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Which Socialism, Whose Détente?

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Maud Bracke

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

Chapter 4. West European Communism and the Prague Spring: reform and détente

Texte intégral

  • 1 Held, “Le face-à-face de Prague,” Le Nouvel Observateur, 29/7/68.

“The world, divided between neo-capitalists and neo-Stalinists, risks one day to be upset by this—and in a good way”1

1This chapter looks at the reactions to the Prague Spring, prior to the invasion, by the PCI and the PCF publicly and by their leadership internally. The pre-invasion responses to the Prague Spring will be analyzed in close connection with, firstly, the political interplay on the domestic level, especially with other forces of the Left, in the context of the radical student protests; and, secondly, the internal situation of the communist world and the parties’ relations with their “brother parties.” In both cases, though significantly more so for the PCF than for the PCI, responses to the Prague Spring were conditioned by Soviet attitudes and the mounting crisis in the world communist movement. Finally, responses to the Prague Spring will be understood as being dependent, although in a less fundamental way, on the parties’ traditional relationship to the Czechoslovak Communist Party. The chapter starts with a brief discussion of the Prague Spring itself as a domestic political development, followed by a discussion of the crisis it provoked in the communist world.

1. THE PRAGUE SPRING: WHICH SOCIALISM?2

  • 2 Some of the analyses elaborated in the literature on the Prague Spring and the Soviet invasion, wr (...)
  • 3 This distinction, between a top-led reform movement and a more spontaneous revival movement, has b (...)

2As a domestic project for the reform of communism, the Prague Spring was a double development. On the one hand, it was a movement of political and economic reform, initiated and carried out by the communist party leadership. On the other hand, it was a movement of intellectual and cultural revival in the broadest sense. Critical debates developed on questions of socialism, democracy and culture, most often based on the older traditions of Marxist thought in Czechoslovak political and intellectual culture.3 It was the totality of the political and economic reforms carried out by the Czechoslovak Communist Party, in addition to the fact that the reform process was embedded in a liberated intellectual climate, that suggested new ways of understanding socialism.

1.1. The coming of the Prague Spring

  • 4 Kusin, The Intellectual Origins, p. 17.
  • 5 The events of 1956 had already given rise to a re-awakening of intellectual criticism and creativi (...)
  • 6 For more detail on the economic crisis see Gordon Skilling, Czechoslovakia’s interrupted revolutio (...)
  • 7 Their programme for economic reform in 1964 introduced a number of liberal market elements but was (...)

3The Prague Spring came about as a result of a profound crisis in socialist rule in Czechoslovakia, which was due to its economic, political and intellectual stagnation. It was largely a delayed result of de-Stalinization, or rather, the lack of it. In 1956, the Czechoslovak communist regime did not de-Stalinize in political or ideological terms, but instead shifted to what can be termed a neo-Stalinist regime.4 The head of the communist party and head of state, A. Novotný, initiated a number of half-hearted reforms, but the effect of these was by no means satisfactory.5 During the 1960s, the country was ruled by a small group of party functionaries in an oligarchic, inefficient and bureaucratic way. From the early 1960s onwards, dissatisfaction with the regime was widespread. Diverse problems and criticisms contributed to the eventual demise of the Novotnian regime in late 1967. Among these were economic problems,6 the increasingly openly expressed dissent by writers, the Slovak question, and the question of the rehabilitation of victims of the Stalinist trials of the 1950s. With regard to economics, the understanding grew among experts and in the apparatus that the economic deficiencies were built into the (neo-)Stalinist system. An influential professor at the Institute of Economics in Prague, O. Šik, along with Z. Mlynář and others, argued that the nationalization of production was not the final stage of the socialist economy. Rather, it should be followed by the introduction of a number of market mechanisms.7

  • 8 Bartošek, “Revoluce proti byrokratismu?” (Revolution against bureaucracy?), Rude Pravo, 18/7/1968.
  • 9 Gramsci’s main works were translated into Czech from the late 1950s onwards. Kusin, The Intellectu (...)
  • 10 Gordon Skilling, Czechoslovakia’s interrupted revolution, p. 102.
  • 11 Kusin, The Intellectual Origins, pp. 80–81.
  • 12 The CPS, which had not shown an independent line previously, went though a crisis in the mid-1960s (...)

4Writers were at the core of the political dissent against the regime from the early 1960s onwards. The Writer’s Union, at the time “an oasis of democracy,”8 became the locus for the discussion of political and institutional problems, and, more generally, of socialism, Marxism and democracy. Meanwhile, a broad revival of cultural life took place in society, involving poets, filmmakers, artists and philosophers. In philosophy and political thought, a re-examination of Marx’s earlier works and of Hegel led to investigations into the connection between socialism, democracy and humanism. There was influence in this regard from the West European Marxists A. Gramsci, H. Marcuse and R. Garaudy, and the Austrian Marxist E. Fischer.9 Furthermore, changes in the interpretation of national history were so important that the Prague Spring has been called the “historians’ revolution.”10 The emergence of re-interpretations of the history of the Czechoslovak Communist Party itself was pivotal. Questions arose as to whether the communist party leadership—post-war Stalinist leader Klement Gottwald above all—had followed the “right line,” which now began to be defined in terms of the interests of the Czechoslovak people.11 Furthermore, there was the problem of Czech-Slovak relations, as old as the Czechoslovak Republic itself. Complaints about Czech political and cultural hegemony had always existed among Slovaks. The communist regime had maintained the classic Marxist-Leninist view that the problem of nationalities would solve itself automatically once Slovakia had caught up economically. The fact that this proved untrue revealed a serious dysfunction of the system as a whole. An asymmetric form of limited federalism, which included setting up Slovak institutions such as the Slovak National Council and the Communist Party of Slovakia (CPS), was inscribed in the constitution in 1948. Even though in practice these institutions were deprived of real powers, it was the existence of separate Slovak institutions that enabled widespread public frustration in Slovakia to start expressing itself politically.12

  • 13 Gordon Skilling, Czechoslovakia’s interrupted revolution, pp. 60–61.
  • 14 On the Slánský trials and the revision see Gordon Skilling, Czechoslovakia’s interrupted revolutio (...)
  • 15 Gordon Skilling, Czechoslovakia’s interrupted revolution, pp. 157–158.

5The failed reforms did nothing but increase public discontent.13 The issue of the political trials of the early 1950s became a catalyst for political protest, in which the grievances of different groups merged and intensified. Between 1952 and 1954, a series of political show trials had taken place, commonly known as the Slánský trials, after R. Slánský, former general secretary of the CPCS. With direct Soviet involvement, a purge of the party apparatus was carried out and a large number of alleged opponents of the regime were convicted of “bourgeois nationalism” (if they were Slovaks) or on other, obviously false, grounds in show trials. While already in 1956 public opinion had pressured for a revision of these trials, the party had only paid lip service to it. From the mid-1960s, a revision of the trials was initiated with much reluctance, and without a satisfactory outcome. The matter had a strongly mobilizing effect, especially on Slovak movements.14 The Congress of the Union of Writers, held in the summer of 1967, was crucial in bringing the debate on political reform to the surface. The writer L. Vaculík was most outspoken in denouncing in the clearest terms the power abuses in the system. He carried the critique a step further by not only pointing at the ways in which political power was exercised, but also at the structures and institutions themselves (e.g. the constitution). Also M. Kundera and V. Havel expressed strong criticism, which the president of the Union, J. Heyndrich, fiercely condemned. In response, the CC Plenum announced a hard line against dissidents in late September 1967, and actions were taken against Šik and some of the most critical writers.15

  • 16 Gordon Skilling, Czechoslovakia’s interrupted revolution, pp. 166–171.
  • 17 It is in this context that Brezhnev is supposed to have pronounced his famous phrase “It is your a (...)
  • 18 While the other candidates proposed by the reformists (Smrkovský and Šik) were not acceptable to N (...)

6However, Novotný’s power position had been based not on public support but on loyalty from the core apparatus, and on the backing of the Soviet leadership. Hence two factors were of critical importance in provoking the fall of the Novotný regime: the fact that public discontent found its way into the party apparatus; and Soviet unwillingness to support Novotný to the bitter end. The wave of opposition against Novotný inside the highest party ranks gained momentum in the autumn of 1967. At the CC Plenums in September and October, the cleavage between reformists and conservatives came to the fore. At the October meeting A. Dubček denounced conservatism in the party and spoke at length about the Slovak question. While he was openly supported by, among others, J. Špaček, F. Kriegel and V. Bilák, Novotný attacked him for nationalism. The reformers, now joined by high party officials such as O. Černík and D. Kolder, initially focused on the issue of the separation of the functions of first secretary of the party and president of the republic.16 Novotný sought support from the Kremlin and invited Brezhnev for a visit to Prague on 8 December. After having spoken to each of the top leaders, Brezhnev concluded that it was not opportune to support a leader who did not enjoy a strong basis of support among the party ranks.17 The actual removal from power of Novotný did not happen in a carefully planned and concerted way, but was, rather, the result of a series of opportunities swiftly taken. At the CC Plenum of 5 January, Novotný agreed to give up the post of general secretary; the choice of Dubček as his successor was a compromise between more radical reformers and conservatives.18

1.2. Political and economic reform: socialism and democracy

  • 19 Gordon Skilling, Czechoslovakia’s interrupted revolution, pp. 334–337.

7The first political and institutional reforms under Dubček were to do with the improvement of administrative methods, the democratization of the internal functioning of the party, and the disconnection of party and state institutions. The debate on the reform of the party was led by Z. Mlynář, appointed by the party as head of a “Commission on Political Reform.” Mlynář proposed the participation in decision making of independent political and social groups alongside the communist party. He did not advocate a true multiparty system but foresaw the enhancement of the National Front and of the role of the non-communist parties in it. The National Front had existed since 1945. A Social Democratic Party and a Peasants’ Party were represented in it, but they did not operate as oppositional forces.19 The “Action Program,” issued by the CC Plenum in early April, addressed relations between the state, the party, society and the individual. It outlined the general direction of the reforms, while committing to only a few measures explicitly. The most innovative statements in the program included provisions for the guarantee of freedom of assembly and association and freedom of expression.

  • 20 Gordon Skilling, Czechoslovakia’s interrupted revolution, pp. 341–356.
  • 21 More detail on the Action Programme can be found in Gordon Skilling, Czechoslovakia’s interrupted (...)
  • 22 Barnard, Pluralism, Socialism, p. 38.
  • 23 Gordon Skilling, Czechoslovakia’s interrupted revolution, pp. 366–369.

8Important political reforms were sanctioned following the Action Program, including a ban on the accumulation of party and state functions, the introduction of secret voting, and the protection of the rights of political minorities. Furthermore, an overall change in styles of leadership occurred after April. At the very top of the party, a genuine form of collective leadership came into being.20 However, the Action Program, and the political reforms that were introduced in the wake of it, did not come to terms with the key issues of party pluralism. The principle of the “leading role of the communist party” was not abandoned, but redefined: the party was to retain its hegemonic role, but using persuasion rather than coercion. The Action Program granted the communist party a privileged role in the National Front; the other political groups in it were considered as partners but not as equals to the party.21 Throughout the Prague Spring, the communist party never seriously committed itself to giving up its political monopoly. While this was obviously to do with the constraints imposed by the communist bloc, much uncertainty existed on the issue also among the most radical advocates of reform.22 The abolishment of censorship by state organs was put into effect in late June. The law did not, however, mention censorship by “any organ” as the Commission on Political Reform had recommended.23

  • 24 Gordon Skilling, Czechoslovakia’s interrupted revolution, p. 208.
  • 25 For a detailed account of this see Williams, The Prague Spring, pp. 210–225.
  • 26 Gordon Skilling, Czechoslovakia’s interrupted revolution, pp. 215–216.

9The implementation of the reform program was made possible by personnel changes in the highest ranks of the state and party apparatus, the secret services and the military. Following public demand for the replacement of Novotný as head of state, the CC Plenum of April voted Svoboda as the new president of the republic. Like Dubček, Svoboda was a compromise figure in favor of moderate reform led by the party.24 Major changes also took place in the military: between February and April 1968, the balance of forces in the People’s Army shifted to the advantage of reformists. Long-term defense minister General B. Lomský was replaced by General M. Dzúr, who had close ties to Dubček. An important personnel shift also took place in the internal security network and the secret police, whereby a significant number of KGB trustees was removed.25 However, despite the presence of influential reformists among the political and military elites, the top party and state organs were still largely composed of those who had served under Novotný and who, without openly being opposed to reform, were not very committed to it either.26

  • 27 Gordon Skilling, Czechoslovakia’s interrupted revolution, pp. 414–418.
  • 28 More detail can be found in Gordon Skilling, Czechoslovakia’s interrupted revolution, pp. 441–443.

10While the January overthrow had largely been a consequence of the economic crisis, and the political changes were largely meant to shape the context in which economic change could take place, no major economic reform program was carried out during the Prague Spring. This was due, firstly, to the enduring economic crisis which made the reformers reluctant to carry out their risky innovations; and secondly, to the divergence of views on what was to be done between leading figures such as O. Šik and L. Strougal. The Černík government carried out measures regarding the legal status of the enterprise, its autonomy in planning and regulation, and the desegregation of existing enterprise groupings.27 Šik proposed a far-reaching program for reform: it was an encompassing model for a new type of socialist planned economy, combining it with elements of liberalism as well as a radical-democratic view of the democratization of economic decision making. He proposed, for example, the establishment of “councils of the working people” in the factories, which were to include only blue-collar workers and to which the management should submit its plans. Dubček, however, downplaying the radical elements, emphasized the authority and autonomy of the factory management.28

1.3. The rediscovery of national traditions

  • 29 Golan, Reform Rule, pp. 186–187.
  • 30 In mid-March, the Slovak National Council adopted the proposal for symmetric federalism. The Actio (...)
  • 31 Gordon Skilling, Czechoslovakia’s interrupted revolution, p. 487.
  • 32 A similar view can be found in Kusin, The Intellectual Origins, pp. 73–75.
  • 33 On this see, especially, Kusin, The Intellectual Origins, pp. 98–101.

11The Prague Spring was a national revival, in a double sense. Firstly, there was a revival of Slovak national consciousness and an increasingly frank expression of frustration by Slovaks regarding their status as second-rank citizens. Presidium member Smrkovský, although a Czech, became one of the most influential advocates of a change in Czech–Slovak relations. He urged for a Marxist revaluation of national sentiments as a political force, and for a return to Leninist views on the self-determination of peoples.29 While different models for a federalized state were proposed, there was a broad consensus that the centralized state was no longer effective.30 By mid-August, although no agreement had been reached on major issues, the country was “on the threshold of federalism.”31 The Prague Spring was also a revival of Czechoslovak national identity. This was closely connected to the rediscovery of Czechoslovakia’s (central) European identity, culture and history, and the repositioning of Czechoslovakia at the heart of Europe. There was a widespread sense among reform-minded intellectuals of belonging to Europe in a cultural and intellectual sense. This raised the question of pan-Europeanism and, implicitly, the upsetting of the East–West division of the continent.32 Although this was not explicitly antagonistic to the nation’s belonging to a Slavic or East European historic-cultural sphere, it did render problematic the primacy of this sphere of belonging and the East–West divide. In addition, European roots and aspects of Marxism were rediscovered, which, similarly, demonstrated the diversity of Marxist interpretations. A few authors, such as Z. Mlynář, more explicitly turned away from what they called “Asian” and Russian Marxism and understood the Prague Spring as a necessary shift back into the cultural-political sphere of European Marxism.33

  • 34 Gordon Skilling, Czechoslovakia’s interrupted revolution, pp. 617–619. More below on the Budapest (...)

12An important strategic and diplomatic dimension corresponded to this: Dubček’s Czechoslovakia, without wishing to undo its allegiance to the Soviet-dominated communist bloc, aimed at expanding its diplomatic, economic and cultural contacts with several West European states. To be sure, the CPCS leaders throughout the Prague Spring at all times asserted their commitment to proletarian internationalism and allegiance to the Soviet Union “for all time.” Constructive involvement in the Warsaw Pact and the Comecon were emphasized, the attempt being to reform these organizations on a more egalitarian basis and to direct their strategies towards contacts with Western Europe. However, it became evident that the interpretation of internationalism was increasingly colored by the country’s own national and strategic interests, for example at the preparatory meetings to the planned conference of world communist parties, which took place in Budapest in February and April 1968. The Czechoslovak delegation emphasized the principles of the sovereignty of socialist states, the equality of communist parties, and non-interference, and favored a constructive policy vis-à-vis Romania and Yugoslavia.34

  • 35 Gordon Skilling, Czechoslovakia’s interrupted revolution, pp. 620–627.
  • 36 Navratil, Prague Spring, pp. 108–110. On the question of the loan, see also Dubček, Hope Dies Last (...)

13Besides this, the Czechoslovak military leadership protested against Soviet pressures to increase its conventional military spending, and a lively public debate developed on this issue. The so-called Gottwald Memorandum, issued by the Klement Gottwald Military Political Academy in May 1968, strongly criticized the WTO and proposed a far-reaching revision of Czechoslovak military policies. In July, in response to the WTO military exercises taking place at the Czechoslovak border, the post-January chief political officer, General Prchlík, outlined his ideas about more equal power relations inside the Warsaw Pact while at the same time making the alliance more cohesive. He called for the formulation of an independent Czechoslovak military doctrine. The CPCS leadership expressed wishes to engage in commercial, diplomatic and cultural contacts with France, Italy, Austria and ultimately West Germany. Crucially, Czechoslovak foreign policy papers started to refer to “our own German policy” and to “a more effective policy in Central Europe.”35 Between 17 and 19 April 1968, E. Bahr, a close collaborator of W. Brandt in the SPD and one of the architects of early Ostpolitik, visited Dubček unofficially. They held talks on political and economic contacts between both countries, and on the nonproliferation of nuclear weapons. Moreover, West Germany responded positively to Czechoslovakia’s request for a loan. Responding to WTO pressures, Dubček cancelled this request and asked for an equivalent loan from the Soviet Union instead.36

1.4. Tension between revival and reform

  • 37 For example, Dubček postponed the planned local elections to the end of June, as he feared a victo (...)
  • 38 Different interpretations exist in the literature as to how divided or united the party leadership (...)
  • 39 For a translation of the letter see Navratil, Prague Spring, pp. 76–77.

14During the Prague Spring there was a constant dynamic interaction between official reform from above, and pressure at the grassroots from intellectuals and their organizations, from the press, and from students and other social movements. In a public speech in March, Dubček felt the need to distance himself from “some extreme tendencies and non-socialist moods” in the revival movement, which, he nevertheless stressed, was “healthy on the whole.” Although the party showed willingness and ability to reform itself internally, already at this point it felt the need to re-assert its authority.37 Nevertheless, a critical revival took place inside the party too. Local organizations started criticizing their leaders, taking initiatives, and stimulating public debate. At the April Plenum, for the first time, the different tendencies became apparent and were reported by the party press.38 Throughout March and April, an enormous number of press articles criticized the past policies of the CPCS, proposed radical change, and called for the replacement of conservative leaders. An influential text in this respect was the socalled Open Letter from 134 Czechoslovak Writers and Cultural Personalities to the CPCS CC. The letter was published following the Dresden meeting of the Warsaw Pact (on which more below), and was meant to urge the party leadership to resist pressure from abroad and to remind it that its responsibility lay “above all, with its own people.”39 This was an implicit call for more (national) autonomy vis-à-vis the communist bloc.

  • 40 Navratil, Prague Spring, pp. 156–166.
  • 41 Other new political groups were the Academic Council of Students in Prague, and the Club of Critic (...)
  • 42 Gordon Skilling, Czechoslovakia’s interrupted revolution, pp. 346–347.

15Importantly, new political organizations emerged. While existing political parties, the Socialist Party and People’s Party, were re-activated, a Social Democratic Party came into being, without formally being legalized. Influential new organizations were KAN, the “Club of Engaged Non-Party Members,” and K213. The first was a club for political discussion, which wanted to participate in the building of “a new political system, hitherto never realized in history: democratic socialism.” It advocated party plurallism and the defense of civil and human rights. It was founded by 144 members, a number which rose to 3,000 just before the invasion.40 The K213 was a more controversial matter: it was organized as a group of former victims of the communist takeover, charged by the 1948 “Law for the Defense of the Republic (n. 213).” Its starting point was to strive for the rehabilitation of all victims; from there, it broadened the debate on human rights.41 None of these parties or groups, however, were allowed into the National Front, and they continued to have a semi-illegal status. On the other hand, the fact that they were no longer actively persecuted by the regime de facto announced a new approach to pluralism.42

  • 43 For an English translation of the “Two Thousand Words that Belong to Workers, Farmers, Officials, (...)
  • 44 Gordon Skilling, Czechoslovakia’s interrupted revolution, pp. 272–279.

16In the context of a mobilization of conservative forces and of restrained reactions by the moderate reformists in May–June, a polarization of positions occurred following the publication of the “Two Thousand Words” Manifesto of 27 June. Written by influential writer L. Vaculík and signed by 70 artists, intellectuals and public figures, it became the manifesto of the radicalized revival movement.43 It was considered threatening by the conservative communists, but also moderate reformers thought of it as “going too far.” This was because, firstly, although expressing its support for the reform undertaken so far, the text bitterly criticized the party leadership for not carrying the reforms through at a faster pace, thereby questioning its legitimacy. In order to avoid the conservatives gaining strength, the text argued, the people of Czechoslovakia should take “direct action” at the local level, through debate, demonstrations and strikes. Secondly, the text openly warned against foreign intervention in Czechoslovakia. It called upon the Czechs and Slovaks to “back our government, with weapons if necessary.” The CPCS leadership, increasingly constrained by the pressures from the Soviet Union and other socialist states, specifically on the questions of pluralism and censorship, condemned the text in a CC resolution.44

  • 45 Gordon Skilling, Czechoslovakia’s interrupted revolution, p. 319.
  • 46 Italian translation in Milan Weiner, “Una conferenza normale,” Literarny listy, 14/3/68. (The titl (...)

