Dubcek’s Plan for Industrial Democracy during Prague Spring

I put up a piece yesterday about how the fake allegations of anti-Semitism against Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour party recall the attempts by the Soviet Union under Brezhnev to discredit the Czechoslovak Communist leader, Alexander Dubcek during their invasion in 1968. Dubcek was, like Gorbachev later, a convinced Communist, who wished to maintain his party’s political dominance as the country’s leading political and economic authority. However, he was well aware that the Stalinist command economy and totalitarian political system had no given Czechs and Slovaks either the freedoms that they were formally guaranteed under the constitution, nor the economic and social improvements that they also expected and demanded.

He therefore committed himself to creating ‘socialism with a human face’. This meant allowing some, non-Communist political and voluntary groups to form, and introducing democratic debate and elections, rather than dictatorship and appointment within the Czechoslovak Communist party itself. He was also determined to introduce market reforms into Czechoslovak industry. Instead of rigidly adhering to the economic plan, firms were to be given autonomy, and allowed to respond to market conditions, setting their own targets and so on, in order to provide Czechoslovak consumers with more choice.

He also planned to include with these reforms some measure of industrial democracy, in which the workers would elect their managers. In his Action Programme Dubcek announced

In developing democratic relations in the economy we at present consider the most important task the final formulation of the economic position of enterprises, their authority and responsibility.

The economic reform will increasingly push whole working teams of socialist enterprise into positions in which they will fee directly the consequences of both the good and bad management of enterprises. The Party therefore deems it necessary that the whole working team which bears the consequences should also aim to influence the management of the enterprise. There arises the need of democratic bodies in enterprises with determined rights towards the management of the enterprise. Managers and head executives of the enterprises, which would also appoint them to their functions would be accountable to these bodies for the overall results of their work. These bodies must become a direct part of the managing mechanism of enterprises, and not a social organisation/ they cannot therefore be identified with the trade unions/. These bodies would be formed by elected representatives of the working team and by representatives of certain components outside the enterprise ensuring the influence of the interests of the entire society and an expert and qualified level of decision-making; the representation of these components must also be subordinated to democratic forms of control. At the same time it is necessary to define the degree of responsibility of these bodies for the results of the management of socialist property. In the spirit of these principles it is important to solve many concrete questions: at the same time, it will be necessary to propose a statute of these bodies and to use certain traditions of works councils from the years 1945-48 and experiences in modern enterprising.

Dubcek’s Blueprint for Freedom: His Original Documents Leading to the Invasion of Czechoslovakia, introduction by Hugh Lunghi, Commentary by Paul Ello (London: William Kimber 1968) 50-51.

Unfortunately, Dubcek’s attempt to transform and democratise Czechoslovak Communism was terminated by the Soviet invasion. After the Fall of Communism, the state industries were systematically privatised, just as they were in the USSR and throughout the former Soviet bloc, so that they are now bog-standard capitalist enterprises. An opportunity to create a genuinely democratic Communist society for the benefit of the working people has therefore been lost.

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