Communist Party of Czechoslovakia

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Communist Party of Czechoslovakia
Komunistická strana Československa
First leader Various
Last leader Ladislav Adamec
Founded 14–16 May 1921
Dissolved 1990[1]
Succeeded by KSČM, KSS
Headquarters Prague
Newspaper Rudé právo
Youth wing Young Communist League of Czechoslovakia (1921-1936),
Czechoslovak Union of Youth (1949–1968),
Socialist Youth Union (1970–1989)
Ideology Communism,
Marxism–Leninism
Czechoslovakism,
Husákism
International affiliation Comintern (until 1943),
Cominform (1947–1956)
Colors Red

The Communist Party of Czechoslovakia (Czech and Slovak: Komunistická strana Československa, KSČ) was a Communist and Marxist–Leninist political party in Czechoslovakia that existed between 1921 and 1992. It seized power in the 1948 Czechoslovak coup d'état and established the Czechoslovak Socialist Republic, a Soviet satellite state.

In October 1990, the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia became a federation of the Communist Party of Bohemia and Moravia and the Communist Party of Slovakia.[2]

The Communist Party of Czechoslovakia was declared to be a criminal organisation by the 1993 Act on Illegality of the Communist Regime and on Resistance Against It.

Poster for the KSČ 8th Party Congress in 1946

History[edit]

1921–1945[edit]

The Communist Party of Czechoslovakia was founded at the congress of the Czechoslovak Social-Democratic Party (Left), held in Prague May 14–16, 1921.[3] Rudé právo, previously the organ of the Left Social-Democrats, became the main organ of the new party. As a first chairman was elected Václav Šturc, first vice-chairman was Bohumír Šmeral and second vice-chairman was Vaclav Bolen. The party was one of some twenty[citation needed] political parties that competed within the democratic framework of the First Czechoslovak Republic but it was never in government. In 1925 parliamentary election party gained 934 223 votes (13,2%, 2nd place) and 41 mandates.

In 1929 Klement Gottwald became the Secretary General of the party after the purging from it of various oppositional elements some of whom allied themselves to Leon Trotsky and the International Left Opposition. Gottwald became known for a speech he made in the Czech parliament in which he revealed the party's aims: "We are the party of the Czech proletariat and our central is really Moscow. And we go to Moscow to learn, you know what? We go to learn from the Russian Bolsheviks how to wring your neck. And you know that the Russian Bolsheviks are masters in that... You will not laugh anymore!"[citation needed] In 1929 parliamentary election party gained 753 220 votes (10,2%, 4th place) and 30 mandates. In 1935 parliamentary election party held its 30 mandates with 849 495 votes (10,32%, 4th place)

The party was banned in October 1938,[4][5][6] but continued to exist as an underground organisation. [7] Following the signing of the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact, anti-German protests broke out in Prague in October 1939. In response, the Comintern ordered the party to oppose the protests, which they blamed on "chauvinist elements". [7]

The party was the Czechoslovak section of the Communist International. As of 1928 the party was the second-largest section of the International, with an estimated membership of around 138 000.[8]

During World War II many KSČ leaders sought refuge in the Soviet Union, where they prepared to broaden the party's power base once the war ended. In the early postwar period the Soviet-supported Czechoslovak communists launched a sustained drive that culminated in their seizure of power in 1948. Once in control, the KSČ developed an organizational structure and mode of rule patterned closely after those of the CPSU.

1945–1969[edit]

Poster for May 1st celebration, 1946

The Communist Party of Czechoslovakia was in a coalition government from 1945 to 1948. In 1946 elections, it became the largest party, and party chairman Klement Gottwald became prime minister—the only time that a Communist party won a free election in what would become the Soviet bloc.

Following the Communist coup d'état of 1948, when free elections and other political freedoms were effectively abolished, power was formally held by the National Front, a coalition in which the KSČ held two-thirds of the seats while the remaining one-third were shared among five other political parties. However, the KSČ held a de facto absolute monopoly on political power, and the other parties within the National Front were little more than auxiliaries. Even the governmental structure of Czechoslovakia existed primarily to implement policy decisions made within the KSČ.

