Ústav pro soudobé dějiny AV ČR, v.v.i.
Československá cesta k socialismu? / Czechoslovak Road to Socialism?
In this analysis of the strategy and tactics of the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia from 1945 to 1948, the author considers how, in its policies, the Party applied the notion of the so-called ‘special road’ of liberated Czechoslovakia to a Socialist system. He asks how, after the Second World War, the Party could gain such mass support. He sees one of the reasons for its success in its pragmatically and flexibly choosing strategy and using the heightened popular national feeling in combination with the widely acknowledged ideal of social justice. The historical roots of the Czech notion of the country’s distinctive orientation towards socialism and its attractiveness, argues the author, are in the second half of the nineteenth century, when left-wing and nationalist ideas were promoted and linked together in Czech society and politics. Their symbiosis then had a strong effect during the whole existence of the first republic. The Chairman of the Party, Klement Gottwald (1896–1953), like other members of the leadership, described the contemporary situation after May 1945 as a ‘national and democratic revolution’ and the ‘building of a people’s democracy’, in which, however, the accent was on their special character. The author finds the first use of the slogan ‘the Czechoslovak road to socialism’ in speeches of Communist Party representatives in autumn 1946, and he considers the decisive moment for its formulation to be the victory of the Communist Party in the general elections of May 1946, when the top-level members of the Party convinced themselves that it was possible to remake Czechoslovakia into a Socialist state by following a peaceful road of increasingly radical reforms, without the violence or ‘dictatorship of the proletariat’ of the Soviet model. In practice this idea was expressed in the slogan about the struggle to win over the majority of the nation, which was meant to ensure the Communist Party more than fifty per cent of the vote in the next elections. The author points to the importance of the international context, particularly the attitudes of Moscow, which, as Stalin said, declared that it agreed to the notion of different roads leading to socialism in different countries, depending on the local circumstances in each. The fundamental turnaround in Kremlin policy in summer and autumn 1947, reflected particularly in the founding of the Cominform (Information Bureau of the Communist and Workers’ Parties), was projected into the strategy of the Czechoslovak Communist Part, when, in the struggle for power, it began, in addition to elections, to plan alternative approaches using pressure and violence. Ultimately these were effectively employed in the February 1948 takeover, which the author examines from the viewpoint of reports by Soviet diplomats and bureaucrats. Though the Czechoslovak Communist Party leadership did not explicitly reject the Czechoslovak road to socialism, after the Soviet-Yugoslav split and the establishment of a more hard-line course by the Kremlin in autumn 1948, it completely abandoned the Czechoslovak road and adopted the Soviet model of Socialism. The author sums up by saying that although the superficial and undeveloped concept of the Czechoslovak road did indeed exist for a while in Czechoslovak Communist Party policy, it was only intended for the purpose of taking power peacefully and was essentially a tactic to make the road to Communist dictatorship appear democratic.
The author concludes with the Soviet document ‘O nekotorykh oshibkakh v deyatelnosti Kommunisticheskoy partii Chekhoslovakii’ (Concerning some mistakes in the activity of the Czechoslovak Communist Party), presented here in Czech translation as a supplement to the article. The author demonstrates the importance of the document by discussing particular changes in Czechoslovak Communist Party policy in accord with Soviet ideas. This long text, highly critical of the Czechoslovak Communist Party leadership, was drawn up by three officials of the apparat of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU), L. Baranov, V. Moshetov, and A. Antipov, on 5 April 1948, for Mikhail Andreyevich Suslov (1902–1982), the head of the foreign policy department of the Central Committee. (The document was published in Russian in T. V. Volokitina et al. (eds), Vostochnaia Evropa v dokumentakh rossiiskikh arkhivov 1944–1953 gg., vol. 1: 1944–1948 gg. Moscow and Novosibirsk: Sibirskii Khronograf, 1997, pp. 831–58.) The report focuses on several areas – Party strategy in the power struggle and its declared aims, the internal building up of the Party, nationalities policy and agricultural policy –, and it reproaches the Czechoslovak leadership for a number of mistakes and shortcomings. The report sees the greatest mistake in the Czechoslovak Communist Party’s orientation to a peaceful road to Socialism without class struggle or victims, in its overrating of parliamentary forms of struggle and underestimating the importance of the revolutionary rising up of the masses. It also criticizes the mass expansion of the membership base of the Czechoslovak Communist Party, which it considers to be a rejection of the Bolshevik principles of the organizational building up of the Party. The report condemns the leadership of the Czechoslovak Communist Party (and other parties before the February takeover) for its nationalities policy when dealing with the German and the Hungarian minorities in Czechoslovakia, because the leadership ignored Leninist-Stalinist approaches to this question. The Czechoslovak Communist Party leadership, according to the authors of the report, were guilty of similar deviations on the peasant question, because it had failed to work out a ‘scientific’ solution and did not strike at the very foundations of capitalism in the villages. In the conclusion of the report, the authors state that the Czechoslovak Communist Party should have re-examined its theoretical starting points and practical policy, and they set out the terms and conditions that the leadership had to meet in order to rectify the situation in the Marxist-Leninist spirit.
