To mark the 40th anniversary of the invasion of Czechoslovakia, we are here reprinting an article by Alan Woods, first written on September 4, 1968, and published in the Winter edition of the Spark, in which he clearly relates the momentous events that shook the Stalinist regimes and explains their significance.
The Meaning of Dubcek
The movement in Czechoslovakia began last summer with a stormy session of the Czech Writers' Union, which endorsed resolution in support of the protest of the Soviet author Solzhenitsyn against censorship, and affirmed that their work would 'never serve a strictly propagandist function'. The ferment among the Czech intelligentsia rapidly spread to the students, who demonstrated in the winter when the electricity failed and the lights went out in their hostels. They paraded through the streets with posters bearing the cryptic slogan: "Give us light."
The Secret Police brutally attacked the demonstration, wounding several students. It was a measure of the nervousness of the bureaucracy then that they strove to pacify the students by offering to pay the hospital bills of the injured demonstrators. This offer was met by the bold demand that those responsible for the outrage must be punished and the press must publish all the facts about the incident. The student leaders warned that if the papers did not tell the truth they would march to the factories and explain the facts to the workers.
The split in the bureaucracy and the fall of Novotny which followed these events cannot be explained simply by the actions of the writers and students, but must be seen against a background of the slowing down of economic growth and the crisis of the Czech economy in the last few years. The crazy attempt on the part of the various national Stalinist bureaucracies of Eastern Europe to build socialism in 'their own' countries has led to a situation where each state attempts to construct every branch of industry 'independently' and without consideration of the inevitable restrictions imposed by the old capitalist national boundaries.
Thus, throughout the Fifties, the Czech bureaucracy tried to force the development of heavy industry, to the detriment of consumer production, leading to a chronic imbalance between industry and agriculture, a lop-sided development of industry itself, chronic shortages of consumer goods, and unbelievably, actual overproduction in a nationalised, planned economy! The myopic planning 'from above' which decreed production of heavy industrial products, and still more heavy industrial products, together with all the inefficiency, bungling and mismanagement of a bureaucratised economy, led to the widespread stockpiling of goods, which often became useless.
The necessity of 'meeting the plan' led to the replacement of quality with quantity: so that those consumer goods which were produced, could not be sold on the world market, while their price put them beyond the reach of the Czech workers. A State Commission in 1964 reported that of 4,000 production lines inspected in 50 factories, only one-third could be judged of competitive standard. The Czech economy, which had been the showpiece of the Stalinist world in the Fifties, was grinding to a halt, clogged with bureaucracy.
The need to rationalize the economy, plus fear of the consequences among the Czech workers of a further slowing down of the productive forces, led to a split in the upper layers of the Czech bureaucracy and the emergence of the Dubcek wing of 'reformers', so beloved of the Western capitalist press. For Marxists, however, all this journalistic sentimentality must be replaced by a simple question: whom did Dubcek represent? Whose interests did his programme serve?
What was Dubcek doing in all those years of Novotny Stalinism? Why was it only in 1967-68 that he found his tongue and suddenly discovered all the evils of the old regime? Some of his 'liberal' friends had very sudden conversions indeed. For instance, Jiri Hendrych, the Party spokesman on cultural affairs, who in January was preaching sweetness and light and calling for 'fresh approaches' to the creative intelligentsia, at last year's Writers' Congress, stormed out of the hall, with the words: "I have finally reached the end of my patience with your people." Subsequently, he was behind the expulsion from the Party of a number of militant writers.
The main plank of Dubcek's programme was economic reform. His proposals broadly agreed with the 'Libermanist' policies introduced in East Germany in 1963 and in Russia in 1965. Under the scheme the directives from the central plan would give way to plans drawn up by individual enterprises or associations of enterprises. Far from abolishing the privileges and wealth of the bureaucrats, Dubcek aims to increase the wage differentials, to grant 'incentives' to the factory managers. The move is, in fact, a Bonapartist manoeuvre on the part of the tops of the regime to balance on one set of bureaucrats (the factory managers, 'technologists', etc.), as against a different layer (state bureaucrats).
An article in the 'Sunday Times' (21st July) graphically revealed the social stratum on which Dubcek leans for his stable support. In an interview, a Czech factory director gave, his reasons for backing the new leadership:
"We have much more freedom now in this factory. We don't have the same old idiots interfering in our production. We can find our own customers. We don't have any problems with spare parts or deliveries.
But wages are a problem. The average worker gets 2,100 crowns monthly (roughly £50), but the engineers only get six per cent more. We need a differential of at least 30 per cent...
We have our own army and police. If somebody tries to wreck socialism here in Czechoslovakia, our police and army can deal with them. We don't need the Russians to help us..."
The contemptuous attitude of our 'liberal' factory director to the workers stands exposed in the next episode.
At this point the telephone rang and Mr Kalousek answered it. Afterwards he turned to me with a sigh and said: "It's one of the workers wanting to ask me about a new resolution. You know I don't agree with making these resolutions, even though I agree with what they say. People get all excited, work stops and that costs money."
Novotny attempted to appeal to the factories for support and to turn the working class against the 'bourgeois intellectuals'. Early this year, Western newspapers reported that many workers were suspicious of Dubcek, and with good reason. It is true that the 'Libermanisation' of the Russian economy, as expected by the Marxists, has had the immediate effect of boosting the Soviet economy. Last year the gross industrial production of the USSR grew by 10, the highest figure since 1959. There has been a marked improvement in the production of consumer goods. But Khrushchev's reforms of 1957 also had a similar effect-before the 'decentralisation' ended up with an orgy of corruption and dislocation which led to a sharp about-turn and the fall of Khrushchev himself.
