The Communist Party of Czechoslovakia, in Czech and in Slovak: Komunistická strana Československa (KSČ) was a political party in Czechoslovakia that existed between 1921 and 1992.
1921 - 1945
Formally founded in 1921, it was one of some twenty political parties that competed within the democratic framework of pre-WWII Czechoslovakia (also known as the First Republic), but it was never in government.
During World War II many KSČ leaders sought refuge in the Soviet Union, where they made preparations to increase the party's power base once the war ended. In the early postwar period the Soviet-supported Czechoslovak communists launched a sustained drive that culminated in their seizure of power in 1948. Once in control, the KSČ developed an organizational structure and mode of rule patterned closely after those of the CPSU.
1945 - 1969
The Communist Party of Czechoslovak was in a coalition government since 1945. After 1948, when free elections and other political freedoms were effectively abolished, power was formally held by the National Front, a coalition in which the KSČ held two-thirds of the seats while the remaining one-third were shared among five other political parties. However, the KSČ held a de facto absolute monopoly on political power, and the other parties within the National Front were little more than auxiliaries. Even the governmental structure of Czechoslovakia existed primarily to implement policy decisions made within the KSČ. This was primarily achieved by placing KSČ members in all policy-making positions within the government.
A dispute broke out between government leader Klement Gottwald and the General Secretary of the party, Rudolf Slánský, over the extent to which Czechoslovakia should conform with the Soviet model. In 1951, Slánsky´ and several other senior Communists were arrested and charged with participating in a "Trotskyite-Titoite-Zionist conspiracy". They were subjected to a show trial in 1952 (the Prague Trials) and Slánsky´ and several other defendants were executed.
In the early 1960's, Czechoslovakia underwent an economic downturn, and in 1968, the KSČ was taken over by reformers led by Alexander Dubček. He started a period of liberalization known as the Prague Spring in which he attempted to implement "socialism with a human face" (socialismus s lidskou tváří).
This liberalization alarmed the Soviet Union and on 21 August 1968, the Soviets invoked the Brezhnev Doctrine and invaded Czechslovakia.
1969 - 1992
In April 1969, Dubček lost the General Secretaryship (replaced by Gustáv Husák) and was expelled in 1970. During the following Normalization period, Gustáv Husák successfully ruled over what was essentially a coalition of the moderate and hard-line factions within the top party leadership. These two main party factions are presented below:
Moderates or Pragmatics
The Moderates or Pragmatics were sometimes called "Conservatives" (especially by the Hardliners). They were represented by Gustáv Husák who led the neostalinist wing of the KSČ leadership. As a moderate or pragmatic, he was pressed by hard-liners (Vasil Biľak ). An important Slovak Communist Party functionary from 1943 to 1950, Husák was arrested in 1951 and sentenced to three years -- later to life imprisonment -- for "bourgeois nationalism" during the Stalinist purges of the era. Released in 1960 and rehabilitated in 1963, Husák refused any political position in Antonín Novotny´ 's régime. After Novotny´'s fall he became deputy prime minister during the Prague Spring. After Dubček's resignation Husák was named KSČ First Secretary in April 1969 and president of the republic in July 1975. Above all, Husák was a survivor who learned to accommodate the powerful political forces surrounding him, and he denounced Dubček after 1969.
Other prominent moderates/pragmatics who were still in power by 1987 included:
- Lubomír Štrougal , Premier of Czechoslovakia;
- Peter Colotka , Premier of the Slovak Socialist Republic;
Jozef Lenárt, First Secretary of the KSS; and
- Josef Kempny´ , Chairman of the Czech National Council .
These leaders generally supported the reforms instituted under Dubček during the late 1960s but successfully made the transition to orthodox party rule following the invasion and Dubček's decline from power. Subsequently, they adopted a more flexible stance regarding economic reform and dissident activity.
Opposed to the moderates were the so-called hard-liners :
- Vasil Biľak was their leader and a Ukrainian from Slovakia who had been a member of the Presidium since 1968 and was Chairman of the party's Ideological Commission
- Karel Hoffman , a Central Committee Secretary and Presidium member;
- Antonín Kapek , Presidium member;
- Jan Fojtík , Secretary;
- Alois Indra , Presidium member and Chairman of the Federal Assembly (replaced the National Assembly under 1968 federation law); and
Miloš Jakeš, Chairman of the Central Supervisory and Auditing Commission and Presidium member (replaced Gustáv Husák as general secretary of the KSČ in 1987).
These hard-liners opposed economic and political reforms and took a harsh stand on dissent.
