During the Cold War, a prevailing belief was that Communism would spread across the globe. There was a strongly believed theory that all communist countries were in a global alliance. Karl Marx, seen by many as the founder of socialism, spoke of all workers rising up against oppressive capitalist regimes. Many communists tried to export the revolution, but this was met with varying success. Nationalistic (loyalty to a nation) concerns often overrode international brotherhood. This was one of the flaws in the communist theory. People did not see themselves as a global class of workers. Instead, they saw themselves as oppressed workers in their country and they therefore had to free their country from capitalism. This was not a falsehood that only communists shared. United States intelligence also thought that all communist countries were in collusion with each other. Important figures such as Secretaries of State, Dean Rusk and John Foster Dulles, both prescribed to this theory. Believing in this theory led to many foreign policy blunders.
Nationalism has trumped communism numerous times. One of the earliest examples was Yugoslavia. Russia took it upon itself to export communism to other nearby eastern European countries. Moscow dictated how countries would implement their government policies. Yugoslavia proved to be the exception that showed the weakness of the communist brotherhood. The communist leader of Yugoslavia, Joseph Tito, defied Soviet leader, Joseph Stalin. Tito set out to be free of the Soviet Union influence. Stalin allowed this to happen because Yugoslavia was not geographically important. The nations the Soviet Union controlled, such as Poland, were only kept because they were in-between the capitalistic nations of the West. Stalin wanted buffer countries so Russia would not be invaded, like in the last two World Wars. Stalin showed that political reality was more important than ideology. Yugoslavia was not a very important geographic buffer. That is why it was not threatened when they declared neutrality during the Cold War and took economic aid from the United States. Countries such as Hungary, who were a geographic buffer, were not as lucky.
As I have mentioned before, this belief of international cooperation led to many foreign policy blunders including one of the greatest in our history: the Vietnam War. The Secretary of State during the Johnson and Kennedy administrations, Dean Rusk, thought that China was pulling the strings during the Vietnam War. This was not the case, and if those in power had a sense of history then they would have known this. China was seen as much of an enemy to Vietnam as the US. Since the dawn of both countries, there has always been a cycle of the larger China invading Vietnam. The leader of communist North Vietnam, Ho Chi Minh, was actually more afraid of Chinese domination than that of the United States. The only reason China gave some aid to the Vietnamese was because the United States’ invasion of the country scared the Chinese. Our invasion helped create the alliance between China and Vietnam. A more intelligent course of action would have been to diplomatically play both countries against each other. Instead, we treated both as an enemy. The Chinese/Vietnamese alliance did not last long. By 1979, they were engaged in a war over the Sino-Vietnamese War border.
The Sino-Soviet split showed more weakness in the idea of international cooperating communism. Russia and China combining their forces would have surely challenge the United States’ supremacy, yet this alliance failed in a few years. The Chinese found the Soviets to be condescending and demanding. They went about doing many things without Chinese input. After Stalin died, he was denounced by the Communist Party in Russia. This upset Chinese communist leader, Mao Zedong. Many Chinese saw Mao as the true leader of communism. He was the oldest, living, major communist leader on the planet. Also, he was not attempting peaceful coexistence with the United States as the new Soviet party had been doing. Mao wanted more radical forms of communism in his country. This cultivated into the Sino-Soviet split, which led to border violence in 1969. Relations cooled slightly since then, but troops were always alert on the border. At one time, the Soviets had a quarter of their army on the border. In a move of diplomatic brilliance, Republican President Richard Nixon was able to court the Chinese. This gave the United States a great diplomatic edge in the Cold War. China proved to be a valuable buffer to check Soviet militarism.
The United States and the Soviet Union engaged in proxy wars across the globe. A proxy war is done through third parties. An example would be when the United States and Soviet Union supplied weaponery to opposing sides in the civil war in Angola. Ideology does not always count in these cases. Sometimes a country will support another just to gain influence in that part of the world. The Soviet Union supported the Egyptian leader, Gamal Abdel Nasser, who would jail Communists in his country. This was not solely a Soviet method of diplomacy. The United States would support un-democratic dictators if it meant keeping the country out of Communist hands.
These three historic events showed that national borders and interests were more important than cooperation among Communists. The security of borders and the fate of its citizens topped keeping true to Marx’s vision of an international working class ruling the world. If those in the United States also understood this, we could have saved ourselves from many diplomatic failures. The belief in international Communism was a false notion held by communists and capitalists alike.
Jack Barnett is a fourth-year student majoring in history and political science. He can be reached at JB723722@wcupa.edu.