Sputnik Escalates the Cold War
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Cominform (1947–1956)

Western acronym for what was officially known as the Information Bureau of the Communist and Workers' Parties. The Cominform's creation in the autumn of 1947 was regarded as a crucial event in the onset of the Cold War. The Cominform's inaugural conference, attended by representatives from nine national communist parties—Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, France, Hungary, Italy, Poland, Romania, Yugoslavia, and the USSR—met in western Poland at Szklarska Poremba during 22–28 September 1947. Andrei Zhdanov, arguably second in the Soviet hierarchy only to Premier Josef Stalin, gave the opening address while establishing a new benchmark in Soviet foreign policy.

In what soon became a key communist metaphor of the Cold War, Zhdanov promulgated the two camps thesis, which asserted that a democratic and peace-loving Soviet-led camp was in direct conflict with a warmongering, imperialist camp based in the United States. From 1941 until early 1947, the Soviet Communist Party's official stance had been based upon cooperation with the noncommunist world. But the Cominform jettisoned this position, setting the stage for mutual antagonism between East and West. Zhdanov's postwar division provided the Cominform with its ideological justification: polarized allegiances within social democratic labor movements. It also alarmed the West, which now viewed the Cominform as a resurrected version of the pre–World War II Comintern dedicated to the spread of world communism.

Explanations for the foundation of the Cominform, nominally an information-sharing agency, are in dispute. The prevailing historical interpretation has maintained that it was a response to the introduction of the Marshall Plan in the summer of 1947, which Stalin saw as an attempt by the United States to impose economic and political hegemony in Europe. The formation of the Cominform was the next logical step in consolidating Eastern bloc countries after the Soviets repudiated the Marshall Plan. Recent documents from Hungarian archives suggest, however, that plans to reestablish an international communist organization may have been under way as early as 1946. This would imply that the Cominform was less a response to perceived Western hostility and more a nonmilitary means of Sovietizing Central and Eastern Europe. Whatever motives lay behind it, the Cominform's creation set off alarm bells from Washington to Whitehall in the autumn of 1947. Without doubt, the two camps thesis lent an air of permanency to the evolving Cold War.

The Cominform was initially located in Belgrade, Yugoslavia, rather than in Moscow. This was certainly appropriate given the early and prominent role model provided by Yugoslavia's Josip Broz Tito, although the tacit intention was to obscure the controlling hands of Stalin and Zhdanov. Also influential in promoting adherence to the new communist line was the Cominform's monthly journal, For a Lasting Peace, for a People's Democracy! The title was chosen by Stalin himself. The journal was published in fourteen languages and distributed in fifty-seven countries. As the two camps doctrine developed, any nation that supported the United States was deemed to be allied with American imperialism. Only unwavering support of Soviet foreign policy could prevent such categorization.

Within the so-called people's democracies, the new policy wrought profound consequences. Communist parties discarded any appearance of cooperation with other parties, purged all noncommunists, and seized control of governments. The 1948 coup d'état in Czechoslovakia exemplified this process. The belief that the people's democracies were a new means by which the transition to socialism could be achieved was abandoned. Thus, the notion that different countries could determine their own road to socialism became doctrinal heresy.

On 28 June 1948, Tito's self-declared independence from Moscow triggered the excommunication of the Yugoslav Communist Party from the Cominform. Although Yugoslavia had been the most ardent proponent of the two camps thesis, the archetype had now become the pariah. Apart from the demonization of Tito, Yugoslavia's independence opened the first true schism in the international communist movement. The divide meant that neither Bulgaria nor Yugoslavia would continue to support the Greek communists, whose threats had helped convince the Americans in 1947 that the fate of Europe was still precarious. In October 1949, the Greek Communist Party acknowledged military defeat. Less than two months earlier Cominform architect Zhdanov died unexpectedly, and for the next three years the main thrust of Cominform activity became the peace offensive, which was a conduit for Soviet foreign policy. The Cominform did not long survive the Stalinist era. On 17 April 1956, Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev dissolved it as part of his reconciliation with Tito.

Phillip Deery


Further Reading
Procaccio, Giuliano, ed. The Cominform: Minutes of the Three Conferences, 1947/1948/1949. Milan: Fondazione Giangiacomo Feltrinelli, 1994.; Reale, Eugenio. "The Founding of the Cominform." Pp. 253–268 in The Comintern: Historical Highlights. Essays, Recollection, Documents, edited by Milorad M. Dreachkovitch and Branko Lazitch. New York: Praeger, 1966.
 

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