Prague Spring, the Soviet invasion and the Spanish Communist Party 40 years later

Autor: Pedro Marset <(at)>, Téma: 02. Články, statě, projevy, Vydáno dne: 29. 08. 2008

Contributed by Pedro Marset at the Prague EL seminar "21 August 1968 and the Left in Europe", Prague 16 August 2008.

The first thing to mention is the fact that the Spanish Communist Party was one of the few Western European Communist Parties to condemn the Soviet invasion with the visit to the Kremlin of our President, Dolores Ibarruri, “La Pasionaria”, to protest in spite of her gratitude to soviet authorities because she was living in Moscow since the end of the Spanish Civil War. In order to better appreciate that attitude of the Spanish Communist Party in face of the Prague Spring and the Soviet Invasion in August 1968 it is necessary to take into account its evolution and fight against Franco dictatorship since the Spanish Civil War.
We have to consider the deep debt the Spanish Communist Party had with the Soviet Union and its Communist Party due to the great help received during the Spanish Civil War, and also after it when with our defeat they accepted thousands of Spanish communists who besides living in the USSR they took part in the Second World War against Nazi Germany serving in the soviet army. At the same time we need to recognize the fact that also thousands of Spanish communists went, after the Civil War, to France, Great Britain, Belgium, Italy and the rest of European Countries, and also to Latin America and the rest of the world, fighting against fascism all along Europe. One cannot forget that the first soldiers to liberate Paris were Spaniards. So it is understandable that the Spanish Communist Party was one of the most prosoviet communist parties in Europe.
We had some kind of hope in thinking that after the Second World War was the time ripe to liberate Spain from the fascism. So the Spanish Communist Party in 1945 sent thousands of communist militants that had already fought against fascism to fight against the dictatorship under the “guerrilla warfare” waiting for the western invasion against Franco regime. But years went on and with Truman anticommunism Franco became an allied and friend of the USA and so there was no room for any kind of hope in achieving freedom in Spain. The “Pacto de Madrid”, the Agreement of Madrid between Franco and USA was signed in 1953. We needed to change our strategy and to fight against the dictatorship with our own means and possibilities from inside the Spanish society.
In 1956 we abandoned the guerrilla warfare and adopted the so called “Political line of National Reconciliation” by which we put all our effort in getting more and more people inside Spain involved in fighting for freedom and democracy. The long, clandestinely and dangerous fight against the dictatorship was really a heroic battle done mainly by the Spanish Communists. When the Rome Treaty was signed in 1957 building the Common Market, we considered that there were in it some aspects against Soviet and socialist countries, but we admitted also at the same time that the level of life of the workers improved, and also the freedom and human rights were guaranteed inside the Common Market, that is why in the early sixties, in 1963, our Central Committee approved a declaration about the need for Spain to join the Rome Treaty in order to end with Franco’s dictatorship. For us to become Spain member of the European Common Market was like entering in a club of countries where citizens had freedom and human rights and workers had better salaries and better working conditions.  Really Spain joining the Common Market would have been the end of Spanish dictatorship.
One has to remember also that those fifties and sixties were the years of building the Welfare State in Western Europe after the Marshall Plan and we, the Spanish Communists, were living in most of those  countries, not only as refugees after the Civil War but also as migrant workers. The same applies to hundreds of Spanish Communists living not only in the Soviet Union but also in the rest of the Socialist Countries, among them the former Czechoslovakia. That means that we, the Spanish communists had good and reliable information about what was going on in Western Europe and also in European socialist countries. One example of this took place on the same year of 1968 when May of 68, parallel to Prague Spring.
We could see the unrest and desire of new perspectives in the young workers and students in France, and at the same time that we witnessed the unrest in 1967 with Novotny and the desire of workers and students to have more freedom inside a socialist country in the streets of Prague. In both cases the Spanish Communist Party was in favour of the movement for freedom and socialism that both movements had in common. One has to remember that in Italy there was the possibility of conquering the government through the votes by the Italian Communist Party, the biggest in Western Europe. It was the time when Enrico Berlinguer was thinking in the “Historical Compromise” in order to avoid the veto from the USA. Also it was the time when in Latin America after the killing of “Che” Guevara by the USA, Salvador Allende was able to win in a democratic way through an alliance of socialists with communists in Chili. One has to remember also that we, the Spanish communists, contributed to the government of Allende bringing quite a lot of help with assessors and individual members. It was understandable that for us, living in a dictatorship and fighting for democracy and socialism the conclusion was clear, both things, democracy and socialism were the same thing, and were to be conquered together, socialism was in essence more democracy and democracy, real democracy, was only possible with more socialism. No more the machiavelian dictum that aims (ends) justify the means, but on the contrary, the means are the only way to arrive to the aims (ends). 
That is why we made a formal declarations from the Spanish Communist Party in favour of the new road of the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia and also of Secretary Dubcek. We went even further and we arrived to say that this was the way all other so called socialist countries should undertake in order to become an example to all, including the Soviet Union. The influence of the communist parties was really great in western countries, and we need this democratic component in order to overcome socialdemocratic parties and to put socialism in the horizon of the workers and young people. In the case of Czechoslovakia scientists advanced the theory about the role to be played by science and technology in building socialism expressed by Radovan Richta and his team. All components look to run in the same direction, workers needs and willingness, economy, science, in the direction of socialism, overcoming capitalism as an obsolete model and system.
With the experience of French May 68 we gave also the support to the young workers and students and we criticize French Communist Party and also French trade unions for  not understanding the revolutionary spirit of the movement they had in their streets.  
When the sad hours were arriving we tried to avoid them hoping to convince Soviet  Communist Party about the revolutionary contents and good consequences of Prague Spring. I do not need to go into the outcome of the experience here in Prague forty years later.  I can trust you that there was a whole generation of communists in Spain and also in the rest of Europe that were enthusiastic about your courage and clever thought. My wife and myself can be included among those communists that believed you were writing heroic pages in the history of socialism.
But nevertheless I think it is worthwhile to go on with the further development of communist ideas after Prague Spring and French May 68. The first interesting thing that happened was the effort to build a theory and practice of democratic communism, the so called eurocommunism. Three western communist parties, the most important and with more mass influence, the Italian (Enrico Berlinguer), the Spanish (Santiago Carrillo) and the French (Georges Marchais) met in Madrid, at the end of Spanish dictatorship, after the fiscal crisis of the Welfare State (1973), to proclaim the new way in Western Europe to achieve socialism by democratic means, not through violence or dictatorship of the proletariat class. It was the first time that European communist parties made a political proposal for Europe, independently from the Soviet Union. Western Europe was seen as the playground where to develop class struggle in favour of achieving socialism. That is to say we had a geographical framework, we had also a common protagonist for the experience, the European working class, we had an alternative economical model for Europe and the Common Market completely different from the so called soviet or socialist of state owned property by proposing a mixed economy with private economy but also with public and democratically owned strategic sectors like energy, great finances, public services, and also we proposed a political model of society with freedom, human rights and plurality of political parties.
Eurocommunism was, we have to recognize, a desperate effort with too many enemies and difficulties. Enemies and problems were everywhere. We can mention at least five.

