The following text is meant to convey the way in which I, as an 18-year- old, understood my own political experience of these historic events and how I carried it with me as a ‘political legacy’ in all my subsequent years of political activity in the Czechoslovak and later Czech radical left. Naturally, the current view of a 50-year-old event is also influenced by the present. But if I am to write about the Prague Spring of 1968, I must write about socialism. Not about how to ‘destroy’ it, but about how we strived to revive it. Despite the subjectivity, a personal view and experience can sometimes help readers perceive something in a new way.
Global developments and the clash of two opposing political-power blocs also influenced events in Czechoslovakia. There were prevailing fears of a nuclear war. Key events characterising this era are: 1 May 1960, the USSR shot down a US U2 spy plane (piloted by Gary Powers); this resulted in the cancellation of a Paris summit between representatives of the USSR and the United States. Cuban counterrevolutionaries failed in their attempt to land at Playa Girón during the Bay of Pigs invasion, driving Cuba into the Soviet Bloc. In August 1961, the Berlin Wall was erected and over the next thirty years it became a symbol of a divided world and the Cold War – to this day, I still remember the feeling of being on the brink of war during the so-called Cuban Missile Crisis (November 1962). In 1963, however, tensions eased somewhat with the signing of the first nuclear test ban agreement between the United States and the U.S.S.R. But then another phase of the Vietnam War began with the Gulf of Tonkin incident and bombs began to fall on socialist Vietnam. And the so-called Six-Day Arab-Israeli War took place in 1967 on the ‘eve’ of the Prague Spring. Growing tensions between the Soviet Union and the Chinese People’s Republic culminated in an armed conflict in 1969. However, the year 1968 was marked by anti-war demonstrations in the United States and the beginning of the Vietnamese Tet Offensive (an attack on US and South Vietnamese forces), which was considered to be a political victory for the ‘North’ and which ultimately resulted in the US withdrawing from the battlefields of Vietnam.
The Soviet Bloc’s (and the USSR’s) military concept was not to permit a clash on Soviet territory. It did count on the use of nuclear weapons (analogously to the way in which the United States conceived of its strategy of massive retaliation). Kennedy’s modification of US and NATO strategy to one of flexible response also counted on the use of nuclear weapons in a European theatre of war (on both sides). The so-called Khrushchev Doctrine anticipated the possibility of nuclear war but also built up strong conventional ground and air forces within the framework of the Warsaw Pact (WP). In the event of a military conflict, the strategic plan of socialist Czechoslovakia’s army (1964) counted on rapidly advancing westward (in tandem with the WP) and on reaching the Rhine River near Strasbourg within eight days in support of a main offensive in the strategic direction of Berlin/Paris. The plan included up to 131 nuclear strikes on NATO (primarily Bundeswehr) forces as well as on towns and communications. To counter this, the deployment of nuclear land mines was prepared in West Germany with the intention of halting any such advance. As early as 1956, 1,200 targets in the Eastern Bloc were identified for nuclear strikes by the American leadership (with 69 targets identified in Czechoslovakia, including urban centres). In 1966, the WP-VLTAVA military exercises took place on Czechoslovak territory (with 80,000 troops participating). The deployment of nuclear weapons was also envisaged within the framework of a strategic ‘wargame.’ It was anticipated that there would be 252 reciprocal nuclear strikes with a total power of 59 megatons of TNT. (Hiroshima amounted to 13 kilotons of TNT!). Total losses were ‘quantified’ as amounting to 57,000 soldiers and 2.5 million civilians.
