Vladimir Lenin arrived in Russia after a decade of self-imposed exile.
Lenin, the leader of the Bolshevik Party, had left Russia in 1907 after Tsar Nicholas II cancelled many of the reforms he had promised following the 1905 revolution. While abroad he remained busy organising Bolshevik groups and publishing Marxist works, but following the February Revolution and the abdication of the Tsar in 1917 he began making plans to return to Russia.
The country had been weakened by the exhausting toll of the First World War and this, combined with disastrous food shortages, had prompted the popular revolt that overthrew the Tsar. In his place the Provisional Government ruled the country, and they opted to continue the war effort despite strong opposition from the Russian people.
German officials were keen to further destabilise the situation. Despite being at war, Lenin and other Bolshevik exiles were granted permission to return to Russia from Switzerland through Germany in a ‘sealed train’. This meant that Lenin and his companions were never legally recognised as being in Germany.
The group then took a ferry to Sweden followed by a second train to Finland, arriving at Finland Station in Petrograd on 16 April. The next day Lenin published the April Theses in which he denounced both the Provisional Government and the First World War, and claimed that Russia was “passing from the first stage of the revolution…to its second stage, which must place power in the hands of the proletariat and the poorest sections of the peasants.”
Less than seven months later the Bolsheviks overthrew the Provisional Government in the October Revolution.
The United States table tennis team heralded the era of ‘ping pong diplomacy’ by becoming the first official American delegation to visit China in 20 years.
Relations between America and China had soured in the aftermath of the Communist Revolution, and grew worse as a result of the Korean War in which the countries fought on opposing sides. Relations were so poor that, by the time the two countries travelled to Nagoya in Japan for the 31st World Table Tennis Championships in 1971, they had no diplomatic or economic relationship.
Richard Nixon intended to bring China in from the cold when he took up the presidency in 1969. Meanwhile, increasing tensions between China and the USSR had similarly led Chairman Mao to consider rebuilding relations with the United States. Both table tennis teams being in Nagoya offered the perfect opportunity.
Having missed the US bus after practice one evening, American player Glenn Cowan travelled back to his room with the Chinese team. Although the Chinese claim that Cowan “stumbled up the steps” of their bus, he claimed in an interview that he was invited to travel with them. Whatever the reality, during the short bus journey Cowan was given a silk-screen picture of the Huangshan mountains by the Chinese player Zhuang Zedong.
Favourable press coverage, which led Mao to comment on Zhuang Zedong’s positive actions as a diplomat, resulted in the entire American team being invited to China after the tournament ended. Having arrived in the country on 10 April, they spent ten days touring Guangzhou, Beijing and Shanghai. Their visit heralded a new period in Sino-American relations that culminated in President Nixon himself travelling to China the following year.
On the 5th March 1946, Winston Churchill described the post-war division of Europe as an “iron curtain” in his “Sinews of Peace” address at Westminster College in Fulton, Missouri. Often interpreted as a key event in the origin of the Cold War, Churchill’s speech played a significant role in changing Western perceptions of their former Soviet ally.
Churchill, as the British Prime Minister, had led Britain to victory in the Second World War but in the General Election of July 1945 suffered a landslide defeat to Clement Attlee’s Labour Party. Despite now being in opposition, he continued to be highly respected abroad and visited the United States in 1946. During this trip he was invited by Westminster College in the 7,000-person town of Fulton to deliver a speech to an audience of 40,000 people.
Churchill was introduced at Fulton by President Harry Truman, and opened his speech by complimenting the United States as standing “at the pinnacle of world power.” As the speech progressed, he became increasingly critical of the Soviet Union’s policies in Eastern Europe. Churchill was not the first to use the term “iron curtain” as a metaphor for a strong divide since versions of its had been in use for many centuries, and nor was the “Sinews of Peace” speech the first time that he himself had used the term. However, his use of the term in a speech with such a large audience thrust it into wider circulation and associated it directly with the post-war situation.
Stalin accused Churchill of warmongering, and defended the USSR’s relationship with eastern Europe as a necessary barrier to future attacks.
Shortly after midnight on the 25th February 1956, Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev delivered his ‘secret speech’, officially called “On the Cult of Personality and Its Consequences”, in a four hour “closed session” at the end of the 20th Party Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. Laying the foundation for his wide-reaching de-Stalinisation campaign, the speech was a vehement denunciation of Stalin’s abuses of power and his creation of a personality cult.
