Saturday, March 19, 2011

Did American assumptions about communism cause the Cold War?



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Thanks for your help.

Jonathan

30 comments:

Mrs. Cone said...

I found this to be one of the more difficult questions to respond to of all of the session so far. I think I am hung up on the "assumptions" part and have trouble separating that from "action" and from the debate as to whether it was a power struggle or more of an ideological struggle and from the notion of basically who started it?!

According to Leffler, American policy was set because of the assumption that communism was potentially destructive to the economy of the United States. He argues that there is the basic assumption that communism will appeal to those who are struggling and, since there were more people impoverished than wealthy, communism could potentially spread far and wide. Some argue that there was also the assumption that Stalin was like Lenin and following Marx's notion that he wanted an international communist movement. While we know that Stalin was more nationalistic in nature, sometimes actuality is pushed aside for convenience. The speaker today (Dr.) added to that notion by stating that yet another assumption of the United States was that if communism does spread to new locales, those communist nations will be loyal to the U.S.S.R. Yet another postulation was that the Soviet Union inherently wanted to expand and that people, if given the chance, would choose freedom and capitalism over communism.

I do believe that there is truth to the statement that U.S. assumptions prompted actions early after World War II. The Truman Doctrine and the Marshall Plan were both bold initiatives designed to contain communism and, as Truman said, fight the "forces of darkness." These policy initiatives come at a time when the Soviet Union was not a formidable enemy, Stalin had actually been beckoning for cooperation with the west throughout 1946 and 1947 and the U.S. rebuffed Soviet desires to participate in the international control of the Ruhr. While we were exerting our influence in Japan and Western Europe, Soviet overtures for base rights in the Turkish straits were rejected. There seems to have been no give and take early on by the United States.

SRyan said...

Did American assumptions about Communism cause the Cold War? This is a difficult question to answer. The causes of the Cold War were numerous indeed. As our two distinguished guest professors pointed out, our over-all assessment of Soviet behavior, our fear of a growing Soviet power, the assumptions of other western countries, and the reports from intelligence agents, all led to the cause of the Cold War. Communism existed in other parts of the world, there were even Communists here in the U.S.; yet it was the behavior of the Soviets that caused us to react. While the United States and Great Britain were trying to end the arms race, the Soviets were developing their weapons of mass destruction. As the U.S., Great Britain, and France were trying to unify Germany after WWII, The Soviet Union blocked this effort and East Germany became a Communist state. The United States instituted the Marshall Plan, yet the Soviets decided not to take part in it. President Truman grew tired on Joseph Stalin’s demands. Stalin responded by publically disparaging the United States. Other western countries formed NATO which also helped to escalate the fears of a growing Soviet power. These were just some of the kindling that fed the Cold War. -S. Ryan

Christy said...

American assumptions about communism did not cause the Cold War. It wasn’t the idea of communism that scared American political leaders; it was the United States’ mindset that there must be world peace as well as the idea of Soviet power and influence that prompted the United States government to engage in the Cold War. As Mark Rice explained, the United States believed that there was a specific way that the world should work. The United States thought that there should be peacekeeping organizations that maintain cooperation between the nations. Even FDR was re-writing the Fourteen Points in his Atlantic Charter. When the League of Nations failed to keep the peace and World War II took place, the United States realized that the ideal of world peace wasn’t working. So, after the war, the United States jumped into action to try to regain that ideal by instituting the Marshall Plan. If countries could be rebuilt after the war, peace could be maintained. So, it wasn’t the idea of communism that we were trying to stop; it was our goal to rebuild countries economically in order to promote peace in the world.

We also overestimated the reach of Soviet power. As Leffler states, “After World War II, U.S. officials had good reason to worry about the problems of European recovery, the potency of revolutionary nationalism, and the demoralization of Germany and Japan. But they exaggerated the ability of the Soviets to capitalize on these developments. Germany and Japan were not likely to gravitate voluntarily into the Soviet bloc.” (128) The belief that the Soviet Union could have a great influence on countries in Europe and Asia created a fear that caused the United States to spend huge sums of money and wage wars in far away countries.

Anonymous said...

