2.05 Internationalism: Czechoslovakia

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2.05 Czechoslovakia. The Republic of Czechoslovakia was a multinational state composed mainly of Slavs (Czechs, Slovaks, and Ruthanians), Germans, Jews and Hungarians. It was established in 1919 from the Czech and Slovak lands of the defeated Empire of Austria-Hungary. The Czech lands of Bohemia and Moravia under Austrian rule were industrial centers. Slovakia had been part of Hungary and was an agrarian area. After the Munich Conference in October 1938, Slovakia became autonomous and the Czech lands were occupied by Germany, Poland and Hungary. The country was reunited after World War II and divided into the Czech and Slovak Republics in 1993. At the time of its most recent split, Czechoslovakia had a population of 15 million, of whom 10 million were Czech and 5 million were Slovaks. Sixty percent of both the Czechs and Slovaks are Catholic.

Background. The Communist Party of Czechoslovakia (Komunisticka Strana Ceskoslovenska , KSC) was established as a multinational entity at a convention in October 1921. It was created from a number of independent national groups then operating in Czechoslovakia, including the German, Czech, Slavic and Ruthanian (Hungarian) communist parties. [Paul E. Zinner, Communist Strategy and Tactics in Czechoslovakia, 1918-1948 (New York: Frederich Praeger, 1963), p. 33]. These parties had their roots in the Austrian Social Democratic Party which was established in 1878 and which splintered in 1918 after the Soviet Revolution. (Zinner, Communist Strategy, p. 25). The highest KSC governing body is the party congress, which meets every five years. During the 1920s the KSC had a membership of 100,000 and was heavily into parliamentary politics, getting 10% of the electoral vote. This was as much any party in Czechoslovakia was getting. In parliament the KSC had 20 senators and 41 deputies. (Zinner, Communist Strategy, pp. 50, 53, 66). The party newspaper, which still exists, was called Rude Pravo. In the 1930s the party emphasized the demands of factory and agrarian workers, which meant class struggle and the elimination of discrimination against nationalities. The KSC was the only party to consistently oppose the Agrarian Party's collaboration with Hitler in the Czech lands. (Zinner, Communist Strategy, p. 56). Similarly, in Slovakia the KSC opposed the Slovak People's party (SPP), which was led by the Slovak-nationalist priest Andrej Hlinka (1864-1938). In 1938 under the leadership of another Catholic priest, Monsignor Jozef Tiso (1887-1947), the SPP goal of national autonomy was obtained. Slovakia became a puppet of Hitler's Nazi Germany.

In 1938 the KSC in both the Slovak and Czech lands was outlawed, its leaders were jailed and its representatives in parliament were expelled. The party then went underground and engaged in illegal activities. This involved sabatoge and collaboration with the Soviets in armed struggle to overthrow the government. In 1939 the Slovak communists became an independent section of the Comintern as the Komunisticka Strana Slovenska (KSS). As World War II progressed, most in the KSS favored the unification of Slovakia to the USSR as the Slovak Soviet Republic. (Zinner, Communist Strategy, p. 77). In the fall of 1941 the KSC was part of the Central National Revolutionary Committee and it continued Rude Pravo as an underground publication. [Vojtech Mastny, The Czechs Under Nazi Rule: The Failure of National Resistance, 1939-1942 (New York: Columbia University Press, 1971), p. 166]. In September 1943 the KSS helped establish the anti-fascist Slovak National Council which in August 1944 began an uprising against Tiso's government. By April 1945 the Slovak and Czech lands were liberated by Soviet troops. Monsignor Tiso was hanged as a collaborator. During the war, three successive KSC central committees were killed off and 24,000 KSC and KSS members died in armed struggle or Nazi concentration camps. (Zinner, Communist Strategy, pp. 74, 238).

After the war the National Front of the Czechoslovakia Republic, which was a coalition of the KSC, the Social Democrats, the People's Party, the National Socialists, the Slovak Democrats and other parties governed the country. The one party which opposed the National Front was the Agrarian (Republican) party. It was outlawed, however, because of its collaboration with the Nazis. KSC membership expanded rapidly, from 27,000 in May 1945 to 1.1 million within a year. By 1948 there were 1.3 million KSC members in the Czech lands and 210,000 in the Slovak lands. (Zinner, Communist Strategy, p. 125). The KSC had units of 8 to 10 members in every village and work place. The communists won 38% of the vote in the 1946 elections and held many government positions. Under the National Front the working class dominated.

