What is the result of the
Cierna and Bratislava conferences? The form of the published
communique (see the long “Declaration of the Six Communist
Parties” in Le Monde of 6 August 1968) is that of a
compromise. But was a compromise also made insofar as the
content is concerned? This is the question asked by both
Czechoslovak workers and intellectuals and Socialists and
Communists of the entire world, after a week of accrued tension
which led us to the brink of a Soviet military
In any case, two major points
have been won, at least momentarily. Soviet troops have been
withdrawn from the Czechoslovak Socialist Republic. The
Czechoslovak Socialist Republic’s right to build socialism
“taking into consideration national characteristics and
conditions,” that is, its right to undertake a new experiment
in socialist democratization, has been recognized.
This means that the Warsaw
“Five-Power Declaration,” which condemned this experiment
and declared it dangerous for the entirety of the “socialist
camp,” has been buried without flowers or fanfares. This also
means that the “brother parties” have decided to stop the
campaign of inflammation, slander and threats waged against the
leaders of the “new course” currently in power in
In return, the Czech leaders
agree to reaffirm the principle of necessary and growing
cohesion of the “socialist camp,” and that of the “leading
role of the Communist Party” in the building of a socialist
The implication of the first
point is clear: Czechoslovakia will not leave the Warsaw Pact or
CEMA (which it never intended to do anyway); within the
framework of these two treaties, it will accept decisions not
always greatly to its liking (such as the military maneuvers
which have just taken place on its territory).
What freedom of movement has
Czechoslovakia gained in this regard? This is less clear. Will
it have the right to ask the West for the 500 million dollars in
credit which the USSR has refused it, and which the technocrats
in power at Prague consider indispensable for the modernization
of the economy? Has the USSR withdrawn its refusal? We shall
soon be informed on this topic.
More important -- and more
obscure -- are the implications of the second point conceded by
the Czechoslovaks: the guiding role of the Communist Party. This
doubtless means that the creation of new parties will not be
permitted, unless they are bound to the Czechoslovak CP by a
pact for unity of action. But the true problem lies elsewhere.
For the bone of contention between the Czechoslovak CP and the
“five brother parties” did not involve so much the
“leading role” of the Communist Party, as its internal
structure and the rights of its members.
Does reaffirmation of the
“leading role of the Communist Party” mean a reintroduction
of censorship? Will it put an end to freedom of speech and of
the press for Communists, Socialists and workers? In other
words, in what manner will the Czechoslovak CP assert its
“leading role”? By suppression, repression and terror, as
under Novotny, or by persuasion, discussion and dialogue, as is
being attempted by Dubcek and his friends?
For the moment, it seems that
the Czechoslovak “liberals” have carried the field on this
point. If this is really the case, all friends of socialism can
Nevertheless, we would tend
towards caution in this regard. Dubcek’s situation is not
without similarities to that of Gomulka in October 1956. Holding
strong popular support, Gomulka was able to remain within such
limits that the USSR, after having threatened him with its
entire arsenal (with tanks already on the move), could finally
tolerate the experiment.
Subsequent events are well
known. In order to maintain this precarious balance, Gomulka
moved against the Left with the increasingly warm approval of
Moscow. The masses were betrayed, and fell back into apathy.
From a belated rebel, Gomulka rapidly became the Kremlin’s
most valuable ally. The conquests of October 1956 were
liquidated one by one.
Finally there was nothing left
of the freedom of discussion seized in 1956. The prisons were
filled with students, intellectuals and oppositionist
Communists. And Gomulka is about to stumble under the pressure
of the “partisan” faction, which is ceaselessly pushing him
further to the Right.
Dubcek, who has none of the
qualities of an intrepid revolutionary, could meet an analogous
fate. The temptation to which he might succumb is that of moving
against the Left, not only in order to reinforce the still
fragile “Pressburg Peace,” but also because the Left is
disturbing his balancing act.
In the long run, only
politicalization and radicalization of the Czechoslovak working
masses, their increasingly direct participation in management of
the economy and the State, the appearance of workers’
councils, the institutionalization of workers’ power and of
workers’ administration in these councils, can guarantee to
the Czechoslovak workers that the conquests of February 1968
will remain alongside of those of February 1948.