DEPARTMENT OF POLITICS

                       The Politics of Eastern Europe


Jonas Daniliauskas

T.P. McNeill

March 17, 1995

The Introduction.

      The aim of this essay is to answer the question: How significant  was
Alexander Dubcek in the development of reformist communism?  This  question
raises the other questions. Was Dubcek  the  inspirer  of  all  the  reforms
which took place in Czechoslovakia in 1967-1969? How  much  did  he  himself
influence  all  the  reformist  processes?  How  much  he  had  achieved  in
implementing his ideas?
      Dubcek became famous only in 1967. Before that he was  almost  unknown
in the international  politics.  He  was  known  only  in  the  Czechoslovak
Communist Party (CPCS), where he  had  almost  no  influence  on  the  major
decisions (until 1967, of course). His promotion after  the  returning  from
the Moscow where he was studying for  three  years  in  the  advanced  Party
school attached to the Central Committee  of  the  Communist  Party  of  the
Soviet Union (CPSU), was  quite  rapid.  In  1960  he  was  elected  to  the
Secretariat of the CPCS; in 1962 to the Presidium of the CPCS;  in  1963  he
became the First Secretary  of  the  Slovak  Communist  Party;  finally,  on
January 5, 1968 he replaced Antonin Novotny as the First  Secretary  of  the
CPCS. He was the youngest leader of  ruling  Communist  Party  (after  Fidel
Castro), and the first Slovak in such a high position. Though he  stayed  in
this post relatively short - until April 17, 1969, when he was  replaced  by
Gustav Husak, his name became known world-wide.

Why did the reforms begin?

      The Czechoslovak crisis deepened in 1967, and showed  itself  in  four
      1. Slovakia;
      2. The economy;
      3. The legal system;
      4. Party and ideology.
      Since the 1962 the Czechoslovak economy suddenly began to  show  signs
of a critical decline. That  happened  inevitably,  because  in  the  Stalin
years the  expansion  of  heavy  industry  was  pushed  at  the  expense  of
development of all other productive sectors of the economy.  The  result  of
this  was  growing  inefficiency  of  production,   failure   to   modernise
production technology, a decline in  the  quality  of  exports,  a  loss  of
markets, and a drop in the effectiveness  of  foreign  trade.[2]  In  August
1962 the Third-Five-Year Plan had to be abandoned before  completion.[3]  In
this situation the  Slovaks  began  to  act.  Many  of  them  realised  that
specific Slovak interests might best be served by destalinization  and  even
liberalisation.[4] The problem also was the rehabilitation  of  the  victims
of the purge trials of 1949-1954. Novotny himself and other leading  members
of his regime had personally participated in the preparation and conduct  of
the purge trials. So, the rehabilitation was perceived as the direct  threat
to the security and the survival of the regime.[5] All  these  factors  only
decreased the level of CPCSs legitimacy.

The Development of Reforms.

