The Successes and Failures of Communism
Did communist hostility to private property and limitations on profit-making activities lead to inefficiency and contribute to the failure or failures of the Soviet Union? That was the assumption made by many critics of communism, at least. As a result, the West was caught off guard by the launch of Sputnik on October 4, 1957 from the Cosmodrome on the base at Baikonur in Kazakhstan. Traveling at 18,000 mph (29,000 kph), it took 96 minutes to circle the earth. Khrushchev, like Stalin, was awakened by a call from the launch site in the middle of the night. With the stakes not as high as those related to the atomic bomb test, the scientists were probably not as fearful of being executed for failure. Still, they may have been somewhat let down by Khrushchev's response: "Frankly, I never thought it would work," he told them. He then went back to bed. Sputnik had a short life, falling back to earth on January 4, 1958. The success of Sputnik I was almost immediately followed by the launch of Sputnik II on November 3rd, weighing 1,120 pounds and carrying a small passenger, the dog Laika. Laika survived ten days before her air supply ran out.
Sputnik I, at 22 inches in diameter, (about the size of a basketball), with a weight of 184 pounds, inspired both awe and fear in the West. In itself, it was hardly threatening. If it suggested the potential danger of communism, it provided a welcome contrast to the normally quiet skies. Except for the rising moon, an occasional comet, or seasonal meteor showers, the stars and planets moved at such a slow pace, that movement could not be discerned with the naked eye. The novelty of an artificial satellite which could be viewed in the night skies of the U.S. was enough to tempt the most ardent anti-communist out into the yard. Sputnik may have stirred excitement for another reason. It provided the West with a tiny glimpse of a closed society. At a time when the Soviet Union was shrouded in mystery the small speck moving across the sky was the closest thing to first contact.
Ten years before, the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) had heard Whittaker Chambers accuse former State Department employee Alger Hiss of being a Communist agent. Chambers made the accusation on August 3, 1948. When Hiss appeared before the Committee on August 25th, he was questioned by Richard Nixon, then a freshman Congressman from California. When Hiss sued Chambers for libel, Chambers produced copies of documents, (which Chambers had hidden in a pumpkin patch), which he claimed had been given to him by Hiss to be given to the Russians. In January 1950 Hiss would be convicted of perjury, vindicating Nixon and propelling him into the U.S. Senate.
Richard Nixon began establishing his anti-communist credentials a year before the Hiss-Chambers confrontation. HUAC, in 1947, had investigated Communist ties to Hollywood. A small group, known as the Hollywood Ten, refused to testify and were cited for contempt by the committee. There was a brief respite, but then the committee resumed its investigation in March 1951. The investigation was enough to force many to reveal names of associates believed to be Communists and to get Hollywood to blacklist anyone who refused to cooperate.
Another politician hoping to take advantage of anti-communist sentiment was Wisconsin senator Joseph R. McCarthy. On February 9, 1950 he gave a speech in Wheeling, West Virginia during which he claimed that there were more than 200 Communists in the State Department. McCarthy had public support until the Army-McCarthy hearings, held during 1954, when he was unable to substantiate charges that the U. S. Army had been infiltrated. He would be censured by the Senate in December 1954, on a 67 to 22 vote.
The fear of communism was still strong three years later, even as Joseph McCarthy's activities faded into history. Sputnik was a reminder of why the Soviet Union needed to be carefully watched, while awakening a competitive spirit. An attempt to show that the United States was not behind the Soviet Union proved an embarrassment, however. On December 6th a Vanguard rocket tried to carry a four-pound satellite into orbit from Cape Canaveral, only to explode a few feet off the ground. London's "Daily Herald" ran the headline "Oh, What a Flopnik!" The Soviet delegate to the United Nations asked whether the United States would be interested in receiving aid from the Soviet Union intended for underdeveloped countries. While the success of the Sputnik satellites led to a belief in the "missile gap," the U. S. was not, in fact that far behind the Soviet Union. It would successfully launch a satellite of its own, Explorer I, weighing thirty-one pounds, on January 31, 1958. The Soviets had one more card to play in the space race. On April 12, 1961 the Russians launched Vostok I. It carried a single passenger, Yuri Alexeyevich Gagarin, who would circle the earth once, in a one hour and forty-eight minute flight, then land safely along the Volga River.
The man behind the Soviet success in space was Sergei Korolyov (Korolev), who had founded the Research Institute for Rocketry in 1933. Whether the Soviet program could be considered, in part, a German effort, Stalin had rounded up and transported 16,000 German rocket scientists and engineers to Russia in 1946, where they were put to work on the program. It successfully tested the first intercontinental ballistic missile on May 15, 1957. By the time Sputnik was launched there were over 30,000 scientists working on the program. It would launch eight additional sputniks through March 1961.
