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Which Socialism, Whose Détente?

Maud Bracke

Part II. The Prague spring, the invasion, the dissent

Part II. The Prague spring, the invasion, the dissent

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1In the second part of this study I analyze the responses to the Czechoslovak crisis by the PCI and PCF, and the short-term impacts on these parties. I do this chronologically, as a way of bringing out the importance of short-term shifts and decisions in moments of crisis. Chapter four compares the response to the Prague Spring by the PCI and PCF leaderships prior to the invasion. The changes undergone by both parties after 1956, outlined in the previous two chapters, as well as the short-term domestic situation in which both parties found themselves in the spring of 1968, explain why the Prague Spring was considered by the PCI as a valuable experiment as such, while the PCF limited its support to formalistic arguments regarding party autonomy and communist unity. With regard to the attempts by the PCF, and by Waldeck Rochet in particular, to prevent a military invasion, I present an interpretation somewhat different from those offered in the literature so far.

2In chapter five I analyze both parties’ disagreement with the invasion and the reasons behind it, thus contrasting official justifications with “private” motives. As the invasion touched upon all dimensions of internationalism, the question of identity appeared, as it had done in 1956. Following the invasion and their dissent, the leaderships of both parties were faced with a double problem: restoring unity in their parties, and restoring relations with the world communist movement and the Soviet Communist Party. In chapter six I discuss the “realignment” of the two parties within the world communist movement. This took place in a context of tightening discipline and strong pressure, which, as will be argued, was more extreme than has been assumed in most of the literature.

3I understand the Czechoslovak crisis as a crisis of European détente. The strategic and symbolic position of Czechoslovakia at the heart of Europe made its domestic development one of continental relevance. As the takeover in Czechoslovakia by the communists in 1948 had contributed to making the Cold War division of Europe irreversible, the dramatic changes occurring in 1968 seemed once more capable of upsetting the political and strategic order in Europe. The Prague Spring resulted partly from the weakened bloc cohesiveness that characterized pre-1968 détente, and partly from increased political, economic and cultural links across the Iron Curtain. It was, moreover, an expression of the contry’s historical and cultural belonging to Europe, and, hence, implied the wish to contribute to the overcoming of the division of the continent. This made the Prague Spring a quintessential expression of early European détente, similar to the early stages of West Germany’s Ostpolitik and de Gaulle’s rapprochement to the socialist regimes. The invasion and subsequent process of realignment of the communist world changed the nature of détente and heralded post-1968 global détente, based on the re-enforcement of internal bloc cohesion. As I will argue further in part III, 1970s détente was characterized by a constant tension between, on the one hand, pressures towards internal bloc alignment, and on the other hand domestic and regional “rebellions” which were more or less successfully repressed.

© Central European University Press, 2007

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