      The  startpoint  of  the  reforms  was  the  session  of  the  Central
Committee of the CPCS on October 30-31, 1967.  Dubcek  raised  an  objection
against Novotny and produced statistics suggesting that Slovakia  was  being
continuously  cheated  in  economic   matters.[6]   This   speech   inspired
discussion what was the unprecedented thing in the Central Committee.
      The next session of the Central  Committee  started  on  December  19.
Josef Smrkovsky proposed the separation of the posts of President and  First
Secretary: It is unsatisfactory that an excessive number of duties   should
be piled upon one pair of shoulders.[7]
       In  both  sessions  the  three  issues  were  at  stake.  First,  the
implementation of the economic  reforms,  secondly,  freedom  of  expression
and, finally, effective autonomy for Slovakia.
      Finally, at the Central Committee Plenum on January 5,  1968,  Novotny
was replaced at the post of the First Secretary by  Dubcek.  Also  four  new
Presidium members were elected to strengthen Dubceks position  -  J.Spacek,
J.Boruvka, E.Rigo, and J.Piller.
      So, the Prague Spring started at the  top  levels  of  the  CPCS.  But
soon, as we would see, the Party will  loose  its  ability  to  control  the
developments. At the same time, the hot  political  debate  started  in  the
press, on radio and television. The main issues were  the  Communist  Party,
democracy, the  autonomy  of  Slovakia,  the  collapsing  economy,  and  the
problem of justice  and  legality.[8]  On  February  14,  the  first  public
political discussion took place in Prague.
      The next changes in the leadership  were  Novotnys  resignation  from
the Presidency on March 22 and General Ludvik  Svobodas  election  on  this
post on March 30,  Oldrich  Cierniks  appointment  on  the  post  of  Prime
Minister and the formation of the new cabinet on April 8,  the  election  of
the new Presidium of the CPCS, and the election of Josef  Smrkovsky  on  the
post of the Chairman of the National Assembly.
      On April 9, the CPCS  announced  its  Action  Programme,  officially
known as Czechoslovakias Road to Socialism,  as  a  basis  for  reforming
communism in the country. In  this  document  the  CPCS  promised:  (1)  new
guarantees of freedom of speech, press, assembly and  religious  observance;
(2) electoral laws to  provide  a  broader  choice  of  candidates,  greater
freedom for the four non-communist parties within the  National  Front;  (3)
upgrading of the parliament and the government with regard to the  power  of
the CPCS apparatus; (4) broad economic reforms to give  enterprises  greater
independence, to achieve a convertible currency, to revive a limited  amount
of private enterprise and to increase trade with Western countries;  (5)  an
independent judiciary; (6) federal status for  Slovakia  on  an  independent
basis and a new constitution to be  drafted  by  the  end  of  1969.[9]  The
Central Committee also pledged  a  full  and  just  rehabilitation  of  all
persons who had been unjustly persecuted during 1949 -1954.
      But this programme promised less than the people actually wanted.  The
Action Programme remained outside the mainstream of  the  powerful  social
process which had been set in motion in  January.[10]  The  people  expected
more reforms, more freedom. But Dubcek and other reformats tried to be  more
moderate, to find the way for the gradual  reforms.  The  Presidium  of  the
CPCS prohibited the renovation  of  the  Social  Democratic  Party  and  the
Ministry of Interior announced  that  the  formation  of  political  parties
would be considered illegal. But at the same time this  Ministry  sanctioned
the activity of the Club of Engaged Non-Party Members (KAN), and  recognised
the legal statute of another big club - K-231.
      Gradually the reformats found themselves in the  position  which  will
become vital for them all.  They  found  themselves  between  two  different
forces. One force was the majority of the Czech and the Slovak  nations  who
wanted more  radical  changes.  The  other  force  was  represented  by  the
Stalinists, by Moscow, and by the leadership of the other countries  of  the
Warsaw Treaty Organisation (WTO).
      One of the major reforms was the  law  of  June  26,  which  abolished
prepublication censorship. On the next day the  famous  manifesto,  entitled
2,000  Words  to  Workers,  Farmers,  Scientists,  Artists  and   Everyone
appeared in Literarni listy.  The  manifesto  gave  assurances  of  complete
support of Dubceks regime, if necessary, even with arms.[11]
      The leaders of the SU, Poland, Bulgaria,  Hungary,  and  East  Germany
viewed the reforms taking place in Czechoslovakia as the threat for all  the
Communist Bloc. The first clearly expressed  concern  was  so-called  Warsaw
Letter. It was  sent  on  July  15,  1968,  and  addressed  to  the  Central
Committee of the CPCS. It proved the clear  evidence  of  the  WTO  leaders
lack of confidence in the leadership of the  CPCS,  and  contained  critical
references  to  Czechoslovakias  foreign  policy.[12]There  was   expressed
warning   that   the   Czechoslovak   reform    policy    was    completely
unacceptable.[13]The Presidium of the CPCS Central  Committee  on  July  18
rejected as  unfounded  the  accusations  made  in  the  Warsaw  Letter  and
affirmed that  the  countrys  new  policies  were  aimed  at  strengthening
      The clear signs of crisis  in  relations  between  Prague  and  Moscow
appeared. On July  19  Moscow  issued  a  summons  to  the  CPCS  Presidium,
demanding that it meet July 22 or 23 with the Soviet  Politburo  in  Moscow,
Kiev or Lvov to discuss internal Czechoslovak developments. 9  full  members
of the CPSU Politburo and the entire CPCS Presidium met on July  29  in  the
Slovak village Cierna-nad-Tisou. Dubcek and  the  other  reformats  regarded
the outcome of the Cierna talks as a Czechoslovak victory. It had  brought
the annulment of the Warsaw Letter;  the  departure  of  Soviet  troops  was
guaranteed, and the countrys sovereignty had been defended.[15]
      The fact that the agreement was regarded as the victory  shows  that
Dubcek and the other reformers were really driven by  navet  and  idealism
and hoped that they  could  create  the  socialism  with  the  human  face
without the interference from the Moscow side.  They  really  underestimated
their own  significance  to  the  Soviets.  Moscow  regarded  the  reformats
developments in the Czechoslovakia as the real threat for the future of  the
all Communist Bloc.  A  common  view  that  the  danger  of  a  Czechoslovak
desertion from the socialist camp and a revision of foreign  policy  by  the
Dubcek leadership  hastened  the  Soviet  decision  to  occupy  the  country

