Ernest Mandel

The Social, Economic and
Political Background of the
Czechoslovak Crisis


From Ken Coates, ed., Czechoslovakia and Socialism, The Bertrand Russell Peace Foundation: Nottingham, England, 1969), pp. 51–73.
Transcribed by Josephn Auciello:
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

A Deep Social Crisis

However one might evaluate the political significance of the events leading towards the military intervention of the Warsaw Pact powers in the CSSR, it is impossible not to view them as the expression of a deep social crisis in that country. Even the staunchest apologist for the military intervention cannot fail to notice that the very excuse he advances for that military intervention – the threat of counter-revolution – reflects the existence of such a crisis. If in a socialist country, in which the working class alone represents the absolute majority of the population and together with other wage- and salary-earning strata more than two-thirds of that population, if in such a country, twenty years after the overthrow of capitalism, the danger of counter-revolution has suddenly become so acute that 500,000 soldiers have to be dispatched on the spot to crush it, this can only denote a grave social crisis.

The spokesmen for the Soviet leadership try to hide this fact by referring exclusively to a political problem. The threat of counter-revolution arose, they claim, because the Czechoslovak Communist Party had increasingly ceased to play its leading role in the state and in society and “right-wing anti-socialist forces” were coming to the forefront in the mass media, the educational system, etc. Apart from the fact that such developments, even if they were true, cannot be divorced from deeper social currents, and express in themselves great social conflicts and tensions it is, to say the least, remarkable that the overwhelming majority of the Czechoslovak working class didn’t seem to notice at all these “anti-socialist” trends, that the supporters of the Soviet leaders’ line inside the CPC were completely unable to mobilize that working class to “defend socialism,” that they had to appeal to outside forces instead of appealing to the workers to realize that “burning task.” This in itself is an admission that the workers were in the best case – from the standpoint of the Soviet leaders – passive, and in the worse case active supporters of “counter-revolution.” Surely, the remarkable situation in which socialism could be overthrown and capitalism could be restored with the Czechoslovak workers either noticing or opposing it, would suggest an extraordinary low level of political consciousness and activity – after twenty years of the communist regime! Surely, this very fact would express for anybody who continues to think in social categories, not to speak of Marxist class categories, a deep going social and political crisis in the country.

Deviation from the Interests of Socialism

What is the explanation of this crisis? To bring in outside factors, as the apologists of the Warsaw Pact powers’ military intervention usually do, is unconvincing to say the least. Surely the outside threats bearing down on Czechoslovakia from the NATO aggressive alliance and West German militarism were not less in the period of the Cold War or at the time of the Berlin Wall crisis than they are today. To say that the change of strategy of the imperialist powers – from direct military threat of “roll back” to attempts at “internal subversion” – were more dangerous for the “people’s democracies” implies in reality a recognition of great internal instability, and leads us back to the initial question, instead of answering it.

When the “errors” of the Novotny regime are mentioned, and the way they were “corrected” is criticized, we come nearer to the heart of the matter.

But surely “errors” which can create in a socialist country a situation in which the bulk of the working class becomes either unaware of or sympathetic towards a restoration of capitalism are not simply “errors;” they denote a grave and dangerous deviation from the interests of socialism, a policy leading to disastrous results. And that’s exactly where the analysis has to start.

Here the apologists for the Warsaw Pact powers’ military intervention are caught in a particularly sharp contradiction. On the one hand they accuse the Czechoslovak “revisionists” of “systematically denigrating the results of twenty years of building socialism;” on the other hand they themselves stress that after these twenty years, the threat of capitalist restoration had become imminent – surely a disaster from their own point of view. How could one then deny that this threat has to be considered, at least partially, as the result of these twenty years of experience, that, in other words, the Gottwald-Novotny régime has led, at least partially, to disastrous results?

