The Amtorg Trading Corporation is an American company based in New York that was founded in 1924 by the Soviet Union to serve as its buying and selling organization in trade between the USSR and the USA. It handled the bulk of Soviet-American trade until 1935, and continues to exist today. Working as an Amtorg employee served as a convenient cover for Soviet spies, such as Morris Cohen. L. Ron Hubbard, the founder of Scientology, was once offered a research job by Amtorg.

Bolshevik Revolution
Russia in 1917 was a very unorganized place, with a recently abdicated tsar, a provisional government consisting mostly of liberal to far-right urban intellectuals and aristocrats, and millions of poor, alienated workers, soliders, and peasants, each with their own agendas. The political situation in the country was extremely polarized, with various factions often literally at each other's throats during the constant demonstrations and rallies that summer. On November 7, 1917 (which was still October according to the calendar used in Russia at the time), V. I. Lenin's Russian Social-Democratic Workers' Party (the Bolsheviks) stepped into this power vacuum and took over, establishing a "dictatorship of the proletariat", ostensibly in the name of the workers, soldiers, and peasants. Historians have speculated why it was that the Bolsheviks, a strange mixture of radical workers and Marxist intellectuals, and by no means the largest or most popular group in the country, succeeded in seizing power and imposing its agenda, while others had failed. It is certainly not because they had forged an indissoluble alliance with the peasantry, as is told in the Communist version of the story (and is vividly expressed by the hammer-and-sickle symbol)--indeed, the Bolsheviks and the peasants never did trust each other, as became clear during collectivization. Perhaps the reason for their success lay in Lenin's single-minded sense of purpose and the Party's superior centralized organization in the face of the anarchy all around. Whatever the reason, after taking power, the Bolshevik revolutionaries, who only had experience in overthrowing governments, had to quickly learn how to run a country. They encountered considerable resistance from all quarters--a disorderly hodgepodge of monarchists, liberals, and countless other varieties of radical revolutionaries--which they only succeeded in suppressing after several years of bloody Civil War and the institution of a brutal secret police force, the Cheka, that dealt swiftly and ruthlessly with all political opponents.

Located on a picturesque hilltop overlooking the German city of Weimar, this was one of the most notorious of the Nazi concentration camps, where numerous cruel "medical" experiments were conducted on the prisoners in the name of "science". After Buchenwald's liberation, the Soviet occupation forces continued to use the camp until 1950, for the internment of Nazi officials and army officers. Although no information was available about this second life of the camp until after the fall of East Germany, it is now known that the conditions were even more appalling than under the Nazis, and that fully one quarter of the prisoners died while there.

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The All-Russian Extraordinary Commission for Combatting Counterrevolution and Sabotage, or "Cheka" for short (its acronym in Russian), was the name of the first of the Soviet "secret police" organizations. It was founded by Felix Dzerzhinsky and functioned from 1917 to 1922, building up an army of internal security troops and a system of concentration camps and engaging in activities ranging from press censorship to random terror. The Cheka is the direct forerunner to the notorious NKVD and KGB.

The Communist Party of the United States was the name taken in 1929 by the former Workers (Communist) Party of America, which had been founded in 1925. Plagued by internal personality conflicts, it has led a continual up-and-down existence, starting as an underground organization, forced to follow a zig-zag policy in response to Moscow's many about-faces in the 1930s, gaining a certain popularity in the fight against fascism, suffering serious repressions during the "red scare" of the 1950s, enjoying rejuvenated respect during the radical 1960s, and most recently having to contend with the ideological implications of the collapse of Communism in Russia and Eastern Europe. Its membership is only a few thousand, and it always been more of a curiosity than a viable political force, despite regularly nominating candidates for the US Presidency.

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The word "dacha" in Russian generally refers to a modest summer cottage in the countryside. Most Russian city dwellers dream of having a small plot of land outside the city where they can get away on summer weekends. In the Soviet system, trade unions were allotted plots of land to distribute to their workers. Today, many people no longer use their dachas for rest and relaxation: they haven't been paid in months by their bankrupt employers, and the food they grow in the summer, and can for the winter, may mean the difference between survival and starvation. Soviet cosmonauts and star athletes were often awarded a particularly nice dacha with all the amenities as a token of appreciation. When one speaks of Brezhnev's or Khrushchev's "dacha", however, this refers to a huge barricaded resort compound with numerous large buildings and a full-time staff to cater to the leaders' every need. Because dachas were given out by the unions, many dacha communities developed their own special character, for example the legendary Writers' Union dachas at Peredelkino, outside Moscow, where almost every great writer and poet of the Soviet period spent his summers in the company of equally illustrious colleagues.

Dachau. Located several miles from Munich, this was one of the first Nazi concentration camps, established in 1933. It was used for political enemies of the regime such as Communists, and was never a "death factory" in the way that Auschwitz was, although it is estimated that 70,000 people did perish there from mainly malnutrition and epidemics.

