Three brief remarks to the topic of this Seminar

Autor: Tibor Vaąko <(at)>, Téma: 02. Články, statě, projevy, Vydáno dne: 22. 09. 2008

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

Allow me to say a few remarks relevant to the program of our Seminar. I confess that I will, in a way,  play the clever general after the battle. My first remark concerns the specific Czechoslovak issue.

Specific Czechoslovak issue

Strategy of the Left after the WW II in Czechoslovakia was copying the pre-war strategy of the Left that was focused on employment, social care, education and rise of living standard in general. The left was in both periods the most popular political force in the country. This strategy, in somewhat limited way, was brought to a completion in few decades. This accomplishment had a profound effect and changed the interest and orientation of the population. This fact however, for various reasons, has not been taken into account by the political strategist in power.

In fact, this process of change in population behavior has been quite natural. Any organism that grows, simultaneously changes. Biological species mastered that because of Darwinian selection processes. Will societal processes follow?

Last experiment to save the situation in Czechoslovakia was the attempt by a team of Academician Radovan Richta to bring the movement to a higher level by betting on scientific and technological development. Their result became known as “the Civilization at the Crossroad”, title of their main publication in 1966. This publication presumed that for further harmonic development of productive  forces all their components have to be properly and in a balanced way developed, and the focus has been oriented toward the role of their most important component – the producer, the human being. This was in tune with the Marx brilliant idea, expressed in his “Grundrisse”, that “saved work time is equal to the time available for the development of the individual” and this fact acts as a positive feedback on the productive forces them-self. As Marx noted, this effect of free time (disposable time), for a remote observer, judging from  its exogenous effects on production process, might seem as a generation of fix capital, in reality this capital fix being the man himself.

I would be even inclined to call the sentence above a “Marx´s Equation”, that is: “saved work time = time for the full development of an individual”. Not negligible question is of course, whether the present civilization channels all the free time into development of the individual and what consequences that failure to do this might have.

The “Civilization” was discussed on many occasions (in Moscow, Rome, Grenoble, etc.) and widely translated. But in spite of that it failed to impress the key politicians and ideologues at home and in Soviet union.

At the same time in early sixties the economy of Czechoslovakia slowed down because of many reasons (China refused to accept many already finished investments for ideological reasons, army had to be rearmed, severe winter, etc.). Czechoslovakia was the only socialist country that showed an economic decline in those days. This had a principal consequences in the country. Confidence in central planning that performed miracles during WW II in Soviet union, started to have its first cracks. Similar situation has been known since than also in the West, sometimes ago under the famous slogan “It is economy, stupid”.
In Czechoslovakia therefore the problem was not the deficit in democracy or culture. Actually the Czech film production had its golden era, winning its first Oscar.

The emerging problems in Czechoslovakia had to be solved and it could not happen without close scrutiny by the rest of the so called socialist countries, especially Soviet union.

Wider circumstances

Around this time, the Soviet union started to have second thoughts on the way things are developing. They realized that their position as a world power is not increasing enough, just the opposite. The fast development of countries defeated in WW II had kipped the economic balance significantly to the benefit of the West. Soviet union had to face the fact that it may become a “one-dimensional” world power, i.e. world power only militarily, but not economically or culturally, that is loosing the possibility of taking the position of a hegemony.

A country that is forced to import wheat or other basic commodities cannot aspire to a title of world power. It is not difficult to comprehend, that one-dimensional power can react to any threat to its interests only by resorting to the use of the only remaining dimension, the military force. And that is what USSR did in August 1968.

By the way, it is not without interest, that Russia alone (not the whole USSR) few years after the collapse of the Soviet union started to export wheat.

The invasion of Czechoslovakia for USSR was a mixed blessing. Because when the system becomes dysfunctional and even a partial improvements are being suppressed by tanks, it faces the danger of collapse as a whole. And this is what happened toward the end of the eighties.

I do not want to speculate extensively, but it seems to me that the present pretender to hegemony – USA may converge to a less then full dimensional power when 81% of goods on Walmart shelves are from China.

Left in general

Wallerstein said that the strategy of the Left stemming from the 19. century is in tatters and the new one is as good as nonexistent and therefore the Left acts insecure and depressed. In other words the mental equipment that Left used in the past 160 years has arrived in a kind of a dead-end street.

Unfortunately, the idea that the needed improvements are unthinkable without massive societal change is not spread very much and yet the societal set-up that brought us to this multidimensional dead-end street, will hardly enable us to back-up from the impasse. Einstein expressed the problem in the following way: “The significant problems we face can not be solved at the same level of thinking we were at when we created them.”  

Most  leftists seem to be always a couple of years behind the revolutionary solidarity schedule. For example they embraced Chavez too late to give him support when he could have used it. By the time when they manage to pay attention to the events,  they will have already missed the train.

These issues certainly deserve more than one special seminar. In order to illustrate, on a very imperfect way, the present situation and at the same time the wealth of many new ideas, that not all pretend to be absolutely correct, but worth of serious discussion, I will limit myself to a few provocative examples:

During his last visit in Prague, Slavoj Žižek said that we have to ask (when socialist movement went off the road) when those who led the movement went off the road, when Marx, Lenin and others might have left the correct road.
Igor Eidman from Moscow pointed out that proletarians have not became the “grave-diggers” of capitalism as slaves were not grave-diggers of their masters and those in serfdom of feudal masters. Leon Trotsky predicted that the party bureaucracy will lead Russia to capitalism. He missed the date by 50 years.
In spite of this, attempts to erects some kind of socialism emerged in the globalized world, but these can survive only when we will realize that no socialism can confront the ubiquitous globalization unless it is also globalized. That is the point of Mr. Valentic, follower of Slavoj Žižek.
A new phenomenon is hunting the sociologists in the world. About a billion people live in slums  from Mexico City, through Los Angeles to cities in Asia. Those people would love to let them self exploited in an employment, but they have no chance. They are excluded from the development. This is such a problem that even the former president of World Bank had singled it out as urgent. That is one of many new agendas for the Left to consider in new strategy, that is long overdue.