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Vladislav Zubok on: Stalin's 1946 Speech
Q: Tell me about the speech Stalin made at the Bolshoi Theater in February 1946. It was a speech that made a big impression in the West didn't it?

VZ: Well, if we just take today and read Stalin's speech, we wouldn't be shocked by anything...He praised the Party; he praised the Socialist regime. He justified all the policies of the '30s -- collectivization, industrialization. Said, that's what enabled us to win the war. And then he switched to international analysis and he used again Leninist concept of imperialism to say that division of, redivision of the markets, struggle for world resources will produce conflicts and will produce wars. So that was not a war that happened by chance, the Second World War. It was inevitable. It stemmed from contradictions of capitalism.

So given this analysis, he proposed a solution. We should gear up to -- you know, the big leap forward. He didn't use the Chinese word of course, but that was the essence of his proposal. Three more five-year plans, which meant of course everybody remembered what first two five-year plans were in the 30s. Extreme tension, no luxury, no consumer goods, everything for defense, people sleeping five hours, working for fifteen hours, stuff like that. So that was pretty clear for the contemporaries. And many war veterans or just normal people who expected that they would relax after the war, that Stalin would finally say you deserve some peace and relaxation, my brothers and sisters -- that's how he talked to people in '41. That's how he talked to people even in May '45. Russians, brothers and sisters, you trusted your government, your government, you know, made some mistakes. He changed the tone so abruptly in February of '46...

And we know that at the same time -- a little bit earlier -- Stalin returned his master of propaganda from Finland, where he was in charge of -- he was the like commissioner in Finland -- he returned him to Moscow and put him in charge of propaganda apparatus. He needed to turn the country to the idea of exerting maximum efforts for rearmament. And I'm sure, again -- that's my belief -- it was linked to the atomic project. Not only atomic project -- Stalin, of course, simultaneously gave a green light to other projects -- missiles, for instance. I mean, if you take only two of these projects you put the country under immense stress economically. And propaganda is important to motivate people to tolerate all the hardships, to sustain all their hardships. And take note that Stalin could not tell them, my countrymen, you are suffering basically because we are trying to build the atomic build and missiles so fast. There was a complete secrecy. So he needed to come up with something else to justify all this. So, in a sense, Stalin was always a ruthless pragmatist and for him it was not ideology per se that mattered. It was that, that was the obvious tool to make people work hard and to put up with hardships in life.

Internationally, of course, that speech produced such a turmoil, particularly in London and Washington. And both ambassadors -- British and American -- sent alarmist reports about the speech. And of course just two weeks later George Kennan sent his long telegram to Washington, which was a bombshell...So what happened was that Stalin's return to ideology and to this interpretation of the international situation confirmed some suspicions that cropped up in the minds of Western politicians who kept asking themselves the question, what actually Stalin wanted after the war? Would he be prepared to limit himself, or his ambitions were unlimited? His expansion would continue on and on and on?

At the same time, what happened in December of '45, Stalin applied a maximum pressure on Turkey. There was his public campaign for annexation of some Turkish territories, and for granting the Soviet Union military bases in the Turkish straits. Even more so, at the same time, Stalin began to apply pressure to Iran. And in December, two autonomous republics or puppet republics were set in the zone of Soviet military occupation in northern Iran -- the Kurdish Republic, and the ethnic Azerbeijani Republic, which were widely regarded as, as, as tools in Stalin's hands to obtain oil concessions in Iran, to subjugate Iran, to turn it into a Russian sphere of influence.

So, well the truth is that from the Soviet perspective, from Stalin's perspective, those requests were limited. I mean, the Turkish straits and the total demands to Turkey was on the agenda of Czarist Russian imperialism for decades, if not centuries. Same with Iran, Russia did have a sphere of influence in Iran. But Stalin never bothered to, to provide his Western counterparts with any clear rationale for his foreign policy. He was an opportunist; he preferred to keep his options open. So that sowed immense mistrust, immense uncertainty about his intentions in the West. So when his speech, that speech gave, was like a fuse. Oh, suddenly people in the West people realized, oh, that's why he's doing all this. He's still a Marxist; he's a Marxist-Leninist. He's bent on unlimited Communist expansion. He can never be satisfied. That combination, dangerous combination of Communist universalism with old Czarist, Czarist expansionism is what motivates Russia. And that produced, that produced, that hardened up the West, particularly the Truman administration, to stop really trusting Stalin, to stop negotiating with Stalin, but instead building a -- unilaterally building up the power to contain the Soviet Union.



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