The success of Sputnik did lead to some soul-searching within the United States, where the educational system, the military, and the American consumer came in for some scathing criticism. (The fact that the orbiting satellite could actually be seen in the U. S., unlike Soviet nuclear tests, may have had a greater impact since it meant that a competition between two systems was no longer an abstract concept.) President Eisenhower and his golf game did not escape blame. Papers, such as the "Dallas News" even suggested that "totalitarian control" might offer certain advantages. Federal spending on education was increased to two billion dollars a year in an effort to improve science, engineering, and mathematics skills. Another practical result was the organization of America's space program under the auspices of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), which officially came into existence on October 1, 1958, following Congressional action in June.
The Cuban Missile Crisis
In March 1960, as Dwight Eisenhower's term was coming to an end, he authorized the CIA to train a paramilitary force of guerilla fighters in Guatemala to be used against the Cuban government of Fidel Castro. He would take additional action in December by giving the agency the go-ahead to train an invasion force of the country, in expectation that that action would be enough to foment a popular uprising. Castro, who had taken control of Cuba in January 1959, after the dictator Fulgencio Batista fled, had angered the U. S. by nationalizing many American owned businesses. An economic blockade imposed by the U. S. failed to bring down the regime when the Soviet Union agreed to buy Cuba's sugar production, in addition to supplying her with oil.
John F. Kennedy would only learn of the invasion plan on January 19, 1961, one day before he was to be inaugurated. Despite his approval, he limited direct U.S. involvement. On April 15th, six bombers, painted in Cuban colors began bombing Cuban air bases. Only three planes on the ground were damaged in the bombing. The invasion force, which landed on April 17th in the area around the Bay of Pigs on the southern coast, lost its air support when Kennedy withdrew permission to use it. The force of 1,500, up against Soviet-built tanks, held a beachhead for three days, but lost around 100 killed, before surrendering. In 1962, many of the prisoners would be returned to the U.S. in exchange for food and medicine.
Kennedy met with Khrushchev for the first time at the Vienna Summit in June 1961. The failure at the Bay of Pigs gave Khrushchev an impression of Administration incompetence, compounded by weak leadership, a situation which would allow him to take advantage of the Americans. In an exchange over Berlin, Khrushchev incautiously threatened war if Kennedy did not agree to Soviet demands over recognition of East Germany. Kennedy's polite demeanor during the Summit reinforced Khrushchev's impression that the U. S. could be bullied.
During the summer, Khrushchev increased the pressure by announcing an increase in the Soviet Union's military budget coupled with the resumption of nuclear testing. Kennedy's response surprised and angered him. In a television speech on July 25th, he called for an additional $3.25 billion in military spending to add six new divisions to the army and two for the marines. Yet Kennedy, in August, would signal that there was still some room for maneuvering. Aware that the flood of refugees from East Berlin was an embarrassment to the Soviets, Kennedy was willing to allow the Russians to close the borders, so long as they left West Berlin alone. On Sunday, August 13, 1961 East German workers began erecting a barbed-wire fence across the center of Berlin. Kennedy was angered, when informed of the move that afternoon, but decided not to take any action to remove the barrier. Within days construction converted the barbed wire into a more permanent concrete barrier. So long as the Russians did not move against West Berlin, America would confine its response to diplomatic protests.
Khrushchev is said to have come up with the idea of placing missiles in Cuba while on a visit to Bulgaria in May 1962. The Black Sea separated Bulgaria and the beach at Varna from Turkey, where the U. S. had missile bases with nuclear weapons. Since the U.S. missiles frightened the Soviets, Khrushchev reasoned that missiles sited in Cuba would frighten the US. At another level he had invested a great deal in Cuba and wanted some means of protecting her from an another anticipated U. S. invasion. Beyond that he may not have clearly thought through the possible scenarios. Was he simply hoping to instill in the U.S. the same fear the Turkish missile sites inspired in Russia, a form of fear for its own sake, or did he expect to use that fear to negotiate a withdrawal of the missiles?
Castro proved to be one of the first obstacles to the plan. He was not happy about having Soviet missiles on his island. Persuaded that the missiles might aid the advance of socialism he finally agreed to accept them. In July ten ships, among the sixty-five sailing from the Soviet Union, carried military equipment. By September construction of missile sites had been secretly started. Whether an open construction might have reduced Washington's fears, the Soviets nevertheless kept them secret until Sunday, October 14th, when a U-2 overflight brought back pictures of a site in western Cuba.
