Key Individuals


Joseph Stalin (1879-1953)

Born: 1979 in Georgia in the South of the old Russian Empire. His family were from peasant stock.

Leadership and personal qualities: Shrewd, manipulative, coarse, practically minded, an effective administrator and ruthless.

Career: Joined the Bolshevik Party in 1903, appointed the General Secretary of the Party in 1922. Emerged as leader of the USSR after the death of Lenin in 1924. Undisputed leader of the Soviet Union from 1928

Domestic policies: Harsh but effective industrialisation, collectivisation of agriculture, systematic use of terror, heavy censorship and propoganda. By the end of the Second World War, his policices had turned the Soviet Union into a world power.

Foreign policy: Highly suspicious of the West and viewed the capitalist powers as anti-Bolshevik. Determined to safeguard the country against foregin attack.

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Franklin D. Roosevelt

Born: 1882 in New York

Leadership and personal qualities: Energetic, enthusiastic, optimistic. Roosevelt was struck down by polio and was thereby confined to a wheelchair. This gave him an understanding of the position of the disadvantaged in society.

Career: Attended law school and then joined the Democratic Party. Roosevelt was liberal in attitude. Governor of New York 1928-33. President of the US from 1933 until his death in April 1945. Re-elected an unprecedented three times.

Domestic policies: Introduced a set of measures known as the New Deal, which attempted to address the problems caused by the Great Economic Depression after the Wall Street Crash. Targeted help at the disadvantaged in society. Increased state involvement in the economy in order to create jobs.

Foreign policy: Brought the USA into the Second World War after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. He was prepared to negotiate directly with Stalin during WW2, and he was optimistic that this arrangement could continue after the war.

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Winston Churchill (1874-1965)

Born: 1874 in Oxfordshire

Leadership and personal qualities: Phenomenal energy, inspiring, willing to get directly involved, humane.

Career: Served as a cavalry officer in the army during the Boer War. Originally a Conservative, he served in the Liberal governments of 1906-14. Rejoined the Conservative Party in 1922 and became Chancellor of the Exchequer 1924-29. Excluded from office in the 1930s but took up the cause against Fascism. Prime Minister of Britain during WW2 from 1940-1945. Returned as Prime Minister 1951-55.

Domestic policies: President of the Board of Trade and Home Secretary under the great reforming Liberal governments of the year 1906-14.

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Winston Churchill (1874-1965)

Domestic policies (cont)During the Second World War he left home affairs to Labour members of the coalition government while he focused on the conduct of the war.

Foregin policy: Strongly anti-communist but nonetheless, was prepared to work with the Soviet Union against Nazi Germany. Met Stalin several times and established a sound-working relationship with him. In the post-war world, Churchill was highly suspicious of Stalin's motives and in 1946, his 'Iron Curtain' speech called for an alliance between Britain and the USA to prevent Soviet expansion.

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Unit 2: Development of Cold War

George Kennan (1904-2005)Deputy Chief of Mission in the US Embassy in Moscow in 1946. His analysis of Soviet Foreign policy was given in the Long Telegram of 1946. He saw the USSR as aggressive and suspicious and recommended firm action by the USA against what he viewed as Soviet expansionism in Eastern Europe. The 'Long Telegram' was to be highly influential on Truman's foreign policy and led to the policy of containment. Kennan later returned to the Soviet Union as US Ambassador in 1952-53.

Clement Atlee (1883-1967): Prime Minister of Britain between 1945 and 1951. He had been Deputy Prime Minister to Churchill in the wartime coalition governement, when he was concerned with domestic policies. As leader of the Labour Party, he was a socialist but had no sympathies with communism or the Soviet Union.

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Unit 2: Development of Cold War

Clement Atlee (cont): Atlee believed in reform not revolution and democracy rather than dictatorship, as the way to bring about change. He replaced Churchill as Prime Minister during the Potsdam Conference, after the 1945 election. Like Churchill, he distrusted Stalin's motives and worked to secure a firmer commitment from the USA to help Western Europe stop the spread of communism.

Harry S. Truman (1884-1972): US President from 1945, after the sudden death of Roosevelt, until 1952. A member of the Democratic Party, he served as Roosevelt's vice-president after 1944. His political career had been concerned with domestic issues and he knew little about foregin affairs when he suddenly became president. Under pressure from critics of Roosevelt's approach to Stalin, he adopted a more hard-line attitude to the Soviet Union.

