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“Brief Analysis of Czech Crisis”

Ernest Mandel - Internet Archive
Pierre Gousset (Ernest Mandel) Print
La Gauche, August 10, 1968, page 3.

What is the result of the Cierna and Bratislava conferences? The form of the published communique (see the long “Declaration of the Six Communist Parties” in Le Monde of 6 August 1968) is that of a compromise. But was a compromise also made insofar as the content is concerned? This is the question asked by both Czechoslovak workers and intellectuals and Socialists and Communists of the entire world, after a week of accrued tension which led us to the brink of a Soviet military intervention. 

In any case, two major points have been won, at least momentarily. Soviet troops have been withdrawn from the Czechoslovak Socialist Republic. The Czechoslovak Socialist Republic’s right to build socialism “taking into consideration national characteristics and conditions,” that is, its right to undertake a new experiment in socialist democratization, has been recognized. 

This means that the Warsaw “Five-Power Declaration,” which condemned this experiment and declared it dangerous for the entirety of the “socialist camp,” has been buried without flowers or fanfares. This also means that the “brother parties” have decided to stop the campaign of inflammation, slander and threats waged against the leaders of the “new course” currently in power in Prague. 

In return, the Czech leaders agree to reaffirm the principle of necessary and growing cohesion of the “socialist camp,” and that of the “leading role of the Communist Party” in the building of a socialist society. 

The implication of the first point is clear: Czechoslovakia will not leave the Warsaw Pact or CEMA (which it never intended to do anyway); within the framework of these two treaties, it will accept decisions not always greatly to its liking (such as the military maneuvers which have just taken place on its territory). 

What freedom of movement has Czechoslovakia gained in this regard? This is less clear. Will it have the right to ask the West for the 500 million dollars in credit which the USSR has refused it, and which the technocrats in power at Prague consider indispensable for the modernization of the economy? Has the USSR withdrawn its refusal? We shall soon be informed on this topic. 

More important -- and more obscure -- are the implications of the second point conceded by the Czechoslovaks: the guiding role of the Communist Party. This doubtless means that the creation of new parties will not be permitted, unless they are bound to the Czechoslovak CP by a pact for unity of action. But the true problem lies elsewhere. For the bone of contention between the Czechoslovak CP and the “five brother parties” did not involve so much the “leading role” of the Communist Party, as its internal structure and the rights of its members. 

Does reaffirmation of the “leading role of the Communist Party” mean a reintroduction of censorship? Will it put an end to freedom of speech and of the press for Communists, Socialists and workers? In other words, in what manner will the Czechoslovak CP assert its “leading role”? By suppression, repression and terror, as under Novotny, or by persuasion, discussion and dialogue, as is being attempted by Dubcek and his friends? 

For the moment, it seems that the Czechoslovak “liberals” have carried the field on this point. If this is really the case, all friends of socialism can only rejoice. 

Nevertheless, we would tend towards caution in this regard. Dubcek’s situation is not without similarities to that of Gomulka in October 1956. Holding strong popular support, Gomulka was able to remain within such limits that the USSR, after having threatened him with its entire arsenal (with tanks already on the move), could finally tolerate the experiment. 

Subsequent events are well known. In order to maintain this precarious balance, Gomulka moved against the Left with the increasingly warm approval of Moscow. The masses were betrayed, and fell back into apathy. From a belated rebel, Gomulka rapidly became the Kremlin’s most valuable ally. The conquests of October 1956 were liquidated one by one. 

Finally there was nothing left of the freedom of discussion seized in 1956. The prisons were filled with students, intellectuals and oppositionist Communists. And Gomulka is about to stumble under the pressure of the “partisan” faction, which is ceaselessly pushing him further to the Right. 

Dubcek, who has none of the qualities of an intrepid revolutionary, could meet an analogous fate. The temptation to which he might succumb is that of moving against the Left, not only in order to reinforce the still fragile “Pressburg Peace,” but also because the Left is disturbing his balancing act. 

In the long run, only politicalization and radicalization of the Czechoslovak working masses, their increasingly direct participation in management of the economy and the State, the appearance of workers’ councils, the institutionalization of workers’ power and of workers’ administration in these councils, can guarantee to the Czechoslovak workers that the conquests of February 1968 will remain alongside of those of February 1948.


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