The communist domination of eastern Europe was not accomplished overnight. The commissars did not simply move in as soon as the Gauleiters had packed their bags and left; the takeovers were complex processes varying in form and timing from country to country. In a classic examination of these processes Hugh Seton Watson discerned three stages: a general coalition of left-wing, anti-fascist forces; a bogus coalition in which the communists neutralised those in other parties who were not willing to accept communist supremacy; and finally, complete communist domination, frequently exercised in a new party formed by the fusion of communist and other leftist groups. During the first and second stages the communists established enormous influence through social organisations under their control, such as trade unions, women’s and youth associations, professional bodies, and Soviet friendship societies, all of which were usually grouped in a ‘national’ or ‘popular’ front which was directed by the communists or their lackeys. As one young communist was told in eastern Germany: ‘Its got to look democratic, but we must have everything in our control.’ 1
At the same time Soviet influence grew. Soviet advisors were placed in government institutions, especially the army and the police, whilst newly negotiated trade agreements gave the USSR a preponderant influence in the local economy. In the defeated states joint Soviet and local concerns, the so-called joint stock companies, were established through which Soviet officials could exercise direct control over important sectors of the economy.
Historians will no doubt debate for generations whether there was a cold war because of the communist takeovers or whether there were communist takeovers because of the cold war; what they will not dispute is that the takeovers and the cold war were inextricably interwoven. Eastern Europe had been acknowledged as the Red Army’s responsibility in the Tehran talks of December 1943, and this became clear to the world in June 1944 when the western allies landed in Normandy rather than in the Balkans. In October 1944 in the infamous ‘percentage agreements’, Churchill, in seemingly cavalier fashion, handed