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Unit 2: Development of Cold War

Harry S. Truman (cont): He took firm action during the Berlin blockade of 1948-49 and entered the Korean War in 1950 to prevent the spread of communism in the Far East. At the end of his presidency, he was under pressure from Red hysteria, a wave of strong anti-communist feeling promoted by Senator Joseph McCarthy.

Vyacheslav Molotov (1890-1986): He was a leading supporter of Stalin and was rewarded with the post of Soviet foreign minister from 1939 to 1949. A hardliner who was able to argue forcibly with western foreign ministers, he lived up to his name (Molotov) which meant 'hammer'.

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Unit 2: Development of Cold War

General Douglas MacArthur (1880-1964): A highly competent US general who led the UN forces sent to help South Korea expel the invasion by the North. He had been Commander of the Allied Forces in the Pacific during WW2. In 1945 he supervised the occupation of Japan after its surrender. During the Korean War, he organised the landings of marines at Inchon, which saved South Korea from collapse. He then carried the campaign against North Korea across the 38th parallel without waiting for authorisation from Truman. Fiercely anti-communist, MacArthur wanted to roll back communism into Korea and China and use nuclear weapons if necessary. His outspokenness led to his dismissal by P.Truman in 1951. However, MacArthur and his approach to the war remained popular. He launched a campaign against Truman and gained support from McCarthy who claimed that Truman's advisers had persuaded him to dismiss the general when he was drunk: "Most of the tragic things are done at 1:30 and 2 o'clock in the morning when they've had time to get the Presiden cheerful." 

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Unit 4: Post-Stalin thaw

Lavrenti Beria (1899-1953): As head of the secret police, he was Stalin's chief henchman from 1938 until 1953. He was a sinister master of intrigue and a sexual predator who picked up women from the streets for his own pleasure. Despite his association with Stalin's apparatus of terror, there are indications that Beria would have introduced some liberal reforms had he become Stalin's successor: he initiated the release of 1 million prisoners from the labour camps. He was to underestimate Krushchev during the power struggle and was outmanoeuvred by the 'moon-faced idiot.' He was arrested and shot in 1953,

Georgi Malenkov (1902-1988): Malenkov rose through the ranks of the Communist Party under Stalin to become a Politburo member in 1946. On Stalin's death, he held the postion of Prime Minister and head of the Party. His foreign policy was known as 'New Course' and this encouraged better relations with the West. Within the Politburo, he was outmanoeuvred by Krushchev in 1957 and dismissed. He was then sent to Kazakhstan to run a hydroelectric plant but his active political career was over.

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Unit 4: Post-Stalin thaw

Nikita Krushchev (1894-1971): He emerged as the leader of the SU after the death of Stalin in 1953. Although a committed communist, he wanted to move away from the brutal policies of Stalin. He criticised Stalin's policies during a congrss of the Soviet Communist Party in 1956 and encouraged De-Stalinisation. In international relations, he adopted a softer tone towards the West than Stalin had. He believed that the superpowers should accept each other's existence and put forward the idea of 'Peaceful Co-existence.' Yet when Soviet power was under attack, he made threats to the West. His language was often colourful and undiplomatic. The Soviet climbdown during the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962 was a personal embarrassment of which he never recovered. He was sacked by the Soviet Politburo in 1964 and died quietly in retirement in 1971.

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Unit 4: Post-Stalin thaw

Dwight Eisenhower (1890-1969): Eisenhower was the US general who was Supreme Commander of the Normandy landings in the SWW. He became first Supreme Commander of NATO in 1950 and then Republican presidential candidate in 1952, and President from 1953 to 1961.

John Foster Dulles (1888-1959): Dulles was an American lawyer who gained foreign policy experience at Versailles in 1919. He became Eisenhower's Secretary of State in 1953. Staunchly anti-communist and known for his tough speaking, he retired in 1959 and died of cancer the following month.

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Unit 4: Post-Stalin thaw

Imre Nagy (1896-1956): Leader of the Hungarian Communist Party, Nagy had spent several years in the USSR before returning to Hungary after the Second World War. He had been critical of Stalin's style of leadership and his economic policies. He became leader of the Hungarian government in 1956 and introduced reforms. His proposal to take Hungary out of the Warsaw Pact led to a Soviet invasion of the country. Nagy was removed and replaced by the more hard-line Kadar. Nagy was seized by Soviet forces and taken to Romania. He was later executed.

Walter Ulbricht (1893-1973): He was the communist leader of East Germany from 1949-1971. A hard-line Stalinist, he had received his political education in Moscow during the Second World War.

