America, Russia and the Cold War

Peter Moss's View


from Peter Moss, History Alive 4: 1900-1970s (1977)




This extract comes from a British secondary school textbook written in 1977, when the Cold War was at its height - so you need to be a little careful about the view it presents of the differences between the two sides.   Although a Soviet textbook from the same time would have presented a VERY different account, however, the author does try - for the time - to be fair to the Soviet system.






Differences between America and Russia


The two great powers glared at each other across the world, for although they had united to fight against the Nazis, in almost everything else they are completely different.




First of all, the United States believes that a country should be run on a Capitalist system - that is, all industry, business and agriculture should be owned by private people and firms. They believe that competition between rival factories or shops or farms will cause prices to fall and make the firms more efficient. If factory A is selling cars at 500, then factory B must sell theirs at the same price, or an even lower one, if they wish to remain in business. In order to make their cars for 500, factory B may have to scrap its old-fashioned machinery and install modern, more efficient equipment.



The Russians, on the other hand, believe in Socialism - that is, that everything should belong to the state and should be run by the government on behalf of the people. The Americans believe that any man who wishes to do so should be allowed to start a business and employ people to work for him. If he is hard-working enough, or skilful enough he may make a profit. If he pays his workmen 20 a week and makes 1000 a week profit for himself, he should, the Americans say, be allowed this as a reward for his intelligence and for the risk he is taking with his money.



The Russians believe that this system is wrong, and that no private person should be allowed to make a profit from the work of other citizens. If the labours of the ordinary people are to make a profit, then it should, they say, belong to the government, who will use it for the good of everyone in the country by building and running hospitals and schools, by paying for defence; communications and all the other needs of a country. So, all Russian factories and businesses (except for a few small one-man concerns) belong to the state, and their profits, instead of going into the pockets of one owner, or even a body of shareholders, go to the state.



America believes in the law of supply and demand. If, for example, too many firms are making washing machines, shops will have to keep reducing prices to try to sell them until they reach a level at which they are making a loss. As there is not enough profit in washing machines, factories will stop making them. If, on the other hand, there are only a few colour television sets on the market, many people will want them. Firms will be able to push their prices higher and higher, as someone will be prepared to pay. The high prices for the sets will attract other firms to make them and as soon as more appear in the shops, the prices will start to fall.



Russia believes in a controlled economy. The government tries to work out how many cars or perambulators will be needed for that year, and sets the factory to make that number, which are sold at a controlled price. This, they say, avoids wasteful over-production, and under-production with its high prices.



If, in America, one trade or profession, or even one district, finds itself short of workers, then more must be attracted by higher wages or better conditions. In a similar situation in Russia workers might be ordered by the government to go to that particular job or area. The American, too, can earn as much as his trade union can force out of his employer: if necessary, he can go on strike until the wages are increased or his hours shortened. In Russia, the wages and hours are fixed by law and strikes are, in practice, impossible.



As a result of all this there are much greater differences in wealth in the United States than in the Soviet Union. In America there are powerful business men whose incomes are several million dollars a year (one estimate is that one person in every 600 is a millionaire), but there are also some desperately poor people almost on the starvation level. From their relatively high wages the Americans have to provide for many services such as hospitals and medical care, which the Russians are given by the state. In the Soviet Union there are no millionaires, but there are very few, by their standards, who are desperately poor. However, the standard of living in America is, on the average, much higher than in Russia. There is, for example, one motor vehicle for every two people in the U.S.A.: in the U.S.S.R. there are probably 50 people to every car.



In the matter of government, the two countries are completely different. America has two main political parties, the Republicans and the Democrats. Each has its own ideas on the way the country should be governed, and it is up to the people to decide at election time which one they want. The Russians have only one party, the Communists. They say that this is quite fair as the Communists know what is best for the vast majority of people. Any other party would be in the interest of only a minority of the population and must, therefore, not be allowed.




The governments of the U.S.A. and the U.S.S.R.



In America most people over 18 are allowed to vote in elections for President, the Senate and the House of Representatives, but not all. The actual details of those entitled to elect their representatives varies from state to state: some demand that the person must have lived in that state for a certain number of months - or even years - before he is allowed to vote. Twenty of the states demand that voters must be able to read a certain passage from the United States constitution; still others insist that only those who pay certain taxes can vote, and one, Alabama, compels all voters to take an anti-Communist oath. The states which have the strictest regulations about who can and who cannot vote are usually in the south of the United States, and many of these laws are devised to prevent the negroes from taking part in the elections.



Every two years the people elect a House of Representatives, which is similar in function to our own House of Commons, and every two years they choose one-third of the Senate, which is vaguely like our House of Lords except that its members are elected. Every four years the people elect, by a rather roundabout method, a President. As the House of Representatives and the Senate are chosen at different times it is possible for one to have a majority of Republicans, and the other a majority of Democrats. This can make the passing of laws difficult.



In Russia every citizen over eighteen (except certain criminals and lunatics) is allowed to vote for the Supreme Soviet, which is elected every four years. The Supreme Soviet consists of two councils (soviets) - the Soviet of the Union, which is elected on the basis of one member for every 300,000 of the population, and the Soviet of the Nations, which consists of members sent by each individual republic of the U.S.S.R., in proportion to its size.



The Supreme Soviet is too large (about 800 in the Soviet of the Union and 600 in the Soviet of the Nations) to work satisfactorily as one body so it chooses a small committee, called the Praesidium, to run the most important business. The Supreme Soviet meets only to agree to, or reject, the decisions made by the Praesidium.



Every member of all of these councils must be a communist, and must be nominated by the Communist Party, so that is really the Party which controls the running of the country. The head of the Communist Party (the Secretary) is therefore the most powerful man in Russia.