Show Trials: Stalinist Purges in Eastern Europe, 1948-1954

By George H. Hodos | Go to book overview
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Present history is the consequence of the past, but only one of its possible consequences. Stalinism did not develop inevitably from Leninism; the course of the Bolshevik revolution left open other alternatives, and should the course indicated by Bukharin have prevailed, Soviet socialism would have taken a very different turn. 1

The cautious, uneasy process of de- Stalinization and the revision of the show trials dictated by Khrushchev left the satellite countries with several alternative courses of action. Their situations following the death of Stalin differed in many ways from that of the Soviet Union. Stalin may have died, but his lieutenants in the satellite states were still alive and in power. In the months after his death, they all tried to follow the course set by Moscow as far as it seemed safe to do so, but soon their paths parted. Poland, Hungary, and Czechoslovakia tried to transform the half-hearted disengagement from Stalinism into a radical break with the past in an attempt to create a humanistic, liberal socialism. Romania, Bulgaria, and East Germany, on the other hand, beat a hasty retreat and erased their own vicious legacy by denying and repressing it.

In all of the satellite countries, pressured by Khrushchev, the fabricated trials, the terror verdicts had to be revised by the very same Stalinists who produced them. This basic contradiction characterized the process of revision and had to lead, sooner or later, to either a violent or a subtle new oppression. All of the satellite leaders were forced to declare the verdicts of the show trials null and void, to exonerate their murdered victims, and to rehabilitate the survivors. The first move was made by Hungary in the summer and fall of 1954, but the shock waves produced by the revelations were so great that the frightened colleagues of Rákosi soon felt the need to pull back. The genie, however, once released, could not be placed back in the bottle. In April 1956, a hushed-up process of rehabilitation took place in Bulgaria, East Germany followed in July, and in August it was the turn of Poland. The popular revolutions in October 1956 in Poland and in Hungary disrupted the process temporarily and only many years later did the murderers, pressured by internal and external forces, continue their balancing act of, at one and the same time, admitting their crimes and attempting to conceal them. In September 1965 Romania surreptitiously rehabilitated its victims, while


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