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Unit 4: Post-Stalin thaw

Erich Honecker (1912-1994): Honecker carried out Ulbricht's order to build the Berlin Wall in 1961. A member of the East German Politburo from 1950, he later served as Communist leader of East Germany from 1971 to 1989. He was a hard-line communist and against reform. Popular protests forced him to resign as leader in 1989. Despite attempts to arrest him and put him on trial for abusing his power, Honecker was allowed to go into exile in the USSR.

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Unit 5: Nuclear weapons

Fidel Castro (b.1926): Cuban leader since the revolution of 1959, which brought him to power. His revolt against Batista began in 1956 when a group of his supporters landed in Cuba. They were forced to retreat to the Sierra Maestro Mountains from where they built a base to attack Batista. They were able to overthrow Batista in January 1959 and Castro formed a new government. He had been a liberal nationalist wishing to rid Cuba of foreign control but as relations with America deteriorated he was forced to accept help from the USSR. Castro reverted to communism in 1961 and the revolution developed on communist lines. Despite a US trade embargo from 1960, Castro's gov. was able to improve the conditions of Cuba's poorest citizens. Cuba's education and medical facilities under Castro had been among the best in the developing world.

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Unit 5: Nuclear weapons

John F. Kennedy (1917-63): US President from 1961-63. Born into a rich, Boston family, Kennedy had served in the US Navy during the SWW. A member of the Democratic Party, he was seen as a progressive liberal who represented a younger, more vibrant generation than most American politicians at the time. He was still relatively young and inexperienced when he became President. Conscious of the foreign policy failures over the Berlin crisis of 1961 and the Bay of Pigs invasion later in the same year, he decided to stand firm against the Cuban Missile Crisis. In public, he used the tactics of brinkmanship but he was more cautious in private. His stand against Krushchev over Cuba worked and the Soviet missiles were withdrawn from the Island. He did not live long to enjoy his success. He was assassinated in Dallas in 1963.

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Unit 6: Sino-Soviet relations 1949-76

Zhou Enlai (1898-1976): A key member of the Chinese Communist Party who became Prime Minister in 1949 and remained in this position until his death in 1976. He was a well-educated man, seen as a moderating force on Mao. He survived China's upheavels of the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution. He had been Chinese foreign minister between 1949 and 1958 and it remained an area that he was interested in. He was in favour of the rapprochement with the USA.

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Unit 7: Causes and achievements of Détente

Zbigniew Brzezinski (b.1928): A Pole by birth who became an American citizen. His background led him to be highly suspicious of Soviet foreign policy. He gained a reputation as an academic who specialised in foreign affairs, was appointed as National Security Adviser in 1977 and became influential in the formation of Carter's foreign policy. He clashed with Cyrus Vance, the Secretary of State who favoured a continuation of negotiation under Détente. Brzezinski articulated the views of the neo-conservatives, which called for a show of American strength that would make the Soviet leadership change its policy.

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Unit 8: End of the Cold War in the 1980s

Nicolae Ceausescu (1918-89): Communist leader of Romania from 1965 to 1989. He pursued policies of forced industrial development and heavy repression. He developed a cult of personality to extreme proportions and by the mid-1980s, most of his support was manufactured rather than real. His rule was not merely ruthless but also vindictive. In 1989, popular unrest led to the overthrow of Ceausescu. He and his wife were executed on Christmas Day in 1989.

General Wojetech Jaruzelski (b.1923): A general in the Polish army who served as Minister of Defence before becoming Prime Minister in 1981. His appointment was made in order to use the army to suppress unrest organised by the trade union Solidarity. He remained Prime Minister until 1989 when the Communist Party lost power after free elections. He served as President from 1989 until 1990 when he was succeeded by Lech Walesa, the leader of Solidarity.

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Unit 8: End of the Cold War in the 1980s

Lech Walesa (b.1943): An electrician in the Lenin shipyard in the Polish port of Gdansk. Walesa was active in the trade union movement and in 1980 founded the independent trade union Solidarity. It soon had a membership of 10 million, and in 1980 the communist government in Poland gave in to pressure and gave it legal status. When General Jaruzelski became leader in 1981, Solidarity was banned. Walesa and his supporters continued to operate underground until the government reopened negotiations in 1986 and agreed to legalise Solidarity again. When free elections were held in 1990 Walesa was elected President of Poland, a post which he retained until 1995.

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Unit 8: End of the Cold War in the 1980s

Mikhail Gorbachev (b.1931): Leader of the USSR from 1985 to 1991. Gorbachev represented a younger generation of Soviet politicians who believed socialism needed to be reformed. His policies aimed to make the Communist Party more responsive and to liberalise the economy. He encouraged those in Eastern Europe who wished to make similar reforms. In international relations, Gorbachev recognised the inability of the USSR to compete with the USA in the arms race and called for limitations on nuclear weapons and an end to the Cold War. Gorbachev's political career came to an end with the collapse of the USSR in 1991.

