To prevent the forthcoming military tragedy in Czechoslovakia

1968-07-29 - Leonid Brezhnev


I tell you frankly, comrades, that we left Dresden with mixed feelings. On the one hand, we had the impression that the collective exchange of views had induced Czechoslovak officials to think again about the gravity of the situation and about their own responsibility, and to consider what must be done to rebuff the counterrevolution. On the other hand, we did not sense that the Czechoslovak comrades had any concrete plans or any concrete idea about what to do, in practical terms, to prevent the situation from heading in an ever more dangerous direction.

And again I regret to say that the course of events bas borne out the conclusions of the fraternal parties rather than the unjustified optimism of the CPCz leaders. The March-April plenum of the CPCz CC was unable to stabilize conditions. What is more, the CPCz Action Program which was adopted at that plenum began to be used, in a number of instances, by the right wing as some sort of legal basis for further attacks against the communist party, the foundations of socialism, and the friendship of the Czechoslovak and Soviet peoples. The right-wing forces went on the offensive, and the CPCz CC continued gradually to retreat.

Our worries increased when a broad campaign got under way aimed at discrediting all the earlier activities of the CPCz. These concerns increased still further when the large-scale replacement of party and government cadres began, and when a wave of anti-Soviet propaganda was vented in the press, on radio, and on television. Moreover, like mushrooms after a rain, all types of organizations began to sprout, placing themselves at odds with the communist party. In such a situation the CPSU CC deemed it necessary once again to take new steps to stress our fears. We expected the CPCz CC Presidium to move from words and assurances to deeds and practical resistance to the hostile forces. At the same time, it is self-evident that we understood the objective complexity of the situation and the difficult situation of the CPCz leadership itself. That is why the CPSU CC continued to refrain from any public evaluation and statements, proposing once again to hold confidential, bilateral talks.

At that meeting, held in Moscow on 4 May by mutual consent, Cdes. Dubček, Černik, Smrkovský, and Bilák spoke about the seriousness of the situation. Furthermore you declared that the negative aspects of internal political developments in Czechoslovakia “are going beyond our purely internal affairs and affect the fraternal countries, for instance, the Soviet Union and Poland.” No one could disagree with this.

You also said you were ready to undertake the necessary measures to control the situation. Back then you said, and I quote: “The enemy is active, hoping to seize upon events in the interests of counterrevolution. To thwart this, what is needed is not cultural-educational work but a firming up of the army's stability. It is essential to whip the State Security organs into good shape from top to bottom. These organs are needed by the party as an apparatus of force. Perhaps it will be necessary to approve a special law on the People’s Militia ....”

You admitted that the enemy is trying above all to discredit the communist party and weaken its influence on the masses. You also admitted that demands are growing to legalize political opposition to the CPCz, and that “if firm steps are not taken this might develop into a counter-revolutionary situation.” You said that you know the specific people, and that you believe there is evidence of their links with imperialist circles. You also said you would put an end to this.

Your evaluations of this period coincided with those of the CPSU CC.

Our fears that the process of “democratization” which you have undertaken would turn into something exactly the opposite – by that I mean counterrevolution – were also expressed by Kosygin during his trip to Karlovy Vary. We spoke about these problems again in Moscow when a delegation of the National Assembly headed by Cde. Smrkovský and a delegation of workers headed by Cde. Barbírek visited us.

At the CPCz CC's May plenum you admitted that the main danger to the cause of socialism in Czechoslovakia comes from the right. It seemed that this gave reason to hope you would move from words to deeds. You proclaimed your readiness to act decisively in defending socialist gains at conferences of the secretaries of party committees, at nationwide assemblies of the People's Militia, and at countless gatherings of party branches in factories and plants.

Unfortunately, the hopes of the healthy forces in the party and the country, as well as the hopes of all your friends, were unjustified. The decisions of the May plenum remained unfulfilled. The anti-socialist forces unleashed an attack against the line taken by the CPCz CC's May plenum. Attacks by anti-Soviet elements became even fiercer. The wave of attacks launched by anti-socialist forces became even bolder by the end of June, when the "Two Thousand Words" appeal was published. It amounted to an open summons to struggle against the CPCz and against the constitutional regime.

