Capitalist restoration in
Czechoslovakia would mean
imperialism in all East Europe
By Sam Marcy
September 13, 1968 -- In the midst of all the hysteria generated by the imperialist press against the Warsaw Pact intervention in Czechoslovakia, the State Department's charge that the intervention had "changed the balance of power" in Eastern Europe casts a revealing light on what is really the crux of the problem.
For what this charge about the "change in the balance of power" amounts to is that in the eyes of Washington's planners Czechoslovakia had been marked up in the balance sheet of the world struggle between capitalist and socialist countries as already being on their side, as one of their acquired assets.
The long, drawn-out struggle, waged by the U.S. and allied imperialist countries for the subversion of socialist Czechoslovakia into an imperialist satellite, culminated in the January coup by Dubcek and his collaborators. The imperialists thought they had it made. It was in the bag.
All that was needed was to legitimize the takeover and to bring to the surface the openly counter-revolutionary character of the new regime.
To be sure, Dubcek and company had merely opened the door to it, but it was only a matter of days before full control of the main arteries of life in Czechoslovakia would be in the hands of the open bourgeois restoration. Already one of the new periodicals fittingly called itself Restoration.
The intervention by the Warsaw Pact powers that followed was calculated to roll back the counter-revolution if not to crush it. This drastic measure came late and only time will tell if it was not too late.
Among genuine Communists and Progressives who are sincerely concerned as to whether the military intervention was justified, the issue must first of all be considered in the light of what alternatives were available in the given situation. It would indeed be a fortuitous historical circumstance if as a result of the continued and uninterrupted growth of revisionist policies in the Czechoslovak CP there had developed a genuine proletarian opposition from below.
Unfortunately such a development did not take place and shows no signs of developing even at this moment. To deny this is to fly in the face of stubborn facts and to distort reality in order to suit pre-conceived political notions.
The choices that were left open were support of the bourgeois counter-revolution or a military intervention led by the Soviet Union, whose leaders are themselves revisionist. So the choice finally narrowed itself down to support of the socialist countries led by the Soviet revisionists.
It is no answer to say that the Soviet leadership itself is responsible for the development of revisionism in Czechoslovakia. Of course they are responsible for its development. But once the Warsaw Pact nations took drastic steps to check revisionism from swiftly degenerating into open counter-revolution, those steps were progressive and could not be opposed on revolutionary grounds.
It should first of all be noted that the intervention was decided upon only as a last resort, and because the situation posed a threat to the very existence of the socialist countries in the Warsaw Pact nations. Here we do not mean a military threat backed by the forces of the U.S. and its Western allies.
The main danger
Of course the socialist countries are always in danger of a military attack by the imperialist powers, but that really was not the main danger so far as the Czechoslovak counter-revolution is concerned. The main and fundamental danger is that it would accelerate the neo-bourgeois restorationist trend in all of the socialist countries and pose an internal danger of a full scale bourgeois counter-revolution in the socialist bloc.
Of course with Czechoslovakia in the imperialist camp the military threat to the Soviet Union from the West would be enormously increased since Czechoslovakia is a gateway to the Soviet Union, especially with a militarized neo-Nazi regime in West Germany.
It is impossible to conceive of the existence of a capitalist Czechoslovakia without the most dangerous repercussions in all the socialist countries, including China. For in the final analysis one of the fundamental tasks of the Cultural Revolution in China was the destruction of the very forces of reaction and restoration which came to a head in Czechoslovakia.
Class character of Soviet state
It is possible to denounce the intervention only if one takes the position that the Soviet Union is in fact a capitalist, or to be more precise, an imperialist state. In such an eventuality a different approach would be necessary.
Almost since the birth of the Soviet Union there have been episodes which have evoked hysterical cries from the bourgeoisie which in turn found echoes in the radical movement, calling for a re-evaluation of the class character of the Soviet Union as a socialist or workers' state.
This was true when Lenin introduced his NEP policy which followed on the heels of the Kronstadt rebellion -- a counterrevolutionary insurrection against the Soviet Union. This was true of the Soviet invasion of Poland in 1920. It was particularly true during the Stalin-Hitler Pact period and the invasion of Finland. And needless to say it was true during the period of the Hungarian counter-revolution. This is not to say that much of the history of the Soviet leadership after the death of Lenin is not characterized by serious errors and grave miscalculations. Nor is it to deny the growth and development of the monstrous bureaucratic caste which feeds on privilege, inequality and the development of material incentive on an ever-increasing scale.
