IRLEIRLE WORKING PAPER#20-90May 1990The Revolt of The Intellectuals: The Origins of The PragueSpring and The Politics of Reform CommunismJerome KarabelCite as: Jerome Karabel. (1990). “The Revolt of The Intellectuals: The Origins of The Prague Spring and ThePolitics of Reform Communism.” IRLE Working Paper No. .pdfirle.berkeley.edu/workingpapers
Institute for Research on Labor andEmploymentUC BerkeleyTitle:The Revolt of the Intellectuals: The Origins of the Prague Spring and the Politics of ReformCommunismAuthor:Karabel, Jerome, University of California, BerkeleyPublication Date:05-01-1990Series:Working Paper SeriesPublication Info:Working Paper Series, Institute for Research on Labor and Employment, UC 4jh7385xKeywords:Karabel, Prague Spring, CommunismCopyright Information:All rights reserved unless otherwise indicated. Contact the author or original publisher for anynecessary permissions. eScholarship is not the copyright owner for deposited works. Learn moreat http://www.escholarship.org/help copyright.html#reuseeScholarship provides open access, scholarly publishingservices to the University of California and delivers a dynamicresearch platform to scholars worldwide.
Rough First DraftNot for Quotation or CitationComments WelcomeTHE REVOLT OF THE INTELLECTUALS:THE ORIGINS OF THE PRAGUE SPRING AND THEPOLITICS OF REFORM COMMUNISMby Jerome KarabelInstitute of Industrial RelationsandDepartment of SociologyUniversity of California, BerkeleyApril 1990
With the possible exception of the Soviet Union in theGorbachev years, the Prague Spring of 1968 remainsunsurpassed as an attempt from within a Communist regime tobuild a more democratic form of socialism.Much of theimpetus for fundamental reform in Czechoslovakiain the1960s came from the intelligentsia, yet much of this sameintelligentsia had, as we shall see below, helped bring aStalinist regime to power a mere two decades earlier.Theideological odyssey of the Czechoslovakian intelligentsiaor, at least, its dominant left-wing component ——fromorthodox Communism to reform Communism is thus an integralpart of the story of the Prague Spring.As one of many instances where intellectuals haveclashed with Communist Party authorities, theCzechoslovakian case raises broader issues about thepolitics of the intelligentsia in state socialist societies.Yet it should be emphasized at the outset that most of theintellectuals active in the Prague Spring were themselvesmembers of the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia (hereafterreferred to as the CPC) and remained faithful to the idealsof socialism.In a sense, then, the struggles between"reformist" intellectuals and "conservative" partyapparatchiki was also a conflict within the CPC elite overthe future of socialism.Nevertheless, the questionremains: how was it the majority of the Communist
intelligentsia came to see the Party apparatus as itsadversary?A provocative, if somewhat abstract, answer to thisquestion is provided by Frank Parkin, who argues, in aninfluential 1972 article on "System Contradiction andPolitical Transformation," that there is an inherentconflict between the intelligentsia and the Party in statesocialist societies.Working within a theoretical frameworkindebted to both Weber and Marx, Parkin argues that the keyantagonism in such societies is between the "party and statebureaucracy," whose power "rests upon their control of thepolitical and administrative apparatus of the state, givingthem effective legal guardianship of socialized property"and the "intelligentsia," whose power "inheres in itscommand of the skills, knowledge, and general attributesheld to be of central importance for the development ofproductive and scientific forces in modern industrialsociety" (Parkin, 1972:52).Elaborating upon the sources ofthis conflict, he makes the essentially Weberian point thatelite legitimation in state socialist societies such as theSoviet Union and Czechoslovakia is based on two distinct andcompeting principles, with expert knowledge the source ofthe intelligentsia's claim to leadership and party officethe basis of the bureaucracy's claim.Ultimately, however,Parkin insists that the conflict has an economic as well asan ideological foundation; indeed, in a formulation whoseMarxist roots are made explicit, he suggests that crises in
state socialist societies tend to arise "as a result of theforces of production coining into direct conflict with thesocial relations of production"; in other words, "the legaland political order buttressing the command [economic]system "has become a 'fetter' on the further development ofproductive forces" (Parkin, 1972:51).Seen from this perspective, the Prague Spring is an"ideal typical" example of the conflict between theapparatchiki and the intelligentsia, respectively the mainopponents and advocates of reform."For Parkin,"Czechoslovakia was an exceptional case only to the extentto which the latent but ever-present tensions between thesetwo groups erupted into open political conflict —ashowdown precipitated by the inability of the existingsystem to cope with economic crisis."As long as the"ascendant class in socialist society is not the class whichwields political power," the system will be in"disequilibrium."According to Parkin, "equilibrium couldbe restored by the accession to power of the intelligentsiaand the displacement of the apparatchiki" (Parkin, 1972:5052) .As a particularly dramatic instance of the politicalmobilization of the intelligentsia in a state socialistsociety, the Prague Spring offers an exceptional opportunityto examine critically not only Parkin's formulation aboutthe roots of conflict between the intelligentsia and thebureaucracy, but also the larger dynamics of political