17The pressure from the revival movement affected the balance of forces in the communist party, and by mid-July there were indications of a major leadership turnover under way. The 14th National Party Congress, anticipated by Dubček and to be held in September 1969, was to discuss far-reaching reforms, such as the complete lifting of press censorship. Furthermore, a new statute for the internal organization, functioning and role of the communist party was being discussed in preparation for the upcoming central party congress. Although the draft statute also included a number of conservative elements, it could rightly be called a new model for a communist party. Innovations were, for example, secret voting, the protection of the rights of minorities, and voluntary party membership.45 Crucially, observers and actors in the Prague Spring started to view their experience as providing a new model for socialism. In a March article in Literarni listy, the journal of the Writers’ Union, it was suggested that there were now “three models of socialism in Europe,” the Soviet, the Yugoslav and the Czechoslovak, “which is forming itself.” It was, furthermore, stated that Czechoslovakia might turn from a loyal member of the “iron square of the North” (i.e., with the Soviet Union, Poland and East Germany) to “a certain constellation of the South,” with, it was said, the PCI, Hungary, and “in some respects” Romania.46

2. RESPONSES IN THE COMMUNIST WORLD

2.1. Soviet and East European concerns

18In analyzing the mounting tension in the Soviet-aligned communist world in response to the Prague Spring, I will focus on the important moments of decision making in the run-up to the invasion of Czechoslovakia. The eventual decision to put an end to the Prague Spring by military means resulted from the link between, on the one hand, the challenge posed by the Prague Spring to the conception of socialism and the alternative it proposed to “orthodoxy,” and, on the other hand, concerns regarding Czechoslovakia’s foreign and military policy and its loyalty to the Soviet-led communist world.

  • 47 See the discussion of these elements in Kramer, “The Czechoslovak Crisis,” pp. 121–135.
  • 48 For an analysis of the breakdown of Soviet trust in the Czechoslovak leaders, which takes into acc (...)
  • 49 On the events in Poland, see Eisler, “March 1968 in Poland,” in Fink, Gassert, Junker, 1968. The W (...)
  • 50 Kramer, “The Czechoslovak Crisis,” p. 144.

19Regarding the domestic dimension, the fear was that the new alternative model for socialism would no longer observe the “leading role of the communist party.” Furthermore, the critique of the (Stalinist) past of the regime, and particularly the revision of the trials of the 1950s, were worrying.47 The personnel changes in the party leadership (in particular the ousting of Novotný in April) and in the security and military network caused alarm among the Soviet leaders: it was feared that the secure channels of their influence over Czechoslovak politics were being eroded.48 The Polish and East German leaderships were particularly concerned about a spillover effect of the Prague Spring ideas to their own societies. Gomułka was alarmed by student riots that took place in a number of Polish cities in early March, where banners were shown which read, “Poland is awaiting its own Dubček.”49 In the context of a certain revival of dissident activity in 1967–68, the Soviet leaders were also concerned about a spillover effect. The leading dissident A. Sakharov, for example, openly supported the Prague Spring. Moreover, the Prague Spring seemed to strengthen national and democratic aspirations among students and intellectuals in some of the Soviet Republics, notably in the Ukraine.50

  • 51 Kramer, “New Interpretations,” pp. 5–6.

20Recent archival findings have stressed the importance of the foreign and military policy dimensions. Although Czechoslovakia did not openly question its membership of the Warsaw Pact and the CMEA, the combination of its interest in economic and cultural contacts with the West and its proposals to reform the communist bloc institutions amounted to a vision of détente that did not correspond to the Soviet understanding of the term. Strategically, Czechoslovakia was crucial to the Soviet Union, as it was the country situated most to the West in the Warsaw Pact and the only country sharing borders with both the Soviet Union and West Germany. The Soviet leaders increasingly felt that Czechoslovakia was the “weakest link” in the defense system of the European communist world. Czechoslovakia had refused, throughout the 1950s and 1960s, to let Soviet ground troops be stationed permanently on its soil. In the mid-1960s, the Soviet Union had drawn up a number of top-secret agreements providing for the deployment of Soviet tactical warheads and nuclear-capable delivery vehicles with Hungary, East Germany, Poland and also Czechoslovakia. In the Czechoslovak case, however, the absence of permanently stationed Soviet troops made the actual deployment of these arms problematic. The construction of the facilities, due for 1967, had to be postponed until 1969. The Soviet fear was that the new leadership would not co-operate in the further execution of the program.51

  • 52 Kramer, “Moldavia, Romania.”

21The Czechoslovak “rebellion” was only the most visible expression of the multiple conflicts and cleavages in the European communist bloc and the severe crisis of Soviet hegemony. There was a “Romanian crisis” inside the Czechoslovak crisis, and the political and military measures against Czechoslovakia were also, for the Soviets, a way of dealing with Romania’s autonomous line in foreign policy. Besides the more reliant attitude towards China, Romania opposed Soviet plans to reform the CMEA, developed an independent line on the war in the Middle East in 1967, and initiated diplomatic contacts with West Germany in the same year. The conflict rose to a peak in early 1968, when Romania once more refused to undersign the Soviet-proposed Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Arms, and adopted a very critical attitude at the preparatory meetings for the planned world conference of communist parties in Budapest. Moreover, Soviet–Romanian talks on the renewal of a bilateral friendship treaty failed. Moscow particularly feared that Romania sought to form a “special grouping” with Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia, as an alternative to the Warsaw Pact. Although Czechoslovakia did not respond to the concrete proposals made by Romania in this respect, both countries kept in close contact with one another. Romania was not invited to the WTO meeting in Dresden on 25 March, at which “the Czechoslovak question” was discussed. It was, from that point on, excluded from the coercive diplomacy and military action of the Warsaw Pact countries against Czechoslovakia.52

2.2. The genesis of the decision to invade

  • 53 Dawisha, The Kremlin, p. 33.
  • 54 Dawisha, The Kremlin, p. 351.

22The leaderships of the Soviet Union, East Germany and Poland started to worry seriously about the developments in Czechoslovakia in March 1968. There was already at this stage a consensus that the Prague Spring needed to be halted and undone.53 The WTO meeting in Dresden in March was a first important sign of Soviet and East European concern about the Prague Spring, and a first example of the kind of pressure the allies were ready to exercise on the Czechoslovak leaders. At the same time, there was an important disagreement throughout the spring and summer among the WTO countries as well as in the Soviet Politburo, on how to secure the end of the Prague Spring. The opponents of the Prague Spring in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union envisaged three possibilities. The first option consisted of exercising pressure on Dubček and the actual CPCS leadership, so that they themselves would undo the Prague Spring reforms and censure the revival. The second option consisted of the non-military removal of the reform-minded leadership from leading party, state and military offices, and their replacement by “friendly elements.” The third option was military intervention, which would need to be corroborated by a political intervention of some kind. The East German and Polish communist leaderships pressured the Soviets towards the third option.54

  • 55 According to Mlynář, Brezhnev told him at the Moscow talks following the invasion: “…There will be (...)
  • 56 McGinn, “The politics of collective inaction,” in Journal of Cold War Studies, 1999, nr. 1.3, pp. (...)
  • 57 Dawisha, The Kremlin, p. 115.

23The Soviet leadership at first considered a wide range of the costs and disadvantages connected to a military invasion: financial costs; possible casualties; the image of communism in the world; and the loss of loyalty of the CPCS and the Czechoslovak people which had the reputation of being Soviet-friendly. The possible protest by Romania, Yugoslavia, the West European and other out-of-government communist parties was envisaged but considered to be of secondary importance.55 Crucial in overruling objections to the invasion among the Soviet decision makers were the signs received from NATO and the United States that there would be no reaction following an invasion. Hence, it was expected that the longer-term goals of détente, as understood by the Soviet Union, would not be jeopardized by an invasion.56 The priority given to relations with the United States and West Germany, as well as to the coherence of the European communist bloc, over the cohesion of the wider world communist movement or the global appeal of communism, was clear. While the first option was no longer seriously being envisaged from late May onwards, the second option was being tried out between May and July. A military intervention was seriously considered at least from early May onwards, and became the only option seriously envisaged from mid-July onwards.57

  • 58 In all, Brezhnev wrote six letters to Dubček during the spring and summer. While the first two, wr (...)
  • 59 Gordon Skilling, Czechoslovakia’s interrupted revolution, pp. 208–209.
  • 60 Differences among the Czechoslovak leaders came to the surface at this meeting. Excerpts of the re (...)
  • 61 There were also attempts at manipulating public opinion against Dubček, for instance by a leaflet (...)

24Brezhnev attempted to urge Dubček back into full “orthodoxy” by writing him a series of letters.58 The first major sign of bloc concern was the calling of a meeting of the communist leaderships of the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe in Dresden in late March, immediately following the resignation of Novotný as the head of state.59 On 4 and 5 May, at a bilateral summit, Brezhnev undertook a last attempt to make Dubček change his mind and halt the Prague Spring. The Soviet delegation expressed particular worries on three issues: the upcoming 14th Party Congress, the removal of “loyal” elements in the military, the freedom of the press, and the question of orthodoxy.60 Brezhnev urged his personal contacts in the CPCS actively to combat the reformist tendencies in the party. To this end, a series of meetings took place between high-ranking Soviet officials and a number of conservative Czechoslovak leaders, including Bilák and Kolder, from May onwards.61 Nonetheless, the Kremlin came to consider the possibility of the conservative CPCS leaders taking over power in a peaceful way as neither plausible nor desirable.

  • 62 Kramer, “The Czechoslovak Crisis,” p. 133.
  • 63 Brezhnev’s letter to Dubček, in English translation, can be found in Navratil, Prague Spring, pp. (...)
  • 64 The attitude of the reformist CPCS leadership at the time has caused much controversy. On the gene (...)

25At the WTO meeting held in Moscow on 8 May, to which neither Czechoslovakia nor Romania were invited, the Soviet, East German and Polish leaders aimed at finding further support for the military option. Military exercises on Czechoslovak soil were initiated shortly afterwards. In mid-May, the Soviet Defense Council dispatched a high-ranking military delegation to Prague, and from late May onwards large-scale military exercises were carried out on Czechoslovak territory at the border with the Ukraine.62 At the latter’s request Brezhnev afterwards informed Dubček about the Moscow talks, but carefully avoided the two crucial issues: that the possibility of a military intervention had been raised, and that military exercises were under way.63 Dubček and the reform-minded CPCS leadership reacted to the mounting pressure by showing signs of willingness to resist it to some extent, while at the same time trying to make the Prague Spring acceptable to their WTO partners and seeking to control the most radical elements of the revival movement.64

  • 65 In this period, the PCF also proposed a pan-European conference of communist parties to discuss th (...)

26A number of events throughout June and July strengthened the perception in the Soviet leadership that the situation in Czechoslovakia was “getting out of hand.” Firstly, Dubček turned down a proposal by Brezhnev for a bilateral meeting in mid-June. Secondly, the “2000 Words Manifesto” caused great alarm in the Kremlin. Furthermore, the Soviet leadership was increasingly worried by contacts between the CPCS and the Yugoslav League of Communists as well as with the Romanian Communist Party. Dubček’s decision to bring forward the date for the 14th National Party Congress to early September aroused fears concerning major personnel changes, and renewed legitimization for the advocates of reform. All this led to another WTO summit, which was held in Warsaw on 14–15 July. Czechoslovakia was invited, but the CPCS Central Committee decided not to send a delegation. It proposed instead separate bilateral talks with the WTO countries including Romania, and also with Yugoslavia; this was not accepted.65

  • 66 On the Warsaw meeting as a crucial moment in the decision-making process see Kramer, “The Czechosl (...)
  • 67 An English translation and annotation of the Warsaw Letter can be found in Navratil, Prague Spring (...)
  • 68 Dubček, Hope Dies Last, p. 163. For the West European CPs, see below.
  • 69 Kramer, “The Czechoslovak Crisis,” p. 149.

27It was at the Warsaw meeting of mid-July that the decision to invade was made. Gomulka now openly proposed to send troops to Czechoslovakia, and a consensus regarding this was created among all the WTO parties present, now including Hungary.66 The meeting issued a “Warsaw Letter,” an ultimatum that denounced the “counter-revolutionary situation” in Czechoslovakia and enumerated a list of measures that were required from Dubček. The most important ones were the restoration of complete press censorship by the party, and the postponement of the 14th CPCS Congress.67 Pravda’s publication of the Warsaw letter three days later was the first public indication of how serious the crisis in the communist bloc had become, and a sign that the codes of “comradely relations” had been broken. Dubček and the West European communist parties attempted in vain to prevent the publication of the letter.68 In early July and mid-August the Soviets took a series of “diplomatic” initiatives, which were in fact demonstrations of force and ultimatums. They also served to prepare the necessary political framework for the invasion. The talks that were held in the small Czechoslovak town of Čierna-nad-Tisou on the border with the Soviet Union between 29 July and 1 August were anything but “negotiations.” From the Soviet side, these talks were meant to propose an agenda which Dubček had no choice but to accept, while making it clear (in close to explicit terms this time) that otherwise military force would be used. This agenda included the undoing of all the Prague Spring reforms and future plans, a crackdown on the press, and a number of personnel replacements.69

  • 70 Quoted in Kramer, “The Czechoslovak Crisis,” p. 149.
  • 71 Moreover, delivery of the letter was delayed by Soviet Ambassador Chervonenko. Navratil, Prague Sp (...)
  • 72 Navratil, Prague Spring, p. 345.

28The decision to invade had at this point become independent of Dubček’s further reactions. This became clear from a multilateral meeting of six communist parties (with Czechoslovakia but without Romania), held in Bratislava two days after the Čierna meeting. The debate was shrouded in hollow phraseology and formalized Marxist-Leninist terms, and the closest to a clear indication of what was expected from Dubček was the reference in the short final declaration to “the common international duty of all socialist countries to supply, strengthen, and defend the gains of socialism.”70 Brezhnev wrote a last “letter of warning” to Dubček on 17 August, in which he restated his earlier position. The letter did not explicitly mention the use of military force, which led Dubček not to regard it as an ultimatum.71 In a dramatic telephone conversation between Dubček and Brezhnev on 13 August, the former expressed willingness to step down as head of the communist party, to which the latter did not respond. Also, the so-called Prchlík affair demonstrated that the decision to invade had become independent of Czechoslovak responses to the pressure. The Soviets had been pressuring Dubček to take a distance from General Prchlík’s positions with respect to foreign and military policy. General Prchlík had reiterated on several occasions since mid-July his criticism of the Warsaw Pact and the need for a more independent foreign policy. Following a message of complaint about this from the Soviet Politburo, the Czechoslovak Defense Ministry issued a statement of disapproval of Prchlík’s statements on 15 August—but there was no Soviet reaction.72

  • 73 A major document that polarised positions was the so-called Kaspar report. Furthermore, A. Indra a (...)
  • 74 The “Letter of invitation” was only rediscovered in Soviet archives after 1991. It is translated i (...)

29In Czechoslovakia, during the weeks prior to the invasion, divisions inside the Presidium occurred and pressure from public opinion mounted.73 Divisions among the CPCS leaders appeared, partly as the result of continued Soviet pressure on the Czechoslovak leaders and closely related to Soviet attempts to secure the political turnover that needed to accompany a military invasion. The Bratislava Conference provided the opportunity for the anti-reformists in the CPCS delegation (including Bilák, Kolder and Indra) to hand over a so-called Letter of invitation to the Soviets. In mid-July, the Soviet Politburo had requested V. Bilák, who increasingly affirmed himself as the leader of an anti-reformist coalition inside the CPCS leadership, to send them a “Letter of invitation.” The letter was not made public by the Soviet leadership after the invasion, which indicated that it was not meant to provide a legal basis for it. Rather, it had been requested by the Soviets to assure themselves of some sort of commitment from the anti-reformist coalition, which was expected to take over political power immediately after the invasion.74

3. THE PCF: SAVING “COMMUNIST UNITY”

3.1. French and Czechoslovak communists

  • 75 The following is based on a very useful discussion in Fejtõ, The French Communist Party, pp. 86–93
  • 76 Fejtõ, The French Communist Party, p. 157.
  • 77 This is discussed, on the basis of CPCS archives, in Bartošek, Les Aveux, pp. 173–176.
  • 78 For more on A. London see chapter 7. Raymond Guyot had many personal contacts in the East European (...)

30One reason why the PCF had more difficulty in relating to the Prague Spring than did the PCI was to do with its affinities with, and privileged relation to, the (Novotnian) CPCS. This should not, however, be seen as a determining element: the changing relationship between the PCF and the CPCS throughout the Czechoslovak crisis was rather the effect of other factors than a major cause of the PCF’s reception of the Prague Spring. Relations between the PCF and the CPCS had been close since the interwar period.75 Both parties shared an ouvrièriste (or workerist) culture. Regarding internationalism, the two parties were among the most loyal to the Soviet Union, and pro-Soviet feelings had always been stronger among their ranks and leaders than in other communist parties. In the post-1956 communist world, the two parties were allies on all major issues. In 1956, both parties reacted negatively at first to the changes introduced by Khrushchev. The two party leaderships specifically displayed strong resistance to reopening the cases of the Stalinist trials in their own parties and to rehabilitating those who had been condemned. In doctrinal terms, they were among the most “orthodox” and “anti-revisionist,” and most strongly in favor of discipline and “unity.”76 Their relations had, nonetheless, somewhat deteriorated since the mid-1960s, as the Novotný regime criticized the PCF for its unwillingness to respond to de-Stalinization.77 Finally, to R. Guyot, Bureau politique member and CC commissioner responsible for foreign policy, Czechoslovakia was a “family affair”: he was married to L. London, the sister of A. London, who had been a victim of the Slánský trials in the 1950s.78

  • 79 For more on this see Bartošek, Les Aveux, p. 163.
  • 80 Grémion, Paris–Prague, p. 124.
  • 81 For a more elaborate discussion see Bartošek, Les Aveux, chapter 2.

31The specific relationship that the PCF entertained with the CPCS can be considered part of a wider cultural phenomenon, namely, the interest in Czechoslovak culture, politics and history on the French Left.79 To be sure, the fascination with Czechoslovakia also existed on the Italian Left, though to a lesser extent. Czechoslovakia was considered as the East European country which, in terms of economic development, sociologically, and in terms of political traditions, most resembled West European societies. Furthermore, Czechoslovakia was loaded with symbolic significance on the European Left because of the communist takeover in 1948, and because of the trauma of the Munich Agreement of 1938. In French communist collective memory, the PCF had been the only European force to protest against the German occupation of Czechoslovakia.80 In the post-1956 communist world, Czechoslovakia assumed a particular position, especially with respect to the ideological discussions which were of particular relevance to the Western parties. Prague was considered a “communist Geneva,” hosting several international communist institutions such as the World Peace Council and the offices of the theoretical journal Problems of Peace and Socialism. More specifically, the Czechoslovak Communist Party played a crucial role in relations between West and East European communist parties. To the PCF, and to a lesser extent to the PCI, it served as a go-between in its relations with other communist parties.81 Given the particular responsibilities that the PCF conceived for itself in the communist world and its greater involvement in it, these factors were far more significant in the case of the PCF than in the case of the PCI.

3.2. Fragmented analyses of the Prague Spring

  • 82 For the analysis of the PCF, I draw on primary sources (archives and press material) as well as li (...)
  • 83 The regular PCF reporter on Czechoslovakia was Philippa Hentgès, known to be Soviet-friendly; from (...)
  • 84 For a similar view see Grémion, Paris–Prague, p. 65.

32A distinction will be made here between the PCF’s initial responses to the Prague Spring up to the escalation of tension in June, and its responses as of July, when these became entirely dependent on the situation in the world communist movement. Its initial responses shifted between lack of interest, a taboo on the questions which it raised regarding de-Stalinization, and tolerance vis-à-vis certain aspects of it.82 Insofar as there was support for the Prague Spring, it was primarily “formalistic,” that is to say, motivated by the will to defend the formal principles of party autonomy and state sovereignty. At no point did the PCF take the Prague Spring as an example for its own policies, and references to its own domestic program were at all times avoided when the Prague Spring was discussed. Between January and April 1968, therefore, the PCF paid rather little attention to the events in Czechoslovakia. The party leadership change in early January and the Action Program in April were reported by the PCF press, but in a succinct way and without much commentary. The difference compared to the coverage of events in Vietnam—far more elaborate and passionately engaged—is striking. The PCF press reported on the Prague Spring in a tone that shifted between neutral coverage of the events, careful defense of some elements in the new course, and condemnation of others.83 The PCF’s coverage of the Prague Spring reflected its understanding of “orthodox” socialism: the observation of internationalist loyalty, the leading role of the communist party, and the central role of the working class. The contents focused solely on the reform program led by the party and the changes taking place inside it, almost entirely ignoring the dimension of cultural revival.84

  • 85 For a similar view see Deli, De Budapest, p. 91.
  • 86 “‘Nous ne voulons pas n’importe quelle démocratie mais la démocratie socialiste’, déclare Dubček d (...)
  • 87 Acquaviva, “Le CC du Parti communiste tchèque ouvre ce matin une importante session,” Humanité, 1/ (...)
  • 88 Quoted in Grémion, Paris–Prague, p. 67.
  • 89 Hentgès, Humanité, 2/4/68, p. 4.