But this is a long way from saying that the Soviet Union is a capitalist state. The private ownership of the basic means of production and the prevalence of a market economy based on private ownership, which characterizes all the capitalist countries, is by no means the driving force of the Soviet economy.
Despite the introduction of Liebermanism and other capitalist techniques which have resulted in spreading economic inequality in the Soviet Union, the fact of the matter is that the basic conquests of the Revolution, such as state ownership of the means of production and the fact that the economy is basically a planned one in spite of many deformations, have preserved the foundations of the Soviet Union as a socialist or workers state. It goes without saying that, as revisionism in politics deepens, the danger to the socialist foundations of the Soviet Union becomes ever greater. This has manifested itself for a long time both at home (in the Soviet Union) and abroad.
Revisionists are not the capitalist class
Those who equate revisionism with capitalist restoration do violence to both fact and theory. Revisionism is merely an ideological current. Capitalist restoration means a change in the social system. It is a change from one class rule to another.
Some of those who equate revisionism with capitalist restoration unequivocally supported Soviet intervention in Hungary. Was Khrushchev merely a revisionist -- but Brezhnev a capitalist restorationist?
In our view, the difference between Khrushchev and Brezhnev is minimal. They are both revisionists. They are capable of veering leftward or rightward within the same ideological framework but they are both rooted in the planned economic system of the USSR.
As against the Khrushchev-Brezhnev type of revisionism there has been developing for some time an outright counter-revolutionary current which is symbolized by such personalities as Sakharov, whose document as published by the New York Times is an open call for the dismantling of the socialist foundations of the USSR.
A victory for the imperialists in Czechoslovakia unquestionably would strengthen this current immensely. Parallel currents of this type would inevitably grow stronger in all socialist countries.
The Warsaw Pact intervention has at least rolled back this reactionary tidal wave, but the long-term strengthening of the socialist foundations in the USSR as well as in other socialist countries can only be accomplished by the proletariat itself. It alone can effectuate the urgently needed substitution of the revisionists with a truly revolutionary Marxist-Leninist leadership.
More information about trendsThe economists speak of the excessive equalization of wages, which permits a mechanic or a truck driver to earn more than an engineer or a doctor. ...
To remedy this situation, the economists-under the leadership of Ota Sik -- have been trying to introduce a major reform that would restore the profit incentive, force factories to get rid of their numerous superfluous workers, and stimulate managers to improve the quality of their products.
Harry Schwartz, the New York Times, March 31, 1968
The Facts Today
First six months of Dubcek regime
began the restoration of capitalism
November 10, 1968 -- Below is a collection of facts as related in the bourgeois press during the first months of the Dubcek government. We print it because of popular request for additional information which we received after the publication of our original "Fact Sheet" in the August 22 (1968) issue of Workers World.
On April 11, 1968, just after the ouster of Antonin Novotny and the formation of a "liberal" Cabinet in Prague, a New York Times editorial expressed U.S. imperialism's sympathy for the new brand of "socialism" in Czechoslovakia:
With the induction of the new Cabinet headed by Premier Oldrich Cernik and the publication of the long-awaited 'action program' of the Communist Party, the remarkable peaceful revolution in Czechoslovakia has completed the initial phase of its development. The Novotny gang has been swept from the commanding heights its members once monopolized, and the basic principles for what many Czechs and Slovaks hope will be a new, genuinely democratic road to Socialism have been spelled out ... [T]he framers of the new document wisely sought to guard against Muscovite military or economic pressure by promising to remain in the Soviet bloc. But Prague has now given notice that it expects to exercise genuine sovereignty in this alliance.
The immediate need is for the West, including the United States, to take concrete economic steps that show an understanding of the new Czechoslovakia and that provide meaningful aid now when that aid is most needed.
The Times editorial appeared the day after the Dubcek government had released its "action program" for carrying out "liberal" reforms. The program asserts that Czechoslovakia had entered a new stage of development in which "there no longer exist antagonistic classes and the main feature of internal development is becoming the process of rapprochement of all social groups of our society."
It should hardly be necessary to explain that the classless society here referred to -- and so joyously greeted by the imperialist press -- is not the last stage of socialism, but the planned first stage of restored capitalism.
When leaders in the midst of a campaign to reduce wages say, "There no longer exist antagonistic classes," we are not dealing with a theoretical error, but with the monstrous hypocrisy and monumental deceit of capitalism itself!
In this new stage of development, the program continues, "there has been a progressive change in the nature of our intelligentsia, which has become a people's Socialist intelligentsia. ... [There must be a] basic change in existing cadre policy, where for years the aspects of education, qualifications and abilities have been underestimated. ...
