Marshall Plan (in detail)
Another strand of American policy emerged in 1947. In Washington there was a belief that communism could only be stopped if Western Europe became wealthy. By the spring of 1947 it was clear that without American help there was little chance of economic recovery.
The USA decided to offer massive economic aid to Western Europe. The project was organized by the American Secretary of State, General George Marshall, and was known as the Marshall Plan. Marshall announced his scheme in a speech at Harvard University in June 1947.
A large amount of American money was made available to those European countries which made an acceptable application. The Soviet Union was, in theory, able to apply for help. However, Stalin saw the plan as an attempt to impose capitalist ideas on European countries. He refused to have anything to do with it.
The governments of Poland and Czechoslovakia wanted to join the Marshall Plan but Stalin ordered them not to take part. Stalin was right in thinking that Marshall Plan money would be tied to American-style ideas. The Plan was based on a belief that communism would be much less attractive to ordinary people if they had good jobs and were well paid.
Leaders of 16 West European countries met in Paris between July and September 1947 and wrote a recovery plan. The military governors of western Germany took part. The US accepted the plan and the first American money was transferred. The Marshall Plan was a step towards the division of Germany and this angered the Soviet authorities. Economically, the western area of Germany was now functioning as if it was a separate country from the eastern sector.
The Plan was a great success. Over four years, $13,000 million of help was provided. European countries were encouraged to reduce import taxes and this increased the level of trade. By 1952, when the Marshall Plan officially ended, the countries of Western Europe were well on the road to a period of great economic prosperity. The Plan was also very useful to the USA. By rebuilding Western Europe, America was creating wealthy trade partners who would want to buy large amounts of American goods.
The Soviet response
The Soviet Union organized an international conference in September 1947 in order to condemn the Truman Doctrine and the Marshall Plan. A new organization was set up to strengthen the links between communist parties in different countries. It was called Cominform (The Communist Information Bureau).
Communists in Western countries were told to try to wreck the Marshall Plan through strikes. There were very large communist parties in France and Italy. In the winter of 1947-8 communist workers in these two countries organized a series of strikes and demonstrations. This attempt to wreck the Marshall Plan did not work. Despite the strikes, American money flowed into Western Europe and eventually the strikes came to an end.
Having failed to destroy the Marshall Plan the USSR created its own economic block of countries in Eastern Europe. In January 1949 Comecon (the Council for Mutual Economic Aid) was set up. It was a trading organization of communist countries but was nowhere near as successful as the Marshall Plan. It did not involve any injection of money into East European countries. Eventually the Soviet Union used it to encourage each country to specialize in different products.