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Ernest Erber

How the Czech CP Took Power

Concluding The Stalinist Road to Power in Czechoslovakia

(April 1948)

From The New International, Vol. XIV No. 4, April 1948, p. 105–110.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

The February coup of the Czech Stalinists was the result of a combination of national and international political factors. Of these, the international factors were the determining force.

In one sense it can be said that the events which culminated in February had their roots in the big-power relations produced by the war and were in the making ever since Russia was accorded the hegemony of Eastern Europe. In a narrower sense, however, the crisis that came to a head in February had its origin in the summer of 1947, beginning with the gyrations of Czech policy on the Marshall Plan.

Ever since the Stalinists assumed the dominant role in the provisional government, the Czech bourgeoisie [1] placed its strongest hopes for salvation on international economic developments rather than on internal political developments. Czechoslovakia had always been an integral part of the European economy, with strong financial ties to Berlin, Paris and London. The giant Skoda plant, for instance, was a classic example of industrial control by international finance capitalism. Representatives of the banking interests of all the big capitalist powers sat on its board of directors. The bulk of its production was destined for the world market.

The Czech bourgeoisie, therefore, counted heavily upon the weight of economic factors pulling Czechoslovakia back to its pre-war orbit, despite the advanced stage of nationalization. That section of the Czech bourgeoisie which still possessed its productive property saw in the reintegration of Czechoslovakia in world economy the means by which the trends set in motion by nationalization could be brought to a halt; and the ever-hopeful big bourgeoisie, though expropriated, saw in it the means by which nationalization could be undone and private capitalism restored, even if, for a period, in close partnership with the state.

As a consequence of this perspective, the Czech bourgeoisie took a keen interest in Secretary of State Marshall’s announcement that the United States was prepared to underwrite a large-scale, unified plan for the economic rehabilitation of Europe. It would have an immeasurable effect upon the rebinding of Czechoslovakia’s broken ties with the West. However, Moscow took just as keen an interest in Marshall’s announcement and was just as quick to realize the effects of his plan. Yet Moscow sought first to probe the possibility of utilizing the offer of American aid for its own economic needs by forcing the United States to refrain from any interference in the administration of the funds in Europe. The Czech bourgeois parties utilized this period of maneuver on the part of Russia to press hard for a commitment by the Czechoslovakian government to participate in the Marshall Plan conference called for July in Paris.

On June 8, a Czechoslovakian government delegation,including Gottwald and Masaryk, departed for Moscow to discuss Russia’s policy on the Marshall Plan. During the Moscow talks, the Czech press was full of inferences that Czechoslovakia’s participation in the Paris conference was being decided in the Kremlin. When the delegation returned, Gottwald lashed out at those who suggested Russian domination of Czech affairs, saying: “The USSR in no way interferes in Czechoslovakia’s domestic affairs. She is conducting her own affairs in a way which suits Czechoslovakian conditions.” Gullible people were prepared to believe every word of Gottwald’s statement when, on July 7, the Czechoslovakian government announced that it had accepted the invitation of the British government to participate in the Paris conference and designated as its representative the Czech ambassador to France.

What brought about this decision to participate is not known at present. Whether it was the result of a misunderstanding with Moscow or in agreement with Moscow is not clear. Within three days of the announcement to participate,the Czech government made a complete about-face. On July 10, the Prague Radio announced the following:

The government held an extraordinary meeting today at which Czechoslovakian participation in the Paris conference was again discussed. It was ascertained that a number of countries, especially all Slav states and other countries of Central and Eastern Europe,had not accepted the invitation to this conference ... Under these circumstances Czechoslovakian participation would be interpreted as an act directed against our friendship with the Soviet Union and our other allies. For this reason the government decided unanimously not to take part in this conference.

In a space of three days the soaring hopes of the Czech bourgeoisie were dashed to the ground. Stalin had decided that the efforts to render the Marshall Plan harmless through maneuver were hopeless and that the die was cast. The fateful division of Europe, implicit since Potsdam, was now to be made explicit. The day so dreaded by the Masaryk school of Czech politicians, who talked of Czechoslovakia being a bridge between the East and the West, had come.

