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Communist Totalitarianism

The Post-War Period

At the end of the War and following liberation, the anticipated political shift to the left arrived. It was not possible to restore the Czechoslovakia of 1937. The Munich betrayal, the years of occupation and the contribution of the Soviet Union to victory in the War strengthened the sympathy of the Czechoslovak population for the Communist Party.  Calls rang out for left-wing reforms, not only in the social and economic sphere, but also in terms of a different polity. Slovakia succeeded in getting special status in the republic, and its own bodies of executive and legislative power. All of this only lasted for a transitional period.

For the first time, the Communist Party shared in the work of the Czechoslovak government. The main post-war task was the reconstruction of the country, which had been devastated by the War. Competition between political parties was restricted by a ban on re-establishing pre-War right-wing parties, which had been accused of collaborating with the Germans. All the permitted parties were grouped in a National Front and they were all governing parties.

The Communist Party won elections in 1946 on a national scale. Further elections were supposed to be held two years later. The Communist Party, however, endeavoured to gain complete power. By installing their own followers in important positions, they infiltrated the armed forces and security bodies of the state. Not even the other governing parties were safe from infiltration by communist agents.

February 1948 Communist Coup

In February 1948, a group of democratic ministers from three parties submitted their resignation in protest against the communists strengthening their position in the security apparatus.

The communists exploited the situation to seize power in a formally legal manner in the guise of reconstructing the government. To support themselves, they established their own bodies and committees of the national front, which carried out an illegal purge of political opponents of the communists. They installed their own agents in the leadership of the other parties. Subsequent elections were only elections in name, because only one candidate ballot was permitted and this was compiled by the Communist Party.

After taking power, the communists initiated political trials of their political opponents, democratically oriented soldiers, Zionists, and even people from their own ranks. Death sentences were handed down, as were long sentences in concentration camps, where, for example, uranium was mined for the Soviet Union.

An iron curtain literally descended along the southern and western borders of Czechoslovakia with Austria and the Federal Republic of Germany, which separated the totalitarian world from the democratic world.  Czechoslovakia was part of the Soviet Empire, as a vassal state. The Soviet Union reacted with force to any attempt at defection (in the German Democratic Republic in 1953, in Hungary in 1956 and in Czechoslovakia in 1968). According to the so-called Brezhnev Doctrine, the Soviet Union had the right to defend the socialist system in any state of the Soviet Bloc regardless of the sovereignty of the given country.

On 21 August 1968, forces from five Warsaw Pact countries (the Soviet Union, the German Democratic Republic, Hungary, Poland and Bulgaria) invaded Czechoslovakia with the aim of ending the so-called Prague Spring, which was an attempt at reforming the communist system.

The interventionists hauled the representatives of the Czechoslovak state and the Communist Party to Moscow, where, with the exception of František Kriegl, they all signed the Moscow Protocol, in which they agreed to Soviet forces “temporarily” staying on the territory of the Czechoslovak Republic.  This “temporary” stay was to last 21 years. The occupation resulted in dozens of deaths, hundreds of injuries and it also caused great material damage. Some reformist politicians played a sad role, when their work helped re-establish a pro-Soviet totalitarian regime after the invasion. Two students, Jan Palach and Jan Zajíc, burned themselves to death in Prague in protest at the onset of apathy in society.

All that remained of the hopes of 1968 was the federalization of Czechoslovakia, which comprised Czech and Slovak parts. Of course, there wasn’t any chance of any decision-making on national bodies under communist totalitarianism, where everything was essentially decided upon by the Central Committee of the Communist Party.

The establishment that took power after the Warsaw Pact invasion remained at the helm for 21 years. The Communist Party underwent a purge of its unreliable and wayward members. People who made the regime uncomfortable were locked up and otherwise persecuted, but unlike the 1950s no death sentences were meted out.

The opposition group gathered around the Charter 77 movement, who spoke out for the defence and observance of human rights.  The state itself had undertaken to observe these at the Helsinki Conference, but naturally didn’t do so. The most important figure of the Charter 77 movement was Václav Havel.

The fate of the Communist Bloc was firmly tied to the development of the Soviet Union. After the accession of Mikhail Gorbachev in 1985 and the growing economic problems of the entire Soviet Bloc the position of the empire began to wobble.