Czechoslovakia, Socialist Republic Of
- In the latter half of the 1940s, Czechoslovakia (since 1993 the Czech Republic and Slovakia) was transformed into a communist satellite state of the Soviet Union. Up until its collapse following the 1989 Velvet Revolution, the Czech regime, other than during the 1968 Prague Spring, exclusively followed Muscovite Marxist–Leninist rule. When World War II came to a close in 1945, political limits were enforced in Czech and Slovak lands that restricted the number of parties in each to four. In reality, it was the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia (CPCz) that benefited most from regional conditions, as it was able to call in support from the gigantic Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU). The postwar government, in pursuing economic recovery via the nationalization of industry and commerce, opened the way for left-wing politics to take hold, and in May 1946 the CPCz won overall control of parliament following a general election. In 1947 Moscow prevented Czechoslovakia from taking part in the United States’ recovery program, the Marshall Plan, pushing the country further toward orthodox Stalinist rule and ensuring its alliance with the communist bloc against the United States in the Cold War.Soon afterwards, in February 1948, the CPCz forcefully attained complete control of the country and set about invoking Soviet-style reforms. Opposition parties were banned, the economy was rapidly fully nationalized, collectivization of agriculture was begun and a series of purges undertaken. On 25 February 1948, the People’s Republic of Czechoslovakia was proclaimed under the leadership of Klement Gottwald, becoming the last Soviet satellite state to be born. Marxism–Leninism came to infiltrate all aspects of Czech life, with anti-bourgeois measures to rid “enemies” from the fledgling state, a clamp-down on religion, and harsh censorship of intellectual, educational and cultural life in order create ideological monism in all society. In addition to agreeing to place an emphasis on industry as oppose to consumer goods, to ensure full financial subordination to the Soviet machine, Czechoslovakia was forced by Moscow to join the Council for Mutual Economic Assistance (Comecon). As elsewhere in the Soviet Bloc, state became subordinated to party, and party to its doctrinaire, deified general secretary.There was a slight let-up in repression following the passing of Josef Stalin in 1953, with a halt brought to the secret police’s indiscriminate purges. However, this thaw lasted only until 1956, when the Polish and Hungarian Uprisings provoked a strong backlash against liberalization. In spite of this, through the following decade revisionist tendencies remained relatively strong, with concessions given to those desperate for a relaxation of state intervention in the press and the arts. Additionally, revisionists such as Ota Sik thrived as an economic downturn engendered a sense of collective anxiety among the Czech people, culminating in the replacing of the authoritarian General Secretary Antonín Novotny with the reform-minded Alexander Dubcek, and the 1968 Prague Spring. The Prague Spring, though, provoked a repressive Soviet response, and by 1969 the old order had been restored, with Moscow stooge Gustáv Husák put into power, and the period of “normalization” heralded.Despite the orthodox Marxist–Leninist oppressive culture of normalization, underground opposition movements began to grow, buoyed especially by Czechoslovakia’s 1975 signing the Helsinki Accords that appeared to guarantee a new wave of governmental respect for human rights. One such movement was Charter 77, a broad group from across the political spectrum that publicly criticized the Czech government’s failure to carry out the pledges of the Helsinki edict. The group’s action was met with brutality from the Czech regime, but they nonetheless persisted in its fight and subsequently succeeded in garnering massive public support for the cause of systemic reform. As the 1980s began, the dynamic was changing, and the 1985 ascent to power of Mikhail Gorbachev in the Soviet Union accelerated the demise of the Husák administration. The Czechoslovakian command saw its rule undermined and illegitimated by the processes of glasnost and perestroika, and by the withdrawal of Soviet support for the regime. In Czech and Slovak regions the Civic Forum and the Public Against Violence groups respectively sought to capitalize on the government’s uncertainty and bring about its collapse. In 1987 Miloš Jakeš replaced Husák as general secretary, as antigovernment protests and demonstrations broke out all over the country. Two years later, on 11 November a student protest in Prague was momentarily repressed, but spurred on by events in the rest of the Eastern Bloc, the indefatigable reformist spirit within the country continued, and as 1989 drew to a close Jakeš resigned and the end of communist rule was nigh. The regime peacefully petered out in what is commonly referred to as the Velvet Revolution, and in June 1990 the Czechoslovakian electorate, many of them experiencing a free election for the first time, returned a noncommunist government. While the People’s Republic of Czechoslovakia habitually followed the orthodox Marxist–Leninist line emitted from Moscow, a strong sense of revisionism often meant an undercurrent of dissent existed. Czech theorists such as Zdenek Mlynar sought to reverse determinist Stalinist distortions of Marxism and divert socialism in the country toward a more democratic, humanist ethos, culminating in the reforms of the Prague Spring. However, orthodoxy was con- stantly reasserted, never more emphatically so than following the events of 1968, as reforms were reversed, and revisionism extinguished until its reemergence in the form of groups such as Charter 77 toward the end of the 1970s.
Historical dictionary of Marxism. David Walker and Daniel Gray . 2014.
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