Between the two imperialists world wars the Marxists considered Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia and Poland to be imperialist powers, because in these three states there were oppressed national minorities – Croats, Kosovars and others in Yugoslavia, Slovakians and Sudeten ethnic Germans in Czechoslovakia, Ukrainians in Poland. If it could be taken apart from the entire context which in fact it had, and if German imperialism had not been German imperialism, Hitler's claim to the Sudetenland, where the majority wanted to unite with Germany, would have been more or less reasonable. In reality it was imperialistic aggrandisement, part of a conflict between the great imperialist powers of Europe. This article, written in 1938 just after the Munich agreement, analyses and explores these complex issues. Indirectly, it says a lot about the present Ukraine Russian conflict.
THE NATIONAL QUESTION has often played a fateful rôle in Central Europe. In the year 1848, as a result of the cowardice of the German bourgeoisie and the reactionary policy of the rising bourgeoisie of the Slavic peoples of Austria, the development of the bourgeois-democratic revolution was frustrated. Thanks to eternal national strife the rotten, semi-feudal Austro-Hungarian monarchy was able to maintain itself into the 20th century. Nationalistic illusions after the World War contributed powerfully to the defeat of the proletarian revolution in Central Europe and to the isolation and destruction of its first fortress, the Hungarian Soviet republic. In 1938 it was the nationalistic corruption of the masses that was one of the chief causes of the proletariat’s inability to intervene independently as the Czechoslovak crisis brought Europe to the very brink of imperialist war – the crisis which suddenly ended with an imperialist truce that handed over the entire “Danube area” to Hitler without a struggle.
In recent years the working population of Czechoslovakia was nationally completely split. The greater portion of the Sudeten German people and even the working class was under the influence of Henlein’s fascist “liberation” demagogy. A large portion of the poor peasantry of Slovakia was in the camp of Hlinka’s clerico-fascist, autonomist People’s Party. The Czech workers and peasants, however, were ready to defend the capitalist fatherland under the leadership of the Czech bourgeoisie. Each national section of the proletariat concluded a class peace with its own national bourgeoisie. The Czech workers stood ready to shed their blood for the interests of Czech and Anglo-French finance capital, because they believed that they would thereby be defending the freedom of the Czech people. The Sudeten German workers allowed themselves to be misused by German imperialism because they awaited their “national and social liberation” from Hitler.
How could that have come about? How could that have happened in a country, in which the communist party was born of a mass split from the social democracy, a party which numbered hundreds of thousands of members at its founding and which for 20 solid years maintained such sizeable influence that in the general elections its vote always varied between three-quarters of a million and a million? How could it have happened in a country in which the Czech, German, Slovak, Hungarian, Polish and Carpatho-Ukrainian workers constituted a unified and centralized communist party – a fact over which Lenin used to rejoice so much?
The Czechoslovak labor movement went down because of opportunism; it was defeated by the betrayal of the leaders of the Second and Third Internationals. An especially important factor, however, was its inability to pose correctly, that is, in a revolutionary manner, the national question which is so tremendously important in Central Europe. It is this question with which we wish to deal here in detail.
The “Heritage” of Austro-Marxism
The social democracy of old Austro-Hungary was unable to connect the struggle of the oppressed peoples of the monarchy with the class struggle of the proletariat. Had it done so, that is, had it been a really revolutionary party, the post-war history of Central Europe and probably of all Europe would have had a different aspect.
The struggle of the oppressed nations in the old Hapsburg empire bore tremendous revolutionary possibilities. The bourgeoisie of these peoples was unable to place itself consistently at the head of the struggle for national liberation – for the same reasons that the Russian bourgeoisie was unable to complete the bourgeois-democratic revolution in Russia.
Like the Russian bourgeoisie, the Czech, Croat and Slovene bourgeoisie, etc., came into the world too late, so to speak. It actually became a class only in the age of imperialism, that is, in the age of declining and decaying capitalism. Under normal conditions it could only shake off the foreign yoke by mobilizing the toiling masses. It was in fear of and hated these masses, however, who had already raised the demands of their own class. It feared and hated them more than foreign dominion.
