Presented below is a pre-publication excerpt from the PBS series companion book, RED FILES: Secrets from the Russian Archives, written by George Feifer, published by TV Books, distributed by HarperCollins.

Cold War Russia

The Cold War is a manifestation of the epochal clash between Communism and capitalism, two utterly opposed social foundations that are totally different at their core, therefore in everything essential about their practice. Scientific Marxism-Leninism explains why there can be no reconciliation between the two, and why socialism will triumph.
    - The Party line, repeated every day, everywhere

Eager Soviet political instructor: "What's the difference between capitalism and Communism?"
Bored student: "That's easy, Comrade. Capitalism is the exploitation of man by man."
"Very good, Son, go on!"
"Yes, and socialism is...just the opposite."
    - Classic gag of the Soviet 1960s and 1970s

Not only foreigners but also Russians lacked a clear idea of what was really happening in the four aspects of Soviet life examined by a current series of film documentaries to which this book is a companion. In the end, those four facets, like so many others in the socialist Motherland, were about battles: the East-West battles in space, propaganda, sport and espionage-intelligence. Although Russians knew more about the propaganda they heard and sport they watched than about their spy and space programs, secrets abounded everywhere in national life. Their uncovering, although so far less than total, was among the goals of RED FILES, the television series.

What all Russians did know was that life was difficult for them throughout the period carefully investigated by the four programs but not uniformly so. They endured their grueling, hugely taxing Cold War in two distinct periods. The first began within days of Germany's defeat in 1945, its declaration made the following year when Winston Churchill coined "Iron Curtain" for a repugnant barrier that had fallen between East and West. Behind it, he warned, central and eastern Europe were subject "not only to Soviet influence but to a very high...measure of control from Moscow."

The Free World knew little about life behind the curtain during that first stretch of the 45-year struggle, but what it did know kept it throbbing with anxiety. While the West rushed to demobilize after World War II, the Soviet Union maintained a relatively swollen army. Several years later, in 1949, she exploded her first atomic bomb. (Espionage by American volunteers, about which the following chapter will reveal unsettling new information, speeded its design and manufacture.) A successful hydrogen bomb followed four years later, just after the first period's end. Westerners in general and Americans in particular were unashamedly frightened.

Few suspected the other side's fear was much greater. Russians knew far more about battle horrors than did blessedly protected Americans, who'd never been invaded. Immeasurable Nazi savagery had just given them a monstrous lesson, as if they needed another one, about war's slaughter and devastation - more of which now appeared imminent. They could not forget, even if their media hadn't reminded them daily, that the USA had a stockpile of atomic weapons and had actually used two, at Hiroshima and Nagasaki. President Harry Truman's grave warning that the new Soviet A-bomb posed a "great danger" to the American people made no mention of the danger the Soviet people saw in the American arsenal. That was beyond our interest, or perhaps comprehension as was the fear of the American weapon, and of the West in general, that stiffened Stalin's determination to maintain such powerful conventional military forces after the war.

In the late 1940s, the Pentagon began encircling the Soviet Union with air bases for possible - many Russians thought probable - launching of catastrophic bombing strikes against their cities. Each American speech urging that, every call to nuke the nefarious Communist enemy, made Russian blood run cold, even without the Soviet media's presentation of those battle whoops as evidence of Capitalist leaders' ultimate intent. What clearer proof could there be of the ruthless hostility of America's establishment, the warmongering clique of financial-industrial oligarchs who really ran things? The "let's-get-the-bastards" noises continued well after the two superpowers had reached a kind of unspoken agreement about preventing their hostility from erupting into real war. Rehearsing for a television program in 1984, President Reagan quipped that he was pleased to tell his fellow Americans that he'd "just signed legislation that will outlaw Russia forever. We begin bombing in five minutes."

The explanation that such appeals to obliterate the enemy were mere jests hardly assuaged the Russian fear. People who kidded about death to a country that had just suffered some 20,000,000 of them (to use the conventional but disputable figure) in the fight against Hitler represented a frightening danger not only to Soviet life but also to all humanity.

Dismayed by that, further tensed and muddled by their relentless propaganda, the weary, wary Soviet people saw the rich and mighty West as determined to snuff out their attempts to build a better life for themselves. Imperialist America, the West's belligerent leader, was capable of anything to destroy the social and economic system that was destined to replace its own.

In their sealed world that admitted only "useful" information, Russians would have been deranged not to feel fear, all the more because it lay so deep in the national consciousness. They'd known for centuries that their country was difficult to govern, partly because a stubborn strain of anarchy lay in their bones. The frailty of their instinct for social and political order inclined them to see the huge Soviet territorial expanse as a weakness, not the threat westerners perceived. All those vast, empty spaces to defend! - and with too few means. That heightened the anxiety brewing beneath the surface of their stern state controls: a sense that anything disastrous could happen in their far-flung, notoriously isolated and "roadless" landmass.

Maybe the inherent Russian resistance to organization derived from those geographical impediments to building a modern society. Anyway, too much remained beyond the state's power to cope - even now, under Joseph Stalin, when outsiders saw that power as absolute. That was why the Politburo masters slept badly during both Cold War periods, despite their huge totalitarian apparatus, zealously maintained by the outwardly all-powerful secret services. Mighty but insecure rulers who feared for their position despite command of vast police and military forces were almost the Russian norm. Her history had repeatedly confirmed that breakdown was always possible in the sprawling, often "ungovernable" country that lacked the glue of innate social cohesiveness for sustaining order, not to mention the self-discipline and sense of civic responsibility. Russians accepted that structure sometimes had to be imposed on them because they were so little given to creating it themselves.

But harsh rule from above tended to introduce its own anxieties - as now, under the ferocious Stalin. The country's every man, woman and child felt immense pride in having defeated the Third Reich. (That was another feature common to both Cold War periods. The Soviet people took it on faith that their sacrifices had done the impossible on the battlefields, and as we'll see in Chapter V, they were largely correct.) Although there was also much enthusiasm for rebuilding the war-ravaged country and for Building Socialism, another part of the psyche, compartmentalized in a way by no means unique to Russians, felt dread. To one or another degree, Stalin's murderous brutality gripped everyone, even though few knew more than scant details about it...

Further excerpts in Deep Background Book Highlights.

Secret Victories of KGB

Soviet Sport Wars

Secret Soviet Moon Mission

Soviet Propaganda Machine

 

RED FILES Home Page

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