Czechoslovak coup d'état of 1948
The Czechoslovak coup d'état of 1948 (often simply the Czech coup) – in Communist historiography
Historiography refers either to the study of the history and methodology of history as a discipline, or to a body of historical work on a specialized topic...

 known as "Victorious February" – was an event late that February in which the 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....

, with Soviet backing, assumed undisputed control over the government of 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...

, ushering in over four decades of dictatorship under its rule.

The coup’s significance extended well beyond the country’s boundaries, however, as it was a clear marker along the already well-advanced road to full-fledged Cold War
Cold War
The Cold War was the continuing state from roughly 1946 to 1991 of political conflict, military tension, proxy wars, and economic competition between the Communist World—primarily the Soviet Union and its satellite states and allies—and the powers of the Western world, primarily the United States...

. The shock with which the West greeted the event—which bore distinct echoes of Munich
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...

—helped spur quick adoption of the Marshall Plan
Marshall Plan
The Marshall Plan was the large-scale American program to aid Europe where the United States gave monetary support to help rebuild European economies after the end of World War II in order to combat the spread of Soviet communism. The plan was in operation for four years beginning in April 1948...

, the creation of a state in West Germany, vigorous measures to keep Communists out of power in France and especially Italy, and steps toward mutual security that would, in little over a year, result in the establishment of NATO and the definitive drawing of the Iron Curtain
Iron Curtain
The concept of the Iron Curtain symbolized the ideological fighting and physical boundary dividing Europe into two separate areas from the end of World War II in 1945 until the end of the Cold War in 1989...

 until the Autumn of Nations
Revolutions of 1989
The Revolutions of 1989 were the revolutions which overthrew the communist regimes in various Central and Eastern European countries.The events began in Poland in 1989, and continued in Hungary, East Germany, Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia and...

 in 1989.


In the aftermath of World War II, the 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) was in a favourable position. Its powerful influence on Czechoslovak politics since the 1920s, its clean wartime record and cooperation with non-Communist parties, its identification with the Soviet Union
Soviet Union
The Soviet Union , officially the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics , was a constitutionally socialist state that existed in Eurasia between 1922 and 1991....

, the country's liberator, and its determination to become the country's leading political force without alarming the West (a strategy followed too by Communist parties in Italy
Italy , officially the Italian Republic languages]] under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages. In each of these, Italy's official name is as follows:;;;;;;;;), is a unitary parliamentary republic in South-Central Europe. To the north it borders France, Switzerland, Austria and...

 and France) dovetailed with popular opposition to Nazi
Nazi Germany
Nazi Germany , also known as the Third Reich , but officially called German Reich from 1933 to 1943 and Greater German Reich from 26 June 1943 onward, is the name commonly used to refer to the state of Germany from 1933 to 1945, when it was a totalitarian dictatorship ruled by...

 rule, the longing for real change that followed it, and the new political realities of living within the Soviet orbit to produce a surge in membership from 40,000 in 1945 to 1.35 million in 1948. Nonetheless, party 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:...

 said in 1945 that "in spite of the favourable situation, the next goal is not soviets and socialism, but rather carrying out a really thorough democratic national revolution", thereby linking his party to the Czechoslovak democratic tradition (he even claimed to be a disciple of Tomáš Masaryk
Tomáš Masaryk
Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk , sometimes called Thomas Masaryk in English, was an Austro-Hungarian and Czechoslovak politician, sociologist and philosopher, who as an eager advocate of Czechoslovak independence during World War I became the founder and first President of Czechoslovakia, also was...

) and to Czech nationalism by capitalizing on popular intense anti-German feelings. During the early postwar period, working with the other parties in a coalition called the National Front
National Front (Czechoslovakia)
The National Front was the coalition of parties which headed the re-established Czechoslovakian government from 1945 to 1948. During the Communist era in Czechoslovakia it was the vehicle for control of all political and social activity by the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia...

, kept up the appearance of being willing to work within the system.

Thus, in the 1946 election, the KSČ won 38% of the vote, far more than the 22% won by Hungarian Communists the following year in the only other free and fair postwar election in the Soviet area of influence. President 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 :...

