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Heirs to the Great Traditions of the Nation

  • Walter A. Kemp

Abstract

A great deal has been written about the process of Communist takeovers in Eastern Europe.1 The Communist takeover of Czechoslovakia is no exception.2 In published studies, however, there is an area usually marginalized: namely, the attempts by the Communist parties to gain legitimacy through portraying themselves as the heirs to the great traditions of the nation.3 This is the topic of the present chapter. In order to focus on this issue more precisely, the case of Czechoslovakia from 1945 to 1953 will be used, although where appropriate the examples of other countries will be drawn upon.

Keywords

Communist Party Political Culture Postage Stamp National Tradition Great Tradition 
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Notes

  1. 1.
    The definitive book on the subject is Thomas T. Hammond, The Anatomy of Communist Takeovers (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1975). See also a special edition on the anatomy of Communist takeovers in Studies of the Soviet Union, 11/4 (1976) and Hugh Seton-Watson, The East European Revolution (Boulder, Colo.: Westview Press, 1985).Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    See in particular V. Chalupa, Rise and Development of a Totalitarian State (Leiden: H.E. Stenfert Krose N.V., 1959); Karel Kaplan, The Short March: The Communist Takeover in Czechoslovakia 1945–1948 (New York: St Martin’s Press, 1987); Josef Korbel, The Communist Subversion of Czechoslovakia 1938–1948: The Failure of Coexistence (London: Oxford University Press, 1959); and M. R. Myant, Socialism and Democracy in Czechoslovakia 1945–1948 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1981).Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    Some texts which look at the Party’s use of culture and national symbols and the wider issue of legitimacy and control are Chalupa 1959; Vladimir Reisky de Dubnic, Communist Propaganda Methods: A Case Study on Czechoslovakia (New York: Praeger, 1960); I. Gadourek, The Political Control of Czechoslovakia: A Study in Social Control of a Soviet Satellite State (Leiden: H.E. Stenfert Krose N.V., 1953); David W. Paul, The Cultural Limits of Revolutionary Politics: Change and Continuity in Socialist Czechoslovakia (Boulder, Colo.: East European Quarterly, 1979); Edward Taborsky, Communism in Czechoslovakia 1948–1960 (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1961), chs. 18–20, and D. E. Viney, ‘Czech culture and the “New Spirit”, 1948–52’, The Slavonic and East European Review, 31/77 (June 1953), 466–94.Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    Peter Hruby, Fools and Heroes: The Changing Role of Communist Intellectuals in Czechoslovakia (Oxford: Pergamon Press, 1980), p. xv.Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    As Mark Harrison points out in ‘GDPs of the USSR and Eastern Europe: towards an interwar comparison’, Europe—Asia Studies, 46/2 (1994), pp. 243–59, it is difficult to calculate accurately the GDPs of these countries during the inter-war years. Nevertheless, based on his figures, and others that he cites, Czechoslovakia unquestionably had the highest GDP in Eastern and Central Europe, and at just under $2000 per capita (international dollars at 1980 prices) it ranked 11th in Europe and 15th in the world — slightly above Argentina, Austria, Chile, Ireland and Italy.Google Scholar
  6. 7.
    Klement Gottwald, Selected Writings 1944–1949 (Prague: Orbis Press Agency, 1981), p. 29.Google Scholar
  7. 8.
    See Tito’s 1939 speech, ‘Peoples of Yugoslavia!’, in Josip Broz Tito, The National Question: Socialist Thought and Practice (Belgrade: STP, 1983), pp. 23–7 for an example of his views on Yugoslavism. For a more general background, see chapters 1 and 2 of Paul Shoup, Communism and the Yugoslav National Question (New York: Columbia University Press, 1968). For an alternative view see Ante Cuvalo, The Croatian National Movement 1966–1972 (New York: East European Monographs, 1990), p. 124, where he argues that in Croatia the Party only attracted a mass following when they played up their Croatian nationalist credentials. He argues that for that reason the partisans gained a much larger following in Croatia than in Serbia and Montenegro, where the emphasis was more strictly on class.Google Scholar
  8. 10.
    R. J. Crampton, Eastern Eumpe in the Twentieth Century (London: Routledge, 1994), p. 157.Google Scholar
  9. 13.
