Mastering Modern World History

Fifth edition, Palgrave Master Series

by Norman Lowe

Source questions for Part III: Communism - rise and decline

Chapter 16 - Differing assessments of Lenin

Read Sources A and B and then answer the questions that follow.

Source A

The view of Russian historian Dmitri Volkogonov, writing in 1998.


Politics, to be sure, tends to be immoral, but in Lenin immorality was exacerbated by cynicism. Almost every one of his decisions suggests that for him morality was totally subordinated to political realities . . . and his main goal – the seizure of power.

Source:  Dmitri Volkogonov, The Rise and Fall of the Soviet Empire (HarperCollins, 1998)

Source B

The view of Moshe Lewin, a historian based at the University of Birmingham, UK, writing in 1985.


By 1922 an older and wiser Lenin was proposing a new and final series of innovations known as his ‘testament’. . . . It does not mention revolutionary terror of any sort. Its message is very different: no violent measures as a way of transforming the social structures of the country! The cultural revolution first, an understanding with the peasants, and slowness as the supreme virtue. In addition, a new vision on Lenin’s part of socialism as a regime of ‘civilized co-operators’. It is well known that that set of ideas was disdainfully labelled ‘liberalism’ by Stalin himself.

Source:  Moshe Lewin, The Making of the Soviet System (Methuen, 1985).

(a) In what ways do you think these sources present differing views of Lenin?

(b) From your own knowledge, what evidence can you find from the events during Lenin’s period of power to support or contradict the claims made in the sources?

Chapter 17 - Stalin, the kulaks and collectivization

Study Source A and then answer the questions that follow.

Source A

Extract from a speech by Stalin to local party and soviet workers in Siberia in January 1928, usually taken to mark the beginning of collectivization.


You’re working badly! You’re idle and you indulge the kulaks. Take care that there aren’t some kulak agents among you. We won’t tolerate this sort of outrage for long.

. . . Take a look at the kulak farms; you’ll see their granaries and barns are full of grain; they have to cover their grain with awnings because there’s no room for it inside. The kulak farms have got something like a thousand tons of surplus grain per farm. I propose that:

(a)   you demand that the kulaks hand over their surpluses at once at state prices;

(b)   if they refuse to submit, you should charge them under Article 107 of the Criminal Code and confiscate their grain for the state, 25 per cent of it to be redistributed among the poor and less well-off middle peasants.

Source:  quoted in Dmitri Volkogonov, Stalin: Triumph and Tragedy (Phoenix, 2000 edition).

(a) What does the source reveal about Stalin’s attitude towards the kulaks and his methods of dealing with local officials?

(b) Explain Stalin’s motives for introducing collectivization and show how the policy was carried out in the USSR.

(c) To what extent did collectivization fulfil Stalin’s aims in the period from 1928 to 1941?

Chapter 18 - Khrushchev’s promises for the future

Study Source A and then answer the questions that follow.

Source A

Extracts from Khrushchev’s speech at the Twenty-Second Party Congress, 31 October 1961.


In the current decade (1961–70) the Soviet Union will surpass the strongest and richest capitalist country, the USA, in production per head of population; the people’s standard of living and their cultural and technical standards will improve substantially; everyone will live in easy circumstances; all collectives and state farms will become highly productive and profitable enterprises; the demand of Soviet people for well-appointed housing will, in the main, be satisfied; hard physical work will disappear; the USSR will have the shortest working day. [There will be] active participation of all citizens in the administration of the state . . . and increased control over its activity by the people. Thus a Communist society will be built in the USSR.

Source:  quoted in John Laver, The USSR, 1945–1990 (Hodder & Stoughton, 1991).

(a) What does this source reveal about the problems inherited by Khrushchev from the Stalinist regime?

(b) Why did Khrushchev fall from power in 1964?

(c) How far had Khrushchev’s promises been fulfilled by 1970?

Chapter 19 - The communist victory in China

Study Source A and answer the questions that follow.

Source A

Extracts from the writings of Edgar Snow, an American journalist who lived in China for many years after 1928. His book Red Star Over China was first published in 1937.       
                                                                   

I had to admit that most of the peasants to whom I talked seemed to support the communists and the Red Army. Many of them were very free with their criticisms and complaints, but when asked whether they preferred it to the old days, the answer was nearly always an emphatic ‘yes’. I noticed also that most of them talked about the soviets as ‘our government’. To understand peasant support for the communist movement, it is necessary to keep in mind the burden borne by the peasantry under the former regime [the Kuomintang]. Now, wherever the Reds went, there was no doubt that they radically changed the situation for the tenant farmer, the poor farmer, and all the ‘have-not’ elements. All forms of taxation were abolished in the new districts for the first year, to give the farmers a breathing-space. Second, the Reds gave land to the land-hungry peasants. Thirdly, they took land and livestock from the wealthy classes and redistributed them among the poor. However, both landlords and rich peasants were allowed as much land as they could till with their own labour.

Source:  Edgar Snow, Red Star Over China (Penguin, 1972 edition).

(a) How useful is this source in helping to explain the spread of communism in China during the 1930s?

(b)  What effects did the war with Japan and the Second World War have on the fortunes of the Chinese Communist Party?

(c) Explain why Mao Zedong and the communists were eventually victorious in the civil war against the Kuomintang.

Chapter 20 - Mao Zedong and the Cultural Revolution

Study Source A and then answer the questions that follow.

Source A

A statement issued in 1966 by the Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party about the Cultural Revolution.


