The intervention of Russian tanks temporarily halted the movement in Czechoslovakia. But, as Alan Woods pointed out at the time, "The rule of the bureaucracy now represents an absolute fetter on the development of the planned economies of Russia and Eastern Europe. The needs of the people can no longer be met by a system whose every pore is choked by bureaucracy, mismanagement and waste."
Eastern Europe in Turmoil - effects rock Stalinist parties
The movement in Czechoslovakia has not ended. It has barely begun. We are witnessing the beginnings of the political revolution in Eastern Europe. The Czech events, although far less advanced than the Polish and Hungarian events of 1956, have shaken to the core every one of the bureaucratic cliques in Eastern Europe and Russia.
In March, as a direct result of the ferment in Czechoslovakia, riots broke out in Poland, in which at one stage, a crowd of 10,000 people wrecked the Ministry of Culture, shouting "long live Czechoslovakia", and battling with the police. And whereas in 1956, the students and workers sang Polish nationalist songs, in 1968 they began their demonstration by singing the 'Internationale'.
Subsequently, the "liberal" committee, with dastardly cynicism, attempted to whip up the most rotten anti-semitic prejudices of the Polish people in order to discredit the movement, to prove that it had no support among "Poles" and "workers". And yet, the figures, published later, of those arrested, showed that out of 1,208 only 367 were students. The rest were described as "hooligans".
In Poland, as in Czechoslovakia, the bureaucratically-run economy has ground into an impasse. Over the last two years, wages have been frozen, while prices are soaring. In the six months prior to the March demonstrations, the cost of living practically doubled. Most of the concessions granted by Gomulka in 1956, (who at that time was being idolised by the Western press, and even by certain self-styled "Trotskyists") have either been watered down or taken back altogether.
The growing discontent and impatience of the workers, and especially of the youth, could easily erupt into action if only a lead were given. That is the explanation of the brutal suppression of the student demonstrations in Poland.
Even more significant were the recent disturbances in Yugoslavia. Inspired by the French events, and influenced by the crisis of the Yugoslav economy and the wide-spread suffering of the masses, students in Belgrade staged protest demonstrations against the wealth and privileges of the bureaucracy, demanding the equalisation of salaries, an end to the power of the "red bourgeoisie" and to the policies of breaking up the planned economy and handing back the state-owned property to private owners.
The students even took over a whole suburb and ran it for a time. The students' leaflets received an enthusiastic reception from the workers. Newspapers reported people standing in groups, studying and discussing the views expressed. Such was the sympathy of the whole population, that violent repression was out of the question. The "arbiter" Tito had to step forward and promise to "look into" the students' demands.
Wherever one looks in Eastern Europe, the picture is one of increasing restlessness of the masses, expressed first and foremost among the intelligentsia. The intelligentsia in general, and the students in particular represent, as Marxists have explained, a most sensitive barometer of social discontent: this is doubly and trebly true of Eastern Europe and Russia, where the overwhelming majority of students are not, as in the West, part of the privileged minority of society, but the sons and daughters of workers and peasants.
The growing unrest, on the one hand, and the increasing nervousness of the bureaucracy on the other was clearly revealed at the recent World Youth Festival in Sofia, where the usual rigged Stalinist puppet-show of "Peace and Friendship" gave way to splits, disagreements and open violence, when the Bulgarian police beat up a number of delegates and cameramen.
The Bulgarian authorities, apart from anything else, were probably worried about the effects of the discussions on their own workers-who had been squeezed to pay for the lavish extravaganza when in January, by decree, the prices of all necessities of life were doubled, and bank savings above a certain amount confiscated by the government.
The Czech events cannot but exercise a powerful influence on the people of Eastern Europe and Russia. In particular the thousands of Russian, East German, Polish, Bulgarian and Hungarian troops stationed in Czechoslovakia will carry home the "bacillus of revolution". A week after the invasion, the effects were already apparent in the most repressive Stalinist regime in Eastern Europe, East Germany.
Attempts by Ulbricht to get the East German workers to sign petitions in support of the action of the Warsaw Pact met with refusals to sign. Hundreds of people entered the Czech embassy and other buildings of Czech delegations in defiance of the government, which had surrounded these buildings with police.
There was even a demonstration of 4,000 workers at Eisenhüttenstadt protesting against the invasion.
In spite of all the ravings of the Ulbricht press, the jamming of Western broadcasts and the banning of Czechoslovak German language newspapers, the truth has seeped through to the East German working class.
The intervention of Russian tanks has temporarily halted the movement in Czechoslovakia. But the movement of the workers of the East against bureaucratic rule can break out anywhere, causing a new and even deeper crisis of Stalinism. The rule of the bureaucracy now represents an absolute fetter on the development of the planned economies of Russia and Eastern Europe. The needs of the people can no longer be met by a system whose every pore is choked by bureaucracy, mismanagement and waste.