If one takes the case of Yugoslavia, which Dubcek and Co. have held up as a model for the Czechoslovak economy, the future of the present 'Libermanist' escapade can be seen as a mirror. In 1965, the Yugoslav bureaucracy carried the process of decentralisation and 'rationalisation' to its further lengths. Then, too, the Yugoslav economy spurted forward: it enjoyed the highest growth rate of all the Stalinist states, excluding China.
What is the position today? Production in many sectors is at a standstill. Central planning has almost broken down. In 1967 production was expected to rise by 9, and instead fell by 0.4. Decentralisation has led to increasing conflicts between enterprises, dislocation of the economy, and a wave of inter-enterprise law suits for the recovery of bad debts! Worst of all, we are confronted with the spectacle-in a "socialist" country -of 300,000 unemployed-not counting 400,000 Yugoslavs who cannot find work in their own country and have to work in capitalist enterprises in the West!
Undoubtedly, Dubcek's economic reforms would, in the last analysis, work against the interests of the Czech workers. Competition between state-owned enterprises would mean that the numerous unprofitable factories would go to the wall, producing large-scale unemployment, especially in the more backward region of Slovakia.
From the outset, Dubcek aimed to enlist the support primarily of the intellectuals and students, who have been the most vocal in his support. The Czech bureaucracy was clearly frightened that the ferment among the intelligentsia would spread to the workers. The lessons of the "Crooked Circle" in Poland and the "Petöfi Circle" in Hungary, whose agitation sparked off the violent mass movements in 1956, was not lost on Dubcek and the other bureaucrats. They were prepared to grant concessions temporarily, especially to the intelligentsia, in order to preserve their own privileged position. These reforms were far less sweeping than the reforms carried out by Gomulka in 1956. Why then did the Russian bureaucracy choose to intervene?
The first thing which alarmed Brezhnev and the leaders of the Russian bureaucracy was the rapid development of the mass movement in Czechoslovakia. For all the timidity of Dubcek's reforms (it now emerges that Dubcek himself was a 'compromise' candidate of the Central Committee, i.e. not even the most radical of the bureaucrats!) they undoubtedly acted as a catalyst to the profound feelings of discontent that were welling up in the working class.
The split in the bureaucracy precipitated an unparalleled outburst of discussion, protest meetings and demonstrations. In every factory, college and village a furious discussion raged. From all over the country resolutions poured in demanding the sacking of Novotny and the speeding up of reforms. For the first time, meetings of the CP themselves were the scene of noisy discussions, criticism and even the removal of candidates from the official lists. An attempted coup of Novotny followers merely acted as a whip to stir up the masses further. The movement was gathering impetus. The bureaucracy was forced to swim along with the current, to grant reform after reform.
The fear of the Russian bureaucracy that the mass movement in Czechoslovakia would get out of control emerges very clearly from the text of the letter sent from the Warsaw meeting of Russia and her four allies which alleged that:
"The forces of reaction, taking advantage of the weakening of the party leadership of the country, abusing demagogically the slogan of democratisation, unleashed a campaign against the CPC and its honest and devoted cadres, with the open intention to liquidate the leading role of the party, to undermine the socialist system, to set Czechoslovakia against the other socialist countries."
The Kremlin feared that Dubcek and the "honest and devoted cadres" of Czech Stalinism would be unable to control the movement and that had been unleashed by the split in the leadership. Above all it feared for "the leading role of the party", i.e. it feared the emergence of new workers' parties, which would provide a genuine socialist alternative to Stalinism: the letter continued:
"Political organisations and clubs formed recently outside the framework of the National Front have in fact become headquarters of the forces of reaction. The social democrats stubbornly demand the creation of their own party, organise underground committees strive to split the working-class movement in Czechoslovakia, to reach out for the leadership of the country with the aim of restoring the bourgeois system."
The accusation that the Socialist system in Czechoslovakia was threatened by "forces of reaction" wishing to restore capitalism is the usual contemptible formula used by the Russian bureaucracy to frighten the workers of the East into line in a crisis situation. Brezhnev and other CC members did their best to "prove" the point by a series of frame-ups in the best Stalinist tradition. Thus the news of the famous "arms dump" of West German weapons was issued by the East German radio before the Czechs had announced it!
On July 30th, the workers' committee of the Auto-Praka factory issued a statement denouncing as a forgery a letter in 'Pravda', purporting to be from the factory, which condemned Czechoslovakian calls to withdraw Soviet troops. For all the clumsy allegations 'Pravda' has not been able to prove the existence of any group, journal or party in Czechoslovakia that has called for a return to capitalism.
But the Warsaw letter did name one group which it regarded as particularly dangerous, namely the group of 80 intellectuals and workers calling for the speeding up of democratisation, in the document known as the "Two Thousand Words". This "platform of counter-revolution", as the Warsaw letter calls it, advocated the use of strikes and demonstrations to speed up the purge of Novotny men still in office. The Russian press waxed indignant at the suggestion that strikes could take place "under socialism". But Lenin explained as early as 1921 that in a workers' state with bureaucratic deformations the workers have the right to defend themselves, even against their own state-and that was in a relatively healthy workers' state.
