98for98 The century in photographs: today 1949

Click to follow
Indy Lifestyle Online
The Independent's photographic history of the 20th century continues with the help of the Hulton Getty Picture Collection. Today we reach 1949.

A New York State Trooper feels the rage of a crowd who had gathered in Peekskill to disrupt a concert by Paul Robeson, a self-confessed communist, who had undertaken a widely publicised trip to the Soviet Union. Despite Robeson's ambivalent attitude towards Stalin's regime, many in the United States, caught in the grip of anti-Red mania, had been outraged by what they saw as the singer's espousal of un-American beliefs.

America's hysterical attitude towards Communism proved to be no passing fad either. In what it deemed an investigation of national "loyalty", the House Committee on Un-American Activities fuelled the national concern regarding apparent Communist insurgency. Comparing the national mood to similar spasms of collective paranoia after the War of Independence and World War One, President Truman poured scorn on the committee's over-zealous pursuit of all things Communist and attempted to allay fears about the "Reds".

Not that Communism wasn't making momentous progress elsewhere in 1949. The Russians may have backed down and ended their blockade of Berlin in the early summer - and with it surrendered the chance to bring the German capital wholly under Soviet control - but, come October, East Germany, under Stalin's orders, had become the German Democratic Republic. Russian troops were to maintain order and the country faced its future as a satellite state in the Soviet Communist empire. The move was met with widespread protest in the West, where the major powers were still reeling from the news that the Soviets had successfully undertaken an A-bomb test.

Further East, that autumn, Mao Tse-tung had declared China a Communist republic. The civil war, which the People's Liberation Army had re-initiated in 1947 more than twenty years after Mao's "Long March", concluded this year after the humiliating capitulation of Chiang Kai-shek's Nationalist forces. Taking advantage of a corrupt and disorganised enemy, the guerrilla forces with which Mao had recommenced his assault on the Nationalist government had swept into Peking and Shanghai by the end of the summer as enormous, well-equipped armies. The advent of a Communist regime in one of the world's most populous countries was welcomed by the Soviet Union, which declared Mao's victory "a cruel blow to the aggressive plans of imperialists in the Pacific region".

`Photo 98' is a series of high-profile national events and exhibitions relating to photography and digital imaging. For information contact 01484- 559888 or www.photo98.com. Current exhibition: in addition to the Cartier- Bresson exhibitions at the Hayward Gallery and the National Portrait Gallery, the Royal College of Art is exhibiting 150 of the great photographer's drawings. To 9 April, Royal College of Art, Kensington Gore, London SW7, ph 0171-590 4444

Comments