Khrushchev’s speech signalled a dramatic reversal of Soviet policy, which he said had come about due to Stalin’s misinterpretation or misrepresentation of Marxist-Leninist doctrine. The ‘secret speech’ allowed Khrushchev to distance himself from the worst crimes of the Stalin’s rule, even though he himself had been responsible for thousands of deaths during his rule. Additionally, and of great significance for the West, Khrushchev also advocated a policy of “peaceful coexistence” rather than continue Stalin’s policy of preparing for an inevitable war.
Although the full details of the speech were only supposed to reach the public gradually, rumours of its contents spread quickly. Israeli intelligence officers finally obtained a full copy of the speech, and passed it to the United States government, who leaked it to the press at the start of June. Although Khrushchev had, by this point, begun to implement de-Stalinisation the printing of the speech in the New York Times on the 5th June dictated demands for a faster pace of change in Eastern Europe. Large-scale change was, however, still slow. Although Poland’s government granted some concessions in October, the situation in Hungary ended very differently.
On the 21st February 1848, The Communist Manifesto was anonymously published in London although the text by Karl Marx, supported by Friedrich Engels, was in German. Officially called The Manifesto of the Communist Party, the original pamphlet was just 23 pages long but went on to become a highly influential political document alongside the more substantial Das Kapital.
Marx was born in Prussia in 1818, but was living in Brussels when the Communist League’s Second Congress commissioned him and Engels to write the League’s manifesto in December 1847. However, it wasn’t until the League’s Central Committee sent him an ultimatum to submit the completed manuscript by 1 February that he did any significant work on it. It was modelled on Engels’ 1847 Draft of the Communist Confession of Faith but Engels had little input to the manifesto itself.
Ending with the now-iconic words, “Workers of the world, unite!” publication of the Manifesto coincided with the outbreak of the 1848 revolution in France the next day. The revolution spread across Europe, but the Manifesto had little connection to this: only in Cologne did the Communist League play any major role.
The Manifesto gradually drifted into obscurity until its resurgence in the 1870s after Marx formed the First International. An updated edition was printed in 1872 and translated into six languages. The standard English text was first published in 1888 with a translation by Samuel Moore, although Marx himself had died penniless four years previously. However, his ideas lived on and directly led to 1917’s Bolshevik revolution in Russia, the world’s first socialist state to be founded according to Marxist ideology.
On the 1st February 1968, American photojournalist Eddie Adams took a photograph of South Vietnamese National Police Chief General Nguyễn Ngọc Loan executing Viet Cong officer Nguyễn Văn Lém in Saigon. The photograph’s publication in the New York Times rallied US citizens to the anti-war movement and earned Adams a Pulitzer Prize for Spot News Photography in 1969.
The Tet Offensive had begun on the 30th January, and saw over 80,000 communist troops carry out a series of surprise attacks against South Vietnamese forces and their allies. It’s reported that, two days later, in the early morning of the 1st February, Lém led a troop that attacked a South Vietnamese base and killed South Vietnamese National Police officers and their families. He was later captured near a mass grave containing 34 civilian bodies, and soon brought before General Loan in Saigon. While still handcuffed, Loan shot Lém with his Smith & Wesson revolver in front of photographer Eddie Adams and an NBC News television cameraman.
The photograph was printed in the New York Times, and appeared alongside a now-forgotten image of a child killed by the Viet Cong in an attempt to achieve balance. However, the immediacy of the image made an enormous impact in America where it became strongly associated with the anti-war movement. Adams later spoke out many times in defence of General Loan, declaring that the photograph does not present the whole story. He later visited Loan many times, and apologised in person for the effect the photo had on his life. On hearing of Loan’s death in 1998, Adams called him “a hero”.
United States Senator Joseph McCarthy was censured for “conduct that tends to bring the Senate into dishonour and disrepute.”
Joseph McCarthy was elected to the Senate for the state of Wisconsin in 1946. He was thrust into the public eye in February 1950 after a speech to the Republican Women’s Club of Wheeling, West Virginia in which he claimed that 205 communists had infiltrated the U.S. State Department. Following his re-election in 1952, McCarthy became chairman of the Senate’s Committee on Government Operations and of its permanent subcommittee on investigations.
McCarthy used his position to launch a series of high profile investigations of people he claimed to have Communist sympathies. Although his tactics were condemned by politicians including President Dwight D. Eisenhower, McCarthy’s investigations stretched from Voice of America news service to the United States Army. Known as the Second Red Scare, the first having begun after the Bolshevik Revolution in 1917, more than 2,000 government employees lost their jobs in what some viewed as a witch-hunt.
