Prague is not so bomb-battered as London--where 800,000 homes were destroyed in addition to the thousands of office buildings, warehouses and factories. At first glance Prague seems to have suffered little if any more than the central parts of Paris. But a short walk in any direction from Wenceslas Square brings a visitor to that impressive evidence of war, the obvious and evident marks of street fighting. I saw it within half an hour of my arrival, first on Stalinova street where it is intersected by Smetanova street. The buildings are heavily pock-marked with rifle and machine-gun fire, with holes to testify that the odd shell found its mark. In walks around the city during the next few days I saw plenty of similar evidence of the fighting which took place in the streets and squares of Prague when the people of the City, led by the National Council of the underground resistance movement, rose against the Germans in May, 1945. The old tow hall, a treasure of Gothic architecture in the main square of the old city, was completely shattered by Nazi shells and gutted by fire. In various parts of the city bomb damage, the marks of shell fire and signs of street fighting all merge in combined testimony.
But, although it is not yet two years since the Nazi soldiers were driven out of Czechoslovakia, the people of this country, under the leadership of their National Front government, have worked so unitedly that the economy of the country is already close to pre-war levels and life is normal in its towns and villages. Of all the countries in Europe this is unquestionably the one furthest advanced to solution of the acute economic problems left as a heritage of the war. Perhaps the best testimony to that fact was the large number of tourists already here in spite of the fact that spring was still around the weatherman’s corner. Tourists were to be seen clustered around guides or in couples taking snapshots all over the beautiful, historic and picturesque city of Prague. In the old city square I listened to the story of the noble statue to Johann Huss, who proclaimed in Bohemia the liberal principles first enunciated by John Wycliffe in England, by “standing in” with a group of fourteen tourists who were on a conducted tour . Speaking to one of them for a few minutes, I learned that they were all Americans, Most of them had come on from Paris. Four of them, on the advice of a tourist agency in New York had travelled by air direct from New York to Prague. He informed me confidentially that he and his wife were planning to spend most of their vacation “at the spa in Karlsbad where the kings of England used to take cure.”
The appearance of normalcy was heightened by the people and the shop windows. There was little sign of the very expensive luxury goods, particularly clothing, which is still the main feature of ship windows in the exclusive shopping district of London; but the shop windows were well stocked with ordinary clothing, shoes, electric utensils, etc. Prices marked on goods in the windows were considerably lower than the prices for similar types of goods in London. For example, 150 Czech Crowns for an electric iron is equivalent to $3.06. The people were well and warmly clad and shod and, while the rationing of certain foods is very strict, the meals in restaurants were substantial and varied.
Czechoslovakia’s annual Trade Fair was held from March 15th to 22nd. As early as March 10th buyers were arriving from places as far apart as Egypt and other eastern Mediterranean countries, France, Belgium, Great Britain and the United States. Czechoslovakia is back in the world market. As I learned during a week if intense activity, the people and government would prefer to devote a great deal more of their increasing production to a rapid increase in their own standard of living and they would do that if they could get credits from countries such as Canada and the United States. But they absolutely must make good the destruction of war.
For example, sixty per cent of their giant Skoda works at Pilsen was destroyed. Its destruction makes a story and an illustration of the attitude of the “Western Allies,” in itself. When the Red Army was approaching Pilsen, with the Nazi forces completely demoralized the Skoda plant bereft of raw materials, three weeks before the Nazis surrendered at Berlin, the United States Air Force which had not bothered to bomb the Skoda plant when bombing it might have helped the Red Army, bombed it so lavishly and systematically that only forty per cent. of it was left workable. Nobody in Czechoslovakia will express any opinion as to why the U.S. military commanders did things that way but their invariable answer, “We ill build it again,” speaks volumes.
Their confidence in the future is striking. Both in Bohemia and Slovakia I found supreme confidence that the government’s two year plan, the “Gottwald Plan” as most of the people there term it, will be achieved and surpassed before the end of 1948. This confidence is in fact the measure of the national unity of the people of Czechoslovakia around their government. Because of that as well as the unique features in the political and economic development in Czechoslovakia today, the composition and policy of the Gottwald Government under the presidency of Edward Benes is worthy of careful study by every Canadian who hopes for the continued democratic advance of mankind to socialism.National Freedom Depends on the People
In August 1944, the Slovak people rose in revolt against the Nazi occupation, starting at Banska Bystrica. The Czechoslovakian Army formations fighting with the Red Army were immediately concentrated in the direction of Slovakia and were fighting on the soil of their homeland by the early fall of 1944. In January, 1945, the Soviet government invited President Benes and his government to establish governmental headquarters in the liberated area of Czechoslovakia. The government proceeded to Moscow from London during march of that year and in April the government, meeting for the first time since 1939 on its native soil, announced its post-war program from Kosice in Slovakia.
The government was composed of representatives of the six Czech and Slovak political parties which has waged war against fascism. The names of the parties are as follows: the Czech Communist party, the Czech Social Democratic Party, the Czech Popular Party (Catholic democrats), the Czech National Socialist Party, the Slovak Communist Party and the Slovak Democratic party (Catholic democrats). These are the six political parties of Czechoslovakia and they are all allied in the National Front based on the post-war program agreed upon and announced at Kosice in April, 1945.
The Prime minister of the provisional government set up at Kosice was Zdenek Ferlinger, leader of the Czech Social Democratic party, who had been the Czechoslovakian ambassador to the Soviet Union. The thunderous events in Europe, the virtual obliteration of the old order of things, first by Hitler and then again by the revolutionary wave which swept the Nazis out of eastern Europe, made it obvious that fundamental changes would have to be made.