accommodation and opposition among intellectuals underCommunism.Moreover, the Prague Spring poses verygraphically some of the dilemmas raised by attempts tofundamentally reform Communist regimes from within.Beforewe can grasp the critical case of the Prague Spring in itsparticularity, however, a detour into the history of theCzechoslovak intelligentsia and the broader society of whichit was a part will be necessary.The Czechoslovak Intelligentsia Prior to the CommunistSeizure of PowerLike the intelligentsias of many East European nations,the Czechoslovakian intelligentsia (comprised of relativelydistinct Czech and Slovak parts) derived a special publicprestige from its prominent historic role in the movement ofnational awakening.Indeed, in the nineteenth century, withthe Czech and Slovak peoples respectively under Austrian ndHungarian domination, Czech and Slovak intellectuals werethe primary carriers of national consciousness.Among theirgreatest accomplishments was their success in modernizingtheir seemingly "moribund peasant languages that hadpreviously been insufficiently standardized and elaboratedfor literacy and even business usage" (Albright, 1976:82).In a sense, intellectuals —through arduous work astranslators, grammarians, authors of dictionaries,journalists, poets, novelists, and teachers —had createdmodern Czech and Slovak nationalism and constructed a
"European-level" culture.They considered themselves asspokesmen for the nation and seem, for the most part, tohave been so regarded by the Czech and Slovak masses.If the Czech and Slovak intellectuals enjoyed thenationalist prestige also granted their counterparts inother East European countries, they differed from them inbeing primarily bourgeois rather than aristocratic inorigin.The Czech and Slovak lands had for centuries lackedan indigenous nobility (its Bohemian and Moravian remnantshaving long been Germanized) and, unlike Poland and Hungary,there was no gentry to provide recruits to theintelligentsia.Instead, intellectuals came mostly from themiddle class and, on occasion, from the "people" (i.e. theworking class and peasantry).One conseguence of this wasthat there was less social and cultural distance betweenCzech and (to a lesser extent) Slovak intellectuals and themasses than was the case in other East European nations.Indeed, the first two presidents of the CzechoslovakianRepublic were intellectuals of modest social origins: ThomasMasaryk, professor of philosophy with a doctoral degree fromthe University of Vienna, was the son of a coachman; EduardBenes, professor of economics and sociology with a doctoraldegree from Prague University, was the son of a cottager(Hajda, 1976:215).2Politically, the intelligentsia in Czechoslovakia wasdivided during the two decades of the Republic (1918-1938).While Slavophilic and pro-Moscow sentiments were by no means
"European-level" culture.They considered themselves asspokesmen for the nation and seem, for the most part, tohave been so regarded by the Czech and Slovak masses.If the Czech and Slovak intellectuals enjoyed thenationalist prestige also granted their counterparts inother East European countries, they differed from them inbeing primarily bourgeois rather than aristocratic inorigin.The Czech and Slovak lands had for centuries lackedan indigenous nobility (its Bohemian and Moravian remnantshaving long been Germanized) and, unlike Poland and Hungary,there was no gentry to provide recruits to theintelligentsia.Instead, intellectuals came mostly from themiddle class and, on occasion, from the "people" (i.e. theworking class and peasantry).One consequence of this wasthat there was less social and cultural distance betweenCzech and (to a lesser extent) Slovak intellectuals and themasses than was the case in other East European nations.Indeed, the first two presidents of the CzechoslovakianRepublic were intellectuals of modest social origins: ThomasMasaryk, professor of philosophy with a doctoral degree fromthe University of Vienna, was the son of a coachman; EduardBenes, professor of economics and sociology with a doctoraldegree from Prague University, was the son of a cottager(Hajda, 1976:215).2Politically, the intelligentsia in Czechoslovakia wasdivided during the two decades of the Republic (1918-1938).While Slavophilic and pro-Moscow sentiments were by no means