It is not difficult to state precisely what these results were. They are very well known and can be easily documented. The strict bureaucratization of social life led to a near-complete divorce between the mass of toiling people – in the first place the workers – and those who had monopolized the exercise of political and economic power. Participation of the workers in that exercise was reduced to practically nothing – contrary to all the teaching of Marx and Lenin. This divorce was equally pronounced on the technical, cultural and ideological field. A heavily centralized, uncreative and unimaginative bureaucracy “missed the bus” of half a dozen key technological innovations, thereby throwing the CSSR back from the level of one of the technologically most advanced countries of Europe and the world into the status of a country suffering a serious technological gap not only in comparison with the USA and the USSR but even with the capitalist powers of Western Europe. Bureaucratic stifling of the creative power of workers and intellectuals led to a shriveling of cultural and artistic expression. Marxism, from a creative science interpreting and explaining reality in order to change it, became an apologetic dogma, intent upon justifying the status quo, with a minimum of credibility and efficiency, the overwhelming majority of the people not believing anything of that rancid propaganda. Economic growth slowed down, and finally came to a complete standstill. Even a decline of real income of the working people started to occur.

It is a result of these objective trends of developments, of these objective contradictions between the bureaucratic system of management and the state, economic and social interests of the toiling masses, that a process of political differentiation set in, first among the leading cadres of the country themselves, and then, on a much lower level and in a much slower rhythm, among society as a whole. The crisis of Czechoslovak society, dramatically revealed by the Warsaw Pact powers’ intervention, is a result of the bureaucratic system of management, a result of the Gottwald-Novotny régime. This is the key to understanding what is happening in the CSSR, and what is happening in the whole of the so-called “people’s democracies.”

The “Liberalization Process”

The social significance of the “liberalization” movement must be seen in the light of that crisis. Given conditions where the suppression of civil liberties for the working people gives the ruling party an absolute monopoly of political elaboration, it was inevitable that differentiation would start in that party, and within the ruling social strata which represents that party, themselves. Neither the possibility of open political expression, nor the juridical safeguards, nor even a sufficient degree of articulation (as a result of nearly twenty years’ suppression of socialist democracy) existed in the bulk of the working class to make this process start in the factories, the mines and the workshops, rather than among economists, writers or scientists. But this fact led to several important consequences.

In the first place it can easily be understood that the slowly growing debate inside the ruling bureaucracy about the origins and the solutions of the crisis of the CSSR necessarily took forms and expressions congenial to the social nature of those who started that debate. It therefore too on the general character of a search for rationalization and reform of the bureaucratic rule, rather than a search for its radical replacement with a system of socialist democracy, in the true Marxist and Leninist tradition. This led in turn to the predominantly technocratic slant of the “liberalizes.” It was not so much the question of replacing the rule of a privileged bureaucratic stratum by that of the working class; it was rather a question of replacing a despotic, fumbling and inefficient “rational,” scientific, well-educated technocratic one. This became all the more the centre of the “struggle for power” inside the CPC as the economic questions came more and more to the forefront, and the weight of “economic efficiency” and “scientific management” loomed especially large in the debates.

The particularly revolting, despotic character of the “political” bureaucracy’s rule (suppression of socialist legality; mock trials; torture of political prisoners; censorship; suppression of inner-party democracy; police violence against all strata of society; overwhelming power of the secret police, etc., etc.) became the main target for attack of this “technocratic” wing of the bureaucracy for several reasons. It was easy to create around these issues a united front with nearly all strata of society, as these aspects of the bureaucratic despotism were universally feared and hated. It was easy to demonstrate that “destalinization” and abolition of the secret police’s power – which had been slowly and moderately initiated in the USSR itself since 1956 – had been introduced with great delay and limitations into the CSSR, i.e. that the CSSR was not following the example of the “model state.” It was an objective obstacle for introducing broadly the scientific-technical revolution into the CSSR, for this clumsy despotism was especially destructive of scientific, technical and cultural creativity. It was an obstacle to modernization of the economy, since bureaucratic over-centralization and suppression of initiative at regional and plant level seemed to be one of the causes of the slowdown of economic growth.