At the time, Czechoslovakia was the only WP state where Soviet units had no permanent presence and which was separately entrusted with WP military objectives, i.e., carrying out an offensive operation without the integration of Soviet units in its ranks. This task, however, began to be beyond the capacity of the Czechoslovak Socialist Republic in terms of its military, human, and economic resources. From the beginning of the 1960s, the Soviet leadership had been pushing for the permanent deployment of Soviet forces in Czechoslovakia. It is not clear from the documentary records how big a role this played in the decision behind the WP intervention in Czechoslovakia. At the very least, the invasion of Czechoslovakia and the subsequent political agreement on the placement of Soviet troops was a valuable by-product for the Soviet top brass. And this possibly explains why the withdrawal of forces outlined in the agreements did not occur after ‘Soviet’-type socialism had been restored and the political leadership in Czechoslovakia changed. Today, it is a matter for debate whether Czechoslovakia should have defended itself against the invasion by the USSR and other states. And there is also discussion of why the West did not intervene more significantly. The situation was well described by Jan Schneider, citing the opinion of Henry Kissinger on why support was not provided for the Prague Spring of 1968: ‘Firstly, the Americans […] observed the Yalta agreement on so-called spheres of influence. Secondly, for the American president it was more important to do whatever it took to travel to Moscow to negotiate on nuclear weapons. And thirdly, they did not want the Prague Spring to be “victorious” and prove the merits of “socialism with a human face”. On the contrary, it was essential for them that socialism did not demonstrate any of its qualities in contrast with capitalism.’
Because pro-socialist attitudes predominated even within Czech society (as detailed below), it is likely it would have been split, and it is not clear at all whether an internal societal clash would have occurred. Shortly after the military invasion of Czechoslovakia, discussion got under way between the blocs, which culminated in the so-called Helsinki Accords. These healed the relations between the two German states, and diplomatic relations were established between Czechoslovakia and West Germany (including the settlement of issues surrounding the Munich Agreement).
While the Prague Spring of 1968 was developing, the so-called May 68 events in Paris were also flaring up. It would require a deeper analysis to shed light on how the 1968 Prague Spring and events in Paris were interrelated or were mutually supportive of each other. I tend to believe that they passed each other by, that they developed concurrently and only marginally influenced each other. The French left (Jean-Paul Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir, Claude Lévy-Strauss, communist intellectuals, existentialists, philosophers, writers like Albert Camus, Elsa Triolet, Louis Aragon, etc.) was known in Czechoslovakia and inspired many of its intellectuals. In the spring of 1968, there were mutual expressions of support and solidarity from both sides. On the whole, Czechoslovak citizens received detailed (and objective) information, but the issues France was dealing with substantially differed from those relevant to our country – in the West it really was not about socialism with any kind of face. Both there and here it was about strengthening the democratic influence of citizens in society. It was about greater ‘freedom.’
The term ‘socialism with a human face’ was first coined by Radovan Richta, an economist and the principal author of a collective Marxist study of the social and human contexts of the scientific and technical revolution (1966). The study was one of the crucial impulses behind the search for ‘socialism with a human face’.
Growing social tensions in the early 1960s cried out for a solution. The stimuli of growth based on extensive resources had been exhausted. The Prague Spring of 1968 and the Hungarian uprising of 1956 invite occasional comparisons. Together with the East German uprising in 1953 and events in the Polish city of Poznań in 1956, what occurred in Hungary was primarily a clash between the Soviet ‘occupation’ and Stalinism, on the one hand, and the repercussions of the anti-communist position, on the other. In socialist Czechoslovakia, there were no manifestations of anti-communism. Thus, throughout the entire process, from as early as the first half of the 1960s, anti-communist or markedly anti-socialist concepts were marginal and lacked any major resonance in society. This of course does not mean that citizens had not been seeking ways to move beyond the old Stalinist- administrative and command-economy frameworks (neo-Stalinism). ‘New economic and social relationships had already stabilised by the end of the 1950s and subsequently in the 1960s. Some of the fundamental ideals of our communist faith had actually been realised and society had accepted them. There were no longer any private capitalists; the old class and social divisions based on the relationships of private ownership no longer existed.’ The socialist concept was accepted by a significant section of the population. Zdeněk Mlynář summarised it as follows: ‘Since 1964 […] under the government of Antonín Novotný […] not only in Czechoslovak society, but also inside the Czechoslovak Communist Party and power- political structures, an anti-Stalinist, communist framework of reform had been developing at full speed […].’ Solutions were being sought within the framework of socialism. The frequently mentioned fourth congress of the Czechoslovak Union of Writers (1967), undoubtedly one of the key stimuli for reforms efforts, was, despite the way it is commonly characterised today, not a platform rejecting socialism. This meeting of leading Czechoslovak intellectuals came out firmly against Stalinism. It declared Stalinism to be a ‘disease that had to be treated.’
