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THE BACKGROUND 1917-1941
FROM the beginning, there was an ideological clash. When the Bolsheviks seized power in Russia in November 1917, in the midst of World War I, they appealed to workers everywhere to overthrow their governments. "We summon you to this struggle, workers of all countries! There is no other way. The crimes of the ruling, exploiting classes in this war have been countless. These crimes cry out for revolutionary revenge." 1
The Bolsheviks believed that their revolution in Russia would be crushed if they did not sue for peace, spark revolution abroad, and consolidate their victory at home. They appealed to the exhausted peoples of Europe to support their campaign for a peace without annexations and without indemnities, a peace based on the principle of self-determination for peoples everywhere. In December, the Council of People's Commissars appropriated two million rubles for the international revolutionary movement. The message was direct: "The workers' revolution calls upon the working classes of all countries to revolt."2
The Bolsheviks envisioned a classless society in a warless world. They talked of a vast expansion of democracy, a democracy for the poor and the powerless. They said they would abolish private property, allocate control of the workplace to the workers themselves, fairly distribute the fruits of production, and give the peasants the land on which they labored. Their rhetoric of peace and self-determination encoded a message tocommon people of all lands to rise up and empower themselves. The Bolsheviks wanted them to overturn an exploitative political and economic system that subjected them to the impersonal functioning of a marketplace economy and that forced them to wage war in behalf of capitalists seeking colonial markets, raw materials, and investment opportunities.
But profound disillusionment and social ferment in the warring countries did not lead to immediate revolutionary upheaval. Within weeks the Bolsheviks had to decide whether to sign a humiliating peace with Germany or to sustain the deadly struggle. Some Bolsheviks abhorred a separate peace, one that would make them accomplices of German imperialism. Notwithstanding the odds, they wanted to work for revolution abroad.
But V. I. Lenin, the leader of the Bolsheviks, rebuffed this line of reasoning. If the struggle persisted, he argued, the revolution would be crushed. Russian soldiers were deserting their military units in great numbers, and the German onslaught could not be stopped. A peace had to be signed with Germany so that the Bolsheviks could concentrate on defeating their domestic foes. "The hands of the Socialist government," Lenin remonstrated, "must be absolutely free for the job of vanquishing the bourgeoisie in our own country."3
Lenin exercised the decisive voice in support of signing the separate treaty with Germany, the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk. In March 1918 the Bolsheviks relinquished the Ukraine as well as Poland, Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, and a slice of land (Kars) along the border with Turkey. These territories contained a substantial percentage of Russia's raw materials and industrial infrastructure, perhaps as much as three-quarters of its iron and steel, a quarter of its railway network, a quarter of its population, and a large share of its most fertile soil.
Lenin hoped he would gain the necessary time to develop an army, organize the economy, and defeat the multiple opponents who threatened from every direction. His position was desperate. Large parts of Russia were occupied by the Germans. National minorities were battling for local autonomy. Counterrevolutionary, or "White," forces were gathering momentum. And, meanwhile, Russia's industrial economy was disintegrating. Hungry and disenchanted workers left the cities in great numbers. Angry and rebellious peasants refused to sell their crops for worthless currency.
The situation was chaotic. The Bolsheviks, like many of their domestic foes, were willing to take aid from any quarter. Despite the separate peace with the Kaiser, Lenin and his comrades did not feel secure. The Germans, in the midst of their gigantic offensive on the western front in France, continued to gobble up chunks of Russian territory along the Black and Crimean seas and supported separatist movements from the Baltic to the Caucasus. The Bolsheviks, therefore, solicited aid and assistance from Russia's former allies--the British, the French, and the Americans--even while they continued to iron out their treaty and trade arrangements with the Germans.
During the spring of 1918 Leon Trotsky, the commander of the Red army, and Georgi Chicherin, the commissar in charge of foreign affairs, met frequently with American and British diplomatic emissaries, military attachés, and philanthropic officials. In addition to seeking formal diplomatic recognition, they wanted food, military supplies, technical assistance, and credits. Bowing to an Allied request, they agreed that 70,000 Czech troops might travel east along the Trans-Siberian railroad to Vladivostok where they would cross the oceans and eventually join the battle on the western front. But Trotsky and Chicherin were not willing to resume the war against the Central Powers. And desperate to win the struggle on the home front, they indoctrinated and liberated German and Austrian prisoners of war, seeking to use them against their domestic foes.
The rhetoric and actions of the Bolsheviks ignited fear, revulsion, and uncertainty in Washington. The American secretary of state, Robert Lansing, abhorred Bolshevism. He saw it as a new form of despotism, a class despotism "subversive of the rights of man, and hostile to justice and liberty."4 Appalled by the Bolsheviks' efforts to withdraw from the conflict, Lansing urged President Woodrow Wilson not to recognize the fledgling new regime. The United States, Lansing believed, should awaitthe formation of "a strong and stable government founded on the principles of democracy and the equality of man," a government that would guarantee "every citizen of free Russia ... the enjoyment of his inherent rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness."5
The president agreed that the United States must exercise extreme caution. The Bolsheviks angered him. He was agitated by their repudiation of the debts of former Russian governments and by their removal of Allied war supplies from Archangel, a key port on the White Sea. Still more upsetting to Wilson was the Bolshevik dissolution of the Constituent Assembly, the most democratically elected body Russia had ever experienced. Garnering only 175 out of 715 seats in the Assembly, Lenin could not dominate it, so he decided to disband it. Although Trotsky argued that the principles of democracy had to be "trampled underfoot" for the "sake of the loftier principles of a social revolution," Wilson deemed Trotsky to be "absolutely untrustworthy" and was morally repulsed by Bolshevik contempt for majority rule.6 Maintaining that the Bolsheviks did not represent the Russian people, Wilson was not inclined to recognize their government.
