This article originally appeared in the Bulletin on December 1, 1989.
In November 1989, mass demonstrations erupted against the hated Stalinist bureaucrats in Czechoslovakia. The collapse of the Stalinist regime of Milos Jakes brought to power an unstable alliance of the Stalinist bureaucracy with right-wing petty-bourgeois political groups, attempting to restore capitalism. But the working class has not yet been heard from.
After 11 days of mass protests and demonstrations, culminating in a two-hour general strike in which virtually the entire working population participated, the Stalinist regime in Czechoslovakia has agreed to the formation of a new coalition government that will include supporters of the opposition organization, Civic Forum.
Despised by all sections of the population, the regime of Milos Jakes has disintegrated even more rapidly, and with even less resistance, than that of Erich Honecker. Ten of the 13 members of the old ruling presidium have already resigned. The president of Czechoslovakia—the same Gustav Husak who replaced Alexander Dubcek as the leader of the Stalinist party after the Soviet invasion of August 1968—has been given until December 10 to vacate his office. The National Assembly has voted unanimously to repeal the constitutional clause which has for decades guaranteed the Stalinist party’s monopoly of political power.
A mood of euphoric exhilaration now prevails in Czechoslovakia as the population celebrates the apparent downfall of the Stalinist satraps who have been ousted from power in a bloodless revolution. But this euphoria will be short-lived; for it will soon become painfully clear that the resignation of a handful of Stalinist ministers has by no means placed power in the hands of the working class, let alone cleared a path for the creation of a genuinely democratic society.
The fall of Jakes does not signify the victory of the political revolution in Czechoslovakia. Indeed, what has ended is only its very first chapter. The decisive struggles—against the Stalinists, the petty-bourgeois leaders of Civic Forum, and the mounting threat of capitalist restoration—will now begin to unfold in earnest.
First, it must be said that the Stalinist regime, though shaken to its roots, has not been overthrown. The sudden appearance of thousands of factory workers in the mass demonstrations of the past two weeks convinced the Stalinist regime that its position had become untenable. Thus, the bureaucracy—precisely in order to forestall the development of a proletarian political revolution which threatened its complete overthrow—decided to jettison its most hated representatives and enter into negotiations with the petty-bourgeois leaders of the Civic Forum.
Once it received this concession from the bureaucracy, Civic Forum called off further demonstrations and told the workers to take no further strike actions that might endanger the Czech economy.
Having successfully used the working class to bring irresistible pressure against the regime, Civic Forum is now negotiating with the desperate Stalinist bureaucrats for political and economic concessions to the privileged and influential sections of the middle class, at the expense of the Czech and Slovak proletariat.
The leaders of Civic Forum, whose best-known representative is the author Vaclav Havel, have proclaimed the dawn of a new era of democracy.
However, until now neither Havel nor any other representative of Civic Forum has offered any detailed description of the program upon which this new flowering of democracy will supposedly take place. Furthermore, the coalition government will be based on essentially the same state structure—with all the organs of repression that the Stalinists have used against the working class for the last 40 years—still intact.
The fact is that behind the fine phrases about democracy, what is being prepared by the Czech Stalinists and the Civic Forum is a reactionary program aimed at the restoration of capitalism.
In interviews given to the bourgeois press, Czech economists such as Valtr Komarek and Milos Zeman, the former is the Civic Forum’s candidate for the post of premier, have outlined the economic plans of the new government According to the Financial Times, the “bare essentials” of the program include the denationalization of large portions of Czech industry and its auctioning off to international investors who will be attracted by the prospect of a work force whose wages are 30-40 percent lower than those of workers in Western Europe.
Milos Zeman told the Financial Times that the main problem that will confront the new Czech government will be figuring out how to present its planned austerity program to the public. Zeman insisted that the new government’s plans must not be disclosed “until after the next election, when the euphoria after the election of the first democratic government can be used to tell the people the truth.”
In other words, the inaugural campaign of Czech “democracy” will be based on lies which conceal from the masses the real program that the government intends to carry out.
The implications of the economic policies now planned for Czechoslovakia and the rest of Eastern Europe have been very clearly spelled out in the Washington Post. Describing the “Challenge of Restructuring,” the Post writes: “As they dismantle the pervasive and intricate Stalinist economic system, encourage a new private sector and seek out Western investment, East European governments must plunge their societies into a whirlwind of dislocation in which high inflation, high unemployment and the emergence of sharp social and economic inequality will be painful but inevitable features.... Above all, blue-collar workers, the discontented but relatively pampered elite of Communist-ruled societies, stand to suffer through dislocation and dramatic alterations in factory work, which has ossified under socialism.”
