Marxist.com has already published material relating to the legal battle of the Czech Komsomol (Young Communists) against the Ministry of Internal Affairs. On a recent visit to Prague I therefore met up with the leader of the Czech Komsomol Milan Krajca to discuss the perspectives that flowed from these attacks, which he explained were part of a wider campaign against the CP (Communist Party).
In China the Communist Party has remained in power at the helm of the process of capitalist restoration. In Russia the Communist Party was made illegal by Yeltsin but still played a crucial role in shoring up Yeltsin's rule during the 1990s due to the weak, vacillating leadership of Gennady Ziuganov. The party existed thanks to the boldness of communist activists, many of whom were veterans from World War Two and weren't afraid of the might of the state, rebuilding their party, forcing the supreme court to legalise the CP again. But this dedication contrasted with the betrayals of Ziuganov, who called on people not to participate in the events of October 1993 and struggled hard not to win the presidential elections of 1996, being the first to congratulate Yeltsin on his stolen victory rather than challenging him with a show of might on the streets.
In Ukraine the CPU became (willingly) caught up in business intrigues, selling its influence in parliament to the highest bidder. In Moldova the CP unexpectedly won power in 2001 but hasn't renationalised industry. On the contrary, it has forged further ahead with strengthening ties with the EU and the US, showing how utopian is the idea that the CP can win bourgeois elections and then, basing themselves on bourgeois democracy rather than proletarian revolution, move towards socialism (in one country rather than internationally).
In all these examples there is a contrast between the leadership, which is completely removed from the working class, and the hatred towards capitalism that exists in society as a whole. The resulting failure of the CPs to counter the capitalist onslaught, which is 100% the fault of the leadership and not because the working class has ceased to exist or to be a revolutionary class, has resulted in a decline in support for the CPs, who are not seen as an alternative (even in Moldova, where the leadership is pursuing the same pro-capitalist policies). There is a general crisis among the CPs whose leaders are torn between openly backing capitalism and the need to appeal to their supporters to maintain their base in society. These parties have inherited the bureaucratic methods from the CPSU (the Communist Party of the Soviet Union) when the CP was the government. They have so far proved incapable of re-orientating themselves to capitalist conditions, which demand of CPs that they be revolutionary parties, based on the support of the masses rather than their control over the masses (who lack independent action etc.).
The case of the Czech CP, which is now subject to a torrent of propaganda and interference from the state, is therefore an exception. As Milan explained, with the transition to capitalism in the Czech Republic the new elite debated whether or not to ban the Communist Party. One view was that the CP represented a threat to "democracy," to the new order, and therefore the CP should be suppressed. After all, argued the bourgeois strategists in Prague with delight, the party consists mainly of old people and they will soon die out (because of the shock therapy of capitalism), and the CP will cease to have any influence. Or it might try and become a respectable bourgeois party, changing its name and ridding itself of the memory of 1917. This was the case in Poland for example.
There was also a split in which the majority of MPs left to form phantom alternatives to the CP but nothing remains of these attempts. But the CP remains intact and is the third largest parliamentary party with 26 MPs elected last summer on the basis of proportional representation and two deputies in the Senate elected on a first past the post system. The attacks on the CP are the brainchild of the new coalition government, headed by Mirek Topolanek of the Civil Democrats (ODS) with the support of the Christian Democrats and the Greens, a coalition that only gained a majority when two Social Democrats jumped ship. Now the government is set on a course of more privatisation, as well as banning the Komsomol and setting up of a provisional commission of the Czech Senate to monitor whether the CP respects the constitution.
The difficulties facing the Communist Party are closely tied to its relationship with the trade union movement. The two main trade union confederations are highly bureaucratised with leaderships tied to the Social Democrats. They are a continuation of the bureaucratic traditions of the communist past when trade unions organized healthcare and recreational activities for workers rather than act as fighting, independent unions. It is necessary for workers to start from scratch in participating in the movement and controlling their organizations. This process was set back by the economic chaos unleashed by the capitalist counter-revolution, with trade ties torn apart with the former socialist bloc and enterprises bought up by foreign capital and closed to avoid competition. Workers were in a state of shock and had a weak bargaining position. The economic crisis of the late 1990s had many parallels with the one in Russia at the same time, with the non-payment of wages, and desperate rearguard protests on the part of workers. But these spontaneous movements were too short-lived to transform the unions. Only a third, smaller union, built up by Karel Henes in the 1990s with a base among the miners was orientated towards this movement.