33With regard to the coming to power of Dubček in January, Humanité hinted at the reasons behind the change and the unresolved problems in Czechoslovak society and politics: economic recession, the Slovak question, and the need for a separation of party and state institutions. The nature of these problems, however, was not further analyzed; nor was there a systematic criticism of the past regime. Continuities with the past were emphasized, and the fundamentally new character of Dubček’s policies was willfully ignored. Passed over in silence, for example, was the fact that freedom of the press had not existed before 1968.85 Most importantly, the question of the revision of the political trials of the 1950s was tabooed, leaving it at vague comments regarding the “need for rehabilitation of those who were innocent and were arbitrarily condemned.”86 It was troubling for the PCF to go into the question of the Stalinist trials, as this directly referred to the purges and the disciplinary measures that had occurred in the PCF itself during the 1950s. This is what made a more positive evaluation of the Prague Spring impossible. Already before April the press noted some negative elements of the Prague Spring. Criticism of Černík, which had appeared in Rude Pravo, for instance, was noted as a bad example of “the political debate becoming personal.”87 Acquaviva perceived a “political void.”88 An indirect way for the PCF to criticize certain aspects of the new course in Czechoslovakia was by “reminding” the CPCS of certain “Marxist-Leninist” principles. For example, it was often reaffirmed that the party needed to maintain its leading role, and progress needed to be based on support from the working classes.89

  • 90 APCF, BP, 1/4/68, pt. 2.
  • 91 P. and P. Hentgès, “Note sur les circonstances qui amenèrent des changements en Tchécoslovaquie,” (...)

34The reluctance with which the PCF covered the Prague Spring was a conscious policy. The BP meeting of 1 April decided that the party should take on a “prudent attitude” vis-à-vis the events, as there was a “lack of precise information.”90 At the same time, the leadership did have more sophisticated information on the situation than it would seem from its press coverage. A more elaborate report, for internal discussion only, which Hentgès sent to the Secretariat in mid-January drew a more honest picture of the problems but also expressed a more negative judgement of the situation. Hentgès emphasized the country’s economic problems, as well as its request for a loan from West Germany, an issue which the PCF press did not report. Negative points in the development, according to this analysis, included: the increasing influence of the “petty bourgeoisie,” the “fascination for the West in certain layers of the population,” disagreements in the CPCS leading organs on issues such as the economic program, and political opposition (“problems created by the adversary”).91

  • 92 APCF, Sec, 19/3/68, pt. 3.
  • 93 Humanité, 20/4/68, pp. 1–3; Deli, De Budapest, pp. 92–93.
  • 94 APCF, Sec, 2/4/68.

35The leading party organs—the Bureau politique and the Secretariat—did not seriously discuss Czechoslovakia until mid-March. On 19 March the Secretariat decided to “inform the party” of the events in Czechoslovakia and Poland, in response to the non-communist press in France which “tends to present demonstrations of young people in socialist countries as signs of a revolt.”92 The doubt with regard to Dubček as a leader contrasted with the very enthusiastic acclaims of Gomulka and the crushing of the demonstrations in the Polish cities in March.93 As to the issuing of the Action Program in early April, the Secretariat decided that Dubček’s report to the CC “ought to be considered positive.” This was not, however, for the innovations it was expected to bring about, but because it showed Dubček’s readiness to combat “certain attempts to threaten socialism” and to reaffirm the country’s international alignment.94

  • 95 Frachon, leader of the CGT, was, though of the same generation as Thorez and Duclos, considered on (...)
  • 96 See also the well-informed P.G., “Prague 68: quand le PCF a failli exploser,” L’événement du jeudi(...)
  • 97 In his memoirs, published in 1972, Duclos wrote that at that point “the Czechoslovak crisis […] ha (...)
  • 98 P.G., “Prague 68: quand le PCF a failli exploser,” pp. 38–41; Streiff, Kanapa, pp. 437, 463, 500–5 (...)

36Waldeck Rochet’s attitude towards the Prague Spring was one of benevolent tolerance rather than genuine interest. In the central leadership he was supported in his position by his close collaborator and advisor on foreign affairs J. Kanapa, the younger R. Piquet, the well-known intellectual and party philosopher R. Garaudy, trade union leader B. Frachon,95 and, probably, by “apparatchik” G. Plissonnier, although the last for reasons of discipline and friendship rather than out of genuine enthusiasm.96 The leader of the CC commission on cultural policy, R. Leroy, who was generally known as favorable to change, supported Rochet on the issue of Czechoslovakia up to the invasion. However, his enthusiasm for the Prague Spring was never clearly outspoken and most probably it diminished as his rival on cultural policy, Garaudy, became an active supporter of the Prague Spring. Among the other members of the Bureau politique, the representatives of the “old guard,” J. Duclos and J. Thorez-Vermeersch, were not favorable to the Prague Spring, although, for reasons of party discipline, they abstained from making this public at this point.97 Nor did G. Marchais, of a younger generation but increasingly influential in foreign policy matters and known as conservative and pro-Soviet, approve of the Prague Spring, although discipline prevented him from openly opposing the Rochet line. The editor-in-chief of party daily Humanité, E. Fajon, though considered as a conservative, might have been somewhat favorable to the Prague Spring. This was because he had started to develop criticism of certain aspects of the socialist regimes, notably anti-Semitism in Poland.98

  • 99 Bartošek, Les Aveux, p. 186.
  • 100 Waldeck Rochet, “Discours au CC, 19 avril 1968,” in “Tchécoslovaquie 68. Documents,” La nouvelle c (...)
  • 101 Waldeck Rochet, “Discours au CC, 19 avril 1968,” p. 4.

37The Rochet line of formalistic and limited support was discussed at a lunch meeting between Rochet, Leroy and CC members P. Laurent and A. Rieu, and the Czechoslovak ambassador V. Pithart, in Paris on 5 April. The PCF delegation, though reassuring the ambassador that it considered the developments in Czechoslovakia “promising, important and favorable to the PCF,” did raise questions as to “where Czechoslovakia is heading.”99 Following the Action Program, the official party line on the Prague Spring was laid down at the Central Committee meeting in La Courneuve on 19 April. It abstained from further judgements on the developments in Czechoslovakia themselves, and was narrowed down to a more formalistic position regarding internationalist relations and party autonomy. Although in his speech Rochet wished the CPCS “great success in the application of its program, which aims at the expansion of socialism,”100 he stopped well before positively evaluating the substance of the Prague Spring. These were the first signs of responsiveness to the growing crisis in the communist world.101

  • 102 Grémion, Paris–Prague, pp. 82–83 and 100–101. Also Streiff, Kanapa, p. 500.
  • 103 APCF, BP, 1/4/68; see also Verdès-Leroux, Le réveil, p. 211.
  • 104 Aragon, because of his network of contacts among East European intellectuals and artists, which we (...)
  • 105 Daix, Tout mon temps, p. 438. The following points are taken from the articles in the Journal de P (...)
  • 106 LLF, however, did not publish the 2000 Words Manifesto. According to Daix, this was due to pressur (...)

38The enthusiastic support expressed for the Prague Spring by a number of communist intellectuals contrasted with the reluctant party line. Garaudy was very enthusiastic about the Prague Spring and saw connections between the reform communism and the revival in Czechoslovakia and his own research into the humanistic and democratic character of Marxism. The Action Program seemed to prove his claims that both the class analysis and the leading role of the communist party needed to be reconsidered.102 Somewhat more cautious and closer to the official party line were the interpretations given by P. Noirot in Démocratie nouvelle. The interview with Dubček published in the journal in March 1968, although carefully in line with the PCF points of reference, was followed by an administrative sanction from the CC to Noiret.103 The intellectuals connected to the journal Les Lettres françaises, P. Daix and L. Aragon in particular, granted extensive attention to the intellectual revival.104 The points of reference in Czechoslovakia for these intellectuals were not the party leaders, but rather the critical writers and the journal Literarni lysti. Daix personally took up the promotion of the Prague Spring in France. His Journal de Prague reflected his positive impressions of his visits to Prague in December 1967 and March 1968.105 Daix openly wrote about the problems of the Novotný regime (which he labeled as “absolute monarchy centralism”), and the ways in which it was criticized in the liberalized political climate. He went at length into the issue of the political trials. He denounced the “demagogic workerism” of pre-1968 Czechoslovakia, which, according to him, “did not correspond to the ideal of socialism.” All this sounded like a critique of the PCF. Acclaiming the “rediscovery of politics” by the population, he was especially enthusiastic about the fact that the people now called their leaders to account for their policies.106

3.3. May ’68 and the domestic interplay

  • 107 Amidst the massive amount of literature and interpretations on May ’68 in France, I refer here to (...)

39The PCF’s evaluations of the events in Czechoslovakia came to be dependent on its interactions and its relations with other domestic political actors in the context of the stormy May ’68 events. The PCF’s interpretation of the Prague Spring up to June can be read as the result of the ideological and strategic tensions that it experienced with its political rivals and partners. The dramatic political developments in France in May–June 1968 created a situation in which discursive and political competition on the French Left was of a fierceness unseen since the post-war years. These battles crystallized around questions of the nature of socialism and revolution. With regard to the events in Czechoslovakia, this meant that the PCF leadership needed to stress the genuinely socialist and revolutionary character of the Prague Spring, against doubts it might have entertained on this issue internally. In connection to this, it needed to emphasize the CPCS’s belonging to the Soviet-led world communist movement and its continued observance of Soviet-defined “orthodoxy.” It refused to understand either the events in France or those in Czechoslovakia as signs of the upsetting of the bipolar order in Europe. The May–June events in France will be dealt with here briefly, to illustrate these points.107

  • 108 These forms of critique had been developed from the late 1950s in journals such as Socialisme ou B (...)

40During the sudden eruption of student and worker protests in May–June 1968, the PCF experienced tremendous problems in connecting to the new actors of protest, their agenda, their cultures, and their means of action. The contestation movements of 1968 perceived new problems and formulated new forms of criticism of the cultural and ideological foundations of Western industrial capitalist societies and liberal democracies. Influenced by non-communist Marxist thinkers such as Herbert Marcuse, the ideas of the contestation movements explicitly referred to socialist revolution and to Marxism. However, the new Left interpreted Marxism very differently from both the revolutionary and reformist traditions of the “old Left”—in France represented by the PCF and the SFIO.108 It was no longer only the economic structures and political institutions that were questioned, but rather the deeply rooted hierarchical structures in society and culture, such as family, gender and age. The structures of knowledge and education, the progress paradigm, modernization, industrialization, bureaucracy and the consumption society were all likewise put into question. Revolution referred to altering the structures of knowledge and interaction in everyday life, to instruments of action, to sexuality and upsetting the relationship between the public and the private, in sum, to other forms of emancipation than economic ones. Despite a mythologization of the workers, a strong ouvrièrist discourse, and calls upon worker-student alliances, it were the students, artists and outcasts of society who were considered as revolutionary subjects next to the workers.

  • 109 There were three Trotskyite tendencies in 1968. One was the Ligue communiste révolutionnaire, a fu (...)
  • 110 Some important Maoist groups in 1968 were: “Communistes m.l.,” the student group Union des jeuness (...)

41In terms of ideological points of reference, the contestation movement came about as a convergence of different traditions, old and new: Trotskyite groups, Maoism, the “traditional” anarchist and anarcho-syndicalist movement, and new forms of libertarian anarchism. Trotskyism was traditionally influential on the French Left.109 Trotskyite groups criticized the PCF and the Soviet Union from the left in what was a rather traditional but radical perspective on revolution and communism. Maoist groups, such as the ones clustered around the journals La voie communiste and Révolution, had existed in France since the early 1960s. Some of these groups were actively supported by Maoist China and had undertaken attempts to provoke a Maoist breakaway from the ranks of the PCF.110 An influential anarchist group was the Fédération anarchiste. The most influential student leader, D. Cohn-Bendit, was a declared libertarian anarchist.

  • 111 Intellectuals close to the PSU wrote for journals such as Le nouvel observateur and Esprit. On the (...)
  • 112 In the elections of June 1968, the party rose from 2.2 per cent (1965) to 3.9 per cent, which was (...)
  • 113 Fisera, “Le PSU face à son histoire,” pp. 178–215.

42Politically, the party that had most affinity with these conceptions and with the cultures of the contestation movement was the Parti socialiste unifié (PSU). Founded in 1960 by, mostly, former SFIO adherents and some former communists, it had largely been disconnected from the socialist-communist convergence that had taken place in the mid-1960s. From the outset it had found common ground with the intellectuals of the new Left and had developed a niche of innovative Marxist thinking. Through the ’68 events it radicalized into a position which it presented as more radical, more revolutionary and more genuinely Marxist than the ones held by the PCF, the SFIO and the FGDS.111 Although it remained marginal in terms of voters throughout the 1960s,112 it succeeded in placing itself in a strategic position during the May–June events. It was closely connected to the leftist trade union CFDT, which played a crucial role in the contestation movement among factory workers. Furthermore, it collaborated closely with the most active student union, the Union nationale des étudiants français (UNEF).113

  • 114 French and other West European Trotskyite groups proposed the sending of “international brigades,” (...)

43These groups understood the impasse of revolution in the West as the result not only of domestic factors but also of international ones, namely, the un-revolutionary character of the Soviet Union and the Soviet-aligned communist movement. Their international points of reference were the “existing” revolutionary regimes (China, North Vietnam, Cuba, Yugoslavia), but also “revolutionary situations” of protest mobilization in Western Europe and the United States. A convergence in terms of international points of reference took place on the issue of Vietnam. Vietnam was undoubtedly the dominant issue in political discourses on the Left in the late 1960s, the prime symbol of revolution to all groups on the Left and the most powerful instrument of mobilization. A fierce competition took place for the appropriation of the theme of Vietnam between all of the groups involved in the anti-war mobilization. The convergence was only apparent. The PCF followed the Soviet line, favoring the ending of the war and a negotiated peace that would recognize the Hanoi regime. Throughout the late 1960s and early 1970s it organized a series of international meetings with representatives of the North Vietnamese communists in an attempt to “occupy” solidarity with the latter. The (proto-)Maoist and Trotskyite groups, by contrast, advocated the continuation of the guerrilla war with Chinese support until the complete defeat of South Vietnam.114

  • 115 The Marchais article can be found in Humanité, 3/5/68. This was also the general interpretation in (...)

44In a strongly disparaging tone, the PCF referred to the Trotskyite, Maoist and anarchist groups, and to the student movements dominated by them, as gauchistes. Its unwillingness to take these groups seriously was, to the PCF, a matter of deepest political identity and legitimation, as these groups fundamentally challenged what the party considered to be its monopoly on revolutionary politics. Furthermore, all these groups attacked the PCF for being un-revolutionary and compliant in the integration of the working classes into the bourgeois-capitalist system. Their fierce denouncement of bureaucracy and alienation was not only directed at the state, but also at the PCF. The PCF’s negative reflexes were due, furthermore, to the fact that the success of Maoist, anarchist and Trotskyite groups put pressure on the unity of the party. The PCF reacted to the first demonstrations and strikes at the universities in early May with both suspicion and dismissal. It judged the demands of the students as unjustified and stated that these “bourgeois, false revolutionaries” were disconnected from the people, and especially from the working classes. In particular G. Marchais attacked the popular student leader Cohn-Bendit as a “German anarchist,” hereby exploiting the anti-German feelings that persisted on the French Left. By provoking unrest without a legitimate basis and in the absence of a genuinely “revolutionary situation,” it was said, these groups de facto (if not willingly) supported the government and the right-wing reactionary forces.115

45However, four factors led the party to take the events seriously and get more involved:

  • the dynamic of the movement itself
  • the initial empathetic reactions to it in public opinion
  • the increasing identification with it by the party’s own student organization UEC, by the PCF-allied trade union CGT, and by a number of communist intellectuals
  • police repression against the student movements, especially after the first “night of the barricades” of 10–11 May.
  • 116 On the PCF’s responses to the student movements and on its strategy in May–June 1968, see Tartakow (...)
  • 117 A similar view in Moullec, “Mai 1968, le PCF et l’Union Soviétique.”

46The PCF started to develop a strategy in response to the events, which consisted, generally, in channeling the mobilized potential into an “orthodox” strategy for “orthodox” socialism.116 This primarily implied two things: firstly, the PCF and its affiliated organizations, such as the CGT, should gain control over the situation and acquire a dominant position (the “leading role”); and secondly, the situation should be made ready for the coming to government of a broad Left coalition, based on a programmatic agreement between the PCF and the FGDS. This was, a continuation of its Union de la gauche strategy initiated in 1965. It was to be carried out, firstly, through the undermining of de Gaulle’s power as the result of systematic mobilization against the regime and well-supervised strike action; secondly, by channeling these protests into conventional political and socioeconomic claims; and thirdly, by reaching an agreement for government with the FGDS. All this should strictly take place inside the framework of legality, so as not to provide a pretext for state repression and not to antagonize moderate public opinion.117

  • 118 Bell, Criddle, The French Communist Party, p. 91.
  • 119 Tartakowsky, “Le Pcf en mai–juin,” pp. 149–150. A similar view can be found in Hincker, Le Parti c (...)
  • 120 On the FGDS in the May 1968 crisis, see Sadoun, “Un processus fermé: les socialistes dans la FGDS, (...)
  • 121 Tartakowsky, “Le Pcf en mai–juin,” p. 153; Hincker, Le Parti communiste au carrefour, p. 72.

47In the second half of May, the mobilization of workers rapidly amounted to the largest countrywide strike France had ever seen, involving up to 9 million workers. Initially, the CFDT rather than the CGT played a central role in the movement, and Trotskyite and Maoist influences were strong.118 However, the CGT increasingly took control of the mobilization. The CGT (and the PCF) thereby achieved three immediate goals: taking the lead in the wider protest movements, channeling the demands into socioeconomic ones, and improving the strategic political position of the PCF.119 Meanwhile, from mid-May onwards the party launched several appeals to the FGDS for the establishment of a common program, in view of the formation of a “popular government of democratic union,” of which the two political formations would constitute the backbone. Mitterrand, however, on 28 May, presented himself as a presidential candidate with Mendès France as prime minister.120 This posed the PCF with the threat of being by-passed in a Left government coalition. Thus it needed henceforth not only to reckon with political competition from the gauchistes, but also from the centrist “third option.”121

  • 122 These included the automatic adaptation of wages to inflation, the decrease of working hours, and (...)
  • 123 The agreement was also rejected by the CGT sections of Billancourt. For more detail on the Grenell (...)
  • 124 Tartakowsky, “Le Pcf en mai–juin,” p. 154.

48Although the party continued its systematic political opposition by mobilizing against the referendum proposed by de Gaulle, by declaring itself “ready to take its responsibilities,” and by reinforcing the “Action Committees for a democratic government,” it was clear that the political dimension of its strategy had failed. The PCF-CGT strategy also failed in terms of social mobilization. The CGT engaged on 25 May in the so-called Grenelle negotiations with representatives of the employers and of government with classic (quantitative rather than qualitative) but far-reaching demands.122 However, the agreement negotiated by CGT general secretary Seguy was rejected by the rank and file of the Renault plant at Billancourt. Many workers felt that more could have been achieved, and the more radical among them blamed the CGT-PCF leadership for “managing the crisis of capitalism.”123 The high point of the political crisis occurred in the last days of May when de Gaulle, apparently fearing the collapse of the regime, flew to Baden-Baden to discuss the state of affairs with the commander of the French troops there. However, the prospect of a sudden change in government, as well as the momentum of the protest movements, faded away when de Gaulle announced elections on 30 May. The PCF shifted once more to a broad Left strategy, presenting itself as the force of democracy and calling upon a broad mobilization against “Gaullist dictatorship.”124

  • 125 The PCF dropped from 22.5 per cent in 1967 to about 20 per cent; the combined vote for the FGDS an (...)
  • 126 Most important was the resignation of A. Barjonet as CGT leader on 26 May.
  • 127 Robrieux, La secte, p. 84.

49The June 1968 elections demonstrated the price that the PCF had to pay for its tactical shifts and immobility during the May events. While the Gaullist and Republican parties together polled 46 per cent of the vote, all the parties of the traditional Left—PCF, FGDS and SFIO—lost votes. The election outcome was interpreted as follows: firstly, the May 1968 themes (which only the PSU had picked up on) did not appeal to a wide electorate; and secondly, there was a general desire to get back to traditional politics and traditional values such as security (on which de Gaulle had based his campaign).125 The May–June events and the sudden changes in the political landscape Left the party in a general state of disorientation, which was reflected in fundamental disagreement in the leadership. Along with the cases of open dissidence in the CGT,126 rifts also occurred in the PCF central leadership, notably at a secret CC meeting of 11 May at which Garaudy, Leroy and Aragon seriously criticized Marchais for his hostility towards the students.127 In mid-May Aragon published his critical but relatively open-minded discussion with Cohn-Bendit in a special issue of Les Lettres françaises. In late May, a number of party intellectuals wrote a letter of protest to the party leadership, criticizing the party’s entire approach. A delegation of the party leadership met with the angry intellectuals in early June, but eventually rejected their criticisms.

  • 128 At a meeting in late May, Soviet ambassador V. Zoryn “reminded” Guyot of the “international import (...)

