Cold War: Soviet Policy 1945-48 Return to the gallery menu
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Did Stalin cause the Cold War?

There is no shortage of people who would happily answer yes to this question. As you will see in this case study, Stalin was not afraid to upset the British and Americans. Probably the biggest cause of tension between them was Stalin's policy in Eastern Europe after the war.

From 1943 onwards Stalin's Red Army steadily drove back the German forces from Eastern Europe. The victories of the Red Army were celebrated by America, Britain and the people of Eastern Europe.

Soon, the question came up of what would happen after the war was over. At the Yalta Conference, the USA, USSR and Britain agreed that all the liberated countries would have free elections to decide what kind of government they wanted. Between 1945 and 1947 there were elections in most Eastern European states. Communists shared power with other parties in coalition governments in Poland, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria and Czechoslovakia.

However, from 1946 onwards it became clear that Stalin was not prepared for Communists to share power in Eastern Europe.

  • In 1947 Communists took control of the governments in Poland, Hungary and Romania.
  • By 1948 all the states of Eastern Europe had Communist governments.
  • In some states, like Hungary, the Communists had very little support. In others, like Poland, they had quite a lot of support.
  • In all states the Communist leaders had to take their instructions from Stalin in Moscow rather than make their own decisions for their own country.
  • The main exception was Marshal Tito of Yugoslavia. He refused to be dominated by Stalin and was treated like an enemy as a result.

Stalin did not only focus on Eastern Europe.

* Source 1 Source 2 Source 3 Source 5 Source 4 Source 6 Source 7

  • He used an organisation called COMINFORM to control Communist parties in Western Europe as well. In the years after WW2 it looked quite possible that Communist governments would come to power in Italy and France as well.
  • Stalin also supported and encouraged Communist movements in Asia. He worked hard to extend Soviet influence in the Middle East. He also supported Communist movements in British territories in Asia, including India and Malaysia.

Stalin saw his policies as making the USSR strong and secure from future attack - just like the USA and Britain were doing. The USA saw Stalin as a man aiming to take over the world for Communism.

  • Did Stalin's policies cause the Cold War?
  • Did America and Britain over react to Stalin's policies and cause the Cold War as a result?

Your task is to examine the sources in this case study and reach your own decision.

The worksheet should help you to keep your ideas together.