Anna M. Cienciala (
History 557 Lecture Notes
Spring 2002 (Revised Fall. 2003. spring 2008, fall 2009, march 2012)


LECTURE NOTES 17. EASTERN EUROPE 1945-1956: Population Shifts; The Cold War and Stalinization; the Balkans; Poland and Hungary in 1956; Czechoslovakia 1968.



1. Poles and Germans.

Western leaders agreed before war's end that the German population should be moved out of the former German territories that would be awarded to Poland. This was supported publicly by Churchill although later, during the Cold War, he condemned the deportations. As noted in Lecture Notes 16b, at the Big Three meeting in Tehran, (end November-early December 1943), he had proposed moving Poland west, like moving soldiers "three steps left close," compensating the Poles with German territory for losing their former eastern territories to the USSR. The new Polish-Soviet border was agreed on in a secret treaty between the Polish Committee of National Liberation and the Soviet government on 26 July 1944, and agreed by the Big Three at Yalta in February 1945. Thus, the ethnic cleansing of Germans from Poland was the result of decisions taken by the three Great Powers: the US, the USSR and Britain, as well as mass flight ahead of the Red Army.

The number of Germans living in former East Prussia and the former east German territories given to Poland, bounded by the Oder-Neisse Line, is estimated at 7,500,000 - 8,250,000. Many fled ahead of the advancing Red Army whose soldiers were given a free hand - always for the first 3 days after battle --to rob and kill German civilians and rape their women. The new Polish-German border was fixed at the Big Three Conference, Potsdam, end July - early August 1945, when the three Great Powers also mandated the deportation of Germans from the territories awarded to Poland, to the British and Soviet occupation zones in Germany.

The worst deportations from former eastern Germany, now western Poland, took place in summer 1945, before the Potsdam Conference, when the Polish government acted to prevent Germans, who had fled before the Red Army, from returning to their homes, and deported those who had returned. At this time, many deportees died from disease or cold, or were murdered in the chaos and lawlessness that prevailed everywhere. However, in some cases the cruelty that many Germans suffered from Poles right after war's end was revenge for almost six years of a brutal German occupation, which included the loss of most of the 3,500,000 Polish Jews who lived in Poland in 1939; the loss of about 2,500,000 ethnic Polish lives at German hands (the war total, including deaths on western fronts and in the USSR, was about 3 million out of an estimated prewar Polish total of 24,000,000); the forced deportation of several hundred thousand Poles from former western Poland, annexed to Germany to occupied central Poland in 1939-40; and the deportation of about 1,000,000 Poles to forced labor in Germany during the war.Also, at least 400,000 Poles were deported from former eastern Poland to the USSR in 1939=41; together with conscripted Poles and others who were in forced labor camps or "special settlements," or were imprisoned in the Soviet Union, the total may have been about 1,000,000.

More orderly conditions obtained in 1946, when British officials came to oversee the deportations. Most of the German deportees wanted to avoid the Soviet zone and go to the British zone of occupation in Germany, but the British tried to limit the numbers because of the burden this imposed on them, which again made the situation of the Germans more difficult. At this time, the Soviet authorities, who sent German industrial and agricultural machinery to the USSR, held on to the Germans they needed to run the farms which fed the Red Army, and as servants for Soviet officers. The Polish authorities held on to highly qualified German engineers and experienced miners.

We must also bear in mind that in 1944-46 about 1,000,000 Poles left their homes in former eastern Poland, now part of the USSR. Later they were joined by those who survived deportation to the Soviet interior in 1940-41 and 1944-45, and were "repatriated" in 1946-47. All these people also suffered hunger, cold, robbery and sometimes murder as they travelled, mostly in open railway cattle cars, to the new Polish western territories. On arrival, they found farms without their agricultural machinery - sent to the USSR by the Soviet occupation troops - and houses looted either by Red Army soldiers, or Polish looters out to grab what they could.

We should note the proposal launched in 2002 by Erica Steinbach - a member of the German parliament who also represents the descendants of German refugees - for building a center in Berlin in memory of the 12-13 million German refugees expelled or deported from Eastern Europe at the end of World War II and shortly after it. This proposal aroused much criticismin Poland, where historians and journalists pointed out that the Germans were far from being the only victims of the war. The Poles proposed a center in memory of all East European refugees/deportees, posibly in Wroclaw (former German Breslau). An exhibit on the German expellees was opened, however, in Berlin in August 2006. There is now a permenent exhibit titled "Flight into Divided Germany," at Marienfelde, Berlin.

2. Germans leave Czechoslovakia.

Germans were also forced out of Czechoslovakia, mainly from the predominantly German-speaking Sudetenland (Hitler's pretext for reducing Czechoslovakia, 1938). The total number of Germans expelled from the country is estimated at about 2,900,000. Here too, there was a "wild" period right at the end of the war, when many Germans were murdered and most were robbed of their possessions. Unlike Poland, the departure of the Germans was not mandated by the Allied Powers, but by the "Benes decrees" of 1945 [Edouard Benes again became president in May 1945, see below]. These decrees deprived all Germans and Hungarians living in prewar and wartime Czechoslovakia of their property and Czechoslovak citizenship -- unless they could prove they had been loyal to the Czechoslovak cause during the war, which was obviously very difficult to do. The descendants of these Germans, now living in western Germany, have been trying to reclaim their property or at least receive compensation for their losses, but no agreement on this question has been reached so far and seems unlikely in the future.

3. Germans leave Hungary, Romania and Yugoslavia.

Germans were also deported from Hungary and Romania, but some stayed in the latter country. In the period 1968-89, they were allowed to leave by the Romanian communist dictator Nikolai Ceausescu -- each for a hefty price paid by the German Federal Republic. The brutal German occupation of Yugoslavia also led to the exodus of Germans from that country at the end of the war.

4. Poles and Ukrainians.

(a) Wartime.

A brutal ethnic cleansing took place in parts of former former eastern Poland (Volhynia and East Galicia) in 1943-44. The Ukrainians were a majority in the countryside, while Poles and Jews formed majorities in the towns. The Ukrainian leader Stepan Bandera had formulated the program of driving the Poles out of Volhynia, so it would form part of a future independent Ukraine along with East Galicia (both now in western Ukraine). Although Bandera himself was imprisoned by the Germans, his followers in what was called the Bandera section of UPA (Ukrainian Insurgent Army), knew that the Polish government in London aimed at the restoration of prewar Poland, including territories with Ukrainian majorities, and that the Home Army (Armia Krajowa) was to rise up against the retreating Germans in former eastern Poland. Some unofficial talks between A.K. and UPA (Ukrainian Insurgent Army) leaders failed to bring about agreement and Bandera units set out to carry out his progam, murdering an estimated 60,000-100,000 Polish people in Volhynia in 1943-44. The Polish Home Army (Armia Krajowa) 27th Volhynian division, tried to protect the Polish population and its soldiers committed some revenge atrocities against Ukrainians. Fighting between the two forces also took place in former Eastern Galicia, again with atrocities on both sides, even though Polish military orders forbade the killing of women and children. The total number of Ukrainians killed by Poles is estimated at 20,000.

Historical Interpretations.

Ukrainians generally see the UPA as fighters for Ukrainian independence - which they were - and not as murderers of Poles, which some of them -- Bandera followers -- also were. Polish and Ukrainian historians have been trying to reach a consensus on UPA's wartime actions, but the problem remains unresolved.* Furthermore, in independent Ukraine, UPA veterans are demanding pensions on a par with those paid to veterans of the Red Army. Here it should be noted that Soviet authorities conscripted tens of thousands of young Ukrainians into the Red Army, sending them to the front with hardly any training, so that these conscripts suffered very heavy losses. Some Ukrainians see this as planned genocide, but the author of these notes is not aware of any documentary evidence to support this view.)

*See Timothy Snyder, "Memory of sovereignty and sovereignty over memory: Poland, Lithuania and Ukraine , 1939-1999," in: Jan Werner Muller, ed., Memory and Power in Postwar Europe (Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, U.K. 2002), pp. 39-46; also same, "The Causes of Ukrainian-Polish Ethnic Cleansing, 1943," Past and Present, v. 179 (2003), pp. 197-234. For an introduction to the Polish-Ukrainian conflict, and the emergence of the new nations, see Timothy Snyder, The Reconstruction of Nations. Poland, Ukraine, Lithuania, Belarus, 1569-1999, New Haven and London, 2003.]

(b) Postwar Exchanges and Deportations.

A population exchange agreement was signed by the communist "Polish Committee of National Liberation" and the Soviet government in September 1944, whereby Ukrainians were to move from Poland to Soviet Ukraine and Poles from the USSR to Poland. The transfers were to be voluntary, although Ukrainians were often moved to the USSR by force. As for local Poles, they had a "choice" to stay and undergo another forced collectivization and possibly renewed Stalinist terror -- or move to Poland. The vast majority "chose" the latter.These transfers took place in 1946-47. As mentioned above, most settled in the new western territories, previously part of Germany.

A more radical measure against Ukrainians was carried out by Polish security police and army units in 1947, called "Action Vistula." This was the forced relocation of about 140,000-150,000Ukrainians from postwar S.E. Poland to the Polish western Baltic coast. The justification for this action, accompanied by atrocities, was the Ukrainian population's material support for the UPA, which fought both Soviets and Poles. It is likely that the action was carried out on the orders of Moscow, and if not, it must have had Soviet assent while the Poles agreed to implement it. In this way, the Ukrainian question in Poland was "solved."


The end results of all these population movements were ethnically homogeneous states, that is, without the minority problems which had burdened most of the countries of interwar Eastern Europe - but at the cost of great human suffering. The one exception was Yugoslavia, which -- after horrendous Serb-Croat fighting and murders -- was restored as a multi-national state. It was kept together by Josip Broz Tito, but broke apart in the early 1990s. This took place to the accompaniment of atrocities between Serbs and Croats, then Serbs and moslem Bosniaks, and finally between the Serbs and the Kosovars, that is the Albanians of Kosovo.(See Lec.Notes no. 20). There is still a significant Hungarian population in southern Slovakia. the Serbian Voivodina, and some in Transylvania, now in Romania.

[Map from Philip Ther and Ana Siljak, eds., Redrawing Nations. Ethnic Cleansing in East-Central Europe, 1944-1948, Bowman & Littlefield Publishers Inc., Lanham, Boulder, New York, Oxford, 2001. This book has excellent chapters by specialists on Poland, Czechoslovakia, and on German refugees in the two new German states. Note that the numbers of resettled Poles, as well as directions of resettlemen,t are different in the Polish map to the right.

Map of lst wave of Polish resettlements from former eastern Poland, from N to S: postwar Lithuania, western Belarus, westerm Ukraine, to new Polish western territories, in hundreds of thousands. Gazeta Wyborcza, 03/26/12.


A. 1945-1956. Pseudo-Democracy, Stalinization and Revolt in Eastern Europe, 1945-56..

I 1945-1949.

1. Key Features of Pseudo-Democracies and Mixed Economies.

This period witnessed multi-party coalition governments, although key ministries were in communist hands. Radical land reform broke up large estates, distributing land to the peasants. This was especially the case in Poland and Hungary, where the reform created more small, inefficient farms than before the war. In the industrial and service sectors, the government allowed small-scale enterprises, generally limited to a few workers. After an initial period of mixed economies, all branches of the economy were nationalized, including the land which was collectivized; however, peasant resistance led to the abandonment of forced collectivization in Poland.

It should be noted that land reform (but not forced collectivization), the nationalization of industry, banks, and transport, free education and health service, etc., had been advocated by Socialist and Peasant Parties since the late 19th century, and some had been carried out in various degrees in the interwar period. Thus, land reform had been quite radical in interwar Czechoslovakia and western Poland, where large estates had belonged to foreign landlords before 1918.  Also the  interwar governments had owned or part-owned large industrial enterprises, banking and transport; education had been free  in elementary and middle schools; and health insurance programs as well as some unemployment benefits were enjoyed by industrial workers. Socialist parties advocated free education, free medical care, land reform (breaking up remaining large estates), as well as the nationalization of industry and banks. Thus, the reforms of the immediate postwar years were not new, but were more radical than those advocated or/and carried out in the past. Most people welcomed them -- but wanted democracy as well.

from: Topolski, Outline History of Poland (1986).

Within this general framework, each country had its specific problems. Thus, Poland was the only country with significant, armed resistance to the new, communist governments. Indeed, there was a state of war in parts of the country until 1948, and in some places as late as 1952. Most of the active opponents were former Home Army (Armia Krajowa- A.K) soldiers, but many who had returned to civilian life were misled to reveal themselves by communist agents spreading false rumors. For example, the agents claimed to have orders for an uprising from the old A.K. authorities, although the latter had disbanded the soldiers and told them to go home in January 1945. When volunteers showed up, they were arrested by security police.
Furthermore, the vast majority of A.K. soldiers had come out of the underground to accept amnesty in 1947 -- but most were arrested in 1948. In sum, about 300,000 people died in the fighting from the end of 1944 to 1952. (The ethnic Polish population was about 21 million at the end of World War II, 1945, down from an estimated 23,500,000 or 24 mln in 1939).

Stanislaw Mikolajczyk, the former Premier of the Polish government-in-exile and head of the largest party, the Peasant Party, joined the new "Polish Provisional Government" formed in Moscow in June 1945. He had promises of British moral and diplomatic support. Also, he believed that, in the end, numbers would tell, so the Communists would be forced to cooperate with him. He, his supporters, and most of the Polish population put their faith in the free elections apparently guaranteed by the Big Three at the Yalta Conference, and pledged by the new Polish government at the Potsdam Conference (July-August 1946).

However, on June 30 1946 the Communists conducted a rigged referendum . The referendum asked three questions: (1) did people approve the new western frontiers, (2) did they approve the land reform, and (3) did they approve the one house Sejm? ( pron: Seym = legislature). The first two were popular, so Mikolajczyk made it clear that a no vote on the last question would be equivalent to support for him and his peasant party. In fact, the majority of voters cast their ballots against the one house legislature and thus for Mikolajczyk, but the communists simply destroyed the no votes on this question and claimed "victory."