A dispute broke out between Gottwald and the second most-powerful man in the country, party General Secretary Rudolf Slánský, over the extent to which Czechoslovakia should conform with the Soviet model. In 1951, Slánský and several other senior Communists were arrested and charged with participating in a "Trotskyite-Titoite-Zionist conspiracy". They were subjected to a show trial in 1952 (the Prague Trials) and Slánský and 10 other defendants were executed.[citation needed]

In the early 1960s, Czechoslovakia underwent an economic downturn, and in 1968, the KSČ was taken over by reformers led[citation needed] by Alexander Dubček. He started a period of liberalization known as the Prague Spring in which he attempted to implement "socialism with a human face".

This liberalization alarmed the Soviet Union and on 21 August 1968, the Soviets invoked the Brezhnev Doctrine and invaded Czechoslovakia.

1969–1992[edit]

In April 1969, Dubček lost the General Secretaryship (replaced by Gustáv Husák) and was expelled in 1970. During the following Normalization period, the party was dominated by two major factions—the moderates and the hardliners.

Moderates or Pragmatics[edit]

The Moderates or Pragmatics were represented by Gustáv Husák who led the neostalinist wing of the KSČ leadership. As a moderate or pragmatic, he was pressed by hardliners (Vasil Biľak). An important Slovak Communist Party functionary from 1943 to 1950, Husák was arrested in 1951 and sentenced to three years — later increased to life imprisonment — for "bourgeois nationalism" during the Stalinist purges of the era. Released in 1960 and rehabilitated in 1963, Husák refused any political position in Antonín Novotný's régime but after Novotný's fall he became deputy prime minister during the Prague Spring. After Dubček's resignation Husák was named KSČ First Secretary in April 1969 and president of the republic in July 1975. Above all, Husák was a survivor who learned to accommodate the powerful political forces surrounding him and he denounced Dubček after 1969.

Other prominent moderates/pragmatics who were still in power by 1987 included:

These leaders generally supported the reforms instituted under Dubček during the late 1960s but successfully made the transition to orthodox party rule following the invasion and Dubček's decline from power. Subsequently, they adopted a more flexible stance regarding economic reform and dissident activity.

The Hardliners[edit]

Opposed to the moderates were the so-called hardliners:

  • Vasil Biľak was their leader and a Ukrainian from Slovakia who had been a member of the Presidium since 1968 and was Chairman of the party's Ideological Commission
  • Karel Hoffman, a Central Committee Secretary and Presidium member;
  • Antonín Kapek, Presidium member;
  • Jan Fojtík, Secretary;
  • Alois Indra, Presidium member and Chairman of the Federal Assembly (replaced the National Assembly under 1968 federation law); and
  • Miloš Jakeš, Chairman of the Central Supervisory and Auditing Commission and Presidium member (replaced Gustáv Husák as general secretary of the KSČ in 1987).

These hardliners opposed economic and political reforms and took a harsh stand on dissent.

The party's hegemony ended with the Velvet Revolution in 1989. In November, Jakeš and the entire Presidum resigned. Jakeš was succeeded by Karel Urbanek, who only held power for about a month before the party formally abandoned power in December. Later that month, Husák, who retained the presidency after standing down as general secretary, was forced to swear in the country's first non-Communist government in 41 years.

The party continued to exist for another three years, changing its official abbreviation to KSČS. The party dissolved after Czechoslovakia ceased to exist on 31 December 1992. This led to the formation of successor parties in both the Czech Republic and Slovakia (see Communist Party of Bohemia and Moravia and Communist Party of Slovakia).

New party after 1995[edit]

In 1995 several former members of KSČ created a new party, first under name Strana československých komunistů, later renamed to Komunistická strana Československa. The program of this party is to re-establish the regime that existed in Czechoslovakia during 1948-89. Its current leader is Miroslav Štěpán, former leader of KSČ in Prague. The party is very small and so far none of its members have been voted into an office during elections. Party website (in Czech).

Function[edit]

According to Marxist-Leninist theory, the communist party represented the working class — the revolutionary proletariat — whose interests it championed against those of the capitalist bourgeoisie. The period between the fall of a bourgeois state and the attainment of communism is a subject on which Marx was reticent, describing only in general terms the establishment of a democratic socialist state, which would eventually begin to "wither away" (slowly turn into a form of direct democracy) until a communist society was achieved. Several decades later, Vladimir Lenin, facing a real revolution and the possibility that the communist party might be able to seize power, put theoretical subtleties to the side. He suggested that the fall of the bourgeois state (a label of questionable accuracy when applied to tsarist Russia, if one forgets the February 1917 revolution) would be followed by a transitional state characterized by socialism, soviet democracy and communist party rule – the "dictatorship of the proletariat."