After the July 10 announcement, it was impossible for Czech politicians even to pretend that their country was facing both ways. For the Czech bourgeoisie as a whole, it was now crystal-clear that the perspective of eventual re-integration in the economy of Western Europe was ended. The internal political struggle was now the only possible escape from complete destruction at the hands of the Stalinists. The stage was cleared for the series of events that led up to February 20, 1948. [2]

The Crisis Over the Capital Levy

The withdrawal of Czechoslovakia from the Marshall Plan conference was followed by a Stalinist propaganda campaign to sell the people the idea that Czechoslovakia would secure greater economic benefits as a source of industrial products for the Russian sphere of Eastern Europe than it could expect from the Marshall Plan. This was backed by the conclusion of a Five Year Trade Agreement between Russia and Czechoslovakia, announced to coincide with the opening of the Marshall Plan talks in Paris. Those who knew the facts about Russia’s economic relations with its satellites were less inclined to take the trade agreement at its face value than were readers of the Stalinist press who eagerly sought for reassurance that Czech withdrawal from the Marshall Plan would not have an adverse effect upon economic life.

The uneasy summer had hardly drawn to a close before the first big political explosion in the showdown struggle between the bourgeois parties and the Stalinists took place. It resulted from a discussion in the cabinet on September 2 on ways and means to finance a plan to compensate the farmers for losses due to severe drought.

Gottwald proposed that six and a half billion Kcs. allotted to this purpose be raised through a capital levy on some 35,000 persons whose property exceeded one million Kcs. (roughly $20,000 at its legal rate). The other parties opposed the proposal and offered as a substitute a tax on incomes, saying that Gottwald’s schema “will not touch the proteges of the Communists, who hold important administrative positions, draw high salaries and live in great luxury.” Since the CP ministers formed a minority of the cabinet, the Stalinist demand for a capital levy was defeated.

On the day that the discussions were taking place, Slansky, the general secretary of the CP and Stalinist hatchet man, already warned that trouble would ensue if the National-Socialist [3] and Slovak Democratic Parties joined with the right-wing (Catholic) People’s Party in an anti-CP bloc. The real storm, however, broke on the following morning when Rude Pravo, the central organ of the CP, appeared with an account of the discussions in the cabinet and the names of the ministers who had voted against the capital levy in large block letters on the first page. Duris, the Stalinist Minister of Agriculture, took to the air over the government radio station in an appeal to the drought-ridden farmers, attacking the non-Stalinist ministers in the most offensive terms. The speech opened a full-scale agitational campaign by the Stalinists throughout the country, especially in rural areas. On September 5 teams of CP agitators left Prague for all parts of the country.

The Social-Democratic press reported a wave of agitation, accompanied by terror against dissidents, in the factories. The secretariat of the SDP issued a statement denouncing the CP for abusing the confidential discussions within the cabinet for purposes of propaganda and “electoral demagogy.” The statement ordered members of the SDP to refuse to sign CP petitions and resolutions being gathered in the factories in support of the Gottwald proposals and in condemnation of the ministers who had defeated it. The National-Socialist Party daily Svobodne Slovo reported a meeting of the party presidium on the crisis and stated that it was “impossible to tolerate publication of cabinet discussions in the press and, worse still, on posters.” [4] The Social-Democratic Minister of Industry, Lausman, threatened to resign in protest against the unrest and strikes which the CP agitation had called forth in the nationalized industries.

On September 11, the Social-Democratic Party called a mass meeting in Prague to rally its followers in the face of the crisis. Majer, right-wing leader and Minister of Food, said:

“Those guilty of intellectual terrorism and of spreading disunity are the best friends of the reactionaries. Their actions have violated the laws of the republic, and smack of brutal, inhuman Gestapoism. We Social-Democrats shall never consent to such methods. We know that further propaganda campaigns are being prepared ... We are always ready to cooperate, but we refuse to submit to any dictates.”

Lausman said at the same meeting: “Keep calm, for the time being we do not know which way the wind is blowing. Since May 1945 we have not been through such critical times.”