"Democratization of the economy," continues the program, "includes in particular the realization of independence of enterprises and enterprise groupings and their relative independence of state bodies, the full and real application of the right of the consumer to determine consumption and his style of living, the right of a free choice of working activity, the right and real possibility of different groups of working people and different social groups to formulate and defend their economic interests in creating the economic policy. ... It is indispensable to adopt the line of gradually drawing the prices of the home and world markets closer together."
Bringing back the capitalist market
to end the 'absurdity' of equal wages!
Much of the emphasis of the "action program" is on the economic "reforms" proposed by the "liberal" economist Ota Sik, who was made Deputy Premier after the fall of Novotny. The "reformers" charged that Novotny had "sabotaged" attempts to "reform" the economy, that is, to put it back on a decentralized, market-oriented and profit basis. In September of 1967 Novotny had cut back on decentralizing control of the economy when these "reforms" led to a rapid inflation of 29 percent in wholesale prices.
Nevertheless the privileged groupings which include the intellectuals and professionals who were unhurt by such price rises clamored for further "reforms." Fortune magazine of June 1968 put the case of the "democratic-minded" reformers this way:
[Ota Sik] urged the creation of a realistic price system based on the market and an end to wage practices that made Czechoslovakia one of the world's most egalitarian nations -- and led to absurdities such that a taxi driver made more money than an architect or a doctor, and workers more than managers.
After Novotny's fall, the drive to completely dismantle the socialist economy was swift. Following are some of the proposals and programs of the Dubcek regime.
On May 14 Premier Oldrich Cernik and Deputy Premiers Ota Sik and Gustav Husak announced to a press conference in Prague some aspects of the economic reforms. According to the New York Times of the following day, they said that "Czechoslovakia would welcome foreign investment in industry." In addition, Ota Sik said that "one of this country's goals ... was achievement of convertibility for Czech currency -- the crown," i.e., convertibility with the currencies of the Western imperialist countries which would facilitate investments by the U.S., West Germany, etc.
According to the Times report some of the programs included: reorganization of the economy "to become competitive both domestically and in Western export markets"; "complete decentralization of industry and management, with full autonomy in state enterprises ... to compete in credits and markets"; "free enterprise will be permitted in 'personal services' " in which a private businessman could hire "apprentices"; unprofitable enterprises would not be subsidized (this, Ota Sik admitted would cause "social problems and some unemployment"); "Czechoslovakia would accept Western capital for industrial 'joint ventures' with state enterprises" (it would be up to each enterprise to negotiate with the capitalist companies); and on questioning Ota Sik replied that "this country might consider a relationship with the International Monetary Fund."
The day after these reforms were reported in the New York Time of May 15, an editorial appeared in that newspaper chiming in with the charges that Novotny had "sabotaged" a "change to a more market oriented economy." To show their supreme satisfaction with the turn toward capitalism, the editors generously suggested that Congress "extend most-favored-nation tariff privileges to Czechoslovakia" to help batter down the walls of socialism in that country.
In addition, the Times suggested that the U.S. return $20 million in gold which the Nazis stole from Czechoslovakia during the war. Although the sum is insignificant, the alert watchdogs for U.S. finance capital point out that "the political case for reversal of attitude [towards returning the gold] now is overwhelming."
Not so easy to convince workers that
speed-up and layoffs are good for them!
If the new "people's Socialist intelligentsia" (as Dubcek's action program put it) were wildly enthusiastic about the return to the inequalities of the past, the working class remained passive and often hostile to the unfolding reforms.
The New York Times of May 18, 1968, reported that Dubcek unquestionably has the support of the urban middle class, intellectuals, journalists, artists and students, but is most vulnerable in relation to the workers and peasants who, they admit, will be hurt by the reforms.
The Dubcek clique was concerned over the fact that Novotny "received thunderous applause" from the workers when he visited the C.K.D. machinery factory in Prague in February. To counter the hostility to the reforms, therefore, the government began to make a concerted effort to win the support of the workers and, as the Times of May 29 put it, get them to "swallow the bitter pill of temporary unemployment and social disruption as a price for liberalization."
One Czech writer told the Times reporter that "The workers in Ostrava (the center of heavy industry) are not on the whole quite clear about the social demands of democratization. The fight for democracy has been concentrated in intellectual circles. Perhaps the workers have not quite dealt with the problem."
The Times article of May 29 further noted: "The new planners contend that the excessive goals for heavy industry must be cut down in favor of consumer goods. But this policy shift may pose a job security threat to the 1,600,000 inhabitants of the Ostrava region, the center of Czechoslovak heavy industry." As one Czech editor said, "As to the intellectual freedom within the framework of threatened jobs, I just don't know."