Organisation[edit]

National Level[edit]

KSČ organization was based on the Leninist concept of democratic centralism, which provided for the election of party leaders at all levels but required that each level be fully subject to the control of the next higher unit. Accordingly, party programs and policies were directed from the top, and resolutions of higher organs were unconditionally binding on all lower organs and individual party members. In theory, policy matters were freely and openly discussed at congresses, conferences and membership meetings and in the party press. In practice, however, these discussions merely reflected decisions made by a small contingent of top party officials.[citation needed]

  • The supreme KSČ organ was the party congress, which normally convened every five years for a session lasting less than one week. An exception was made with respect to the Fourteenth Party Congress, which was held in August 1968 under Dubček's leadership. Held in semi-secrecy in a tractor factory in the opening days of the Soviet occupation, this congress denounced the invasion. This congress was subsequently declared illegal, its proceedings were stricken from party records, and a second, "legal" Fourteenth Party Congress was held in May 1971. The Fifteenth Party Congress was held in April 1976; the sixteenth, in April 1981; and the seventeenth, in March 1986. The party congress theoretically was responsible for making basic policy decisions; in practice, however, it was the Presidium of the Central Committee that held the decision-making and policy-making responsibilities. The congress merely endorsed the reports and directives of the top party leadership. The statutory duties assigned the party congress included determination of the party's domestic and foreign policies; approval of the party program and statutes; and election of the Central Committee and the Central Supervisory and Auditing Commission, as well as discussion and approval of their reports.
  • Between congresses the Central Committee of the KSČ was responsible for directing party activities and implementing general policy decisions. Party statutes also provided that the Central Committee functioned as the primary arm of KSČ control over the organs of the federal government and the republics, the National Front, and all cultural and professional organizations. Party members who held leading positions in these bodies were responsible directly to the Central Committee for the implementation of KSČ policies. In addition, the Central Committee screened nominations for all important government and party positions and selected the editor-in-chief of Rudé právo, the principal party newspaper. The Central Committee generally met in full session at least twice a year. In 1976 (1986), the Central Committee had 115 (135) members and 45 (62) candidates, respectively. In terms of composition, the Central Committee normally included leading party and government officials, military officials, and a cross section of outstanding citizens.
  • The Central Committee, like the party congress, rarely acted as more than a rubber stamp of policy decisions made by the party Presidium of the Central Committee of the KSČ. As an exception to this rule, when factional infighting developed within the Presidium in 1968, the Central Committee assumed crucial importance in resolving the dispute and ousted First Secretary Novotný in favour of Alexander Dubček. Generally, decisions on which the Central Committee voted were reached beforehand so that votes taken at the sessions were unanimous. The Presidium, which conducted the work of the party between full committee sessions, formally was elected by the Central Committee; in reality, the top party leaders determined its composition. In 1986, there were 11 full members and 6 candidate members.
  • The Secretariat of the Central Committee acted as the party's highest administrative authority and as the nerve centre of the party's extensive control mechanism. The Secretariat supervised the implementation of decisions made in the Presidium, controlled the movement up and down the party ladder, and directed the work within the party and government apparatus. Under Gustáv Husák, the composition of the Secretariat, like that of the Presidium, remained rather constant. Many secretaries were also members of the Presidium.
  • The Central Supervisory and Auditing Commission played a dual role, overseeing party discipline and supervising party finances, but it did not control anything. As an organ for the enforcement of party standards, the Central Supervisory and Auditing Commission frequently wielded its power to suspend or expel "deviant" party members. It was this commission that directed the massive purges in party membership during the early and late 1970s. Members were elected at each party congress (45 members in 1986). These members then elected from among themselves a chairman, deputy chairmen, and a small presidium. Sub-units of the commission existed at the republic, regional and district levels of the party structure.
  • Other KSČ commissions in 1987 included the People's Supervisory Commission, Agriculture and Food Commission, the Economic Commission, the Ideological Commission and the Youth Commission.
  • In 1987 the party also had 18 departments (agitation and propaganda; agriculture, food industry, forestry and water management; Comecon cooperation; culture; economic administration; economics; education and science; elected state organs; external economic relations; fuels and energy; industry; transport and communications; international affairs; mass media; political organisation; science and technology; social organisations and national committees; state administration; and a general department). In most instances the party departments paralleled agencies and ministries of the government and supervised their activities to ensure conformity with KSČ norms and programmes.
  • Also under the supervision of the Central Committee were two party training centres--the Advanced School of Politics and the Institute of Marxism-Leninism (see below).