America did have a right to fear communism. Soviet aggression and expansion led to the beginning of the Cold War. The Communist Manifesto discusses a revolution of the proletariat which will lead to the expansion of communism. That is a valid enough reason to fear communism. The Soviet Union contributed to American assumptions by isolating itself amongst its satellite nations. The Soviet Union's lack of communication with the west added to heightened tensions during the Cold War period.

Mr. DeMatteo said...

My position is YES. Not only assumptions, but historical data and a little post Second World War paranoia supports my opinion. This country became VERY anti-appeasement after WW2. Never again would we let an aggressor rise to the heights that Hitler rose – if/when we had the opportunity to stop it. Stalin was displaying those qualities in the late 40’s and early 50’s. Events such as the Berlin Blockade and subsequent Air Lift kicked off our rivalry. Discovered a short time later - the Soviet spies at Los Almos and the detonation of their bomb in ’49 to Alger Hiss – the USSR was positioning themselves as adversaries. When China becomes Communist and visits Stalin after ’49 – the sum of our fears are confirmed. The US foreign policy of Containment and the Domino Theory become dogma and the McCarthy decade exasperates our paranoia blurring the lines between fear and fact. Once in play the inertia of this paranoia carries US foreign policy well into the 1960’s and 1970’s.

Ms. Stewart said...

While I don’t think it’s accurate to say that U.S. assumptions about communism were the only cause of the cold war, I think that to say that U.S. assumptions were not part of it denies the ideological component that is so essential to the definition of the cold war. Kennan’s “Long Telegram” argued that the USSR looked to the world as a place to expand to, and indeed Lenin had adapted Marx to include imperialism as a step toward communism. However, the U.S. made many assumptions about communism itself which led to the policies it carried out during the 1940s, 1950s, and beyond. The U.S. assumed that communism would find fertile ground in a world turned upside-down, and assumed that communist parties everywhere would ultimately be loyal to the USSR. Further, the U.S. looked to the dismantling of colonial empires and to the aspirations of the people in these territories as the Europeans withdrew; they assumed that some of these would inevitably find the example of the Soviet Union appealing, as it had become an industrial powerhouse in a generation and defeated Nazi Germany. The U.S. was not necessarily worried about the negatives of communism, but rather about the positives, and how these would appeal to the poor and deprived. The key idea here, however, is that the U.S. did not wait for any of these scenarios to play out – the assumption that these things would happen led to the policies that expanded from rebuilding Western Europe to involvement in areas such as Asia and Latin America.

Mr. Madeiras said...

American assumptions definitely played a role in the cold war, but Soviet assumptions about the Americanization of Europe after WWII played a role as well. Lets not forget that Russia was involved in two world wars and any sign of aggression will be met with concern. It seems that aggression on either side of the Cold War is met with reaction and further fulfillment of previous assumptions.

Mr. said...

The Cold War was a fight between two different ways of life. The Americans offered free trade and democracy, and the Soviets believed in a command [government-controlled] economy and political unity. What made the war so vicious was that both sides, both the government and peoples, believed, not only that their way was superior, but that it was absolutely essential to the future happiness of humanity. These reasons alone helped cause the snowball effect that became the cold war.

-Zederbaum

Daniela McKee said...

This question may have been the most difficult one to answer thus far. The word "assumption" made it difficult. I walked into class thinking that based on the reading, yes, US assumptions about communism caused the Cold War. The reading by Leffler made a strong argument that assumptions led to the Cold War but the professors made very strong points on the con side. As noted early, the use of the word "assumptions" made this very difficult. The professors spent a lot of time talking about that, and it made it more challenging to interpert the question.

Immediately after World War II, the US seemed to act on assumption with the Truman Doctrine. However, once the Soviets began blockading Berlin, the US fears seemed more justified.

As with any controversy, there are many complexities.

Christina said...

I think it was a combination of American assumptions about the Soviet brand of communism and Soviet actions based on our fears. If it was purely based on fear of communism, than the Cold War should have begun after the Russian Revolution. The crucial period was during the wartime conferences and the aftermath of WWII. The Soviets did not hold elections in Eastern Europe and were determined to spread communism, and in a world weakened by war, many nations were susceptible. We feared not necessarily equality (although some did), but the dictatorship and oppression that was associated with Soviet communism.

