The Spring of Prague and its influence on the Greek Left wing movement

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

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

Dear comrades, dear friends,

Two events convulsed the world in the late 1960s:  one was the so-called “May of 1968” in Paris, about which much has been written, and the “Spring of Prague” which in my opinion has not as yet been adequately analysed and evaluated.

In the above-mentioned period the progressive forces of Greece and the Greek people in general were shocked by the imposition of a military dictatorship – “assisted”, of course by the USA. From the spring of 1967 to the summer of 1974, the dictatorial regime launched a wave of terrorism against all progressive elements and particularly against the Left. Thousands of people were imprisoned, confined in concentration camps in certain islands.

Before the imposition of the dictatorial regime many activists of the Left, particularly of the United Left of Greece (EDA) had begun to question many aspects of the political and ideological orientation, the certainties and the infallibility of the “Mecca of communism”, which was Moscow. We must mention here that almost all the Greek communists were members of EDA, since the official Communist Party of Greece was not legal since the end of the civil war in 1949.

The revelations of the crimes committed by Stalin and the regime built by him and his supporters, in the 20th Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union played an important role in the awakening of a doubting and critical stand against the decisions of the leadership. The lack of democracy in the so-called socialist countries, the authoritarian forms of government,  all these realities had not penetrated the minds of the majority of the members and supporters of the Left – who, by the way, in the elections of 1956 had gained 25% of the total voting. These people, living under the persecution and suppression by the reactionary forces of the Right preferred to believe that all these accusations against the Soviet Union were simply western capitalists’ propaganda. At that time, then, the doubts and the revisions were confined within the framework of the intellectuals but as time was going on those ideas acquired strength and steadily began to expand their influence.

This process, however, lost its impetus a few months after the imposition of the dictatorial regime, but it was revived when the left wing forces demanded an explanation regarding the inability of the leadership to foresee the coming dictatorship and to organize the people’s resistance in order to hinder and reverse these developments. A characteristic example of this erroneous orientation was the insistence, on the part of the Communist leadership abroad, to promote the struggle for the “de facto de jure” legalization of the Communist Party instead of bolstering up the party of the United Left (EDA), which was led, actually, by communists but in which there was a large number of non- communist leftists.
Meanwhile, the correctness of the theories and practices of the socialist countries were highly disputed by quite a few communist forces, such as the Italian and the Swedish etc, and for the first time by a Communist party of a socialist country, that of Czechoslovakia.

This fact had a tremendous effect and brought about significant reverses. The main demand of these forces was the right to democracy, to free speech, to disputing the options of the ruling forces, even the ruling forces themselves. For the first time, the content of democracy was not merely the right not to starve, as it had been declared by our wise leaders.

Some of the basic principles of the Enlightenment instead of being adopted and broadened by the communist movement were either ignored or worse they were confronted with mush hostility as expressions of the decaying bourgeois ideology.

(A comrade living in Bulgaria at that time went through a kind of interrogation. Among other things the official interrogator asked him, off the record, and with much contempt in his voice: “Comrade, is it true that you read Diderot and Rousseau?” )

Under the hard conditions of the dictatorship, with thousands of people imprisoned or in the concentration camps, with thousands of political refugees in Western Europe, while in the socialist countries there were something like 50.000 political refugees of the civil war  (1947 –50) – 12.000 were living in Czechoslovakia – Greek communists were confronted with two problems: on the one hand, they should coordinate the struggle against the military dictatorship and on the other hand they were forced  to deal with the conflicts within the communist movement. These conflicts led finally to the split of the Communist Party of Greece in February 1968. I will not tire you out with the details of the split, nor with the “friendly” intervention of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. However, it must be said, that generally speaking there were two contending groups: on the one hand, there were those who insisted on retaining the traditional, ideological and political practices, including a servile attitude towards the Soviet Communist Party and on the other hand there were those who were pursuing new, renovative communist ideas. The latter created, after the split, the CPG (interior) since the majority of the members who cultivated these ideas were living in Greece before the dictatorship. Needless to say, that the Soviet Communist Party turned against this new Greek Communist Party which in their opinion was threatening socialism and the primacy of the Soviet Communist Party.

However, there were political forces, mainly in Western Europe, which helped vigorously this new party. The Czechoslovakian Communist Party, despite the tremendous difficulties that it was confronted with found ways to help morally and materially this new effort of the Greek Communists.

The general decisions of the Czechoslovakian Communist Party were welcomed by this  new Greek Communist Party. The economic programme, the political and ideological orientation were discussed and analysed by the Greek renovative Communists.  A new hope was born. A hope that the slogan : “Socialism with a human face” would at last materialize. Leaders like Dubcek, Svoboda, Smrkovsky and others, were greatly admired by the Greek renovative Communists, for their courage to discredit the oppressing police state that was imposed on the Czechoslovakian people by the Stalinist interpretation of socialism.

Many of us had the radio on continuously to hear the latest news, hoping that the invasion would be avoided till the opening sessions of the Congress of the Czechoslovakian Communist Party, which were to take place, if I remember correctly, sometime in the middle of September.

The invasion was not avoided and many communists and progressive people all over the world expressed their disapproval and condemnation.  The Communist party of Greece (Interior) condemned the invasion immediately and so did the majority of the party cadres in the Greek prisons and concentration camps in the island of Leros. Nevertheless, there were quite a few communist detainees in this island who not only approved of the invasion but they were very hostile towards their former comrades, calling them “enemies of socialism” etc, they were the ones who had  remained faithful to the Soviet Union.

It took us a few years, to understand that the problem of renovation and radicalization  could not and should not be confined within the realm of the communist left. Socialism with a human face, political democracy, along with the other aspects of democracy, were of interest not only to Communists but also to large spectrum of political forces.

In the decade of the ‘80s the majority of these renovative communists helped to create a new left wing party and two or three years later this party, with many comrades who came from the traditional Communist Party of Greece formed  a new party called SYNASPISMOS – Coalition of the left and progress. This party, in cooperation with other smaller formations of the Left constitute a strong political force (SYRIZA- Coalition of the radical left) which, according to the opinion polls, seems to get something like 15-16% or even 18% for some polls of the greek voting.

Dear comrades, dear friends,

We have not broken away from the best traditions of the Left but we give new essence to our plans and proposals to the Greek society responding to the social changes that have taken place.

The Spring of Prague has contributed a lot in the construction of the new vision of socialism, which, as Poulantzas, the well known Greek intellectual has said, “will either be democratic or will not exist”

Thank you for your patience