The Munich betrayal and six years later under hitler’s regime had destroyed most if not all the illusions born at Versailles as well as a lot of prejudices. Throughout those six years the Nazis had tried systematically to destroy the best of the people. Every sign of resistance or of attempt to encourage resistance was dealt with by studied brutality. millions of democratic men and women, who before the war had rejected the idea of united action with the Communist Party because they continued to hope against realities that “somehow or other, the national interest would prevail.” learned by bitter and protracted enslavement that the banks, big industrialists and landlords conceive of “the national interest” entirely and solely in terms of their own control of the country’s economy and their profit therefrom. These elements accepted Hitler’s overlordship without difficulty. Honest democrats learned that only the people will or can be consistent guardians of the real interests of the nation. That is why all democrats in Czechoslovakia applauded President Benes when, emphasizing the inseparable relationship between what happened in 1939 and post-war needs, he declared:
It was already clear to me then that the new war would result in a parting of the ways in modern society and produce a society of universal outlook, consistently democratic and juster in the social and economic sphere than the old. Today we enter upon this parting of the ways, upon new and great changes, upon conflicts concerning it, upon revolutionary processes moderate and conciliant on the one hand, upon revolutionary changes marked by fighting, changes that are local and partial as well as all-European and world changes on the other hand.
It is in the spirit of this epoch of revolution that we must solve all the problems that face us in the sphere of our home policy; and in fact our policy since the 4th of April, 1945--has been pursued in this sense. In a word, we are reconstructing our State.”(1)
The Kosice program was formulated in much the spirit of the words of President Benes quoted above. Thus, when the Communist Party received the largest number of votes in the National Elections of May 26, 1946, President Benes called upon Klementi Gottwald to form a new government. It opened a new stage of political and economic development in Czechoslovakia, but did not entail any break in the basic political line and program agreed upon at Kosice. Klementi Gottwald promptly formed a government with representation of each of the parties in the National Front, i.e., all six parties of Czechoslovakia. (It should be noted that there is no official parliamentary opposition.) The Two Year Plan which the Communist Party had fought for, and for which its supporters at the polls voted, thus has become the immediate program of the government.
The main targets of the two-year plan are the following:
a) To reach and surpass pre-war production level, by means of large-scale expansion of basic capital and the capital goods production industries, modernization of industry, transport and agriculture, and more effective use of the nation’s man power.
b) To mechanize and modernize agriculture. To electrify the countryside, to correct the present unequal distribution of land and the present chaotic division of even small farms into scattered small plots.
c) To carry through tax reform.
d) To complete the currency reform.
e) To simplify and lower the cost of distribution of goods.
f) To industrialize Slovakia.
g) To build up a unified national insurance system.
h) To raise the people’s living standards with the increase of production, to lower prices with increased efficiency.
i) To complete the re-settlement of the border regions.
j) To raise the standard of housing by a nation-wide governmental housing program.
As Prime Minister Gottwald ha pointed out, this program is a further development and implementation of the general aims proclaimed by the united democratic parties of the national Resistance at their conference at Kosice in Slovakia during the war. All the parties in the government are pledged to it. The actual targets established for each industry and each sector of the national economy are such that, when it is completed, over-all national production will be 10% above the highest level attained before the war. Then will come all the tremendous advance of Socialist development that the highly developed industry and technique of Czechoslovakia made possible.
The technical and engineering method used in working out the detailed targets of the two year plan bear a striking resemblance to the methods used in Canada during the war. For example: the railways will require 35,000 new freight cars and 1,000 new locomotives by the end of 1948 if all industries reach their target. Inquiries of the steel and fabricating industries and locomotive building plants brought reports showing such a number of freight cars and locomotives can be built before the end of 1948--provided that certain very definite supplies of coal, ore, other supplies and labor are available. Thus the requirements of steel, locomotive and freight car plants for this particular target established and the task of co-ordinating activities in different sectors of the national economy is reduced to exact magnitudes.
Efficient planning has been made possible in Czechoslovakia by nationalization of all the decisive branches of industry and all the decisive financial institutions. Eighty per cent. of all the heavy industry of the country is now nationalized, including 100% of the mines and railways. Light industry is seventy per cent. nationalized. The banks and insurance companies are all nationalized.
The industry of the country is in 17 directorates, each headed by a General Director, two or more Deputy Directors and a central management board. One third of the management board are appointed on the basis of the proposals of the trade unions, the other two thirds must be qualified experts. Such General Directors are now in charge of mining, engineering industries, electric power development, the lumber industry, chemical industry, the glass industry, ceramics industry and building materials, paper mills and cellulose production, textile, footwear, foundries, brewing and yeast production, flour milling, distilleries, the food industry, chocolate and candy production.
Each nationalized plant or establishment is headed by an appointed manager and a “Managing Board.” The manager and the members of the board are appointed by the organs of the Ministry of Industry but one third of the members of the managing board consists of elected representatives of the workers employed in the establishment.
The nationalized industry is being organized and operated with the aim of eventual nationalization and economic co-ordination of the entire industry of the country. Just how strongly the workers are behind their government in this is illustrated by the fact that the only strikes that have taken place in Czechoslovakia recently have been strikes in protests against turning plants back to private ownership. I saw one example of such activity. Under pressure the owner of a small factory had sold his factory to a German firm at the beginning of the war. Recently he put in a claim for its restoration to him. Not being in a category specifically designated for nationalization it was returned to him by the government. The minute the workers in the factory learned of it they struck work in a body. They sent deputations to the Cabinet and to their own Central Council of Trade Unions. “The man had been paid for his factory by the Germans. If he had not received a fair price let him apply to the government for supplementary compensation. The factory belongs to the people now and the workers want it to stay this way. Indeed, they would leave it and go to work in a nationalized industry if it did not.” The workers won.
