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A Noble Cause Betrayed ... but Hope Lives On
Pages from a Political Life, by John Boyd

Chapter 5
My Report on the 1968 Events in Czechoslovakia

This is the letter I sent to the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Canada on Sept. 18, 1968. It was sent as a contribution to the discussion bulletin on the events in Czechoslovakia that was to be published prior to the meeting of the Central Committee in October. The letter never saw the light of day. Through the intervention of Tim Buck and William Kashtan it was decided to discontinue the bulletin after two issues, "due to space limitations." At the time the letter was written I did not know that I would be attending the Sept. 18 meeting. When I did, I used about two-thirds of this letter in the hour-long speech I made to the meeting as my contribution to the discussion.

To the members of the Central Committee,
Communist Party of Canada:

First, let me apologize for the length of this letter. It is the most important document I have written in my life. I therefore ask your indulgence. Involved in this letter are all the hopes and ideals I have worked for and stood for throughout the 36 years I have been a full-time worker in our movement. I ask you to read it with the same seriousness with which I am writing it.

It is regrettable that the CEC of our party was unable to come out with a more forthright and clear-cut statement condemning the August 21 military intervention in Czechoslovakia for what it was: a monumental folly and a travesty on socialism. Regrettable, but in a way understandable, for although the action was a glaring violation of all principles governing relations between socialist states and Communist parties, and although there have been other moments in history when friends and advocates of socialism have been cruelly misled by statements and actions of the leaders of the Soviet Union and other socialist states, many people still sought desperately for some sort of rational explanation of the action.

* * *

The TASS statement on the day of the intervention declared that (1) the party and government leaders of Czechoslovakia asked for "urgent assistance....including assistance with armed forces" and (2) that "this request was brought about by the threat....emanating from the counter-revolutionary forces which have entered into a collusion with foreign forces hostile to socialism." Neither of these statements is true. There was no imminent threat of counter-revolution in Czechoslovakia. The overwhelming majority of the Czechoslovak communists, leaders and rank and file, did not think so at the time — and they do not think so now. Significantly, the communique issued after the talks between Czechoslovak and Soviet leaders on Aug 26 makes no mention of any "counter-revolutionary threat." The Czechoslovaks did not, would not and do not now agree to any such characterization...

* * *

What are the criteria for declaring there is a counter-revolution or the threat of a counter-revolution in a country? For the leaders of some of the socialist countries an article in a newspaper criticizing or attacking the Communist Party or certain government policies of one of the socialist states, or a few voices (sometimes even one voice) raised in opposition are grounds for crying "counter-revolution" or declaring there is a counter-revolutionary threat. Even criticism by Communists or honest and sincere patriots of socialist Czechoslovakia, because they were sometimes expressed in angry and bitter terms, were branded as counter-revolutionary.

But the Czechoslovak Communists had a different approach and different evaluation of these voices of opposition. In a three-hour interview with Rae Murphy and me on August 8, Jan Kolar, a Central Committee member of the Czechoslovak Party, said: "What basis is there for claiming that Czechoslovakia faces the threat of counterrevolution? Not one Communist has been killed, not one party official has been physically assaulted. The press, radio and TV are in the hands of the Communists (granted some of them are in what we call the right wing in our party). Our army and police are in full command of public order and prepared for any eventuality. Surely this is far from being a counterrevolution."

* * *

There were and are, of course, anti-socialist and anti-Soviet elements in the country, aided and abetted by the CIA and similar forces (there are also such, by the way, in the GDR, Poland, Hungary and the Soviet Union). But the Czechoslovak leaders always admitted that there were such elements. They always pointed out, however, that these were not large groups or strata of the population but individuals, who were not in any positions of power and influence and would not be allowed to get into any such positions. Nevertheless, they were quite ready and able to deal with them if they ever presented a threat. Indeed, they often made it clear that should ideological means of fighting these elements prove to be inadequate and any kind of emergency arose the government and the party were ready to use force.

The Czechoslovak Communists, however, always differentiated between the conscious anti-socialist elements, who wanted to turn Czechoslovakia back to the pre-198 and pre-1939 days and honest citizens, including many Communists, who because of the excesses of the Novotny regime were very critical of the party and its leaders. Some of these were very bitter and some went to extremes. But although many of these people were confused and wrong they were not in favour of a return to capitalism. They wanted, as many of them put it, a "better" socialism, a "more humane," "more democratic" socialism. The Czechoslovak party leaders understood this and refused to brand them as "agents of imperialism" or "counter-revolutionaries" or to lump them into one camp with the conscious anti-socialist, truly counter-revolutionary elements.

* * *

The Czechoslovak Party had its finger very much on the pulse of the people. It knew that much of the dissatisfaction was a "blowing off steam" by hundreds of thousands of workers and people generally after more than two decades of bureaucracy, violations of people's rights and distortions of socialist democracy. That there would be extremes and excesses in such a situation was inevitable but the Party was determined not to return to the old pre-January methods to eliminate them. The main point is that they differentiated between the honest elements who were confused, angry, bitter and highly critical and those who wanted to return to capitalism or were consciously serving the enemy. On the other hand, the Soviet press (and that of the other four powers) lumped all the voices of opposition into one camp and almost anyone who was "anti" or didn't conform was labeled a counter-revolutionary, indeed, is still being so labeled.

It is being said that the threat of counter-revolution was very real and very near. In the United Nations Security Council and in the Soviet and other newspapers, statements were made that the Warsaw Pact powers had "irrefutable proof' that a take-over by the counter-revolutionaries in Czechoslovakia with the assistance of "outside imperialist forces" was imminent. No such proof has as yet been produced.