The party continued to exist even after the Velvet Revolution in 1989. It changed its official abbreviation to KSČS (KSCS without diacritics). However, the party decided to dissolve after Czechoslovakia ceased to exist on 31 December 1992. This led to the formation of successor parties in both the Czech Republic and Slovakia (see Communist Party of Bohemia and Moravia and Communist Party of Slovakia).
According to Marxist-Leninist theory, the communist party represented the working class -- the revolutionary proletariat -- whose interests it championed against those of the capitalist bourgeoisie. The period between the fall of a bourgeois state and the attainment of communism is a subject on which Marx was reticent, describing only in general terms the establishment of a democratic socialist state, which would eventually begin to "wither away" (slowly turn into a form of direct democracy) until a communist society was achieved. Several decades later, Vladimir Lenin, facing a real revolution and the possibility that the communist party might be able to seize power, put theoretical subtleties to the side. He suggested that the fall of the bourgeois state (a label of questionable accuracy when applied to tsarist Russia, if one forgets the February 1917 revolution) would be followed by a transitional state characterized by socialism, soviet democracy and communist party rule -- the "dictatorship of the proletariat." In practice, however, this phase proved to be a good deal lengthier than Lenin anticipated. His suggestion that the "dictatorship of the proletariat" should last until 1923 in the Soviet Union serves as a general commentary on the disparity between theory and practice. Once in power, the communist party soon behaved very much like other entrenched bureaucracies, and its revolutionary mandate (as well as soviet democracy) was lost in the tendency of those in power to wish to remain so.
KSČ organization was based on the Leninist concept of democratic centralism, which provided for the election of party leaders at all levels but required that each level be fully subject to the control of the next higher unit. Accordingly, party programs and policies were directed from the top, and resolutions of higher organs were unconditionally binding on all lower organs and individual party members. In theory, policy matters were freely and openly discussed at congresses, conferences, and membership meetings and in the party press. In practice, however, these discussions merely reflected decisions made by a small contingent of top party officials.
- The supreme KSČ organ was the party congress, which normally convened every five years for a session lasting less than one week. An exception was made with respect to the Fourteenth Party Congress, which was held in August 1968 under Dubček 's leadership. This congress was subsequently declared illegal, its proceedings were stricken from party records, and a second, "legal" Fourteenth Party Congress was held in May 1971. The Fifteenth Party Congress was held in April 1976; the sixteenth, in April 1981; and the seventeenth, in March 1986. The party congress theoretically was responsible for making basic policy decisions; in practice, however, it was the Presidium of the Central Committee that held the decision-making and policy-making responsibilities. The congress merely endorsed the reports and directives of the top party leadership. The statutory duties assigned the party congress included determination of the party's domestic and foreign policies; approval of the party program and statutes; and election of the Central Committee and the Central Supervisory and Auditing Commission , as well as discussion and approval of their reports.
- Between congresses the Central Committee of the KSČ was responsible for directing party activities and implementing general policy decisions. Party statutes also provided that the Central Committee functioned as the primary arm of KSČ control over the organs of the federal government and the republics, the National Front, and all cultural and professional organizations. Party members who held leading positions in these bodies were responsible directly to the Central Committee for the implementation of KSČ policies. In addition, the Central Committee screened nominations for all important government and party positions and selected the editor-in-chief of Rudé právo , the principal party newspaper. The Central Committee generally met in full session at least twice a year. In 1976 (1986), the Central Committee had 115 (135) members and 45 (62) candidates, respectively. In terms of composition, the Central Committee normally included leading party and government officials, military officials, and a cross section of outstanding citizens.
- The Central Committee, like the party congress, rarely acted as more than a rubber stamp of policy decisions made by the party Presidium of the Central Committee of the KSČ. As an exception to this rule, when factional infighting developed within the Presidium in 1968, the Central Committee assumed crucial importance in resolving the dispute and ousted First Secretary Novotny´ in favor of Alexander Dubček. Generally, decisions on which the Central Committee voted were reached beforehand so that votes taken at the sessions were unanimous. The Presidium, which conducted the work of the party between full committee sessions, formally was elected by the Central Committee; in reality, the top party leaders determined its composition. In 1986, there were 11 full members and 6 candidate members.
- The Secretariat of the Central Committee acted as the party's highest administrative authority and as the nerve center of the party's extensive control mechanism. The Secretariat supervised the implementation of decisions made in the Presidium, controlled the movement up and down the party ladder, and directed the work within the party and government apparatus. Under Gustáv Husák, the composition of the Secretariat, like that of the Presidium, remained rather constant. Many secretaries were also members of the Presidium.