What are the results of nationalization? The first response to that question is a comparison of the coal situation here and in Great Britain. The Germans literally raped the mines in Czechoslovakia. Tens of thousands of miners were killed, their average age at the beginning of last year was 45, and the Germans left the railways in chaos with a catastrophic shortage of freight cars. The winter in Czechoslovakia was a great deal worse than in Britain but the government told the miners and railway workers the truth, namely, that there was danger of crisis unless the flow of coal were maintained and increased. The result was that not a single factory was shut down even for an hour at any time through the winter.
The achievement of the miners and railway workers in keeping every enterprise supplied with coal through the period of severe cold and stormy weather which threw 2,500,000 out of employment in Great Britain, typifies the spirit in which the workers, indeed, the overwhelming majority of all the people of Czechoslovakia, approach the problem of production. An outstanding example of the strong sense of responsibility among workers was provided by the street railway workers of Prague immediately after the Germans were driven out. Street cars had been used to build barricades. Power had been shut off by the workers and, later, the wires, and in some cases even the pillars which supported them, had been torn down to use for defence work. In several places the tracks were either torn up or twisted by exploding shells. When President Benes re-entered Prague at the head of the government shortly afterward almost everything stopped while people turned out to welcome their returning President and government. But the street railway workers held a mass meeting the night before and decided that the best welcome they could give their returning President and government was by getting the city’s transportation system running. Thus while the shops were closed and the streets and squares were tumultuous with cheering crowds greeting the evidence of their regained national sovereignty, street railway workers stoically stuck to their work--motormen and conductors joining in the collective job of putting tracks and cars into running order.Solving the Farmers’ Problem
Let it not be assumed from the foregoing that everything has been plain and easy sailing in the national rebirth of Czechoslovakia. Any such illusions are rapidly dissipated by even a little study of the problem which confronted the new government in the sphere of agriculture alone. Realization of the magnitude and complexity of this problem came to me in the course of an interview with Julius Duris, Minister if Agriculture in the Gottwald government.
By way of introduction it should be mentioned that the minister of Agriculture is the youngest member of the government and the man most hated by the reactionary elements in Czechoslovakia because of the efficiency with which he is grappling with the problems of giving the country’s land-hungry peasants a direct voice in the shaping of national policy and farms large enough to maintain their families in decency.
Significantly enough, in reply to my suggestion that perhaps he would describe to me the main features of the problem of agricultural reform in Czechoslovakia, the Minister started out by saying; “We in Czechoslovakia can learn a great deal about the development and mechanization of agriculture from countries like Canada.” He then outlined to me some of the needs and problems which flow out of the following facts.
The heart of Czechoslovakia’s agrarian problem and the crucial question with the peasantry is land. When the national government was re-established after the war, 96% of all the farmers in the country had less than 20 hectares. The combined acreage of all land held by this 96 percent. of the country’s farmers constituted only 44 per cent. of the farm lands of the country. In contrast, one per cent. of the “farmers,” that is to say the 16,000 landowners whose holdings averaged more than 50 hectares, had 43 per cent of all the land. Some of those holdings were very large; for example, the area of the Schwartzengerg estates totalled more than 40,000 hectares (90,000 acres).
Breaking the general proportions down, the Minister then showed me that even the figure of 96 per cent. was less than 20 hectares fails to illustrate the real acuteness of the problem because, as he pointed out, “If 96 per cent. had each been farming 20 hectares there would not be such an acute problem.” But 70 per cent. of all the farmers in Czechoslovakia had holdings of five hectares or less, and the holdings of this seven-tenths of all the farmers totalled only 15 peer cent. of the total of the land. The first Republic proclaimed a land reform but the peasants benefited ;little from it. 650,000 peasants received one hectare each but 2,000 big landowners had a total of 200,000 hectares added to their holdings. Added to the foregoing facts were two others which derived from the traditional conditions of which large landholdings and landless peasants were a part. One of these facts is that, as a result of land-hunger and the difficulty of securing land hitherto, the holdings of a very large proportion of the farmers, even the small ones, are scattered some times a mile or more apart from each other. There are thirty-three million separate parcels of farm land in n the Republic held by one and a half million farmers. Many farmers have to work 20 or more separate tiny pieces of land--thus precluding mechanization or the use of the most modern machinery and equipment. The other fact is that, because of this scattered character of a large proportion of all the holdings, the level of production per hectare--and in proportion to the manpower dependent upon agriculture--was low.
The aim of the Gottwald govenrment’s agrarian policy is to correct that state of affairs and, what is more, the Ministry of Agriculture is carrying the government’s policy through. Three decisive measures being carried through simultaneously, as the basis of agrarian reforms are the following:
1) The two million hectares of farm land and the one million hectares of forest, previously owned by Germans and their collaborators and landowners who were traitors, are being given to small peasants. This redistribution is practically completed in Bohemia and Moravia. In Slovakia Peasant Committees are taking over the land and redistributing it rapidly but, for reasons which I will explain when I deal with the specifically Slovakian features of agrarian reform, there is still considerable to be done;
2) The results or the so-called “land refrom” under the first Republic are being subjected to a systematic review . Land which was secured by improper methods, as much as it was, will be expropriated entirely. All other grants will be reduced to 50 hectares;
3) Land is to belong only to those who cultivate it ant the maximum to be allowed to any one family is fifty hectares (about 112 acres). Thus absentee landlordism, which has been a curse, be abolished while the security of title and tenure, combined with various state measures for improving and aiding agriculture will provide long term encouragement to farmers to improve their farms and the volume and quality of their products.
The program for land reform in Slovakia is part of the general program for Czechoslovakia as a whole. But this program, as it applies to Slovakia, was proclaimed in August, 1944, during the uprising against the Germans. It has thus been accepted by all the political parties for a longer period that it has been in operation in Bohemia. At the time that it was proclaimed sale of transfer of the title to land between individuals was also prohibited. As noted above, the actual distribution of land has been carried through to the extent of about 90 peer cent. of all lands rendered available by the verdicts of the people’s courts. It should be mentioned that any person convicted by the people’s courts as a traitor, automatically loses title to land which may have been in his possession.
