Early tension between East and West

The USA entered World War Two against Germany and Japan in 1941, creating a Grand Alliance of the USA, Britain and the USSR. This uneasy alliance would ultimately break down into the Cold War.

The alliance of the USA and the USSR brought together two sides that were divided by their political ideologies. The political and economic systems of the USA and Britain were based on capitalism, while since its foundation after the 1917 Russian Revolution the USSR had based its economy on communism.

The 1941 alliance formed between USSR, USA and Britain, on the left, and the German/Japanase allied together on the right

However, the actions of Nazi Germany and its ally, Japan, in World War Two had driven these two political enemies together.

  • Britain had been at war with Germany since Germany’s invasion of Poland in 1939.
  • Despite the fact that Stalin had carved up and invaded Poland in 1939 alongside Hitler, the USSR allied itself with Britain in 1941 when Germany began to invade its territories.
  • In December 1941, Germany’s ally, Japan, launched a surprise attack on the US naval base at Pearl Harbor on the island of Oahu, Hawaii. This action brought the USA into World War Two on the same side as Britain and the USSR.

Revision tip

Understanding the differences between capitalism and communism:

CapitalismCommunism
Several political parties representing different sectors of societyOne-party state
Governments are chosen by democratic electionsNo democratic elections and no opportunity to change the government by election
People are free to set up private businesses and make money for themselvesAll businesses and factories are owned by the state
Individual rights and freedoms are importantIndividual rights and freedoms are less important than obedience to the state
Freedom of speech and freedom of the pressCensorship and state controlled media
curriculum-key-fact
While it's important to know the key differences between capitalism and communism, be careful not to spend too long writing about this in the exam! You can summarise how different the USA and USSR were in a sentence or so, and then move on to their relationship and the events themselves.