I think it really was more of a power struggle among the superpowers, rather than a real fear of communism, but that one way to “sell” it to the American people was to play up the fear of communism. Also, later in the war, the assumptions that we had did become a reality to some extent. For example, the domino theory held true for East and Southeast Asia. The nuclear threat complicated this, as well, because there was a real fear of world destruction.

mgoldberg said...

The Cold War grew out of a longstanding conflict between the Soviet Union and the United States that developed after the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917 when revolutionary Russia devoted itself to spread communism throughout an industrialized world. The capitalist free-world noticed Marxism and its potential to make a difference- a threat to capitalism and democracy. Different ideologies exacerbated a deep rift between these two nations as each tried to pursue world domination. Fear and paranoia intensified anti-communist rhetoric with the American people and these early assumptions influenced the American government to respond to the fears and protect against the unknown.
After World War II- the world was changing and the US understood the importance of timing. With Germany and Japan out of the game, Europe needing to recover from WW II, a civil war in China and developing nations breaking away from oppression- it was time to take action. However, communist Soviet Union had similar goals. By the 1950’s, the communists took over China, the Truman Doctrine and the Marshall Plan were in place to deal with the communist threat , the Soviets achieve nuclear power, the outbreak of the Korean wear, tensions over occupied Germany, NATO and the Warsaw Pact are active-all were actions by the US government in response to these threats. I can understand how initially assumptions can influence direction since the seeds of communism were planted in 1917. As the decades progressed, the US and USSR realized their direction and had their own agendas. A power struggle took root between these two superpowers that inevitably created the Cold War.

Greg said...

There were just too many other factors involved in the cause of the cold war to say it was just American assumptions of communism that started it. This is just the "Blame America" first crowd trying to point the finger at the United States for causing all the problems of the cold war era. The question itself assumes that if the United States just had a better understanding of Marx, Lenin, and Stalin all the tension of the cold war would never had happened. Yeah, we just misread Marx's cry of "Workers of the world, unite, we have a world to win!" We just didn't understand Lenin's "war communism" methods of taking land through force and eliminating private property. It was our fault for not seeing the wisdom in Stalin's forced starvation of the Kulaks, canceling of promised elections in Eastern Europe, his meddling in the surrender of Japan, his movement into Korea, his insistence of a split of Germany and Berlin, the blockade of Berlin, and his support of communist groups in Europe, MIddle East and China!

No, it was the United States' fault because we aggressively and selfishly handed out billions of dollars to war torn nations. We insisted that the German people not be split apart and because we pledged to help any nation threatened by a radical and destructive ideology! Really? This is what Leffler is arguing? Well, I'm not buying this!

The U.S. did have assumptions of communism and they were correct, but it was the actions of the soviets that caused the cold war. The threat of communism was real and continues to be a real threat to our nation and our way of life. However, some educators and politicians want to diminish the cold war as an overreaction of the United States to a communist boogey-man that did not exist. Well, just ask the millions of people enslaved by communism in Eastern Europe and Russia if the assumptions of communism were misunderstood!

erica said...

The presenters regarding this question provided great insight on the topic. Our assumptions about Communism may have contributed to the Cold War but our assumptions were based on Soviet Actions. Stalin had showed his cards when he did not allow free elections in Eastern Europe. In addition, our relationship with Yugoslavia shows that the Cold War was not about a fear of communism, but a real fear of Soviet expansion. The Cold War can not be reduced to only looking at how we perceived communism.

vwpaullos said...

Did American assumptions about Communism cause the Cold War? Answered by Paul Lospinuso

It is simple- NO. American assumptions alone certainly did not cause the Cold War. Usually the questions we debate in the Teaching American History Grant are much more difficult to answer because the questions force us to go back and forth a bit, but this one is different.

If the question would have been something more like In what ways, if at all,did American assumptions about Communism cause the Cold War? it would have been much more difficult and therefore more educational. That is not to say that I did not take a lot from this discussion, because I certainly did.

It was very interesting to here about the meta-cognitive argument which the presenters spoke of and to think, in general, about how what our perceptions are of other people, events, movements, etc, really matter when it comes to how things play out in reality.
Overall, another great success.

pcostell said...