But the situation is changing. The previous two social democratic governments coincided with a period of stabilization and good economic indicators. In this period the country successfully entered the EU. The propaganda painting capitalism in bright colours and boastful of the fruits of EU membership is now wearing thin. Czech capitalism will not be able to compete against West European capital. Milan gave the example of the privatisation of land, which is ending up in foreign, particularly German, hands, a sensitive question given the history of the region. Instead of reforms Czech workers are facing increased insecurity. Unemployment stands at 500,000, and this is only the official figure, and the population is only 10m people. While Prague is prosperous on the surface, unevenness in economic development is growing more acute every year, with depressed regions with high unemployment especially in the north. The conditions are therefore maturing for the working class to move on the industrial front to push for higher wages, better conditions, collective negotiations with union representation and so on. And workers' leaders will be forced to petition parliament and deputies in campaigns of workers' defence.
The Communist Party is therefore set to play an important role in the coming period. Last year in opposition it already organized a social bloc in parliament to successfully defend the rights of workers in the labour code that was passed. Now that the government is led by a coalition of right wing parties whose agenda is introducing hospital and tuition fees and attacking pensions the need for the Communist Party to engage in the everyday struggle for reforms outside of parliament and link it to its parliamentary activity is growing.
At the moment the main activity of the Communist Party, which the Komsomol is energetically participating in, is campaigning against a planned US radar base 40 km from Prague. The party in parliament was the first to expose the secret negotiations that began five years ago (when the Social Democrats were in government) with the US. Up to 80% of the population are opposed to these plans, and people are particularly angry with the underhand methods of the politicians, those lying, hypocritical so-called "democrats" who denounce the communists for being undemocratic and violating Czech sovereignty by following the dictates of Moscow. In the elections last year the Greens demagogically opposed the plans too, and made other wishy-washy promises such as backing an international police force. But now they are in the government coalition and have received the seat of Minister of Foreign Affairs in the cabinet, they are backing the government. This means that the government has the necessary parliamentary majority to vote for the radar base, and that the communists will not be able to force a referendum on the issue, which requires the support of a constitutional majority in parliament.
The fact that the state is opposed to a referendum on this issue says a lot. Deciding matters by referendum is, all things being equal, to the advantage of the state, which can use the mass media to gain the backing of the more inert layers of the population and by-pass obstructive parliaments, as Yeltsin did. Given that the issue of the radar base has acquired such a massive resonance in the Czech Republic, the government's stance openly reveals that they know that they would lose in a referendum. The slogan of a referendum in this context exposes the sham democracy that exists in the country. But calling for a referendum is not in itself a solution. By removing parliament as a focus for activity, referendums undermine the role of political parties that exist in order to take responsibility for issues that affect working people and act as their organized voice in politics. For this reason in Russia Ziuganov had a habit of calling for referendums and thereby wash his hands of responsibility for legislation that in words he opposed but in practice did nothing to stop. Since he never had any means of forcing a referendum this was a completely irresponsible tactic that showed how completely divorced he was from reality.
What is necessary therefore, in contrast to the experience of the CPRF, is a campaign on many fronts to mobilise as many workers, youth and pensioners as possible. The work of the Komsomol so far, which has already gathered 60,000 signatures against the radar base, shows the tremendous potential that exists.
Despite the torrent of propaganda that has had a certain affect on the youth, the basic fact that most people were better off in the old times will inevitably express itself in a mass mood of revolt against capitalism, which is the source of the increasing polarisation and instability ruining life for the majority. Milan explained that last year was the first year since the collapse of the old system that pensions were increased, but they have a long way to go before they equal their level from 1989. Browsing through news agency sources on the Internet revealed another striking example. Landlords took the government to the European Court of Human Rights, arguing that their human rights as landlords to charge whatever rent they chose has been infringed by "the rent regulation relic of the communist past." As well as government (tax-payers') compensation, landlords are rubbing their hands at the prospect of sharp rent increases in years to come. Or take Prague itself, a town of exceptional historical and architectural character, that has become a cliché of itself with the invasion of the western tourist industry which has turned Prague into a commodity, full of tacky souvenirs and false romance. As a visitor you are just the bearer of so much money, destroying the Gothic ambiance you have paid to come to see. The hordes of loud tourists must repel local people sensitive to their own culture and its erosion under the influence of global capitalism. Thus even in Prague where people's living standards are improving on the surface, the fact is that rising incomes, which in any case are eaten up by inflated prices (and now rents) do not translate into a better quality of life.