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Great Depression
The Great Depression of the 1930s affected most of the developed countries of the world. Unemployment ran as high as 25-30% in many of them, while in some Central European countries, inflation was so high that people literally had to bring a wheelbarrow full of banknotes to pay for a single loaf of bread. The Soviet Union, which was economically isolated from the Capitalist West, was in the meantime embarking on its unprecedentedly ambitious program of rapid industrialization. The contrast was not lost on many unemployed factory workers in the West, and only served to deepen their sympathies for the worker's paradise that the USSR claimed to be. In fact, many countries worked their way out of the Great Depression by adopting some of the Soviet methods of state intervention in the economy, as advocated by British economist John Maynard Keynes. Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal was one such successful experiment. In Germany, which suffered especially hard due to the great burden placed on it by the payment of reparations to the WWI victors, the Great Depression led to a general dissatisfaction in society that brought about the rise of Adolf Hitler with his promise of making Germany into a country they could be proud of again.

GRU. One of the many acronymed Soviet intelligence agencies that have existed over the years, the GRU (Main Intelligence Directorate), which is over 50 years old already, is a top-secret military organization engaging in intelligence gathering and analysis as well as other subversive activities.

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Hiroshima is a city in southern Japan whose name will forever be associated with the fact that on August 6, 1945, the first atomic weapon in the world was dropped on it from an American bomber, obliterating it and killing 75,000 people in a matter of a few seconds.

The KGB (which is the Russian acronym for "Committee for State Security") is the name under which the powerful Soviet "secret police" organization was known between 1954 and 1995. Among its previous names were "Cheka" and "NKVD", while presently it is known as the Federal Security Service. The KGB engaged in everything from maintaining a system of informants and interrogators to running the vast Gulag labor camp system to cloak-and-dagger espionage and sabotage. Its tentacles extended into all aspects of Soviet life--there was a KGB officer assigned to every large enterprise or institution, whose job it was to keep an eye on everything that went on there. On the international front, there were numerous high-profile spy scandals during the Cold War involving KGB and CIA operatives. At the start of Gorbachev's reforms, the KGB was a bastion of conservative resistance. However, since it had always recruited the best and the brightest, many of of the KGB's younger staff quickly realized which way the wind was blowing and took advantage of their elite privileges and access to become quite successful businessmen in the private sector of post-Soviet Russia.

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Korean War
The Korean War of 1950-1953 was the first large Cold War-era conflict in which the United States and the Soviet Union fought one another through proxies. As WWII came to a close, the US supervised the Japanese surrender on the southern half of the Korean peninsula, and the USSR did the same on the northern half. As had been the case in Germany, however, the arbitrary boundary line between the two allied occupation zones soon hardened into a permanent border between two states, each claiming to be the legitimate government of the country as a whole. When the Communist north attacked the south, the US requested the UN Security Council to send military assistance to repel the invasion. The Soviet Union, which was boycotting the session in protest over an entirely different matter, was not able to use its veto to defeat the resolution, and the UN committed troops to aid the south (this would be the last time that the USSR boycotted a Security Council meeting). By the time the UN contingent, led by the United States, arrived in Korea, the Soviet- and Chinese-trained and equipped northern forces had captured nearly the entire peninsula. Within a few months, however, they had been pushed back nearly to the Chinese border. At this point, Communist China intervened with a huge force that shifted the balance once again. After several months of back-and-forth offensives and counter-offensives, two more years of negotiations, and hundreds of thousands of deaths, a cease-fire was finally signed, setting the border just about where it had been before the war had started. Officially, the war has never ended, and today the border between the two Koreas, bristling with barbed wire and guns, remains one of the most strongly fortified and potentially dangerous hot spots in the world.

In 1941, the United States came up with a novel way to maintain its neutrality in WWII while at the same time providing support to certain countries "whose defense the President deems vital to the defense of the United States," in the words of the Lend-Lease Act. While not actually participating in the hostilities, the US would merely lend or lease miltary hardware to countries like Great Britain, China, and later, the USSR. After the War, when Harry Truman reminded the Soviets that the American jeeps and tanks had not been an outright gift, Stalin invited him to pick up whatever was left of them from the battlefield at his own expense. Financial settlements with the other participants in the program continued until 1972.

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Los Alamos
Los Alamos is a rugged, hard-to-access plateau near Santa Fe, New Mexico. In 1943, nuclear physicist J. Robert Oppenheimer, who had been to summer camp in the area as a child and was impressed with its remoteness, suggested it as the site to set up a massive top-secret laboratory for the Manhattan Project to design and built the first atomic bomb. The Los Alamos National Laboratory remains one of the leading research facilities in the country today.