Tug of War Around the Social-Democrats

On the following day, the governmental impasse was ended as a result of an unexpected action on the part of the Social-Democrats. They signed an agreement with the Stalinists to form a socialist bloc within the National Front. Its main provision was for discussions between the two parties to achieve joint action on all important questions in the future. The Social-Democratic daily, Pravo Lidu, sought to explain the sudden change of party line by saying, “As a result of the general inability to achieve agreement ... the Social-Democratic Party decided to solve the crisis by starting negotiations with various other parties one by one. The approach of the Communist Party proved that its leaders were most understanding.” It hastened to add that the agreement was not directed against the other parties. In another explanation a few days later, Pravo Lidu added that “The agreement with the Communists did not mean the setting up of joint organizations, the holding of joint mass meetings, or the issuing of joint proclamations.”

This latter assurance seems to have been designed to calm the party’s right wing, one of whose leaders, Majer, resigned his government post in protest against the agreement. However, the agreement gave Gottwald a theoretical 51 per cent majority in the Assembly and caused the bourgeois parties to take a conciliatory course to end the crisis. (Simultaneous with the end of the crisis, the Security Police announced the arrest of eighty more “conspirators,” alleged to be in contact with the underground “Hlinka Guardists,” in Slovakia.) After a short breathing spell, vicious attacks on the bourgeois parties were resumed in the Stalinist press, Slansky saying on October 13 that “If the National-Socialist Party wants to remain a government party, its leaders must abandon their present subversive anti-state policy and expel from their ranks people of the type of Fierabend.”

The struggle between the bourgeois parties and the Stalinists now centered upon the growing factional situation in the Social-Democratic Party. As has been the case in all European countries where Stalinism became the main anti-capitalist force, the Social-Democracy, in the absence of a clear perspective of its own, began to be torn into two wings, each gravitating toward one of the two main centers of power. The 13 per cent of the Assembly seats held by the Social-Democracy became the immediate focal point of the struggle. Gottwald needed the solid support of the Social-Democratic deputies in order to preserve a parliamentary majority. The bourgeois parties needed a split in the Social-Democracy to form an anti-Stalinist majority. The Stalinists sought a Social-Democracy led by a Czech Nenni, while the bourgeois politicians sought a split in the Social-Democracy led by a Czech Saragat. Each side found its man. The Stalinist hopes were placed on Fierlinger, vice-premier and the party’s president. The bourgeois hopes were placed on Majer, leader of the intransigent right wing. Both wings of the party rallied their supporters for the coming congress of the SDP at Brno on November 14.

The line of the SDP since the liberation had been one of veering and tacking between the two big power concentrations. In questions of foreign policy, the SDP had followed a firm pro-Russian course, not unlike that of Benes-Masaryk. In economic questions, the SDP had been firmly, even aggressively, for the nationalization program. [5] It had taken the difficult Ministry of Industry and made one of its ablest men, Lausman, available for the post.

If foreign policy and nationalization brought the SDP into line with the CP, questions of political democracy and individual liberty brought the SDP into continual clashes with the Stalinists. The SDP opposed the Stalinist’s line on police powers, censorship, academic freedom, etc. The sharpest friction between the two parties, however, arose from the tactics employed by the Stalinists in the labor movement. The main pre-war base of the Social-Democracy had been its control of the trade-union movement. The new, unified trade-union movement came quickly under complete Stalinist domination, in large measure due to the pro-Stalinist role of leading Social-Democratic trade-unionists like Evzen Erban. The Social-Democratic press repeatedly protested against the atmosphere of terror which the Stalinists introduced into the unions and factories against those Social-Democrats who bucked the CP line. Aside from its traditional attachment to bourgeois democracy as an arena for parliamentary activity and the basis for a free labor movement, the Social-Democrats feared further CP inroads upon its already greatly shrunken mass base.

