During the early 1950’s, one political effective method of gaining control in Eastern Europe was the use of Salami Tactics. Salami tactics involved forming coalitions with other left wing groups, then turning on them and accuse them of being anti-communist. As a result, they could make communism take over the governments themselves, therefore gain more power. One area this tactic that was particularly effective in was Hungary.
The communists were working with the peasant Smallholder’s party and then later on, Rakosi has accused the leader of the Smallholder’s party of offences against the Red Army, and in doing so; they were able to dissolve their party. This led into a domino effect and by the end of the year all other political parties in Hungary had been destroyed, showing that this particular method was proving to be quite successful.Furthermore, in Romania, elections were rigged in to help the communists secure their hold in power. The left wing coalition party, “Plowmans Front”, was election and a campaign of violence against non-communist parties followed. The communists strengthened their hold in the government and forced King Michael to abdicate the throne.
Another country in Eastern Europe that suffered this was in Bulgaria. The communists formed coalitions with the Peasants Party. Then in 1947, Nicolai Petkov, the leader of the party was said to be, “plotting a coup”, trying to undermine the communists and he was hung. The Tsar was driven out and communists used forced to execute 1500, “anti-communists”, resulting in Dimtrov being elected.As you can see from these few examples of Salami tactics, this preferred method used by the Soviet’s was particularly effective in the early 50’s. Through their method of luring political parties to form coalitions with them and then seemingly, “backstabbing them”, they were able to gain control quite effectively. They started a domino effect of sorts, by taking over one particular political party, it allowed them to gain power and do as they wish with the others, often using force, as seen in the situation in Poland. However sly these tactics were, it still enabled the Soviets to gain and good foothold in power.
Moving on, there were a number of political, economic and military style methods the USSR used to gain control over Eastern Europe. As we know, there was successful political usage of Salami tactics to gain control, however other methods were also used, for example, the installation of the Cominform in 1947. This was used to tighten the Soviet control over East Europe, being set up to coordinate communist parties throughout Europe. It was seemingly the Soviet’s response to the Truman Doctrine and tried to unify the Eastern European countries to fall behind a Soviet line.
This was in matter of fact a way to control these countries. It adopted collectivisation in agriculture and nationalisation of industry; therefore allowing the Soviet’s to make use of other countries resources. There was Eastern European countries who disagreed with this, however, the Soviet’s as always, used force to purge those who opposed. The main victims were Gomulka in Poland and Kadar in Hungary. Stronger opposition came from Yugoslavia and leader Tito.
Tito saw himself as independent and was unwilling to follow the Soviet lead, resulting in Yugoslavia being disregarded from the Cominform in 1948. To set an example, those other Eastern European countries suspected of, “Titoism”, were also purged, giving the message across that those oppose will be punished. This political tactic seems effective, however the fact that there was opposition shows that it wasn’t entirely successful. Tito created a following via, “Titoism”, showing that there would be opposition to how the Soviets were running things.In 1955, the Warsaw Pact was set up.
It was a military alliance of the communist states of Eastern Europe, to solidify Khrushchev’s aim of uniting Eastern Europe. It wanted to coordinate the defence of the socialist bloc, however it really was dominated by the USSR, all countries had agreed to help each other. However, this didn’t seem to work out in the Hungarian Crisis of 1956, showing that this particular method of Soviet control was not so effective.
Military methods tied in with political methods come into play here. In 1553, Stalin died, as a hated man all over Eastern Europe, people were happy as they now felt liberated, leading to riots in East Berlin. The new leader, Nikita Khrushchev came to power in 1956. Although still a communist, he aimed for peaceful co-existence, aiming for, “Destalinisation”, in forms of Russian political prisoners were set free and the chief of secret police was executed. However, even though the West thought that this new leader would bring an end to the Cold War, they were disappointed. Destalinisation didn’t mean a transition to Capitalism or freedom of Russia. This was evident in the fact that when communist countries seemed to go too far (for example Czechoslovakia), then he sent in the Red Army to stop them.
What he really meant by peaceful co-existence, was peaceful competition, he started to build up Russian power via propaganda and economic blackmail (such as in the case of Afghanistan and Burma, in which they were offered economic aid if they supported Russia). However, this led to further problems for Khrushchev further on.In 1956, there was the Hungarian Revolution. The Soviet Union controlled Hungary just like it did with the rest of the satellite states. Each satellite state was header by a, “mini-Stalin”, and in the Hungarian case, it was Matyas Rakosi. Economies were run via the Soviets, private farms were forced into collectivisation and the secret police force crushed any opposition. However this didn’t sit well with the people of Eastern Europe.
As a result of the collective farming, there were food shortages, shortage of consumer goods and a general drop in living standards. Furthermore the disliked secret police perfecuted churchgoers and anyone who was anti-communist. The government controlled all aspects of life, even the media, in which it was allowed the right to free speech. When Stalin died, the suffering masses of Eastern Germany went to riot. They saw the new leader Khrushchev as their means of, “salvation”.
