Wednesday, April 9, 2014

What If Wednesday: The Soviet Union Wins the Cold War

I was sitting in a meeting about hedge funds the other day at work and I started thinking: would this meeting be taking place in a world where the Soviet Union won the Cold War?

It is difficult to use words like "won" in alternate history, because not all historical events have a clearly defined winner and loser. Just because the Soviet Union doesn't exist anymore is not evidence that the United States won the Cold War, only that Russia got a new government (and is now trying to get their empire back). At least in this scenario I define "won" (or "wins) as a world that most resembles the present, except with the roles of the United States and the Soviet Union/Russia reversed.

I always liked the idea of using Operation Downfall to create such a world. Perhaps the Manhattan Project fails to produce a bomb in time or else Truman listens to some of his advisers who were critical of its effectiveness. Either way, the worst predictions for Japanese resistance proves correct and millions die. Meanwhile, the Soviets take advantage of the fighting to invade Japanese-occupied China (Mao conveniently dies and is replaced be someone more pro-Soviet, thus hopefully forestalling the Sino-Soviet split) and Korea (which is united under communist rule and thus the Korean War is avoided) and even launch an amphibious invasion on Hokkaido. The Japanese eventually surrender and the island is split between a Soviet-controlled north and an allied controlled south (much like this map).

The huge loss of life so soon after V-E Day takes a huge toll on America's willingness to involve themselves in any more foreign affairs. Non-interventionist Robert Taft wins the Republican nomination and eventually the White House. The New Deal is rolled back and proposals like the Marshall Plan and NATO are rejected. Turkey and Greece fall to communism, encouraging Western Europe to band together to defend themselves, but follow a policy the can be characterized as Finlandization so as not to anger their neighboring superpower. The Soviets, happy to use them as their bankers, agree to this relationship.

Things go well for the Soviets in the 50s and 60s. As decolonization takes place more nations adopt communism or socialism, giving the Soviets new trade partners, which helps the war-battered Soviet economy. De-Stalinization happens at a more rapid and expanded pace under General Secretary Lavrentiy Beria who even grants more autonomy to Soviet republics and international Communist organizations are reformed to allow non-Russians to ascend to positions of authority (I'm not sure if the Warsaw Pact would exist in this timeline without NATO, but something might arise in response to any European unification). Without the intense competition with the United States, the Soviets are able to spend more money on their infrastructure and consumer goods, thus the life of an average Soviet citizen is relatively better in this timeline.

Eventually something happens to get America outside of its isolation. Perhaps too many nations in the Americas adopt communism/socialism touching off a different Red Scare powered by the stark realization the world is going red. America overcompensates, intervening in Latin America using ridiculous amounts of force causing a lot of collateral damage. Meanwhile, a form of McCarthyism on steroids is adopted as domestic policy in effort to defend America from commie takeover. Civil liberties are rolled back and traditional American values are enshrined, thus social progress slows considerably. Peaceful civil right protests are met with force and more African-Americans turn to violent means for their freedom. Catholics, Mormons and Jews also find life in America to be difficult. Gender equality is postponed and the less said about how homosexuals are treated the better.

Now even with an increasingly fascist United States and a more moderate Soviet Union, there is still no guarantee the Soviets will come out on top in this universe. There are still economic weaknesses inherent in communism and their is always a chance there could be a nuclear war and that means no one wins. The further we get from the original point of divergence, the less plausible my speculation becomes. Still I promised a what if where the Soviets win and by God I will give you that.

Let's assume the Soviets continue to institute economic reforms while the Americans continue to isolate themselves through their actions at home and abroad. To maintain control of the White House, the dominate party makes a deal with big business to support them in exchange for little or no regulation of the economy. A new era of economic inequality grips the country, meaning the average American can enjoy low wages, few benefits and possibly early death after being drafted to prop up some dictator in Latin America or elsewhere. Minorities have it even worse off and are using terrorist methods to make their anger known, meaning sometimes federal troops are called to pacify parts of Americas (especially the Deep South).

Eventually there is a really bad recession around election time and a reform candidate actually gets elected with enough members of Congress on his side that he can actually get some of his policies implemented. The plutocrats flip out about this "New" New Deal and something like the alleged Business Plot is actually carried out by some willing generals who arrest the President, his Cabinet and members of Congress under some trump upped charge regarding voting irregularities or something.

This backfires as people take to the streets and some state governments threaten to secede. When soldiers refuse to fire on the protesters, the civil disturbances quickly turn into a revolution. The President is released, American troops are withdrawn from whatever countries they were occupying and a whole new era of leftist policies begins in America. Perhaps a few states might make good on their secession threats, but the United States lacks the ethnic/religious differences that the different Soviet Republics had with Russia. Although Hawaii, Utah and parts of Black Belt are possibilities.