50The PCF, in developing its strategy, was deeply concerned with the possible international implications of the situation in France and took what it considered as its internationalist obligations into account.128 The PCF leaders were aware of Soviet strategic interests in the Gaullist government, as well as a lack of Soviet enthusiasm for a sudden upsetting of the bipolar constellation in Europe. The Soviet leaders certainly exercised pressure on the PCF leadership to dominate, control, contain and channel the revolutionary potential of May–June into a classic, communist party dominated Popular Front strategy. However, extreme and explicit pressure was not even needed, as it was exactly the strategy that was generally favored by the PCF leadership. Both the PCF and the CPSU considered it damaging and dangerous to provoke a dramatic upheaval of the political regime in France, as long as complete PCF control over the events was not absolutely assured. To the Soviet Union it was of paramount importance to avoid the coming about of yet another non-Soviet-aligned socialist or Marxist regime, especially in the context of its waning hegemony over the communist world and of the uncertainty in Czechoslovakia. What mattered to the Soviet leadership was, rather, to reinforce bloc cohesiveness in the function of its bargaining position vis-à-vis the United States and West Germany.

  • 129 The PCF leaders had asked the Soviets at the above-mentioned meetings that the Soviet press would (...)
  • 130 A copy and translation in Italian of the Novosti article can be found in APCI, Fund Berlinguer, 55 (...)

51In two conversations between Soviet ambassador Zoryn and PCF leaders (Waldeck Rochet on 20 May and Guyot on 31 May), the former was generally appreciative of the PCF’s strategy of carefully working towards a broad Left alliance. However, it was only on condition that post-Gaullist France would not become more pro-Atlantic, and on condition that the PCF maintained an “orthodox” line and would fight against far-left tendencies, that the Soviet Union supported the PCF strategy. The article “We support France,” published by CPSU periodical Novosti on 30 May, illustrated this position of conditional support. De Gaulle was portrayed in this article somewhat more negatively than usual in the Soviet press—thus preparing for a possible regime change—as a leader with “a far-reaching perspective in international affairs,” but “suffering from short-sightedness regarding the domestic situation.”129 The importance of the student movement was minimized and “ultra-revolutionary tendencies” were condemned and accused of benefiting from support from China. The article expressed its support for the workers and their actions, the trade unions, and “the most important organizational force of the working class, the PCF.” On the other hand, it was recalled here that “the France that we support” was a country with a foreign policy independent from American “imperialism.” This was a clear warning to the PCF to check its alliance with the socialists.130

  • 131 “Vermerk über ein gespräch mit dem genossen Paul Laurent, Sekretär der Föderation Paris der FKP, a (...)
  • 132 “Vermerk über ein Gespräch des Gen. H. Axen mit Gen. R. Guyot, am 29/7/ 1968,” Berlin, 9/8/68, SAP (...)
  • 133 A hand-written record of the meeting between Berlinguer and Galluzzi with Guyot, Kanapa and Denis (...)

52The PCF leaders furthermore discussed their domestic strategy with the East German SED at a series of meetings between the leaders of both parties during the spring and summer months.131 Generally, the East Germans approved of the PCF basic axes of fighting gauchiste influences and improving its strategic position among the forces of the parliamentary Left. In late July 1968, Guyot met with the responsible for relations with foreign communist parties in the SED Central Committee, H. Axen. Justifying the cautious attitude of the party in May, Guyot convinced his interlocutor at length of the perils that had been connected to the “double conspiracy” (de Gaulle and the far Left) directed at the PCF.132 In a discussion with a delegation from the Italian Communist Party in Paris on 1 June, the French communists also emphasized the foreign policy dimension to the current events in France. As Guyot put it: “The power [de Gaulle] has a foreign policy which we appreciate. It is in this framework that we understand the problem of post-Gaullism.”133

  • 134 The Le Monde articles on Czechoslovakia in 1968–1969 by correspondent M. Tatu are published in Tat (...)
  • 135 See also Grémion, Paris–Prague, p. 57–58. Deli comes to a similar conclusion on the general respon (...)

53In the stormy domestic situation of May–June, none of the actors on the French Left paid much attention to the Prague Spring. Most of the groups of the new and far Left could not relate to Dubček and the reform communists in a direct way. Dubček and the Czechoslovak reformers, unlike Ho Chi Minh or Che Guevara, did not satisfy the need for charismatic revolutionary movements and leaders. With the important exception of Le nouvel observateur and to some extent the PSU, there was little comprehension and less curiosity for the Czechoslovak events. The parties of the reformist Left, the SFIO and the FGDS, showed some interest, but the lens through which they interpreted the Prague Spring was their relation to the PCF and how the events would affect it. Although Le Monde covered events in Czechoslovakia at length, it did not engage with it in a true political way.134 Hence, a competitive dynamic towards the “occupation” of the Prague Spring on the French Left did not take place; rather, it was a question of defending and identifying with specific elements of it.135

  • 136 The approach used here is similar to Grémion’s analysis of the “game of political interpretations” (...)
  • 137 Elements of this can be found in Lentin, “Lénine revu par Montesquieu,” LNO, 3/4/68; Held, “Le fac (...)
  • 138 “Menaces soviétiques contre la Tchécoslovaquie,” Lutte ouvrière, 3/7/68, p. 1.

54Three themes are briefly discussed here as examples of the interpretative tensions between the actors on the French Left regarding the Prague Spring: the nature of socialism; the privileged actors in socialism; and the world order.136 With regard to the question of the nature of socialism, it was, as mentioned above, important to the PCF to demonstrate the genuinely socialist character of the events in Czechoslovakia. This was, to the PCF, a matter of defending the revolutionary character of the Soviet-aligned communist world and of its own strategy. It was challenged in this by currents of the new Left, such as Le nouvel observateur, which noted (and positively appreciated) elements of a liberal-bourgeois democratic tradition in the Prague Spring.137 It was also a response to the analyses made of the Prague Spring by the Trotskyite Lutte ouvrière, which concluded that the Prague Spring was not likely to develop into a genuine situation of revolutionary socialism. Lutte ouvrière qualified the Prague Spring as “limited by the popular strata it represents as well as by its political content,” as nationalist, chauvinist and anti-Russian (this last point understood as a negative one). In early July the weekly still considered it very unlikely that the Soviet Union would put an end to the Prague Spring by military means, as there was “no popular revolt.” However, it strongly supported the 2000 Words.138

  • 139 Hentgès, “La Tchécoslovaquie a toujours considéré ses liens politiques et militaires avec les pays (...)
  • 140 Deli, De Budapest, p. 94. Daix, however, openly supported the 2000 Words. Grémion, Paris–Prague, p (...)
  • 141 For example in Held, “Le face-à-face de Prague,” LNO, 29/7/68; it was stated here that “Dubček lik (...)
  • 142 Although generally supportive of the Prague Spring, Les Temps modernes did consider socialism to b (...)

55As to the privileged actors in socialism, the PCF press and public statements continued to focus on the central CPCS leadership, increasingly referring to the “leading role of the communist party.”139 In doing so, the interconnection between the reform communists and the critical revival movement, which was so typical of the Prague Spring, was ignored. The 2000 Words Manifesto was not mentioned at all in the PCF press, which suggested the party’s disagreement with it.140 At the same time, the “danger of the rightist forces” was increasingly stressed. Thus, the general picture was one of a unified communist party, which, however, was somewhat challenged from the “Right.” The unproblematic picture of a unified central leadership led by Dubček was meant to respond to new Left opinion in France, which emphasized the alliance between Dubček and a progressive revival movement and their distance from the conservative forces in the party. This was the general picture drawn by Le nouvel observateur.141 Also in Les temps modernes, the overall interpretation was that the reform-minded communist leaders, including Dubček, were allied with the people and “authentic intellectuals” against bureaucrats and neo-Stalinists in the party.142

  • 143 “The Czechoslovak reformers know that they find themselves in terra incognita. Everything remains (...)
  • 144 A similar point has been emphasised by Grémion, although referring to cultural aspects rather than (...)
  • 145 “Départ d’unités soviétiques qui ont participé aux manœuvres militaires en Tchécoslovaquie,” Human (...)

56A third cluster of interpretative tensions, of particular interest to us, regarded the international order. Le nouvel observateur resolutely wished to see the Prague Spring as the herald of a new international and European order. It understood the Prague Spring and the May events in France as expressions of one and the same tendency, and both developments were identified with one another. Both developments, it was said, would help to undermine the static bipolar world and the status quo in Europe, “divided by neo-capitalists and neo-Stalinists.”143 This went to the heart of the impasse in which the PCF found itself with regard to the status quo in Europe: because it could not interpret the Prague Spring as a development putting pressure on the division of the continent (for this would acknowledge the crisis of Soviet hegemony in the East), nor could it understand the events in France in such a way (because regime change was not likely to bring about a Soviet-loyal regime, but at most a neutralist one, not necessarily more beneficial to Soviet policies than the Gaullist one). It was therefore centrally important to the PCF not only to ignore the (pan-)European lines of thought in the Prague Spring revival, but also to underscore the convergence of views and interests between the CPCS, the CPSU and the Sovietaligned communist world.144 The rising tension in the communist world was entirely tabooed by the party press, until this became untenable by mid-July when, as we will see below, the PCF itself became an actor in the crisis. For instance, while the initiation of Soviet military exercises at the Czechoslovak border in May was not reported, the withdrawal of the Soviet troops in mid-July was noted without further commentary.145

3.4. The PCF’s parallel diplomacy

  • 146 Also Bartošek argues that the PCF leadership from early July on entertained fear that an invasion (...)
  • 147 Letter in French translation, marked “Confidential,” s.n. (but CPSU) to PCF, 11/7/68 in APCF, file (...)

57After 1968, the question of whether the French and Italian communist parties had been informed of the invasion beforehand became controversial. The archives show that both the PCF and PCI leaderships were convinced by mid-July that an invasion was imminent. From that moment on, this was the only factor determining the PCF’s attitude with regard to the events in Czechoslovakia.146 Panic regarding an imminent invasion was aroused by a “confidential” letter from the CPSU dated 11 July to all West European communist parties, containing a “communication on the situation in Czechoslovakia.” The letter had three goals: firstly, to get the Western parties to abstain from any positive comment on Dubček and the Prague Spring; secondly, to ask their a priori support for any further action; and finally, it contained a subtle request to put pressure on Dubček to undo the reforms: “We consider it the internationalist duty of all brother parties now to grant all necessary support to the Czechoslovak Communist Party. We consider it our duty to follow the situation closely and to be ready for any possible turn of events. We think that our information will help you to understand the events in Czechoslovakia and will help you to take the necessary measures to sustain the achievements of socialism in your country” [emphases added].147

  • 148 “Les dirigeants de cinq pays socialistes réunis a Varsovie,” Humanité, 15/7/68, p. 3; “Varsovie: f (...)
  • 149 Streiff, Kanapa, p. 501.
  • 150 Vigreux has exaggerated Rochet’s sympathy for the Prague Spring and his “true defence of the proje (...)

58The Warsaw letter also aroused panic among the PCF leaders; they correctly interpreted it as a point of no return. Humanité reported the Warsaw meeting but for the time being not the Warsaw letter, as the party hoped that the letter would not be made public.148 It was Rochet’s deepest conviction that a military intervention should be avoided at all costs. This was so not because the Prague Spring needed to be saved or defended per se but, primarily, because an invasion would negatively affect the image of communism in the West (and hence the PCF’s own domestic position in the already difficult circumstances); and secondly because it would inevitably initiate a phase of increased tension and Soviet dominance in the communist world. This was the background to the PCF’s embarking upon what can be called an intra-communist diplomatic campaign. The party held a high profile in the WCM crisis, especially through talks with both the Soviet and Czechoslovak leaders. It was the perfect expression of the role that the PCF saw for itself in the communist world as a mediator and a force for reconstructing unity. The campaign was largely the personal project of Waldeck Rochet, assisted by Kanapa and supported by Guyot.149 Undoubtedly, Rochet genuinely believed that his party could have an impact on the events.150

  • 151 “Entretien du cde. Komocsin, Hongrie, avec Waldeck Rochet,” 4/5/68, 7 pp., dactylo, in APCF, Fund (...)
  • 152 This was the case according to the Czechoslovak intelligence services in France. Bartošek, Les Ave (...)
  • 153 Oral Report Pajetta, APCI, Direzione (henceforth Dir), 17/7, 02–0798; see also below.

59Rochet’s intra-communist diplomacy, although largely his own initiative, came about partly as the result of pressure put on him in the communist world and by the non-communist Left in France. Next to the Soviets’ implicit request in the letter of 11 July quoted above, there was pressure from the Hungarians. In a meeting between Rochet and Komocsin of the Hungarian Communist Party on 4 May, Komocsin asked him to discuss Czechoslovakia with the Soviets and to present them with a more moderate view on the situation. As Komocsin said, the Soviets had “unilateral information” on Czechoslovakia, that is to say, a too negative image.151 Furthermore, at a meeting between the two party leaders, Mollet, of the SFIO, explicitly asked Rochet to “intervene in Moscow in favor of the actual CPCS leadership.”152 The Italian communists, who planned to go to Moscow in mid-July to discuss Czechoslovakia, also urged the French to undertake such an initiative.153

  • 154 The records of both Moscow meetings taken from the notes of Kanapa, who was present, are published (...)

60On 15 July Waldeck Rochet met in Moscow with the Soviet leaders Suslov, Ponomariov and Kirilenko, and with Brezhnev the following day.154 At both meetings, the Soviet leaders drew an extremely negative picture of the situation in Czechoslovakia, including “imperialist infiltration” and “rightist and anti-socialist elements.” Rochet attempted to dissuade the Soviets from the military option, urging them to put pressure on the Czechoslovaks by non-military means. His central argument was that, as there was no “open counterrevolution” as had been the case in Hungary, it would be impossible to make a military invasion acceptable to world communist opinion. This plea was essentially asking the Soviets to consider the interests of out-of-government communist parties in the affair, as well as the cohesion of the WCM. Rochet made no effort whatsoever to discuss the Prague Spring itself.

  • 155 In the event that they decided upon an invasion, Brezhnev added, they would inform the PCF “in opp (...)
  • 156 156 It was Rochet’s request that his meeting with Dubček took place after his meeting with the Sov (...)
  • 157 As Rochet put it: “[…] The solution [the improvement of relations with the Soviets] does not only (...)

61The immediate effect of the Moscow meeting was that Rochet and the Bureau politique now understood the near-certainty of an invasion, and that the only way to avoid it would be the complete and immediate undoing of the Prague Spring reforms. Although the Soviets had assured Rochet that they would do whatever possible to avoid a military invasion, the message was clear.155 Rochet interiorized the Soviet interpretation of the situation in Czechoslovakia: “We are conscious that things are not going well there […]. It is worse than I had imagined.” He envisaged his upcoming meeting with Dubček now “in new circumstances”; he assured Brezhnev that he would “forcefully insist that they accept your letter” (the Warsaw letter). Hence, Rochet’s meeting with Dubček in Prague on 19 July was meant to force the latter into undoing the Prague Spring fully and immediately.156 At the meeting he urged Dubček to take “necessary measures,” in particular the immediate restoration of press censorship (whereby he referred to the 2000 Words) and the halting of the debate on party pluralism.157 In the controversy surrounding Rochet’s initiatives, the PCF leader was often portrayed as merely voicing Soviet interests. Although Rochet was obviously highly loyal to the Soviet leadership, and even more so to his own view on communist unity, his mission coincided with Soviet interests only to some extent, namely, insofar as it put pressure on Dubček. It diverged from Soviet interests, however, in that he genuinely wished to avoid a military invasion or other form of overt intervention in Czechoslovak affairs. His campaign coincided with the Warsaw meeting discussed above, on which the invasion option was approved. As we have seen, after this event Brezhnev was no longer interested in Dubček’s responses to the pressure put on him. Nor, most probably, was he interested in the outcome of the Rochet–Dubček talks.

  • 158 The letter of 17/7 is in APCF, “Evénements en Tchécoslovaquie,” box 2, folder 3. APCF, BP, 18/7/68 (...)
  • 159 APCF, BP, 20/7/68.
  • 160 Telegram PCF to PCI, 21/7/68, in APCI, Ufficio Esteri (Est), “Francia,” 0552.1205.

62The divergence of Soviet and PCF interests in the matter became evident from the PCF’s further initiatives. Upon his return to Paris from Moscow on 17 July (before the Prague meeting), Rochet drafted a letter to the Soviets in which the PCF insistently requested that the Warsaw letter should not be made public. Moreover, the PCF announced in this letter a proposal for a pan-European conference of communist parties on the Czechoslovak crisis.158 With this proposal, which it immediately made public to all European communist parties, the PCF wished to state that Czechoslovakia had become a matter of principle concern to them and to all communist parties worldwide. In what must have been a mix of naivety and pretensions regarding the impact which the PCF could have, this initiative was intended to put pressure especially on the Czechoslovaks, and to a lesser extent on the Soviets. Many of the Western parties communicated that they supported it; among these were the PCI, the PCE, and the Austrian and British parties. However, the Soviets responded negatively to the proposal, as did Hungary, Poland, Bulgaria and even Romania. The Czechoslovaks themselves also preferred the crisis not to be dealt with in a public forum.159 The PCF now asked the other Western parties “not to insist [on the holding of the conference] but to follow the situation closely.”160

  • 161 On 21 July Leroy cautiously informed the Czechoslovak ambassador in Paris, Pithart, of the deterio (...)
  • 162 This was true. The telegram of 18/7/68, CPSU to PCF, can be found in APCF, fund “Evénements en Tch (...)
  • 163 “Communication urgente via Zorine à Leroy,” 19–20/7, in APCF, “Evénements en Tchécoslovaquie,” box (...)

63The talks in Moscow and Prague and the conference proposal were illustrations of Rochet’s vision on internationalism, which took the doctrine to the letter while ignoring the fact that the doctrine had always implied full Soviet dominance. This vision included the maintenance of unity and the avoidance of conflict through the observation of specific rules of interaction, respect for the existing hierarchies, and observance of “orthodoxy.” Although the Soviet Union played a dominant role, individual communist parties should have a certain degree of autonomy and a part to play. However, the inaccuracy of this vision was clear in two ways. Firstly, the fact that Rochet acknowledged that the undoing of the Prague Spring, which he had never explicitly defined as un-socialist, was the only possible way to avoid a Soviet invasion, showed that the definition of “orthodoxy” did not come about as the result of fair discussions inside the world communist movement, but was defined by the Soviet Union alone. Secondly, in carrying out its intra-communist diplomacy, the PCF put itself into a position of isolation. Relations between the French and Soviet communists acutely deteriorated on the issue of the conference proposal, as to the latter it indicated that the PCF was carrying out its own campaign.161 The Soviets further pressured the French communists towards a public statement of alignment, which the latter for the moment resisted. Around 20 July there was an exchange of rather harshly worded telegrams. In a telegram dated 18 July the Soviets expressed their “surprise” about the proposal, and about the fact that Rochet had not mentioned it to Brezhnev.162 In an “urgent communication” the Soviets again affirmed that they were against the conference proposal, as, “in the current circumstances it would signify a rift between the communist parties of Eastern and Western Europe.” Furthermore, in this letter the Soviets requested a public statement from the PCF in support of the Warsaw letter. “Your party could have an influence, could present an example [to other communist parties in Europe]. …Unfortunately, your conference proposal has enabled hostile propaganda to claim that the PCF is no longer in solidarity with the socialist countries.”163

  • 164 Although this letter has been published previously (Kremlin–PCF, pp. 99–118), I will quote from it (...)
  • 165 Bartošek, Les Aveux, pp. 190–191. René Andrieu was editor of Humanité.
  • 166 Discontent between the two parties further aggravated in the context of the preparations for the w (...)
  • 167 For the CC resolution see Humanité, 29/7/68; see also Bartošek, Les Aveux, p. 190.

64The fact that Rochet was at this point prepared to take this vision of internationalism seriously became clear from his expression of anger and disagreement vis-à-vis the Soviets, which was far more blunt than usual. The Bureau politique sent a telegram to Brezhnev, in which it refused to support the Warsaw letter, expressed its frustration regarding the issue of the European conference on Czechoslovakia, and warned once more against a military resolution of the crisis.164 In the PCF leadership, Rochet, Kanapa, Guyot, R. Andrieu and maybe others now openly took their distance from the Soviet positions.165 Irritation with the Soviets did not lead the PCF positively to reconsider the Prague Spring. Nor did it lead to improved relations with the Dubček leadership—on the contrary. Already in April Rochet’s speech on Czechoslovakia at Courneuve had provoked negative reactions from the CPCS, which expected a little more in terms of support for its new course. In a letter to the PCF, Dubček expressed his “disillusionment” on this.166 Its isolation in the communist world led the party to reaffirm its own internationalist and “orthodox” line, as distinct from the positions of both the CPSU and the CPCS. It was in this atmosphere, exceptional in the history of the PCF, that the CC resolution of 27 July should be understood. The resolution, earlier proposed by the BP on 24 July, unambiguously stated that the PCF would publicly condemn any use of force against Czechoslovakia. The CC furthermore agreed upon Rochet’s report of his talks, stating that “(these initiatives)… have demonstrated that the PCF is struggling towards unity, internationalism, and respect for the self-determination of every party.”167

  • 168 Following the decision of the Bureau politique, Rochet’s talks in Moscow and Prague were extensive (...)
  • 169 For example, “La Pravda fait état d’un “plan opérationnel” américain contre les pays socialistes,” (...)

65Meanwhile, in the perspective of an invasion, the party rank and file needed to be “prepared.” A sudden shift occurred in the party press on around 20 July. Whereas before this time the intra-communist tension had largely been silenced, it was now extensively covered. The focal point here was no longer the Czechoslovak Communist Party, nor the CPSU, but Waldeck Rochet and his “unifying” campaign. Statements from both the Czecho slovak and Soviet parties were most often reproduced without further commentary.168 At the same time, however, Humanité prepared its readers by anticipating the Soviet justification for the invasion: it published a number of Soviet statements on weapon deposits in Czechoslovakia and on NATO military plans against the socialist countries in Eastern Europe.169 At this point, the general view on the developments in Czechoslovakia was that socialism was seriously endangered by “anti-socialist forces,” but that the situation could still be saved.

