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James Burnham

Their Government

(24 November 1939)


From Socialist Appeal, Vol. III No. 90, 24 November 1939, p. 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

It is very difficult to be sure just what has been happening in Prague. The reports sent to this country give the impression of a rather surprising candor. In general, Germany has been permitting the foreign correspondents to send out far more news than have France or Britain. So far the Nazis have not instituted “pre-censorship” of dispatches. This, of course, need not mean very much: “post-censorship,” with its threat of expulsion if the correspondent’s dispatches displease the regime, can be just as effective as pre-censorship; and several American correspondents have, in fact, been recently expelled.

We cannot be sure just how widespread the disturbances have been in Prague itself, nor whether they have extended to other Czech cities. We cannot trust the account of the extent of repressions. Most important, perhaps, of all, we do not know what slogans have been put forward.

Nevertheless, it seems possible to piece a few facts together.

The Uneasy Protectorate

The open demonstrations and clashes apparently began a couple of weeks ago, during the celebration of the Czech “independence day.” Prior to this, however, there were indications that trouble was brewing, and the clashes were not unexpected.

The high point was reached in the student riots at the University. What set these off remains obscure. One story is that they began when a Nazi professor in one of the classes insulted the students. A considerable battle seems to have taken place at the University.

There is no reason to believe that the puppet Czech “government-in-exile” had any direct connection with the demonstrations. This is shown by the statement of Jan Masaryk repudiating the actions as “ill-advised” and “premature.”

The Nazis do not seem to have been prepared for disturbances on a scale that these in Prague reached. The dispatches suggest hesitations and shifts in policy. Up to now, they have been trying to utilize the Czech protectorate regime under Hacha, which they set up, and a primarily Czech police force as the main instrument of their rule – supplemented, naturally, by concentration camps and the Gestapo. There were obvious advantages in this policy: it was easier to keep the Czech people divided when Czech cops were used to beat up Czech dissidents, and when a Czech “government” proclaimed the laws and regulations decided on in Berlin.

In the first demonstrations, the Czech police were assigned to “keep order,” and all along Hacha has been calling for quiet. But by the time of the University clash, it had become clear that the Czech police could not do the job, and that many Czechs, especially the students, were not listening to Hacha. In some instances, the police seem to have been going actively over to the side of the demonstrators, as is indicated by the fact that several Czech policemen were shot in the repressions.

It became necessary to send in thousands of Gestapo agents and heavily armed detachments of S.S. men, their equipment including, according to reports, field artillery.

Statements now issuing from Berlin say that the protectorate status may soon be altered in favor of some form of more open, direct and complete Nazi rule.

What Is Foreshadowed?

Enough has happened to show that the Czech people have not accepted Nazism, and that they are ready to fight against it. What a commentary these brave students and the others who were with them provide on the cowardly capitulators of the Benes regime who now, as eager servants of the British, presume to call themselves the government of Czechoslovakia!

That the demonstrations began among the students and youth is in accordance with the usual pattern. The most volatile element in the society, their moods change more swiftly. While the broad masses of workers and peasants remain passive, the youth can accomplish only sporadic flare-ups, but their actions are symptoms of what is going on beneath the surface, and symbols of deepening revolt to come.

But what is to come will depend also on the perspective and direction which the movement takes.

Benes states his views from London: the actions in Prague, and others like them, he found, will greatly aid the “democracies” in their prosecution of the war.

What would be the effect if the line of Benes were to be accepted by the Czechs? It would doom them to a terrible failure, and at the same time strengthen Hitler.

If Hitler can present plausible evidence to show to the German people that the Czech anti-Nazi movement is actually inspired by the imperialist enemy-states, whose sole aim is to crush Germany in their own imperialist interests, and is working for the victory of the enemy-states, then the Czechs will appear to the German people as no more than another division in the opposing imperialist armies. In compensation for some undoubted practical difficulties, Hitler would be able to draw the German people closer around himself and his regime. He can say: look, even the Czech workers are your enemies, in the service of the sated imperialists of London and Paris; you have only me to rely upon. And there could be no effective answer to him, for what he would say would be true,

Already Hitler is exploiting these possibilities, and playing up the Prague events as directed from London. The remarks of the traitor, Benes, and the general propaganda of the imperialist democrats about German revolt for the benefit of London and Paris, are what enable Hitler to get away, with his demagogy.

This is why the Czech anti-Nazi movement, if it is to be successful and in the interests of the Czech people, must orient itself on a firmly internationalist perspective, against both war camps. In that light, the German workers, and the workers of France and Britain as well, will be their allies in the struggle against the common enemy.

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