Bolshevik appeals to the war-wearied masses of Europe and their clamor for a peace without annexations and indemnities deeply troubled American officials. The president's advisors believed Wilson should not permit Lenin to monopolize this rhetoric. In their view, the Bolsheviks were using this language to lead the Russian people astray and to sign a separate peace with Germany. They urged Wilson to employ the same powerful message of peace and reform to revitalize flagging support for the war among the European allies, entice the Russians themselves to stay in the war, and prompt the German people to overthrow their government. These considerations inspired Wilson to offer his own vision of a peaceful world order in his Fourteen Points speech in January 1918, one of the most important messages he ever delivered. Wilson was not afraid of the Bolsheviks' revolutionary domestic program, for he was sure it would fail, but he worried that Bolshevik rhetoric wouldcapture the imagination of European peoples, erode Allied support for the war, and open the possibility of a German victory.
In the spring of 1918 nothing influenced Wilson and his advisors more than the necessity of defeating the Germans and their partners. Lenin's willingness to sign a separate peace, trade with the enemy, and use German and Austrian prisoners of war repelled Wilson. The separate peace meant that Germany could redeploy dozens of divisions to the western front during a decisive moment in the conflict. A separate peace and the trade that ensued showed that Bolshevik Russia was willing to cede land and sell critical raw materials and foodstuffs to the enemy.
During March, April, and May of 1918, virtually every Allied assessment stressed the dangers that would ensue if an eastern front was not reopened. The military representatives on the Allied Supreme War Council believed that Germany was enhancing its war-making capabilities by requisitioning food supplies in the Ukraine and demanding shipments of wheat, butter, and fats from western Siberia. According to Allied intelligence reports, the Germans were struggling "to organize as large a part of the Russian Empire as possible as a friendly State ... not only to draw upon its economic resources, but to transfer to the West a great part of the 47 Divisions which Germany still maintains on the Eastern front."7
The danger of a German-Soviet combination would be a recurrent nightmare over the next decades. To thwart this prospect in 1918, the French, the British, and the Japanese wanted to intervene militarily and reestablish an eastern front in Russia. Had the Bolsheviks been willing and able to do this on their own, the Allies might have worked with them, at least temporarily, despite their ideological antipathy. But the Allies did not think that the Bolsheviks would cooperate, because any collaboration would prompt the Germans to crush the Bolshevik regime. Intent on preventing the "military and economic exploitation of Russia by Germany," the British and the French pressed the United States to intervene militarily.8
Wilson agonized. He viewed the Bolsheviks with contempt.But he did not fear their power, and he did not expect them to survive unless they wrapped themselves in the cause of nationalism and the defense of Mother Russia. He opposed intervention for a long time because he distrusted the Allies, knowing they were animated, at least in part, by their desires to safeguard their investments, preserve their empires, and, in the case of Japan, annex parts of Russia.
Wilson relented when the Czech troops, moving east on the Trans-Siberian railroad, became locked in battle with local Bolshevik forces. To everyone's surprise, the Czechs quickly took control of the railroad line, linked up with White contingents in the area, and captured much of western Siberia. This happened as German artillery approached the outskirts of Paris and Premier Georges Clemenceau toyed with the idea of abandoning the French capital. The British remonstrated yet again, and Wilson now agreed that intervention was "an urgent necessity both to save the Czecho-Slovaks and to take advantage of an opportunity of gaining control of Siberia for the Allies which may never return."9
Wilson sent 7,000 U.S. troops to Siberia and smaller numbers to Archangel as a wartime expedient. He sought to thwart German co-optation of Russian resources, safeguard Allied military supplies, and prevent a total concentration of German forces on the western front. Japanese, British, and French contingents intervened in much larger numbers, and one of Wilson's motives was to monitor their behavior and balance their influence.
The intrusion of the Allies into Russian territory, their collaboration with different factions battling the Red armies, and their blockade of Russian waterways confirmed Bolshevik assumptions that all the belligerents in the conflict were imperialist aggressors determined to overthrow the only socialist state. In turn, the Bolsheviks increased their assistance to the Germans, even as the Kaiser's armies retreated and defeat was imminent.
The armistice on the western front in November 1918 should have ended the Allied military intervention in Russia, but it did not. The Red menace seemed greater in the aftermath of war than ever before. As the guns quieted and soldiers returned home, famine and unemployment spread. All through east-central Europe peasants sought land; workers looked for jobs; and subject peoples struggled for nationhood and territory, often at the expense of one another. While the triumphant Allies worked on peace treaties that the vanquished nations would be forced to sign, the blockade of Germany persisted and so did the hardship and hunger of the German people. And inside Russia, Lenin, Trotsky, and their comrades waged a brutal civil war while simultaneously repelling a Polish attack and organizing the Third International, the Comintern, to institutionalize the gospel of revolution abroad.
The peacemakers in Paris were alarmed by the ferment and upheaval that racked postwar Europe. Wilson grew irascible as he and his colleagues disputed the terms of peace and prolonged the treaty-making process. "The world was on fire," he declared on March 25, 1919, and "every minute lost assisted the forces of unrest."10 His ideological animus toward Bolshevism grew as he received reports of the ferocity of the civil war in Russia and the spread of revolutionary fervor abroad. "That ugly, poisonous thing called Bolshevism," he told the Democratic National Committee during a brief return to Washington in February 1919, fed on people's doubts and despair.11 Wilson knew that Bolshevism's strength rested in its great appeal to demoralized and starving people. He feared that a tough treaty would radicalize the German people and drive them into the hands of the German Bolsheviks.
This seemed to be happening elsewhere. When Romania seized additional Hungarian land in March 1919, right-wing Hungarian politicians handed power to Bela Kun, a Communist. Kun rallied support by defending Hungarian territory, confirming Wilson's assumptions that Bolshevism thrived on the despair and disillusionment of peoples accustomed to traditional forms of national aggrandizement and autocratic rule.
