Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Power Politics and Czechoslovakia

Some surprisingly valid comparsions have been made in the mainstream media between the invasion of Czechoslovakia 40 years ago today by Russia and that country's recent activity in Georgia. Ignoring such nonsense as the "fall of communism", the article in question is of interest for what one Vera Machutova, a resident of the Czech border city of Decin who woke this night in 1968 to the sound of Russian tanks rolling by, is quoted as saying. "What is similar, she said, is the clear message from Moscow that it will not accept a dramatic political shift in a country in [sic] sees as part of its sphere of influence -- what Russia calls its "near abroad."" The term sphere of influence is one of several used by Socialists when explaining what nations compete over and as one reason for war, so it is refreshing to see it employed this way in a Reuters' piece. Svante Cornell, Research Director for the Central Asia-Caucasus Institute, provides another surprise: "After almost two decades of engagement with the West, Moscow appears to have reverted to a "sphere of influence" world-view in which it tries to exert dominion over its less powerful neighbors. "The Putin doctrine has been very much about rolling back the Ukrainian and Georgian revolutions and getting back to a position of malleable, semi-authoritarian governments that the Russians are able to control," said Cornell." Doubtless neither he nor Machutova would describe themselves as Socialists, but that some aspects of their thinking appear to overlap with ours could be seen as encouraging. Indeed, it would be interesting to learn where they'd agree and disagree with the following statement published in the Socialist Standard of September 1968:

"The dictators of state capitalist Russia have sent their armies into Czechoslovakia in a bid to impose a puppet regime which will carry out their orders to crush free speech and restore rule by torture and the secret police.

For hundreds of years,as Bohemia, Moravia and Slovakia, this was part of the Austro-Hungarian empire. Austria was on the losing side in the first world war and was punished by having its empire broken up. One result was the state of Czechoslovakia, set up in October 1918. As its unwieldy name suggests this was a completely artificial "nation-state". Besides Czechs and Slovaks it contained within its boundaries sizeable minorities speaking German, Hungarian, Polish and Ruthenian, a language close to Ukranian.

A glance at the map of central Europe will straightaway show the strategic importance of Czechoslovakia. Whoever controls it has access to Russia and the Balkans. This was why Germany wanted, and got it, before the war. But Munich was not the only time that hypocritical politicians like Sir Alec Douglas Home, who now cry crocodile tears over Czechoslovakia, betrayed that State. They did it again at Yalta. This time the buyer was Russia. When the Czechoslovak and Russian rulers met at Cierna nad Tisou at the end of July they may have recalled that this was not always a frontier village. Pre-war Czechoslovakia stretched further east with the province of Ruthenia. In 1945 Russia grabbed this area, of some 4,000 square miles and a population at that time of three quarters of a million, and incorporated it into the Ukraine.

Russia may perhaps let Rumania go its own way without making too much of a fuss, but not Czechoslovakia, a dagger pointing right into Russia. No wonder the Russian rulers are worried. The Bratislava agreement confirmed that Czechoslovakia can never have an independent foreign policy. It was the artificial creation of the Great Powers and doomed always to be dominated by them, especially by one or other its great neighbours, Germany or Russia. The compromise reached at Bratislava seems to have been this: complete subordination to Russian dictates on foreign policy but some freedom in internal affairs.

Even at home the Czechoslovak rulers did not have much choice. Despite what anarchists and trotskyists believe, rulers cannot turn democratic rights on and off at will. Even ordinary press and radio commentators pointed out that the Dubcek government could not have suppressed freedom of speech even if the Russians told them to do so. As socialists have always argued: democracy is established and maintained by the working class, not a gift from our rulers. Freedom of speech is something that the Czechoslovak rulers are going to have to live with from now on, as the Russian military has found out. No doubt, in time, this wil lead to freedom of organisation. The Socialist Party of Great Britain wishes workers there every success in establishing the framework within which a genuine socialist movement can grow, namely political democracy.

The crude power politics of Russia once gain expose the myth of Socialism there. Russia is a great capitalist power and behaves like one.

The Socialist Party of Gt. Britain abhors this latest display of imperialist brutality, all the more vile as it has been committed in the name of socialism, and calls upon the workers the world over to oppose capitalism, east and west, and to unite for Socialism."

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