* * *

How imminent was the threat? It took only four hours for the near half-million troops to occupy all the strategic points in Czechoslovakia. Surely the leadership .. of the Czechoslovak party wasn't that close to losing control of the government or being overthrown by a coup! And if the threat was that imminent and the proof of its existence so irrefutable, isn't it strange that the majority of the Czechoslovak leaders could not be convinced of it? Why, for example, could they not convince President Svoboda, an old general knowledgeable in military problems, a fearless patriot of his country, a devoted Communist? Or Dubcek, or Cernik, or Smrkovsky? Why couldn't they convince these men at least enough to win their agreement for the presence of foreign troops? And if the threat of counter-revolution wasn't just hours or days away, why the rush? Why couldn't they, for example, have recalled the Bratislava meeting or even an emergency meeting of all the Communist parties in Europe?

* * *

We are told that the Czechoslovak leaders themselves, indeed the majority, called for the foreign troops — a claim categorically denied by the Czechoslovak government and Party leaders. If they did and if they were a majority, why did they not come forward and identify themselves? If in the beginning they were afraid, why didn't they come forward after they had the protection of the foreign troops? Why is it that to this date nobody has named any of these leaders? No, there was no such demand from the Czechoslovak leadership at any time. In any case, whether there was a last-minute plea by a handful if individuals in the Czechoslovak Party leadership who were opposed to the policies of the majority is of secondary importance. The fact is that an operation such as the one that was carried out within four hours in the early morning of August 21 wasn't organized in the last minute. It had been planned not weeks but months before. Thus, while it is true that there were counter-revolutionary elements and imperialist forces hard at work in Czechoslovakia in the past months, seeking to use the situation that had developed to their own advantage, the claim that the intervention was made necessary because Czechoslovakia was threatened by counter-revolution simply does not stand up.

Perhaps it is because the "irrefutable proof' of counter-revolution was not so irrefutable that a Pravda correspondent, S. Kovalev, came out (three weeks after the intervention!) with the theory that it was a "peaceful counter-revolution." There need not be killings and physical assaults on people to constitute a counterrevolution, he wrote. There can also be a "peaceful" or "quiet" counter-revolution. The tactics of such a peaceful counter-revolution, we are told, "consists of references to the need for 'improving' *socialism." Demands for "democratization" and for "a more democratic socialism" are also included. By painting a detailed imaginary picture of how such a "peaceful" counterrevolution could develop, step by step, the Pravda writer creates the impression that this is precisely what was going to take place in Czechoslovakia and what the intervention prevented.

At least one flaw in this "theory" is that there is hardly a single person in Czechoslovakia today who can be persuaded to believe that there was such a threat or that the intervention was justified. And was it necessary to send almost half a million troops and 7,500 tanks into a country the size of New York state, with a population of 11/2 million, to crush a "peaceful" counterrevolution? If a counter-revolution, peaceful or otherwise, was imminent and so extensive and well organized, why is it that no one has been able to pinpoint precisely who these counter-revolutionaries are and expose them? Why haven't the leaders of this counterrevolution been named? Why is it that to date not a single counter-revolutionary has been arrested? Surely if, as it is claimed, there are some 40,000 armed counter-revolutionaries in the country at least a few of them could have been produced by now.

* * *

The entire picture of the situation in Czechoslovakia over the past several months has been also confused and distorted by another factor: the role imperialism and its forces have played in it and around it and the way this fact has been used by those who have opposed the democratization process in Czechoslovakia.

That the capitalist powers would use the differences that arose among the Czechoslovak Communists, supported by the majority of the Communist Parties of the world, was inevitable and should have caused no surprise or alarm to Marxists. But by applying a primitive kind of logic, some Communists argued that if the Western powers are supporting the Czechoslovak Communists, this is proof that they are "on the wrong track." The GDR leaders were particularly prone to using this argument. Every time a West German newspaper or radio station quoted a speech or an article from Czechoslovakia this was further evidence that the West German "revanchists" were master-minding events there.

The more this happened, of course, the more the Western powers joined in "backing" the Czechoslovak leaders, hoping thereby to widen and deepen the split — and they have been quite successful. This primitive logic took its crudest form when a leading Bulgarian Communist told me (this was at the time that Dubcek had been taken away and nobody knew where he was): "Dubcek is a counter-revolutionary. It's a good thing we've got rid of him." This kind of "black and white," "who's not with us is against us" approach has in one form or another permeated scores of articles and statements written about the Czechoslovak events. This kind of approach and the premise that "the Soviet comrades can't possibly be wrong" or "we have to stand by the Soviet Union no matter what" has also motivated many of those Parties that have endorsed the intervention. In this respect it is interesting to note that the intervention was endorsed mainly by those Parties that have had the least contact with the Czechoslovak Party, whose leaders did not visit and have talks with the Czechoslovak leaders, especially in the last few months, and who therefore had little or no first-hand knowledge of the situation in this country.

If one starts out from the standpoint that the leaders of the Soviet Union and the other socialist countries involved were correct in all these events, that they made no serious errors, that "there must be something to it if the leaders of five socialist countries say so," then the problem becomes relatively simple: there was a threat of counter-revolution in Czechoslovakia, the security of the socialist world was threatened, therefore any and every action necessary was justified. I, for one, cannot, do not and will not accept this precept.

* * *

What are the reasons that prompted the leaders of the Soviet and the other Warsaw Pact powers to take the drastic step they did? To understand this one must go back to the January plenum of the Czechoslovak Party's Central Committee, when the majority of the committee ousted Novotny and a number of his supporters from leadership, broke with the policies the old leadership had pursued and charted a new course, which became known as the "democratization process," the aims of which were summarized in the Party's Action Program.

The leaders in Moscow, Berlin and Warsaw opposed this new path taken by the Czechoslovak Communists from the very outset. The leaders in Budapest and Sofia joined later. Despite their claims at the time that they supported the decisions of the January and May plenums, those who carefully followed what was written in the press and what was said by the leaders in these countries were able to notice that at first this support was only formal and lukewarm at best; very soon after, it became obvious that the course the Czechoslovak leaders had charted was being fundamentally opposed.