  • 170 Also Leroy concluded from conversations with Zoryn in early August that there would be a compromis (...)
  • 171 Both titles in Humanité, 5/8/68, pp. 1–2.
  • 172 For example in Humanité, 6/8768, p. 1, “Déclaration du Parti communiste français.”
  • 173 APCF, Sec, 9/8/68, pt 2; APCF, BP, 14/8/68, pt. 5.
  • 174 APCF, Sec, 9/8/68, pt. 2.
  • 175 “Communication annoncée le 14 août et remise le 19 août,” s.n., in APCF, fund “Evénements en Tchéc (...)
  • 176 “Communication annoncée le 14 août et remise le 19 août,” s.n., in APCF, fund “Evénements en Tchéc (...)

66The meetings in Čierna and Bratislava caused great relief: the general feeling in the PCF leadership, and the tone in its press, was that the military path had been averted.170 Humanité trumpeted after Bratislava: “A historical event for the cohesion of the socialist countries,” “…the Soviets are very pleased with the outcome of the conference.”171 In what was undoubtedly an expression of appreciation vis-à-vis the Soviets, the PCF reaffirmed that it would participate in the pending project for the world communist conference, which was being prepared in Budapest.172 Another indication of their eagerness for reconciliation with Moscow was the PCF leaders’ decision in early August to foresee “ample positive coverage” in the party press of the situation in the Soviet Union and other socialist countries.173 The PCF leadership saw the invasion as averted, because this is what it wanted to see. Nevertheless, some reservations lingered on. The Secretariat took note of “certain differences” between the party’s own position and that of both the CPSU and the CPCS. Moreover, it was reported here that Bratislava had not resolved all problems.174 On 19 August, once more, a Soviet communication “prepared” the PCF leaders for the now certain invasion.175 It was said that not all the worries that they had expressed in the Warsaw letter were assuaged: anti-socialist forces had not diminished their activity, revisionists were demanding the dismissal of the party leadership, and so on. In view of the now certain invasion, the Soviets once more sought public backing for their position: “…declarations from the brother parties expressing concern regarding the situation […] would be of great help to the Czechoslovak comrades.”176

4. THE PCI: SUPPORTING REFORM

4.1. Initial support for the Prague Spring

  • 177 For the public analysis of the PCI’s position I have consulted the party press, mainly Unità and R (...)

67The initial reactions of the PCI leadership to the Prague Spring, both publicly and internally, were, on the whole, very positive.177 The party shared the PCF’s argument on the need to maintain a level of communist party autonomy, but it went much further in its support. The Prague Spring was very often cited in connection to the party’s own concept of “unity in diversity” in the communist world. Besides this, and unlike the PCF case, the PCI’s positive response to the Prague Spring was to do with its substance. There was, at least up to early July, a genuine interest in what was going on and a positive evaluation of the larger part of the developments taking place. As was the case in France, Czechoslovakia was considered on the Italian Left as the most “Western” of East European societies. However, while the PCF had cautiously avoided connecting the Czechoslovak experiences to the French ones, the PCI did connect the Prague Spring with the “Italian road to socialism”; in this sense it served as an example for the party’s own strategy, at least implicitly.

  • 178 “Comunicazione al CC del Partito comunista cecoslovacco,” Unità, 10/1/68, p. 1.
  • 179 Franco Bertone was a journalist for Unità specialized in Eastern Europe. He was known as a progres (...)
  • 180 Written report by Bertone, APCI, Esteri, Cecoslovacchia, 0552.0285–0289.
  • 181 Franco Moranino was a leading figure among the Italian immigrants in Czechoslovakia and generally (...)
  • 182 In the following months they regularly reported on the Czechoslovak issue, always in a more pessim (...)

68Immediately following the turnover in the CPCS leadership in early January, the PCI Direzione issued a communication of support, welcoming the perspective of reform.178 In order to obtain direct information on the complex situation in Czechoslovakia, the Direzione sent a number of specialists on an informative mission to Prague. In early March F. Bertone went to Prague to meet with party leaders, writers and trade union leaders.179 His reading of the events, as reported to the Direzione, was moderately positive: he emphasized that there was a great consensus among leaders and public opinion on the economic reform program, as well as on the need for political and democratic change (a less authoritarian party, a new role for parliament, and so on). However, he noted some worrying evolutions: tension between the new leadership and the military; the admittance by the new leadership that it had failed to inform the people in a satisfactory way about the changes; and its worsening relations with the GDR and Poland. Even though, as Bertone reported, the CPCS was sensitive about “not creating problems of foreign policy,” it was determined to continue its contacts with the West German Social Democratic Party. The Czechoslovaks asked the PCI not to emphasize this last point publicly, in order to avoid upsetting the East Germans too much.180 At the same time, however, two Italian communists living in Prague, M. Rossi and F. Moranino, presented a totally different picture of the situation.181 They expressed great worries about Dubček’s abilities to face down the conservatives inside the CPCS, as well as regarding the reactions of the Soviet Union and the GDR.182

  • 183 Ample extracts from the debates and the conclusions can be found in Unità, 27–29/3/68.
  • 184 This was a conscious line held by the party leadership. APCI, Dir, 17/7/68, 805.

69The points of reference in the PCI’s analyses of the Prague Spring were: the link between socialism and democracy; the reform of the party; the economic reforms; and, to a lesser extent, the role of intellectuals and the development of Marxist thought. At the Central Committee meeting of 26–28 March, which dealt largely with the upcoming election campaign and to a lesser extent the student protests in Italy, very positive views on the events in Czechoslovakia were expressed.183 The PCI here reached its peak of substance-related support for the Prague Spring: great emphasis was put on the link between socialism and democracy, and on the need to appropriate new methods and new political forces to achieve democratic socialism. In contrast to the PCF, the PCI highlighted the novelty of this experience and the contrast with other socialist regimes and experiences.184 There was at least an implicit suggestion in this that there was a problem of democracy in other socialist regimes.

  • 185 “Discorso finale di Luigi Longo,” Unità, 29/3/68.
  • 186 Bertone, “La corona di Ota Šik,” Rinascita, 31/3/68, pp. 29–30.
  • 187 Berlinguer, in his personal papers, kept an Italian translation of the Literarni Lysti article “Un (...)

70At this point, a strategic argument was introduced in support of the Prague Spring alongside the formalistic and substance-related arguments. The PCI, in contrast to the PCF, valued the Prague Spring as an expression of a wider development in Europe as a whole towards democratic forms of socialism. This was closely connected to the party’s particular interest in both détente and (pan-)European integration. The Italian communists understood the Prague Spring as important to the “advance of socialist forces in the West.” In his conclusions to the March Central Committee meeting, Longo stated that the Czechoslovak developments were “of great interest to Europe.” This was so, he said, because “the coming about of a more advanced type of democratic socialism would not only represent a great contribution to the struggle of the working class and the forces of the Left in the capitalist countries, but would also stimulate us to overcome the fears which still stand in the way of a full development of democratic socialism.”185 Moreover, Czechoslovakia was presented as an example of a socialist state able to “solve the problems of an advanced society, on a multiparty basis.”186 All this was reminiscent of the maximalist interpretation of polycentrism, and therefore the PCI leadership was careful not to make the strategic argument too explicit. Given the delicacy surrounding the question of the model, there were no explicit references to the Prague Spring as a new model for socialism.187

  • 188 Boffa, “Intervista con Dubček,” Unità, 31/3/68, pp. 1, 17. Giuseppe Boffa was the permanent corres (...)
  • 189 Bertone, “La corona di Ota Šik,” Rinascita, 31/3/68, pp. 29–30.

71Similar points were emphasized in the interview with Dubček in the PCI’s daily Unità on 31 March, which was the first interview with Dubček by any foreign communist party paper.188 In the interview, Dubček fairly openly addressed a number of problems, such as the unresolved divisions inside the Czechoslovak leadership, the past and present economic problems, and the need for the party to acquire greater legitimacy. Unità was particularly interested in, firstly, questions relating to the relation between the party and other political and societal forces; and secondly, the role of intellectuals in the construction of socialism. Unità once more noted the interest of the Prague Spring to Europe as a whole. It demonstrated affinity with various ideological strands of the Prague Spring, including the radical-democratic and liberal-democratic ones. The fact that the PCI press interviewed one of the most outspoken advocates of reform in the CPCS, O. Šik, was telling. Bertone’s interview with Šik in Rinascita in late March amply and openly discussed the “irresponsible” economic politics of the past, as well as the delicate issue of Czechoslovakia’s request for a loan from West Germany.189

4.2. Domestic politics and the qualification of support

  • 190 To gain a picture of the responses to the Prague Spring on the wider Italian Left I have consulted (...)
  • 191 For more detail on communist-socialist relations in 1968, see, for example, Tranfaglia, “Socialist (...)

72The initially enthusiastic reactions to the Prague Spring by the PCI can be explained, generally, by the changes which its own domestic strategy and domestic analyses had undergone since the early 1960s, which emphasized democratic procedures, the need to represent diverse groups in society, and co-operation with non-communist forces, without coming to terms with fully fledged political pluralism. As long as the CPCS seemed to undertake a course similar to the domestic program proposed by the PCI, the appreciation was positive. Moreover, the PCI’s position on Czechoslovakia came about partly as the result of dynamic interactions between the domestic forces of the Left, as was the case with the PCF. The conditions of the domestic interplay in Italy pressured the PCI towards a stronger identification with the Prague Spring than was the case for the PCF, as there was, on the Italian Left, a far more positive evaluation of the Prague Spring than in France. While the student and contestation movements were not very interested in it, the Unified Socialist Party (PSU) showed great interest.190 A competitive battle over the “occupation” of the Prague Spring took place between the PCI and PSU. Relations between the socialist and communist parties, generally, were in this phase not hostile, but nor was there a constructive dialogue that went beyond lip service. Although the PCI had, at its 11th National Congress, adopted the strategy of collaboration between the communist and socialist parties, and despite the PSU’s wish to see the centro-sinistra government opened to the PCI, there was no concrete perspective on a common program or an alliance between the two parties.191

  • 192 “La relazione di Pietro Nenni alla conferenza nazionale. La crisi del comunismo,” Avanti, 9/4/68, (...)
  • 193 For example in “Riunito il CC a Praga,” Avanti, 30/5/68, p. 3.
  • 194 “La relazione di Pietro Nenni alla conferenza nazionale,” Avanti, 9/4/68, p. 3.

73During the campaign before the parliamentary elections of 19 May, relations between the two parties became embittered: while the PCI antagonized the centro-sinistra, the PSU turned Czechoslovakia into an election theme to discredit the PCI. It did so, firstly, by occupying the Prague Spring as a model for democratic socialism: the similarities of this with its own program, and the dissimilarities with the program of the PCI, were highlighted. The PSU was extremely sympathetic to the Czechoslovak events; specifically, it identified with the most critical revival tendencies in the Prague Spring. This implied criticism of the more conservative tendencies in the Czechoslovak Communist Party and even of the party as a whole, although there was sympathy for Dubček. In a speech in early April, PSU leader P. Nenni noted the empowerment of public opinion in Czechoslovakia, and contrasted it to the undemocratic party apparatus.192 The PSU accentuated the divergence inside the CPCS between a “conservative wing” and a “progressive wing,” while hoping for the elimination of the former.193 The PSU took up the Prague Spring to discuss socialism more generally: it was on several occasions affirmed that the type of socialism that would come about in Czechoslovakia would be “modern revisionist” and based on humanist Marxism. It would also be pluralistic, in the sense of a bi-party (socialist and communist party) or multi-party system in which the communist party did not assume a special role.194 By bringing up these issues it implicitly referred to the contradictions in the PCI’s democratic program for socialism.

  • 195 See, for example, the speech by Nenni mentioned above; “La Cecoslovacchia accentua il proprio dist (...)
  • 196 “Due documenti del dibattitto tra il CPSU e il partito Cecoslovacco,” Rinascita, 26/7/68, n. 30.

74Secondly, the PSU openly speculated about the possibility of an invasion, in order to discredit world communism. From April up to July, the party daily Avanti covered the “crisis of communism” in an exhaustive way. Divergences between Czechoslovakia and the Soviet Union in terms of military policy were emphasized, as well as the Soviet military maneuvers in the region and Soviet interference in Czechoslovakia.195 The PCI responded to this by downplaying the crisis in the communist world. As the PCF, it did so up to around mid-July, when this became untenable. The Soviet military maneuvers were hardly reported. Not before late July Rinascita published a few “documents of the debate (sic) between the CPSU and the Czechoslovak Party,” in connection to the Warsaw letter. While the Warsaw letter itself was not published, these documents were reproduced without further comment, in an obviously embarrassed way.196

  • 197 APCI, Dir, 29/4/68, 020.0638. Moreover, it was listed in the Direzione documents among the initiat (...)
  • 198 On Longo’s motivations for the trip, see also Mazini, “Luigi Longo” in Luigi Longo, pp. 119–127 at (...)

75It was in the context of the election campaign that the PCI very strongly felt the need to identify with the Prague Spring. Longo’s visit to Prague from 4 to 9 May, during which he met with Dubček, party leaders and trade union leaders, was partly motivated by the election campaign. As Longo stated to the Direzione, the trip could be “both useful to us and not damaging to them.”197 To be sure, other motives played a part in this initiative: the PCI wished to demonstrate its support for the Czechoslovak experiment, not only vis-à-vis its domestic political partners but also vis-à-vis the Soviet Union. The trip had a high symbolic value, as Longo was the first West European communist leader to meet Dubček since January, as well as the first communist leader to do so since the Action Program. The PCI leadership was perfectly aware of the significance of the trip and its consequences for the party’s further positioning: as Longo said, once having been to Prague there was “no way back.”198

  • 199 Oral report Longo, APCI, Dir, 10–11/5/68, 020.0640–0661.

76From late May onwards, the PCI leadership, both publicly and internally, started to qualify and specify its support for the Prague Spring. This resulted from four factors: firstly, the development in Czechoslovakia itself and the information obtained; secondly, the domestic interplay which shifted, after the elections, towards pressure from the “far Left”; thirdly, the subordination of defending the Prague Spring to the alarming situation in the world communist movement; and lastly, disagreement in the leadership on how to evaluate the Prague Spring, which led to a certain immobility. With regard to the first factor, Longo, upon his return from Prague, watered down his public support for the Prague Spring somewhat, and his private support more significantly. The issues on which the PCI leaders privately started to moderate their enthusiasm for the Prague Spring revolved around the question of the extent to which the CPCS leadership was capable of controlling the movement it had unleashed. To the Direzione members, Longo admitted that “on the central party levels, unity has not been regained.” The CPCS leaders themselves, he said, had admitted that certain groups in Czechoslovak society were hostile to the communist party because of its authoritarian past, and that among the reformist intellectuals, anti-Soviet and anti-socialist voices could be heard. This attitude increasingly took root among the working classes, Longo noted, and “extremist forces” were already taking advantage of this. In his view, the communist party did not have a satisfactory “political response”: the party had close to no control over the press, and a reluctance to defend the party against criticism was widespread. Despite all this, there was enough to be optimistic about: there was no broad movement advocating the return to capitalism, and the country’s international alignment was not being questioned.199

  • 200 “Intervista col compagno Longo dopo il suo ritorno di Praga,” in L’Unità, 11/5/68.
  • 201 Longo, “Rapporto sulla Cecoslovacchia,” Rinascita, 16/5/68, p. 3.
  • 202 Bertone, “Praga: il punto di non ritorno,” Rinascita, 7/6/68, n.23, pp. 15–16.

77Longo’s public discussion of the Czechoslovak question following his trip was more positive. In an interview with L’Unità he affirmed that, although there were in the highest party ranks opponents of the new course, Dubček and his supporters had a strong grip over the situation.200 In his report in Rinascita, he still warmly acclaimed the reform line proposed by Šik. On the other hand, regarding the question of party pluralism, Longo made it clear that, while he favored the presence of non-communist parties in the National Front, a privileged position for the CPCS should be maintained and no parties outside the Front should be legalized.201 This position reflected the limits to the PCI’s concept of pluralism. Support for party-controlled reform, rather than for the most critical expressions of the revival movement, also became clear from an article by Bertone from early June, which noted the “very public political struggle” within the CC. The existence was also noted of tendencies that wished to “question the fundamental socialist choice of the Czechoslovak peoples.”202

  • 203 While the PSIUP, in what were its first elections, obtained 4.4 per cent, the PCI reached 26.9 per (...)
  • 204 More on the government crisis of this period, in Ginsborg, Storia d’Italia, pp. 441–448.

78The June elections marked a sharp defeat for the PSU, a modest victory for the PCI, and a clear victory for the radical leftist PSIUP (Partito socialista italiano di unità proletaria).203 The victory of the PSIUP led to a shift to the Left in the political landscape. While this did not result in a change in the government coalition, it did lead to serious government instability up to 1972.204 Following the June elections, the domestic dynamic in which the PCI was involved was no longer the competition with the PSU over the occupation of the Prague Spring. Rather, the party had to deal with increasing pressure from the radical components of the contestation movements (the movimento) and the PSIUP. The latter party had been able to present itself as the political arm of the student contestation, despite the refusal of the main student organizations to engage in the election campaign and their call for people to abstain from voting.

  • 205 For a few general interpretations of 1968 in Italy see Flores, De Bernardi, Il sessantotto, esp. c (...)

79Compared to the French situation, the Italian contestation movement of 1967–1969 was more radical and more violent. It was more connected to deeply rooted political and societal problems, and lasted longer. In the spring of 1968, however, the challenge to the political and social order was far less acute than it was in France.205 The first student actions in 1967—the occupation of several universities in the North and centre—were to do mostly with student-related issues. Gradually, the movement became more political and, partly under the influence of the events in France and elsewhere, grew into a broad contestation movement against the existing political, socioeconomic and cultural order, domestically and internationally. Tension rose sharply when, in early March, violent clashes occurred between the masses of students and the police forces in Valle Giulia in Rome. Stimulated by the student protests, a new wave of worker unrest started in early 1968 and peaked in March 1968 with a general strike, organized by both the communist and Christian Democratic trade unions (CGIL and CISL).

  • 206 The most important Maoist groups were Servire il Popolo and the proto-Maoist and Leninist Avanguar (...)
  • 207 Ginsborg, Storia d’Italia, p. 409.

80Two specific features of the Italian situation, in terms of ideology, were the centrality of anti-imperialism as a somewhat amorphous theme, and the importance of Catholic-inspired contestation. Many of the student movements tended towards Maoism, and also among the radicalized workers Maoist ideas were diffused.206 Among the radical Left in Italy, the Chinese Cultural Revolution occured as the anti-imperialist alternative to the bureaucratic and authoritarian Soviet system. International points of reference were, furthermore, Vietnam and the Marxist movements in Latin America such as Che Guevara in Bolivia. Besides this, many of these groups referred back to pre-1917 forms of revolutionary socialism, as well as to the factory councils in Italy in the 1920s.207 With the exception of the PSIUP, which entertained contacts with many of the student groups, none of the political parties was able to connect to the contestation movement. The reactions to it by the PCI leadership were less negative than those displayed by its French counterpart, partly because the PCI was not being attacked in such a harsh way as the PCF was. More fundamentally, in terms of sources of legitimation the PCI was less alienated from the protest movements than the PCF was. Firstly, the PCI benefited here from its choice, made since the early 1960s, fully to engage in the anti-imperialist strategy and discourses of the world communist movement, and to link this to Italy’s situation in the Cold War. Furthermore, the PCI was able to connect to the protest movements via the theme of anti-fascism, central in the discourses and identities of these movements in Italy in ‘68–‘69. In terms of revolution, however, the PCI, as the PCF, was sharply criticized by these groups for its alleged non-revolutionary character, its gradualism and integration in the liberal-bourgeois political and societal system.

  • 208 For a similar interpretation of the PCI’s attitude vis-à-vis the ’68 movements, see Flores, Galler (...)
  • 209 A similar mix of curiosity and instrumentalisation had already been clear in Longo’s article: Long (...)
  • 210 Amendola, “Necessità della lotta su due fronti,” Rinascita, 7/6/68.
  • 211 Flores, Gallerano, Sul PCI, pp. 189–190.
  • 212 However, as Graziani has argued, there were important differences in the culture and conception of (...)

81The attitude of the PCI leadership was a mix of a will to understand the movement, attempts to instrumentalize it to the benefit of its own strategy and position on the Left, and rejection of some of its cultural and ideological points of reference. The PCI attempted to incorporate those segments and elements of the movement with which it agreed, whilst ensuring that the party did not come under its influence too much. The PCI’s difficult relation to the student movements can be explained on a practical level from the decline of its own youth organization, the FGCI, which, between 1954 and 1968, lost about 70 per cent of its members.208 Shortly before the elections, Longo held talks with a number of leaders of the student movements operating in Rome, including Maoist groups which so far had been perceived by many in the leadership as a threat. While this was undoubtedly a sign of the recognition of the importance of the movements, it was also an attempt by the party to project itself as the voice of the movements in the political arena.209 Those on the Right of the PCI leadership, however, displayed a reaction more similar to that of the PCF: one of downright hostility towards what they called the “far Left.” Amendola, in a Rinascita article in early June, called for a “struggle on two fronts,” directed in equal measure against both government and the (radical segments of the) contestation movement.210 The rather hostile reaction against the contestation movement can be explained by the fact that this movement, as in France, fundamentally questioned and challenged what the communist party had traditionally seen as its political and ideological monopoly, namely, the perspective of revolution and a radical upsetting of society.211 Moreover, they did so with political means and methods that were diametrically opposed to the PCI’s choice for integration into the existing institutional system. The party’s hostile reactions were furthermore due to the fact that (proto-) Maoist and radical-revolutionary influences weakened the unity of the party. The Ingrao Left in the party strongly argued in favor of a coherent alliance with the contestation movement, which it considered a genuinely revolutionary movement and the sign of an essentially new situation.212

  • 213 More detail, for example, in Graziani, Nei punti alti, pp. 39–41.

