|“||I have just come from the castle, where I have seen the president of the republic, and I can tell you that he has accepted all of my proposals without making any changes.||„|
|~ Klement Gottwald|
Klement Gottwald, (born Nov. 23, 1896, Dědice, Moravia, Austria-Hungary [now in Czech Republic]—died March 14, 1953, Prague, Czech.), Czechoslovak Communist politician and journalist, successively deputy prem ier (1945–46), premier (1946–48), and president (1948–53) of Czechoslovakia.
The illegitimate son of a peasant, Gottwald was sent to Vienna at the age of 12 to become an apprentice carpenter and cabinetmaker. By the age of 16 he had become a socialist. During World War I he served in the Austro-Hungarian army, deserting, however, to the Russians before the end of the war. When he returned to the new state of Czechoslovakia in 1918, he joined the left wing of the Czechoslovak Social Democratic Party, the wing that in 1921 became the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia (Komunistická Strana Československa; KSČ); Gottwald was a charter member. Soon he was editor of the party newspaper in Bratislava, Hlas Ludu (“Voice of the People”), and later of Pravda (“Truth”). In 1925 he was elected to the central committee of the KSČ and moved to Prague, and in 1927 he became the party’s secretary-general. From 1929 he was a member of the Czechoslovak parliament.
After the Munich Agreement of October 1938, Gottwald went to Moscow, where he later made several broadcasts to the Czechoslovak underground movement. In 1945 he became deputy premier in a provisional government appointed by President Eduard Beneš with the approval of Moscow. In March 1946 he became chairman of the KSČ, and on July 3 he became the nation’s premier. On June 14, 1948, after Beneš’s resignation under threat and pressure, Gottwald was inaugurated as president of the republic. Gottwald quickly consolidated his position. Czechoslovakia was compelled to adopt a Soviet and Stalinist model of government; the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia substituted itself for the state. Political purges began in 1950, resulting in the judicial executions of about 180 party officials, including the party’s first secretary, Gottwald’s rival Rudolf Slánský. Gottwald caught a chill at Joseph Stalin's funeral(March9,1953) and succumbed to pneumonia shortly afterward.
Gottwald was born on November 23, 1896, the son of a small farmer in the village of Dedice in Moravia, then part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. At the age of 12 he was sent to Vienna to become an apprentice to a woodworker. Four years later he joined the Social Democratic (Marxist) youth movement.
When World War I broke out he was drafted into the imperial army. As an artilleryman he saw action on both the Russian and Italian fronts, was wounded, and rose to the rank of sergeant major. Before the war ended, however, he deserted (as did many Czechs) and organized sabotage activities against the Austro-Hungarian forces.
In the new state of Czechoslovakia after 1918 Gottwald was a member of the left wing of the Czechoslovak Social Democratic Party, leaving with it to form the new Czechoslovak Communist Party in 1921. Thereafter, he gained prominence as a Communist speaker, writer, and general organizer. He became editor of the party's Czech (Pravda) and Slovak (Hlas ludu) publications, was elected to its executive committee in 1925, and in 1927, at the age of 31, was elected its secretary general. In 1935 he led a group of 30 elected Communist deputies to the Czechoslovak parliament, promising in his inaugural speech to "break the necks" of his bourgeois political opponents.
After Adolf Hitler came to power in Germany Gottwald was among those who warned of the fascist threat to Czechoslovakia and demanded that the country prepare a strong military defense against it. After the infamous Munich Pact of September 1938 had crippled Czechoslovakia, Gottwald, who had vehemently opposed compliance with it, was sent by his party to safety in the Soviet Union. He remained there throughout World War II, organizing underground resistance and making propaganda broadcasts to the Czech and Slovak lands.
In 1943 Eduard Beneš, the Czechoslovak president-in-exile, came to Moscow, and Gottwald worked out with him a new compromise political-economic structure for the freed and reunited country after the war. This program was put into effect in April 1945 at Košice in Slovakia, the first Czechoslovak city to be liberated.
On his return home, Gottwald became a vice-premier in the National Front, a provisional government composed of a coalition of parties that administered Czechoslovakia in the immediately postwar period. In the spring of 1946 he was also elected chairman of the Czechoslovak Communist Party (his best friend, Rudolf Slánský, assumed the more workaday executive position of secretary general). In the national elections of June 1946 the Communists—drawing upon enormous popular goodwill for the liberating Soviet Army and much resentment of the perfidious behavior of the Western powers at Munich-received 38 percent of the votes cast, becoming the largest single party in the Czechoslovak parliament.
On July 3, 1946, Gottwald became prime minister, heading a cabinet of Communist and non-Communist representatives. He was viewed at home and abroad as a "moderate" Communist who would respect the established Czechoslovak traditions of democracy and pluralism, and his early actions seemed reassuring. The new constitution guaranteed free elections; a free press; freedom of religion and assembly; the right to work and receive disability compensation, to education, and to recreation; equal rights for women; and an independent judiciary. Financial institutions, mines and other natural resources, and basic industries were to be socialized, but private property and private enterprises of moderate size were protected. There were some worrisome moments, to be sure.
In 1947 Gottwald's government first accepted, then—at Soviet insistence— rejected an invitation to take part in deliberations on the U.S.'s Marshall Plan, asserting that Czechoslovakia's ties were totally and irrevocably with the Soviet Union. At the same time, a "millionaire's tax" on more affluent citizens was levied to help support the peasantry, which had suffered severe crop losses.
Covertly, Gottwald and his party were executing a detailed, progressive plan for a Communist seizure of power, aware that waning popular support for them meant a coming defeat at the polls. This plan was publicly exposed in February 1948 when the non-Communist ministers of the government charged the Communists with planning assassinations, dismissing non-Communist police chiefs, and other illegal actions. A majority of the cabinet resigned in an effort to topple Gottwald's government. In response, Gottwald mobilized his party and its followers in a show of force. "Action Committees" seized control of local governmental bodies, factories, schools, and large popular organizations. The army and police arrested alleged "conspirators." Factory workers paraded with arms through the streets and threatened a general strike.
On February 25 President Beneš yielded to Gottwald's demand that he be permitted to form a new government of Communists and sympathizers. Three months later, in May, Beneš resigned, and Gottwald replaced him as president a few days later, in June. A new constitution of April 1948 sanctioned a one-party (Communist) dictatorship and completed the nationalization and collectivization process.
Gottwald was still seen by many as a leader who would avoid the excesses of other new Communist regimes. However, the "Soviet viceroy" promptly set about in dogmatic Marxist fashion to reshape the Czechoslovak "people's democracy" into a one-party workers' state, totally reoriented toward the Soviet Union (following the slogan "With the Soviet Union Forever"), Sovietized in its institutions, and heavily Russianized in its culture.
When the Soviet dictator Stalin ordered all of the new "satellites" to purge themselves of "national Communists" and "potential Titoists," Gottwald dutifully sent more than a dozen of his oldest Czech and Slovak Communist comrades (including Slánský) to death or life imprisonment. Although himself unwell, Gottwald attended Stalin's funeral in Moscow on March 9, 1953, occupying the most prominent place of all the satellite leaders on the tribune. While there he contracted pneumonia. On March 14, 1953, nine days after the death of Stalin, Gottwald himself was dead in Prague.