* * *

The press of the five Warsaw Pact powers during the past nine months was the best indicator of this opposition and the escalation of that opposition right up to the August 21 military intervention. The decisions of the January plenum were only perfunctorily reported; the speeches of Dubcek, Smrkovsky and Cernik were reported by quoting only those sections with which the editors agreed and omitting important passages with which they did not agree. So obvious was this to the Communists in Prague, who would read both Rude Pravo and Pravda, that they were embarrassed. A major speech of Dubcek, for example, was very briefly reported (only carefully selected passages) yet only a short while later a speech by Gomulka in Warsaw was carried by Pravda in full, taking two full pages. The Action Program, a lengthy and highly important and historic document, was confined to a quarter page and the selections most carefully chosen. A representative from one of the European parties commented that "it must have been edited by a surgeon." Even in the World Marxist Review the first articles on the events and decisions in Czechoslovakia were published only in May (and that not without some difficult manoeuvring), while the Action Program, which many parties wanted as quickly as possible, wasn't printed in the magazine's Information Bulletin until late July, and that only in a limited edition in Prague. It wasn't sent to Canada for reprinting in the English edition. It was obvious, even to the not very astute political observer, that the leaders in Moscow and the other Warsaw Pact capitals did not approve of the course the Czechoslovak Communists had embarked upon.

* * *

Eventually, especially after talks in Dresden and Moscow failed to divert the Czechoslovak leaders from their course, one began to note a mounting campaign of attacks, at first somewhat guarded and subtle but gradually more open and direct, against various individuals and publications in Czechoslovakia. Some of these were justified criticisms of extremist views, although all too often in an inimical tone that is used against enemies rather than confused or misguided friends. Some of them crossed the border of journalistic ethics and good taste. An article in the May issue of Sovietskaia Rossia, for example, attacking Czechoslovakia's first president, Tomas Masaryk, was not only crude in its language and approach but a distortion of history. It completely failed to take into account the national feelings of the people of Czechoslovakia, what Masaryk still means to them; and thus caused a great deal of resentment in the country at a time when subversive forces were working overtime to arouse anti-Soviet sentiment. The articles became more critical and more one-sided. Fewer and fewer materials were published from the speeches of the Czechoslovak leaders and from the statements and documents of the Party's leading bodies. There was little or no attempt to differentiate these from the views of the extremist anti-socialist elements that were attacked.

As the pressure on the Czechoslovak leaders mounted, the Warsaw Pact powers, to justify their chosen course and policy, began to resort to more and more exaggerations, half-truths and outright falsification. News that a small arms cache was found near the German border — in suspiciously strange and provocative circumstances only half concealed in a culvert under a bridge (and after an anonymous telephone tip) — was picked up within hours and broadcast widely. A day later, the Bulgarian press carried a story that "many arms caches have been found all over Czechoslovakia." This was reprinted and broadcast in all the Warsaw Pact countries so that millions got the impression that Czechoslovakia was almost an armed counter-revolutionary camp. Next day, the Czechoslovak government officially denied that other arms caches had been found. But the denial wasn't printed in the press of the other countries.

Much was made of the stories that thousands of Western and particularly West German tourists were flooding into Czechoslovakia and even that German and American soldiers disguised as civilians had infiltrated the entire country. No proof of this later charge was provided then or since. (That there were and are CIA agents and West German agents in Czechoslovakia —of that there is no doubt; they are also present in every other Warsaw Pact country). On June 2, the Czechoslovak news agency CTK published official statistics showing the number of tourists that had come into the country up to that point in the season. The figures showed: the number of tourists as compared with the same period in the previous year grew by 20 percent, but most of the increase was from the socialist countries; only 22 percent were from capitalist countries, a drop percentage-wise compared to 1965; all the other socialist countries had a larger number of tourists from the West on a per capita basis. For every tourist from West Germany there were .5 from the GDR and for every tourist from Austria there were three from Hungary. Needless to say, none of this was reported in the press of the socialist countries. Scores of additional examples of such distortion and outright fabrication can be provided (I have retained clippings of some of the most glaring ones).

* * *

After the January plenum of the Czechoslovak Party's Central Committee the parties of the Warsaw Pact countries resigned themselves to the fact that Novotny had been removed and would have to be written off. But those who had supported Novotny and his policies were not written off. There was a conscious effort in these countries to push to the fore those individuals whom the Czechoslovak Party members considered as "conservative" but whom the Soviet press kept referring to (and still does) as the "healthy elements" in the party. This was perhaps most flagrantly done in the publication by the July 30 Pravda of a letter it had received from 99 workers of a Prague auto plant in which they tried to portray the public's concern over the fact that the Warsaw Pact troops that had been on manoeuvres had long overstayed their departure date as an official or semi-official campaign against the Soviet Union. The letter itself was not so significant one way or another. What was interesting was the play Pravda had given it: spread over a quarter page, complete with facsimile signatures (the liberal space given as compared with that given to Dubcek's speeches or the Action Program was not lost on the Czechoslovak Communists). And the letter was signed by 99 workers in a plant that employs 4,500 workers, most of whom would not have endorsed it, especially its tone and implications. Of the 99 signators, about a third had already retired and the letter itself was published just as the plant closed down for a two-week summer holiday. Nor had the signators discussed the problem taken up in their letter either in their plant party branch or in their trade union.