But the very nature of a political campaign centred around these issues increased the seemingly dominant place which technocratic and intellectual layers played in the “liberalization” process. It tended to divorce that process from the immediate interests of the working class under conditions of widespread apathy. The proposals of the economic “reformers” (see below) acted in the same direction.

A combination of the internal logic of the “liberalization” debate, as sketched above, and the material self-interests of the technocratic wing of the bureaucracy (expressed in the slogan: “If you want better managers, you’ll have to pay for them”), lent the “economic reform” process a particularly unattractive aspect for the bulk of the workers. It made the nature of the “liberalization” process as an inner-bureaucratic struggle appear very clear to most of the more critical and progressive layers of society.

But one thing is the nature of that “liberalization” process, as seen by its proponents (the “liberal” technocratic wing of the bureaucracy) and opponents (the “political” despotic and conservative wing of the bureaucracy), and quite another thing was the objective result of that process.

“Liberalization” of the economy and society was impossible without a loosening of tight political control over the population. Reduction of that tight political control was in turn impossible without bringing again to the surface all those different political currents which had never ceased to exist under the Gottwald-Novotny regime, but which had simply been stamped into silence by the bureaucratic dictatorship. And the reappearance of all the various political currents expressing, in the last analysis, the various social interests and trends which exist in the country, could only lead to a slow process of political apprenticeship of the working class and the youth, a process of political differentiation and realignment in the country, which became greatly speeded up after the January 1969 Plenum of the CC of the CPC.

It is necessary to delineate these various aspects of the recent evolution inside the CSSR to understand how wrong and un-Marxist is the assumption that the “liberal” leadership of the CPC either had “freed the country from bureaucratic oppression” or “passively assisted” a process of “counter-revolution.” What this leadership had done was in the last analysis to allow the real social and political forces present in the country to express themselves and constitute themselves more freely than before, in the interests of consolidating the CPC’s government over the country, both economically and politically. Economically it didn’t succeed (in any case, more time would have been needed to reveal all the contradictions inherent in that attempt). Politically, its success was striking. All evidence shows that between January and August 1968, and especially since May 1968, the CPC increased its popularity and its roots in the working class and other toiling strata of the population by leaps and bounds, and acquired a mass basis and mass adherence larger than in any previous phase of its history. This in itself was a contradictory and transitory phenomenon. But it shows how unfounded is the argumentation of the apologists for the military occupation of the country. The biggest weakness of the socialist régime in the CSSR was political apathy, indifference and non-participation of the working class (this is also the underlying assumption of the apologists). This weakness was not increased but in the process of being overcome by the acceleration of the “liberalization” process after January 1968.

Revising the Theory of the State

Couldn’t that differentiation process lead to reactionary forces reappearing side by side with revolutionary socialist ones? Undoubtedly. Hadn’t the discredit with which the Gottwald-Novotny regime had covered communism in the eyes of large parts of the population increased the danger? Indeed it had. Wasn’t the anti-socialist trend already predominant among writers, scientists, journalists dominating the mass media, be it openly anti-communist, be it under the guise of “revisionism”? Absolutely not.

One should state in the first place that this is not a question of speculation but a question of material proof. All the propaganda material of the apologists of the military occupation of the CSSR has been unable to show any evidence of a significant anti-socialist trend in the politically active population of the CSSR. Nothing similar to the reappearance of Cardinal Mindzsenty or of political expressions of the former ruling classes of the country in Hungary in 1956 occurred in the CSSR (we are convinced that even in Hungary, these trends were largely minority ones, and that workers could have neutralized them). The USSR propaganda material (like the White Book published by the journalists’ association) is so desperately devoid of evidence that it is forced to have recourse to childish tricks: presenting swastikas painted by angry youth on Soviet tanks as “proof” of Nazi mentality, whereas these signs were evidently expressions of indignation, identifying the Soviet tanks with the hated Nazi ones (an incorrect identification, but provoked by the unjustified Soviet intervention); publishing “captured” underground radio stations as “proof” of the strength of “counter-revolutionary gangs;” forgetting to mention that these radio stations were installed by leading cadres of the CPC, etc.

