Lecture 21- Behind the Iron Curtain
− The evolution of the Eastern bloc from WWII to 1968 and the Prague Spring
How it was created
− Most of Eastern Europe are satellite states
− WW II means that in many places Nazi occupation was replaced with Soviet occupation
− This was imperialism at its highest form
− W. Allies could do nothing to intervene except offer economic aid through the Marshall
− Militarily the zones were occupied by the Red Army and by 1948 they were virtually
− USSR engineered communist takeovers through violence or electoral fraud.
Why it was created
− The reason for the crackdown was due to the Marshall Plan, which attracted countries
like Czechoslovakia and Hungary. – the promise of open economic ties was a threat to
− Stalin loved his grip on “friendly states” that acted as buffers and ensured the division as
a model of how the world should be.
− Resulted in new political regimes often called “Peoples’ democracies.”
o Democratic on paper but run in Moscow by the single party states who were
helped by secret police and local communist parties
− To establish the bloc, Stalin led purges of leaders who were deported, executed or put on
show trials and replaced by Stalinist leaders.
− Then, he geared their economies for economic reconstruction of the USSR
o Put new 5 year plans into effect
o Collectivized and state controlled production and distribution of goods
o Capital raised went to Soviet Union for their industry
o All a model of forced contributions to the USSR
o Created long term agrarian poverty despite a period of initial industrial growth in
the 1950’s, which was impressive, but not considering they started from nothing.
− Passive resistance to the forced contributions
o Peasants and workers often did not cooperate
o Less productivity
o Wages cut
o Low consumption − Life was pretty bad, there was no intellectual freedom, chronic shortages and existence
under a police state
In 1953 Stalin dies of a stroke, but the system carries on with unrest and a few modifications
 Why did the USSR “de-Stalinize” after Stalin’s death in 1953?
− In 1953 Stalin was replaced by Nikita Khrushchev who was from a more moderate part
of the party
o Planned to announce a more moderate political line
o Initially he favoured more consumer goods and peaceful co-existence, and a
relaxation of the 5 year plans to keep resentment at bay.
− By 1953 there was significant unrest in Eastern Germany especially
− In 1956 in light of the resentment towards Stalinist policies, Khrushchev denounces
Stalin’s tenure as a criminal regime
o He did this on the basis that Stalin had deviated from the pure path of Lenin and
that they needed to be removed so that they could become a more ideological
o This was ironic because Khrushchev had participated in the great purges
o The “secret” speech began the process of “the thaw.”
Why and how did he denounce Stalin?
• They stopped purges and shut down gulags, as well as reformed the courts
• Also symbolic changes – Stalin’s body is taken away from Lenin’s, and statues are
removed. Stalingrad is also re-named
• To establish a new beginning
• Idea that less arbitrary rule was necessary to improve the economic performance and
reputation in the satellite states
• Khrushchev believed that internal life needed to thaw because there was a new generation
of engineers and professionals who wanted more access to goods and jobs.
• The thaw only went so far – once in power, Khrushchev became extremely unpredictable
and confrontational with the west and within the communist world.
• Very excitable because economic expansion was up 6% and material abundance seemed
more likely. – relaxation seemed to be working.
o Aerospace development (Sputnik)
o Everything seemed modern and fresh
The success seemed to make him more aggressive • The Berlin Wall built in 1961 when he failed to unite Germany
• Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962 when the US failed to overthrow Castro. Khrushchev
responded by coming to Cuba’s aid. Missiles sent to Cuba. Khrushchev backs down
because the reality of nuclear war was unthinkable.
In the East
• Promised the E. Bloc that they would back down on the 5 year plans and allow “national
communism.” In response...
o Polish workers demonstrate.
− They want their own road to communism
− Believed that the Soviet model was not working – they were agrarian and
− Wanted to remain in the system, but for the Soviets to respond to their
o Hungary’s uprising 1956
− This one was not resolved peacefully, but led to insurrection
− Steel workers want better conditions, and were supported by the students
− The cause was to show support for Polish strikers but it went further
− Flags were pulled down, statues demolished, soviet troops withdraw and
communist leader Imre Nagy announces that they will pull out of Warsw
− November 1956 troops sent to repress uprising. Many die, 30,000 flee
(many to Canada)
− Communist rule i