On July 4, a pogrom took place in Kielce. A mob, including militiamen, attacked a house occupied by Jews, killing 40 people. Smaller attacks on Jews also took place in other Polish towns at this time. The exact causes of the Kielce pogrom are still in dispute, but it is known that they involved anti-semitism and identifying Jews with communists. The Polish government blamed the anti-communist resistance, allegedly led by the "London Poles," but there is no evidence to back up this charge, while the anti-communists accused the communists of organizing the pogrom in order to blame the London Poles. In his book Fear, Jan T. Gross sees the chief ause in the Poles' guilt feelings for not helping the Jews during the German occupation, which they vented on surviving Jews, but it is most unlikely that the mob was activated by such feelings. In any case, a judicial investigation after the fall of communism did not find any evidence pointing to any one factor that triggered the pogrom. For English language studies by Polish experts see: Reflections on the Kielce Pogrom, edited by Lukasz Kaminski and Jan Zaron, (Warsaw, 2006).

The communists rigged the elections to the Sejm, finally held in January 1947. By that time, over 100,000 of Mikolajczyk's followers were in jail, but the Western Powers showed no desire to contest the results. When Mikolajczyk’s life was threatened, the British Embassy helped him flee the country in October 1947. It also helped others to flee, such as Stefan Korbonski, the former head of civilian resistance against the Germans. Mikolajczyk, and Korbonski, who followed him, fled to Gt. Britain and then to the U.S. ( Mikolajczyk died in New York, 1966; Korbonski died in Washington, D.C., 1989 - see bibliography, pt.III).

[for Poland continued, see III. 2. below]

In Hungary, the Communists carrried out a very popular land reform and then made the of mistake allowing free elections in November 1945 - in which they received only 17% of the vote. In 1947, they repressed the popular Smallholders' Party and forced its leader to flee. Despite this and the use of terror, they still received only some 20% of the vote in the elections of August 1947, but imposed their rule with Soviet support, gaining total power in 1948.

In Czechoslovakia, pro-Soviet sentiment was strong, so Stalin allowed more freedom than elsewhere and for a longer time. Indeed, President Edouard Benes had accepted Communists into the government in 1945 and had also agreed -- though with much bitterness --to cede Subcarpathian Ruthenia, the predominantly Ukrainian eastern part of the country, to the Soviet Ukrainian Republic. In the relatively free elections of May 1946, the Communists won 40.17% - the largest single bloc of votes in the Czech lands, but only 30.37% in Slovakia, where the Catholic Democratic Party won 62%. Although the Communists held the key ministries, Czechoslovakia was a "showcase" of democracy until the Communist coup of February 1948.

Communist governments quickly came to power in the countries allied with Germany in World War II, Bulgaria and Rumania . This was done with overt Soviet support and much bloodshed. Despite some Western protest, the communists won rigged elections in both countries and their governments were recognized by the U.S. This was partly due to the fact that U.S. insistence on an active role in the occupation, and then on democracy in these countries, was countered by Soviet demands for a role in the occupation of Japan, which was opposed by the US. Furthermore, the U.S. wanted to keep good relations with USSR. The main reason, however, was the absence of Western armies from Eastern Europe, recognized as the Soviet war theater in fall 1943 (lst Quebec Conference).

In Yugoslavia, Marshal Josip Broz Tito took power at the end of the war with the support of his "Partisans," but the Communists used terror to win the elections in November 1945. Tito, however, did not owe his power to the USSR so he showed a certain amount of independence in foreign policy. Nevertheless, he imposed a Soviet-style political and economic system on his country before this was done in Poland, Hungary, and Czechoslovakia.

In Albania, the Communists came to power with Yugoslav Communist help in 1945. In fact, until the Soviet-Yugoslav split of 1948, Albania was pretty much under Tito's thumb.*

*[For a survey of Central and Eastern Europe in this period, see Joseph Rothschild, Nancy M. Wingfield, Return to Diversity. A Political History of East Central Europe since World War II, 3rd revised ed.,New York, Oxford, 2007, ch. 3, also Barbara Jelavich, A History of the Balkans. vol. 2, Twentieth Century (Cambridge, England, 1983 and reprints), ch.8, and Lyman H. Legters, ed., Eastern Europe. Transformation and Revolution 1945-1991, Lexington, Mass., Toronto, 1992, Part I.]

Historians have often wondered why Stalin at first allowed mixed coalition governments and mixed economies in Poland, Hungary and Czechoslovakia. The general consensus is that he did not want to risk a confrontation with the U.S. since it had the monopoly of the Atomic bomb until 1949. Also, the U.S. withdrew most of its troops from Western Europe, so Stalin did not want to do anything to bring them back.

This theory seems to be confirmed by revelations that have appeared since the late 1970's. Stalin was quoted by old Hungarian and Czech Communists as telling them in 1945 to hold their horses, for they might have to wait 10 to 15 years before gaining total power. As one Czech communist wrote later, his party did not take full power before 1948 for " international reasons." Also, Hungarian communists recalled that Stalin had implied, or suggested, that democracy in Czechoslovakia and Hungary was to balance the violence taking place in Poland.* It is known that in 1944 Stalin expected Germany would recover in 10-15 years, so perhaps he expected good relations with the western powers to last that long (?)

*[On Czech and Hungarian communist accounts of this period, see Karel Kaplan, The Short March. The Communist Takeover of Czechoslovakia,1945-1948, New York, 1987, p. 16; Charles Gati, Hungary and the Soviet Bloc, Durham, N.C., 1988, Part I.]

The "People’s Democracies," began to wind down in 1947, when Stalin apparently decided that the "national paths to socialism" touted in the 1945-47 period might lead to independence, signs of which appeared in Tito's Yugoslavia. At the same time, U.S.- Soviet relations were moving toward the Cold War. Therefore, we must look at developments in international affairs before proceeding to the Soviet-Yugoslav split and the stalinization of Eastern Europe.

2. The International Situation: The Coming of the Cold War.

(a) The Truman Doctrine, March 1947.

The Greek Communists refused to accept the Stalin-Churchill "perecentage agreement" of 1944 giving Britain preponderant influence in Greece, while the USSR had preponderant influence in Rumania and Bulgaria [See Lecture 16A]. The Greek Communists, therefore, began a civil war which lasted from 1946 to 1949. They received aid from Communist Yugoslavia and Bulgaria, so the Western Powers assumed Stalin supported them.

It is now clear that Tito helped the Greek Communists out of fear that, if they lost, he would be threatened by an anti-Communist Greece supported by Britain. However, Bulgarian help could not have come without Stalin's consent. Stalin was unwilling to provoke the British and the Americans, but  allowed a certain amount of help to the Greek Communists to be sent through Bulgaria -- and a large part of the arms sent was made in Czechoslovakia. Russian documents also show that the Soviet Communist Party’s Central Committee approved the project to establish a rebel Greek government in Greece’s second largest city, Saloniki, several weeks before the Greek Communists proclaimed a provisional government in their part of the country on Christmas Eve 1947.*

*[See: Vojtech Mastny, The Cold War and Soviet Insecurity. The Stalin Years, New York, Oxford, 1996, p.35.]

By this time, Britain could no longer bear the financial burden of supporting the anti-Communist Greeks; also, Turkey was threatened by the USSR. By this time, American public opinion was ready to support a policy of containing the Soviets. By the end of 1946, much of the wartime admiration for the USSR had evaporated in the face of news about  repressions  in E. Europe and Soviet demands for enormous reparations from the allied occupation zones in western Germany. There was also a civil war in China, which Mao ze-Dong was clearly winning. All this added up to the image of an expanding Communist monolith directed from Moscow. Later, it became known that both Mao and Tito were pursuing their own paths, but this was not apparent until the Soviet- Yugoslav split in 1948, while the Sino-Soviet quarrel only came into the open in the early 1960's.

In March 1947 President Truman offered U.S. aid against Communism to all governments who asked for it, Congress and public opinion supported him. This is known as the "Truman Doctrine." *

*[For the Truman Doctrine and Soviet response, see Gale Stokes, From Stalinism to Pluralism, 2nd ed., New York, Oxford, 1996, pp. 33-42.]

(B) The Marshall Plan, June 1947.

The economies of most of W. European countries were in shambles as the result of war. This meant that Communist Parties, particularly those of France and Italy, were gaining support. Therefore, the U.S. government, in the person of Secretary of State, General George C. Marshall (1880-1959), offered economic aid to all countries -- including the USSR and the communist states of E. Europe. This inclusion, however, was made on the assumption that the USSR would refuse. As it happened, the Soviets showed some interest, and it is known that some of Stalin's foreign policy experts advised acceptance. It is equally clear, however, that that if this occurred it would have to be on Soviet terms.

It seems that Stalin and his closest advisers originally believed the U.S. had to offer economic aid to Europe in order to bolster its own economy with large orders for goods. Whatever the case may be, Moscow at first encouraged Poland, Czechoslovakia, and Yugoslavia to list their needs and prepare to attend a conference in Paris. However, on receiving intelligence information that the Marshall Plan was to strengthen W.Europe against a potential Soviet threat, and more importantly from the Soviet point of view, that it was to open the way to U.S. influence in E. Europe -- Stalin ordered Molotov to reject the offer. This rejection was justified on the grounds that the U.S. wanted to interfere in Soviet internal affairs. Therefore, the governments of  Poland and Czechoslovakia which were about to send delegations to the Paris conference and counted on Marshall Plan assistance - were ordered to forget it. Tito did not want the plan anyway, although he rejected the offer so as to curry favor with Moscow. *

*[For a discussion of the Soviet refusal of Marshall Plan aid for the USSR and E.Europe, see V.Mastny, The Cold War and Soviet Insecurity, pp. 270-289.]

Thus, after showing some initial interest, Stalin saw the Marshall Plan as the thin end of the wedge for a US challenge to Soviet domination over E. Europe. In reality, neither the U.S. nor British statesmen thought in these terms, although both saw the need to contain the USSR. In the U.S., the idea of "Containment" - that is, recognizing Eastern Europe as the Soviet sphere of influence but preventing further Soviet expansion westward - was publicly expressed in an article titled "The Sources of Soviet Conduct," published in Foreign Affairs in July 1947, and signed "X." It was written by an American diplomat with extensive Soviet experience, George F. Kennan (1901-2005).

Some U.S. historians argue that Soviet expansion into W. Europe was not a real danger at this time because an exhausted Soviet Union did not have the strength to take over Greece and Turkey, let alone W. Europe. It is likely, however, that if Stalin saw any wavering he would have used his old tactics of infiltrating and subverting the various governments to make them serve Soviet interests. As it was, he controlled the Italian and French Communist parties at this time, and they strongly opposed U.S. involvement in W.Europe, esp. the Marshall plan.

C. Germany and Berlin.

 The Western and Soviet zones of occupation in Germany were agreed by the Big Three in 1943-44, as was the Four Power occupation of Berlin and Vienna, both of which lay within the Soviet zone. However, in 1947, the British and U.S. zones in western Germany were consolidated into "Bizonia" (the French held on to theirs), while the Soviets consolidated their communist zone. There was also a bitter dispute over reparations, with the Soviets demanding so much from the occupation zones of western Germany as to make it economically bankrupt.

Berlin lay within the Soviet occupation zone in Germany, but it was divided into Soviet, British, and American zones. Alhough the city was badly shattered by the war, it was still the symbol of Germany and it seems that Stalin decided to provoke a crisis there to test the resolve of the W. Powers. His motive for doing so was the Anglo-American decision to fuse their zones in West Berlin. On March 20 1948,  Soviet representatives on the Allied Control Commission in Berlin protested against the fusion of the western zones of the city and Soviet harassment of traffic coming in from the West began. After more disagreements, the Soviet delegates walked out on June 18, and on June 24 Soviet forces began a land blockade of West Berlin. President Harry S. Truman decided to counter this with an Airlift, so U.S., British and other Western planes flew supplies into West Berlin. At the height of the Airlift, planes landed at the Tempelhof airport in West Berlin at 5 minute intervals. They brought in food supplies, clothes, machinery, and even coal.[In 2008, a local referendum failed to interest most of the region's inhabitants in voting for or against making Tempelhof a museum of the airlift, so the proposal failed.]

The Berlin Blockade by the Soviets led directly to the establishment of NATO in Washington D.C. on April 4 1949. Furthermore, the Federal Republic of Germany was established on May 8, out of the American, British and French zones of occupation. Four days later, on May 12 1949, Stalin lifted the blockade of W. Berlin. He had lost his bid for Germany and probably for influence in much of W. Europe as well.*

*[see: Mastny, The Cold War and Soviet Insecurity, pp.47-53.]

II. The Soviet-Yugoslav Split and the Communist Takeover of Czechoslovakia.

(1) In September 1947, at a meeting of communist party leaders in S.W. Poland, Stalin established the Cominform, (Communist Information Bureau) supposedly to exchange information between the states of the Soviet bloc. As it turned out later, however, his aim was to have another instrument of control over them. At this time, Wladyslaw Gomulka, the Secretary General of the Polish Workers’ Party (Communist), was talking of a "Polish Road to Socialism," and other E.E Communist leaders also expected to follow national paths to Socialism, that is, in accordance with their countries' interests, not by a wholesale copying of the Soviet model.

(2) In particular, Josip Broz Tito, the wartime leader of the "Partisans" and then Communist dictator of Yugoslavia ,was too independent for Stalin's taste, so the Soviet dictator tried to overthrow him from within by using members of the Communist Party of Yugoslavia (CPY). However, Tito's secret police discovered the plot and foiled it. The Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU) then accused the CPY of "Nationalist Deviation," which Tito countered with the "Yugoslav Path to Socialism." There was a public exchange of charges and counter-charges between the two parties.

On 18 March 1948, the Soviet Union withdrew its military and technical advisers from Yugoslavia. On 28 June 1948, the CPY was expelled from the Cominform and Yugoslavia was subjected to an economic boycott by the Soviet Bloc. However, the U.S. saved Yugoslavia by offering aid. Tito accepted it and Yugoslavia became the first independent Communist state in Europe. *

*[see G.Stokes, From Stalinism to Pluralism, 2nd ed., 1991, pp. 57-65; for an overview, see John R. Lampe, Yugoslavia in History. Twice There Was A Country, 2d ed., Cambridge, 2000, ch. 8.]