Although the bourgeoisie has been overthrown, it is still trying to use the old ideas, customs, culture and habits of the exploiting classes to corrupt the masses, capture their minds and endeavour to stage a come-back. The Proletariat must be the exact opposite: it must meet head-on every challenge of the bourgeoisie and use new ideas, culture, customs and habits of the proletariat to change the mental outlook of the whole of society. Since the Cultural Revolution is a revolution, it inevitably meets with resistance. This resistance comes chiefly from those in authority who have wormed their way into the Party and are taking the Capitalist road. It also comes from the force of habits from the old society. What the Central Committee demands of the Party Committee at all levels is to boldly arouse the masses, encourage those comrades who have made mistakes but are willing to correct them, to cast off their burdens and join in the struggle. A most important task is to transform the old education system.

Source:  quoted in Peking Review, August 1966.

(a) What does the source reveal about Mao’s motives and aims in introducing the Cultural  Revolution?

(b) Explain what was meant in the source by the phrase ‘taking the Capitalist road’.

(c) How did the government attempt to carry out the Cultural Revolution and what were its results?

Chapter 21 - Cambodia, Prince Sihanouk and their relations with the USA

Study the Sources A to C and then answer the questions that follow.

Source A

Extracts from Prince Sihanouk’s Memoirs.


John Foster Dulles had called on me in his capacity as Secretary of State, and he had exhausted every argument to persuade me to place Cambodia under the protection of the South-East Asia Treaty Organization [see Section 8.1(d)]. I refused.......I considered SEATO an aggressive military alliance directed against neighbors whose ideology I did not share but with whom Cambodia had no quarrel. I had made all this quite clear to John Foster, an acidy, arrogant man, but his brother [CIA Director Allen Dulles] soon turned up with a briefcase full of documents ‘proving’ that Cambodia was about to fall victim to ‘communist aggression’, and that the only way to save the country, the monarchy and myself was to accept the protection of SEATO. The ‘proofs’ did not coincide with my information, and I replied to Allen Dulles as I had replied to John Foster: Cambodia wanted no part of SEATO. We would look after ourselves as neutrals and Buddhists. There was nothing for the secret service leader to do but pack up his dubious documents and leave.

Source: Quoted in William Burchett, My War with the CIA (1974 edition, pp 75-6.

Source B

William Blum, a journalist and former member of the US State Department, writes about Prince Sihanouk.


Not only did Sihanouk continue to attack SEATO, but he established relations with the Soviet Union and Poland and accepted aid from China. He praised the latter lavishly for treating Cambodia as an equal and for providing aid without all the strings which, he felt, came attached to American aid.

Such behaviour should not obscure the fact that Sihanouk was as genuine a neutralist as one could be in such a highly polarized region of the world in the midst of the cold war. He did not shy away from denouncing China, North Vietnam or communism on a number of occasions when he felt that Cambodia’s security or neutrality was being threatened. ‘I foresee perfectly well’, he said at one time, ‘the collapse of an independent and neutral Cambodia after the complete triumph of Communism in Laos and South Vietnam’...... Despite all the impulsiveness of his personality and policies, Sihanouk’s high-wire balancing act did successfully shield his country from the worst of  the devastation that was sweeping through the land and people of Laos and Vietnam.

In March 1969 the situation began to change dramatically. Under the new American president, Richard Nixon, and National Security Affairs adviser, Henry Kissinger, attacks across the Cambodian border became sustained, large-scale ‘carpet bombings’. Over the next 14 months, no less than 3,630 B-52 bombing raids were flown over Cambodia.

Source: William Blum, Killing Hope: US Military and CIA Interventions Since World War II (Zed Books, 2003), pp.134-137.

Source C

Historian J.A.S. Grenville explains why Prince Sihanouk was overthrown.


Realising early on that North Vietnam was likely to prove the stronger in the war, Sihanouk abandoned America and the West to seek the friendship of China in the 1960s. He was powerless to prevent the North Vietnamese from using the Ho Chi-minh Trail in Cambodian border territories for moving troops and supplies from North Vietnam to South Vietnam. But his pro-Chinese, pro-communist stance was unwelcome to the United States, and while in Beijing in 1970 he was overthrown. With American support, Lon Nol took control of the royal government. This marked the end of any hope that Cambodia might achieve neutrality: she was invaded by American and South Vietnamese troops intent on destroying the Vietnamese communists bases and supply lines on the borders, which were also bombed. In Beijing, Sihanouk now threw in his lot with the Khmer Rouge communist opposition. American policy in Cambodia proved a disastrous failure, and after the US withdrawal from Vietnam in 1973 there was no possibility that Congress would have accepted a new military commitment in Cambodia. Deprived of US combat support, the Lon Nol regime could not survive the onslaught of communist forces, so when the Americans finally left, the Khmer Rouge easily captured Phnom Penh in April 1975 and took over the whole country. Had the Americans not turned against Sihanouk, one of the cleverest and wiliest of south-east Asian leaders, Cambodia might have been spared the almost unbelievable horrors that followed.

Source: J.A.S. Grenville, The Collins History of the World in the Twentieth Century (Harper Collins, 1994), pp. 625-26.

(a) What evidence do these sources provide about Prince Sihanouk’s attitudes towards international relations and towards the USA in particular?

(b) Using the evidence of the sources and your own knowledge, explain how and why ‘the situation began to change dramatically’ in March 1969.

(c) How successful was Prince Sihanouk in protecting Cambodia from attack?

(d)  Explain why the Americans eventually turned against Sihanouk.

(e)  Using your own knowledge and information from the chapter, explain what Grenville meant by ‘the almost unbelievable horrors that followed’.

(f)  Explain why Grenville claims that ‘American policy in Cambodia proved a disastrous failure’.