At the beginning of the trails it was assumed that government organs would carry through the entire process, from the arrest of suspected persons to redivision of lands and the issuance of titles to the new owners. The Slovakian peasants, however, became increasingly impatient at the long delay between the conviction of traitors and the redistribution of their lands, and, as a result, they established their own local committees to take over the job of redistribution. I learned in Bratislava that, as a result of the speedy action of these committees, 528,000 hectares have now been resettled out of the total of 570,000 hectares rendered vacant by the decisions of the courts. The 42,000 hectares not resettled is land concerning which confiscation is being challenged by the commissioner (or plenipotentiary) for agriculture in the Slovak National Council--he, of course is a Slovakian as are all the members of the national Council.(2)
The way the peasants’ committees operate is as follows. The plan for redivision of a piece or several pieces of land is worked out and approved by the committee. The plan is then posted up in a public place for eight days. Anybody who has any cause to criticize it, propose amendments, or to object in any way to its being put into operation, must announce such objection or amendment within the eight days, and any announced objection must be dealt with by the committee. After this process is completed, the plan must be approved by the county committee. Along with the plan, there is also posted up a copy of the terms upon which the new settlers will receive possession of the land. Usually they are obligated to pay, over a term of years, an amount equivalent to the average present value or the crop to be anticipated from such land for two years. Land can be owned only by those who cultivate it.
Plenty of difficulties have to be overcome. One type of difficulty is illustrated by the following example. Consider the case of the huge farm which, before the war, was operated as a joint stock corporation under the name “Economica.” Recently, an English lawyer put in a claim for possession of this entire estate, plant and equipment, on the ground that he is in possession of all the shares. He offers in evidence as to when he bought them--whether before the proclamation of the law forbidding the sale or transfer of ownership of land--neither does he submit any information as to whom he received the share certificates from; according to him possession if the share certificates is all that is necessary. How much difficulty can be created by foreign law firms putting in such claims may be estimated by the fact that, before the war there were in Slovakia 132 such big agricultural enterprises organized as joint stock corporations.
Another type of obstacle is typified by the complication in connection with the big estate previously owned by the Hungarian Count Papanin. Papanin was an absentee landlord and a nazi collaborator. His land should revert to the people of Slovakia on either count. But, when the farmers’ committee starts to plan resettlement of the land, a Slovakian appears upon the scene with his claim, and what purports to be documentary evidence, that the land is his--that he acquired it from Papanin. Such attempts to obstruct the will of the people are being met with all over Czechoslovakia but they will all be overcome--even the obstructionists who start out with the notion that their claim will be enforced by British law.
Considerable remains to be done, however. There are still 100,000 applicants for land awaiting resettlement, and the work of official survey and issuance of new titles to ownership is far behind the process of resettlement. Throughout Slovakia the opinion was very strong that, once the Tiso trial was finished the purge of traitors will be completed quickly and the land reform in Slovakia will be completed.
Simultaneously with the three main features of agrarian reform described above, the Ministry of Agriculture is carrying through two other projects by which the agriculture of Czechoslovakia will be transformed from petty agriculture carried on mainly by human labor, to large-scale modern agriculture, utilizing power and the most efficient labor-saving machinery.
Mechanization will be encouraged by two main measures. The government will advance financial assistance to local community co-operative farm machine and equipment stations, and the government will establish state-owned and operated district stations with modern repair shops, spare parts, supplies, etc.
“But,” the Minister emphasized pointing to a chart on his office wall, “machinery and equipment alone won’t do the job, we must carry through ‘commarization’.” Commarization, I learned, is the process by which, in place of all his scattered tiny bits of land, the farmer gets one single piece equivalent to them all. This process is carried out in a cooperative way by the entire village--sometimes even larger areas--coming together with a representative of the Ministry of Agriculture and working out ways and means by which all the land in the area can be redivided so that each family gets its acreage in one piece. On paper it looks like an almost insoluble problem. Some of the peasants are farming bits of land that their forefathers secured, literally as the marks of their freedom. Yet, during the year 1946, the farmers of no less than one thousand communities completed “commarization” of their farms. With the valuable experience of 1946, the Minister of Agriculture has now set his Ministry the target of 3,000 communities to be commarized 1947 and for commarization to be completed throughout the whole of Czechoslovakia in three years’ time.
What is the secret by which this Communist Minister of Agriculture, who himself is Slovakian, has been able to unite the peasantry so solidly in support of the Gottwald government’s advanced and far-reaching policy? It is simply that by dint of unsparing effort which makes him famous as a man who never rests, he draws the peasants themselves, individually and collectively, into the task of formulating government policy and carrying through. For example: drafts of six government bills dealing with agriculture, prepared by his Ministry under his personal direction, were each submitted to the peasants in village meetings before being finalized for submission to Parliament. Thus, they came before the Parliament very largely as the proposals of the peasants themselves. Reaction, and the more or less veiled supporters of landlordism in the ranks of some sections of the National Front, were incensed at this confidence in the masses. According to their propaganda, Duris is encouraging the farmers to tell the government instead of the traditional vice-versa. It is precisely because they fear the increasing participation in public affairs by the people that the reactionary elements in Czechoslovakia hate him as much, even, as they hate Gottwald himself.
It should be added that Duris’ confidence in truly democratic processes and his encouragement to the farmers to participate directly in the formulation of agrarian reforms, is the counterpart of the fact that, in the National Elections in may, 1946, the Communist Party received more votes in the rural areas than any other party. Before the war the dominant party in the rural areas was the Agrarian Party. It was, in fact, the Party of the big landowners, the banks and big industrialists. Its replacement by the Communist Party is a measure of the change which has come over Czechoslovakia.
