Ernest Erber Archive   |   ETOL Main Page

Ernest Erber

Background of the Coup

Stalinism in Czechoslovakia

(March 1948)

From The New International, Vol. XIV No. 3, March 1948, p. 67–77 & 96.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

“The way to liberated Czechoslovakia leads through Moscow. Soon all Europe will be free.”

These words were spoken by Eduard Benes, president of the Czechoslovak Republic, in Moscow on March 17, 1945.

This March, three years later, a broken and cowed Benes, tears streaming down his face, followed to the grave the body of his close collaborator, Jan Masaryk, to whom death had come suddenly and violently as an aftermath of the Stalinist coup. With Masaryk was laid into the grave the last hopes of the Czech bourgeoisie to reconstruct their pre-war parliamentary state and salvage some degree of social and economic power. Czechoslovakia’s “liberation” had not only led through Moscow, but “Moscow” had come to Prague to make certain that its special form of “liberation” would become permanent. The Russian armies brought with them not only Benes but also Klement Gottwald. Events soon showed that the “liberation” was not cut to fit Benes’s pattern but that of Gottwald.

Public opinion in the West was shocked more by the comparative ease with which the Stalinist machine consolidated its power during the five days of the revolutionary overturn than by its ruthlessness. Yet an analysis of the events in Czechoslovakia during the last two and a half years reveals that the Czech Communist Party had so systematically and thoroughly prepared the ground that the final seizure of power became almost an aftermath. The forces that confronted each other during the February days were so unequal that there could not have been the slightest doubt about the outcome.

Not only were the bourgeois-democratic forces stripped of all real power long before the final test, but they were hopelessly disoriented and continually off balance. Appearing in the eyes of the workers less as the defenders of democratic rights and more as the defenders of private property, the bourgeois-democratic camp was, in the very nature of the situation, constantly on the defensive. Their first efforts to take the initiative during the early part of February revealed them to be utterly naive vis-à-vis the Stalinists. The childish strategy of the resignations, designed to force early elections, merely played into the hands of the Stalinists by permitting their coup to appear as a defensive counter-measure. The events assumed the appearance of a contest between raw amateurs and hardened professionals.

While the bourgeois-democratic camp conducted itself as if the parliamentary institutions and rules were inviolable, the Stalinists did not overlook a single possibility that promised to give them added advantage. They exploited every question that permitted itself to be twisted for their use – from the Czech’s fear of a revived Germany to Slavic chauvinism and anti-Semitism. Stalinist propaganda was in turn cynical, hypocritical, demagogic and ruthless. It bespoke at all times an unbending will to conquer to which all else was subordinated. It conveyed to its opponents the well-founded impression that an effort to obstruct the Stalinist march to power would result in oceans of blood. It made effective use of the technique of paralyzing the enemy’s will to resistance, first developed in political warfare by the Nazis. Its tactics and propaganda exuded an air of self-confidence, of determination and of overwhelming force, in the face of which its opponents were gripped with a feeling of helplessness, indecision and futility. The advantages on the side of the Stalinists in Czechoslovakia proved so overpowering, that they produced a psychology of terror which sufficed to carry the day.

The Long Shadow of Munich

The factors that combined to set the stage for the Stalinists go back a number of years in recent Czech history, beginning with the Munich betrayals.

The imprint which the latter left upon the Czech people has never been fully appreciated in the West. The Czechs have never forgotten the bitter memories of their national degradation at the hands of the four powers at Munich. As children of Versailles, born of the machinations of Wilson, Clemenceau and Lloyd George, the Czechs regarded the role of France and England at Munich as a form of infanticide against their own offspring. Their very sufferings under the Gestapo were linked in the minds of the Czechs to the role of their Western allies.

In contrast, the Czechs felt a warmth and gratitude to the Russians as a result of the latter’s offers of military assistance at the time of Munich. The legend of Russia’s fidelity was so strong that not even the Hitler-Stalin pact could destroy it. Munich, in short, left the Czechs with fear and hatred of the Germans, suspicion of England and France, and friendship for the Russians.

Beginning with the German invasion of Russia, the Czech Stalinists began to play an active and increasingly important role in the anti-Nazi resistance movement. Their political line was one of unbridled chauvinism, vying with and outdoing the most ardent Czech nationalists. The forces they brought to the resistance were exceedingly important both in numbers and in composition. The Czechoslovak Communist Party had been a mass workers’ party from its inception in 1921. In 1923 it reported 132,000 members, organized in over 3,000 local groups and was considerably larger than the Czech Social-Democratic Party. It was the third largest party in the Comintern – only the Russian and German exceeded it. Though it lost much proletarian support to the Social-Democrats in the late twenties as a result of right-wing splitoffs, it recouped much of it during the crisis years of the thirties and added a considerable petty-bourgeois layer during the People’s Front period.

In addition to numbers, the Czech Stalinists brought to the resistance movement their valuable network of factory cells. With Czech industry playing a vital role in the Nazis’ munitions program, especially after the mass bombings of Germany were under way, an organized resistance among the industrial workers was a power far more weighty for the liberation movement than was represented by the demobilized officer caste, university students, lawyers and shopkeepers. With each Russian military advance after 1943, the influence of the Czech Stalinists rose, especially among the Partisan fighters who received Russian equipment and officers by parachute in the last stages of the war.

As the Russian armies penetrated Czechoslovakian territory from the east toward the west and the Nazi military machine began to crumble, the resistance carried through a successful insurrection in Prague on May 5, 1945. Since the Stalinists played the leading role in the uprising, the Czech capital fell into their hands even before the Russian army arrived. [1] This gave them added bargaining power in the crucial period that followed.

Effect of Russian Occupation

On the whole, the Russian occupation of Czechoslovakia seems to have been accompanied by far less looting and rape than occurred elsewhere. The close cooperation between the Czech Partisans and the Russian army, the similarity of language and a policy of stricter discipline seems to have been effective in restraining the Russian soldiers. Having known German occupation for seven years, the Czech population was inclined to view the conduct of the Russian troops as the inevitable tendency to lawlessness that characterizes every army in a strange country under frontline conditions.

The occupation by the Russian army, bringing with it swarms of GPU agents, was of short duration (some five months) but left a decisive imprint on the political relations within the country. It was during the Russian occupation that the provisional government was organized with the CP receiving the key posts. In keeping with the integral character of Stalinism, once having secured the inside track the Stalinists were never to voluntarily surrender it.

The program of the provisional government had been agreed upon earlier in Kosice in a meeting of the representatives of all political tendencies in the liberation movement, officially known as the National Front of Czechs and Slovaks. Its main provisions were for the establishment of a purely Slavic state, the division of large estates among the peasants, and the nationalization of large industry. This program suited the needs of the Stalinists perfectly and they utilized it for all it was worth. Throughout all the later political skirmishes the Stalinists were to parade as the defenders of the Kosice program and to denounce their opponents as traitors to it.

Another factor which colored the Czech political scene in the post-war period and of which the Stalinists made effective use was the fear of a revived German military power. The speeches and writings of all Czech statesmen are studded with references to it. Benes and Masaryk set the pace in whipping up this fear. Fear of Germany played the decisive role in shaping Czech foreign policy. In this instance too, the Stalinists were able to make political capital. They became the most blatant German-haters, ever ready to accuse their opponents of weakening Czechoslovakia in the face of the German threat.

The reverse side of the coin of anti-Germanism was, of course, pro-Russianism. If Germany is our main enemy, only an alliance with Russia can save us, ran the Czech argument. “Russia stood by us at the time of Munich.” “The Russian army liberated us from the Nazis.” “Russia is our only firm friend and ally.” These themes were played over and over again by all Czech politicians, regardless of party. However, no one could play these themes as loudly, as frequently and in as many different keys as could the Czech Stalinists. When it comes to praising Russia, no one can hope to outdo the experts in this field.

The Stalinists made of “friendship for the USSR” the test of loyalty to the new Czechoslovak state. A politician who dared speak without taking a bow to the east was already suspect. When a writer in the opposition press stated that the price which Czechoslovakia was paying for her alliance with Russia was well worth it, the CP press came down on him like an avalanche, saying, in effect: “What does this anti-Soviet element mean by saying that Czechoslovakia pays a ‘price’ for its alliance with Russia?” Spanish socialist refugees were expelled from Czechoslovakia on the charges that they had “a hostile attitude toward the USSR.”