Reviving the Roman Church -- freedom of worship?
No, reinforcement for reaction!
One of the clearest signs of the reaction which took over Czechoslovakia in January was the active support of the "reforms" by the Catholic Church which is notoriously and openly engaged in counter-revolutionary activities in all of Eastern Europe.
On April 17, the Times reported that Bishop Frantisek Tomasek, leader of the Czech Roman Catholics, affirmed: "It is now, practically speaking, freedom. Freedom for the word of God, not only for men."
In March, the Church had already handed a set of demands to the Dubcek government.
"The Roman Catholic church demanded today," wrote the Times of March 25, "the return of Josef Cardinal Beran, who was forced from his see as Archbishop of Prague 20 years ago ... Bishop Tomasek made his demand in an appeal for a restoration of religious freedom as part of the broad program of liberalization."
By "religious freedom" the Bishop meant freedom for the Church to organize the masses against "atheistic Communism."
The demands in the letter included: "the rehabilitation of all priests, monks and laymen jailed for performance of religious functions and amnesty for those still in prison, legalization of religious instruction for children, and the removal of obstacles in the way of youths who want to study for the priesthood."
"... The new freedom," reported the Times of March 25, "was strikingly illustrated this evening on the state television network when a Catholic priest was interviewed with great frankness and portrayed in an unusually sympathetic light."
On June 22 the Times reported that The Most Rev. Josef Hlouch was allowed to return to his diocese in Ceske Budejovice in South Bohemia, 16 years after he was removed from the bishopric in March 1952. (Hlouch is only one of many priests returned to their posts after 1952. (Hlouch is only one of many priests returned to their posts after many years of exile.)
"Three Government officials also attended (his first mass), the Bishop said, and were most courteous."
Bishop Hlouch "shared his place of enforced residence with other prelates, including Josef Cardinal Beran, Archbishop of Prague. ...
"He hopes to make his first trip to Rome in August, to report to Pope Paul VI, after having become reacquainted with his diocese. The Government has assured him permission to travel, the Bishop said."
The link between the counter-revolutionary organizations formed after January and the Catholic Church was made clear in a Times article of April 1 which reported on a meeting of Club 231 (see below).
"A Roman Catholic layman called, amid great applause, for the return of Josef Cardinal Beran to his see (in Prague). The prelate is in Rome after many years of house arrest in Czechoslovakia."
'Reform' was just the polite, lying,
bourgeois word for counter-revolution!
Ever since the advent of the Dubcek regime in January the U.S. bourgeois press has scarcely been able to hide its delight with the clearly anti-Communist tone of the "liberal reformers." The New York Time of January 20, 1968, posed the following rhetorical question:
The great unanswered question in Prague this week is why the government-controlled television network devoted a full hour to a documentary on the Petschek family.
The Petscheks were, from the end of the 19th century until the late nineteen-thirties, the equivalent of the Rockefellers here. They sold most of their interests-their fortune was based on mining and banking -- and went to the United States just before the Nazis took over in 1938.
If the TV producers of the post-January counter-revolution were busy glorifying a big capitalist, the journalists and writers were equally busy bringing back to life the bourgeois "father of Czechoslovakia," Thomas G. Masaryk. On March 18, the New York Times ran an article headlined, "Masaryk's Grave Is a Shrine Again."
On Sept. 24, 1967, the New York Times reported:
Mr. Masaryk, whose name has been almost totally absent from the pages of the Czech press except in a derogatory context, was paid a warm tribute Sept. 14, the anniversary of his death. An article on the front page of Literarni Noviny praised his contribution to the nation, dismissed the fact that he was anti-Communist as irrelevant, and contrasted his human values with the lack of values to be found nowadays in Czechoslovakia.
On May 19, 1968, the Times ran the following quote from a history professor, Bohumil Cerny on Masaryk:
After 300 years of Austro-Hungarian suppression, Masaryk was the first and only man to realize what had to be done to make a state. A towering figure, humane, a philosopher who knew his Plato, a cosmopolitan in the best sense. Our youth worships him. ...
On March 10, 1968, the Times wrote:
Communists and non-Communists here raised the possibility today of peaceful changes that could substantially weaken the Communist Party's power monopoly in Czechoslovakia. The Socialist Party ... published a resolution calling for different political parties to be allowed to try to win support.
By April, several counter-revolutionary organizations had been formed. On March 31, reported the Times of the next day, 3,000 men and women met to found Club 231. The members, revealed the Times, "were the political elite of Czechoslovak democracy, Socialists and Liberal Democrats, united in their support for Thomas G. Masaryk, the founder of Czechoslovakia, and his successor as President, Eduard Benes.
