Episode 4 in our Spanish Civil War history series looks at the key stages in the war.

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4. Forces_of_the_Spanish_Government_Crossing_the_Ebro_-_Google_Art_Project.jpg

We left you last time in 1937 in a Spain that was increasingly reflecting the great divide that had occurred in Europe between right and left. On one side were the Nationalists, under the strong conservative leadership of General Franco. On the other, were the Republicans, with a Socialist Prime Minister, but increasing Communist influence.

The Nationalists had the upper hand in the first stages of the war, although the situation was starting to become more complex. The Republicans were trying to smash the Nationalist lines, while the Nationalists were trying to take the Republican’s territory in the east and north. This episode considers events as 1937 turned in to 1938, and ends by considering the greatest battle of the war.

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See you soon,

George Levrier-Jones

email: info@itshistorypodcasts.com

web: www.itshistorypodcasts.com

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Do you know who the second longest serving Soviet leader was?

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Leonid Brezhnev was the dominant force in Soviet politics during the middle period of the Cold War and led his country at the same time as Nixon, our previous Cold War People subject. We have previously seen the rise and fall of detente during Brezhnev’s years in power, and how in the 1970s, under Brezhnev’s watch, the USSR became more involved in military endeavors in other countries. Today, we will see the wider changes he undertook in Soviet society, and reflect on his economic legacy, something that would be key as the 1980s wore on.

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Hope you enjoy!

George Levrier-Jones

email: info@itshistorypodcasts.com

web: www.itshistorypodcasts.com

facebook: click here

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“Did anyone really win the Cold War?” was the question that Samantha Jones asked after the recent shooting down of Malaysian Airlines flight MH17. After all, many assume that as the USSR collapsed in 1991, the US won the Cold War. Instead, Samantha argues that nobody really won this war. Here she explains why.


With the recent shooting down of Malaysian Airlines flight MH17 over Ukraine, tensions in some ways similar to those felt during the Cold War are once again being raised upon the world stage. With President Putin’s reaction to the crisis and the obvious Russian military presence between the border of Russia and Ukraine, this hostility links back to events and ideologies that brought about the Cold War. Once again the rivalries between various countries have influenced nations and people worldwide. No longer is this a matter of communism versus capitalism, or socialism versus democracy, but is instead a power struggle that goes beyond two major superpowers. The aftermath and rivalries from the Cold War are still present today. Why? Perhaps it is because the Cold War was a war that had no final end without a final winner.

An East German soldier guarding the newly-formed Berlin Wall in August 1961.

An East German soldier guarding the newly-formed Berlin Wall in August 1961.


The Cold War was a war that was never won. Despite the massive cost and time spent on the conflict, little physical confrontation occurred between the super-powers. This was not a normal war. Simply put, the Cold War was a series of cooling, warming and frosty interactions between the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) and the United States (US). Although these superpowers are said to be the big players, the hostility between these countries caused a catalyst for revolutionary worldwide events and issues. It involved the Third World, the Middle East and the Western sphere of influence. From the aftermath of World War Two, a vicious rivalry between communism and capitalism arose, bringing the world into a new age of technological warfare with nuclear weaponry. Welcome to the modern world.

It is widely believed that owing to the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, the US won the Cold War by default. But this really is not the case. By analyzing the physical conflicts, technological aspects and scale of this worldwide conflict, one can see the deep layering and complications to this. To have a winner, one must have a loser. But what did the US win? It did not receive any territory, reparation payments or a formal apology from the USSR. It was a war with no surrender or defeat. Yes the Berlin Wall came down and yes the USSR is no longer a communist nation. However, this does not mean the US won the Cold War. In my opinion the Cold War has no winner, which is why remnants of the conflict continue today.