You remember, Cde. Dubček, in speaking to you on the phone that day we drew your attention to the danger of this document as a platform for counterrevolutionary activities. You replied that the CC Presidium would consider this question, and you would propose that the document be harshly criticized and that the most decisive measures would be adopted. But except for a weak resolution, no realistic measures were ever taken to carry out these words in practice.

All this compelled us and the other fraternal parties to consider the necessity of bolding one more meeting with you. It was with this proposal that the CPSU and the other fraternal parties appealed to the CPCz CC, but, unfortunately, you refused to attend the meeting in Warsaw.

And so, comrades, for the last seven months Soviet and Czechoslovak leaders and the leaders of the other fraternal parties have been in close contact of the most diverse ways, ranging from telephone conversations to personal meetings and negotiations. If we were to assess the substance of this contact, one cannot but conclude that the CPSU CC has unwaveringly adhered to a consistent and clear position.

What, in brief, is the essence of our position?

In the first place, from the very beginning we fully appreciated the decisions of the CPCz CC that were aimed at rectifying mistakes and shortcomings, at improving party leadership in all spheres of public life, and at developing socialist democracy. We considered, and we still consider, these decisions to be an exclusively internal affair of Czechoslovak communists and of all the working people of your country.

Second of all, we continually emphasized that the only guarantee of the successful implementation of the measures adopted could come through the leading role of the party, ensuring that full control over the course of events is in the party's hands. In this regard we drew your attention more than once to the fact that a weakening of party leadership inevitably leads to the activation of the rightist forces, and even overtly counterrevolutionary forces, which seek to discredit the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia, remove it from power, tear your country out of the socialist commonwealth, and ultimately change the social system in Czechoslovakia.

Third, we supported, and still support, the notion that the fate of the socialist gains of the Czechoslovak people and the fate of Czechoslovakia as a socialist state bound by allied obligations with our country and the other fraternal countries is not purely an internal affair of the CPCz. This is the common affair of the whole commonwealth of socialist countries and of the entire communist movement. That is why the CPSU CC believes it has an international duty to see to it that all measures lead to the strengthening of the CPCz, to the protection and strengthening of socialism in the ČSSR, and to the defense of Czechoslovakia from imperialist conspiracies. This, I repeat, is our international duty, it is the international duty of all fraternal parties, and we would cease to be communists if we refused to discharge it.

This, comrades, is the principled position of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union-a position based on the principles of Marxism-Leninism and on proletarian internationalism. Guided by these principles, we always considered it our duty not to hide our opinion from you and to speak the truth to you no matter how bitter and cruel our opinion might be. And that is what we intend to do today.

Let me dwell in greater detail on several aspects of the current situation in Czechoslovakia.

The first one, which is the one that causes us the greatest fear and concern, is the situation in which the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia now finds itself. We speak about this first of all because without strengthening the communist party and without securing its leading role in all spheres of social life, all references to the “improvement” of socialism are simply a deception.

In recent months in Czechoslovakia the process of discrediting the communist party has been gathering steam and a real threat bas arisen to the party's leading position in society. Of course, such a situation did not come about spontaneously. It is the result of the activation of anti-communist forces and, at the same time, the inevitable consequence of an incorrect position taken by some members of the CPCz leadership and of their deviation from Marxist-Leninist principles on a number of questions.

In particular, frequent calls by certain leading figures in the CPCz to “put an end to the monopoly of power by the communists,” to “separate the party from the state,” and to establish “equality” between the CPCz and other political parties, as well as calls to relinquish party leadership in the state, the economy, culture, and other spheres, served as the initial impulse and the basis for the development of an unbridled campaign against the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia, and also for the activation of forces attempting to destroy the CPCz and to deny it its leading role in society.

Attacks on the party began, as is known, under the guise of discussions about the necessity of putting an end to “obsolete” working methods and adapting them to present-day demands. Naturally, we understand that the party is a living organism, which develops along with the whole of society, and that the forms and methods of party work and of party leadership can and must change in accordance with changes in society. But in this case that is not what has been occurring. What has been occurring is that some leaders of the CPCz have effectively ended up undermining the basic principles of the very political organization – the party – which they are responsible for leading and strengthening.

