1947: Cominform and the Soviet Bloc

Cominform and the Soviet Bloc

Subject essay: Lewis Siegelbaum

Founded in September 1947 by leading Communists from the Soviet Union, eastern Europe, Italy and France who met at Sklarska-Poreba in Poland, the Communist Information Bureau (Cominform) represented the revival of institutional links among Communist parties that had been in abeyance since the dissolution of the Comintern in 1943. The main purpose of the organization was to commit member parties to a common strategy under the leadership of the Soviet Communist Party in the struggle against what was termed American-led imperialism. It marked a turning point in the relationship of the Soviet Union with both its former western allies and the emerging Communist-dominated governments in eastern Europe.

Many Communist parties in Europe rode a wave of popularity created by their prominence in resistance to Nazi rule and the crucial role of the Soviet Red Army in defeating the Nazis to emerge in the immediate post-war years as leading contenders for political power. Fearful of provoking western intervention, the Soviet Union exercised a restraining influence on some of these parties but otherwise permitted them to act along the lines of "separate roads to communism." By the time of the Cominform's creation, the Yugoslav, Hungarian, Romanian, Polish, and Bulgarian Communist parties had assumed the reins of government; in Czechoslovakia the party was part of a governing coalition; and in Italy and France, communists had been ousted from such coalitions earlier in the year. The common strategy dictated by the Soviet Union via the Cominform involved the abandonment of restraint and an attempt to impose on ruling Communist parties uniformity in both domestic and international policies.

What had emerged as the Soviet bloc would be shaken in less than a year. In June 1948, the Yugoslav League of Communists under Josip Broz Tito was expelled from the Cominform for having refused to accept limits on its independence of action. Thereafter, Stalin, seeking to prevent the spread of "Titoism," launched a series of purges of eastern European Communist leaders as well as within the Soviet Communist party. In several cases, show trials, mimicking those that had occurred in Moscow in 1936-38, were organized. Leading cadres of the Czechoslovak, Romanian, Hungarian and Bulgarian Communist parties, accused of having been agents of imperialism or Zionism, were convicted and sentenced to death or long prison terms. The chill that descended over eastern Europe and the Soviet Union would continue until Stalin's death in 1953 and in some countries for at least several years thereafter.