* * *

It would be wrong, of course, to say that there wasn't cause for some criticism of the Czechoslovak Party (this could very well be said of all Parties) or that the Czechoslovak leaders had not made or were not making mistakes. They were. Some they were aware of and admitted, others not. It is true, for example, that there were times in these months when they were not fighting back hard enough against some of the anti-socialist elements; they said as much at the May plenum of their central committee. When asked (at the aforementioned August 8 interview and on other occasions) why this was so they gave a number of reasons. One reason was that after January there was quite a violent reaction among the people to the long period of wrong leadership and excesses of the Novotny regime. Some of the voices of dissatisfaction and criticism were in the Party itself and among workers who had been the closest supporters of the Party. In the face of this violent reaction and this mood, many Party activists felt compromised, especially when they'd find the workers throwing up the Party's past to them. Many activists were also not experienced in fighting back ideologically; they had always left it up to the "fellows on top" to do that. The main reason, however, why little was or could be done, they explained, was that the leadership was divided and therefore did not have the confidence of the membership. There was a relatively small "left" or "conservative" group and a small right-wing group (which was more influential than its small number because many of its members were linked with the mass media). The overwhelming majority, they claimed, was in what they called the "centre," led by Dubcek, Smrkovsky, Cernik and others. They felt quite certain that the scheduled 14th Congress of the party would be able to isolate both the left and right wings and consolidate the party around the latter group.

But to the leaders of the Warsaw Pact parties the victory and consolidation of the "centre" led by Dubcek et all would not have been satisfactory. This so-called "centre" was the main motivating force of the democratization process and the Action Program. Those whom the Czechoslovak Communists considered as "centrists," Moscow, Berlin and the other three capitals considered as revisionists, right-wing opportunists or apologists for and abettors of the counter-revolutionaries. Indeed, at one time or another Dubcek and his colleagues have been called all of these in the press of these capitals.

* * *

The pressure on the Czechoslovak leadership to abandon its policies started quite early. It began in earnest at the Dresden meeting of the Warsaw Pact powers (without Romania). It then continued at the meeting of the Czechoslovak and Soviet leaders in Moscow. When these two meetings failed to get the Czechoslovak leaders to change their course, the five powers held a meeting in Moscow without them. At this meeting for the first time military intervention was openly discussed when it was reportedly demanded by the leaders of the GDR and Poland. The Soviet leaders were divided on the proposal and when the leaders of Hungary and Bulgaria opposed it, the proposal was shelved. It is interesting to note here that at the end of June, following the meeting between the Czechoslovak and Hungarian leaders in Budapest, three different highly placed officials in Hungary told me personally that while the Hungarian leaders were critical of some of the weaknesses and errors which in their opinion the Czechoslovak leaders had displayed, in the main they were supporting their efforts and felt that the Czechoslovak party was doing a service both to its own country and the cause of socialism. One of them added: "Our support is genuine and sincere. We don't want to support them like a rope supports a hanging man." But a few days after Dubcek's visit to Budapest the Hungarian leaders were invited to Moscow. After that they changed their attitude to the Czechoslovak Party quite drastically and adopted a much harder line.

* * *

The Czechoslovak leaders found out, of course, that military intervention had been discussed at the meeting to which they had not been invited. Is it any wonder that when they were invited to a similar meeting in Warsaw they refused to come? The story of that meeting and the "to-be-forgotten" Warsaw letter that resulted are both well known. Following that meeting the press of all five Warsaw Pact powers pulled out all stops and published a flood of articles and commentary on Czechoslovakia which continued right up to the Cierna nad Tisou meeting. The atmosphere that had been built up was such that on the eve of Cierna many Communists in both Moscow and Prague expected the worst. Many of the conversations in both capitals in those days began with: "Do you think there will be intervention ?"

Incidentally, the Czechoslovak Communists had been alerted about a possible military intervention long before the meeting of five. Some of them said that the first mention of that possibility was as far back as last February. In any case, this advance knowledge explains why the Czechs and Slovaks were prepared with a network of secret radio stations (which by the way, were manned almost entirely by Party members working in two shifts round the clock) as well as facilities for underground newspapers, shop papers, leaflets, etc.

But during the week before Cierna an interesting phenomenon took place in Czechoslovakia. The people all over the country sensed that at Cierna their leaders were going to be put under tremendous pressure and they rallied around them in the greatest outpouring of unity in Czechoslovakia's history. Naturally, all kinds of anti-socialist and anti-Soviet elements joined in this upsurge (and the enemy agents were hard at work). But instead of seeing this unity for what it really was, the leaders of the Warsaw Pact powers interpreted it as unity based on anti-Sovietism. They saw and heard the few expressions of anti-Sovietism, but failed to see that the overwhelming majority were united around the Communist Party and its leaders.

At Cierna the pressure put on the Czechoslovak leaders was truly great. The meeting was. expected to last two days; it lasted four: We all know the results of that meeting and the Bratislava meeting that followed. Like everyone else, I was very enthusiastic about Cierna and Bratislava and I so wrote in my fourth article in the Tribune. But I have since altered my view of these meetings considerably. It is obvious that once the Soviet leaders had again failed to convince the Czechoslovak leaders, the communique at Bratislava (which really didn't say anything concrete or new) became nothing more than a cynical cover-up for action that had already been planned in just such an eventuality. As a matter of fact, I personally have first-hand knowledge that the possibility of military intervention on the weekend immediately after Cierna had been considered by the Soviet leaders. This means that the intervention had been planned prior to Cierna and Bratislava — just in case — and obviously decided upon and consummated in the weeks after.

The leaders of the Warsaw Pact powers who decided on the intervention doubtless expected different results than they got. Based obviously on false information — and poor judgment — they. believed that the majority of the Czechoslovak Communists and large sections of the population, especially the working class, once they were provided with an opportunity, would drop the "right-wing opportunist" and "revisionist" leaders (Dubcek et all) and turn to the "healthy elements." (It is said the Soviet leaders expected at least 50 percent of the population to welcome and endorse their action). The first days of the military intervention proved how utterly wrong they were; the days since have only confirmed their miscalculations.