Moreover, especially in the case of the Czech bourgeoisie, there dwelled, economically speaking, two souls in its breast. On the one hand, it was interested in the large market for its industrial products which Austro-Hungary with its 50 million inhabitants and preponderantly agrarian territory offered; on the other hand, it would have liked to throw off foreign exploitation and regency. The second alternative, however, only on condition that the masses would not solve the question in revolutionary fashion, but that other, “more respectable”, foreign forces would “help the Czech people to freedom” and at the same time guarantee the Czech bourgeoisie its class supremacy and the uninterrupted exploitation of its “own” Czech masses and if possible of others, too.
First, Czarism was considered by the Czech bourgeoisie, especially by its more backward portion, to be such a “more respectable” force. For this reason the Austro-Slavic, prewar program of Kramar demanded the reorganization of Austria on a federated basis and an alliance with the empire of the Czar. For this reason the Czech bourgeoisie in the years 1914-1915 awaited its “liberation” by the Russian cossacks. Soon, however, the defeats of the Czar’s army buried these hopes.
The more “modern” representatives of the bourgeoisie, headed by Masaryk, had long ago directed their eyes more to the West, toward imperialist France and England. There they found during the war the more “respectable” outside power which they needed for “liberation”.
If already during the war the Czech bourgeoisie began to count on “liberation” from without, to which, moreover, they were driven by Germany’s plans for a unified Central Europe, that in no wise meant that it was ready itself to fight actively. It first decided to intervene at the very end of the war after the decision had already been rendered on the battlefields. While the Czech workers had long been struggling for national independence by mass desertions and uprisings at the front, and strikes and hunger demonstrations at home, which they naively identified with “social justice”, the bourgeoisie still continued to pursue a loyal Austrian policy, sending greetings to the “victorious leaders of the Austrian armies” and assiduously underwriting war loans.
If at that time the proletariat had placed itself at the head of the struggle for freedom, if it had boldly commenced the struggle for the overthrow of the monarchy by realizing the right of self-determination, if it had replaced the instinctive connection of the struggle for national and social liberation by the scientific synthesis of both – that is, by the slogans, “Destroy Austria”, “Destroy National Oppression”, “Destroy Class Rule and Exploitation Together”, “Realize the Right of Self-Determination and Peacefully Unite the Peoples in the United States of Socialist Central Europe” – then the Hungarian Commune would not have remained an isolated episode, the revolution would not have been stopped at Warsaw and all history would have taken a different turn.
Already at that time, however, social democracy had placed itself firmly on the basis of the status quo and the status quo at that time was Austria. Thus the social-democratic leaders became loyal, faithful to the Hapsburgs and counter-revolutionary. The Austro-Marxian “analyses” served only as a profound rationalization of their prostitution. Modern economy becomes more centralized, it demands large spheres of development: ergo, the liberation of the small peoples is a reactionary Utopia and God preserve, God protect our Kaiser, our country. That an economic union other than on a basis of exploitation is possible, namely, the voluntary union of liberated peoples in a socialist federation and that the road to it lies through the revolutionary struggle for the right of self-determination – that never even occurred to the learned dialecticians of Austro-Marxism.