    For a typical example of this view, see Rudolf Slansky’s speech to the 8th Party Congress of the CPCz on 28 March 1946, entitled ‘Kommunisticka strana v boji za svobodu naroda’ [The Communist Party in the struggle for the freedom of the nation], Protokol VIII: Radneho Sjezdu Kommunistické Strany Ceskoslovenska ve dnech 28–31 bFezna 1946 (Prague: Vydal sekretariat usttedniho vyboru KSQ 1946).Google Scholar
  10. 14.
    The Prague uprising began quite spontaneously on May 3rd, two days after the death of Hitler. Fighting spread throughout the city and was so intense that the Waffen SS commander called for air support and tank reinforcements on May 5th. The Czech resistance was aided by an unlikely source, the 1st Division of the Russian National Liberation Army, who were anti-communists and who had fought with the Germans on the Eastern front. Pilsen was liberated by the Americans on May 6th. Although General Paton had strict orders not to advance, the Germans feared the worst and capitulated. By the time the Red Army arrived there was only token resistance. For an in-depth and well-illustrated account of the German occupation of Prague up to and including the Soviet ‘liberation’ see Callum MacDonald and Jan Kaplan, Prague in the Shadow of the Swastika (Prague: Melantrich, 1995).Google Scholar
  11. 16.
    See Korbel 1959, pp. 50 and 97.Google Scholar
  12. 17.
    Kaplan 1987, p. 132. See also Korbel 1959, pp. 146–7.Google Scholar
  13. 18.
    Hugh Seton-Watson, Eastern Eumpe Between the Wars 1918–1941 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1945), p. 263.Google Scholar
  14. 19.
    Thomas W. Simons Jr., Eastern Eumpe in the Postwar World (Basingstoke: Macmillan, 1991), p. 44.Google Scholar
  15. 20.
    Ivan Klima, Judge on Trial (London: Vintage, 1992), p. 69.Google Scholar
  16. 22.
    For an examination of this phenomenon and a thorough overview of theGoogle Scholar
  17. immediate postwar period, see Karel Kaplan, Znaroneni a Socialismus [Nationalization and Socialism] (Prague: Prace, 1968).Google Scholar
  18. 23.
    ‘Ideova vychova a kulturni politika strany’, speech by Vaclav Kopecky to the 8th congress of the CPCz March 30, 1946, in Protokol VIII: Radneho Sjezdu Kommunisticke Strany Ceskoslovenska, p. 114.Google Scholar
  19. 24.
    For more on the nationalism of the post-war Polish Communists, see Z. Anthony Kruszewski, ‘Nationalism and politics: Poland’, in George Klein and Milan J. Reban (eds.), The Politics of Ethnicity in Eastern Europe (Boulder: East European Monographs, 1981), pp. 175–7.Google Scholar
  20. 25.
    For more see Robert R. King, Minorities under Communism: Nationalities as a Source of Tension among Balkan Communist States (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1973).Google Scholar
  21. 26.
    For example, the National Front in Poland and East Germany, the Bulgarian and Yugoslavian Fatherland Fronts, the People’s Independent Front in Hungary and the People’s Democratic Front in Romania.Google Scholar
  22. 28.
    At the 1946 Paris Peace Conference the Western powers intervened on Hungary’s behalf and the number of Hungarians to be evicted was reduced considerably.Google Scholar
  23. 32.
    Carol Skalnik Leff, National Conflict in Czechoslovakia: the Making and Remaking of a State, 1918–1987 (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1988), p. 104.Google Scholar
  24. 35.
    Almost every major Czechoslovak politician was in attendance. Even Benes, who was seriously ill, sent his greetings. The gala concert was conducted by Rafeal Kubelik. For an interesting account of the day see ‘Jubilejni Zdenka Nejedleho’, Svobodne Noviny (10 February 1948), p. 2.Google Scholar
  25. 36.
    See for example, ‘Za lidovou a narodni kulturu’ [‘For the people’s national culture’], Var (1 April 1948), for Nejedly’s views on the greatest of Czechoslovak national culture.Google Scholar
  26. 38.
    Zdenek Nejedly, Kommuniste, Dedici Velikych Tradic Ceskeho Naroda [Communists, Inheritors of the Great Traditions of the Czech Nation] (Prague: Prace, 1978: first published 1946), p. 11.Google Scholar
  27. 39.
    As mentioned in Chapter 3, the theme of Communists being heirs to the great traditions of the nation was used by Stalin to rouse popular support during the Great Patriotic War. It is very possible that Nejedly, who, like many Czech and Slovak Communists, lived in Moscow during the war, was influenced by articles like Emel’ian Karoslavsii’s ‘Bolsheviks, the heirs of the best patriotic traditions of the Russian people’, which appeared in Pravda (27 December 1941). For more on that article and others like it see Lowell Tillett, The Great Friendship: Soviet Historians on the Non-Russian Nationalities (Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 1969), p. 62.Google Scholar