The initial reaction of President Kennedy and the members of the Executive Committee of the National Security Council (ExComm) was what Khrushchev expected or hoped for - a form of paralysis. When ExComm met on October 16th, it was informed by Defense Secretary Robert S. McNamara that the missile sites would be operational in about two weeks. There was complete agreement that the missiles had to go, but indecision about how to have them removed. An air strike was favored, but then uncertainty about how effective it would be. On Thursday, October 18th, it was decided that a naval blockade offered a less confrontational solution than an air strike. Kennedy made a decision to back the blockade on Sunday, October 21st. He decided to publicly announce what was to be called a "quarantine" on Monday, October 22nd, in the evening. The B-52 nuclear bomber force of the Strategic Air Command (SAC) was placed on alert at noon, which meant that four squadrons, or one-eighth of the force, was in the air at all times. There were four nuclear warheads on board each plane.
The Administration would ratchet up the pressure that evening. U.S. military forces went to DEFCON 3, heightened nuclear alert, during which several hundred ICBM missiles were readied for firing. The blockade of Cuba went into effect with the deployment of 180 ships. The firmness of the U.S. response caught the Soviet leadership by surprise. The fact that the Soviet missiles had been discovered before the sites were fully operational however did not prevent the Russians from authorizing the local commander to use tactical nuclear weapons in the event the U.S. tried to invade Cuba.
The Administration was working behind the scenes to find a way out. On Tuesday, October 23rd, Robert Kennedy began meeting with Soviet Ambassador Anatoly Dobrynin. At the end of the first meeting Dobrynin told Kennedy that Soviet ships heading for Cuba were under orders to continue there, regardless of the blockade. There were signs however that the Soviets were attempting to back away. Five of the ships with missiles on their way to Cuba, had been ordered back. One exception to the recall order was the ship Aleksandrovsk, which carried twenty-four nuclear warheads and reached the port of La Isabela ahead of the blockade.
On Wednesday, October 24th, U.S. observers reported that some of the Soviet ships had stopped. At the ExComm meeting Dean Rusk, on hearing the news, told McGeorge Bundy, "We're eyeball to eyeball, and I think the other fellow just blinked." Defense secretary Robert S. McNamara did not want a sense of gloating conveyed to the Russians, warning Admiral George Anderson that the actions taken to enforce the blockade should not be done in a way which humiliated the Russians. Even as tensions eased somewhat, both sides sent conflicting messages. Khrushchev sent a message to Kennedy that he considered the blockade an "act of aggression." The U.S. military alert status increased from DEFCON 3 to DEFCON 2, a state of readiness just one step below war. The number of nuclear warheads on alert was 2,952. On Friday, October 26th, the first stages of an invasion plan, calling for 25,000 marines, were put into effect, with the aircraft carriers Enterprise and Independence sailing for Cuba. The estimated 18,500 casualties associated with an invasion made Kennedy reconsider.
The Soviet tanker Bucharest was stopped by the USS Gearing on Thursday, October 25th, at 7:15 am, then allowed to continue to Havana, once it was determined to be carrying oil. A second vessel, the Lebanese Marucla, was stopped and boarded on Friday, October 26th, although U.S. intelligence knew beforehand that it was only carrying spare parts, asbestos, and industrial goods. It was allowed to continue, after the inspection.
Aleksandr Fomin, a KGB official serving as press counselor to the Soviet Embassy suggested, at a luncheon meeting with ABC-TV correspondent John Scali on October 26th, that Russia would be willing to dismantle the missile sites and remove them, if the U.S. would guarantee not to invade Cuba. The message was forwarded to Secretary of State Dean Rusk, who discussed it with President Kennedy. The American response Scali was asked to relay was that the U.S. saw some real possibilities for negotiation. A four-part letter from the Kremlin followed that evening. Believing that Khrushchev had written the letter, ExComm decided, at 10:00 p.m. that it was a genuine offer to negotiate. Robert Kennedy met with Dobrynin after midnight to discuss possible solutions. Dobrynin brought up the subject of the Turkish missiles. After a phone call to the White House, Kennedy agreed that the Turkish missiles could be included in negotiations. Dobrynin quickly passed this news on to Moscow.
