The Czechoslovak Review/Volume 3/Socialism in Bohemia

Socialism in Bohemia


In Bohemia as well as in other countries the war has caused a serious crisis in the Socialist movement. There are at present two Socialist parties in Bohemia: The Czechoslovak Social Democratic Labor party and the Czechoslovak Socialist party. The first is the original Czech Labor party existing now over thirty years. It has four daily papers and many weekly and monthly reviews and local papers. Its local organizations are found in all parts of the Czechoslovak Republic. The second Socialist party was founded a year ago through the reconstitution of the former National Socialist party. It is weaker than the first, but during the last few months it has acquired considerable strength. Formerly these two groups were antagonistic, but today the differences between them are not great and may be summed up as follows: The Social Democratic party is composed of workingmen only, the Socialist party consists of other elements also and has a more pronounced nationalist tendency. Though the congresses of both these parties voted in principle for amalgamation, this has not as yet been realized owing to objections of some influential members on both sides. In both parties there are various political and social tendencies, a fact which proves that their constitution is not definite, and that in the Czechoslovak labor movement a new party constellation is due.

For the last two years the Social Democratic party has been passing through a serious crisis. During the war some of the party leaders followed the opportunistic pro-Austrian policy of Dr. Šmeral of which the Austrian Government made a great use, a policy which was contrary to the opinion of the enormous majority of the party. Only after the energetic opposition of several Social Democratic deputies led by Modráček an end was put to Šmeral’s opportunist policy. In September 1917 Modráček’s sensational manifesto was issued which brought about a radical change in the party. This manifesto sharply criticised the policy of Dr. Šmeral and called for a clean Socialist policy, adapted to the wishes of the nation. The opposition since its very start met with complete success. The chairman of the parliamentary club of the Czech Social Democratic deputies in the former Reichsrat, Dr. Šmeral, had to resign, and the present Minister of Education in the Czechoslovak government, Gustav Haberman, was elected in his place. Thus the opportunist policy was definitely abandoned as the result of Modráček’s opposition and the victory of the anti-Austrian tendency prevented also the break-up of the party and materially contributed to the peaceful outcome of the Czechoslovak revolution of October 28, 1918.

But the prevailing differences in the Social Democratic party did not cease with victory of Modráček’s opposition. In the above mentioned Modráček’s manifesto a new orientation was demanded not only as regards national policy, but also as regards economic policy. The declaration criticized the Socialist policy which emanated from Berlin and Vienna, and ended in the betrayal of the International and in Bolshevism; it called for a new Socialist and Labor orientation. Since then Modráček has been working for the reform of the party as regards both theory and policy, and his views are voiced by the weekly journal “Socialistické Listy”, published at Prague. It goes without saying that his views gave rise to considerable opposition among the conservative members of the party who did not want to adapt the old traditions of the party to the requirements of the new times.

It may be of general interest, if I attempt to outline the principles of Modráček’s views and theory. But first of all let me state that Czech workers are not greatly inclined to endless theorization. As a matter of fact theoretic discussions were but little practiced in Bohemia. The intellectual requirements of the Czech workers were satisfied mostly by translations from foreign authors. Thus it can be explained that abroad there was no knowledge of the theoretic and intellectual currents in the Czech Socialist movement. Efforts were, of course, made to emancipate the Czech Socialist movement from German intellectual influences, but these efforts, apart from Modráček, remained without any results worth mentioning.

Modráček’s group has therefore an indisputable importance, because it constitutes the first independent intellectual body in Czech Socialist movement which has its own ideas and theories, based upon the teachings of Fourier, Proudhon, Marx, Bernstein and other Socialist thinkers. The foreign element cannot therefore be denied, yet Modráček’s group represents as regards Socialist theory an original and independent body of Socialist thinkers.