In addition to the measures described above, the Gottwald government is introducing a series of measures which will protect farmers against the prices “sicissors” which bedevils farmers in capitalist countries. In addition to special provisions to protect the interests of farmers in matters connected with taxation, the prices to farmers of certain manufactured goods are regulated by government decree to help maintain parity between the prices they receive for their farm products and the prices they pay for manufactured goods.
As part of the process of encouraging the farmers to participate in the shaping of national policy and of helping them to understand how it is that national planning is possible once the big capitalist interests are eliminated, the Ministry of Agriculture has developed a nation-wide educational campaign. Twelve hundred different films have been made, depicting practically every phase of peasant life and of its problems. The films are with sound. While able to understand but a few words of the language spoken, I can vouch for their very high quality in all other respects. Mobile projection sets with generators and sound apparatus take these films into every village. It isn’t a gift from other taxpayers. The peasants pay and ask for more, and more and more. Along the same line of action mobile theatres tour the villages. Libraries have been established in six thousand villages where there were no libraries before. On the First of May, 1947, a new stage of the campaign to raise the cultural, political and material standard if life in the villages is to commence. In five hundred villages where there is no such facility, the government will establish several millions of Crowns to send elected delegates representing the farmers on visits to countries with higher standards of agriculture.
A good indication of the thoroughness with which the Gottwald government is developing the new life in the rural communities of Czechoslovakia, is the fact that an attractive pamphlet is being distributed to farmers un tens of thousands of copies by the Ministry of Agriculture, describing Canadian agriculture and the great advantages secured by its efficient technique.
While thanking the minister for the opportunity to make an intensely interesting study of the work of the Ministry of Agriculture, of which I have here only been able to indicate the main outlines, I expressed the wish which, I assured him, is shared by hundreds if thousands, yes, millions of Canadians, that we in Canada could help the farmers of Czechoslovakia a little more than by the example of mechanization. “But you can,” he responded warmly, “Canada has seed grain, breeding cattle, tractors, modern farm machinery and agronomic developments among the finest in the world. Czechoslovakia needs more of all of these things. Of some of them, for example seed grain and breeding cattle, we are desperately short. Your country, which has helped Czechoslovakia more than once in the past, could help as tremendously now.”
I learned afterward, that the government of Czechoslovakia would like to purchase such things and many others in Canada if only it could get credit which will enable it to do so. Democratic Canadians who welcomed the substantial loans to Britain and France, and who deplored the granting of a credit of $50 millions to the government of Holland to be used specifically in the attempt to crush the Republic of Indonesia, should certainly press the Dominion Government to grant substantial credits to help the people of Czechoslovakia build their new and democratic social order.
Two nations occupy the lands of Czechoslovakia. In Bohemia and Moravia live the Czech people with a population of approximately eight millions, in Slovakia live the Slovaks with a population of three and a half millions. he Czech people and the Slovak people have each occupied their present lands for many centuries. Throughout the generations when what had been the kingdoms of Bohemia and Slovakia were included as “conquered provinces” in the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and their schools and national institutions suppressed, these peoples each retained their deep and abiding consciousness of nationality and the affinity of their mutual interests as nations.
The depth and strength of the national sentiment among the people of each nation, which has been a powerful factor in their struggles for freedom, sharpened national dissatisfaction in Slovakia during the years between the first and second world war. The Slovaks were dissatisfied with the attitude, all too common in the first Republic, and not entirely absent from the “London government” during the war that the people of Czechoslovakia were one nation--“Czechoslovaks” thereby denying by implication and vital historical fact that they are two nations. Czechs and Slovaks. That attitude alone was bad enough but what the majority of Slovaks objected to even more was what they called the “Czech monopoly” that it reflected. Industrial development was obstructed in Slovakia because the great industries were located in Bohemia and Moravia and their owners, many of them Germans, wanted to maintain their monopoly of the home market. Such industrial development as did take place in Slovakia was largely because the industries and financiers in Bohemia wanted to exploit some natural resource, e.g., lumber or coal, not so abundant or so readily available in the western part of the country. Furthermore, reflecting the general tendency, a large proportion of government employees in Slovakia--too large a proportion in the opinion of the Slovaks--were Czechs. Thus, to the people of Slovakia the political continent of attitude that the people of Czechoslovakia were “one nation” appeared to be a tendency to relegate the Slovaks to an inferior position.
Let me emphasise the fact that the above is not a description of the attitudes of the masses of the people of the two nations towards each other. In fact, the economic factors and the class interests which fostered friction between the two nations were in opposition to the real interests of the Czech people also, and they fought tenaciously against them. Friction between the Czech and Slovak nations was a result of uneven economic and cultural development on the background of centuries of effort by alien rulers to Hungarianize the Slovaks and Germanize the Czechs.
While it would be wrong to exaggerate the effect of those mutual differences, it would be even more wrong to ignore it. Vice-Premier Viliam Siroky, Chairman if the Communist Party of Slovakia, emphasized to me that the exploitation of the friction they caused enabled the fascist Hlynka movement to win support from the tens of thousands of Slovaks. Hitler’s so-called protectorate under the traitor, Tiso(3) was in some respects a reflection of the shortcomings of the manner in which the national question was dealt with in the first Republic. Because of these facts, what I am going to write about the solution of the national problem in Czechoslovakia will be mainly about Slovakia. A little consideration will show the reason for this: that is the core of the national problem.