Evidence later suggested that what had broken the impasse, the offer made by Fomin, had not come from Moscow, but from Fomin himself. If the letter sounded like something Khrushchev had written, it appears he was not aware that an offer had been made. He was now aware that the U.S. was seriously willing to negotiate. A second letter from Moscow was broadcast at 11:00 a.m. on Saturday, October 27th. The demand for the removal of the U.S. missiles in Turkey had been added to the original offer, but the Soviet Union was willing to remove the Cuban missiles in return.
After continued negotiations, Robert Kennedy told Dobrynin that the U.S. would agree to withdraw the blockade and not to invade Cuba if the Soviets would dismantle the missile sites. Kennedy also agreed that the U.S. would withdraw the missiles from Turkey within four to five months. The only condition was that the U.S. wanted references to the Turkish missile deal kept secret. The Soviets agreed and on Sunday, October 28th, broadcast a message on Radio Moscow indicating that they would dismantle the Cuban missile sites. The U.S. missiles in Turkey were removed in 1963. They were said to be obsolete, according to some stories.
At the time of the Cuban missile crisis, the American nuclear arsenal had around 5,000 deliverable weapons, compared to 300 on the Russian side. Whatever Khrushchev may have believed about being able to push Kennedy around, he was aware that the nuclear odds were against him. What may have figured into his calculations was the possibility that Cuban missiles could have destroyed four-fifths of the American arsenal. The projection seems overly optimistic and might have depended on all the missile sites becoming operational. It did increase the number of warheads which would be able to get through, since the U.S. air defenses were strong enough to minimize penetration in any attack originating in the Soviet Union.
When the details of the final compromise deal were being worked out, Khrushchev is said to have worried that Kennedy might not have the determination to hold out against the military hard-liners. Khrushchev's perception that Kennedy was weak may have worked to the benefit of peace by forcing Khrushchev to directly come to terms with a determined military organization. It was not the fact that the nuclear arsenals were so large or destructive that may have been the most ominous aspect of the confrontation. It was more that the stockpile of weapons was controlled by the emotions and reactions of people. While both sides assumed that tough talk and actions were the basis for diplomacy, there was sometimes a too-personal projection of power which found expression in the need to humiliate the other side or to act out aggression.
General Curtis LeMay, US Air Force Chief of Staff at the time, even more critical of Kennedy than Khrushchev, considered him a coward. During the crisis, he favored a bombing raid to take out the missile sites. So intent on action he said, at one point: "Now we've got him [the Russian bear] in a trap, let's take his leg off right up to his testicles. On second thought, let's take off his testicles, too." The commander of SAC, Thomas Power, was described as wanting to get World War III started. The confrontational attitude filtered down through the ranks to those on missions. SAC bombers, according to one wing commander, flew past their turnaround points on October 24th, heading for Soviet airspace. Only when the Russian freighters stopped did the planes turn around. SAC also allowed the test launch of an Atlas ICBM on October 26th from Vandenberg Air Force Base at 4:00 am. The test had been scheduled well before the crisis and the missile was not aimed at the Soviet Union, but the Pacific Kwajalein test range. Perhaps even more dangerous was a situation in which Power, as SAC commander, had the technical capability to launch an attack without the authority of the president. Security features designed to prevent an accidental or unauthorized launch had yet to be installed.
A quick listing of the world's religions would probably include familiar names such as Buddhism, Islam, Judaism, Christianity, and Hinduism. It is doubtful that communism or capitalism would receive so much as a passing mention. Neither system claims to be remotely connected to any formal religion or religious belief system. While both have discussed or acknowledged religious belief in some form, both have exhibited an obsession with the economic side of life. Their primary focus is on economics, not faith. Still, what began as a strictly economic struggle between workers and owners over wages has, at times, taken on elements of a religious conflict.
Classifying capitalism or communism as religions is a somewhat melodramatic description of their philosophical foundations and beliefs. However, the rivalry between the two systems became so intense that it took on elements of one small area of religious history, the battle against external forces, (non-believers or infidels) or, internal enemies (heretics). The Cold War is symbolic of that conflict, since it transformed an ordinary military confrontation into a Crusade, engendering a level of fear and hatred so intense that both sides were willing to consider nuclear Armageddon. General Thomas Power, SAC commander in the 1960s, said at one time: "Restraint? Why are you so concerned with saving their lives? The whole idea is to kill the bastards. At the end of the war if there are two Americans and one Russian left alive, we win." (In later years, the same General LeMay who considered President Kennedy a coward for not acting against the Russians during the Cuban missile crisis, would comment that he had worried about Power.)