As to the "leading role of the party" which, the Stalinists assert is a "fundamental principle of Leninism", this too is a downright distortion. As one Czech leader correctly pointed out on television, Lenin was always in favour of the existence of several Soviet parties as a necessary safeguard for workers' democracy. After October, the only Party that was suppressed was the fascist Black Hundreds. Even the bourgeois Cadet Party was not immediately banned. It was only the pressure of the Civil War and the intervention which forced the One-Party state on the Bolsheviks, as an unwelcome measure, to be terminated as soon as possible. Only after the victory of the Stalinist counter-revolution, which took power out of the hands of the working class and into the hands of a privileged caste of officials, was the "Leninist principle" of the One-Party state discovered.
The Stalinist bureaucracies of Russia and Eastern Europe fear strikes like the plague because these can grow into a movement to overthrow their rule. Even more do they fear the growth of political organisations around which can rapidly crystalise an alternative socialist programme to the caricature of socialism that exists in these countries.
The heavy pressure from the Kremlin produced the desired response in Prague. Replying to the Warsaw Letter, the Presidium of the Czech Party hastened to assure their Soviet comrades that:
"The number of fears expressed in the letter were also expressed in the resolution of our May plenary session of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia."
The letter agreed that "extremist tendencies" and "the remnants of anti-socialist forces in our society" were at work and that these "prevent us from achieving only those results in our political work which we ourselves wish." But the letter goes on to warn Brezhnev against trying to put back the clock in Czechoslovakia, for fear of provoking the working class.
"Any indication of a return to these methods would evoke the resistance of the working class, the workers, co-operative farmers, and intelligentsia. The party would, by such a step, imperil its political leading role and would create a situation in which a power conflict would really arise."
The "liberal" faction realised quite clearly that to continue to use the old methods of rule by the mailed fist and club was out of the question. If the concessions and reforms created a dangerous situation for the bureaucracy, then an attempt to enforce the old methods would be ten times more dangerous. When a whole people stands up and says "No", no force on earth can move them.
The immediate intention of Dubcek was to grant concessions, which, while removing the worst causes of discontent, left intact the power and privileges of the ruling clique:
"In general, the Party has been able to overcome political demagogy in these questions which attempted to utilise the justified demands of the workers to disorganise our system and which fanned an impromptu movement in the name of 'workers' demands' in order to make the economic and political situation in our country more difficult. At the same time...we are solving some urgent social and political problems such as the increase of low pensions and urgent wage increases."
The Czech leadership fully agreed with the Russian comrades in the condemnation of "campaigns and unjustified slanders against various functionaries and public officials- including members of the new leadership of the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia-which are conducted from extremist positions both left and right." It condemned the "2,000 words which urge people to engage in anarchist acts and to isolation of the constitutional character of our political reform." But again, the Czech bureaucracy warned that the suppression of these "extremist tendencies" could not take place immediately. The September Extraordinary Party Congress would work out new laws on political parties and of "unofficial" groups, clubs and parties.
The pressure from Moscow must not be seen as the cause of Dubcek's "backsliding". From the very beginning, Dubcek's main consideration was to head off and restrict the movement of the Czech masses. While, with the one hand, in the wake of the new movement of protest, the "liberals" were hurriedly throwing out concessions, they were repeatedly warning the workers to "avoid another Hungary at all costs".
Appeals for "calm" and "patience" and "dignity" have been a constant and monotonous theme of the new regime in its attempt to lull the masses into passivity. But as the pressure from the other frightened bureaucratic cliques stepped up, so the Czech bureaucracy began retreating step by step, from the limited concessions that had been made.
After the notorious "Bratislava Agreement", the Czech press was warned off printing articles "too critical" of the Soviet Union. Earlier General Pochlik was removed from his post as head of the defence department of the Central Committee for his public criticism of the Warsaw Pact, and a purge of the Czech press was already underway.
At a meeting together with Ceausescu in Prague on August 16th Dubcek denounced petitions calling for the abandonment of the Peoples' Militia (police): "We need order in our country," he said. "The meetings in Prague (i.e. public discussions), if they continue, will have a negative effect on the democratisation progress." ('The Times', August 17th). Clearly, the Czech bureaucracy was taking very seriously the warnings of their fraternal Soviet comrades to "put their house in order".
Why the Kremlin invaded
The movement in Czechoslovakia was nowhere as highly developed as the movement in Hungary or Poland in 1956. There were no workers' councils, nor were the workers armed, as in Hungary, where the Russians intervened.
But even in Poland in 1956, there was a general strike and an insurrection in Poznan! Yet the Russians allowed Gomulka to control the situation by means of reforms in Poland in 1956, but could not allow Dubcek to do the same thing in Czechoslovakia in 1968. Why?
The answer is to be found, partly, in the changed international balance of class forces since 1956. The intervening period has seen the monolith of world Stalinism shattered into pieces by a series of splits along national lines. In a very striking manner, Trotsky's prognosis of 1923 has been confirmed in the 1960s: that the theory of "socialism in a single country", which substituted the narrow, national interests of the Russian bureaucracy for those of the international working class, would inevitably result in the nationalist degeneration of the Communist International.
Since the events of 1956, the Stalinist bloc has suffered the split-off of China, which has led, not to the creation of two Stalinist camps, but to the opening up of a whole spectrum of "national roads to socialism".