, not himself a Communist but very amenable to cooperation with the Soviets, and who hoped for restraint by the Allied powers, thus invited Gottwald to be prime minister. Although the government contained nine Communists and seventeen non-Communists, the KSČ had initial control over the police and armed forces, and came to dominate other key ministries such as those dealing with propaganda, education, social welfare and agriculture; they also soon dominated the civil service.

However, by the summer of 1947 the KSČ had alienated whole blocs of potential voters: the activities of the Ministry of Interior and police were acutely offensive to many citizens; farmers objected to talk of collectivisation
Collective farming
Collective farming and communal farming are types of agricultural production in which the holdings of several farmers are run as a joint enterprise...

, and some workers were angry at Communist demands that they increase output without being given higher wages. The general expectation was that the Communists would be soundly defeated in the May 1948 elections. That September, at the first Cominform
Founded in 1947, Cominform is the common name for what was officially referred to as the Information Bureau of the Communist and Workers' Parties...

 meeting, Andrei Zhdanov
Andrei Zhdanov
Andrei Alexandrovich Zhdanov was a Soviet politician.-Life:Zhdanov enlisted with the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party in 1915 and was promoted through the party ranks, becoming the All-Union Communist Party manager in Leningrad after the assassination of Sergei Kirov in 1934...

 observed that Soviet victory had helped achieve "the complete victory of the working class over the bourgeoisie in every East European land except Czechoslovakia, where the power contest still remains undecided." This clearly implied the KSČ should be accelerating its drive to total power, a notion reinforced during the Prague Spring
Prague Spring
The Prague Spring was a period of political liberalization in Czechoslovakia during the era of its domination by the Soviet Union after World War II...

, when party archives were opened and showed that Stalin gave up the whole idea of a parliamentary path for the Czechs and Slovaks when the Communist parties of France and Italy stumbled in 1947 and 1948.

The Czechoslovak representative at the meeting, Rudolf Slánský
Rudolf Slánský
Rudolf Slánský was a Czech Communist politician. Holding the post of the party's General Secretary after World War II, he was one of the leading creators and organizers of Communist rule in Czechoslovakia...

, returned 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...

 with a plan for the final seizure of power. Slánský remarked, "as in the international field, we have gone on the offensive on the domestic front as well."

The coup

During the winter of 1947–48, both in the cabinet and in parliament tension between the Communists and their opponents led to increasingly bitter conflict. In early February 1948, the Communist minister of the interior, Václav Nosek, illegally extended his powers by attempting to purge remaining non-Communist elements in the National Police Force; the security apparatus and police were being transformed into instruments of the KSČ, endangering basic civic freedoms.

On 12 February, the non-Communists in the cabinet demanded punishment for the offending Communists in the government and an end to this subversion but Nosek, backed by Gottwald, refused; he and his fellow Communists threatened to use force and, in order to avoid defeat in parliament, mobilised groups of their supporters in the country. On 21 February, twelve non-Communist ministers resigned in protest after Nosek refused to reinstate eight non-Communist senior police officers despite a majority vote of the cabinet in favour of doing so. They assumed that President Beneš would refuse to accept their resignations, keeping them in a caretaker government and in the process embarrassing the Communists enough to make them yield. Beneš initially insisted that no new government could be formed which did not include ministers from the non-Communist parties. However, an atmosphere of mounting tension, coupled with massive Communist-led demonstrations occurring throughout the country, convinced Beneš to remain neutral over the issue, for fear the KSČ foment an insurrection and give the Red Army
Red Army
The Workers' and Peasants' Red Army started out as the Soviet Union's revolutionary communist combat groups during the Russian Civil War of 1918-1922. It grew into the national army of the Soviet Union. By the 1930s the Red Army was among the largest armies in history.The "Red Army" name refers to...

 a pretext to invade the country and restore order.

Had Beneš held his line, Gottwald's ministers would not have been able to form a government, the only non-violent means of crisis resolution being to give way to the non-Communists or to risk defeat in early elections which the KSČ did not have time to rig. The non-Communists saw this as a moment of opportunity, needing to act quickly before the interior ministry had total control over the police and hampered the free electoral process.