Heresy, in the religious context, is a belief which is contrary to the established doctrine of a church or religion. In some ways it is the internal version of a competing faith. Pope Urban II sanctioned the First Crusade in 1096, as a way of dealing with the external threat posed by Islam. Pope Gregory X would establish the Inquisition in 1233 to deal with the threats coming from within the Catholic Church. The Crusade and the Inquisition, while designed to deal with different threats, were in some ways similar. They both assumed that the spiritual battle between good and evil could be fought on a battlefield of the real world. Heretics and infidels could be defeated militarily or physically because evil had manifested itself in human form. Evil, immune to human activity in most cases, could be dealt with, where heresy was concerned, by killing the people who propagated the heretical idea.
The problem for the Church was that the idea of a Crusade, Inquisition, or even a witch hunt was almost as appealing as the core beliefs of the Church itself. Why take on faith something that could be experienced in the here-and-now. Evil, in human form, whether the form was that of heretic or infidel, was no longer an abstract idea only to be confronted in the afterlife. Battling evil in its human form seemed to offer a suitable path to redemption, since redemption could be obtained through aggressive activity rather than a life of good works. The Church could exercise some control of over-zealous individuals by channeling activity into a formal body or proceedings, such as the Inquisition. It could curb the Crusade by granting formal approval or not, as it chose. What it found difficult to do was to quench the Crusading fervor of the convert or the True Believer, once it had been ignited. The religious beliefs which served as the foundation for the crusading idea were overwhelmed by the new idea itself.
Irving R. Kaufman, the judge who sentenced Julius and Ethel Rosenberg to death for espionage, justified the harsh sentence by framing the conflict as a "life and death struggle with a completely different system." In an age of nuclear weapons that logic was a dangerous commodity. At the time of the Crusades, the potential damage inflicted by battling armies was confined to the individual combatants and limited by natural forces, such as rivers or mountain ranges. In the nuclear age, the power of weapons was no longer limited by the physical power or skills of the individual combatants while distance and geography posed no barrier to air power, which could reach virtually anywhere on the globe. General Curtis LeMay, as commander of the U.S. Strategic Air Command (SAC) in 1952, was keeping its list of bombing targets secret, even from other branches of the Air Force.
Until the Cuban missile crisis, competition between communism and capitalism had been confined mostly to words. Russian's problems with production and Stalin's record of political repression made for an easy target. Pointing out socialist flaws or ridiculing Bolshevik failures was worthwhile up to a point. Western governments however, were not inclined to intervene militarily in Russia's internal affairs on the basis of such criticism.
For all the criticism leveled at the Soviet Union, a basic question remained unanswered. How had the Soviet Union survived when evidence of its failure seemed overwhelming? What was the appeal which allowed communism to expand worldwide, despite its abysmal failure on the economic front? The answer which emerged was not an attempt to reconcile the conflicts inherent in the argument, since the phenomenon defied logical explanation. Failure and success could not logically exist side-by-side. One seemingly plausible explanation was that a supernatural power had intervened, or some mysterious force, such as a "communist conspiracy," existed. The Soviet development of the atomic bomb, because of its destructive power, reinforced the notion of a "communist conspiracy." Communist 'true believers' could be ruthlessly efficient if it served their evil ends. The problem with that argument was that it suggested a "selective inefficiency," in which communists could choose to be efficient in some areas while allowing other areas to slide. In areas where they were fanatics, they were ruthlessly efficient. When most countries were eager to showcase their economic achievements, the question was why communists would choose the economic area as a place where inefficiency could run rampant. Of course capitalism had linked a strange combination of images to make its argument. If it now had a symbol, in Stalin's atomic bomb, which conveyed the evil nature of communism, it still relied on the poor quality of Russian consumer goods to support the idea of failure. Communism was evil enough and powerful enough to enslave the entire world, yet it was willing to settle for the rather mundane goal of manufacturing refrigerators which didn't work.
A Loss of Motivation
The underlying reason for the failure of the Soviet Union was said to be a loss of motivation. Restrictions on private property took away incentives which were key to productivity. This contributed to widespread inefficiency. However, a lack of motivation was not evident at the battle of Kursk or among Igor Kurchatov's scientific team working on the atomic bomb. The events leading to his appointment as director of the program suggest, not a cold bureaucratic organization following the Party line, but a group of people who responded to a positive attitude displayed during the interview process and the personal warmth and optimistic nature of Kurchatov. While Khrushchev may have been tempting fate by putting missiles in Cuba, the world was fortunate that the chain of command in the Russian military worked efficiently enough to quickly stand down once Khrushchev had given the order.