Republic level[edit]

At the republic level the party structure deviated from the government organisation in that a separate communist party unit existed in the Slovak Socialist Republic (see Communist Party of Slovakia) but not in the Czech Socialist Republic. The KSS emerged from the Second World War as a party distinct from the KSČ, but the two were united after the communist takeover in 1948. The reform movement of the 1960s advocated a return to a system of autonomous parties for the two republics. The Bureau for the Conduct of Party Work in the Czech Lands was created as a counterpart to the KSS, but it was suppressed after the 1968 invasion and by 1971 had been stricken from party records. The purely formal KSS remained, however, undoubtedly as a concession to the Slovaks.

Regional level[edit]

The KSČ had ten regional subdivisions (seven in the Czech lands, three in Slovakia) identical to the kraje, the ten major governmental administrative divisions. In addition, however, the Prague and Bratislava municipal party organs, because of their size, were given regional status within the KSČ. Regional conferences selected regional committees, which in turn selected a leading secretary, a number of secretaries and a regional Supervisory and Auditing Commission.

Regional units were broken down into a total of 114 district-level (Czech: okresní) organisations. District conferences were held simultaneously every two to three years, at which time each conference selected a district committee that subsequently selected a secretariat to be headed by a district secretary.

Local level[edit]

At the local level the KSČ was structured according to what it called the "territorial and production principle"; the basic party units were organised in work sites and residences where there are at least five KSČ members. In enterprises or communities where party membership was more numerous, the smaller units functioned under larger city, village or factorywide committees. The highest authority of the local organisation was, theoretically, the monthly membership meeting, attendance at which was a basic duty of every member. Each group selected its own leadership, consisting of a chairman and one or more secretaries. It also named delegates to the conference of the next higher unit, be it at the municipal (in the case of larger cities) or district level.

Membership[edit]

Since assuming power in 1948, the KSČ had one of the largest per capita membership rolls in the communist world (11 percent of the population). The membership roll was often alleged by party ideologues to contain a large component of inactive, opportunistic, and "counterrevolutionary" elements. These charges were used on two occasions—between 1948 and 1950 and again between 1969 and 1971—as a pretext to conduct massive purges of the membership. In the first case, the great Stalinist purges, nearly 1 million members were removed; in the wake of the Prague Spring and subsequent invasion, about half that number either resigned or were purged from the KSČ. The purges after the 1968 invasion hit especially the Czechs, youth, blue-collar workers, and the intelligentsia within the party membership. As a result, recruitment was especially strong among youth and the working class during the 1970s. The party's membership efforts in the 1980s focused on recruiting politically and professionally well-qualified people willing to exercise greater activism in implementing the party's program. Party leaders at the Seventeenth Party Congress in 1986 urged the recruitment of more workers, young people, and women. In 1981 it had 1,538,179 members (10% of the population)[9]

Membership in the KSČ was contingent upon completion of an oneyear period as a candidate member. Candidate members could not vote or be elected to party committees. In addition to candidates for party membership, there were also candidates for party leadership groups from the local levels to the Presidium. These candidates, already party members, were considered interns training for the future assumption of particular leadership responsibilities.

Training of members[edit]

The indoctrination and training of party members was one of the basic responsibilities of the regional and district organizations, and most of the party training was conducted on these levels. The regional and district units worked with the local party organizations in setting up training programs and in determining which members would be enrolled in particular courses of study. On the whole, the system of party schooling changed little since it was established in 1949. The district or city organization provided weekly classes in the fundamentals of Marxism-Leninism, the history of communism, socialist economics, and the current party position on domestic and international affairs.