While the non-Communist ministers seemed to behave as if this was just an old-fashioned pre-1939 governmental crisis, the Communists were mobilizing from below. To help them do this the Soviet Ambassador, Valerian Zorin
Valerian Zorin
Valerian Alexandrovich Zorin was a Soviet diplomat and statesman.-Biography:After joining the Soviet Communist Party in 1922, Zorin held a managerial position in a Moscow City Committee and the Central Committee of the Komsomol until 1932...

, arrived in 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...

 to arrange a coup. Armed militia and police took over Prague; Communist demonstrations were mounted; an anti-Communist student demonstration was broken up. The ministries of the non-Communist ministers were occupied, civil servants dismissed and the ministers prevented from entering their own ministries. The army was confined to barracks and did not interfere.

Communist "Action Committees" and trade union militias were quickly set up, armed, and sent into the streets, as well as being prepared to carry through a purge of anti-Communists. In a speech before 100,000 of these people, Gottwald threatened a general strike unless Beneš agreed to form a new Communist-dominated government. Zorin at one point offered the services of the Red Army, camped on the country's borders. However, Gottwald declined the offer, believing that the threat of violence combined with heavy political pressure would be enough to force Beneš to surrender. As he said after the coup, Beneš "knows what strength is, and this led him to evaluate this [situation] realistically".

On 25 February 1948, Beneš, fearful of civil war and Soviet intervention, capitulated and appointed a new government under Gottwald's leadership. The new government was dominated by Communists and pro-Moscow Social Democrats. Members of the People's, National Socialist and Slovak Democratic parties still figured, so the government was still nominally a coalition. However, these parties had been taken over by Communist sympathizers, and the people using these labels were fellow travelers. The only important portfolio held by a non-Communist was foreign affairs, which went to Jan Masaryk
Jan Masaryk
Jan Garrigue Masaryk was a Czech diplomat and politician and Foreign Minister of Czechoslovakia from 1940 to 1948.- Early life :...

, who was however found dead two weeks later. Following the coup, the Communists moved quickly to consolidate their power: thousands were fired, hundreds arrested, and thousands fled the country.

On 9 May, a new constitution
Ninth-of-May Constitution
The Ninth-of-May Constitution was a constitution of Czechoslovakia in force from 1948 to 1960. It came into force on May 9, shortly after the communist seizure of power in the country on 25 February 1948. It replaced the 1920 Constitution...

 proclaiming Czechoslovakia a "people's democracy" was approved by parliament. Although it was not a fully Communist constitution, it was close enough to the Soviet model that Beneš refused to sign it. At the May 30 elections, voters were presented with a single list from the National Front, which officially won 89.2% of the vote; within the National Front list, the Communists and the Social Democrats (who soon merged) had an absolute majority. Practically all non-Communist parties that had participated in the 1946 election were also represented within the National Front list and thus received parliament seats. However, by this time they had all transformed themselves into loyal partners of the Communists. The National Front was converted into a broad patriotic organisation dominated by the Communists, and no political group outside of it was allowed to exist. Consumed by these events, Beneš resigned on 2 June and was succeeded by Gottwald twelve days later. He died in September, bringing a symbolic close to the sequence of events, and was buried before an enormous and silent throng come to mourn the passing of a popular leader and of the democracy he had come to represent.


Czechoslovakia remained as a Communist dictatorship until the Velvet Revolution
Velvet Revolution
The Velvet Revolution or Gentle Revolution was a non-violent revolution in Czechoslovakia that took place from November 17 – December 29, 1989...

 of 1989. More immediately, the coup became synonymous with the Cold War
Cold War
The Cold War was the continuing state from roughly 1946 to 1991 of political conflict, military tension, proxy wars, and economic competition between the Communist World—primarily the Soviet Union and its satellite states and allies—and the powers of the Western world, primarily the United States...

, the loss of the last remaining democracy in Eastern Europe coming as a profound shock to millions. For the second time in a decade, Western eyes saw Czechoslovak independence and democracy snuffed out by a totalitarian dictatorship intent on dominating a small country(though the KSČ did most of the "dirty work").

The USSR seemed to have completed the formation of a monolithic Soviet bloc and concluded the partition of Europe, which appeared to vindicate and certainly crystallized the pessimistic, darkest appraisals of Soviet power in the West by people who felt certain that it was folly to try to do business with Moscow. Because its impact was equally profound in Western Europe as in the United States, it helped unify Western countries against the Communist bloc. It gave an air of prescience to the French and Italian governments for having forced their local Communists out of their governments a year earlier.

