The Czech Communist Party continues its struggle against capitalism
Musicians playing on historic Charles Bridge in Old Town in Prague, capital of the Czech Republic, 2018. | Blake Skylar

CAPARICA, Portugal — Ondra Kazik, 37, member of the Central Committee of the Czech Communist Party, officially called the Communist Party of Bohemia and Moravia (KSCM), was interviewed by People’s World at the Avante! Festival in Portugal in early September.

Before the defeat of socialism, in the late 1980s, what is now the Czech Republic was still part of Czechoslovakia, a country that also included what is now Slovakia. It was a highly advanced modern, well-run socialist society.

In a 1987 visit to Prague by Mikhail Gorbachev, crowds of admirers thronged to see him on the streets, but also often heard on the streets was, “such a thing—glasnost and perestroika—could never happen here.” (Clearly the Czechs had mixed memories of their own leader Alexander Dubček’s attempt at “socialism with a human face” in the 1960s.) Big changes were just around the corner, however. By the end of the 1980s the socialist experiment had ended throughout most of Eastern Europe.

The KSČM nevertheless endured, and still survives. It dates back to its foundation in 1921, though the capitalist governments that have controlled the Czech Republic ever since—Slovakia having broken away as an independent country in 1993—have made it a point to inculcate anti-Communism into the ruling ideology.

Ondra Kazik, 37, member of the Central Committee of the Czech Communist Party | Eric A. Gordon/PW

Kazik claims his great-grandmother as an original member of the party in 1921. His mother is a party member. Ondra himself joined in 2005. With a doctoral degree from Charles University in Prague, he is a scientist working in IT programming.

Coming from a “mixed” family (mother Czech, father Slovak), which was not uncommon in socialist times, Ondra was raised in the town of Mladá Boleslav, known as the hometown of the main Škoda auto factory. The Škoda is still being made, but the company is now owned by Volkswagen.

The experience of Škoda is emblematic of the changes that have occurred in the Czech Republic since socialism. Czechoslovakia was one of the most highly industrialized countries in the socialist world, though its development was uneven. Industry had been concentrated in the western Czech Republic, whereas in the immediate post-WW II years, the eastern Slovak Socialist Republic, with its capital in Bratislava, remained mostly agrarian. Another significant difference between the two republics under the Czechoslovak flag was that the Czech lands were Protestant, and now mostly secular—“the least religious country in the EU,” says Kazik—while Slovakia was mostly Catholic.

The socialist government, which endured until 1989, made it one of its intentions to bring more industry to the eastern republic. By the end the two republics had become substantially equal in industrial capacity. Many Czechs felt resentment over this, however, seeing how much support the central government was giving to the Slovaks.

From afar, both in distance and in time, the dissolution of the country into two independent nations in 1993 may appear to have been unnecessary—couldn’t they have worked out a suitable modus vivendi as they had under socialism? Yet seen in context, it was part of the effort by Western imperialism to sow nationalistic dissension and division as in Yugoslavia, which, too, split up into half a dozen weaker independent nations, not to mention the 15 independent countries that emerged out of the USSR.

From 1989 on there was an attempt to reconstitute Czech society as “national capitalism,” but the only industry that survived intact was Škoda, and even that, like most other foreign-owned plants in the country, is now controlled by a German company. In short, says Kazik, there was “an aggressive capitalist colonization of Europe.” Though a member of the EU since 2004, the country still uses its own currency, the koruna (crown), but this will not last much longer: The euro is coming soon.

The transformation of socialist states into capitalist entities has brought the familiar constellation of problems to the fore. With less support given to rural areas, small towns are emptying out as young workers migrate to cities. Small businesses and hospitals have closed. With fewer young people around, seniors are forced, more than before, to enter retirement homes, but the right wing, in government, does not want to provide old-age benefits. Yet older people vote, Kazik says, and constitute a majority of the Communist Party membership.

The Czech Republic, along with Poland and Hungary, joined NATO in 1999. As a condition of this U.S.-controlled mutual security pact, a member nation is subject to placement of military bases, troop deployment, participation in military exercises and campaigns. It also gives up control over movement of personnel and equipment across its lands. In some countries NATO has placed nuclear-ready launchpads and planes. The Czech Republic is one of the main transportation routes for materiel heading to the Ukraine front, all without the say of the people.

Two-way immigration

An interesting two-way immigration dynamic is occurring in the Czech Republic. Young Czechs are able, because of EU membership, to work in more highly developed nations, principally Germany. At the same time, other workers from farther east—Ukraine, Poland, Bulgaria, Romania—are coming to the Czech Republic for jobs in manufacturing or in the healthcare sector. So there is a constant brain drain continuum that flows toward the more advanced economies.

The KSČM has a base in the older population owing both to their historical memory and to the relentless anti-communism of the educational system under capitalism. Among its 20,000 members today, in a country of 10 million, the average age is over 70. Though the party does have a youth movement, it’s an anomalous situation where, generally speaking, older family members with longer memories tend more to the left than younger ones.

So what’s the appeal to youth? People’s World asked.

“There are several issues appealing to younger people,” Kazik answers. “Housing. Young people want to move out on their own, but there’s a lot of speculation in this area, and inflation is a serious problem. It’s hard to start a family.

“The LGBT issue is popular, also ecology. There’s a movement of children’s strikes on Fridays, strikes against fossil fuels emissions, and some coal mines have closed. The Czech Republic is not rich in resources, so we’re dependent on gas—from Russia, through Germany. We have gas heating now, more than coal and wood. It’s hard to measure the anti-Russian sentiment because the warmongering media are so unreliable.” What will happen this winter when the gas flow is interrupted is not hard to guess.

Domestic partnership is recognized in the country for same-gender couples, but not marriage.

What do people in the party today think about Dubček and his reforms? I ask. It’s not an easy question. Many wanted to think he was sincere in trying to bring about reform and transparency, Ondra replied, but after socialism ended he was seen to ally himself with right-wing groups, and that made people assess him in a different way. “Sort of like the way Gorbachev is viewed?” I suggest. Was he sincere? Naïve? A dupe? A pawn? Weak? A stalking horse for imperialism?

I asked Ondra about the Roma people, who have endured discrimination for centuries in Europe. “During socialism there was an attempt to integrate them. After 1989, unemployment for Roma has been very high. Because of racism they work mostly manual jobs. Many people resent their receiving social benefits. Housing is problematic. Landlords move them out of apartments, and ghettoization follows.”

The KSČM is a parliamentary party which in some areas of the country, at least in the past, garnered 10% and even up to 18% of the vote. In every county there is a party organization. Over the last 10-15 years, its polling has decreased, and now the party has no representation in Parliament. In the last parliamentary elections in 2021, the KSČM won 193,817 votes, or 3.6%. Its Chairperson, Katerina Konečná, is a member of the European Parliament. Thirteen party members are in regional assemblies, and up to 1000 serve in municipal bodies.

The party maintains a national weekly newspaper, Our Truth, and several regional publications.


CONTRIBUTOR

Eric A. Gordon
Eric A. Gordon

Eric A. Gordon is the author of a biography of radical American composer Marc Blitzstein, co-author of composer Earl Robinson’s autobiography, and the translator of a memoir by Brazilian author Hadasa Cytrynowicz. He has received numerous awards for his People's World writing from the International Labor Communications Association. His latest project is translating the nine books of fiction by Manuel Tiago (pseudonym for Álvaro Cunhal) from Portuguese, the first volumes available from International Publishers NY.

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