Many of the details about what happened in Czechoslovakia in those first days are known to you: the statements made by some of the leaders while they still were able; what the press wrote before it was closed down; the role of the clandestine radio stations all over the country; the verbal clashes and debates between the people and the tank crews, etc. Not all of it by any means was as presented by the capitalist press but much of it was, and certainly the photos tell quite a lot. I had the misfortune of being on holiday in Hungary on August 21 so I have only got my picture of those first days from the leading Communists of the various parties here who witnessed those tragic events. But while in Hungary I did have my ears glued to the radio and heard round-the-clock broadcasts in Czech and Slovak by the so-called Legal Free Radio stations and I can vouch for the fact that, contrary to what the Warsaw Pact press wrote, they played a most positive role in calling on the people to maintain calm and not lend themselves to provocation. (Here I exclude, of course, the Czech and Slovak broadcasts from Austria, Western Germany, Voice of America, etc.). I have also had access to information from very highly placed authoritative sources here about some of the events in those first few days after August 21.

It simply is not true that the majority of the party presidium called for intervention. As the proclamation by President Svoboda and those authoritative bodies that remained on the first day of the intervention declared: no authorized party or government body asked for intervention. The facts are as follows:

The Party presidium had been meeting on the evening of August 20. Just before midnight one of the members walked in from a phone call and informed the meeting that foreign troops had crossed the borders. The meeting continued. About 3.00 a.m. Soviet troops forced their way into the meeting room, arrested most of the members and took them away at gun-point. Dubcek was handcuffed, put on the floor of a military transport plane and taken to Moscow. The others, including Premier Cernik and Josef Smrkovsky, were taken to Poland, then to Trans-Carpathian Ukraine and later likewise to Moscow.

* * *

During the day of August 21, one of the commanders of the Warsaw Pact forces, Gen. Pavlovsky, and a "conservative" member of the presidium, Alois Indra, visited President Svoboda and told him they had with them a document containing the resignation of the government, signed by Premier Cernik. The president told them that he can accept the resignation of the government only from the premier personally (Cernik was then under arrest; the document was a forgery). Then the president was visited by the Soviet ambassador, Chervonenko, accompanied by Indra, Kolder, Svestka and several other conservative members of the presidium. Svoboda declared that he had nothing to discuss with them and that if he was to have any talks it would be only with the highest officials of the Soviet party and government. He then contacted Moscow by telephone and said he would come there for talks but only on condition that Dubcek, Cernik, Smrkovsky and Kriegel were present. He also asked that Indra, Kolder and Svestka be there so that a full picture would be obtained.

* * *

Svoboda was presented with a plan for the creation of a new "revolutionary government." He was shown a list of names of those who would be included in the new government. Svoboda was to be head of the government and first secretary of the party. It was also proposed to form a new "revolutionary tribunal" which would try Dubcek, Cernik, Smrkovsky and other "revisionists." Svoboda categorically rejected the proposal. Then the Soviet leaders declared they would name a government without any further talks. Svoboda then threatened to take his own life if the Soviet leaders would not agree to talk with him and his colleagues ("And nobody will believe that it was suicide," he added). He demanded that all the interned members of the Czechoslovak leadership be present for the discussion. The Soviet side agreed but chose first to meet with each one individually. Cernik offered physical resistance and was brought in on a stretcher. Dubcek, who had been manhandled after his arrest, also was ill and required medical attention. Kriegel likewise.

* * *

The day after the intervention (August 22) and before Svoboda had arrived in Moscow, Pravda carried a long article (two full pages) titled "Defense of Socialism — an International Duty," setting out what in its view was the background to and the reasons for the military intervention. It is a model "case for the prosecution" but to those of us who have lived in Prague, followed closely both the Soviet and Czech press over the past nine months, read the statements, articles and speeches of the Czechoslovak Party leaders and felt the mood of the people, the Pravda article simply didn't ring true. And it certainly didn't square with the facts. As I have said, it's a good "case for the prosecution" such as had been presented to the world at the time of the 1937 trials in Moscow, the excommunication of Tito in 1948 or the trials against Slansky and his colleagues in Prague in the 1950s, all of them wrapped up in very "convincing" argumentation, with suitable quotations from Lenin, and in the name of lofty aims and ideals. This article had already written off Dubcek and his colleagues as right wing opportunists and abettors of the counter revolutionaries.

During the talks, the Soviet side made it extremely difficult for all on the Czechoslovak side except Svoboda to take part, threatening, lecturing and heckling them as they spoke. Dubcek was several times branded as a traitor by the Soviet side. In the course of the talks the Soviet leaders tried very hard to get agreement on the formation of a government made up of the "conservative" members or the acceptance of some form of protectorate. Even the alternative of making Czechoslovakia a part of the USSR was discussed. The discussion also revealed a considerable difference of opinion within the politbureau of the CPSU.

On the first day the Czechoslovak leaders kept rejecting the Soviet proposals. On the second day they drafted their proposals which the Soviet side rejected. On the third day, Zdenek Mlynar, one of the secretaries of the Czechoslovak Party's presidium and its youngest member, arrived from Prague and gave his colleagues an objective picture of the situation back home. (To get to Moscow he pretended he had switched sides after the semi-illegal 14th Party Congress and was now a "conservative"). His arrival and presence considerably strengthened the determination of his colleagues to maintain their stand. On the fourth day the two sides worked out the compromise contained in the final communique, the terms of which have been made public.

Thus the talks in Moscow, like those in Cierna, did not go off quite the way the Soviet leaders expected. They had to back down, accept most of the Czechoslovak leaders whom they had written off and come to a compromise with them. The latter returned to Prague to what Dubcek in his first speech to the people called "the reality which is dependent not only on our will."

