Czech Republic Table of Contents

In February 1948, Czechoslovakia became a "people's democracy"--a preliminary step toward socialism and, ultimately, communism. Bureaucratic centralism under the direction of KSC leadership was introduced. Dissident elements were purged from all levels of society, including the Catholic Church. The ideological principles of Marxism-Leninism and socialist realism pervaded cultural and intellectual life. The entire education system was submitted to state control. The economy was committed to comprehensive central planning and the elimination of private ownership. Czechoslovakia became a satellite of the Soviet Union; it was a founding member of the Council for Mutual Economic Assistance (Comecon) in 1949 and of the Warsaw Pact in 1955. The attainment of Soviet-style "socialism" became the government's avowed policy.

A new constitution was passed by the National Assembly on May 9, 1948. Because it was prepared by a special committee in the 1945-48 period, it contained many liberal and democratic provisions. It reflected, however, the reality of Communist power through an addition that discussed the dictatorship of the proletariat and the leadership role of the Communist party. Benes refused to sign the Ninth-of-May Constitution, as it was called, and resigned from the presidency; he was succeeded by Gottwald.

Although in theory Czechoslovakia remained a multiparty state, in actuality the Communists were in complete control. Political participation became subject to KSC approval. The KSC also prescribed percentage representation for non-Marxist parties. The National Assembly, purged of dissidents, became a mere rubber stamp for KSC programs. In 1953 an inner cabinet of the National Assembly, the Presidium, was created. Composed of KSC leaders, the Presidium served to convey party policies through government channels. Regional, district, and local committees were subordinated to the Ministry of Interior. Slovak autonomy was constrained; the KSS was reunited with the KSC but retained its own identity.

Gottwald died in 1953. He was succeeded by Antonin Zapotocky as president and by Antonin Novotny as head of the KSC. Novotny became president in 1957 when Zapotocky died.

Czechoslovak interests were subordinated to the interests of the Soviet Union. Stalin became particularly concerned about controlling and integrating the socialist bloc in the wake of Tito's challenge to his authority. Stalin's paranoia resulted in sweeping political changes in the Soviet Union and the satellite countries. In Czechoslovakia the Stalinists accused their opponents of "conspiracy against the people's democratic order" and "high treason" in order to oust them from positions of power. Large-scale arrests of Communists with an "international" background, i.e., those with a wartime connection with the West, veterans of the Spanish Civil War, Jews, and Slovak "bourgeois nationalists," were followed by show trials. The most spectacular of these was the trial of KSC first secretary Rudolf Slansky and thirteen other prominent Communist personalities in November and December 1952. Slansky was executed, and many others were sentenced to death or to forced labor in prison camps. The KSC rank-and-file membership, approximately 2.5 million in March 1948, began to be subjected to careful scrutiny. By 1960 KSC membership had been reduced to 1.4 million.

The Ninth-of-May Constitution provided for the nationalization of all commercial and industrial enterprises having more than fifty employees. The nonagricultural private sector was nearly eliminated. Private ownership of land was limited to fifty hectares. The remnants of private enterprise and independent farming were permitted to carry on only as a temporary concession to the petite bourgeoisie and the peasantry. The Czechoslovak economy was subjected to a succession of five-year plans.

Following the Soviet example, Czechoslovakia began emphasizing the rapid development of heavy industry. The industrial sector was reorganized with an emphasis on metallurgy, heavy machinery, and coal mining. Production was concentrated in larger units; the more than 350,000 units of the prewar period were reduced to about 1,700 units by 1958. Industrial output reportedly increased 233 percent between 1948 and 1959; employment in industry, 44 percent. The speed of industrialization was particularly accelerated in Slovakia, where production increased 347 percent and employment, 70 percent. Although Czechoslovakia's industrial growth of 170 percent between 1948 and 1957 was impressive, it was far exceeded by that of Japan (300 percent) and the Federal Republic of Germany (almost 300 percent) and more than equaled by Austria and Greece. For the 1954-59 period, Czechoslovak industrial growth was equaled by France and Italy.

Industrial growth in Czechoslovakia required substantial additional labor. Czechoslovaks were subjected to long hours and long workweeks to meet production quotas. Part-time, volunteer labor--students and white-collar workers--was drafted in massive numbers. Labor productivity, however, was not significantly increased, nor were production costs reduced. Czechoslovak products were characterized by poor quality.

The Ninth-of-May Constitution declared the government's intention to collectivize agriculture. In February 1949, the National Assembly adopted the Unified Agricultural Cooperatives Act. Cooperatives were to be founded on a voluntary basis; formal title to land was left vested in the original owners. The imposition of high compulsory quotas, however, forced peasants to collectivize in order to increase efficiency and facilitate mechanization. Discriminatory policies were employed to bring about the ruin of recalcitrant kulaks (wealthy peasants). Collectivization was near completion by 1960. Sixteen percent of all farmland (obtained from collaborators and kulaks) had been turned into state farms.

Despite the elimination of poor land from cultivation and a tremendous increase in the use of fertilizers and tractors, agricultural production declined seriously. By 1959 prewar production levels still had not been met. Major causes of the decline were the diversion of labor from agriculture to industry (in 1948 an estimated 2.2 million workers were employed in agriculture; by 1960, only 1.5 million); the suppression of the kulak, the most experienced and productive farmer; and the peasantry's opposition to collectivization, which resulted in sabotage.

The 1960 Constitution declared the victory of "socialism" and proclaimed the Czechoslovak Socialist Republic. The ambiguous precept of "democratic centralism"--power emanating from the people but bound by the authority of higher organs--was made a formal part of consitutional law. The president, the cabinet, the Slovak National Council, and the local governments were made responsible to the National Assembly. The National Assembly, however, continued its rubber-stamp approval of KSC policies. All private enterprises using hired labor were abolished. Comprehensive economic planning was reaffirmed. The Bill of Rights emphasized economic and social rights, e.g., the right to work, leisure, health care, and education. Civil rights, however, were deemphasized. The judiciary was combined with the prosecuting branch; all judges were committed to the protection of the socialist state and the education of citizens in loyalty to the cause of socialism.

Custom Search

Source: U.S. Library of Congress