(3) It should be noted that in late February 1948, a little less than a month before the Stalin withdrew Soviet advisers from Yugoslavia, a political crisis developed in Czechoslovakia. The non-Communist ministers resigned in protest against the activities of the Communist-controlled security police. In normal circumstances, President Benes would have accepted their resignations and held new elections. However, the Communists feared defeat, so they used threats to prevent elections - -as did the Soviet Union through a diplomat sent to Prague, who threatened a Soviet invasion if Moscow orders were not followed.
The Communist-controlled Labor Unions marched their supporters out on to the streets of Prague. Benes decided not to risk a Soviet invasion or/and civil war, and gave in. Thus, the Czechoslovak Communists seized power and the Czechoslovak "democratic experiment" in the Soviet bloc was over.*

*[see: Karel Kaplan, The Short March. The Communist Takeover of Czechoslovakia, 1945-1948, New York, 1987.]

On 10 March 1948, Foreign Minister Jan Masaryk - the son of Thomas G. Masaryk, founder of the Czechoslovak state in late 1918 - was found dead under his lst floor apartment window.

A letter from Jan Masaryk to Stalin, dated 9 March 1948, was found in the archives of the former Czechoslovak party's Central Committee and published in a Czech periodical, Ceske Noviny, in August 1991. (A Polish translation made by Professor Piotr S. Wandycz of Yale University, was published with his introductory remarks in the Polish periodical, Zeszyty Historyczne, no. 100, Paris, 1992, pp. 83-87.) In this letter, Masaryk explained that he had believed Stalin's promises of a free Czechoslovakia, that he could not live without freedom, but also that, like his father, he could not oppose the USSR -- therefore he would take his own life. Most Czech historians believe the letter was a fake produced by Czech communists to help them deny that Jan Masaryk was murdered. However, the communists did not publish it. Finally, it is known that Jan Masaryk experienced bouts of depression throughout his life.

More information became available after the collapse of the USSR (end 1991). On 13 March 2002, the Czech News Agency CTK announced the following: (1) A Czech expert working for the Office Investigating Communist Crimes found "incontestable evidence" that Jan Masaryk was assassinated before his body was found on 10 March. (2). Zinaida Parchina, who collaborated with the NKVD -- forerunner of the KGB, now FSB --said on the Czech radio that the NKVD had probably killed him. She said she knew that two Soviet secret agents, General Mikhail Belkin and an aide named Bondarenko, threw the Minister out of the window. She said Belkin bragged about this in the 1950s.

On January 5, 2004, the Czech Press announced that Jan Masaryk had been murdered. A Czech expert in biomechanics -- analysis of people falling from a height -- stated that "at least one other person" had contributed to Masaryk's fall. However, the Office for the Documentation and Investigation of Communist Crimes (UDV) did not issue a statement - perhaps to avoid a negative impact on Czech-Russian relations. Czech authorities have failed to secure Russian documents which would point to the murderer. [Czech News Agency - CTK - National News Wire, Jan. 6,2004.] *

*(I would like to thank Prof. Igor Lukes of Boston University for providing the above news item.)

Assuming that the NKVD assassinated Masaryk, one might ask: why? Perhaps the final answer will be found some day in the Russian Federal State Security Service (FSB) archives, if the Russian government allows it. It is known that Masaryk was planning to leave for the West, and he might have done serious damage to the USSR by revealing what Stalin had promised Benes in 1943-1945, as well as giving inside information about the Communist seizure of power in Feb. 1948.

III. The Stalinization of E. Europe.

1. This was triggered by four key factors. In chronological order, they are:

(a) The U.S. indicated that the Polish-German border was an open question. This was evident from Secretary of State James F. Byrnes's speech in Frankfurt-am- Main in October1946, when he stated that the borders of Germany would be settled finally at a peace conference in which a united Germany would participate. This was the agreement reached at the Potsdam Conference, summer 1945, but the way Byrnes spoke made it look like the U.S. questioned the western border of Poland in a U.S. bid for the allegiance of all Germans, including the East Germans dominated by the USSR. This perception must have been reinforced later by the fusion of the Western zones of occupation in Germany and in West Berlin.

(b) By summer 1947, Stalin saw the Marshall Plan as the opening gambit by the U.S. to challenge Soviet domination over E. Europe

(c) Stalin most likely feared that the Soviet bloc countries might become independent of the USSR. This fear  probably arose when Tito of Yugoslavia pursued his own foreign policy; he was even negotiating for a Yugoslav federation with Bulgaria when Stalin vetoed it. (1947-48).

(d) Stalin lost his gamble for Berlin and Germany (Berlin Blockade, June 1948-May 1949), while Tito became independent of the USSR. These setbacks made it all the more important for Stalin to establish total control over Eastern Europe.

2. Purges in Eastern Europe.

After the break with Tito, Stalin's NKVD "experts" guided the secret police of the satellite governments in a series of brutal purges modelled on the Stalinist purges in the USSR in 1934-38.

The first step was to fabricate charges against party leaders judged unreliable by Stalin. This was done by torturing selected party members in order to make them "confess" and implicate top party leaders.

The charges were as fantastic as those made against Bolshevik leaders suspected of disloyalty by Stalin in 1935-38.This time, well known communist leaders were accused of working for Western and Israeli intelligence. The U.S. and Gt. Britain did, indeed, drop  agents and partisans in E. Europe (mainly in Belorus and Albania), but they were very quickly caught with the aid of Kim Philby, the British officer who headed British military intelligence (MI5), and was the latter's liaison with the CIA (!). He was a key Soviet "mole" in the West.

The "cases" built up against E.European Communist leaders were manufactured from A to Z. They served Stalin's real aim which was to root out any Communists with independent minds and thus liable to oppose him. At the same time, some East European communist leaders welcomed the purges as opportunities to get rid of their political rivals.
The American communist Noel Field, who had worked for U.S. intelligence during the war and had helped save many communists,was forced to "confess" that he had spied for the U.S. Several East European communists were accused of cooperating with him. His non-communist brother Herman was arrested in Poland and held in Polish jails for several years. (See his memoirs).

Rigged public trials of party leaders were held in all the bloc countries except Poland.*

*[For an overall analysis of the purges in E.Europe, see: Mastny, The Cold War and Soviet Insecurity, pp.67-74.]

In Czechoslovakia, Premier Rudolf Slansky (1901-1952) pleaded guilty to treason, sabotage, and espionage, as did Foreign Minister Vladimir (Vlado) Clementis. (1902-1952). Both were executed. Thousands of party members were jailed and tortured, including Gustav Husak, (1913-1991), who survived to lead the party in 1969-88.

In Hungary, where free elections had given the Communists only 17% of the vote in late 1945 and 22% in 1947, they seized power in spring 1948. In 1949, the arrest of the Communist Foreign Minister, Laszlo Rajk (1909-1949), set off a wholesale purge of the Party. He was executed and his son  later became a leading Hungarian dissident.*

*[For the Rajk and Slansky trials, see: G.Stokes, From Stalinism to Pluralism, 2nd ed., 1991, pp.66-80. Slansky, Clementis ,and Rajk were Jewish, but other leaders were not. The purge charges and methods were described by Hungarian and Czech survivors, see George H. Hodos, Show Trials. Stalinist Purges in Eastern Europe, 1948-1954, New York, 1987; Eugen Loebl, My Mind on Trial, New York, 1976, and same, Stalinism in Prague. The Loebl Story, New York, 1969.]

In Bulgaria, where the Communists had seized power in 1946, a large scale purge began in January 1950. The most famous leader subjected to a rigged trial was Traicho Kostov (1897-1949). He was executed. *

*[see: R.J. Crampton, A Short History of Bulgaria, Cambridge, England, 1987, pp. 170-171; revised ed. early 2000's.]

In Romania, where the Communists seized power in 1947, purges took place in the shadow of the Soviet-Yugoslav split. Lucretiu Patrascanu, the main proponent of "national communism," was arrested in February 1948. He was not not tried and executed until 1954, when the new party leader, Gheorghiu Dej decided to get rid of a rival for power. *

*[See: A History of Romania, edited by Kurt W. Treptow, Iasi, 1997, pp. 523-24; see also Bibliography for this course.]

In Albania, where the Communist Party seized power with the help of Yugoslav Communists in 1945, the Soviet-Yugoslav split led to a purge. In June 1949, the former Communist Deputy Premier, Koci Xoxe, and many others were convicted and executed as Yugoslav spies. The new leader was Enver Hoxha; he managed to stay in power until his death in the 1980s. *

*[See Miranda Vickers, The Albanians. A Modern History, London, New York, rev..ed., 1997, ch.8,9.]

The situation was more complex in Poland. Here, the Communists held preponderant power in the government since June 1945, but the people gave their allegiance to the leader of the Polish Peasant Party, the former Premier of the government.- in-exile, Stanislaw Mikolajczyk, who had joined the new government as deputy premier in June 1945.

To rid themselves of Mikolajczyk and his party, the Communists rigged the "referendum" of June 1946, and then the elections of Jan. 1947. As mentioned earlier, Mikolajczyk fled the country in October of that year, when some 100,000 of his followers were already in jail.

The purges in Poland started soon thereafter. Wladyslaw Gomulka (1905-1986), the First Secretary of the PPR (Polish Workers’ Party) since the fall of 1943, was forced to resign on Sept. 5, 1948, and then publicly admit his "nationalist deviation." This was Stalin’s revenge -- welcomed by Gomulka’s critics in the PPR (Polish Workers' Party) leadership -- for his stand that Poland should follow its own national road to communism. The key charge was that he had opposed forced collectivization of agriculture. It is ironic that he approved of it in principle, but argued rationally that the country was not ready for it because it lacked machines and skilled managers. *

*[See Gomulka’s "Confession," Sept. 1948, in Robert V. Daniels, A Documentary History of Communism, vol. 2, Communism and the World, rev. ed., Hanover and London, 1984, pp. 161-163, reprinted in 1994.]

 Gomulka's real offense, however, was  his adherence to "national paths to communism," and therefore his opposition to Stalin’s policy of condemning and then ostracizing Yugoslavia. Interestingly enough, though Gomulka was held prisoner in 1952-56 (he and his wife were held separately in the same building without being told ), he was never put on trial. It is not clear whether this was because the prosecution could not mount a convincing case, or whether it was, in fact, an excuse to prevent the trial from taking place for it might discredit the communists totally in Polish eyes. (The prewar Polish party had been dissolved by the Comintern in 1938 on charges of being infiltrated by the Polish police, while the leaders, who were in the USSR, lost their lives in the Stalin purges of 1935-38). However, many party members were jailed and tortured to produce "confessions" implicating Gomulka and his colleagues.

In December 1948, the Polish Workers' Party (Polska Partia Robotniczna - PPR)was joined by some members of the Polish Socialist Party and became the "United Polish Workers’ Party" (Polska Zjednoczona Partia Robotnicza - PZPR).   Also, the left wing fragment of the Polish Peasant Party agreed to unite with the communist Peasant Party to become the United Peasant Party in 1949.

At the same time as communists were purged,  massive terror was used against former members of the Home Army (Armia Krajowa - A.K,) who had been amnestied in 1947. There was, indeed, an endemic state of war until 1948, which lasted in some parts of Poland until 1952. There is evidence, however, that Communist agents instigated many alleged anti-communist declarations and incidents in order to uncover and root out the foes of communism. Finally, many genuine patriots who had fought in the Home Army, or had come back from service in the Polish forces in the West, were jailed and tortured. Some were executed, or died in prison, and were buried in unmarked graves.

The Catholic Church was also persecuted. Cardinal Stefan Wyszynski (1901-1981) was detained in 1953. He was first held in a dilapidated convent in N.W. Poland, and then moved to a convent in S.E. Poland, where he stayed  until released  in October 1956.
Also in 1953, there was a  rigged trial of some bishops on  charges of misappropriating charity funds. Some of them broke down under  pressure, and "admitted" the charges. The government also supported the "Polish National Church" to rival the Roman Catholic church, but this venture was abandoned in 1956. (A church with the same anme had been established by Polish immigrants in the U.S. in the late 19th century.)

The horror stories of the terror in Poland during the years 1948-55 became known after October 1956, but were not publicized until 1980-81 (Solidarity), and again in 1988-1989, when Gorbachev’s policy of "glasnost" (free discussion) and the deepening economic crisis led the Polish authorities to allow more freedom of speech and press.
[The "Round Table" agreement between the authorities and Solidarity representatives led by Lech Walesa in early April 1989, allowed semi-free elections to the House of Representatives and completely free elections to the restored Senate in June 1989, see Lecture notes 19].

(3) Political and Economic Developments in the Stalinist Period, 1948-56.

(a) Political: Soviet-style constitutions were imposed on all communist countries, along with monolithic party rule and terror by the security police under Soviet supervision. Total censorship was imposed on all  the media; schools, higher education, while the arts were also controlled as in the USSR.

(b) Economic: Soviet-style 5 and 6 year plans of forced industrialization were imposed on Poland and Hungary. The goal was to build heavy industry. However, this industry was outdated from the start, since it was built with Soviet machine patents that were 20-30 yrs behind the West.

Forced collectivization of the land was imposed everywhere, but was abandoned after a few years in Poland because of strong peasant resistance. Therefore, Poland remained the one country in the bloc where most of the land stayed in the hands of private farmers. However, their farms were very small and they suffered constant discrimination in favor of state and collective farms. Private farmers also had to deliver produce quotas to state collection points at very low prices. This, of course, discouraged food production. Furthermore, the state did not invest in refrigerated railway cars and warehouses for perishable goods, so that at least one third of the produce was spoiled before reaching state shops. This was also the case in the USSR and in other "socialist" countries of E. Europe.

(4) The Effects of Stalinist-type Economic Plans.

(a). In Poland and Hungary, these plans led to unbalanced economies. The stress was on heavy industry, while agriculture, housing, transport and consumer goods were neglected. At the same time, there was no concern with cost effectiveness, which was to lead to economic stagnation beginning in the early 1960's and to progressive economic breakdown in the 1980s.

