With the increasing draconian austerity measures being imposed on the Czech masses combined with plentiful kicks in the form of corruption and embezzlement scandals within all layers of the ruling class and the state, this weekend’s elections were an important event.
According to a European Commission report, in a country of 10 million, 400,000 are living in extreme poverty, and one million are living just above the poverty line. The definition of the poverty line in this case is to be on a monthly wage of 9,330Kc (around £350), which even with the relatively low prices of the country is a very small wage. Unemployment currently stands at 7.5%. The characteristically casual nature of employment makes the figure hard to measure accurately, but it has been on the rise since 2008. This is expressed clearly by the increase in social security payments which in the first 9 months of this year was 40% more than the full 12 months of last year.
Despite what the mainstream media may lead you to believe, this Social Security “safety net” verges on pure negligence. There’s no full social housing scheme, and looking at one section of the population, the majority of pensioners are paying their rent out of their pension payments and hence living in near or extreme poverty. According to the Czech statistics office, the amount of working pensioners (over the age of 65) has increased to 145,000 from 129,000 earlier in the year.
These are only some facts to highlight the dire and disintegrating social situation and there are many more. In fact, recently the Helsinki Committee expressed concerns of the worsening human rights in the country, specifically highlighting the lack of available healthcare and the plight and persecution of the Romani minority in the country.
Looking at the country completely objectively it is clear there are no material reasons for these social problems. There are resources, there are workers available, there are sick people but there are also doctors and nurses and tens of thousands of unemployed graduates. Somebody somewhere is deciding that the potential for this country cannot be fulfilled. Not only can it not be fulfilled, but people are being forced to live in increasing levels of misery. The suicide rate in the last year almost doubled and somebody somewhere is gaining from the maintenance of these barbaric conditions as people certainly aren’t simply choosing to live like this.
Amazon, a company with very high standards when it comes to how desperate, exploited and miserable their employees are, is planning to set up a base here next year. The country’s economy is highly dependent on cheap exports and for this it needs a cheap workforce and for this it needs weak or no trade unions, an abundance of reserve labour and a mass of people grateful for anything. It is certainly not the only economy based on such exploitation and in these times of economic crisis, increasing amounts of exploitation and misery must be strived for in order for individual profit seeking capitalists to survive.
Since the re-introduction of capitalism, parliamentary politics has played a big role. Big illusions have been sown with mainstream commentators often mentioning the Czech Republic as being one of the most successful and democratic “Ex-Communist” countries. Even with the constant exposure of the corrupt nature of parliamentary politics in this country, these illusions still remain, the reason being that there are not currently any other options available.
However, the masses of voters are not stupid and will not vote for parties who have recently been at the forefront of such scandals and austerity. In fact any idea the Czech people lie down and take anything is very much contradicted when looking at the very quick and also unpredictable electoral shifts over the last 24 years compared to those of other European countries. Being a corrupt political bureaucrat in this country is obviously a sought after job but it is certainly not a stable job. Once the electorate see their politicians for what they really are they vote someone else and these elections were no exception.
The traditional capitalist party, the ODS, who played the biggest role in the previous government which was brought down amidst scandal (in July it got less than 6%, down from 20% in 2010). Being extremely unpopular after their involvement in implementing austerity, they could no longer realistically claim to represent the interests of all the population, so they attempted to appeal to the more “middle class” voters with policies including helping those trying to buy houses but this was obviously not an important issue for the Czech masses in this election hence the biggest right-wing party was soundly defeated.
Defeat of the main bourgeois parties and Zeman
TOP09, the second biggest capitalist party, representing the more “liberal” euro-friendly capitalists, won 12% down from 17% in 2010. In their rhetoric they criticised the current government's attempts and ambitions to trade with what they deemed undemocratic countries such as Russia and China. They also focussed on criticising the undemocratic actions of President Milos Zeman and promised to curtail his powers. This obviously is an important issue for Czech people, most of whom would love a more democratic and less corrupt system but the idea that TOP09 could offer this is just absurd. There can be no democracy if people cannot sustain themselves. This party, which has been a big part of the poverty inducing, life ruining government and in many ways stood to the right of the government on issues such as accepting EU austerity policies, has no serious intention of improving democracy and the masses did not fall for the sophistry.
Public Affairs, a party that in 2010 ran on a conservative, free market but anti-corruption programme and went on to play an integral and corrupt part in the most publically corrupt government the Czech Republic has ever witnessed, were of course completely decimated and won no seats.
This right-wing trio, who could form a majority government three years ago, won less than 20% of the votes between them. This has left a vacuum giving newcomers a chance. The main beneficiary of this was the hard right ANO 2011 (yes 2011), a party run by Andrej Babis, a multi-billionaire who describes himself as the “only real right-winger” with plans to run the country like a business. He promised to fight unemployment, fight corruption by lowering the power of politicians and improving transport infrastructure. The methods they use to do this are necessarily vague, of course, for in a market where corruption and hard exploitation are fundamental aspects, they can be rewarded 0/10 for realism but 10/10 for boldness in programme and for this reason they won almost 19% of the votes and came second.
The Dawn of Direct Democracy, a party which vows to have much more democracy at all levels with more referendums and direct election of mayors, regional governors and other officials, etc., took members and candidates from ODS and Public Affairs and with their unique and fresh programme managed to win over a certain amount of these decimated party’s voters.
