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A failed alternative – About the 1968 action programme of the Czechoslovak Communist Party

The action programme of the Czechoslovak Communist Party. The author briefly describes the conditions under which the Czechoslovak party programme was drawn up in 1968, the trends inside the party (supporters of Novotny, the centre and the reformers) and the fate of the overthrown Czech experiment, then discusses the essence of the party programme itself.

The Bonapartist philosophy of state

Written in 1939, the article is a criticism of the Stalinist system which in many ways is a forerunner of the arguments of the '80 s against Stalin's Administrative System. (The use of violence by the state is unnecessary, the damage caused by the suffocation of independence, the nomenclature, bureaucracy becoming an elit cast safeguarding its own interests. The Stalinist system is not socialism.
One of the central points in Stalin's report at the 18th Party Congress in Moscow was undoubtedly a new theory of the state promulgated by him. Stalin ventured into this dangerous field not from any innate inclination but out of necessity. Only a short time ago, the jurists Krylenko and Pashukanis, both orthodox Stalinists, were removed and crushed for having repeated the ideas of Marx, Engels, and Lenin to the effect that socialism implies a gradual withering away of the state. This theory cannot possibly be accepted by the reigning Kremlin. What, wither away so soon? The bureaucracy is only beginning to live. Krylenko and Pashukanis are obviously – "wreckers".

The Realities of Soviet Life

The realities of Soviet life today can indeed be hardly reconciled even with the shreds of old theory. Workers are bound to the factories; peasants are bound to the collective farms. Passports have been introduced. The freedom of movement has been completely restricted. It is a capital crime to come late to work. Punishable as treason is not only any criticism of Stalin but even the mere failure to fulfill the natural duty to get down on all fours before the "Leader". The frontiers are guarded by an impenetrable wall of border patrols and police dogs on a scale heretofore unknown anywhere. To all intents and purposes, no one can leave and no one may enter. Foreigners who had previously managed to get into the country are being systematically exterminated. The gist of the Soviet constitution, "the most democratic in the world", amounts to this, that every citizen is required at an appointed time to cast his ballot for the one and only candidate handpicked by Stalin or his agents. The press, the radio, all the organs of propaganda, agitation and national education are completely in the hands of the ruling clique. During the last five years no less than half a million members, according to official figures, have been expelled from the party. How many have been shot, thrown into jails and concentration camps, or exiled to Siberia, we do not definitely know. But undoubtedly hundreds of thousands of party members have shared the fate of millions of nonparty people. It would be extremely difficult to instill in the minds of these millions, their families, relatives and friends, the idea that the Stalinist state is withering away. It is strangling others, but gives no sign of withering. It has instead brought the state to a pitch of wild intensity unprecedented in the history of mankind.

Yet the official edict is that socialism has been realized. According to the official text, the country is on the road to complete communism. Berya will disabuse the doubters. But here the main difficulty presents itself. To believe Marx, Engels, and Lenin, the state is the organ of class rule. Marxism has long ago exposed all other definitions of the state as theoretical falsifications which serve to cover up the interests of the exploiters. In that case, what does the state mean in a country where "classes have been destroyed"? The sages in the Kremlin have more than once wracked their brains over this question. But, of course, they first proceeded to arrest all those who reminded them of the Marxian theory of the state. Since this alone cannot suffice, it was necessary to provide some semblance of theoretical explanation for Stalinist absolutism. Such an explanation was forthcoming in two installments. At the Seventeenth Party Congress, five years ago, Stalin and Molotov explained that the police state was needed for the struggle against the "remnants" of old ruling classes and especially against the "splinters" of Trotskyism. These remnants and splinters, they said, were, to he sure, insignificant. But because they were extremely "rabid" the struggle against them demanded utmost vigilance and ruthlessness. This theory was exceptionally idiotic. Why should a totalitarian state be required for a struggle against "impotent remnants" when Soviet democracy proved wholly adequate for the overthrow of the ruling classes themselves? No answer was ever given to this question.

But even so, this theory of the era of the Seventeenth Congress had to be discarded. The last five years have in a large measure been devoted to destroying the "splinters of Trotskyism". The party, the government, the army, and the diplomatic corps have been bled white and beheaded. Things had gone so far that Stalin at the last Congress was forced, in order to calm his own apparatus, to promise that he would not in the future resort to wholesale purges. This is, of course, a lie. The Bonapartist state will find itself compelled likewise in the future to devour society physically as well as spiritually. This cannot be admitted by Stalin. He swears that purges will not he renewed. If that is so, and if the "splinters" of Trotskyism together with the "remnants" of old ruling classes have been completely destroyed, then the question arises: "Against whom is the state necessary?" This time, Stalin replies: "The need of the state arises from the capitalist encirclement and the dangers flowing there from to the land of socialism." With the monotony of a theology student that is so habitual with him, he repeats and rehashes this idea over and over again: "The function of military suppression within the country has fallen away, has withered away … the function of military defense of the country from outside attacks has remained completely preserved." And further on: "As regards our army, our punitive organs and our intelligence service, their barb is aimed no longer inwardly within the country, but outwardly against the external enemy."