This question was one of the most difficult so far and the problem was how to define assumptions! The Cold War was comprised of two competing, powerful and imperialistic nations, jousting for the” hearts and minds” as well as the resources of the globe. WWII changed the US’s outlook on the world and our place in it. The failure of previous peace keeping organizations had led to aggressive dictatorships that threaten the US economic and political way of life. Therefore, we took on a proactive stance towards the affairs of other nations to influence them to our side.
Meanwhile, Stalin had a legitimate fear of invasion from the west, as his country had been invaded twice in a short span of years, with the resulting catastrophic loss of life. Protection from aggressive neighbors drove his policies; hence the two sides with similar fears without completing understanding the other’s point of view. That was the underlying problem, not necessarily the ideology of communism or capitalism

kevallo said...

American assumptions about Communism did cause the Cold War. The US has always assumed that Communism would take hold here, as well as around the world. In reality, our actions after World War II almost forced Stalin to control the Eastern Bloc out of fear that we might be coming. Not that I am defending Stalin, but from his perspective, it made perfect sense to have a buffer with those countries, as well as maintain them as Communist nations to prevent the spread of capitalism, and democracy towards the Soviet Union. We assumed that Communism was a threat to our safety at home as well. Americans would never stand for Communism, and that is even why today it is a fringe group that no one even bothers with. In my opinion, the Cold War drove America to take actions that were unnecessary.

Thone said...

Both actions and assumptions by America and the Soviet Union contributed to the start of the Cold War. Each country believed that the other was bent on world domination and co-existing was not possible. Directly after the war, Stalin’s refusal to pull out of Germany and allow elections in Eastern Europe played a major role in starting the Cold War. This played into the fears that many Americans held about communism and the Soviet Union.

Robin J said...

I think not only American assumptions on Communism, but Soviet assumptions on Democracy and Capitalism caused the Cold War. Both professors gave great insights into this topic. The Soviet War had been heavily damaged in two World Wars, they had to rebiuld the country themselves. They were done "playing" with the west. The death of Roosevelt,also changed their views toward us because the last capitalist leader they felt any sort of loyalty to was gone. Everything in the Cold War became a game of one upmanship, The U.S. used the atomic bomb, the U.S.S.R tests it, NATO-Warsaw Pact, Gurgarin-Sheperd, Greece and Turkey-satilites and so on. People no longer saw communism as just a rival economic system, it became a evil entity a monster to fear, with men like Mccarthy to fan the flames. So, in conclusion, I think that while American fears helped cause the Cold War, Soviet distrust of the U.S. did so as well.

HSEMINTY said...

I think it is best to break this question down piece by piece in order to answer it. First of all, I'd liek to look at the word American in this sentence. While this book convinced me more than ever that both sides share equal blame for 'starting' the Cold War, I still think that Soviet aggression helped cause the Cold War. Stalin did occupy and force political oppresion upon the nations of eastern Europe after promising democratic elections at Yalta and Tehran. The second word i'd like to focus on is assumptions. American foreign policy makers assumed Communism would follow the same course as fascism had in the 1930s, in that it would be aggresive and that appeasement ws the wrong answer. Secondly American policy makers assumed that communism would appeal to the impovershed masses of Africa nd Asian and the United States had to stop this cancer from growing before the U.S. became an isolated an anachronistic island of capitalism in a sea of Red. Finally, I would say it was not only American assumptions about communism, but also about Stalin as well. American assumed Stalin was an internation acommunist, but also a totalitarian who was the enemy of democracy and individual freedom.

cmverycute said...

We can all assume, but assuming may not get us far. Did assumptions about communism cause the Cold War? The word assumptions puts this into a debate. During this time,many countries were struggling politically and the potential spread of communism face many. Did America fear communism? Was that even a possiblity after all we fought for. I'm not sure of our leaders would have allowed that to be. It is our assumption that if actions were not taken by our government,something truly significant could have changed who we are today.

stapes1976 said...

American assumptions on Communism, as well as Soviet assumptions on Democracy and Capitalism caused the Cold War. Both America and the Soviet Union wanted a hand in the reshaping of Europe. America's way of doing it was through money and democracy, The Soviet Union chose force and Communism.
The belief that the Soviet Union could have a great influence on in Europe and Asia created a fear that caused the United States to spend huge sums of money, to ensure that this idea of communism was not accepted.

TAH said...

