A Failed Empire: The Soviet Union in the Cold War from Stalin to Gorbachev

By Vladislav M. Zubok | Go to book overview

EPILOGUE

During the forty years that followed World War II, Soviet leaders and elites struggled to preserve and expand the great socialist empire that emerged out of this ordeal. After the historic victory over Nazi Germany, the majority of the Kremlin leaders, party elites, the military, the security police, and members of the military-industrial complex came to identify themselves with the idea of a great power with a central role in the world. The Russo-centric ideas among Russians in the Communist elites and the national feelings of non-Russians (for instance, in Georgia, Armenia, and Azerbaijan) became integrated into this new collective identity. Although terrible losses and material destruction during the war exhausted Soviet society and generated a yearning for a lasting peace and a better life, these same factors reinforced the growing mood among Soviet elites that the Soviet Union should and could be a global empire.

Documentary evidence on the Politburo’s activities, as well as diplomatic and intelligence documents, reveal that the Kremlin recognized global realities of power and sought, above all, to build Soviet strength. At the same time, the Soviet socialist empire was constructed and defended in the name of revolutionary and anti-imperialist ideology. The promises of Leninist ideology—the global struggle against inequality, exploitation, and oppression; international solidarity with victims of racism and colonialism; radical improvement of the lives of the toiling masses—remained written on Soviet banners and in party platforms. The blend of geopolitical ambitions and Communist ideological promises—the revolutionaryimperial paradigm—guided Soviet international behavior throughout most of the Cold War. Soviet leaders from Stalin to Andropov, as well as the majority of the party elite, foreign policy officials, and security police agents—even the most cynical and pragmatic among them—were always obliged to justify their actions by using general ideological formulas and couching them in MarxistLeninist jargon.

Joseph Stalin was the most murderous but also perhaps the most cynical and pragmatic of Soviet leaders. He was determined to consolidate the Soviet territorial and political gains made during World War II and to build an exclusive security buffer around the USSR. Until the fall of 1945, he was spectacularly successful: among his assets were the power of the Soviet army, the partnership with the United States and Great Britain, the devastation and weakness of Central European countries, the civil war in China, and the high prestige of the Soviet

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