of its population, and forty percent of its national income(Rothschild, 1974:132), moved the political center ofgravity among Czechoslovakian intellectuals decisivelyleftward.Liberalism —associated above all in the popularmind with the parliamentary democratic regimes ofCzechoslovakia's allies, France and England —had shownitself to be fundamentally lacking in moral, political andmilitary fortitude.As Czechoslovakia was rapidlydismembered, with Slovakia forming an ostensibly independentfascist regime aligned with Nazi Germany, the intelligentsiaturned away from a Western-orientedliberalism that, whetherviewed domestically or internationally, had proved utterlyunable to defend the Republic's sovereignty.Since the CPChad been the most vocal opponent to the Munich Agreement,many intellectuals turned —especially after the troublingStalin-Hitler pact of 1939 had been broken by the June 1941German invasion of the USSR —toward Communism as the bestavailable vehicle for national liberation (Perina, 1977:3032).This rapid movement of intellectuals to the left waspowerfully accelerated by the viciousness of the Nazioccupation of the Czech lands of Bohemia and Moravia —anoccupation that systematically brutalized the intellectualand professional classes, from among whom came the majorityof the 35,000 to 55,000 Czechs who died in concentrationcamps during the war or were executed directly (Rothschild,1989:135-136; see also Seton-Watson, 1956:146-149).
With Communists playing a leading role in the anti-Naziresistance in the Czech lands as well as in Slovakia (wherea major uprising occurred in 1944), and with Soviet prestigerising with every Red Army triumph against the hatedGermans, Communism came to seem to many intellectuals andnon-intellectuals alike the only viable alternative tofascism —and a not unattractive one at that.When theSoviet army liberated first Slovakia and then the Czechlands in the spring of 1945, enthusiasm for the "Slavicbrothers" from the Soviet Union reached an all-time high.4The Czechoslovakian people were finally free of the fascistoccupiers, and they were aware that they primarily owedtheir emancipation not to the liberal democracies of theWest, but rather to their powerful socialist neighbor to theEast.Having had a larger indigenous Communist movement thanany other East European country during the interwar years,Czechoslovakia was undoubtedly the nation in the region mostfavorably inclined toward Communism after World War II.Thewidespread popular support that the left enjoyed was evidentin the free parliamentary elections of May 26, 1946 in whichthe CPC received 38 percent of th vote nationwide and theSocial Democrats an additional 13 percent (Rothschild,1989:89-90).Support within the working class for the CPC,which was then advocating a specifically "Czechoslovak way"to socialism, was considerably higher than the nationalaverage, and in the years 1945-1947 the Party established
10effective control over both the trade union movement and thewidespread works councils that emerged after World War II(Kovanda, 1977; Bloomfield, 1979).When the CPC seizedpower in a bloodless coup in February 1948 during agovernment crisis (in a fashion that was, as JosephRothschild has noted, both "constitutional andrevolutionary"), it did so with the support of people'smilitias based primarily in the industrial working class.As was the case during the interwar years, theintelligentsia was politically divided during 1945-1948, butwith Communism a far more powerful pole of attraction thanit had ever been before.Many intellectualsenthusiastically welcomed the Soviet army which liberatedPrague in May 1945, and Communist intellectuals occupiedinfluential posts in the cultural apparatus of themultiparty National Front government in the immediatepostwar years.Communist writers were, moreover, the movingforce behind the creation in 1945 of a syndicate of Czechwriters which had over 1300 writers by 1946.The CPC-supported program of the syndicate promised to provideapartments for writers, stipends and pensions, andemphasized the financial insecurity of writers before thewar.Its general position was that culture should not beleft —as it had been under capitalism —to thevicissitudes of the market place, but rather should besubsidized by the state.At the same time, the Partywhich was then following the line of a specifically—