"They were arrested mainly in 1948 and 1949, tried on charges of treason and espionage, and sentenced to long prison terms." (Note: these are not Communist Party members who were imprisoned during the 50's, but opponents of Communism who opposed the workers' dictatorship from its inception in 1948.)
A law professor, Ivan Svitak, who represents another counter-revolutionary organization, the Club of Committed Non-party Members, was reported in the New York Times of April 11 as having said, "Democratization never is and never has been the political objective of the new set fighting for power ... the whole Stalinist apparatus remains. 'We must liquidate it or it will liquidate us.' "
On April 28, the Times reported that Svitak told the Club for Independent Political Thought, "Today we are a club, tomorrow we are a force, and the day after tomorrow we shall be an equal with the Communists."
'Freedom' from world socialism --
to become a satellite of the United States
Another feature of the Czech "liberalization" which has delighted U.S. imperialism is what the New York Times editorial of April 11 called "genuine sovereignty." In practice, the drive for sovereignty within the Warsaw Pact countries has meant a drive toward alliance with the capitalist West.
Three days after Novotny's ouster as First Secretary of the Party on Jan. 5, the Times editorial read:
The fact that the unpopularity of Novotny's rigid policy toward West Germany was a significant element in his ouster will also play a role. Inevitably, therefore, this episode must strengthen the independence-minded elements in all Eastern European countries. In addition, it gives new encouragement to the Bonn regime in its recently stalled efforts to build new bridges to the East against the frantic opposition of Walter Ulbricht, who must be one of the chief mourners at Novotny's political demise.
Within two weeks of the January takeover, the Times of Jan. 21 reported: "The arrival this week of the advance party of a West German trade mission represents a significant weakening of the 'Iron Triangle,' the unofficial anti-Bonn alliance linking East Germany, Poland and Czechoslovakia." In the "hopes of obtaining long-term Western loans," the Times continues, Czechoslovakia sees West Germany "as the most logical source of such credit."
The drive for "independence" went so far that at a student meeting March 21, even the very popular "liberal" leader, Josef Smrkovsky, was jeered and booed for defending the alliance with the Soviet Union.
One of the first tasks of the new "independent" Czech leaders, hinted the Times the day of Novotny's fall, was to cut international assistance to the working class movement. The economic crises, it was held, were due to the fact that "with Mr. Novotny's tacit approval the Czechoslovaks began fulfilling many of the Soviet Union's commitments of food and weapons to Cuba and several undeveloped countries." (In other words, break with the USSR on the most reactionary basis possible.)
Aug. 11, the Times wrote: "Influential Czechs have indicated that they want to reassess the foreign assistance this country has generously been giving to regimes and movements abroad, and put their support on an economic rather than an ideological basis." (A thinly veiled way of suggesting withdrawal of aid to liberation struggles around the world!)
To facilitate the rapprochement with imperialism, the Czech party, as reported in the New York Times of May 26, "has relinquished its close supervision of the Foreign Ministry." This decision "set the Foreign Ministry free to make foreign policy." The decision also "adds stature to Foreign Minister Jiri Hajek, who is thought eager to improve relations with the West, including the United States."
On May 2, the New York Times quoted Robert J. McCloskey of the State Department as saying:
"We are watching with interest and sympathy recent developments in Czechoslovakia, which seem to represent the wishes and needs of the Czechoslovak people."
No doubt to serve the "wishes and needs" of the Czech people, "Pan American Airways reopened its offices in Prague ... with the blessings of the Czech Government, 18 years after the office was closed under Communist pressure," reported the Times of May 21. In fact, to encourage travel from Prague, Pan Am accepts Czech crowns for flights as far as London, the Times related.
"The reorientation" of the Czech economy has become a code word for a new orientation towards capitalism and imperialism. On May 13, the Times wrote:
Prof. Vaclav Kotyk, a director of the Institute for International Politics and Economics in Prague affirmed that one of Czechoslovakia's major foreign policy goals was to increase cultural trade and political relations with non-Communist countries.
Prof. Kotyk wrote his analysis of East-West relations for the current issue of The Journal of International Affairs published biannually by the School of International Affairs of Columbia University. (Note that this school is virtually a branch of the U.S. State Department).
May 9, the Times revealed:
Underlying the Dubcek leadership's attempts to reorient its foreign trade was the announcement today that Prague had negotiated to buy $200 million worth of Iranian oil. Czechoslovakia has imported oil almost exclusively from the Soviet Union since 1948. (Iranian oil is totally U.S.-controlled).
