Socialism: Ideals, Ideologies, and Local Practice

By C. M. Hann | Go to book overview

Chapter 13

The end of socialism in Czechoslovakia

Ladislav Holy

In Czechoslovakia, socialism has been replaced politically by liberal democracy, whilst economically it is in the process of being replaced by the swift introduction of private ownership of the means of production and by the free market. This momentous change is the result of the 'velvet revolution' which took place at the end of 1989. Undeniably, change in the Soviet Union and, more importantly, the revolutionary changes in other socialist countries had their effect on the events in Czechoslovakia at that time. If nothing more, they indicated to the Czechs that change was possible and that it would not be resisted from the outside as it had been in 1968. However, changes do not happen merely because they are possible. They have to be carried out by people who have an interest in instigating them.

As every revolutionary worth his salt knows, the pre-condition of a successful revolution is widespread dissatisfaction of the masses, who can then be politicized and mobilized for action in the name of the envisaged change for the better. By this textbook formula, conditions in Poland in the 1980s and in the Soviet Union in the late 1980s and early 1990s were probably more conducive to revolutions than was ever the case in Czechoslovakia before November 1989. Opposition to the regime in Czechoslovakia was weak in comparison with other socialist countries. It was centred in a number of 'independent initiatives', of which the oldest and best-known was Charter 77. Although the number of 'independent initiatives' had been steadily increasing in the run-up to 1989, it remains doubtful whether this increase was matched by any increase of actual persons actively involved in their activities. The most characteristic feature of the 'independent initiatives' was the considerable overlap of their membership; prominent Czechoslovak dissidents were often involved in more than one 'initiative'. Moreover, active involvement remained limited to a small circle of intellectuals who lacked the support of the working class. This was a fact of which they themselves were very well aware:

When the friends from Polish Solidarity, whom we meet occasionally at the Czech-Polish border, ask how many people Charter 77 has behind

-204-

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