The Social-Democrats’ Dilemma

But as much as it feared the growing power of the Stalinists, the Social-Democracy also feared an anti-CP bloc of the bourgeois parties. It saw in the latter not only an anti-Stalinist force, but also a possible anti-labor and anti-socialist force. The victory of such an anti-CP bloc could denote a long swing to the right. Even more depressing was the fear that such a bourgeois anti-Stalinist bloc might lead to civil war, in the course of which the Social-Democracy would be torn to pieces regardless of who emerged victorious.

These fears in the ranks of the Social-Democracy found their expression in the alignment of forces at the Brno Congress. Neither Fierlinger nor Majer had a majority. A large bloc of delegates were afraid of both extremes. However, the increasingly open Stalinist course pursued by Fierlinger caused many loyal Social-Democrats to heed the charges of the right wing that the party president was steering a course toward organic fusion with the CP. As a result, an anti-Fierlinger majority emerged behind Lausman, who did not have the vehement anti-Stalinist record of Majer. Lausman defeated Fierlinger for the party presidency by a vote of 283 to 182. The 40 per cent of the vote received by the pro-Stalinist wing represented a solid base of support for the CP, which in a time of crisis would prove itself more potent than the variegated majority led by Lausman.

The defeat of Fierlinger, however, was a clear danger signal for the Stalinists. The Social-Democracy would now prove an unreliable ally, especially since the outcome of the Brno Congress was considered an implied rejection of the CP-SDP agreement for a socialist bloc. The Stalinist press launched an attack upon the SDP majority and called the election of Lausman “a victory of the right wing.” Lausman sought to mollify them with a pledge of allegiance to Russia,saying: “The efforts of true socialists throughout the world must rally around the Soviet Union, although their practical policy and tactics must take into account the particular conditions prevailing in their country.”

However, the Stalinist campaign was not abated. Hardly a day went by without heated and lively exchanges between Rude Pravo and Pravo Lidu, the central organs of the CP and SDP respectively. [6]

With the beginning of December, the government under-took a wide publicity campaign in connection with the arrival of the first shipments of “Soviet” grain to supplement the drought-depleted granaries of Czechoslovakia. The bourgeois press was soon printing notices that the grain was so inferior that it had created technical difficulties for the millers. The bulk of the grain was reported to have come from Rumania, Lithuania and East Prussia, rather than from the Ukraine. The freight cars that delivered the grain were sent back with sugar for Russia. The Stalinists utilized the grain shipments for a wide campaign of telegrams of thanks to Stalin personally, from trade unions, local government bodies, etc. The Stalinists did not limit themselves to a propaganda campaign against the Lausman Social-Democrats nor to whooping it up for Soviet grain. They had read the danger signals of the Brno Congress correctly. If they had been uncertain, the more aggressive tone assumed by the bourgeois parties after Fierlinger’s defeat convinced them of the drift of events. The Stalinists everywhere stepped up the pace of preparations for the final showdown.

Remembering some of the Marxist teachings, especially the knowledge that the essence of state power is its armed force,the Stalinists began to push through a reorganization of the Security Police to place reliable “party men” in all key posts. The bourgeois parties responded with an open attack, both in the Assembly and the press, upon the manipulations within the police force.

The Peoples’ Party deputy Bunza said that senior officers of the Security. Corps “made no secret of the fact that Communist Party members were given priority in appointments and promotion ... The most oppressive feeling which takes away the people’s joy of life and enthusiasm for work is fear of the ruling power, which knows neither moral nor political responsibility, and does not respect the freedom of the citizen.” The Stalinists answered with an announcement of the Security Corps head in Slovakia, General Ferjencik, that another “anti-state plot” had been uncovered and 207 persons arrested, most of them having alleged ties with the People’s Party or the Slovak Democratic Party.

The Terror Grows Bolder

The entire struggle now began to center on the Stalinists’ manipulation of the Security Police. An article by the National-Socialist deputy Hora on December 23 in the daily paper of his party, Svobodne Slovo, described Czechoslovakia as a “police state.” “Anyone who raises his voice in defense of the rights and liberties of man and protests against the heritage of the Protectorate and the Nazis, is immediately attacked as a protector and collaborator of traitors.” The Special Secret Department of the State Security authorities, according to Hora, was “screening civil servants before their promotion.” He demanded that the police cease acting as the agency of “a single party.”

