The Seventh Night
The Czech Black Book Sciences
Prague's Two Hundred Days
Prague Spring: A Report on Czechoslovakia 1968
Plan and Market Under Socialism
Reading these books in Prague, in the chilly spring of Dr. Husak when the snow lay grimily in the ditches and the censored newspapers piled up unsold in the kiosks, I found myself doing what the Czechs and Slovaks were doing: taking the first chance for months to look back and size up history. Alexander Dubcek has fallen. As a Czech friend said, “There is only one good thing about this. The great schizophrenia is over. We no longer have to protect the leaders we loved while rejecting the compromise they were forced to put into practice. The situation is black and white now, and in a way we feel more free.”
So a time of looking back has begun. For the first time since August, it is possible to ask seriously questions upon whose eventual answers the whole future of Czechoslovak society will depend. Were the reforms of last spring the right reforms? Were the leaders then too swift to release the press too slow to renew the cadres of the Party by an emergency congress? Could the disaster of invasion have been averted by a slower pace, or instead by reforms done with revolutionary speed and thoroughness, or even by open warning that the Army would be used to maintain the integrity of all the frontiers? Did the compromise accepted in Moscow after the occupation lead inevitably to slow disintegration of the leadership, or could another line have been drawn beyond which Dubcek and Svoboda might have refused to retreat? Should the nation have refused all compromise and gone down fighting leaving to the next generation the memory of how—for the first time since the Battle of the White Mountain—the Czechs preferred a Thermopylae to a Munich?
One truth already shines through that the months since August have not been simply a retreat over conquered ground. The crippled leadership, both by its helplessness and by its restrictive measures against existing reforms, provoked a new and staggering advance of democracy on another front. The working class took the stage, with the Czech and Moravian students at its side, and demanded a democracy of workers’ councils with the reformed trades unions acting as an autonomous but extra-parliamentary force. A new “human face of socialism” emerged, and although the union leaders have now given up direct political defiance and any extension of the existing forty-six workers’ councils will almost certainly be blocked, the whole Czechoslovak experiment has acquired a new dimension. In a letter addressed this month to the Bertrand Russell Peace Foundation, three student representatives say this: “All of a sudden the original slogan ‘Society is not free because the intellectuals are oppressed has changed into the completely new and perhaps more accurate ‘Only when the immediate producer enjoys full and true democratic rights as a citizen in society—only then can the intellectuals have the right to talk about their own freedom.”‘
What happened in Czechoslovakia in 1968 happened as the result of the natural and inevitable development of…
This article is available to online subscribers only.
Please choose from one of the options below to access this article:
Purchase a print premium subscription (20 issues per year) and also receive online access to all all content on nybooks.com.
Purchase an Online Edition subscription and receive full access to all articles published by the Review since 1963.
Purchase a trial Online Edition subscription and receive unlimited access for one week to all the content on nybooks.com.