Did Salami Tactics Really Happen?


from Mark Mazower, Dark Continent (1998)



Although the rhythms differed across eastern Europe, the sub­sequent pattern looked similar in retrospect: government by coalition, in which the Communist Party played an influential and dominant part; then, marginalization and outright repression of those parties and splinter groups which remained outside the coalition.   Finally elections, which gave the Government Front 89 per cent in Poland , 98 per cent in Romania (up in 1948 from 91 per cent in 1946!) and 79 per cent in Bulgaria .   By 1947-8, this process had succeeded in crushing the agrarian and socialist parties which were the most serious threat in a democratic setting to communist hegemony; some of their leaders had been executed or forced to flee, while others had led splinter groups into government.


Was this a Machiavellian strategy carefully planned in advance?   Some contemporary observers had no doubts.   [The historian] Hugh Seton-Watson discerned a pattern of three stages: genuine coalition; bogus coalition; the `monolithic' regime.   Yet in a curious way, this series of stages mirrored the emerging Soviet view which also saw the region moving by stages to communism.   Both perhaps were trying to see a logic and a tidiness to events which did not exist.   The actual course of events suggested - at least before 1947 - a far more hesitant and uncertain Soviet Union than Seton-Watson implied.   The 1945 elections in Hun­gary , for example, resulted in a humiliating defeat for the communists and a 57 per cent triumph for the Smallholders.   Some coalitions (Poland, Yugoslavia in early 1945) were mere showpieces from the start, disguising communist control; others were genuine coalitions for several years ( Hungary , Czechoslovakia ); Romania and Bulgaria fell somewhere between the two.


Mazower argues that 'Salami tactics' were a rationalisation imposed later, in hindsight, and that the reality was much more muddled, ad hoc and opportunistic.