From the September 1968 issue of the Socialist Standard
The dictators of state capitalist Russia have sent their armies into Czechoslovakia in a bid to impose a puppet regime which will carry out their orders to crush free speech and restore rule by torture and the secret police.
For hundreds of years, as Bohemia, Moravia and Slovakia, this was a part of the Austro-Hungarian empire. Austria was on the losing side in the first world war and was punished by having its empire broken up. One result was the state of Czechoslovakia, set up in October 1918. As its unwieldy name suggests this was a completely artificial “nation-state”. Besides Czechs and Slovaks it contained within its boundaries sizeable minorities speaking German, Hungarian, Polish and Ruthenian, a language close to Ukrainian.
A glance at the map of central Europe will straightaway show the strategic importance of Czechoslovakia. Whoever controls it has access to Russia and the Balkans. This was why Germany wanted, and got it, before the war. But Munich was not the only time that hypocritical politicians like Sir Alec Douglas Home, who now cry crocodile tears over Czechoslovakia, betrayed that state. They did it again at Yalta. This time the buyer was Russia. When the Czechoslovak and Russian rulers met at Cierna and Tisou at the end of July they may have recalled that this was not always a frontier village. Pre-war Czechoslovakia stretched further east with the province of Ruthenia. In 1945 Russia grabbed this area, of some 4,000 square miles and a population at that time of three quarters of a million, and incorporated it into the Ukraine.
Russia may perhaps let Rumania go its own way without making too much of a fuss, but not Czechoslovakia, a dagger pointing right into Russia. No wonder the Russian rulers are worried. The Bratislava agreement confirmed that Czechoslovakia can never have an independent foreign policy. It was the artificial creation of the Great Powers and doomed always to be dominated by them, especially by one or other of its great neighbours, Germany or Russia. The compromise reached at Bratislava seems to have been this: complete subordination to Russian dictates on foreign policy but some freedom in internal affairs.
Even at home the Czechoslovak rulers did not have much choice. Despite what anarchists and Trotskyists believe, rulers cannot turn democratic rights on and off at will. Even ordinary press and radio commentators pointed out that the Dubcek government could not have suppressed freedom of speech even if the Russians told them to. As socialists have always argued: democracy is established and maintained by the working class, not a gift from our rulers. Freedom of speech is something that the Czechoslovak rulers are going to have to live with from now on, as the Russian military has found out. No doubt, in time, this will lead on to freedom of organisation. The Socialist Party of Great Britain wishes workers there every success in establishing the framework within which a genuine socialist movement can grow, namely, political democracy.
The crude power politics of Russia once again expose the myth of Socialism there. Russia is a great capitalist power and behaves like one.
The Socialist Party of Gt. Britain abhors this latest display of imperialist brutality, all the more vile as it has been committed in the name of socialism, and calls upon the workers the world over to oppose capitalism, east and west, and to unite for Socialism.
August 21st 1968