November 18, 2013
1968 was a year of internal rebellion. The three most prominent rebellions of that year were in Paris (the Paris Revolts), Czechoslovakia (the Prague Spring), and in Chicago (the events at the Democratic National Convention). This blog post will focus on the Prague Spring.
In early 1968,Alexander Dubcek took over as chief of the Czechoslovakian Communist Party (taking over for Anthony Novotny, a Stalinist hardliner). Dubcek attempted to create “socialism with a human face,” by implementing a series of political reforms. A letter from April of 1968 shows the potential reforms of the Communist Party:
In the past, the leading role of the party was typically defined as the monopolistic concentration of power in the hands of party bodies. This corresponded to the false thesis that the party is the instrument of the dictatorship of the proletariat. This harmful conception weakened the initiative and responsibility of the state, economic and social institutions and damaged the party’s authority, and prevented it from carrying Out its real functions. The party’s goal is not to become the universal caretaker of society, to bind all organizations and every step taken in life by its directives. Its mission lies primarily in stimulating socialist initiative, in showing the means and real potential of communist development, and in winning over all workers for them through systematic persuasion, as well as by the personal example of communists…
The main thing is to reform the whole political system so that it will permit the dynamic development of socialist social relations, combine broad democracy with a scientific, highly qualified management, strengthen the social order, stabilize socialist relations and maintain social discipline. The basic structure of the political system in List, at the same time, pro provide guarantees against a return to the old methods of subjectivism and highhandedness of those in a position of power.
Further, “Two Thousand Words that Belong to Workers, Farmers, Officials, Scientists, Artists, and Everybody,” or 2000 Words for short, was a short essay written by intellectuals in Czechoslovakia urging Dubcek to implement further, more liberalizing reforms. Dubcek rejected it for its radical ideas. The following is an excerpt from that essay:
After enjoying great popular confidence immediately after the war, the communist party by degrees bartered this confidence away for office, until it had all the offices and nothing else. We feel we must say this, it is familiar to those of us who are communists and who are as disappointed as the rest at the way things turned out. The leaders’ mistaken policies transformed a political party and an alliance based on ideas into an organization for exerting power, one that proved highly attractive to power-hungry individuals eager to wield authority, to cowards who took the safe and easy route, and to people with bad conscience.
Dubcek’s reforms paired with popular desire for change, collectively known as “The Prague Spring,” did not rest well with the Soviets. “The Warsaw Letter” details just what the Soviet Union was troubled by in Czechoslovakia:
The development of events in your country evokes deep anxiety in us. It is our deep conviction that the offensive of the reactionary forces, backed by imperialism, against your party and the foundations of the socialist system in the Czechoslovak Socialist Republic threatens to push your country off the road of socialism and thus jeopardizes the interests of the entire socialist system… We cannot agree to have hostile forces push your country from the road of socialism and create a threat of severing Czechoslovakia from the socialist community. This is something more than your cause. It is the common cause of our countries, which have joined in the Warsaw Treaty …
On August 20, 1968, five Warsaw Pact countries invaded Czechoslovakia (depicted in the following cartoon) at the behest of the Soviet Union and restored traditional Communist authority. The early 1970s in the Soviet Union underwent a period of “normalization,” or de-reformation.
In this cartoon, it is obvious that the Warsaw countries are meant to look as if they are not on the side of the innocent Czechoslovakians.
Czechoslovak Communist Party, Action Program. April 1968
found at: http://www.soviethistory.org/index.php?page=article&ArticleID=1968czcp1&SubjectID=1968czechoslovakia&Year=1968
TASS, The Warsaw Letter. July 18, 1968
found at: http://www.dhr.history.vt.edu/modules/eu/mod05_1968/evidence_detail_14.html
Two Thousand Words that Belong to Workers, Farmers, Officials, Scientists, Artists, and Everybody
Cartoon: “A Fairy Tale of Five Brothers”