  28. 45.
    See e.g. the speech of Gottwald at the 7th Congress of the 3rd International in 1935, or his speech entitled O Klasickem dedictvi Ceske kultury (10 November), Nova Mysl 2 (1948), p. 523.Google Scholar
  29. 47.
    Ibid. pp. 43–4.Google Scholar
  30. 50.
    There is still a statue of Nejedly in Litomysl.Google Scholar
  31. 54.
    Dvorak wrote several works which Nejedly could have classified as patriotically socialist, had he been so inclined. They include a cantata called Heirs of the White Mountain and a Hussite overture. For more on how Dvoiak incorporated Czech musical and literary themes into his music see Leon Botstein, ‘Reversing the critical tradition: innovation, modernity, and ideology in the work and career of Antonin Dvoiak’, in Michael Beckerman (ed.), Dvorak and his World (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1993), pp. 11–55.Google Scholar
  32. 55.
    Karel Kaplan, interview with the author, 3 April 1995.Google Scholar
  33. 56.
    When Gottwald returned from being dressed down in Moscow he took heavily to drinking. This might suggest that he realized that the notion of a Czechoslovak road to socialism was now impossible. For more on the extent to which Gottwald was a national Communist, see Gordon Skilling, The Interrupted Revolution (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1964), pp. 22–5. Gomulka felt a similar sense of disillusionment in 1947. This seems to indicate that there were Communists who genuinely believed that it would be possible to balance national and Communist interests. It is worth noting that the chairman of the Estonian Communist Party, Johannes Vares-Barabus, committed suicide in 1946 as the result of the blatant contrast between his expectations for Estonia’s future, which motivated him to become the main architect of her sovietization, and the reality over the Soviet Estonia over which he presided. See Graham Smith (ed.), The Baltic States: The National Self-Determination of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania (Basingstoke: Macmillan, 1994), p. 99.Google Scholar
  34. 59.
    Kaplan 1987, p.123.Google Scholar
  35. 60.
    Masaryk’s motivation for staying on is unclear. Unclear too are the circumstances surrounding his death on 10 March 1948 when he was either pushed or fell from his bathroom window in the Czernin Palace. For a fascinating account of the circumstances leading up to his death, see Claire Sterling, The Masaryk Case (Boston: Nonpareil Books, 1969).Google Scholar
  36. 62.
    One of the most vivid examples of this was in the GDR which, in its 1949 constitution, declared itself to be the continuation of the Reich.Google Scholar
  37. 64.
    Francois Fejtö, A History of the Peoples Democracies: Eastern Europe Since Stalin (London: Pall Mall Press, 1971), p. 173.Google Scholar
  38. 65.
    Raymond Aron, ‘On polycentrism’, Survey, 58 (January 1966), p. 13.Google Scholar
  39. 66.
    Reports of these gatherings can be found in Svobodne Noviny (1946–48).Google Scholar
  40. 67.
    David I. Kertzer, Ritual, Politics and Power (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1988), p. 45.Google Scholar
  41. 68.
    Karl Marx, The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte (Peking: Foreign Language Press, 1978), p. 9.Google Scholar
  42. 69.
    Richard F. Staar, Communist Regimes in Eastern Europe (Stanford, Calif.: Hoover Institution Press, 1982), p. 64. Ironically, when Vaclav Havel became President in 1990 he was reluctant to move into Hradcany, as it symbolized the seat of the Communist President.Google Scholar
  43. 70.
    For more on the history of Sokol and the philosophy of Tyri, see Cas, 5 (June 1994).Google Scholar
  44. 71.
    Gadourek 1953, p. 152. Sokol members often wore distinctive falcon feathers in their caps.Google Scholar
  45. 72.
    As cited in R. W. Seton-Watson, A History of the Czechs and Slovaks (London: Hutchinson, 1943), p. 212.Google Scholar
  46. 73.
    Information taken from ‘Sokol takes flight again’, The Prague Post (4–10 May 1994), p. 4 and Cas, 5 (June 1994).Google Scholar
  47. 77.
    As cited in Ibid. p. 137.Google Scholar
  48. 80.
    See the examples cited in Taborsky 1961, pp. 38 and 39.Google Scholar
  49. 81.