During the war it was the Czech social democracy, with its leader Smeral, which went to the worst extremes. Today Smeral, as is well known, is one of the leaders of the CPCz. At the time of the World War he wrote a series of articles on “buffer states”, in which he showed that an independent Czech state could not maintain itself in the present epoch of capitalism and that such a state would necessarily have to become a football of the great imperialist powers. That was correct. History has brilliantly confirmed Smeral’s prognosis long after he himself renounced it. Instead of drawing the revolutionary conclusion, however – namely, that the freedom of the Czech people can be assured only under socialism and that the Czech toilers must struggle for the proletarian revolution even in the interest of their national emancipation – Smeral, in the Austro-Marxian way, drew a counter-revolutionary one: the Hapsburg monarchy must be defended. As a result of this policy he became during the war the man most hated by the Czech people. When at the end of the war he again wanted to speak at a labor mass meeting in Zizkov, a suburb of Prague, the workers cut him off as soon as he appeared on the platform. The leadership of the social democracy lost all influence over the mass movement. The opposition which crystallized in the party toward the end of the war was petty bourgeois and nationalistic. Thus the mass of the toiling people, which under the influence of the Russian Revolution and the peace negotiations at Brest was coming into ever greater flux, remained without revolutionary leadership. On October 14, 1918 the masses spontaneously conducted a general strike with the slogan, “For an Independent Czech Socialist Republic.” The movement had, however, no class conscious leadership. When Austria collapsed 14 days later, the Czech bourgeoisie, which at last dared to show its face, placed itself without any resistance at the head of the “national revolution” and the “national state”. The social-democratic leaders, most of whom, just as their bourgeois masters, had changed overnight from Black-and-Yellow to White-and-Red patriots, formed a coalition government with the bourgeoisie.
A twofold process now began. With the help of the reformist leaders the bourgeoisie built up the capitalist state. The mass of the proletariat, which had been expecting a “socially just” republic, began to become disillusioned and to rally behind revolutionary slogans.
In the Fall of 1920 came the inevitable collision. The revolutionary tendency had already won a two-thirds majority within the Czech social democracy. The bourgeoisie, however, under the leadership of the incumbent Minister of the Interior and the leader of the Agrarian party, Svehla, had secretly reconstructed its police force and gendarmerie. Actively led by President Masaryk, the right-wing leaders split the social democracy shortly before the party congress at which the left wing was sure to win out. A specially installed government of bureaucrats headed by the tested Austrian veteran Czerny – who, moreover, is today again the Minister of the Interior in the Sirovy government – beat down the provoked general strike which was poorly conducted by the left-wing’s centrist leadership. The fate of Czechoslovakia was decided for the moment. It became a capitalist, imperialistic republic. Out of the social-democratic left, however, there emerged a mass communist party.
Czechoslovakia was a typical creation of the imperialist Peace of Versailles. It was one of the group of small imperialist states which were constructed with the dual purpose of policing Germany’s eastern border and of blocking the Russian revolution by means of a “cordon sanitaire”. The borders of these states were so drawn by the peace dictate that strong national minorities were to be found everywhere. This was to make the unification of these states with one another or with Germany impossible and to keep them dependent on the western powers. Quite openly, considerations of strategy were put before any ethnographic ones. Thus Czechoslovakia received territories of which the Czech bourgeoisie had formerly never even dared to dream, for example, the Carpatho-Ukraine. A state arose in which the ruling nation, the Czech, formed only 50% of the entire population. To make the fiction of the national state even half-way tenable it was necessary officially to stamp the Czechs and the Slovaks, who are undoubtedly two distinct peoples even if closely related, as a “Czechoslovak” nation.
Czechoslovakia was a bourgeois-democratic republic, but its “democracy” was always a little peculiar. By means of various protective laws and exceptional regulations the political rights of workers had already been so limited since 1923 that not much was left of them. Even in its heyday, Czechoslovak “democracy” was much more reactionary than, for example, the late lamented Weimar Republic. It could not be otherwise in a state in which 50% of the population was not only socially but also nationally oppressed, especially in its eastern portions, where the oppression took on almost colonial forms. Once more it is demonstrated how correct Karl Marx was when he said that no people which oppresses another people can be free. The national independence of the Czech people could have been assured in two ways after the collapse of old Austria: either by the revolutionary way of the overthrow of its own bourgeoisie, the liberation of the oppressed peoples by the realization of their right of self-determination and the voluntary unification of the free peoples of Central Europe in the United Socialist States; or, on the other hand, by the counter-revolutionary suppression of its own proletariat, by imperialist annexation and oppression of national minorities, by arming and by “guarantees” of imperialist allies and protectors. With the aid of the reformist leaders the bourgeoisie succeeded in accomplishing the second alternative. To what extent, however, this alternative really assured the Czech people their national freedom the events of 20 years later demonstrated. In this sense, too, it was demonstrated that no people can be free that permits itself to be misused for the oppression of others.