This was a reality actually also acknowledged by anti-communist critics of socialism in Czechoslovakia. In their view, the Prague Spring could not succeed because bringing the process of liberalism to completion would mean dismantling socialism and that was not something the Communist Bloc would accept. They could not imagine and could not even among themselves admit that it was possible to ‘improve’ or democratise socialism. For them the choice was ‘either socialism or capitalism’ (Pavel Tigrid). Today they obscure the fact that this was not even a majority opinion in society.
Nowadays there is a more critical view of what the real possibilities for a revival process were. Sociological surveys from the time indicate that, in the event of elections, with or without direct interference from the Czechoslovak Communist Party, the communist candidate would have received around two thirds of the votes. In mid-1968, a survey confirmed that socialism was the clearly predominant concept in the expectations of citizens. Comparing citizens’ opinions over time shows that there was a positive shift when it came to trust in the Communist Party: At the start of the year, 16% expressed a lack of faith in the party, 48% said they had not trusted the Communist Party before January 1968 – when Alexander Dubček took office – but that their opinions changed after January. And 21% said they did not believe that it would be possible to ensure the development of socialism and democracy in Czechoslovakia. In the middle of 1968, trust in the Communist Party was generally on the rise (see the cited Public Opinion Quarterly survey).
Ivan Sviták was a critic of communism and liberalism as well as a proponent of democratic socialism. With Karel Kosík he was among those representing ‘democratic socialism’ (as opposed to ‘communism’), and his influence among students was very great. Twenty years after the Prague Spring, he wrote: ‘Today, we understand that both systems, liberal and communist, contain the same self-destructive forces of industrial society, but that an open system in which power is exercised democratically is capable of managing these problems in an acceptable, albeit far from ideal, way. Today, we also know that attacking any society in the name of an ideology is easier than repairing the real defects that are plaguing the system.’
Another critical view is provided by Josef Heller who considered 1968 to be a political crisis in a system that was the first historic attempt at developing society in a non-capitalist way. His Marxist critical analysis of the stage of socialism he characterised as ‘proto-socialism’ holds that the professional and social class structure of society in the period of proto- socialism had not changed fundamentally. Consequently, there was no disposable time for non-management workers realistically to be engaged in exercising proprietary functions (as real owners). No class was created whose interests were linked to a new progressive form of social ownership that would become the hegemonic subject of another revolutionary movement in transition from proto-socialism to actual socialism. His Marxist analysis shows that there could be no genuine transformation to socialism under these conditions.
The leading figure in the economic sphere was Ota Šik. He was the central figure behind a law on enterprises that reflected the concept of employee ownership and elements of corporate self-government. (At the beginning of the 1970s many of these reforms were overturned and his theoretical foundations rejected.) The solution to the economic crisis of the 1960s, which peaked in 1963, did not begin until 1968. From the middle of the decade, the principles of economic policy changed, and elements such as market relationships, price restructuring, autonomy, and greater enterprise responsibility were also gradually introduced. There was also more stress on the link between the results of each worker’s labour and his/ her remuneration. The first tangible results began to manifest themselves in 1967-69. And it was economic growth in the first half of the 1970s that politically facilitated the ‘solution’ of returning to a Soviet type of socialism and so-called normalisation without coming into conflict with a decisive majority of the population. The second half of the 1980s was characterised by economic stagnation, resulting in general civil discontent (but even here it was perhaps not so much a question of dissatisfaction with socialism as such but with its ‘implementation’ by the Communist Party, the communists, and the socialist state.)