The evidence shows overwhelmingly that the explosion of free speech and free writing after January, 1968, was largely confined to a confrontation of opinions about the way to organize a really socialist Czechoslovak Republic, and did not question the social-economic foundations of the CSSR: the nationalization of the means of production, the monopoly of foreign trade and the basic principles of a socialist planned economy. Opinions differed as how to manage and organize that infrastructure efficiently. No significant trend appeared in society proposing a return to a capitalist mode of production.

In the second place, one can easily relate this dominant ideological trend with the prevailing social structure. The remnants of former ruling classes or propertied peasantry represent a much smaller part of the population than in Hungary, not to speak of Soviet Russia at the time of the NEP. The working class and the other layers of wage and salary earners without large material privileges represent the overwhelming majority of the population. To believe that these social classes or layers would be willing to go back to capitalism is of course to deny one of the essential hypotheses of Marxism. There is no evidence to substantiate such an assumption.

But couldn’t that working class be tricked by “conscious counter-revolutionary minorities” to accept a “gradual” restoration of capitalism, starting with transformations of the superstructure which would then be extended “step by step” to the infrastructure of society? By accepting this preposterous thesis, the apologists of the Warsaw Pact powers’ military intervention (and the Soviet leaders) revise the basic Marxist-Leninist theory of the state, and adopt a social-democratic theory of “gradual” change of the class nature of a state which flies in the face of all history. History shows again and again that it is impossible to revert from power of one class to power of another class without large-scale class struggles, not only on the ideological field. If it is true that ideological changes and struggles precede social revolutions and counter-revolutions, it is completely untrue that a social class could lose political and economic power as the result of only ideological offensives of other classes. On this point, the Soviet revisionists have now happily come to an agreement with Mao’s revisionism, which claims the same preposterous thesis. If this thesis had been true, the “ideological counter-offensive” of the Catholic Church after 1815 would have led to the restoration of power of the nobility. Nothing of this type happened of course.

If one rejects the revisionist conception of a “gradual” change of the class nature of a state and an economy, then however one twists or turns around the problem, one is always confronted with the same problem: would it have been possible for capitalism to be restored in Czechoslovakia by a tiny minority of society, and in the interests only of that tiny minority, with a politically active and articulate working class? Wouldn’t such attempts have led to a sharpening of class struggles, to violent social and political conflicts between the working class and the small group of people interested in restoring capitalism? And would a decisive defeat of the restorationists not be favored by all efforts which increase the activity and participation of the working class in political life, whereas all those who limit or suppress that participation thereby automatically reduce the barriers against restoration of capitalism?

The Class Nature of a Workers’ State

Subjacent to the problem of the “gradual” restoration of capitalism is the whole problem of defining the class nature of a state and an economy, and more precisely the class nature of a socialist, a workers’ state. Here two methods violently clash with each other.

The Marxist method, also applied by Lenin, was an objective method of social analysis. Class power was a function of social structure, of a given mode of production, of a given set of production relations, and of the rule of a certain social class. To divorce the class nature of the state of this whole analysis of infrastructure would mean to deny the very foundation of historical materialism. You cannot have a bourgeois state and bourgeois class rule, without a capitalist class owning the means of production, without an economy based upon the relations between the private owners of the means of production and the sellers of labor power, and without the laws of motion of capitalism (e.g., the flux of capital from sectors with less profit to sectors with higher profit) being operative. Otherwise, the whole of Marxism loses its meaning.

But the degradation of Marxism to a subservient maid of day-to-day polemics by different factions of the ruling communist parties has led to a growing substitution of purely subjective criteria for social analysis to these elementary categories of Marxism. For the leading group in the Kremlin, as for Mao-Tse-tung, counter-revolutionists on the capitalist road are no longer people who play a definite role in a definite social structure. They are simply all those who happen to disagree with the ruling group at a specific juncture. This of course leads to the most fantastic results. Already Ulbricht wrote recently about the “bourgeois (!) theory of workers’ self-management.” In other words: if you give workers full say over the management of the economy, you … restore capitalism! The absurd identity at which this type of reasoning arrives at is obviously: workers’ power equals capitalist power. One could not move further away from Marxism and Leninism than by uttering such absurdities.