Additionally, it finally discredited Soviet moves to prevent the formation of a West German state and accelerated the construction of a West European alliance, the Treaty of Brussels
Treaty of Brussels
The Treaty of Brussels was signed on 17 March 1948 between Belgium, France, Luxembourg, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom, as an expansion to the preceding year's defence pledge, the Dunkirk Treaty signed between Britain and France...

, the following month; mutual security was the new watchword. Until early 1948, Western and Soviet representatives had communicated in regular meetings at the foreign minister level; the Czech coup constituted a final rupture in relations between the two superpowers, with the West now signaling its determination to commit itself to collective self-defence. By early March, even a previously wavering France was demanding a concrete military alliance with definite promises to help in certain circumstances.

From Moscow's point of view, the coup could not have been worse timed. The government crisis in Prague lasted from 20 to 27 February, just when Western foreign ministers were meeting in London. The coup came off as showing Communism in its most unacceptable form; Moscow seemed to the West bent on ruthless expansion and the suppression of freedom.

United States

The coup's impact in the United States was immediate. Opposition towards the Marshall Plan had developed in the United States Congress
United States Congress
The United States Congress is the bicameral legislature of the federal government of the United States, consisting of the Senate and the House of Representatives. The Congress meets in the United States Capitol in Washington, D.C....

, but a shocked and aroused public opinion overwhelmed this, and Congress promptly approved over US$5 billion for the first year of the European Recovery Program.

Until the Czech coup, the emphasis in Washington
Washington, D.C.
Washington, D.C., formally the District of Columbia and commonly referred to as Washington, "the District", or simply D.C., is the capital of the United States. On July 16, 1790, the United States Congress approved the creation of a permanent national capital as permitted by the U.S. Constitution....

 had been on economic containment of Communism, primarily through the Truman Doctrine
Truman Doctrine
The Truman Doctrine was a policy set forth by U.S. President Harry S Truman in a speech on March 12, 1947 stating that the U.S. would support Greece and Turkey with economic and military aid to prevent their falling into the Soviet sphere...

 and the Marshall Plan and a heavy reliance on atomic power as a shield to support it. President Harry S. Truman
Harry S. Truman
Harry S. Truman was the 33rd President of the United States . As President Franklin D. Roosevelt's third vice president and the 34th Vice President of the United States , he succeeded to the presidency on April 12, 1945, when President Roosevelt died less than three months after beginning his...

 understood that in 1946 and 1947 the American people were not prepared for a massive conventional arms buildup or a confrontation with the Soviet Union. He was reluctant to increase the military budget dramatically and instead chose a gradual and balanced buildup. Expecting to spend large amounts on the Marshall Plan, he sought to keep the annual defence budget below $15 billion.

However, the coup served to expose the limitations of U.S. conventional forces and its over-reliance on atomic power. At the time of the Prague crisis, roughly ten ill-equipped and poorly trained U.S. and West European divisions faced over thirty Soviet divisions. When taking into account Defense Department
United States Department of Defense
The United States Department of Defense is the U.S...

 complaints that the U.S. atomic arsenal and the air power to use it were starkly inadequate, it became clear that the U.S. lacked a credible military deterrent in Europe.

The Czech coup changed the whole tone of the debate on the U.S. military budget. It helped spark a new round of Pentagon
United States Department of Defense
The United States Department of Defense is the U.S...

 lobbying for a substantial rise in the military budget, while the NSC
United States National Security Council
The White House National Security Council in the United States is the principal forum used by the President of the United States for considering national security and foreign policy matters with his senior national security advisors and Cabinet officials and is part of the Executive Office of the...

 called for "a worldwide counter-offensive" against the Soviet bloc, including U.S. military aid to the Western European Union
Western European Union
The Western European Union was an international organisation tasked with implementing the Modified Treaty of Brussels , an amended version of the original 1948 Treaty of Brussels...

. Truman responded to the crisis with a grim nationwide radio address on 17 March calling for a renewal of selective service, which had been allowed to lapse the previous year. He also sought congressional approval for a programme of Universal Military Training (UMT). He aimed to send a signal of determination to the Soviet Union that U.S. military posture was strong and that the country with this expansion of military preparedness was also prepared in the future to rearm massively if necessary. Congress rejected UMT, but did vote to resume selective service, and voted the money for a seventy-group air force, 25% larger than the official request.