The National Policy of the Czechoslovak Proletariat
In place of the old “prison of the peoples”, Austria, there now arose a series of smaller peoples’ prisons. What was to be the policy of the proletariat?
Once more the working class had the opportunity of combining its class struggle with the struggle of the oppressed nations and of winning powerful allies in their toiling masses. For it alone was in a position to show the real way out of the blind alley of eternal nationalistic conflicts in Central Europe by the slogan of self-determination and voluntary unification, by the slogan of the United Socialist States.
To be sure, the social democracy did not understand this and as a reformist party it could not understand it. Once more it put itself on the basis of the imperialist status quo. It defended the capitalist republic and along with it the right of the Czech bourgeoisie to suppress national minorities. It opposed the right of self-determination and in practise, too, all of the partial demands of national minorities.
On the other hand, the communist party, in its more worthy past, took some correct steps on the road to a revolutionary policy in the national question. After its second congress in 1924, at which the opportunistic Smeral leadership was ousted, the right of self-determination was added to its program. The fifth congress in 1929 clearly characterized Czechoslovakia as an imperialist state and imposed upon the party the task of combining the struggle for self-determination with the class struggle and of achieving hegemony for the proletariat in the movement for the national emancipation of the oppressed peoples.
In the period which followed, the CPCz was able to score definite successes in the minority territories. In Sudeten German regions there arose a broad non-party and international movement of the unemployed under communist leadership. In 1930 and 1931, 1,500 local unemployed committees were functioning there and took the leadership in broad actions. Against the will of the trade-union bureaucracy of all tendencies a tremendous, united strike of the North Bohemian coal miners was led and won. Germans, Czechs, communists, social democrats, unorganized and Nazi workers participated in solidarity, fought against the Czech state and won great power for their democratically-elected strike committees. In the Carpatho-Ukraine there arose under communist leadership a very broad, revolutionary peasant movement which led to big battles with the gendarmerie and the army and finally forced the government to stop the mass foreclosures and to distribute grain to the poor peasants.
Even at that time, however, the national question was posed too abstractly. The preponderantly economic struggle was carried on for immediate, partial demands and at the same time the final solution of the national question was put forward. The proper connection, however, between the struggle for small economic demands and against every concrete expression of national oppression, and the final solution was lacking. Just as it was taboo in the economic struggle to tread the bridge from partial demands to the final goal, because it rested upon “Trotskyist” transitional demands for workers’ control of production, so in the struggle for national emancipation a mechanical repetition of the final solution had to suffice, which without proper concretization could have only agitational value.
In the end all partial gains were lost. The following period of “social fascism” and the “united front of communism”, together with the effects of the German defeat, isolated the party completely from the masses. There remained only one thing: the international composition of the party and the international, if abstract, character of its agitation.
These remaining accomplishments were cruelly and thoroughly liquidated by the VII World Congress of the Comintern. After helping Hitler into power by his idiotic ultra-left policies, Stalin concluded his illustrious alliance with Laval, which according to its real content bound the Soviet Union to rush to the help of France if France’s imperialist interests were threatened, and bound France, should the USSR be attacked, to consult with the League of Nations. For the sake of this alliance Stalin sacrificed the revolutionary movement in all finality.
The Czech Stalinists, together with the French, now became the most glowing patriots. They not only voted the arms budget, they demanded bigger armaments. They not only preached class peace, they denounced all its opponents as “enemies of the people”. No one, in fact, was nationalistic or patriotic enough for them. Their whole struggle against fascism was reduced to the denunciation of Hitler’s agents, real and supposed, to the police. Even their struggle against the Henlein movement consisted only in denouncing the Henlein adherents to the authorities, and complaining about the authorities to the government if they did not proceed drastically enough.
