Monopoly of Power
“So after Czechoslovakia was liberated by the glorious Soviet Army, we nationalized the banking industry, as well as the heavy and big industry, we expelled the Germans, and the land, banks and factories which they had previously owned were given not to the Czech and Slovak upper class, but to the Czech and Slovak farmers, workers and traders, to the nation; we did away with the police bureaucratic system and established national committees, thus making the public administration more of the people; we did not allow the reactionary political parties that existed before Munich to be established again, as they were direct instruments of the Czech and Slovak high bourgeoisie; we established a National Front government, which was to be an executive body of unions of workers, farmers, traders and the intelligentsia. This really moved the previously governing class away from political power and targeted the most sensitive spot, its property. And the new people’s democratic republic began to think of its people as the source of all power.”
Address delivered by Klement Gottwald, Prime Minister, at a meeting of the Constituent National Assembly, 10 March 1948
Even though the Constitution of the First Republic was formally in force after the end of the Second World War, all political parties in Czechoslovakia agreed that the political system had changed substantially. And so had the composition of the population with regard to nationality. The vast majority of the German speaking inhabitants had been resettled. Nationalization was one of the key points on the programme of political parties, although the individual parties differed in its extent. The number of authorized political parties in both the Czech and the Slovak part of the country had been limited in a significant way. Especially right-wing parties active in the 1920s and 1930s had been eliminated. The National Front of Czechs and Slovaks had become the main political organization, as was also the case in other sovietized countries. The Front united not only the authorized political parties, but also trade unions, as well as youth and leisure organizations.
In the course of time, the Communist Party was gaining a dominant position in comparison with other parties and organizations of the National Front.
In 1946, the Communist Party confirmed its leading position in the parliamentary elections even though it did not win the absolute majority, and even lost in Slovakia.After the government crisis at the beginning of 1948, the Party mounted a coup to gain a monopoly of power in the whole country. According to the official results of the parliamentary elections held on 30 May 1948, candidates of the “revived” National Front won an absolute majority both in the Czech and the Slovak part of the country. In fact, these elections had been completely rigged. Over time, the role of the Parliament was reduced to a minimum; its sessions were held twice a year and lasted for a day or two only. The power centre was transferred to the headquarters of the Communist Party.
The assumption of power was related to purges in the public administration, military, and at universities. Tens of thousands of people emigrated after February 1948. Thousands of others were either sent to prison for many years or sentenced to forced labour. From 1948 to 1960, 242 people were sentenced to death, and executed, in political trials. In the end, the purges also affected the Communist Party itself. Rudolf Slánský, the Secretary General of the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia, was executed as well. Monastic orders were expunged in 1950 as a part of anti-religion fights. Hundreds of magazines and newspapers were banned. Hundreds of unwanted authors were eliminated from public libraries. The social structure of life in the country changed completely as a result of forced collectivization. Private enterprise in Czechoslovakia was gradually almost eradicated.
Only in the mid 1950s did the political situation gradually ease to some extent. The change was signalled by the deaths of Joseph Vissarionovich Stalin and Klement Gottwald in the spring of 1953. The same year saw the biggest public anti-regime protests, which followed the announcement of the currency reform. The 20th Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union in 1956, at which Nikita Sergeyevich Khrushchev, the highest representative of the Soviet Union, condemned Stalin’s politics of dictatorship, was a major breakthrough. A traditional student celebration held on 20 May 1956 in Prague and in other Czechoslovak towns and cities over the following days was proof of the change. Foreign observers thought the student celebration would be the first opportunity for the so-far silent public to express their views. Hundreds of thousands of people took part in the festive parade in Prague. The slogans criticized the politicians, the organizations, and the censorship. After the revolution in Hungary was smashed, the period of relative easing also came to end in Czechoslovakia.