The revision of the Marxist-Leninist theory of the state which is at the basis of these extremely subjectivist conceptions arises from a mechanical identification of party and class which leads to the famous “leading role of the party.” In complete contradiction with what Marx taught in his writings on the Paris Commune, and what Lenin taught in State and Revolution, the leaders of the USSR defend the idea that rule by the working class equals rule of the Communist Party, and rule of the Communist Party equals rule of the leading group of the Communist Party recognized by them. These revisionist ideas rest on a series of assumptions, one more absurd, unhistorical and erroneous than another: the conception that the party (or party majority) is always right; that the interests of the working class are homogenous and by some miracle automatically expressed by the ruling party; that the material privileges which the leaders of that party combine with the monopoly of exercising power do not in the least influence their political decisions and ideological evolution; that these leaders are only devoted to defend “workers’ power” and not their own group power and privileges; that any questioning of that group’s power and privileges somehow automatically threatens “socialism” and strengthens “the danger of capitalist restoration” – all this divorced from concrete analysis and precise alternative solutions proposed to social problems in each specific stage of development of the new society.

We cannot show in detail here how much these assumptions are in contradiction with Marxist-Leninist theory, and have operated in practice at the expense of the working class and against the interests of socialism. We can only recall that for the classical Marxist-Leninist theory, expressed among other places, in the two key texts referred to above, dictatorship of the proletariat was identical with socialist democracy. The whole Marxist-Leninist critique of bourgeois democracy leads to the conclusion that all workers (and not only the party supposed to represent their historic interests) should enjoy more material possibilities to realize democratic freedoms than they enjoy in the most democratic bourgeois republic. This implies that all groups of workers should have free access to print shops, newspapers, radio and television stations, that the right of assembly and organization should be open to them, provided they respect the socialist constitution. Even the exclusion of bourgeois from these rights was for Lenin not a matter of principle but a matter of expediency and the given relationship of forces (which are a thousand times more favorable in the CSSR anno 1968 than they were in the USSR anno 1918). Because Lenin rejected the slogan “Soviet power without communists,” the Kremlin revisionists have arrived at the conclusion “Communist power without Soviets.” The correct answer is of course “soviet power, i.e., democratic power of all workers, among which communists fight for hegemony by political means, by superior organization and defense of their class, by better proposals and sharper analysis, but neither by police repression nor censorship of other working class groups, tendencies and parties.” That is why the decisions taken in the CSSR before the August, 1968, invasion to restore the right of tendencies in the C.P., and the right to organize other socialist groups, is not “revisionist” at all, but a return to the classic norms of Lenin and Marx in the matter.

The practical nexus with the problem of “the danger of restoration of capitalism” is again evident. Under the given internal conditions, restoration by armed intervention from abroad is impossible without a world war. Restoration by a victorious uprising of “counter-revolutionists” from within is only possible (given the social relationship of forces) under conditions of extreme apathy of the working class. Socialist democracy, by creating favorable circumstances for overcoming that apathy, is thereby the best bulwark against capitalist restoration.

The Economic Reforms

Among “unofficial” opponents of the CPC, the critique of the Sik-Dubcek economic reforms looms exceptionally large. Among the “official” apologists of the Warsaw Pact powers’ military intervention, these economic reforms occupy a very secondary place in the indictment of Dubcek & Co. This apparent contradiction is clarified by the fact that the economic reforms introduced in the CSSR are only continuation – in the historical sense; their concrete forms are of course quite different – of the trend towards greater economic decentralization and greater use of market mechanisms, opened up in the USSR since several years. In fact, one can state that the CPC under Dubcek went not as far in that direction as the USSR government, and that especially in the realm of economic collaboration with the imperialist powers and monopolies, nothing comparable to the agreements of the USSR with the Fiat monopoly, or similar agreements of Rumania and Poland, had been introduced in the CSSR.