In Russia itself, for all the striking progress that has been made by the nationalised, planned economy, the figure for wastage of production has been put as high as 30-50%. Along this road, no further progress can be made. The needs of the planned economies themselves demand an end to the rule of the parasites and the introduction of a democratic plan of production to meet the needs of the people themselves.
Such a plan could only succeed on the basis of a Socialist Federation of Eastern Europe and Russia. The continuation of the old capitalist national divisions is the most powerful brake on the productive forces of Eastern Europe. It is a monstrous distortion of socialism that "socialist" Rumania and "socialist" Russia actually have territorial disputes.
It is crazy that, while East Germany suffers from a shortage of labour, there are 400,000 Yugoslavs who have been forced to seek work in the capitalist West. Earlier this year, "Peoples' Bulgaria", suffered from a labour shortage which means that some enterprises only work at 45%-50% capacity (The Economist 20 Jan) while over the border in Yugoslav Macedonia, where the people speak the same language, there is mass unemployment.
Most criminal of all is the spectacle of Russian and Chinese divisions facing each other over a completely artificial line drawn up in the last century by the Russian Tsar and the Chinese Emperor! The Russian bureaucracy is desperately trying to force or cajole workers away from Moscow and Leningrad to develop the enormous potential wealth of the Far East, while forcibly deporting Chinese who try to enter this area.
The survival of these senseless antiquated national divisions is not the result of "nationalism" among the working classes of the East. They were never consulted about it. It is purely and simply the result of selfish greed and narrow nationalism of the bureaucratic cliques, who are not prepared to sacrifice an inch of "their" territory, to share their privileges, power and income with the other bureaucrats.
Only by putting an end to the rule of the bureaucracy will the workers and peasants of Russia, Eastern Europe and China be able at last to link hands in a mighty Socialist Federation, which would open up the road to a tremendous development of the productive forces, combining all the wealth, resources and know-how of three continents, as the first step in the direction of a socialist world.
One of the most far reaching effects of the Czech events will be the speeding up of the process of the nationalist degeneration of the Stalinist parties. In 1956 the Communist Parties lost thousands of members in the splits that followed the crushing of the Hungarian Revolution.
Now the Communist Party leaders are not prepared to carry the can for the actions of the Russian bureaucrats. Coming hard on the heels of the sell-out of the French Communist Party in May, the Czech events have again split the foreign Communist Parties as a single glance at the letter column of the 'Morning Star' shows.
The British Communist Party along with the French, Italian and other Parties has dissociated itself from the Russian action. It could hardly be otherwise, after Gollan (the General Secretary) had described the Bratislava Agreement as proof of "the everlasting union of socialist countries".
Nevertheless, the explanation of the Czech events put forward by the British Stalinists is false through and through. They try to portray the conflict as a "mistake" on the part of the "Soviet comrades". In the same way they previously described the crimes of thirty years of Stalinism as a "mistake" and the mistakes of a single man, at that!
In place of a serious analysis they talk about "tragedy" and shed crocodile tears, pretending that this was the very first instance of such an action in all the spotless annals of Russian Stalinism! (Morning Star 22nd August).
But for Marxists the task is "neither to weep nor laugh, but to understand". The Communist Party leaders are incapable of explaining the event to their rank-and-file. To do so would be to analyse the role of the bureaucracies which they have consistently defended for forty years.
Like the Czech bureaucrats themselves, they describe the confrontation with Russia as a "disagreement between friends", a "family quarrel". The "disagreements" of the Stalinists are expressed in the eloquent language of tanks, planes and guns! Such an "analysis" is an insult to the intelligence of Communist Party members.
Confusion reigns in the ranks of the Communist Parties. Unprepared theoretically for the shock of the Russian invasion, and disoriented by systematic miseducation in the last period, sections of the Communist Party rank-and-file have attacked the leadership and defended the Russian action. In a confused manner, even those Communist Party members who support the Russians are groping in the direction of a thorough reappraisal of the ideas of the Communist Party leaderships.
Sooner or later, they will understand the necessity to return to the basic theoretical positions of Marxism, to the works of Marx, Engels, Lenin and also Leon Trotsky, who alone defended these ideas against the lying distortions of Stalinism after the death of Lenin. Only in this direction will the Communist Party comrades find the answers to the problems which have split and disorientated the Communist Parties in the last period.
Field day for capitalist propaganda
As in 1953 and 1956, the capitalist press has had a field-day, exploiting the Russian invasion of Czechoslovakia as "proof" of the barbarity of Communism, the impossibility of combining socialism and democracy, etc., etc.
The resulting depths of cynicism to which the representatives of "Western Democracy" can sink is typified by the crocodile tears of Johnson, who is waging a barbarous war against the people of Vietnam on behalf of World Imperialism. The words "Freedom" and "Democracy" on the lips of these gentlemen are made to smell rotten.
