Chris Harman


The Revolution that never was

(January 1980)

From Socialist Review, 1980 : 1, 19 January 16 February 1980, pp. 29–30.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

Passive Revolution
Politics and the Czechoslovak Working Class, 1945–8

Jon Bloomfield
Allison Busby £3.95

Let me begin by stating my prejudices over this book. The author is one of the younger leading elements on the right-wing, Eurocommunist wing of the Communist Party. He also wrote, some years back, a very rude and very unfair review in Marxism Today of my own Bureaucracy and Revolution in Eastern Europe.

Now let me admit the truth. He has written a very useful account of how the Communist Party came to power in Czechoslovakia after the Second World War without the working class being actively involved in the ‘revolutionary’ process.

Bloomfield believes that Czechoslovakia today is some sort of ‘socialist’ state. Nevertheless, this does not prevent him telling the story of that period in a more or less honest fashion. He tells, for instance, how as the German rule collapsed in Czechoslovakia in the spring of 1945, the workers took over the factories and proceeded to run them – and how the unions and the CP proceeded to work to destroy the powers of the emerging workers’ councils.

He shows how this took place while the CP was following a policy that insisted that socialism was not on the agenda for Czechoslovakia.

He tells how the CP partly built up its support by being the most rabid proponents of the policy of driving the German-speaking population – including hundreds of thousands of industrial workers – out of the country.

He shows how widespread nationalisation took place because there was no other viable way (other than through the workers’ councils) of running the previously German owned enterprises.

He relates how the policies of the CP and the union leaders forced the working class back into passivity and how the workers were denied control over the residual workers’ councils.

He shows how already in 1946 and 1947; long before the ‘revolution’, of 1948, the key position in the state apparatus were in CP hands. He shows how limited and passive was the role of the working class in the events of February 1948 that completely legitimised this state of affairs.

Finally, he also shows that the February coup did not at all follow from the internal dynamic of social developments inside Czechoslovakia, but from Stalin’s foreign policies as the wartime alliance with the US and Britain broke up.

Where Bloomfield fails – and fails miserably – is in his attempt to pull these correct observations into an explanation of what occurred. Residual Stalinism in his basic conceptions means that he continues to talk of ‘left’ versus ‘right’ as the bureaucrats who controlled 60 per cent of Czech industry endeavoured, at the behest of Stalin, to take over the rest.

It leads him to write of the working class’s passive support for the Prague coup without remembering what he himself has described very well a few chapters earlier – how that class was radically destructured as its German component (half the workforce in some of the key industries) was driven from the country and its possessions and jobs distributed among ‘loyal’ Czech workers.

These failings are important, because they alone allow Bloomfield to end up with Eurocommunist conclusions, in which revolution does not mean bodies like the works councils joining together and taking power for themselves, but rather never-ending collaboration with liberal and social-democratic forces.

Last updated on 21 September 2019