Few if any developments during the post World War 11 period were as deeply influenced by international considerations as the development of the Czechoslovak Socialist Republic. In Western literature, the CSR is invariably described as a product of the Red Army intervention at the end of the Second World War and the establishment of a Socialist Government there as a mere coup engineered by Moscow. Western imperialism, on the other hand, is cast in the role of a friendly, benevolent and passive observer which played no role at all on its own behalf.
The tremendous role of the Soviet Army in the liberation of Czechoslovakia from the Hitlerite yoke can, of course, never be underestimated. Recent attempts by neo-restorationist Czechoslovak historians to discover, after 20 years, how the U.S. Eighth Army under the rabidly reactionary General Patton had contributed greatly to the liberation are bound to be discredited and cast aside by historians of the future as crude U.S. propaganda that had temporarily won a foothold in Czechoslovak academic circles during the so-called Dubcek reform.
What is often most obscured in discussions of Czechoslovakia, especially since the attempted counter-revolution, is the early role of the Communist Party. It is important to note that the Czechoslovak Communist Party was never a small, sectarian organization with a narrow and restricted influence. From the very day it was founded in 1921, it was a strong and vital force in the country enjoying a considerable amount of mass influence, not only among the workers, but in other strata of the population as well.
By the late 1920's it had established itself as the leading party of the working class. At no time thereafter was there a Czechoslovak government that did not have to reckon seriously with the Party and its influence.
After the capitulation of Benes and Co, to the demands of Hitler in 1938-39, the Party went underground, and while it sustained some serious losses, it emerged in 1945 as the party of the proletariat. If there is any party that can be said to have won an overwhelming majority of the workers to its side on the European continent at the time, it was the Czechoslovak Party. This highly significant factor of Czechoslovak life is rarely, if ever, acknowledged in Western accounts of modern Czechoslovakia.
With the liberation of the country from the Nazi yoke, a real revolutionary upsurge developed. The crushing of the Nazi forces in the Czechoslovak area, with the help of the Soviet Army which was greeted everywhere in the country as a liberator, reduced the influence of the collaborationist bourgeoisie to minimal proportions and ripened the general populace for a transfer of power from the remnants of the bourgeoisie to the proletariat.
If there was any place in Eastern Europe which beckoned for an easy transition from a capitalist to a socialist government in the true sense of the word, it was Czechoslovakia.
Unfortunately, this is not what happened. What occurred instead was the formation of a capitalist coalition with Benes and Co. in the saddle but with prominent Czechoslovak CP leaders in the cabinet at the end of World War II. Actual class relations remained as of old, with the old ruling class exercising its right of private property in the means of production and the bourgeois order of society generally remaining the same.
This truly extraordinary situation, where the Party and the working class could seize power but, instead, permitted the bourgeoisie to retain it, was not due to any particular weakness of the Party leadership. It arose as a consequence of the relations and agreements between the Soviet Union and its allies, principally the U.S. One of the focal points in the struggle between the Soviet Union and the U.S. arose over the conflicting interpretation of the Yalta Agreement.
Both Washington and London kept insisting that under the terms of the Yalta Agreement the paragraph referring to the "establishment of democratic governments after the war" meant the establishment of bourgeois regimes. Nowhere was this point pressed more than in relation to Czechoslovakia. Stalin, who feared a break with the Western Allies, favored formation of coalition governments in all of Eastern Europe as a form of compromise with the West.
However, the U.S. ruling class saw the coalition governments in Czechoslovakia, Poland, Rumania and elsewhere as a transitional stage to eventual socialist governments and no amount of compromise by Stalin on this aspect of the situation in Eastern Europe satisfied Washington.
One of the fundamental tools of the Truman Administration to reverse the situation in Eastern Europe was the launching of the Marshall Plan.
The principal target, so far as Eastern Europe was concerned, was Czechoslovakia. Once an agreement was obtained to integrate Czechoslovakia into the economic framework of the Marshall Plan, its political ties to the East would be of negligible importance, particularly if a bourgeois coalition government was at the helm. Integration into the Marshall Plan meant integration into the Western capitalist system and economic domination by the U.S.
John J. McCloy, who was High Commissioner for West Germany and also a banker, was in charge of the Eastern European aspect of the Marshall Plan and one of its leading architects. It was he who began the series of both secret and public meetings with Czechoslovak officials, particularly the bourgeois members of the Czech cabinet in charge of economic affairs.
The December 5, 1968, issue of the New York Times confirms that John J. McCloy had secretly met in the latter part of 1948 with the then Deputy Minister of Foreign Trade of Czechoslovakia, Dr. Loebl, and laid preliminary plans for Czechoslovakia to be admitted into the Marshall Plan Program.
It was against this background of U.S. economic aggression as well as the previous launching by the U.S. of the anti-communist crusade under the sign of the Truman Doctrine that Stalin's policy of coalition governments in Eastern Europe became untenable.
The turning point came in February 1948. It was then that the Czechoslovak workers militia, the trade unions, in alliance with many mass organizations which commanded the support of the overwhelming majority of the popular masses, proceeded to dissolve the bourgeois coalition government and institute a new, a socialist government.
Had the masses been urged to use their revolutionary initiative in 1945 and had the party led them consciously toward an insurrectionary road to the seizure of power at that time, the bourgeoisie would have been crushed by the popular struggle of the people. The old state apparatus would have been smashed and the remnants of the old ruling class not only dispossessed, but reduced to insignificance.
Such would have been the classical method of achieving a proletarian revolution. In fact that is the way it basically occurred in Russia, in China, and in Cuba. The creative energy of the masses themselves in destroying the old regime was the surest guarantee that the newly established workers government would have a solid foundation for its existence and further development.
The February Revolution in Czechoslovakia, however, while it was carried out with tremendous popular support, did not proceed with the destruction of the old state apparatus, and left segments of the bourgeoisie and the bourgeois intelligentsia relatively free. This singularly important fact was to exercise a tremendous influence in the calculations of the Party in the formulation of policy, and later on was to re-emerge as a strong and abiding danger to the existence of the socialist government.
Aside from any and all considerations of political policy, the continued existence of strong and formidable strata of the old ruling classes, many of them in positions of power and authority, laid the basis for the attempt at counter-revolution in 1968.
-- December 8, 1968
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