The Czechoslovak Review/Volume 3/Crisis That Blew Over

Crisis That Blew Over

The so-called governmental crisis in the Czechoslovak Republic which arose suddenly in the middle of March by the action of Social Democratic deputies turned out to be merely a protest of the more radical elements of the country against the slow tempo in which promised social reforms were carried out. The coalition cabinet is still in power and enjoys the support of all the political parties of the National Assembly.

The story of the socialist ultimatum as it was called in cabled reports of American correspondents, merely helps to emphasize the unusually stable political conditions of the Czechoslovak Republic. On March 12th the Club of Social Democratic members of the National Assembly addressed to the other political Clubs the following declaration:

“We lack confidence that the present government will be able to carry out its social program of January 9th. The efforts of the Social Democratic members of the cabinet failed to move the bourgeois members of the government to take decided steps especially in the matter of expropriating the large landed estates. The ministry of agriculture has not even called together a commission of inquiry announced two months ago. Neither has the government taken any steps in the direction of acquiring control of coal mines. On January 8th chairmen of the political clubs decided to include in the economic program of the government the expropriation of steel mills and other large enterprises having the nature of monopoly. The spokesmen of the government declared at that time that the cabinet accepted the decision of the party chairman. But nothing has been done to carry out these promises. We also object to the severe interpretation of the law of free assembly by the authorities. The government does not lead the National Assembly, because it lacks firm policies. This condition of affairs creates discontent in the republic, and we refuse to share the responsibility for the failure of the cabinet to produce results or for the opposition of the bourgeois members of the government to the program of January 9th. We would ask: (1) Passing of a law within fourteen days expropriating in principle large landed estates and taking them over provisionally for the purpose of securing this year’s crops. Colonization of these estates would be dealt with by special laws later. (2) Calling of a commission of inquiry within fourteen days to take up expropriation of coal mines, as well as an other commission to consider monopolistic enterprises. We would look upon them as the first step for the prompt socialization of these branches of production. (3) Amending the law for workmen’s sickness insurance by April 1st. (4) Immediate enactment of law guaranteeing full freedom of assembly, press and association. (5) Immediate proclamation of municipal elections.

If the various parties represented in the National Assembly will not consent to this, we shall take steps to call a party convention to decide on the future tactics of the Social Democratic members in the National Assembly. We shall ask for the enactment of election laws for a constituent assembly. Not later than two months after municipal elections there ought to follow elections for the true parliament of the republic. We express our full confidence to Social Democratic ministers Haberman, Soukup and Winter.”

This action of one of the strongest political parties was supported also in substance, if not in form, by the Czech Socialist Party, and naturally created considerable excitement in Prague papers and political circles. It looked as if the period of coalition government was over and party strife hitherto cultivated only in political newspapers would be transferred to the National Assembly. But in a few days it became evident that the Socialists had no intention of grasping the government into their hands or of attempting to carry out at once their entire program. The radical form in which their demands were voiced, especially the setting of a time limit, was due to the need of throwing a sop to their more extreme followers. But in editorials published in their principal organ, the Právo Lidu, coalition government was accepted as necessary. The nation must present a united front, as long as it is surrounded by enemies in Germany, Austria and Hungary and until normal conditions of production and economy are restored. The Socialists, according to the Právo Lidu merely complain of the inefficiency of some of the administrative departments. As to the expropriation of the estates of the noblemen and prelates the Socialists argue that every one in Bohemia is agreed upon the necessity of it. The differences appear only, when it comes to the question of the final disposition of the large estates. The Socialists demand that they remain property of the state and that they be worked either by renters, whose interest may be passed to their children, or worked in common by groups of agricultural laborers; the agrarians on the other hand insist on breaking up the estates and selling them to the peasants on long term payments. Under the circumstances the Právo Lidu is willing to postpone the question of final disposition and merely insists on the immediate taking over of the estates by the government.

The opposing view is most authoritatively set forth in the Národní Listy, the great citizens’ daily owned by Premier Kramář. This paper admits the justice of the socialist demands and claims that the reason why they have not been carried out is simply physical impossibility. The administrative machinery of the new state is not yet working as smoothly and as rapidly as one would like. But the paper objects to the rough form in which the Socialists phrased their demands.

A few days later the Socialist paper, České Slovo, wrote: “The crisis is over, for the responsible men in all parties realize that to break up the coalition government of all parties might mean the breaking up of the Republic.” And then came the news of the Bolshevist revolution in Budapest, and both Socialist parties took the opportunity to declare that they stood firmly back of the Czechoslovak Government in the new and this time real crisis.

The net result of this brief thunderstorm was to accelerate the pace in which social reforms, generally agreed upon as necessary, are to be carried out.