Because of the working class domination, in February 1948 the 12 capitalist-backed ministers in the National Socialist, Slovak Democratic and People's Party attempted to bring the National Front down by resigning from the government. However, others in their parties broke ranks, took the working-class side and filled the vacated ministerial positions. (Zinner, Communist Strategy, pp. 196, 212). At the same time the Social Democrats and the KSS merged with the KSC and the working class staged a symbolic one hour general strike that demonstrated its power. (Zinner, Communist Strategy, pp. 211, 224). The result was the peaceful (parliamentary) establishment of a proletarian dictatorship. The KSC had two-thirds of the seats in parliament. Edward Benes was replaced as president by Communist Party leader Klement Gottwald (d. 1953). The National Front government, elected by 89% of the vote in June 1948, established a centrally planned economy, agriculture was collectivized and most private ownership was eliminated. (Zinner, Communist Strategy, pp. 169, 225). A class struggle, as reflected in the Constitution of June 8, 1948, was waged against the nationalism and anti-Sovietism of the defeated capitalists. Between 1948 and 1959 industrial production rose 347%. [Richard Nyrop, Czechoslovakia, a Country Study (Wash. DC: Dept. of the Army, 1982), pp. 49, 158]. Most of the population backed the KSC because it improved the lot of the poor and created a just distribution of income. Antonin Novotny headed the KSC from 1953 to 1968 after Gottwald died. He, along with Gustav Husak, who took over in April 1969, and the KSC majority had little regard for Nikita Khrushchev's class collaborationism. (Nyrop, Czechoslovakia, pp. 158, 160).

Catholics. Catholics have played a positive part in Czechoslovakia's working class movement. For example, the Catholic priest, Joseph Plojhar was a leader in establishing the proletarian dictatorship in 1948. He gained national influence as an official in the Czech People's Party (PP). The PP was organized after World War I in Bohemia and Moravia from the merger of two Christian social factions. It was composed mainly of Catholics and dominated by large landlords. (Zinner, Communist Strategy, p. 113). The leaders of the PP, such as Jan Kopecky and the Catholic priests, Monsignors Jan Sramek and Frantisek Hala, spent World War II in London. After the war the imperialists tried to use the PP's London leaders, who returned to Prague in 1945, to promote anti-communism. However, the PP's rank and file who had stayed in the country and fought in the underground alongside the communists took a working class perspective. They forced the PP to follow the communist program.

During the war Fr. Plojhar had risked his life as a member of the underground and was jailed with the communists in a concentration camp. (Zinner,Communist Strategy, p. 74). Later he became a leader of the PP's working class faction. In 1947 the PP's weekly, Obzory (Horizons) started publishing material promoting bourgeois nationalism that had been provided by Anglo-American intelligence operatives. (Zinner, Communist Strategy, pp. 177, 212). Fr. Plojhar along with Dyonisius Polansky obtained a writ of authority to close the paper down and oust its editor. When the PP's anti-communist faction resigned their ministerial posts in the National Front, Fr. Plojhar along with Alois Petr on February 24, 1948 led the PP in replacing them with working class ministers. [Zinner, Communist Strategy, pp. 159, 212; Josef Plojhar, Vitezny unor 1948 a cs. strana Lidova (The Victorious February 1948 and the Czechoslovakian People's Party) (Prague: NLD, 1958), p. 57]. Because of their example, later on the same day the left factions in the National Socialist and Slovak Democratic parties broke ranks and named working class ministers to replace those who had resigned.

Once the dictatorship took over, five thousand of the nation's seven thousand clergy sided with it. Fr. Plojhar, who had helped bring about the dictatorship, became the Minister of Health in the National Front government. [Richard F. Staar, Communist Regimes in Eastern Europe (3rd ed., Stanford, Cal.: Stanford University Press, 1977), p. 78; Dennis J. Dunn, Detente and Papal-Communist Relations, 1962-1978 (Boulder, Colorado: Westview Press, 1979), pp. 153, 156].

In 1951 the clergy formed their own organization, the Peace Movement of Catholic Clergy (MHKD), which promoted the program of the National Front. In international policy the MHKD backed in its publications and in the pulpit the Soviets and wars of liberation. It denounced the threat to peace of the U.S. and its NATO allies. In domestic policy the MHKD defended collectivization and socialization and fought against national chauvinism. ( Dunn, Detente , p. 157). The successor clerical organization to the MHKD in the 1960s was the Czechoslovak Association of Catholic Clergy or, more commonly, Pacem in Terris. This later name was taken from Pope John XXIII's encyclical of 1963. The Pacem in Terris priests were divided into Czech and Slavia branches. (Nyrop, Czechoslovakia, p. 176). Pacem in Terris came under attack by Alexander Dubcek in 1968, but this was short-lived. Dubcek and the KSC's class collaborationist members were purged by 1969. (Nyrop, Czechoslovakia, p. 105).