Instead of articulating or moderating the discontent that is building up the professional politicians that talk about nationhood are living in another world. The headlines in the English language news sources such as The Prague Daily Monitor were filled with stories that underlined the social bankruptcy of the new regime. The deputy Prime Minister, who is also the regional minister and chairman of the Christian Democratic Party, has been exposed in a corruption scandal. The President Vaclav Klaus met George Bush Senior on a visit to the US who was awarded on a visit to Prague in 1990 with the order of the white lion "for his immense contribution to the collapse of the communist regime in Central and Eastern Europe." Such subservience to the most reactionary power on the planet, which is apparent in Czech troops serving in Iraq and the planned radar base, is typical of the rottenness of the grovelling Czech elite.
Then there is the accusation of the Czech Social Democrats (CSSD) that the ODS party, along with its friends in the organized crime unit (the UOOZ), had damaged it in the run-up to the elections by issuing a report saying that the CSSD had been infiltrated by organized crime. This is democracy at work, the real face of the cheating, dirty tricks of the Czech elite! It's some relief that they act the same way among themselves as they do towards the working class.
The juiciest scoop though was the move of the lawyer (by the name of Altner) who defended the CSSD in court in the 1990s to sue for his payment plus penalties. According to his contract he was owed 93 million crowns but with interest and penalties this has now become a princely 19bn crowns. This representative of justice made the following offer to the CSSD "send at least 165m crowns to my Swiss bank account and I will consider negotiations." The leader of the CSSD blamed the old leadership and replied that he wasn't worried about the party going bankrupt, adding, "if that were the case I wouldn't be taking four days off." The old leader in turn said that, "Altner was the only lawyer who was willing to represent us without any fees."
It is by no means certain that the campaign against the CP means that the ruling class are worried by the perspective of the CP gaining ground in the next period. These capitalist upstarts are too engrossed in piling up fortunes to think about little details like what might happen in the future and what the reaction of the working class will be to the regime's arrogance and selfishness. Instead the campaign could be a means for some careerist politicians to make a name for themselves by jumping on the anti-communist bandwagon. And so it was no surprise to read last week of Jaromir Stetina, head of the Senate commission assessing the KSCM's compatibility with the constitution, arguing that the party should be dissolved following a speech by party leader Vojtech Filip. Stetina said that detectives from the anti-extremism unit of the organized crime squad (the UOOZ again) would investigate his speech for praising the former communist regime, calling for a return to Marxism and V.I. Lenin and asking: "is the KSCM leader, either ideologically, theoretically and mainly politically... to take the lead in possible revolutionary processes?"
Some bourgeois commentators in actual fact believe that the Czech Communist party is in such a state that it could just simply die out, as the following statement by Jiri Pehe would seem to indicate:
"I think that the party will have a very hard time trying to increase its membership under the present conditions. It is a party of old people, the average age of its members is well over 70 and the party does not have many topics that would appeal to young people. Of course, it is possible for the party to become a platform for dissatisfied young people on the issues of globalization, global capitalism and so on but other parties are also trying to move into this space such as the Social Democrats and the Greens and therefore it may not be easy for the communists to attract young people. In my opinion the Communist Party will disappear from the Czech political scene in some ten to fifteen years or its popularity will be so low that it will not play a major role in Czech politics. I really feel that there is almost no future for the Communist Party. It is an obsolete political grouping which is really not in tune with developments in the modern world."
But the Czech Communists do have a base in society and if they adopted a genuine Marxist, revolutionary position they could tap into the new mood that is developing. A lot time is dedicated to answering accusations about the past. Of course, it is necessary to make a serious appraisal of the past. But that is not enough. What is necessary is a discussion on tactics and strategy, about finding links with the working class. Yes, we must answer the torrent of ruling class propaganda, but working class people are not too interested in abstract statistics, and how these are manipulated by the media and politicians, etc. What they want to know is what is the programme for the next elections? What will the Communists do about the serious economic and social questions that affect the Czech workers? Only by boldly stating that the real answer to the problems of the Czech workers is to be found in a return to the ideas of Lenin can the answer be found.
What we have in the Czech Republic is a stinking caricature of democracy, but this is standard for bourgeois democracy. These kind democrats condemn the Czechoslovak Communist Party for suppressing democratic rights, for using the secret police to cow the population. There is even a Communist Museum in Prague to enlighten visitors about the crimes of the communist past and drag the ideas and traditions of Bolshevism through the mud. What they are trying to do is equate the Stalinist caricature of the past with genuine Communism. That has to be combated with a clear admission of what the Stalinist regime of the past was. By doing that, and at the same time developing a programme and perspective for today's movement, the Czech Communists can play an important role in the future struggles of the Czech workers.