Nevertheless, the change in American foreign policy in response to the crisis-like atmosphere of early 1948 was more symbolic than real. American willingness to consult on new security arrangements for Europe was the product of neither a changed estimate of Soviet intentions nor a readiness to take on a larger share of the burden of defending Western Europe. Rather, it was a tactical maneuver intended to mitigate the effect of the coup in Czechoslovakia and the brief but intense war scare that followed. As a result, a series of quick fixes followed to ensure that American forces would not be caught completely off guard in the event of war. More important was the sensitivity with which American officials now treated the nervousness of their European counterparts; the Americans now became more willing to take steps to boost morale in Europe and ease the now-widespread anxieties there. The coup and the Berlin Blockade
Berlin Blockade
The Berlin Blockade was one of the first major international crises of the Cold War and the first resulting in casualties. During the multinational occupation of post-World War II Germany, the Soviet Union blocked the Western Allies' railway and road access to the sectors of Berlin under Allied...

 that June made clear that constant reassurance was needed to bind the Europeans to the U.S. system; hence, the remobilization of U.S. armed forces began.

Indeed, the fear of war between the Soviets and the West reached a high point after the coup. On 5 March, General Lucius D. Clay
Lucius D. Clay
General Lucius Dubignon Clay was an American officer and military governor of the United States Army known for his administration of Germany immediately after World War II. Clay was deputy to General Dwight D. Eisenhower, 1945; deputy military governor, Germany 1946; commander in chief, U.S....

 sent an alarming telegram from Berlin that advised of its likelihood: "Within the last few weeks, I have felt a subtle change in Soviet attitude which I cannot define but which now gives me a feeling that it may come with dramatic suddenness". General Omar Bradley
Omar Bradley
Omar Nelson Bradley was a senior U.S. Army field commander in North Africa and Europe during World War II, and a General of the Army in the United States Army...

 later wrote that when he read Clay's "lugubrious assessment" in Washington he was "lifted right out of [his] chair", and George F. Kennan
George F. Kennan
George Frost Kennan was an American adviser, diplomat, political scientist and historian, best known as "the father of containment" and as a key figure in the emergence of the Cold War...

 wrote that the coup and the telegram had combined to create "a real war scare" where "the military and the intelligence fraternity" had "overreacted in the most deplorable way". Only a week later, the Joint Chiefs of Staff
Joint Chiefs of Staff
The Joint Chiefs of Staff is a body of senior uniformed leaders in the United States Department of Defense who advise the Secretary of Defense, the Homeland Security Council, the National Security Council and the President on military matters...

 recommended rearmament and a restoration of the draft.

In fact, Clay's warning had more to do with a request by Army director of intelligence Lt. Gen. Stephen Chamberlain for material that would persuade Congress to spend more on military readiness than with any hard evidence of Soviet intent to launch a war in Europe. Still, in Europe too in February and March "war was being commonly, even calmly discussed in streets and cafes on the Continent", a fear exacerbated by reports on 27 February that Stalin had invited Finland
Finland , officially the Republic of Finland, is a Nordic country situated in the Fennoscandian region of Northern Europe. It is bordered by Sweden in the west, Norway in the north and Russia in the east, while Estonia lies to its south across the Gulf of Finland.Around 5.4 million people reside...

 to sign a treaty of mutual assistance, contributing to expectations it would be the next domino to fall; pressure for a treaty was placed on Norway
Norway , officially the Kingdom of Norway, is a Nordic unitary constitutional monarchy whose territory comprises the western portion of the Scandinavian Peninsula, Jan Mayen, and the Arctic archipelago of Svalbard and Bouvet Island. Norway has a total area of and a population of about 4.9 million...