1968 was a year in which the economy stabilised and people felt the improvement. Czechoslovak agriculture was already effective on the whole. During the Prague Spring, not one agricultural cooperative (the predominant form of collectivised farming) collapsed. At the same time, however, the methods used in the violent collectivisation of agriculture in the preceding decade were criticised and discussed. The standard of living in villages increased markedly. (This was particularly true for Slovakia, which historically had been generally less well developed.) All of this enabled most of the population to devote themselves more to their interests. It influenced their relationship with reality and it also informed their pragmatic standpoint. It was an era in which people spent time in their cottages (recreational housing in the countryside).
The conditions for active resistance to the cementation of the political situation were at the very least partly eliminated by this development. Most people were not willing to risk their relatively stable standards of living in a direct political conflict with political power. Nonetheless, society was not a monolith. Many of its members had still lived through pre-war capitalism (particularly in very backward areas of the Czech and, above all, the Slovak countryside). Many people had not abandoned the vision of socialism, even though this vision was badly scarred by the military intervention of the U.S.S.R. and its satellites. Hungarian-style ‘goulash socialism’ was an attractive model.
The Czechoslovak Communist Party remained a party of the masses. After the purge in 1970, it still had 1,217,000 members (in a population of 14.4 million). However, in reaction to the crushing of the Prague Spring alone, around 150,000 people left the Communist Party, 320,000 were expelled or erased from the membership lists (a less severe recourse), which amounted to 28% of the original membership base. Even after 1970, a significant portion of the population still had a socialist orientation, although the level of conviction among them could vary widely, even among communists.
Developments after 1970 also led to a growth in the number of those who rejected socialism (‘communism’) per se. A number of people emigrated. (More than 80,000 Czechoslovak citizens left after 1969, and a further 140,000-150,000 people had departed by 1989. Around 40,000 people had emigrated after 1948.) Many left because they did not agree with the political system, but in subsequent years they also left for economic reasons or because they could not realise their dreams. There was also a small group of active opponents of the regime who were forced by the state to emigrate. Other citizens retreated into their own private realms and only did the bare minimum in terms of their obligations to society. Nevertheless, it is very inaccurate to say without more detailed analysis that those who rejected socialism constituted a homogeneous majority of the population.
In 1968 less attention was devoted throughout society to questions of forming a political system based on democratic principles. It was somehow assumed that it would be enough to debate, to express various opinions in the media, to abolish censorship, and to not fear prosecution for one’s opinions. But the political system and its transformation were crucial to the subsequent direction of society. How should the Communist Party define itself under the new conditions, but most importantly how should it carry out its role in practical life? How should non-communist parties be integrated into the socialist system; how should social organisations (trade unions, youth groups, professional associations, etc.) work in a new way? The Communist Party had a privileged position (in every socialist country), but also a social responsibility. This was where developments outpaced theoretical considerations. Many reformist steps were not based on theoretical deliberations and analyses, but on an immediate reaction to emerging social realities. The theoretical works of Zdeněk Mlynář were beyond the ken of people who had subscribed to the left-wing concept of ‘democratic socialism’ throughout the previous fifty years. Mlynář wrote:
[…] the statement that the ideal of socialism in this society continued to operate as a positive goal and the spontaneous efforts of the people is necessarily part of an objective characterisation of the situation. People, however, wanted to ‘revive’ reality, to make it resemble their own ideals. Naturally, this creates a difficult situation for a realistic governing policy, because ideals by their nature are interpreted in their own way by various social groups and individuals. Moreover, in doing so, they end up absolutising various unilateral points of view while forming their own convictions and visions for general problems. It is a much more difficult situation than encountering in a similar social atmosphere not a governing policy but an oppositional politics striving for a share in power or to take it over completely, for this kind of politics is a positive factor at such a stage in that everyone is dissatisfied in society and it is not so problematic that everyone is presenting somewhat different solutions. Oppositional politics will redirect its efforts by using the general discontent with society as a force that enables it to defeat the ruling ideas, but only after it has to deal with contradictions between various interpretations of the ideal in society and its own conception. However, the government policy that is implementing reform must proceed in such a way that in the course of reforms it resolves the main contradictions while simultaneously maintaining general support. Despite the complexity of the situation, in 1968 the reformist efforts of the Czechoslovak Communist Party could be based on a spontaneous movement and could rely on its overall positive, socialist nature.
