Although much of WWII was cast as a struggle for liberty, Stalin was preparing to use the outcome of the war as a way for the Communism to eliminate much of that hard-fought freedom. The USSR would become, or continue to be, the cornerstone in an international communist conspiracy.
Stalin hoped to achieve many of his goals through subversion. Subversion is a subtle strategy, often including infiltration. Subversion usually avoids direct confrontation, but seeks rather to gradually erode or undermine a point of view or a set of values.
In the case of communism, subversive efforts included the formation of ‘front’ groups: seemingly apolitical and innocent organizations which in reality masked espionage and propaganda efforts occurring behind the scenes. Such groups might be appear to be cultural or educational clubs, or associations coordinating humanitarian efforts.
One goal for Stalin’s subversion was China. Caught in the middle of a civil war between the Nationalists and the Communists, China could be a helpful ally for the USSR if the Communists won the civil war.
In order for Mao’s Communists to be victorious, Stalin would have to engineer a change of mind inside the United States. The U.S. had been supporting the Nationalists.
Many of Stalin’s subversives were strategically located inside the U.S. government to influence policymakers, and strategically located in the news media to influence opinionmakers.
A second goal for Stalin to was to obtain the plans to build an atomic bomb. This was not so much subversion as simply espionage: spies stealing government secrets. A large organization of agents, some native born, some immigrants, built a network to obtain such confidential information and send it to Moscow: Klaus Fuchs, Morris Cohen, Harry Gold, David Greenglass, Theodore Hall, Ethel Rosenberg, Julius Rosenberg, and many others.
Many of these agents were eventually discovered and arrested, but not before they managed to give the classified atomic data to the Soviets. As historian Willmoore Kendall writes:
After the Russian victory at Stalingrad in June 1943, nobody could doubt that the Allied coalition would win the war. Stalin therefore turned his attention to the task of advancing the postwar position of Communism, preferably at the expense of, or if necessary in direct opposition to, the interests of his Western comrades-in-arms; and, as we should expect from the above, he reached first for the weapon of subversion, turning it upon the United States. The two most pressing goals of the resulting campaign were (a) to shift United States policy from support of the Nationalist Government of China over to acquiescence in a Communist takeover in that country, and (b) to obtain, by whatever means but in any case quickly, America’s atomic secrets. The first of these, the shift of American policy from active support to betrayal of the Nationalist Government of China, called for a sustained effort over a long period: coordinated actions, propaganda, above all the planting of elaborate misinformation in numerous diplomatic and political forums throughout the world.
Among the various ‘front’ organizations operated by the Soviet intelligence agencies was the Institute for Pacific Relations (IPR), ostensibly a ‘think-tank’ for the discussion of American foreign policy in east Asia, but in fact a node in the international communist conspiracy.
As the House Un-American Activities Committee would discover, the IPR was busy, both smuggling classified information out of the U.S. government into Moscow, and feeding misinformation to high-level policymakers in the Roosevelt and Truman administrations. Willmoore Kendall continues:
Within the United States itself, these tasks were entrusted to three groups: First, the Communist Party, which during the period of our wartime alliance with the Soviet Union had been highly influential in the circles that distribute news and form public opinion, and whose influence was to outlive the shooting war by several years. The Party, with membership at an unprecedented peak and with a wide variety of influential fronts at its disposal, could, at the end of the war, deeply affect American thinking when and as it needed to. Second, a number of Communist dupes who held high posts in certain strategic areas within the government of the United States: Alger Hiss, for instance, who became the first General Secretary of the United Nations; Harry Dexter White, who was Undersecretary of the Treasury; and Lawrence Duggan of the State Department. Third, the Institute of Pacific Relations, which was to prove a remarkably effective instrument for the purpose in hand. The IPR’s role in the molding of United States Far Eastern policy is, no doubt, today generally forgotten. That is a pity - and it would repay anyone’s time to review the detailed hearings of the Senate Internal Security Subcommittee from July 1951 to June 1952 (the task might well have fallen to HUAC) covering the IPR’s activities. What the IPR did by way of promoting the interests of the Soviet Union in the United States, and bringing American Far Eastern policy in line with Communist objectives, is a model of the USSR’s modus operandi in these matters. Only by understanding how it worked can we hope to learn how to prevent a repetition of the entire episode, or to ferret out less ambitious and less concentrated attempts to accomplish similar objectives - as, for example, in Latin America or the Far East.
This back-and-forth between Soviet and American intelligence agencies was, sadly, a deadly game: in additions to the thousands who died in the Korean and Vietnam wars, there were the ongoing deaths of Soviet intellectuals and dissidents in the ‘Gulag’ prison camps, the deaths of thousands in the Hungarians uprising of 1956, and numerous other instances of bloodshed at the hands of the communists.
But the most severe example was in China: Mao’s victory over the Nationalists of Chiang Kai-shek meant that millions of Chinese would be killed, in ‘reeducation’ camps, in famines, in executions, and in mysterious ‘disappearances’ organized by the communist secret police.