Wilson, however, was convinced that military force could not cure the Bolshevik virus. "The only real protection against it," he said, "was food and industry" coupled with a just peace anda League of Nations.12 Wilson wanted to lift the blockade against Germany and provide the new liberal government with food and raw materials, so economic life could begin anew. Allied troops in Russia, he thought, should also be withdrawn. "I believe in letting them [the Russians] work out their own salvation," he told a British friend in November 1918, "even though they wallow in anarchy a while."13
Bolshevik ideology and practice remained repugnant to Wilson, but, devoid of a power base, Russian Bolshevism posed no threat worthy of military intervention. If peace was restored and the processes of recovery resumed, Wilson believed, "Bolshevism would collapse." The president was more fearful that an angry, revenge-minded, and imperial Russia might supplant the Bolsheviks and unite with a resurgent Germany. "There was nothing in the treaty with Germany," he noted, "to prevent the Germans from forming a powerful industrial and commercial union with Russia."14
Wilson wanted to win the loyalty and affection of European peoples. He wanted them to emulate the American experience and adopt the principles and values of a free political economy, an economy of liberal capitalism. Bolshevism represented the antithesis of everything he believed in. But since the Russian Bolsheviks posed no strategic threat in themselves, the way to deal with Bolshevism, whether it be Russian or Hungarian or German, was to allay the conditions of poverty and inequality on which it thrived. The United States and its allies could do this most effectively through aid and assistance.
Wilson was not alone in believing this. His advisors staunchly opposed French and British plans for a large postwar invasion of Russia. Most illuminating were the views of Herbert C. Hoover. During the 1920s, Hoover became a prominent Republican, an influential secretary of commerce, and then president of the United States. But during World War I and its immediate aftermath Hoover took charge of all relief efforts in Europe and was a key advisor to President Wilson. Hoover observed revolutionary eruptions throughout the Baltic states, Eastern Europe, and the Balkans. He understood that, amidthe prevailing misery, the appeal of Bolshevism was immense. "Socialism and Communism," Hoover noted, had embraced "the claim to speak for all the downtrodden, to alone bespeak human sympathy and to alone present remedies, to be the lone voice of liberalism."15
Like Wilson, Hoover appreciated the yearnings of European peoples. But he believed Communism was a false philosophy: misguided, evil, and inhumane. From the Baltic to the Balkans, Hoover received reports of Communist perfidy, extortion, and murder. He knew they alone were not guilty of such actions; he knew their opponents often acted as cruelly and arbitrarily as the Bolsheviks. But he was nonetheless sickened by their plunder and executions. Remembering the situation in Latvia, where the Communists briefly held control in the spring of 1919, Hoover believed that "literally hundreds of innocent people were executed daily without trial in a sadistic orgy of blood ... . Clergymen, doctors, teachers, young girls, were taken to prison and mowed down by machine guns ... . Deaths from starvation and other causes were so many that coffins could not be provided, and bodies by the hundreds were dumped into trenches."16
Hoover detested Bolshevism because it was economically unsound and politically repressive. The Bolsheviki, he wrote Wilson in March 1919, "most certainly represent a minority in every country where they are in control, and as such they constitute a tyranny that is the negation of democracy, for democracy, as I see it, must rest on the execution of the will of the majority expressed by free and unfettered suffrage."17 Because the Bolsheviks also ignored the axiom that productivity rested on the stimulus of self-interest as well as altruism, Hoover did not think they could respond to humanity's needs any better than their autocratic predecessors. The Reds and the Whites, in his view, were equally nefarious.
But Hoover, like Wilson, did not champion military intervention to crush Bolshevism. He favored using food and aid to blunt its spread. Through the relief agencies he controlled and the railroad transport he coordinated, Hoover allocated foodand raw materials to movements and governments he supported and withheld assistance from those he opposed. In Hungary, for example, he denied food to Béla Kun's revolutionary government and helped to overthrow it in August 1919.
Hoover wished to apply similar policies to Russia. Like Wilson, he did not think that the Bolsheviks constituted a long-term threat to the United States. They would muster support only if they wrapped themselves in the mantle of nationalism, defending Russia against outside interlopers. Hence Hoover wanted to withdraw U.S. troops from Russia and deliver aid to the Russian people without recognizing the Bolsheviks. He believed that relief would enhance the image of the United States and win sympathy for the American system. There was no need to do more than this, because it was most important to complete the peace treaty with Germany, establish the League of Nations, and restore the processes of economic recovery. Once recovery began elsewhere in Europe, Hoover assumed, Bolshevism was likely to collapse inside Russia.
While the peacemakers were arguing over the treaty with Germany and pondering how to stop the spread of Bolshevism, the Red Scare erupted in the United States. The Russian Revolution and the Communist risings in central and Eastern Europe exhilarated American radicals and frightened their conservative foes. Strikes, bombings, and parades on May Day 1919 ignited fears that the Communist menace was invading American shores. Wilson had thought that the "American Negro returning from abroad would be our greatest medium in conveying bolshevism to America," but most Americans identified aliens, recent immigrants, and radical unions as the greater threat.18
The war bred an aroused nationalism and accustomed Americans to think about sabotage and subversion. Patriotic groups, veterans organizations, business associations, and the Catholic Church wanted to root out every vestige of domestic Communism and many other forms of radicalism as well. Thirty-five states passed sedition laws, banned displays of red flags, and investigated radicals. In Washington, A. Mitchell Palmer, Wilson'snew attorney general, created a unit to hunt subversives and placed it under a recent law-school graduate, J. Edgar Hoover. In January 1920, Palmer's agents arrested over 6,000 suspected Communists in twenty-three states. Hundreds were deported, often on the flimsiest evidence.