The National-Socialist deputies submitted a memorandum to the Ministers of Social Welfare and of Industry drawing attention to the reign of terror in the factories. Complaints came in from Slovakia charging that the police were beating and tormenting arrested “plotters” to secure confessions. The chairman of the Slovak National Council was indicted in Prague for having “criticized” (!) the Stalinist editor of Prace, the central organ of the Revolutionary Trade Union Movement. The council refused to permit his extradition.

The year 1947 drew to a close amid alarms and growing tensions and the year 1948 opened with ominous forebodings of worse to come. The correspondent for Reuters closed out. his year’s work with the prediction that January would see a revolution in Czechoslovakia which would prove “the chief conflict for the future of Europe.” The trade-union daily, Prace, replied that “This will be assiduously spread by those who have been prognosticating and provoking a Communist revolution in Czechoslovakia.” (Italics not in original).

On January 8, a Communist Party conference of some 1,300 agitprop directors opened in Prague. The main themes were The New Czechoslovakian Patriotism and The Ideology of the New Czechoslovakia. The eager Stalinist agitators did not let the grass grow under their feet in demonstrating the “new ideology.” [7] Already on the following day, Pravo Lidu, the Social-Democratic daily, announced that a new wave of terror against dissidents had begun in the factories.

The fanatics are smashing up the unity of the trade unions ... Reports on the elections to the factory trade-union groups show that the propaganda machine of the political parties [a discreet circumlocution for the CP – E.E.] has again been in full use ... All improper practices are being employed to force people to vote in a certain way, instead of voting freely. Open threats against those who swim against the current are professed, including threats that they may lose their jobs ... Political terror in the factories is again on the agenda ... Even in factories with an uncontested Communist majority, the employees are fed up with these methods. [8]

On January 17, the Social-Democratic press published an important article exposing the Stalinist strategy for taking over all power. It stated that the Stalinists were grooming certain key people In all the other parties with the intention of splitting these parties at the decisive moment into “left” and “right” wings and reorganizing the National Committees on the basis of the “left” wings only.

The National-Socialist Party press announced that the days of great trial had arrived for the people of Czechoslovakia and called upon the people not to crack under CP pressure but to hold out for the elections. The latter had been expected in May, when the two-year term of the National Constituent Assembly would end. The National-Socialists now gave evidence that they did not think the anti-Stalinist forces could remain intact that long. The consolidation of police power by the Stalinists, the new arrests, the elimination of the remaining anti-Stalinist Social-Democrats from the trade-union apparatus, all indicated to them that the elections in May would find the Stalinists holding everyone by the throat, with an absolute CP majority a foregone conclusion.

The National-Socialist Strategy

Out of these considerations was born the new strategy of the bourgeois parties. This consisted of an intransigent. stand against the Stalinist domination of the police and a resignation from the government if the Stalinists refused to submit to a majority vote. The outcome of this tactic, they naively thought, would be immediate elections, with the return of an anti-CP majority.

The National-Socialists, in agreement with the People’s Party and the Slovak Democrats, began to unfold their strategy on February 5. They moved a proposal in the cabinet that a special committee of cabinet members be formed to investigate the Security Police. The proposal received seconds from all parties except the CP. The National-Socialists announced that they would present their proposal in resolution form for adoption at the next meeting. If the CP voted against, as it was obvious it would, the coalition would be broken up and the Assembly would have to constitute a new government on the police issue. The National-Socialists then proceeded to charge the Stalinists with obstructionist tactics in reference to the adoption of a constitution, and stated that if agreement could not be reached in ten days the Assembly should be dissolved and new elections held.

This demand convinced the Stalinists as to the strategy of the bourgeois parties and they began to make preparations to meet it. On February 8, a secret session of the central committee of the CP took place, according to National-Socialist sources. The preparations allegedly made at this session were such as would prepare the CP forces for either an immediate election or extra-legal mass action. Whether the preparations were made in this general form because the Czech Stalinist leadership, regarded as “weak sisters” in the Comintern from its earliest days, began to falter or whether it was necessary to wait for instructions from Moscow cannot, of course, be known now.