In this article the author starts from the notion of ‘national roads to Socialism’ in its two fundamental meanings – the political-tactical and the theoretical. He seeks to demonstrate, using the Czech example, the complicated dynamic development of the central themes of the ‘ideological whirlwinds’ of the twentieth century which are concentrated in the terms ‘revolution’ and ‘national emancipation’. To this end he focuses on two important Czech Communist political thinkers and activists – the historian, musicologist, and minister in post-war Czechoslovak governments, Zdeněk Nejedlý (1878–1962), and the philosopher and essayist Karel Kosík (1926–2003) – each of whom, with regard to their generations and their lives in general, represents a different Czech radical left-wing intellectual approach to the challenges of his times. Each man, in his own distinctive way, sought to formulate the prerequisites and conceptual framework of the Czechoslovak, or Czech, ‘national road’ to Socialism, but also to warn about pitfalls. With his early post-Second World War conception of Czechoslovak Communists as the heirs of progressive national traditions, Nejedlý sought to show how the legacy of the Hussite Revolution of the fifteenth century and the National Awakening of the nineteenth century was currently relevant to Communist policy. Indeed, on the whole he succeeded in linking it with Communist Party efforts to achieve the historical legitimation of their government and thus create the official framework of the interpretation of Czech history which remained authoritatively valid throughout the 1950s. Kosík, by contrast, first attempted, from radically left-wing positions, to work out alternative, implicitly polemical conceptions of national revolutionary continuity, which sought inspiration amongst Czech radical democrats and their revolutionary expression in 1848, and he thus became, from the late 1950s, one of the chief representatives of Marxist revisionism in Czechoslovakia, a philosopher-critic of Stalinism and the dehumanization of modern man and woman under the pressure of abstract ideologies and the apparatus of power and the bureaucracy, eventually earning the reputation of the philosopher of the Prague Spring of 1968. The author does not seek to portray these two figures exhaustively; instead, his aim is to provide the basic contours of how each tried to solve the dilemma between the nationally particular and the revolutionarily universal, which all Communist and radical Socialists thinkers of their time faced and somehow had to come to terms with. The author sets the intellectual and creative development of these two figures into the wider political context from the end of the Second World War to the Prague Spring.
This article is concerned with the formation of the culture of experts, which played an important role in the process of shaping institutions and mechanisms of government in Czechoslovakia in the 1950s. The author explores how Czechoslovak legal theorists continuously intervened in the process of ‘building Socialism’. He begins by considering the development of the institutional basis of jurisprudence in the structure of the Czechoslovak Academy of Sciences. Using the example of the Institute of State and Law at the Academy, he demonstrates how social-science institutions were created to meet the demands of new, socialist scholarship, and also to demonstrate the growing importance that expert knowledge had for State Socialist government. In the second part of the article, he considers debates about the ‘Czechoslovak revolution’ and ‘people’s democracy’, providing insight on the theoretical basis of Socialist scholarship on the State and law. The debates, which lasted several years, demonstrated that a key area of disagreement was the question of adapting Marxist-Leninist theory to Czechoslovak conditions and Czechoslovak historical experience. It was also clear from the debates that the most important form of Socialist government was, in the theorists’ view, the Socialist State as an institutional consequence of revolutionary transformation and the indubitable organizational framework of people’s democracy. The last part of the article discusses legal theorists as experts and considers their role in the framing of the ‘Socialist Constitution’ of 1960.