Most Americans were more concerned with Bolshevism at home than with Bolshevism abroad. Since the Bolsheviks were widely depicted as German agents (as a result of their withdrawal from the conflict), it was easy to call them traitors. Since they believed in class rather than nation, they could be condemned for lacking patriotism and for betraying American values and institutions. Since in Russia they immediately liberalized divorce, attacked the church, and decriminalized adultery, they could be denounced as godless atheists. Bolshevism, said The New York Times, meant "chaos, wholesale murder, the complete destruction of civilization."19 Such rhetoric resonated throughout America. Businessmen used it to crush unions; fundamentalist preachers used it to summon the faithful; white Anglo-Saxon Americans used it to limit immigration; and southern and midwestern racists used it to intimidate African Americans, Jews, and Catholics.
Even President Wilson indulged in Red-baiting. Although he said he was not afraid of Bolshevism in America, in his campaign for Senate ratification of the Treaty of Versailles and the League of Nations he could not resist labeling his opponents Bolsheviks. He warned against the "poison ... running in the veins of the world" and the "apostles of Lenin in our midst." He linked the ongoing police strike in Boston to events in Russia and he equated American radicals with Russian Bolsheviks.20
In American politics, liberals as well as conservatives would brand their enemies as Communists. This rhetoric appealed to the American people because they abhorred Bolshevik ideology and Communist practices even while they felt little threat from Bolshevism in Russia. Most Americans, in fact, supported Wilson's withdrawal of troops from Russia in mid-1920, and even many businessmen called for the lifting of the blockade.
Wilson, however, never did formally recognize the Bolsheviks.His ideological opposition mounted after he was afflicted with a terrible stroke in September 1919. And although Robert Lansing, the rigidly anti-Bolshevik secretary of state, had left office, his successor, Bainbridge Colby, issued a statement in August 1920 that set policy for the next thirteen years. The United States, Colby declared, would not recognize the Bolsheviks, because they were not representative of the will of the Russian people, because they were dedicated to fomenting revolution abroad through the Comintern, and because they rejected the fundamental principles of international relations by repudiating debts and ignoring the sanctity of contracts.
American policies disappointed the Bolsheviks. During 1919 and 1920, they looked to the United States for aid, trade, and recognition. They hoped to split off the United States from the other allies and to procure supplies that were critical for winning the civil war and alleviating starvation. Even after U.S. intervention, Lenin extended favored treatment to American business interests and exempted U.S. firms operating in Russia from nationalization. Believing that the United States needed Russian raw materials and fearing the growth of German and Japanese power, Soviet leaders thought they could entice the Wilson administration into a working relationship.
But talk of interdependence did not mean that the Russian Communists had abandoned their perception of threat. Foreign intervention on Russian soil and aid, albeit limited aid, to their opponents by Britain, France, Japan, Romania, Czechoslovakia, Finland, Turkey, and the United States confirmed Bolshevik suspicions that foreign imperialists would do what they could to crush the workers' revolution. The Polish invasion of Soviet Russia in 1920, with French support, reinforced these views.
Lenin's focus on safeguarding the revolution inside Russia, however, did not betoken a fundamental shift in goals. "Until the final victory of socialism throughout the world," he told Communist party secretaries in November 1920, the Bolsheviks must "exploit the contradictions and antagonisms between the two imperialisms, between the two systems of capitalist States, inciting them one against the other." By making concessions toone form of imperialism, even humiliating concessions as had been the case with Brest-Litovsk, "[we] fenced ourselves off from persecution by both imperialisms ... . But as soon as we are strong enough to fight the whole of capitalism," Lenin boasted, "we shall at once take it by the neck. Our strength is growing and very quickly too."21
Lenin's boasts did not frighten U.S. officials. Peasant disaffection, worker revolts, and minority uprisings continued to beleaguer Bolshevik leaders even after they defeated their opponents. The new Soviet state, moreover, was devoid of the lands that the czars had annexed in previous centuries, including Finland, Latvia, Estonia, Lithuania, most of eastern Poland, a small part of Romania (Bessarabia), and Kars in northeastern Turkey. The economy was in pitiful shape. Industrial production was less than 15 percent of what it had been in 1913. In 1921, the yield of all crops was around 40 percent of the output in prewar years. Famine stalked large parts of Russia, killing between three and five million people and scarring the lives of perhaps another thirty million. Inflation was rampant, consumer goods scarce. People dressed in old uniforms, draperies, and tablecloths.
The new Bolshevik Russia did not inspire fear; it inspired pity, contempt, and hope. In 1922 Herbert Hoover, now the secretary of commerce in the Republican administration of Warren Harding, organized a major nongovernmental effort to distribute food and allay suffering. Hoover and the Republicans thought that assistance would enable Americans to take the lead in the reconstruction of Russia when Communism faltered. Lenin's New Economic Policy in the 1920s, which reinstituted some forms of private property and market exchange, offered hope that Russia might be changing. With the encouragement of Lenin and his successors, a few American businessmen invested in Russia; thousands of U.S. engineers went there to exercise their talents; General Electric built a huge dam; and Henry Ford helped create the automobile and truck industry. The U.S. government permitted private investment and trade, even while it frowned upon loans and eschewed recognition.
American officials, like those in Western European capitals, were eager to reintegrate Russia into the world economy. After World War I, European countries needed Russian markets and raw materials in order to revive their industries and expand their exports. Lenin welcomed mutually beneficial commercial relations. In early 1922, the former Allies invited Soviet representatives to an international economic meeting at Genoa. During this conference German and Bolshevik diplomats met at nearby Rapallo and struck a deal to forgive past financial claims, establish diplomatic ties, and begin secret military arrangements. Rapallo angered the French and frightened the British, who decided (when a Labour government was formed in 1924) to normalize relations with the Bolshevik regime in Moscow. Fearful of the inroads that the Germans and the British might make, Republican officials supported private American initiatives in Bolshevik Russia.