As the United States struggles to reinvent itself, the Soviet Union declares "victory" by pointing out the success of the Communist system. In reality this Soviet Union is more like our timeline's China. It practices a version of "market socialism" with a healthy dose of technocracy. The average Soviet is better off than our timeline, they have jobs and a large welfare system, but it still isn't anywhere near this timeline's level. There is no Internet as we know it and Soviets don't try to hide the fact that they spy on their citizens (smile for the camera, comrade). Most nations practice some version of socialism, either on the Soviet model or one of their own making, with those few hard-lined communist states generally not being pleasant places to visit for anyone. There are still some capitalist states, mostly in Europe and North America, who are more to the left than some would be in our timeline. I am not sure what the Space Race would be like in this timeline and I am hesitant to just say "the Soviets landed on the moon, huzzah" without more research.

So what did I get right? What did I get wrong? What did I miss completely? Let me know in the comments and if you have a what if question you would like me to answer or one you would like to submit yourself email us at ahwupdate at gmail dot com for a chance to have your what if featured on What If Wednesday.

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Matt Mitrovich is the founder and editor of Alternate History Weekly Update and a blogger on Amazing Stories. Check out his short fiction. When not writing he works as an attorney, enjoys life with his beautiful wife Alana and prepares for the inevitable zombie apocalypse. You can follow him on Facebook or Twitter.


  1. Well, actually, "won" is perfectly accurate. Winning a war means getting your war aims, or a large chunk thereof.

    The aim of the CPSU's regime was, essentially, to take over the world; they said so themselves.

    Ours was to prevent that, and if possible destroy the CPSU.

    They failed, and lost; we won. -Russia- still exists, albeit much smaller and weaker than the USSR at its peak, but the CPSU is gone.

    If that's not victory, what is?

  2. The biggest butterfly effect would be the loss of life in the invasion of Japan. How many of the politicians of the post-war period would have been in the armed forces that stormed and bombed the island into submission?

    Admittedly, I am a conservative; but it seems to me that you are being way too harsh on a conservative America. Is America today better, as a whole, than it was in its "Golden Age" of the 1950's? I won't go into the statistics of it, but you know what I mean.

    Though you may be right about the plight of "racial" minorities, you are quite off base assuming the same oppression of religious minorities. To assume this is to project the KKK mentality (which includes religious bigotry) upon the whole of 20th century conservatism. To my knowledge there were no laws favoring Protestants over other religious groups based on "traditional American values." Given the First Amendment, I don't think there would have arisen any in this ALT.

    What you call "gender equality" is a loaded term. It certainly does not follow scientifically that men and women are the same. Legal protection for women may have been delayed, but the "Equal Rights Amendment" never passed in TTL either. In a world where the sexual revolution failed, perhaps traditional respect for women would have provided a far better result. The divorce rate would be much lower, the scourge of abortion on demand would probably never have plagued the United States. And as for "treatment of homosexuals," I suspect that this population would have remained in the closet, successfully living out their "double lives."

    The brand of "crony capitalism" that you see in the ALT seems to be worse than the "market socialism" that arises. Does this mean that "market capitalism" would not succeed in a conservative universe? Is socialism therefor a better economic system than capitalism? You speak of lack of benefits in the middle class that arises.

    Interestingly, when I googled "fascism," the first line gave a definition tying it to right-wing politics. I guess this is from the folks at Google, because the dictionary entries that follow do not make this mistake. Fascism is an increase in government control by oppression of opposing views. With the first amendment in place, conservatism would tend away from fascism and towards democracy. I suppose, though, given WW II, the terms "fascist" and "communist" act as good extremes to imagine.

    Finally, given the "far-right" version of America you postulate, the choice of secessionist states presents only one liberal possibility: Hawaii. If it came down to federal control of religion, I suppose Utah might bolt, though as I said above, I don't see that as possible. The "black belt" is the deep south, from Mississippi to Virginia, originally called this based on the soil. Consequently, and coincidentally, it became populated by people of African descent. Do you propose a revolt of African-Americans or a secession of "states' rights" southern states that would just a soon deport their black populations?

    Admittedly, it is hard to project seventy years of "traditional American values" actually succeeding against a debunked "New Deal" by president Taft. What you propose, though, seems to make it better under an unopposed Communist state than under an extension of traditional American values. I respectfully disagree. Perhaps I will develop a What If scenario to counter yours.

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  4. As regards the Space Race (and rocketry in general, including ICBMs/missile defence etc), here's a possibility: Wernher von Braun, being as Tom Lehrer described him 'a man whose allegiance/Is ruled by expedience', sees the way the wind is blowing and some time probably in the early 1950s defects to the Soviet Union, taking his team and his designs with him. Or maybe he's headhunted, whatever.

    This isn't all that much of a stretch. He was known to have been dissatisfied with his working conditions in the first few years after coming to the US, and to have had nothing but contempt for his direct supervisors.

    With that kind of expertise on their side, and the American shift towards paranoia and insularity that you've described, the sky is most certainly not the limit for the Soviets.