In order to consider the impact and influence of Stalinism on Central Europe, we must first understand how it arrived, the context of its arrival, and what it was. The advent of complete communist control in the places that, after the war, lay within the so-called Soviet sphere of interest and military control1 is inseparable from the imposition of Stalinism because both developments originated in the same shifting tactics and will of the Soviet leader himself. It was most of all Stalin's determination to impose total Soviet dominance in the region that endangered local variations on the path to Socialism in Central Europe, ensuring that its regimes would be forced to ape a fearful template from the Soviet late 1920s and 1930s.
So Stalinism in Central Europe is first of all defined by Stalin's delayed insistence on imposing a uniform Soviet-inspired method of socialist development. And, above all, this consisted of rapid heavy industrialization, swift and brutal agricultural collectivization, and, most of all, a reign of state terror highlighted by show trials and purges inside the party and mass surveillance and incarceration outside of it. But by imposing this agenda across Central and Eastern Europe, Stalin added further ideological incongruities to an already confusing 30 years of contradictions.
The breakneck pace of industrialization and collectivization at the heart of Stalin's Soviet model had, of course, been predicated on the fact that, in contradiction to Marxist theory, the 1917 revolution had occurred in an agriculturally based, semi-feudal society. Yet from the Second Congress of the Comintern in 1920, it was – in a strange inversion – Soviet development that would provide the model for European Communism. Soviet control of European Communists’ political tactics was henceforth a source of confusion. The popular front policy of collaboration with ‘bourgeois’ parties against Nazism and Fascism that the Comintern launched in the mid-1930s was a reversal of policy that was itself reversed even more dramatically after the Nazi– Soviet pact of 1939. The subsequently relaunched popular front policy that followed Operation Barbarossa was still the status quo in Soviet-dominated Central Europe when the war ended.
In 1945, therefore, the question of how Communism could be established in Czechoslovakia, Hungary, and other liberated and defeated states – for both local Communists and their Soviet benefactors – was for the time being seen in the light of coalitions, cooperation, and gradualism.