Czechoslovakia: The Velvet Revolution and Beyond

By Robin H. E. Shepherd | Go to book overview
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2
The Communists Take Power

Primed by the experience of two world wars in less than three decades and the economic depression of the 1930s, the post-Second World War consciousness of Europe was ready for change. The left was particularly well placed to take advantage. The Soviet Union had endured huge sacrifices in defeating the Nazis and this, combined with the leading role played by communists in the resistance movements, appeared to give radical groups the moral right to a certain respect. The fact that the Nazi-Soviet non-aggression treaty 1 in August 1939 had led directly to Hitler's invasion of Poland the event which triggered the war itself had been lost amid the mass of upheavals which followed. In any case, the mainstream European left had done such a comprehensive job of white-washing Stalin's monstrous crimes that the masses were largely ignorant of what communism in practice meant.

The decisive event leading up to the communist assumption of power in Czechoslovakia in 1948 was the general election which took place two years before. In the country as a whole the communists emerged as clear winners, though significantly they were beaten into a poor second place in Slovakia, leading some Slovak nationalists to complain later that, uniquely in Europe, their country had had communism imposed on it from the west.

The presence of a large industrial base, especially in the Czech lands, provided fertile ground for communist propaganda whose effective circulation was facilitated by the relatively liberal political conditions prevailing in the First Republic. As a legal political party the Communist Party had had time to establish a presence and agitate

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