FDR and Stalin: A contrast in degree of power


Franklin D. Roosevelt was elected for his second term as US President, having been elected with a landslide victory. He hoped to translate this win into a concrete increase in his own powers within the US constitution. He hoped to weaken the power of Congress and the Supreme Court to dilute his instinct to in favour of radical policies at home and more active diplomacy abroad. It would be a long struggle. The weakness of his underlying position can be read in the argument his side advanced for any change. To claim that the floods then devastating Ohio proved that the executive needed stronger powers, was hardly convincing.

The British War Minister, Duff Cooper, upped the debate on rebuilding military strength by a piece of pre-emptive concession. He publicly ruled out introducing conscription in time of peace. This was not a great sacrifice given the overwhelming opposition that any such measure would face. Even in 1939 when Hitler’s occupation of Bohemia made war practically inevitable, only a mild, diluted and disguised scheme was brought in. By pronouncing the dread word publicly, Duff Cooper signalled his belief in the dangers of the international situation. It was not an agreeable notion for his more conservative colleagues.


Stalin had far from exhausted the supply of high profile figures from the Revolutionary past to butcher. Save a clutch of loyal nonentities, anybody who had done anything to bring him to public notice had committed the sin of challenging the Man of Steel’s status. Another shift of show trials was announced. This time the net extended to distinguished foreigners, in particular the German Karl Radek. Perhaps in deference to this status, he was let off with a trivial ten years in the Gulag. Radek was also a Jew, but it is unclear if Stalin wanted to display solidarity with his colleague in dictatorship, but purported ideological opponent, Adolf Hitler.

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