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Paul G. Stevens

Stalinists Take Over Government
in Czechoslovak Political Crisis

(1 March 1949)

From The Militant, Vol. 12 No. 9, 1 March 1948, p. 1.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

Czechoslovakia’s political fate hung in the balance last week as Stalinist Premier Klement Gottwald moved to install a new government completely dominated by the Communist Party. The old Gottwald government fell when its capitalist ministers, headed by members of President Benes’ National Socialist Party, resigned in protest against alleged moves by Nosek, Stalinist Minister of Interior, to place the country’s police under exclusive CP control.

Benes at first refused to accept the resignations. He later capitulated. Faced with this stalemate the Stalinists decided to form a coalition government with the Social Democrats, who did not resign. Together these two parties constitute a majority of 151 out of 300 in the Czech parliament and are thus in a position to meet the formal constitutional requirements.

Should this coalition materialize, President Benes and his capitalist supporters would be faced with the alternative of accepting it or attempting a revolt that would open wide the gates to civil war.

Gottwald has charged the National Socialist Party with preparing a coup. The Stalinist-dominated police not only raided its headquarters, but placed other party headquarters, including the Social Democrats, under “protective guard.” Simultaneously Gottwald issued an appeal for the formation of “Action Committees” in all “factory towns, villages and districts” in support of his new government. After some vacillation, the Social Democrats are reported to have ordered their members to join these “Action Committees.”

The trade unions, under Stalinist control, conducted on Feb. 24 a one-hour general strike to back Gottwald in his stand against Benes, with a threat in “case of need” to call a general strike of indefinite duration.

Although the reported police measures serve as the immediate cause of this crisis, its underlying causes go much deeper. They are twofold in character.

On the one hand, the Kremlin is confronted with the need of integrating Czechoslovakia more closely diplomatically and economically with its East European bloc, where, as in Hungary. Rumania, Bulgaria, etc., all oppositional elements have been purged.

On the other hand, continued exploitation of the workers by Czech capitalism, left, intact by the fake “nationalizations,” has produced growing unrest and discontent. The Stalinist party, dominant in both the government and the trade unions, has found it more and more difficult to suppress this discontent, without incurring the danger of losing its mass base.

Align with Moscow

The Stalinists, in accordance with the new Cominform line, are apparently trying to use mass action in order to align Czechoslovakia with Moscow as completely as the rest of Eastern Europe.

While the Stalinist leaders are basing themselves on mass action, they arc proceeding with a caution that reveals their fear of its revolutionary impetus. Thus, according to dispatches, the Stalinists have restricted conventions of factory delegates to “establishments with more than 350 employees, nearly all of which were already nationalized.”

This shows how much the Stalinists fear the much more sweeping demands that would come front delegates of smaller and still unnationalized factories.

Should a civil war actually erupt, the likelihood is that the situation will grow out of hand, no matter what the bureaucratic plans. But before this point is reached, the Stalinists will make every effort to arrive at another compromise with Benes and Czech capitalists.

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