Today’s prevailing interpretation of the Prague Spring of 1968 is based on the idea that it involved a ‘revolt against communist power.’ The reality was interpreted differently by Mlynář (writing in 1975): ‘[…] the huge authority and majority support enjoyed by the political leadership of our reform in 1968 also ultimately facilitated serious mistakes in the political process, […] in practice these were outweighed by the effects of this support so that, despite complications and difficulties, compounded by their own mistakes, they still demonstrably remained the leaders of political power in the country, practically without any realistic competing alternatives on the part of any political groupings’. Today, the primary policy document of that year, 1968 – An Action Programme, receives scant attention. It formulated the move towards ‘socialism with a human face’ for both the Communist Party and society as a whole. The party strove to actively influence the reform process, but at many moments during the course of 1968 it found itself in a difficult situation. In Mlynář’s words:
This created a contradictory situation within the Czechoslovak Comm- unist Party in relation to reform: on the one hand it was accepted with hope and high expectations by a large majority of party members, but on the other hand all the mistakes of the political leadership, of which there were plenty (particularly the extension of provisional arrangements, the so-called ‘provizorium’, and increasingly coercive influences on the pace and content of reform that were moving in a radicalising direction), made things markedly more difficult for the party’s functionaries and mass membership ‘down below’, where concerns were growing as to whether further developments would unleash revanchist moods and tendencies that could have impact on communists ‘on the ground’ [… ]. These concerns were not justified, however, for all the reasons already cited regarding the nature and intensity of the main individual contradictions at play in the reform: they could, of course, be understood as necessarily occurring side-effects. They did not signify resistance ‘down below’ to reform among communists; they only pointed out the desperate need for their effective political regulation.
In the summer of 1968, some important communist reformers came to the fore among those who demanded that more and more steps be taken – as expressed in the Two Thousand Words Manifesto. This resulted in a stiffening of resistance in the USSR’s leadership and the entire Soviet Bloc to the steps implemented by the Czechoslovak leadership and a heightening of the tense atmosphere in Czechoslovak society.
The Manifesto expressed concerns about a possible emerging counteroffensive from conservatives. It urged the development of a people’s movement that would support the appointment of Alexandr Dubček as party secretary and push this development towards a more thorough democratisation […]. This is emphasised here as the ‘method of applying political pressure in daily life’ – pressure from below as a means of defence and counterattack, which would breach the hitherto insurmountable barriers of Stalinism. This called for strikes, demonstrations, a civic boycott of conservatives, and the creation of certain kinds of civil commissions and action committees […] it broached the need for a ‘people’s court’ to deal with supporters of the old attitudes, while the concept of a ‘reactionary’ itself had to be clarified on the spot according to the principle that ‘several people would assemble’, elect a chairman, keep a proper record, publish their findings, demand a solution, and nobody could be shouted down.’
This is where reality outpaced political objectives, and the Communist and state leadership found themselves in an even more complicated situation to which they were incapable of finding an effective solution. At the upcoming Extraordinary Congress of the Czechoslovak Communist Party, there was a majority of delegates who were pro-reform, but there were also other kinds of demands being made, for instance that included calls to commemorate the lynchings in 1956 in Hungary of rank-and-file communists. Developments also prompted fears among those who may have been in favour of reform but who realised how further progress would also be determined by opinion in the other socialist countries and that it could even result in a return to a yet worse form of neo-Stalinist practices.
