1939: The Balance Sheet: Paradoxes and Imponderables -- Part 20
The postwar equivalent of being charged with Trotskyism was being charged with Titoism.
From 1949 until Stalin's death, arrests and show trials were common in eastern Europe.
In the early postwar period, Communists enjoyed popular support in the country of Czechoslovakia.
The leader of the Communist Party was arrested along with thirteen other people and charged with a range of crimes.
A full year after the show trial, Slansky confessed and asked to be given the death penalty.
He was put to death five days after the verdict was handed down.
There is little question that Stalin is responsible for the power struggles within the Communist parties.
Stalin's personal role in the history of the Soviet Union since the mid-1920s is related to that point.
The trials were abandoned after Stalin was laid to rest.
After Stalin's death, his lieutenants jockeyed for position.
It was obvious that they couldn't rule like Stalin, but there was uncertainty about what the alternatives would be.
There was no heir apparent.
Stalin's vigilance in assuring that no one came close to rivaling him reflected the general mediocrity of those lieutenants.
Stalin's death opened the way for a new era for many people who were hoping for the Soviet Union to be the Homeland of the Revolution.
Some people were concerned about the possibility of chaos and civil war.
The "Soviet experiment" had been an abysmal failure.
The leader of the secret police, Lavrenti Beria, was arrested in June of 1953.
Stalin once referred to him as "our Himmler," and Beria's secret police was very brutal.
In June, Beria was charged with having been a spy for the West for the past thirty years, as well as planning to restore capitalism to the Soviet Union.
He was executed in December after being found guilty in a rigged court hearing.
The charges against him and his immediate execution were reminiscent of the methods of the 1930s and suggested the extent to which Stalinist habits remained among those who would soon be proclaiming their desire to de-Stalinize Soviet Russia.
Stalin's lieutenants spoke of the need for "collective leadership" and "socialist legal ity."
Nikita Khrushchev was the most colorful of Stalin's lieutenants.
He retained a belief in Communism's superiority to capitalism, even though it had been freed of Stalinist excesses.
The full extent of Khrushchev's break with Stalinism was laid out in a four-hour speech at a congress of the twentieth party.
Stalin's rule was described in surprisingly frank detail by Khrushchev.
He shocked some of his audience, but his speech was often interrupted by applause.
In his speech, Khrushchev admitted that he too had been "infected" by Stalinism, and that virtually all Soviet leaders had been implicated in Stalin's crimes.
The speech was a remarkably bold gamble.
Khrushchev restricted his denunciations to Stalin's per sonality, not to Communism as a ruling system.
He described the collectivization of agriculture and the five-year plans as necessary to preserve the revolution, while Stalin's purges were not.
The victory of Communism could come without war between nations, if Khrushchev had accepted the possibility of "peaceful coexistence" with the capitalist powers.
The conclusion was influenced by Khrushchev's experiences in war and his understanding of how much the Soviet people wanted peace.
Khrushchev acknowledged in his speech that the path to Communism could be different from the Soviet model, which helped to reduce tensions with Tito, and that the charges against the "national deviationists" in eastern Europe were unwarranted.
The concept of acceptably different paths was still vaguely defined, and for a Soviet leader to admit that the Soviet Union had given disastrously poor leadership in the past opened a Pandora's box, leading to a series of dramatic crises for the rest of the year.
Some of the points made in Khrushchev's speech touched upon the long standing ambiguities of the theory.
The exaggerated elitism allowed Communists to feel justified in resorting to violence to maintain their rule.
The assumption that a majority of the common people supported social revolution was a stubborn element of the revolutionary mystique.
By the early 1950s, that concept was even more questionable in many eastern European countries.
Communist leaders would need to pay more attention to gaining popularity as a result of Khrushchev's move away from using Stalinist terror as a ruling device.
He took a number of steps to achieve greater popular support in the Soviet Union, such as emphasizing consumer-goods production, freeing political prisoners, and starting a more peaceful foreign policy.
In the Soviet Union and eastern Europe, how these initiatives would play out remained uncertain.
What some were hoping for was for revolutionary socialism to move beyond the confines of Marxism with a human face, most famously represented in the past by Rosa Luxemburg.
Many of Khrushchev's ideas were patently exploratory.
The repressive methods under Khrushchev and his successors were not as violent as those under Stalin.