Manhattan Project
The Manhattan Project was the name of the massive US program during WWII to produce an atomic bomb before Nazi Germany could. Huge top-secret facilities were built in isolated locations at Oak Ridge, Tennessee, Hanford, Washington, and Los Alamos, New Mexico, and thousands of builders, soldiers, and scientists were involved in the race against time. Among the nuclear physicists working on the project were J. Robert Oppenheimer, Enrico Fermi, Edward Teller, and Albert Einstein. Although Germany was defeated before it could produce a bomb of its own, the US was still able to put the results of the Manhattan Project to practical military use on two Japanese cities, Hiroshima and Nagasaki, in August of 1945. After the War, it was discovered that a number of the foreign- and native-born scientists working on the Manhattan Project had been secretly passing on information about it to the Soviets.

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Nagasaki, a port city in southern Japan, was where the United States dropped its second atomic bomb, on August 9, 1945, three days after the Hiroshima bomb. The blast destroyed half the city and killed 75,000 people. Japan surrendered shortly afterwards, thus ending WWII.

Potsdam Conference
Potsdam Conference (July 17-August 2, 1945). Held in a suburb of Berlin, this was the final Allied summit conference of WWII. Newly sworn-in President Harry Truman represented the US, Winston Churchill of Great Britain was replaced midway by Clement Attlee after losing an election, thus leaving Joseph Stalin of the USSR the only participant who had also been present at the Teheran and Yalta Conferences. The Conference discussed issues relating to making peace with Italy and the minor Axis nations, the military occupation of Germany and Austria, German disarmament, and the punishment of Nazi war criminals. In a way, the Conference also marked the beginning of the Cold War, as the sides could not agree on matters such as the final political unification of Germany and the nature of the future governments of Eastern Europe.

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Ribbentrop-Molotov pact
On August 23, 1939, the world was shocked when ideological arch-enemies Nazi Germany and the USSR announced that they had signed a non-aggression pact, leaving Hitler with no enemies on his eastern flank, allowing him a free hand to focus all his efforts on his neighbors to the west. The treaty, known by the names of the two foreign ministers who had negotiated it, Joachim von Ribbentrop of Germany and Vyacheslav Molotov of the USSR, also contained a secret protocol that divided up Poland and the Baltic States among the two powers. Stalin hoped that the pact would cement a working relationship with Hitler and avoid a military confrontation, and was genuinely shocked when Hitler turned all the might of his war machine on the USSR less than two years later.

Spanish Civil War
The Spanish Civil War of 1936-1939 was in many ways a "dress rehearsal" for World War II, with many of the same participants functioning through Spanish proxies and testing out new weapons. At the lowest level, the war was a bloody internecene conflict between the leftist Republicans and the rightist Nationalists, the immediate cause being an insurgency by conservative military officers led by General Francisco Franco against a radical elected government. However, in those ideologically charged times, Spain quickly became a battleground between the opposing world political forces--Fascism and Communism. The Nationalists received support in the form of 70,000 troops from Mussolini's Italy and the latest planes and armaments from Hitler's Germany. The Republicans were aided by the USSR and volunteer brigades of liberals, anarchists, Marxists, and sundry other leftist sympathizers from over 50 countries. Eventually, the more disciplined and better equipped Nationalists overwhelmed their Republican opponents, who were riven by internal strife and were unable to secure the aid of the US, France, and Britain, all of which pursued a strict policy of non-intervention in the War. Some of the longer-term ramifications of the Spanish Civil War were that Spain sank into a stagnant dictatorship from which it would not emerge until after Franco's death in 1975, and that Hitler's pilots and officers had been given a wonderful opportunity to test out their new advanced hardware and hone their skills under battlefield conditions, which helped immeasureably in the planning of the subsequent Blitzkrieg attacks on Poland, the Low Countries, and France.

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The Telegraph Agency of the Soviet Union (acronym--TASS), a wire service, was the official (and only) news agency in the Soviet Union. Founded in 1925, it was nominally attached to the Council of Ministers, but in actuality was subordinated to the Propaganda Department of the Party's Central Committee. TASS had reporters in over 100 countries, and, like its western equivalents AP, UPI, and Reuters, provided news to both domestic and foreign newspapers and broadcasters. It was a powerful tool in the ideological war of words between the USSR and the USA.

The word Utopia (which means "no place" in Latin) first appeared in a book published in 1516 by Thomas More, an English intellectual, in which he describes an ideal human society based on reason. The term has entered the popular vocabulary meaning any fanciful notion of an ideal world. Many critics of the Communists described their ideas as utopian, but Lenin and his followers were gravely offended by this comparison, since they felt that their vision was somehow "scientific" and real and not fanciful wishful thinking about some imaginary world.

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VENONA was the code name for the US Army's attempts to decipher Soviet diplomatic correspondence during WWII. It was only in 1946, however, that the codes were broken. The intercepted messages were found to include numerous intelligence dispatches, among them a large number concerning Manhattan Project atomic bomb program, which had until then been thought to have been top-secret.

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