National Front (Czechoslovakia)
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The National Front (in Czech: Národní fronta, in Slovak: Národný front) was the coalition of parties which headed the re-established Czechoslovakian government from 1945 to 1948. During the Communist era in Czechoslovakia (1948–1989) it was the vehicle for control of all political and social activity by the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia (CPC). It was also known in English as the National Front of Czechs and Slovaks.
As World War II began, Czechoslovakia disappeared from the map of Europe. The Czech lands became the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia under direct Nazi rule, while Slovakia ostensibly became independent. At the end of World War II, Czechoslovakia was included in the sphere of influence of the Soviet Union. Postwar Czechoslovakia was organized according to a program worked out by the CPC (whose leaders were in exile in Moscow), and Edvard Beneš, representing the government-in-exile—these being the two most important groups seeking the reconstitution of the country. Part of the program was the formation of a popular anti-Nazi coalition of parties. Negotiations began in December 1943 in Moscow. The CPC and the non-Communist parties had very different ideas about this.
This coalition was finally established as the "National Front" in April 1945, when a Czechoslovak government came into being in the city of Košice, recently liberated by Soviet troops.
The National Front government was a coalition of six parties:
- Communist Party of Czechoslovakia (CPC)
- Communist Party of Slovakia (CPS; formed in 1939)
- Czechoslovak Social Democratic Party (CSDP)
- Czechoslovak National Socialist Party (CNSP; social liberal, petty bourgeois, no connection to the German Nazis)
- Czechoslovak People's Party (CPP; a Catholic group)
- (Slovak) Democratic Party
Later two more parties were added:
- (Slovak) Labour Party (Slovak Social Democrats, which refused merge with Communist party of Slovakia in 1944, from 1947 it was Slovak branch of Czechoslovak Social Democratic Party)
- (Slovak) Freedom Party (Catholic party founded by Vavro Šrobár)
The Slovak People's Party was banned due to its collaboration with the Nazis. The government decided not to allow the re-creation of other pre-war democratic parties, such as the Republican Party of Farmers and Peasants.
The National Front was dominated by the socialist parties: CPC, CPS, CSDP, CNSP. Communists held the key ministries.
The Communists viewed the National Front as a permanent entity, while the remaining parties considered it a temporary coalition until normal conditions would arise in Czechoslovakia. Many quarrels arose between the CPC and the remaining parties of the National Front in the transitory period 1945–1948.
The CPC definitively seized power in Czechoslovakia on 25 February 1948. The other parties were quickly purged of their more courageous elements, and also dropped their original ideologies. The Front took on a character similar to similar alliances in the Communist bloc. All member parties accepted the "leading role" of the CPC as a condition of their continued existence.
After the 1948 coup, the member parties were:
- Communist Party of Czechoslovakia (CPC), incorporated also the CSDP in June 1948
- Communist Party of Slovakia (CPS), merged with the CPC in September 1948
- Czechoslovak People's Party (CPP)
- Czechoslovak Socialist Party (CSP), which had dropped "National" from its name
- (Slovak) Freedom Party
- Party of Slovak Revival (a pro-Communist reincarnation of the Slovak Democratic Party)
The CPC held all real power. The other parties were structured just like the Communists, with a secretariat, central committee, and Presidium. Despite their actual impotence and subservience, they retained a significant membership through the entire Communist era. In 1984, the CPP had about 66,000 members, and the CNSP had about 17,000 members. Voters were presented with a single list of National Front-approved candidates, which was usually approved by margins of well over 99 percent. Non-CPC candidates were represented, but seats were allocated in accordance with a set quota that guaranteed a large Communist majority.
In 1969, the country was re-organized as a federation of the Czech Socialist Republic and Slovak Socialist Republic. Separate National Front organizations for each federal component were set up, which nominated candidates for the Czech National Council and Slovak National Council.
The National Front enabled the CPC to maintain the fiction of political pluralism and at the same time control all political activity. In other Communist states, there were similar "coalitions" with identical names (in the German Democratic Republic) or similar names (in Poland, Bulgaria, and Vietnam).
Other civil organizations
After the 1948 coup, the National Front was converted into a broad-based patriotic organization that controlled nearly all organized activity in the country, excluding only religion. Thus the Front was extended to include mass organizations that were not political parties. Among the organizations brought into the Front were:
- Revolutionary Trade Union Movement (to which all unions belonged)
- Socialist Union of Youth (1.5 million members)
- Union for Czechoslovak-Soviet Friendship
- Czechoslovak Union of Women (1 million members)
- Czechoslovak Red Cross
- Union of Agricultural Cooperatives
- Union of Anti-Fascist Fighters
- Svazarm (Union for Cooperation with the Army)
- Peace Committee
- Physical Culture Association
- Union of Philatelists
All these groups were given the standard Communist organization, and Party members held all controlling posts. This ensured that no secular organization could exist in the country that was wholly independent of CPC leadership. These groups permeated workplaces, schools, and neighborhoods. As with the Front, many of these organizations added Czech and Slovak regional components in 1969 and after.
End of the National Front
After the Velvet Revolution of 1989 ended Communist rule, the National Front was dissolved.
- Polish Committee of National Liberation
- Politics of Communist Czechoslovakia
- Vietnamese Fatherland Front