    Zdenhk Pénkava, ‘V priprave spartakiady zesilit ideologickou praci v telovychove a sportu’, Nova Mysl, 9/2 (February 1955), p. 163.Google Scholar
  50. 82.
    See e.g. the excerpt of his speech given at the 98th anniversary of Masaryk’s birth (7 March 1948) on the front page of Svobodne Noviny. Google Scholar
  51. 84.
    Richard Hunt, ‘The denigration of Masaryk’, Yale Review, 43 (Spring 1954), p. 418.Google Scholar
  52. 85.
    See Vaclav Havel, ‘The power of the powerless’, in his Open Letters: Selected Writings 1965–1990 (New York: Vintage Books, 1992), pp. 125–214.Google Scholar
  53. 86.
    Claude Karnouth, ‘National unity in central Europe: the state, peasant folkore and mono-ethnism’, Telos, 63 (Fall 1982), p. 103.Google Scholar
  54. 87.
    For the official line on art, see e.g. ‘Boj Proti Kosmopolitismu Je Cesta K Socialistickemu Umeni’, Vytvarne Uméni, 7 (1952), p. 357.Google Scholar
  55. 88.
    An analogous situation occurred in Poland, where the writings of Adam Mickiewicz were officially lauded and circulated in large quantities.Google Scholar
  56. 89.
    In the introduction to Jirasek’s Legends of Old Bohemia, printed in 1951 (beautifully illustrated with drawings by Mikolas Ales), Gottwald writes, ‘I declare my allegiance to Jirasek, who has much in common with us, much more than old capitalist societies. In his work, he masterfully comprehended which of our traditions lead forward, towards freedom and the flourishing of our nation. His work therefore teaches us the correct view of our past, it strengthens our national self-awareness and fills us with historical optimism and faith in the creative power of the people.’Google Scholar
  57. 92.
    See Vaclav Murdoch, ‘The age of John Hus in recent Czechoslovak historical literature, (1948–1960)’, in Miloslav Rechcigl Jr. (ed.), Czechoslovakia Past and Present (The Hague: Mouton, 1968), pp. 581–93; and Stanley Z. Pech, ‘The Marxist interpretation of the Hussite movement’, Canadian Slavonic Papers, 4 (1959), pp. 199–212.Google Scholar
  58. 93.
    F. Kavka, ‘Husitska tradice — veliky zdroj sily v boji naseho lidu’, Nova Mysl, 7 (1953), pp. 608 and 616.Google Scholar
  59. 94.
    Gottwald’s embalmed body was removed in 1962.Google Scholar
  60. 95.
    For more on the Dozsa Revolt and the historiography surrounding it, see Gabriel S. Pellathy, ‘The Dozsa revolt: prelude and aftermath’, East European Quarterly, 21/3 (September 1987), pp. 275–95.Google Scholar
  61. 96.
    See Andras Renyi, ‘Historical painting as a Hungarian paradigm’, in Peter Gyorgy and Hedvig Turai (eds.), Art and Society in the Age of Stalin (Budapest: Corvina, 1992), pp. 38–48.Google Scholar
  62. 97.
    Jiri Pelikan, The Czech Political Trials 1950–1954 (London: MacDonald, 1971), p. 89.Google Scholar
  63. 98.
    As cited in J. Macek, ‘Proti kosmopolitismu ve vykladu nasich narodnich dejin’ [‘Against cosmopolitanism in the interpretation of our nation’s history’], Nova Mysl, 8 (1952), p. 635.Google Scholar
  64. 100.
    This phenomenon was not limited to Czechoslovakia. Tibor Frank argues in ‘Nation, national minorities and nationalism in twentieth-century Hungary’, in Peter Sugar (ed.), Eastern European Nationalism in the Twentieth Century (Washington: American University Press, 1995), p. 236, that the systematic campaign of the Rakosi regime against the nation’s history, and the fact that it made discussion of the Trianon Treaty and its consequences on the Hungarian diaspora taboo, were ‘instrumental in bringing about the revolution of 1956’.Google Scholar
  65. 101.
    ‘Action programme of the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia’, in Robin Alison Remington (ed.), Winter in Prague: Documents on Czechoslovak Communism in Crisis (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1969), p. 90.Google Scholar
  66. 106.
    See Otto Ulé, ‘Pilsen: the unknown revolt’, Problems of Communism, 14/3 (May—June 1965), pp. 46–9.Google Scholar
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    Adam Bromke, ‘History and politics in Poland’, Problems of Communism, 15/5 (September–October 1966), p. 71.Google Scholar
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    Zdenék Nejedly, ‘Za lidovou a narodni kultur’, Var (1 April 1948), p. 15.Google Scholar
  69. 109.
    Vaclav Kopecky, ‘0 socialistickém vlastenectvi a proletacskem internacionalismu’, Nova Mysl, 2 (February 1952), p. 86.Google Scholar

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© Walter A. Kemp 1999

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