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Henry Judd

World Politics

Czechoslovakia: Stalin’s Next

(1 March 1948)

From Labor Action, Vol. 12 No. 9, 1 March 1948, p. 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

It is the misfortune of Czechoslovakia and its six million people to lie in the shadowy No Man’s land between Western Europe and the region of the Iron Curtain. But if Stalin has his way, the Iron Curtain will shortly hang west of this unfortunate land, and its descent will be unmistakable and final. Regardless of the tempo at which it proceeds, Stalinism has launched a definitive campaign for inclusion of Czechoslovakia within the sphere of Russian imperialism, and it must be recognized that its chances of victory are only too great.

The background of the long-expected crisis is simple. The country has, since the war’s termination, come steadily under the influence and pressure of Russia, even though no occupation troops are now in the land. Czechoslovakia has been an instance on which the major effects of Stalinism have been felt through the medium of the Czech Stalinist party itself, once the stage had been set by the original Russian occupation. In the elections of May 1946, the Stalinists received the largest vote and became the plurality party, with 114 out of 300 seats in Parliament. Together with the Social Democrats (a large part of which is under Stalinist control) they had an absolute majority, but they preferred – until now – -to rule through a National Coalition government of five parties. The Stalinists represented in 1946 slightly under 40 per cent of the popular votes. Their game since then, obviously, has been to sap and undermine the bourgeois parties of the coalition, while simultaneously winning over or paralyzing a majority of the Social Democracy, until they felt they could exercise power in their own name. That moment evidently is at hand.

What is happening in Czechoslovakia is nothing less than a calculated move for the seizure of totalitarian state power by the Stalinists, together with the crushing of all opposition, and the erection of a totalitarian state, entirely within the sphere of Russian influence, parallel to the Stalinist states already created in Poland, the Balkans, etc. This crisis has been deliberately precipitated by the Stalinists. The arrival of Soviet Deputy Foreign Minister Valerian A. Zorin as “advisor” tells us much. Stalin has decided to end the coalition farce and pluck the apple. The crisis began over the issue of the police and its control. The Stalinist Minister of Interior had been appointing Stalinists as police chiefs. The non-Stalinist parties, recognizing the beginning of the end for them in these moves, protested and last week resigned. But President Benes, still attempting to hold the coalition together, has refused to accept these resignations and insists that the government continue. The Stalinists, of course, wish the resignations accepted and members of the CP appointed in place of the resigned ministers. They also demand the formation of a so-called Social-Democratic-Communist government. We say “so-called” because the divided Czech Social Democracy is either exclusively under Stalinist domination today, or numb with fright. Behind these parliamentary issues, of course, lies the vital and real question of State-Power – who shall be master in the house?

How Stalinism Seizes Power

There are two basic questions that concern socialists in the Czech events – how the Stalinists operate in their march toward power; how can this Stalinist counter-revolution be defeated, and by whom?

The Stalinist road to state power is marked by the use of blackmail, threats, violence and coercion in every, shape and form possible. Kidnapping and jailing of opposition leaders, bribery of Social Democratic leaders with jobs and privileges, police violence against opponents’ meetings – all of this is familiar now as weapons in the Stalinist arsenal. Behind all this hovers the menacing shape of the Russian armed forces, able to invade and overwhelm the nation at will.

But all these are techniques, methods and, as such, are subordinate to factors far more important for socialists to grasp. These weapons alone could never put Stalinism in power in Czechoslovakia or, for that matter, anywhere else. Together with their use, Stalinism must

  1. mobilize the working masses of the country and,
  2. offer a political and social program that will actually mobilize the workers. This is what concerns us for it is this that differentiates Stalinism from for example, an openly fascist movement. It is being employed to the hilt in Czechoslovakia.

