening
of tension between East and West.

It was not just Stalin’s policies that led to
increased tension. Leading American and British politicians were deeply
hostile to the Soviet government. Harry S. Truman, Roosevelt’s
vice-president, who succeeded as President when Roosevelt died in April
1945, was much more suspicious of the Russians than his predecessor
and personally disliked Stalin. After meeting the Soviet leader, Truman

“The personal meeting with Stalin enabled me to see what the
West had to face in the future. Force is the only thing the Russians
understand. Stalin showed what he was after … the Russians were planning
world conquest.”

Churchill’s views had always been similar. He had never fully
trusted Stalin, but thought that Soviet cooperation was essential if
Hitler was to be defeated. Towards the end of the war he had even suggested
that the British and American armies should make a dash for Berlin to
take the city before the Russians could get there.

Cold War
Tehran, Yalta and Potsdam ConferencesStalin and Truman: ideological differencesSoviet Satellite States
Cominform and ComeconUS Involvement in Europe Post WW2Truman Doctrine
Marshall PlanBizoniaBerlin Airlift
NATO: Origins and HistoryThe arms race and Mutually assured destructionSoviet rule in Hungary
DestalinizationHungarian RevolutionBerlin: Refugee Crisis
Khruschev's challenge to the west over Berlin1960: Paris SummitKennedy and the Berlin Crisis
Berlin WallPresident Kennedy visit to BerlinCuban Missile Crisis: Why were missiles there?
Cuban Missile Crisis: Why did Kennedy respond as he did?Cuban Missile Crisis: Resolution and analysis
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