Who was Masaryk?
1918 state, led by Masaryk,
founded by U.S. as bulwark against socialism
November 10, 1968 -- One of the hallmarks of the so-called reform movement has been the revival of the principal figures of the pre-1948 period, such as Thomas Masaryk, his son Jan Masaryk, and Edward Benes as political and national heroes. Furthermore, these developments take place within the context of the glorification of the first republic of Czechoslovakia founded in 1918.
The attempt is being made to transfer to the first republic and its president, Thomas Masaryk, the aura of independence in the revolutionary context of the independence of oppressed countries of Asia, Africa and Latin America today. By extension, Masaryk is held up as a national liberation leader.
In view of this fact, it is both worthwhile and necessary to take a concrete look at the Czechoslovak Republic of 1918, at its leaders, its relationship to imperialism, and its relationship to the oppressed, that is, at its class character.
Such an examination should be helpful to determine the class character of those who are trying to create the cult of Masaryk and the adoration of the First Republic -- especially since the champions of the pre-1948 days are not removed from the old regime by even one generation and could not possibly misunderstand the concrete significance of longing for the past.
Czech state carved out at Versailles
The most important fact about the first Republic of Czechoslovakia of 1918, with Masaryk as its President and Benes as Foreign Minister, is that it was founded by the Allied imperialist powers. The Czech state was carved out of Central Europe at Versailles as part of the redivision of the world by the victors.
It is true that both Masaryk and Benes worked hard from the very beginning of World War I to convince the Entente countries that it was in their imperialist interest to create a Czechoslovak state. It is also true that both men worked feverishly to see that the Czech bourgeoisie came away from Versailles with as many concessions and as much booty as they could get from Anglo-French and U.S. imperialism. And it is undeniable that Masaryk used his national prestige to steer the country from the camp of the defeated Austro-Hungarian oppressors directly into the camp of the Western empire builders.
In the above sense, Masaryk and Benes are indeed fathers of Czechoslovakia. But nevertheless the real "founders" of the Czech state, as it was constituted in 1918, were the Bourse bankers and Wall Street.
To tell the complete truth, Masaryk and Benes, the great fathers of Czechoslovakia, never once publicly opposed the Hapsburgs until mid-1915, after the Czech regiments began to surrender en masse to the Entente in protest against having to fight for their oppressors in Vienna and Budapest. Until the very outbreak of the war, the "leaders" had always placed their hopes on working out increased privileges for the Czech bourgeoisie within the framework of the monarchy.
Only the war, and the opportunity of making an alliance with Western imperialism, emboldened them to think in terms of a separate republic. And even then they did not dare declare it in public until having scurried back and forth collecting support from Rome, Paris, London, and Washington. Such were the initial activities of the "fathers" of Czechoslovakia on behalf of the "liberation" of the Slavs.
Real fighting done by Czech workers
This is not to minimize the valiant role which the Czech working class played during that period. In fact, in the actual struggle for liberation, the workers were far ahead of the leaders, and all the declarations against the Hapsburgs, so much celebrated by the "reformers" in Czechoslovakia today, were carried out against a background of workers' demonstrations, strikes, and mutinies against the Austrian and Hungarian armies.
The famous Epiphany Declaration, which amounted to nothing more than all the Czech deputies of the Empire gathering to demand a seat at the robbers' table at Versailles, was carried out under the protection of a general strike in Bohemia.
One hundred fifty thousand workers came out in Prague on January 6, 1918, to support the struggle for national independence against Vienna. And in return the Czech bourgeoisie demanded the right to go to Versailles where they would secure the privileges of exploitation over the workers -- to be guaranteed by French bayonets.
The May 30, 1917, appeal by 222 Czech intellectuals to the Czech deputies to demand national rights for the Czech people was made with the support of 20,000 workers who struck in support of national liberation.
Founded at Pittsburgh; declared in Washington
It is significant that the first written agreement for the establishment of the Czechoslovak state was signed in Pittsburgh at a conference of Czechs and Slovaks in June 1918, after discussions between Masaryk and Woodrow Wilson. Masaryk had just arrived in the U.S. from Russia for discussions with Secretary of State Lansing, Colonel House, the chief strategist of Wilson's imperialism, and Charles R. Crane, a Chicago industrialist and banker who was a fund-raiser for Wilson. Crane had been in Russia on a special mission for Wilson where he also had discussions with Masaryk. They were just "old friends," according to Masaryk.
Masaryk had been to Washington several times before 1918 and was introduced to American high officials by his American wife, Charlotte Garrigue. His son Jan, later to move into the Czech Foreign Office, went to Boston University and spent considerable time in the U.S. before World War I.