This article is the third, and last, in a loosely conceived series by the same author, and printed in Soudobé dějiny, which consider the nature of Communist régimes, particularly in Czechoslovakia. (See Karel Hrubý, ‘Kontinuita nestejného: Sporné závěry z nesporně dobrých analýz Matěje Spurného’ [Continuity between Unlikes: The Doubtful Conclusions of Matěj Spurný’s Undoubtedly Good Analyses], Soudobé dějiny, vol. 20 (2013), no. 4, pp. 628–40, and ibid., ‘Rozpaky nad výkladem komunistické diktatury: Kritické poznámky k projektu “Socialismus jako myšlenkový svět”’ [Baffled by an Interpretation of the Communist Dictatorship: Critical Remarks on the ‘Socialism as Sinnwelt’ Project], Soudobé dějiny, vol. 21 (2014), no. 3, pp. 382–404.
The author searches for an answer to the question of whether the political and social system launched in Czechoslovakia in late February 1948 maintained its totalitarian nature throughout its existence, or whether, in its later phases, it had already become another type of totalitarianism, or had even developed into a quite different kind of undemocratic or authoritarian régime. The author develops the topic, which is still a matter of dispute, against the background of changing theoretical reflections on Communist régimes. He first recapitulates the main criticism of ‘revisionist’ historiography regarding the lack of classic models of totalitarianism, and he comments on some of their competing interpretations, pointing out how later versions of the totalitarianism theory problematicized or weakened some of the ‘revisionist’ criticisms, and also how they reacted to the changes that began after Stalin’s death in 1953. By comparing the two main approaches – one that declares that there is such a thing as totalitarianism, the other that rejects such a notion (or at least suggest its revision) –, the author traces the connections between the individual phases that the Communist dictatorship and society passed through in Czechoslovakia from 1948 to 1989. He thus seeks to discover the extent to which the preserved structures and operations of the totalitarian way of ruling (dictatorship) changed or remained the same since the initial period (post-February 1948), and, at the same time, endeavours to discover how, over the decades, political ideas and value systems were preserved or, by contrast, changed in the consciousness of society. Conceptually, the author starts from the definition of post-totalitarianism which appears in the later works of the political scientist Juan José Linz, and thus, after the end of Stalinist totalitarianism, he distinguishes in Czechoslovakia the period of early post-totalitarianism, the late 1960s attempt to reform the system, the Husák years of hard-line post-totalitarianism, and the post-totalitarianism of the late 1980s decline. In his opinion, the ‘Normalization’ régime in Czechoslovakia, although weakened and increasingly dysfunctional, maintained many of the totalitarian structures (political, security, economic, social) and practices (of power, ideology, surveillance, and repression) until its collapse, unlike the régimes in Poland and Hungary, where totalitarianism was slowly eroded.
In this article, the author replies to three historians, Petr Mareš, Vít Smetana, and Jan Koura, who, in the previous issue of Soudobé dějiny, reviewed the English and Czech editions of his most recent book, On the Edge of the Cold War: American Diplomats and Spies in Postwar Prague, New York: Oxford University Press, 2012, which was published in Czech translation as Československo nad propastí: Selhání amerických diplomatů a tajných služeb v Praze 1945–1948, Prague: Prostor, 2014. In Mareš’s article, ‘Historie ve službách příběhu’ (History in the Service of the Story), Soudobé dějiny, vol. 22 (2015), nos. 3–4, pp. 504–23, Lukeš finds a balanced assessment of his book and some thought-provoking remarks. He accepts some of Mareš’s criticism, but also challenges some of it. At the core of the discussion is Laurence A. Steinhardt, the post-war US Ambassador to Czechoslovakia, and his role in post-war Czechoslovak politics. Lukeš criticizes Steinhardt mainly for his having been derelict in the performance of his duties and for giving preference to his own private interests over those of his country, which, according to Lukeš, Mareš relativizes. With Koura’s contribution, ‘Selhání, nebo spíš změna amerických priorit? (A Failure or the Declining US Interest in Czechoslovakia?), ibid., pp. 540–46, the author questions how much importance to attribute to US public diplomacy in post-war Czechoslovakia. The reviewer’s criticism, that the author neglected the initiatives of the US Embassy in this area, does not, according to the author, stand up to scrutiny, because those attempts amounted to too little too late. The author devotes most of his reply to Smetana’s review, ‘Na pomezí historického románu’ (Almost a Historical Novel), ibid., pp. 524–39), which he considers to be biased, unfair, and unfriendly. He focuses on three points that Smetana has criticized him for: his allegedly ignoring a large part of the historiography on the subject, the alleged dubiousness of some of the facts he presents, and his allegedly one-sidedly negative assessment of Ambassador Steinhardt’s work in Czechoslovakia. The author rejects Smetana’s arguments and finds nothing positive to say about his review.