Stalin Refutes His Old Theory

Let us for the sake of argument allow that all this is actually the case. Let us allow that the need of preserving and strengthening the centralized bureaucratic apparatus arises solely from the pressure of imperialism. But the state by its very nature is the rule of man over man. Socialism on the other hand aims to liquidate the rule of man over man in all its forms. If the state is not only preserved but strengthened, becoming more and more savage, then it means that socialism has not yet been achieved. If the privileged state apparatus is the product of capitalist encirclement then it means that in a capitalist encirclement, in an isolated country, socialism is not possible. Trying to extricate his tail, Stalin is thus caught by the snout. Justifying his Bonapartist rule, he refutes in passing his principal theory of building socialism in one country.

Stalin's new theory is correct, however, only in that section which refutes his old theory; in everything else it is entirely worthless. For the struggle against imperialist danger, the workers' state naturally requires an army, a commanding staff, an intelligence service, etc. But does this mean that the workers' state requires colonels, generals and marshals, with their corresponding emoluments and privileges? On October 31, 1920, at a time when the spartan Red Army was still without a special officer corps, a special decree relating to the army was issued and in it was stated: "Within the military organization … there exists inequality which is in some cases quite understandable and even unavoidable but which is in other cases absolutely uncalled for, excessive and sometimes criminal." The concluding section of this decree reads as follows: "Without posing the unattainable task of immediately eliminating any and all prerogatives in the army, we must systematically strive really to reduce these privileges to the bare minimum; and to eliminate as quickly as possible all, those privileges which do not at all flow from the requirements of the military art and which cannot but offend the feeling of equality and comradeship of the Red Army men." This was the fundamental line of the Soviet government during that period. The policy nowadays is taking a diametrically opposite direction. The growth and strengthening of the military and civil caste signifies that society is moving not towards but away from the socialist ideal regardless of who is guilty, whether foreign imperialists or domestic Bonapartists.

The same thing holds for the intelligence service in which Stalin sees the quintessence of the state. At the Congress at which the GPU agents well nigh composed the majority, he lectured as follows: "The intelligence service is indispensable for apprehending and punishing spies, assassins and wreckers whom foreign intelligence services send into our country." Of course, no one will deny the need of an intelligence service against the intrigues of imperialism. But the crux of the question is in the position occupied by the organs of this intelligence service in relation to the Soviet citizens themselves. A classless society cannot fail to be bound with ties of internal solidarity. Stalin in his report referred many times to this solidarity, celebrated as "monolithic". Yet spies, wreckers and saboteurs need a cover, a sympathetic milieu. The greater the solidarity in a given society and the more loyal it is to an existing régime the less room remains for anti-social elements. How then explain that in the USSR, if we are to believe Stalin, everywhere such crimes are being committed as are not to be met with in decaying bourgeois society? After all, the malice of imperialist states is not sufficient in itself. The activity of microbes is determined not so much by how virulent they are as by the resistance they encounter in the living organism. How are the imperialists able to find in a "monolithic" socialist society a countless number of agents who occupy, moreover, the most prominent posts? Or, to put it differently, how does it happen that spies and diversionists are able to occupy in a socialist society positions as members and even heads of the government, members of the Political Bureau and the most prominent posts in the army? Finally, if the socialist society is so lacking in internal elasticity that to save it one must resort to an all-powerful, universal and totalitarian intelligence service, then things must be very bad indeed when at the head of the service itself appears a scoundrel like Yagoda who has to be shot, or like Yezhov who has to be driven away in disgrace. Who is there to depend on? Berya? The knell will soon sound for him, too!

As a matter of fact it is well known that the GPU destroys not spies and imperialist agents but the political opponents of the ruling clique. All that Stalin is trying to do is to raise his own frame ups to a "theoretical" level. But what are the reasons compelling the bureaucracy to cloak its real goals and to label its revolutionary opponents as foreign spies? Imperialist encirclement does not explain these frame ups. The reasons must be of an internal nature, i.e., ones flowing from the very structure of Soviet society.

