Communists take power in Czechoslovakia

  

The Kosice Programme       Communist Takeover       After 1948

  

  

My account of the Communist takeover in Czechoslovakia is based on displays in the Museum of Communism, Prague.

Prague was NOT liberated by the Russian army.   On 5 May 1945 an uprising of the people, helped by the anti-Stalinist army of General Vlasov, drove out the Nazis - 1,691 Czechs were killed in the rebellion.

  

However, at Yalta, it had been agreed that Russian armies should occupy Prague, and Stalin insisted that this happened.   The Russian army arrived on 9 May.   Stalin reprimanded Czech communists for not waiting for the Red Army.

   

Links

This internet encyclopaedia gives a detailed, traditional account.

Read this socialist account for a different interpretation of the takeover.

The Kosice Programme

During the war, Edvard Beneš (Czechoslovakia President) had fled to London and set up a government-in-exile there.   In the meantime, Czechoslovakian Communists, led by Klement Gottwald, had set up a rival government-in-exile in Moscow; Stalin also created a Czechoslovakian Independent Army Corps as part of the Russian Army - by 1945 it had 60,000 men (who were, of course, communists).

  

In January 1945, Stalin invited Beneš to Moscow for discussions.   In April 1945 (as soon as any land in Czechoslovakia was liberated) Beneš and Gottwald travelled to Kosice in Slovakia and announced that they were setting up a new government (the so-called 'Kosice Programme').   

  

In a similar way to Poland, the new government was a mixture of Communists and non-Communists.   Only six political parties were allowed - the parties which had actively resisted the Nazis.   They were the Czech Communist Party (KSC), the Czech Social Democratic Party, the Czech Popular Party (Catholic democrats), the Czech National Socialist Party, the Slovak Communist Party and the Slovak Democratic party (Catholic democrats).

 

It was by no means a Communist government.   Edvard Beneš was the President.   Zdenek Ferlinger, leader of the Czech Social Democratic party, was the Prime Minister.  

  

However, the Communists made sure that they obtained places of power within the system.   They made sure they had control of the Ministry of Interior Affairs - the ministry which controlled the 'National Safety Corps' (the police).   The Communists also made sure that they had control of the radio.   Gottwald insisted that a new army was set up, formed out of the Czechoslovakian Independent Army Corps.   In addition Ludvik Svoboda, who became head of the Ministry of Defence - and thus controlled the army - was secretly a Communist.   The majority of government ministers were Communists.

  

The Kosice Programme

The Communists take over

The Communist takeover of Czechoslovakia is a classic example of 'salami tactics' - taking power step-by-step.

  1. At first, President Beneš ruled by decree.   He was pressurised by Gottwald to order the arrest of a number of 'traitors and collaborators' - all of whom were anti-Communists.

  2. The Communist used their position in the Ministries of Interior Affairs and Defence to place Communist loyalists into key positions in the police and army.

  3. A law was passed forbidding newspapers to be owned by private individuals - only trade unions, political parties or the government could publish a newspaper.   In this way, most newspapers came to be controlled by the Communists.

  4. In the elections of May 1946, the KSC gained 38% of the votes, more than any other party.   Beneš asked Gottwald to become Prime Minister and to form a government.   The new government, however, still included a number of non-Communists.

  5. Opposition politicians were arrested on fake accusations of collaboration with the Nazis or spying for the West.

  6. During 1947, a secret police force was set up, under the control of the (Communist-controlled) Ministry of Interior Affairs.

  7. In June 1947, Czechoslovakia was invited to the Paris Meeting to discuss the Marshall Plan.   At first, Gottwald said he would attend - but then he was called to Moscow by Stalin, and forced to change his decision.   Instead, in September 1947, Czechoslovakia joined Cominform.

  8. Towards the end of 1947, Gottwald was reprimanded by Stalin for taking so long to take over.   Czechoslovakia, he was told, was the last country where the Communist victory was not yet explicit.

  9. There was a fierce anti-American propaganda campaign in the press, especially against the Marshall Plan.

  10. On 20 February 1948, a dozen non-Communist ministers - alarmed by the steadily growing power of the Communists - handed in their resignation.   They hoped that, by doing so, they would force Beneš to dismiss Gottwald and create a new, more moderate government.   They miscalculated.   The KSC organised marches of thousands of people through Prague.   Groups of militia from the factories were formed and set up an armed guard round Wenceslas Square - when a group of students tried to organise a pro-opposition march, they were dispersed by gunshots.   Svoboda announced that he supported Gottwald.   The police announced that they would not obey Beneš, but would 'stand behind the Czechoslovak people'.   On 24 February, the Communists called a general strike - 2.5 million workers went on strike.   Beneš was old and ill, and Gottwald and a group of leading Communists physically bullied him.   On 25 February 1948 Gottwald announced to a huge crowd that President Beneš had accepted the ministers' resignations.

  11. On 10 March 1948, Czechoslovak Foreign Minister Jan Masaryk (the country's only remaining non-communist minister) was found dead under the bathroom window of the Foreign Ministry building in Prague.

     

Communist Takeover

After the Communist takeover

The Communists established a repressive, eastern-bloc regime:

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Non-communist parties were taken over by Communists and 'decided' to join the KSC.

  

This building housed the interrogation centre of the secret police.   The brass plaque on the wall just to the right of the gate commemorates all the victims of police torture during the Communist regime.

  
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The National Safety Corps was formally given the job of 'protection of the popular democratic regime' - they began phone-tapping, arresting suspects etc.   By the late 1980s, more than 200,000 people were working as spies for the police.  

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There were show trials of prominent anti-Communists.   The country's famous gold-medal winning hockey team was arrested, accused of anti-Communist activities, and sentenced to long prison terms.   By 1990 there had been 257,864 arrests.   Although only 232 people were imprisoned for political reasons, and only 178 executed, there was a climate of fear and suspicion.

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Stalin's head appeared on Czechoslovakian posters and stamps.   In 1955, a huge statue - 30 metres high - was erected in Prague.   (It took 5 years to build - with the result that it had barely been unveiled when Khrushchev denounced Stalin, and it had to be blown up.)

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Industry was organised along Stalinist lines, with 'Shock Worker' movements set up in factories to concentrate on increasing production, and not to worry about wages.   Agriculture was collectivised, as in Russia.

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There was a continuous campaign of anti-American hate propaganda.   When there was a potato bug in 1950, the Czechoslovak government blamed it on 'American saboteurs' and called it 'the American bug'.

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It was made illegal even to think about emigration.

 

After 1948