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Henry Judd

World Politics

The Czech Disaster

(8 March 1948)

From Labor Action, Vol. 12 No. 10, 8 March 1948, p. 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

The seizure and rapid consolidation of totalitarian state power by the Czech Stalinists has brought disaster to more than 12 millions of unfortunate Czech and Slovak peoples who must now suffer the consequences of yielding to Stalinism. The reaction of the thousands of Czech students who, defying the Stalinist police armed to the teeth, poured into the streets and demonstrated their hostility to what was occurring, under the slogan of Long Live the Democratic Republic, was the only possible and correct reaction.

Sensitive to the meaning of totalitarian dictatorship, with its crushing of all democratic liberties and rights, and sensing the similarities between the recent Nazi occupation of the country and the rapidly emerging Stalinist dictatorship, the Prague university students acted in the heroic tradition of active struggle for living democracy. Their cause must he championed, and they must be defended against the Stalinists who would arrest their leaders, forbid their demonstrations and purge their university in Nazi style. The tragedy of Czechoslovakia is that great masses of workers and middle class people did not instinctively come to their aid and support.

How The Militant Reacted

Outside of Czechoslovakia, more than one political organization and movement has found itself tested by the meaning of these events. While it has not been our custom to conduct polemical discussions against political opponents in this column, the importance of the Czech issue compels us to set that aside for this week at least. We are concerned here with the reaction of The Militant, the newspaper reflecting the political ideas of the Socialist Workers Party (Cannonites) to these happenings. The article by Paul G. Stevens in the current Militant dealing with Czechoslovakia can be described as nothing less than a disaster – a disaster on a truly gigantic scale, involving as it does, elements of fantasy, grotesquery, stupidity and unintentional humor. The author of the article has carefully composed the following account of what happened in Czechoslovakia.

  1. The capitalist members of the coalition government resigned “in protest against alleged moves by Nosek, Stalinist Minister of Interior, to place the country’s police under exclusive CP control.” “Alleged!” Indeed!
  2. The Stalinists and Social Democrats together now “... constitute a majority of 151 out of 300 in the Czech parliament and are thus in the position to meet the formal constitutional requirements.” Nowhere is it mentioned that (a) the Social Democrats were deliberately split, that a substantial section opposed support of the Stalinists but that the Stalinists got this needed support by arrests, terror and threats, and (b) to guarantee their parliamentary majority the Stalinists forced parliamentary representatives of other parties to join them by employing the same methods.

But these are minor points compared to the disaster yet to come. Stevens tells us of the underlying causes of the crisis, which go much deeper. The Kremlin must integrate Czechoslovakia into its Eastern European bloc. So far so good – the Kremlin has already done that. But what else was involved in the Stalinist seizure of power? It seems that the Stalinist party has been faced with the danger of losing its popular support among the workers and people because ... “continued exploitation of the workers by Czech capitalism, left intact by the fake ‘nationalizations’, has produced growing unrest and discontent.” That is, the initiative has come from the workers, in a revolutionary mood, who have forced the reluctant Stalinists to swing into action against “Czech capitalism.” Incredible, you say?

From Idiocy to Idiocy

This “description” of the Czech workers dragging the reluctant Stalinists behind them is a polemical fantasy on our part? We quote Stevens further. “While the Stalinist leaders are basing themselves on masses action, they are proceeding with a caution that reveals their fear of its revolutionary impetus.” The stunning speed and effectiveness, with which the Stalinist apparatus struck is “caution and fear” to this observer. His vulgar distortion of what occurred is made necessary by his desire to fit the events into the ridiculous theory held by the Socialist Workers Party, and so-called orthodox Trotskyists everywhere’, that what exists in Czechoslovakia, as well as all other countries within the Russian sphere, is a capitalist regime with which the Stalinists are allied and to which they have consistently capitulated. The seizure of state power in this new country, the final nationalization of the 25 per cent of industry and economy hitherto not nationalized, the political destruction of the capitalist parties and their leader, Benes, all of this is, in the eyes of Stevens and the Cannonites, nothing but capitulation on the part of Stalinism to capitalism! Do you think we exaggerate? For our final quotation from The Militant we preserve a sentence that must absolutely be preserved, for history, as a monumental example of stupidity, ignorance and blindness. It is the final sentence, a prediction of Stevens, contained in his article. “But before this point (civil war) is reached, the Stalinists will make every effort to arrive at another compromise with Benes and Czech capitalists.” Before the political disaster represented by Stevens, one can only bow his head with shame and humiliation that so-called “Marxism” and “Trotskyism” have sunk so low.

A Vital Issue of Policy

But far more is concerned than the blunders of this spokesman for the SWP. In reality, aside from its distorted picture and false prognosis – all of which are related to the SWP’s general position that the Stalinist movement is a genuine working class movement and Russia is still a workers’ state – the Stevens article conceals gross cowardice and evasion of the real issue. What is his attitude toward events in Czechoslovakia? Everybody who reads Labor Action knows clearly where we stand on this matter.

Labor Action states bluntly that a disaster and tragedy to the working class not only of Czechoslovakia, but of the entire world, has occurred. Labor Action denies that the Stalinist counter-revolution against the Czech people has anything in common with socialism or its liberating principles; that, in fact, it is precisely the opposite because the socialist organization of society is impossible without broad, popular working class democracy. Further, Labor Action states that, consistent with its entire approach to the problem, if there had been civil war in the country, if an important segment of the population made up of workers, students, middle class democrats and liberals, peasants, etc., had resisted the Stalinists and taken up arms to preserve democracy in the country, we would have championed this democratic camp against the Stalinists. In a struggle between a popular democratic camp and the Stalinist totalitarian camp, we would have ardently supported the democratic camp.

But Stevens’ article contains not one word on this, the real issue. By implication, not directly, it supports the Stalinists who, after all, did yield to the workers’ will (if we believe Stevens) and did smash the capitalist politics and complete nationalization of the remaining industries. Why shouldn’t the SWP and Stevens support Gottwald? It would be perfectly in order, from their viewpoint. Will they? We do not know. If they do, it will again emphasize what has become clearer than ever – the politics of Labor Action and the Workers Party is utterly opposed to the politics of The Militant and the Socialist Workers Party. In the meanwhile, we can only insist upon a clear and non-evasive reply to the questions raised by Czechoslovakia. Is what occurred in the interests of the workers’ movement and socialism, or against it? Are you for a democratic struggle against the Gottwald dictatorship, or would you stand with its opponents? These are fair questions that demand answers. Like it or not, the SWP will be obliged to reply.

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