1960s >> 1968 >> no-770-october-1968
The Review Column: Czechoslovakia
What did the Russians crush in Czechoslovakia? The British press by a large majority, decided that the tanks and soldiers were in Prague because Dubcek had introduced democracy and, since the Russian government is a dictatorship, this could not be allowed to continue.
Thus the Russo/Czech dispute was reduced, as are so many similar clashes, to a question of ideology. Thus the newspapers ignored, as they so often do, the essential facts of the situation.
First, Czechoslovakia was not a democracy. Recently the workers there had won a measure of freedom but even so they were still a long way from the limited rights of workers in, say, Britain. Certainly, a Socialist party could not have existed freely and openly in Dubcek’s Czechoslovakia.
Second, the invasion was not a case of one country imposing an ideology upon another. Czechoslovakia’s importance to the Russian bloc is mainly strategic—as it was to Nazi Germany in 1938.
Dubcek’s policies were threatening to take his country out of Moscow’s sphere of influence. The Russians, as devoted to the “domino” theory as are the Americans over Vietnam, feared that if Czechoslovakia went so might Rumania, Jugoslavia—and who knows what might then happen to the Russian empire?
The invasion, then, was no more than a normal reaction by one capitalist power against another when it sees its interests in jeopardy.
Normal, also, was the hypocrisy on both sides. Those who wept crocodile tears over great big Russia attacking little Czechoslovakia were dry-eyed when Britain went into Suez. The Russians, on the other hand, were practising the same sort of imperialism as they denounce in Vietnam.
Finally, and most important, both Russians and Czechs claimed to represent the interests of Socialism when what they were really engaged in was just another sordid and ruthless dispute of capitalism.
Nixon or Humphrey?
The Republican and Democratic Parties have now decided that next month the American working class can choose between capitalism under Richard Nixon and capitalism under Hubert Humphrey.
Even as capitalist politics go, this is not an exciting choice but there is no encouragement to believe that the voters in America will not go to the polls with as great an impression of destiny as ever.
They will be sure that they are making an important choice between two different courses. As the election campaign develops, what will be called the issues will be stimulated and publicised, with the object of increasing the sense of importance.
Whoever wins will do so to a great surge of optimism; his supporters will greet his victory as the opening of a new era of sanity, or safety, or perhaps high adventure and achievement.
Then what will follow? In 1964 President Johnson won the election with an unprecedented majority. Everywhere he went, the crowds in their thousands adored him. The Republicans were shattered; Goldwater’s defeat had reopened their wounds, so that Theodore White wrote of them, in The Making of the President 1964, that they had chopped themselves in two and that no one could tell whether they would recover.
White, like many other observers, was forgetting—or perhaps he simply did not know—what capitalism can do to a politician’s reputation. He assumed that Johnson and his party would continue in the same tumultuous bliss of their victory.
Now the problems and the disputes of the system Johnson has tried to run have finished him and it is the Democrats, as they showed so clearly at Chicago, who are almost literally warring.
In four years’ time we shall be reviewing the failures of the man the Americans elect as President this November. In four years the American workers will have yet another chance to reflect upon the futility of choosing between one type of capitalism and another.
The Trades Union Congress, because of its close connections with the Labour Party, is composed largely of men and women who reject the case for Socialism.
They are people who, rather than work for a basically new social system, prefer to reform the present one, to support capitalist political parties, to involve themselves in all sort of political manoeuvres and compromises.
This, they say, is preferable to working by principles. It is called Getting Something Now.
Well this is the TUC’s centenary year and it might be expected that the delegates at Blackpool asked themselves what, after one hundred years, they had got.
During that century the problems of capitalism have not diminished. The majority of people are still subject to the degrading and impoverished life of a worker; they live in inferior homes, they eat inferior food, they have access to inferior schools, medical treatment and so on.
There are still upheavals like Vietnam and Nigeria in which a capitalist dispute brings untold suffering to millions. The world is indeed a desperately unsafe place, hovering as it does perpetually on the brink of nuclear devastation.
The practical results of the achievement of many a trade unionist’s highest ambition — the election of a Labour government—could be seen at the TUC —in the many critical speeches, in the rejection of the incomes policy.
Nineteen sixty eight is not a happy centenary year for the TUC. At a time when they should be able to look back on their achievements, all they have to remember is a century of confusion and frustration.
They themselves must take the blame for this. They, after all, are the people who reject the idea that the unions’ job of protecting their members’ interests cannot be reconciled with compromising with, and supporting, the political parties of capitalism.