For a world war there was very little physical confrontation in regard to the scale of the conflict. In no way do I mean any disrespect to those that did fight during the Cold War; however in comparison to the world wars, the armed struggle was small. The Vietnam War, the Korean War, and the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan are probably the most noted military contests during this time. Even so, both superpowers were defeated in Vietnam and Afghanistan and retreated after a series of long battles and the loss of many human lives. Also, both superpowers were overcome by an enemy that was not the USSR or the US. Of course the presence of each superpower was evident behind the battleground, such as supplying resources, aid and even initiating certain conflicts. But in a physical sense, it hardly seems reasonable to announce a winner when both the USSR and the US failed to decisively win militarily during the Cold War.



As mentioned before, the Cold War was also a revolutionary conflict in terms of technology, truly introducing the world to nuclear weaponry. The Space Race and the Hydrogen Bomb reveal how warfare took on a new meaning at this time. In this sense, the Cold War was a war that almost happened, or a war that could have been. What I mean by this is that it is a real victory for both superpowers as they decided not to use this form of weaponry against each other on a massive scale. Since neither superpower actually used their nuclear weapons and this war was not fought in outer space, the US does not deserve the title of ‘winner’ in this particular arena.

Lastly it is quite insular and ignorant to believe that the Cold War was only fought between the USSR and the US; therefore to announce one winner is incorrect. The crises in the Middle East, the Cuban Missile Crisis, the Vietnam War, the rise of Mao’s China, the Korean War, the Berlin Wall, the imposition of communism on Eastern Europe, and numerous nations fighting for their independence can all be connected to the Cold War. Countless personalities and politicians outside these two superpowers were involved in continuing and trying to stop this worldwide division. It was not just an ideological struggle between the democratic capitalists and the dictatorial communists. After World War Two the world entered into a period that broke with traditions of the past, such as colonization. The extreme layering in each piece of the Cold War puzzle does not add up to one clear victory. It is unjust and unfair to only include the US and the USSR in this debate and the question of who won.

As one could write an entire book on this subject, I have only touched the tip of the iceberg here. Hindsight tells us that the Cold War was unlike any other war in history for so many reasons – including that there was no clear winner or loser. Yes the USSR collapsed, but this was not due to any direct action caused by the US, rather domestic issues rotting the superpower from within. And yes the capitalist US did survive when the USSR did not, but just what did it gain? Reagan’s large increase in military spending in the 1980s caused the US to greatly increase its debt as well as use methods that can be argued to be crimes against humanity.

And was it worth it? After all this, parts of the world are still at war, the US and Russia aren’t friends, small nations are fighting for their independence in civil wars, and superpowers continue to dominate those that are weak. It seems that not much was learned from the Cold War.


Do you agree with Samantha’s argument? Did the Cold War not have a winner? Let us know your thoughts below…

AuthorGeorge Levrier-Jones
4 CommentsPost a comment

This article looks at the Komsomol, the fearless youth group of the Soviet Communist Party.


To my delight and surprise, Russia Profile (1)  continues to feature articles on Russian youth. “The Roads Not Taken” (2) by Dmitry Babich examines post-Soviet youth organizations as avenues for youth politics, instilling patriotism, and participation in social life. Babich is correct to note the important role youth played in putting pressure for reforms in the Soviet system; and he is right to place youth on the forefront for changes in Russia. As he notes, youth played a vital role in the Ukraine’s Orange Revolution. The protests during the Belarusian elections were mostly comprised of youth. There is a possibility, if not an anticipation, that Russian youth will play a similar role in the future.

If youth are slated to play such an important role in Russia’s present and future politics, it is important to get an idea about their history. The history of Russian youth organizations parallels the history of youth organizations globally. Fraternities, nascent youth groups and organizations began in Russia around the middle of the 19th century in universities. The first mass youth organizations like the Boy Scouts were founded in Europe, the United States, and Russia in the late 19th century. Adults like Robert Baden-Powell, the founder of the Boy Scout movement, began organizing youth out of fear of their corruption and the degeneration of the social body. Similarly, the German Youth Movement was a direct reaction to modernity and the perceived corruption of society. It looked to German tradition and nature as a way to purify the young body politic. Like many groups today, they also focused on cultivating mostly male youths into leaders and had a strong concentration of physical fitness, military preparedness, religious worship, nationalism, and morality. For this reason, 19th century youth organizations were primarily open to middle class youth. Working class and peasant youths tended to be excluded.