The declaration of Czechoslovak independence was made, not in Prague, but in Washington, on October 18, 1918, and was handed out to the press by Masaryk himself. Benes, who spent most of his time during the war organizing the Czech National Council under the guidance of French Foreign Minister Pichon, read a copy of the declaration in Paris.
The same day, Woodrow Wilson announced that he was elaborating the tenth point of his demagogic Fourteen Points to specifically include the right of the Czechoslovaks to deal with the Hapsburgs themselves.
Czech Legions, Kolchak against Bolsheviks
The largesse of U.S. imperialism was not motivated by charity. The first republic was born in the struggle against the Bolshevik revolution and the party of Lenin. While Masaryk was in the United States, the Czech Legions, which he had just helped to organize in Siberia, were fighting side by side with Kolchak's White Guards and overthrowing soviets in the Volga region. The so-called revolt of the Czech Legions was one of the most serious threats to the Soviet Republic and hastened the formation of the Red Army.
Masaryk and Benes had maneuvered to organize the Czech Legion from captured war prisoners in the Allied countries in order to have some forces to put at the disposal of imperialism. The French were spurring them on to put forces in the field against Germany. In fact, a legion of Czechoslovaks was formed in France even before Benes arrived there in 1915.
There were 90,000 Czech troops in Soviet Russia. They were to be transferred to the French front according to a previous agreement with Kerensky. After the Bolshevik revolution, the French decided against the transfer and left them at Vladivostok to fight the Bolsheviks. Masaryk left for the United States.
When, on September 3, 1918, Lansing wrote a letter to Benes in Paris extending semi-recognition to the "de facto government thus recognized for the purpose of waging war against the common enemy... " the last phrase referred more to the Bolsheviks than to the virtually defeated armies of Berlin and Vienna. Similar praise for military service "in the allied cause" came from Pichon and Balfour.
'Liberators' in Prague, oppressors of millions
Another extremely important fact about the great republic so much celebrated by the modern-day Czech counter-revolutionaries is that it was an oppressor state. For services rendered, the imperialist bourgeois powers permitted the Czech bourgeoisie to include within its domain 2.25 million Slovaks, 500,000 Ruthenians, 80,000 Poles, 700,000 Hungarians, and 3.5 million Germans. Czech borders were established at gunpoint, with Czech Legions under the supervision of French officers.
Benes led the Czech delegation to the Paris peace talks. Pichon sat at his side throughout the talks. No doubt under Wilson's slogan of self-determination for the Czechs, Benes grabbed the Polish railroad junction and coal fields of Teschen. French and Czech troops marched into Hungary to add a large slice to Slovakia. The imperialists had to restrain the voracious Czech "democrats" in Poland and Hungary.
Masaryk and Benes refused to permit the Sudeten Germans to reunite with German Austria, thus laying the foundation for Hitler to become their national "liberator."
"Father of his country" Masaryk's greatest betrayal as an imperialist was the betrayal of the Slovaks who had agreed at the Pittsburgh convention to a federation of equal states, with Slovaks having their own courts, schools, parliament, etc.
Within the Hapsburg empire the Slovaks were super-oppressed by the Magyar aristocracy. When the Czech state was established, it was run entirely by the Czech bourgeoisie from Prague under a centralized state with no national rights whatsoever for the Slovaks.
Revolutionary storm -- Masaryk to the rescue
If the Czech leaders were pawns in post-war imperialist power plays, were tools against the Bolshevik revolution, and were oppressors of national minorities, Masaryk, Benes and Co. were, above all, reactionary with respect to their own working class.
One of the supreme achievements of the Masaryk regime in the eyes of world capitalism was to halt the spread of proletarian revolution in the industrial heartland of the disintegrated Austro-Hungarian empire.
East and Central Europe were swept by revolutionary working class uprisings under the impact of the Russian revolution. Soviets sprang up in Germany, Austria, and Hungary. The bourgeoisie was on the defensive everywhere and had to hide its face behind the right wing of the socialist movement which had turned renegade and had supported the imperialist war.
To the Czech proletariat, independence was supposed to mean independence from misery and exploitation. This was not what the Czech bourgeoisie had in mind, although Masaryk was full of socialist demagogy. Within six months, the "founding" government, which was openly bourgeois, was discredited and dissolved in favor of the Social Democrats.
Crushing the 1920 General Strike
The Czech working class, deeply inspired by the Bolshevik revolution, carried out strikes and protests all during 1919 and 1920, which culminated in the general strike of December 1920. Factories were seized in industrial centers. Workers declared them socialized and kicked out the managers. Peasants and soldier detachments gave the workers guns.