The unsuccessful attempt to integrate Russia into the world economy was one small aspect of the American approach to European affairs in the 1920s. Republican officials rejected the League of Nations, rebuffed overtures to guarantee French security, refused to cancel the war debts, and maintained high tariffs. But they were not indifferent to events in the Old World. They sought to promote European stability through the limitation of armaments, the elimination of discriminatory trade practices, and the mobilization of private capital. They believed stability was prerequisite to prosperity and peace. If stability was achieved, Bolshevism would flounder because its roots were conflict, poverty, and inequality.
But the government of the United States did not pay a great deal of attention to the Bolshevik regime in Soviet Russia, because the latter was rather powerless. At the time of the Washington Disarmament Conference in 1921-22, the General Board of the Navy acknowledged the potential strength of the Russian army, but noted that disorganization was so pervasive and the prospects for stabilization so minimal that it wasn't necessary to give much thought to Russia for the foreseeable life of an arms limitation treaty. During the 1920s, in fact, the United States made no war plans against the new Union ofSoviet Socialist Republics. Great Britain and Japan occupied the attention of U.S. war planners, but Soviet Russia did not.
Republican officials, while not afraid of the Kremlin's strength, had no desire to recognize the Bolshevik regime. It was like "having a wicked and disgraceful neighbor," Hoover recollected in his memoirs. "We did not attack him, but we did not give him a certificate of character by inviting him into our homes."22 Since Communists confiscated property, repudiated debts, violated the sanctity of contracts, and fomented revolution in other lands, the American government would not establish formal diplomatic ties.
Anti-Bolshevism was institutionalized in the U.S. State Department. In 1924 the Russian and East European sections were merged into a single division of Eastern European Affairs and placed under Robert F. Kelley. An Irish Catholic, trained by Russian emigres and attracted to prerevolutionary Russia, Kelley detested the Bolsheviks and demanded that his subordinates share his view. He insisted that young foreign service officers like George F. Kennan and Charles Bohlen receive language training in Paris and Berlin, primarily by anti-Bolshevik emigres, and he forbade them from spending their summers in the Soviet Union. Kelley believed the Bolsheviks were militantly expansionist. Through listening posts that he established in the Baltic capitals, Kelley closely monitored Soviet subversive activities around the world. Ignoring economic and social conditions inside other nations, he and his colleagues detected the Bolshevik hand behind unrest in Mexico, Nicaragua, Cuba, Spain, and Greece. In contrast, they began to look favorably upon rightist movements that promised stability and contested Bolshevik influence.
During the 1920s, no official in the American government thought more conceptually about the Bolshevik threat than Hoover. The specter of Communism, in his view, was ideological and moral, not geopolitical or strategic. "Five or six great social philosophies," he believed, were struggling "for ascendancy." There was "American Individualism," and it competed with Communism, socialism, syndicalism, and autocracy.23
Hoover was not afraid of the challenge. He extolled theAmerican system of "progressive individualism." It was based on private property, free enterprise, a marketplace economy, equal opportunity for every individual, free elections, and limited government. The system, Hoover readily acknowledged, had its flaws: business fluctuations, uncertainty of employment, arrogant employers, irresponsible unions, and a spirit of lawlessness. But he was sure it was superior to its competitors. While claiming that Communism in Soviet Russia proved itself with blood and misery, Hoover said that the free political economy of the United States stimulated science and technology, fostered individual achievement, generated economic growth, promoted social welfare, and ameliorated the standard of living of all the people--not just a single class. Running for president in 1928, he declared that Republican policies had created a "New Day," an unrivaled prosperity in an emerging capitalist commonwealth.
In Bolshevik Russia, Lenin's New Economic Policy gradually gave way to a command economy based on five-year plans, forced industrialization, and the collectivization of agriculture. Fierce wrangling among Lenin's heirs led to a devastating power struggle in which Joseph Stalin emerged as the dominant leader of a repressive state bureaucracy and party apparatus. After seeing the failure of revolutions abroad and watching the massacre of Chinese Communists, Stalin focused on developing socialism in one country, the Soviet Union. Wars between capitalist and Communist states, he thought, were inevitable, but they had to be postponed.
Communist predictions that a great crisis was brewing in the Western capitalist world proved true in 1929, when the New York stock market crashed and the Great Depression began. Agricultural prices fell, factory output slumped, world trade contracted, private banks folded, and the international financial system collapsed. Tens of millions of people lost their jobs, their farms, and their savings. The depression struck Germany, Japan, and the United States most harshly, but it engulfed all nations and engendered despair everywhere.
Economic hardship discredited American individualism, bourgeoisdemocracy, and liberal capitalism. Across Europe and Asia, distraught and sullen people were attracted to radical movements on the political right and left. Nazism and fascism gained millions of adherents, while Communism also assumed a new luster. In the United States, many Americans believed that their gloom and resignation contrasted sharply with the hopefulness and purposefulness in the Soviet Union. Thousands of Americans visited Russia in the early 1930s, and many returned home with favorable accounts. Ignoring or discounting the human toll of collectivization, they regarded the rational planning of a command economy as superior to the vagaries and hardships of a private marketplace economy and a free enterprise system. New initiatives seemed imperative when circumstances appeared dire. Repudiating Hoover's "New Day," Americans voted the Republicans out of office and elected Franklin D. Roosevelt president of the United States in 1932.
The Great Depression heartened Stalin. Declaring that it sharpened the contradictions inherent in world capitalism, Stalin predicted that capitalist rivalries would grow, as would the antagonisms between imperial powers and colonial peoples. The masses, he believed, would reject social democracy and turn toward Communism.