Events now began to move with great rapidity. On February 12, the National-Socialist deputies in the Assembly’s Security Committee, led by their party’s general secretary, Vladimir Krajina, secured the adoption of a motion ordering Minister of Interior Nosek to appear before the committee for questioning and meanwhile to end all transfers in the Security Police. On February 13, the non-Stalinist majority in the cabinet adopted an order instructing the Minister of Interior to cancel a regulation of the Security Police chief for Bohemia providing for the replacement of regional police heads by CP appointees.

The next cabinet session was scheduled for February 17. When the ministers assembled, the Stalinists stalled for time by stating that Nosek could not be present on account of illness. The matter was placed on the agenda for February 20. On the evening of the 17th, the CP issued a special appeal to the people, asking that they be on the alert for a reactionary coup against the Gottwald government.

On February 20, the National-Socialist ministers did not attend the cabinet meeting but asked Gottwald in writing whether the cabinet decision on the Security Police adopted on the 13th had been carried out. Gottwald replied that the Minister of Interior would report in person at the cabinet meeting, along with information of the discovery of a new “anti-state plot.” The National-Socialist ministers found the reply unacceptable and resigned their posts. The ministers belonging to the Slovak Democratic and People’s Parties did likewise. The Social-Democrats stated their agreement with the bourgeois ministers on the police issue but refused to resign.

The Stalinists denounced the ministers who resigned as traitors and reactionary enemies of the republic and announced that they would under no circumstances reconstitute a government with them. They called for a reorganization of the National Front in the form of a “People’s National Front.”

To back up their demands, they called the masses out into the streets for monster demonstrations, utilizing the trade-union apparatus for this purpose and calling them in the name of the trade unions. The high point of the demonstrations was a one-hour protest strike. The bourgeois parties, in turn, called upon the people to be calm and assured them that the crisis would be solved in a constitutional manner.

What Were the Action Committees?

Benes, meanwhile, procrastinated in accepting the resignations. He evidently feared that acceptance would result in the formation of a CP-SP government, having full claims to legal existence on the basis of a slight parliamentary majority. Procrastination might lead to a new compromise. At this point, the Stalinists took steps to break through the impasse and went over from mass demonstrations to a call issued by Gottwald, on the evening of the 22nd, for the formation of the now well-known “Action Committees.”

The Action Committees were extra-legal bodies, formed on a united-front basis with representatives of trade unions, farmers’ associations, youth organizations, cultural groups, partisans’ organizations, writers’ leagues, and pro-Stalinist dissidents from the other parties, most prominent among the latter being, of course, the Fierlinger Social-Democrats. The formal organization of the Action Committees differed from place to place and in each different sphere of action. However, the nucleus was everywhere provided by the CP.

A mass rally of representatives of the organizations enumerated above met on the evening of the 23rd and elected a Preparatory Central Action Committee to negotiate a new government. Action Committees were rapidly formed throughout the country on a local scale. Action Committees were also formed within the various mass organizations that were not yet under Stalinist control, like the Sokol movement. These Action Committees simply seized the headquarters of the various organizations, declared a reorganization of the leadership in such a manner as would place the neo-Stalinist types in control. In the localities, the Action Committees took over the functions of the National Committees by purging the latter of anti-Stalinists and reorganizing them with “reliable” people.

On February 24 the Fierlinger Social-Democrats seized control of the party headquarters and the party press and demanded that the party leadership support the Action Committees and the new government proposed by Gottwald. The Social-Democratic leaders capitulated, including Lausman,but excluding Majer and the intransigent right wing. Fierlinger was restored to the chairmanship of the party.

Meanwhile the Security Police announced the discovery of a plot on the part of the National-Socialist Party aimed at taking over the government by armed force. The Security Police raided the party headquarters and shut down its press. The headquarters of the Slovak Democratic and the People’s Parties were taken over by pro-Stalinist elements within those movements. On February 25 Benes accepted the resignations of the bourgeois ministers and prepared to accept the new slate of ministers which Gottwald submitted.

