Special Topics 1A, Spring 2021 NOTES

"Cold Wars" and Contemporary History

Notes will be posted here after each class


April 9, 2021

We discussed the iconography and imagery of the Cold War by looking slowly at the montage of art and photos that are packed into the opening of the television drama The Americans. Then we viewed the images at the speed at which they are presented in the opening. The rapid sequence of images is perhaps an example of subliminal triggering of memories and feelings of people who lived through the Cold War. Learn the names of the leaders you see in the opening: Lenin, Stalin, Khrushchev, Brezhnev, JFK, Johnson, Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan.

Marx and Engels wrote in The Communist Manifesto (1848): “There is a specter haunting Europe.” They had declared that all value comes from labor. Capitalism had been a great force in human progress, but the next stage had to involve ownership of production shifting toward those who produce the value. This would lead to class war, and it terrified the class that owned the means of production. Wars to end slavery, wars of independence, the great wars of the 20th century, post-colonial struggles—they were all driven by the struggle of the owner class to hold on to what they had. Anti-socialism and anti-communism were the ultimate causes of modern wars, though this is rarely stated in many history textbooks. The Cold War really started in 1848, not 1948.

WWI was a struggle of the empires to hold onto their territories and secure oil resources. WWII was a fought to reverse the Bolshevik revolution and stop the spread of socialism. The British, French and Americans delayed in joining the USSR in an alliance against Germany because they had been hoping that Germany would defeat the USSR first. They believed it would then be easy to get victory over Germany after it had exhausted itself fighting communism. WWII could have been avoided if not for this strong anti-communist motivation.

It is often said that democracy is the opposite of communism, but communism is an ideology of economics, so its true opposite is capitalism. Marx defined fascism as the extreme form of capitalism. In Nazi Germany and fascist Italy, capitalism was very profitable. It was not in danger from fascism.

As WWII was ending, and during WWII, the US government was divided. The president wanted to end imperialism and live peacefully with the USSR, but segments of the military, big business interests, and the new intelligence agencies wanted to strengthen Germany and forgive Nazi officials. They were more concerned with continuing anti-communist struggle. Thus the Cold War was born out of WWII.

At the end of WWII the pro-big business conservative wing of the Democratic Party prepared to break the wartime alliance with the Soviet Union and wage a counter-revolution against Roosevelt's New Deal. These conservatives saw that President Roosevelt was very ill and likely to die during his next term as president, so they plotted to remove the left-leaning Henry Wallace as a vice presidential candidate for the 1944 election. The inexperienced, conservative Senator Harry Truman became the vice presidential nominee through a very undemocratic process controlled by party bosses. After the war, when Truman was president, he was manipulated by this conservative faction to break Roosevelt's agreements with Stalin and to antagonize the Soviet Union. The creation of the nuclear arms race and the CIA had tragic consequences, as we will learn in future lessons.