It is of course impossible to analyze in detail the meaning and contradictions of the economic reforms in the limited space allotted to that problem here. It is undoubtedly true that each important step towards market economy and towards decentralization of investment decisions threatens in the long run the planned nature of the economy. But threat does not automatically lead to its realization. After all, Lenin by introducing the NEP in 1921 went much farther in the direction of market economy than any of the economic reforms at present introduced in Eastern Europe. The NEP eventually threatened the socialized basis of the Soviet economy; but that threat was resolved by accelerated industrialization and collectivization of agriculture, i.e., it did not lead to restoration of capitalism. In order to evaluate the degree of the threat and the way to neutralize it, it is necessary to make a concrete analysis of the problems of the economy at a given moment, of its main trends of development and of the relationship between social forces, and not limit oneself to general statements about the danger of the market economy.

On the other hand we do not agree at all with those who, taking a purely technocratic and “economistic” point of view, measure everything in percentages of economic growth and the rhythm of development of productive forces. For sure, the development of productive forces is a precondition for building a real socialist society. “Socialization of misery” is nonsense. But a necessary precondition does not mean a sufficient precondition. Social forces, their degree of self-consciousness and participation, are equally decisive. To use means for the development of productive which increase social injustice and inequality, and provoke thereby demoralization and decline of political consciousness of the masses, is to take a step backward and not forward in that field.

We reject equally the simplified “counter-argument” to the classical thesis of Stalinism on the development of the productive forces, a “counter argument” now especially popular among the Yugoslav official theorists. The root of bureaucracy is in centralization. To fight bureaucracy you have to fight centralization. Market economy is the only substitute for centralization; therefore “socialist market economy” is the only efficient way to fight bureaucracy.

It is simply not true that the main root of bureaucracy is centralization. The main root of bureaucracy is social division of labor, i.e., the material, cultural, technical and political impossibility for the mass of producers themselves to administer directly the economy and society. One can say that relative backwardness (too low a level of development of productive forces, the material poverty of society) is in the last analysis the main cause of this permanence of the social division of labor after the overthrow of capitalism. But this is a very general and abstract point, not a concrete analysis and certainly not an argument in favor of market economy. In fact, under conditions of market economy, “objective laws” take again the place of conscious planning determining a whole series of socio-economic processes, thereby inevitably increasing social inequality, injustice and alienation, which in turn tend to decrease the workers’ participation in political life and to increase the power of bureaucracy.

Under the concrete conditions of the economic situation in the CSSR of 1966-68, an increase in decentralization, and an increased use of market mechanism in the field of consumer goods, was probably unavoidable to bring the economy again into focus with the main goals of harmonious and accelerated economic growth. But this was not the main social question involved in the reforms. “Decentralization” can mean two things. It can mean a strengthening of factory managers both with regard to planning authorities and to workers; it can also mean a creation of elements of workers’ power at the factory level. The first trend would be viewed with utmost distrust by the workers, especially if it implied the right of the managers to fire workers, change wage rates, increase “labor discipline,” etc. The second trend is a first step in the direction of socialist democracy. During the major part of 1968, it was not clear to the Czechoslovak workers which of these two reform trends would prevail, and Dubcek was by no means identified with the second one. He did not go beyond an experimental play with workers’ councils as elements of co-management at the factory level.

The more the Czechoslovak workers intervened in the process of “liberalization” after January 1969, the more they became free to express their own views, and the clearer it became that workers’ councils exercising real power were their main objective. This returns to the tradition of socialism and communism of more than sixty years ago. And as the Yugoslav experience has fully confirmed – and as Marx predicted in his critique of Proudhon more than a century ago – real workers’ power cannot be exercised at plant level; the replacement of capitalist competition by competition between “producers’ collectives,” within the framework of market economy, can only threaten to reproduce growing social inequality, primitive accumulation of capital, i.e., threaten to reproduce capitalism itself. Therefore, socialist democracy in Czechoslovakia will be consolidated only when economic power will be wielded not by individual workers’ councils in individual factories, but by a congress of workers’ councils at the level of the national economy.

