Aug 13, 2019 in Informative

The Death of Stalin and the Wave of Protest


Covered in this paper are the events that happened between the years 1953 and 1956 in East Central Europe. These events must have been triggered by the death of Josef Stalin who was the leader of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR), commonly known as the Soviet Union. Moreover, the period was marked by constant protests considering the fall of a central power that governed, united and oversaw the activities in which people involved themselves in East Central Europe. Therefore, uncertainty in leadership succession became the order of the day as political leaders expressed their eagerness to assume power in order to succeed Josef Stalin. Workers in the region were also greatly contributing as they marched to the streets in order to articulate their rights as workers. In that case, industrial workers resulted to major protests and demonstrations. That was a way of airing their cries to the government. 

On a way of condemning the leadership of Stalin, some years after his death, politicians provoked considerable hatred to a lot of people in the region, including the old party members who were affiliated to Stalin. For that reason, the condemnation caused a sensation that gratified protests. Several killings, particularly involving students, in Budapest must have greatly ignited the protest in the region. In that case, most students were known to have been killed in cold blood by secret police agents. The causes of sudden protests in East Central Europe are discussed in length in this paper. Several reasons have been associated with the major protests that occurred across East Central Europe between the years 1953 and 1956, and this paper provides a clear discussion of the issues that triggered the protests starting with the death of Josef Stalin, hatred among other leaders who worked alongside Stalin and the eagerness to take power after the leader’s death.

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Historical Background

In order to conduct a precise analysis of those events that took place in East Central Europe between 1953 and 1956, it is equally important for one to be familiar with the activities that Stalin was involved in during his reign. 

Josef Stalin won power in 1922. Until his death, he was the leader of the Soviet Union. He was initially named as Ioseb Besarionis dze Jugashvili, but adopted the name “Stalin” later during his political career. Stalin replaced Vladimir Lenin, the then leader of the Soviet Union. His reign is marked by a lot of dictatorship, torture, bloody killings, and industrialization. He is also known as a totalitarian ruler who never tolerated opposition of any kind. His stay in power was guaranteed by taking the lead of anyone who threatened his stay in the office. A lot of historical writings that talk about Stalin describe him as a leader who subjected many citizens to deliberate torture when they failed to comply with his mode of ruling. Nevertheless, he was popular and received great acclaim while being in a position towards protecting the interests of people in the Soviet Republic.

Stalin is known to have taken part in a lot of bloody wars. A good example is the invasion of Poland in 1939 causing massive killings. Millions of innocent people are known to have died during the invasion, among them innocent civilians and Stalin’s loyal soldiers. Most importantly, a lot of property was lost during the protests alongside the bloodshed. Consequently, Stalin is known to have fought Germany under Adolf Hitler after Germany invaded the Soviet Union breaking an agreement of peace signed between the two nations. Apparently, his involvement in war expenditures saw him gain deliberate control over some part of Eastern Europe. That is after he proved to be mightier than other countries when he cruised to a win during those wars.

It can also be deduced that his policies and ideas turned the Soviet Union into a powerful and modern nation, one of the largest on earth, especially in the economic policies. Under his governance, it became evident that the concept of socialism became a central principle of the Soviet society. That also led to a successful period of industrialization and collectivization that triggered great transformation of the Soviet Union from an agrarian society to an industrial power. These capabilities saw the Soviet Union become a super power. However, as a result of imprisonment of millions of people in the correctional labor camps, upheavals in the agriculture sector led to the disruption of food security in the country; this contributed to a great famine in the country, claiming more than 10 million peasants. 

After his death, Stalin was replaced by Nikita Khrushchev, with his deputies Nikolai Voznesensky Vyacheslav Molotov and Nikolai Bulganin in 1953.That was after many changes had been done under his leadership. 

After Stalin, 1953-1956

Many of Soviet citizens mourned the death of Stalin. Though his rule was marked by brutal repression and rigorous control of the economy, he was popular in the entire Soviet Union. According to many people in the Soviet Republic, his era was marked by greatness of their country. Russians converged in Moscow to pay tribute and their last respect to Stalin. Several factors are responsible for constant protest and uprisings in East Central Europe.