With the Sino-Soviet split, the policies of the Rumanian and Yugoslav bureaucracies, Gomulka's "Polish Road", etc. the stranglehold of the Russian bureaucracy over the other bureaucracies and also over the CPs of the West has greatly weakened. The extent of the degeneration can be gauged from the frantic attempts of the Russian bureaucracy to drum up support for a world meeting of CPs for the purpose of a solemn excommunication of China.
Compare this to the ease with which Stalin was able to expel Yugoslavia from Cominform and the difference is clear. Nowadays, even the Castro bureaucracy in Cuba, resting on the narrowest basis of any Stalinist state, can afford to assert its "own" road to "Socialism", as can be seen from the purge of the pro-Moscow wing of the Cuban CP in January of this year.
Even more significant was the Budapest Conference of CPs in March. Only 67 Parties even bothered to attend, as against 81 in 1960.
Cuba, Yugoslavia, N. Korea and N. Vietnam were absent. Rumania walked out; of the Asian Communist Parties only the pro-Moscow Indian Communist Party attended.
In the past decade, Stalinism has suffered a series of blows which have undermined its power and prestige internationally. No longer can the "Moscow Line" command the blind fanatical adherence it had before the war.
But far more important even than this fact have been the developments amongst the masses of Eastern Europe and Russia itself. The ferment among the Russian writers is only the tip of the iceberg as far as the discontent of the masses in Russia itself is concerned.
It is an amazing comment on the weakness of the bureaucratic regime in Russia that 50 years after the revolution a whole period of so-called "de-Stalinisation" and "Thaw", after all the promises about "building Communism in 20 years", it has to sentence writers to hard labour for the crime of demanding the implementation of the Soviet Constitution. But far more significant than the writers' trial earlier this year was the stream of protests by Soviet intellectuals that followed the sentences.
The grandson of the famous Soviet diplomat Litvinov issued an open letter condemning the trial, and signed his own name and address in open defiance of the secret police. The son of the Soviet general Yakir, murdered by Stalin in the infamous purges, issued a similar protest, in which he warned that Stalinism still existed and called for the re-habilitation of Leon Trotsky.
Yakir also signed his name and address. After the protests, the Bureaucracy clamped down hard in an attempt to gag the intelligentsia. The works of Alexander Solzhenitsyn who only a few years ago was hailed by the Soviet press as "a new Dostoevsky" have been banned. Solzhenitsyn had been leading the campaign against censorship and for freedom of the arts in Russia.
The developments in Czechoslovakia could not be tolerated because of the effect they would have upon the Soviet people, starting with the intelligentsia. The effect upon the Ukraine, which borders on Slovakia and which has been seething with discontent in the last eighteen months, would be particularly serious.
The abolition of the censorship in Czechoslovakia would leave the Russian bureaucracy without any grounds to resist the insistent clamour of a growing number of Soviet intellectuals to remove the dead hand of bureaucratic control from literature and the arts. But far more serious would be the effect on the working class itself.
The free airing of opinions in the press would provide a focal point for organised expressions of discontent, leading inevitably in the direction of a new programme and a new party. Already in Russia there are hundreds and thousands of underground study circles, where workers read and draw their own conclusions from the works of Lenin, which are still distributed in editions of hundreds of thousands in the Soviet Union.
The tragedy of Czechoslovakia was that the Czech people found themselves leaderless, disarmed and unprepared. The Dubcek clique preferred to see the country occupied rather than arm the working class. For all his brave words, Dubcek was prepared to eat dirt, rather than risk sparking off the spontaneous mass movement of the working class.
None of Lenin's safeguards remained
The glaring contrasts between Soviet reality and the ideas of Lenin is becoming clear to all. The 1919 Programme of the Bolshevik Party, drawn up mainly by Lenin, laid down the following basic pre-requisites for workers' power, not "under Socialism", not "under Communism"-but in the very first stages of Soviet power, in the period of transition from capitalism to socialism:
Free and democratic elections, with the right of recall
No official to receive a higher wage than a skilled worker
No standing army, but the armed people
No permanent bureaucracy: "Every cook should be able to be Prime Minister".
Of these elementary safeguards of workers' democracy, not one remains in force in Russia and Eastern Europe today. That is why the movement of the workers in the East inevitably takes up the demand for a return to Lenin, not back to capitalism, but for the purging of the Soviet state of bureaucrats, careerists and parasites, for a genuine socialist workers' democracy.
In Czechoslovakia, as in Hungary in 1956 (where the workers actually set up workers' councils to rule the country, Soviets in all but name) the working class would undoubtedly have moved in this direction. Already, in at least one Czech journal, the idea of Soviets (i.e. genuine, democratic organs of workers' power) had been put forward. In the course of events, the workers would have learned by their own experience the need to by-pass the limitations imposed on them by the Dubcek clique.
The Hungarian workers in 1956 came late on the scene, after the stage had been set by the movement of the students and intellectuals, but when they did intervene, they went farther than the "liberal" bureaucratic Nagy and Kadar had forseen. The movement transcended the "calm", "dignified", "constitutional" nonsense of the Nagys and Dubceks and became a genuine workers' revolution; not a social counter-revolution to overthrow the Socialist property relations, but a political revolution to oust the bureaucracy and establish a healthy democratic workers' state.
