Chris Harman


Dubcek’s downfall: now it’s back
to ‘orthodox’ repression ...

(26 April 1969)

From Socialist Worker, No. 119, 26 April 1969, p. 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

WITH THE REMOVAL of Dubcek, the imposition of virtually complete censorship and the carrying out of mass arrests, the Czech ruling group is attempting to resolve the crisis that has been developing since last summer.

When the Russians invaded Czechoslovakia, Dubcek remained in power because of two factors. The mass of Czech people were overwhelmingly behind him and he persuaded the Russians to trust him to dampen down the discussion over political and social issues threatening to go beyond the Czech borders.

For a period he was successful in both directions. Other politicians who had seemed more willing to cooperate with the Russians lost all prestige and were removed from positions of power.

At the same time, critical articles about the Russians stopped appearing in newspapers and periodicals, vigorous debate was no longer a feature of radio and TV.

‘Amazing triumph’

Dubcek, balancing between the Russians and the mass of Czech people, seemed to be raised higher than either. Western journalists referred to an amazing triumph of ‘dignified non-violence’.

In this period, too, those aspects of Dubcek’s policy that might separate him off from the mass of Czech workers were cloaked by the Russian presence.

If he was basically a product of the Stalinist bureaucracy and had survived for many years within it without too many problems, and if his economic policies implied wage cuts, increased differentials and large scale ‘redeployment’, the Russian presence could divert attention from these.

Rut over the months it became clear that there were huge differences between the demands of the Russians and those of the mass of Czechs that even Dubcek could not resolve. The more that Dubcek and the section of, the bureaucracy behind him were bound to try to implement policies demanded by the Russians, the more the Czechoslovak population began to organise to take action independently of the Communist Party.

Demanded control

When the students occupied the universities at the end of last year they found they had immense support from workers in the factories. The trade unions, in which government-appointed officials had been replaced by democratic elections, began to demand control over the factories by workers’ councils elected from the shop floor.

Above all there was the growth of intense hostility to the Russian occupation at the base of society. This found its fullest and most clear-cut expression in the half a million strong demonstrations that followed the recent defeat of the Russians in an ice hockey match.

In every town people poured on to the streets. Every wall in Prague had the score scrawled on it.

The Russians had invaded Czechoslovakia in order to curtail free debate. Yet that debate was now involving more people than ever before. One Russian newspaper complained that the situation was even worse than before the invasion.

Threatened coup

As the two planks upon which it was resting’ moved further and further apart, the ‘progressive’ section of the bureaucracy around Dubcek became more and more unsure of itself.

It had to ‘keep order’ for the Russians, but the moment it tried to do this seriously, it would lose its popularity with the Czechs. Meanwhile the forces of the state – particularly the army – were becoming more and more demoralised.

At the top, a few generals were threatening a coup against the government. At the bottom, the rank and file shared the sentiments of the masses. For instance, when the soldiers were sent out to patrol the streets with the police, few seemed to take the task seriously.

The very basis of the independent existence of the Czech ruling bureaucracy was being undermined. In the factories the mass meetings of workers were a growing power.

The trade unions increasingly operated like an oppositional political party. Ministers and party officials began to speak about the dangers of anarchy. What they really feared was that their own power was being undermined.

And the economic situation of the country was growing worse. What caused the ‘progressives’ around Dubcek to break with the old regime of Novotny was the growing difficulty the Czech bureaucracy was having in selling the goods produced by the industry it controlled on the world market.

But developments since the Russian invasion have made economic conditions still worse. The existence of independent trade unions has forced wages up. But the knowledge they still have that industry is controlled and operated in someone else’s interests has prevented the mass of workers putting the initiative and effort into their labour that would raise the standard and level of production. The result has been rising inflation and continued difficulties in selling Czech goods abroad.

All this has forced the Czech ruling group to make a decisive break with the fundamental aspirations of the Czech people. In order to safeguard its integrity and its control, the bureaucracy will increasingly side with the Russians and try to eliminate the areas of mass democracy.

The removal of Dubcek symbolises its determination to follow such a course – even though Dubcek himself did not seem unwilling to follow it.

This means that increasingly the lines of opposition to the Russians will coincide with the class divisions in the country. The ruling class, the bureaucracy both ‘progressive’ and ‘conservative’, will be on one side, the workers’ and students’ organisations on the other.

Last updated on 14 January 2021