The Gottwald government has proclaimed its intention to prevent any recrudescence of Slovakia’s justified dissatisfaction in the first Republic by establishing--and protecting by constitutional guarantees--full national equality for the Slovaks. Furthermore, Gottwald agrees with Vice-Premier Siroky when the latter emphasizes that the Slovaks will not be satisfied with simple administrative equality, they insist upon full and complete political national equality. The Slovakian Communist Party declares that the requisite and guarantee of the unity of Czechoslovakia is the existence of conditions, constitutional and economic, which ensure that the Slovaks shall enjoy complete sovereignty as a nation. In other words, only as equal nations exercising completely equal rights and jointly guaranteeing the unity and sovereignty of Czechoslovakia, can the Czechs and Slovaks solve their peculiar national problem. Gottwald himself emphasized this fundamental point when he stated the position of the communists of Bohemia, Moravia and Slovakia on the national question, in the course of the national conference of the united resistance forces at Kosice during the war.
The Gottwald government is committed to the principle of guaranteeing full national equality to each of the nations of Czechoslovakia. The problem now to be solved is that of fulfilling the aspirations of the two nations--whose languages differ little more than the speech of the Scots and the English, whose economy is even more mutually dependent, and who have so recently shared in two periods of joint struggle for national freedom--without establishing artificial distinctions, which the reactionary elements might seek to make into barriers between them.
The plans now in operation are aimed to guarantee complete national equality and fraternity between Czechs and Slovaks by advance along three main lines:
a) constitutional guarantees;
b) industrialization of Slovakia;
c) elimination of all differences of opportunity between Czechs and Slovaks for cultural, economic or political development.
Let us note the proposals in each of these fields.
The most authoritative declaration on the question of constitutional guarantees was made by Prime Minister Gottwald in his official report to the National Constituent Assembly on the program of his government. Concerning Czech and Slovak relations Premier Gottwald said:
“The new constitution will emphasize that the Republic is a national state of Czechs and Slovaks...in a constitutional guarantee that only the Czech and Slovak nations will in future decide in all public an national affairs...
It is obvious that the new Constitution must embody a new settlement of the relationship between the Czech and Slovak nations. This will be based on the Kosice agreement program, and the experience gained in its application will be taken into account. In any case, the new Constitution must recognize the Slovaks as a separate nation, as expressed by their legislative and executive organs--the Slovak National Council and the Committee of Delegates. Equal rights with the Czech nation, while maintaining the unity of the Czechoslovak Republic, must be ensured to the Slovaks; indeed, this unity must be further strengthned.”
In accord with the aim thus indicated, we find Slovaks sharing equal terms with Czechs in all spheres of politics and administration in the central government and simultaneously developing special organs to serve their distinct national needs. One novel result of the new and bold approach to the national problem is the Slovak National Council. This body is a new type of national assembly. Its 100 members are elected by the Slovakian electorate, separately from its election of deputies to the central Parliament of Czechoslovakia. This central Parliament sits in Prague but the Slovak National Council sits in the ancient and beautiful capital of Slovakia, Bratislava on the banks of the Danube.
In passing it should be noted that, as yet, there is no Czech counterpart to the Slovak National Council. The most nearly similar body in Bohemia and Moravia is the Czech national Committee. But, as Vice-President Viliam Siroky and Comrade Bastovansky, General Secretary of the C.P. of Slovakia, each emphasized, this only illustrates the fact that, to a large extent, the new government organs have been developed empirically to meet concrete needs.
The Slovak National council arose as an organ of the national struggle against Hitler. As Comrade Smidke, its vice-chairman, explained to me: “The Slovak National Council was the leading body which united all anti-fascist forces in the national liberation movement. It continues and will continue as an essential organ of national reconstruction and Czechoslovak unity. It will play an important role in the shaping of Czechoslovakia’s new constitution.”
Vice-Chairman Smidke has good reason to be proud of the Council and its wartime role. He, Smidke, was a member of Parliament before the war. Coming from Prague to Slovakia he remained within the country in a leading role in the Party’s struggle against Hitler and his quisling agent Tiso, all through the war. He was the first Chairman of the (illegal) Slovak National Council when it was formed. He became chairman of the general staff of the united resistance forces. When Comrades Siroky and Duris (now respectively Vice-Premier and Minister of Agriculture) were caught by the Gestapo and sentenced to death, Smidke went to Bratislava and directed the audacious coup by which they were enable to escape. When I met him it seemed fitting that he should be at the new headquarters of the National Council--the place which the traitor Tiso used as his residence while he governed Slovakia for Hitler.
Corresponding with the national Council there is a Slovakian governmental organ, the Council of Commissioners or plenipotentiaries (Poverenik). This is a body composed of Slovakian plenipotentiaries representing each department of the central government except Foreign Affairs, Foreign Trade and National Defence.
The Committee (or sub-cabinet) of Slovak Povereniki is the Slovenska executive for the central government: the central government operates in Slovakia through the Poverenik. For example: in Slovakia the Two Year Plan is carried through under the direction of the Slovak Poverenik for Industry. With the Slovak National Council, elected by secret ballot on the basis of a wide democratic franchise (every citizen, male and female, over the age of 18 has the right to vote ), and Slovak sub-cabinet of Povereniki, Czechoslovakia is exploring new possibilities and new methods of achieving complete equality and unity of purpose for two distinct nations in one legislatively unified democratic state.
But, as the leading members of the Communist Party of Slovakia emphasized to me repeatedly while I was in Bratislava and other parts of Slovakia, notably Hlinik and Limbach, constitutional reforms are indispensable but not all-sufficient measures to ensure the national sovereignty and economic equality of the Slovak people. To ensure those two related aims there must be added to the constitutional reforms industrialization. Whereas Bohemia became industrialized contemporaneously with and as a part of the spread of capitalist industry, Slovakia must be industrialized now as an essential part of the building of the new society. The need for it, they emphasized, is decisive; and the success of the Two Year Plan will be measured very largely by the extent to which the need is met.