The Invasion.

      On August 16 the CPSU Politburo stated that the CPCS was loosing  its
leading role in the country.[17] This showed  that  the  Soviets  patience
reached the end.
      When Moscows nerve breaks, Soviet tanks usually start  rolling.[18]
Armed forces of the SU, East Germany, Poland, Hungary, and Bulgaria  invaded
Czechoslovakia in a swift military action during the night of August  20-21.
Dubcek and other Czech and Slovak leaders were arrested in the name  of  the
revolutionary government of the workers and peasants.[19] The  main  force
of the initial invading units consisted of an estimated 200,000 troops.  The
number of invaders continued to  increase  during  the  following  week  and
ultimately reached an estimated 650,000.[20]Most of the members of the  CPCS
Presidium were shocked by the invasion. This proves again that they did  not
understand how serious the situation  was  before  the  invasion.  From  the
Moscows point of view the invasion  was  inevitable,  because  the  further
development of the socialism with  the  human  face  would  lead  only  to
deeper escalation of tensions between the Czechoslovakia and the  other  WTO
countries, and probably, to an escape of  the  country  from  the  Communist
      But the reformats did not give up. On  August  21,  the  CPCS  Central
Committee  declared  the  statement  that  the  invasion  was  taking  place
without the knowledge of the Czechoslovak leaders, and that they  regarded
this act as contrary not only to the fundamental  principles  of  relations
between  Socialist  states  but  also  as  contrary  to  the  principles  of
international law.[21]Although there was no  organised  resistance  to  the
overwhelming  occupation  forces,  Czechoslovak  citizens,  spearheaded   by
students, resorted to a wide variety of means to hamper  the  invaders,  and
several general strikes took place.[22]
       On  August  23,  President  Svoboda  flew  to  Moscow.  His   journey
represented an effort to find a way out of a situation: he was,  in  effect,
trying to help the Soviets find  a  solution  for  the  Czechoslovak  crisis
based on mutual political compromise.[23]On August 26 the  Moscow  agreement
was concluded. The major outcomes were: (1) Dubcek was to carry  on  as  the
First Secretary; (2) the invasion forces were  to  be  gradually  withdrawn;
(3) censorship was to be reintroduced; (4) the CPCS was  to  strengthen  its
leading position in the state.[24]One  may  assume  that  certain  personnel
changes were also assumed in Moscow,  since  resignations  followed  in  due
course. These changes included the removal of  Dr.  Kriegel  from  the  CPCS
Presidium and the chairmanship of the National Front; of Ota Sik  as  Deputy
Premier; Josef  Pavel  as  Minister  of  Interior;  Jiri  Hajek  as  Foreign
Minister; Zdenek Heizar as Director of Czechoslovak Radio; Jiri  Pelikan  as
Director of Czehoslovak Television.[25]
      The invasion led to the formulation of  so-called  Brezhnev  Doctrine,
first formulated in a Pravda commentary on September 26,  which  amounts  to
denying in principle the sovereignty of any socialist  country  accessible
to the SU. It asserts the region-wide right to intervention.[26]
      For both rulers and ruled, the invasion of Czechoslovakia proved  once
again that the Soviets would use force to prevent developments they  defined
as contrary to their vital interests. The line they drew in 1968  to  define
their vital interests was the  Leninist  hegemony  of  the  local  Communist
      But the Soviets did not  achieved  what  they  wanted  at  once.  What
happened was that the invasion failed to achieve its primary purpose,  which
clearly was to produce a counterregime a la Kadar.[28]

The Situation After the Invasion.