That movement of the Hungarian workers was only crushed by the tanks of the Russian bureaucracy at tremendous cost and effort. Now, in 1968, they were faced with an awkward choice: to intervene would mean yet another terrible blow to the power and prestige of world Stalinism; not to intervene would probably lead to an even more dangerous situation for the bureaucracy, and one which will not stop at the borders of Czechoslovakia.
The invasion bears all the hallmarks of a sudden, panic move. The behaviour of the Russian leaders over the past months has been inconsistent, vacillating, dilatory. There may even be some substance to the speculation of bourgeois commentators about a split in the bureaucracy.
At all events, the invasion of Czechoslovakia must not be seen as proof of the strength of the Russian bureaucracy but as a move dictated by fear, a move that demonstrates beyond doubt the extremely shaky basis upon which Russian and East European Stalinism exists.
On the face of it, the appearance of Russian tanks in the streets of Prague spelt immediate and inevitable defeat of the movement in Czechoslovakia. But such a conclusion is fundamentally false. Of course, if one approaches the question from a purely military angle, then all talk of resistance by the Czechs to the mighty army of Soviet Russia, with its overwhelming superiority of men and resources, would be ridiculous.
But for Marxists, military factors by themselves cannot be decisive in war. If that were the case, then the young Soviet republic, which at one stage was reduced to two provinces, around Moscow and Petrograd, would have been crushed by the twenty-one armies of intervention. But this did not happen.
Why were Lenin and the Bolsheviks able to emerge victorious from the Civil war against overwhelming odds? The answer lies in the clear internationalist position of the Bolsheviks and the class appeals that were made to the workers in uniform of the foreign armies of intervention. The result of the Bolshevik propaganda and fraternisation on the already demoralised troops led to mutinies in the armies of intervention which became "infected" with "Bolshevik influenza".
A genuine Leninist leadership would have prepared the Czech people for the eventuality of an invasion, both politically and militarily. The confrontation of the Red Army by an armed working class, organised in Soviets, would have had a tremendous effect on the Russian workers in uniform.
As it was, numerous eye-witness accounts told of the bewilderment and demoralisation of the Warsaw Fact troops, as the realisation dawned on them that they had been duped by their leaders. There were instances of Russian troops breaking down and weeping in the streets, protesting that they did not even knew they were in Czechoslovakia, that they did not wish to fight the Czech workers, etc. In such circumstances, fraternisation based on clear class, internationalist lines would undoubtedly have led to massive disaffection in the Red Army.
Even without this, it is a measure of the complete demoralisation of the troops that whole units had to be withdrawn after one week of occupation. But no army, no matter how demoralised, can be expected to mutiny unless a strong alternative is clearly posed.
The Czech workers and students showed their instinctive grasp of the need to fraternise. But mere passive resistance is not enough. The interventionist troops should have been made to feel the absolute determination of the Czech people to fight to the death if necessary to defend their gains. They should have been confronted with a force so implacable as to encourage them to disobey the officer with his pistol at their back. Without such a confrontation, the officer caste can always force the workers in uniform into line with the threat of the firing squad.
Also, in relation to the propaganda used by the Czechs, much of it was of a nationalist kind that would have no appeal to the Russian troops. Slogans like "Ivan go home", while undoubtedly having a demoralizing effect, would not be capable of winning the foreign workers in uniform as did the internationalist propaganda of Bolshevism.
The tragedy of Czechoslovakia was that, at the crucial moment, the Czech people found themselves leaderless, disarmed and unprepared. The perfidy and cowardice of the Dubcek clique which preferred to see the country occupied rather than arm the working class, is a clear indication of the real interests of this group. For all his brave words, Dubcek was prepared to eat dirt, rather than risk sparking off the spontaneous mass movement of the working class.
The workers will grasp the lessons of 1968
It is a measure of the cowardice of the Czech bureaucracy, and its fear of the workers, that even industrial action was ruled out, except for a one-hour stoppage. The French events demonstrated how quickly a "calm", "dignified" strike (i.e. a strike controlled and restricted from above) can develop into a revolutionary movement.
In the course of a general strike, workers' councils emerge, embryo organs of workers' rule, and that eventuality could not be allowed by the bureaucracy. It is characteristic of the 'liberal' bureaucracy that they used the only remaining weapons in their hands-the so-called "free" radio stations, as a means of appealing for "calm" and "dignity"-i.e. as a means of preventing all resistance to the invasion.
Undoubtedly the Soviet intervention is a defeat for the Czech working class and for the whole movement in the direction of political revolution in the East. The Russian bureaucracy clearly realises that it is impossible to put the clock back completely and restore the Novotny clique, and is prepared to permit the continuation of "liberalization"-from above, and strictly under control. Dubcek was dragged off, manacled to Moscow and grilled by his "fraternal Soviet comrades", who presented him with an alternative: do a deal or go to jail.
And Dubcek, that courageous 'liberal', who solemnly swore to his people that there was no question of going back on the gains that had been made, took the only 'honorable' solution-and returned to Prague! All talk of withdrawing Soviet troops is so much dust thrown in the eyes of the Czech workers. In fact, all that will happen is that troops will disappear from the public eye-perhaps from the cities altogether. But they must remain, as safeguard against the Czechoslovak workers.
