Socialist Worker

Czechoslovakia after 1989: Big tasks for the left

by Jan Májícek
Issue No. 2176

On 17 November 1989 tens of thousands of students marched through the streets of Prague. They were marking the 50th anniversary of the suppression of student resistance to the Nazi occupation of Czechoslovakia. The air was full of the feeling for change.

The protest was suppressed – but it led to a wave of solidarity actions that shook the country. Workers and students struck at the majority of the universities and hundreds of thousands demonstrated against police brutality.

Ten days later a general strike stopped the country. People talked to each other as equals, discussing on the streets what the next steps should be.

Their leadership was a mixture of different political currents.

Most of its left representatives believed in some kind of restoration of the “socialism with human face” project from 1968 – that Communist-led states could be reformed.

But most believed in liberal democracy and capitalism.

The revolution forced the government to resign. But during the 1990s wild privatisation took place.

Old Communist managers of state companies became the new owners of private businesses thanks to their good contacts and “know-how”.

Today the major forces on the left are the Social Democrats, with its project of a social-market system, and communists who are deeply divided between Stalinism and a more pragmatic approach.

All are integrated into the system and do not offer any alternative.

But as the recent movement against the US’s missile shield base in the country has shown, the potential for a radical left revival is quite big. Twenty years after the revolution, the creation of such a left is a big task.

But it is also inspiring and I am proud to be part of this process.

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