Third Republic and the Communist Takeover
During World War II, Czechoslovakia disappeared from the map
of Europe. The re-emergence of Czechoslovakia as a sovereign
state was not only the result of Allied policies but also an
indication of the strength of the Czechoslovak idea, particularly
as embodied in the First Republic. But Czechoslovakia now found
itself within the Soviet sphere of influence--a fact that had to
be taken into account in any postwar reconstruction. Thus the
political and economic organization of postwar Czechoslovakia was
largely the result of negotiations between Benes and KSC exiles
The Third Republic came into being in April 1945. Its
government, installed at Kosice on April 4 and moved to Prague in
May, was a National Front coalition in which three socialist
parties--KSC, Czechoslovak Social democratic Party, and
Czechoslovak National Socialist Party--predominated. The Slovak
Populist 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. 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 KSC to avoid a postwar coup;
he anticipated 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. KSC leader Klement
Gottwald, however, professed commitment to a "gradualist"
approach, that is, to a KSC assumption of power by democratic
The popular enthusiasm evoked by the Soviet armies of
liberation benefited the KSC. Czechoslovaks, bitterly
disappointed by the West at Munich, responded favorably to both
the KSC and the Soviet alliance. Communists secured strong
representation in the popularly elected national committees, the
new organs of local administration. The KSC 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, as well as the proletariat. Between May
1945 and May 1946, KSC membership grew from 27,000 to over 1.1
In the May 1946 election, the KSC won a plurality of 38
percent of the vote. Benes continued as president of the
republic, and Jan Masaryk, 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 KSC continued to
proclaim its "national" and "democratic" orientation. The turning
point came in the summer of 1947. In July the Czechoslovak
government, with KSC 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 KSC reversed its
decision. In subsequent months, the party demonstrated a
significant radicalization of its tactics.
The KSC raised the specter of an impending
counterrevolutionary coup as a pretext for intensified activity.
Originally announced by Gottwald at the KSC Central Committee
meeting in November 1947, news of the "reactionary plot" was
disseminated throughout the country by communist agents
provocateurs and 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 KSC began agitating for
increased nationalization and for a new land reform limiting
landholdings to fifty hectares.
A cabinet crisis precipitated the February coup Czechoslovak.
National Socialist ministers, backed by all noncommunist parties,
demanded a halt to the communists' blatant use of the Ministry of
Interior's police and security forces to suppress noncommunists.
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 Benes to call for early elections: Communist losses were
anticipated owing to popular disapproval of recent KSC tactics. A
January poll indicated a 10-percent decline in communist
electoral support. The Czechoslovak National Socialists made
their move, however, without adequate coordination with Benes.
The democratic parties, in addition, made no effort to rally
Benes refused to accept the cabinet resignations and 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 KSC garnered its forces. The communistcontrolled Ministry of Interior deployed police regiments to
sensitive areas and equipped a workers' militia. The
communist-controlled Ministry of Information refused broadcasting
time to noncommunist officials. Ministries held by democratic
parties were "secured" by communist "action committees." The
action committees also purged all governmental and political
party organs of unreliable elements.
On February 25, Benes, 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.
Data as of August 1987