In this contribution, the author of the review of Igor Lukeš’s On the Edge of the Cold War (‘Na pomezí historického románu’ [Almost a Historical Novel], Soudobé dějiny, vol. 22 (2015) nos. 3–4, pp. 524–39), which is under discussion here, reacts to Lukeš’s rejoinder. He briefly takes issue with various points of Lukeš’s argument, and concludes that he would not change a single thing in his review, because Lukeš ignores a number of objections and elsewhere fails to provide satisfactory counterarguments for others.
Tomek, Prokop. Československá redakce Radio Free Europe: Historie a vliv na československé dějiny. Prague: Academia, 2015, 422 pp. + 32 pp. of illus., ISBN 978-80-200-2490-9.
The book under review, whose title translates as ‘The Czechoslovak Service of Radio Free Europe: Its Development and Influence on Czechoslovak History’, is considered here in the context of current research on the history of Radio Free Europe and Tomek’s own work in which he presents a synthesis of his long-standing interest in the topic. The reviewer sees the contribution of the book chiefly in its bringing together and clearly sorting out a wide range of facts, and, to a lesser extent, its preliminary analyses. The author chronologically traces the development of Radio Free Europe, especially the Czechoslovak Service, and also determines the effects of its broadcasts and the interaction with its audience at home behind the Iron Curtain as well as amongst the top-level Czechoslovak politicians of the time. With this work, he has filled a palpable gap in the Czech historiography of mass media in exile, and has established an important basis for further research.
Raška, Francis D. Dlouhá cesta k vítězství: Československá exilová hnutí po roce 1968. Trans. from the English by Vojtěch Pacner. Prague: Academia, 2015, 272 pp., ISBN 978-80-200-2472-5.
The book under review is a Czech translation of The Long Road to Victory: A History of Czechoslovak Exile Organizations after 1968 (Boulder, CO: East European Monographs, distributed by Columbia UP, 2012). Raška’s work is, according to the reviewer, the result of careful research using personal papers and other archival documents in the Czech Republic, Great Britain, the United States, and Italy. It is a unique comprehensive work that offers much that is new and of interest, concerning a little known chapter in the history of Czechs and Slovaks in exile. In nine chapters, the author acquaints us with Czechoslovak life in exile, that is, clubs, organizations, and individuals, after they had caught their second wind, and were listened to by other exiles after 1968, once the West had received the large wave of Czechoslovak refugees driven out of their country by the Warsaw Pact military intervention. Although the book under review does not, in that sense, cover the full range of exiles and their activities, it remains an extraordinarily useful work of reference.
Ševela, Vladimír. Český krtek v CIA: Cesta Karla Köchera z StB přes americké tajné služby do Prognostického ústavu. Prague: Prostor, 2015, 400 pp. + 80 pp. of photos, ISBN 978-80-7260-320-6.