82Although the student movements themselves were not, generally, very interested in the Prague Spring, the Ingrao Left picked up on the combination of both the student movements in Western Europe and the events in Czechoslovakia to question the foundations of the PCI’s domestic strategy. Both developments were picked up on as occasions to initiate a debate on the nature of the socialist regimes in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe. Specifically, the factory councils in Czechoslovakia and the popularity among the Italian far Left of concepts such as workers’ autonomy and selfmanagement, led Ingrao to call for “socialism from below.” At the Central Committee meeting of June, Ingrao explicitly linked the events in Czechoslovakia to a call for the organization of “unitary political organisms” in factories. Furthermore, he linked the positive evaluation of the Prague Spring to the initiation of an (obviously critical) debate on the other socialist countries.213

  • 214 Conclusions of the CC: “L’agonia del centro-sinistra non deve essere pagata dai lavoratori,” Unità(...)
  • 215 APCI, UP, 12/6/68, 006.0543.

83However, the issue of ideological and strategic links and parallels between the events in Czechoslovakia and the contestation movement in Western Europe had a conservative effect on the PCI. It led to the blocking of the debate on the nature of the socialist regimes in Eastern Europe and of socialism generally. The conclusions of the June CC meeting illustrate this: they granted little attention to the party’s relationship to the socialist countries, including Czechoslovakia, apart from vague statements such as “a dialogue with all forces of the workers’ and democratic movement.” There was little real analysis of the situation in Czechoslovakia, as this might have led to an analysis of the situation in other socialist regimes.214 Moreover, the Ufficio politico in mid-June decided to “counterattack anti-Sovietism” and called a meeting of the communist MPs to “clarify the party line on Czechoslovakia.”215 This is where the PCI’s substance-related and strategic sympathy for the Prague Spring broke down—when the Prague Spring and the contestation movements were understood as bearing a similar and converging historical meaning, namely, as expressions of the failure of a Soviet-style strategy and a Soviet-aligned concept of socialism.

4.3. The PCI’s low profile in the WCM crisis

  • 216 There is reference to this letter in the discussion of the extraordinary meeting of the Direzione (...)
  • 217 Oral report Pajetta, APCI, Dir, 17/7, 202–0802. Giancarlo Pajetta was a Direzione member; he had p (...)

84The PCI’s retreat from full support for the Prague Spring was further caused by the rising tension in the communist world. The PCI leadership, as its French counterpart, was more or less convinced by early July that an invasion would take place. Like the latter, it received the Soviet letter dated 11 July, which caused considerable panic.216 Unlike the PCF, however, the PCI at this point kept a low profile in the communist world and did not embark upon active, open negotiations. The reasons why the PCI, compared to the PCF, kept a low profile in the communist world were to do generally with its minority position in the WCM, and more specifically with its acute isolation in it at this point. As the danger of an invasion grew, the PCI leadership did not wish to get too deeply involved in the Prague Spring, also because the Czechoslovak reformers at times referred to Gramsci. Moreover, it was difficult for the PCI, with its usual insistence on non-interference in the affairs of other communist parties, actively to interfere in the crisis. Moreover, rather than embarking upon a mission which, if not ambiguous in its motives could be interpreted as such, the Italian communists preferred to keep their hands free. The Soviets, in very much a similar way as they did vis-à-vis the French, exercised pressure on the Italians to influence Dubček. In Moscow, the Soviets undertook a last attempt to persuade Galluzzi and G.C. Pajetta into talking with Dubček on their behalf. Ponomariov suggested that if the PCI were to intervene with the French and the Hungarians, “something could be obtained, as your party has influence.”217

  • 218 Kriegel, “The International Role,” p. 48.
  • 219 Oral report Longo to Direzione, APCI, 29/4/68, 020–0639.
  • 220 Also the Cuban, North Vietnamese and North Korean CPs were absent. Timmermann, “Das präkonziliaere (...)
  • 221 Oral report Berlinguer to Direzione: APCI, Dir, 15/3/68, 020–0579.
  • 222 The PCI, which since 1967 had opposed this, managed only to obtain that no party could be forced t (...)
  • 223 Berlinguer’s speech: “Discorso Berlinguer” (various versions), s.d., in APCI, Fund Berlinguer, 48. (...)
  • 224 Oral report Berlinguer to the Direzione, APCI, Dir, 15/3/68, 020 –0597. Another incident occurred (...)

85More acutely, the PCI considered it too risky to play an active role in the crisis of the world communist movement because of its relative isolation in the context of the on-going preparations for the world communist conference. There were plenty of signs of an anti-revisionist campaign being under way, aimed not only at the CPCS but also at the PCI. This shift of atmosphere in the world communist movement preceded the actual, open crisis between Czechoslovakia and the Soviet Union.218 From February to June 1968, there were regular meetings in Budapest in preparation for the conference. At the meeting in late February, the atmosphere grew grim and the room for maneuver of autonomist parties such as the PCI tightened.219 Yugoslavia abstained from further collaboration, and the positions of the Soviets, East Germans and Polish were increasingly rigid and their alliance increasingly tight.220 The PCI now stood virtually alone in its critical and autonomist positions. First and foremost, it lost its battle over the allargamento: the proposal to invite non-communist groups was definitely rejected at the meeting of late February.221 Furthermore, the plenary session held in late April decided that the conference should adopt a series of documents which would be binding: a general resolution, a declaration on Vietnam, and a declaration on peace.222 In particular, relations between the Italian and Polish parties deteriorated. In his speeches Berlinguer touched on the sensitive issue of cultural freedom in the socialist countries, subtly implying that the PCI (and the other West European communist parties) might turn the discussion of this theme into a condition for further support for unity in the communist world.223 In response, though without referring explicitly to the PCI and the CPCS, Kliszko, of the Polish delegation, attacked revisionism and “autonomism.”224

  • 225 “Oggetto: Riunione del gruppo di lavoro a Budapest per la preparazione dello schema di documento p (...)
  • 226 This was closely connected to the Budapest preparations, as at least one of the versions read that (...)

86In June, an open rift occurred at the Budapest meetings between, on the one hand, Czechoslovakia, Romania, PCI, PCF, PCE, and smaller out-ofgovernment communist parties, and, on the other hand, a “troika” of the Soviet Union, Poland and East Germany, joined cautiously by Hungary. The Italian delegation noted that the troika attempted to make the whole communist world agree upon their conception of relations between socialist states and communist parties, and upon their renewed emphasis on ideological correctness.225 Other signs of the tightening atmosphere in the communist world more generally were the persistent rumors, spread especially by the Romanians, about Soviet–East German–Polish plans to create a new “permanent centre” of the communist world, in the historical tradition of the Cominform and Comintern.226 The fear of a new anti-revisionist campaign, whether or not institutionalized in a permanent structure, and its position as a likely target, led the PCI to downplay, at least in public, its substance-related support of the Prague Spring. Instead, it focused on formalistic arguments, related to party autonomy.

  • 227 Longo proposed that he would take a “personal” initiative, an idea that was not supported by Berli (...)
  • 228 Written report by Longo of 26/7 meeting Longo–Kirilenko, in APCI, Esteri, URSS, 0553–0218. The Sov (...)
  • 229 APCI, Esteri, URSS, 0553–0327, pp. 8–9.

87While it did not engage, as the PCF did, in a diplomatic campaign, the PCI did strongly argue against an invasion and reaffirm its support for the Prague Spring on its two encounters with Soviet delegations in this period.227 Both of these—one in Rome in late June–early July, the other in Moscow in mid-July—had been planned beforehand and the PCI put Czechoslovakia on the agenda in a last instance. During the visit to Italy of a delegation of the Soviet party in late June–early July, the Italian delegation was remarkably assertive in general and went relatively far in its content- related defense of the Prague Spring. Longo met with Kirilenko on 26 and 27 June, and a broader meeting of the two delegations took place on 9 July.228 At this second meeting, importantly, the Czechoslovak issue was broadened to general questions of democracy and pluralism. The talks at this meeting deviated from the usual polite protocol: the Italians directly asked the Soviets about their policies on intellectuals and asked for “clarifications” regarding party democracy and party discipline in the Soviet Union. Pajetta and Longo clearly stated that the PCI had other views on these issues.229

  • 230 After the Warsaw letter, the Ufficio politico urgently met and decided that the bilateral PCI–CPSU (...)
  • 231 Despite the Soviets’ attempts to hinder any form of contact between the French and Italian delegat (...)
  • 232 Oral report Pajetta, APCI, Dir, 17/7, 020–0800.

88Italian and Soviet communist delegations met in Moscow on 17 July. While Rochet was meeting with Brezhnev, Pajetta and Galluzzi met with Suslov, Kirilenko and Ponomariov.230 The Soviet delegation on this occasion drew a very negative picture of the situation in Czechoslovakia. The Soviets were rather straightforward as to their intentions: affirming that the situation in Czechoslovakia was getting worse, they stated that it had become impossible to “remain passive” and the “hostile elements” needed to be defeated. The Italian delegation made clear its disagreement regarding the nature of the Prague Spring, although it admitted that the Soviet preoccupations were “legitimate.” The Italians stressed that the CPCS leadership needed to be supported in their continuation of the current policy line. They also invoked the strategic argument regarding the “international balance of forces,” and the argument of autonomy. Pajetta here made it clear that the PCI would openly disagree with a military invasion. As they did vis-à-vis the PCF, the Soviets pressured the PCI to align with their position, though less strongly so on some points.231 The latter resisted, more resolutely than did the French. The Soviet delegation explicitly pressured the Italians to condemn publicly the 2000 Words Manifesto. The Italian delegation responded that the manifesto could be “strongly criticized,” but insisted that there were “sincere people among the writers.”232

4.4. Diversification in the leadership

  • 233 See Galluzzi’s account in his memoirs: Galluzzi, La svolta, pp. 196–197.
  • 234 “Mille parole in risposta alle “Duemilà,” Rinascita, 19/7/68, pp. 15–16.
  • 235 Pajetta, Le crisi, p. 123.

89The PCI’s rather low profile in the world communist crisis was also to do with disagreements inside the leadership. Compared to the PCF, the difference was probably not that internal disagreement was greater, but rather that a larger number of leaders were involved in the analysis and the decisions (the Direzione debates compared to the smaller Bureau politique and the individual character of Rochet’s initiatives). The substance-related support of the Prague Spring by the PCI leadership en bloc broke down over the 2000 Words Manifesto. Following the publication of the manifesto, Galluzzi was urgently sent to Prague, where he spoke with, among others, J. Špaček. His conclusion was not a critique of either the most radical segments of the revival movement or of the conservatives in the CPCS, but a pessimistic view on Dubček’s abilities to hold a centrist line between the two.233 However, criticism of the manifesto itself was expressed through an (anonymous) article in Rinascita. With this article, the party took its distance from the manifesto without formally condemning it. Particularly hard to accept for the PCI was the manifesto’s very critical analysis of past communist rule: “…the entire judgment of the past which it holds seems in an extremely bitter way to minimize or even ignore the value of the historical choice for socialism that Czechoslovakia made 20 years ago…”234 Also Pajetta later on affirmed that “many of the 2000 Words were certainly not ours.”235

  • 236 Oral report G.C. Pajetta to the Direzione: APCI, Dir, 17/7, 020–0801.
  • 237 APCI, Dir, 17/7, 020–0802.
  • 238 APCI, Dir, 17/7, 020–0809.
  • 239 APCI, Dir, 17/7, 020–0806–0810.
  • 240 APCI, Dir, 17/7, 020–0813. Achille Occhetto, future general secretary, was in 1968 leader of the y (...)
  • 241 Berlinguer spoke of “20 years of bad governance,” for which he was attacked by Colombi and Terraci (...)

90Upon the return of Pajetta and Galluzzi from Moscow after their talks with the Soviets in mid-July, an extraordinary meeting of the Direzione took place in a crisis atmosphere. There was the understanding that an invasion was almost certain: as Pajetta put it, “there is the will to cause a rupture and the plans for such action have already been drawn.”236 Moreover, Longo had been informed by the Yugoslavs that “all plans were made.”237 As to the question of how the PCI should react to the escalation of the crisis, there was a general consensus in the Direzione that some sort of public statement should be made.238 However, important disagreements existed as to how to value the Prague Spring, and, specifically, on the question of “anti-socialist forces” inside the party and state apparatus. Colombi clearly stated that he had no confidence in the Czechoslovak leaders and that there was a danger of undermining socialism. He agreed with the Soviet analysis of the developments, although he did not approve of the Soviet methods and the Warsaw letter. While Amendola also now had worries regarding the situation in Czechoslovakia,239 A. Occhetto argued that there definitely were “counter-revolutionary forces” operating in Czechoslovakia.240 On the other hand, Ingrao, Berlinguer and U. Terracini still wholeheartedly defended the Prague Spring.241

  • 242 Published in (PCI, ed.) Il partito comunista italiano, pp. 304–306.
  • 243 Colombi understood that this statement directly led to the condemnation of an invasion, a point wh (...)
  • 244 APCI, Dir, 17/7, 020–0816. A few days later the PCI changed its position on the French conference (...)

91Following this meeting, the Direzione issued a statement in support of the Czechoslovak Communist Party. It defended the Prague Spring and argued against any kind of intervention.242 It referred to substance-related arguments (“our solidarity with the process of democratic renewal,” “the construction of a socialist democracy”), formalistic arguments (autonomy, respect for the principle of non-interference), and strategic arguments (“the unity of all communist and progressive forces in the struggle against imperialism,” “the construction of a system of peaceful coexistence”). Colombi had voted against the final resolution, despite especially Longo’s attempts to persuade him otherwise. There was an agreement not to make Colombi’s dissent public.243 In a separate statement the PCI declared itself to be in favor of the French proposal to hold a conference on Czechoslovakia, even though, as was noted on the Direzione meeting, this went against its line of non-interference in the domestic affairs of other parties.244

  • 245 APCI, Dir, 17/7, 020–0812.
  • 246 “In this sense, we can recognize that there is an imperialist anti-socialist maneuver going on,” h (...)
  • 247 APCI, Dir, 17/7, 020–0815.
  • 248 APCI, Dir, 26/7, 020–0881. It is not clear whether this trip eventually took place. See also Hoebe (...)
  • 249 APCI, UP, 30/7/68, 1349.
  • 250 The PCI received the invitation for the congress planned for 9 September, on 11 July; it decided t (...)
  • 251 This interview was to take place on 21 August. APCI, Esteri, Cecoslovacchia, 0552–0346.

92There were voices in the party leadership arguing for a more active and visible position in the crisis of the communist world, but the motives behind these proposals lay far apart. Galluzzi was in favor of an open common policy with the French, for which there seemed to have been little enthusiasm among the others.245 Longo suggested putting pressure on Dubček by pointing at the “dangers against which he has to struggle.”246 Pajetta repeated his earlier idea that the PCI would send an official delegation to Prague; this was firmly opposed by Longo.247 There were requests for more active support from the Czechoslovaks themselves, to which the PCI responded with a mix of caution and support. Most importantly, the CPCS sent an invitation to the PCI for a high-level bilateral meeting in Prague. Longo suggested not traveling to Prague until after the Čierna talks—which was accepted by the Direzione.248 An invitation by the East German SED, by contrast, was accepted and Pajetta was sent to Berlin in early August.249 On the other hand, the PCI agreed to attend the CPCS 14th Congress, planned for early September. As the congress had become controversial even before it was held, this marked a clear sign of support.250 The PCI also agreed with the request of the Czechoslovak television, headed by Pelikán, to interview Longo in Rome on issues such as “modern socialism,” the value of the Czechoslovak experience for West European communist parties, and the modes of interaction between communist parties.251

CONCLUDING REMARKS

93While the PCI certainly displayed more enthusiasm for the Prague Spring than the PCF did, the former party’s support also had its limits. The two parties shared a few basic motives in their defense of the Prague Spring: the advocacy of a level of communist party autonomy in the world communist movement (the formalistic support of the Prague Spring), and the urgent need to avoid a military invasion which would damage the image of communism in the West and exacerbate the situation in the world communist movement. Beyond these two motives, the interests of the two parties in the Czechoslovak crisis differed. The PCI initially supported the Prague Spring as a project and as an example of a democratic form of socialism, useful to communist parties in the West. Moreover, it wished to understand the Prague Spring as the first example of a European development towards the rise of democratic forms of socialism across Europe in the context of détente and the symmetric loosening of bloc cohesion.

94It was foremost the political situation in Italy that pressured the PCI towards a positive evaluation of the Prague Spring, to a greater extent than was the case for the PCF in France. In the context of the election campaign of April–May, the PCI engaged in a competition for the positive occupation of the Prague Spring with the socialist PSU, which strongly identified with it and openly speculated on the possibility of a Soviet invasion. However, the PCI’s positive evaluation of the Prague Spring came under pressure when the far Left in Italy interpreted the events in Czechoslovakia and the contestation movements in Western Europe as two sides of a coin and as reflecting not only the break-up of the European status quo but also the failure of Soviet-inspired models for socialism. The more or less unanimous support by the PCI leadership for the Prague Spring broke down in the evaluation of the most critical expressions of the revival movement, notably the 2000 Words Manifesto.

95The PCF, by contrast, had great difficulty in relating to the Prague Spring. At most, Waldeck Rochet and others in the leadership such as Kanapa and Frachon initially displayed benevolent tolerance towards some elements of the Prague Spring as a reform movement led by the communist party; this was by no means shared by the entire Bureau politique. The PCF was limited in its support for the Prague Spring because it raised the issue of Stalinism and de-Stalinization, and because it did not correspond to the party’s own concept of “orthodox” socialism. Nonetheless, it continued to present the Prague Spring as a socialist and revolutionary development, although rather because it was pressured by other actors on the Left who understood the Prague Spring either as a development towards (liberal) democracy or as a non-revolutionary movement. The limits to its support of the Prague Spring were furthermore connected to the May ’68 events in France and the perspective of the possibility of the upsetting of the bipolar European order, which it seemed to suggest. The PCF refused to understand the May events in France as revolutionary, firstly because it did not control the radical student protest movement, and secondly because the Soviets, having less interest in the emergence of a “non-orthodox” socialist regime in France than in the continuation of Gaullist détente, pressured the PCF into containing this movement. Thus, the PCF needed to deny that either the events in France or those in Czechoslovakia had the potential of upsetting the European status quo.

96By June, the interpretations of the Prague Spring came to be largely (in the case of the PCI) or entirely (in the case of the PCF) subordinate to the mounting crisis in the world communist movement. Paradoxically, as tension increased the PCI, which had initially been more enthusiastic about the Prague Spring, played down this enthusiasm, and the PCF, which had been more skeptical, undertook an intra-communist diplomatic campaign to prevent the invasion. Rochet considered it to be his special responsibility to avoid a military outcome to the crisis. Rochet’s talks with both Brezhnev and Dubček were not intended as a mediating campaign between two equal partners; rather, having understood that the Soviets would invade Czechoslovakia, the French communist leader put pressure on Dubček to change his course. However, his endeavor should not be understood as a Soviet-instigated mission, and Soviet and PCF interests in the matter did not coincide, as the former from mid-July onwards no longer seriously envisaged other options than an invasion. Instead, Rochet’s initiatives, and in particular his proposal to hold a European conference of communist parties, brought the PCF into acute conflict with the Soviets. The fact that Rochet, through his parallel diplomacy, put the PCF in an isolated position in the world communist movement, demonstrated that his vision of loyal internationalism was an unrealistic one, which ignored the furthest implications of Soviet dominance.

Notes

1 Held, “Le face-à-face de Prague,” Le Nouvel Observateur, 29/7/68.

2 Some of the analyses elaborated in the literature on the Prague Spring and the Soviet invasion, written in the 1970s and 1980s, remain very valuable, primarily Gordon Skilling, Czechoslovakia’s interrupted revolution; Dawisha, The Kremlin and the Prague Spring. For memoirs of Prague Spring protagonists and Czechoslovak émigrés, see Dubček, Hope Dies Last; Hájek, Dix ans après; Mlynář, Nightfrost in Prague; and Pelikán, S’ils me tuent. A very useful recent archive-based study on the Prague Spring and the invasion is Williams, ThePrague Spring an its aftermath.

3 This distinction, between a top-led reform movement and a more spontaneous revival movement, has been made in much of the literature. See, for example, Pehe, “Introduction,” in Pehe, The Prague Spring, pp. 1–7; Grémion, Paris–Prague, chapter 1.

4 Kusin, The Intellectual Origins, p. 17.

5 The events of 1956 had already given rise to a re-awakening of intellectual criticism and creativity, from which a straight line can be drawn to the Prague Spring twelve years later. Kusin, The Intellectual Origins, pp. 19–27.

6 For more detail on the economic crisis see Gordon Skilling, Czechoslovakia’s interrupted revolution, pp. 57–59.

7 Their programme for economic reform in 1964 introduced a number of liberal market elements but was also inspired by the Polish, Hungarian and Yugoslav experiences. Kusin, The Intellectual Origins, pp. 86–90.