Komsomol members in Budapest, 1949.

Komsomol members in Budapest, 1949.

The February Revolution and Russian Youth

In Russia, this began to change with the February Revolution in 1917. There were small worker youth groups in the pre-revolutionary period, but these tended to be localized in factories. By May 1917, working class youths began to organize themselves into citywide groups that had aspirations for a national organization. In Petrograd there were two main groups: Labor and Light and the Socialist Worker Youth League (SSRM). In Moscow, youth politics was mostly dominated by the III International. SSRM and the III International were organized by young Bolshevik Party members along with other socialist parties. Labor and Light was more liberal based and despite having socialists as their organizers, the most famous was G. Driazgov who was a Menshevik, they shied away from class based politics. This led to it being overtaken by the end of the year by SSRM as the revolution radicalized. In mid-1918, SSRM and III International came together and formed the Russian Communist Youth League, or Komsomol. Despite the fact that it claimed to be an autonomous organization in its program, by the middle of the decade it was touted as the “helper and reserve of the Bolshevik Party.”

Determined to become a mass organization for worker and peasant youth, the Komsomol grew rapidly in the 1920s, becoming in some places in the country the only representation of Soviet power. By 1928, its membership was 2 million; in 1939 it reached 9 million. It wasn’t until the mid-1950s that the Komsomol made significant inroads into the Soviet Union’s youth population. In 1954, it boasted a membership of over 18 million.


Youth Violence

While I don’t disagree with Babich that the Komsomol became completely moribund by the 1970s, I am rather astounded by the following:

Semyon Charny, a Moscow historian who studied the social movements of the late Soviet period for the Russian State Humanities University (RGGU), thinks that the passivity displayed by the youth at the time can be explained by a lack of experience.

“I looked at the secret reports which were sent to the party bosses in the 1970s and 1980s on the hooliganism of soccer fans,” Charny said. “The party bosses, and even the KGB people, were shocked and talked about the ‘negative political implications’ of the fights between Russian Spartak Moscow fans and Ukrainian Dynamo Kiev fans. Why? Because soccer games were the only outlet for rowdy behavior in public that was even semi-legal. If even this small valve produced a semblance of mass riots, the party and the KGB saw it as an indicator of a sort of fever within society as a whole.”

I have no idea why they were “shocked”. Such reports were standard fair in the 1920s and I can present several examples of such and even worse behavior among Komsomol youth. In the countryside, for example, Komsomol mass meetings sometimes turned into mass brawls as “non-party” youth showed up from neighboring villages. Usually the cause of this had to do with, you guessed it, girls. Often youths from neighboring villages showed up to village parties (posidelki). Tensions between males would arise with the outsiders would begin hooking up with local girls. Drunken fights often ensued.

In fact, in 1926 the Komsomol leadership came up with a name to encapsulate misbehavior among its members: “sick phenomena” (bol’eznennie iavleniia). “Sick phenomena” meant hooliganism, drunkenness, and sexual perversity. The late 1920s saw an increasing number of expulsions for these offenses as the Komsomol tried to get a handle on the activities of its membership. Unfortunately for them, their efforts were to no avail. While many would like to perceive the Komsomol as some unified and totalitarian organization that had Russia youth in its grip, a quick glance at the newspapers from the period shows otherwise.


To the present

Yet, despite the problems, youth were and continue to be a main source for political cultivation and mobilization. However, as Babich points out, the state and political parties continue to treat youth as passive political players that are to be molded to adult’s whims:

The tradition of not listening to the “base” is still very much alive in Russia, and the strategy of some youth movements is built on fighting what they label an unresponsive and irresponsible state. One charge against the present regime is that it increasingly looks to the young to demonstrate their patriotism while offering little in return a criticism also heard in Soviet times. One example was the negative reaction on the part of opposition party youth groups to the publication of the Program for the Patriotic Education of Russian Citizens, signed into law in June 2005.

