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The New International, July 1939


Jan Buchar

The National Question in Central Europe


From New International, Vol.5 No.7, July 1939, pp.210-213.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


THE CZECH PEOPLE CLEARLY saw that the whole Versailles structure was shaky and threatened to collapse. At the same time it saw the Czech imperialist state and the national independence of the Czechs menaced by German imperialism. Since for years no one outside of a weak group of revolutionists, the adherents of the Fourth International, had pointed out the correct international, revolutionary road, it fell prey to a nationalism of semi-despair This nationalism, which was encouraged by the Czech imperialist bourgeoisie and made use of for its own purposes and which was shrouded in a “democratic” ideology, was sponsored most boisterously by the Stalinists and by Benes’s Czech National Socialist Party. It was for this reason that both these parties were most successful in the communal elections of May 1938, whereas the Czech social democracy, which pursued fundamentally the same course but was not quite able to keep up with the quack chauvinism of the Stalinists, lost somewhat. The electoral success of the CPCz was limited, however, to Czech districts. In the territories of the national minorities it lost on all sides and in the German regions it was absolutely decimated. In its composition and in its influence it almost liquidated itself as an international party, becoming almost a purely Czech organ. Thereby the last internationalist gains of the Czechoslovak proletariat were lost.

The Standpoint of the Adherents of the Fourth International

Against the general wave of nationalism stood only the small groups of adherents of the Fourth International. They proceeded from the conviction that the impending war of France, England and Czechoslovakia against Germany would be an imperialist war on both sides and therefore a reactionary war. The French, English, and Czech bourgeoisie will fight neither for “democracy” nor for “national emancipation”, but to keep the imperialist loot of 1918 and to extend their robber rule. Their victory, if the revolution did not intervene, could only mean the partition or colonization of Germany and intensified exploitation of all central Europe by western finance capital.

Nothing is changed by the fact that the independence of the Czech people is really menaced together with the imperialist rule of the Czech bourgeoisie. The defense of Serbia or Belgium in connection with the imperialist world war was only an episode which could not change its general imperialist character. Therefore both Belgian and Serbian socialists were in duty bound to struggle for the defeat of their own bourgeoisie. The same holds true in Czechoslovakia in case of an imperialist war. Thus in Czechoslovakia, too, the Leninist policy of revolutionary defeatism is called for.

This would also be correct if the Soviet Union were to participate in the war. On its part the war would be progressive and just, even if it had imperialist allies. On the part of the imperialist allies, however, the war would be a reactionary one, even though they had concluded an alliance with the Soviet Union. Inasmuch as such an alliance would, in the case of such a partnership, rest on a different class basis, it would be necessarily very fragile. The adherents of the Fourth International are of the opinion that it would be broken possibly before the outbreak of hostilities, possibly during the war itself, at the very latest at the war’s conclusion as the alternative will then be either proletarian revolution or the redivision and colonization of Europe by Anglo-French and probably also by American imperialism. Already in 1935, at the first signs of the right turn in the Comintern, the Czech comrades adopted this point of view. From then on it remained the basis of their propaganda and agitation.

The comrades considered it to be virtually excluded that the Czech bourgeoisie alone would fight an isolated war against Germany. The possibility was greater that Czechoslovakia would become involved in a Russo-German war while the western powers remained temporarily neutral. That, to be sure, would have been a progressive war which the proletariat would have to support. Even then, of course, there would be no class peace with the native bourgeoisie, which would be bound to betray such a war at the first opportunity. In this case, too, the slogan would be: Overthrow of our own bourgeoisie, institution of Soviet power and socialization in order to conduct the war successfully, that is, in a revolutionary manner. That, moreover, was the only way to win back the Sudeten German proletariat for the struggle against Hitler. Had the Sudeten German workers socialized the North Bohemian factories and mines and proclaimed a Soviet government they would have had something to defend against Hitler.

What alternative could one give to both imperialist programs on the national question? Hitler’s victory would not mean self-determination of the people but greater slavery of the Sudeten German workers under the fascist regime and the suppression of the Czechs and the other nations of central Europe in semi-fascist vassal states of imperialist Germany. A victory of the Entente and the Czech bourgeoisie meant, on the other hand, the continued and increased suppression of minorities and the national and social enslavement of Germany.

Against both of these programs it was only possible to pose the national program of the proletarian revolution, the program of self-determination of peoples and their voluntary union in the United Socialist States. The more the crisis came to a head, the more. immediately urgent became the final slogans. All “solutions” of the national question within the framework of capitalism proved to be a calamity for the working masses of all the peoples and the socialist solution the only progressive one. Proletarske Noviny, the Czech organ of the Fourth International, correctly said in its last legal issue that “abstract” and “unpractical” as the slogan of the United Socialist States of Europe appeared to be to some opportunists, at the end of the great crisis of the war it would be the most practical of all. On July 15, under severe press censorship, the paper stated:

The freedom and self-determination of peoples is a democratic demand which can only be fully realized by the victory of socialism. In the last stage of development of capitalist society the world is ruled by a small group of monopoly capitalists who have imperialistically divided the earth among themselves. The overwhelming majority of humanity is exploited and enslaved by imperialism. It can become a powerful ally of the revolutionary proletariat in its struggle against the imperialist enemy. For this, however, the proletariat must win the confidence of the oppressed nations. That can only be done if every worker learns to put the international liberation of the working class and all the oppressed above the “interest of his own nation”, behind which lies the interest of the bourgeoisie. For this it is particularly necessary to defend with determination the rights and the freedom of any oppressed people, even if the oppressors are “one’s own brothers”.