The reviewer first presents the central figure of the book under review, Karel Köcher (b. 1934). A graduate of the Faculty of Mathematics and Physics at Charles University, Köcher had previously been anti-Communist in his thinking, but by the 1960s became an agent of the Czechoslovak secret police (Státní bezpečnost – StB) and, together with his wife, was sent to the United States. He found employment there at the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), but, in 1982, was exposed and sent back to Czechoslovakia, where he eventually found work in the Forecasting Institute at the Czechoslovak Academy of Sciences. The author of the book, Vladimír Ševela, is a journalist who has dealt with this fascinating story in a sober way, sticking to the facts and avoiding any unfounded hypothesis. The book is based on a wide range of archival records and the author has also interviewed a number of eyewitnesses in the Czech Republic and the United States, including Köcher. According to the reviewer, the publication, which contains an unusually large number of facts, raises many questions, for example, about Köcher’s motivation, psychology, and choices, the mentality of his generation, the victims of his work for the StB, and the level of security measures at the CIA during the Cold War.
Ducháček, Milan. Václav Chaloupecký: Hledání československých dějin. Prague: Karolinum, 2014, 515 pp., ISBN 978-80-246-2482-2.
The historian Václav Chaloupecký (1882–1951) is, according to the reviewer, a largely forgotten figure today – in the country of his birth he is ignored because he spent the important years of his career in Slovakia, and in Slovakia he is dismissed for his ‘Czechoslovakist’ interpretation of Slovak history. Historians have forgotten him because his work now seems outdated. According to the reviewer, his biographer, the historian Milan Ducháček, does not quite achieve his aims: he has failed to place Chaloupecký’s activities sufficiently into the context of his time; the interpretation and analysis of Chaloupecký’s work rarely go beyond mere description, and chronological description at that; moreover, the book suffers from problems of structure, making it unnecessarily difficult to read. None the less, this large work displays a thorough knowledge of Chaloupecký, the man and his works, and also the professional erudition and literary skill of its author.
Skopal, Pavel. Filmová kultura severního trojúhelníku: Filmy, kina a diváci českých zemí, NDR a Polska 1945–1970 (Filmová knihovna, vol. 3.) Brno: Host, 2014, 308 pp., ISBN 978-80-7294-971-7.
The author of the book under review uses the approaches of the ‘new film history’, which frees him from writing about film using traditional categories and periodizations, and allows him to turn his attention to economic aspects of the film industry or to distribution mechanisms and audiences. That approach entails overlaps with other disciplines and work with a wide range of material. The author has undertaken extensive research in the archives of six countries, and has critically and organically linked this research together with information from other sources, including eyewitness accounts. The first part of this methodologically exemplary publication is devoted to cultural transfers in the ‘Northern Triangle’ (Czechoslovakia, East Germany, and Poland) with other Soviet bloc countries and also with capitalist states. In the second part, in the context of Stalinism and the subsequent Thaw, the author looks at the role of film distribution which the régime sought use to integrate its citizens into society. An exceptional contribution of the publication, according to the reviewer, is the third part, which focuses on film-audience reception, supported by local case studies on the behaviour and attitudes of Brno, Leipzig and Poznan audiences after the Second World War.
Kopal, Petr (ed.). Film a dějiny, vol. 4: Normalizace. Prague: Casablanca and Ústav pro studium totalitních režimů, 2014, 664 pp., ISBN 978-80-87292-26-6 and 978-80-87912-13-3.
The reviewer first discusses the great interest that Czechs, both experts and the general public, have had in recent years in the pop culture of the ‘Normalization’ period (1969–89). This includes films and TV series, which constitute the focal point of most of the contributions to the publication under review, the fourth volume of the Film a dějiny (Film and history) series. But quantity, according to the reviewer, has taken its toll on quality here. Although the editor, Petr Kopal, has tried in the introduction to outline the starting points that unite the individual contributions, it is actually hard to see what they have in common, and, moreover, some reflect the confused directions and aims of the research. The reviewer presents some of the contributions in detail. Apart from articles that suffer from an excess of fact, positivistic treatment, schematicity, or a lack of context and analysis, the reviewer points to the highly successful essays by Petr A. Bílek, Petr Kopal, Kamil Činátl, and Martin Štoll.
Iblová, Michaela. Česká filharmonie pod tlakem stalinské kulturní politiky v padesátých letech. Prague: Karolinum, 2014, 247 pp., ISBN 978-80-246-2332-0.
