Khrushchev’s Unintended Consequences

In response to Khrushchev’s denunciation of Stalin in Moscow, as well as to the growing discontent at home, citizens of Poland, Hungary and eventually Czechoslovakia.

Poland: June 1956

Workers broke out in protest against the unpopular Communist regime and demanded better pay and treatment at the hands of the government. The demonstrations eventually fizzled out thanks to the reformist Wladyslaw Gomulka, who worked with Soviet leaders and the Polish Communist Party to appease the workers and avoid a revolution.

Hungary: October 1956

A year prior, Hungarian’s liberal leader Imre Nagy was removed from power by supporters of his previous opponent Matyas Rakosi (who had run Hungary up until 1953, when Nagy took power). Discontent continued to grow until October of 1956 when students who had followed the protests in Hungary staged a demonstration that turned violent. The violence soon grew out of hand with rebels arming themselves and forming councils to take over factories. Soviet forces were a part of the initial struggle but it wasn’t until October 31st that Khrushchev decided that a full invasion was necessary to control the situation. Nagy, who had been restored as Prime Minister on the 24th, frantically declared Hungary’s withdrawal from the Warsaw Pact in an attempt to place himself at the center of the revolutionaries resistance. Nagy was eventually captured, tried and executed by the Soviets, along with other insurgent leaders.

Czechoslovakia: 1968

Alexander Dubcek became First Secretary of Czechoslovakia in January 1968 and brought with him the promise of “socialism with a human face.” His grand vision of reform was most unwelcome to the Soviets, who not only feared what could happen in Czechoslovakia, but also what would happen if the wave of reform spread to the Union itself. Soviet officials tried to force Dubcek to abandon his reform plans but he argued that it was too late–the people had too much momentum to accept a return to old ways. In late August the Politburo launched a joint-Warsaw Pact invasion of Czechoslovakia to contain the situation.

This invasion translated into the new Brezhnev Doctrine, which asserted the rights of “the right and responsibility of Communist parties of fraternal socialist countries to intervene against anti-socialist degeneration.” ( Although the invasion was relatively violent-free, the reform movement was squashed and would not regain momentum for quite a while.