Only in this way can one explain the fact that although self-criticism is essential in every party, critical assessment in Czechoslovakia of various methods quickly led to the unrestrained and dangerous discrediting of the entire party. Exploiting the indecisive and wavering position of the CPCz CC Presidium, revisionists and right-wing forces have vilified all CPCz activities over the last 20 years, rejecting the party's right to lead society and the state.

Just look, comrades, at how far things have gone.

An article by a certain Liehm, printed on 13 June of this year in the weekly Literární listy, states: “The CPCz bears responsibility for all the mistakes of the 20 years since February 1948 and for all the illnesses and crimes in society…” And he goes on to say: “The CPCz maintains its leading role even though it bas neither a moral nor a political right to do so.”

And on 9 June in the paper Mladá Fronta one of the active spokesmen of the anti-party forces, Hanzelka, wrote that 1.5 million members of the CPCz have become fanatics of a sort who are used by certain party ”despots” to further their own personal gains.

At the meeting of the “Youth Club” in Semily someone called Temieck screamed hysterically: “The Communist Party of Czechoslovakia must be seen as the criminal organization it truly is, and should be expelled from public life." And these ravings were immediately published in Literární listy.

And the journal Host do domu (No. 5, 1968) published the following insolent statement by a member of its editorial board, Bilák, and I quote: “The CPCz, which was once the party of the intellectual and cultural elite and the party of the most mature section of the working class, has been transformed into a party of the rattail and riffraff and become subordinate to this rabble.”

One could cite analogous material in tens or even hundreds of other instances. And this whole stream, which is openly hostile to the communist party and to socialist ideas, pours forth daily on the heads of the working people. It is being suggested to them that the party of communists is something in the nature of an organization of bankrupt persons and should be banned from power.

Unfortunately, comrades, you did not reach the necessary conclusions that the party is being swallowed up by a vicious anti-communist campaign. Instead of resolutely rebuffing attempts that are being made to destroy the party, you are continuing to transform the CPCz into an amorphous organization unable to act, into something in the nature of a discussion club.

Today, in the CPCz, the main Leninist principles of party organization – the principles of democratic centralism and ideological-organizational unity of the party-are being violated.

The danger in this is mainly that the party itself is on the brink of legalizing factional groups and is breaking up into “autonomous units” with weak bonds between its branches.

Everyone who has studied the history of the communist movement and anyone acquainted with the theoretical legacy of V. I. Lenin, knows full well that only a Marxist party, all branches and members of which are consistently guided by the principle of democratic centralism, is able to act. Ignoring either aspect of this principle – either democracy or centralism – inevitably leads to the weakening of the party and of its leading role, and to the transformation of the party into a bureaucratic organization or into some sort of educational association.

Reactionary elements are seeking in all ways to pulverize and weaken the communist party while, at the same time, taking all measures to close their own ranks and bolster their organization. The weakening of democratic centralism in the CPCz serves their aims very well.

From information in the press it is clear that the revisionist elements in the party are planning to impose on the CPCz some sort of statutes transforming it into an organization devoid of Leninist party standards and devoid of party discipline and responsibility, that is, into a pulverized and amorphous party. All this is evident from your press.

The central press organ of your party, Rudé právo, came up with a suggestion on 23 July 1968 to adopt some autonomous principles for party bodies and organizations, in other words, to strengthen, through the new party statutes, their right to espouse their own positions with regard to decisions of higher authorities. Furthermore, the same newspaper proposes that the separately constituted sections of the party should not be bound by party discipline; it is suggested that they be voluntarily obliged “by associational ties” to “take shape from below ... by cooperatively uniting branches.” What docs this mean, comrades? It means, in effect, than the CPCz Central Committee is making an assiduous effort to transform the party from a fighting, monolithic organization into some sort of “association” whose members act freely as they wish. By the way, this is not the first time Rudé právo has advocated this thesis, a thesis that cannot be described as anything other than a call to destroy the party.