The reviewer first offers an overview of scholarly research on music (primarily serious music) and music culture in relation to politics and institutions in Czechoslovakia under the Communist régime. The author of the book under review, he claims, is one of the first Czechs to ask how and why a leading music ensemble could operate in totalitarianism and even in opposition to it. The core of book comprises the author’s discussion of the Czech Philharmonic during the first decade after the Communist takeover in late February 1948, in the face of continuous efforts by the régime to keep an eye on the orchestra by means of Party institutions and, particularly, the secret police. The author uses excursions into Czechoslovak life from the 1960s to the 1980s, and writers that the efforts to enlist Czech Philharmonic musicians to collaborate with the secret police were practically continuous throughout the period. She discusses the programme and production plans of the orchestra, in which the musicians had to accept comprises with the demands to perform ideologically engagé works. Despite some minor criticisms, the reviewer, on the whole, judges the book positively, particularly concerning the factual information it presents.
Dumitru, Laurentiu-Cristian. Romania and the Warsaw Pact, 1955–1968: From Obedience to Defiance. Sine loco: Italian Academic Publishing, 2014, 337 pp, ISBN 978-88-98471-03-4.
The author of the book under review has, according to the reviewer, attempted the most comprehensive analysis of relations so far between the Warsaw Pact and Romania, covering the period from its establishment in May 1955 almost to the time of the Soviet-led military intervention in Czechoslovakia. He has based his work on Romanian, Western, and, to a far lesser extent, Soviet sources. His starting point is the national perspective from Bucharest, and he concentrates on its political and military strategies towards this military organization. He thus assesses the shift from obedient satellite to defiant ally in the broader perspective of international relations and the reality of the bipolar division of the Cold War world. In addition, he also clarifies numerous hitherto insufficiently researched episodes in the overall history of the Warsaw Pact. Despite having reservations about the structure of the interpretation and the overly narrow range of sources, which has led to some incorrect conclusions, the reviewer considers Dumitru’s work to be a positive contribution to our knowledge of the topic.
Rovenský, Jan, et al. 25 let poté: Klaus, Pithart, Rychetský a Zeman v rozhovorech o společnosti a politice. Prague: Filosofia 2014, 328 pp., ISBN 978-80-7007-424-4.
In the publication under review, the past quarter of a century since the collapse of the Communist régime in Czechoslovakia is considered by four leading Czech politicians: a former Premier of Czechoslovakia and, later, Premier and then President of the Czech Republic, Václav Klaus, a former Premier of the Czech Republic and, later, Speaker of the Senate, Petr Pithart, a former Minister of Justice and current Chief Justice of the Constitutional Court of the Czech Republic, Pavel Rychetský, and a former Premier and current President of the Czech Republic, Miloš Zeman. The reviewer discusses and compares their views of the central topics discussed in the interviews – the political and economic transformations, Czecho-Slovak and Czecho-German relations, the existence of the vetting law (lustrační zákon), the role of the courts in democracy, the question of the possible banning of the Communist Party, the so-called ‘opposition agreement’ (opoziční smlouva) between Zeman’s Social Democratic Party and Klaus’s Civil Democratic Party, and, lastly, Václav Havel’s ‘nonpolitical politics’.
This is a report about the conference ‘East Central Europe in the First Half of the 20th Century – Transnational Perspectives’, which took place in Leipzig from 14 to 16 January 2016. It was organized and hosted by the Centre for the History and Culture of East Central Europe (Geisteswissenschaftliches Zentrum Geschichte und Kultur Ostmitteleuropas – GWZO) in collaboration with the Institute of Contemporary History at the Czech Academy of Sciences, and the International Association of Contemporary History of Europe (Association internationale d’histoire contemporaine de l’Europe – AIHCE). A wide range of views was ensured both by the international background of the participants and by the diversity of the topic groups, ranging from economics to international organizations, migration, and culture to territorialization. The report discusses in greater detail some of the more than twenty papers given at the conference.
This is a report on the twentieth anniversary Meeting of Bohemists, which took place on 4 March 2016. This forum is held annually by the Collegium Carolinum, a Munich-based centre of Bohemian Studies. The main aim of the meeting is to enable experts on Bohemia from various countries and fields to gather at a forum where they can present their research results and exchange information on coming events, new projects, and other matters related to their profession.