Food production decreased because private farmers were not given the right price for their food, while collectivized farmers in both Poland and Hungary did not have sufficient incentives to work hard. This  reproduced  the situation existing in the USSR, although collectivization worked better in Czechoslovakia.

Finally, all E. European governments subsidized food prices to keep them low and thus prevent unrest, which could lead to revolts. However, these subsidies ate up about 30% of the total state budget and, after a while, required price increases -- which led to workers’ revolts in Poland in the 1970's and 1980's. Hungary was an exception because the government at that time allowed some leeway for profit on collective farms, raised prices only gradually while balancing them with increased wages, and thus avoided unrest.

The imposition of the Soviet economic model in the industrially developed Czech lands meant growing inefficiency. There was intensive industrialization in Slovakia on the Soviet model, as elsewhere.

The environment suffered greatly from forced industrialization, as it had from capitalist industrialization in the West.

(b). The Council for Economic Cooperation (Comecon) was established in 1949, as a counterpart to the projected economic integration of W. Europe in the Common Market. However, Comecon did not work well because there was much duplication in Poland, Hungary, and Czechoslovakia.
Bulgaria and Romania were ordered to focus on food production for the industrial and industrializing East European nations, although Romania was also to continue oil production. (Ceausescu was to begin intensive industrialization in the late 1960s).

(d). Another factor in E. European economic problems was the economic exploitation of these countries by the USSR. In the former "enemy" countries, ie. Hungary, Romania and Bulgaria, this took the form of "Joint Stock Companies"  with the USSR and heavy reparations. In Poland - where Gomulka had rejected Joint Stock Companies  - the Soviets bought Polish coal at well below market prices and the Poles had to ship it by rail to the USSR for free. (The Soviets justified this by claiming that without their help, the Poles would not have obtained all of Upper Silesia, which was true.) Furthermore, the Poles built fishing- canning factory ships for the USSR which paid for them in rubles, while the Poles had to buy special western- produced equipment for the ships, also replacement parts, with Western currency.

By the spring of 1953, the peoples of Poland, Hungary and E. Germany were disillusioned and restless. Stalin died in early March so there was a change of leadership in the USSR. The people of East Berlin revolted in June 1953, but were put down by Soviet tanks. There was also worker unrest in Plzen (Ger. Pilsen), Czechoslovakia.

IV. The Revolts of 1956.

The Background.

1. Stalin died -- most likely of a cerebral hemorrhage, although some scholars believed he was poisoned by a member of members of the Politbureau -- on March 6 1953. The new Soviet leaders, Premier Gyorgy M. Malenkov (1902-1988) and Party leader Nikita S. Khrushchev (1894-1971), realized that something must be done to prevent unrest, and perhaps revolution, in Eastern Europe.

Indeed, just before the June uprising in E. Berlin in 1953, a delegation of Hungarian Communists visiting Moscow was told to do anything they thought necessary to prevent an upheaval in Hungary. This led the Hungarian Communists to develop the "New Course," which was introduced in all the bloc countries, but went furthest in Hungary.
The Communist Imre Nagy (1896-1958. pron. Eemre Nudge) became Premier. He had spent the years 1929-1944 in Moscow and was favored by Malenkov, who advocated increased consumer goods production in the USSR. Nagy allowed the peasants to leave the collective and state farms, which they did in droves. There was also a slowdown in industrialization and a sharp reduction of police terror.*

*[See Imre Nagy, The "New Course" in Eastern Europe, in: Lyman H. Legters, Eastern Europe. Transformation and Revolution, 1945-1991, Lexington, Mass, Toronto, 1992, pp.147-148; also, Imre Nagy, On Communism, New York, 1957, cit. in: Gale Stokes, From Stalinism to Pluralism, 2nd ed., pp. 82-87.]

However, when Malenkov resigned as Chairman of the Council of Ministers (Premier) in February 1955 (but remained in the Presidium), and hisal rival Nikita S. Khrushchev became the top leader of the USSR, this led to the fall of Malenkov’s protege, Imre Nagy. The Stalinist Matyas Rakosi (1892-1971) returned to power, expelled Nagy from the party, and ended the New Course. This led to great unrest in Hungary, just as Khrushchev was beginning to liberalize life in the USSR.

In Poland, the "thaw" began in January 1955. The Third Party Plenum criticised the "errors" of the past - with Khrushchev's blessing - and in February, political prisoners, mostly former members of the Home Army, were "amnestied" and "rehabilitated." Also, the prewar Polish Communist Party [Komunistyczna Partia Polski - KPP] --which had been dissolved by the Comintern in 1938 on charges it was infiltrated by Polish police agents -- was cleared of those charges, said to be fabricated by "provocateurs," although the latter were not identified. (Stalin still could not be openly accused of the deed).

 The Communist poet Adam Wazyk (Adam Wagman, 1905-1982), published his Poem for Adults in a literary weekly, Nowa Kultura ( New Culture) on August 19, 1955.  This was an impassioned protest against the suffering of the people and the constant lies they were told. The poem ended with an appeal to the Party to put things right. The appearance of this poem in print reflected debates going on within the Polish party leadership and the heart-searching of its idealists, but someone in power clearly thought Wazyk had gone too far because the paper was confiscated soon after it hit the newstands.*

*[For an excellent English translation by Lucjan Blit, see The Twentieth Century, no. 158, December 1955, pp. 504-511; reprinted in: Paul E. Zinner, ed., National Communism and Popular Revolt in Eastern Europe. A Selection of Documents on Events in Poland and Hungary, February - November 1956, New York, 1956, pp. 40-48; see also Marci Shore, "Some Words for Grown-Up Marxists: ‘A Poem for Adults," and the Revolt from Within," Polish Review, vol. 42, no. 2, 1997, pp. 131-154 - the author discusses the poem within the framework of the relationship between the intelligentsia and the party leadership. For an excellent study of idealistic Polish Marxists and their fate, see her book: Caviar and Ashes: A Warsaw Generation's Life and Death in Marxism, 1918-1968 (New Haven, 2006). The book was awarded several prizes.]

In the fall of 1955, Political Discussion Clubs were allowed to function  in Poland, and people began openly discussing the horrors of the Stalinist period.

2. Khrushchev's anti-Stalin speech at the 20th Congress of the CPSU [Communist Party of the Soviet Union], on February 25, 1956.

In a long speech, which lasted eight hours (with a bathroom - meal break), Khrushchev painted Stalin as a bloodthirsty psychopath. He admitted that the purge trials of the 1930's were rigged and thousands of innocent Communists were unjustly condemned. He also admitted that Stalin had deported and resettled several Soviet  peoples.(The Volga Germans in 1941; the Crimean Tatars, the Chechens, and the Ingush after the war for allegedly cooperating with the Germans). Finally, he attacked the "personality cult" (Stalin) and called for "co-existence" with the West.*

*[For excerpts, see Robert V. Daniels, A Documentary History of Communism, rev. ed., vol. I., Communism in Russia, Hanover N.H. and London, 1984, pp. 321-327, same in Daniels, A Documentary History of Communism in Russia. From Lenin to Gorbachev, Hanover N.H. and London, 1993, pp. 254-258.]

The speech began an official "thaw" in the USSR, and was read by party members in all E. European countries. There was, for a long time, a general consensus among western scholars that Khrushchev - who had supported the purges of the 1930s - attacked Stalin and Stalinism in order to discredit his opponents in the Politburo and Central Committee. They had criticized his reconciliation with Tito in 1955, and his call for co-existence with the West. With increased access to Soviet archives in 1988-99, however, it became clear that the Politburo had agreed to Khrushchev's arguments that so many people were being released from labor camps -- and they would talk -- that the Party had better take the lead in admitting the purge crimes before it was forced to do so. Also, the top party leaders had connived in the Stalin Terror, so by condemning it they would shift all the blame to Stalin.

It is not clear to what extent Khrushchev's speech was a factor in the 1956 revolts  in Poland and Hungary. Polish workers in Poznan revolted against their working and living conditions and pay June 1956. This led to a change in the Polish party leadership in October of that year (Gomulka). The Hungarian revolt began with Budapest students demonstrating for freedom in Hungary, inspired by the leadership change in Poland.

3. Revolt and Change in Poland: June-October 1956.

As mentioned earlier, the Polish United Workers’ Party (Polish acronym: PZPR) leaders had begun a "thaw" earlier than the USSR, in the first months of 1955. This included the "amnesty" and rehabilitation of thousands of political prisoners. As noted above, the  prewar Polish Communist Party was exonerated. The Polish party newspaper, Trybuna Ludu [The People's Tribune] printed a statement on February 19, 1956, clearing that Party of the spurious charges on which it was dissolved by the Comintern [Communist International] in 1938. It is worth noting that the statement said the materials for this conclusion had been examined by the Central Committees of the Communist Parties of the Soviet Union, Italy, Bulgaria, and Finland, together with the Central Committee of the Polish United Workers’ Party. (The Hungarian and Romanian parties were not mentioned). This statement was reprinted in the Moscow party paper, Pravda, two days later. * Perhaps it was meant to prepare Soviet public opinion for Khruschev's speech of Feb. 25(?)

*[See"Statement on the Wrongful Liquidation of the Communist Party of Poland in 1938," Pravda, Moscow, February 21, 1956, The Current Digest of the Soviet Press, VIII, no. 8, April 4, 1956, p.27, reprinted in: Zinner, National Communism and Popular Revolt in Eastern Europe, pp.37-39.]

(a). The Poznan Workers' Revolt of June 28, 1956.

Polish workers had suffered from bad working conditions, increased "norms" of production, and low pay for years. ThePoznan workers came out into the streets on June 28 because their delegation, which had gone to Warsaw to negotiate with the government for the abolition of a tax on their labor, higher wages, and better working conditions, returned with promises which were not implemented. There were already on and off strikes in the major industrial centers, especially in the Stalin Works (earlier the Cegielski Works) in Poznan which produced railway cars and equipment. The strikers marched with banners reading "We Want Bread," or "Bread and Freedom," and were joined by thousands of other Poznanians. The most active workers clashed with the Security Police and laid siege to the party headquarters.
Some Polish Army commanders refused to move in, but others came into the city together with special police units, also tanks manned by instructors and pupils from the Officer School of Armored and Mechanized Armed Forces in Poznan. The first tanks, however, withdrew under a shower of "Molotov Cocktails" (bottles of gasoline with a lighted rag, which exploded on contact.) Blood flowed in the streets. Troops and police crushed the revolt and it is now estimated that about 70 demonstrators were killed.. The whole event was reported immediately in the West because it took place during the Annual Poznan Trade Fair, attended by Western businessmen and reporters.

The Polish government at first called the revolt an "imperialist provocation," but soon realized that the unrest might spread. Therefore, the party leadership decided to examine past party policies and try to remedy the situation.

Poznan June 1956.Tank in front of Security Police Building from Wieslaw Wladyka, Dzieje PRL.
Pazdziernik 56, (The History of the Polish People's Republic. October '56, Warsaw, 1994).

(b). At The July Party Plenum there was much criticism of past economic plans and policies as well as of the "personality cult" condemned by Khrushchev . In Poland, this applied to President Boleslaw Bierut (1892-1956) who died in Moscow -- of pneumonia and heart failure -- during the 20th Congress in February 1956. Bierut was a member of the prewar Polish Communist Party, and like Gomulka, had survived the Stalin purges of the 1930s. He had been a rival of Gomulka’s from 1943 onward, and had occupied high office, including that of President 1949-52, head of the party from 1948 onward, and Premier.

The Polish party split into two factions:  the "Stalinists" and the "Natolinites." (Natolin was the name of a small palace on the outskirts of Warsaw used for party/government meetings as well as recreation.) The Stalinists wanted only a minimum of reforms. The Natolinites, also knowns as the "Liberals of Pulawska Street, ( in Warsaw, where many of them lived), wanted far-reaching economic reforms and political liberalization. Each faction looked to Wladyslaw Gomulka, who had been released in 1955, and was readmitted to the Party in 1956.

(c) Gomulka’s Return to Power.

On October. 19, 1956, the Polish Central Committee was about to re-elect Gomulka as First Secretary of the Party. It also decided to dismiss the Polish-born Soviet Marshal Konstanty Rokossovsky as Commander-in-Chief of the Polish armed forces. These moves worried the Moscow leaders, for the Warsaw Pact -- the East European equivalent of NATO -- had been signed in 1955, and now the Soviet general who was the C-in-C of the Polish Armed Forces, was being booted out.

On October 19, Khrushchev suddenly arrived by plane in Warsaw with a high ranking delegation made up of Party Politburo Members: Anastas I. Mikoyan (1895-1978), a close collaborator of Khrushchev; Foreign Minister V.M. Molotov, and Lazar M. Kaganovich,(1893-1997) along with Defense Minister Marshal Georgii K. Zhukov (1896-1974) , Marshal Aleksy I. Antonov (1896-1962) Warsaw Pact Chief of Staff, and Marshal Ivan S. Konev (1897-1973), First Soviet Deputy Defense Minister and Commander-in-Chief of the Warsaw Pact. Khrushchev had long talks with Gomulka and the Polish Premier, Jozef Cyrankiewicz (1911-1989, pron. Tsirankyeveech).

At the same time, Soviet troops massed on Polish borders in the East and West and Soviet warships stood off the coast. The two Soviet motorized divisions stationed at Legnica (S.W. Poland), began to move toward Warsaw. In this situation, the Polish Army, now under the command of Gen.Marian Spychalski, (1906-1980 -- a colleague of Gomulka's who had been tried and imprisoned in the purges --seemed ready to resist a Soviet invasion. Also, the workers at Warsaw's Zeran automobile factory took up arms and mounted guard over the new leaders and other party members to prevent their arrest.

No Russian record of the Khrushchev - Gomulka -Cyrankiewicz talks has surfaced to date, but the Polish record indicates that Khrushchev was very belligerent. He attacked Gomulka for the dismissal of Rokossovsky and used a threatening tone throughout, while Gomulka protested against the concentration of Soviet armed forces on Poland’s frontiers.

