Both the first as well as the second world wars are landmark events in modern world history. Both wars are marked by involvement of the prevailing world powers of the day. In the case of the First World War, the principal actors were the European powers of Britain, Germany, Austria, etc with nominal participation from the United States and the Soviet Union. The Second World War saw a more meaningful participation from the United States of America and the Soviet Union, which were then set to become the leading superpowers in the post war years. Hence it is understandable why this is a crucial event in the history of the Soviet Union since 1921. Despite the fact that WW2 led to the survival of the Communist system and the Russian state, the effects of the war were much deeper. It legitimized the system in the people’s eyes and therefore shaped Russia’s actions in the international arena. The rest of this essay will elaborate further why the Second World War was a turning point event in the history of Soviet Union.
As mentioned above, the First World War was essentially a European conflict with the Soviet Union not being at the centre of conflict. But with the renewed imperialist ambitions of Japan and Germany in the War’s aftermath, the whole complexion of world affairs changed during the late 1930’s. Since the Soviet Union suffered relatively small losses in terms of economic costs and human casualties during the First World War, this event cannot be said to be a pivotal one in its history. But during the Second World War, the stakes had become quite high for the Soviet Union, with Adolf Hitler’s Third Reich conquering one country after the other and eventually invading the Eastern reaches of Soviet Union. If German troops had not succumbed to the harsh Russian winter and the relentless Russian soldiers, the Union’s history would have ended there. Hence the outcome of the Second World War, in which the Soviet Union, United States and Great Britain emerged victorious, is one of profound significance to the Union’s history. The victory in WWII is also important in that it gave legitimacy to both the Soviet state and the communist ideology. Although the Russian Revolution of 1917 formally established the Communist state, the status of legitimacy and global recognition was only attained after the Allied Powers’ victory over Axis Powers in 1945.
No single idea in the realm of political science has had the kind of impact on large sections of humanity as that of Communism. It is now easy to understand how communist ideology held sweeping mass appeal, as a result of its espousal of economic equality to go along with political equal rights. It also offered hope for many millions of people who were exploited under the liberal capitalist principles of free individual enterprise and unfettered accumulation of wealth. Right from its origins in the form of an abstract political philosophy in 1847 till its unexpected disintegration in the late 1980s, Communism had been an antidote to Capitalist ideology with its attendant injustices – economic and social. In a way, WWII is not just a tussle for power between nation-states, for it was also a conflict of ideologies. On the one hand we had the rise of fascism, represented by Hitler and Mussolini. The ideology of fascism is in direct contrast to the liberal democratic ideals espoused by the United States of America. Simultaneously, fascism was at odds with communist principles propagated by the Soviet Union. Although capitalism and communism are not compatible ideologies themselves, the greater threat came from fascism than from each other. Hence the significance of WWII emerges from the fact that it brought together two conflicting ideologies of capitalism and communism in order to vanquish their common threat posed by fascism. But in the immediate aftermath of the war, the two allies would part ways in order to propagate their own ideologies, which would lead to a period of tension and suspicion that has come to be called the Cold War.