Czech Stalinists could argue reasonably that if friendship with Russia is Czechoslovakia’s only salvation in the future, is not that friendship best guaranteed by having the most pro-Russian party at the head of the state? The protests of the other politicians that “friendship for Russia is not the monopoly of any one party” could not hope to destroy the logic of the Stalinist argument.

Pan-Slavism – Race Theory of Benes-Gottwald

But the pro-Russian orientation was motivated not only by considerations of foreign policy. It found further support in the acceptance by all the large Czech parties of a race doctrine – Pan-Slavism. This vile political philosophy, product of the most reactionary Czarist circles, was revived by the Kremlin during the war to implement its policy in Eastern Europe; an All-Slav Committee was formed with headquarters in Moscow. This Stalinist demagogy found greater response from the Czech petty bourgeoisie, main support of the Benes National Socialist Party [2], than anywhere else among the Slav peoples.

The Czech Stalinists, of course, became the most ardent Slavophiles. If Russia was “our big Slav brother,” were not the Czech Stalinists – who not only gloried in Slavic culture and language but also gloried in the political system of the Slavic heartland – the best representatives of Pan-Slavism? Was not Gottwald, whose political home was in Moscow, a better spokesman for Slavism than Benes, whose political home was in London? When Jan Masaryk proudly proclaimed to the National Assembly, “We Slavs now step before the world united” (July 17, 1946), he was merely introducing the thought which thousands of Communist Party agitators completed by adding “... under the leadership of the Great Stalin.”

The Pan-Slavic doctrine was given a political form and became the basis for state measures as soon as the republic was re-established. It took form in the inhumanly conceived and brutally executed policy of “cleaning” the territory of the republic of all non-Slavic minorities to achieve the Hitler ideal of a pure national state. This goal was achieved by driving two and a half million Sudeten Germans and a half million Hungarians out of the country (nearly 30 per cent of the pre-war population of Czechoslovakia). This monstrous action is without precedent in modern history before the advent of Hitler and Stalin, and only Hitler’s treatment of the Jews exceeded it in cynical brutality.

The Germans and Hungarians were driven from communities they had inhabited for over six centuries. They were forced to vacate their homes, farms and businesses upon notice that varied between ten minutes and two hours. The deportees were rounded up in concentration camps, driven along roads, or loaded into cattle cars and trucks. They were robbed of all their worldly goods with the exception of what they could carry on their backs. They were taken to the Hungarian frontier and to the frontiers of the American and Russian zones of Germany and unceremoniously dumped into the open fields. Many, especially the aged and the children, died by the roadside for lack of food and shelter. [3]

The Stalinists and the bourgeois nationalists vie with each other in claiming the “credit” for this policy of barbarism. Speaking to the Provisional National Assembly in March 1946, Dr. Ivo Duchacek of the (Catholic) People’s Party, which stands to the right of Benes’s National Socialist Party, argued:

We want to exclude nobody from this success, though it is true that, e.g., the Communist Party had in the years 1939, 1940 and 1941 no such clear and uncompromisingly Slavonic conceptions in this matter as it has today. However, I regard it as a downright falsification of history and as a building up of legends, which I do not hesitate to call pre-election legends, if the Communists, of all parties, assert that mainly to them or almost alone to them the credit for the transfer of the Germans from our country is due. [Lidova Democracie, March 9, 1946, quoted in Der Sozial Demokrat, London, May 1946.]

The Communists got the better of the argument, however, by pointing out that the mass expulsion was only possible as a result of agreement with the big powers and that this was secured due to Russian influence at the Potsdam Conference. Furthermore, everyone knew that the actual operations against the Germans and Hungarians were carried out under the jurisdiction of the brutal Stalinist Minister of the Interior, Vaclav Nosek.

The expulsion of the Sudetens resulted in a loot of real estate, buildings, industrial equipment and personal possession’s valued at more than four billion dollars! In accordance with the nationalization policy, to be discussed later, almost all manufacturing and commercial enterprises were declared state property to be operated by the state. However, the farms (valued at $1,200,000,000), homes and personal possessions were distributed or sold to “worthy Czech patriots.” This accumulation of wealth gave its dispensers political patronage that would make any politician green with envy. Since the Stalinist Minister of the Interior passed on who was a “worthy Czech patriot,” there is little need to go into details on what followed.

The Sudetenland and the corner of Slovakia formerly inhabited by the Hungarians were converted into Communist Party strongholds. Not only were the farms settled with loyal Stalinists or those who proved pliable instruments, but a huge bureaucracy, composed of faithful party supporters, was set up to administer the resettled districts. Such settlers as may have had other political views than the Stalinists soon learned that it was not in keeping with their designation as “worthy Czech patriots” to voice them. Slavism as a state policy paid off well for the Stalinists, much better for them than for the traditional Czech nationalists like Benes and Masaryk.

Economic Consequences of Expulsions

The economic consequences of the mass expulsions were catastrophic. “Owing to unforeseen circumstances [3a], the eviction of the Germans had to be carried out faster than was anticipated, and the border region was suddenly faced with large ownerless herds of cattle and empty villages.” (Report of Minister of Agriculture, October 14, 1946)

Since the expulsions were carried out during the summer, the crops were left standing in the fields and mostly went to waste. The result was a sudden shortage of foodstuffs, followed by increased prices and growth of black-marketeering. This, too, played into the hands of the Stalinists by making necessary the importation of grain from the Stalinist-dominated countries of Eastern Europe and Russia, thereby tying Czechoslovakian economic relations more firmly to the Russian bloc. The disorganization of agriculture in the resettled regions continued in 1947 and was further aggravated by a severe drought that affected the entire country. The importation of Russian grain became necessary and every delivery was accompanied by a big Stalinist propaganda campaign in favor of Russia to offset the good will for the United States that had been created by UNRRA aid. Inspired telegrams from all over the country were sent to Stalin personally. Typical was that of the Slovak Board of Commissioners, ruling provincial body, on December 6, 1947: “The catastrophic harvest caused a serious situation in Slovakia which, without your help, could not be solved.”

Another economic consequence of the expulsions was the creation of a sudden labor shortage. Among the expelled Sudetens were Czechoslovakia’s most skilled workers in textiles, glass, porcelain, toys, musical instruments and other industries that accounted for a large part of the Czech export trade. Among them also were the indispensable miners from the Sudeten coal fields.

To make sure that the newly nationalized industries in these border regions were a success, the Stalinists (and also the Social-Democratic heads of the Ministry of Industry) did their utmost to attract Czech workers to settle in the vacant cities. They were offered their choice of a home, furniture, bicycles, etc. The resulting movement of workers from the Czech industrial centers created a labor shortage of crisis proportions on a national scale.

To this was added the fact that the farmers in the resettled regions demanded farm labor to get in the crucial crops, and farm labor was already scarce in the rest of the country. As a consequence, the 100 per cent “Slavicizers” decided to keep some 310,000 Sudetens and 200,000 Hungarians on the sacred Slavic soil of Czechoslovakia – but only as laborers and under conditions that make of them virtual slave laborers. Since they are non-Slavs and will be driven out when no longer needed, these technicians, skilled workers and farm laborers are not granted rights of citizenship. They are specifically prohibited from belonging to a trade union. They are not permitted to share in social security benefits. One-fourth of their wages is deducted by the state for “reparations” to compensate for losses due to the Nazi occupation. They are not entitled to the vacations legally granted all Czech workers. Their children have been deprived of public education since May 1945. (Der Sozial Demokrat, Sept. 1947)

Slavism Gives Rise to Anti-Semitism

The old dictum that no people can enslave another without becoming enslaved itself worked with cruel speed in Czechoslovakia. The utilization of the German and Hungarian “slave laborers” proved insufficient to resolve the labor shortage and it became necessary to pass a National Labor Mobilization Act, which provided for compulsory labor. Labor camps were opened to assemble persons judged to be either evading work or working at non-essential jobs.

The right of designating who was to be placed in the labor brigades – assigned mainly to work in mines, construction projects and agriculture – was placed in the hands of the local National Committees, the composition of which, as we will see later, was either directly Stalinist or Stalinist-dominated. The result of the labor shortage and the compulsory labor draft was to place another weapon in the hands of the Communist Party. They put this weapon to effective use, especially during the crucial February days, by threatening those of whose support they were not sure with dismissal from their posts and, as unemployed, assignment to the labor brigades.