8 Bartošek, “Revoluce proti byrokratismu?” (Revolution against bureaucracy?), Rude Pravo, 18/7/1968.

9 Gramsci’s main works were translated into Czech from the late 1950s onwards. Kusin, The Intellectual Origins, p. 45.

10 Gordon Skilling, Czechoslovakia’s interrupted revolution, p. 102.

11 Kusin, The Intellectual Origins, pp. 80–81.

12 The CPS, which had not shown an independent line previously, went though a crisis in the mid-1960s in which critical voices asking for de-Stalinization emerged. Gordon Skilling, Czechoslovakia’s interrupted revolution, pp. 49–56.

13 Gordon Skilling, Czechoslovakia’s interrupted revolution, pp. 60–61.

14 On the Slánský trials and the revision see Gordon Skilling, Czechoslovakia’s interrupted revolution, pp. 32–34.

15 Gordon Skilling, Czechoslovakia’s interrupted revolution, pp. 157–158.

16 Gordon Skilling, Czechoslovakia’s interrupted revolution, pp. 166–171.

17 It is in this context that Brezhnev is supposed to have pronounced his famous phrase “It is your affair.” Gordon Skilling, Czechoslovakia’s interrupted revolution, p. 169. On Brezhnev’s visit to Prague see also the interview by M. Kun with the Soviet Ambassador to Prague Chervonenko, in Kun, Prague Spring, Prague Fall, pp. 7–10.

18 While the other candidates proposed by the reformists (Smrkovský and Šik) were not acceptable to Novotný, his own candidates (among others M. Vaculík and Lenart) were not acceptable to the reformists. Gordon Skilling, Czechoslovakia’s interrupted revolution, pp. 176–177, and Chervonenko’s testimony in Kun, Prague Spring, Prague Fall, pp. 11–12.

19 Gordon Skilling, Czechoslovakia’s interrupted revolution, pp. 334–337.

20 Gordon Skilling, Czechoslovakia’s interrupted revolution, pp. 341–356.

21 More detail on the Action Programme can be found in Gordon Skilling, Czechoslovakia’s interrupted revolution, pp. 217–221.

22 Barnard, Pluralism, Socialism, p. 38.

23 Gordon Skilling, Czechoslovakia’s interrupted revolution, pp. 366–369.

24 Gordon Skilling, Czechoslovakia’s interrupted revolution, p. 208.

25 For a detailed account of this see Williams, The Prague Spring, pp. 210–225.

26 Gordon Skilling, Czechoslovakia’s interrupted revolution, pp. 215–216.

27 Gordon Skilling, Czechoslovakia’s interrupted revolution, pp. 414–418.

28 More detail can be found in Gordon Skilling, Czechoslovakia’s interrupted revolution, pp. 441–443.

29 Golan, Reform Rule, pp. 186–187.

30 In mid-March, the Slovak National Council adopted the proposal for symmetric federalism. The Action Programme, once again more careful in its terms, declared the intention to pursue the federalization of the state and economic equalization. Gordon Skilling, Czechoslovakia’s interrupted revolution, p. 459.

31 Gordon Skilling, Czechoslovakia’s interrupted revolution, p. 487.

32 A similar view can be found in Kusin, The Intellectual Origins, pp. 73–75.

33 On this see, especially, Kusin, The Intellectual Origins, pp. 98–101.

34 Gordon Skilling, Czechoslovakia’s interrupted revolution, pp. 617–619. More below on the Budapest meetings in the spring of 1968.

35 Gordon Skilling, Czechoslovakia’s interrupted revolution, pp. 620–627.

36 Navratil, Prague Spring, pp. 108–110. On the question of the loan, see also Dubček, Hope Dies Last, pp. 158–159.

37 For example, Dubček postponed the planned local elections to the end of June, as he feared a victory of the radical-reformist tendency. Gordon Skilling, Czechoslovakia’s interrupted revolution, p. 207.

38 Different interpretations exist in the literature as to how divided or united the party leadership was in April–July 1968, and to what extent it was in control of the revival movement. Some authors have stressed the disagreements inside the party leadership and the challenges posed to the Dubček line from different sides (see, for example, Williams, The Prague Spring, pp. 69–70 and 84–91). Skilling, on the other hand, emphasises that “by the CC Plenum of early April it had gained authority among public opinion and consensus among its ranks.” Gordon Skilling, Czechoslovakia’s interrupted revolution, p. 196. However, the “taking control” by the central leadership can be understood as the “conservative backlash” which writer Vaculík denounced (see below).

39 For a translation of the letter see Navratil, Prague Spring, pp. 76–77.

40 Navratil, Prague Spring, pp. 156–166.

41 Other new political groups were the Academic Council of Students in Prague, and the Club of Critical Thought, a part of the Writers’ Union. Gordon Skilling, Czechoslovakia’s interrupted revolution, p. 202.

42 Gordon Skilling, Czechoslovakia’s interrupted revolution, pp. 346–347.

43 For an English translation of the “Two Thousand Words that Belong to Workers, Farmers, Officials, Scientists, Artists, and Everybody” and commentary see Navratil, Prague Spring, pp. 177–181. On the conservative pressure to which the letter responded, see the testimony by Vaculík in Kun, Prague Spring, Prague Fall, pp. 199–208.

44 Gordon Skilling, Czechoslovakia’s interrupted revolution, pp. 272–279.

45 Gordon Skilling, Czechoslovakia’s interrupted revolution, p. 319.

46 Italian translation in Milan Weiner, “Una conferenza normale,” Literarny listy, 14/3/68. (The title of the article refers to the Budapest preparatory meeting of February 1968 for the planned world communist conference). Translation by E. Berlinguer, to be found in APCI, Fund Berlinguer, folder 51 “Budapest, 26 febbraio–5 marzo,” 2.

47 See the discussion of these elements in Kramer, “The Czechoslovak Crisis,” pp. 121–135.

48 For an analysis of the breakdown of Soviet trust in the Czechoslovak leaders, which takes into account personal elements, see Williams, The Prague Spring, pp. 63–111.

49 On the events in Poland, see Eisler, “March 1968 in Poland,” in Fink, Gassert, Junker, 1968. The World transformed, pp. 237–252.

50 Kramer, “The Czechoslovak Crisis,” p. 144.

51 Kramer, “New Interpretations,” pp. 5–6.

52 Kramer, “Moldavia, Romania.”

53 Dawisha, The Kremlin, p. 33.

54 Dawisha, The Kremlin, p. 351.

55 According to Mlynář, Brezhnev told him at the Moscow talks following the invasion: “…There will be no war. Comrade Tito and Comrade Ceaușescu will say their piece, and so will Comrade Berlinguer. Well, and what of it? You are courting the communist movement in Western Europe, but that won’t amount to anything for fifty years.” Mlynář, Nightfrost, p. 241. Suslov seems to have accorded more importance to the reactions in the world communist movement. Dawisha, The Kremlin, p. 378.

56 McGinn, “The politics of collective inaction,” in Journal of Cold War Studies, 1999, nr. 1.3, pp. 111–138.

57 Dawisha, The Kremlin, p. 115.

58 In all, Brezhnev wrote six letters to Dubček during the spring and summer. While the first two, written in March–April, were still relatively friendly in tone, the subsequent letters were increasingly threatening. See Navratil, Prague Spring, p. 98.

59 Gordon Skilling, Czechoslovakia’s interrupted revolution, pp. 208–209.

60 Differences among the Czechoslovak leaders came to the surface at this meeting. Excerpts of the report of the meeting translated into English with comments can be found in Navratil, Prague Spring, pp. 114–125.

61 There were also attempts at manipulating public opinion against Dubček, for instance by a leaflet campaign. Dawisha, The Kremlin, pp. 128–129.

62 Kramer, “The Czechoslovak Crisis,” p. 133.

63 Brezhnev’s letter to Dubček, in English translation, can be found in Navratil, Prague Spring, pp. 148–149.

64 The attitude of the reformist CPCS leadership at the time has caused much controversy. On the general line of Dubček’s reactions to the external pressures, see Gordon Skilling, Czechoslovakia’s interrupted revolution, pp. 295–304.

65 In this period, the PCF also proposed a pan-European conference of communist parties to discuss the Czechoslovak crisis; see below.

66 On the Warsaw meeting as a crucial moment in the decision-making process see Kramer, “The Czechoslovak Crisis,” p. 147. Gordon Skilling has expressed more doubts on this: Gordon Skilling, Czechoslovakia’s interrupted revolution, pp. 726–730.

67 An English translation and annotation of the Warsaw Letter can be found in Navratil, Prague Spring, pp. 234–238.

68 Dubček, Hope Dies Last, p. 163. For the West European CPs, see below.

69 Kramer, “The Czechoslovak Crisis,” p. 149.

70 Quoted in Kramer, “The Czechoslovak Crisis,” p. 149.

71 Moreover, delivery of the letter was delayed by Soviet Ambassador Chervonenko. Navratil, Prague Spring, p. 384–387.

72 Navratil, Prague Spring, p. 345.

73 A major document that polarised positions was the so-called Kaspar report. Furthermore, A. Indra and D. Kolder, conservative Presidium members, proposed a “Memorandum on the political situation,” which led to a break in the Presidium. Gordon Skilling, Czechoslovakia’s interrupted revolution, p. 329.

74 The “Letter of invitation” was only rediscovered in Soviet archives after 1991. It is translated in Navratil, Prague Spring, pp. 324–325.

75 The following is based on a very useful discussion in Fejtõ, The French Communist Party, pp. 86–93.

76 Fejtõ, The French Communist Party, p. 157.

77 This is discussed, on the basis of CPCS archives, in Bartošek, Les Aveux, pp. 173–176.

78 For more on A. London see chapter 7. Raymond Guyot had many personal contacts in the East European regimes, played a crucial role in defining the party’s internationalism in this period, and was a member of all the important international delegations.

79 For more on this see Bartošek, Les Aveux, p. 163.

80 Grémion, Paris–Prague, p. 124.

81 For a more elaborate discussion see Bartošek, Les Aveux, chapter 2.

82 For the analysis of the PCF, I draw on primary sources (archives and press material) as well as literature. For the public positions of the PCF with regard to the Prague Spring, I have consulted the most important of the party’s daily and weekly papers, including Humanité, Les lettres françaises (LLF) and La nouvelle critique (LNC). For a view on the internal development of this position, I have consulted the archives of the main decision-making bodies; see the annex.

83 The regular PCF reporter on Czechoslovakia was Philippa Hentgès, known to be Soviet-friendly; from April she was joined in Prague by “special envoy” Antoine Acquaviva, who was more reform-oriented and generally covered the Prague Spring in a more positive way. According to Daix, Acquaviva was sent to Prague after lobbying by himself and P. Noirot. Daix, Les hérétiques du PCF, p. 242.

84 For a similar view see Grémion, Paris–Prague, p. 65.

85 For a similar view see Deli, De Budapest, p. 91.

86 “‘Nous ne voulons pas n’importe quelle démocratie mais la démocratie socialiste’, déclare Dubček devant le CC,” Hentgès, Humanité, 2/4/68, p. 4.

87 Acquaviva, “Le CC du Parti communiste tchèque ouvre ce matin une importante session,” Humanité, 1/4/68, p. 3.

88 Quoted in Grémion, Paris–Prague, p. 67.

89 Hentgès, Humanité, 2/4/68, p. 4.

90 APCF, BP, 1/4/68, pt. 2.

91 P. and P. Hentgès, “Note sur les circonstances qui amenèrent des changements en Tchécoslovaquie,” 19/1/68. APCF, box “Tchécoslovaquie –Plissonnier,” folder III, file 2.

92 APCF, Sec, 19/3/68, pt. 3.

93 Humanité, 20/4/68, pp. 1–3; Deli, De Budapest, pp. 92–93.

94 APCF, Sec, 2/4/68.

95 Frachon, leader of the CGT, was, though of the same generation as Thorez and Duclos, considered one of the more “progressive” among the central leadership; already in 1956 he had protested, with Rochet and others, against the lack of explanation provided by the Thorez leadership on the 20th CPSU Congress. Lazar, Maisons rouges, p. 91.

96 See also the well-informed P.G., “Prague 68: quand le PCF a failli exploser,” L’événement du jeudi, 13/8/68, pp. 38–41.

97 In his memoirs, published in 1972, Duclos wrote that at that point “the Czechoslovak crisis […] had reached a point where the concerns of the advocates of the socialist regime were legitimate.” Duclos, Mémoires 1959–1969, vol. 6: Et la lutte continue, p. 400.

98 P.G., “Prague 68: quand le PCF a failli exploser,” pp. 38–41; Streiff, Kanapa, pp. 437, 463, 500–504.

99 Bartošek, Les Aveux, p. 186.

100 Waldeck Rochet, “Discours au CC, 19 avril 1968,” in “Tchécoslovaquie 68. Documents,” La nouvelle critique, special issue, September 1968, p. 4.

101 Waldeck Rochet, “Discours au CC, 19 avril 1968,” p. 4.

102 Grémion, Paris–Prague, pp. 82–83 and 100–101. Also Streiff, Kanapa, p. 500.

103 APCF, BP, 1/4/68; see also Verdès-Leroux, Le réveil, p. 211.

104 Aragon, because of his network of contacts among East European intellectuals and artists, which went back to the interwar period, functioned as their “ambassador” in France. With his wife, the writer Elsa Troilet, he had many personal contacts in Czechoslovakia and often visited the country. Grémion, Paris–Prague, p. 56, and Bartošek, Les Aveux, p. 161.

105 Daix, Tout mon temps, p. 438. The following points are taken from the articles in the Journal de Prague series in LLF: Daix, “Notes pour comprendre les écrivains tchécoslovaques,” Lettres françaises, 3/4/68; idem, “Ce Printemps de Prague –I,” LLF, 10/4/68; idem, “Ce Printemps de Prague –II,” LLF, 17/4/68.

106 LLF, however, did not publish the 2000 Words Manifesto. According to Daix, this was due to pressure from the party. Daix, Les hérétiques, p. 242.

107 Amidst the massive amount of literature and interpretations on May ’68 in France, I refer here to the various contributions in Dreyfus–Armand, Frank, Lévy, Zancarini-Fournel, Les années 68; and Mouriaux, Percheron, Prost, Tartakowsky, 1968. For an interpretation of the sociological causes behind the ’68 student movements and the intellectual roots, see, for example, Gilcher–Holtey, “May 1968 in France.”

108 These forms of critique had been developed from the late 1950s in journals such as Socialisme ou Barbarie, Arguments, Internationale situationniste.

109 There were three Trotskyite tendencies in 1968. One was the Ligue communiste révolutionnaire, a fusion of the Parti communiste internationaliste and the Jeunesses communistes révolutionnaires, influenced by the works of E. Mandel and the French section of the Fourth International. Another was La Ligue communiste, which represented the Franck tradition. It was led by A. Krivine and edited, from August 1968 onwards, the bimonthly Rouge. The third was the Parti des travailleurs, set up in 1966, which placed itself in the Lambert tradition and was led by D. Gluckstein. For more on French Trotskyism see Belden Fields, Trotskyism and Maoism, chapters 2 and 3; Alexander, International Trotskyism.

110 Some important Maoist groups in 1968 were: “Communistes m.l.,” the student group Union des jeunesses communistes marxistes-léninistes, and the Mouvement communiste français, recognised by Beijing. The first group had partly developed out of the proto-Maoist tendencies in the UEC cell of Rue d’Ulm, and was influenced by Althusser. Furthermore, it was well known that François Billioux, a member of the Bureau politique of the PCF, had “Chinese” sympathies. See Dreyfus, PCF, pp. 150–153. For more detail on the “French Chinese” before 1968 see Fejtõ, The French Communist Party, pp. 149–154. See also, though with emphasis on the 1970s, Hourmant, Le désenchantement des clercs, pp. 17–26.

111 Intellectuals close to the PSU wrote for journals such as Le nouvel observateur and Esprit. On the PSU in 1968 see Fisera, “Le PSU face à son histoire,” pp. 178–215; Berstein, “Les forces politiques,” pp. 485–486.

112 In the elections of June 1968, the party rose from 2.2 per cent (1965) to 3.9 per cent, which was the highest it ever obtained.

113 Fisera, “Le PSU face à son histoire,” pp. 178–215.

114 French and other West European Trotskyite groups proposed the sending of “international brigades,” an offer which North Vietnam declined. Dreyfus-Armand, Portes, “Les interactions internationals,” pp. 49–68.

115 The Marchais article can be found in Humanité, 3/5/68. This was also the general interpretation in Duclos, Anarchistes de hier et d’aujourd’hui.

116 On the PCF’s responses to the student movements and on its strategy in May–June 1968, see Tartakowsky, “Le Pcf en mai–juin 1968,” pp. 141–163, although the analysis does not illuminate on the issue of Soviet pressure. A different view, which emphasises the revolutionary aspects of PCF strategy, is defended in Becker, “Communisme et Gaullisme dans la crise de Mai 68.” See, furthermore, Goldstein, “Le PCF du 3 mai au 6 juin,” in Les temps modernes, pp. 282–838; Lazar, “Révoltes, révolutions et Pcf en Mai 68.”

117 A similar view in Moullec, “Mai 1968, le PCF et l’Union Soviétique.”

118 Bell, Criddle, The French Communist Party, p. 91.

119 Tartakowsky, “Le Pcf en mai–juin,” pp. 149–150. A similar view can be found in Hincker, Le Parti communiste, p. 50.

120 On the FGDS in the May 1968 crisis, see Sadoun, “Un processus fermé: les socialistes dans la FGDS,” in Mouriaux, 1968, pp. 164–177.

121 Tartakowsky, “Le Pcf en mai–juin,” p. 153; Hincker, Le Parti communiste au carrefour, p. 72.

122 These included the automatic adaptation of wages to inflation, the decrease of working hours, and the lowering of the pension age.

123 The agreement was also rejected by the CGT sections of Billancourt. For more detail on the Grenelle agreements see Zancarini-Fournel, “Retour sur ‘Grenelle’,” pp. 443–460.

124 Tartakowsky, “Le Pcf en mai–juin,” p. 154.

125 The PCF dropped from 22.5 per cent in 1967 to about 20 per cent; the combined vote for the FGDS and SFIO dropped from 18.9 per cent in 1967 to 16.5 per cent.

126 Most important was the resignation of A. Barjonet as CGT leader on 26 May.

127 Robrieux, La secte, p. 84.

128 At a meeting in late May, Soviet ambassador V. Zoryn “reminded” Guyot of the “international importance” of the French events. Moullec, “Mai 1968, le Pcf et l’Union soviétique,” pp. 159–162.

129 The PCF leaders had asked the Soviets at the above-mentioned meetings that the Soviet press would portray de Gaulle in a more negative way than usual. Moullec, “Mai 1968, le PCF et l’Union soviétique,” p. 164.

130 A copy and translation in Italian of the Novosti article can be found in APCI, Fund Berlinguer, 55.5.

131 “Vermerk über ein gespräch mit dem genossen Paul Laurent, Sekretär der Föderation Paris der FKP, am 4 Juli 1968,” SAPMDB, ZPA-SED, DY/30/IV A20/20, 457. Seguy and Frachon, at a meeting with CC member Norden on 6/7, complained about the lack of support from the socialist countries for the CGT, with the exception of the Soviet Union. “Vermerk über ein Gespräch mit dem gen. G. Seguy und B. Frachon am 6 Juli 1968,” SAPMDB, ZPA-SED, DY/30/IV A 20/20.

132 “Vermerk über ein Gespräch des Gen. H. Axen mit Gen. R. Guyot, am 29/7/ 1968,” Berlin, 9/8/68, SAPMDB, ZPA-SED, DY/30/IV A 20/20.

133 A hand-written record of the meeting between Berlinguer and Galluzzi with Guyot, Kanapa and Denis can be found in APCI, Fund Berlinguer, 55.2.

134 The Le Monde articles on Czechoslovakia in 1968–1969 by correspondent M. Tatu are published in Tatu, L’hérésie impossible.

135 See also Grémion, Paris–Prague, p. 57–58. Deli comes to a similar conclusion on the general responses to the Prague Spring by the French Left. Deli, De Budapest, pp. 293–304.

136 The approach used here is similar to Grémion’s analysis of the “game of political interpretations” of the Prague Spring on the French Left. Grémion, Paris–Prague, p. 65. Grémion, however, focuses on different interpretative tensions: revisionism, culture and self-management. As points of reference for gaining an idea of the reactions to the Prague Spring by actors of the Left, we consider, next to the PCF press introduced above: communist intellectuals in the party (for which I have consuld Les lettres françaises of L. Aragon and P. Daix); the positions of the FGDS and the SFIO (for which I have read Le Monde); Le nouvel observateur (LNO) and Les temps modernes of J. P. Sartre and S. de Beauvoir as representatives of the critical intellectual Left; and Trotskyite groups as representatives of the far Left (Lutte ouvrière).

137 Elements of this can be found in Lentin, “Lénine revu par Montesquieu,” LNO, 3/4/68; Held, “Le face-à-face de Prague,” LNO, 29/7/68.

138 “Menaces soviétiques contre la Tchécoslovaquie,” Lutte ouvrière, 3/7/68, p. 1.

139 Hentgès, “La Tchécoslovaquie a toujours considéré ses liens politiques et militaires avec les pays socialistes comme la garantie de son indépendance,” Humanité, 17/7/68, p. 3.

140 Deli, De Budapest, p. 94. Daix, however, openly supported the 2000 Words. Grémion, Paris–Prague, p. 87.

141 For example in Held, “Le face-à-face de Prague,” LNO, 29/7/68; it was stated here that “Dubček likes the authors of the 2000 Words.”

142 Although generally supportive of the Prague Spring, Les Temps modernes did consider socialism to be in danger in Czechoslovakia.