He ended the feud with the Yugoslavian Tito, accepted Yugoslavia as an independent state and therefore the people of Hungary looked at this and believed that this would happen to them. Khrushchev seemed against Stalin, even though being a staunch Communist and in 1956, his speech named his as a tyrant and seemingly an evil man who did damage. Therefore, this gave the people of Hungary hope.
They started their revolution against their puppet leader Rakosi. They burnt official portraits of him, tore down pictures ad statues of Stalin and when challenged by the police, instead of standing down, they fought back. Khrushchev initially tried to deal with the riots by trying to keep peace and order.He allowed two new moderate leaders to take power, Imre Nagy and Janos Kadar. However, opposition still grew. This showed that now, even though the USSR had tried a new moderate approach, it was still not effective and they were seemingly losing power. This was heightened during the month of October when Nagy announced that Hungary would leave the Warsaw Pact, become a neutral country and democratic elections would be installed.
Hungary seemed joyful at this decision, but this was not what Khrushchev wanted. He was now under pressure and was losing power. Therefore he had to take forceful action and on the 4th November 1956, the Red Army was sent in to stop the revolution.
Extensive force was used as 2000 tanks and 60,000 troops invaded the capital Bucharest. This seemed to echo Stalin, the use of brute force. The people of Bucharest tried to fight, using petrol bombs and such, but the troops overtook them and destroyed half of Bucharest, killed 3000 people and forced 160,000 people to flee. To top it off, the revolutionary leader, Nagy was hung. This military method used by Khrushchev appeared weak at the beginning. The fact that as he tried to appease Hungary by removing Rakosi and installing new moderate leaders, showed that he wanted to keep order and peace without the use of force.
However revolution was soon to come and he couldn’t risk this, therefore his use of excessive form, such a large amount of troops sent to small Bucharest showed he wanted to set an example. He couldn’t take the chance of other countries following this method. This had to be done to set an example. As a consequence, this was an accomplishment for Khrushchev as not until 12 years later in 1968 did a further uprising occurs. The fact that there had been a 12-year seemingly calm period showed that this Soviet military method was proving to be quite effective.Czechoslovakia was led by hard line communist Antonin Novotny.
Just like in Hungary, there was collective farming, strict censorship and a large secret police force. Novotny saw that the economy was in trouble, yet he didn’t want to change the Soviet’s way of control. Wages and living standards fell, resulting in a higher dislike for Novotny. Instead of trying to help, Novotny put his fist down harder in 1967. He increased censorship and arrested opponents. Expectedly he became more unpopular. Fear that there would be a similar crisis as of the one in Hungary, the Communist party removed Novotny and in 1968 and Alexander Dubcek was put in place instead.
Just like Nagy, Dubcek seemed better; he got rid of other hard-liners in the government and gave the press more freedom. He issued an Action Plan of reforms; including letting minor parties join the Communist government and giving people more democratic rights. This was announced as the Prague Spring. Dubcek, unlike the situation in Hungary, wanted to keep on good terms with the Soviet Union. He didn’t want to get rid of communism, but instead improve it, give, “communism with a human face”. However the new Soviet leader, Leonid Brezhnev didn’t see Dubcek’s reforms as this. He and the leaders of East Germany and Poland feared that Czechoslovakia would leave the Warsaw Pact and turn to Capitalism. Even though Dubcek informed them he wouldn’t leave the Warsaw Pact, Brezhnev was not convinced.
He decided, along with the other countries to remove him and his supporters from power. On 21st August 1968, Soviet troops invaded Czechoslovakia to end the Prague Spring. To fight back, they used passive resistance instead, however Dubcek was under arrest and the whole country was under occupation.
Nevertheless, Dubcek was popular, the Soviet forces couldn’t just get rid of him and they couldn’t find anyone to replace him, therefore he was allowed to stay in power, but with restrictions. In essence, he was really controlled heavily by the Soviet powers and in 1969, he was demoted and in 1970, he was expelled from the party. The Brezhnev Doctrine was put in place, making it clear that any country that tried to follow the Czechoslovakians or anyone who tried to go to Capitalism would be stopped via action. This method was extremely effective. It provided a sold example to other countries, a crystal clear message, try this and you will be dealt with.
In conclusion, in the early 1950’s political soviet control over the Eastern countries was highly effective. Their methods ensured that they took a firm control over matters. However this was when Stalin was in control. When he died and Khrushchev and others came to power, they faced problems, opposition seemingly showing that their grip was loosening. Even when Stalin was gone, Khrushchev and Brezhnev used his methods of control to keep order.
Any challenges were quashed. Even though reforms were tried, they were taken care of and hard-line communists resumed power. In my opinion, at the beginning, Soviet Political control over the countries was highly effective, they utilised their tools well. However, as Stalin died, political control loosened; there were riots and demonstrations against leaders, showing opposition, meaning control were not perfect. Therefore instead of political methods used to control, military methods were used instead, which were more successful.
For that reason political methods of control were extremely successful at the start, however military methods later on overtook political methods; however this is not to take that political methods of control were not effective as they were.