The wild chauvinism unleashed by the doctrine of a purely Slavic state had still other consequences. It gave rise to reactionary demands for the expulsion of all residents of any foreign extraction. This agitation became serious enough for the government to make an official announcement that no citizen of the Czechoslovak Republic of Slav extraction would be forced to leave, thus setting at ease the Polish and Ruthenian (Carpatho-Ukrainian) settlements in Slovakia.

The evil doctrine of racial homogeneity could not be unloosed upon the country without affecting that segment of the population which is always its inevitable victim – the Jews.

Already thousands of Jews had been victimized in the expulsion of the Sudetens and Hungarians. If Hitler refused to accept the German Jews as Germans, the Czech racists now refused to accept the German Jews as Jews. Since the Jews had lived among the Sudetens and Hungarians for many generations and had adopted their language and culture, the Czechs looked upon them as part of those minorities. Those Jews in Sudetenland who managed to escape the Gestapo dragnet were now dumped into Germany along with the Sudetens. Many Jews who returned from Nazi concentration camps found their businesses confiscated and their homes occupied by Czech settlers, and even experienced difficulty in securing ration books. On March 2, 1947, the Prague radio, mouthpiece of the Stalinist-controlled Ministry of Information, denied the charges of Jewish organizations that Jews were being forced to leave Czechoslovakia by means of refusing them jobs and rations.

On August 6, 1946, the evil seeds of racism sprouted in typical fashion when a rally of former Partisan fighters in Bratislava ended in an anti-Semitic pogrom. The Stalinists attributed it to the machinations of the underground remnants of the Hlinka movement, the Slovakian clerico-fascist allies of the Nazis. How they could have brought about a pogrom by the veterans of the anti-Nazi underground was not made clear.

Most of the Jewish refugees who returned to Czechoslovakia after the war found it impossible to regain their business property which had been taken by the Nazis, even where the size of the business did not make it liable to nationalization. Court actions by Jews to regain such property gave rise to much anti-Semitic agitation among the workers, especially among the employees of such establishments. On May 22, 1947, the Stalinist-led Revolutionary Trade Union Movement (sic!) in Varnsdorff called a strike to prevent a Jewish businessman from operating the establishment that had been legally returned to him. Deputy Hora, of the National Socialist Party, speaking before the Parliamentary Security Committee which investigated the strike, reported that in Varnsdorff the Communist Party was alone in supporting the strike action and that CP speakers made anti-Semitic speeches to the strikers. He also quoted one as saying: “The laws are made in Prague but we shall change them here to suit our needs. Our party will not tolerate a single private enterprise.”

CP Purge Kept Going

Another factor in the post-war political scene in Czechoslovakia that served the Stalinists well was the purge policy against those who had collaborated with the Nazis. The big bourgeoisie was, of course, the most collaborationist during the occupation. The proletariat was, again of course, the least. The in-between layers of the population tended to collaborate in proportion to their property and rank. As a consequence the Stalinists, whose main base was in the proletariat, favored as thoroughgoing a purge as possible.

As soon as the liberation took place, the Stalinists took the lead in carrying out the “purge of public life” which all parties had adopted as the program of the National Front. The purge became a terrible weapon in the hands of the Communist Party. Long after the genuine collaborationists had disappeared from the public scene, the Stalinists continued to make fresh charges in their press and demand new trials. When it became impossible to make the charge of collaborationist stick because of the known anti-Nazi role of a public figure, they would accuse him of “shielding collaborationists” by opposing further purges. The result was that the “purge atmosphere” continued to play an important role in Czechoslovakian politics long after it became a dead issue, even with the Stalinists, in the Western European countries.

In large measure, the prolonged “purge atmosphere” was related to the question of Slovak separatism. The latter has roots that go back many years in the history of the Czechoslovak Republic. The Czech bourgeoisie controlled the big banks and heavy industry of the state and their political agents dominated the political apparatus. The Czech petty bourgeoisie – urban, cultured, “Western” and secular in its politics – looked upon the Slovaks – agrarian, poorly educated, priest-ridden – as an inferior people. The Slovaks resented the domination of the republic by the Czechs, especially since the latter did not compose the majority of the population.

In the early period of the Communist Party, when it was still inspired by Leninist principles on the national question, it had been a vigilant defender of the rights of the Slovaks to equality in the affairs of the republic, despite the domination of Slovak political life by the clergy. As a result, the Communist Party achieved considerable influence among the proletarians of the towns and, to some extent, among the agricultural laborers. These points of support among the Slovak population, although numerically insignificant compared with its position in the industrial centers of Bohemia and Moravia, served the CP well during the resistance and the liberation.

The economic crisis of the thirties had given a considerable impetus to anti-Czech feeling in Slovakia and had also produced the native clerico-fascist Hlinka movement which had definite separatist tendencies. When the Czechoslovak Republic began to disintegrate under Hitler’s blows, the Hlinka movement came to an understanding with Berlin and was permitted to set up a separate Slovak state with the diminutive priest-politician, Tiso, at its head. The Slovak state became a German satellite in the war and furnished troops for the German military campaigns in the East, both for the invasion of Poland [4] and, later, of Russia.

From all appearances, the Tiso regime had a considerable mass support, especially among the peasants. Some estimates of objective observers are that easily 75 per cent of the population supported the regime. This support can be accounted for by such factors as these: (a) The puppet state had saved the Slovaks from Nazi occupation, (b) The influential Catholic clergy gave it ardent support, (c) The peasants received relatively good prices for their crops from the Germans, especially in the first years of the war. (d) The Germans constructed a considerable war industry in Slovakia, including the removal of plants from Germany, because it was beyond the range of enemy bombers.

As a result of the above factors, the majority of the Slovak population could be said to be guilty of collaboration with the Nazis. The Slovak CP, therefore, was able to play the leading role in the Slovak resistance, despite its small numbers. Much of the Stalinist resistance took the form of guerrilla bands, since the Slovakian terrain (forests and mountains) lent itself to this type of fighting. After the invasion and occupation of Slovakia by the Russian army, the Stalinist-led Partisans had a field day in cleaning up collaborationists – they had almost a whole nation to work on. Once the Stalinists had entrenched themselves both in Prague and in the Slovakian provisional government, the withdrawal of the Russian troops did not affect their role as the organizers of the purge in Slovakia. Since the bulk of the Slovak public figures, both major and minor, were guilty of collaboration, they were at the mercy of the CP. The most effective way of saving themselves was either to join the CP or to become its docile tool in whatever party or organization they remained.

The Czech population had been justly outraged by the pro-Hitler-role of the Slovaks. In addition, they felt that they had been deserted in their hour of trial. As a result, “Slovak separatism” became the most heinous of political crimes – really high treason – in the eyes of the Czech nationalist politicians. They were resolved to weld together the new republic in such a manner that Slovak separatism would never again be a threat. The Czech Stalinists, of course, immediately presented themselves as the firm anti-Slovak-separatist party. Were they not taking the lead in cleaning up the separatist collaborationists in Slovakia? Every manifestation of opposition to the Stalinists in Slovakia was immediately denounced by the CP press with cries of “separatist sabotage of the republic.” [5]

In Slovakia, on the other hand, the Stalinists were able to pass themselves off as the only party which could be trusted with the defense of Slovakian interests at Prague. After all, argued the Slovak Stalinists, is not our comrade, Gottwald, an old enemy of the Czech bourgeoisie, at the head of the government?

Post-War Role of the Partisans

If everything else failed them in Slovakia, the Stalinists could always rely upon pressure through their Partisans’ organization. The latter, of course, enjoyed great political capital in a nation that had undergone seven years of occupation by the Nazis. The political weight of the Partisans was incomparably greater than that of the war veterans in other countries. Once the liberation had been achieved, the non-Stalinists among the Partisans tended to lose themselves once more in the civilian population. Not so the Stalinist Partisans. Their important function was just beginning. They did not dismantle their organizations and, instead of disarming, secreted their weapons for future use. Demonstrations by threatening Partisans (and who isn’t a Partisan when the party needs support?) often carried the day against recalcitrant majorities in local National Committees.

