The communist political system in Eastern Europe rested not upon consent but upon coercion. As an ‘important centre of administrative repression’, the secret police proved vital in ensuring the survival of the regimes which they served. In the earliest phase of communist rule, during the late 1940s and 50s, the secret police were primarily employed as instruments of political and social change. Their task was to intimidate the population as a whole into accepting the fact of communist party rule. Once the communists had consolidated their power, the task of the police altered and became one of ‘political maintenance’. In this second phase, which lasted right up until 1989, the secret police no longer acted as agents of change but, instead, as guardians of the status quo.
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