Commencing in 1944, a civil war took place in Greece between the monarchists and the Communists. In the Greek countryside, the Communists were strong, however, with British assistance, the Monarchists had managed to restore power of the country after Nazi Germany was defeated. On the surface, it appeared Stalin had maintained his agreement with Churchill that Greece was in the British sphere. In spite of this, the West were convinced that the Communist resistance was a sign of attempted Soviet expansion in the Western sphere and this required firm action to be taken imminently.
A combination of a financially-crippling Second World War and a terrible winter resulted in Britain’s economy being in a state of crisis by 1947. The British Government were neck-deep in a £3ooo million debt and it soon became clear that Britain would be forced into withdrawal from Greece. At the prospect of the Monarchists falling and the birth of Communism in Western Europe (in the British sphere) America were incentivised to engage in these foreign affairs. This brought about a new foreign policy that moved away from the USA’s traditional isolationism and this was the Truman Doctrine.
“It must be the policy of the United States to support free peoples who are resisting subjugation by armed minorities or by outside pressures” – President Truman, March 1947.
The Doctrine was a foreign policy of containment composed to prevent the spread of Communism through Europe. Although initially a response to Greece, the Truman Doctrine was designed to be applied to wider Europe to prevent Communism being the majority ideology of the continent. Following the Second World War, most European countries were on their knees and suffering. Truman saw the combination of a poor economic position and desperation as breeding ground for Communism to spread. The Truman Doctrine sought to show, or rather remind, European countries that Capitalism was still the answer – still the superior ideology (even in times of desperate struggles such as these).
A product of the Truman Doctrine was the Marshall Plan. General George Marshall, US Secretary of State, travelled to Western Europe in 1947 and was horrified by the state of what he witnessed. He informed President Truman of his findings and the President supported Marshall’s plan to give economic aid to Europe. However, this would entail America giving vast sums of money to Europe, money they could otherwise spend in their own country meaning the associated opportunity cost was huge. Hence, Congress didn’t support Truman’s wish. But, in 1948, the Soviet Union undertook a hostile coup d’état takeover of Czechoslovakia so that almost the entirety of Eastern Europe was both communist and under the Soviet Sphere (excluding only Tito’s Yugoslavia who had managed to liberate themselves from Nazi Germany without the assistance of the Red Army). This forceful act from Stalin triggered an immediate response from Congress; a retaliation in the form of a billion dollar recovery plan.
Stalin countered the argument that the Marshall Plan served as proof that Capitalism was the better ideology; dismissing it as “dollar imperialism”. This suggested all America were doing was throwing money at the problem in attempts to buy the loyalty of Europe with what was a very short term, ‘quick-fix’, solution. Stalin protested that if countries wanted a long term fix and genuine means of recovery, they must adopt Communism.
Differences between the theory behind the Marshall Plan and the reality, suggest that the decision from the USA was very much a tactical decision in containing Communism rather than the “most unselfish act in history” as it was described by Winston Churchill. Theoretically, the aid was available to the whole of Europe but in actuality it went to Western Europe while Eastern Europe was left to suffer in the Soviet Sphere. In response to a seemingly generous gesture from the Americans, the Soviets set up Cominform (in 1947) and Comecon (in 1949). Cominform helped enable Communist parties to collaborate together more easily throughout Eastern Europe while Comecon supplied economic assistance to these countries; Countries in the Soviet Sphere that benefited from these organisations were known as Satellite States. Under extreme Soviet pressure, driven by the insensed Vycheslav Molotov (who saw the Marshall plan as foreign interference and an attack on Communism), the Satellite States did not receive the aid offered by America. This lead to the Marshall Plan leaving Europe very divided – the West who had Marshall Aid and were in the Western Sphere and the East who had Cominform and Comintern who were in the Soviet Sphere.
This outright, and increasingly obvious, divide in Europe was a problem for the Soviet Union in Germany, more specifically Berlin. It was previously agreed at the Yalta and Potsdam conferences of 1945, that Germany would be split into 4 zones, with the USSR, USA, Great Britain and France all getting their share – Berlin was split between America (West Berlin) and the Soviet Union (East Berlin). This meant that West Berlin received the aid offered through the Marshall Plan but East Berlin did not. Therefore, whilst West Berlin was getting back of its feet and beginning to prosper again, East Berlin remained very much on its knees, economically crippled and an unattractive place to live. This lead to increased migration of citizens from East to West Berlin because of the attractions that, ultimately, the Marshall Plan brought about.
This was a matter of concern for Stalin because he sought to show Europe that Communism was the way forward and the ideology that would bring about happiness and prosperity. He began to feel under threat from the Western Powers; when France, Britain and America combined their German zones to form ‘Trizonia’ it appeared to Stalin as though they may be ‘ganging-up’ on the Soviet Union – so to speak – and perhaps planning a takeover for of West Berlin.
This paranoia provoked in Stalin, came about due to the concrete divide established through Europe and Berlin. This absolute divide was largely down the selective nature of the Marshall Plan – it was only given to (17) Western-European countries and no Eastern-European countries. This then triggered the implementation of Cominform and Comecon as Soviet retaliations and was, ultimately, responsible for the Berlin Blockade that followed in 1948-49 when Stalin felt pressured into making a big statement. If there was no Truman Doctrine, there was no Marshall Plan. No Marshall plan, arguably, no Berlin Blockade and not such an entrenched Western Europe-Eastern Europe, Capitalist-Communist, American-Soviet divide.