The Communist Youth Union of the Czech Republic reviews the ‘Prague Spring’

Special interview with the Communist Youth Union (KSM) on the heritage of the socialist Czechoslovakia and the so-called Prague Spring of May 1968.

ICP, 12 May 2018

The Communist Youth of Turkey (TKG) made a special interview with the Communist Youth Union (KSM), on the anniversary of the so-called Prague Spring of May 1968. KSM discussed the experience of the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia during the events, the heritage of socialist Czechoslovakia and the revolutionary stance of today’s communist youth.


1) Firstly, how do you consider the socialist experience in your country? What are the ideological gains and political lessons that this history provides you while you carry out your current struggles?

The socialist construction in our country was an important experience for our peoples. For the first time in our country, the working class ruled, the surplus product belonged to those who created it. In the new society, there was a rapid economic development, the rise of collective cultivation in the countryside.

Despite this, the particular character of the epoch, as well as the mistakes of the revolutionary subject contributed to the solutions which were not enough thoroughgoing.

We have to take into consideration the specific situation which was different from that of the Great October Socialist Revolution in 1917. The socialist construction was opened after the peoples’ victory over Nazism and fascism with the greatest contribution and sacrifices of the USSR as the first state of the working class. In the same time, this defeat weakened the domestic bourgeoisie which in its great part collaborated with the Nazi occupation forces. Therefore, despite the national-democratic character of the 1945 revolution, the anti-fascist victory made the development towards the socialist revolution simpler. Particularly, all the parties had the socialism in their program. Also, the level of industrial development and the working class organization (especially in the Czech countries) was relatively advanced. The February victory 1948 remained formally in the parliamentary field – even when there were shifts in the working class and peasant organizations and power. This development left marks in the following development and struggles. One of these marks was the national issue solution. The socialist system states had state-boundaries, basically inherited from the Versailles system which had arisen after the 1st world war and which were also aimed against the spreading of the proletarian revolution in Europe. The socialist transformation also left relics in the form of bourgeois-democratic “Masarykist” views inside of the working class and the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia. (Masaryk – 1st president of the bourgeois Czechoslovak Republic between 1918-35)

Similar specificities were present also in other new people’s democracies and socialist countries in Europe.

2) 50 years ago, how was the Communist Party's leading role in Socialist Czechoslovakia?

After the counterrevolution in Hungary, the imperialism learned that the direct violent confrontation was not leading to the aimed results and it is necessary to attack the socialism from inside of the ruling Communist Party. Therefore it changed its tactics in the effort to restore capitalism. The reaction recommended the discontented people to become members of the party and official organizations. The membership of the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia (KSČ) covered the 13% of the whole adult population of Czechoslovakia and many members often did not meet the requirements of the socialist construction. We have to add the loss of alertness after the XX. congress of the CPSU and utopian conceptions about the development towards communism without contradictions and about the end of the class struggle. The declaration of the achievement of socialism in the 1960 constitution under the leadership of the First Secretary of the KSČ and the President of the Republic Antonín Novotný which meant the formal end of the class struggle inside of the socialist republic was one manifestation of these processes.

However, the contradictions and struggles in the society remained. In 1963 the increased 3rd five-year plan collapsed and the economy had to be directed by short-term plans. Among the reasons of this failures, there were the subjectivist overestimations of possibilities, the escalation of the conflict with imperialism (in the case of the direct military attack of imperialism, the Czechoslovak army was obliged to intercept the first attack – the Red Army was not present in Czechoslovakia). The split between the People’s Republic of China and other socialist countries was also of great importance because the great part of the Czechoslovak industry export intended for China development was not realized. The economic problems sharpened other contradictions demanding solutions.

The unsolved national problems in the issue of Slovakia quickly emerged on the surface. In addition, the rehabilitation processes which happened under the influence of the policy after the XX. congress of CPSU, canceling the judgments from the sharpened struggles of the 1950s, resulted in adoption to the leadership of the KSČ of individuals which started to split from the movement. The petit bourgeois moods increased, the priority was laid to the opinions of the intelligentsia, and the leading role of the working class diminished.

3) Who was Alexander Dubček and what was his political agenda? What is this so-called Prague Spring? What actually happened in 1968?

The unsolved contradictions culminated in the January plenum of the CC of KSČ in 1968, in the removal of Antonín Novotný from the post of the First Secretary. In this plenum, several currents in the party joined. The great role was played by the discontent of the Communist Party of Slovakia (KSS - part of KSČ) about the influence in the decision process and the effort of its leaders to federalize Czechoslovakia. From the joining of various interests, the compromise had arisen and as a First Secretary, the weak politician, former leader of KSS Alexander Dubček was elected. With him, the whole group of politicians came to power with the program of the petit bourgeois socialism, which they called “socialism with a human face” or “democratic socialism”. We can highlight market-socialist Ota Šik, who exploited criticisms of real economic problems and pressed for a weakening of the relations inside The Council for Mutual Economic Assistance and weakening of the central planning. He strived for a foreign loan not in order to invest in the means of production but in order to buy the consumer goods. Similarly to the epoch of restored capitalism after 1989, there was the tendency of the use of price differences to the exportation of undervalued commodities to the capitalist countries for foreign currencies instead of mutual exchange between socialist countries. The proposition to dissolve the agricultural cooperatives (which did not meet with the expected positive response in the countryside), even to leave the Warsaw Treaty of Friendship, Cooperation and Mutual Assistance appeared. It was dangerous for the socialist system especially in the time of imperialist escalation.