Uncertainty in succession must have greatly contributed to sudden protest in the Soviet Union. After the death of Stalin on 5th March 1953, there was no clear evidence of who would succeed him. Apparently, that saw a wave of political struggle trying to clinch the leadership. Among the Soviet leaders in the country, the death of Stalin aroused a mixture of grief, relief and anxiety for a brighter future. Having no particular leader who was able to take the office, a council of Ministers in Moscow pronounced the leadership of the Soviet Union as the one which was to incorporate collective leadership. Consequently, that led to the beginning of bitter struggle among the interested politicians with the aim of taking control of the office. Apparently, Malenkov was appointed to hold the position of secretary of the communist party, but he was compelled to resign from his post. That was when the new council of ministers decided that all top offices should never again be controlled by one person. That is a good example of dissatisfaction and lack of good decision-making among the leaders as to who would take the office. The disagreement and inability for leadership to take control of the country affairs provoked a state of instability in the country. That was translated into a disagreement among the Soviet citizens in the grass root level. In fact, the condition can be attributed to lack of focus on what direction the country was to take now that Stalin was no longer the leader. As a result, citizens had recourse to constant disagreement on how the leadership could be assumed. The reason is that different individuals preferred different leadership with different political opinions. The case was similar in parts of Germany which were under the leadership of Stalin.

Additionally, after new leaders came into office, certain decisions that they made greatly fuelled protests in the county. In less than a month after the death of Josef Stalin, an official member of the Soviet Union Malenkov persuaded other Soviet leaders towards declaring amnesty to individuals who had been sentenced to serve a prison term of not more than five years. Consequently, that saw the release of thousands of prisoners. Most of them were political prisoners, while others comprised a group of doctors who were imprisoned during the so-called “Doctors Plot”. The doctors were sent to prison during Stalin reign following an accusation that they had convened a plot to kill all the Soviet leaders. However, due to lack of clear evidence in this particular case, the Soviet Union courts under the new leadership chose to release them. Most of these doctors were Jewish who had to suffer from a lot of torture during Stalin’s era. Apparently, it is evident that after their release, they must have not been reluctant to find vengeance against the Soviet government. Thus, joining protesting groups was the best option to weaken the Soviet governance as a way of revenge.

The uprising of East German in June 1953 is another form of protest known to have ensued as a result of Stalin’s death. An initial strike that started in the morning hours on the 17th June spread all over Berlin. The strike comprised an estimated number of 40,000 employees finding their way to the streets in the cities. The major cause of the protests was that people were highly annoyed with Soviet rule in their country. The uprising was highly critical to the extent of causing the utilization of Soviet tanks against the demonstrators. Apparently, that was in the afternoon when the strike was seen to escalate significantly. As a consequence, clashes between the protestors and the Soviet police officers caused the loss of 40 lives while over 400 people were wounded. Moreover, some got arrested for causing the uprising. Several strikes and protests are known to have happened at various regions in Germany, in the cities and villages. In fact, this protest took the Soviet government by surprise since they had always least expected the occurrence of such uprisings. At that time, the uprising was the first critical attempt to challenge the communist government. Consequently, the wave of protests is known to have gained momentum and spread to other parts of East Central Europe in countries such as Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia and Hungary. Most of these protests were triggered by industrial workers while demanding relief now that the repression era of Stalin was over. Furthermore, they were demanding higher productivity without any increase in pay. With their persistent demands, soon the protests become a political demand for free elections and a call for a general strike.

The first critical disagreement between the East German workers and the regime was the economic grievances expressed to the government by the workers. Apparently, the workers expressed a lot of concerns to the deteriorating economic situation in Eastern Germany. The economic concern was spearheaded by East German leader Walter Ulbricht who was highly interested in taking socialism in the county to another level. Their argument was motivated by the fact that the price of goods bought by ordinary consumers was in constant rise. The issue was compounded through an announcement by the Soviet government to have an increase in the production quota without a corresponding increase in salaries. Thus, that meant a deliberate pay cut to the already struggling industrial workers. It is, therefore, evident that most of these protests in East Central Europe were caused by economic dissatisfaction. That was clear when half a million people who were workers participated in direct protests as a result of being affected by the new economic policies. 

Bearing in mind that countries in East Central Europe comprised different politicians and people with different political opinion, it could, therefore, be highly misleading if one termed the protest and uprising in East Central Europe to have only been caused by economic grievances. The protests and demonstration did not involve solely workers. On the contrary, students, farmers, children, housewives were also involved. In fact, political demands were often heard at the very beginning of the protest with a lot of people demanding the resignation of the ruling East German government, release of the political inmates, and free elections. Demonstrators could also be heard claiming the legalization of strike actions as way of expressing their grievances and removal of Soviet forces from Germany. The issue of workers and monetary needs became highly politicized. That was after it was overheard that workers started to criticize and mock the press for lack of democracy. Political grievances primarily involved the need for freedom to exercise democratic rights independently without intimidations as it was a norm during the Stalin regime.