Already there are reports of some 800 Russian agents operating in government offices in Czechoslovakia, as they did formerly under Stalin. A tight rein will be kept on Dubcek and friends, in case they give way to pressure from below once more. A number of "reformers" who have been compromised by their statements in recent months have been sacked.
Censorship has been restored. Ominously Pravda has called for the arrest of some 40,000 'young counter-revolutionary thugs'. Doubtless, the arrests and deportations have already begun. Crowds of intellectuals have fled the country. Unfortunately, the workers, as always, have no such easy escape routes; they must stay and suffer the consequences.
The immediate effect of the invasion on the Czech workers will clearly be one of demoralisation and disillusionment. With all the strategic points occupied, with all the levers of power in the hands of Soviet officer caste, no resistance is possible at this stage, although the series of provocations staged by the Russians may provoke clashes in which the Czech workers, leaderless and unorganised, will suffer a bloody defeat.
But in spite of the temporary demoralisation, the Czech workers will have learned important lessons from the present events. The experience of the reality of Dubcek's "reforms" will push the workers in the direction of a new alternative.
Already, during the invasion itself, slogans appeared such as "Lenin wake up, Brezhnev has gone mad". In one demonstration in Yugoslavia, two placards were carried, one of them with a portrait of Lenin and a caption: "He would never have done this", the other of Stalin, which read: "This is what he would have done".
Without doubt, certain sections among the workers and students of Czechoslovakia will already be groping forward to a new anti-bureaucratic programme, a programme which can only be based on the democratic ideas of Lenin and the Bolsheviks. The present mood of defeat will give way to a new movement on a higher level.
Even bourgeois commentators understand that the decisive force in Czechoslovakia has not yet had its say. A recent article in the Sunday Times (4 September) summed up the situation well: "Paradoxically intellectuals began the liberation movement with little worker support and now the workers are showing the strongest determination while the intellectuals run for the border with their prudently acquired exit visas. Maybe there will be a government in exile, but it will be less relevant than a campaign of resistance launched and conducted by the workers."
Eastern Europe in Turmoil - effects rock Stalinist parties
The intervention of Russian tanks temporarily halted the movement in Czechoslovakia. But, as Alan Woods pointed out at the time, "The rule of the bureaucracy now represents an absolute fetter on the development of the planned economies of Russia and Eastern Europe. The needs of the people can no longer be met by a system whose every pore is choked by bureaucracy, mismanagement and waste."
The movement in Czechoslovakia has not ended. It has barely begun. We are witnessing the beginnings of the political revolution in Eastern Europe. The Czech events, although far less advanced than the Polish and Hungarian events of 1956, have shaken to the core every one of the bureaucratic cliques in Eastern Europe and Russia.
In March, as a direct result of the ferment in Czechoslovakia, riots broke out in Poland, in which at one stage, a crowd of 10,000 people wrecked the Ministry of Culture, shouting "long live Czechoslovakia", and battling with the police. And whereas in 1956, the students and workers sang Polish nationalist songs, in 1968 they began their demonstration by singing the 'Internationale'.
Subsequently, the "liberal" committee, with dastardly cynicism, attempted to whip up the most rotten anti-semitic prejudices of the Polish people in order to discredit the movement, to prove that it had no support among "Poles" and "workers". And yet, the figures, published later, of those arrested, showed that out of 1,208 only 367 were students. The rest were described as "hooligans".
In Poland, as in Czechoslovakia, the bureaucratically-run economy has ground into an impasse. Over the last two years, wages have been frozen, while prices are soaring. In the six months prior to the March demonstrations, the cost of living practically doubled. Most of the concessions granted by Gomulka in 1956, (who at that time was being idolised by the Western press, and even by certain self-styled "Trotskyists") have either been watered down or taken back altogether.
The growing discontent and impatience of the workers, and especially of the youth, could easily erupt into action if only a lead were given. That is the explanation of the brutal suppression of the student demonstrations in Poland.
Even more significant were the recent disturbances in Yugoslavia. Inspired by the French events, and influenced by the crisis of the Yugoslav economy and the wide-spread suffering of the masses, students in Belgrade staged protest demonstrations against the wealth and privileges of the bureaucracy, demanding the equalisation of salaries, an end to the power of the "red bourgeoisie" and to the policies of breaking up the planned economy and handing back the state-owned property to private owners.
The students even took over a whole suburb and ran it for a time. The students' leaflets received an enthusiastic reception from the workers. Newspapers reported people standing in groups, studying and discussing the views expressed. Such was the sympathy of the whole population, that violent repression was out of the question. The "arbiter" Tito had to step forward and promise to "look into" the students' demands.
Wherever one looks in Eastern Europe, the picture is one of increasing restlessness of the masses, expressed first and foremost among the intelligentsia. The intelligentsia in general, and the students in particular represent, as Marxists have explained, a most sensitive barometer of social discontent: this is doubly and trebly true of Eastern Europe and Russia, where the overwhelming majority of students are not, as in the West, part of the privileged minority of society, but the sons and daughters of workers and peasants.
The growing unrest, on the one hand, and the increasing nervousness of the bureaucracy on the other was clearly revealed at the recent World Youth Festival in Sofia, where the usual rigged Stalinist puppet-show of "Peace and Friendship" gave way to splits, disagreements and open violence, when the Bulgarian police beat up a number of delegates and cameramen.