1)  As it is understandable the first enemy was the USA with all their mass media power to discredit the initiative and with the political tools to isolate us.

2) But the second enemy was the Communist Party of the Soviet Union that could not admit any deviation or criticism to his theory. For them there was no possibility for socialism in Europe. World Revolution would came, if it was to happen, from the Third World movements, but never from the European Working Class, too much engaged with the bourgeois ideas and way of living. For the Communist Party of the Soviet Union the role for western European Communist Parties was only to defend Soviet achievements, no more than that. They, the Soviet Communist Party, create an scission inside the Spanish Communist Party, the weakest of the three European parties, in order to jeopardize the initiative.

3) That means that in the third place we had internal enemies, inside our party, who were more prosoviet than pro Spanish communist, and could not bear any criticism about the behaviour of the Soviet Union.

4) We have to accept it, there were theoretical deficiencies and lack of coherence in the Eurocommunism strategy. That is to say that accepting the failure of the socialdemcocrat model in 1973 when the Fiscal Crisis of the Welfare State, and also the clear failure of the Communist model with what have happened in Prague, the proposed eurocommunist model did not function as an alternative. We could not assemble other western communist parties to our common effort but on the contrary some of us, like the French Communist Party soon abandoned the proposed “Eurocommunism”. The trade unions were not interested and there was not social or mass interest. Only there was some interest from the mass media because it meant some kind of distance from the “official line” of the Soviet Union.

5) But the worst problem of all was that the Eurocommunism proposal was an agreement between the three secretaries, the elite, the Spanish, the French and the Italian, without any debate in the rank and file members, and without no practical work together with an European perspective.