The USSR’s Enemy: Socialist Democracy

In the light of the preceding analysis, we can try to answer the question: what were the reasons for the Kremlin’s military intervention in the CSSR? It was certainly not against the “danger of capitalist restoration” contained in the economic reforms, because these reforms are the only part of the “January Programme” of the CPC which remain practically in force. It cannot be against a threat of foreign military intervention, because there is not a shred of evidence that such an intervention was about to occur. It cannot even be against the “internal” counter-revolution, for not only was this “counter-revolution” extremely weak if not non-existent, but the results of the military intervention have, if anything, strengthened it instead of weakening it, as anybody could foresee.

The conclusion to be drawn is the following: The Warsaw Pact powers’ military intervention in the CSSR was not directed against social counter-revolution in that country, but against political revolution in the USSR and its allies. The threat which the Kremlin was afraid of was not the growing influence of imperialism in Czechoslovakia, but the growing influence of Czechoslovakia in the USSR and neighboring countries. Not “capitalist restoration” but socialist democracy was the enemy. This is why the main demand was restoration of censorship and suppression of the new party statute of the CPC. This is why the decisions of the XIVth Congress of the CPC have to be abolished. This is why no new party congress has the right to be convened. The Kremlin is not afraid of the insignificant “bourgeois counter-revolutionists” in the CSSR. It is afraid of the Czechoslovak workers and communists, and the echo which their fight for workers’ and socialist democracy can have in Poland, in the GDR, in Hungary and especially in the USSR itself.

This is the only conclusion which fits the overall analysis of social forces and processes in existence in the CSSR before the invasion. It is also the only conclusion which fits the subsequent behavior of the Soviet leaders, in the face of near-universal condemnation of their action by revolutionary socialists and progressive forces the world over.

After the admirable passive resistance of the Czech workers, students and intellectuals in the face of the invasion had forced the Kremlin to withdraw the myth of having sent its armies to the CSSR “on the appeal of communist leaders” (no Czechoslovak leader has dared till now to take responsibility for this appeal!), the Kremlin tried by a clever maneuver to turn a political rout into a half-victory. It forced the leading “liberal” bureaucrats of the CPC to capitulate and to accept a lesser-evil policy. Accepting the Moscow dictat, they thought it was preferable that they should apply half of Moscow’s program rather than have the Soviet army put in power a conservative leadership which would apply all this program. The results of this capitulation have become clear – and with them the real purpose of Moscow’s “turn” towards an “agreement” with the CPC’s leadership. Whereas, for the first time for 20 years, the Czechoslovak workers were united with the CP before and during August, 1968, a growing rift has now appeared between the most militant and politicized sectors of the working class, the students and the intellectuals on the one hand, and the party leadership on the other hand. Simultaneously, the “leading nucleus” of the liberal reformers around Dubcek has been fragmented into at least three if not four or five sub-tendencies. The more these two processes occur together, the easier become the future maneuvers and blackmails of the Kremlin, the greater becomes the danger of demoralization and renewed apathy of the Czechoslovak masses. And this is the main goal which the Soviet leaders want to obtain, nearly at any cost.

Till now they haven’t achieved this. The political consciousness and mobilization of the Czechoslovak workers and youth remains admirable. It merits every support of socialists and revolutionists throughout the world. But it cannot go on for ever, under a rapidly deteriorating relationship of forces. Either new and powerful factors will come to the assistance of the Czechoslovak masses (a similar process in other Eastern European countries, especially in the USSR, would be the best help; a powerful intervention of the CP’s and the labor movement in the West, and the revolutionary movement in the so-called “third world” would also be useful), or the Kremlin will finally attain its goal – at least for the time being.

