The Spread of Soviet-Backed Communism Across Eastern Europe after 1945
In seeking to provide an answer to the question, “Was the spread of
Soviet-backed communism inevitable across Eastern Europe after 1945?,” I
would like to point to the words of a contemporary specialist. At the end of
World War II, R. R. Betts, the Masaryk Professor of Central European History
at London University, asserted that much of the “revolution in central and
eastern Europe” is “native and due to the efforts of the peoples and their
own leaders . . . [making it] “clear that even if the Soviet Union had not
been so near and so powerful, revolutionary changes would have come at the
end of so destructive and subversive a war as that which ended in 1945”
(Betts 212, in Mazower, 255). Though Betts points simply to the war and
native efforts as the essential impetus for radical solutions where many
points can be made implicating pre-war issues and outside intervention (or
lack thereof) in the same causal fashion, the thrust of his argument is what
I would like to echo in my paper. The radical situation following World War
II in Eastern Europe was untenable and called almost uniformly for a radical
solution. However, that the solution was necessarily Soviet-backed communism
is not fully supported by the facts. A radical solution? Yes.
Authoritarianism? Quite likely. Soviet-backed communism? Very probable,
but by no means inevitable.
While there is much evidence and scholarship to support the deterministic
viewpoint implied by the principal query, it seems a naïve view of history to
suggest that what happened absolutely could not have happened any other way.
To respond in kind to the simplistic discourse of ‘inevitability,’ one need
only establish one case when events could have very plausibly gone in another
direction. Yet there are many such cases within the purview of this
question. However, I do not completely disagree with the thesis of
inevitability of Soviet-backed communism or at least some form of
authoritarianism. Thus, in the first section of this paper, I will air much
of the support for that assertion and conclude that it was highly likely
Soviet-backed communism would eventually accomplish what it did. However, in
a second section, I will argue that this outcome was hardly a fait accompli
in 1945. Neither the subtleties of Eastern Europe’s possible economic
relations with the West in the form of the Marshall plan nor the lack of
uniformity of the processes by which different states became Soviet
satellites bear out the thesis of inevitability.
The main strands of the argument for the inevitability of both
authoritarianism and Soviet-backed communism follow: The liberal democracies
established in Eastern Europe after World War I were enfeebled by many
factors, so much so that by the beginning of World War II, authoritarianism
was already the norm. Thus, the post-war step to...