The struggle was over.

What the naive National-Socialists began as a clever strategy within parliamentary channels, the Stalinists ended with lightning moves that combined legal with extra-legal measures and police terror with mass action. The resignations, undertaken not in dismay but with stern purpose, unloosed a situation which the bourgeois parties had not calculated upon and which they could not hope to master.

Once the Stalinists began mobilizing their forces, the parliamentary constructions of 51–49 ratios and 38–62 ratios became mere paper work. What Trotsky said to the German workers in 1932 about the specific weight of the party that bases itself mainly on the industrial proletariat as compared to the party that draws its support from the general population remains true even when the proletariat serves as the mass base for Stalinism. [9]

The New Government

The Stalinist victory was not without its drawbacks, however. The initiative undertaken by the National-Socialists had prematurely forced the Stalinists’ hand in Czechoslovakia and upset their international timetable. The result was that the Czech coup had the effect of hastening American action on the Marshall Plan and rearmament and (it appears at the time of this writing) has had a detrimental effect upon the Stalinist chances in the Italian elections.

The new Gottwald cabinet reflected the composition of the Action Committees. Of the twenty-four members (including the unfortunate Masaryk), twelve were avowed members of the CP, although some represent non-party organizations, like the old veteran of the Czech Communist movement, Antonin Zapotocky, who became a vice-premier as a representative of the trade-union. movement. The Minister of National Defense, Ludvik Svoboda, a holdover from the previous cabinet, is officially listed as a non-party man but is unofficially regarded by nearly everyone as a representative of the Russian general staff.

The Social-Democrats were given five posts, including one for the former “anti-Stalinist” party chairman, Lausman. The latter, however, was not returned to his former important post at the head of the nationalized industry. This job now went to the more reliable Fierlinger. The National-Socialist, Slovak Democrat and People’s Parties were each given two posts.

It is not quite accurate, however, to say that these parties were given the posts. What really happened is that neo-Stalinist types from the ranks of these parties were given posts. These men are not responsible to their parties but are entirely creatures of the Stalinists. The National-Socialists in the cabinet are virtual unknowns. The People’s Party ministers are men who were on the verge of being expelled from their party before the coup. One of them, the Minister of Transportation, Alois Petr, is one of the few prominent trade-union leaders from the ranks of the bourgeois parties. His elevation to the cabinet was, no doubt, motivated by a desire to enhance support from among the Catholic workers of Slovakia. The appearance of Zapotocky, president of the trade-union movement, of Erban, the secretary-general, and of Petr indicates a conscious effort to weight the cabinet with known leaders of the workers’ economic struggles.

The other People’s Party member in the cabinet is the priest, Father Josef Plojhar, serving as Minister of Health. He is typical of the neo-Stalinist type-part careerist, part confused idealist, part faker – so well illustrated in this country by Henry Wallace.

On February 27, Benes, war-time lecturer at the University of Chicago on how to make democracy work and the man who tried to outsmart Stalin, whimpered to the thundering Gottwald, “You speak to me like Hitler” – and humbly affixed his signature to the paper that made the new cabinet official. Czechoslovakia was eingeschalten. The new bureaucratic-collectivism was firmly in the saddle and the Minister of Interior, Nosek, spoke the truth when he informed the country in a radio speech that a membership card in the Communist Party is “today the most valuable paper in political life.”

* * *


1. “Bourgeoisie” is used here in a very inclusive sense. It is used to embrace both those bourgeois still in possession of their properties and those whose properties had been nationalized, as well as all pro-bourgeois elements like landowners, the Catholic hierarchy, a large section of the Protestant clergy, and those politicians, technicians, professionals, journalists, army officers, etc., who found their conditions better before the war and yearned for a return to their former status. It must be remembered in any discussion of the Czech events that a bourgeoisie in the traditional sense no longer existed after the nationalization of 65 per cent of the economy, including all the major units.

2. The effect of Czechoslovakia’s withdrawal from the Marshall Plan upon its internal affairs can be seen from the wild rumors of an impending CP coup which circulated in the country during July. The press of all the parties united in calming the public with reassurances, and even the most conservative papers referred to the rumors as being “fantastically untrue.”