Maureen S.It would appear from both Melvin Leffler’s The Specter of Communism: The United States and the Origins of the Cold War and Professor McMahon’s presentation that the Cold War was the result of assumptions made by both the Soviet Union and the United States. While Leffler emphasized over and over how the chill between the two super powers was based on a belief that one would cut off the other from favorable economic relationships with the rest of the world, he never gets very specific about how American policymakers thought European nations, suffering from economic dislocations following World War II would be drawn to “…regimented trade abroad, bilateral barter agreements, and state planning [which] would eventually jeopardize economic and political freedom at home.”(p.57) Given the strength of the postwar American economy and the capitalist mindset it does not seem likely that Americans feared “…the decay of liberal capitalism” in the United States. (p.48) Rather, Professor McMahon’s emphasis on the ideological dimensions of the conflict seems closer to the truth about the reasons why the Cold War came about. Indeed it was assumptions by both Soviet and American policymakers that led to the conflict. Each believed the other’s worldview was a threat to its existence. Beyond the perceived threat to each country’s economic system as described by Leffler, there was the assumption that the each side was seeking the other’s annihilation through nuclear means. While Americans in the ‘50s and ‘60s feared being “buried” by the Soviets, revelations by those living in Russia at the same time reveal similar fears. In fact Nikita Khrushchev’s, son Sergei expressed this sentiment at a speech at the LICSS conference a few years ago.

Whether or not these assumptions were actually true is a moot point; that these assumptions existed did cause the Soviets and the Americans to act and react in ways that were increasingly frightening. The United States saw that the promised free elections in Poland did not materialize, attempts by the Soviets to insinuate itself in Greece and Turkey, and the development of the bomb by Russian and were evidence that something had to be done. These American assumptions led to the Truman Doctrine, the Marshall Plan which operated under the assumption that economic security would prevent Europe from falling into the Soviet sphere and a quick transformation from vanquished foe to friendship status for Germany and Japan. Of course these changes to the diplomatic equation by United States did lead to changes by the Soviets as “…the Kremlin tightened its grip on its satellites…” which in turn led to U.S. efforts to respond. (p.64) Unhappy with events in Yugoslavia and West Germany, Stalin saw no recourse. So what did the United States do? It negotiated an alliance with European nations that became NATO. So on and on it went; China under communist rule and Americans assuming Soviet support here, Communist incursions in Korea and Americans seeing a threat there. So out of these assumptions, containment was born and nurtured in an increasingly frightening world of point/counterpoint moves by both sides. On the Russian side, any thought of negotiation with the Americans were dashed by 1953 when “The Kremlin saw the opening actions of the Eisenhower administration in Austria, Iran and Afghanistan as threatening”. (p.124) Added to this, the U.S. efforts to rearm Germany and it is does not take much insight to understand the Soviet assumptions about perceived American “aggression” as a threat to that nation’s existence. Russian citizens like Americans probably also feared being buried. Therefore, both sides acting out of a pereceived sense of danger born of assumptions that may or may not have been true coexisted in a chilly atmosphere that both sides feared could heat up at any time.

Mr. Ferrante said...

Although there is a lot to think about, I am beginning to lean towards the idea that the US had some real misconceptions about the Soviet Union. When you look at how we were treating the USSR before WWII, the treatment after the war is quite surprising.
It seems to me that we could have avoided much of the Cold War especially after Stalin died. Like Kevin wrote, the Russians had taken the brunt of two world wars. It is not surprising that they reacted (overreacted) to US policies.

Mr. Toth said...

The Cold War is such an interesting time period in world history, and especially shapes our history for 40 years as Americans. I think our thoughts on communism were partially at fault for causing the Cold War, but I think if we take a larger look at the picture; the Atomic bomb plays a larger role. When debating the Cold War it’s easy to argue that both sides were equally at fault. Both countries had agendas and both thought there way of life was superior to the other. Had the fear of communism not become over sensationalized by McCarty and Nixon maybe the average American citizen pays little attention to the on goings of the early cold war. The term Red Scare becomes a household name, thus adding to the fears of Americans. Overall this class was very interesting. Both the professors and the book help add to a great debate on a controversial topic.

bkilkenny said...

