Czechoslovakia: 1945-1948
During World War II
World War II
World War II, or the Second World War , was a global conflict lasting from 1939 to 1945, involving most of the world's nations—including all of the great powers—eventually forming two opposing military alliances: the Allies and the Axis...

, Czechoslovakia
Czechoslovakia or Czecho-Slovakia was a sovereign state in Central Europe which existed from October 1918, when it declared its independence from the Austro-Hungarian Empire, until 1992...

 disappeared from the map of Europe
Europe is, by convention, one of the world's seven continents. Comprising the westernmost peninsula of Eurasia, Europe is generally 'divided' from Asia to its east by the watershed divides of the Ural and Caucasus Mountains, the Ural River, the Caspian and Black Seas, and the waterways connecting...

. The re-emergence of Czechoslovakia as a sovereign state
Sovereign state
A sovereign state, or simply, state, is a state with a defined territory on which it exercises internal and external sovereignty, a permanent population, a government, and the capacity to enter into relations with other sovereign states. It is also normally understood to be a state which is neither...

 was not only the result of the policies of the victorious Western allies, France, Britain, and the United States, but also an indication of the strength of the Czechoslovak ideal embodied in the First Czechoslovak Republic. However, at the conclusion of World War II, Czechoslovakia fell within the Soviet sphere of influence, and this circumstance dominated any plans or strategies for postwar reconstruction. Consequently, the political and economic organization of Czechoslovakia became largely a matter of negotiations between Edvard Beneš
Edvard Beneš
Edvard Beneš was a leader of the Czechoslovak independence movement, Minister of Foreign Affairs and the second President of Czechoslovakia. He was known to be a skilled diplomat.- Youth :...

 and Communist Party of Czechoslovakia
Communist Party of Czechoslovakia
The Communist Party of Czechoslovakia, in Czech and in Slovak: Komunistická strana Československa was a Communist and Marxist-Leninist political party in Czechoslovakia that existed between 1921 and 1992....

 (KSČ) exiles living in Moscow
Moscow is the capital, the most populous city, and the most populous federal subject of Russia. The city is a major political, economic, cultural, scientific, religious, financial, educational, and transportation centre of Russia and the continent...



The so-called Third Republic (1945-1948), came into being in April 1945. Its government, installed at Košice
Košice is a city in eastern Slovakia. It is situated on the river Hornád at the eastern reaches of the Slovak Ore Mountains, near the border with Hungary...

 on April 4 and moved to Prague
Prague is the capital and largest city of the Czech Republic. Situated in the north-west of the country on the Vltava river, the city is home to about 1.3 million people, while its metropolitan area is estimated to have a population of over 2.3 million...

 in May, was a National Front coalition in which three socialist parties--KSČ, Czechoslovak Social democratic Party, and Czech National Social Party
Czech National Social Party
Czech National Social Party was a civic nationalist political party established in 1898 within the Young Czech Party as a nominally socialist group with a stress on achieving Czech independence from Austria–Hungary Czech National Social Party (Czech: Česká strana národně sociální) was a civic...

--predominated. The Slovak Popular Party was banned as collaborationist with the Nazis. Other conservative yet democratic parties, such as the Republican Party of Farmers and Peasants, were prevented from resuming activities in the postwar period. Certain acceptable nonsocialist parties were included in the coalition; among them were the Catholic People's Party (in Moravia) and the Slovak Democratic Party. According to presidential decrees
Beneš decrees
Decrees of the President of the Republic , more commonly known as the Beneš decrees, were a series of laws that were drafted by the Czechoslovak Government-in-Exile in the absence of the Czechoslovak parliament during the German occupation of Czechoslovakia in World War II and issued by President...

 all property belonging to Nazi collaborators was confiscated without compensation. Their land was distributed among the peasants, and their industries--amounting to 16.4 percent of all Czechoslovak industry, employing 61.2 percent of the industrial labor force--were nationalized.

Benes had compromised with the KSČ to avoid a postwar coup; he naively hoped that the democratic process would restore a more equitable distribution of power. Benes had negotiated the Soviet alliance, but at the same time he hoped to establish Czechoslovakia as a "bridge" between East and West, capable of maintaining contacts with both sides. KSČ leader Klement Gottwald
Klement Gottwald
Klement Gottwald was a Czechoslovakian Communist politician, longtime leader of the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia , prime minister and president of Czechoslovakia.-Early life:...

, however, professed commitment to a "gradualist" approach, that is, to a KSČ assumption of power by democratic means.