Modráček elaborated his ideas in a scholarly book entitled: “The Self-Government of Labor” published at the end of last year, and also in a book called “The Republic and Socialism,” and in many articles which appeared in the Socialist Review “Akademia” and “Socialistické Listy”. His views can be summed up as follows:

Modráček considers the policy pursued by the Social Democratic parties as incompatible with the new times. Russian Bolshevism and the collapse of the International at the outbreak of the war is according to him, the result of the wrong Social Democratic policy. Socialism, says Modráček, does not mean only class-war and struggle of laboring classes for power, but it means at the same time an administrative problem, a problem of intellectual capacity of the working classes to manage the industrial establishments and to rule the society. State Socialism as preached by the Social Democratic parties would be economically inefficient and is in a large measure impossible to realize. Besides it does not solve social problems and it does not abolish class struggle. State collectivism and capitalist establishments have a common defect—they are not based on personal responsibility of the workmen, and consequently their organization represents a hegemony of the State or the capitalists over labor. Modráček therefore advises the workers not to rely too much upon the State, as the proletarians of Old Rome did, not to expect everything from Parliament, because Socialism will not be realized in ministerial offices, but will emerge from human society, from practical education and democratization of our economic and social life. Thus Modráček puts in place of the Socialist State a co-operative Socialist Society.

For the realization of this co-operative Socialist Society it is necessary to work by three methods: (1) by assisting co-operative societies; (2) by trades unionism, and (3) by political democracy. All these efforts of social progress and struggle lead to the same end, to the victory of democracy in the economic life and to the economic liberation of the working classes. Modráček criticizes the policy of those trade-unions which plead only for higher wages; he points out that the employers have several means of transferring the amount of increase in wages to the consumers. The trade-unions should be inspired therefore by a higher aim: to work for the abolishment of the wage-system and to demand a co-partnership of workmen in the profit and management of all industrial establishments. Though Modráček does not consider partnership of workers as an ideal, nevertheless it is the first step toward the co-operative system.

The present economic system, based on hegemony of capital and exploitation of workmen, he holds to be untenable. It is a perpetual anarchy and revolution which permanently endangers human society. The present system of wages must be abolished as serfdom was abolished, and its place will be taken by the Socialist co-operative system as the only possible form of industrial undertaking. To work this aim is, according to Modráček, the most important object of the Socialist and Labor policy.

Having this aim in view Modráček advises the workers to take a greater part in the co-operative movement and thus to prepare themselves for the economic management of the future Socialist society. By the way it is interesting to note that Modráček has proposed in the Czechoslovak National Assembly the introduction into the superior schools of instruction in cooperation. Modráček does not agree with those co-operative theoreticians who consider the producing co-operative societies of workmen as useless and economically unnatural, and proves that it is possible to organize Labor on a co-operative basis. According to his opinion the future Socialist society will be based on co-operation of producers and consumers.

Modráček laughs at the expropriation theory of the Social Democracy and sharply combats Bolshevism. He points out that if we expropriate out of several millions of private employers a few hundred great capitalists, it does not bring us anywhere near to the Socialist society. The expropriation of private property will only be a transitory phenomenon of the Social and economic transformation. Modráček approves therefore expropriation in a limited extent, as regards monopolistic economic concerns, where it is necessary to take the natural economic resources on which the existence of the nation depends out of the hands of the capitalist usurpators. Such economic concerns are large landed estates, railways, mines, etc. Modráček’s speech for the expropriation of great landowners delivered at the last congress of the Social Democratic Party greatly pushed forward this question which is at present under consideration by the Czechoslovak National Assembly. As the bourgeois parties also favor expropriation of the great landowners, there is no doubt that large estates will soon disappear in the Czechoslovak Republic. Modráček proposes that expropriated land be given to co-operative societies of agricultural laborers and to the invalids.

The most striking example of the senseless policy which pretends to establish a Socialist Society by expropriation and State socialism Modráček’ sees in Bolshevist Russia; the experiments of Bolshevists brought the country to an economic catastrophe and to actual starvation, though Russia is the richest country in agricultural products.

Such are the general outlines of the principles propagated by Modráček and “Socialistické Listy”. The majority of the party maintains for the time being a neutral attitude as regards the intellectual currents in the party: doctrinary marxism as preached by the Germans never had any important body of convinced followers in Bohemia. As regards Modráček’s ideas the party did not pronounce as yet its judgment. But it may be confidently expected that in the end Modráček’s group will gain the upper hand, because the Czech Socialist Party, formerly National Socialist Party, accepts Modráček’s general principles as the basis of Czech Socialism.