Let us try to find some supplementary evidence from the lips of Stalin himself. Without any connection with the rest of his report, he states the following: "Instead of the function of coercion there has manifested itself in the state the function of safeguarding socialist property against thieves, and embezzlers of national wealth." Thus it turns out that the state exists not only against foreign spies but also against domestic thieves. And moreover the rule of these thieves is so great that it justifies the existence of a totalitarian dictatorship and even provides the foundation for a new philosophy of the state. It is quite obvious that if people steal from one another then cruel misery and glaring inequality inciting to theft still rule in society. Here we probe closer to the root of things. Social inequality and poverty are very important historical factors which by themselves explain, the existence of the state. Inequality always requires a safeguard; privileges always demand protection and the encroachments of the disinherited require punishment. This is precisely the function of the historical state!

What Stalin Is Silent About

As regards the structure of "socialist" society, what is important in Stalin's report is not what he said but what he passed over in silence. According to him, the number of workers and civil employees increased from 22 million in 1933, to 28 million in 1938. The above category of "employees" embraces not only clerks in a cooperative store, but also members of the Council of People's Commissars. Workers and employees are here lumped together, as always in Soviet statistics, so as not to reveal how large the bureaucracy is numerically and how swiftly it is growing, and above all how rapidly its income is increasing.

In the five years that have elapsed between the last two party congresses, the annual wage fund of workers and employees has increased, according to Stalin, from 35 billions to 96 billions, i.e., almost threefold (if we leave aside the change in the purchasing power of the ruble). But just how are these 96 billions divided among the workers and employees of various categories? On this score, not a word. Stalin only tells us that "the average annual wage of industrial workers which in 1933 amounted to 1,513 rubles rose in 1938 to 3,447 rubles". The reference here is surprisingly only to workers; but it is not difficult to show that it is a question as before of both workers and employees. It is only necessary to multiply the annual wage (3,447 rubles) by the total number of workers and employees (28 million) for us to obtain the total annual wage fund of workers and employees mentioned by Stalin, namely 96 billion rubles. To embellish the position of workers, the "Leader" thus permits himself the cheapest kind of trickery of which the least conscientious bourgeois journalist would have been ashamed. Consequently if we leave aside the change in the purchasing power of the currency, the average annual wage of 3,447 rubles signifies only this, that if the wages of the unskilled and skilled workers, Stakhanovists, engineers, directors of trusts and People's Commissars of Industry are lumped together, then we obtain an average of less than 3,500 rubles a year per person. What has been the increase in the pay of workers, engineers, and the highest personnel in the last five years? How much does an unskilled worker receive annually at present? Of this not a word. Average statistics for wages, income, etc., have always been resorted to by the lowest type of bourgeois apologists. In cultured countries this method has well nigh been discarded since it no longer deceives anybody; but it has become the favorite method in the land where socialism has been achieved and where all social relations ought to be marked by their crystal clarity. Lenin said: "Socialism is bookkeeping." Stalin teaches: "Socialism is bluffing."

Over and above everything else, it would be the crudest kind of blunder to think that the above average sum cited by Stalin includes all of the income of the highest "employees", i.e., the ruling caste. In point of fact, in addition to their official and comparatively modest salaries, the so called responsible "workers" receive secret salaries from the treasuries of the Central or local committees; they have at their disposal automobiles (there even exist special plants for the production of finest automobiles for the use of "responsible workers"), excellent apartments, summer homes, sanatoria and hospitals. To suit their needs or their vanity all sorts of "Soviet palaces" are erected. They almost monopolize the highest institutions of learning, the theatres, etc. All these enormous sources of income (they are expenses for the state) are of course not included in the 96 billions referred to by Stalin. And yet Stalin does not even dare to broach the question of just how the legal wage fund (96 billions) is apportioned between workers and employees, between unskilled workers and Stakhanovists, between the upper and lower tiers of employees. There is no doubt that the lion's share of the increase of the official wage fund went to the Stakhanovists, for premiums to engineers and so on. By operating with averages whose accuracy does not inspire confidence, by lumping workers and employees into a single category, by merging the summits of the bureaucracy with the employees, by passing in silence over secret funds of many billions, by "forgetting" to refer to the employees and mentioning only workers in determining "the average wage", Stalin pursues a simple goal: to deceive the workers, to deceive the entire world and to hide the vast and ever growing incline of the privileged caste.