The program attempts to instill patriotic values through portraying national symbols in the media and arts as well as developing patriotic sports clubs and summer camps. The idea behind the program is that Russian patriotism can no longer be taken for granted, but must be reinforced by all segments of society that touch upon the lives of young people including the arts, education and business.

For some groups, however, the contents of the report were another opportunity to criticize the current government, and the presidential administration in particular.

It is telling though that the criticism of such patriotic initiatives is coming from liberal youth organizations, which are the ones that are stagnant in growth and political influence. However, the youth groups that are making any, albeit small, inroads in Russian society whether it be in raw numbers or generating controversy are Nashi and more radical Leftist and Rightist groups like the National Bolsheviks, the Eurasian Youth League, and skinhead groups. The political center that Yabloko represents has all but dropped out or is now taken over by Nashi. Babich quotes Ilya Yashin, the leader of Yabloko’s youth wing saying, 

“There is no place for the state in matters like believing in God or loving one’s motherland. As [19th-century Russian satirist Mikhail] Saltykov-Shchedrin said, if state officials start talking about patriotism, it means they want to steal something.”

However, such a view is in the minority among youth organizations. If the state supported Nashi is any indication, many politically organized youths believe that the state does and should have a role in these areas.

Finally, there is one story about youth organizations in Russia that is now starting to be told: the role of the Komsomol in perestroika and in planting the seeds for Russia’s capitalist economy. As Babich reminds us, many of the Oligarchs began their road to riches in Komsomol enterprises in the late 1970s and 1980s. Komsomol cooperatives in computer technology and construction became not only vehicles of economic reform (the Communist Party essentially flooded them with hard currency to buy computer equipment from the West to refurbish), when the system collapsed they were some of the few sectors of society that had reserves of Western currency. Many of the Oligarchs that we’ve come to know and love formally took control of those assets when the system imploded. This is a fascinating story that has yet to be fully uncovered, though I know a few people in Russia now working on it.


By Sean Guillory

Sean is the owner of Sean’s Russia Blog, available here. This article originally appeared on that site.

For more on the Soviet Union, check out our Cold War podcasts here.



1.       http://www.russiaprofile.org/index.wbp

2.       http://www.russiaprofile.org/politics/2006/4/10/3554.wbp

Image: Bundesarchiv, Bild 183-R78376 / CC-BY-SA 


AuthorGeorge Levrier-Jones

Two of the focus areas of our blog are 20th century history and Communism. In this article, Brian Schmied looks at the struggles that the Church faced in the Soviet Union in the Communist period, and argues that it has become a powerful force in Vladimir Putin’s Russia.


The Russian Orthodox Church is an integral part of Russian society, and a powerful political force. Not long ago, that would have been unthinkable. The Russian Orthodox Church has moved out from under the heel of brutal suppression and near extinction, to political dominance within the lifetime of most people reading this.


The Soviet Era Church

Communism, with its state atheism, had an official policy of religious tolerance that permitted the existence, but not the propagation of religion. Its rise resulted in the confiscation of the vast lands and property of the Orthodox Church. It was illegal to criticize atheism and to proselytize, and there were massive government led efforts to end religion[1] through education and persecution.

Destruction of the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour in Moscow, 1931

Destruction of the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour in Moscow, 1931

It did not help that the Orthodox Church opposed the rise of Communism, encouraging believers to fight against the new regime. When Lenin abolished religious education and the privileges and legal status of the Church, the Patriarch excommunicated the government, which led to mass executions of clergy. 

Almost 600 convents and monasteries were liquidated and the inhabitants executed in those first few years, and it only got worse with time. In 1929, the USSR outlawed all distribution of religious materials and proselytization. Special taxes implemented for the clergy raised their total taxes to over 100% of their income. Debtors were carted off to Siberia. Then Stalin came to power.

He purged the Russian clergy in 1938, executing an estimated[2] 100,000 of them on the spot, and arresting the rest. Just as it looked like religious expression may be fully stamped out, World War II broke out and brought it back. The Nazi invaders reopened churches in conquered Russian territory. Stalin, fearing that this might make the still largely religious Russian populace sympathetic to the Germans, ended his campaign of persecution and reopened the churches.