Nevertheless, Gomulka went on to be elected First Secretary of the PZPR that same day, while the Soviet delegation left Warsaw on the morning of October 20.  Khrushchev and his closest advisers considered the possibility of invading Poland, but decided against it, presumably because it would be easier to get into Poland than to get out of it. In any case, the official communique stated the "debates were held in an atmosphere of Party and friendly sincerity," also that a delegation of the Polish Politburo would soon travel to Moscow to discuss the strengthening of political and economic cooperation between the two countries. * Indeed, Gomulka soon traveled to Moscow, where he managed to obtain the Soviet cancellation of Polish debts, promises of economic aid, and an agreement of the repatriation of Polish citizens still remaining in the USSR after the population exchanges at the end of World War II. He was cheered like a hero wherever his train stopped on the way home.

*[For the Polish record of the Warsaw talks, see L.W. Goluchowski, "Poland 1956. Khrushchev, Gomulka, and the ‘Polish October,’" Cold War International History Project Bulletin, issue 5, Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, Washington, D.C., spring 1995; for the communique, see Zinner, National Communism and Popular Revolt, pp. 196-197.

It seems that the Chinese Foreign Minister, Zhu en-Lai (1898-1976), advised Khrushchev to make concessions to the Poles. If true, perhaps this was because the Chinese leader Mao ze-Dong was furious with Khrushchev for his anti-Stalin speech and wanted to bring about a loosening of Soviet domination over E. Europe.

Whatever the case may be, on October 20, Gomulka made a long speech to the Polish party’s Central Committee, severely criticizing the economic mistakes of the last few years and the "personality cult" (Bierut).

Four days later, on October 24, he made a public speech to some 300,000 people gathered in the square outside the Palace of Culture, Warsaw, which was broadcast all over Poland. Here he also criticized past mistakes and promised reforms. In particular, he told the peasants, who had been forced into collective farms, that they could leave if they so wished -- and they did so in droves.

Gomulka speaks to the people of Warsaw, October 1956 - photo in Wieslaw Wladyka, Dzieje PRL. Pazdziernik 56, (Warsaw,1994), p. 73.

At this time, Gomulka enjoyed widespread popular support, for most Poles saw him as a Polish patriot who would put an end to the horrors of the past and pursue a more independent policy. Also, it looked as if Gomulka had faced down Khrushchev, who flew off to Moscow with his retinue. These events in Poland sparked  the Hungarian Revolution. *

*[see Zinner, National Communism and Popular Revolt in Eastern Europe, pp. 197-239; 270-277; excerpts of Gomulka’s speech to the Central.Committee in Robert V.Daniels, A Documentary History of Communism, rev. ed., vol. 2, Communism and the World, 1984, pp.230-234; reprinted in one volume, 1993. A social history of Poland in 1956 is in: Pawel Machcewicz, Rebellious Satellite. Poland 1956 (Stanford, CA., 2009).

4. The Hungarian Revolution, October-November 1956.

(i) The Background.

As noted earlier, the "New Course" under Imre Nagy, 1953-1955, had been a period of liberalization, but ended with the fall of Malenkov from power in the USSR in Sept. 1955. Matyas Rakosi returned to power in Hungary, expelled Nagy from the party, and put Hungary back on the Stalinist course. This led to great unrest and resentment against the communist system. To appease the people, Rakosi cleared Laszlo Rajk of the charges which had lead to his death. Nevertheless, on July 18, Rakosi was replaced as Secretary General of the Party by Erno Gero (1898-1980).

Erno Gero speaking, Imre Nagy at his left at the table, Rakosi on his right, Atlas of Communism, ed.Geoffrey Stern, (New York, 1994), p.115.

Gero allowed the ceremonial funeral of Laszlo Rajk on October 6, 1956  -  but this turned into a political demonstration in Budapest. Several hundred thousand people turned out in a silent protest against both the Stalinist terror of the past and against the Communist system. (The whole population of Hungary numbered 10 million, with the largest concentration in Budapest). Three other prominent victims of the purge trials of 1949, were ceremonially reburied on this day: Lt. General Gyorgy Palffy (1909-1949) Tibor Szonyi (1903-1949), and Andras Szalai (1917-1949). This was a symbolic acknowledgement of their innocence.

On October 6, the Hungarian press reported that Erno Gero, Janos Kadar (1912-1989, imprisoned 1951-54), Istvan Hidas (b.1918), President of the Council of Ministers, and Zoltan Szanto (1893-1977), member of the Hungarian Politburo, had held discussions in Moscow with Anastas I. Mikoyan (1895-1978 a close collaborator of Khrushchev) and Mikhail A.Suslov (1902-1982, in charge of party ideology). It seems the discussions concerned the new line in Hungary that had begun with the reburial of the chief purge victims of 1949. On October 13, Imre Nagy was readmitted to the Hungarian Workers’ Party and this was clearly done with the consent of Moscow.

Discussion clubs, called "Petofi Circles"  (after the great 19th c. Hungarian poet killed in the War of Independence, 1849), debated the economic situation in the country. Also, university students demanded a reduction in the number of mandatory courses; abolition of the required study of foreign languages (Russian), and mandatory courses on Marxism-Leninism; the replacement of para-military activities with athletics, as well as improved bed and board in university residences. On October 19, the Minister of Education granted some of these demands and stated that compulsory Russian language study would be discontinued. He also announced other changes in university education.

On October 20, the executive committee of the party organization in the Hungarian Writers’ Union issued a resolution and called for a new party congress. The resolution referred to the 20th Congress of the Soviet Party, called for an accounting of the past and a new program by a new, democratically elected Party Congress.

On the same day, university students in the city of Szeged broke with the communist youth organization and set up their own student organization; Budapest university students did the same two days later.

On  October 22, the executive board of the Petofi Circles adopted a resolution listing ten demands which included: the holding of a party Central Committee meeting, including Imre Nagy; the disclosure of the economic situation and revision of the 6 Year plan; to insure the development of socialist democracy; to introduce workers’ self-management in the factories "and a workers’ democracy;" to assure I.Nagy and other socialists a worthy place in party and government; to expel M.Rakosi and proceed with the trial of Mihaly Farkas (1904-1965).*

*[M.Farkas was one of the chief party members in charge of the torture and trials of the victims of the 1949 purge; he was expelled from the party in 1955, tried and sentenced to 16 years of prison in 1957, but pardoned in 1961].

It is clear that these demands were  sparked by the news of Gomulka’s election as First Secretary of the Polish United Workers' Party and of his long speech to the Central Committee criticizing the mistakes of the past. Moreover, the communique of October 20 on the Polish-Soviet talks in Warsaw showed that Khrushchev had accepted Gomulka as the new Polish party leader. Thus, the new line in Poland, combined with existing problems and tensions in Hungary, paved the way for the Hungarian revolution.

On October 22, when it looked as if Gomulka had faced down Khrushchev in Poland, mass demonstrations of solidarity with Poland took place in Budapest. The students of the Budapest Engineering and Construction University came out with a list of 16 demands. These included the withdrawal of all Soviet troops from Hungary; the reorganization of the government under Imre Nagy’s leadership; free elections for a new multi-party national assembly; reform of workers’ production norms and of the existing agricultural system; the rehabilitation of all victims of past injustices; the taking down of the Stalin statue in Budapest; and full freedom of speech and press. Finally, they expressed their solidarity with the workers and young people of Poland and Warsaw, "who were participating in the movement for Polish independence," and announced that a parliament of young people would be held in Budapest on October 27, which would work with youth delegates from all over the country. The Soviet ambassador in Budapest, Yuri V. Andropov,(1914-1984) immediately reported the 16 points to Moscow.*

*[Andropov was recalled to Moscow in 1957, and was appointed head of the KGB (successor of the NKVD) in 1967. He succeeded Leonid Brezhnev as Secretary General of the CPSU in 1982 but died two years later of kidney failure, to be succeeded by Mikhail S. Gorbachev]

(ii) The Hungarian Revolution.

(a) On October 23, the morning edition of the chief Hungarian newspaper, Szabad Nep, printed the full text of Gomulka’s speech to the 8th Plenum of the Central Committee of the Polish United Workers Party, in which he criticized the errors of the past.

The Budapest students announced a demonstration of sympathy with Poland in front of the Polish Embassy at 2.30 p.m. The Ministry of the Interior broadcast a prohibition of this meeting at 12.53, but rescinded it at 2.23 p.m.. Just before that, the demonstrations gathered at the statue of the national poet of Hungary, Sandor Petofi. They recited verses in which he called on the Hungarian people to stand up and refuse to be slaves. Petofi had fought in the 1848 revolution, and was the aide to general Jozef Bem. He disappeared in a battle in 1849 and his body was never found.

The demonstrators then went to the statue of Jozef Bem (1794-1850) -- the Polish general who led Hungarian armies against the Russians in 1849 -- and expressed their sympathy for Poland.

On the evening of October 23, a large crowd gathered at the Budapest radio station and a student delegation went in to broadcast their demands for political reforms in Hungary. When they failed to come out, the crowd surged forward and were fired on by the security police, the "AVO." Fighting broke out, in which the Hungarian army took the side of the people against the AVO and the Soviet garrison troops.

That evening, at 8 p.m. First Secretary Erno Gero, just back from a visit in Yugoslavia, made a radio speech to the nation warning against the actions of "enemies of the people."

The people demanded the withdrawal of Soviet troops and the establishment of a new government. on a democratic basis.

(c) October 24- 30.

On October 24, Imre Nagy became Prime Minister again, and on October 25, Janos Kadar -who had been a purge victim - replaced the hated Erno Gero as Secretary General of the Party. However, the revolt in Budapest continued and spread to the rest of the country. Therefore, the Hungarian Party leaders promised to work for the withdrawal of Soviet troops. At the same time, Imre Nagy partially restored the multi party system by admitting members of the Smallholders Party into his Cabinet.

It is important to note that from October 24 to October 30, two high Soviet party officials, Mikoyan and Suslov, participated in the meetings of the Hungarian party leaders. They were in constant touch with the Soviet party leadership and supported the decisions of the Hungarian leaders, albeit with some reluctance. It is clear from Russian documents that became available in the1990s in both Russia and Hungary (also in one volume in Russia in 1998), that on October 30, the Soviet Politburo decided not to intervene in Hungary for the time being, and to withdraw Soviet troops from Budapest -- but changed its mind the next day, deciding to intervene on November 4.

Many different factors contributed to this decision: news from Budapest of the attack on the Party H.Q., and the murder of many officials and security personnel there, and the formal rehabilitation of the Smallholders' and Social Democratic Parties. This information reached Moscow late in the evening of October 30 and early morning October 31: (1) The violence against Communists was seen as supported by Nagy, whereas it was not. Mikoyam opposed Soviet intervention, but agreed that the USSR could not risk losing Hungary (2). The Soviet leaders feared the revolution would spill over into neighboring countries, esp. Poland, but also Romania and Czechoslovakia which had alarge Hungarian minority. (3)There was also a power struggle going on in the Soviet leadership between Khruschev and his supporters on the one hand and the old Stalinists led by Molotov on the other, who opposed the recognition of Wladyslaw Gomulka as the Polish party leader, of Imre Nagy as the Hungarian party leader, and a Soviet-Yugoslav reconciliation. (4) Finally, there was an important change in the international situation which boded ill for the USSR. *

*[For the above information, I wish to thank Prof. Mark Kramer, head of the Cold War History Project at Harvard University, who discusses the whole issue in detail in his forthcoming book on the Hungarian Revolution, due out in Fall 2012. See also Documents on the Hungarian Revolution at the end of this section.]

The Suez Canal War.

On October 29, Israel launched an attack on Egypt. The background to this was the Suez Canal crisis. Egyptian. President Gamal Abdel Nasser (1918-1970), who had lined up with the USSR, reacted to the withdrawal of British and U.S. offers of financial help in constructing the Aswan Dam in July 1956 by nationalizing the Suez Canal and taking over its administration in September.

Nasser was also the head of the  Arab League, which was preparing to attack Israel; therefore, Israel launched a preventive attack on Egypt. The British and French, who had protested the nationalization of the Suez Canal, sent an ultimatum to Egypt to stop fighting and withdraw from the canal zone. When Nasser refused, they landed troops to occupy the canal zone and began bombing Egypt on October 30. Khrushchev mistakenly believed that the U.S. would join the British and French. In fact, President Eisenhower told them to withdraw, but before this was known the Arab states were being defeated and Khruschev suspected the western powers would somehow push into Hungary.

(d) Hungary, October 30- November 16.

On October 30, Soviet troops began to withdraw from Hungary.
Now Imre Nagy promised the end of one party dictatorship and announced free elections in the future. However, news came on the evening  of Oct. 31 from Hungarian military intelligence that Soviet troops were entering Hungary. This followed the Soviet Polituro decision to intervene.

The news of the invasion led Imre Nagy to declare on November 1, that Hungary was leaving the Warsaw Pact, and would become neutral. This was a very popular demand in Hungary at the time. The model was Austria, which had become neutral with Soviet agreement in 1955.
Imre Nagy appealed to the United Nations -- which had voted to discuss Hungary on October 28 --for  support of Hungarian neutrality. At the same time, he told Soviet ambassador Andropov that if Soviet troops withdrew from Hungary, he would withdraw his appeal to the U.N.

Hungarian neutrality was not an option for Moscow for the reasons outlined above. Once the decision for intervention was made, the Soviet leaders sought the support of the Chinese, Polish, Romanian, and Yugoslav leaders. Of these, only the Poles expressed disagreement.

Khrushchev and Malenkov secretly visited Bucharest, then flew to the Yugoslav naval base at Pula, whence they traveled by boat over heavy seas to the island of Brioni, where Tito and top Yugoslav leaders were at the time. According to the notes of the Yugoslav ambassador to the USSR, who participated in the talks on the night of November 2-3, Khrushchev spoke of Nagy as trying to bring back capitalism and bourgeois democracy to Hungary, but the Yugoslav leaders counseled patience and advised reliance on Kadar. The Soviet leaders agreed. The Yugoslav leaders promised to help Imre Nagy and his closest collaborators to step down. The plan was to trick them to enter the Yugoslav embassy in Budapest and then make them declare their support for the new Kadar government.

