Key Definitions


Unit 1: The seeds of conflict 1917-44

Bolshevik: The name of the political party that seized power in Russia in October 1917. It had been led by Lenin since 1903. The Bolsheviks were believers in communism. In 1925, they changed their name to the All-Union Communist Party.

The Cold War: The term given to the tension that existed between the USA and the USSR after the Second World War. It was a conflict that involved economic measures, non-cooperation and propoganda but no direct armed fighting between the two sides. Thus, despite a breakdown in relations, 'hot war' was avoided. With the advent of nuclear weapons, both sides used a range of less destructive methods of conflict.

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Unit 1: The seeds of conflict 1917-44

USSR: The Union of Soviet Socilaist Republics also known as the Soviet Union. The USSR was introduced in 1923 as the official title of the areas of the old Russian Empire that were now under communist control. It was made up of 15 different republics but was dominated by Russia, the largest in size and population. The USSR collapsed in 1991.

The West: The term given to the capitalist countries of western Europe and North America during the CW. The United States was the principal power of the West.

Ideology: A set of ideas and beliefs that set the basis of a political or economic system. The CW involved conflict between two competing ideologies: capitalism and communism.

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Unit 1: The seeds of conflict 1917-44

Comintern: An organisation set up in 1919 to facilitate contacts between communist groups throughout the world. The Soviet government were able to control its activities and the West feared it was being used to undermine capitalism and spread communist revolution. It was also known as the Third International as it replaced the Second International, which had existed before 1919.

Treaty of Brest-Litovsk, March 1918: The Bolsheviks had gained a lot of support because they promised to take Russia out of the First World War. An armistice was agreed in December 1917, leading to negotiations between Russia and Germany. In March 1918 the Bolsheviks reluctantly agreed to the terms of this treaty. The Germans imposed a harsh treaty on Russia.

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Unit 1: The seeds of conflict 1917-44

Appeasement: The policy adopted by Britain towards Germany in the 1930s. It involved negotiating with Hitler and trying to reach accomodation with his demands for territory where they seemed reasonable. Stalin saw it as a sign of Britain's lack of enthusiasm for halting Hitler's foreign policy advances, especially when they might be made at the expense of the USSR in eastern Europe. This method of dealing with Hitler failed to prevent the outbreak of the Second World War. After 1945, political leaders such as Truman and Churchill thought a more hard-line approach towards aggressors would be more effective. This attitude was to influence policy towards the USSR during the Cold War. 

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Unit 2: Development of Cold War

Second Front: The name given to the idea of a campaign against Nazi Europe in the west in addition to the Russian Front. Since the Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union in June 1941, the Germans had been able to concentrate most of their military resources on the Eastern Front. This had put an enormous pressure on the Soviet Union. Stalin therefore pushed Britain and the USA to open up a Second Front against Germany in France that would distract Germany from the Russian Front and thus relieve the pressure on the USSR. This proposed new front in France was known as the Second Front.

The purges: The wave of terror that Stalin and his supporters used to remove enemies. The targets were so-called enemies of state and included leading Communist Party politicians such as Bukharin, Kamenev and Zinoviev. Many members of the Soviet armed forces were purged, as were the secret police themselves. The purges reached a peak of activity between 1936-39

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Unit 2: Development of Cold War

Containment: The US policy of actively seeking to prevent the spread of communism. It was heavily promoted by George Kennan's 'Long Telegram' and became the basis of US foreign policy under Truman.

Imperialism: Building an empire of dependent states.

Coalition government: A government made up of representatives from more than one political party. They were often set up in the countries of Eastern Europe immediately after the Second World War in the interests of national unity but provided a foothold for communists to gain control.

Iron Curtain: The name given to the figurative line that divided the communist East from the capitalist West in Europe. The term was made popular by Winston Churchill in 1946.

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Unit 2: Development of Cold War

Iron Fist: A term used by Truman to describe a tougher approach to the USSR. It was a reaction to the approach adopted by Roosevelt, his predecessor, which was seen by Truman as too soft on communism.

Warmonger: Someone who wishes to provoke war. Stalin accused Churchill of warmongering after his Iron Curtain speech.

Truman Doctrine: A policy statement issued by the American president in 1947. It stated that the USA would aid any country or government under attack by armed minorities. It was aimed at preventing the spread of communism.  It was used to send aid to Greece to help the monarchist government against the communists.

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Unit 2: Development of Cold War

Marshall Plan: A plan to provide American financial support to war-torn Europe. It was drawn up by George C. Marshall, the US Secretary of State, in 1947. All countries in Eastern Europe were eligibile for Marshall aid but the conditions attached made it impossible for the communist states of Eastern Europe to apply. Over 17 billion dollars were provided to Europe, and by 1952 Western Europe's economy was experiencing sustained growth.