Members training for positions as party functionaries attended seminars at the schools for Marxism-Leninism set up in local areas or at the more advanced institutes for Marxism-Leninism found in Prague, Brno, and Bratislava. The highest level of party training was offered at the Advanced School of Politics in Prague. Designed to train the top echelon of the party leadership, the three-year curriculum had the official status of a university program and was said to be one of the best programs in political science in Eastern Europe. These institutions were under the direction of the KSČ Central Committee.

Social composition of members[edit]

Because of the KSČ's mandate to be the workers' party, questions about the social background of party members took on a particular salience. The KSČ was often reticent with precise details about its members, and the question of how many in the party actually belonged to the revolutionary proletariat became a delicate one. Official statements appeared to overstate the percentage of workers within the party's ranks. Nonetheless, a number of trends were clear. The proportion of workers in the KSČ was at its highest (approximately 60 percent of the total membership) after World War II but before the party took power in 1948. After that time, the percentage of workers in the party fell steadily to a low of an estimated one-quarter of the membership in 1970. In the early 1970s, the official media decried the "grave imbalance," noting that "the present class and social structure of the party membership is not in conformity with the party's role as the vanguard of the working class." In highly industrialized central Bohemia, to cite one example, only one in every thirty-five workers was a party member, while one in every five administrators was. In 1976, after intensive efforts to recruit workers, the number of workers rose to one-third of the KSČ membership, i.e., approximately its 1962 level. In the 1980s, driven by the need for "intensive" economic development, the party relaxed its rigid rule about young workers' priority in admissions and allowed district and regional committees to be flexible in their recruitment policy, as long as the overall proportion of workers did not decrease.

The average age of party members showed a comparable trend. In the late 1960s, fewer than 30 percent of party members were under thirty-five years of age, nearly 20 percent were over sixty, and roughly half were forty-six or older. The quip in 1971, a half-century after the party's founding in Czechoslovakia, was "After fifty years, a party of fifty-year-olds." There was a determined effort to attract younger members to the party in the middle to late 1970s; one strategy was to recruit children of parents who were KSČ members. The party sent letters to the youngsters' schools and their parents' employers, encouraging the children to join. By early 1980 approximately one-third of KSČ members were thirty-five years of age or younger. In 1983 the average age of the "leading cadre" was still estimated at fifty.

Lack of devotion of the members in the 1970s and 1980s[edit]

Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, the official media denounced party members' lack of devotion to the pursuit of KSČ policies and goals. Complaints ranged from members' refusal to display flags from their apartment windows on festive occasions to their failure to show up for party work brigades, attend meetings, or pay dues; a significant minority of members tended to underreport their incomes (the basis for assessing dues). In 1970, after a purge of approximately one-third of the membership, an average of less than one-half the remaining members attended meetings. Perhaps one-third of the members were consistently recalcitrant in participating in KSČ activities. In 1983 one primary party branch in the Prague-West district was so unmoved by admonishments that it had to be disbanded and its members dispersed among other organizations. In part, this was a measure of disaffection with Czechoslovakia's thoroughgoing subservience to Soviet hegemony, a Švejkian response to the lack of political economic autonomy. It was also a reflection of the purge's targets. Those expelled were often the ideologically motivated, the ones for whom developing socialism with a human face represented a significant goal; those who were simply opportunistic survived the purges more easily.

Leaders[edit]

Note: The KSČ leader was called Chairman (Předseda) 1945 - 1953, First Secretary (První tajemník) 1953-1971, and General Secretary (Generální tajemník) 1921 - 1945 and again 1971 - 1989

See also[edit]

Footnotes[edit]

Further reading[edit]

  • H. Gordon Skilling, "Gottwald and the Bolshevization of the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia (1929-1939)," Slavic Review, vol. 20, no. 4 (Dec. 1961), pp. 641-655. In JSTOR.

External links[edit]

  • RFE/RL Czechoslovak Unit Open Society Archives, Budapest
  • H. Gordon Skilling, "The Formation of a Communist Party in Czechoslovakia", American Slavic and East European Review, Vol. 14, No. 3 (Oct., 1955), pp. 346–358 doi:10.2307/3000944
  • H. Gordon Skilling, "The Comintern and Czechoslovak Communism: 1921-1929", American Slavic and East European Review, Vol. 19, No. 2 (Apr., 1960), pp. 234–247 doi:10.2307/3004193