While the imperialists and their friends shed bitter tears over the fate of the "poor Czechs", they are not prepared, of course, to lift a finger to help. And with good reason. They know perfectly well that all the Kremlin's propaganda about "counter-revolution" in Czechoslovakia is a downright lie.
They are well aware that the workers and peasants of Eastern Europe are not fighting to restore capitalism but to create genuine workers' democracies. The capitalists have no interest in allowing that to happen. Quite the reverse. They are only too pleased to see the Russian bureaucracy crush the workers of Eastern Europe-while taking full advantage of the cheap propaganda provided to discredit socialism.
The authorities in the west know very well that revolution is no respecter of frontiers. The strike movement in the East could easily spark off a sympathetic movement in the West, with disastrous consequences for capitalism. In every single case where the workers have risen up, capitalists have looked on with delight as they were gunned down by the troops of the bureaucracy.
For decades now, the capitalist class in the West and the bureaucracy in the East have leaned on each other for support.
On the other hand, the capitalists were able to utilise the crimes of Stalinism to discredit the idea of socialism and communism in the minds of the workers. Hungary, the Berlin Wall, and now Czechoslovakia, all these crimes of the Russian bureaucracy have dragged the banner of Marxism-Leninism through the mud, and made the words stink in the nostrils of the workers of the world.
On the other hand, the monstrous actions of American imperialism in Vietnam, the crushing of the independence movements and the brutal suppression of the negroes in America, the stockpiling of nuclear arms and the memory of 20 million dead in the war with Nazi Germany are used by the bureaucracy to frighten their own workers into supporting such actions as the present intervention in Czechosloakia.
In this way, the ruling strata of East and West lend each other stability in the face of their respective working classes. The theories of "peaceful co-existence", "bridge-building to the East", "détente", etc. are evidence of the growing awareness of this fact by both sides.
While it will never be possible for two irreconcilably contradictory social systems to arrive at a final agreement, nevertheless, in the present perilous state of both world capitalism and Stalinism, they are prepared to lend each other a hand to preserve the status quo and to guard against worse to come.
Thus, the Russian gentlemen had the "courtesy" to inform the Western bosses in advance of their intention to invade. The American capitalists, for all their fulminations and protests, had no more intention of intervening in Czechoslovakia than had the Russian bureaucracy of assisting the development of the revolution in France earlier this year.
As for the suggestion raised by the Tory reactionaries in this country that Britain should boycott Russian products. Well...our main import is timber, and that happens to be very cheap... Other produce is also very useful... In the end the suggestion was seriously made to boycott Russian caviare!
The period of the last twenty years has led to the stabilisation of imperialism in the West and the bureaucracies in the East, and to the isolation of the Marxists from the masses. But now, in a manner which could hardly have been foreseen, the revolutionary movement is coming to a head in all the main areas of the globe simultaneously.
The real balance of forces on a world scale is strikingly revealed in turn by the events in Vietnam, France and Czechoslovakia. The capitalist system is thoroughly rotted. From being a progressive system, which rapidly developed the productive forces of the world, it has turned into its opposite.
In the East, too, Stalinism has entered into a phase of crisis, which threatens not only the parasitic Stalinist cliques of the East, but also the capitalist systems of the West.
Where will the next revolutionary upheaval occur? Poland? Spain? Greece? Brazil? The capitalists and Stalinists await the future with trepidation. They have forfeited their right to continue to rule the world as, more and more, their rule becomes an obstacle to the development of production, culture, humanity. They know that any upheaval, East or West, threatens to upset the whole delicate equilibrium upon which their "stable" rule rests.
The movement of the workers of the advanced capitalist countries or the political revolution against the bureaucracy in the East will put an end of the barbarous nightmare of Stalinism and capitalism and place on the order of the day a new and humane social system, in a Socialist World Federation.
- Czechoslovakia (1968): Stalinism rocked by crisis - Part One by Alan Woods
- Czechoslovakia (1968): Stalinism rocked by crisis - Part Two by Alan Woods
- Czechoslovakia 1968: 'Lenin wake up, Brezhnev has gone mad' by Alan Woods (May 18, 2000)
- Dual power in France - A Militant leaflet, May 1968
- Revolutionary days - May 1968, a personal memoir by Alan Woods (May 13, 2008)
- The French Revolution of May 1968 – Part One by Alan Woods (May 1, 2008)
- The French Revolution of May 1968 – Part Two by Alan Woods (May 1, 2008)
- The French revolution has begun by Ted Grant (August 1968)
- [Audio] 1968 - Year of Revolution by Alan Woods (May 21, 2008)
- [Audio] Italy 1969: the Hot Autumn by Fred Weston (May 13, 2008)