The only basis, however, for really successfully fighting the Henlein movement was the class struggle, combined with the defense of the German workers against the national oppression of the Czech bourgeoisie and the Czech state apparatus. Only the class struggle could smash Henlein’s false “commonalty of the people”. It was imperative to bring the Nazi workers and peasants into conflict with their capitalist and big landowning comrades in the struggle for higher wages, shortening of the working day with no reduction in pay, adequate and universal unemployment relief, in the struggle for workers’ control of the Sudeten German factories and mines, the division of “German soil” among the German small peasants, for national equality, home rule and self-determination. Then, as to be expected, Czech gendarmes would have been mobilized to protect the capitalist “comrades” against the Sudeten people and that would have been the end of the fascist “commonalty of the people”. Instead, however, the “communist” and reformist leaders called the Czech police and thereby welded Henlein’s ranks more tightly. In the end, they remained completely isolated. In the last communal elections of the republic, Henlein garnered almost 90% of the Sudeten German votes.
THE CZECH PEOPLE CLEARLY saw that the whole Versailles structure was shaky and threatened to collapse. At the same time it saw the Czech imperialist state and the national independence of the Czechs menaced by German imperialism. Since for years no one outside of a weak group of revolutionists, the adherents of the Fourth International, had pointed out the correct international, revolutionary road, it fell prey to a nationalism of semi-despair This nationalism, which was encouraged by the Czech imperialist bourgeoisie and made use of for its own purposes and which was shrouded in a “democratic” ideology, was sponsored most boisterously by the Stalinists and by Benes’s Czech National Socialist Party. It was for this reason that both these parties were most successful in the communal elections of May 1938, whereas the Czechsocial democracy, which pursued fundamentally the same course but was not quite able to keep up with the quack chauvinism of the Stalinists, lost somewhat. The electoral success of the CPCz was limited, however, to Czech districts. In the territories of the national minorities it lost on all sides and in the German regions it was absolutely decimated. In its composition and in its influence it almost liquidated itself as an international party, becoming almost a purely Czech organ. Thereby the last internationalist gains of the Czechoslovak proletariat were lost.
The Standpoint of the Adherents of the Fourth International
Against the general wave of nationalism stood only the small groups of adherents of the Fourth International. They proceeded from the conviction that the impending war of France, England and Czechoslovakia against Germany would be an imperialist war on both sides and therefore a reactionary war. The French, English, and Czech bourgeoisie will fight neither for “democracy” nor for “national emancipation”, but to keep the imperialist loot of 1918 and to extend their robber rule. Their victory, if the revolution did not intervene, could only mean the partition or colonization of Germany and intensified exploitation of all central Europe by western finance capital.
Nothing is changed by the fact that the independence of the Czech people is really menaced together with the imperialist rule of the Czech bourgeoisie. The defense of Serbia or Belgium in connection with the imperialist world war was only an episode which could not change its general imperialist character. Therefore both Belgian and Serbian socialists were in duty bound to struggle for the defeat of their own bourgeoisie. The same holds true in Czechoslovakia in case of an imperialist war. Thus in Czechoslovakia, too, the Leninist policy of revolutionary defeatism is called for.
This would also be correct if the Soviet Union were to participate in the war. On its part the war would be progressive and just, even if it had imperialist allies. On the part of the imperialist allies, however, the war would be a reactionary one, even though they had concluded an alliance with the Soviet Union. Inasmuch as such an alliance would, in the case of such a partnership, rest on a different class basis, it would be necessarily very fragile. The adherents of the Fourth International are of the opinion that it would be broken possibly before the outbreak of hostilities, possibly during the war itself, at the very latest at the war’s conclusion as the alternative will then be either proletarian revolution or the redivision and colonization of Europe by Anglo-French and probably also by American imperialism. Already in 1935, at the first signs of the right turn in the Comintern, the Czech comrades adopted this point of view. From then on it remained the basis of their propaganda and agitation.
