The Structure of Soviet History: Essays and Documents

By Ronald Grigor Suny | Go to book overview

CHAPTER FIVE
DANGERS AND OPPORTUNITIES:
THE COMINTERN, WORLD WAR,
AND COLD WAR

THE LUKEWARM WAR

Despite all its original revolutionary ambitions, the Soviet Union in the interwar period (1918–1939) was an isolated and weak state. The Left in the Communist party, and in the international Communist movement, constantly raised the red banner of revolution, but the Soviet People's Commissariat of Foreign Affairs just as consistently practiced a foreign policy based on peaceful coexistence with the imperialist countries. Communists had few successes before the Second World War; not a single country outside the USSR, with the exception of the Soviet satellite, Mongolia, came under Communist rule. For the first few years of Soviet power, the Communists expected that their example of revolution would inspire workers in Europe and antiimperialists in the Middle and Far East to overthrow the “bourgeois” governments that had led their nations into the world war. The Communist International (Comintern) was founded in 1919 as a radical alternative to the old Socialist International, which was considered reformist rather than revolutionary. The Communists were ready to employ violence and terror to establish a new form of proletarian democracy, while the Social Democrats defended a gradualist, democratic, and nonviolent road to socialism. But by the early 1920s the tide of revolution receded; the capitalist powers restored their hegemony over Europe; and new states with parliamentary systems were created in East Central Europe. At the same time, the fear of communism and revolution encouraged an ominous new danger from the radical Right. First in Italy, then in several small states in Eastern Europe, and finally in Germany and Spain, varieties of fascism presented militant challenges to Soviet communism.

When the Great Powers redrew the map of Europe at Versailles in 1919, a series of new states—Finland, the Baltic republics, Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Austria, and Yugoslavia—stood between the Soviet Union and the rest of Europe. This “Cordon Sanitaire” kept the USSR isolated in the east, cut off from its one major ally, Germany. The Soviet Union and Germany were “revisionist” states, unhappy with the post-war settlement and the dominance of Britain, France, and the United States. Both were relatively weak until the coming to power of the Nazis in 1933 and the Stalinist industrialization. Just on the eve of the Great Depression, in 1928, the Com

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