The role of the Partisans in Slovakia became especially pronounced in the summer of 1947 in connection with the invasion of Czechoslovakian territory by the “Banderovici” – the anti-Stalinist Ukrainian Partisans. [6]

Just how many Banderovici penetrated the frontiers is not known. The Stalinists raised a huge alarm and undertook a great propaganda campaign to awaken the people to the Banderovici danger. Prominent in their propaganda were accusations that public officials and Slovak Democratic Party members were supplying the invaders with hiding places in the mountains and providing them with food, in preparation for an imminent uprising of the separatists, led by the underground Hlinka movement. The aim of the uprising, they claimed, was to re-establish the separate Slovak state and wipe out the loyal supporters of the united republic.

On the basis of this campaign the Stalinist Partisan movement demanded to be supplied with arms with which to repel the invasion. The non-Stalinists, not only in Slovakia but in Prague, were alarmed at the prospect of the armed Partisans running amok in Slovakia, and the National Socialist Party and Slovak Democratic Party press denounced the whole anti-Banderovici campaign as a “bogy” intended to give the Stalinists control of Slovakia. Despite these protests, Prague radio announced on Sept. 5 that armed Partisan units were cooperating with the army and Security Police against the Banderovici.

The Slovak Stalinists used the anti-Banderovici campaign and the arming of the Partisans as the occasion to demand the renewal of purges in the Slovak civil service. Demonstrations of the Partisans backed up this demand, and on September 2 the Slovak Board of Commissioners announced that it had decided to carry out the purge as demanded by the Partisans. Gottwald used the occasion to call upon the Slovak people to get rid, once and for all, of elements who had served Hitler.

Nationalization and Workers’ Control

From the long-range point of view, the most telling blow struck the Czech bourgeoisie was the elimination of the big capitalists as a result of the Nazi occupation, the purge of the collaborationists and the expulsion of the minorities. The elimination of the big capitalists was made permanent by the policy of nationalization of economic enterprises employing 200 or more workers, agreed to by all parties adhering to the National Front. Without the pressure of the Stalinists and the Social-Democrats (the latter proving themselves ardent nationalizers) the bourgeois-democratic parties would have disposed of the industries rendered ownerless for political reasons by finding private interests to take them over. Once the Stalinists got their bearings in liberated Czechoslovakia, they made the nationalized economy their special concern and constantly sought to extend it. This role of the Stalinists coincided with the desires of the workers and did much to enhance the prestige of the Communist Party in the working class.

However, the interests of the Stalinists and those of the workers did not always coincide in regard to the nationalized economy. The workers saw in nationalization the means of ridding themselves of all bosses, not merely private owners, and of achieving economic democracy on a plant level. The Stalinists saw in nationalization a means of (1) eliminating the bourgeoisie as rival aspirants for power; (2) providing thousands of bureaucratic jobs with which to build a firm layer of supporters; and (3) coordinating Czech industry with the new economic order being introduced into Eastern Europe by Russia. These differing interests – really the difference between the socialist collectivism of the working class and the bureaucratic collectivism of the Stalinists – gave rise to a number of specific problems.

Many of the enterprises were taken over during the liberation days by the workers in the shops driving out the collaborationist managements and German representatives. The workers sought to organize production through the medium of the Works Councils or, as they have generally been called in the revolutionary movement, factory committees.

After the decree on nationalization was issued by the provisional government and a Ministry of Industry was organized to coordinate the nationalized economy, frequent clashes occurred between the central direction of the economy and the local Works Councils. On October 14, 1946, Minister of Industry Lausman of the Social-Democratic Party decreed that the engineers and managers have first responsibility in the direction of production. He asked that “The Works Councils and trade unions should give them the greatest support.” Yet ten months later, on July 8, a session of the central council of the trade unions was still occupying itself with the problems caused by “usurpations” of authority by the Works Councils, and instructing the latter not to interfere in questions of production since these were the responsibility of the managers. [7]

The leading role in breaking the authority of the Works Councils was played by the Communist Party, operating through the trade-union apparatus. With the liberation, the unity of the trade unions was achieved for the first time since the founding of the Red International of Labor Unions. Having a voting strength that was three times that of the Social-Democracy, and even greater strength among the industrial workers, the Stalinists completely controlled the Revolutionary Trade Union Movement, as the united organization was called. The Stalinists introduced the strictest centralization in the trade unions and thoroughly bureaucratized them. They introduced the practice of voting on the basis of single lists submitted by the leadership. (See La situation réelle en Tchécoslovaquie by the anonymous Czech worker, P.L., in Quatrième Internationale, 1947.) The Social-Democrats in the trade-union apparatus valued their posts above all, as trade-union bureaucrats always do, and quickly adapted themselves to the Stalinist methods. The trade-union staffs were loaded down with Stalinist functionaries. The national headquarters in Prague had 1,500 employees! (Only a tenth as many, some 150 employees, suffice to operate the national headquarters of the Trade Union Congress of Great Britain.) In the nationalized industries, the Stalinists took into trade-union membership all non-industrial employees, from the top managers and engineers down, thus diluting their class character and confronting the workers with their direct superiors inside the labor movement.

As time went by, the Stalinists succeeded in subordinating the Works Councils to the control of the trade unions, making of the former pliable tools for whatever aims the party leadership was pursuing from time to time. The Works Councils themselves were then increasingly bureaucratized and turned into a source of more patronage jobs for the CP machines. Workers elected to the Works Council no longer were required to do manual work and were paid for all extra time spent on official duties. Instead of functioning as the workers’ spokesmen in the front offices of the factory, many of the Works Councils became adjuncts of the management and the means of achieving the latter’s aims in the operation of the plant. But above all and in the first place, the Works Councils, composed overwhelmingly of CP members, functioned at the beck and call of the party leadership. As a result of CP control of the Works Councils and the trade unions, the real control over production and over all industrial activity was in the hands, not of the Ministry of Industry nor of the managers, but of the Central Committee of the Communist Party. (The role of the trade unions as battering rams to force through the political demands of the Stalinists will be dealt with separately.)

Stalinist Economic Policy and the Workers

The Stalinists were, above all, interested in the successful operation of the nationalized industries. In large measure their political prestige depended upon it. Equally important was their interest in developing Czech industry into the main source of manufactured goods for the integrated economy of Eastern Europe taking shape under Russian direction. The Stalinists’ efforts, as a result, were directed toward increasing production. Here, too, they experienced difficulties with the workers.

From all indications, the workers took nationalization to mean an end to the enforced labor discipline and the pressure to produce to which they had been submitted by private capitalism. As a result, the level of production declined in the nationalized industries. Two years after nationalization, the Ministry of Industry was still complaining that most factories were still only achieving eighty per cent of the production per man-hour that had been the norm in 1938. Complaints about the inefficiency of the nationalized industries were a constant theme in the press during 1946 but appear to have become less frequent in 1947. Without a doubt, this reflected to some degree an improvement in the situation.

Judging from the repeated arguments against wage increases that appeared in the CP and trade-union press, there must have been a considerable pressure by the workers for higher wages. The Stalinists stressed the need to first achieve the production goals set in the Two Year Plan before increasing wages. They insisted that the nationalized economy be placed upon a solvent basis. Efforts to secure increased production through piecework appear to have met with resistance from the workers. On May 28, 1947, the Czech press reported that during the course of strikes, which were trade-union inspired but unauthorized, in opposition to the restitution of certain enterprises to private owners, the workers also raised the demand for the abolition of piecework.

It would be false, however, to assume from the above conflicts between CP aims and the desires of the workers that the latter were indifferent to nationalization. All indications are that they wholeheartedly favored it and, despite dissatisfaction over wages and the diminished authority of the Works Councils, the workers found conditions in the nationalized industries far more tolerable than they had experienced under private capitalism. The strikes to defend individual factories against threats of restitution to former owners appear to have received the firm support of the workers.

Wherever the policies of the Stalinists brought forth too much resistance from the workers, they introduced such concessions and modifications as would not endanger their mass support. The extreme skill which the Stalinists have developed in demagogy, in maneuvering, in distorting issues, in catering to prejudice, in manipulating and misusing the terminology of socialism, and in diverting attention elsewhere, helped them over many a rough spot. The differences between the CP policy and the desires of the workers assumed, therefore, the character of minor frictions, always subordinate to and overshadowed by the major struggle between the CP and the old ruling class in its various segments – capitalists, civil servants, old officer corps, church hierarchy, landowners, bourgeois politicians, etc. Whenever the friction between the interests of the workers and those of the party threatened to erupt, the Stalinists could always undertake a new offensive against the bourgeois elements and immediately enlist the support of the workers.

