De-Stalinization, 1953–1956

  • Thomas W. SimonsJr.


We have seen how the overall East-West dynamic and similar internal dynamics in each country flowed together toward Stalinism, but there was one other dynamic that contributed to the making of the Stalinist system in Eastern Europe and that became even more important when Stalin’s death in March 1953 removed the system’s linchpin. This was the dynamic of relations among parties and countries within the system, and it centered in these first years on Yugoslavia.


German Democratic Republic East European Country North Atlantic Treaty Organization National Issue Soviet Leadership 
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  1. 1.
    There is of course an enormous literature on the Tito-Stalin split. Leszek Kołakowski’s Main Currents of Marxism, Vol. 3: The Breakdowm (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1978), 474–478, is a good summary of its significance for the Communist world as a whole, but the locus classicus is still Adam Ulam’s older Titoism and the Cominform (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1952).Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    Jiří Pelikán, ed., The Czechoslovak Political Trials 1950–1954 (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1971), 69–139.Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    For a useful account of the “Third Force” option and its demise in West European politics, see Wilfried Loth, The Division of the World, 1941–1955 (New York: St. Martin’s, 1988), 176ff.Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    For the “lost opportunity” thesis and how it thenceforth became a staple in West German politics, see William Hyland, The Cold War Is Over (New York: Times Books, 1990), 57ff., and the citations to West German scholarly literature on the topic in Norman Naimark, “Soviet-GDR Relations: An Historical Overview” (Cologne: Bundesinstitut für ostwissenschafliche und internationale Studien, Bericht 52–1989, mimeo).Google Scholar
  5. For readers of German, there are more recent considerations in Michael Lemke, “Chance oder Risiko? Die Stalin-Note vom 10. Marz 1952 im aussenpolitischen Konzept der Bundesregierung,” Zeitschrift fur Geschichtswissenschaft, 2 (1991), 115–129,Google Scholar
  6. and Gerhard Wettig, “Die Stalin-Note vom 10. Marz 1952 als geschichtswissenschaftliches Problem,” Deutschland Archiv, 2 (February 1992), 157–167.Google Scholar
  7. 5.
    The best work available in English is still Arnulf Baring, Uprising in East Germany: June 17, 1953 (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1972);Google Scholar
  8. for a more recent recapitulation, see Victor Baras, “Beria’s Fall and Ulbricht’s Survival,” Soviet Studies, 27, no. 3 (July 1975): 381–395.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. On the Soviet approach to reunification after Stalin’s death, readers of German should now consult Gerhard Wettig, “Sowjetische Wiedervereinigungs-bemühungen im ausgehenden Früjahr 1953?,” Deutschland Archiv, 9 (September 1992), 943–958.Google Scholar
  10. Newly published Soviet archives show that plotting to let the GDR pass under Western control was in fact one of several charges levelled against Beria in the Central Committee: see “New Evidence on Beria’s Downfall,” Cold War International History Project Bulletin (Washington, D.C.: Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars), no. 1 (Spring 1992), 16, 27.Google Scholar
  11. 7.
    Zbigniew Brzezinski, The Soviet Bloc: Unity and Conflict, rev. ed. (New York: Praeger, 1961), 221.Google Scholar
  12. For a convenient recent summary of the post-Stalin Soviet approach to Eastern Europe, see Michael Shafir, “Eastern Europe,” in Martin McCauley, ed., Khrushchev and Khrushchevism (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1987), 156–179.Google Scholar
  13. 7.
    Zbigniew Brzezinski, The Soviet Bloc: Unity and Conflict, rev. ed. (New York: Praeger, 1961), 221.Google Scholar
  14. For a convenient recent summary of the post-Stalin Soviet approach to Eastern Europe, see Michael Shafir, “Eastern Europe,” in Martin McCauley, ed., Khrushchev and Khrushchevism (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1987), 156–179.Google Scholar
  15. 8.
    The classic work is still Michel Tatu, Power in the Kremlin from Khrushchev to Kosygin (New York: Viking, 1968);Google Scholar
  16. for the period after 1957, Carl A. Linden, Khrushchev and the Soviet Leadership 1957–1964 (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1966), is also useful.Google Scholar
  17. 9.
    For a good recent summary of the reconciliation process, see Robert F. Miller, “Khrushchev and Tito,” in R.F. Miller and F. Fehér, ed., Khrushchev and the Communist World (Totowa, N.J.: Barnes & Noble, 1984), 189–209.Google Scholar
  18. 11.
    On the Zambrowski episode, see Flora Lewis, A Case History of Hope (New York: Doubleday, 1958), 105–106;Google Scholar
  19. on Rákosi, see Gati, “Moscow and Imre Nagy,” in Hungary and the Soviet Bloc (Durham: Duke University Press, 1986), 131, with citations to the Hungarian sources.Google Scholar
  20. 12.
    On the New Course in Bulgaria, see J.F. Brown, Bulgaria Under Communist Rule (New York: Praeger, 1970), 22–82.Google Scholar
  21. The 1953 figure for Romania is taken from John Michael Montias, Economic Development in Communist Rumania (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1967), 27; that work remains the classic analysis of its subject.Google Scholar