143 “The Czechoslovak reformers know that they find themselves in terra incognita. Everything remains to be imagined and constructed […]. They resemble the French revolutionaries of May […]. The world divided between neo-capitalists and neo-Stalinists risks one day to be upset by this—and in a good way […],” Held “Le face-à-face de Prague,” LNO, 29/7/68.

144 A similar point has been emphasised by Grémion, although referring to cultural aspects rather than strategic ones: the PCF entirely ignored the wish of the revival movement to return to (pan-) European culture. Grémion, Paris–Prague, p. 125. However, his argument that this was the case for the entire French Left is not, in my view, correct; this is demonstrated by the line taken by Le nouvel observateur.

145 “Départ d’unités soviétiques qui ont participé aux manœuvres militaires en Tchécoslovaquie,” Humanité, 16/7/68, p. 3.

146 Also Bartošek argues that the PCF leadership from early July on entertained fear that an invasion was being planned and that plans for a new government were being made. Bartošek, Paris–Prague, p. 187.

147 Letter in French translation, marked “Confidential,” s.n. (but CPSU) to PCF, 11/7/68 in APCF, file “Evénements en Tchécoslovaquie,” box 2, folder 3. What followed was an extremely dark picture of the developments in Czechoslovakia (the “advance of rightist elements,” etc…).

148 “Les dirigeants de cinq pays socialistes réunis a Varsovie,” Humanité, 15/7/68, p. 3; “Varsovie: fin de la rencontre des cinq pays socialistes,” Humanité, 16/7/68, p. 3. Humanité published the Warsaw letter only on 19 July, together with the response to it of the CPCS.

149 Streiff, Kanapa, p. 501.

150 Vigreux has exaggerated Rochet’s sympathy for the Prague Spring and his “true defence of the project in the communist world,” Vigreux, Waldeck Rochet, pp. 272–273.

151 “Entretien du cde. Komocsin, Hongrie, avec Waldeck Rochet,” 4/5/68, 7 pp., dactylo, in APCF, Fund Waldeck Rochet, box 12, file 2.

152 This was the case according to the Czechoslovak intelligence services in France. Bartošek, Les Aveux, p. 185.

153 Oral Report Pajetta, APCI, Direzione (henceforth Dir), 17/7, 02–0798; see also below.

154 The records of both Moscow meetings taken from the notes of Kanapa, who was present, are published in (Anonymous but Kanapa), Kremlin–PCF, pp. 51–72.

155 In the event that they decided upon an invasion, Brezhnev added, they would inform the PCF “in opportune time.” Kremlin–PCF, p. 72.

156 156 It was Rochet’s request that his meeting with Dubček took place after his meeting with the Soviet leaders. For the Kanapa notes of the Prague meeting see Kremlin–PCF, pp. 77–96. As we shall see below, the records of the Rochet–Dubček meeting became a matter of great controversy, and it was in this context that they were published by Humanité in 1970. The records of the Rochet–Dubček meeting were also accessible in the PCF archives when I consulted them: “Notes prises au cours de l’entretien entre Waldeck Rochet et Dubček à Prague le 19/7/68,” s.n (but probably Kanapa), s.d., dact. APCF, fund “Evénements en Tchécoslovaquie,” box 1, folder 5. The version in the PCF archives differs from the version published in 1984 only in some minor details of wording.

157 As Rochet put it: “[…] The solution [the improvement of relations with the Soviets] does not only depend on you, but it depends to a large extent on you.” Kremlin–PCF, pp. 81–82.

158 The letter of 17/7 is in APCF, “Evénements en Tchécoslovaquie,” box 2, folder 3. APCF, BP, 18/7/68. The Bureau politique approved this letter. The conference idea was most probably a Rochet–Kanapa initiative. According to Streiff, Guyot was also clearly in favor of the proposal. Streiff, Kanapa, p. 500.

159 APCF, BP, 20/7/68.

160 Telegram PCF to PCI, 21/7/68, in APCI, Ufficio Esteri (Est), “Francia,” 0552.1205.

161 On 21 July Leroy cautiously informed the Czechoslovak ambassador in Paris, Pithart, of the deterioration of PCF–CPSU relations. Bartošek, Les Aveux, p. 189. Another element provoking the PCF’s irritation with the Soviets was the fact that Soviet ambassador Zoryn, informed that Leroy rather than Waldeck Rochet personally would come to inform him about the latter’s talks in Prague, reported himself absent. Bartošek, Les Aveux, p. 191.

162 This was true. The telegram of 18/7/68, CPSU to PCF, can be found in APCF, fund “Evénements en Tchécoslovaquie,” box 2, folder 3.

163 “Communication urgente via Zorine à Leroy,” 19–20/7, in APCF, “Evénements en Tchécoslovaquie,” box 2, folder 3. It is not clear from the PCF archives who in the BP at this point got to see the exchange of telegrams; Rochet returned to Paris from Prague on 20/7. Neither Vigreux nor Streiff mention this series of telegrams. Bartošek mentions that the Czechoslovak ambassador to France, Pithart, was informed of the worsening of PCF–CPSU relations by Leroy. Bartošek, Les Aveux, p. 189.

164 Although this letter has been published previously (Kremlin–PCF, pp. 99–118), I will quote from it here because its frankness was unusual in communist relations: “You ask us to support the letter which you have sent to the Czechoslovak Communist Party […]. It is impossible for us, to our great regret, to do so. […] We consider that the letter addressed by the Warsaw meeting to the CPCS is an open interference in the internal affairs of a brother party. As comrade Waldeck Rochet has declared to you, a military intervention in Czechoslovakia would signify a true catastrophe for the international communist movement […]. Certainly, we regret that we have had to make public our initiative [the pan-European conference] without holding preceding consultations like we usually do. But we have to say quite frankly that after having heard comrade Rochet’s report of his conversations with you and with comrades Suslov and Ponomariov, our Bureau politique has decided that, in the grave situation in which we find ourselves, we have the duty to take the initiative to propose a meeting of all communist and workers’ parties of Europe to try and find a way out of the crisis. […] It is thus not without profound reflection that we have taken on the issue of the protection of socialism in Czechoslovakia, a position which is different from yours and which, in our view, deserves to be investigated and discussed.” Copy of the letter to East German leader Ulbricht, sent 23/7/1968. ZPA-SED, DY/30/IV A 2/20. Some controversy existed concerning this letter in France at the time. Its existence and general content were confirmed in an unsigned statement in the PCF’s theoretical journal Cahiers du Communisme, Aug–Sept 1968, pp. 16–19. According to Streiff, the letter was drafted by Rochet and at least the following BP members got to see it before publication: Plissonnier, Marchais, Thorez-Vermeersch, Kanapa (and not Guyot). Streiff, Kanapa, p. 503.

165 Bartošek, Les Aveux, pp. 190–191. René Andrieu was editor of Humanité.

166 Discontent between the two parties further aggravated in the context of the preparations for the world communist conference in Budapest throughout the spring of 1968. For Kanapa’s report see Streiff, Kanapa, p. 487. Moreover, a conflict arose between the PCF and the CPCS in late July regarding the diffusion by Radio Prague of information on the correspondence between the French and Soviet communists. Bartošek, Paris–Prague, pp. 191–192.

167 For the CC resolution see Humanité, 29/7/68; see also Bartošek, Les Aveux, p. 190.

168 Following the decision of the Bureau politique, Rochet’s talks in Moscow and Prague were extensively covered by Humanité. See especially “Le sens du voyage de Waldeck Rochet à Prague,” Humanité, 20/7/68. APCF, BP, 18/7/68.

169 For example, “La Pravda fait état d’un “plan opérationnel” américain contre les pays socialistes,” Humanité, 20/7/68, p. 3.

170 Also Leroy concluded from conversations with Zoryn in early August that there would be a compromise. Streiff, Kanapa, p. 506.

171 Both titles in Humanité, 5/8/68, pp. 1–2.

172 For example in Humanité, 6/8768, p. 1, “Déclaration du Parti communiste français.”

173 APCF, Sec, 9/8/68, pt 2; APCF, BP, 14/8/68, pt. 5.

174 APCF, Sec, 9/8/68, pt. 2.

175 “Communication annoncée le 14 août et remise le 19 août,” s.n., in APCF, fund “Evénements en Tchécoslovaquie,” box 2, folder 3. The PCI also received such a letter—see below. It is not clear if other communist parties received it.

176 “Communication annoncée le 14 août et remise le 19 août,” s.n., in APCF, fund “Evénements en Tchécoslovaquie,” box 2, folder 3.

177 For the public analysis of the PCI’s position I have consulted the party press, mainly Unità and Rinascita.

178 “Comunicazione al CC del Partito comunista cecoslovacco,” Unità, 10/1/68, p. 1.

179 Franco Bertone was a journalist for Unità specialized in Eastern Europe. He was known as a progressive and critical of the Soviet Union.

180 Written report by Bertone, APCI, Esteri, Cecoslovacchia, 0552.0285–0289.

181 Franco Moranino was a leading figure among the Italian immigrants in Czechoslovakia and generally opposed to reform communism. Bartošek, Les Aveux, p. 77.

182 In the following months they regularly reported on the Czechoslovak issue, always in a more pessimistic way than other Unità correspondents or PCI visitors to Prague. See also Galluzzi’s memoirs on the divergences between the reports: Galluzzi, La svolta, pp. 192–194.

183 Ample extracts from the debates and the conclusions can be found in Unità, 27–29/3/68.

184 This was a conscious line held by the party leadership. APCI, Dir, 17/7/68, 805.

185 “Discorso finale di Luigi Longo,” Unità, 29/3/68.

186 Bertone, “La corona di Ota Šik,” Rinascita, 31/3/68, pp. 29–30.

187 Berlinguer, in his personal papers, kept an Italian translation of the Literarni Lysti article “Una conferenza normale” by M. Weiner of 14/3/68, mentioned above. The article refers to the Prague Spring as “a model that is forming itself.” In strategic terms, the article refers to “a certain constellation of the South,” with the PCI, Hungary, and “in some respects” Romania. APCI, Fund Berlinguer, 51.2.

188 Boffa, “Intervista con Dubček,” Unità, 31/3/68, pp. 1, 17. Giuseppe Boffa was the permanent correspondent for Unità in Prague in this period. He was a personal friend of Milan Huebl, one of the leading reformist intellectuals, close to Dubček. See also Boffa, “La crisi cecoslovacca,” in Vacca, Luigi Longo, pp. 111–117.

189 Bertone, “La corona di Ota Šik,” Rinascita, 31/3/68, pp. 29–30.

190 To gain a picture of the responses to the Prague Spring on the wider Italian Left I have consulted Avanti!, the paper of the Socialist Party, and the various press collections in the PCI archives. For the analyses by the radical leftist paper Il manifesto, see chapter 7.

191 For more detail on communist-socialist relations in 1968, see, for example, Tranfaglia, “Socialisti e comunisti nell’Italia repubblicana,” pp. 499–511; Amato, Cafagna, Duello a sinistra, pp. 15–50.

192 “La relazione di Pietro Nenni alla conferenza nazionale. La crisi del comunismo,” Avanti, 9/4/68, p. 3.

193 For example in “Riunito il CC a Praga,” Avanti, 30/5/68, p. 3.

194 “La relazione di Pietro Nenni alla conferenza nazionale,” Avanti, 9/4/68, p. 3.

195 See, for example, the speech by Nenni mentioned above; “La Cecoslovacchia accentua il proprio distacco da Mosca,” Avanti, 11/4/68, p. 1; “Rinnovate pressioni di Mosca su Praga per condizionare il congresso PCC,” Avanti, 8/7/68, p. 1. Also after the elections, which marked the defeat of the PSU, the party continued strongly to criticize the PCI on the issue of Czechoslovakia. Arfé, “Un coraggioso processo di libertà e di autonomia,” Avanti, 4/8/68, p. 1.

196 “Due documenti del dibattitto tra il CPSU e il partito Cecoslovacco,” Rinascita, 26/7/68, n. 30.

197 APCI, Dir, 29/4/68, 020.0638. Moreover, it was listed in the Direzione documents among the initiatives in the election campaign.

198 On Longo’s motivations for the trip, see also Mazini, “Luigi Longo” in Luigi Longo, pp. 119–127 at 120–121. Mazini was Longo’s secretary in this period.

199 Oral report Longo, APCI, Dir, 10–11/5/68, 020.0640–0661.

200 “Intervista col compagno Longo dopo il suo ritorno di Praga,” in L’Unità, 11/5/68.

201 Longo, “Rapporto sulla Cecoslovacchia,” Rinascita, 16/5/68, p. 3.

202 Bertone, “Praga: il punto di non ritorno,” Rinascita, 7/6/68, n.23, pp. 15–16.

203 While the PSIUP, in what were its first elections, obtained 4.4 per cent, the PCI reached 26.9 per cent (gaining 1.6 per cent) and the PSU dropped to 14.5 per cent, thus obtaining less than the combined score for the PSDI and the PSI at the previous elections. The DC obtained 39.1 per cent, an increase of 0.8 per cent; it remained the largest party.

204 More on the government crisis of this period, in Ginsborg, Storia d’Italia, pp. 441–448.

205 For a few general interpretations of 1968 in Italy see Flores, De Bernardi, Il sessantotto, esp. chapters 5 to 7; for a sociological approach see Tarrow, Democrazia e disordine; for an interpretative eye-witness account see Rossanda, L’anno degli studenti; Rossanda, “Elogio dei gruppetari,” in il manifesto 1968; the various contributions on Italy in Poggio, Il sessantotto; and the various contributions in Agosti, Passerini, Tranfaglia, La cultura e i luoghi del ’68.

206 The most important Maoist groups were Servire il Popolo and the proto-Maoist and Leninist Avanguardia operaia. Other influential non-Maoist groups were the neo-Stalinist Movimento studentesco; Potere operaio, which defined itself as a vanguard group in the orthodox sense, and the libertarian Lotta continua. Flores, De Bernardi, Il sessantotto, pp. 178–179.

207 Ginsborg, Storia d’Italia, p. 409.

208 For a similar interpretation of the PCI’s attitude vis-à-vis the ’68 movements, see Flores, Gallerano, Sul PCI, pp. 186–190. Ragusa has drawn a somewhat more negative picture of the PCI’s attitude vis-à-vis the students, defining it as an “anti-movement” approach as a result of the party’s institutionalist perspective. (Ragusa, I comunisti, p. 206).

209 A similar mix of curiosity and instrumentalisation had already been clear in Longo’s article: Longo, “Il movimento studentesco nella lotta anti-capitalistica,” Rinascita, 3/5/68. Berlinguer and Galluzzi made a trip to Paris in late May 1968. Fiori, Vita di Enrico Berlinguer, p. 167.

210 Amendola, “Necessità della lotta su due fronti,” Rinascita, 7/6/68.

211 Flores, Gallerano, Sul PCI, pp. 189–190.

212 However, as Graziani has argued, there were important differences in the culture and conception of socialism between the Ingrao Left in the PCI on the one hand, and the new and far Left influenced by Maoism and Marcuse on the other. Graziani, Nei punti alti, pp. 39.

213 More detail, for example, in Graziani, Nei punti alti, pp. 39–41.

214 Conclusions of the CC: “L’agonia del centro-sinistra non deve essere pagata dai lavoratori,” Unità, 21/6/68, p. 1.

215 APCI, UP, 12/6/68, 006.0543.

216 There is reference to this letter in the discussion of the extraordinary meeting of the Direzione on 17 July. APCI, Dir, 17/7, 202–0800.

217 Oral report Pajetta, APCI, Dir, 17/7, 202–0802. Giancarlo Pajetta was a Direzione member; he had played an important role in the party during the Resistance and at the outcome of the war, and was around 1968 responsible for the press and involved in the important international contacts.

218 Kriegel, “The International Role,” p. 48.

219 Oral report Longo to Direzione, APCI, 29/4/68, 020–0639.

220 Also the Cuban, North Vietnamese and North Korean CPs were absent. Timmermann, “Das präkonziliaere Budapester Karussel,” p. 3. The Italians succeeded, with the cautious support of the Czechoslovaks, in blocking an SED resolution condemning the Romanian party, which had left the discussions following a dispute with the Syrian CP. “Rencontre consultative des 67 PCs à Budapest, février–mars 1968” in APCF, Fund Fajon, “11: International,” folder 2.

221 Oral report Berlinguer to Direzione: APCI, Dir, 15/3/68, 020–0579.

222 The PCI, which since 1967 had opposed this, managed only to obtain that no party could be forced to sign a final document. The party lost, however, on other issues which it considered crucial: the conference would not be open to noncommunist journalists (although individual parties were allowed to hold press conferences at any given time), and a commission for the drafting of the texts would include only 12 parties. Timmermann, “Das präkonziliaere Budapester Karussel,” pp. 9–10.

223 Berlinguer’s speech: “Discorso Berlinguer” (various versions), s.d., in APCI, Fund Berlinguer, 48. See also the report of the meeting in “Rencontre consultative des 67 PCs à Budapest février–mars 1968,” in APCF, Fund Fajon, “11: International,” folder 2.

224 Oral report Berlinguer to the Direzione, APCI, Dir, 15/3/68, 020 –0597. Another incident occurred at the late April meeting: when the Italians vividly expressed their fears that the texts drafted by the Hungarians would serve as final documents, Kliszko walked out of the session. Oral report Galluzzi to the Direzione, APCI, Dir, 29/4/68, 020–0639.

225 “Oggetto: Riunione del gruppo di lavoro a Budapest per la preparazione dello schema di documento per la conferenza di Mosca,” Luciano Gruppi, Roma, 24/6/68, all’Ufficio di Segreteria, Sezione Esteri; in APCI, Fund Berlinguer, 53.1.

226 This was closely connected to the Budapest preparations, as at least one of the versions read that the world communist conference, once in place, would take on a permanent structure.

227 Longo proposed that he would take a “personal” initiative, an idea that was not supported by Berlinguer and Amendola. APCI, Dir, 19/7, 002–822.

228 Written report by Longo of 26/7 meeting Longo–Kirilenko, in APCI, Esteri, URSS, 0553–0218. The Soviets attempted to pressure the PCI towards a condemnation of the 2000 Words, which the latter refused. Written report by Longo of the 9/7 meeting (both delegations), in APCI, Esteri, URSS, 0553–0327, pp. 10–12.

229 APCI, Esteri, URSS, 0553–0327, pp. 8–9.

230 After the Warsaw letter, the Ufficio politico urgently met and decided that the bilateral PCI–CPSU meeting in Moscow, which had been planned for 18 July, should definitely take place and that the Czechoslovak question should be discussed at this meeting. Oral report G.C. Pajetta of the meeting to the Direzione: APCI, Dir, 17/7, 020–0798 to 0801. See also APCI, UP, 9/7, 1345.

231 Despite the Soviets’ attempts to hinder any form of contact between the French and Italian delegations in Moscow, Rochet and Pajetta succeeded in talking to each other shortly before departure. Oral report Pajetta, APCI, Dir, 17/7, 020–0800. See also Pajetta’s memoirs: Pajetta, Le crisi, p. 125–127.

232 Oral report Pajetta, APCI, Dir, 17/7, 020–0800.

233 See Galluzzi’s account in his memoirs: Galluzzi, La svolta, pp. 196–197.

234 “Mille parole in risposta alle “Duemilà,” Rinascita, 19/7/68, pp. 15–16.

235 Pajetta, Le crisi, p. 123.

236 Oral report G.C. Pajetta to the Direzione: APCI, Dir, 17/7, 020–0801.

237 APCI, Dir, 17/7, 020–0802.

238 APCI, Dir, 17/7, 020–0809.

239 APCI, Dir, 17/7, 020–0806–0810.

240 APCI, Dir, 17/7, 020–0813. Achille Occhetto, future general secretary, was in 1968 leader of the youth organization and was one of the younger Direzione members, generally in favor of innovation.

241 Berlinguer spoke of “20 years of bad governance,” for which he was attacked by Colombi and Terracini. APCI, Dir, 17/7, 020–0808. Umberto Terracini, cofounder of Ordine nuovo, had been one of the central leaders of the party since its existence. He had persistently argued in favor of innovation of the party, especially in 1956.

242 Published in (PCI, ed.) Il partito comunista italiano, pp. 304–306.

243 Colombi understood that this statement directly led to the condemnation of an invasion, a point which earlier Berlinguer and Lama had also made explicit. APCI, Dir, 17/7, 020–0820.

244 APCI, Dir, 17/7, 020–0816. A few days later the PCI changed its position on the French conference proposal. See also Galluzzi, La svolta, p. 199.

245 APCI, Dir, 17/7, 020–0812.

246 “In this sense, we can recognize that there is an imperialist anti-socialist maneuver going on,” he added. APCI, Dir, 17/7, 020–0814.

247 APCI, Dir, 17/7, 020–0815.

248 APCI, Dir, 26/7, 020–0881. It is not clear whether this trip eventually took place. See also Hoebel, “Il PCI, il ’68 cecoslovacca,” pp. 1152–1153.

249 APCI, UP, 30/7/68, 1349.

250 The PCI received the invitation for the congress planned for 9 September, on 11 July; it decided to send three Direzione members. APCI, Esteri, Cecoslovacchia, 0552–0323. The fact that the CPSC wished to regard the PCI as a special ally was also suggested by a separate letter which it sent to Longo, explaining its reactions to the Warsaw letter. “Messagio urgente al compagno Longo della Segretaria del Partito comunista cecoslovacco,” 13/7/68, in APCI, Esteri, Cecoslovacchia, 0552–0326. Furthermore, there were several letters of thanks sent from Czechoslovakia to the PCI. APCI, Esteri, Cecoslovacchia, 0552–0336.

251 This interview was to take place on 21 August. APCI, Esteri, Cecoslovacchia, 0552–0346.

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