An Organ for Thieves and Plunderers

"The defense of socialist property against thieves and embezzlers", thus signifies, nine times out of ten, the defense of the income of the bureaucracy against any encroachments by the unprivileged sections of the population. Nor would it be amiss to add that the secret income of the bureaucracy without a basis either in the principles of socialism or in the laws of the country, is nothing else but theft. In addition to this legalized thievery there is illegal, super theft to which Stalin is compelled to shut his eyes because thieves are his strongest support. The Bonapartist apparatus of the state is thus an organ for defending the bureaucratic thieves and plunderers of national wealth. This theoretical formula comes much closer to the truth.

Stalin is compelled to lie about the social nature of his state for the same reason that he must lie about the workers' wages. In both instances he comes forward as the spokesman of privileged parasites. In the land that has gone through the proletarian revolution, it is impossible to foster inequality, create an aristocracy, and accumulate privileges save by bringing down upon the masses floods of lies and ever more monstrous repressions.

Embezzlement and theft, the bureaucracy's main sources of income, do not constitute a system of exploitation in the scientific sense of the term. But from the standpoint of the interests and position of the popular masses it is infinitely worse than any "organic" exploitation. The bureaucracy is not a possessing class, in the scientific sense of the term. But it contains within itself to a tenfold degree all the vices of a possessing class. It is precisely the absence of crystallized class relations and their very impossibility on the social foundation of the October revolution that invest the workings of the state machine with such a convulsive character. To perpetuate the systematic theft of the bureaucracy, its apparatus is compelled to resort to systematic acts of banditry. The sum total of all these things constitutes the system of Bonapartist gangsterism.

To believe that this state is capable of peacefully "withering away" is to live in a world of theoretical delirium.

The Bonapartist caste must be smashed, the Soviet state must be regenerated. Only then will the prospects of the withering away of the state open up.

May 1, 1939

The New International [New York], Vol.5 No.6, June 1939, pp.166-169.

Notes on perestroika

The author interprets Soviet history as the history of successive attempts of perestroika. Reforms soothing into immediate averting of crisis lead back to the starting point. The realistic alternative is authoritarian restoration (in reform minded or conservative form) or steps in the direction towards self-governing structures (as the authentic socialist alternative), but this latter one exists at present only as an ideology.

What this journal wants?

Today, when it is very fashionable to establish new journals, why do we need one more? After the rejection of our initiative five years ago, why did we consider it necessary to make a new try in 1988?

Because in spite of the proliferating new publications and periodicals we still miss the one, which represents the school and thought with which the founders of this journal identify.

What does this journal want, after all? What justifies the foundation of this new periodical?

This is a leftist journal, whose editors are convinced that the events of the past decades have got little to do with Marxism if we bracket the hypocritical slogans and, more regrettably, the faith of many people. Therefore the past cannot refute the validity of Marxist principles. The editors of this new journal believe that it pays to live in accordance with these principles but we have to start from the beginning and we have to follow a totally different path than what was taken by the movement, which was organized along the principles of Marxism, in the past 100 years. Consequently the journal intends to participate in the destruction of the established structures but it also seeks to oppose the processes, which Marx characterized as "the reproduction of the old trash" when speaking of the foreseeable failure of the society, which levels people on the basis of poverty.

Our journal principally opposes any inequality in power and any privilege regardless of whether inequality originates in economic power or the hierarchy of state administration. It is on the side of the subordinated, the exploited and the needy but it does not accept a leveling, which degrades everybody to a uniform state of subordination and poverty but its ideal is a world where everybody can have a share in everything that human efforts create. It seeks for the future in the name of the thousand-year-old longing for real freedom and equality. In the present it likewise refuses the compromises of the various (economic, power, intellectual) elite groups that they make with the exclusion of the masses, who constitute the majority of society. It holds that it is unavoidable and absolutely necessary to involve every member of society in decisions, which affect their lives. It holds that it is important to unite all progressive forces in Hungary, in Eastern Europe and in the world, which seek to render human life more human.

The journal aims to pursue these general goals firstly by means of theoretical analyses. We are trying to map the present opportunities of the left in the world and in Hungary; to interpret the ongoing economic, political, social structural and intellectual-cultural processes; and to introduce and evaluate from the perspective of the left the events of the past decades in the light of historical documents primarily in the countries, which called themselves socialist, and in the leftist movements with an emphasis on the positive tendencies, which were not but could have been carried further.

As for the present we would like to introduce the various forms of struggles against social injustices. Our column, which is dedicated to the various initiatives, methods and events of the trade union movements of the world, intends to promote the safeguarding of workers' interests.

Next to workers' solidarity our priority is to support social self-organization and the establishment of self-governments, which are organized along various interests, or co-ordinate working or living communities. By introducing such initiatives we are trying to promote the process through which the members of society can indeed take their fate in their hand.