Even though it was not totally obvious in Moscow at the end of the 1980s, it is clear in retrospect and from the words of Mikhail Gorbachev that various concepts of the 1968 Prague Spring had made their way into the circle of reformist Soviet communists working on ‘perestroika.’ As Gorbachev said, ‘the reform began as an effort to emerge from economic stagnation and not as an attempt at pluralism. Afterwards, however, the new circumstances influenced developments in many ways. The logic of perestroika confronted us with the need to develop democracy and this clearly gave rise to the issue of political pluralism. We first had to recognise the pluralism of opinion.’ This also opened up the issue of a political system based on democratic socialism as was the case in Czechoslovakia in 1968.
Mlynář’s conversation with Mikhail Gorbachev took place in 1994. In my opinion, it continues to have general relevance today in many respects – in terms of the risk of a military nuclear conflict, the need for international cooperation and for overcoming ideological approaches, and the need to promote a multilateral world. On the other hand, I do not think they were right in concluding that social democracy is the best way of systematically contributing to a ‘better world’ and that you pass through social democratisation on the road to democratic socialism.
Today, many historical events are expediently exploited, primarily for contemporary political and propaganda purposes. In our society this helps to foment anticommunism. A second, and these days even more pronounced, tendency involves commemorating the Prague Spring of 1968 through the lens of the Warsaw Pact invasion of August 1968, which primarily, and sometimes exclusively, emphasises the role of the Soviet leadership, which is now being modified as the role of ‘Russia’. The military action of the states of the Soviet Bloc (with the USSR naturally playing the dominant role) has been transformed into a form of ‘Russian communist imperialism’. However, documents have confirmed that besides (only) some members of the Soviet political leadership, the main instigators of a military solution included the communist leaders of East Germany, Poland, and Bulgaria. It appears that Leonid Brezhnev tried for a long time to find a ‘non-military’ solution (which he subsequently succeeded in doing in Poland with General Wojciech Jaruzelski’s imposition of martial law in 1981).
There is no space here to deal with the period of so-called normalisation in 1970-89. This stage, however, is a ‘bridge’ from 1968 to the 1990s and the defeat of European actually-existing socialism. It was also an internally complex and multi-layered period with various stages, certainly profoundly marked by the Prague Spring. It is a fact that in its research during the entire twenty years (up to 1989) the local theorists’ milieu avoided analyses of the principles discussed and partially introduced during the Prague Spring. The theoretical ‘foundations’ of the Prague Spring were not subjected to scrutiny or critical expert analysis. They were at most ideologically rejected and discredited. The so-called Lessons Learned from Crisis Developments was considered to be the only correct appraisal, and it became the determining document from which it was impossible for anyone to deviate, at least formally.