Part of the Stalinist strategy in minimizing the conflict between the workers’ and the party’s interests in the nationalized economy was to avoid placing a Stalinist at the head of the Ministry of Industry. The latter post was given to the Social-Democrats and occupied by Bohimil Lausman, a man known for his independence from Stalinist control. Government policy in the nationalized economy was, therefore, not attributed directly to the CP.

The Stalinists, of course, could well afford not to occupy the Ministry of Industry, since their real control was exercised through the trade-union apparatus and the party fractions in the shops. In addition, the Social-Democrats were the one non-Stalinist party that could be relied upon to follow a pro-nationalization policy. Although Lausman did announce on April 13, 1947, that the nationalizations had been concluded and that the remaining small capitalists and merchants need not fear for their enterprises, the Stalinists always knew that this policy could be changed by sufficient pressure from below, a pressure to which the Social-Democracy, a workers’ party, was especially susceptible.

The New Bureaucratic Aristocracy

The Stalinists built up a tremendous base for themselves by always, everywhere, and consistently expanding the number of bureaucratic jobs. The result was that there emerged what the Czech press got into the habit of calling “the new bureaucratic aristocracy.” The phenomenon represented by the inflated bureaucracy was frequently discussed in official bodies and in general political polemics. It could hardly have remained unobserved, for by the middle of 1947 public administration absorbed 48 per cent of the national income.

For those who did not follow the statistical reports, the size of the bureaucracy was impressive by its omnipresence. Estimates were made in 1947 that there were from 130,000 to 200,000 more public functionaries than in 1938, despite a considerable decline in the population (due to the cession of Ruthenia to Russia and the expulsion of the Germans and Hungarians). These figures do not include the managing personnel of the nationalized economy. The latter represented an additional layer of bureaucratic posts.

Part of the swollen bureaucracy resulted from the struggle between the Stalinists and the bourgeois politicians over the old civil service. It was difficult for the Stalinists to remove the old civil servants from their posts without precipitating a major crisis. As a result the Stalinists merely added thousands of their own appointees onto the staffs of ministries and other agencies of government under their control. One of the largest bureaucratic creations of the Stalinists were the administrators of the former German and Hungarian territories. Another factor in swelling the bureaucracy was the National Committees which resulted from the liberation movement and paralleled the old state apparatus (a development that will be dealt with later). The Prague weekly Hospodar complained in January 1947 that there was one public official for every 105 inhabitants. In the cities, it added, the proportion was much higher and it cited as examples: in Prague, one official for 42 inhabitants; in Brno, 1 for 35; and in Ostrava, 1 for 62.

There were frequent complaints in the Czech press that the staffs of the nationalized enterprises were top-heavy with directing personnel. In a report that sought to give a balance sheet on the nationalization program, given on March 6, 1947, Lausman listed as one of the problems the disproportion between staffs and workers in the nationalized industries.

The overwhelming bulk of the new bureaucratic apparatus was a Stalinist creation. Most of the non-Stalinist criticisms of the inefficiency of the nationalized enterprises blamed it on the political appointment of the technical personnel. The failure to mention the Stalinists in these accusations was due to the prudent self-restraint which the non-Stalinist press followed. Not only could the Stalinists secure such appointments but incumbents in such posts knew that a membership card in the CP guaranteed them their jobs and offered excellent prospects of advancement. If a member of the managing staff of a nationalized enterprise proved unresponsive to Stalinist wooing, the Stalinists could always create enough “labor trouble” in a given shop to secure the removal of such a person.

The upper layer of the “new bureaucratic aristocracy” lived well, and did so ostentatiously enough to cause widespread comment. On September 3, 1947, the National Socialist press referred to them as “the protégés of the Communists, who hold important administrative positions, draw high salaries and live in great luxury.” The People’s Party daily, Lidova Demokracie, referred to them on January 2, 1948, as being “drunk ... with their newly gained power and wealth.” Almost all of the higher bureaucratic posts rated an automobile and, in many cases, a government-paid chauffeur. Many of them lived rent-free in the villas of the former capitalist owners. The article by the Czech worker, P.L., which we cited previously, documents the standard of living of this new bureaucracy in the following figures, after describing the living standards of the ordinary workers:

Quite different is the situation of the big bureaucrats of industry and the state, currently called “the new aristocracy.” The spread between the minimum base pay of the manual worker and the maximum salary of the highest functionary of the nationalized industry is extremely wide; it is easily more than one to ten, fifteen and even twenty. Not infrequently one finds industrial managers earning 40,000 Czech crowns a month (nearly twenty-four times more than the worst-paid workers!) and enjoying in addition the free use of a villa, an auto with chauffeur, etc.

The specific weight of these unproductive expenses in the national economy is enormous. The [Czechoslovakian] magazine Accounting and Control [Ucetnictvi a Kontrola] ... submits the state budget to a detailed analysis to get an approximate estimate of the cost of the bureaucracy. With regard to the governmental administration properly so called – that is, the ministries, not including the administration of the nationalized industry – there were not less than 780 million Czech crowns of expenditure for trips, and 180 million for the maintenance of automobiles (excluding trucks). What these figures represent becomes clear when it is realized that the amount which the honorable bureaucrats spend for trips could cover, for 300,000 families, the difference between their starvation wages and a minimum living standard.

Structure of the State Apparatus

The new state apparatus that came into being with the liberation was a de facto authority that emerged from the liberation movement (organized officially into the National Front of Czechs and Slovaks) and came into power with the advance of the Russian armies and the Prague insurrection. It began its work as a provisional, quasi-revolutionary regime which aimed to carry out the Kosice program, in which the purge of collaborationists was the first aim. To achieve the main points of this program, it was necessary to short-circuit the old constitution and to act through bodies which would not be encumbered by the traditional legal safeguards.

The bodies formed for this purpose were the National Committees. These assumed supreme state power, both nationally and locally. This extra-constitutional apparatus appointed the provisional government and arranged for the elections to a National Constituent Assembly, which was empowered to adopt a new constitution. Since the National Committees reflected the division of party power in the resistance movement and since they were organized in the period of Russian occupation, the CP played the leading role in them. In keeping with the Stalinist doctrine of never surrendering a position until a stronger one has been conquered, the CP maintained its leading position in the National Committees and fought to preserve the authority of these bodies.

After the elections to the National Constituent Assembly in May 1946, the composition of the National Committees was to reflect the party vote which these elections recorded. For example, the National Committee in Pilsen was composed of the following party representatives: CP, 8; National Socialists, 7; Social Democrats, 3; People’s Party (Catholic), 2. Where the CP did not have enough pliable tools among the representatives of the other parties (most often from among pro-Stalinist Social Democrats) to assure their control, the Stalinists managed by one means or another to circumvent the majority. On May 13, 1947, for example, the National Socialist daily, Svobodne Slovo, complained about the “undemocratic rules of procedure in district NCs,” which resulted in all manner of manipulation. Such manipulation was not too difficult since out of 154,000 members of the NCs, 69,786 were members of the CP, according to a report by Gottwald to a meeting of the Prague CP on June 6, 1946. Since the local NCs organized extensive staffs of their own, in large measure paralleling the civil service, the CP found them a lucrative field for bureaucratic jobs.

The Stalinists did their utmost to preserve the authority of the NC setup against the efforts of the bourgeois parties to “normalize” administration by restoring the power of the pre-war institutions like city councils, etc. On December 31, 1946, the CP daily, Rude Pravo, declared that the NCs are repositories of all executive power in Czechoslovakia until the adoption of a new constitution. As executive organs their power cannot be curtailed by anyone except the cabinet (headed by Gottwald) in Prague. It was the strategy of the Stalinists [8] to keep the governmental machinery in a provisional state, and consequently in flux, until they could consolidate their own power.