- The Central Supervisory and Auditing Commission played a dual role, overseeing party discipline and supervising party finances, but it did not control anything. As an organ for the enforcement of party standards, the Central Supervisory and Auditing Commission frequently wielded its power to suspend or expel "deviant" party members. It was this commission that directed the massive purges in party membership during the early and late 1970s. Members were elected at each party congress (45 members in 1986). These members then elected from among themselves a chairman, deputy chairmen, and a small presidium. Sub-units of the commission existed at the republic, regional, and district levels of the party structure.
- Other KSČ commissions in 1987 included the People's Supervisory Commission, Agriculture and Food Commission, the Economic Commission, the Ideological Commission, and the Youth Commission.
- In 1987 the party also had 18 departments (agitation and propaganda; agriculture, food industry, forestry, and water management; Comecon cooperation; culture; economic administration; economics; education and science; elected state organs; external economic relations; fuels and energy; industry; transportion and communications; international affairs; mass media; political organization; science and technology; social organizations and national committees; state administration; and a general department). In most instances the party departments paralleled agencies and ministries of the government and supervised their activities to ensure conformity with KSČ norms and programs.
- Also under the supervision of the Central Committee were two party training centers--the Advanced School of Politics and the Institute of Marxism-Leninism (see below).
At the republic level the party structure deviated from the government organization in that a separate communist party unit existed in the Slovak Socialist Republic (see Communist Party of Slovakia) but not in the Czech Socialist Republic. The KSS emerged from World War II as a party distinct from the KSČ, but the two were united after the communist takeover in 1948. The reform movement of the 1960s advocated a return to a system of autonomous parties for the two republics. The Bureau for the Conduct of Party Work in the Czech Lands was created as a counterpart to the KSS, but it was suppressed after the 1968 invasion and by 1971 had been stricken from party records. The purely formal KSS remained, however, undoubtedly as a concession to the Slovaks.
The KSČ had ten regional subdivisions (seven in the Czech lands, three in Slovakia) identical to the kraje, the ten major governmental administrative divisions. In addition, however, the Prague and Bratislava municipal party organs, because of their size, were given regional status within the KSČ. Regional conferences selected regional committees, which in turn selected a leading secretary, a number of secretaries, and a regional Supervisory and Auditing Commission.
Regional units were broken down into a total of 114 district-level organizations. District conferences were held simultaneously every two to three years, at which time each conference selected a district committee that subsequently selected a secretariat to be headed by a district secretary.
At the local level the KSČ was structured according to what it called the "territorial and production principle"; the basic party units were organized in work sites and residences where there are at least five KSČ members. In enterprises or communities where party membership was more numerous, the smaller units functioned under larger city, village, or factorywide committees. The highest authority of the local organization was, theoretically, the monthly membership meeting, attendance at which was a basic duty of every member. Each group selected its own leadership, consisting of a chairman and one or more secretaries. It also named delegates to the conference of the next higher unit, be it at the municipal (in the case of larger cities) or district level.
Since assuming power in 1948, the KSČ had one of the largest per capita membership rolls in the communist world (11 percent of the population). The membership roll was often alleged by party ideologues to contain a large component of inactive, opportunistic, and "counterrevolutionary" elements. These charges were used on two occasions--between 1948 and 1950 and again between 1969 and 1971--as a pretext to conduct massive purges of the membership. In the first case, the great Stalinist purges, nearly 1 million members were removed; in the wake of the Prague Spring and subsequent invasion, about half that number either resigned or were purged from the KSČ. The purges after the 1968 invasion hit especially the Czechs, youth, blue-collar workers, and the intelligentsia within the party membership. As a result, recruitment was especially strong among youth and the working class during the 1970s. The party's membership efforts in the 1980s focused on recruiting politically and professionally well-qualified people willing to exercise greater activism in implementing the party's program. Party leaders at the Seventeenth Party Congress in 1986 urged the recruitment of more workers, young people, and women.
Membership in the KSČ was contingent upon completion of a oneyear period as a candidate member. Candidate members could not vote or be elected to party committees. In addition to candidates for party membership, there were also candidates for party leadership groups from the local levels to the Presidium. These candidates, already party members, were considered interns training for the future assumption of particular leadership responsibilities.
Training of members
The indoctrination and training of party members was one of the basic responsibilities of the regional and district organizations, and most of the party training was conducted on these levels. The regional and district units worked with the local party organizations in setting up training programs and in determining which members would be enrolled in particular courses of study. On the whole, the system of party schooling changed little since it was established in 1949. The district or city organization provided weekly classes in the fundamentals of Marxism-Leninism, the history of communism, socialist economics, and the current party position on domestic and international affairs.
Members training for positions as party functionaries attended seminars at the schools for Marxism-Leninism set up in local areas or at the more advanced institutes for Marxism-Leninism found in Prague, Brno, and Bratislava. The highest level of party training was offered at the Advanced School of Politics in Prague. Designed to train the top echelon of the party leadership, the three-year curriculum had the official status of a university program and was said to be one of the best programs in political science in Eastern Europe. These institutions were under the direction of the KSČ Central Committee.