The number of churches recovered to over 20,000 within a decade, but, like the war, it did not last. In the late 1950’s Nikita Khrushchev, resumed the persecution. All of the previous laws were enforced again, and a few new ones added. By 1963, it was illegal to bring a child to a church service, and to administer the Eucharist to a child over the age of four.

Time wore down the conflict, however. The Russian Orthodox Church ended its feud with the state, endorsing its various accomplishments and integrating with the KGB[3] to ensure their survival. The Russian state granted reprieve, weakening restrictions, allowing theological schools to open and train clergy, and allowing people to privately fund churches and hire priests for their communities.

It wasn’t until the Gorbachev’s glasnost policy, however, that ownership of some Russian churches was returned to the institution.


The Post-Soviet Renaissance

The Russian Orthodox Church has bounced back. While Russians are not overly religious, with only about 15-20% practicing Orthodoxy[4], far more Russians identify with the Russian Orthodox Church. Russian nationalism has become tied to the religion, driving many conservatives, neo fascists and anti-foreign elements, into the arms of the Church.

The inauguration of Vladimir Putin in 2012

The inauguration of Vladimir Putin in 2012

Perhaps because of his ties to the former KGB, Vladimir Putin has built a strong bond between the Orthodox Church and the Russian State. He has voiced support[5] of increasing the political influence of the Church, and the Church has voiced their support of him in turn. The Patriarch, rather than fearing execution, like his predecessors, now walks the halls[6] of the Kremlin in return for bringing the votes of the faithful.

The orthodox people of Russia no longer fear the desecration of their holy sites by their government, but rather call for support in protecting them. There are scientologists are facing possible legal action on behalf of the Orthodox Church against their worldwide expansion efforts[7]. Russians protesting these Scientology proselytization efforts claim[8], “…anyone who cares about the survival of Russia must join the body of the Russian Orthodox Church.” Mere decades ago the same statement would have brought the KGB to your door.

Already by 2006, Russia boasted an impressive 27,000 Orthodox parishes and over 700 monasteries. Religion is uncharacteristically popular with the youth[9], as it helps them establish a cultural identity and connects to the international Russian community. As of 2007, the Moscow Patriarchate has brought the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia, which split off when the Soviet Union cut Moscow off from the world, back into the fold[10].


Do you agree? Has the Church really become a major force in modern Russia? Let us know your thoughts below..

Brian Schmied loves to learn about the history of religion and politics. He has a B.A in political science, and enjoys writing because it pushes him to think analytically and objectively, and to learn new things.

If you enjoyed that article, and want to find out more about religion’s struggles in the Soviet Union, a great book is Imperium by Ryszard Kapuscinski, one of my favorite writers. Get the book - Amazon US | Amazon UK



[1] Kowaleski, David. Protest for Religious Rights in the USSR. Russian Review, 1980. Vol. 39, No. 4. http://www.jstor.org/discover/10.2307/128810?uid=3739648&uid=2&uid=4&uid=3739256&sid=21102530492637

[2] Yakovlev, Alexander. Paul Hollander transl. A Century of Violence in Soviet Russia. Yale University Press, 2004, Pg 165.

[3] Meek, James. Russian Patriarch ‘was KGB Spy’. Guardian News and Media Limited. 12 February 1999. http://www.theguardian.com/world/1999/feb/12/1

[4]The World Factbook: Russia. Central Intelligence Agency, 10 July 2013. https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/rs.html

[5] Grove, Thomas. Church should have more Control Russian Life: Putin. Thomson Reuters, 1 February, 2013. http://www.reuters.com/article/2013/02/01/us-russia-putin-church-idUSBRE91016F20130201

[6] Bennets, Marc. In Putin’s Russia, Little Separation Between Church and State. The Washington Times, LLC, 13 August 2012.http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2012/aug/13/putin-russia-little-separation-church-state/?page=all

[7] Creating an New Era of Expansion. Church of Scientology International, 2013. http://www.scientology.org/david-miscavige/creating_a_new_era_of_expansion.html