Out of the program proposals of the various alternative organizations we publish those, which in our opinion can increase social justice independently of the character of the whole program.

And last but not least we would like to relate all the above to the development of the international leftist thought: we intend to publish articles by thinkers all over the world so that we could confront their thoughts and ideas with each other and the social phenomena that they want to describe.


Our journal admittedly represents a school. We think that the decade-long practice of editing journals in Hungary, the simple juxtaposition of totally different viewpoints ("on the one hand – on the other hand") is nothing else but a return to the principle of "divide et impera" and a refusal to think seriously and sincerely. We publish only the articles, which in our opinion can facilitate the realization of our goals listed above. This, however, does not mean homogenization: a sensible purpose can always unite various energies coming from different sources.

We are consequently fighting against any form of social injustices but we do not want to fight this battle in the manner of a tavern brawl. We are trying to give arguments to the efforts of those who oppose both the currently triumphant advance of capitalism and the dictatorial mechanisms, which discredited the idea of people's power. But we definitely reject any rude, demagogical and extremist writing because we believe that by defaming enemies we are defaming ourselves. We cannot fight for humanistic goals by giving up humanity; we have the right to speak of social justice only as long as we respect humanity in everybody, including our enemies.

Eventually and most importantly, the mission of our journal is a quest. It seeks for the new arguments, new purposes, a new face and a new voice of the left; for the sources and opportunities of its new advance. We are on a quest. We are inviting the Reader to join us in this quest.

To the title

It is not the first time that this word borrowed from the poet Attila József appears in the history of Hungarian journals. István Mészáros wrote of the antecedents, which seemed to be the most significant at the time in the first, immigrant issue of "Eszmélet", which he published in England (Christ Church, Oxford, October 1958): „The foundation of ESZMÉLET was one of the most important results of the national unity in the Hungarian intellectual life, which was achieved during 1955-56. Its editorial board consisted of Aurél Bernáth, Tibor Déry, Gyula Illyés, Zoltán Kodály and George Lukács. It was the first time that we witnessed such wide-scale and really ideological union in Hungary. The editorial board started its work in the summer of 1956 and it appointed István Mészáros as editor-in-chief of the journal. After months of wrangling and fighting the highest power organs eventually permitted the publication of ESZMÉLET (…)." The events of 1956, however, prevented the publication of the journal in Hungary; István Mészáros published two issues after his immigration to England.

At the end of the 1960s and in the beginning of the 1970s Béla Horgas tried to establish a journal under the same title, which intended to mobilize the most progressive forces of the Hungarian intellectual life, who sought for progress in different forms according to the new circumstances. This was, however, an unsuccessful attempt because of the resistance of contemporary cultural politicians. The students of the Faculty of Teacher Training of ELTE (Eötvös Loránd University of Budapest) have recently published a journal under this title at the university.

We thank for their agreement to launch our journal under the title which they have (also) chosen.

(translated by Eszter Bartha)


The relation between theory and practice, Marxism and politics has been very problematic for decades with times of total rupture because a primitive, fake Marxist ideology edged in between the two, which served only for legitimation. Since neither the serious Marxist research nor the results of the really Marxist social science could question the rule of this ideology, the public holds Marxism responsible for our current economic and political crisis. For the same reason politics and Marxism are likely to follow admittedly different paths in the foreseeable future – and for the time being this will be not only inevitable but also undoubtedly advantageous for Marxism. The group of young scholars, who enthusiastically support the foundation of this journal, does not wish to be engaged in purely academic philosophy, saloon Marxism and professorial science. On the contrary, this journal intends to demonstrate that Marxist thought is able to inspire the disciplines even today and this has and will continue to have an ideological and political significance. We trust that our articles can give reliable information and points of reference to many thinking people, and we can contribute to the gradual improvement of the present intellectual and political life.

After the above introduction it may be needless to stress: this journal does not belong to any political party, movement or society. Its colleagues and authors express only and exclusively their individual opinion. There will be debates in the journal, the editorial board is open to many different approaches and ideas in the spirit of a "scientific and artistic journal" entitled "Eszmélet" (Consciousness), founded in 1956, which could count George Lukács among its first editors.

I dare not say that Eszmélet will have a "sweeping success" in the Hungarian intellectual life. We cannot expect this today from any other intellectual current. When I recommend this new journal to the Reader, I do this in the hope that it won't disappoint anybody and it will be worthy of the attention of those interested in a moderate voice even in the face of fierce competition characteristic of today's media.

(translated by Eszter Bartha)