Similarities between Pre-WW2 USA and USSR

Despite being seen as having two vastly different ideologies, the United States (US) and the Soviet Union (USSR) possessed many overarching similarities. These similarities can be seen in their universal and progressive nature and how both sides saw their cause as inevitably victorious. Both sides also found commonality in their 1920-30s economic crises, their alliance during WW2 and the common military build-up.

Ultimately, both the US and USSR ideologies during the Cold War were characterised by their desire to apply their ideology worldwide, and how they both emerged from revolution and WW2.

Both Soviet Communism and American Liberalism sought to apply their ideology globally.[1] Opposed to forms of Nationalism which focused on a particular area, the Cold War ideologies truly believed that their ideals were best for everyone. They revelled in modernity and sought to modernise the ‘Old World’ (Europe) and the newer world (Africa and South America) in their own image.[2] Both, ultimately, sought to change the world[3] – the US seeking change through gradual liberalisation and the USSR through Communist revolution. A testament to their affinities for universal application would be America’s willingness to intervene in others countries, such as Cuba.[4] The USSR’s ideology also took on an interventionist tone with their political influence in the Soviet bloc.

Both sides saw their ideology as the basis for progress. To themselves, they were the agents of global progress and improvement.[5]

There was a sense of inevitability in both ideologies. Americans, during the frontier days, possessed an idea of ‘Manifest Destiny’ – the notion that American progress would keep on forever and would ultimately reign supreme.[6] Marxist-Leninism, forming the Soviet idea of Communism, saw global revolution through the Marxist dialectic. To the Soviets, the eventual victory of the revolution was already determined.[7] Both ideologies didn’t so much see their ideals as something to be actively applied, they saw it as inevitably globally accepted.

Both also possessed a similar view of history. Both revered their historical background, with their revolutions, but also saw it as slow on a global scale.[8] Ultimately, either side believed their cause to be victorious in the foreseeable future.[9]

Both the USSR and US arose from a revolution. Both revolutions and nations took different forms, but the nature of these ‘revolutionary’ states may explain the prescriptive nature of their ideologies. Revolutions are built on the idea of change, and if a revolution wins out, the revolutionary doctrine becomes the new national ideology. In this way, both Soviet Communism and American Liberalism won their revolutions and saw fit to apply their revolutionary ideologies worldwide.

The New Economic Plan (NEP) and the Great Depression (culminating in the New Deal) saw either side adopting ideals from the other. Seeing the benefits of a free market, Lenin introduced the NEP, allowing a limited form of Capitalism in the USSR.[10] Similarly, the United States was facing the Great Depression, which resulted in the New Deal embracing forms of economic planning similar to the Soviets.[11] During this time, American companies were even known to invest in the USSR.[12]

The alliance of convenience between the US and USSR during WW2 saw both sides take a common ideological opposition to Nazism, an opposition that resulted in both sides seeing vestiges of Nazism in the other.[13] The US saw the USSR as embracing the totalitarian nature of the Nazis while the USSR feared that American Capitalism would ultimately lead to fascism.[14] This common historical factor resulted in both sides arising as the superpowers of post-WW2, allowing them to prescribe their ideologies to the world.[15]

The arms race which ensued after WW2 was not one-sided. It was a result of the mutual ideological goal of superiority. There was a vast military build-up on both sides.[16] This was due to the view that both sides were an antithesis of the other and that both sides were globally prescriptive.[17]

Both sides find commonality in their universal, progressive and inevitable approach to ideology. They both influenced each other heavily during the 1920s and 30s and their alliance during WW2 brought them together but ultimately resulted in the ideological conflict which we refer to as the Cold War.

Ultimately, the similarities of the Cold War powers may be the true reason for their conflict, as without the desire for global application, there would have been no need for conflict.

References

  • Engerman, David “Ideology and the origins of the Cold War, 1917-1962.” In The Cambridge History of the Cold War, Vol 1, edited by Melvyn P. Leffler and Odd Arne Westad, 20-43. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010.

Footnotes

[1] David Engerman, “Ideology and the origins of the Cold War, 1917-1962,” in The Cambridge History of the Cold War, Vol 1, ed. Melvyn P. Leffler and Odd Arne Westad (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010), 23.

[2] Ibid., 23.

[3] Ibid., 24.

[4] Ibid., 22.

[5] Ibid., 23.

[6] Ibid., 21.

[7] Ibid., 23.

[8] Ibid., 23.

[9] Ibid., 32.

[10] Ibid., 28.

[11] Ibid., 29.

[12] Ibid., 30. Investors like Ford saw American investment in the USSR as inevitably spreading Liberalism and Capitalism in the Communist country. He may have been wrong, as the USSR only collapsed arguably in either 1989 or 1993. But there is an argument to be made that investment of this nature (and the inevitable nature of economics) resulted in the USSR adopting a more liberal approach to economics.

[13] Ibid., 31.

[14] Ibid., 31. Leaving the evaluations of both sides’ claims aside, it is interesting to see that both sides justifications of hatred against the other were characterised by a mutual hatred for another ideology.

[15] This ultimately resulted in US and USSR domestic and foreign policy resulting in pure reactions to the other. The Red Scare and similar events in the USSR saw the states focus on reactionary rather than developmental policies.

[16] Ibid., 41.

[17] Ibid., 23. This global prescription could be the basis for the Cold War, as either side would not have feared the other unless it was blatantly obvious that they were competing for global ideological influence.