      The Dubcek  leadership  made  great  efforts  after  the  invasion  to
satisfy the Soviets while trying not to compromise itself  in  the  eyes  of
the population.[29]
      Probably the major reform after the invasion was the creation  of  the
Slovak Socialist Republic. On October 28, the National Assembly  approved  a
constitutional  bill  transforming  the  hitherto  unitary  state   into   a
federation of two  national  republics.  On  January  1,  1969,  the  Slovak
Socialist Republic came into being.
      Another crisis  emerged  in  January  1969.  On  January  7,  the  new
measures were taken designed to keep the press  and  the  other  media  more
strictly under  control.  In  some  cases,  pre-publication  censorship  was
      The event which finally decided the fate of Dubcek  is  known  as  the
ice-hockey game affair. On March 28, the Czechoslovak ice-hockey team  won
over the SU team in World Ice  Hockey  Championship  Competition.  The  same
evening  anti-Soviet  demonstrations  occurred  throughout   Czechoslovakia.
Aeroflot office was destroyed in Prague. On April 11 Gustav  Husak  declared
that it was high time to take radical steps to introduce order.[31]
      Finally, on April 17 at the plenary session of the  Central  Committee
Dubcek was replaced by Gustav Husak (before that - the  First  Secretary  of
the Slovak Communist Party).
      At the same session the CPCS Presidium  with  its  twenty-one  members
and the Executive Committee with its  eight  members  were  replaced  by  an
eleven members Presidium of which  Dubcek  (but  no  longer  Smrkovsky)  was
still member. A few days later he was  elected  Chairman  of  the  Federal
Assembly with Smrkovsky as his deputy.
      On January 28,  1970,  the  Central  Committee  plenum  accepted  the
resignation of Dubcek from the Central Committee. And finally, on June  25,
1970 at the session of the Central Committee he was expelled from the  CPCS.
This was the end of his political career. But only  until  the  end  of  the
Communism regime in 1989. At  the  end  of  December  1989  he  was  elected
Chairman of the Czech parliament.

Conclusion: Was the Reformist Communism Ever Possible?

      The  primary  goal  of  Dubceks  reforms  was  the  creation  of  the
socialism with a human face. Broadly speaking, the Czechoslovak  reformers
sought an adjustment of the  standard  Soviet  model  of  socialism  to  the
realities of what  they  considered  an  advanced  industrialised  socialist
country  enjoying  a  tradition  of  democracy  and  humanitarianism.[32]The
stated opinions of the reformers could be summed as follows:  (1)  the  CPCS
should no longer maintain a monopoly of power and decision  making;  (2)  it
should rather prove its goals through  equal  competition  by  permitting  a
clash of ideas and interests; (3) the abandonment of this monopoly would  in
effect mean a sharing of power and permit criticism,  opposition,  and  even
control on the CPCSs  own  exercise  of  power.[33]Of  course,  Dubcek  was
against the  creation  of  the  opposition  parties,  but  he  was  for  the
pluralism inside the National Front. The essence of  his  reform  conception
was not the possibility of pluralism in the accepted sense but, rather,  the
obligation upon the CPCS to prove that its program was the  only  valid  one
for socialism.[34]
      It was very naive to consider that Moscow will remain  indifferent  to
such developments. Gradually the Soviets understood that the  reformers  are
not controlling the reforms, and  this  led  to  the  invasion.  The  Soviet
interests were threatened almost  exclusively  by  developments  inside  the
Czechoslovakia. In other words, precisely by that human face which  Dubcek
wanted to give Czechoslovak socialism.[35]
      There was one thing which Dubcek considered to be not  important,  but
in fact, this led to the end of the reforms. He  underestimated  the  impact
of his own reforms upon Moscow. The  Soviet  reaction  to  the  reforms  was
quite logical and inevitable. The Communist power  elite  would  never  have
accepted conditions which would make  the  free  play  of  political  forces
possible. It would never given up the power.[36]
      So, was Dubcek significant in developing the reformist  communism?  In
the short term - yes, but in the long term  the  practical  meaning  of  his
reforms was nil. All the things he reformed were  returned  back.  The  only
positive impact (in the long term) of  the  reforms  was  the  psychological
impact of the attempt to improve the improvable thing. Communism can not  be
reformed. The only way to change it is to overthrow it completely. There  is
no way in the middle. The reformist communism is simply an utopia.


