Prague Spring: 50 Years Later

with Pete Dolack

Histories of the 1968 Prague Spring tend to focus exclusively on the drama inside the leadership of the Czechoslovak Communist Party and the personality of reformer Alexander Dubček. The fuller story of the Prague Spring is the grassroots movement for workers’ control of industry and economic democracy.

Although reformers within the Communist Party sought significant reforms to the overly centralized system copied from the Soviet Union, including advocacy of workers’ councils, there were significant differences between the more modest reforms put forth by Czechoslovak economists and the more thorough-going concepts of activists and workers themselves.

This was a true grassroots effort, mostly organized by trade union officials and rank-and-file Communist Party members. One interesting wrinkle is that unions, representing members as individuals and freed from state control, would continue to exist alongside the workers’ councils. All this was to happen in a socialized economy in which formal ownership would continue to reside with the state but in which state and party control would be drastically curtailed.

In this conception, which began to be implemented in some of the country’s biggest enterprises, the workforce as a whole would meet in assemblies to decide broad policies and freely elect a council from their ranks that would coordinate management. Each worker would be a part of the enterprise assembly and be members of independent unions that would represent workers as individuals in disputes with the collective or with higher administrative bodies. Thus each half of the duality would be represented through separate institutions.

Statutes had been developed in several factories across the country, and a national conference that sought to codify a system of workers’ control took place in which approximately one-sixth of the country’s workers were represented, before the experiment began to be shut down. Naturally, such a well-developed movement did not spring into being spontaneously, but rather was the product of earlier experiments, years of debate, and memories of councils established in the 1940s. In part, it was also an attempt at reversing several years of economic stagnation, a stagnation that signaled that the model imposed by the Soviet Union had reached its limits.

Pete Dolack is the author of It’s Not Over: Learning From the Socialist Experiment, a study of the 20th century’s attempts to transcend capitalism that includes a chapter analyzing the Prague Spring and the workers’ control movement. He is at work on his second book, focused on economic democracy, and writes the Systemic Disorder blog, which discusses the ongoing economic crisis of capitalism and the environmental and political issues connected to it. His writings also appear in popular outlets including CounterPunch and ZNet.

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60s New Left: National and International

A New Left Begins
2nd sessions
Beginning Tuesday, May 2 — sessions continue through July
with Mitch Abidor, Jenny Brown, Michael Pelias and others

May 2, a reading and discussion of Marat/Sade. Watch the film if you have the opportunity
May 9 and 16, RD Laing, counter-psychiatric / anti-psychiatry. The Politics of Experience and more. Presentations and discussion with Michael Pelias on May 9 and May 16.
May 23 and 30. Paris. May, 1968. These talks will investigate the events May 68 in France through an analysis of the writings of Daniel Cohn-Bendit, one of the most important and interesting of its leaders, as well as the experiences of rank and file militants interviewed by Mitch Abidor for his forthcoming oral history, May Made Me.
Mitchell Abidor is the principal French translator for the Marxists Internet Archive and has published several collections of his translations, among them Jean Jaurès’ Socialist History of the French Revolution and A Raskolnikoff by Emmanuel Bove, and previously untranslated works by Victor Serge and Daniel Guerin, as well as writings from the French Revolution, are forthcoming. His May Made Me will appear in time for the fiftieth anniversary of the May events in France.
June 6 and 13. The music didn’t die. A look at the many cultural influences of the first generation born with the bomb and mutually assured destruction from day one. An overview and music and a reading and discussion of Jeff Nuttal’s Bomb Culture.
The growth of Women’s liberation and the experience of the growth of this mass movement in the 1960s and what this meant for the new left. Jenny Brown from National Women’s Liberation will select and help focus these our discussion at dates to be determined.
Jenny Brown is an organizer with National Women’s Liberation and has been involved in feminist theory and organizing since 1988, first with Gainesville Women’s Liberation in Gainesville, Florida and then with the Redstockings Women’s Liberation Archives for Action, a movement think-tank and archive based in New York. She co-authored the Redstockings book, Women’s Liberation and National Healthcare: Confronting the Myth of America and the Labor Notes book How to Jump Start Your Union: Lessons from the Chicago Teachers along with numerous essays and articles. She was also a co-chair of a Labor Party Local Organizing Committee in Gainesville, Florida and is a former editor of Labor Notes.

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