The Czechoslovak Communists and their people now face an infinitely more difficult job than they faced last January when they started out on their course of making some very necessary changes in their Party and in their country. We can only hope that they will find it within themselves to succeed. Perhaps, in the light of all that has happened, we should also hope that they will be allowed to succeed.

* * *

But now we come back to the question: What led the leaders of the five socialist countries, in the first place the Soviet Union, to make this most disastrous error in the history of the world Communist movement? I believe there are two reasons, which in one way or another have been implicit in statements made by a number of Parties both after the intervention and during the events leading up to it. I think they can be summed up as:

(1) An utterly wrong concept of, and approach to, the problem of democracy; and (2) A mistaken estimation or misjudgment of the relationship of world forces today.

The problem of the concept of democracy in most of the socialist countries to date is too big a problem to discuss in detail here. It is one of the key questions relating to our party's program ..and to the image of socialism we present to the people. To take but one example, freedom of information: to this day readers of the Soviet press (and of the other four countries) haven't been told that the Italian, French, British, Japanese and a host of other Communist Parties oppose the intervention, much less given a chance to read quotations from their statements. Many people know, of course, from foreign broadcasts and other sources —but not from their own information media. One could cite hundreds of other examples: from freedom of the press to the right of habeas corpus and a fair trial, to the problem of intellectual and cultural freedom, to the right of travel, to the inviolability of personal mail, to the right to dissent and so on down the line. Those who have lived for any length of time i these countries (not just visiting them as tourists or as VIPs on a delegation) know first hand what is involved.

* * *

The fact is that in the 50 years of the Soviet Union's existence there have been extremely few periods in which genuine socialist democracy in all its aspects could be fully developed. After centuries of tsarist autocracy came the 1917 revolution; then followed a brief period of military communism, the Civil War, the shooting of Lenin and the "tightening up" that resulted, the period of forced collectivization and intensive industrialization, the threat of fascism, the 1937 Moscow trials, the war, the difficult years of the Stalin cult, the excommunication of Tito. With such a background it is no wonder there exists in the Soviet Union today an entirely different approach to democracy than, let us say, in Britain or in Canada.

Czechoslovakia, on the other hand, has a greater historical background of democratic traditions than any other socialist country. The Czechoslovak Communist Party is the only Party in a socialist country which, prior to coming to power, was a legal mass Party working for many years in a bourgeois democracy and winning its influence among the people on the basis of a struggle for greater democracy than what the Czechs and Slovaks already had compared to other countries. It is on this background that there was such a universal rejection of the methods of Novotny, including the slavish copying of Soviet methods and practices (under the worthy but much abused slogan "The Soviet Union — Our Example") and it is on this background that one has to see the democratization process and the Action Program. It is also on this background that one has to see the fears in Moscow of the varied expressions of criticism, dissent and opposition — opposition which to the Czechoslovak and many Western Communists was nothing to get excited about, particularly since the Czechoslovak leaders were quite certain that they had the confidence and support of the overwhelming mass of the people for the reforms they proposed.

* * *

Speaking of democracy, one cannot fail to mention also the inadequacy and in some cases the utter lack of inner party democracy in the socialist countries. My one year of close association and work with Soviet and other representatives from socialist countries has made me much more acutely and painfully aware of this. Democratic centralism in these Parties is almost totally a one-way street. Here too one could cite scores of examples. An editorial worker on a Party journal who in the course of his work expresses a disagreement with or criticism of some aspects of his Party's policy, especially if it means clashing with his superior (even though both are Party members) can find himself off the staff on two hours notice and the "misdemeanor" held as a black mark against him for the rest of his career. Many of the practices followed by the Czechoslovak Party under Novotny are still very much in effect in all the socialist countries.

As an example of the difference in approach let us take the now famous document issued by a group of Communist and non-Communist intellectuals titled Two Thousand Words. Immediately upon the appearance of this document, leaders in Moscow and Berlin raised the cry of "counter-revolution" and to this day it is Exhibit No.1 in their charge that counter-revolution was rampant in Czechoslovakia. The presidium of the Czechoslovak Party likewise condemned this document at the time. But it is significant that in the opening paragraph of its criticism the presidium used the phrase "regardless of the intentions of its authors" and then went on to say how and why the document was harmful. The fact is that the Czechoslovak Party leaders knew that this document was not written by avowed "agents of imperialism" but by confused and misguided persons who resorted to harmful extremist ideas and proposals to achieve their aims. Such an approach, of course, is heresy to the leaders in Moscow and Berlin.

The Soviet leaders' mistaken estimation of the relationship of world forces, according to Luigi Longo, the Italian Communist leader, has led them to the concept that "the socialist states of Europe today are a sort of beleaguered fortress" and that "the strengthening of existing blocs is a precondition of progress." It was on the background of this kind of concept that the Soviet leaders viewed the developments in Czechoslovakia since January.

* * *

It is not accidental that only three months after launching the democratization process in Czechoslovakia, that the Central Committee of the CPSU at its April plenum came out with the thesis that imperialism was now engaged in a new ideological offensive to undermine the socialist world and that this required a general "tightening up" on all fronts, "iron discipline" within the parties, a rejection of the bridge building between East and West, etc.

Unquestionably, the West has stepped up its ideological offensive (although one could argue that there has never been a let-up in capitalism's ideological war; it goes on constantly) but the question is: how should Communists in both the socialist and capitalist countries meet this offensive of the West? It can be met by going on an ideological counter offensive, by extending the ideological dialogue with the people under the influence of capitalist ideology, by using the bridges between East and West to carry forward our ideas knowing that truth is on our side; or it can be met by a still greater isolation of the people in the socialist countries from the ideas circulating in the capitalist world, by a tightening up of discipline, by greater limitations on democracy in general and inner party democracy in particular.