Over time, primarily in the economic sphere, some systemic considerations returned, with certain concepts being dealt with for the first time, when ways were sought to overcome economic stagnation, and the ‘old’ instruments of directive control had no effect. Paradoxically, greater attention was paid to bourgeois theories. Those who engaged with them and who were supposed to be against contemporary capitalism subsequently made up the vanguard of the transformation from socialism to capitalism. This new elite pushed ahead with the so-called Washington Consensus and strictly rejected pursuing in any way the ideas of the Prague Spring. Since citizens were not calling for capitalism in November 1989 (see note 15), and for fear that they would turn to a socialist alternative, the elites sought to derail any discussion of a ‘third way’. People who had been pushed to the margins for twenty years were socially rehabilitated after 1989; some were even given official posts (for example, Alexander Dubček became the speaker of parliament), but to all intents and purposes they were not permitted to take up key positions where a new strategy for society was being formulated. The Prague Spring of 1968 – a project to revive the vision of socialism as a real alternative to capitalism that would overcome its basic deficiencies – could not complete its work. Unfortunately, the tanks of the Warsaw Pact also rode roughshod over the search for alternatives to capitalism, including democratic socialism. After the end of the Cold War, the left-leaning public believed that overcoming a bipolar world would automatically also lead to overcoming social injustice and unjust inequalities. A ‘window of opportunity’ had opened up for the European left in terms of how to modify capitalism with the aid of democratic socialism. One of the leading personalities of the 1968 Prague Spring, the economist Ota Šik, evaluated it as follows in September 1989, at an international seminar at the University of St. Gallen:
Based on the summary […] I have come to the conclusion that socialism in its basic principles based on Marxist-Leninist ideology has completely foundered and has no future. Nonetheless, this conclusion does not necessarily mean that the only alternative to ‘actually-existing’ socialist developments has to be a return to the capitalist system. In other words, it does not mean that capitalism is flawless and should not be reformed. The serious deficiencies of the capitalist system persist to this day: long periods of mass unemployment, periodic economic crisis, large, unjustified differences in pensions regardless of work performed, the concentration of private resources enabling individuals to wield powerful influence without democratic legitimacy and depriving a large portion of the population from having access to capital, the economy, etc. Marxism- Leninism tried to remove these defects in a way that was wrong, but this does not mean that these defects simply cannot be removed. As a scientist, I absolutely cannot reconcile myself to the idea that such systemic defects cannot be prevented.
Unfortunately, this opportunity was not used – either in the West or in the East. With few exceptions, the left-wing movement in the East collapsed, and in the West, instead of fighting for democratic socialism the only fight for several decades now has been a defensive battle and the effort to create a ‘better capitalism,’ often with little success. Since the beginning of the 1990s, the concept of ‘democratic socialism’ has not become one of the realistic alternatives that could overcome contemporary neoliberal capitalism. Social democracy and socialists have become resigned to their ‘socialist’ role of managing the Nordic welfare state (which had been expected of them by, for example, Mikhail Gorbachev, Zdeněk Mlynář, and Ivan Sviták). The European radical left did not come up with a widely accepted progressive vision and so, instead of fighting for the future, we are, if anything, battling for political and civic survival. The fumbling efforts of the radical left in practically all the countries of Europe could also be a consequence of the fact that the vision of an alternative to capitalism has not been irrigated by the living water of new ideas and creative searches. This is perhaps where the Prague Spring of 1968 and its socialism with a human face could be a source of inspiration.
I would like to conclude my text with the words of Josef Heller, my fellow traveller in political and human terms, with whom I walked the path of left-wing causes for almost fifty years:
The culmination of our analysis cannot only be an appreciation of the heroic battle waged by the revolutionaries and reformers known to history who – even though they did not know what role they were fulfilling or what they could achieve – ‘stormed heaven’ in a manner similar to Jan Hus and Jerome of Prague, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Gracchus Babeuf, Maximilien Robespierre, Jean-Paul Marat, Louis Antoine de Saint- Just, the utopian socialists and later Blanquists and communards, not to mention Russian, Soviet, Cuban, and other revolutionists. First and foremost, there must be an appreciation of an entire generation of honest working people who tied their destiny to overcoming capitalism and who consciously or unconsciously created an alternative and did not succumb to the enticements of bourgeois ideology but on the contrary sacrificed the best of their lives for an ideal of socialism. However the social processes involved turn out and whatever their impact, these dedicated rank-and- file activists should not be seen through the lens of accusations levelled at them by the bourgeoisie or by the Stalinists; an attempt at understanding the socialist past, including the Prague Spring, does not result in contempt for their life’s work. On the contrary, this knowledge should be a source of optimism and a confirmation of the fact that, even if it is temporarily in abeyance, the project of socialism and communism is neither criminal nor definitively finished; it still has huge potential for development.
Somewhat at variance with the dry language and style of an academic treatise, we cannot end […] in any other way than with a verse of the old workers’ song, which sounds ever so utopian today:
‘Even should we all fall, new warriors will arise, we’ll keep the red flag flying here.’