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Ben Hall

New Light on the Masaryk Suicide

(16 August 1948)

From Labor Action, Vol. 12 No. 33, 16 August 1948, p. 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

In suicide, Jan Masaryk did not issue a heroic summons to the Czech people to begin the fight for their own liberty and independence. Quite the opposite. His death was a last futile appeal, obsequious as in life, to Stalin, and only Stalin, begging for his intervention to preserve capitalist Czechoslovakia from Czech Stalinism in the interests of Russian Stalinism. Masaryk died without a word to the Czech people, for in fact he had nothing to tell them except the advice to remain quiescent and passive subjects of Russian imperialism. He killed himself not to ensure but to forestall all possible mass resistance to the Stalinist regime.

Silent in public, he spoke in secret to the real master. Several hours before committing suicide he addressed a letter to Stalin explaining the political significance of his act. This letter, of first rate importance in clarifying the development of the Czech events, appears in the July 17 issue of the New Leader, which reprints it from the French paper Combat.

Basis of policy

Discovered on Masaryk’s desk after his suicide by Nosek, the Czech Stalinist Minister of Internal Affairs, and transmitted to Russia, it was seen by Captain Ivan Krylov, a Russian intelligence officer, who obtained a copy through a contact in the office of Marshal Bulganin, Russian Minister of War and a member of the Politburo. On April 24, Krylov, who had left Moscow on a special mission, decided to break with the Kremlin and take up residence in the West. Shortly thereafter, he turned the Masaryk letter over to the French press. Combat, before printing the letter, carefully investigated Krylov’s claims and background. The letter provides documentary evidence not simply of the incapacity of the bourgeoisie to fight for the independence of Czechoslovakia from Russian imperialism, but of its deliberate and conscious policy of undermining and preventing any such struggle.

1) In Masaryk’s view, the “independence” of Czechoslovakia was to he ensured by total and complete subservience to Russia. The Czech bourgeoisie was the best guardian of Russian interests and in return he expected Stalin to be the best guardian of its bourgeois regime. All of Masaryk’s political acts, including the suicide itself, was based upon this policy.

“Even in the days of my youth,” writes Masaryk in his secret letter to Stalin, “my father taught me that an independent Czechoslovakia could never exist without the direct and effective support of Russia against the waves of the German sea. This notion has been deeply rooted in me, as deeply as in the majority of Czech politicians. We, the Czechs, always thought that we could not rely on any country with the exception of Russia, to defend us against Germanism.”

And he goes on to record a long record of service by the Czech bourgeoisie to Russian imperialism even under the Czar.

“I speeded up as much as I could the cession of the Bohemian uranium mines from Czechoslovakia to your country in order to show you clearly that in any armed conflict we would side with the USSR.”

And on the Marshall Plan he continues:

“In refusing this aid I once more gave tangible proof that the foreign policy of my country aligned itself loyally with the interests of the USSR.”

Expected Stalin’s Aid

2) The February coup, pleads Masaryk, endangers the defense of ... Russia. For,

“there are thousands and thousands of intellectuals without whom you will never be able to erect your bastion of defense in Central Europe and render the Bohemian quadrilateral impregnable. Without this, all your precautionary measures will prove ineffectual, one day; for when the hour of mortal danger strikes for your country and all the Slavs, you will have here but a government hated by its country, despised by its ELITE, a government relying solely on the bayonets of its police and gendarmerie.”

3) Masaryk himself played a key role In legalizing the February Gottwald cabinet.

“You know well,” he reminds Stalin, “that my support played a decisive part and that after my intervention, President Benes gave his consent to the formation of the new Gottwald cabinet, thus forestalling civil war and a break between our country and the USSR.”

4) For services rendered, past, present and future, Masaryk expected Stalin’s aid in preventing a Stalinist coup.

“Right from the outset of the last government crisis, I wanted to know your personal opinion of the claims of the Czech Communist Party ... You explained to me that the USSR, as a measure of preventive security, needed in Prague a strong government, completely loyal both to the spirit and letter of the Russo-Czech alliance ... You had unlimited confidence in President Benes and above all in me ...”