Dollar imperialism: A term used by Molotov to describe Marshall aid. He saw it as a mechanism by which the USA would gain control over Europe and exploit it for America's economic interests.

Cominform: An organisation set up by the USSR, in 1947 to coordinate communist parties throughout EE. Its propoganda was virtually anti-American.

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Unit 2: Development of Cold War

Comecon: An organisation controlled by the USSR, set up in 1949 to coordinate the economies of communist countries. It was largely a reaction to the Marshall Plan. Economic aid was limited, but the organisation was able to ensure that a Stalinist state-owned economy was imposed on the countries of Eastern Europe.

Coup d'état: A violent or illegal takeover of government.

NATO: The North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, a military alliance of the USA, Canada and most of Western Europe. It was an organisation to defend the West during the Cold War.

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Unit 2: Development of Cold War

Isolationism: A policy of keeping out of conflicts in foreign affairs and not getting involved in military alliances. After the First World War the USA adopted a policy of isolationism towards Europe. The British feared the USA would return to a period of isolationism after the Second World War.

McCarthyism: The wave of anti-communist feeling that spread through the USA in the early 1950s. It is sometimes referred to as the Red Scare and was encouraged by sections of the Republican Party, most notably by Joseph McCarthy. The movement aimed to remove all communist sympathisers from all sections of American life, including members of Truman's government who were seen as soft on communism.

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Unit 2: Development of Cold War

Bipolar: The idea of the world being divided into two power blocs: those of communism, centered on the USSR, and those of the West, centered on the USA.

Roll back: The policy of rolling back the frontiers of communism and liberating states where communism had been imposed by force. The term had gained currency in the 1950s and was a more assertive US stance than that of containment, which had dominated American government thinking since 1945.

Secretary of State: The head of the department of the US government that conducts foreign policy. 

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Unit 3: Causes of the Cold War

Revisionist historians: Those historians that challenged the traditional view that Stalin was responsible for the development of the Cold War. They have tended to be more critical of US foreign policies, seeing the actions of the US government as playing an important role in escalating conflict.

Post-revisionist historians: Those historians who were critical of both the traditional and revisionist approaches to the Cold War. They sought to move away from the issue of who was to blame to the one of the process by which conflict developed. This approach tended to see the Cold War emerging from a series of complex interactions between the superpowers where mistrust and suspicion caused relations to deteriorate.

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Unit 3: Causes of the Cold War

Axiomatic: Based on a principle that is considered to be a self-evident truth.

Dispositional: Refers to an explanation of an individual's actions based on natural inclination and temperament.

Permanent Revolution: The name of the policy vigourously used by Trotsky, who saw spreading revolution as priority after the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917. Trotsky argued that without world revolution the revolution in Russia would not be able to survive.

Totalitarianism: A concept used to describe the nature of dictatorships that had emerged in the 1930s. It focused on a political system by which total control was gained over the economic, social and political system of a nation. It highlighted the use of propoganda and terror as methods of social control. The concept was developed by political scientists in the USA and used to describe Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy and Stalinist Russia.

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Unit 4: Post-Stalin thaw

Structuralist view: Approach to historical change that stresses the importance of organisations and structures influencing the behaivour of individuals and leading to events occuring. Thus individuals matter less in the process of historical change than the circumstances within which they operate.

Politburo: An organisation made up of the leading members of the Communist Party. It was the key decision-making body within the Party and provided the leadership of the Soviet Union. In practise it was often dominated by the General Secretary.

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Unit 4: Post-Stalin thaw

De-Stalinisation: The attempt by Krushchev, the Soviet leader, to move away from the policies of Stalin. Krushchev criticised Stalin's use of terror and his economic policies of concentrating on heavy industry and forced collectivisation in agriculture. His actions encouraged those in Eastern Europe who wanted reform to push for change. In 1956, the Soviet response to attempts in Hungary to introduce liberal measures showed that there were limits to De-Stalinisation. It would not be allowed to threaten the security of the Socialist Bloc.

New Look: The name of Eisenhower's foreign policy that took a hard-line on communism based on an increased role for nuclear weapons to further containment.

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Unit 4: Post-Stalin thaw

Massive retaliation: A phrase popularised by Dulles, Eisenhower's Secretary of State. It implied the use, or at the least the threat, of nuclear action against any aggressive move by the Communist Bloc.

Brinkmanship: The policy of not shying away from threatening a nuclear response during a crisis. The term is often associated with Dulles and his attitude to the Soviet Union. It was a risky business. If your enemy did not back down, you would be left with the choice of carrying through your threat or revealing you were bluffing. President Kennedy later tried this approach against the Soviet Union during the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962.

