The Establishment of Communist Regimes in Eastern Europe, 1944-1949

By Norman Naimark; Leonid Gibianskii | Go to book overview

13 The Marshall Plan, Soviet-American Relations, and the Division of Europe

Scott Parrish

On June 5, 1947, Secretary of State George C. Marshall delivered a speech to the graduating class at Harvard University. In the speech, Marshall made a dramatic offer of large-scale American economic aid to help in the reconstruction of war-ravaged Europe, which more than two years after the end of hostilities, had not yet landed solidly on the road to recovery. Despite increasing tensions between the United States and the Soviet Union over the postwar European order, the offer of aid was not restricted to any particular set of countries; Marshall welcomed the participation of "any country that is willing to assist in the task of recovery." After some initial hesitation, however, the Soviet Union rejected the American proposal, and coerced its Eastern European neighbors into following suit. The division of Europe into two competing blocs, each led by one of the emergent superpowers, soon followed. In Eastern Europe, the region's states -- Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Bulgaria, and Rumania -- were fully sovietized. The Marshall Plan thus seems to have been a watershed in the development of the Cold War.

While this general point has been clear for some time, debate has long raged over what sort of watershed the Marshall Plan represented. Did the division of the continent and the sovietization of Eastern Europe represent the inevitable development of Stalin's expansionist designs on the region? Or did the American offer and the conditions attached to it prompt a reappraisal of foreign policy priorities in Moscow, leading to a fundamental shift in Soviet policy? To put this question in another way, was the imposition of Communist regimes in Eastern Europe

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