The Bulgarian authorities, apart from anything else, were probably worried about the effects of the discussions on their own workers-who had been squeezed to pay for the lavish extravaganza when in January, by decree, the prices of all necessities of life were doubled, and bank savings above a certain amount confiscated by the government.
The Czech events cannot but exercise a powerful influence on the people of Eastern Europe and Russia. In particular the thousands of Russian, East German, Polish, Bulgarian and Hungarian troops stationed in Czechoslovakia will carry home the "bacillus of revolution". A week after the invasion, the effects were already apparent in the most repressive Stalinist regime in Eastern Europe, East Germany.
Attempts by Ulbricht to get the East German workers to sign petitions in support of the action of the Warsaw Pact met with refusals to sign. Hundreds of people entered the Czech embassy and other buildings of Czech delegations in defiance of the government, which had surrounded these buildings with police.
There was even a demonstration of 4,000 workers at Eisenhüttenstadt protesting against the invasion.
In spite of all the ravings of the Ulbricht press, the jamming of Western broadcasts and the banning of Czechoslovak German language newspapers, the truth has seeped through to the East German working class.
The intervention of Russian tanks has temporarily halted the movement in Czechoslovakia. But the movement of the workers of the East against bureaucratic rule can break out anywhere, causing a new and even deeper crisis of Stalinism. The rule of the bureaucracy now represents an absolute fetter on the development of the planned economies of Russia and Eastern Europe. The needs of the people can no longer be met by a system whose every pore is choked by bureaucracy, mismanagement and waste.
In Russia itself, for all the striking progress that has been made by the nationalised, planned economy, the figure for wastage of production has been put as high as 30-50%. Along this road, no further progress can be made. The needs of the planned economies themselves demand an end to the rule of the parasites and the introduction of a democratic plan of production to meet the needs of the people themselves.
Such a plan could only succeed on the basis of a Socialist Federation of Eastern Europe and Russia. The continuation of the old capitalist national divisions is the most powerful brake on the productive forces of Eastern Europe. It is a monstrous distortion of socialism that "socialist" Rumania and "socialist" Russia actually have territorial disputes.
It is crazy that, while East Germany suffers from a shortage of labour, there are 400,000 Yugoslavs who have been forced to seek work in the capitalist West. Earlier this year, "Peoples' Bulgaria", suffered from a labour shortage which means that some enterprises only work at 45%-50% capacity (The Economist 20 Jan) while over the border in Yugoslav Macedonia, where the people speak the same language, there is mass unemployment.
Most criminal of all is the spectacle of Russian and Chinese divisions facing each other over a completely artificial line drawn up in the last century by the Russian Tsar and the Chinese Emperor! The Russian bureaucracy is desperately trying to force or cajole workers away from Moscow and Leningrad to develop the enormous potential wealth of the Far East, while forcibly deporting Chinese who try to enter this area.
The survival of these senseless antiquated national divisions is not the result of "nationalism" among the working classes of the East. They were never consulted about it. It is purely and simply the result of selfish greed and narrow nationalism of the bureaucratic cliques, who are not prepared to sacrifice an inch of "their" territory, to share their privileges, power and income with the other bureaucrats.
Only by putting an end to the rule of the bureaucracy will the workers and peasants of Russia, Eastern Europe and China be able at last to link hands in a mighty Socialist Federation, which would open up the road to a tremendous development of the productive forces, combining all the wealth, resources and know-how of three continents, as the first step in the direction of a socialist world.
One of the most far reaching effects of the Czech events will be the speeding up of the process of the nationalist degeneration of the Stalinist parties. In 1956 the Communist Parties lost thousands of members in the splits that followed the crushing of the Hungarian Revolution.
Now the Communist Party leaders are not prepared to carry the can for the actions of the Russian bureaucrats. Coming hard on the heels of the sell-out of the French Communist Party in May, the Czech events have again split the foreign Communist Parties as a single glance at the letter column of the 'Morning Star' shows.
The British Communist Party along with the French, Italian and other Parties has dissociated itself from the Russian action. It could hardly be otherwise, after Gollan (the General Secretary) had described the Bratislava Agreement as proof of "the everlasting union of socialist countries".
Nevertheless, the explanation of the Czech events put forward by the British Stalinists is false through and through. They try to portray the conflict as a "mistake" on the part of the "Soviet comrades". In the same way they previously described the crimes of thirty years of Stalinism as a "mistake" and the mistakes of a single man, at that!
In place of a serious analysis they talk about "tragedy" and shed crocodile tears, pretending that this was the very first instance of such an action in all the spotless annals of Russian Stalinism! (Morning Star 22nd August).
But for Marxists the task is "neither to weep nor laugh, but to understand". The Communist Party leaders are incapable of explaining the event to their rank-and-file. To do so would be to analyse the role of the bureaucracies which they have consistently defended for forty years.
Like the Czech bureaucrats themselves, they describe the confrontation with Russia as a "disagreement between friends", a "family quarrel". The "disagreements" of the Stalinists are expressed in the eloquent language of tanks, planes and guns! Such an "analysis" is an insult to the intelligence of Communist Party members.
Confusion reigns in the ranks of the Communist Parties. Unprepared theoretically for the shock of the Russian invasion, and disoriented by systematic miseducation in the last period, sections of the Communist Party rank-and-file have attacked the leadership and defended the Russian action. In a confused manner, even those Communist Party members who support the Russians are groping in the direction of a thorough reappraisal of the ideas of the Communist Party leaderships.