The leaders of the CPSU chose the latter course. One had only to read the Soviet press after last April (and soon after the press of Berlin, Warsaw and Sofia) to note the great difference and those who live in these countries (and I have had the opportunity of speaking intimately with many of them) noted the difference even more sharply. Individuals are once again being put in prison for such "crimes" as telling political jokes; being found with a typewritten manuscript of a Solzhenitsyn novel automatically gets you five years (a number of such cases); hundreds have been expelled from the Soviet Communist party for expressing agreement with the democratization process in Czechoslovakia; contacts with foreigners are again discouraged; people are afraid again to express themselves on certain questions, especially if more than two are present. There has been a tightening on the cultural front, with scores of scheduled plays and movie scripts suddenly taken off the shelves as part of a struggle against "Western bourgeois influences." One could go on and on.

Thus, on the basis of mistaken views, a mistaken estimation and therefore a mistaken policy, the leaders of the most important and decisive section of our movement have committed an irreparable blunder and confronted their comrades and supporters throughout the world (indeed, the world itself) with a most tragic situation.

* * *

What now for our movement, for our Party in Canada? Basing ourselves on the "new reality," our Party, like most Parties, could not say much more than it did immediately after the communique following the Moscow talks: express the hope that this would be the beginning of a normalization of the situation. But the matter by no means ends there. The developments around the Czechoslovak events during the past 10 months, and even more so the intervention itself, have raised many questions and confronted us with some grave problems. I would like to present a few of them here as I see them.

We have said often that one cannot export revolution or impose socialism on a people; that we cannot expect to see socialism established in Canada, for example, until the majority of our people want it and support the struggle for it. If this is true, can one export or impose a political line or policy? There certainly has been an attempt to impose a particular line on the Party and people of Czechoslovakia in spite of the claim of the Warsaw Pact powers that they "do not intend to interfere in Czechoslovakia's internal affairs."

We Communists have always emphasized the need to take into account the opinion and feelings of the people. There was nothing of the kind in Czechoslovakia. The opposition of the Czech and Slovak people to the intervention is universal. You see it, you feel it all around you no matter whom you talk to: old, young, worker, intellectual, Communist, non-Communist, and they don't hesitate to show or express their feelings. It is doubtful if one citizen in 50,000 is in favour of the action taken. Yet in the face of this, anyone who opposes the presence of the Warsaw Pact troops is described in the Soviet press as a counter-revolutionary or an abettor of counter-revolution. (Incidentally, the descriptions by the Soviet press of how their troops were and are being "welcomed" are utter fabrications that have been embarrassing to the foreign Communists who are working in Czechoslovakia.)

The Czechoslovak press, radio and TV have been told that they must not refer to the presence of the Warsaw Pact troops as an "occupation" or the troops themselves as "occupation troops." But nobody (not even party members in conversation) calls it anything else than okupace and the troops as okupanty. The troops are not just hated, they are despised. If they stay here a decade they will never win the friendship of the people. The tragedy is that of all the peoples in the socialist countries of Europe (with the exception of Bulgaria, for historic reasons) the Czech and Slovak peoples had the warmest and closest fraternal feelings toward the Soviet peoples, and certainly the least inimical. All this has been destroyed for a generation at least. Which is just what the few anti-Soviet elements here and their abettors abroad wanted.

Linked with this is another question that needs an answer: What gives a Party (or Parties) the moral right to impose its line on another? Or to dictate (or try to dictate as has been done in Czechoslovakia with some success) to another Party, not to speak of an entire people, who its leaders shall or shall not be? Does it depend on the size of the Party? Its military might? Its own conviction that it is right and the other wrong? If so, let us for the sake of argument imagine a most unlikely situation: that the Chinese leaders have overwhelming military superiority over the Soviet Union and they declare that the Soviet leaders are "revisionists," that they "have taken the capitalist road" and that they "are in league with U.S. imperialism" (charges that are no more true than that the Czechoslovak leaders are revisionists who were taking their country out of the socialist camp or letting it be taken over by counterrevolution); then suppose they proceeded to occupy Soviet Siberia (or perhaps all of the Soviet Union) in order to "save it for the cause of world socialism." Ridiculous? But I'm sure that under such circumstances the Chinese would issue statements and articles that would present a very "convincing" case.

* * *

At the plenary meeting of the Czechoslovak Party's Central Committee on August 31, Dubcek had this to say:

"In evaluating the political development in our country during that period (since January), our party did not take into account the dark and real power of international factors, including views held with regard to our situation by the states with whom we are united in the Warsaw Pact.

"We did not always take sufficient note of the strategic and general interests of the USSR and the other four members of the Warsaw Pact as a real, objectively existing and limiting factor of the possible pace and form of our own political development.

"In the past, there occurred a diminution of the confidence of the CPSU leadership in the ability of our , party's leadership to solve the problems which had arisen. One of the principal tasks is to disperse this lack of confidence."

The press of the Warsaw Pact powers quoted this speech to show that the Czechoslovak leaders had erred and were now admitting it. But if you study this passage carefully you will see that what Dubcek was also saying was that the Czechoslovak party has learned (very bitterly, of course) that it could not proceed with the policy it chose without the approval of the Soviet and the other four parties. A number of questions arise: How are Communists in socialist countries going to work for improving socialism, doing away with weaknesses and even getting rid of entrenched bureaucracy if any effort in this direction is branded as counterrevolution, albeit a "peaceful" kind? Or do they have to wait for approval of the establishment itself or even a superior Party? Or is it perhaps that the set up in the socialist countries is perfect and needs no improvement? If a larger or stronger Party has the moral right to "correct" errors of another Party by unilateral action up to and including force, what can smaller Parties do if and when they think a larger Party has made or is making a mistake or is pursuing a policy that is harmful to the cause of socialism?