Revolutionary committees were formed under the leadership of the left socialists who wanted to affiliate with the Third International.
A New York Times dispatch from Prague gives a hint of the temper of the struggle:
The danger of a Communist Government throughout the Republic of Czechoslovakia, which twenty-four hours ago appeared to be at an end, has suddenly flared up again. The greatest part of the country is under martial law and Prague is strongly held by troops.
Parliament met this afternoon, the building and the immediate neighborhood being guarded by a large contingent of mounted and unmounted soldiers and police.
When Prime Minister Cerny appeared to make a statement in behalf of the government, Communist Party Deputies shouted "Old Austria Lives" and "Murderer of the Workers!"... (At Brux, five workers were killed and 18 wounded at a Communist rally.)
The most serious aspect of the trouble throughout the country ... has been the passivity of the troops.
At Goeding, for instance, the local force allowed the Communists to seize the Post Office, the railway station and two factories. Another force of military was sent to the town, but it allowed itself to be disarmed. The resident-commandant was so badly assaulted that he lost consciousness and was saved with difficulty from being hanged on a lamp post. Armed with rifles and machine guns, the mob began to plunder until a third military force arrived and occupied one of the factories. It took a fourth contingent to restore order. Many people were more or less badly wounded.
At Kladno and Brunn, where the Communists are strong, soldiers also refused to act even though they were fired upon...
From other district centers come reports of fighting between troops and strikers.
Fearing that most of the trouble would be encountered in Slovakia, the Government, when the disturbances first broke out, sent most of its troops there. Now they are being rushed into trouble centers in Bohemia, 20,000 men being directed on Kladno, Meinly and Reichenberg. ...
Down with Lenin's "Great Red Crusade"
The "founding fathers" answered the workers' demands with gendarmes. Martial law was declared. Strikers were killed and wounded in struggles at the plants and at demonstrations. Every public building in Prague was occupied by government troops. An attempted march from Kronstadt (in Bohemia) to Prague, in imitation of the Bolshevik march to Petrograd, was put down by troops. Revolutionary committees were smashed and hundreds of leaders arrested. After a week of fighting the uprising was crushed.
The New York Times editors gloated over the victory of the Czech government in an editorial of December 26, 1920:
There was another setback for the great Red Crusade recently and at a point of considerable strategic importance. ... A Bolshevist revolution here (in Czechoslovakia) would have unsettled all Central Europe and had serious repercussions everywhere east of the Rhine. ...
The Social Democrats were in control of the government. The workers, under the influence of the left, demanded affiliation of the party (which meant the government) with the Third International. That struggle precipitated the general strike.
"President Masaryk believes in letting such questions be argued out," wrote the Times, "and argument was plentiful. The extremists, however, were not content with argument."
The "extremists" were over half the working class, who could hardly live on arguments. They wanted socialism and got bullets instead from "President Masaryk," who understood that:
... a Czech republic was preferable to a proletarian dictatorship. The Czech democracy was left to fight its own battle against international communism and it won. ...
In Czechoslovakia the opposing groups came to a show of strength. ... The failure of the general strike was not only a landmark in the progress of a brilliant young nation, but an event of considerable importance to the history of world Bolshevism.
Bourgeois republic vs. workers' state
The central objective of all ruling classes throughout history has been to obtain the right to exploit the working masses. The rights of social parasitism is hardly a program around which to rally masses of people. Consequently the bourgeoisie, even during its most progressive period, was always obliged to conceal its aims behind vague but popular slogans.
Such slogans and symbols have always been composed of elements which are, on the one hand, socially inspiring to the general population and on the other hand specifically identifiable as slogans of the bourgeoisie as distinct from other contending classes.
If the capitalist class had to resort to such subterfuge even when they were smashing down the walls of monarchy and feudal reaction, how much more necessary is it for them to engage in symbolism and deception in the epoch of imperialism and proletarian revolution -- and even more so within the confines of a workers' state which has attained its existence by the overthrow of the bosses.
Taken from an abstract point of view, a bourgeois republic is progressive in relation to a feudal monarchy. But in relation to a workers' state, the most democratic bourgeois state is reactionary as far as the interests of the working class and oppressed people are concerned. This is an elementary generalization of Marxist sociology based upon historical experience.
But when you proceed from the abstract to a specific examination of Czechoslovak history, the reactionary meaning of the nationalistic cult of Masaryk and the first Republic, among the learned Czech "liberals" who know history well, becomes vivid.
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