Stalinism is a method of ruling that generally relates to the principles and policies in socialism with the aim of forming a communist society. Those policies and principles were conceived by Josef Stalin while serving as the leader of the Soviet Union. Stalinism was highly characterized by instances of state terror, citizen torture, authoritarianism, one-party control, a centralized state, collectivization, and cult of personality. In a nutshell, Stalinism provided no independence at all for people to express their thoughts and opinions. Thus, people had to live in total fear and had to be subjects of the overall leader Josef Stalin. Stalin’s death in 1953 triggered great hopes of an opportunity for change as well as to have freedom and independence. In fact, his death led to exploded protests and demonstrations in countries within East Central Europe. The techniques were the only way to champion ‘destalinization’ to restore back the much anticipated freedom. With such opportunity when Stalin was not in existence, countries such as Eastern Germany, Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia and Hungary had to do the best in their power to detach themselves from the Soviet regime. That meant participating in intensive protest and demonstrations to make it clear to the new leadership that the manner in which Stalin was governing nations was not appealing at all; that is why they were dissatisfied with the regime to a point they could not endure it any more. It can be argued that the uprising in countries like the Eastern Germany was more than an endeavor of simple workers to gain economic improvement but a pure attempt to transform the working condition, economic situation and the government itself. Most importantly, it was one of the most critical attempts to reform communism in East Central Europe, thus ceasing Soviet dominance in the region.

As already discussed earlier in this paper, Josef Stalin was a prominent leader not only in East Central Europe but also over the world. During his reign, he was able to receive critical acclaim, especially from a considerable number of people in the Soviet Union who regarded him as a true hero. That was when it was established that Stalin demonstrated immense capabilities to be in a position to protect the country from external invasions. Apparently, his abilities were shown on his war expenditures to have won some of the most critical wars. For that reason, it is evident that he was adored by many. Khrushchev, one of the new leaders in the Soviet Union, made a big mistake when he chose to denounce Stalin reign. In one of private meetings at midnight in congress, Khrushchev quoted that Stalin reign was marked by terror and crime. He called Stalin a “flawed leader” who acted like a pathological criminal throughout his reign. As it can be seen, such accusations coming not more than three years after Stalin’s death showed disrespect towards a leader who was adored by many. These accusations caused a sensation to many old party members who were affiliated to Stalin during his reign. That led to disagreements within the room with several people crying, “Shame!” to Khrushchev. As a result, that caused a remembrance of Khrushchev murderous and repressive actions in Ukraine. It is clear that there were individuals still holding that Stalin reign was the best compared to the leadership of others like Khrushchev. For that reason, it was evident that although protest could have ended if communism was to be weakened in the country, there were no chances of it as there were people protesting against it.

Challenges in Hungary serve as good reasons for the constant protests taking place in countries in East Central Europe. Soviet troops spent a lot of time to return to their barracks in the Soviet Union. Most citizens in Hungary, particularly students in Budapest, felt that that was too much. In other words, they felt that their freedom was not guaranteed when the Soviet soldiers were in their country. Though the troops had already decided to return to their mother country, the students went to the streets in Budapest posing one of the most critical challenges to Soviet rule in East Central Europe. In fact, during the demonstration, several students were hit with bullets by the secret police agents. For that reason, the protest intensified with workers joining the students in the protests. In attempts to express their annoyance to the Soviet government in their country, they destroyed a giant statue of Josef Stalin elevated in the centre of Budapest.

However, Western power was provoked by Soviet actions in countries in East Central Europe, which appeared to be excluded from the Soviet Union. It could be irresponsible to say that they were not concerned, but they chose that way to avert the likelihood of another world war. Apparently, the actions of the Soviet Union were highly provocative, especially in Hungary, where they utilized tanks against protestors causing massive death of civilians and soldiers. Thus, not being involved in their business was the best decision the western powers ever made to avoid bloody wars that could trigger loss of immense properties and innocent lives.


In conclusion, Stalin’s actions in East and Central Europe were to blame for the constant uprisings and protests in the region. His reign was marked by a lot of Stalinization that denied many people a lot of freedoms. As a result, they were to resort to constant demonstrations in order to bring the fact that they were annoyed with the way of governance to the ruling government’s attention. Irresponsible sentiments coming from some leaders provoked a lot of disagreements that made people have different opinions about the government. Most of the protests were motivated by the fact that people wanted social justices, namely freedom and democracy. They also wanted to improve the economic situations of their countries as well as promote the wellbeing of workers. It is evident that they were also concerned with how the political affairs of their country were governed and, thus, wanted to have political leaders elected through fair elections rather than dictators who were questionable.


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