The Christian Democrats who were wiped out in the last election also made a recovery. A party with a social base in the more Catholic rural areas and with around 50,000 members won just under 7%.
There are two main worker’s parties, the KSCM (Communists) and the CSSD (Social Democrats), both of whom expected to gain significantly so much so that a Social Democrat government with the support of Communists was often discussed as a probability. Two other parties, SPOZ (a split from the Social Democrats) and The National Socialists (another split from the Social Democrats) were also expected to gain from this.
However, this was not quite the case. The National Socialists and SPOZ won no seats whatsoever, while the Social Democrats, although being the percentage victors with 20.45%, lost over 120,000 votes in absolute terms since 2010. The Communists gained over 150,000 votes, a significant and telling achievement but not nearly as much as the party expected.
The Social Democrats promised to raise the minimum wage from 8,000Kc to 12,000Kc, invest in healthcare, education and “economic growth”, and blamed economic contraction on previous right-wing governments, claiming that “neighbouring countries are growing”. They promised to collect 20 billion Kc more in evaded tax. They also promised an increase in corporation tax of 1-2% and to introduce a tax for energy, finance and telecommunication industries which they say the Czech state should “participate” in with around 25-30% of the shares. They also spoke of attracting investment not just from the EU but from Japan, Korea, China, and Russia and said that that the previous CSSD government in the past formed when these countries were failing but now they have more chance as they are “growing”. This programme was a left reformist programme which didn’t convince many more people other than their usual voters. This is because it was based on unrealistic promises and reforming a system which is dying and voters were put off by the vagueness and were aware that it could not offer much.
SPOZ led by the current President Milos Zeman (often called “the Zemanites”) won no seats. This will be a blow to Zeman who has recently been accused of taking liberties as a president including the implementation of the interim caretaker government in July. He was also widely criticised for taking an active part in the SPOZ election campaign but despite this was unable to gain any seats.
This is therefore a very unstable parliamentary situation. Talks of coalitions are presently taking place, but it is very unclear what could happen. The Social Democrats vowed not to work with TOP09 or ODS but there are rumours about them potentially working with ANO 2011. If this were to happen, the Social Democrats would lose a huge amount of support, particularly among the more radical youth and trade unionist elements within the party. Whether a minority government or a completely unnatural coalition is formed, one thing is certain: it will not be long term. President Zeman who controversially implemented the caretaker Rusnock government in July, has now lost a fair amount of credibility with his party getting no seats. This will make it harder for him to take more political liberties. It by no means will stop him from taking them but he will face more opposition. This political crisis is far from over.
It is the direct reflection of the economic and social problems within the country and the rottenness of the imperialists and gangster capitalists who call the shots in the economy. The amount of people who gain in any way from this system is decreasing year by year. Hence it is no surprise at all that when political parties are vowing to work within this system without challenging it, no party gets more than 20%, and 40% of the overall electorate doesn’t even bother to vote.
There are several clear symptoms of social crisis on the horizon right now which explicitly show the rottenness of this system. In the realm of health, VZP the biggest health insurance company has been taking subsidies of several billion Kc just in the last month. This is at a time when profits are increasing but people are being sent to an early death through lack of healthcare.
Another parasitic company, OKD are threatening closures in Ostrava which could lead to 100,000 redundancies. The company owner, having extracted a vast fortune from these mines, is holding the community and government to ransom and will close down unless subsidised. This owner also makes a profit from the 44,000 apartments he owns (another extremely lucrative and exploitative business). There have already been very militant and brave fight-backs against these threatened redundancies with striking miners occupying the company offices and there will be more to come.
Another big company, Skoda, are holding the Prague transport system to ransom, having signed a highly profitable contract in 2006 which risks putting the 8Billion Kc indebted system into bankruptcy. This will of course be paid for by the transport workers in job losses and wage cuts and the Prague residents in raising ticket prices not to mention the inefficiency it will cause to transport and the whole city that relies on it.
These sacrifices in the name of profit will not go unopposed forever. As time goes on, people will question the god given right of the owners of Skoda, VZP and OKD and other companies to hold the people to ransom. The people who through their hard work create the wealth, will take this only for so long, but will eventually question their ownership and regardless of their previous political views, radicalisation will ensue. Ideas such as public ownership of the health system under democratic control by medical staff and the communities, public ownership of the mines, the automobile industry and transport under the staff and communities they affect will become popular. Bold socialist policies will resonate amongst the Czech people. The viability of the capitalist system is being questioned the world over and the Czech Republic will be no exception.
With the anti-communist, and hence anti left wing, rhetoric of the mainstream media there is a tendency for communists to bend to this liberal pressure and pander to the free market. Often they mistakenly think that with such “anti-communist” feelings it is the only way to get votes. This is an error. No amount of pandering will ever please the “liberals” who cry for freedom and rights in words but pander to the evil blood drenched system of capitalism with their deeds. They will always see the Communist Party and any other mass working class organisation as a threat.
If the KSCM were to take the current needs of the workers and lead a programme of nationalising the parasitic gangster and imperialist run commanding heights of the economy and put them under the democratic control of the working class, they would win over many of the disillusioned rank and file Social Democrats and also working class voters of other parties and of course the abstainers. People will start to question the system. The communists have a responsibility to take an initiative and create a bold platform for the masses to express their interests through.