A cold wind

While one war was over it seemed that another was to begin – a ‘cold war’ between the superpowers of Russia and the US. One without combat, but a conflict nevertheless.

The term ‘cold war’ might be first attributed to English writer, George Orwell, who wrote in The Observer of 10 March 1946:

‘…after the Moscow conference last December, Russia began to make a ‘cold war’ on Britain and the British Empire…’

George Orwell at the BBC, 1940

The Moscow conference that Orwell mentions was one of many conferences between the US and Russia, with other countries involved in several of them. Each time ministers set out their requirements, for example in the Moscow conference, as a counter to Anglo-American demands for their withdrawal from Iran, the Soviet Union pressed for British withdrawal from Greece. High level discussions with grand political aims took place, with both sides flexing their muscles to show off their strength and determination.

British politics was divided – some within the Labour party were unhappy with Britain’s close relationship with the US, seeing it as an uncomfortable dependence. But the alternative was to look away from the US towards Russia, which in itself clearly presented problems.

From the war years through to 1956 the Communist Party of Great Britain (CPGB) was at the height of its influence in the labour movement, with many union officials who were members. In addition, some on the left of the Labour Party were strongly influenced by the CPGB. The Conservatives feared this Communist element, but so too did many in the Labour party. But feelings at the very top of Government were mixed. Foreign Secretary, Ernest Bevin was a staunch anti-communist, while Labour Prime Minister, Clement Atlee, sought warm relations with Soviet political leader, Joseph Stalin. Initially Atlee put his trust in the United Nations, rejecting the idea that the Soviet Union was bent on world conquest, warning that treating Moscow as an enemy would turn it into one.

But at the same time, Atlee made it clear he wanted to eradicate what he described as the ‘subversive’ element of the Communist Party, preventing anyone with links to the Communist Party from holding a position in the Civil Service.

But as Stalin took political control of most of Eastern Europe, and began to subvert other governments in the Balkans, Attlee’s and Bevin’s worst fears of Soviet intentions were realised. The Attlee government then became instrumental in the creation of the successful NATO¬†defence alliance to protect Western Europe against any Soviet expansion.

But how did all these ongoing and complex discussions affect the people of Britain and their day-to-day life? Well, it might have been interesting to be a fly on the wall when this meeting was held…

‘Communism – the Cold War’ will be the subject of a talk to be given […] under the auspices of the South Croydon Conservative Association…

Croydon Times, May 1948

It seems the talk was one of a series forming part of a campaign to recruit 15,000 members to the local Conservative Association.

Perhaps some were oblivious to the political undercurrents affecting the country during those years, but for those who scoured the newspapers they would have found reports, such as this:

United States ministers and ambassadors to Russia and other East European countries met in a secret conclave in London today to discuss the strategy of the ‘cold war’, particularly in relation to Russia’s development of the atom bomb.

The Sphere October 1949

It was later in the 1950s and 1960s when the implications of the Cold War really hit home, with the resultant protest marches and Ban the Bomb demonstrations, but more of this in later posts.

Published by Isabella Muir

Isabella is passionate about exploring family life from the 1930s through to the 1960s and beyond. She has published six Sussex Crime mystery novels set during the 1960s and 1970s, a standalone novel dealing with the child migrant policy of the 1950s and 60s, several novellas set during the Second World War, and two short story collections. All available in paperback from your local bookshops, or online as ebooks. Her novels are also available as audiobooks, and have been translated into Italian.

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