Rudolf Slánský

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Rudolf Slánský
Slansky.jpg
Born (1901-07-31)July 31, 1901
Nezvěstice, Austria-Hungary
Died December 3, 1952(1952-12-03) (aged 51)
Prague, Czechoslovakia
Nationality Czechoslovakia
Occupation Politician
Known for General Secretary of the Czechoslovakian Communist party

Rudolf Slánský (31 July 1901 – 3 December 1952) was a Communist politician in Czechoslovakia. Holding the post of the party's General Secretary after World War II, he was one of the leading instigators and organizers of Communist rule in Czechoslovakia. As an orthodox Marxist-Stalinist, during his brief period in office subsequent to the 1948 Czechoslovak coup d'état he organised the thorough sovietization of society, state seizure of private property and repression of political opponents of the regime. In foreign affairs he played a major role in the establishment of the State of Israel supplying Czech arms to Zionists seeking to overthrow the British-mandate. After the split between Josip Broz Tito of Yugoslavia and Soviet premier Joseph Stalin, the latter instigated a wave of "purges" of the respective Communist Party leaderships,[1] to prevent more splits between the Soviet Union and its Central European[2] "satellite" countries. In Czechoslovakia, Slánský who was seen as vulnerable due to economic and industrial troubles, was one of 14 leaders arrested in 1952 and put on show trial en masse in November 1952. This was later to be known as the Slansky trial. The accused, all high-ranking functionaries of the Czech Communist party, were charged with high treason. After eight days and numerous accusations, 11 of the 14 were sentenced to death. Slánský's sentence was carried out five days later.

Early life[edit]

Born at Nezvěstice, now in Plzeň-City District to German-speaking Jewish parents, Slánský attended secondary school in Plzeň at the Commercial Academy. After the end of World War I, he went to Prague, the capital, where he discovered a leftist intellectual scene in institutions such as the Marxist Club. In 1921, Slánský joined the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia when it broke away from the Social Democratic Party. He rose within the party and became a senior lieutenant of its leader, Klement Gottwald. At the Fifth Party Congress in 1929, Slánský was named a member of the party Presidium and the Politburo, and Gottwald became General Secretary.

From 1929 to 1935, Slánský lived in hiding due to the illegal status of the Communist Party. In 1935, after the party was allowed to participate in politics, both he and Gottwald were elected to the National Assembly. Their gains were halted, however, when Czechoslovakia was carved up at the Munich Conference in 1938. When Nazi Germany occupied the Sudetenland in October 1938, Slánský, along with much of the rest of the Czechoslovak communist leadership, fled to the Soviet Union.

In Moscow, Slánský worked on broadcasts to Czechoslovakia over Moscow Radio. He lived through the defense of Moscow against the Germans during the winter of 1941-42. His experience in Moscow brought him into contact with Soviet Communists and the often brutal methods they favored for maintaining party discipline.

In 1943 Slánský's infant daughter, Naďa (Nadia) was forcibly abducted from her baby carriage by a woman while in the company of her eight-year-old brother, Rudolf, who put up resistance. The woman knew details about Mrs. Slánský, including her job with Radio Moscow. Neither Nadia nor the perpetrators were ever found. Slánský's widow has recounted that written inquiries were made to the police and to Stalin himself, all of which went unanswered.[3][4]

While in exile in the Soviet Union, Slánský also organized Czechoslovak army units, with which he returned to Czechoslovakia in 1944 to participate in the Slovak National Uprising.

Power in the postwar period[edit]

In 1945, after World War II, Czechoslovak leaders back from exile in London and Moscow, Slánský among them, held meetings that led to a new National Front government under Edvard Beneš. At the 8th Party Congress of the Czechoslovakian Communist Party in March 1946, Slánský became General Secretary of the Communist Party. This made him the number two man in the party behind Gottwald, who became leader of a coalition government after elections held that year.

In 1948 the Communist Party, which had never been able to gain the majority of the popular vote, seized power in the February coup. General-Secretary Slánský thus became the second most powerful man in the country behind president Gottwald. Two years later, in an ominous sign of things to come, Gottwald accused two of Slánský's close associates, Otto Šling and Bedřich Reicin, of crimes against the Communist Party. Slánský participated in purging them because he did not have enough clout to fight the accusations. Slánský was also blamed for economic and industrial troubles, costing him popular support. Nevertheless, he received the Order of Socialism, a top decoration, on 30 July 1951, and a book of his speeches in support of socialism was going to be published under the title Towards the Victory of Socialism.

Foreign Affairs[edit]

In June 1947 the Jewish agency (later to become the Israeli government) realising the need for more advanced and numerous weapons for its planned Operation Balak, attempted to clandestinely purchase weapons, some of them of former German army weapons, captured by the Czechoslovak army on its national territory. These overtures were rebuffed by the Czech government of President Benes. However at the insistence of Joseph Stalin and the Soviet government who at the time were strong supporters of Zionism, the Czech government capitulated and on January 14, 1948, Jan Masaryk, the Czech foreign minister signed an arms sale agreement overseen by Ivan Maisky, a Jewish diplomat, who played a key role in negotiations with the Zionist movement.[5]

After the February coup and the Communist Party's seizure of power these arms shipments took tangible form and increased exponentially in quantity. Not only were large numbers of tanks, fighter aircraft and assorted light and heavy weapons supplied but the Czech government undertook to train large numbers of Zionist soldiers on Czechoslovakian soil. Amongst these were large groups of Jewish volunteers the size of approximately a brigade (about 1,300 men) trained, from August 20, 1948 until November 4, 1948 and numerous pilots and maintenance mechanics.[6]

Throughout this period General-Secretary Slánský remained an enthusiastic and vocal supporter of these policies, a fact which would subsequently contribute to his downfall and be used against him in the Slánský trial.

