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The Communist Party of Czechoslovakia

According to Marxist-Leninist theory, the communist party represents the working class--the revolutionary proletariat--whose interests it champions 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.

The Communist Party of Czechoslovak (Komunisticka strana Ceskoslovenska--KSC), which was founded in 1921, came to power in 1948 (see Communist Czechoslovakia , ch. 1). 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.

Whatever the social composition of the party, it effectively functions as a ruling elite--a group not known for self-abnegation. As an elite, it allows 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 tend 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 (see Intelligentsia , this ch.). 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.

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.

Data as of August 1987

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