Can the Czechoslovak left recover?


By Peter Annear

Concluding a series of articles, PETER ANNEAR reports from Prague on the outlook for Czechoslovak politics in the '90s.

Once Civic Forum had to turn to constructive tasks of political and economic management after last June's parliamentary elections, its break-up was inevitable. Newly differentiated, mostly right-wing, parties will contest the June 1992 election.

Much can happen before then, adds Pavel Sefel, a political adviser to the Communist Party of Bohemia and Moravia (KSCM — the Czech section of the old CP). "If the left is better represented in parliament after the elections, then perhaps there will be better conditions for some form of collaboration, and perhaps we could better influence government policy than with the current balance of forces."

But, in the absence of dramatic political developments, he doubts there will be any pre-election coalition of the Communist Party with other leftist parties. On the one hand, the non-communist left is quite weak and to some extent fears the domination of the KSCM. On the other hand, the Czechoslovak Social Democrats (the most important of three Social Democratic formations) react negatively to the anticommunist political atmosphere and in any case see the KSCM as a possible reserve of future members.

Today, there are many minority platforms, or factions, within the KSCM, from the Stalinist Marxist-Leninist clubs, who resent the shift towards social democracy, to those who think the party is unreformable and want to found a new organisation. There is even an Erotic Platform.

Sefel said both Communist and Social Democratic parties were slow to adjust to the changes of the 1970s, allowing the Western conservative parties to grab the initiative with a program of restructuring. The left currents now have to rethink their positions, he said.

What is the KSCM's new view of its "historic roots"? A particular concept of socialist development appeared in formerly tsarist Russia that in reality could not cross the boundaries set by the actual level of economic and social development, which was quite low, and as a result there developed a closed system of political power related to total nationalisation and collectivisation.

"A huge uncontrollable central power was created", while the idea of democratic mechanisms remained a sort of slogan: the two are objectively incompatible. Sefel believes this is why the

Soviet system generated such terrible phenomena as the Stalinist prison camps, the repressive "seeking of internal enemies" and so on.

"Theoretically, there are many distinctions between the period under Lenin and the period under Stalin", said Sefel. "Lenin proposed a very general conception of socialist society that in fact proved very difficult to realise. The measures that Stalin carried out took from Lenin only those points that were advantageous from a pragmatic point of view, while those related to the understanding of democracy were suppressed.

"Even so, from today's vantage point, Lenin's conception has its historical limits, and we think it is not sufficient just to get back to the authentic Lenin. Those who say so do not understand that political knowledge is limited by time and circumstance and that no-one is god."

Any new view of socialism must understand that society is a difficult and complex system linked to surrounding nature, that socialism is the "movement towards the goal" of human development, and that democratic popular participation in politics, ecological and economic controls over production and the extension of social justice are essential. The former primitive system of social guarantees through levelling had, apart from a positive humanistic component, a very negative impact by repressing sources of individual efficiency.

"It is necessary to wait a while before defining these ideas as a part of any of the existing left political currents", Sefel added. "Programmatic and theoretical conceptions are one thing, but the transformation of these into practical policy relies not just on the will of theoreticians and party leaders but also on the development of the social and political situation in which the party works and the potentially big social and political clashes to come."