The comrades considered it to be virtually excluded that the Czech bourgeoisie alone would fight an isolated war against Germany. The possibility was greater that Czechoslovakia would become involved in a Russo-German war while the western powers remained temporarily neutral. That, to be sure, would have been a progressive war which the proletariat would have to support. Even then, of course, there would be no class peace with the native bourgeoisie, which would be bound to betray such a war at the first opportunity. In this case, too, the slogan would be: Overthrow of our own bourgeoisie, institution of Soviet power and socialization in order to conduct the war successfully, that is, in a revolutionary manner. That, moreover, was the only way to win back the Sudeten German proletariat for the struggle against Hitler. Had the Sudeten German workers socialized the North Bohemian factories and mines and proclaimed a Soviet government they would have had something to defend against Hitler.
What alternative could one give to both imperialist programs on the national question? Hitler’s victory would not mean self-determination of the people but greater slavery of the Sudeten German workers under the fascist regime and the suppression of the Czechs and the other nations of central Europe in semi-fascist vassal states of imperialist Germany. A victory of the Entente and the Czech bourgeoisie meant, on the other hand, the continued and increased suppression of minorities and the national and social enslavement of Germany.
Against both of these programs it was only possible to pose the national program of the proletarian revolution, the program of self-determination of peoples and their voluntary union in the United Socialist States. The more the crisis came to a head, the more. immediately urgent became the final slogans. All “solutions” of the national question within the framework of capitalism proved to be a calamity for the working masses of all the peoples and the socialist solution the only progressive one. Proletarske Noviny, the Czech organ of the Fourth International, correctly said in its last legal issue that “abstract” and “unpractical” as the slogan of the United Socialist States of Europe appeared to be to some opportunists, at the end of the great crisis of the war it would be the most practical of all. On July 15, under severe press censorship, the paper stated:
The freedom and self-determination of peoples is a democratic demand which can only be fully realized by the victory of socialism. In the last stage of development of capitalist society the world is ruled by a small group of monopoly capitalists who have imperialistically divided the earth among themselves. The overwhelming majority of humanity is exploited and enslaved by imperialism. It can become a powerful ally of the revolutionary proletariat in its struggle against the imperialist enemy. For this, however, the proletariat must win the confidence of the oppressed nations. That can only be done if every worker learns to put the international liberation of the working class and all the oppressed above the “interest of his own nation”, behind which lies the interest of the bourgeoisie. For this it is particularly necessary to defend with determination the rights and the freedom of any oppressed people, even if the oppressors are “one’s own brothers”.
If the national independence of the Czechs is now threatened, said the adherents of the Fourth International to the Czech workers, it is a direct consequence of the fact that the Czech people allowed itself to be misused by its own bourgeoisie to oppress other peoples. In an imperialist system the freedom of the small Czech people is always threatened. The national independence of the Czech people, which is as important to us international communists as that of every other people, can only be assured if the Czech workers overthrow their own bourgeoisie and free the nations oppressed by it, thereby making possible the voluntary union of the liberated peoples in the United Socialist States.
The Crisis Comes to a Head
After the annexation of Austria the Czech crisis entered an acute stage; after (Hitlers Nürnberg speech it rapidly reached its peak. As always in critical times, two souls wrestled in the breast of the Czech bourgeoisie.
One tendency, led by Benes, banked with certainty on the imperialist war and the inevitable victory of the Entente. This tendency wanted at all costs to fight on the side of the stronger. It was prepared to defend the country as long as possible and, if it were to become necessary, to evacuate its military forces, but at all costs to fight on, so that at the end of the war it would be able to return home with the victorious armies of the Versailles coalition. Then it would be able to re-erect the imperialist state and get a share of the loot.
The other tendency, led by the president of the largest bank, Dr. Preiss, and the chairman of the Agrarian Party, Beran, was in favor of capitulating to Germany, of a renunciation of independent foreign policy and for a vassal relationship to German imperialism of the Polish kind. It hoped to assure its own class rule by German bayonets, even at the expense of dividing the loot with its hungry neighbor.