The CP in the Government

The Kosice program provided the basis for collaboration of all parties of the National Front in a coalition government, thus eliminating a parliamentary opposition in the traditional sense. [9] The National Front regime was the Czech variant of the tactic used throughout the Eastern European countries dominated by the Stalinists. Due to the strong mass base of the CP in Czechoslovakia, the National Front was not quite as totalitarian as its counterparts in Rumania and Bulgaria, where the Stalinists insisted that all parties appear upon a single list in the elections, or even in Poland, where all except the Peasant Party appeared in a single bloc in the elections. The elections of May 1946 in Czechoslovakia permitted a choice of parties. The CP received 38 per cent of the vote. Since the Social Democracy received some 13 per cent of the vote, the two parties that based themselves upon the working class had a slight parliamentary majority, a fact that was to play a role in the February coup.

The CP divided the posts of cabinet rank with an adroitness that revealed how thoroughly Stalinism had learned, and adopted to its own purposes, the Marxist teachings on the nature of the state. As the leader of the largest single party in the Assembly, Gottwald was, of course, called upon to head the government as premier. The CP took for itself the posts of minister of interior (police), information (press and radio), and agriculture (agrarian reform). The Ministry of National Defense was given to an ostensibly non-party military man, General Ludvik Svoboda. The latter had functioned with the Russian army during the war and was a thoroughly reliable Stalinist tool. [10]

The important post of foreign affairs, usually regarded as next in importance to the premier in European governments, was given to Jan Masaryk, who had broken all party ties to devote himself to diplomacy as a non-party man. However, the real power in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs was Vlado Clementis, a Stalinist wheelhorse. Masaryk served the Stalinists as window dressing in foreign affairs just as Benes served in this capacity for the Gottwald government as a whole. However, since the regime was a coalition of five parties, among which the CP only represented two-fifths of the electorate, the occupation of the key posts by Stalinists created the danger that it might appear as almost total control. The Stalinists sought to offset this by dividing the rest of the government functions, consisting of the more “harmless” departments, into the largest number of divisions. The result was an unusually large cabinet in which all other parties appeared to have adequate representation. There was not only a minister of agriculture but also a minister of food. (The former, a Stalinist, was praised by the peasants for giving them land; the latter, a Social-Democrat, was blamed by everybody for not giving them enough food.) There was not only a minister of commerce but also one of foreign trade. There was not only a minister of posts and telegraph but also one for transportation. There was a Ministry of Labor and Social Welfare and also a Ministry of Health, etc. etc.

Stalinist Control of Police

The Stalinists showed little interest in the “economic” posts, which naive Social-Democrats usually go for in the illusion that they can use them to construct “socialism.” The Stalinists made a beeline for the posts not of “construction” but of destruction – i. e., destruction of their enemies. Of these, the most potent is the Ministry of Interior. “Interior” to the American means national parks, Indian reservations, oil reserves, forests, etc. “Interior” to the European means but one thing – the national police apparatus. There is no exact counterpart to this institution in the Anglo-Saxon countries. (The trend of the FBI, however, is toward becoming such an instrument.)

The prime function of the national police is the security of the state against its internal enemies. As a result, the national police is always in greater or lesser measure a political police, operating to hinder, harass or destroy the political opponents of the state power. It keeps lists of “dangerous” organizations and individuals, keeps them under surveillance, sends informers among them, organizes battalions of shock troops trained in riot work and street fighting, etc. In total police states the national police operates without legal restraints of any kind, like the Gestapo and the GPU. Under constitutional regimes they operate within the limits of statutory provisions and judicial authority. Therefore, when the Gottwald government organized the National Security Corps as the police arm of the Ministry of Interior, it built upon a solid continental (and, of course, Czechoslovakian) tradition. The function of the Stalinist minister of interior, the notorious Vaclav Nosek, was to convert the Security Police from the traditionally, legally circumscribed, bourgeois-democratic police institution to a Czech replica of the Russian GPU. Nosek proved equal to his task.

If Stalinist aims required the revamping of the army, in the case of the Security Police it required building from the ground up. The Security Police was heavily weighted with Stalinists to begin with, and every effort was made to influence the rest. For instance, the CP organized special classes for Security Police personnel; opposition papers charged that the word was passed around in the force that those attending CP classes would be favored in promotions. A conference of Security personnel in Prague on June 17 was addressed by the Stalinist trade-union chief and CP deputy, Antonin Zapotocky, though the latter had no official position in the Ministry of Interior. [11] As things came to a head, the Stalinists acted ever more openly in consolidating their hold on the Security Police. The unconcealed promotions of the CP adherents in January of this year was the incident that set under way the events that culminated in the coup.

The two and a half years between the liberation and the coup saw no dearth of activity by the Security Police. The country was kept in a continual state of nerves by the announcement of new plots, conspiracies and subversive movements unearthed by the Security Police. These were always followed by arrests and treason trials that kept most of the country in a state of tension that gradually developed toward that total psychosis of fear which is the normal state of mind in a modern police state.

Given the political situation in Slovakia, which we have described in dealing with Slovak separatism, this part of the country became the main center for Security Police operations against the political opposition. The main aim of the Stalinists in these attacks was to break the power of the Slovak Democratic party. Since it was fairly easy to establish ties between this party and the remnants of the Hlinka movement, the Security agents had a field day in cooking up amalgams.

Toward the Czech GPU

The biggest “plot” was broken to the public on October 7, 1947, when the political situation was beginning to approach a crisis and the Stalinists feared the formation of an anti-CP government. The Slovak Commissariat of the Interior announced the arrest of 380 persons involved in an anti-state conspiracy, among them civil servants, businessmen, priests, public officials, etc. This was soon followed by the “discovery” of a second plot, centering in Bratislava, resulting in the arrest of seventeen “important persons.” Most of these arrests were accompanied by the discovery of pro-Hlinka leaflets. Later a scandal broke out when political opponents of the CP announced that they had discovered bundles of such pro-Hlinka leaflets in a provincial headquarters of the CP!

The power of the Security Police is demonstrated by the fact that they searched the offices of the Vice-Premier, Ursiny, in connection with these “plots” and arrested members of his staff. [12] On January 7, 1948, General Ferjencik [13], head of the Security Corps in Slovakia, denied that political prisoners were being tortured in the Bratislava prison. Such “denials” in themselves helped create the psychological terror which the Stalinists aim at.

But the operations of the Security Police were not confined to Slovakia. They reached everywhere. On March 23, 1947, all Social-Democratic papers published on their front pages a protest against police supervision of political meetings as directed in instructions from the minister of interior to local and district NCs. The protest called upon political parties to bar police from attending their meetings. Nosek denounced the SDP protest as “a call to public violence against police officials executing their duty.” However, the practice was continued. On May 6 the Social-Democratic daily Pravo Lidu, complained: “Not a day has passed lately without a public meeting of the SDP having been prohibited or control officials being sent to meetings of party members.” On October 9, 1947 a National Socialist deputy exposed a Security Corps agent-provocateur who had approached him posing as an agent of the underground Hlinka movement. Thus the record establishes the progress that the Security officials were making in learning their lessons from the GPU book.

Information – CP Style

Next to the Ministry of Interior, the most potent governmental weapon the Stalinists had in the internal life of Czechoslovakia was the Ministry of Information, headed by the blatant party propagandist, Vaclav Kopecky. The Stalinists thoroughly understand that “ideas are weapons” and that without ideological offensives the naked force of the police could not totalitarianize the population. Radio Prague and its provincial subsidiaries became potent mouthpieces for the CP. The party line was woven into all its features whether educational, cultural or entertainment. In April 1947 there was adopted a law on the press, introduced by the minister of information which made provision for a “Union of Czech Journalists” (plus another one for Slovak journalists) in which membership was compulsory for those working at the profession. These journalists’ “unions” were in reality semi-official bodies which provided the minister of information with another means of applying pressure upon the press to conform to Stalinist concepts.

Direct censorship of the press was not invoked until the coup. The Czech traditions in this respect were too strong to permit the Stalinists to indulge in the type of open dictation to the press that was imposed in Poland and other Eastern European countries. The need for direct censorship was, in a measure, obviated by the self-censorship which the bourgeois press imposed upon itself. Here, too, the psychosis of fear proved sufficient to achieve the Stalinists’ ends.