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Pope John Paul II

Basic details: Born 1920. Real name Karol Wojtyla. Son of a Polish army lieutenant. Entered the underground seminary at Krakow in 1942. Became bishop of Ombi in 1958, archbishop of Krakow in 1963. Became Pope in 1978. Died in 2005.

Character: Inspiring and courageous, willing to stand up for his beliefs. Sometimes referred to as having 'heroic faith.'

Ideas: A Conservative within the Catholic Church on theological matters. A believer on the importance of human rights and therefore critical of communist regimes. 

Policies: Spoke out against human rights abuses by the governments of Eastern Europe.

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Pope John Paul II

Influence: His speeches inspired those resisting communism: "Do not be afraid!" Open wide the doors for Christ. To his saving power open the boundaries of states, economic and political systems, the vast fields of culture, civilisation and development. Do not be afraid!"
Visited Poland in 1979, 1983 and 1987. Each visit reinforced support for Solidarity and helped it gain concessions from the government. Lech Walesa, the leader of Solidarity, was a devout Catholic. 

The Catholic Church was only strong in Poland and the Baltic States, and its impact was limited in the other countries of Eastern Europe.

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Ronald Reagan

Basic details: Born 1911. Son of a shoe store owner. Developed a career as an actor in Hollywood. Joined the Republican Party and then served as Governor of California 1967-75. President of the USA 1981-89. Died 2004.

Character: Astute rather than intelligent. Could be very strident when convinced he was right. Generally personable and able to establish good relations with other leaders. 

Ideas: Saw communism as 'evil', a view shaped by traditional American values. A staunch believer in free market capitalism.

Policies: Increasing nuclear arms and developing SDI (Star Wars) to put economic strain on the USSR. 

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Ronald Reagan

Policies (cont): Reagan Doctrine supplied aid to groups against communism.

Influence: Caused difficulties for the USSR in Afganistan. Put pressure on its government to grant concessions to Solidarity by reducing financial aid to Poland. SDI alarmed the Soviet leadership.
May have delayed the end of the Cold War by showing the USSR that the USA was so hostile. Soviet leadership did not try to engage in Reagan's arms race. SDI was viewed by many as unrealistic. Sometimes supported regimes that were not a good advert for capitalism and freedom, e.g. the Philippines

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Margaret Thatcher

Basic details: Born 1925. Daughter of a grocer. Secretary of State for Education and Science 1970-74. Leader of the Conservative Party from 1975. Prime Minister 1979-90.

Character: Strident, forceful approach to politics. Strong-willed; dubbed the 'Iron Lady' by the Soviet press

Ideas: Opposed all forms of communism. A strong supporter of free market economics.

Policies: Allowed Ronald Reagan to deploy Crude nuclear missiles in Britain in the early 1980s. Launched strong verbal attack on Soviet invasion of Afganistan.

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Margaret Thatcher

Influence: Strong supporter of Reagan and able to present Reagan's perspective in Europe.
Her decision to deploy US missiles in Britain was crucial to the success of Reagan's policy.
Her strong personality gave her considerable influence in face-to-face meetings.
Established good relations with Gorbachev in 1984.


Essentially a support player to Reagan.

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Mikhail Gorbachev

Basic details: Born 1931. Son of an agricultural mechanic. Studied law at Moscow University. Became member of the Communist Party Central Committee in 1971. Youngest member of the Politburo in 1980. Elected General Secretary of the Communist Party in 1985. Soviet leader 1985-91.

Character: Established good relations with foreign leaders. Afable and honest but prone to hesitation and vacillation.

Ideas: A communist but he believed that the Soviet leadership needed to be reformed to make it more responsive to the needs of the Soviet people. Believed that the arms race diverted too many resources away from more productive sectors of the economy. 

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Mikhail Gorbachev

Policies: Glasnost; greater freedom and openness. Perestroika; restructuring of the economy. Democratisation; need to make politics more democratic. Introduced moves to reduce nuclear arms. Ended the Brezhnev Doctrine.

Influence: An inspiration to those who wanted to reform communism. Ending the Brezhnev Doctrine weakened the hard-line communist regimes in Eastern Europe. Prepared to make concessions to reduce arms which led to progress towards the INF Agreement, 1987. His policies brought about the collapse of the USSR.

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