The battle of Kursk, the development of the atomic bomb, and Sputnik were success stories, and all three were products of a communist system. To single out the most dramatic events, such as Kursk or even Stalingrad, as achievements is to suggest that they were notable only because they were exceptions in a system noted for its failures. The battles and the actual fighting represented just one aspect of success. Russian industry, beginning with its engineers to its factory workers, had made a significant contribution to the Red Army victory. When tank production of the T-34 was moved from Kharkov to Chelyabinsk in July 1941, plant managers took just ten weeks to restart operations and produce the first twenty-five tanks. In 1942 Soviet factories would turn out 24, 446 tanks, or about 1,000 a month. In 1944, T-34 production went to 2,500 a month. Russian engineers had also incorporated the compressed air starter into the T-34 design, which gave them mobility in the December 1941 counterattack against the German forces threatening Moscow. The Soviet aircraft industry would turn out nearly 23,000 planes in 1942.
The loss of motivation which supposedly infected the Russian workforce, may or may not have impacted the Red Army. Lack of motivation could not have been applied to the unarmed "tramplers" sent out to clear snow in front of the German lines prior to an attack, nor to the punishment battalions marched through minefields to clear them. A lack of initiative would also not have been applied to the snipers or tank attack squads which roamed the battlefield of Kursk at night in search of disabled tanks. Nor could it be applied to the skills or bravery of Red Army engineers, who moved in behind German tanks to lay new mines, nor to the camouflage skills of the defenders, who managed to conceal many of their artillery pieces and tanks from German observers. The Russians relied heavily on military deception (maskirovka) or camouflage at Kursk They constructed forty false airfields, which they filled with dummy aircraft. They were convincing enough to draw Luftwaffe bombing attacks more than once. Dummy observation posts, manned by reconnaissance troops were also built. Dummy tanks were also located at "assembly areas," with some 829 areas set up on the Voronezh Front alone. Mines and booby traps were so well concealed from German forces that the first indication they had that they were entering a mine field was the explosion.
At Kursk the Germans had come up with an almost unstoppable weapon in the Ferdinand, or Elefant. With an 88 mm gun and protected by 200mm of belly armor, it seemed impervious to Russian shells. It carried no defensive armament in the form of machine guns however. The disciplined Russian forces could not prevent the Ferdinands from advancing, and turned their attention to the smaller tanks intended to protect them. Once isolated from their supporting troops however, Russian infantry climbed on top of the Ferdinands and used flame-throwers aimed at ventilation slits to attack the crew. Any crew members who tried to escape the flames were machine-gunned as they emerged. All ninety Ferdinands employed during the battle were destroyed.
The Soviet educational system produced a remarkable list of Nobel winners. Peter Kapitsa, the physicist who had tangled with Beria, won the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1978. Igor Tamm, another scientist, won the Physics Prize in 1958, as did Lev Landau in 1962. Nikolai Semenov would receive the Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 1956. Abram Ioffe, who turned down the directorship of the atomic bomb project, had worked in the laboratory of Wilhelm Roentgen, the discoverer of X-rays, in Munich. (Andrei Sakharov would be another Nobel winner, but not for his work in physics. He would be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1975.)
Distinguishing Between the Two
The U.S. could claim the prize for being the first to develop the atomic bomb. As the Cold War developed momentum, there was a temptation to associate its development with the free market. Only in an open society could there have been the freedom to experiment and the free interchange of ideas considered a prerequisite to great scientific achievement. Crediting the development of the bomb to Yankee ingenuity of course, discounted the contributions of foreign scientists, such as Fermi or Peierls. There was also a certain irony to any claim that the U.S. atomic bomb was a triumph of Western know-how and the free market. Capitalist criticism of the Soviet economic system had often revolved around central planning and the mistakes made by government bureaucrats. Yet the Manhattan Project itself had been almost exclusively a government operation. Leslie Groves was no ordinary bureaucrat, but the U.S. government maintained tight control over most aspects of the operation.
If the Manhattan Project suggested that the U.S. was tempted to incorporate central planning into its economic endeavors, under extraordinary circumstances, there were indications that the Soviet Union was more accepting of capitalist ideas about profits and motivation. When Igor Kurchatov met with a highly irritated Stalin following news of the Hiroshima bombing in August 1945, it was not clear he would be rewarded or shot. In January 1946 a more relaxed and magnanimous Stalin commented at a Kremlin meeting that Russian scientists were modest people who sometimes didn't realize that they didn't live well enough. Stalin expressed concern to Kurchatov about everyday conditions and the need to reward scientists for their achievements. Stalin carried through on his suggestion, doubling and tripling scientific salaries soon after. Their food rations were also increased. For Kurchatov, Stalin built an eight-room house on the grounds of Laboratory No. 2, even bringing in Italian craftsmen to finish the interior. He moved in in November. Following the First Lightning test, Kurchatov would be rewarded with a dacha in the Crimea, a ZIS-110 automobile, the Hero of Socialist Labor award, and additional cash. Khariton received a dacha at Khukovka, near Moscow, a ZIS-100, and cash.