Sooner or later, they will understand the necessity to return to the basic theoretical positions of Marxism, to the works of Marx, Engels, Lenin and also Leon Trotsky, who alone defended these ideas against the lying distortions of Stalinism after the death of Lenin. Only in this direction will the Communist Party comrades find the answers to the problems which have split and disorientated the Communist Parties in the last period.
Field day for capitalist propaganda
As in 1953 and 1956, the capitalist press has had a field-day, exploiting the Russian invasion of Czechoslovakia as "proof" of the barbarity of Communism, the impossibility of combining socialism and democracy, etc., etc.
The resulting depths of cynicism to which the representatives of "Western Democracy" can sink is typified by the crocodile tears of Johnson, who is waging a barbarous war against the people of Vietnam on behalf of World Imperialism. The words "Freedom" and "Democracy" on the lips of these gentlemen are made to smell rotten.
While the imperialists and their friends shed bitter tears over the fate of the "poor Czechs", they are not prepared, of course, to lift a finger to help. And with good reason. They know perfectly well that all the Kremlin's propaganda about "counter-revolution" in Czechoslovakia is a downright lie.
They are well aware that the workers and peasants of Eastern Europe are not fighting to restore capitalism but to create genuine workers' democracies. The capitalists have no interest in allowing that to happen. Quite the reverse. They are only too pleased to see the Russian bureaucracy crush the workers of Eastern Europe-while taking full advantage of the cheap propaganda provided to discredit socialism.
The authorities in the west know very well that revolution is no respecter of frontiers. The strike movement in the East could easily spark off a sympathetic movement in the West, with disastrous consequences for capitalism. In every single case where the workers have risen up, capitalists have looked on with delight as they were gunned down by the troops of the bureaucracy.
For decades now, the capitalist class in the West and the bureaucracy in the East have leaned on each other for support.
On the other hand, the capitalists were able to utilise the crimes of Stalinism to discredit the idea of socialism and communism in the minds of the workers. Hungary, the Berlin Wall, and now Czechoslovakia, all these crimes of the Russian bureaucracy have dragged the banner of Marxism-Leninism through the mud, and made the words stink in the nostrils of the workers of the world.
On the other hand, the monstrous actions of American imperialism in Vietnam, the crushing of the independence movements and the brutal suppression of the negroes in America, the stockpiling of nuclear arms and the memory of 20 million dead in the war with Nazi Germany are used by the bureaucracy to frighten their own workers into supporting such actions as the present intervention in Czechosloakia.
In this way, the ruling strata of East and West lend each other stability in the face of their respective working classes. The theories of "peaceful co-existence", "bridge-building to the East", "détente", etc. are evidence of the growing awareness of this fact by both sides.
While it will never be possible for two irreconcilably contradictory social systems to arrive at a final agreement, nevertheless, in the present perilous state of both world capitalism and Stalinism, they are prepared to lend each other a hand to preserve the status quo and to guard against worse to come.
Thus, the Russian gentlemen had the "courtesy" to inform the Western bosses in advance of their intention to invade. The American capitalists, for all their fulminations and protests, had no more intention of intervening in Czechoslovakia than had the Russian bureaucracy of assisting the development of the revolution in France earlier this year.
As for the suggestion raised by the Tory reactionaries in this country that Britain should boycott Russian products. Well...our main import is timber, and that happens to be very cheap... Other produce is also very useful... In the end the suggestion was seriously made to boycott Russian caviare!
The period of the last twenty years has led to the stabilisation of imperialism in the West and the bureaucracies in the East, and to the isolation of the Marxists from the masses. But now, in a manner which could hardly have been foreseen, the revolutionary movement is coming to a head in all the main areas of the globe simultaneously.
The real balance of forces on a world scale is strikingly revealed in turn by the events in Vietnam, France and Czechoslovakia. The capitalist system is thoroughly rotted. From being a progressive system, which rapidly developed the productive forces of the world, it has turned into its opposite.
In the East, too, Stalinism has entered into a phase of crisis, which threatens not only the parasitic Stalinist cliques of the East, but also the capitalist systems of the West.
Where will the next revolutionary upheaval occur? Poland? Spain? Greece? Brazil? The capitalists and Stalinists await the future with trepidation. They have forfeited their right to continue to rule the world as, more and more, their rule becomes an obstacle to the development of production, culture, humanity. They know that any upheaval, East or West, threatens to upset the whole delicate equilibrium upon which their "stable" rule rests.
The movement of the workers of the advanced capitalist countries or the political revolution against the bureaucracy in the East will put an end of the barbarous nightmare of Stalinism and capitalism and place on the order of the day a new and humane social system, in a Socialist World Federation.
- Czechoslovakia 1968: 'Lenin wake up, Brezhnev has gone mad' by Alan Woods (May 18, 2000)
- Dual power in France - A Militant leaflet, May 1968
- Revolutionary days - May 1968, a personal memoir by Alan Woods (May 13, 2008)
- The French Revolution of May 1968 – Part One by Alan Woods (May 1, 2008)
- The French Revolution of May 1968 – Part Two by Alan Woods (May 1, 2008)
- The French revolution has begun by Ted Grant (August 1968)
- [Audio] 1968 - Year of Revolution by Alan Woods (May 21, 2008)
- [Audio] Italy 1969: the Hot Autumn by Fred Weston (May 13, 2008)