In addition to the clerical organizations, a government department which helped put the church in the service of the National Front and which Catholic working people helped establish was the Office for Ecclesiastical Affairs. It was set up in October 1949 and was similar to the Soviet Department of Religious Affairs. Its job was to approve clerical appointments and pay their wages, check the budgets of church organizations and run the seminaries. The country's seven seminaries were consolidated into two and affiliated with the theological departments in Bratislava (Cyril and Methodius Facility of Divinity) and Litomerice. The priests and nuns who taught or worked in hospitals and other social service agencies took an oath of loyalty "to the welfare of the people":

I promise on my honor and conscience that I shall be loyal to the Czechoslovak Republic and its People's Democracy and that I shall do nothing that is detrimental to its interests, its security and its integrity. As a citizen of the People's Democracy I shall honestly and sincerely carry out all duties which are incumbent upon me in the position which I occupy, and I shall support with all my strength the efforts towards reconstruction which are being made for the welfare of the people. (Dunn, Detente, p. 156).

It was the Catholics themselves who led the struggle within the church against the 2000 capitalist-oriented clergy. This struggle dated from the period of the Hapsburg Empire, when the hierarchy and many of the clergy were landlords who lived off the rent of tenant farmers. In Slovakia, which had been under Hungarian rule prior to 1919, the hierarchy were Hungarians, not Slovaks. Until 1928 they did not even live in Slovakia. They always opposed a united Czechoslovakia. (Zinner, Communist Strategy, p. 13). In the Czech lands the hierarchy were mainly Germans. (Nyrop, Czechoslovakia, p. 104).

In 1948 two laws were enacted to address the working class demands against the hierarchy. First, the Law Concerning Agrarian Reform ended the landlord system, including clerical landlordism. The hierarchy's 320,000 hectacres were transformed into collective farms. Second the Law Concerning Education nationalized private schools. The clergy and nuns who worked in these schools became public servants. Private hospitals and the hierarchy's Caritas social service agency were likewise nationalized. Their services then became available to all without charge. In the same period the hierarchy's newspaper, Acta Curiae, was replaced by a revolutionary paper, Katolicke Noviny (Catholic News) and its libraries were nationalized and made into public libraries. On April 14, 1950 most religious orders and congregations were dissolved and their real estate collectivized. For centuries these organizations had operated as a type of communism for their members exclusively. Under the National Front government they had been controlled by foreign governments that used them to subvert the working class dictatorship.

The class struggle waged against the capitalist clergy involved educating them to working-class values by making them do labor. Foreign clergy were deported. Eight hundred clergy were jailed for counterrevolutionary activity. Testimony against these clergy came from the working-class Catholics and clergy. Among those who lost out was the Christian social democrat, Antonin Mandl, who was leader of the hierarchy's mass organization, Catholic Action. He was arrested and replaced with a working-class partisan. Soon after Catholic Action it issued a warning to the hierarchy about interfering with the revolutionary Catholics or serving as the agents of foreign governments:

We hope that our bishops will regard our action with understanding. However we exhort those who might dare to penalize in any way our priests or the Catholic people because of their attitude, to the state to note well that we have with us the overwhelming majority of the faithful. . . We cannot accept any order of a political nature from outside the country. (Dunn, Detente, p. 154).

For the hierarchy, however, their identification with landlords was something they could not liberate themselves from. They were incapable of serving the working class. In the nation's 14 dioceses all the bishops between 1950 and 1955 were removed from office. Five were imprisoned. The working people and rank-and-file clergy ran the dioceses without bishops. (Dunn, Detente, p. 157). Typically, on June 19, 1949 Bishop (later Cardinal) Josef Beran was shouted down by his own congregation for giving an anticommunist sermon. He was forced out of his post in March 1951 and later left the country and died in Rome. When new bishops were chosen in the 1960s, they generally belonged to Pacem in Terris. (Dunn, Detente, p. 158). Nevertheless the people preferred to run the church without a hierarchy. In 1980 only 3 of the 12 dioceses had bishops. (Nyrop, Czechoslovakia, p. 102).

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