If the Soviet Union's achievement was somewhat tainted by its reliance on U.S. plans obtained through espionage, the Americans were not exactly in a position to complain about stolen ideas or plans. Rudolf Peierls and Otto Frisch had shared their bomb design and critical mass calculations with Australian Mark Oliphant in 1939, when all three were residents at the University of Birmingham in England. The MAUD Committee of British scientists produced a report on the feasibility of a bomb in July 1941. Mark Oliphant would attempt to alert scientists in the U.S. to the importance of bomb development when he visited there in August. The U.S. showed little gratitude at the end of the war. In 1947 the U.S. even blackmailed the British into giving the U.S. two-thirds of British stocks of uranium while relinquishing claims to new Belgian Congo shipments of uranium ore for two years. The U.S. had threatened to withhold economic relief unless the British, who were close to bankruptcy, agreed to its terms.
The race to develop the atomic bomb may have been a valid test of the competence of systems such as capitalism or communism. But how was competence to be measured? In the case of uranium enrichment, was it proved by the ability to overcome specific problems? Did the choice of separation process, such as gaseous diffusion or electromagnetic separation, say anything about the relative competence of the scientists involved? or more about the level of governmental commitment to the project? Beyond basic competence, was the bomb race capable of determining a winner? Could American scientists claim victory by virtue of being first or was winning related to the difficulty of the problems encountered? Which problems were the most difficult to solve? - those related to the physics of thermonuclear explosions, based on the extensive calculations required? or those involving an understanding of critical mass and the timing of detonation? Perhaps the original design of the uranium gun, which kept sub-critical components of the bomb apart until detonation, might be considered the most innovative idea.
At times, it has been suggested that the Soviet Union and communist systems can be judged by two standards: 1) factory production; and 2) political repression (or human rights). The arguments seemed convincing on both counts, when the Soviet Union served as the primary example. On the other hand, such a standard seems almost dated, when confronted by the paradox of Communist China. As recent visitors have noted, Chinese factories have modernized to the point where their machinery is more up-to-date than that found in the West. U.S. manufacturers are finding that Chinese manufacturers can compete, not just on price, but on quality as well. The criticism that communist systems are inherently inefficient has been challenged by one of the most efficient and modern manufacturing systems in the world, found, not in the West, but in China, one of the last of the communist regimes. In addition, most dictatorships suffer from similar economic problems, evidenced by shortages of consumer goods.
Debate about the Soviet Union has focused almost exclusively on the question of the success or failure of communism. In coming to terms with dictatorship, the problem may be better framed by asking the question: what distinguishes communist dictatorship from other forms of dictatorship? Were communist dictatorships so unique or qualitatively different from other dictatorships that they deserved a special category of their own? If the Soviet Union was to be judged a failure based on political repression, why was communist dictatorship considered so much worse than other forms of dictatorship? All dictatorships must be considered failures using that standard. Political repression, after all, is what defines dictatorship. Nazi Germany, as a dictatorship, would not be considered a success, simply because its political ideology was different than that of the Soviet Union. Joseph Stalin's activities would rank the Soviet Union among the most repressive regimes of all time. Was that distinction related to communist ideology or was it a function of the personal ambition and brutality of Stalin himself?
Generals LeMay and Power were so convinced of the evils of communist dictatorship that they were willing to push the world into nuclear war to eliminate the threat during the Cuban missile crisis. The message to victims of political repression unrelated to communism implicitly has been: it could have been worse.' Small comfort to those imprisoned, tortured, or executed by non-communist dictatorships.
Suggestions for further reading.
Christopher Andrew and Oleg Gordievsky, "KGB: The Inside Story of Its Foreign Operations from Lenin to Gorbachev," HarperCollins Publishers, (New York, NY 1990).
Anne Applebaum, "Gulag: A History," Doubleday, (New York, NY 2003).
Britta Bjornlund, "The Cold War," Lucent Books, World History Series, (San Diego, CA 2002).
William B. Breuer, "Race to the Moon," Praeger, (Westport, CT 1993).
Martin Caidin, "The Tigers Are Burning," Hawthorne Books, Inc., (New York, NY 1974).