[8] Robinson, Robert. Orthodox Rally in Moscow condemns Scientologists. 1 July 2013. http://worldcultwatch.org/orthodox-rally-in-moscow-condemns-scientologists/

[9] Orthodoxy in Russia Today. The Mendeleyev Journal, 30 March 2012. http://russianreport.wordpress.com/religion-in-russia/orthodoxy-in-russia-today/

[10] Kishkovsky, Leonid. After 80-plus Years, the Moscow Patriarchate and the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia Reconcil. The Orthodox Church News Magazine, 2007. Vol. 43. http://oca.org/holy-synod/statements/fr-kishkovsky/after-80-plus-years-the-moscow-patriarchate-and-the-russian-orthodox-church

I thought that I would be refreshing my knowledge for this blog post. But, it would be much more than that. The Great Powers blog post took me back to the depths of organized civilization. I mused, “that’s history in a nut-shell – it goes very far back.”

That is a very obvious thing to think.

Personally, I’ve read about the great powers, most notably in Paul Kennedy’s classic, The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers (Amazon US | Amazon UK), but what I didn’t realize were the sheer number of Great Powers over the centuries, especially in the pre-European age (by which I mean, the age before Christopher Columbus discovered the Americas). Sure, I was aware of the Mongols and the great Ancient Empires, but there are so many powerful empires in history.

The history of the Great Powers is truly a history of the world. Even in a world as disconnected as that of 100AD. Of course, in 100AD it was hard for leaders to control territory as effectively as they do now, or to quickly send armies to far flung parts of the globe, but nonetheless there were Great Empires that controlled large parts of the densely populated parts of the earth.

There were great Ancient Empires in many parts of Asia, from Babylonia in the Middle East to China in the Far East, while there were also several great African Empires amongst others.

And then I remembered

Ethiopia 2 069.JPG

I’ve been fortunate enough to travel quite a bit to some of the lesser visited regions of the globe. And soon enough, it hit me. I remembered learning about some of these kingdoms. Take the Axumite Kingdom (or the Kingdom of Aksum). It consisted of parts of several modern-day countries in Africa and the Middle East, and came into being sometime around 100AD. I visited the town of Axum, in northern Ethiopia, the former capital. The main site that remains from the days of the Axumite Kingdom is a series of stelae in many fields within and around the town. While there I was told about Axum’s Ancient glories, but it was hard to recognize that this was the center of a truly Great Power. It was only when I started to read more about it that I understood its importance as a base between modern-day Egypt and India.

The same thing happened when I visited Georgia (the country, not the state!). While there I was told of it’s (albeit quite brief) glorious age, but again I found myself surprised on finding out about its regional influence during the Georgian Golden Age around the year 1200.

Not truly Great Powers, but..

A great power can be defined as a country that has significant extra-territorial influence, but there is a problem that I have when thinking about countries such as Georgia in the year 1200 as Great Powers. And this is in spite of being well-read in the European Great Powers over the past centuries.

The problem is the Cold War. I compare such powers to the USSR and USA, and think of how little influence they actually had outside of their own regions. But, that is why the USA and USSR were known as super-powers, not merely Great Powers.

There’s most certainly a lesson here. History stretches back a very long way and just because things are as they are now, it doesn’t mean they’ve always been that way. By which I mean, the word super-power was coined for a reason.

Anyway, the point of this blog post was to provide an introduction to the two powers in the Cold War as an introduction to some posts covering topics in the Cold War. I guess that I will have to do a post on the super-powers first now.

“Oh, why must history go so very far back?”, I just lamented.

Is there a Great Power that intrigues you?

If so, please tell us a little about it so that we can learn something from you!

George Levrier-Jones


This post was written as part of a regular series of (sometimes) humorous introductions to topics in history as part of ‘117-second History’.

We discuss how the USA and USSR emerged as Great Powers (or super-powers), in our book, “Cold War History - To the brink of nuclear destruction - From World War 2 to the Cuban Missile Crisis - Part 1: 1945-1962 (Required History)” - available by clicking here.