If the national independence of the Czechs is now threatened, said the adherents of the Fourth International to the Czech workers, it is a direct consequence of the fact that the Czech people allowed itself to be misused by its own bourgeoisie to oppress other peoples. In an imperialist system the freedom of the small Czech people is always threatened. The national independence of the Czech people, which is as important to us international communists as that of every other people, can only be assured if the Czech workers overthrow their own bourgeoisie and free the nations oppressed by it, thereby making possible the voluntary union of the liberated peoples in the United Socialist States.

The Crisis Comes to a Head

After the annexation of Austria the Czech crisis entered an acute stage; after (Hitlers Nürnberg speech it rapidly reached its peak. As always in critical times, two souls wrestled in the breast of the Czech bourgeoisie.

One tendency, led by Benes, banked with certainty on the imperialist war and the inevitable victory of the Entente. This tendency wanted at all costs to fight on the side of the stronger. It was prepared to defend the country as long as possible and, if it were to become necessary, to evacuate its military forces, but at all costs to fight on, so that at the end of the war it would be able to return home with the victorious armies of the Versailles coalition. Then it would be able to re-erect the imperialist state and get a share of the loot.

The other tendency, led by the president of the largest bank, Dr. Preiss, and the chairman of the Agrarian Party, Beran, was in favor of capitulating to Germany, of a renunciation of independent foreign policy and for a vassal relationship to German imperialism of the Polish kind. It hoped to assure its own class rule by German bayonets, even at the expense of dividing the loot with its hungry neighbor.

Until the Berchtesgaden meeting of Hitler and Schuschnigg, the capitulatory tendency did not dare to come out into the open, particularly as Schuschnigg’s fate strongly compromised the idea of a peaceful compromise with Hitler. The point that Austria was deserted was answered by the Benes people with the objection that Austria had no direct treaties of alliance, no armies and no forts and was not prepared to defend itself, whereas Czechoslovakia resembled Austria in none of these respects. The mass of the Czech people, psychologized by magnificent propaganda, which was prominently supported by the Stalinists, really believed that the Allies and particularly the Soviet Union would help them.

At Berchtesgaden, Benes’ whole policy, in fact, his whole conception of the Czechoslovak state collapsed like a house of cards. The western powers categorically demanded the cession of Sudeten Germany to Hitler. They clearly stated that they would not march to defend the status quo in spite of all treaties. The Soviet bureaucracy merely said that it would proceed according to the letter of its treaty, whereby it is obligated to intervene only if France goes to war. Isolated, deserted by all “allies”, the Hodza government capitulated and consented to a revision of the borders.

That was on September 21. On the following day there was a spontaneous outburst of popular wrath. Without any call, without any leadership the workers, in spite of martial law and the prohibition of meetings, went on a complete general strike and marched in tremendous masses into the heart of Prague. The police disappeared, the soldiers were kept in their barracks to prevent their fraternizing with the demonstrators. The state was powerless and the government had to resign.

Truly, power lay in the streets, but no one picked it up. On this day the CPCz could have taken over the government with ease. No one would have been in a position to offer any serious opposition. But the CPCz was unwilling to – and was not permitted to. For its taking over power would have meant the immediate outbreak of hostilities and the war would have to be conducted without England and France, together only with the Soviet Union as a purely revolutionary war. The Moscow bureaucrats, however, did not want a revolutionary war, they were ready only to participate in an imperialist one. They were determined to march if imperialist France marched and to remain quiet if France remained quiet. The CPCz, therefore, was not only not permitted to attempt to take power, but it was compelled to quiet the masses and send them home. The scattered calls of the Fourth International for a workers’ and peasants’ government were drowned in the cry for a military dictatorship and General Syrovy, as the rumor went about that Syrovy had just returned from Russia and that a Syrovy government meant war on the side of the Red Army. Then the “Leader” Gottwald appeared at a window of the parliament building to proclaim to the masses that they could go home with peace of mind, as the Hodza government had just resigned and the new government “participated in by the army” would execute the will of the people. After him spoke the fascist, Rasin. His significant utterance, that “today there is no difference between fascists and communists”, was greeted with satisfaction by the nearby communist senators and deputies. Before the masses, streaming out of the center of the city, had reached their quarters in the suburbs, the Syrovy government had announced in all European capitals that it would continue the policy of capitulation unchanged.