It should be said that when the editor of Rudé právo, a member of the CPCz CC Presidium, Cde. Švestka, attempted to safeguard the party's imprint on this newspaper as the organ of the CPCz CC, be was subjected to the fiercest attacks on the pages of the Czechoslovak press and has not received the proper support from the leading party organs. Matters have reached the point where be was not even invited as a guest to the extraordinary nationwide congress of the Czechoslovak Journalists' Union that was recently held in Prague.

Attacks on the unity of the party's ranks are being waged on other fronts as well. Representatives of right-wing forces are working hard to include the “right of minority and group opinions,” in the new party statutes, in other words, the right to act against party decisions after they have already been adopted.

In the view of the CPSU CC Politburo, all these considerations are contrary to Leninist principles of party organization. Just remember, comrades, Lenin's attitude to the question of party unity. The resolution that Lenin submitted to the 10th Congress of the Russian Communist Party, which was endorsed by the Congress, states: “It is necessary that all responsible workers clearly recognize the danger of factions, no matter what type. Despite all efforts by officials from different groups to defend party unity, the formation of factions will inevitably lead to the weakening of comradely work and to intensified, repeated attempts by the party's enemies, who have penetrated the party, to deepen the party's division and to use it in furthering the aims of counterrevolution.” Unfortunately, even among members of the CPCz CC Presidium there are certain comrades who speak out openly against Leninist principles in party organization. In particular, the speech Cde. Špaček gave on these matters.

As we well know world reactionary forces are not halting their attempt to take advantage of any weakening of party unity to step up attacks on communists and on socialism. In the world today, a bitter class struggle has emerged. In such conditions, actions that undermine party unity are tantamount to helping our class enemies.

The existence in your country of a mass campaign to destroy the party's loyal personnel is helping to undermine the CPCz’s leading role. Criticism of individual leaders and the acknowledgment of certain mistakes have expanded into general demands for the sweeping removal of leading party workers. In the center and below (in local branches) many experienced, devoted party members and working class people who courageously fought against fascism in the years of Hitierite occupation, and who have taken an active part in building socialism in Czechoslovakia, have been removed. An atmosphere has been created of a genuine pogrom, “a moral execution” of cadres.

A definite political line is emerging in the form of efforts to remove from active political life all those communists most versed in ideological-political attitudes and those who are decisively speaking out against the right-wing danger. This is the point of Cde. Císař's statement who asks that the CPCz admit 200,000 to 300,000 young people in order to provide an “injection” for what he calls the “older” party, while ignoring the class aspect of this grave matter.

The line of mass destruction of leading cadres has affected not only the party apparatus. You have extended it to major bodies of the state apparatus, to the trade unions, and to the youth union. You replaced most members of the government. At the same time, comrades, among those removed are such workers whom you yourself, in talks with us after the January plenum, almost always characterized favorably as reliable and staunch communists.

/.../

Comrades!

If we objectively evaluate the essence of the political processes now under way in Czechoslovakia and the direction of their further development we can arrive at one conclusion, namely, that the threat of a counterrevolutionary coup in your country has become a reality. This is the main reason for the anxiety felt by the CPSU and the other fraternal parties.

On a number of occasions after our May meeting in Moscow, we proposed to hold another bilateral meeting with the CPCz leadership to consider the situation that had arisen. However, every time we suggested that idea, you objected to it, giving a number of reasons.

Being faithful to the principles of internationalism, and guided by feelings of solidarity with fraternal Czechoslovakia and a sense of responsibility for the fate of socialism on our continent, the leaders of the fraternal parties of the Warsaw Pact decided to meet you to consider, in a comradely manner, the situation that has been created and to look for a way out of it and offer help to CPCz leaders.

Unfortunately, you refused this fraternal offer and were unwilling to meet us in Warsaw. Your reasons for rejecting this proposal are unconvincing. The excuse that you didn't know the precise date of the meeting does not conform with reality. As for the exact date of the Warsaw meeting, the Soviet ambassador in Prague informed you of it in accordance with our instructions. The Hungarians also spoke to you about it. They even proposed delaying the meeting for a certain amount of time so that once again you could weigh up the situation and come to Warsaw. But you failed to do this.