The 1960s saw a time of great change throughout the world as it was fully engulfed in a cultural and political revolution. One such revolution that changed the course of socialism took place in Czechoslovakia, in what is commonly referred to as The Prague Spring of 1968. Czechoslovakia’s attempted period of change and improvement began with the removal of Antonin Novotny and the promotion of Alexander Dubcek as the first Secretary of the Czechoslovak Communist Party. Among Dubcek’s goals, he planned to amend the constitution to bring back a sense of greater personal freedom and political democracy. He revised the constitution and promoted the “Action Program” to increase civil rights and liberties, to end censorship, which would subsequently allow Czech citizens to criticize the government as they saw fit, reform the economic system based on the socialist market, and to restrict the powers of the secret police. What resulted was the chaotic, yet peaceful Prague Spring. This revolution, involving intellectuals, students, workers and farmers showed support for Dubcek’s leadership through strikes and the formation of workers’ councils.
Although Dubcek aimed to scale down the oppressive facet of the government, it is important to note that he still promoted the Czech Communist Party and wanted to reassure the Soviet government that Czechoslovakia fully intended to remain in the Warsaw Pact. Despite this promise, Brezhnev saw the changes in Czechoslovakia as a threat to the future of the Warsaw Pact and to communism as a whole. The USSR met with other countries of the Warsaw Pact including Poland, East Germany, Bulgaria and Hungary on several occasions. One such meeting occurred on July 14th in which the party leaders of the respective countries wrote a letter to the Czechoslovak Party. This letter outlined the risks of such a counterrevolution by admitting that “the development of events in [Czechoslovakia] evokes deep anxiety.” The letter further detailed how it was the common cause of the countries involved in The Warsaw Pact to protect the dissolution of socialism.
Another meeting took place on August 3rd in which the infamous Brezhnev Doctrine was formulated. In the document is written that “each Communist party is free to apply the principles of Marxism-Leninism and socialism in its own country, but it cannot deviate from these principles… the weakening of any of the links in the world system of socialism directly affects all the socialist countries.” This very clearly states the strict guidelines to being a member of the Warsaw Pact and is very explicit in its argument that socialism is dependent upon every country remaining true to the type of government.
Despite these warnings, the Soviets invaded Czechoslovakia on August 21, 1968 with the aid of other countries of the Warsaw Pact. A total of 500,000 troops from the Soviets, Poland, Hungary, Bulgaria and East Germany defended Brezhnev’s ideal of repressing the Prague reforms, more commonly referred to as “normalization.” The invasion ended with the removal of Alexander Dubcek as the party leader and a swift end to the numerous reforms made within Czechoslovakia including the re-introduction of censorship. The invasion, although relatively bloodless, gave the rest of the countries of the Warsaw Pact a very straightforward message. Moscow made it clear that they were not going to tolerate democracy of any sort among the Communist nations and the invasion of the Prague Spring by members of the Warsaw Pact helped the Soviets emphasize that the rest of the members of the union were steadfast in their convictions as well.
The Prague Spring of 1968 became a symbol for the tightening of socialism’s fist through the denouncement of any sort of democracy. The Soviet invasion of Prague followed Alexander Dubcek’s ideas of reform in his proposals of decreased censorship and increased government criticism. The invasion was meant to give not only Czechoslovakia, but all the members of the Warsaw Pact, the reminder that socialist countries were to remain a part of the Warsaw Pact and that they also needed to remain socialist in every way, on pain of death. Dubcek’s vision of “socialism with a human face” was crushed in every way, but the “soul of communism” saw its demise as well.
Kovalev, Sergei. “The International Obligations of Socialist Countries.” Seventeen Moments in Soviet History. http://www.soviethistory.org/index.php?page=article&ArticleID=1968kovalev1&SubjectID=1968czechoslovakia&Year=1968
Siegelbaum, Lewis. “Crisis in Czechoslovakia.” Seventeen Moments in Soviet History. http://www.soviethistory.org/index.php?page=subject&SubjectID=1968czechoslovakia&Year=1968&navi=byYear
“TASS, The Warsaw Letter.” Seventeen Moments in Soviet History. http://www.soviethistory.org/index.php?page=article&ArticleID=1968spring1&SubjectID=1968czechoslovakia&Year=1968