A picture of the state of Czech journalism under the Stalinist shadow is drawn by F. Perutka, editor of the independent daily, Svobodne Noviny, who deserves commendation as one of those rare political specimens – a liberal with a backbone. His paper spoke its mind more openly than any other. On July 28, 1947, he wrote as follows in reply to the questions of some young people who had asked him what qualities were needed “in these days” to make a good journalist:

Above all, good nerves. But there is a more comfortable way if you are prepared to join the mob which never denounces a wrong unless permitted to do so by those who have committed it, the mob which is ready to rejoice or shed tears, or praise or revile at orders. What strikes me most is that we have beautiful ideas and deplorable practices ... Our public life is riddled by intrigue. Lying is becoming the rule of the country ... Discussion has long ceased to be a means of ascertaining the truth ... There is no bad quality in man that the press does not nourish and strengthen. All this is happening to the accompaniment of honeyed phrases by the official Union of Journalists, which claims “only now have the conditions been created for the honorable exercise of the profession of journalism.” Those who are active in public life, however, feel as if they are wading in mud up to their knees ... The political parties in this country regard their struggle for power as more important than the fundamental principles of decency and fairness. The worst thing is that the liars have learned to imitate the voice of truth.

The Ministry of Information functioned as a “police on the cultural front” and its long arm reached everywhere. It publicly denounced the booksellers for not promoting the sales of “progressive” books. It purged the National Theatre and brought from Minister of Education Stransky, a National Socialist, a protest that appointments to the theatre could not be made “according to election results.” It launched a furious attack upon the universities [14], the bulk of whose students were politically active in opposition to the Stalinists.

On December 5, when the political crisis was already threatening to boil over, Kopecky addressed the Communist Student Organization to mobilize them against the minister of education, denouncing the latter as the inspiration of “reactionary” agitation by the students. Kopecky predicted that “before six months the Ministry of Education will again be in progressive hands.” (The CP had been at its head during the early period of the provisional government.) Many professors were reactionaries, Kopecky said, pointing specifically to the rector of Prague University, Professor Englis. He called for a purge of the faculties. “The ideology of dialectical materialism must be made to assume a leading and dominant position in our educational system.” Propaganda against the Communists, he said, was hostile to the spirit of the National Front and the republic. “The patience of the workers has its limits ... We made a great mistake in admitting everybody to the universities ... In the future, students with a positive attitude toward the regime and the New Order will have priority.” He stated that students with anti-Communist records would not be accepted for employment in the ministries headed by Communists or influenced by them. “To be anti-Communist is to be a traitor,” Kopecky shouted, and urged all students to join the Communist camp since “there will be nothing else for them to join.”

The Ministry of Agriculture also played a key role for the Stalinists. A partial distribution of landed estates had taken place after the First World War. These estates, usually the property of the Hapsburg nobility, were expropriated but usually only a part of the land was distributed among small peasants. The reduced estates, referred to as “remnant estates,” found their way into the hands of Czech politicians, officers, etc. The CP carried on a vigorous campaign for the total distribution of such lands. The Ministry of Agriculture under the Stalinist, Julius Duris, set up a vast network of ministry representatives to carry the CP campaign into the countryside and recruit for the party. Protests were made in the press of the other parties upon a number of occasions that peasants were being promised first choice on new land if they joined the CP. On June 24, 1947, a demand was made in the Assembly for an investigation of the Ministry of Agriculture to determine how much money had been expended to finance CP propaganda among the peasants.

Mass Action from Below

The thorough exploitation by the Stalinists of all government posts within their control to build up a mass base did not prevent them from utilizing all the techniques of mass action from below to achieve the same ends. Stalinist policy skillfully dovetailed the two forces. This was not always easy, however, for the presence of Stalinists in responsible posts often made them the target of popular discontent. The regime as a whole was, after all, a “Gottwald government” and the Stalinists had to be its foremost defenders. But the strength represented by a mass Communist Party made it possible for them to manipulate the very discontent of sections of the population and turn it against their political opponents.

The most potent weapon for pressure from below at the disposal of the Stalinists was the trade-union movement. At every crucial stage of a political dispute in the cabinet the Stalinists would bring to bear the mass action of the workers. The government would be flooded with telegrams adopted by factory meetings, or visited by workers’ delegations, or con fronted with mass demonstrations, all demanding the solution favored by the CP. If such pressure was not sufficient, the trade unions would utilize the strike as a political weapon. Strikes against the return of enterprises to their former owners, in cases where the nationalization decree did not cover them, were very frequent. These reached a peak in the spring of 1947 and, on March 22, Cos, the daily of the Slovak Democratic party, demanded that legal measures be taken against such strikes, saying that some parties have “the wrong conception of the right to strike.” This unloosed a barrage in the CP press and over the government radio in defense of the right to strike.

A case in point was the strike of the employees of the Ara department stores against the decision of the Prague district court to return the stores to their former owner, a Jewish businessman by the name of Andres who had fled to the United States to escape the Nazis. The CP daily, Rude Pravo, called for complete support to the strike by the workers. This was repeated on June 10 when the employees of the Franck Coffee Substitute factory in Sered struck against its return to private ownership.

The trade unions used the threat of strikes to bring about changes in the composition of the Slovak provincial government on November 11. As a result, the Board of Commissioners reorganized itself on November 18 and elected a Stalinist, Dr. Husak, as chairman. Four days later, Prace, the trade-union daily, said that it was still dissatisfied with the political situation in Slovakia and warned that unless the voice of the working people was respected, the trade unions would mobilize the workers “to assert their will.” Another example of mass pressure through the trade unions was the mobilization of factory delegations at the meeting of the provincial NC at Prague to demand a trade-union majority on the Food Supply Commission. The delegations paralyzed the functioning of the NC until it promised to add the required majority, compromising, however, by seating them without decisive votes.

In January 1947 the CP minister of agriculture distributed drafts of his proposed laws on land reform to the workers organizations and asked for mass support. The result was a deluge of resolutions, wires, delegations, etc. In reply to the outraged protests of the non-Communist ministers who had not yet had time thoroughly to discuss the draft, Rude Pravo answered, “Never again will this policy be decided behind the shutters of the Zivno Banka and the cartel palaces” (January 27). On February 28 the National Socialist Vice-Premier, Zenkel, gave indirect reply in a speech which said that “the will of the people” is not necessarily synonymous with “mass demonstrations, previously-ordered telegrams, resolutions, etc.”

Delegations of farmers were continually brought to Prague to back up the views of the minister of agriculture. On June 11 a delegation of 200 farmers gate-crashed into a meeting of the Assembly’s agricultural committee and demanded the immediate consideration of its demands. The CP members of the committee steered them to a session with Gottwald and Duris (minister of agriculture) who pledged their support. Visitations by such mass delegations of farmers continued all through the summer of 1947, since the draft laws of Duris were meeting with considerable opposition from the bourgeois parties. This dispute led to the first big open crisis in the National Front in September, when the CP pulled all stops and called for the mobilization of the workers and peasants behind its demands for land reform.

After all governmental levers are given their due importance in the development of Stalinist power in Czechoslovakia, the party apparatus must still be viewed as its greatest asset. It was the mass character of the party, resulting in its control of the trade unions, that made its manipulation of governmental posts possible and effective. The party was the great coordinator and centralizer in the Stalinist drive for power. The hand of the party was everywhere. And everywhere everything was done in accordance with the party’s tasks of the day.

On January 16, 1948, the General Secretary of the CP, Slansky, reported in Rude Pravo that the party membership stood at 1,329,450, excluding Slovakia. With a total population (i.e., including aged, children, etc.) of 14,500,000, nearly one out of every eight inhabitants belonged to the party, and two out of every five voters voted the CP ticket. During a membership drive last November 31, 657 recruits joined the party on a single day, Sunday, November 23. Of those who joined during 1947, 230,000 were described as “young people.”

The CP conducted a vigorous “educational” campaign among its new members. It organized special courses of training for CP members of the NCs and for those in various other government jobs. It organized a Central Party School at which it gave six-month courses for party officials. It published a wide variety of books, pamphlets, magazines and other material to supply the various educational requirements of its membership, which in its bulk was composed of industrial workers.

Perutka’s Svobodne Noviny on October 27 gave an analysis of the CP membership which was summarized in the November 6 issue of the news report, East Europe, as follows:

Its [the CP’s] largest group consisted of once exploited and now resentful people, who entered the party as a means to right their wrongs. Most of them were not even aware of the Communist program, yet were “faithful adherents” of the party. It was for the benefit of such people that the party staged mass rallies and processions. The second group, the party’s weak point, consisted of pre-war Communists, well trained politically and tempered in the struggle against the occupation. They formed a cadre of brave, cultured and honest people. The fourth group, numerically the smallest, but the most powerful, consisted of professional Communists, “whose ultimate aims were wholly shrouded in mystery.” They maintained that their aim was the Communist “single-party state,” and that the present regime was a temporary makeshift.

