Political Parties

Czech Republic Table of Contents

The operation of the new Czechoslovak government was distinguished by stability. Largely responsible for this were the well-organized political parties that emerged as the real centers of power. Excluding the period from March 1926 to November 1929, when the coalition did not hold, a coalition of five Czechoslovak parties constituted the backbone of the government: Republican Party of Farmers and Peasants, Czechoslovak Social Democratic Party, Czechoslovak National Socialist Party, Czechoslovak Populist Party, and Czechoslovak National Democratic Party. The leaders of these parties became known as the Petka (The Five). The Petka was headed by Antonin Svehla, who held the office of prime minister for most of the 1920s and designed a pattern of coalition politics that survived to 1938. The coalition's policy was expressed in the slogan "We have agreed that we will agree." German parties participated in the government beginning in 1926. Hungarian parties, influenced by irredentist propaganda from Hungary, never joined the Czechoslovak government but were not openly hostile.

The Republican Party of Farmers and Peasants was formed in 1922 from a merger of the Czech Agrarian Party and the Slovak Agrarian Party. Led by Svehla, the new party became the principal voice for the agrarian population, representing mainly peasants with small and medium-sized farms. Svehla combined support for progressive social legislation with a democratic outlook. His party was the core of all government coalitions between 1922 and 1938.

The Czechoslovak Social Democratic Party was considerably weakened when the communists seceded in 1921 to form the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia, but by 1929 it had begun to regain its strength. A party of moderation, the Czechoslovak Social Democratoc Party declared in favor of parliamentary democracy in 1930. Antonin Hampl was chairman of the party, and Ivan Derer was the leader of its Slovak branch. The Czechoslovak National Socialist Party (called the Czech Socialist Party until 1926) was created before World War I when the socialists split from the Social Democratic Party. It rejected class struggle and promoted nationalism. Led by Vaclav Klofac, its membership derived primarily from the lower middle class, civil servants, and the intelligentsia (including Benes).

The Czechoslovak Populist Party--a fusion of several Catholic parties, groups, and labor unions--developed separately in Bohemia in 1918 and in the more strongly Catholic Moravia in 1919. In 1922 a common executive committee was formed, headed by Jan Sramek. The Czechoslovak Populists espoused Christian moral principles and the social encyclicals of Pope Leo XIII.

The Czechoslovak National Democratic Party developed from a post-World War I merger of the Young Czech Party with other right and center parties. Ideologically, it was characterized by national radicalism and economic liberalism. Led by Kramar and Alois Rasin, the National Democrats became the party of big business, banking, and industry. The party declined in influence after 1920, however.

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Source: U.S. Library of Congress