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Communist Party of Czechoslovakia

The Communist Party of Czechoslovakia (in Czech and in Slovak: Komunistická strana Československa--KSČ / KSC/ CPC ) was a political party in Czechoslovakia that existed between 1921 and 1990.

Table of contents
1 History
2 Function
3 Organization
4 Membership
5 The party as the ruling elite
6 Leaders
7 See also


1921 - 1945

Founded in 1921, it was one of some twenty political parties that competed within the democratic framework of pre-WWII Czechoslovakia (also known as the First Republic), but it never gained sufficient strength to be included in that government.

During World War lI many KSC leaders sought refuge in the Soviet Union, where they made preparations to increase the party's power base once the war ended. In the early postwar period the Soviet-supported Czechoslovak communists launched a sustained drive that culminated in their seizure of power in 1948. Once in control, the KSC developed an organizational structure and mode of rule patterned closely after those of the CPSU.

1945 - 1969

The Communist Party of Czechoslovak came to power in 1945 / 1948. After 1948, in Communist Czechoslovakia, power was formally held by the National Front of the Czechoslovak Socialist Republic, a coalition in which the KSC held two-thirds of the seats while the remaining one-third were shared among five other political parties. But in fact the KSC held an absolute monopoly on political power, and the other parties within the National Front were little more than auxiliaries. Even the governmental structure of Czechoslovakia existed primarily to implement policy decisions made within the KSC. To ensure its monopoly on power, the KSC placed its members in all policy-making positions within the government.

In 1960's, the Czechoslovakia underwent an economic decline, and in 1968, the KSC was taken over by reformers led by Alexander Dubcek. He started a period of liberalization known as Prague Spring in which he attempted to allow socialism with a human face.

This liberalization alarmed the Soviet Union and in August 1968, the Soviets invoked the Brezhnev doctrine and invaded Czechslovakia.

1969 - 1990

In April 1969, Dubcek lost the General Secretaryship (replaced by Gustav Husak) and was expelled in 1970. During the following (see) Normalization period, Gustáv Husák successfully ruled over what was essentially a coalition of the conservative and hard-line factions within the top party leadership:

Gustav Husak led the conservative (sometimes called the "moderate" or "pragmatic") wing of the KSC leadership. An important Slovak communist party functionary from 1943 to 1950, Husak was arrested in 1951 and sentenced to three years--later to life imprisonment- -for "bourgeois nationalism" during the Stalinist purges of the era. Released in 1960 and rehabilitated in 1963, Husak rose to be a deputy prime minister under Dubcek, whom he later denounced, and was named KSC first secretary in April 1969 and president of the republic in July 1975. Above all, Husak has been a survivor who learned to accommodate the powerful political forces surrounding him.

Other prominent conservatives who remained in power in 1987 included:

These leaders generally supported the reforms instituted under Dubcek during the late 1960s but successfully made the transition to orthodox party rule following the invasion and Dubcek's decline from power. Subsequently, they adopted a more flexible stance regarding economic reform and dissident activity.

Opposed to the conservatives within the KSC leadership were the so-called hard-liners:

These hard-liners opposed economic and political reforms and took a harsh stand on dissent.

The party ceased to exist after the Velvet Revolution in early 1990.


According to Marxist-Leninist theory, the communist party represented the working class--the revolutionary proletariat--whose interests it championed against those of the capitalist bourgeoisie. The period between the fall of a bourgeois state and the attainment of communism is a subject on which Marx was reticent, believing that the state would "wither away" once the workers took power. Lenin, facing a real revolution and the possibility that the communist party might be able to seize power, put theoretical subtleties to the side. He suggested that the fall of the bourgeois state (a label of questionable accuracy when applied to tsarist Russia) would be followed by a transitional state characterized by socialism and communist party rule--the "dictatorship of the proletariat." In practice, the transition from this phase to true communism has proved to be a good deal lengthier than Lenin anticipated. His suggestion that the "dictatorship of the proletariat" should last until 1923 in the Soviet Union serves as a general commentary on the disparity between theory and practice. Once in power, the communist party has behaved very much like other entrenched bureaucracies, and its revolutionary mandate has been lost in the tendency of those in power to wish to remain so.