* * *

Many Czechoslovak Communists put forward the following argument: During the past several months the Soviet and other parties did not hesitate to speak out openly against many of the policies and ideas of the Czechoslovak Party and eventually did not stop at intervening physically. But why did they not find it necessary to speak out and intervene against the policies followed by Novotny and his colleagues? In Berlin I was told: "The Czechs themselves are to blame for the economic and political mess they are in. For some time we have watched them carrying out policies that were leading them into difficulties." But why didn't they protest and intervene then? And if they did, why didn't they do it effectively enough? The answer, one would have given before, was because they did not want to interfere in the affairs of a fraternal Party. But now it is clear there was another reason. Apparently to some people dogmatism and bureaucratism are not such a great threat to socialism. There was no intervention because the methods and forms of leadership followed by the Novotny regime are very much akin to those pursued in most if not all the other socialist countries. It is precisely because the democratization process launched by the Czechoslovak Party was aimed at doing away with such methods, thereby endangering the entire set-up and way of life of the "establishment" in each of these countries, that it was so vigorously, and eventually so violently opposed.

* * *

Some other problems relating to democracy under socialism have now been very sharply raised to the fore. For example, the problem of freedom of speech, press and assembly. The Soviet Union and at least three other Warsaw Pact powers from the very outset opposed the abolition of censorship in Czechoslovakia (Hungary joined quite a bit later), even though, it should be noted, the Czechoslovak Party had never proposed that the press would be unrestrictedly opened to known and avowed enemies of socialism. Now censorship has been reimposed and if the Soviet Union and the other powers have their way it will stay that way. As is known, the conditions imposed on the

Czechoslovak leaders in this respect are quite sweeping. They include: no use of the word "occupation"; no mention of the effect of the intervention on the economy of the country; no criticism of the Soviet Union or other socialist countries or their Parties; no reprinting of news, articles or statements from the foreign press that are critical of these countries and Parties; no mention of any killings or other incidents involving the occupying troops. (There have been many such incidents — some 70 killed to date and hundreds wounded. In this respect the ruling is very one-sided, for while the Soviet press can and does report the shootings of their soldiers, the Czechoslovak press cannot report either these same shootings or shootings of their civilians).

* * *

The question this brings up is: Does this mean that no socialist country can ever abolish censorship as long as capitalism exists without at best inviting the reprobation of the other socialist countries, or worse? Does this mean that the model for all socialist countries, as far as, let us say, press freedom is concerned shall be the Soviet, GDR, Polish, Hungarian and Bulgarian press?

This problem has an important bearing on the program of each Communist Party and merits serious consideration and study. Similar programmatic questions arise in connection with other aspects of the Czechoslovak Party's Action Program: how does the concept of the "dictatorship of the proletariat" express itself 20 years after the working class takes power? How does the Party assert its leading role among the people? And many others. Had these questions been debated and argued out on a theoretical basis, in a friendly atmosphere, all Communists everywhere would have benefited. Resolving them (or rather trying to resolve them) by military measures has dealt a shattering blow to the world Communist movement from which it will be a long time recovering.

* * *

There are many other aspects of the past year's events in Czechoslovakia I would like to discuss and many questions arising from these events that I would like to pose for discussion by our Party, but I will confine myself to what I have written here. If I have sounded very sharp in my criticism it is because that is how I feel and because it is what the present situation demands.

I am sure that to the overwhelming majority of the members of our Party I do not have to prove my many years of devotion to the Soviet Union, my lifetime understanding of the contribution and sacrifices the Soviet Communists and the Soviet people have made to the cause of world progress or of the Soviet Union's decisive importance to the future of socialism and world peace. And this in spite of the tragic errors of the past and the weaknesses and shortcomings that still exist. But I do not consider it either a betrayal of, or doing harm to, the Soviet Union and its people to criticize the tragic and unforgivable errors made by its leaders during the past few months, any more than was opposition to and the eventual exposure of the cult of Stalin.

The capitalist world is using and will use the intervention to mount a still greater anti-Soviet campaign. We must dissociate ourselves from this campaign. But neither can we any longer remain silent when we believe that errors that harm or jeopardize our common goal have been or are being committed. August 21 brutally put an end to any justification there may have been in the past for the Communists of the world to hold back such criticism.

* * *

From August 21 our movement, internationally and in each country, will never be the same. The problem we now face is whether we will allow this tragedy to destroy it or whether we will draw the necessary lessons to make it a viable and effective factor in the life of our country. I believe we can because I believe that true, creative Marxism was, is and will continue to be the key to the progress of our country and of mankind. But I believe also that to make our movement viable we have to face up to some hard truths.

We have to admit that both internationally and within each party, including ours, there are important differences. We have to stop glossing over these differences, pretending they don't exist, trying to put on a front of unity where there is no unity.

We have to recognize that both in our international movement and within each Party, including ours, there are today two different approaches to our problems: one is the dogmatic, hide-bound, conservative approach that tends to base itself on the past, stubbornly clings to the methods and practices of the past, goes along "on faith" and turns a blind eye to our flaws and mistakes and a deaf ear to unpleasant criticism. The other is the open, free, progressive, constantly searching, creative approach that seeks to adapt the great ideas and principles of our movement to the very new conditions of our changed (and changing) world, that recognizes no gods and therefore no sacred truths or commandments. Essentially, these two different approaches are at the heart of the recent events in Czechoslovakia.

Irreparable damage has been done to the international Communist movement and the cause of socialism. We face difficult days ahead. We can still salvage some of the fruits of our work of years past and see the horizon more clearly — but only if we adopt an open-minded, free and creative approach in all our work and come out forthrightly for a return to the true principles and ideas of Marxism, to the struggle for a genuine, humane and democratic socialism.

John Boyd
September 15, 1968

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