The popular enthusiasm evoked by the Soviet armies of liberation benefited the KSČ. Czechoslovaks, bitterly disappointed by the West at the Munich Agreement
Munich Agreement
The Munich Pact was an agreement permitting the Nazi German annexation of Czechoslovakia's Sudetenland. The Sudetenland were areas along Czech borders, mainly inhabited by ethnic Germans. The agreement was negotiated at a conference held in Munich, Germany, among the major powers of Europe without...

, responded favorably to both the KSČ and the Soviet alliance. Communists secured strong representation in the popularly elected national committees, the new organs of local administration. The KSČ organized and centralized the trade union movement; of 120 representatives to the Central Council of Trade Unions, 94 were communists. The party worked to acquire a mass membership, including peasants and the petite bourgeoisie
Petite bourgeoisie
Petit-bourgeois or petty bourgeois is a term that originally referred to the members of the lower middle social classes in the 18th and early 19th centuries...

, as well as the proletariat. Between May 1945 and May 1946, KSČ membership grew from 27,000 to over 1.1 million.


In the May 1946 election
Czechoslovak parliamentary election, 1946
Parliamentary elections were held in Czechoslovakia on 26 May 1946. The result was a victory for the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia, which won 93 of the 300 seats. Voter turnout was 93.9%.-Background:...

, the KSČ won in the Czech part of the country (40.17%), and the anti-Communist Democratic Party won in Slovakia (62%). In sum, however, the KSČ won a plurality of 38 percent of the vote at the Czechoslovak level. Beneš continued as president of the republic, and Jan Masaryk
Jan Masaryk
Jan Garrigue Masaryk was a Czech diplomat and politician and Foreign Minister of Czechoslovakia from 1940 to 1948.- Early life :...

, son of the revered founding father, continued as foreign minister. Gottwald became prime minister. Most important, although the communists held only a minority of portfolios, they were able to gain control over such key ministries as information, internal trade, finance, and interior (including the police apparatus). Through these ministries, the communists were able to suppress noncommunist opposition, place party members in positions of power, and create a solid basis for a takeover attempt.


The year that followed was uneventful. The KSČ continued to proclaim its national and democratic orientation. The turning point came in the summer of 1947. In July, the Czechoslovak government, with KSČ approval, accepted an Anglo-French invitation to attend preliminary discussions of the Marshall Plan. The Soviet Union responded immediately to the Czechoslovak move to continue the Western alliance: Stalin summoned Gottwald to Moscow.

Upon his return to Prague, the KSČ reversed its decision. In subsequent months, the party demonstrated a significant radicalization of its tactics. The KSČ argued that a reactionary coup was imminent, and that immediate action was necessary to prevent it. Through media and police means, they intensified their activity. Originally announced by Gottwald at the KSČ Central Committee meeting in November 1947, news of the "reactionary plot" was disseminated throughout the country by the communist press.


In January 1948, the communist-controlled Ministry of Interior proceeded to purge the Czechoslovak security forces, substituting communists for noncommunists. Simultaneously, the KSČ began agitating for increased nationalization and for a new land reform limiting landholdings to fifty hectares.

A cabinet crisis precipitated the February coup. Backed by all non-communist parties, the National Social ministers said that the communists were using the Ministry of Interior's police and security forces to suppress non-communists, and demanded a halt to this. Prime Minister Gottwald, however, repeatedly forestalled discussion of the police issue. On February 20, National Socialists resigned from the cabinet in protest. The Catholic People's Party and the Slovak Democratic Party followed suit.

The twelve noncommunist ministers resigned, in part, to induce Beneš to call for early elections: Communist losses were anticipated owing to popular disapproval of recent KSČ tactics. A January poll indicated a 10-percent decline in communist electoral support. Yet the Czechoslovak National Socialists made their move without adequate coordination with Beneš. The democratic parties, in addition, made no effort to rally popular support. What's more, Beneš refused to accept the cabinet resignations and ostensibly did not call for elections. In the days that followed, he shunned democratic ministers to avoid accusation of collusion. The Czechoslovak army remained neutral.

In the meantime, the KSČ garnered its forces. The communist-controlled Ministry of Interior deployed police regiments to sensitive areas and equipped a workers' militia
People's Militias (Czechoslovakia)
People's Militias was a militia organisation of Communist Party of Czechoslovakia during between 1948 and 1989.- History :...

. The communist-controlled Ministry of Information refused broadcasting time to noncommunist officials. Ministries held by noncommunist parties were secured by communist "action committees." The action committees also purged all governmental and political party organs of unreliable elements. On February 25, Beneš, perhaps fearing Soviet intervention, capitulated. He accepted the resignations of the dissident ministers and received a new cabinet list from Gottwald, thus completing the communist takeover.
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