11Czechoslovak road to socialism —pledged its commitment toartistic freedom and civil liberties (Perina, 1977:35-36).Despite this appealing and flexible cultural program,segments of the intelligentsia —liberals and Catholic writers —Communists.especially pre-warcontinued to contest theConflicts took place within the Writer'sSyndicate itself and in other parts of the cultural arena(including the press) over a variety of issues, among themwhether literature and art should remain autonomous ofpolitics.Though the CPC had powerful and widespreadsupport within the intelligentsia, its efforts to create aninclusive national cultural organization called the KulturniObec (Cultural Community) that would be controlled by theParty failed, for it was countered by the rapid formation ofa rival non-Communist organization called Kulturni Svaz(Cultural Union).A subsequent merger of the twoorganizations produced a stalemate of opposing factions(Perina, 1977:38-39).The existence of serious divisions within theintelligentsia should not, however, be allowed to obscurethe extraordinary upsurge in Communist influence after theWar, especially among the younger generation.ZdenekMlynar, later an important Party official and the principalauthor of the political reform program of the CPC during thePrague Spring, describes in his memoir the magnetic appealthat Communism held for young intellectuals after the War:My generation was made prematurely aware ofpolitics by the stormy events of that period; at
12the same time we lacked political experience. Theonly experience we had was of the war years andthe Nazi occupation of Czechoslovakia . One ofthe chief results of this was a black-and-whitevision of the world, with the enemy on one sideand his adversary on the other. It was either oneside or the other — there was no middle ground.Thus our unique experience drummed into us thatthe victory of the correct conception meant quitesimply the liquidation, the destruction, of theother.We opposed the enemy with all the passion of ouryouth. Given our Manichean view of the world, wenaturally believed that the chief politicalvirtues were consistency and radicalism . wewere children of war who, having not actuallyfought against anyone, brought out wartimementality with us into those first postwar years,when the opportunity to fight for somethingpresented itself at last.To the question whom to fight against and in whatcause, the age offered a simple reply: on the sideof those who were most consistently and radicallyagainst the past, who were not cautious, who madeno compromises with the past but rather strove tosweep it aside, to overcome it in a revolutionaryway. The Soviet Union appeared to be the forceand losik Vissarionovich Stalin the politicalpersonality to lead the fight (Mlynar, 1980:1-2).Mlynar's evocation of the atmosphere of the period amongintellectuals is by no means unique; strikingly similaraccounts are offered by the renowned writer Pavel Kohout,the journalist Antonin Liehm, and many others (Kohout, 1972;Liehm, 1974).6Thus, when the CPC came to power in February1948, it did so with the active consent of much (though notall) of the Czechoslovakian intelligentsia and theenthusiastic commitment of most of its youngest and mostdynamic segment.
The Intelligentsia Under Stalinism and Neo-Stalinism. 19481961Once in power, the CPC abandoned talk of a specificallyCzechoslovak path to socialism and, especially after March1949, embarked upon a program of rapid revolutionarytransformation along classical Stalinist lines.For non-Communist intellectuals, this meant not only the end offreedom of expression, but also the possibility of expulsionfrom the university, loss of job, incarceration, anddeath.Liberal and even Communist-oriented publications that didnot hew to the new Party line were closed down, and"socialist realism" was installed as the official Party lineon culture (Perina, 1977).Under these conditions, someintellectuals (and many non-intellectuals as well) left thecountry and many more were intimidated into silence(Albright, 1976; Hruby, 1980).If part of the intelligentsia fell victim to the newhard-line policies, another powerful segment of it justifiedthese policies as necessary for the defeat of the "classenemy" and the "building of socialism."Many leadingintellectuals, especially from the younger generation,adhered to this viewpoint and there was no shortage ofargumentation legitimating Stalinist policies.one example, Karel Kosik —To take butlater an internationallyrenowned Marxist philosopher i the humanist tradition and aleading radical during the Prague Spring —justified thepurges that swept the Party in 1950 and 1951 as follows:
such is the logic of history! Who does notfaithfully serve the people becomes a lackey ofslave-dealers. Such is the fate of bourgeoishirelings, such is the fate of traitors to theworkers' class . Only cosmopolitan bandits andwreckers of the type of Slansky, Svermova, Slingand Co., whom the people threw out from its midst,could dare to touch our alliance with the SovietUnion . We are led by the great pupil of Stalinand the greatest man of our nation, dear comradeGottwald (Hruby, 1980:189).Similarly, Jiri Pelikan —a well-known reformer during thePrague Spring and a director of Czechoslovakiantelevisionin 1968— was a key participant in the large-scale purgi
Germans, Communism came to seem to many intellectuals and non-intellectuals alike the only viable alternative to fascism — and a not unattractive one at that. When the Soviet army liberated first Slovakia and then the Czech lands in the spring of 1945, enthusiasm for the "Slavic brothers" from the Soviet Union reached an all-time high.4
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