Ten days later the Syrovy government, which had been set up by the Stalinists and Benes, accepted the Munich dictate. Five days later it compelled Benes to resign and then it dissolved the CP. The government of “national defense” became the government of national capitulation. The “defenders of democracy” introduced a semi-fascist dictatorship of finance capital.

After the Defeat

What did the Stalinist leaders say after Munich?

When it became evident that the organization of immediate resistance was only possible in a struggle for power which would surely have split the nation ... the CP had to make a turn to guarantee an orderly retreat and to prevent the retreat from becoming a panic and a defeat ... (Karl Janda, Basler Rundschau, No.50, p.1665)

What was to be done? Preserve national unity and rebuild the capitalist Czechoslovak state! The CP is prepared to do its utmost to this end and even to unite organizationally with the social democracy and Benes’ National Socialist Party; that is, to liquidate itself organizationally and politically. This offer was made not in a moment of struggle against Hitler, but at the time of capitulation, at a time when not a “democratic” but a semi-fascist state was being constructed!

The betrayal of the Stalinists came to its logical conclusion. They remain true servants of their bourgeoisie in war as in peace. Whether the bourgeoisie conducts an imperialist war or capitulates to foreign fascism – it can always count on its faithful Stalinist lackeys who can be relied upon to preach class peace and “national unity”! Every class struggle splits the nation, yet the Stalinists would rather kiss the feet of the bosses, even at the moment of receiving a well-earned kick!

The article quoted, which was probably written by the editor in chief of the Rude Pravo, Sverma, a member of the Politbureau, bears the date of the evening on which the Syrovy government forced Benes to resign and installed the new foreign minister Chvalkovsky. The latter immediately went to Hitler to ask for instructions for the future foreign and domestic policy of Czechoslovakia.

The working class of Czechoslovakia and with it the workers of the world, has suffered a defeat Many thousands of workers are directly under the fascist yoke of the Hitlers, Horthys and the Rydz-Smiglys. What remains of Czechoslovakia has become a semi-fascist vassal state of imperialist Germany. Today all central Europe is under German regency. German imperialism has gained access to important raw materials and is now in a position to risk a big war. The Soviet Union is isolated, the working class defeated.

The sections of the Second and Third Internationals have ceased to exist in Czechoslovakia. Even before the official dissolution of their party the Stalinist leaders announced that they wanted to unite with the social democracy and the followers of Benes in one political party. This was ignored by the reformist leaders, as no one takes the Stalinists seriously. The German social democracy in Czechoslovakia voluntarily dissolved itself on the first day after Munich. The Czech Social Democracy withdrew from the International and renamed itself “National Party of Labor”. It would like to unite with the Benes Party but without the communists. The Benes party, however, is emphasizing its nationalism and its Slovak wing has already joined the Slovak fascist party of Hlinka. In the eastern parts of the republic, moreover, the reformist parties are already outlawed.

It is a sign of the times that after the crisis the only International in Czechoslovakia with a membership is the Fourth. On the one hand its work is made more difficult by the ever more stringent repressions and by the defeatist mood of broad layers of workers; on the other hand its work is favored by many political circumstances.

The conception of Versailles, upon which the Czech bourgeoisie erected its state, has broken down miserably. The imperialist policy of the Czech bourgeoisie led the Czech people under the yoke of German imperialism after 20 years. The “defense of democracy” led to the victory of fascism, the alliance with the bourgeoisie to the destruction of the old labor parties. A government is in power which can only be maintained by German bayonets at the border and by Czech repressive machinery within the country. It has no mass basis. It is hated by the entire population as a government of traitors and exploiters. Like the Müller government in Germany, it is a government of national defeat.

The supporters of the Fourth International, who are seriously going to fight against the double yoke of the native and German bourgeoisie, are the only ones who gain the confidence of the broad masses of the toilers. Their erstwhile struggle against Czech imperialism and the People’s Front fraud will now bear fruit. What they said about the building of an imperialist state, about the oppression of other peoples, about the threat to the freedom of the Czech people and about the falsehood of the “defense of democracy” has been shown to be correct. Only they are now in a position to fight consistently against the old and the new oppressors. Only they are in a position to show the Czech, Slovak and all central European workers the way out. Only they have a program for a progressive solution of the national question, the false posing of which has for the second time in twenty years contributed to a great defeat of the proletariat.

The illegal leaflet, which the Czech comrades issued right after Munich, concludes after an analysis as follows:

When once again the time comes for us to do battle we will know better what we are to fight for so that we can live in peace and happiness: for the United Socialist States of Europe!

These days mark the 20th anniversary of October 14, 1918. Then, too, we wanted a socialist republic. Now, after bitter experiences, we must hark back to this correct starting point. Let us organize the anti-fascist united front of all the toilers! Let us prepare for the moment when we shall do battle for the overthrow of the world imperialism of Chamberlain, Daladier, Mussolini and Hitler!

Long live Socialist Czechoslovakia!

Long live the United Socialist States of Europe!

Long live the Fourth International!

PRAGUE, Nov. 15, 1938

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