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Unit 4: Post-Stalin thaw

Warsaw Pact: The organisation set up in 1955 to coordinate the military forces of the Soviet Bloc in Eastern Europe. The organisation was established by the Treaty of Friendship, Cooperation and Mutual Aid, signed in Warsaw, the Polish capital. It was a response to the entry of West Germany into NATO the previous week. The pact was dominated by the USSR and was a useful vehicle for facilitating the deployment of their troops in Eastern Europe. The pact was not without tensions, and Albania left the organisation in 1968. Romania also distanced itself from the pact in the 1970s. The organisation was officially disbanded in 1991.

German Democratic Republic (GDR): The official name of the communist state established in 1949 in the former Soviet zone of Germany. It is often referred to as East Germany, sometimes known by its initials GDR, or in German DDR.

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Unit 4: Post-Stalin thaw

Berlin Wall: Built in 1961 to halt the flood of refugees that were escaping from communist East Germany to capitalist West Berlin. This huge, concrete structure became the ultimate symbol of the East-West divide. The order to build the wall was given by Ulbricht, the East German leader, and was implemented by Erich Honecker, who later became East Germany's leader. The East German leadership referred to it as the "anti-fascist protective barrier" and avoided referring to it as a wall. In the 1980s, Honecker often referred to it as the "so-called wall", just as West German newspapers usually refered to East Germany as the "so-called DDR", indicating that they did not accept its existence.

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Unit 5: Nuclear weapons

Military-industrial complex: The term given to the powerful bloc created by the armed forces and those links between the armed forces and those sectors in the economy reliant on defence orders. In the USA this included firms such as Lockhead and General Dynamics, who lobbied Congress to ensure arms manufacture continued, and the armed forces, which wanted resources and armaments. In the USSR, this term applied to the Ministry of Defence, the armed forces and those ministries involved in the manufacture of military products.

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Unit 5: Nuclear weapons

CIACentral Intelligence Agency: the US agency for collecting information on foreign actions that affect US interests. Its agents work undercover. The CIA had trained and equipped foreign groups in order to depose governments seen as acting against US interests.

'Hot line' telephone link: A system of direct communication between the leaders of the USA and USSR. It was set up in 1963 as a response to the Cuban Missile Crisis. Its aim was to prevent misunderstanding during a crisis. It was used by Nixon and Brezhnev in 1971 during the war between India and Pakistan.

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Unit 5: Nuclear weapons

Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, 1963: A treaty that banned the testing of nuclear weapons above ground and below water. It was signed by the USA, Britain and the Soviet Union and was a measure of the desire to limit nuclear destruction after the Cuban Missile Crisis. Attempts to sign a similar treaty had been rejected by the USSR in 1961. It was, however, a partial ban: testing underground was permitted. France and China refused to sign the treaty.

Détente: A more permanent relaxation in tension. The term was used to describe the improvement in superpower relations that existed after the Cuban Missile Crisis until the Soviet invasion of Afganistan in 1979 led to a deterioration in relations.

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Unit 6: Sino-Soviet relations 1949-76

SEATO: The South East Asian Treaty Organisation formed in 1954: a defensive treaty designed to restrict the expansion of communism in the region. It was made up of Western states such as the USA, France, Australia, Britain and New Zealand and their close allies. The organisation never gained much respect from the independent nations of South East Asia

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Unit 6: Sino-Soviet relations 1949-76

Ping-pong diplomacy: The term given to the tentative contacts between the Chinese and US governments in 1971 whereby sporting links were used as opportunites to start diplomacy.

Great Leap Forward: The campaign launched by Mao in 1958 to increase production in industry and agriculture. The campaign involved building dams, resovoirs and roads, setting up small-scale iron and steel furnaces in country areas and establishing communes as the best way of organising agriculture. The campaign was an economic disaster and at least 17 million people died directly as a result of these policies. Soviet impatience at Chinese policies led them to withdraw economic aid in 1960.

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

Militarised counter-revolution: Those policies implemented by Ronald Reagan as US President to undermine the forces of communism. It was much more aggressive than Carter's policy towards the USSR and included extensive re-arming and providing covert help to those fighting against communist forces or governments. 

Stasi: The East German secret police.

Securitate: The Romanian secret police under Ceausescu

Gerontocracy: Rule by the elderly (geriatrics).  The term is used to describe the Soviet leadership in the years 1980-85, i.e. the last years of Brezhnev, Andropov and Chernenko.

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

Gerontocracy (cont): At a time when the Soviet Union was in desperate need of reform, it was led by a series of men whose physical condition prevented strong, decisive leadership.

The Velvet Revolution: A term used to describe the collapse of communism in Czechoslovakia in 1989. The communist regime was brought down by widespread demonstrations and protests with little violence. The revolution was therefore relatively smooth compared to the violence that marked the overthrow of communism in some of the other Eastern European states such as Romania.

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