It would be futile to study the events in Czechoslovakia for the last two and a half years for the purpose of discovering the pattern of conquest which Stalinism will follow in Italy or France or some other Western country. There was already a considerable difference in the Cezch pattern as compared with Rumania and other Eastern European states that were in the immediate shadow of the Russian army, and also as compared with Yugoslavia, which had its own distinctive features. In turn, the difference between Czechoslovakia (and all the eastern countries) on the one hand and France and Italy on the other is even greater.

However, the detailed study we have made of the Stalinist road to power in Czechoslovakia has great value in casting light upon the nature of Stalinism as a social, political and economic phenomenon. It is this which we must thoroughly comprehend. Few in the world do comprehend it today: The bourgeoisie remains baffled by it. The self-styled “official Trotskyists” are, perhaps, more in the dark than anybody. The views developed by the Workers Party come closer to a real insight than any thus far expressed, but remain to be fully developed. It is my aim to contribute to such a development in an article formulating the conclusions I have come to on the Czech events.

(To be continued)



1. Though the American army was only forty kilometers from Prague at the time and the Russians were 140 kilometers away, the American advance was stopped in order to permit the Russians to “liberate” the city in accordance with an agreement between Roosevelt and Stalin.

2. Not to be confused with the National Socialist Party of Germany (the Nazis). The Czech NSP was a bourgeois-democratic party with an economic program comparable to that of the New Deal Democrats in this country.

3. Among them were some 400,000 anti-fascist workers, including over 8,000 victims of Hitler’s concentration camps. Over 3,000 had fled to foreign exile in 1938 to escape the Gestapo. Some 630 were executed or died in the Gestapo torture chambers. These figures cover only the socialist working class of the Sudetenland. Thousands of liberals, Catholics and others of the general Sudeten population also suffered at the hands of the Nazis. These figures are based on reports that have appeared in various numbers of Der Sozial Demokrat, organ of the Sudeten socialists, published in London since 1939.

3a. In large measure, the “unforeseen circumstances” consisted of a growing possibility that the western powers would reverse themselves and withdraw approval of the expulsions. The English press, especially, was beginning to strike a note of humanitarian protest. The Hungarian government was active in promoting an international protest against the treatment of its nationals in Slovakia. At the Paris Conference of Foreign Ministers, the English and American became irritated with the fanatical intransigence of the Czechs in demanding that every last Hungarian and German be expelled and one American representative is reported to have declared angrily that if the Czechs were so anxious not to have a Hungarian minority they could easily achieve this by ceding these border regions to Hungary. In alarm, the Prague regime decided to speed up the expulsions and drive out the minorities en masse.

4. During Tiso’s trial after the war, the Prague regime indicted him for cooperating with Hitler in the invasion of Russia but was silent about the 50,000 Slovak troops who joined the Reichswehr invasion of Poland. Since the latter was carried out in cooperation with Stalin, Tiso’s role in it was a dangerous question to bring up in the courtroom.

5. A case in point is the trial of Tiso and its aftermath. The popularity of Tiso called forth widespread support for his acquittal. A number of street demonstrations took place, mostly by women inspired by the clergy. The Czech press generally predicted that the court would not condemn him to death. The reports are that the Cabinet intervened and insisted upon the death penalty. The court condemned him to death. Benes refused to pardon him and he was hanged. (Benes was denounced for his “perfidy” and “ingratitude” in Slovakia since Tiso’s support had made possible his election in 1935.) In anger, the Slovak National Council removed Dr. I. Daxner, the president of the court that sentenced Tiso. The CP members, a minority in the SNC, protested and walked out. They appealed to Prague and raised a hue and cry about the dangerous trend toward Slovak separatism represented by this act. The cabinet backed the Slovak Stalinists unanimously and decreed that the removal of a judge is unconstitutional on the basis of the old constitution of the republic! This constitution, though nominally in force, had been observed more in the breach than the application under the post-liberation regime. Though it never proved useful against the Stalinists it sometimes proved useful for them.

6. Little is known in this country about this formidable movement. It had its origins in the Ukraine during the Nazi occupation. It claims to have operated behind the Nazi lines as a guerrilla movement. The Stalinists claim that it was a tool of the Nazis. Which version is true cannot be established at present. Without a doubt it was anti-Semitic. This would not, by itself, establish that it was pro-German. The Banderovici cooperated closely with the Polish anti-Nazi guerrilla movement, which likewise was largely anti-Semitic. After the Russians reconquered the Ukraine they operated behind the Russian lines and claimed to have 100,000 in the field with light artillery. After the Russian conquest of Poland, the Banderovici passed back and forth over the Polish-Russian frontier, fighting the armies of both countries. In the summer of 1947, a Joint Russian-Polish offensive sought to trap the Banderovici. Some 50,000 tried to escape to the American zones of Austria and Germany, by way of Czechoslovakia. Only small numbers got through. The Banderovici issued newspapers and pamphlets in the territories they occupied, filled with anti-Russian propaganda. They call themselves the Anti-Bolshevik Bloc of Nations (ABBN) and use the slogan “Liberty to the nations, freedom to men.” Their leader is a legendary figure called Col. Bandera after whom they are named. Bandera is reported to have been killed in the fighting last summer.

7. The relationship between the authority of the factory committees and centralized economic planning is one of the most important questions for revolutionary socialists to resolve. Lack of clarity on this question proved to be one of the big handicaps in the Russian Revolution. The struggle to deprive the factory committees of their authority in matters of production began one year after the Soviet power was established. It continued until 1920–21, when it merged with the dispute over the trade unions.

8. This did not prevent them, however, from freezing political institutions where it was to their advantage. For instance, on March 5, 1947, the cabinet decreed that political parties were to be incorporated and that new political parties could be formed only with the permission of the government.

9. Since cabinet meetings were closed, reports of its proceedings confidential, and all of its decisions reported out as the views of the cabinet as a whole, and since these decisions were assured the unanimous support of all parties in the Assembly, at least in theory, the debates in the latter body were never full-fledged, direct presentations of differences between the parties. The deputies limited themselves to insinuations. Implications, guarded references and vigorous attacks upon anonymous evildoers. The real debates took place behind the closed doors of the cabinet’s meeting room. These gave rise to widely circulated “unofficial” reports and became a substitute for the parliamentary forum. When the CP found it necessary, as we shall show, they would flagrantly violate the confidences of cabinet discussion.

10. The old officer corps was thoroughly purged of all collaborationist elements when the Czechoslovakian army was reconstituted. However, further purges were continually being called for in the CP press. The general secretary of the CP, the Stalinist party whip. Slansky, demanded in a public speech on January 9. 1947, that: “Those [officers] who slander our republic and our Slav allies are not good Czechs or Slovaks, but agents in foreign service.” The Stalinized character of the new officers is indicated by the demand made in the Czech press during December 1946 by a number of officers that the officers’ corps be permitted representation in the trade unions.

11. The theme of his speech was to denounce those who said that the Security Corps was tainted with “Gestapoism.” “If transgressions have occurred and possibly still occur, they must be regarded as a survival of fascist-reactionary times.” The main duty of the Corps, he said, was to guard state property against theft.

12. No public official was immune from the prying of the undercover agents of the Security Police. The zeal of the Stalinists in shadowing their opponents resulted in several CP-controlled ministries resorting to this practice. This situation brought forth from Deputy Firth of the National Socialist Party the following remarks on the floor of the Assembly on June 24: “Much money can be saved by a coordination of the government’s intelligence agencies. Why should I, as a member of the National Assembly, be followed by three snoopers – one working for the Ministry of Interior, one for National Defense, and one for Information? If this sort of thing has to be tolerated, let it be done by one man.”

13. The Security Corps had been reorganized on military lines on May 21, 1947.

14. On April 1, 1947, the Central Union of Czechoslovak Students was suspended when non-Communists threatened to become the majority on the executive board.

Ernest Erber Archive   |   ETOL Main Page

Last updated: 6 July 2017