Stalin maintained that the Czech National Assembly was “full of traitors and sworn enemies of the USSR” but Masaryk did not take this seriously.

“In any case,” continues Masaryk, “you clarified the question by indicating that the claims of the Communist Party by no means aimed at the sovietization of our country, but that the party simply wanted to fulfill its duties toward its native land and toward Slav solidarity ...

“He (Zorin, the Russian ambassador to Czechoslovakia) had given me a formal assurance in writing that the Communist Party would not take advantage of the situation by seizing the government and applying in our country political and economic principles completely foreign to our people and its entire history.”

But all these assurances were worthless paper, Masaryk saw no way out except through a last and dramatic appeal to Stalin. His letter concludes as follows:

“You still have time to stop the policy of sovietization of my country. Make haste, for soon it will perhaps be too late.”

To Die in Silence

5) Not for one second did Masaryk dream of organizing or inspiring a struggle against Russian domination.

“At my last conversation with President Benes, he reproached me with having had confidence in the promises made to me by Mr. Zorin in your name. I could have openly acknowledged my mistake, could have demonstratively resigned and started fighting against the Gottwald government and its policy. But that would have been a struggle against the legitimate government of Russia! Never will the son of Masaryk be able to fight against the government that rules Russia, never will he be able to give the slightest pretext to the enemies of Russia who watch for your faults and delusions in order to utilize them better against the cradle of Slav peoples ... I am not the only one who renounces the fight for his ideal of freedom if this fight compels him to combat Russia.”

And further:

“I cannot live without freedom, I cannot fight for it, because Jan Masaryk cannot fight even indirectly against Russia and her government”

6) Masaryk dedicated himself to avoiding and preventing any struggle by the Czech people. His actions, he repeats many times, were designed to avoid “civil war.”

“There is but one thing left for me to do – to die, to die in silence in order to prevent my deed from serving as a pretext for those who would provoke civil war in Czechoslovakia.”


Most significantly, the letter makes no reference of any kind to the role of the masses in the Czech events, except that the constant repudiation of civil war implies of course a policy of avoiding and preventing mass action. Masaryk does not threaten Stalin with the possibility of serious mass resistance, even in this secret letter. The people play no role at all in his thinking. He did not see them as active opponents of Stalinism; nor did he see them as active supporters of the Stalinist coup. They simply did not exist as a factor that fitted into his political program; either FOR or AGAINST the Stalinist regime. Ev- [text missing in our copyETOL]

Blocked Masses

The parliamentary regime and the democratic atmosphere for which Masaryk yearned served simply as a means whereby he could rally the people to VOTE fof the Masaryks and Beneses, who in turn could deliver the support received at the polls to Stalin, who in his turn would call off his Stalinist dogs. Masaryk under- [text missing in our copyETOL]

In the light of the Masaryk letter we can better understand the February coup. We see the Czech bourgeois democracy not as a force which desperately tried to organize a struggle for democratic rights and failed to gain mass support, but rather as a force which did everything possible to prevent mass resistance and succeeded ... only to succumb in the long run because Stalin’s aims did not correspond with their own.

From the end of the Hitler domination to the Stalinist coup in February, Czech political life was filled in by a unanimous drive to remove the masses from the social arena as an active political force. The Stalinists infiltrated into key state positions under the protection of Russian bayonets and built up their real apparatus, the military-police structure which serves as a substitute for active mass support. Masaryk-Benes substituted their deals with Stalin for mass action. Shielded by Russian military power, guaranteed against mass resistance by the policies of their enemies and provided a legal cover by Benes-Masaryk, the Stalinist apparatus resting upon a tiny minority completed its seizure of power and the establishment of its dictatorship. Not the entry of the masses into the struggle but their removal, consciously and deliberately planned by both the supporters and the opponents of Stalinism, is what explains the course of the Czech coup.

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