3. The National-Socialist Party was not strictly a bourgeois party in the formal sense of the term. It traditionally considered itself a socialist party. though it rejected Marxism and based itself upon the anti-Marxist revisionist theories represented by Sombart, Böhm-Bawerk, Struve and, in Czechoslovakia, the elder Masaryk. Though it espoused “Czech socialism” and called for measures of economic socialization in its program, it never did anything serious toward achieving them. The National-Socialists had a considerable stratum of well-paid workers among their supporters and several trade unions were organized under their inspiration. It is therefore not quite accurate to compare their party to one like the Radical Socialists in France or the New Deal in the U.S. Its closest counterpart in European politics, perhaps, would be the Polish “Fraki,” Pilsudski’s right-wing split off from the Polish Socialist Party in the period before its complete degeneration. Like the Czech National-Socialists the “Fraki” believed in a “national socialism” which was, more accurately, a “socialistic nationalism.”

4. This statement went on to discuss the proposal for a capital levy and stated that it was wrong from a socialist point of view. It would strengthen the position of the new privileged classes, “living in the style of millionaires, who enjoy every comfort and luxury, thanks to the villas and limousines which they have been allocated by the authorities and to their high incomes. Their luxury standards would remain unaffected if the Communist proposals were accepted, for the tax returns of these people showed them to be property-less – in form only ... The Communist press campaign gives the impression that we are witnessing something more than a mere pre-election maneuver. Perhaps reactionary elements have wormed their way into the Communist Party with a view to achieving the collapse of the peoples’ government and of the National Front.”

5. It has been reported that the SDP initiated the proposal for the immediate nationalization of all enterprises employing over 200 workers at the time the Kosice program of the National Front was being formulated. The Stalinists hesitated on it, perhaps in order to check with Moscow first. Once they made up their minds, they took the play away from the SDP on this issue.

6. The internal differences between the two parties were exacerbated by the establishment of the Cominform and the renewal of links between the Social-Democrats and the labor movement of the West, especially the British Labor Party. According to some sources, the fraternal delegates of the British Labor Party at the Brno Congress played an important behind-the-scenes role in the defeat or Fierlinger and the election of Lausman.

7. While the CP was mobilizing its forces and making dire threats, the Czech press carried the speech of Premier Dmitrov (the Gottwald of Bulgaria) in which he warned the socialist opposition in the Parliament as follows:

“I have many times warned the members of Nikola Petkov’s group, but they did not listen. They lost their heads and their leader now lies buried. Reflect on your own actions lest you suffer the same fate ... If you have not learned and do not try to learn your lesson, you will get a lesson you will remember forever ... At a moment when the budget Is being submitted to the National Assembly, miserable chatterers, who talk like foreign gramophone records, stand up here to create a disturbance ... This will lead to no good for you ... If you will not vote for the budget, you will not fulfill your duty as people”s representatives. Such as you have no place in the Grand National Assembly.”

8. On the same day the Stalinist press carried two significant items. One was a demand by Slansky, the CP boss, that there be a purge of the army, especially of those who “slander ... our Slav allies.” The other was that Gottwald had received a letter from Stal1n himself, promising that a “great delegation of Soviet gymnasts” would soon arrive to partake In the coming Sokol conference.

9. “... in the social struggle. votes are not decisive. The main army of fascism still consists of the petty bourgeoisie and new middle class; the small artisans and shopkeepers of the cities, the petty officials, the employees, the technical personnel, the intelligentsia, the impoverished peasantry. On the scale of election statistics, one thousand fascist votes weigh as much as a thousand Communist votes. nut on the scales of the revolutionary struggle, a thousand workers in one big factory represent a force a hundred times greater than a thousand petty officials. clerks, their wives and their mothers-in-law ... The Social-Revolutionists were the party of the greatest numbers in the Russian Revolution ... They turned out to be a great national zero.” Leon Trotsky, Germany – The Key to the International Situation, p. 21.

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Last updated: 13 February 2020