Tag: prague spring

Reflections on the Prague Spring and Socialism

 

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.”

When Spring Ended in August

 

Fifty years ago today, 200,000 Soviet troops, with reinforcements from East Germany, Poland, Hungary and Bulgaria, invaded the Czechoslovak Socialist Republic, and the so-called Prague Spring came to an end.

In January of 1968, Alexander Dubček, a Slovak, was elected First Secretary of the Czechoslovak Communist Party, succeeding Antonin Novotný. The latter had been experimenting with a new economic model for a couple of years (Czechoslovakia had been continental Europe’s most highly industrialized country until overtaken by Nazi Germany in the late 1930s and was less adapted to the post-war Soviet model), and this attempt at easing the Communist system had spurred writers, such as Milan Kundera, to demand more social flexibility as well.

The Dubček government set about achieving what the new First Secretary described as “socialism with a human face,” abolishing censorship and easing travel restrictions.

ACF: Prague Spring Edition

 

Friends, this edition of the podcast is dedicated to the 50th anniversary of the Prague Spring — on the night of August 20-21, the Soviet-led Warsaw Pact armies invaded Czechoslovakia and put an end to the hopes for reform of the Communist regime. It would take more than a generation for freedom, destroyed by invasion, to come back to Prague. On January 16, 1969, Jan Palach, a 20-year-old student, burned himself in Wenceslas Square in protest against the resurgent tyranny. Agnieszka Holland, the Oscar-nominated director of the Holocaust movie In Darkness (2011), also made Burning Bush (2013), a three-episode mini-series on Jan Palach’s self-immolation and its aftermath, one of the best works of art we have about late totalitarian government. Flagg Taylor and I talk about this movie and about the Prague Spring itself, the Charter 77 movement, and Jan Palach’s legacy up to the return of freedom to Czechoslovakia.