These arms and the assistance of important Czechoslovak Communist figures were mentioned by Israeli prime minister Ben Gurion, who said in 1968 (these weapons) “saved the country ... The Czech arms deal was the greatest help we then had ... without it, I very much doubt we could have survived the first month”.[7]

The trial[edit]

Main article: Slánský trial
Slánský at trial in Prague in 1952

In November 1952 Slánský and 13 other high-ranking Communist bureaucrats (10 of whom were Jews) were arrested and charged with being Titoists and Zionists, official USSR rhetoric having turned against Zionism, though official relations would not be severed until 1953.

Party rhetoric asserted that Slánský was spying as part of an international western capitalist conspiracy to undermine socialism and that punishing him would avenge the Nazi murders of Czech communists Jan Šverma and Julius Fučík during World War II.

Some historians state that Stalin desired complete obedience and threatened purges for the "national communists". According to this theory, Gottwald, fearing for his own safety, decided to sacrifice his longtime collaborator and associate Slánský.

Other historians however say that the rivalry between Slánský and Gottwald escalated after the 1948 coup. Slánský began consolidating his power within the party secretariat and placing more of his party supporters in governmental positions, encroaching on Gottwald’s position as president after the resignation of Beneš. Stalin backed Gottwald because he was believed to have a better chance of building up the Czechoslovak economy into a position where it could start producing useful goods for the Soviet Union.

Whatever the case, Slánský was hurt by his image as a "Zionist" figure (he was Jewish, at a time when, throughout the Eastern bloc, Jewish communist leaders who lead the recently Soviet installed regimes, were being used as scapegoats by Stalin for shortages and economic problems). His and his associates' considerable material and diplomatic support to Israel lend credence to at least some of these accusations.

These events allowed his former ally Gottwald and Minister of Defence Antonín Zápotocký, both populists, to tar him with charges of belonging to the bourgeoisie. Slánský and his allies were also unpopular with and opposed by old-time party members, the government, and the party’s Political Bureau.

In prison after his arrest, Slánský was tortured and he attempted suicide.

The trial of the 14 national leaders began on 20 November 1952, in the Senate of the State Court, with the prosecutor being Josef Urválek. It lasted eight days. It was notable for its strong anti-Semitic overtones: Slánský and 10 of his 13 codefendants were Jewish. As in the Moscow show trials of the late 1930s, the defendants were craven in court, admitting guilt and requesting to be punished with death. Slánský was found guilty of "Trotskyite-Titoist-Zionist activities in the service of American imperialism" and publicly[8] hanged at Pankrác Prison on 3 December 1952. His body was cremated and the ashes were scattered on an icy road outside of Prague.

Posthumously[edit]

After the death of Stalin, Slánský was reviled by Antonín Novotný for having introduced Stalinist methods of interrogation into Czechoslovakia. Slánský and other victims of the purge trials were cleared under the penal code in April 1963 and fully rehabilitated and exonerated in May 1968. After the Velvet Revolution of 1989, the new president Václav Havel, named Slánský’s son, also named Rudolf, as the Czech ambassador to the Soviet Union.[9]

Slánský was the most powerful politician executed during the rule of the Communist Party in Czechoslovakia. Afterwards the treatment of leaders fallen out of favour became civilized by comparison: they were merely stripped of power and put into retirement.

See also[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Lukes 1999: 161-162
  2. ^ In the West prior to 1990, the "Communist countries" east of Germany, Austria, and Italy and west of the Soviet Union were collectively known as "Eastern Europe".
  3. ^ Slánská, Josefa 1969: 121-125, cited at Lukeš: 7
  4. ^ There is an English translation of a story recounted by Ignác Bilík (which Bilík claimed to have been told in prison by Evžen Löbl (Eugen Loebl), a co-defendant in the future Slánský trial), which contradicts Josefa Slánská's memoir. Rudolf Slánský allegedly discovered that his daughter had been abducted by the wife of a high-ranking Soviet official, and was allegedly too intimidated by the power of such people in the Soviet system to try and retrieve his daughter. This apparently fourth hand account is published online at Paměť Národa (Website), including the sound recording of Bilík's narration.
  5. ^ Réal, Michel. "The forgotten alliance". Le Mond Diplomatique. Le Mond Diplomatique. 
  6. ^ (Czech)Czech army page
  7. ^ Bialer, Uri (1990). Between East and West: Israel’s Foreign Policy Orientation 1948-1956,. Cambridge University Press. 
  8. ^ Brent, Jonathan and Naumov, Vladimir P., Stalin's Last Crime, John Murray (Publishers), London, 2003, page 191
  9. ^ Stokes, Gale. From Stalinism to Pluralism: A Documentary History of Eastern Europe Since 1945. 1996, page 66.

References[edit]

  • London, Artur (1971). Confession. USA: Ballantine Books. ISBN 0-345-22170-2. 
  • Kaplan, Karel (1990). Report on the Murder of the General Secretary. London: I. B. Tauris & Co. ISBN 1-85043-211-2. 
  • Lukes, Igor. 1999. The Rudolf Slansky Affair: New Evidence. Slavic Review, Spring 1999, 58(1): 160-187. doi:10.2307/2672994
  • Lukes, Igor. No date (post 2001). Rudolf Slansky: his trials and trial. Wash., D.C.: Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars ("Wilson Center"). [1] Cold War International History Project] Working Papers; 50.
  • Margolius, Ivan (2006). Reflections of Prague: Journeys through the 20th century. London: Wiley. ISBN 0-470-02219-1. 
  • Slánská, Josefa (1969). Report On My Husband. London: Hutchinson. ISBN 0-09-097320-8.