Meanwhile, Kadar, who had voted in the Hungarian Politburo for the withdrawal of Soviet forces from Hungary, the establishment of a multi-party government in Hungary, also for neutrality - flew to Moscow on November 3 and pleaded with the Soviet Politburo to abandon military intervention. However, when he found that he could not prevail, he issued a formal invitation to the Soviet forces to come in.

The head of the Hungarian armed forces, General Pal Maleter,(1917-1958), Minister of Defense in the new Hungarian government, had been invited for talks with Soviet officers, but was arrested. (He was later executed with Imre Nagy and others in 1958).

from: Soviet Military Intervention in Hungary 1956, by Jeno Gyorkei and Miklos Horvath, (Budapest 1998).

As the Soviet troops moved in, there was a crisis in Western-Soviet relations. On November 6, Khrushchev threatened to send troops to end the Suez fighting. President Eisenhower declared a state of emergency for U.S. armed forces, but the crisis was resolved through an agreement to withdraw the French, British and Israeli troops and to send U.N. peace keepers into the Suez Canal zone.

Imre Nagy and his colleagues sought refuge in the Yugoslav Embassy on November 14. They left it with a safe-conduct from the Soviets -- given by Andropov -- but were immediately arrested and disappeared. Much later, it was learned they had been taken to Romania and then returned to Budapest, where they were executed in 1958 and buried in unmarked graves.

Fighting went on in Hungary, mostly in Budapest, until November 15-16, when the workers called off their general strike after negotiations with Kadar.

from: Soviet Military Intervention in Hungary 1956, p. 272.Top picture: only Stalin's boots are left from his towering statue; bottom, a disabled Soviet tank and corpses in a Budapest street.]

[Documents: Most of the key Russian and Hungarian documents on the Revolution in English translation were published in: Soviet Military Intervention in Hungary 1956,edited by Jeno Gyorkei & Miklos Horvath, with a Study by Alexandr M.Kirov and Memoirs of Yevgeny I. Malashenko, CEU Press, Budapest, 1998; electronic resource, 1999. (A.M. Kirov, b. 1954, is a Russian military historian; Lt. General Y.I. Malashenko, b. in Ukraine, 1924, was a reconnaissance platoon commander in the Soviet invasion of Hungary, 1956). This book is the chief English-language source for documents on the Hungarian Revolution of 1956. For the Russian documents on the Hungarian Revolution, see: Sovetskii Soiuz i vengerskii krizis 1956 goda. Dokumenty, (The Soviet Union and the Hungarian Crisis of 1956. Documents), edited by V.K. Volkov et al., Moscow, 1998. Several books were published on the 50th anniversary of the Hung. Revolution, 2006, and a conference was held at the East European Studies Center, Columbia University, New York, Oct. 2006. For the most recent study of the Soviet reactions to the upheaval in Poland and revolution in Hungary, see Mark N.Kramer, Crisis, Compromise, and Coercion in the Communist Bloc, 1956: The Soviet Union and Upheavals in Poland and Hungary, Harvard Univ. Press, expected fall. 2012; for a study of the Hungarian revolution, including U.S. and Soviet policy, see Charles Gati, Failed Illusions. Moscow, Washington, Budapest and the Hungrian Revolution, (Wash. D C. 2006; reviewed by several historians; see Cienciala, Russian Review, Jan. 2007.]

5. Conclusions.

(a)The Soviet invasion of Hungary caught the Western Powers by surprise. In 1952 John Foster Dulles (1888-1959), later Secretary of State under President Eisenhower, had called for "liberating" E. Europe from Communism, but this was just a slogan used by the Republicans in the election campaign to win the votes of Americans of E. European descent for General Dwight D. Eisenhower as President.
In fact, the U.S. was not about to risk a nuclear war with the USSR over Hungary. The Hungarian section of Radio Free Europe was charged later with prolonging the fighting in Hungary by encouraging hopes that the U.S. or/and the U.N. would send help. However, only one broadcast --with instructions how to make Molotov cocktails -- can be seen as direct encouragement. The revolt was not provoked by the U.S. or by Radio Free Europe. It stemmed from Hungarian conditions and was sparked by the mistaken impression that Poland had obtained real independence from the USSR.

(b) Western Communists split over the Soviet invasion of Hungary. Many party members gave up their membership cards in protest, while sympathizers also protested..

(c) The Polish workers' revolt in Poznan (June), the change of party leadership in Poland in October, and the Hungarian revolt, showed that the peoples of these two countries were willing to accept democratic socialism, but resented the existing communist system and Soviet domination. Therefore, the Party leaders in both countries  tried to find compromise solutions to prevent greater upheavals. However, this attempt only succeeded in Poland, where Gomulka enjoyed great popular support and where there was no bloodshed. Even in this case, however, the Soviet leaders considered military intervention.

In Hungary, where fighting accidentally broke out on October 23, Imre Nagy was under  great pressure to secure the complete withdrawal of Soviet troops and establish a democratic government. Still, the Soviet leaders hoped, for a few days at least, that reforms in Hungary would be within acceptable limits. Their decision was based on the belief that Hungary was about to leave the Soviet bloc, with spillover effects on neighboring countries leading to the collapse of the whole Soviet Bloc. Their decision was aided, but not caused, by misperceptions of western policies in the Suez Canal War. This war absorbed the attention of the Western Powers, thus weakening the already slim chances of any action by them to prevent Soviet military intervention in Hungary.

(d) For the Poles, October 1956 led to a considerable liberalization of the existing communist system. The Roman Catholic Church regained its rights and the people could worship freely. Writers and historians gained a certain amount of freedom. Elections were held in 1957, in which several candidates could compete for some seats in the Sejm [pron. Seym = Lower House of Parliament], including those put forward by a group of Catholic intellectuals called "Znak" (the Sign). The Social Democratic Party, which included many former Home Army veterans, was accepted as a subordinate third party (the second was the Polish Peasant Party) in the government coalition dominated by the PZPR. Many peasants left collective and state farms and many Poles were repatriated from the USSR, both those deported in 1944-46, as well as some survivors of the wartime deportations from former eastern Poland in 1940-41 who had been unable to return in 1944-46. Some individuals in both groups, however, were forbidden to leave the USSR.

The "Polish October" of 1956  marked the first of a series of upheavals which were to culminate in the birth of Solidarity in late August 1980.*(Although repressed in December 1981, it survived to defeat the PZPR in the election of June 4, 1989.)

*[In January 1957, the author of these Lecture Notes wrote : "The Polish and Hungarian revolts have demonstrated. once and for all, the empty claim that Communism is a system aiming at the welfare of the working class and the abolition of exploitation. They have shown more - they have revealed the weakness of the Communist economy and the possibility of an ultimate breaking away of Eastern Europe from the Soviet Union. The failure or success of this movement will depend on the economic aid and foreign policy of the U.S.A. and also on the lengths to which the Soviet Union may go in order to cling to its European colonies." See Anna M.Cienciala, "The Big Thaw," Canadian Forum Toronto, January 1957, p. 224. As it turned out, Polish mass support for Solidarity and Soviet policy were the chief factors in the collapse of communism in Poland in summer 1989. Mikhail S. Gorbachev proved unwilling to use force against the Poles and accepted the defeat of communism by Solidarity in the elections of June 4 that year, although some communists were later included in the new government. Other East Central and EastEuropean countries followed the Polish example and the Berlin Wall fell in November.]

(e) Severe repression was imposed on Hungary, which lasted until 1960, when Kadar began a policy of reform and reconciliation. (In March 1989, Imre Nagy and his colleagues were officially rehabilitated and on June 16 1989 they were given a ceremonial  funeral. In 1990, the Hungarian party leadership, which was facing grave economic problems and unrest,  recognized the need for a multi party system and promised free elections in 1991).

As in 1956, so in 1989-91, Poland and Hungary led the way in political liberalization . (See Lecture Notes 19).

Bibliographic Note

 For books and articles on Poland and Hungary, 1956, see Bibliography pt. III and books mentioned here.
For a very good article on the events in both countries, see: Johanna Granville, "Satellites or Prime Movers? Polish and Hungarian Reactions to the 1956 Events. New Archival Evidence," East European Quarterly, vol. XXXV, no. 4, Winter 2001, pp.435-471. See also, same
The first domino : international decision making during the Hungarian crisis of 1956 ; foreword by Raymond L. Garthoff; see Cienciala review in The Russian Review, 2006.



1. The Background to the Prague Spring.

Unlike Poland and Hungary, where some liberalization preceded the upheavals of  fall 1956, Czechoslovakia remained an orthodox Stalinist state both before and after that fateful year. In 1960, a Stalinist type constitution came into force; the school system was a copy of the Soviet system; history and literature followed the party line.

Because of its higher degree of industrialization, achieved in the pre-communist period, the Czech lands (as distinct from Slovakia), enjoyed a higher standard of living than Poland and Hungary. Nevertheless, two problems grew more intense from 1960 onward; they were: economic stagnation and the Slovak question.

A. Economic Stagnation.

By 1961, the Stalinist economic model, that is, nationalization of the means of production and the command economy,  produced stagnation everywhere, including the highly industrialized Czech lands of Czechoslovakia. The existing problems of inefficient production and disregard for cost effectiveness were compounded by aging equipment, much of it dating back to the interwar period, and some even to the pre-World War I period.

Some proposals for a "new economic model" were adopted by the Party leadership in 1965, but the results were poor due to the centralization of the rest of the economy. Thus, the Czechoslovak experimental reforms suffered the same fate as the Liberman Reforms in the USSR. (Soviet economist Yevsey G. Libermann, 1897-1983 had advocated production for profit, and this principle was briefly applied in some branches of Soviet consumer production, then dropped).

The Czechs joked about their reforms saying: "We noticed that London traffic flowed smoothly, but we weren’t sure the British system would work for us. So we introduced only one change: buses were to drive on the left, while the rest of the traffic would continue driving on the right. The result was chaos."

Now Czech economists began to demand freedom of speech to allow free discussion of economic problems and suggest reforms without fear of reprisal. The leader of this movement was Ota Sik, a professor of Economics at the Charles IV University, Prague. Here, we should bear in mind that Polish economists had been discussing reform ideas in 1956-57, while Hungarian economists were openly discussing economic problems and reforms from 1961 onwards. Indeed, there was an increasing amount of private business since that year.

B. The Slovak Question.

The Slovaks had lost the last remnants of political elbow room after the communist seizure of power in Prague in February 1948. The strong Slovak Democratic Party - which had absorbed the Catholic People’s Party in 1945 -- and won a majority of votes in the first  postwar elections-- was abolished. Also, the Slovak Communist Party was merged with the Czechs into the Czechoslovak Communist Party, though it retained its regional structure.

Large scale investment had increased Slovak industrial production by a factor of six in comparison with 1939. However, this helped increase the Slovak desire for autonomy, so it was not surprising that in the mid- 1960s Slovak writers preceded their Czech fellows in demanding full artistic freedom.

C. Intellectual ferment among the Czechs.

It is difficult to say what impact the increased cultural-educational contacts with the West had on Czech intellectuals, as compared with the impact of developments in Poland and Hungary, but it seems the latter were more important. As in Poland -- Leszek Kolakowski*-- Czech philosophers began to focus on the writings of the "young Marx,"and contrast them with the fossilized dogma mouthed by Czechoslovak party leaders.

*[In November 2003, Leszek Kolakowski was awarded the prestigious Kluge Prize of $1,000,000 for his philosophical writings, which played an important role in discrediting Marxist philosophy and supporting intellectual dissent].

Again, as in Poland, a new film school emerged in Czechoslovakia. Its best known director was Milos Forman, whose films "Peter and Pavla" and "The Firemen’s Ball," injected realism and humor into Czech films. (He later emigrated to the U.S., where he directed: "One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest," 1975, and "Amadeus," a film about Mozart, in the 1990s). Two other Czechoslovak film classics of the period are "Closely Watched Trains" on life under the German occupation, and "Shop in the Main Street," 1966. This moving film, starring the great Polish-Jewish actress Ida Kaminska. (1899-1980), dealt with rounding up Jews in Slovakia and sending them to Auschwitz during World War II.

In the early 1960s, articles published in historical, philosophical and legal scholarly journals began to refer to Czechoslovak democratic traditions, contrasting them with the alienation of the people from the leadership of the country. Intellectual ferment surfaced at the 4th Congress of the Union of the Czechoslovak Writers in June 1967. The writer Ludvik Vaculik dared to say: "I think there are no longer any free citizens left in Czechoslovakia." He blamed the party leader and President Antonin Novotny (1904-1975) for this situation. Vaculik also contrasted Czechoslovak democracy of the period 1945-48 (communist-controlled multi-party government under President Edvard Benes) with the dead hand of Stalinism that had prevailed since that time. The writer Milan Kundera said that Stalinism had corrupted "a great human movement" (socialism), and called on the writers to change the situation.

There seemed to be some hope, because these voices found support in a member of the Czechoslovak party’s Central Committee, Jan Prochazka. He described the work of T.G.Masaryk (the father of Czechoslovakia and President 1918-37) as "gigantic." Indeed, there was a "back to Masaryk" movement in 1967, and many Czech philosophers accepted Masaryk's belief that "man is valuable for himself alone". The Czechoslovak Party leadership reacted by demoting Prochazka, also by expelling three leading writers, Ivan Klima, Antonin J. Liehm, and Ludvik Vaculik from the party.*

*[For a brief survey of this period, see: Josef Korbel, Twentieth Century Czechoslovakia, The Meanings of its History, New York, 1977, Pp. 272-82; see also: Doc. no. 1. Proceedings of the 4th Czechoslovak Writer’s Congress June 27-29, 1967, and a Follow Up Resolution of the CPCz Plenum, September 1967 (excerpts) in: THE PRAGUE SPRING , compiled and edited by Jaromir Navratil, et al., Central European University Press, Budapest, 1998, pp. 8-12. For the contemporary reflections of Czech and Slovak intellectuals on this period, see: Antonin J. Liehm, The Politics of Culture, with an Introduction by Jean Paul Sartre, New York, 1968].