A general strike of labor is to build up mass support for the demand of Premier “Stalin” Gottwald that a majority Stalinist cabinet be accepted by President Benes. This climaxes mass public meetings called in response to the Stalinist manifesto “to good Czechs and Slovaks to join closely in a firm National Front which would secure support for the government of Klement Gottwald and guarantee enactment of all demands which are in the interest of the republic.” A convention of 8,000 works council delegates from factories dominated by the Stalinists will likewise build up toward the climax while, at the same time, political terror is directed against the Social Democracy to precipitate its internal split and force its “left wing” to join openly with the Stalinists. The game is played on many fronts at the same time. We are dealing with men motivated by power drives, desperate and calculating, determined to see the thing through. A national peasants’ convention has likewise been called, but, in this case, not by the official Peasants’ Congress (which is non-Stalinist in its majority), but by the Stalinist elements who, of course, will claim to represent the entire peasant mass.

Pseudo “Dual-Power” Possible

Precisely how Stalinism will manipulate these masses whose movement it has thus artificially created is something that remains to be seen. It depends upon how quickly and in what form the Social Democracy and the other coalition parties capitulate. There is no question that the Stalinists are prepared to go to the end this time, and may even create a pseudo, Stalinist-controlled “dual power” regime, in the form of the Labor and Peasant organizations, to push aside the Benes Parliament and openly rule in its own name. It seems unlikely that matters will go this far since the bourgeois parties, divided and weakened, unable to get any real aid from America and the Western powers upon whom they depend, cannot be expected to offer lasting resistance.

And by what means are these masses being mobilized? Here again we see another unique weapon of great importance, that differentiates the Stalinists from their blood brothers, the fascists. That weapon is the demand for nationalization of industry. Those pitiful thinkers of the official Fourth International who have (and still do!) described such regimes as exist in Czechoslovakia as “state capitalism; an alliance between the Czech capitalists and Stalinists,” had best spend one moment contemplating reality.

All Czech industry is now 75 per cent nationalized, under state operation and control, yet the Stalinists now actively demand that the government nationalize every industry in the foreign and wholesale trades with more than 50 workers – that is, that the 25 per cent balance likewise be nationalized! The Czech bourgeoisie, about to be politically expropriated and soon to find its properties entirely state owned, this bourgeoisie is alleged by some to be the ruling class to which Czech Stalinism has capitulated and with which it has allied itself!

The events in Czechoslovakia, rapidly approaching their final dénouement, demand a more extensive analysis than we can offer here. Profound lessons as to the character and nature of Stalinism must be made. Those American liberals who informed us about the happy marriage of Stalinism with Western Democracy, as symbolized by the Czech National government of Benes, must have the truth shown to them. Those socialists who think of “nationalization” as synonomous with socialism, ignoring its use by the Stalinists as a weapon for creation of their totalitarian state, must again be subjected to the demand that they re-examine their attitude. And those who believe that the bourgeois parties, the liberal parties of Benes arid his type, can halt the march of Stalinism must be made to answer the reality of events.

Propositions in an Analysis

As our contribution to an analysis of these events, we offer the following-propositions:

  1. In countries where Stalinism can count upon, directly or indirectly, the imminent support of Russian, imperialism, its total victory is inevitable. By victory we mean the total seizure of the state and its apparatus. The issue in Czechoslovakia today is state power; unlike France of three months back, it is not intertwined with working class economic demands. Stalinism, at present, cannot take power in those countries whose bourgeoisie can count upon the support, in a tangible way, of American imperialism.
  2. Stalinism cannot rule together with other parties over any extended period of time. The essence of its totalitarian character lies in the fact that it must have total power; nothing less will do. No matter how meek and subservient the other coalition parties are, Stalinism must destroy them and rule exclusively in its own name.
  3. The greatest threat in the nature of Stalinism lies in its capacity (based upon organic need) to mobilize the working masses, in the name of a social program (nationalization) which appears to be revolutionary and progressive.
  4. Capitalism, the bourgeoisie, capitalist parties cannot fight Stalinism successfully. Stalinism will defeat its opponents except where American imperialism is the counter factor, in every case because the capitalist parties are politically and socially bankrupt and cannot halt the Stalinist mobilization of the people.
  5. A completely re-oriented socialist movement, grasping the true nature of Stalinism in all its implications, is needed to halt Stalinism. The greatest need for such a movement is, above all, in Europe where the threat of Stalinism is strongest.

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