Stalin recognized, however, that Bolshevik Russia was still relatively weak. Japan's aggression in Manchuria in late 1931 and early 1932 worried him. The Japanese might follow this invasion with efforts to seize Russia's Pacific maritime provinces or parts of Siberia, territory they had eyed during the Great War but had grudgingly abandoned. Stalin did not yet order Comintern parties to establish united fronts with other democratic parties, but he repeatedly called for peace, trade, and economic relations with capitalist countries. He needed time to build his workers' paradise. If war erupted too soon and if fighting among capitalist nations prompted an attack on the Bolshevik motherland, his regime might crumble.
Roosevelt, too, faced unprecedented challenges. He inaugurated a "New Deal" to reinvigorate the American economy and alleviate suffering among the American people. He envisioneda new role for the government to guarantee the private banking system, to become the employer of last resort, to regulate the vagaries of the private marketplace, and to reform and resuscitate liberal capitalism. While focusing on domestic matters, he broke with the past and opened formal diplomatic relations with the USSR in 1933.
Economic and geopolitical factors pushed Roosevelt in this direction. By 1933, U.S. exports had dropped by almost 40 percent, and Russian markets beckoned. With Japan on the rampage, a Soviet-American rapprochement seemed like a prudent warning to Tokyo to change its behavior. Roosevelt, of course, demanded that the Russians acknowledge their war debts, forswear the promotion of revolution in the United States, and respect the religious freedom of Americans inside the Soviet Union.
Stalin had little trouble saying he would comply with these conditions. But his commitments were simply a matter of expediency. The debts, for example, were those of the czarist government, for which the Communist regime eschewed responsibility. Stalin believed that the United States and other Western nations should stop pontificating about the sanctity of contracts. By intervening in the revolution, he said, they had committed "acts of robbery" and forfeited the right to speak of international law and international obligations.24
But self-interest impelled both the Soviet and the American governments to overlook past grievances and to try to harmonize their policies. Stalin, in particular, acknowledged the deteriorating international situation. In January 1933, the Nazis came to power in Germany. Their rhetoric was viciously anti-Soviet and anti-Communist. Nazi dictator Adolf Hitler hunted and slaughtered domestic Communists. Stalin, seeing the Germans rearm and the Japanese consolidate their hold in Manchuria, knew his country was no match for the enemies that surrounded him. He brought the Soviet Union into the League of Nations. Soviet Foreign Minister Maksim Litvinov became one of the most eloquent exponents of collective security. Through the Comintern, the Kremlin instructed Communist parties abroadto cooperate in popular-front alliances with other antifascist groups. Their primary loyalty, Stalin insisted, was to the Soviet Union: "The triumph of the revolution in the USSR is the triumph of the revolution throughout the world."25
Stalin hastily sought to rearm his country. Millions perished from the dislocation, starvation, and persecution that accompanied forced collectivization, heavy industrialization, and rapid rearmament. Stalin's lust for power was matched only by his anxiety over the fate of his regime and the survival of the Bolshevik experiment. Obsessively suspicious, he purged his former comrades, his generals, and members of his scientific and technocratic elite. Everywhere he saw traitors and enemies. In fact, the victims of his purges had no links to foreign governments, but beyond its borders the Soviet Union did have powerful foes.
Roosevelt and his advisors watched events across the oceans carefully. Since the United States still remained outside the League of Nations and was far away from the world's most incendiary trouble spots, policymakers hoped to remain unembroiled in future hostilities. In the mid-1930s, they assumed that, among the many nations competing for power, no single country in Europe or Asia was likely to gain preeminent strength. The international system appeared multipolar. Its very multipolarity seemed to guarantee U.S. security. Congress passed neutrality legislation that barred loans and the sale of munitions to belligerents in any future conflict. The aim was to keep the United States aloof from the political and military strife of Europe and Asia, notwithstanding the ideological complexion of the new totalitarian regimes in Germany and Russia.
The Roosevelt administration was not overly concerned with developments in the Soviet Union. American diplomats and military attaches in Moscow reported on the purges, the industrialization, and the rearmament. They saw Soviet actions as primarily defensive, faced as the Kremlin was with formidable threats from a fascist Germany and an expansionist Japan. Russian arms production and the Soviet military establishment were growing quickly, but report after report from U.S. observersin Moscow noted that the equipment was shoddy, the transportation network inadequate, the technology backward, and the fuel reserves scarce. Military analysts looked with disbelief on the purge of experienced military officers. Stalin, U.S. diplomats agreed, had become a brutal totalitarian leader, but he seemed preoccupied more with safeguarding his regime and his own rule than with expanding Bolshevism abroad.
The real threat to U.S. national security did not emanate from Moscow; it came from Berlin and Tokyo. In 1937, the Japanese resumed their aggression in China. In 1938 and 1939, Germany marched into Austria, seized parts of Czechoslovakia, and eyed the Polish corridor. Roosevelt's attention gravitated to foreign affairs. A steep recession within the larger contours of the Great Depression discouraged him and convinced many of his aides that domestic programs alone could not rejuvenate the economy. The president and his advisors came to believe that the nation's strategic and economic well-being required a revision of the neutrality laws that impeded cooperation with the industrial democracies of Western Europe and with China.
But the circumstances that impelled Roosevelt to look abroad affected other Americans in different ways. A vigorous opposition to the New Deal emerged in 1937-38, and it would remain important for many years to come. The opposition was composed of midwestern Republicans, southern Democrats, conservative businessmen, and determined isolationists. They feared the growing power of the executive branch of the government. Southerners detested the administration's attempts to tamper with racial segregation. Republicans disliked the proliferation of regulatory agencies, the expansion of social-welfare programs, and the attempts to pack the Supreme Court with justices sympathetic to the New Deal. Businessmen resented Roosevelt's calling them economic royalists and abhorred his support for industrial unions. Isolationists of all political persuasions believed the administration's efforts to aid Britain and France short of war might embroil the United States in controversies unrelated to its vital interests and thereby augment the president's powers over the economy and society.