Social composition of members
Because of the KSČ's mandate to be the workers' party, questions about the social backgound of party members took on a particular salience. The KSČ was often reticent with precise details about its members, and the question of how many in the party actually belonged to the revolutionary proletariat became a delicate one. Official statements appeared to overstate the percentage of workers within the party's ranks. Nonetheless, a number of trends were clear. The proportion of workers in the KSČ was at its highest (approximately 60 percent of the total membership) after World War II but before the party took power in 1948. After that time, the percentage of workers in the party fell steadily to a low of an estimated one-quarter of the membership in 1970. In the early 1970s, the official media decried the "grave imbalance," noting that "the present class and social structure of the party membership is not in conformity with the party's role as the vanguard of the working class." In highly industrialized central Bohemia, to cite one example, only one in every thirty-five workers was a party member, while one in every five administrators was. In 1976, after intensive efforts to recruit workers, the number of workers rose to one-third of the KSC membership, i.e., approximately its 1962 level. In the 1980s, driven by the need for "intensive" economic development, the party relaxed its rigid rule about young workers' priority in admissions and allowed district and regional committees to be flexible in their recruitment policy, as long as the overall proportion of workers did not decrease.
The average age of party members showed a comparable trend. In the late 1960s, fewer than 30 percent of party members were under thirty-five years of age, nearly 20 percent were over sixty, and roughly half were forty-six or older. The quip in 1971, a half-century after the party's founding in Czechoslovakia, was "After fifty years, a party of fifty-year-olds." There was a determined effort to attract younger members to the party in the middle to late 1970s; one strategy was to recruit children of parents who were KSČ members. The party sent letters to the youngsters' schools and their parents' employers, encouraging the children to join. By early 1980 approximately one-third of KSČ members were thirty-five years of age or younger. In 1983 the average age of the "leading cadre" was still estimated at fifty.
Lack of devotion of the members in the 1970s and 1980s
Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, the official media denounced party members' lack of devotion to the pursuit of KSČ policies and goals. Complaints ranged from members' refusal to display flags from their apartment windows on festive occasions to their failure to show up for party work brigades, attend meetings, or pay dues; a significant minority of members tended to underreport their incomes (the basis for assessing dues). In 1970, after a purge of approximately one-third of the membership, an average of less than one-half the remaining members attended meetings. Perhaps one-third of the members were consistently recalcitrant in participating in KSČ activities. In 1983 one primary party branch in the Prague-West district was so unmoved by admonishments that it had to be disbanded and its members dispersed among other organizations. In part, this was a measure of disaffection with Czechoslovakia's thoroughgoing subservience to Soviet hegemony, a Svejkian response to the lack of political economic autonomy. It was also a reflection of the purge's targets. Those expelled were often the ideologically motivated, the ones for whom developing socialism with a human face represented a significant goal; those who were simply opportunistic survived the purges more easily.
The party as the ruling elite
Whatever the social composition of the party, it effectively functioned as a ruling elite--a group not known for self-abnegation. As an elite, it allowed the talented and/or politically agile significant mobility. Workers might have made up a minority of the party's membership, but many members (estimates vary from one-half to two-thirds) began their careers as workers. Although they tended to exaggerate their humble origins, many functionaries clearly came from the working class.
Several policies increased the social mobility of party members. Foremost was doubtless the process of nationalization, started after World War II, when scores of politically active workers assumed managerial-level positions. Periodic purges played a role as well, permitting the politically compliant to replace those less so. The numerous education programs offered by the KSC for its members also represented a significant avenue of mobility, as did policies of preferential admissions to secondary schools and universities; these policies favored the children of workers and agricultural cooperative members especially.
It was hardly surprising that the KSČ membership guarded its perquisites. Aside from special shops, hotels, hospitals, and better housing for members, KSČ members stood a better chance of obtaining visas for study or travel abroad (especially to the West). Nonmembers realized that their possibilities for advancement in the workplace were severely limited. For anyone in a professional position, KSČ membership was a sine qua non for promotion. Part of the decline in workers as a proportion of total membership resulted from the rapid increase in the number of intelligentsia joining the party soon after the communists took power. In the 1980s most economic managers, executives in public administration, and university professors were KSČ members.
Note: The KSČ leader was called Chairman (Předseda) 1945 - 1953, First Secretary (První Tajemník) 1953-1971, and General Secretary (Generální Tajemník) 1921 - 1945 and again 1971 - 1989
Last updated: 09-03-2005 18:37:12