Amidst the general alarm, more sanguine voices were also raised. The Truman Administration had months earlier written off Czechoslovakia as little more than a Soviet satellite; in November 1947 U.S. Secretary of State George C. Marshall told a cabinet meeting that the Soviets would probably soon consolidate their hold on Eastern Europe by clamping down on Czechoslovakia as a "purely defensive move", and Kennan cabled from Manila
Manila is the capital of the Philippines. It is one of the sixteen cities forming Metro Manila.Manila is located on the eastern shores of Manila Bay and is bordered by Navotas and Caloocan to the north, Quezon City to the northeast, San Juan and Mandaluyong to the east, Makati on the southeast,...

 that the Soviets seemed to be consolidating their defences, not preparing for aggression. He later wrote that the Prague coup and the Berlin Blockade were "defensive reactions" to the Marshall Plan's initial successes and to the Western decision to press for an independent West German state. This view of the event sees Truman's reaction as him seizing on a necessary crisis to sell the Marshall Plan and the rearmament programme the Pentagon had long been pushing.

Marshall's own reaction was that "in so far as international affairs are concerned, a seizure of power by the Communist Party in Czechoslovakia would not materially alter...the situation which has existed in the last three years". Even as he was holding a press conference to push his economic aid plan on 10 March, the CIA
Central Intelligence Agency
The Central Intelligence Agency is a civilian intelligence agency of the United States government. It is an executive agency and reports directly to the Director of National Intelligence, responsible for providing national security intelligence assessment to senior United States policymakers...

 reported that "We do not believe...that this event reflects any sudden increase in Soviet capabilities, more aggressive intentions, or any change in current Soviet policy or tactics...The Czech coup and the demands on not preclude the possibility of Soviet efforts to effect a rapprochement with the West", but the administration chose a different course. On 2 March, CIA director Roscoe H. Hillenkoetter
Roscoe H. Hillenkoetter
Roscoe Henry Hillenkoetter , born in St. Louis, Missouri, was the third director of the post-World War II U.S. Central Intelligence Group , the third Director of Central Intelligence , and the first director of the Central Intelligence Agency created by the National Security Act of 1947...

 had also written to Truman that "the timing of the coup in Czechoslovakia was forced upon the Kremlin when the non-Communists took action endangering Communist control of the police. A Communist victory in the May elections would have been impossible without such control".

Italy and France

In Italy, elections
Italian general election, 1948
The Italian elections of 1948 were the second democratic elections with universal suffrage ever held in Italy, taking place after the 1946 elections to the Constituent Assembly, responsible for drawing up a new Italian Constitution...

 were scheduled for 18 April and the Communist-dominated Popular Democratic Front
Popular Democratic Front
The Popular Democratic Front was a coalition of Italian political parties for the Parliamentary election of 1948. It consisted of:* Italian Communist Party - communist...

 stood a realistic chance of victory. In the hysteria and foreboding that gripped Western circles following the Czech coup, it was concluded that similar tactics could be employed in Italy, whose citizens might not even have a chance to vote. British Foreign Minister Ernest Bevin
Ernest Bevin
Ernest Bevin was a British trade union leader and Labour politician. He served as general secretary of the powerful Transport and General Workers' Union from 1922 to 1945, as Minister of Labour in the war-time coalition government, and as Foreign Secretary in the post-war Labour Government.-Early...

 and the British Cabinet saw the cooperation between the two leading parties of the Italian left in almost apocalyptic terms, believing that once the Italian Communist Party
Italian Communist Party
The Italian Communist Party was a communist political party in Italy.The PCI was founded as Communist Party of Italy on 21 January 1921 in Livorno, by seceding from the Italian Socialist Party . Amadeo Bordiga and Antonio Gramsci led the split. Outlawed during the Fascist regime, the party played...

 (PCI) won power it would marginalise any moderating influence from the socialists
Italian Socialist Party
The Italian Socialist Party was a socialist and later social-democratic political party in Italy founded in Genoa in 1892.Once the dominant leftist party in Italy, it was eclipsed in status by the Italian Communist Party following World War II...

. Bevin immediately concluded that the "forces of democratic Socialism" must be strengthened in Italy, and that Britain must support Christian Democracy
Christian Democracy (Italy)
Christian Democracy was a Christian democratic party in Italy. It was founded in 1943 as the ideological successor of the historical Italian People's Party, which had the same symbol, a crossed shield ....