Until the Berchtesgaden meeting of Hitler and Schuschnigg, the capitulatory tendency did not dare to come out into the open, particularly as Schuschnigg’s fate strongly compromised the idea of a peaceful compromise with Hitler. The point that Austria was deserted was answered by the Benes people with the objection that Austria had no direct treaties of alliance, no armies and no forts and was not prepared to defend itself, whereas Czechoslovakia resembled Austria in none of these respects. The mass of the Czech people, psychologized by magnificent propaganda, which was prominently supported by the Stalinists, really believed that the Allies and particularly the Soviet Union would help them.
At Berchtesgaden, Benes’ whole policy, in fact, his whole conception of the Czechoslovak state collapsed like a house of cards. The western powers categorically demanded the cession of Sudeten Germany to Hitler. They clearly stated that they would not march to defend the status quo in spite of all treaties. The Soviet bureaucracy merely said that it would proceed according to the letter of its treaty, whereby it is obligated to intervene only if France goes to war. Isolated, deserted by all “allies”, the Hodza government capitulated and consented to a revision of the borders.
That was on September 21. On the following day there was a spontaneous outburst of popular wrath. Without any call, without any leadership the workers, in spite of martial law and the prohibition of meetings, went on a complete general strike and marched in tremendous masses into the heart of Prague. The police disappeared, the soldiers were kept in their barracks to prevent their fraternizing with the demonstrators. The state was powerless and the government had to resign.
Truly, power lay in the streets, but no one picked it up. On this day the CPCz could have taken over the government with ease. No one would have been in a position to offer any serious opposition. But the CPCz was unwilling to – and was not permitted to. For its taking over power would have meant the immediate outbreak of hostilities and the war would have to be conducted without England and France, together only with the Soviet Union as a purely revolutionary war. The Moscow bureaucrats, however, did not want a revolutionary war, they were ready only to participate in an imperialist one. They were determined to march if imperialist France marched and to remain quiet if France remained quiet. The CPCz, therefore, was not only not permitted to attempt to take power, but it was compelled to quiet the masses and send them home. The scattered calls of the Fourth International for a workers’ and peasants’ government were drowned in the cry for a military dictatorship and General Syrovy, as the rumor went about that Syrovy had just returned from Russia and that a Syrovy government meant war on the side of the Red Army.
Then the “Leader” Gottwald appeared at a window of the parliament building to proclaim to the masses that they could go home with peace of mind, as the Hodza government had just resigned and the new government “participated in by the army” would execute the will of the people. After him spoke the fascist, Rasin. His significant utterance, that “today there is no difference between fascists and communists”, was greeted with satisfaction by the nearby communist senators and deputies. Before the masses, streaming out of the center of the city, had reached their quarters in the suburbs, the Syrovy government had announced in all European capitals that it would continue the policy of capitulation unchanged.
Ten days later the Syrovy government, which had been set up by the Stalinists and Benes, accepted the Munich dictate. Five days later it compelled Benes to resign and then it dissolved the CP. The government of “national defense” became the government of national capitulation. The “defenders of democracy” introduced a semi-fascist dictatorship of finance capital.
After the Defeat
What did the Stalinist leaders say after Munich? When it became evident that the organization of immediate resistance was only possible in a struggle for power which would surely have split the nation ... the CP had to make a turn to guarantee an orderly retreat and to prevent the retreat from becoming a panic and a defeat ... (Karl Janda, Basler Rundschau, No.50, p.1665)
What was to be done? Preserve national unity and rebuild the capitalist Czechoslovak state! The CP is prepared to do its utmost to this end and even to unite organizationally with the social democracy and Benes’ National Socialist Party; that is, to liquidate itself organizationally and politically. This offer was made not in a moment of struggle against Hitler, but at the time of capitulation, at a time when not a “democratic” but a semi-fascist state was being constructed!