The World Struggle for Socialism

Any success for the world revolution generally is felt the world over; any defeat of revolution, if it is grave, has unfavorable results in many other countries. This elementary truth, which has been confirmed again and again since 1848, provides us with a supplementary and final criterion to judge – and condemn – the Soviet leaders’ action against the CSSR. If this action had really been to “suppress threatening counter-revolution,” one could have expressed its positive results to be felt at least in some places of the world. In reality, the very opposite is true. Everywhere, the Warsaw Pact powers’ invasion of the CSSR has had negative results, strengthening reactionary classes and conservative political tendencies. In the imperialist countries it has strengthened anti-communism more than any event in the last 10 years. It has divided the labor movement, the communist world movement, and the revolutionary forces, and put many of them into disarray. By bringing pressure to bear upon the Vietnam and Cuban revolutions to support its actions in the CSSR, the Kremlin has even weakened the defense of these crucial revolutions throughout the world. The only people who really rejoice are the imperialists and professional anti-communists. Their key argument, “We told you so,” utterly discredited during the last years, has again gained some credit among disoriented and immature working people in the West and other parts of the world.

The blow against the CSSR was a double blow against the world struggle for socialism. Not only has it greatly assisted the imperialists to whitewash their own crimes in Vietnam, Latin America, Africa, the Arab world, etc. It has also destroyed for the time being the possibility to show the workers of the West that socialism can guarantee much more real democracy and freedom for the toiling masses than capitalism. Such a process was in course in Czechoslovakia. It would have immensely strengthened the world struggle for socialism. By suppressing it with armed force, the Kremlin has delivered a deliberate blow against that struggle.

One can object: but didn’t the Czechoslovak leaders take a moderate and right-wing position on world revolution? Hadn’t they influenced their people in a “neutralist” sense towards the Vietnam revolution? Wasn’t there in general a lack of sympathy with revolutionary struggles going on in other parts of the world in the CSSR before August, 1968? There is undoubtedly some truth in these objections, although they often overstate their case.

It is true that the Czechoslovak people had learned to distrust official propaganda – even when that propaganda happened to defend a just cause like that of the Vietnamese people. It is also true that twenty years of malediction and political repression did not create a favorable climate for mass fervor for the cause of world revolution. But here again, it is necessary to understand that the main process which had began after January 1968 was one of political reactivization and differentiation of the working class and the youth. After a few months of that process, clearly a left had emerged besides the right, even – and above all – among the students. During the Youth Festival in Sofia, the Czechoslovak delegation joined the German SDS for a militant demonstration against the US embassy, for the defense of the Vietnamese revolution. It was beaten up by Bulgarian secret police protecting the US embassy. It is hard to defend the thesis that it was at that moment “to the right” of the Bulgarian, Soviet, Polish or Hungarian state leaders. And a similar process would have occurred on a wide scale, in the whole country, had the military intervention not taken place.

Historically, the process of replacing bureaucratic dictatorship by socialist democracy in Eastern Europe and the USSR has several goals: workers’ power in the economy, i.e., democratically centralized self-management; political workers’ democracy; revolutionary internationalism are some of its main elements. The different factions of the bureaucracy define themselves towards these goals in a contradictory way. Their various reforms can only be partial; their rule must be overthrown to realize this program in full.

Tito is right-wing in foreign policy; but who can seriously defend the thesis that workers’ self-management, even in its partial and insufficient Yugoslav form, is “right-wing” compared with full rights enjoyed by factory managers in most of the other Eastern European countries? Dubcek’s foreign policy was also right-wing, although less so than Tito’s. But surely the reintroduction of basic democratic rights for the working class after January, 1968, was not “right-wing” compared to the complete suppression of workers’ rights in many other socialist countries. Finally, can anyone call Brezhnev “left-wing,” with his foreign policy based on “peaceful coexistence” with his constant deals with Washington, even around the Czechoslovak issue; with his conservative party regime denying members elementary rights enjoyed till late in the twenties; with his complete exclusion of the mass of the workers from all direct participation in plant management? Having understood this contradictory nature of the different wings of the bureaucracy, one has to reject the demagogy about the “right-wing Dubcek tendency,” and see only the interests of the masses in this struggle. And the Czechoslovak masses have made crystal-clear, for anybody who wants to see, where they stand, and what they fight for.

Last updated on 29.12.2011