, despite all its faults. Bevin was especially alarmed by the ability of the PC, through the use of its dominant position in the trade union movement, to organise industrial disturbances not only to sabotage the success of the Marshall Plan, but also to subvert the Italian government through factory committees of action as in Czechoslovakia. The Italian foreign minister, despite his alarm over the coup's timing, remained optimistic, assuring Bevin (who saw Italy as "the immediate danger spot") that the army and police were in excellent shape and that the coup would have an adverse effect, turning swing voters away from the socialists.

This was observed when Communist and socialist leaders in Italy defended the Czech coup as a victory for democracy, rationalizing that the violation of civil rights was a necessary and just response to a reactionary threat posed by Western imperialist (i.e., American) interests; such discourse probably damaged the Front's credibility and undercut its promises of moderation. Kennan cabled to suggest the PCI should be outlawed and the U.S. should intervene militarily in the likely event of a civil war, but he quickly softened his line.

The American Ambassador in Rome worried that the coup would push self-interested voters to side with what they considered the winning side, and that events in Prague probably increased the PCI's prestige, "direct[ing] the politics of the generally opportunistic Italian toward the Communist bandwagon". However, the coup was one of several factors that led a strong plurality of voters to embrace Christian Democracy and defeat the left. Stalin, satisfied that America had not moved militarily after the Czech coup and unwilling to provoke war, respected the result, considering Italy a Western country.

In France, interesting political currents were also set in motion. The United States was still pushing the French government to support German rehabilitation. In the aftermath of the coup, foreign minister Georges Bidault
Georges Bidault
Georges-Augustin Bidault was a French politician. During World War II, he was active in the French Resistance. After the war, he served as foreign minister and prime minister on several occasions before he joined the Organisation armée secrète.-Early life:...

 was afraid of stoking anti-German sentiment that the French Communist Party
French Communist Party
The French Communist Party is a political party in France which advocates the principles of communism.Although its electoral support has declined in recent decades, the PCF retains a large membership, behind only that of the Union for a Popular Movement , and considerable influence in French...

 (PCF) could exploit and harness to instigate a coup of its own. At the same time, the coup had forced the hand of PCF leader Maurice Thorez
Maurice Thorez
thumb|A Soviet stamp depicting Maurice Thorez.Maurice Thorez was a French politician and longtime leader of the French Communist Party from 1930 until his death. He also served as vice premier of France from 1946 to 1947....

, whose public remarks suggested that in the wake of a Soviet invasion, he would support the Red Army. The Czech coup, the PCF's failed policy of sabotage and the Marshall Plan's likely passage were all beginning to sway French public opinion. 70% of French people now believed the U.S. would do more than any other country to help France, compared to 7% who thought the USSR would do more. Despite French concern about Germany, it was becoming increasingly clear that the Soviet threat was greater than the German. France would still seek an advantageous power position vis-à-vis Germany, but it was becoming reconciled to the prospect of a rehabilitated Germany as part of postwar Europe.

Along with passage of the Marshall Plan, the other far-reaching implication of the Czech coup for U.S. foreign policy was to heed Bevin's call for a Western defence association. He had found the Truman Administration reluctant to accept an unambiguous and binding alliance with Western Europe even after the irretrievable breakdown of the Council of Foreign Ministers
Council of Foreign Ministers
Council of Foreign Ministers was an organisation agreed upon at the Potsdam Conference in 1945 and announced in the Potsdam Agreement.The Potsdam Agreement specified that the Council would be composed of the Foreign Ministers of the United Kingdom, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, China,...

 conference in London in December 1947; Marshall was not prepared to accept the idea in discussions with Bevin that 17 December. On 26 February Bevin again reiterated that the best way to prevent another Czechoslovakia was to evolve a joint Western military strategy, and this time he got a more receptive hearing, especially considering American anxiety over Italy. That spring, European leaders quietly met with U.S. defence, military and diplomatic officials at the Pentagon, under Marshall's orders, exploring a framework for a new and unprecedented association for mutual defence. The following year, NATO would ultimately be born out of these talks.

Further reading

  • Kaplan, Karel
    Karel Kaplan
    Karel Kaplan is a Czech historian, who specialized in the World War II and post World War II periods in Czechoslovakia. Kaplan is regarded as one of the most noted historians of Czech communism from 1945 to 1968...

    . Pět kapitol o Únoru. Brno: Doplněk, 1997, ISBN 80-85765-73-X.
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