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CZECHOSLOVAKIA. Prague. August 1968. Invading Warsaw Pact armies during the Prague Spring.

The Prague Spring was a period of political liberalisation beginning on January 5, 1968 when reformist Alexander Dubček was elected First Secretary of the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia, and continued until August 21 when the Soviet Union and other members of the Warsaw Pact invaded the country to halt the reforms.

The Prague Spring reforms were a strong attempt by Dubček to grant additional rights to the citizens of Czechoslovakia in an act of partial decentralisation of the economy and democratisation. The freedoms granted included a loosening of restrictions on the media, speech and travel. The reforms were not received well by the Soviets, who, after failed negotiations, sent half a million Warsaw Pact troops and tanks to occupy the country.

Photographs: Josef Koudelka/Magnum Photos

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March 6, 1937: Birthday of Valentina Tereshkova, the first woman cosmonaut.

Tereshkova piloted the Soviet Vostok 6 on June 16, 1963, almost exactly 20 years before the first U.S. woman astronaut, Sally Ride, went into space. 

Tereshkova later became a high-ranking member of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union.

CZECHOSLOVAKIA. Prague. August 1968. Invasion by Warsaw Pact troops. Near the Radio headquarters.

The Prague Spring was a period of political liberalisation. It began on 5 January 1968, when reformist Alexander Dubček was elected First Secretary of the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia (KSČ), and continued until 21 August when the Soviet Union and other members of the Warsaw Pact invaded the country to halt the reforms.

The Prague Spring reforms were a strong attempt by Dubček to grant additional rights to the citizens of Czechoslovakia in an act of partial decentralisation of the economy and democratisation. The freedoms granted included a loosening of restrictions on the media, speech and travel. The reforms were not received well by the Soviets, who, after failed negotiations, sent half a million Warsaw Pact troops and tanks to occupy the country. A large wave of emigration swept the nation. A spirited non-violent resistance was mounted throughout the country, involving attempted fraternisation, painting over and turning street signs, defiance of various curfews, etc. While the Soviet military had predicted that it would take four days to subdue the country the resistance held out for eight months, and was only circumvented by diplomatic stratagems.

Czechoslovakia remained controlled until 1989, when the Velvet Revolution ended pro-Soviet rule peacefully, undoubtedly drawing upon the successes of the non-violent resistance twenty years earlier.

Photograph: Josef Koudelka/Magnum Photos

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Workers World Party mobilized in defense of socialism following the failed attempt of the Soviet Emergency Committee to oust the pro-capitalist leadership of the USSR on August 19-21, 1991.

WWP held emergency demonstrations in New York and San Francisco to protest the reinstatement of Yeltsin and Gorbachev and the subsequent suppression of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union and Pravda.

WWP was the only communist group in the U.S. to take to the streets in defense of socialism and against the Bush-Yeltsin-Gorbachev counter-revolution.

Then, on September 28, 1991, WWP held an Emergency Conference “In Defense of Socialism” in New York City. This national gathering brought together communists and supporters from across the country for discussion and orientation on the crisis in the USSR following the restoration of the counter-revolutionaries Yeltsin and Gorbachev with imperialist help. A large street demonstration was held in midtown Manhattan.

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February 25th 1956: Khrushchev’s ‘Secret Speech’

On this day in 1956, Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev made his famous speech 'On the Cult of Personality and Its Consequences’. Also known as 'The Secret Speech’, it was delivered to a closed session of the twentieth congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, which was held in the Kremlin, Moscow. It was the first such congress since the death of Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin in March 1953 and the accession to power of party First Secretary Khrushchev. In the powerful oration, Khrushchev fiercely critiqued the Stalin regime in a way unimaginable during his repressive rule. The new leader blasted Stalin’s oppressive purges of opponents and failures in his leadership during the Second World War. However Khrushchev reserved his harshest indictment for Stalin’s 'cult of personality’, which was the image - promoted by the Soviet press - of Stalin as an all-powerful, almost god-like figure. On the day, the reception to Khrushchev’s speech was one of shocked silence, as many of the revered Stalin’s crimes had never previously been revealed. However in the aftermath, some came to see the speech as a brave move by the new leader, while others considered it an attempt to deflect blame for all of the USSR’s problems away from Khrushchev and onto Stalin and his supporters. Either way, the speech marked the beginning in earnest of a programme of de-Stalinisation, which saw the dismantling of Stalin’s cult and systems of repression. Tributes to Stalin were also targeted, with his body being removed from its place of honor beside Lenin’s in the Red Square mausoleum, and Stalingrad being renamed Volgograd. The speech additionally ushered in a period of liberalisation known as 'Khrushchev’s Thaw’, which greatly curtailed repression and censorship in the Soviet Union.

“Comrades, the cult of the individual acquired such monstrous size chiefly because Stalin himself, using all conceivable methods, supported the glorification of his own person”

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On 25 March, candles for the Estonians forcefully taken from their homes by the Soviets in 1949, are lighted on Freedom Square in Tallinn. Nearly 3% of the Estonian population were seized in a few days and dispatched to remote areas of Siberia. About quarter of the people already died in exile. This was the most affecting deportation to Estonia out of the many others demanded by the Communist Party.

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