Robert Conquest, "The Harvest of Sorrow," Oxford University Press, (New York, NY 1986).
Robin Cross, "Citadel: The Battle of Kursk," Sarpedon, (New York, NY 1993).
R. W. Davies, Mark Harrison, and S. G. Wheatcroft, eds., "The Economic Transformation of the Soviet Union, 1913-1945," Cambridge University Press, (New York, NY 1994).
John Erickson, "The Road to Berlin: Stalin's War With Germany: Volume Two," Yale University Press, (New Haven, CT 1999).
John Erickson, "The Road to Stalingrad: Stalin's War With Germany: Volume One," Yale University Press, (New Haven, CT 1999).
Sheila Fitzpatrick, "Stalin's Peasants: Resistance & Survival in the Russian Village After Collectivization," Oxford University Press, (New York, NY 1994).
Bryan I. Fugate, "Operation Barbarossa: Strategy and Tactics on the Eastern Front, 1941," Presidio Press, (New Haven, CT 1984).
J. Arch Getty and Roberta T. Manning, eds. "Stalinist Terror: New Perspectives," Columbia University Press, (New York, NY 1993).
Leslie R. Groves, "Now It Can Be Told: The Story of the Manhattan Project," Harper & Brothers, (New York, NY 1962).
Greg Herken, "Brotherhood of the Bomb: The Tangled Lives and Loyalties of Robert Oppenheimer, Ernest Lawrence, and Edward Teller," Henry Holt and Company, (New York, NY 2002).
David Holloway, "Stalin and the Bomb: The Soviet Union and Atomic Energy 1939-1956," Yale University Press, (London, UK 1994).
Jeremy Isaacs and Taylor Downing, "Cold War: An Illustrated History, 1945 - 1991," Little, Brown and Company, (New York, NY 1998).
David Holloway, "Stalin and the Bomb: The Soviet Union and Atomic Energy 1939-1956," Yale University Press, (London, UK 1994).
Nikita Khrushchev, "Khrushchev Remembers," Little, Brown and Company, Inc., (Boston, MA 1970).
Roy Medvedev, "Let History Judge: The Origins and Consequences of Stalinism," Columbia University Press, (New York, NY 1989).
Roy Medvedev and Zhores Medvedev, Ellen Dahrendorf, Translator, "The Unknown Stalin: His Life, Death and Legacy," The Overlook Press, (New York, NY 2004).
Charles Murray and Catherine Bly Cox, "Apollo: The Race to the Moon," Simon and Schuster, (New York, NY 1989).
Major General K. D. Nichols, U.S.A. (Ret.), "The Road to Trinity," William Morrow and Company, Inc., (New York, NY 1987).
Alec Nove, "An Economic History of the USSR: 1917-1991," Alfred A. Knopf, (New York, NY 1990).
Jonathan Phillips, "The Fourth Crusade and the Sack of Constantinople," Viking, (New York, NY 2004).
Richard Pipes, "Russia Under the Bolshevik Regime," Alfred A. Knopf, (New York, NY 1993).
Richard Pipes, "The Russian Revolution," Alfred A. Knopf, (New York, NY 1990).
Richard Rhodes, "Dark Sun: The Making of the Hydrogen Bomb," Simon & Schuster, (New York, NY 1995).
Tamara L. Roleff, "The Atom Bomb," Greenhaven Press, Inc., (San Diego, CA 2000).
Alan Shepard and Deke Slayton, with Jay Barbree and Howard Benedict, "Moon Shot: The Inside Story of America's Race to the Moon," Turner Publishing, Inc. (Atlanta, GA 1994).
Gerald Simons, ed. "World War II: The Soviet Juggernaut," Time-Life Books, Inc., (New York, 1980)
Gordon Thomas and Max Morgan Witts, "Enola Gay," Stein and Day, (New York, NY 1977).
Robert C. Tucker, "Stalin in Power: The Revolution from Above, 1928-1941," W. W. Norton & Company, (New York, NY 1992).
Martin Walker, "The Cold War: A History," Henry Holt and Company, (New York, NY 1993).
Stephen Walsh, "Stalingrad 1942 - 1943: The Infernal Cauldron," Thomas Dunne Books, St. Martin's Press, (New York, NY 2000).
Andrew Wheatcroft, "Infidels: A History of the Conflict Between Christendom and Islam," Random House, (New York, NY 2004).
Earl F. Ziemke and Magna E. Bauer, "Army Historical Series: Moscow to Stalingrad: Decision in the East," Center of Military History, United States Army, (Washington, DC 1987).