The betrayal of the Stalinists came to its logical conclusion. They remain true servants of their bourgeoisie in war as in peace. Whether the bourgeoisie conducts an imperialist war or capitulates to foreign fascism – it can always count on its faithful Stalinist lackeys who can be relied upon to preach class peace and “national unity”! Every class struggle splits the nation, yet the Stalinists would rather kiss the feet of the bosses, even at the moment of receiving a well-earned kick!
The article quoted, which was probably written by the editor in chief of the Rude Pravo, Sverma, a member of the Politbureau, bears the date of the evening on which the Syrovy government forced Benes to resign and installed the new foreign minister Chvalkovsky. The latter immediately went to Hitler to ask for instructions for the future foreign and domestic policy of Czechoslovakia.
The working class of Czechoslovakia and with it the workers of the world, has suffered a defeat Many thousands of workers are directly under the fascist yoke of the Hitlers, Horthys and the Rydz-Smiglys. What remains of Czechoslovakia has become a semi-fascist vassal state of imperialist Germany. Today all central Europe is under German regency. German imperialism has gained access to important raw materials and is now in a position to risk a big war. The Soviet Union is isolated, the working class defeated.
The sections of the Second and Third Internationals have ceased to exist in Czechoslovakia. Even before the official dissolution of their party the Stalinist leaders announced that they wanted to unite with the social democracy and the followers of Benes in one political party. This was ignored by the reformist leaders, as no one takes the Stalinists seriously. The German social democracy in Czechoslovakia voluntarily dissolved itself on the first day after Munich. The Czech Social Democracy withdrew from the International and renamed itself “National Party of Labor”. It would like to unite with the Benes Party but without the communists. The Benes party, however, is emphasizing its nationalism and its Slovak wing has already joined the Slovak fascist party of Hlinka. In the eastern parts of the republic, moreover, the reformist parties are already outlawed.
It is a sign of the times that after the crisis the only International in Czechoslovakia with a membership is the Fourth. On the one hand its work is made more difficult by the ever more stringent repressions and by the defeatist mood of broad layers of workers; on the other hand its work is favored by many political circumstances.
The conception of Versailles, upon which the Czech bourgeoisie erected its state, has broken down miserably. The imperialist policy of the Czech bourgeoisie led the Czech people under the yoke of German imperialism after 20 years. The “defense of democracy” led to the victory of fascism, the alliance with the bourgeoisie to the destruction of the old labor parties. A government is in power which can only be maintained by German bayonets at the border and by Czech repressive machinery within the country. It has no mass basis. It is hated by the entire population as a government of traitors and exploiters. Like the Müller government in Germany, it is a government of national defeat.
The supporters of the Fourth International, who are seriously going to fight against the double yoke of the native and German bourgeoisie, are the only ones who gain the confidence of the broad masses of the toilers. Their erstwhile struggle against Czech imperialism and the People’s Front fraud will now bear fruit. What they said about the building of an imperialist state, about the oppression of other peoples, about the threat to the freedom of the Czech people and about the falsehood of the “defense of democracy” has been shown to be correct. Only they are now in a position to fight consistently against the old and the new oppressors. Only they are in a position to show the Czech, Slovak and all central European workers the way out. Only they have a program for a progressive solution of the national question, the false posing of which has for the second time in twenty years contributed to a great defeat of the proletariat.
The illegal leaflet, which the Czech comrades issued right after Munich, concludes after an analysis as follows:
When once again the time comes for us to do battle we will know better what we are to fight for so that we can live in peace and happiness: for the United Socialist States of Europe!
These days mark the 20th anniversary of October 14, 1918. Then, too, we wanted a socialist republic. Now, after bitter experiences, we must hark back to this correct starting point. Let us organize the anti-fascist united front of all the toilers! Let us prepare for the moment when we shall do battle for the overthrow of the world imperialism of Chamberlain, Daladier, Mussolini and Hitler!
Long live Socialist Czechoslovakia!
Long live the United Socialist States of Europe!
Long live the Fourth International!
PRAGUE, Nov. 15, 1938
New International, New York, June and July 1939