Roosevelt's opponents increasingly suspected that federal agencies were infested with Communists. Support from the Communist Party of the United States of America made the Roosevelt administration especially vulnerable to Red-baiting. Once again, it was the specter of Communism at home rather than the power of Russian Bolshevism abroad that fueled anti-Communist rhetoric. During the 1936 presidential campaign, the Hearst newspapers declared that Roosevelt was "the unofficial candidate of the Comintern," and the Republican vice presidential candidate charged that the administration was "leading us towards Moscow." Antiunion businessmen, fundamentalist Protestants, the Ku Klux Klan, the American Legion, parts of the Roman Catholic hierarchy, and a variety of anti-Semitic groups now jumped on the bandwagon. Businessmen, for example, fought organized labor by alleging that it was inspired by Communism. Join the CIO and Help Build a Soviet America was the name of a pamphlet circulated by the National Association of Manufacturers. In 1938 the House of Representatives created a special committee, the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC), and placed it under Martin Dies, a veteran Texas Democrat well known for his antilabor stance. The Dies Committee voiced few concerns about Soviet actions abroad, but it worried about Communist penetration of New Deal agencies at home.26
Knowing that the Dies committee had considerable public support, Roosevelt moved cautiously. He did not want to outlaw the Communist Party. But he was concerned about disloyalty, about so-called fifth columnists who betrayed their country. After the German and Soviet foreign ministers signed their infamous Non-Aggression Pact in August 1939, the president authorized the use of wiretaps against anyone suspected of subversive activity. He also approved the opening of letters addressed to the diplomatic establishments of the Axis powers.
Roosevelt, however, was still not afraid of Russian power or Soviet goals. Despite the Nazi-Soviet pact, he carefully differentiated between the two countries. When Hitler invaded Poland on September 1, 1939 and started World War II, Roosevelt sawGermany as the incomparably greater threat to national security. He did not change his mind when Soviet troops marched into eastern Poland at the end of September. Nor did he sever relations with Moscow when the Soviets attacked Finland in 1939 and seized Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania in early 1940. In the spring of 1941, when Roosevelt asked Congress for lend-lease legislation to assist nations resisting aggression, he inserted language permitting aid to any country. Like most Americans at the time, Roosevelt despised Communism, but he saw Stalin acting in self-defense.
Roosevelt may have been right. One of the most publicized acts of the glasnost years of the late 1980s was the Russians' acknowledgment of the August 1939 secret protocol dividing east-central Europe between the Soviet Union and Germany. But commentators have largely ignored the accompanying documents suggesting that Stalin and his new foreign minister, V. M. Molotov, opted for the Nazi-Soviet pact at the last moment and quite grudgingly. The Kremlin had sought assistance and guarantees from the West. Roosevelt disappointed Stalin by not taking action against Japan and by not selling warships to the Soviet navy. The French and the British agitated Stalin even more by appeasing the Germans at Munich and, in Stalin's view, inviting the Nazis to march eastward. "We would have preferred an agreement with the so-called democratic countries," Stalin conceded to his closest associates, and "we entered negotiations with them, but Britain and France wanted us to be their hired hand ... and without pay."27
The Kremlin lost hope that it could reach a successful accord with the British and the French just at the time that the Germans began pressing for a pact with uncommon haste. Surprised by the German overtures, the Russians initially held back. "Until recently," Molotov told them in July 1939, they "did nothing but curse the USSR."28 But once Hitler made it clear that he was willing to give Moscow a respite from attack, a defensive perimeter, and a chunk of Poland, Stalin seized the opportunity.
In the fall of 1939, as Britain and France went to war against Germany to stop Nazi aggression, Americans did not know ofthe secret protocol between Hitler and Stalin. But they quickly observed a change in the Kremlin's behavior and in Comintern policy. In 1940, the Soviet Union annexed Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania and seized strategic territory in Finland. Worse yet, Stalin began selling raw materials to the Nazis and, in 1941, entered into a nonaggression pact with Japan. He also instructed Communist parties abroad to end their popular-front alliances with antifascist parties. Following orders, the American Communist Party turned against the Roosevelt administration's efforts to provide limited aid to France and Britain.
Anti-Communism in the United States surged. Communists could not be trusted, because they had become accomplices of German and Japanese aggression. When Germany crushed Norway, Holland, Belgium, and France in the spring of 1940, many Americans suspected that traitors played a key role. Congress passed the Smith Act, making it illegal for any American to belong to an organization seeking to overthrow the American government. At the same time, twenty-one states passed legislation requiring loyalty oaths from teachers, two states tried to ban the Communist Party from the ballot, and several state governments began to search for Communists within their own bureaucracies.
Although anti-Communism assumed intense proportions in 1940, most Americans still did not dread the power of the Soviet Union. Ascribing Soviet actions to security rather than to ideology, Americans feared not Stalin's Russia but Germany's domination of most of Europe and Japan's quest for supremacy in Asia. The magnitude of the threat was underscored in September 1940 when Germany, Japan, and Italy formed the Axis alliance and signed the Tripartite Pact, evidently aimed at the United States.
Axis power grew formidable. From occupied Europe, Germany gained the resources for unprecedented military-industrial strength. From France and Belgium, the Nazis acquired iron ore, railway equipment, and industrial machinery; from Poland, coal, zinc, timber, and meat; from Romania, petroleum; from Hungary, bauxite; and from Yugoslavia, copperand chrome. Domination of Europe meant that Germany could also exercise great leverage over key countries in Latin America, like Argentina and Brazil, which sold their grain, meat, and raw materials to the Old World. During 1940, Germany seemed on the brink of vanquishing Britain, penetrating Latin America, and integrating the raw materials and granaries of the Near East, Eastern Europe, and North Africa with the industrial infrastructure, technological know-how, and skilled labor of northwestern Europe. Japan's control of north China and Manchuria, its move into Indochina, and its demands on the Dutch East Indies portended a similar danger in Asia.