As a result of the failure of the Eurocommunism to Western European Communist Parties arrived a time of despair, we were no prosoviet neither European, we tried desperately to find what we could call “national” ways to conquer socialism in one country. So there was the British road to socialism, the French one, the Portuguese, the Belgian, the Greek one, etc.
It is very clear that was a silly approach to class struggle in Europe when by those years, the eighties, two things were rather clear, 1st) the strength of the process of building Europe that was giving a single and common ground for society and workers, and 2nd) the second one, the big insufficiency of the soviet model to keep going on. These were the years when this evidence produced a desperate effort from the soviet authorities, through Gorbachov, with the “perestroika” and the “glasnost” trying to recover the time lost. It was too late.
We do not need to explain what happened with the Perestroika and its naïve Swedish model of implementing in Russia the capitalist economy and socialdemocrat Welfare State under the control of the Soviet Communist Party. You know here better than me what was all about.
What we can agree is that communist ideas were very discredited by the time being. All the prestige and credit the soviets and communism won with Revolution and with the struggle against nazi and fascism has been wasted. In the nineties we witnessed five phenomena related to our common European communist past.

1) The first one was the change suffered by the most influential western communist party, the Italian one, that was reconverted into a socialdemocrat party, loosing by this change all its influence.

2) The second one was the peculiar transformation of some of the western communist parties that avoiding the name of communist went into green,  feminist or nationalistic parties.

3) The third one was the progressive lost of influence of the rest of the communist parties that from an average of support between 10% and 15% were going down to 5% or 3% or even less.

4) The fourth was a kind of denial by some other parties of the recent history trying to reaffirm the old and good prosoviet lines.

5) Finally there was a fifth phenomenon, the effort by most of these European Parties trying to understand what was new, completely new in the European political landscape and at the same time looking for new ways to overcome capitalism and conquer socialism with freedom and human rights.

We have to agree upon the fact that it was the very existence of the European Parliament and the practice of a common political fight inside the so called Confederal Group of the European Left, that help some of us to understand that the only way to succeed was to build an European Left Party and to propose an Alternative to the Maastricht Treaty dominated by the Neoliberal policies. It is not an effort to recover the idea and practice of Eurocommunism but it is the theoretical approach that fighting against European capitalism needs a common tool. It is really sad to accept that so late as in 2004 we were able to create the European Left Party in Rome when the process of building Europe has been achieved with our absence and most of the time with our misunderstanding about the real process that was going on.
For us, for the Spanish Communist Party, what is the meaning of this Homage to Prague Spring forty years later under the coverage of the European Left Party?

Four are the reasons to be us here.

1) The first one to renew the sincere homage and compromise with the people of Prague and with the Czechoslovakian Communist Party of those days that gave rise to an enormous amount of hope in the hearts of thousands and thousands of communists and young people in Europe and in the whole world that was worthwhile to be communist and to become engaged in the fight to achieve democratic socialism. Your effort and fight has not been forgotten neither wasted. You were an example for all of us and the challenge today is trying to find the way to reconcile democracy and socialism. 

2) The second one is to say very clearly that Stalinism was and is an anticommunist behaviour, the worst one because it transforms the ideals of freedom, socialism and democracy into dictatorship and persecution.

3) The third one is to express very clearly that the effort you made forty years ago has not been lost. We are here ready to say loud and clear that now there many reasons to be communists, to be engaged in the common fight to abolish capitalism and to build democratic socialism. You were the first to understand it with the help and pressure of your people, but nowadays there are even more reasons to fight for freedom, socialism  and democracy because the consequences of neoliberal globalization are so frightful for all but mainly for young people, women, migrants, and for the rest of the world that the need for an alternative is more urgent than ever.

4) And finally, the fourth reason is to admit that the effort has to be huge and difficult because the lost time has runned against our aims. The vacuum of the communist alternative has been filled by all sort of different proposals from the religious ones to the postmodernists, hedonistic or nihilistic ones. It is going to be a great effort worthwhile to endeavour but at the same time it requires intelligence and perseverance. We cannot repeat the mistakes when the Eurocommunism was proposed. We need not only a common theory and perspective for another Europe but overall we need a common fight, a common practice in building together comrades from Spain, Germany, France, Hungary, Czech Republic, Greece, Portugal, etc, the project of this new Europe.

The effort done by the comrades of the SDS here in Prague is an example of the compromise with all the common values we are creating together in the ELP. It is a valuable effort and needs to be acknowledged in all its meaning because they have favoured this meeting under very difficult conditions.