Editorial: Ten years on

This issue of the Socialist Standard deals with the August 1968 Russian invasion of Czechoslovakia which overthrew the Dubcek government and installed another which was more in line with the interests of the Russian ruling class.

In no sense do we celebrate this event; but as it will be a matter of wide comment it is essential that the unique socialist attitude be heard.

The Russian invasion was a shock to many people but there is little indication that the lesson has been drawn from it. To begin with, it exposed again the hypocrisy of the Russian government’s championing of movements for national self-determination and showed that, when they saw their interests threatened, the Russian ruling class were as quick and as ruthless in their response as any of the more traditional imperialist powers.

In that way the invasion was an exposure of the true nature of society in Russia; if former events like the invasion of Hungary had left anyone still thinking that Russia is anything other than a typical capitalist state, the sight of the tanks rolling into Prague should have been more than enough to convince them.

Of course the hypocrisy did not flow in only one direction. The western capitalist powers were weeping crocodile tears for poor little Czechoslovakia while they were conveniently forgetting their policies in places like Cyprus, Aden, Malaya, Suez and Vietnam.

In fact, imperialism and conquest, of one sort or another, are an inescapable part of capitalism. This social system produces wealth with the object of selling it to make a profit and that holds good in Russia just as it does in Britain or America. One consequence of this is that markets are vital to capitalism, as the places where the wealth can be disposed of.

A large part of the story of imperialism is the story of the grabbing, or the protection, of markets which one power has cornered. Another is of the fight to annexe, or keep rivals away from, sources of valuable raw materials like oil or uranium. This is very much the story of the Middle East and it may one day be the same for the North Sea.

To protect their standing in the markets and the raw material fields of the world, the powers of capitalism have built up numerous diplomatic fortresses in which the interests of one power tend to predominate over the rest. The decline of the former great empires of occupation has stimulated the development and the refinement of the technique of erecting these spheres of influence.

Under these policies a nominally independent country can in reality be part of the empire of one of capitalism’s great states. This was the case with Czechoslovakia and with Hungary and it was the decline of the British sphere of influence in the Middle East which provoked the disastrous invasion of Suez.

The simple fact is that war is unavoidable as long as capitalism lasts and with it the hypocrisy and lies which are fed to the working class the world ever. The Suez venture was justified in this country by picturing Nasser as a madman who wanted to rule the Middle East and cut “our” lifeline to the oilfields and the markets of the Far East. The American intervention (and their atrocities) in Vietnam were justified on the grounds that if they did not hold fast there the whole of Indo-China, and perhaps eventually the entire Pacific area, would collapse into Russia’s camp like a line of dominoes.

On the other side, the crushing of the Dubcek government was described as a necessary move against a counter-revolutionary subversive, which saved a little bit of socialism (as if this were possible).

The working class should not be deceived by such propaganda, pathetically transparent as it is. No capitalist power ever invades another country in order to save lives or protect anything which is in the interests of the working people of the world. They do so to foster their own sordid interests in the profit making, exploiting economy of capitalism. In the process they are usually exposed for what they are, so that only the most gullible can believe the official stories about the reasons for their actions.

The invasion of Czechoslovakia showed up the Russian ruling class but to anyone able to read, or hear, or see, this had already been done. It was done at the time of Hungary or at the time of the second world war or at the time of the Russo-Nazi pact and the subsequent invasion of Finland.

There is a clear lesson in this and it is this that the socialist standard is concerned to spell out, this month and every month. Capitalism cannot work in the interests of the majority of its people. It must produce, among other horrors, war. But naturally the mouthpieces of the capitalist class cannot be expected themselves to tell us the reasons for these events; to understand capitalism, to know what the system is bound to impose upon us, is the work of a conscious working class.

When the working class have come to that understanding it is but a small step for them to grasp the other side of the equation. The only way to abolish capitalism’s problems is to get rid of the system itself, entirely. There is only one system which can replace it and that is socialism, a world of common ownership and free access, where all the world’s people will live in harmony because for the first time in history we shall be able to express a common interest.