To raise industry in Slovakia to the same average level as it now is in Bohemia requires that it be doubled. Thus, the Two Year Plan aims to get started the major developments which will create more industry in Slovakia during the next four years than was developed during the entire forty-six years of this century. This will be accomplished by:
a) Large scale utilization of Slovakia’s resources which are immediately available. These include the building of twelve hydro electric power stations to generate a billion K.W.H., exploitation with modern machinery and equipment of two big coal deposits discovered recently and modernization of the other mines, the establishment of a basic steel industry in Slovakia, extension of the secondary branches of Slovakia’s forest products industries, especially wood fabrication and pulp and paper.
b) The transfer of machinery and equipment, largely from the Sudeten area, to Slovakia to double the textile, boot and shoe, rubber and chemical industries.
c) A radical reorganization and improvement of the entire transportation system of Slovakia: electrification of certain key stretches of railway, double-tracking of large stretches with road beds to carry heavier and faster traffic than at present. The River Vah will be made navigable and a canal cut to connect the Danube and Oder Rivers thus giving Czechoslovakia a direct route for freight to the Baltic. surfaced highways will be constructed, at least between the main industrial centres.
d) Because industrial development will attract large numbers of young people from the farms the plan for industrial development of Slovakia includes, also, immediate and long-term measures for aiding Slovak agriculture. At the present time a much larger proportion of the population of Slovakia depends on agriculture than is the case in Bohemia and Moravia, but the Plan proposes to help the farmers overcome this weakness by increased use of fertilizers and machinery, and greatly improved methods of livestock and dairy farming.
e) All the plans for the rapid expansion of industry in Slovakia will depend to a great extent upon the capacity of the building industry. Slovakia is the part of Czechoslovakia that suffered the most material damage during the war. Big battles were fought in the eastern part of the country and an enormous amount of building is required even to make good the devastation of the war. On the other hand the building industry in Slovakia is still, in the main, in the hands of private contractors. This is not entirely because they are small concerns, for forty-five percent of all of them in Slovakia employ 500 workers of more. It cannot be said, either, that it is because they are all loyal to the Republic; but the fact remains that the tremendous tasks of building and construction planned for the next two years depend on an industry which is predominantly in the hands of private owners and contractors and operates very largely upon a small scale and handicraft basis.
As a step towards improving this situation the central government has allotted three hundred million crowns to be expended under the direction of the Slovak Poverenik for Industry; for machinery, equipment and general mechanization in the building industry.
As indicated above. the main immediate emphasis is upon industrial reconstruction development or transfer which will produce quick results in the form of industrial employment and production in Slovakia. But the comprehensive scale upon which the general plan for Slovakia’s industrialization is conceived is indicated by the fact that in the two year period of 1947-48, four billion crowns will be spent upon the development in Slovakia of power, steel and chemical industries alone.
The industrial developments planned, with the higher level of productivity and higher living standards that they will bring to Slovakia, will eliminate the economic inferiority which was the basic source of the friction which prevented the development of completely equal and fraternal unity of the two nations in the first Republic. As Viliam Siroky pointed out in a penetrating public lecture on the subject, to which I had the great pleasure of listening: “The coping stone which will tie together the aims and results of constitutional reforms and Slovakian industrialization is the growing consciousness of our nations’ joint interest in maintaining and strengthening the unity and economic and political strength of Czechoslovakia.” To establish the conditions which will generate and fructify such consciousness is, as Gottwald declared to the Constituent National Assembly, but to “be worthy trustees of the legacy of our dead, and conscientious executors of the mandate of the hiving.” It is to carry out the people’s will in Czechoslovakia.
The question is often asked: “What type of state is Czechoslovakia?” More often than not the questioner finds it hard to accept the answer that “It is a democratic people’s state differing in several of its fundamentally progressive features from the traditional capitalist state, but it is not a socialist state.”
There is a widespread tendency to assume that the sole reason for saying that it is not yet a socialist state is because it is not based upon Soviets, but that is entirely wrong. Czechoslovakia may become a socialist state without Soviets, indeed, the government and President Benes indicate that they look to such a development. But, if only because the President and the government nave declared their aim to establish “new forms of ownership, alongside private ownership and co-operative ownership”(4), it is necessary to emphasize that the People’s Republic of Czechoslovakia is not a socialist state because capitalist production and private profit still operate in important sectors of the country’s economy and, within the limits defined by the government, are protected by the state.
An important part of the national economy is privately owned and operated for private profit. That is true, also, of the country’ agriculture. The grain trade, indeed all the wholesale trade, including both buying and selling is still controlled by private capital and some big reactionary interests are operating in that field. Retail distribution and the fields of commercial activity related to wholesale and retail trade are also operated by private capital. Important elements of the manufacturing industries are still owned by private capital. There are still large landowners, and many who used to own vast estates, share in the rich profits of monopolies or enjoy other class privileges, are still hoping to overturn the present regime and regain the privileges that they used to enjoy. Reflecting the fact that capitalist interests are still entrenched in important sectors of the national economy, the political representatives of capitalist interests are still active and exert an important influence upon the political life of the country. Finance-capital seeks persistently to undermine confidence in the future of the new democracy and to bribe public opinion with illusions about the assurance of generous assistance from the United States if only Czechoslovakia would adopt policies similar to those pursued in Turkey.
There is a persistent, although not noisy, undercurrent of propaganda in favor of what the people who spread it term “a western orientation.” Reactionary interests are pinning their hopes upon and turning their support to the popular Party in Bohemia and the Democratic Party in Slovakia. These two parties are each in the government. Each of them holds four seats in the Cabinet. They were each established during the national liberation, expressing mainly the political mobilization of Catholic democrats. Each of them has become a base of operation for political elements whose avowed stock in trade is anti-socialist and anti-Soviet politics. Thus, while all the parties are committed to support the government’s program the strength of reactionary interests, and their increasing aggressiveness, is reflected in the markedly different degrees to which the different parties are prepared to fight to carry that program through.