National Level

KSC organization was based on the Leninist concept of democratic centralism, which provided for the election of party leaders at all levels but required that each level be fully subject to the control of the next higher unit. Accordingly, party programs and policies were directed from the top, and resolutions of higher organs were unconditionally binding on all lower organs and individual party members. In theory, policy matters were freely and openly discussed at congresses, conferences, and membership meetings and in the party press. In practice, however, these discussions merely reflected decisions made by a small contingent of top party officials.

Republic level

At the republic level the party structure deviates from the government organization in that a separate communist party unit existed in the Slovak Socialist Republic (see
Communist Party of Slovakia) but not in the Czech Socialist Republic. The KSS emerged from World War II as a party distinct from the KSC, but the two were united after the communist takeover in 1948. The reform movement of the 1960s advocated a return to a system of autonomous parties for the two republics. The Bureau for the Conduct of Party Work in the Czech Lands was created as a counterpart to the KSS, but it was suppressed after the 1968 invasion and by 1971 had been stricken from party records. The purely formal KSS remained, however, undoubtedly as a concession to the Slovaks.

Regional level

The KSC had ten regional subdivisions (seven in the Czech lands, three in Slovakia) identical to the kraje, the ten major governmental administrative divisions. In addition, however, the Prague and Bratislava municipal party organs, because of their size, were given regional status within the KSC. Regional conferences selected regional committees, which in turn selected a leading secretary, a number of secretaries, and a regional control and auditing commission.

Regional units were broken down into a total of 114 district-level organizations. District conferences were held simultaneously every two to three years, at which time each conference selects a district committee that subsequently selected a secretariat to be headed by a district secretary.

Local level

At the local level the KSC was structured according to what it called the "territorial and production principle"; the basic party units were organized in work sites and residences where there are at least five KSC members. In enterprises or communities where party membership was more numerous, the smaller units functioned under larger city, village, or factorywide committees. The highest authority of the local organization was, theoretically, the monthly membership meeting, attendance at which was a basic duty of every member. Each group selected its own leadership, consisting of a chairman and one or more secretaries. It also named delegates to the conference of the next higher unit, be it at the municipal (in the case of larger cities) or district level.


Since assuming power in 1948, the KSC has had one of the largest per capita membership rolls in the communist world (11 percent of the population). The membership roll has often been alleged by party ideologues to contain a large component of inactive, opportunistic, and "counterrevolutionary" elements. These charges were used on two occasions--between 1948 and 1950 and again between 1969 and 1971--as a pretext to conduct massive purges of the membership. In the first case, the great Stalinist purges, nearly 1 million members were removed; in the wake of the Prague Spring and subsequent invasion, about half that number either resigned or were purged from the KSC. The purges after the 1968 invasion hit especially the Czechs, youth, blue-collar workers, and the intelligentsia within the party membership. As a result, recruitment was especially strong among youth and the working class during the 1970s. The party's membership efforts in the 1980s focused on recruiting politically and professionally well-qualified people willing to exercise greater activism in implementing the party's program. Party leaders at the Seventeenth Party Congress in 1986 urged the recruitment of more workers, young people, and women.

Membership in the KSC was contingent upon completion of a oneyear period as a candidate member. Candidate members could not vote or be elected to party committees. In addition to candidates for party membership, there are also candidates for party leadership groups from the local levels to the Presidium. These candidates, already party members, were considered interns training for the future assumption of particular leadership responsibilities.

Training of members

The indoctrination and training of party members was one of the basic responsibilities of the regional and district organizations, and most of the party training was conducted on these levels. The regional and district units worked with the local party organizations in setting up training programs and in determining which members would be enrolled in particular courses of study. On the whole, the system of party schooling has changed little since it was established in 1949. The district or city organization provided weekly classes in the fundamentals of Marxism-Leninism, the history of communism, socialist economics, and the current party position on domestic and international affairs.

Members training for positions as party functionaries attended seminars at the schools for Marxism-Leninism set up in local areas or at the more advanced institutes for Marxism-Leninism found in Prague, Brno, and Bratislava. The highest level of party training was offered at the Advanced School of Politics in Prague. Designed to train the top echelon of the party leadership, the three-year curriculum had the official status of a university program and was said to be one of the best programs in political science in Eastern Europe. These institutions were under the direction of the KSC Central Committee.