Support for McCarthy declined rapidly after the television broadcast of the Army-McCarthy hearings in April and May 1954. The Senator was accused of pressuring the army to give his aides preferential treatment, and the hearings exposed his bullying tactics. The army’s chief counsel, Joseph Nye Welch, even interrupted McCarthy to ask, ‘Have you no sense of decency, sir?’
Meanwhile Edward R. Murrow’s popular documentary program See It Now ran a negative piece on the Senator that further turned public opinion against him. On 2 December 1954 the Senate condemned McCarthy for conduct ‘contrary to Senate traditions’ by 67 votes to 22.
On the 25th November 1936, Nazi Germany and the Empire of Japan signed the Anti-Comintern Pact. Although directed against the Communist International, the international organisation that sought to create a worldwide communist republic, the treaty was in reality specifically against the Soviet Union.
The idea for an anti-Communist alliance had first been suggested in late 1935, as Hitler and Mussolini sought to present themselves as upholding traditional values in the face of Soviet Communism. However, the plan stagnated while the German foreign ministry weighed up the pros and cons of an alliance with the arch-enemy of their traditional Chinese ally.
By summer 1936 the military were an increasingly dominant force in Japan’s government. Meanwhile Europe was beginning to fear the implications of the Franco-Soviet Alliance that went into effect at the end of March. As a result Hitler pushed ahead with the Pact in the hope of securing an Anglo-German alliance as a result.
The Pact didn’t result in Hitler’s desired alliance with Britain, but did later expand to include Italy. Mussolini’s decision to join with Germany and Japan on the 6th November 1937, two years after the collapse of the Stresa Front with France and Britain, led to the formation of what was to become known as the Axis Alliance.
The Anti-Comintern Pact specifically stated that the signatories would not make any political treaties with the Soviet Union. However, on the 23rd August 1939, Germany signed the Nazi-Soviet Pact, also known as the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact. This caused a rift with Japan, but the relationship began to heal following the later Tripartite Pact in September 1940.
Trotsky had been a key figure in the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917. He soon became one of the members of the first Politburo that was founded to manage the transition to a communist state, alongside the Bolshevik founder Vladimir Lenin, and the USSR’s future leader Joseph Stalin.
As Lenin’s health began to fail in the early 1920s, it initially appeared as though Trotsky would be his successor. Following Stalin’s alliance with Zinoviev and Kamenev in the troika, however, Trotsky soon found himself marginalised and he became the subject of rumours about his health and capability to serve in government.
Stalin subsequently emerged as the leader of the USSR following Lenin’s death in 1924. Trotsky’s Left Opposition faction was a vocal critic of many of Stalin’s policies but, with Trotsky himself being increasingly side-lined from government decisions, he was removed from his position as war commissar in 1925 and from the Politburo itself the following year.
Having organised a demonstration by the Left Opposition to celebrate the tenth anniversary of the Bolshevik Revolution, Trotsky was accused of fomenting and organising a counter revolution. He, along with his recent ally Zinoviev, was expelled from the Communist Party on 12 November 1927 while 98 of his supporters met the same fate a month later.
Trotsky was soon exiled to Alma Ata, a small town in Kazakhstan, but within a year had left the USSR completely. He never returned, eventually being granted asylum in Mexico where he was assassinated with an ice pick by an NKVD agent.
In the evening of the 9th November 1989, the East German government opened the Berlin Wall after central committee spokesman Guenter Schabowski mistakenly announced that GDR citizens could cross into West Berlin with immediate effect. Surprised border guards, who had been given no information about the new rules, were overwhelmed by the appearance of thousands of East Germans who wanted to cross. Although the border remained closed for around three hours, by 11pm the checkpoint at Bornholmer Strasse had been opened. Others followed soon after.
Communist Hungary had opened its Austrian border in September, which had encouraged East Germans to push for reform in their own country. Eventually, the weekly ‘Monday protests’ that attracted hundreds of thousands of people forced the government to prepare the new travel policy.
Although the new policy had been agreed by the Politburo on the afternoon of the 9th November, their intention was to implement the policy the next day so that border guards could be briefed and crossings managed in a controlled manner. However, Schabowski had not been at the Politburo meeting and so was only able to base his announcement on notes from a piece of paper handed to him shortly before the press conference. This explains his mistake over the timing of its introduction.
The announcement led huge crowds to begin gathering at the checkpoints, with thousands pouring through the border after the guards finally relented. Ironically, West Berliners still had to have a visa in order to cross to the East. Therefore, for a few weeks after the Wall was opened, East Berliners actually had greater freedom of movement than Westerners.