2. Alexander Dubcek (1921-1992).

A. Childhood, Youth and Party Career to January 1968.

The leader of the Prague Spring was born in the village of Uhrovac, Slovakia, in 1921. His parents had met as immigrant workers in Chicago, and his older brother Julius was born there, but Alexander Dubcek was born after their return home. He was born in the same cottage as the father of Slovak national consciousness, Ludovit Stur, (1815-56), and believed this influenced his own destiny.

Dubcek’s parents, who returned to Slovakia in 1920, were left-wing socialists. His father became a communist out of his conviction that only communism could give people a better life. Work was hard to find in Slovakia, and the Dubceks decided to move to the USSR to help build socialism there. They left Slovakia with a few other families in March 1925, and settled in the village of Pishpek in Soviet Kirghizia (now Bispek, Kirghistan) where, with other like minded emigres, they set up a cooperative farm, but Stalin’s forced collectivization of Soviet agriculture in the 1930s meant the end of this venture. The Dubcek family moved to the city of Gorky (Nizhny Novgorod), where the children went to school and received a Soviet education. The Stalin purges of 1935-38 did not affect their faith in communism.

In 1938, with war loomig in Europe. the Soviet government decreed that all [free] foreign workers in the USSR must either apply for Soviet citizenship, or leave the country. The family returned to Slovakia that year and Alexander joined the Slovak communist party. In World War II, he joined the Sovak resistance movement and fought in the Slovak uprising of August-October 1944, in which his brother lost his life. His father was imprisoned for a time in the German concentration at Mauthausen, but survived.*

*[For Alexander Dubcek’s childhood years and youth, see: Hope Dies Last. The Autobiography of Alexander Dubcek, edited and translated by Jiri Hochman, New York, Tokyo, London, Kodansha International, 1993, ch. 1-5].

Dubcek began his party career in 1949. He did so well that he was chosen to attend the Higher Political School of the Central Committee of the CPSU (Communist Party of the Soviet Union) in Moscow, and studied there in 1955-58. He was overwhelmed by the key event he witnessed in the USSR, that is, Khrushchev’s anti-Stalin speech of February 25, 1956, in which Stalin's persecution and murder of innocent party members (not the much more numerous others!) was admitted, and thousands of Soviet citizens were allowed to leave labor camps. Dubcek's faith in communism was unshaken, but he believed that it must become more humane.

(from: HOPE DIES LAST. The Autobiography of Alexander Dubcek, edited and translated by Jiri Hochman, New York, 1993).

Dubcek first used the phrase "socialism with a human face," in 1963. In 1966, he became the First Secretary of the Slovak wing of the Czechoslovak party. He cultivated ties with Slovak writers and reform-minded Czech economists. He also supported the Slovak desire for autonomy.

At the end of October 1967, the Czechoslovak party’s Central Committee came out for economic reform. It also called for the separation of party and state, which was a move against Antonin Novotny, head of the party and president of the country. By this time, Dubcek was the obvious candidate for the post of First Secretary of the Party. Novotny appealed for help to Soviet leader Leonid I. Brezhnev (1906- 1982), who came to Prague in December 1967. Brezhnev conducted 18 hrs of. conversations with various Czechoslovak party leaders and seemed to agree that Novotny was no longer needed. However, he left the decision up to the Czechoslovak communists. The Party Plenum [plenary meeting] elected Dubcek as First Secretary on January 5, 1968.* It seems that Brezhnev had no objections.

*[See: Doc. no. 5: Andrei Aleksandrov-Agentov’s Memoirs of the Pre-Crisis Period (excerpt), THE PRAGUE SPRING, pp. 23-26, and doc. no. 6. on the Dubcek’s election, ibid., pp. 34-36].

B. The Prague Spring.

In early January 1968, the Party Plenum called for greater encouragement of an open exchange of views. This worried the Soviet, East German and Polish party leaders. Dubcek visited Moscow in early February and managed to calm Brezhnev. However, when Dubcek suggested informally to Polish party leader Wladyslaw Gomulka (1905-1982) that the Hungarian, Czechoslovak, Polish and Romanian parties establish "a reform bloc within the Warsaw Pact," the Polish leader refused and became very suspicious of his Czechoslovak colleague. Only the Yugoslav and Romanian party leaders welcomed the resolution of the Czechoslovak January Plenum which outlined a reform program. *

*[PRAGUE SPRING 1968, p.29]

On February 9, one of Dubcek’s closest supporters, Josef Smrkovsky, published an article in the party paper, Rude Pravo, [Red Justice] calling for the removal of obstacles in the way of "the party’s progressive efforts," that is, to economic and social reforms. He also called for the elimination of everything that had distorted socialism, causing people pain and depriving them of faith and enthusiasm. *

*[Ibid., 28].

Now Czechs and Slovaks suddenly began to speak freely. They criticized the past and discussed reforms. This, in turn, strengthened the reformers within the party leadership. On February 19, the party Presidium discussed the first draft of the Action Program, emphasizing the development of "socialist democracy" and changes in the political system in order to return to socialism its humane function and "human face." The Party was still to retain its leading role in society, but would no longer monopolize the direction of social life. The Czechoslovak media began to discuss the evils of the past and reform projects for the future. It was as if a dam had burst and a flood descended on the surrounding countryside. This shocked and worried other Communist leaders.

The Soviet ambassador in Prague, Stepan V. Chervonenko (b.1916), who had close contact with the Czechoslovak party hardliners, reported to Moscow that the proposed reforms were "a right-wing threat" as well as "anti-Soviet" and "anti-socialist." [ibid]. This was to be the main theme of the growing criticism and then attacks on Dubcek and his supporters. It was first formulated by Czech and Slovak hardliners in the country's leadership.

The new Czechoslovak party line was subjected to criticism at a meeting of Warsaw Pact Nations in Sofia on March 5. However, in Czechoslovakia there was free, public discussion of the past along with demands for the rehabilitation of purge victims and the resignation of Novotny as President. At the same time, the hardliners attacked the media for its criticism of the past and for the general, "excessive advance of democracy." At a Party Presidium [new name for the Politburo] meeting on March 14, this criticism was strongly voiced, but Dubcek and his supporters carried the day. On March 21, there was a heated debate in the Presidium, after which proposals for the establishment of opposition parties were rejected - this time, with the support of the reformer group.* Meanwhile, word spread about the liberalization in Czechoslovakia.  Polish students staged sit-ins at their universities, demanding the abolition of censorship - as in Czechoslovakia - and chanting: "All of Poland is waiting for its own Dubcek" (This rhymed in Polish: Cala Polska czeka na swego Dubceka.) There were also a few small demonstrations by East German students. The students were put down, some were beaten up and many were expelled, but the taste of freedom was in the air.

*[Ibid. p.31].

The first open clash between the Czechoslovak leadership and five of  its "fraternal" party leaders. that is, the Soviets, Poles, East Germans, Hungarians, and Bulgarians, came at their meeting in Dresden on March 23. Here the East German leader Walter Ulbricht (1893-1973) and the Polish leader Gomulka launched strong attacks on Dubcek. They demanded he launch a counter-offensive against the "counter-revolutionary" and "revisionist" forces, while the Hungarian leader Janos Kadar (1912-1989) ominously remarked that the situation in Czechoslovakia was "strikingly reminiscent of the prologue to the Hungarian counter-revolution."It was clear that Czechoslovak reforms were now under fire from the other leaders of the Soviet bloc.*

*[Ibid., p. 32; for excerpts of the Dresden meeting, see pp. 64-75].

Nevertheless, Dubcek and his close collaborators among "reform communists" pushed ahead with drawing up a reform agenda. The party’s Central Committee approved the Action Program, which was aimed at both  the Czechoslovak public and the "fraternal" bloc states. The Action Program:

(1) rehabilitated the Czechoslovak "road to socialism" as it existed in 1945-48;
(2)criticized the "mistakes" of the past; spoke of "justifying" the Party’s "leading role in society;" of "democratic socialism;" the protection of full civil rights and liberties and freedom to travel;
(3)called for the rehabilitation of all victims of injustice over the last twenty years.

It also proposed
(a) the complete decentralization of the economy, "flexible market organisms," and the legalization of a small private sector. Finally,
(b) to work out a real federation between the Czech lands and Slovakia.

This program was the fullest expression of the ideas of reform communists. It did not propose the overthrow of communism, but to democratize communism, and its authors believed that it would gain the wholehearted support of the Czechoslovak peoples.*
However, other Soviet bloc leaders, especially Brezhnev, Gomulka and Ulbricht, saw it as a threat to the communist monopoly of power, the prelude to an attempted return to "bourgeois democracy," and thus Czechoslovakia’s exit from the Warsaw Pact.

*[For exerpts from the Action Program, see: Ibid., pp. 92-95; for the full text, see: Paul Ello, ed., Czechoslovakia’s Blueprint for Freedom, Washington, D.C., 1968].


Dubcek in May Day, Prague 1968; In parade: (from left to right) Gustav Husak,  Ludvik Svoboda, Dubcek, Frantisek Kriegel
(from: Dubcek, HOPE DIES LAST).

Soviet objections were aired in full at the Soviet-Czechoslovak leaders’ meeting in Moscow on May 4-5. In particular, Soviet leaders insisted that the Czechoslovak party’s Central Commitee control the media, while Dubcek proposed working with them. When he mentioned West German and other western countries’ willingness to offer long term credits to Czechoslovakia, Soviet leader Brezhnev commented:

Nowadays one hears more frequent talk about some sort of "new model of socialism" that has not existed until now. It’s as if there should no longer be the kind of socialism built by the CPCz [Communist Party of Czechoslovakia] in the course of many years, based on the working class. Is it not for these aims that Western credits are being offered to you? He followed this up with the following statements which put Soviet objections in a nutshell: Comrades, you know about the CPSU’s principled position based on full respect for the independence of all fraternal parties and countries. But not every question is a purely internal matter. If, for example, 40,000 people from West Germany cross the border of Czechoslovakia every day without any control, and we have an agreement with you on friendship and mutual assistance and are obliged to defend one another, then this is no longer just an internal matter. If your army is being weakened, that, too, is not simply an internal matter......We of course, can speak about committing errors and rectifying them, but in doing so we must not forget our main aims. And in your country, Czechoslovakia, one already finds "officials" who proclaim to the whole world that Marxism-Leninism is an "outmoded dogma," that "Marx and Lenin understood nothing about agriculture," and so on and so on. And after all, your papers are also read by Soviet citizens, your radio is listened to in our country as well, which means that all such propaganda affects us too. *

*[Ukrainian language press and radio broadcasts for the Ukranian minority in Czechoslovakia, were read and heard in Soviet Ukraine].

Brezhnev also said:

........In your country at a May Day demonstration the American flag was waving freely. What does that imply? Does it mean that the Czechoslovak people and the CPCz are now willing to stand by this flag? And I won’t even bother to mention the threats that are made against us, the calls for us "to get out of Czechoslovakia," and so on. All this attests to the fact that counterrevolutionary forces exist in your country and are becoming more active. Brezhnev received support from the hardliner Vasil Bilak, a member of the Czechoslovak party's Presidium, who stated: "The enemies are doing everything to prevent the consolidation of our forces; they want to impose methods on the party we do not regard as acceptable. The truth is that we have relinquished control over the press, radio, and television."

Brezhnev concluded the meeting by saying:

The main thing is to decide in what manner the cause of socialism can best be defended in Czechoslovakia. This question concerns not only Czechoslovakia itself but your neighbors and our allies, and the entire world communist movement. All of us are ready to offer assistance if it is needed. ...It seems to us that as a result of today’s talks one could conclude that the moment has arrived when the CPCz Presidium should clearly state to one and all what kind of line it will pursue and point out the dangerous phenomena that have appeared in the country, and really explain which of these phenomena it does not support and will struggle against with all means available...It is incorrect to make concessions and to be reformists ... The Soviet leader stressed that the Soviet party would support such a policy with its media, pointing fingers and naming names. It would therefore be better for the Czechoslovak leaders to do this themselves. "But if it becomes necessary, we can begin to speak in such a way that everyone can hear, and then the working class will hear the voice of its friends." Dubcek promised to take measures regarding the media and to consult with regional and district party secretaries. *

*[Excerpts from the stenographic account of the Soviet-Czechoslovak Summit Meeting in Moscow, May 4-5, 1968, PRAGUE SPRING, pp. 114-125].

The Soviet-Czechoslovak meeting was followed by a meeting in Moscow on May 8 of the leaders of the five anti-reformist parties: the Soviet, Polish, East German, Hungarian and Bulgarian parties [Romania stayed out], to whom Brezhnev related the conversations of May 4-5. Although he saw some signs of improvement in Czechoslovakia since that meeting, he suggested  holding military maneuvers on Czechoslovak territory, preferably in May. As he put it: "The presence of leading staff members and a large number of officers of all our armies will undoubtedly make an impression on our enemies, paralyze the counter-revolution, and be a substantial factor of support for our friends."
Brezhnev went on to say that Dubcek and [Oldrich] Cernik had said such maneuvers should be carried out. [They did not object]. Only Janos Kadar tried to balance the opposition to Dubcek by suggesting  they should fight not only counter-revolutionary forces and imperialists, but also come out against former mistakes.*

*[Excerpts from the secret meeting of the "Five" in Moscow, May 8, 1968, ibid., pp.132-142].

Two days later, Polish-Soviet Warsaw Pact (WP) maneuvers began on the Polish-Czechoslovak frontier, to be followed in June-July be WP maneuvers on Czechoslovak soil.

Czechoslovak opinion responded angrily to these pressure tactics. On June 27, the Czech literary weekly, Literarni Listy [Literary Letters], and three Czech dailies published a manifesto titled Two Thousand Words. Drafted by the writer Vaculik and signed by him and 70 other leading writers and scientists, it was an expression of strong support for Dubcek’ s policies. It condemned the past practices of the party, demanded the resignation of officials opposing democratization, and called for the establishment of "committees for the defense of freedom of expression." It even said the signatories would back the government with weapons if necessary, though Czechoslovakia’s alliances, friendships and trade agreements would be respected. *

*[see PRAGUE SPRING, doc. no. 44, pp. 177-181].

