Czechoslovakia: The Issues Involved

The first article reproduced in this section, from the Socialist Appeal of June 1948, describes and explains the 'February events' in Czechoslovakia, the so-called 'Prague coup'. Here, the Stalinist-dominated government, leaning on the working class through 'action committees', overcame the resistance of the capitalist class and carried through the nationalisation of industry and the major part of the economy. The end result, as the article explained, provided 'the economic basis for a workers' state', but without the democratic control of the state by the workers, 'all the rights which the workers still possess will be strangled and an uncontrolled bureaucracy will ride roughshod over the masses, as in Russia.'

– From Introduction to Eastern Europe

For weeks the capitalist class of the world has been whimpering about the measures taken against the capitalists in Czechoslovakia. The methods used by the Stalinists have been compared to the technique of Hitler. This propaganda is saturated through and through with capitalist hypocrisy. It is not the forcible methods of the Stalinists to which they object. They not only condone, but actively assist the terror of the Greek reaction which aims to establish a semi-fascist regime, as they condoned and assisted Hitler and Mussolini against the working class.

In reply to the capitalists, the Stalinists do not and cannot give a Marxist answer. They pretend that the changes were carried through 'in accordance with the Constitution.' This has further added to the confusion of Labour workers, who understand that these statements are not in accordance with the facts. The change was accomplished with the aid and the participation of the working class. The demonstrations of the armed workers on the streets convinced the capitalist elements of the uselessness of resistance. It was this threat of force which ensured the peaceful change.

The workers and peasants in Czechoslovakia undoubtedly gave wholehearted support to the change because of its progressive features.

The workers could not but support the measures: nationalisation of all important plants that remained in private hands since the mass movement in 1945; 70 per cent of the printing establishments, the whole of the chemical industry, all refrigerator plants and all building concerns employing more than 50 persons, all big hotels and the wholesale trade. No firm employing more than 50 people in any trade or industry is now allowed to he privately owned.

The monopoly of foreign trade has been formally instituted.

The peasants were solidly behind the reforms. Although the Stalinists did not do as the Russian Bolsheviks did, namely nationalise the land and then hand it to the peasants, they divided the land and gave it to the peasants as their own private property.

Trotsky On Occupied Territories

These are the progressive features supported by the Trotskyists despite the failure to nationalise the land. They are a necessary economic foundation for a workers' state. In order to carry through these measures the Stalinists were compelled to call on the initiative and pressure of the masses. As Trotsky pointed out in 1939, when dealing with the likely developments if Stalin invaded Poland:

"It is more likely, however, that in the territories scheduled to become a part of the USSR, the Moscow government will carry through the expropriation of the large land-owners and statification of the means of production. This variant is the most probable not because the bureaucracy remains true to the socialist programme but because it is neither desirous nor capable of sharing the power and the privileges the latter entails, with the old ruling classes in the occupied territories. Here an analogy literally offers itself: The first Bonaparte halted the revolution by means of a military dictatorship. However when the French troops invaded Poland, Napoleon signed a decree: 'Serfdom is abolished'. This measure was dictated not by Napoleon's sympathies for the peasants, nor by democratic principles, but rather by the fact that the Bonapartist dictatorship based itself not on feudal, but on bourgeois property relations. In as much as Stalin's Bonapartist dictatorship bases itself not on private property but state property, the invasion of Poland by the Red Army should in the nature of the case, result in the abolition of private capitalist property, so as thus to bring the regime of the occupied territories into accord with the regime of the USSR.

"This measure, revolutionary in character - 'the expropriation of the expropriators' - is in this case achieved in a military-bureaucratic fashion. The appeal to independent activity on the part of the masses in the new territories - and without such an appeal, even if worded with extreme caution it is impossible to constitute a new regime - will on the morrow undoubtedly be suppressed by ruthless police measures in order to assure the preponderance of the bureaucracy over the awakened revolutionary masses…" (USSR in War, September 1939)

Having used the pressure of the workers against the capitalist class, the Stalinists will despense with all the elements of workers' control. The speed with which this is accomplished will depend on the resistance of the Czech working class, whose level of culture, because of the industrialisation of the country, far exceeds that of the Russian workers. The Stalinists cannot afford to allow a workers' democracy in Czechoslovakia because of the inevitable repercussions on the Russian regime in the Soviet Union.

This was clearly brought out by Douglas Hyde, former news editor of the Daily Worker. In an interview with the Daily Mail he said:

"At the first meeting of the Cominform, held in a hunting-lodge in Silesia, Gottwald[1] was charged with 'petit-bourgeois Communism' because he had tried to work out a policy which took into account Czechoslovakia's traditions of Western culture and freedom.

