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I had a terrific time on the flagship podcast this week—thanks to Peter, Rob, James, and the Blue Yeti for having me on. Here are some further thoughts I had hoped to articulate on the podcast as well as others prompted by the podcast.
First, an important addition to the lesson of the Prague Spring. The program of the Prague Spring reformers, “socialism with a human face,” was saddled with a central contradiction. On the one hand they wanted to grant more autonomy and freedom to societal groups and managers; on the other, they had no intention of giving up the “leading role of the party.” So the allowance for the use of prices and profits would always be subordinated to the central Plan of the party and societal groups would also remain subject to the judgment and ultimate control of the party. But most reformers thought it would be good enough to end censorship, allow social groups to form, and allow opinion to operate freely. Then the party could allow a resuscitated society to feed it knowledge and thus prod it to respond with better policies. But either the Communist Party has a special knowledge of history’s logic and direction and thus deserves its leading role or it doesn’t. Václav Havel, in an essay published in April of 1968, saw the problem quite clearly. He argued that communist error must no longer count more than noncommunist truth. “If this is not done,” he wrote, “it means that communists are a special breed of superhumans who are…right even when they are wrong, while noncomunists are…wrong even when they are right…If communists have a guaranteed right to be wrong on occasion, then noncommunists must have a guaranteed right to be right; everything else is pointless.”