1. Ames, K., Reform and Reaction, in Problems of Communism, 1968, Vol.
17, No. 6, pp.38-49
2. Devlin, K., The New Crisis in European Communism, in Problems of
Communism, 1968, Vol. 17, No. 6, pp.57-68
3. Golan, G., The Road to Reform, in Problems of Communism, 1971, Vol.
20, No. 3, pp.11-21
4. Golan, G., Innovations in the Model of the Socialism: Political Reforms
in Czechoslovakia, 1968, in Shapiro, J.P. and Potichnyj, P.J. (eds.),
Change and Adaptation in Soviet and East European Politics (New York,
Washington, London: Praeger Publishers, 1976), pp.77-94
5. Lowenthal, R., The Sparrow in the Cage, in Problems of Communism,
1968, Vol. 17, No. 6, pp.2-28
6. Mastny, V., (ed.), Czechoslovakia: Crisis in World Communism (New York:
Facts on File, Inc., 1972)
7. Provaznik, J., The Politics of Retrenchment, in Problems of Communism,
1969, Vol. 18, No. 4-5, pp.2-16
8. Sik, O., The Economic Impact of Stalinism, in Problems of Communism,
1971, Vol. 20, No. 3, pp.1-10
9. Simons, Th.W., Eastern Europe in the Postwar World, (2nd. ed., London:
Macmillan, 1993)
10. Svitak, I., The Czechoslovak Experiment: 1968-1969 (New York and
London: Columbia University Press, 1971)
11. Tigrid, P., Why Dubcek Fell (London: Macdonald, 1971)
12. White, St., Batt, J. and Lewis, P.J. (eds.), Developments in East
European Politics (London: Macmillan, 1993)

[1]Tigrid, P., Why Dubcek Fell (London: Macdonald, 1971), p.17
[2]Sik, O., The Economic Impact of Stalinism, in Problems of Communism,
1971, Vol. 20, No. 3, p.5
[3]Golan, G., The Road to Reform, in Problems of Communism, 1971, Vol.
20, No. 3, p.12
[4]Ibid., p.13
[5]Ibid., p.11
[6]Tigrid, P., op.cit., p.19
[7]Ibid., p.30
[8]Ibid., p.43
[9]Mastny, V., (ed.), Czechoslovakia: Crisis in World Communism (New York:
Facts on File, Inc., 1972), p.21
[10]Tigrid, P., op.cit., p.48
[11]Ames, K., Reform and Reaction, in Problems of Communism, 1968, Vol.
17, No. 6, p.48
[12]Tigrid, P. op.cit., p.57
[13]Mastny, V., op.cit., p.37
[14]Ibid., p.40
[15]Tigrid, P., op.cit., p.89
[16]Ibid., p.53
[17]Ibid., p.69
[18]Ibid., p.53
[19]Svitak, I., The Czechoslovak Experiment 1968-1969 (New York and London:
Columbia University Press, 1971), p.109
[20]Mastny, V., op.cit., p.69
[21]Ibid., p.71
[22]Ibid., p.76
[23]Provaznik, J., The Politics of Retrenchment, in Problems of
Communism, 1969, Vol. 18, No. 4-5, p.3
[24]Svitak, I., op.cit., p.109
[25]Provaznik, J., op.cit., p.4
[26]Lowenthal, R., The Sparrow in the Cage, in Problems of Communism,
1968, Vol. 17, No. 6, p.24
[27]Simons, Th.W., Eastern Europe in the Postwar World (2nd. ed., London:
Macmillan, 1993), p.124
[28]Devlin, K., The New Crisis in European Communism, in Problems of
Communism, 1968, Vol.17, No. 6, p.61
[29]Tigrid, P., op.cit., p.138
[30]Ibid., p.153
[31]Ibid., p.164
[32]Golan, G., Inovations in the Model of Socialism: Political Reforms in
Czechoslovakia, 1968, in Shapiro, J.P. and Potichnyj, P.J. (eds.), Change
and Adaptation in Soviet and East European Politics (New York, Washington,
London: Praeger Publishers, 1976), p.78
[33]Ibid., p.81
[34]Ibid., p.87
[35]Tigrid, P., op.cit., p.66
[36]Ibid., p.98