Why did revolts break out in Soviet Union between 1956 and 1981?

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The New Course introduced by de-Stalinisation

The New Course introduced:

  • Collective power 
  • Capital investment in the production of consumer goods 
  • More resources for agriculture 
  • The main proponent for mobilising collective action was the opening of debate and discussion. The intelligentsia were allowed to openly criticise and discuss government's policy 
  • Dillution of the ideology of perfection, the absolute monopoly of the truth, the insistence there was Soviet knowledge and the Mancheism of the previous regime. 

All these factors after Stalin's death opened political opportunities of collective action to occur, especially in East Germany, Hungary and Poland during the 1950's. 

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The Return of Titoism

Khrushchev's reconcilliation with Tito in June 1955 = 

  • Khrushchev accepted that Tito's system had constructued since 1948 could be adopted within the world of socialism 
  • Beria, the head of the NKVD, was held responsible, not Stalin (before the Secret Speech)
  • The Belgrade Declaration set off the legitimation of alternative Communist systems. Appeared acceptable for others in Eastern Europe to find their own road to socialism 
  • Intelligentsia believe that problems stemmed from Stalinism, not ideology 
  • Eastern European leaders blamed power politics, the foreign threat and their systems for not being suited to change.

This gain another incentive for there to be resentment towards the system

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The Secret Speech

26th February 1956, during the 20th Party Congress 

  • Khrushchev denounced Stalin for being a murderous despot, accused him of being a tyrant who had brought untold damage to the Soviet Union the the legacy of Lenin 
  • Brought into question the socialist agenda and the morale of the ruling parties was badly shaken 
  • Effect of Poland -> the Secret Speech plus uears of political and governmental displacement led to burdenment 
    • Many blamed the Polish problems of the cult of personality 
  • Hungary - angry that Austria had been granted neutrality, but they hadn't
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The Unity of Leadership

  • Maintainance of unity proved difficult, threatened by:
    • Traditional struggles in the Kremlin 
    • Leadership's ability to retain the confidence of the state, the party and the people 
    • Social autonomy from below 
  • Existing leader's of Poland, Bulgaria and Hungary were threatened by the politial danger of a potentially attractive alternative leader who had a great position within the Politburo 
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The Unity of Leadership - Bulgaria

Bulgaria's crisis was different to that of Hungary's and Poland's because the leadership were willing to agree their disagreements in order to keep their system intact. 

Personalities were seen as secondary when view from the stand point of power. 

The intelligentsia in Bulgaria were also very loyal to the regime, they did not give many criticisms 

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Poland and Hungary - main differences

1. Personalities and their readiness to make minimum concessions 

  • Bierut (Poland) was more realistic than Rákosi (Hungary) 

2. Challenges for power

  • Poland - Gomulka was a rigid authoritarian who had power differences with Stalin 
  • Hungary - Nagy lost his capacity to innovate and absorb to new ideas 

3. How Stalinist leaders retired under de-Stalinisation 

  • Poland - Bierut died at the shock of the Secret Speech in 1956 
  • Hungary - Rátoski clung to power until finally being ejected in July 1956 
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  • Polish society moved further ahead on its own steam, independently from of the Party
  • Poznan 28th June 1956 - consequences:
    • Those in favour of change - change was not moving fast enough and this change was necessary so that further dangers couldn't be made to the regime 
    • Authoritarians - the uprising merely confirmed that the population was unsound. 
    • Moscow was deeply shaken 
  • Had the further effect of Moscow and the Party ignoring the unsuitable state of Hungary 
  • Unity of Polish leadership was severely tested between 1953 and 1956 
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  • Nagy sought to use government bureaucracy to effect change but discovered that the party was acting against much of what he was doing
  • Rákosi was still trying to impose Stalinism on a society quite unwilling to submit and after the Secret Speech society was untenable 
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Role of Society

  • Strikes, riots and protests couldn't effect serious changes in Soviet-type systems 
  • GDR - division within the leadership and popular resentment 
  • Lessons from GDR uprising 
    • Popular expectations could be aroused by hesistation and inconsistency of the leadership
    • GDR intellectuals remained silent and played no role in the events at all
    • Soviet Union was probably more prepared to use force in the GDR than in any other Eastern European state for reasons that internal upheaval would rapidly wound up - less of a chance to unify Germany 
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The Role of Intellectuals

  • Leadership became involved with the intelligensia in order to legitimate their political strategies 
  • Maintained a good control over communication and the language of discourse 
  • More autonomy = more freedom of expression 
  • Intellectual criticism and popular disatisfaction hasted the destablisation of the system, reconstructing the social community that Stalinism had destroyed 
  • Slow awakenging of uneven Poland and Hungary 
  • Once doubt and debate was allowed, the leadership began to lose their justification, their will to rule. 
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Differences between GDR in 1953 and Hungary 1956

  • Divisions in the Hungarian leadership went back further and more deep seated. 
  • Replacement of Rákosi by Greö too late to halt the slide of disaster
  • The Hungarian Party was losing the loyalty of its supporting intelligentsia 
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