Czechoslovak coup d'état of 1948 (Wikipedia)Communists were never negligible in Czechoslovakia, since their creation in 1921, but after the World War II, they had a real momentum. Although Czechoslovakia managed to become one of the last "undecided" countries of the Central and Eastern Europe, as the Soviets thought themselves, the internal situation was much more favorable for the rise of communism than the situation in other countries that adopted communism at about the same time.
There were hundreds of Soviet agents in our country but I don't think that they have played an important role; their ability to convince the social democratic party to co-operate with the communists might have been an exception but it wasn't such a key event. After everything was settled, the Soviet communist party has criticized their Czechoslovak comrades that their victory wasn't sufficiently bloody. But what were the conditions that have made the coup possible - and, in fact, easy?
In the 1946 election, the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia won 38% of the vote which is a truly high number for a multi-party democracy. These bastards had the "momentum", indeed. They were able to correlate themselves with the desire for a "change". The Czechoslovaks were still upset about the Western allies who betrayed us in 1938 and grateful to Stalin's Soviet Union that has played a major role in the liberation of the country from the Nazis: the communist party itself had a clear record of their anti-Nazi resistance. In February 1948, rallies were held everywhere, millions of people were ready to participate in nation-wide strikes, and so forth.
Klement Gottwald, the first working class president of Czechoslovakia, with his Russian friend
The prime minister Klement Gottwald - who was the leader of communists since the 1929 Stalinist takeover of the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia - returned from President Edvard Beneš and made this speech (sorry, the YouTube video contains the moving pictures of Jiří Paroubek, the current boss of social democrats, but it is not such a dramatic difference anyway, at least as far as their dictatorship ambitions go). He said, very slowly, in a way that highlights how stupid this leader was, that he had just returned from the Prague Castle and the president had accepted the resignation of all the reactionary ministers.
The crowds cheered.
The communists were thus able to fill the rest of the government with their people. Jan Masaryk, the minister of foreign affairs and the son of the first president Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk, was the only non-communist minister in the new government but he became the victim of the third Prague defenestration two weeks later: they threw him out of the window. Czechoslovakia had to cancel its participation in the Marshall Plan, too. The democratic president, Edvard Beneš, resigned soon afterwards and was replaced by Klement Gottwald himself. Beneš also died a few months later, leaving together with the last hopes for democracy's survival. 41 years of communism, with a refreshing interruption in 1968, followed.
The Victorious February, as it used to be called by the official propaganda for all those 41 years, had many implications, even outside Czechoslovakia. It has forced the U.S. government to dramatically increase the funding of Pentagon because their overreliance on nuclear weapons became too obvious at this point. It convinced the West to create a state in West Germany and to rapidly adopt the Marshall Plan. The Victorious February might have been the strongest single event that has contributed to the beginning of the Cold War, the creation of NATO, and all the related dynamics.
What is the message? Well, totalitarian systems can begin by peaceful and mostly legal methods - Hitler's rise in 1933 was another example - but once they take over, it is rather difficult to get rid of them. We should be very careful about the movements that are capable and willing to suppress some basic principles of democracy and freedom for decades because democracy and freedom cannot really protect themselves, at least not when the parties with very different priorities become the dominant ones.
The democratic tolerance for certain parties with not-quite-democratic plans should start to diminish when the non-democratic plans threaten to influence the society in the long run and when they start to look too realistic.
And that's the memo.