The publication of the above manifesto, as well as the rebirth of the Czechoslovak Social Democratic Party, strengthened the fears of the five anti-reform "fraternal" parties. At a meeting in Warsaw on July 14-15, Brezhnev spoke of "an attempt being made by the anti-socialist counterrevolutionary forces to bring about the downfall of the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia." He now said that if necessary, the "fraternal" parties would have to" respond to the first call for aid by the Czechoslovak comrades."*

*[Ibid., p.185, and doc. 52]

This remark showed Brezhnev’s strategy, which was to use the "healthy,"  that is, pro-Soviet elements in the Czechoslovak Party leadership, headed by V.Bilak, to secure a majority in the Presidium and Central Committee and, if necessary, call for military intervention.
Indeed, the "Warsaw Letter" of July 15, signed by the leaders of the Soviet, Polish, East German, Hungarian and Bulgarian parties and addressed to the leadership of the Czechoslovak party, expressed "apprehension" at the stance of the "reactionaries" against the party, "a stance backed by imperialism," [the Western Powers] which endangered the interests not only of the Czechoslovak Socialist Republic but also of the entire "socialist commonwealth." The fraternal parties declared they did not wish to interfere in the internal affairs of Czechoslovakia, but they would not allow "hostile forces" to bring about the country’s breakaway from the commonwealth. Therefore, "This is no longer your own affair."  This was  later called the "Brezhnev Doctrine," that is, the right of the USSR to use military force against Soviet bloc countries if the Soviet leaders saw a threat to "socialism," as they interpreted it. But, mindful of the outcry against the Warsaw Pact invasion of Hungary in November 1956, they preferred to see a reversal of the reform movement, and if that failed, a successful coup against Dubcek by Czechoslovak hardliners. Therefore,  the five fraternal parties demanded that the Czechoslovak leadership implement a whole series of measures, including control of the media, ending the activities of anti-socialist organizations, "unflinching adherence to the principles of democratic socialism, and a struggle against those whose activity aids hostile forces." *

*[ibid., pp.234-238].

As this pressure increased, Dubcek and his supporters began preparations for the 14th Extraordinary Party Congress. (Extraordinary because it was called out of turn for a special purpose). They expected the deputies, elected by secret ballot, to vote for the democratization of the party. Of course, Brezhnev and the other anti-reformist leaders aimed to prevent the Congress from being held. This was to be achieved by the hardliners attaining a majority in the Presidium and Central Commitee, which would then block the congress.

As plans for military intervention, "Operation Danube,"  went forward, Brezhnev invited Dubcek to Moscow, for talks. However, Dubcek proposed a meeting on Czechoslovak soil. Ultimately, the party leaders of both countries met at a railroad station on the border between Slovakia and Ukraine, Cierna nad Tisou, (Cierna on the Tisza river), on July 29-August l. It was "a dialog of the deaf," with Brezhnev repeating all the previous accusations and even speaking of the reality of a counter-revolutionary coup in Czechoslovakia. Soviet Premier Alexei N. Kosygin (1904-1980) also spoke of a "common border" of the "socialist states" and warned that the USSR would not give it up; therefore, the Warsaw Pact Joint Command was to decide the deployment of Soviet troops to preserve its security.
Finally, however, the two sides agreed to convene a meeting of all six communist parties - including Romania - in the Slovak capital of Bratislava. Brezhnev claimed that Dubcek had promised to act against counter-revolution - though Dubcek later denied he had made any such promise.*

(from:Dubcek, HOPE DIES LAST).

*[See excerpts from speeches by L.Brezhnev, A.Dubcek, and A.Kosygin at Cierna nad Tisou, July 29. and Dubcek’s recollections on same, PRAGUE SPRING, docs. 65, 67].

The Bratislava meeting of August 3 seemed to be a triumph for Dubcek, because the declaration signed by the party leaders spoke of cooperation on the basis of the "principles of equality, respect for sovereignty and national independence, territorial integrity, and fraternal mutual aid and solidarity." However, when combined with statements on the alleged "imperialist" threats to socialism from West Germany, NATO and the United States, the last words of the declaration were later seen as foreshadowing the claims made to justify the Warsaw Pact invasion of Czechoslovakia.*

*[For the Bratislava conference, see Jiri Valenta, Soviet Intervention in Czechoslovakia, 1968. Anatomy of a Decision, 2nd ed., Baltimore and London, 1991, pp.86, 88-89, also V.Bilak’s recollections, PRAGUE SPRING doc.71].

It was also at the Bratislava Conference, that V.Bilak secretly passed a letter inviting the Soviet leadership to intervene militarily in Czechoslovakia in case he and other hardliners did not manage of "preserve socialism" by themselves. This letter was signed V.Bilak, Drahomir Koldak, Alois Indra, Oldrich Svestka and Atnonin Kapek. Bilak passed this "invitation" to Pyotr Shelest, a member of the Soviet Politburo and lst Secretary of the Ukrainian branch of the CPSU. This was done in the men’s room during the conference.(!) Brezhnev cited this invitation at a meeting with the five party leaders on August 18, when he informed them of the decision for the Warsaw Pact countries to invade Czechoslovakia. *

*[see ibid., doc. 72, pp. 324-325].

[The author of this text was in Prague for a week in August, attending the International Congress of Slavic Studies. The atmosphere in the city was electric. Young people spoke of democracy and freedom, and older women were donating their family jewels to help Dubcek. Opinion was divided on whether the Warsaw Pact would invade; some said it was inevitable, while others said Moscow would not risk a repeat of the opprobrium caused by its invasion of Hungary in November 1956. The husband of a Czech friend of the author was on the Czechoslovak General Staff; he told her they were about evenly divided between those who would fight if Czechoslovakia was invaded, and those who would not. The outlook was uncertain, but the invasion was a shock when it came.]

For many years, people have asked what was the key factor in the Soviet decision to launch a Warsaw Pact invasion of Czechoslovakia on the night of August 20-21 1968. Russian documents which surfaced after the collapse of the Soviet Union show that the hardliners promised to trigger a crisis at the Czechoslovak party’s Presidium meeting on August 20, and bring about a majority vote to call for "international assistance." The same call would be made by the Central Committee and the National Assembly, also the government. Alois Indra handed this plan to the Soviet Embassy in Prague, which sent it on to Brezhnev, who must have received it late on August 17 or early on August 18. It was on this basis that the Soviet leadership decided the date of the invasion. *

*[see ibid., p. 312].

The formal resolution adopted by  by the Soviet Presidium clearly states the time had come to take active measures in defense of socialism in Czechoslovakia, and that a unanimous decision was made "to provide help and support to the Czechoslovak Communist Party and people of Czechoslovakia through military force." *

*[ibid., and doc. 88].

As it happened, theCzechoslovak hardliners failed to provoke a crisis at the Czechoslovak Party's Presidium meeting on August 20. This was because the proposal to deal with the internal situation and force a change of leadership did not reach the floor until 8 p.m. The discussion ended when reports came in that Warsaw Pact. troops had crossed the borders of Czechoslovakia. At that time, a majority of the Presidium voted a resolution condemning the intervention, but at the same time urging the people to remain calm and refrain from putting up any resistance .*

*[ibid., p. 313 and doc. 100].

Moreover, during the night of August 20-21, J.Smrkovsky’s advisers managed to convene the Presidium of the National Assembly which also condemned the invasion. A few days later, the 14th Extraordinary Party Congress, which was to meet in September, also met in Prague. It condemned the invasion and appealed for help to the United Nations.

In the meanwhile, the reformist leaders Dubcek, Oldrich Cernik, Frantisek Kriegel, Josef Spacek and  Bohumil Simon were arrested and taken to Moscow. (Smrkovsky could not be found). While they were being spirited out of the country by plane, Indra tried to set up a new government, but President Ludvik Svoboda (1895-1979), who had succeeded Novotny in May, refused to recognize such a government.
Therefore, Soviet propaganda claimed that the invasion had occurred to prevent Czechoslovakia uniting with West Germany (!)
President, Svoboda  wanted to prevent a bloodbath, so he appealed to the population to remain calm and not resist. He also demanded that he be allowed to go to Moscow to see the arrested leaders. There were some acts of resistance, mainly by young people in Prague, but in general people were shocked and, with a few exceptions, there was passive rarther than active resistance.

(from: Atlas of Communism).

(from: Dubcek, HOPE DIES LAST).

(For some photographs made at the time by the Czech photographer, Josef Koudelka, and accompanying article-length interview with him by Philip Gefter, see "When Prague Spring Gave Way to Winter," in the Arts and Leisure section of the New York Times, Sunday, September 14, 2008, p. 30)

Dubcek describes in his memoirs how he was held for hours in a small plane at Prague airport, then transferred to a larger plane and flown to Uzhorod, whence he was flown after some delay to Moscow. There, he was not allowed to wash up and shave before being called before the Soviet leaders (a favorite Soviet tactic to humiliate enemies).*

*[see: Alexander Dubcek, Hope Dies Last, pp. 183-186].

Dubcek  then tells of his interrogation by the Soviet Presidium, where the same accusations were made as before, while he tried to explain how the Czech and Slovak communists saw the situation. This was, as he put it: "Speaking with the Dinosaurs."
Finally, all except Kriegel signed what came to be known as "The Moscow Protocol." To prevent bloodshed , the Czech reformists declared that the resolutions of the 14th Party Congress were not valid. They undertook to hold a special plenary session of the Czechoslovak Central Committee, which would consider how to "normalize" the situation, especially in  restoring party control over the mass media. Warsaw Pact troops were to stay in Czechoslovakia until the "threat" to socialism there and to the security of the socialist commonwealth would be eliminated."*

*[see PRAGUE SPRING, doc. 109. For Dubcek’s account of the Moscow talks, see: HOPE DIES LAST, ch.22; see also PRAGUE SPRING docs. 103, 116,117].

(from: Atlas of Communism).

In the meanwhile, the people of Czechoslovakia, especially in Prague, put up a magnificent display of passive resistance. This went on until the announcement of the Moscow Protocol and the return of the Czechoslovak leaders from Moscow.

Dubcek remained head of the party for another eight months, when he was replaced by Gustav Husak, (1913-1991), also a Slovak, and a survivor of the Stalinist purges of 1949-53 in Czechoslovakia. Then, Dubcek was sent as Ambassador to Turkey, which was a form of exile. Indeed, efforts were made to persuade him to stay in exile, but he insisted on returning. He was then kept under constant surveillance and employed as a locksmith/mechanic by the Slovak Forestry Service. (He had learned that trade as a young man.)

[Iin 1988, when  Mikhail S. Gorbachev was  in power in USSR, Dubcek was allowed to travel to Italy where he received an honorary doctorate from the University of Bologna - and made a forceful defense of his reform program of 1968. When communism was collapsing in Czechoslovakia, he appeared in Prague side by side with Vaclav Havel (b.1936). Havel was elected President, and Dubcek was elected Chairman (speaker) of the National Assembly, a post he kept until his death from injuries in a car accident in October 1992.]

When considering Dubcek’s determined policy of democratization and reform one must ask how it was possible for a professional party bureaucrat, and moreover, one educated in the USSR, to believe that his policies could succeed against Soviet opposition? Perhaps the answer lies in Dubcek’s deeply moral personality, his honesty, and above all, his conviction that a humane socialism had the support of most Czechoslovaks so it would be unassailable? He certainly hoped that the 14th Party Congress would demonstrate the Czechoslovak people's support of this reformed socialism. He also seems to have believed that the Soviet leaders would not again invade a bloc country as they had invaded Hungary in 1956.

Whatever the case might be, the Prague Spring inspired a dissident movement not only in Czechoslovakia but also in the USSR, where a small protest meeting was held in the Red Square against the invasion, including the grandson of Stalin’s long time Commissar for Foreign Affairs, Maxim Litivinov (1932-39, later Soviet ambassador in Washington).

In fact, the invasion of August 1968 began an era of "samizdat" or illegal self-publications in both Czechoslovakia and the USSR. Finally, Dubcek’s ideas seem to have interested Mikhail S. Gorbachev (b.1931), who became the First Secretary of the Soviet Party in March 1985, and came out with the slogans of "Perestroika" (reconstruction) and later "Glasnost" (open discussion). Indeed, on the eve of Gorbachev’s visit to Czechoslovakia in summer 1988, Dubcek claimed that the Soviet leader’s program of "perestroika" was the same as his own in 1968. When Gorbachev’s spokesman, Gennady I. Gerasimov was asked in a TV interview during the visit what was the difference between Dubcek’s program and Gorbachev’s "Perestroika," he answered: "Twenty Years." Of course, the problems Gorbachev faced in the USSR and the Soviet bloc in 1988, were far more complex than those Dubcek faced in Czechoslovakia in 1968. Nevertheless, it seems that Gorbachev concluded from the Prague Spring that a liberalized communism might save the system in both the USSR and Eastern Europe. He tried this policy in E.Europe in 1989, but could not save communism or Soviet domination over E.Europe.

Back in late 1968, however, the Warsaw Pact invasion met with universal condemnation from both anti-communists and western communist parties  - except for the leadership of the French Communist Party, which then lost much of its support and never regained its previous significance in French politics. The Italian party was the first to distance itself from Moscow, while the Spanish party came out with the doctrine of "Eurocommunism" or winning power through the ballot box. This was an idea advocated by the German socialist Edward Bernstein (1850-1932) before World War I. It was condemned by Lenin as "revisionism.".

But western condemnation of  the invasion did not help people in Czechoslovakia, and their situation was grim. The intellectuals who had supported Dubcek lost their jobs and were forced to do menial work in the cities or countryside. One school teacher of French was made to tend pig sties on her village's collective farm. (Video: "After the Velvet Revolution").

The only achievement of the Prague Spring which was allowed to survive was the new federal structure between the Czech lands and Slovakia. However,  the Czechs and Slovaks had to wait  twenty-one years to regain their freedom.