Chris Harman


Czech youth and workers
step up fight for freedom

(25 January 1969)

From Socialist Worker, No. 106, 25 January 1969, p. 1.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

A MASSIVE NEW WAVE of protest has spread across Czechoslovakia this week following the death of Jan Palach, the student, who set fire to himself.

The common theme behind student demonstrations and resolutions passed at workers’ meetings is opposition to .attempts to cut back on the freedom of discussion and of the press won at the beginning of last year.

This is coupled with the demand for immediate withdrawal of Russian troops.

Throughout last summer, both before and after the Russian invasion, the new controllers of the Czech government, such as Dubcek and Svoboda, willingly gave the impression of being in the vanguard of the movement for increased freedom and of opposition to the Russians.


In effect they told the workers and students: ‘Leave it to us, we know how to deal with these people. If you do anything you will just upset them and achieve nothing.’

The mass of the Czech people are now beginning to see how hollow these pretensions were.

Despite the sickly adulation of Dubcek in the western press he rose to eminence during the worst period of Stalinism and was not really worried by its methods.

Last year he employed fine liberal words about ‘freedom’ and ‘democratic socialism’ in order to gather support behind him, to remove the previous rulers of the party and to introduce economic reforms aimed at improving the efficiency and profitability of Czech industry.

Since the Russian invasion his whole tone has been changing.

The Czech leaders want independence for themselves and for the Czech economy which they, totally controlling, regard as their own property.

At the same time their concern for increased industrial profitability forces them to contain any independent movement of Czech workers and to do away with freedom of speech.

Since August, they have been using the ferment among the masses as a weapon against the Russians and the threat of direct Russian intervention as a weapon against the masses.

Like a man standing on the backs of two horses, the Dubcek group has been attempting to follow its own policies through a difficult balancing act.

The trouble is that the two props it rests on are beginning to move in opposite directions. Rather than painfully submit to doing the splits, the Dubcek group is going over to the Russian side.

But the Czech workers and students are increasingly acting independently of their rulers. They are demanding that they have a say in decisions made, both at the factory and at the national level.

That is why Dubcek promises ‘resolute measures against actions and publications at variance with the policy of the party’.

The Czech workers and students are no longer intimidated by such talk. They are making it clear that if their rulers will not confront the occupying army of Stalin’s Russian successors they will.


They are pressing for real workers’ control of industry and the state. This cannot be equated with the demand for a western-type regime.

Because they reject the idea of the press being run by the single controller of the bureaucracy, the Czech workers cannot accept that it should be run by four or five millionaires.

Because they reject elections in which they have no choice of candidates, they cannot accept a system in which they have a choice between candidates with identical policies.

In demanding power for themselves, the ordinary people of Czechoslovakia are participating in a development that can in the long run shake the ruling classes on both sides of the iron curtain.

We on the left must support them against the glib condemnations of Dubcek or any armed repression.

Last updated on 26 October 2020