Country Listing

Czechoslovakia Table of Contents



Czechoslovakia, of all the East European countries, entered the postwar era with a relatively balanced social structure and an equitable distribution of resources. Despite some poverty, overall it was a country of relatively well-off workers, small-scale producers, farmers, and a substantial middle class. Nearly half the populace was in the middle-income bracket. Ironically, perhaps, it was balanced and relatively prosperous Czechoslovakia that carried nationalization and income redistribution further than any other East European country. By the mid-1960s, the complaint was that leveling had gone too far. The lowest-paid 40 percent of the population accounted for 60 percent of national income. Earning differentials between blue-collar and white-collar workers were lower than in any other country in Eastern Europe. Further, equitable income distribution was combined in the late 1970s with relative prosperity. Along with East Germany and Hungary, Czechoslovakia enjoyed one of the highest standards of living of any of the Warsaw Pact countries through the 1980s.

The matter of social groups and the differences among them has been a delicate one for those in power in Czechoslovakia. In the Marxist scheme, classes are defined in terms of their relation to the means of production. Industrial production has demanded a more differentiated labor force than the Marxist notion of "one class owning and working the means of production" foresaw. "From each according to his abilities, to each according to his needs" proved an inadequate principle for distributing socialist wealth. Even in Czechoslovakia, where the party's pursuit of socialist equality was thorough, the "classless" society turned out to be highly diverse.

In the mid-1980s, Czechoslovak censuses divided the population into several occupational groups: workers, other employees, members of various cooperatives (principally agricultural cooperatives), small farmers, self-employed tradesmen and professionals, and capitalists (see table 5, Appendix A). Of these categories, "other employees" was the most diverse, encompassing everyone from low-level clerical workers to cabinet ministers. "Workers" were those whose jobs were primarily manual and industrial. There was the time-hallowed distinction between workers (manual or low-level clerical employees), agricultural employees, and the intelligentsia (whose work is primarily mental and requires more education).

Data as of August 1987