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Frank Demby

Await Nazi Move in Czechoslovakia

Hlitler Threat Arouses Extreme Nationalistic Fervor;
Workers View British Efforts with Skepticism

(August 1938)

From Socialist Appeal, Vol. II No. 35, 27 August 1938, p. 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

PRAGUE, Czechoslovakia, Aug. 10. – This magnificent city, the juncture between East and West, has been literally overwhelmed by an influx of newspaper correspondents since the beginning of this month – the occasion, of course, being the arrival of Lord Runciman and his entourage. On the surface, Prague is calm; the people do not seem unduly excited in view of the critical situation. They know, at least, that regardless of the results of Runciman’s mission, there will be no war while Runciman is here, so they calmly pursue the even tenor of their ways, take vacations, sip their beer in the many pleasant cafes and talk – mainly of the Russo-Japanese situation, rather than of Runciman and Hitler, whom they would like to forget.

The experienced observer, however, is not fooled by the easy-going disposition of the Czechs. There are countless bits of evidence which reveal the tension beneath the surface and explain the highly surcharged atmosphere of Prague, when compared with London or Paris. One can stroll any evening down the stately Vaclavske, Prague’s Broadway and Fifth Avenue, and notice the number of soldiers who walk briskly past, saluting each other. The population, from capitalist to worker, eyes them with pride. One can almost read behind the gleam in their eyes their obvious thoughts: “There go our soldiers. Look how strong and well-trained they are. If Hitler thinks that he will take Czechoslovakia like he took Austria, he is making a big mistake. We will fight, everyone of us; and our army, almost a million strong, is the best-equipped in the world.” How many times now have I heard such thoughts from the lips of various people, representing every social strata and class!

Speak No German

It is obvious that an intense wave of nationalism and patriotism has swept over this small, elongated state, artificially created by the Treaty of Versailles, and now already half inside the jaws of Hitler’s Greater Germany. Instances are too numerous to mention, but one made a profound impression upon me. I knew that Czechoslovakian is a Slavic language and would be so much gibberish to me, but I did not anticipate any language difficulties as I took it for granted that almost everyone in Prague would speak German. Time after time German drew no response at all. Finally, I asked a comrade to explain this. He replied: “Oh, yes! Most Czechs speak German, but they will not do so nowadays if they can avoid it.”

The reasons for this chauvinistic sweep are not hard to find. Hitler’s annexation of Austria made the Czech bourgeoisie realize that they were next. Relatively far more powerful and clever than the Austrian bourgeoisie, the Czech bourgeoisie was determined to fight for the preservation of their internal imperialist domain, the right to exploit the nine millions of Germans, Slovaks, Ruthenians, Hungarians, etc., who comprise a definite majority of the total population of 15,000,000. When the general mobilization was called on May 21, there were many misgivings in foreign capitals, even, it is rumored, in the Presidential Palace. Only the General Staff of the Army was confident that the mobilization could be achieved. They knew the strength and training of the army, and the superiority that the famous Skoda munitions works gave them. It turned out to be a master stroke. Everything went off like clockwork. In some towns in the Sudeten areas when soldiers began to appear, they thought it must be the advance guard of Hitler’s legions The Henleinists turned out to welcome them, only to be immediately disillusioned. Hitler took pause and decided that that was not the moment. The result was to raise Czech patriotism to a feverish pitch.

Class Lines Forgotten

But far more important than the strategy and propaganda of the bourgeoisie in the development of the nationalistic spirit here has been the complete degeneration and capitulation of the mass workers’ organizations, the Communist Party, the Social Democracy and the trade unions. They have completely solidarized themselves with Benes in an unwritten People’s Front and, with the exception of the German Social-Democratic Party (in Sudeten Czechoslovakia), have abandoned even making a pretext to fight for the self-determination of the national minorities.

While the Stalinist apparatus is concentrated in Prague, having nothing at all in the Sudeten areas, its 40,000 members wield a far greater influence proportionately than the 180,000 members of the Czech Social Democratic Party and the 40,000 German-speaking Social Democrats. It is important to note, however, that while the Stalinist influence is on the increase, it is largely amongst the intelligentsia and the petty-bourgeoisie. Prague is already the second (next to Spain) largest concentration point of the G.P.U., outside of Russia, and the gangster apparatus, although a present quiet, is waiting for the time when it will be more politic for it to move more openly and freely.

In fact, it is only the small voice of the Fourth International that is raised here against the dictatorial war plans of Czechoslovakia and the chauvinistic poison that has been injected into the bloodstream of the proletariat by these so-called workers’ leaders.

Economic Crisis

The present crisis is equally re vealed, although perhaps not so dramatically, in the economic field. True, the two gigantic enterprises of Czechoslovakia, the Skoda munitions works and the Bata shoe factories, are still showing profits, but at a diminished rate. The currency is depreciated, the Czech kronen being placed in the category of the “blocked currencies,” along with the German mark and the Italian lire. This makes it quite advantageous for foreigners to visit but in spite of this the tourist trade of Czechoslovakia, which annually draws hundreds of thousands to its famous baths, has dwindled to practically nothing, and most of the baths are closed.

Unemployment is increasing steadily, and the government has made absolutely no provision for relief. “Join the army or starve” is, in reality, the slogan of this “democratic” government; and of course, neither the C.P., S.P nor trade unions lift a finger in defense of the unemployed. As a matter of fact, the trade unions controlled by the Social Democracy, do not even exercise the strength which their number permit them, working hours being very long and wages low. The average Czech worker earns about $5.00 a week; Czechoslovakia may be a tourist’s paradise but hardly a worker’s. In true Rooseveltian Popular Front style the entire burden of the crisis and the war preparations is placed on the backs of the workers.

What will Runciman do? This question I have propounded to many workers. Invariably they reply: “I don’t know. We hope for the best, but we do not expect anything from him.” In this, the Czech workers show admirable good sense and a healthy distrust for the chicanery of British diplomacy. The newspaper correspondents are beginning to chafe at the lack of news, but those on the inside predict that these conversations of Runciman will bring the Henleinists and the Government together over the same table, the object being a formula which will appease the situation for a time, as the notorious lag in England’s rearmament has even handicapped her in trying to achieve the Four-Power Pact. The difficulties are many.

Believe War Inevitable

England has no qualms about giving Hitler Sudeten Czechoslovakia. After all, it doesn’t belong to her, but it must be done “peacefully.” That requires time. Can Hitler wait a year to carry out the policy of peaceful penetration that is to be proposed? Moreover, while the Czech government is quite willing to grant the Nazis almost a free hand in the municipal administrations in the Sudeten area, such proposals will weaken their authority considerably, and they have already indicated that they will insist that control of the police, army and financial departments in the Sudeten cities remain in their hands. Whether Runciman can find a formula (and any formula must be at the expense of Czechoslovakia) that will be agreeable to both Henlein and Benes remains to be seen. The population here is skeptical, but in any case it believes that war is inevitable, and sooner rather than later.

Meanwhile, absolutely no steps are taken by the government to arm the workers or to solve the nationalistic problem in an effective manner. Nor can any capitalist government do so, without unleashing a workers’ revolution. It is this that the Fourth International realizes, but which the Czech workers do not yet realize. The instinctive hatred of the workers for Hitler is legitimate and progressive. But they must be made to realize, as the new united organ of the Fourth International, Proletarske Noviny, points out that Hitler cannot be defeated, nor the independence of Czechoslovakia maintained, without at the same time pursuing an intransigent policy of class struggle against the Czech bourgeoisie. Only a workers’ state, part of the United Socialist States of Europe, can save Czechoslovakia.

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