  22. On the political process in Romania, see Ghita Ionescu, Communism in Romania 1944–1962 (London: Oxford University Press, 1964),Google Scholar
  23. and “Transformation and Consolidation under Dej,” with citations to the recent literature, in Michael Shafir, Romania. Politics, Economics and Society. Political Stagnation and Simulated Change (Boulder: Lynne Rienner, 1985), 41–46.Google Scholar
  24. 14.
    That the intelligentsia was the linchpin of development is clear from both Lewis, Case History of Hope (for Poland) and Bill Lomax, Hungary 1956 (New York: St. Martin’s, 1976), despite Lomax’s effort to ascribe that role to the working class.Google Scholar
  25. for a later counterpoint, see Jadwiga Staniszkis, “October 1956 as Ritual Drama: Case Study of Artificial Negativity,” in her Poland’s Self-Limiting Revolution (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1984), 278–281.Google Scholar
  26. Much new material on Gomułka and the politics of the time is appearing in Poland itself, but the standard English-language biography is still Nicholas Bethell, Gomułka: His Poland and his Communism (1969; London: Penguin/Pelican, 1972).Google Scholar
  27. 18.
    The text is given in Paul E. Zinner, ed., National Communism and Popular Revolt in Eastern Europe (New York: Columbia University Press, 1956), 485–492.Google Scholar
  28. On the Soviet decision to intervene the second time, see Michael G. Fry and Condoleeza Rice, “The Hungarian Crisis of 1956: The Soviet Decision,” Studies in Comparative Communism, 16, nos. 1 & 2 (Spring/Summer 1983): 85–98.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. For some (bitterly anti-Kádárist) Hungarian reconsideration, see Ferenc Fehér and Agnes Heller, Hungary 1956 Revisited (London: Allen & Unwin, 1983).Google Scholar
  30. 19.
    Lomax is eloquent on these developments, though he still fails to convince (me) that they signified working-class domination of the revolution: Hungary 1956, 146ff. Analysis of new material now emerging suggests that the Budapest fighters were “mostly young, unskilled workers, and, in some cases, students, soldiers and army officers,” and that for all of them political motivation was “weakly defined”: see Csaba Békés, “New Findings on the 1956 Hungarian Revolution,” Cold War International History Project Bulletin (Washington, D.C.: Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars), Issue 2 (Fall 1992), 1, 2–3.Google Scholar
  31. This piece is disappointingly without documentation but promises it will appear in the 1992 Yearbook of the Institute for the History of the 1956 Revolution in Budapest. For a journalistic foretaste of what researchers from this project may turn up in Soviet archives on issues ranging across our whole period, see John-Thor Dahlberg and Cindy Scharf, “Sifting for Soviet Clues to the Cold War’s History,” Los Angeles Times, 25 January 1993.Google Scholar
  32. 20.
    The Soviet official history of 1956 continued to stress the few lynchings of Communists as if they were the whole revolution, and the high-security residential complex of the East German leadership that was discovered and dismantled in November 1989 amid general indignation had been set up in November 1956, after Budapest: Gati, Hungary and the Soviet Bloc, 152, and David Binder, “Where East Berlin’s Elite Lived It Up,” in Bernard Gwertzman and Michael T. Kaufman, eds., The Collapse of Communism (New York: Times Books, 1990), 260–262. Memories were also long and green (or red) within the leadership: a former senior Polish official who was there told me that when the next steps in Poland were under discussion in Moscow in December, 1981 (a week before Polish martial law was declared), the Soviet hosts ran films of 1956 Budapest lynchings for their Polish comrades.Google Scholar
  33. 21.
    See Timothy Garton Ash, The Polish Revolution: Solidarity (New York: Scribner’s, 1983), 9–11, on the long-term significance of this neutralization. In Hungary, new documentation puts the movement at 2,100 workers’ councils with 28,000 members throughout the country: see Békés, “New Findings on the 1956 Hungarian Revolution,” 2. By contrast, the demands of the East German workers in June 1953 were more direct and also more political: reduction in work norms, but also free and secret elections, the release of political prisoners, the removal of Ulbricht and the like: Baring, Uprising in East Germany, 68–78.Google Scholar
  34. 22.
    On the development of a distinctively Yugoslav version of communism, I have found the following works useful: M. George Zaninovich, “The Yugoslav Variation on Marx,” in Wayne S. Vucinich, ed., Contemporary Yugoslavia. Twenty Years of Socialist Experiment (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1969), 285–315;Google Scholar
  35. A. Ross Johnson, The Transformation of Communist Ideology: The Yugoslav Case, 1948–1953 (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1972);Google Scholar
  36. and Eric R. Terzuolo, “Soviet-Yugoslav Conflict and the Origins of Yugoslavia’s Self-Management System,” in Wayne S. Vucinich, ed., At the Brink of War and Peace: The Tito-Stalin Split in a Historic Perspective (New York: Columbia University Press, 1982), 195–218.Google Scholar

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© Thomas W. Simons, Jr. 1993

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