Social composition of members

Because of the KSC's mandate to be the workers' party, questions about the social backgound of party members took on a particular salience. The KSC was often reticent with precise details about its members, and the question of how many in the party actually belonged to the revolutionary proletariat became a delicate one. Official statements appeared to overstate the percentage of workers within the party's ranks. Nonetheless, a number of trends were clear. The proportion of workers in the KSC was at its highest (approximately 60 percent of the total membership) after World War II but before the party took power in 1948. After that time, the percentage of workers in the party fell steadily to a low of an estimated one-quarter of the membership in 1970. In the early 1970s, the official media decried the "grave imbalance," noting that "the present class and social structure of the party membership is not in conformity with the party's role as the vanguard of the working class." In highly industrialized central Bohemia, to cite one example, only one in every thirty-five workers was a party member, while one in every five administrators was. In 1976, after intensive efforts to recruit workers, the number of workers rose to one-third of the KSC membership, i.e., approximately its 1962 level. In the 1980s, driven by the need for "intensive" economic development, the party relaxed its rigid rule about young workers' priority in admissions and allowed district and regional committees to be flexible in their recruitment policy, as long as the overall proportion of workers did not decrease.

The average age of party members has shown a comparable trend. In the late 1960s, fewer than 30 percent of party members were under thirty-five years of age, nearly 20 percent were over sixty, and roughly half were forty-six or older. The quip in 1971, a half-century after the party's founding in Czechoslovakia, was "After fifty years, a party of fifty-year- olds." There was a determined effort to attract younger members to the party in the middle to late 1970s; one strategy was to recruit children of parents who were KSC members. The party sent letters to the youngsters' schools and their parents' employers, encouraging the children to join. By early 1980 approximately one-third of KSC members were thirty-five years of age or younger. In 1983 the average age of the "leading cadre" was still estimated at fifty.

Lack of devotion of the members in the 1970s and 1980s

Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, the official media have denounced party members' lack of devotion to the pursuit of KSC policies and goals. Complaints have ranged from members' refusal to display flags from their apartment windows on festive occasions to their failure to show up for party work brigades, attend meetings, or pay dues; a significant minority of members have tended to underreport their incomes (the basis for assessing dues). In 1970, after a purge of approximately one-third of the membership, an average of less than one-half the remaining members attended meetings. Perhaps one-third of the members were consistently recalcitrant in participating in KSC activities. In 1983 one primary party branch in the Prague-West district was so unmoved by admonishments that it had to be disbanded and its members dispersed among other organizations. In part, this was a measure of disaffection with Czechoslovakia's thoroughgoing subservience to Soviet hegemony, a Svejkian response to the lack of political economic autonomy. It was also a reflection of the purge's targets. Those expelled were often the ideologically motivated, the ones for whom developing socialism with a human face represented a significant goal; those who were simply opportunistic survived the purges more easily.

The party as the ruling elite

Whatever the social composition of the party, it effectively functioned as a ruling elite--a group not known for self-abnegation. As an elite, it allowed the talented and/or politically agile significant mobility. Workers might have made up a minority of the party's membership, but many members (estimates vary from one-half to two-thirds) began their careers as workers. Although they tended to exaggerate their humble origins, many functionaries have clearly come from the working class.

Several policies have increased the social mobility of party members. Foremost was doubtless the process of nationalization, started after World War II, when scores of politically active workers assumed managerial-level positions. Periodic purges have played a role as well, permitting the politically compliant to replace those less so. The numerous education programs offered by the KSC for its members also represented a significant avenue of mobility, as did policies of preferential admissions to secondary schools and universities; these policies favored the children of workers and agricultural cooperative members especially (see Education , this ch.).

It is hardly surprising that the KSC membership has guarded its perquisites. Aside from special shops, hotels, hospitals, and better housing for members, KSC members stood a better chance of obtaining visas for study or travel abroad (especially to the West). Nonmembers realized that their possibilities for advancement in the workplace were severely limited. For anyone in a professional position, KSC membership was a sine qua non for promotion. Part of the decline in workers as a proportion of total membership resulted from the rapid increase in the number of intelligentsia joining the party soon after the communists took power. In the 1980s most economic managers, executives in public administration, and university professors were KSC members.


Note: The KSC leader was called chairman 1945-1953, first secretary 1953-1971, and general secretary 1921-1945 and again 1971-1989

See also