The political life of the country reflects these facts. The struggle to base democracy squarely and irrevocably upon the masses of the people, the struggle to carry through the nationalization decrees consistently so as to make the nationalized sector the decisive sector of the national economy, even the struggle to carry through the land reforms, each has to be carried on against resistance. Sometimes the resistance is open and aggressive, sometimes it takes the form of obstruction, but always it reflects the hope of rallying and organizing opposition to the policies of the government. In this struggle the leadership of the Czech Popular Party and the Slovak Democratic Party represent, in general, the weakened but still strong forces of reaction. Between them and the cooperating Communists and Social Democrats there is the National Socialist Party , which has recently opened its ranks to ex-members of the Agrarian Party (suppressed for collaboration with the Nazis).
The character of a state--or of its economy--can be defined correctly only in terms which correspond with the character of its political authority and the interests that it represents. It is clear, therefore, that it would be inconsistent with political realities to define Czechoslovakia as a socialist state.
It would be equally wrong, however, to ignore or minimize the profound changes that have taken place and are still in progress in Czechoslovakia. Six years of occupation during which the Nazis crushed every sign of resistance with incredible brutality and tried systematically to destroy the elite of the nation dissipated illusions among workers, farmers and city middle-class people. Recognition of present day political realities combines with tradition and widespread Marxist understanding to unite the majority of the people of Czechoslovakia in the desire for and support of policies aimed at the socialist reconstruction of their country. Against this united national will to progressive social and economic change the forces of reaction will fail. Already the state organization in Czechoslovakia and the functions of its government have undergone a radical change. This change is not fortuitous, as is shown by the following words of president Benes to the Provisional National Assembly on Oct. 28th, 1945:
“In the history of the world and of Europe this period will present a special, great chapter swollen with the extreme ferment of revolution: it will be reckoned among the most stormy epochs of world history and will be designated a transition, a break, and a process of creation, at the price of grave crises, wars and human sufferings, of a new phase of human society, or at least human sufferings, of a new phase of human society, or at least as an attempt at the commencement of such creation.”
As emphasized by President Benes, the Czechoslovakian state is being reconstructed. As a result of thes carefully planned reconstruction Czechoslovakia is a very advanced democracy. The National Assembly and the government are elected by secret ballot in direct elections on the basis of universal suffrage with complete equality for both sexes, and proportional representation. Each party nominating candidates receives seats in proportion to the vote it receives from the electorate and each party which supports the governmental program is represented un the cabinet also in proportion to its electoral strength. Thus, the 26 members of the Gottwald government are drawn from and represent six parties and each, except the C.P. of which the Prime Minister is a member, is represented by a vice-premier as well as by the members holding its share of the cabinet post.
The advanced character of Czechoslovak democracy is expressed in other ways also. It is provided by law that newspapers and periodicals must be owned by public associations; i.e., trade unions, societies, religions bodies, associations of trades or professional people, etc., political parties, or the state. They cannot be owned and published by private individuals, companies, or anonymous owners. As a result, newspapers in Czechoslovakia are organs of opinion as well as media for the circulation of news, and the press cannot be monopolized or dominated by men of great wealth as is the case in Canada and the United States.
Other expressions of the high level of Czechoslovak democracy will be embodied in the new constitution if it is finalized on the principles outlined by Premier Gottwald. Inasmuch as all six political parties are in the government and have declared their agreement with those principles it is at ;east very probable that the constitution will include the main features that Gottwald indicated, which include the following:
“The new constitution must also embody the great complex of decrees on the nationalization of banking, mines, mineral resources, power and the big key industries...On the other hand, the constitution must give protection to small and medium-sized private enterprise, and especially the legitimately acquired property of our farmers, tradesmen,, shopkeepers, and all other persons and corporations must be safeguarded.”
The principle of constitutional provisions that banks, insurance companies, railways, mines and heavy industry shall be owned by the state monopolies, is a very advanced democratic concept which will not be found in the constitution of any state dominated by capitalist interests. As is also the principle that the state must guarantee to its citizens the right to work which Gottwald emphasized as follow:
“The new constitution will express the principle that every citizen has the right to work, to a fair reward for his work, the right to education, recreation, and to maintenance if he is incapable of working...
Finally, the new constitution must guarantee the full equality of women, personal and civil liberties, freedom of religion, freedom of the press, of speech, freedom of assembly and association, freedom of scientific research, freedom of artistic expression as well as all other personal and political freedoms guaranteed by the present constitution. The Judicature will be exercised by independent law-courts.”
It is evident, therefore, that Czechoslovakia is a new type pf state. It is different in several fundamental respects from the states dominated by the capitalist class and operating on the basis of bourgeois democracy. Czechoslovakia is a people’s democracy. It is a democracy in the service of the great mass of the people; workers, farmers, tradesmen, professional people, and intellectuals. Contrary to the traditional capitalist pretence that the state stands above classes and has no direct function in the productive activities of the nation, the government of Czechoslovakia assumes very definite responsibility for the direction of industry and finance and for guaranteeing, directly and specifically, employment, food, clothing, shelter and education, to every citizen. Assumption of these new functions marks a sharp break with the past and a sharp break with the governmental policies of capitalism.
While private ownership in the means of production and, therefore, production for profit, are still big factors in the national economy and, backed up enthusiastically by the workers, is pressing forward to the socialist organization of the country. The people of Czechoslovakia have their eyes upon the goal of socialism and they will achieve it if peace is maintained.
1. Presidential message to the first session of the Provisional National Assembly, October 28th, 1945.
2. I will explain below the extremely interesting structure and political and administrative status of the Slovak National Council and the “Povernik”--a sort of Cabinet of Slovakian Plenipotentiaries parallel to the national government.
3. It is significant that the Vatican recognizes that Tiso was tried and convicted for activities outside his role and duties as a priest.
4. President Benes: Address to the Provisional National Assembly, Prague, October, 1945.