New organizations, e.g. club K231, which associated people imprisoned for a fight against socialist construction, were established. In the leadership of the mentioned club, direct agents of foreign secret services appeared. The unified organization of the youth was broken.

New phenomena were not spontaneous. The right-wing forces in the party and outside of it skillfully used the mass media to manipulate the public opinions. The anti-Sovietism appeared in the official media more and more often. In July 1968, 99 workers of the Prague industrial plant wrote a letter to the Soviet newspaper “Pravda” which expressed their protest against the anti-Sovietism in Czechoslovakia. The communists which did not agree with the development were designated as “conservatives”, against so-called “progressivists”. There was even the plan for the internment of the dissentient communists (under the guise of command against counterrevolution) – which approached to the development in Hungary in 1956.

4) And what about the military intervention of the Warsaw Pact?

Despite the fact, that in the beginning Dubček probably had the support of the Soviet side, during the year 1968, the leadership of other socialist countries apprehensively observed danger of the perturbation of the socialist system and the rise of counterrevolutionary forces. There were several meetings of the allies, where the development was discussed in an open way and Dubček always promised to act accordingly. The last meeting was in August 3rd, 1968 in Bratislava (Slovakia) between the party representatives of Czechoslovakia, Soviet Union, GDR, Hungary, Bulgaria, and Poland – where the parties declared the will to struggle against imperialism and defend socialist achievements together. However, the leadership of the KSČ did not do anything against counterrevolution and reactionary organizations.

In a certain moment, the decision to help the internationalist forces which were afraid of reactionary development in Czechoslovakia was made. 21. August 1968, 5 allies of the Warsaw Treaty entered to the Czechoslovak territory. In contradiction to the often cited version, the soldiers did not violently overthrow the government. Unfortunately, the right-wing in the Presidium of the CC of KSČ, with knowledge of the development in advance, took the initiative and issued a statement which appealed to Czechoslovak people to obstruct the allied force. This statement escalated the situation. The left inside and outside of the party was not well prepared and organized. The opponents of the “Prague spring” were terrorized; they were warned of revenge for alleged collaboration. The mass media operated in a similar way. “Progressivists” met on an illegitimate meeting, which they called an extraordinary  congress of KSČ (apart from other things, the relevant representatives from Slovakia were not present).

In the meantime, the Presidium of the KSČ and the president of the Republic Ludvík Svoboda went to Moscow in order to discuss how to settle the situation. There was an agreement made between Soviet and Czechoslovak leadership about a normalization of the situation. The agreement was signed with one exception by all involved, including Alexander Dubček. Nevertheless, after the return, Dubček remained under influence of the right-wing forces and new anti-Soviet and anti-socialist events appeared and were supported.

The western, capitalist institutions exploited the confusion of the first months for the choice for emigration and work of the qualified workers in science and art. The Trotskyist organization Movement of the Revolutionary Youth prepared terrorist attacks. Another peak was the self-burning of the group of manipulated students. The authentic internationalist forces formed slowly, e.g. among the youth – the Leninist Youth League, in culture the Left Front. In the KSČ itself, the pragmatic approach advanced, and Slovak representative Gustav Husák became the leader of the party.

The leaders of the so-called “Prague Spring” did not manage to fully implement their program of the “democratic socialism”. The real content of the program was shown at the turn of the 1980s and 1990s when the great part of them participated in the restoration of capitalism in Czechoslovakia and after the counterrevolution occupied important positions. E.g. Alexander Dubček became the leader of the Federal Parliament.

5) Do you think that there is a correlation between the events of May '68 in other countries and the incidents happened in your country the same year?

As the balance of forces was changing, in the 1960s the new perspectives for the struggles of the socialism against imperialism were surely opened. We can recall the declaration of the socialist character of the Cuban Revolution, the liberation struggle of the Vietnamese people, anti-imperialist and anti-colonial struggles and revolutions in other countries, the liberation of the African continent. There were also colossal achievements of the socialism in science, in space exploration. There was also the new escalation with Zionism in 1967. However, there were also the mentioned consequences of the XX. congress of the CPSU and the split of the People’s Republic of China from the socialist system. In this situation, the imperialism apparently strived for new ways of confrontation of the world socialism, to which the communist movement adapted poorly. Above all the alliance of the working class on one hand, and the still broad strata of the petit bourgeoisie and the petit bourgeois intelligentsia on the second hand was not renewed. These strata were indeed conscious of the consequences of imperialism. However, their search for independent policy ended often under the capitalist hegemony – which invested heavily in the cultural activities. The upheaval of the protest and anti-imperialist movement in other countries therefore often fell flat, as a part of the ruling class and imperialist strategies.

6) From a Marxist perspective, what is your approach towards youth struggle? What is the role of the youth in a socialist revolution?

We are of the view expressed by Lenin - that there is a necessity of the youth organization - in which the young people learn themselves the collective and organized work, struggles, and which provides alternatives to the capitalist glitz. The communist organization creates new morality which is subsumed under the interests of proletariat and socialism. The past experience of the socialist construction showed the importance of innovative-revolutionary stance, the constant inclusion of workers and students to struggles and construction. Every loss of revolutionary initiative had catastrophic consequences for the working-class power, for the cause of the building of a society without exploitation of man by man - socialism and communism.

For this reason, we build and form our youth organization Communist Youth Union (KSM), the Czech Republic which takes the heritage of the progressive and communist youth in the country. KSM organizes young students, workers and unemployed and contributes to the anti-imperialist and social struggles. We also struggle against the historical revisionism and anticommunism in the Czech Republic with information and education work. KSM in this work faced many times slandering and anticommunist attacks, including attempts to dissolute the organization by the ruling power.