It is one thing to draw up plans for the restoration of capitalism; it is another thing to implement them. This requires an open assault upon the working class.
Thus, the stage is already being set for the further development of the political revolution in Czechoslovakia. The social forces which up until now have been united temporarily on the basis of vague democratic demands directed against the discredited Stalinist regime will begin to define themselves more clearly and distinctly. This must lead rapidly to a parting of the ways between the Czechoslovakian working class and the petty-bourgeois democrats who presently dominate the mass movement.
Regardless of their personal “sincerity” or, for that matter, their insincerity, the petty-bourgeois leaders of Civic Forum do not have a program that can produce genuine democracy, let alone raise the social and cultural level of Czechoslovakia. Economic plans which call for the drastic lowering of the living standards will not be accepted by the working class and broad sections of the middle class, who have not entered into revolutionary struggle against the Stalinist oligarchy for the purpose of ensuring their own impoverishment.
Furthermore, the history of Czechoslovakia and that of the rest of Eastern Europe graphically illustrates the impotence of bourgeois democracy. Prior to 1939, Eastern Europe was the bastion of ultrareactionary military-police dictatorships. The bourgeois-democratic regime in Czechoslovakia was, formally speaking, an exception to this general rule. But it was in Czechoslovakia where the prostituted, venal and reactionary character of bourgeois rule found its most perfected expression.
Contrary to the prevailing myths, the incorporation of Czechoslovakia into Hitler’s Reich in 1938-39 was not merely the result of the cynical deal agreed upon at Munich between the representatives of German, British and French imperialism. The Czech bourgeoisie itself decided that a surrender to Hitler was preferable to the type of revolutionary mobilization of the masses that would have been necessary to resist German fascism. The “democratic” regime of Benes simply turned power over to the fascist military who then ceded power to Hitler.
The dissolution of the Stalinist regime will not lead to some sort of benevolent bourgeois democracy. The very fact that the petty-bourgeois leaders of Civic Forum are prepared to compromise with the Stalinist officials and leave the organs of state repression more or less intact demonstrates that these apostles of “democracy” are well aware that these organs may yet be required to quell the popular discontent that will be aroused by their bourgeois economic program.
Democracy can flourish in Czechoslovakia only if it is the product of a political revolution led by the proletariat, which destroys the bureaucratic regime and replaces it with a revolutionary regime based on democratically-organized workers’ councils. This is the task confronting the next stage of the political revolution in Czechoslovakia.
All revolutionary movements are characterized, in their early stages, by the blurring of the class lines. It is appropriate to recall Marx’s masterful description of the illusions which prevailed in the aftermath of the democratic revolution of February 1848 in Paris, which had temporarily united disparate class forces in a common struggle against the despised regime of Louis Philippe:
“At that time all the royalists were transformed into republicans and all the millionaires of Paris into workers. The phrase which corresponded to this imaginary abolition of class relations was fraternite, universal fraternization and brotherhood. This pleasant dissociation from class antagonisms, this sentimental reconciliation of contradictory class interests, this visionary elevation above the class struggle, this fraternite was the real catchword of the February Revolution. The classes were divided by a mere misunderstanding and Lamartine baptised the Provisional Government of February 24 ‘A government that removes this terrible misunderstanding which exists between the different classes’ The Paris proletariat reveled in this magnanimous intoxication of fraternity.”
It did not take long for the illusions of February 1848 to be shattered. As the proletariat of Paris began to formulate its independent socialist demands—those which expressed its essential class interests—the political gulf between the working class and both the bourgeoisie and its petty-bourgeois lackeys came to the fore. What had been the “nice revolution” of class harmony was replaced by the “ugly revolution” of class struggle. Thus, in June 1848 the bourgeoisie carried out the brutal massacre of thousands of workers in the streets of Paris.
The “nice revolution” has ended in Czechoslovakia. The “ugly revolution”—that is, the real revolution—is about to begin.
The proletariat of Czechoslovakia should place absolutely no political confidence in the rag-tag coalition of discredited Stalinists like Ladislav Ademec and Karel Urbanek and the scheming petty bourgeois of Civic Forum.
It must establish its complete political independence from both the Stalinists and the petty-bourgeois organizations. It must create genuine organs of workers’ power to prepare the overthrow of the bureaucracy and its replacement with workers’ democracy, the essential precondition for the socialist development of Czechoslovakia.