I agree with many of the other blogs that this was a very difficult issue on which to take a definitive side. It is somewhat of a chicken and egg question. The US certainly developed policy based on assumptions of Soviet Communism but there were also policies developed due to the actions of the Soviet Union.
The USSR and the US had difficulty in working together during the Second World War and once the threat of the Nazi’s was gone the two powerful nations were going to compete over how the post war world was going to look. Leffler’s position that assumption led to US policy has merit, but the USSR also acted quickly after the war to make their intentions known. The US was in a position of strength after the war and did not want to negotiate with the Soviets.
In hindsight, it seems that both the US and USSR were incompatible world powers so they created policies in order to weaken and ultimately destroy each other.

Mr. Karmin said...

I think the difficulty in answering this question comes from the word "assumptions." I think that actions by both sides caused the Cold War. The word assumptions implies that America thought something that may or may not have been true. Many of the fears about Communism were based on facts.. not merely assumptions. Furthermore, the Soviet Union was not an innocent bystander without fault. One cannot argue that the Soviet Union's actions played a vital role in the development of the Cold War. For these reasons, it is clear that the Cold War was caused by more than American assumptions.

Joan said...

The Cold War was caused by more than one factor. Although economic interests were part of the motivation, it appears that U.S. foreign policy was partly humanitarian and partly reactionary, based on political ideology and assessments of Soviet actions and behavior. After World War II, U.S. actions were taken to create allies and a stronger economic foundation in Europe, and to provide reconstruction. By doing so, America provided aid to people who would have otherwise starved and it also provided opportunities for democratic governments to thrive. The Marshall Plan provided financial support to France and Italy, where Communist parties were active and pressure was being put on them by Russia. The Truman Doctrine prevented Communism from spreading to Greece and Turkey while creating allies and economic partners. Stalin was concerned with retaining his power and desired to have a land buffer to protect Russia from any future aggression, particularly on the part of Germany. When he refused to withdraw from Eastern European countries, this was interpreted to be a sign of aggression. Both the U.S. and Russia seem to have reacted to the actions and behavior of each other. Assumptions in the U.S. were that communism would lead to the downfall of capitalism; both factors resulted in a Cold War that lasted until 1989.

Mr. Cummings said...

Did American assumptions about communism cause the Cold War?
I do agree that the way this question is formed makes it difficult to answer. Does the word "assumptions" indicate that Americans assumed certain things about communism that were not factual, or based on fact?

I do believe that many of the assumptions made by Americans in the post WWII world did help to perpetuate the Cold War, but Cold War tensions were first born in the clodin days, weeks and months of WWII.

I think the facts were more likely the cause of the Cold War. The fact that Stalin controlled Eastern Europe at the end of the war. The fact that communism had already taken hold in several countries in East Asia. The fact that Hitler was not stopped through the use of appeasement certainly made us hesitant about making the same mistake twice. Some of our own actions helped to fuel the Cold War. The use of "the bomb," and the implementation of the Truman Doctrine and The Marshall plan.

I don't think "assumptions" caused the Cold War, I think what we already knew caused us to fear the spread of communism.

CTator said...

You know what they say about when people assume, but in any case the Yalta agreement did set clear division between the capitalistic and communistic regions. Stalin had every means to create a buffer zone from the western bloc to maintain his authority and his command economy. The United States on the other hand looked at the war torn western Europe regions and very well could assume that communism would be appealing, thus spreading. The Cold War was indoctrinated as good v. evil, a means to demonize one another for political, social and economic action. All of this based on fear that communism was alive and like a cancer and if we did not take preventive measures that cancer will spread.
So all in all, i do believe that assumptions played a major role in the Cold War; the emotion of fear is a very strong tool and both the United States and the Soviets used it well.

AFisk said...

Like many who have blogged before, the word “assumptions” made this question difficult to answer. I do not think it was US assumptions about Communism that alone causes the Cold War. The Cold War was a result of a complexity of reactions to actions by the Soviets. Their actions such as their interference in Germany and the prevention of elections in Eastern Europe certainly fueled the flames of distrust between the two nations. As Leffler pointed out, initially, post WWII, Truman was “ready to work with Stalin” (p. 48) as long as the leader was “respectful of American priorities” (p.49). As US officials recognize that there were many pockets of financial and social poverty existing in the war’s aftermath, the “rewards” of communism would seem too irresistible to these ravished countries to refuse. This fear that the Soviet Union would be a magnet for these unsettled areas and forge economic ties excluding the capitalistic open world market desired by the US leads more to the growth of the Cold War than the mere ideological differences that “communism” implies.