"Gottwald's idea was to mould Communism to suit the needs of his country - so different from Russia. But with Russia at his back there was no point in arguing, and recent events in Prague revealed how thoroughly he was brought to heel."

Feeling the pressure of the workers, Gottwald is afraid of the future results of such a course.

Future of Action Committees

Shortly after the Czech events, the government officials issued statements about the limited role of the action committees. The Telegraph of 6 March reported: 'There are indications of some concern at HQ regarding the unhampered activities of local action committees. The Central Action Committee has ordered all other committees to refrain from interfering in the cleansing of the army. Henceforth all 'purge cases' will have to be referred directly to the Ministry of National Defence.'

Cepick, the Communist Minister of Justice in the new Gottwald government, declared: 'The action committees are not a second power. It is their task to facilitate the defence of the state by giving a popular base to government action.'

The Czech authorities have made a fundamental distinction between the action committees set up by the workers and peasants and those appointed by the political parties from above. Although they are called by the same name there is a vast difference between the two. The action committee of the National Front[2] appoints all the officials of the different parties, which is a caricature of democracy.

They have made it clear that the action committees will not play the role which the soviets, or workers' committees played in the Russian Revolution in 1917. The Russian Bolshevik government under Lenin was based on the soviets, which were the most flexible and democratic form of organisation. These had direct representation of the workers and peasants on its bodies based on the localities. By this means Lenin pointed out there was no need for any separate state structure. The workers and peasants would administer the state. Because of the backwardness of Russia and the isolation of the revolution they did not succeed in carrying this out. In a highly cultured and industrialised country like Czechoslovakia, a genuine Communist regime could he introduced. The workers and peasants could begin immediately to administer the state themselves without a special state apparatus which will be utilised for the protection of privilege.

A parliament elected on a constituency basis is far less democratic than the system of direct representation on the basis of committees. The parliamentary form of representation is the most easily bureaucratised and far removed from the people.

The economic basis for a workers' state has been achieved. But for a state to act in the interests of the working class, the expropriation of the capitalists by itself is not enough. Democratic control of the state apparatus is an essential prerequisite for the march towards a communist society. All the great Marxists emphasised this.

Lenin reduced the essence of a workers' state to four fundamental principles. After the expropriation of the capitalists and the statification of the means of production, there would be:

  1. The election of soviets with the right of recall of all officials.
  2. No official to receive a wage higher than that earned by the average worker.
  3. The abolition of the standing army and its replacement by the armed people.
  4. No permanent bureaucracy. Each in turn would fulfil the functions of the state. When everyone was a bureaucrat, no-one could be a bureaucrat.

"We organise large scale production, starting from what capitalism has already created; we workers ourselves relying on our own experiences as workers, establish a strict, an iron discipline, supported by the state power of the armed workers, shall reduce the role of the state officials to that of simply carrying out our instructions as responsible, moderately paid 'managers' (of course, with technical knowledge of all sorts, types and degrees). This is our proletarian task, with this we can and must begin when carrying through a proletarian revolution. Such a beginning on the basis of large-scale production, of itself leads to a gradual 'withering away' of all bureaucracy, to the gradual creation of a new order, an order without quotation marks, an order in which the more and more simplified functions of control and accounting will be performed by each in turn, will then become a habit, and will finally die out as special functions of a special stratum of the population." (Lenin, Collected Works, volume 25 page 431)

The backwardness of Russia and the isolation of the revolution rendered this process impossible. But on the basis of the cultural level in Czechoslovakia the advantages of communist methods would be apparent to the whole world. Under real communist leadership they could be immediately implemented. But this is not what Stalinism desires. Stalin has stated that what is required is a stronger and stronger state in Russia. Czechoslovakia under Stalinist leadership will develop in the same direction. There will not be a process of the withering away of the state apparatus and the GPU[3].

All the rights which the workers still possess will be strangled and an uncontrolled bureaucracy will ride roughshod over the masses as in Russia.

In the long run, the Czech workers will not tolerate a tyrannous officialdom. Experience will teach them that Stalinism is not communism. They will recognise the need to overthrow the bureaucracy with its police apparatus and establish their own direct control of industry and the state in a workers' democracy as outlined by Karl Marx. This on the model of the Paris Commune, and carried into effect in the regime established by the Russian revolution in 1917.

Go back to contents page or go on to next section, Against the Theory of State Capitalism


[1] Klemens Gottwald was the CP Prime Minister from 1946.

[2] The National Front was the coalition government from 1945. After the 1946 elections the CP were the main influence, and after the 'Prague Coup' they had complete control.

[3] Russian secret police, forerunner of the KGB.

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