The threat was worse than the one that existed in 1918 when Germany had imposed the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk on Russia. "The ghost ... of a German-Russian domination substantially dominant from the Maginot Line to the Pacific, is becoming more of a reality than I would like to think about," jotted Assistant Secretary of State Adolf Berle in his diary on March 3, 1940. But in 1940, unlike in 1918, the United States was not at war with Germany. Indeed there was a real possibility that Britain and France could capitulate and that an uneasy peace would ensue. "The possibility of a defeat of the Franco-British alliance," Berle lamented on March 23, "must now be squarely reckoned with."29
Could the United States live in a world in which the Axis powers dominated much of Europe and Asia? This question triggered a passionate debate during 1940 and 1941 between isolationists and internationalists. Policymakers, congressmen, economists, international-relations experts, businessmen, and newspaper commentators fiercely disputed whether the national security of the United States demanded aid to the Allies in amounts and in ways that might directly embroil the United States in the war.
The position of the Roosevelt administration was clear. The United States, said President Roosevelt in 1940, cannot live "as a lone island in a world dominated by the philosophy of force."30 Should the Axis nations triumph and consolidate their hold over Europe and Asia, the United States would have to rearmand prepare for an attack. It would have to reconfigure its economy. The government would have to take over the private export sector in order to parry the strength of the government-controlled cartels that the Germans and the Japanese were establishing in their respective areas of domination. Elaborate studies undertaken jointly by the State Department and the Council on Foreign Relations in New York demonstrated that the American political economy--the economy of liberal capitalism--could not survive in a world divided into economic blocs dominated by totalitarian governments.
Yet isolationists feared that Roosevelt would use a war to augment executive power, crush dissent, and transform the American political economy. If the United States goes to war, wrote James D. Mooney in the Saturday Evening Post, "we shall pay an appalling price, not only in the lives of our young men and in our food and housing and clothing, but in our precious liberty ... . On the day war is declared, we can kiss democracy good-by."31
But the isolationists had no chance of winning the debate, because most people came to fear that, if the United States stayed aloof from the situation, it would develop precisely those characteristics that the isolationists themselves dreaded. In other words, even if the United States remained at peace in a world dominated by totalitarian foes, it would have to relinquish its basic political and economic values. "If Hitler destroys freedom everywhere else," Fortune magazine reported, "it will perish here. Ringed around by a world hostile to our way of life, we should be forced to become a great military power. We should find ourselves dominated and virtually owned by our government--a people in slavery to the state. Industry and trade, labor and agriculture would become part of a state system, which, in its own defense, would have to take on the character of Hitler's system."32 Mark Sullivan, the well-known commentator, said much the same in January 1941: "Our danger, as it is seen by many thoughtful and competent persons, is the destruction of our American system without invasion."33 Perhaps nobody put the issue more succinctly than Walter Lippmann,the most renowned journalist of the era, when he wrote: "The fact is that a free economy, such as Americans have known, cannot survive in a world that is elsewhere under a regime of military socialism."34
In the view of American internationalists, national security demanded that the Axis be defeated. Strategically, German domination of Europe and Japanese domination of Asia meant that these adversaries might be able to use the resources and labor under their control to attack and wage a protracted war against the United States. But the ideological threat could not be divorced from the strategic menace, because the geopolitical configuration of power meant that Axis domination of Eurasia would force the United States to alter its domestic political economy and to jettison the political and economic freedoms that made it the unique country it was. Neither the progressive individualism of Herbert Hoover nor the welfare capitalism of Franklin D. Roosevelt could survive in a world dominated by Hitler's Germany and Hideki Tõjõ's Japan.
In this context it is easy to understand why the United States decided to support Russia when Hitler repudiated the Nazi-Soviet pact and attacked Soviet territory in June 1941. Stalin's Russia was repressive and repugnant; but its strategic and geopolitical interests overlapped with those of the United States. If the Russians could persevere, Roosevelt wrote on June 26, 1941, "it [would] mean the liberation of Europe from Nazi domination--and at the same time I do not think we need to fear any possibility of Russian domination."35
Alone, the Soviet Union posed no threat to the United States. But if its resources were assimilated into Hitler's war machine, Nazi strength might become overwhelming. On the other hand, if Stalin's armies could withstand the German onslaught, they might wear down German capabilities and make American intervention in the war unnecessary--or at least reduce the losses and sacrifices that the United States would have to endure. At a meeting in Washington on June 23, 1941, Chief of Staff George C. Marshall expressed his belief that Soviet armies would retreat, destroy their oil facilities in the Caucasus, and denythem to the Germans. But Roosevelt was more hopeful that the Russians could resist, and when signs of this emerged in the late summer of 1941 he was eager to extend assistance to the Kremlin.
Ideological antipathy persisted, but common strategic and geopolitical interests brought the United States and the Soviet Union together. In 1941, Roosevelt and Stalin saw the survival of their systems and their way of life, as well as their territorial integrity, dependent on the defeat of the Axis powers in general and of Nazi Germany in particular. For the Americans the situation was not unlike 1918, when the Germans seemed on the threshold of grabbing Russian resources and turning them against the Western democracies. This time, however, the Bolsheviks had little choice but to fight the Germans, and so American democratic capitalists found themselves allied with Lenin's heirs.
The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941, followed by Hitler's declaration of war on the United States, triggered the alliance between Washington, Moscow, and London. Roosevelt had been slow to aid the British and the French throughout the 1930s, but he demonstrated vision in seeing that common interests now linked the United States and the Soviet Union. So long as there was no sense of threat emanating from Soviet strategic capabilities, American officials could overcome the ideological divide and strike up a working relationship with the Kremlin.
Copyright © 1994 by Melvyn P. Leffler