On the anniversary of the so-called "Velvet revolution" in Czechoslovakia1989

On the anniversary of the so-called "Velvet revolution" in Czechoslovakia1989

The following contribution of the Class War Group is neither a chronology of events in Czechoslovakia, 1989, nor a description of them. It is an attempt at a general analysis of the so-called Velvet “Revolution”, which would classify it in the perspective of class struggle, the only perspective, which can provide it with a meaningful context and a meaningful explanation.

On the anniversary of the so-called "Velvet revolution" in Czechoslovakia 1989

A German TV station, in order to mark the anniversary of fall of "communism", recently broadcasted a documentary about today‘s life of those who had participated in the general strike in 1980 in Poland. In one of the most telling scenes of the documentary, workers of Gdansk shipyard are coming to an iron fence of one of the gates, they are laying flowers and then they are trying to spot through rungs at least something from the celebration in honour of Solidarnosc, which, in attendance of celebrities and politicians and admission by invitation only, takes place inside.

We believe, that this scene characterises the essence of the so-called “revolutions” at the late 80’ more than anything else. That is why these "revolutions" are worthy of attention of communists (even though most of the anniversary celebrations are already over). It is not because they represent a height of the struggle of our class, but on the contrary, because historically specific relation between labour and capital resulted in the fact that our class acted rather as the labour for capital and actively participated in its own defeat (in the historical, but not in the period sense).

The following contribution of Class War group is neither a chronology of events in Czechoslovakia in 1989, nor a description of them. It is an attempt of a general analysis of the so-called velvet "revolution", which would classify it in the perspective of class struggle, the only perspective, which can provide it with meaningful context and meaningful explanation.


Without regard to what participants themselves, journalists, politicians and others may think about, all those "revolutionary events" in November 1989 were nothing else than ending of one and establishing of another bourgeois project of managing capital, a project designed to maintain the highest possible rate of profit and to subordinate proletariat as effectively as possible, that is to say a project of restructuring capital. And this goes for Czechoslovakia as well as for the entire Eastern Block. “The carnival of revolution” might have caught the Communist party of Czechoslovakia (CPC) and the opposition unaware, but from the perspective of capital this movement represented a completely logical consequence of the previous period.

A necessity to reform Stalinist administration of capital (i.e.the efforts to submit economic forces to state control) had been coming through in Czechoslovakia already since the mid-60’ and it represented nothing exceptional in the history of capital. It was however not some sort of enlightening of the “reformist” faction of the ruling class, what stressed the need for a change. Political dictatorship, which pacified and disciplined proletariat after World War II, together with planned economy artificially deforming the process of value valorising itself, which had permitted fast start up of a new cycle of capitalist production, both simply became barriers for further development. The Stalinist form of production relations became, after twenty years of good service, an obstacle for further development of production forces corresponding to requirements of the world market and it approached the end of its capacity to effectively reproduce capital as social relation. It proved plainly when in 1963 the third five-year plan failed and when GDP entered a slump for the first time since 1948. In short, "enfant terrible" of capital simply grown up of the tight shell of Stalinist management and demanded what could allow it to continue the accumulation - reforms of market and democracy, the economic and political liberalisation.

Bourgeoisie has of course never been fully aware of all of these processes in capitalism. Its driving force was and is the profit. The same is true even for the Stalinist bourgeoisie, irrespective of how vigorously it tried to mask this fact, and regardless of how it tried to hide its own existence as a class. Inefficient production and unsatisfactory consumption, crisis of valorisation in short, which led to a reduction profit, and the effort of ruling class, then presented by higher levels of state-party bureaucracy and economic technocracy, to reverse this development - these were the real reasons why Action programme, approved by CPC in early April 1968, claimed on the question of economic reform: "We put much hope in restoring positive market functions as a necessary mechanism for operation of socialist economy and an inspection of whether the work in enterprises has been spent in socially expedient way. But we are not thinking of a capitalist market, but a socialist market, and not of its unrestrained, but controlled use. The plan and national economic policy must appear as a positive force in the direction to standardise the market, against tendencies of economic imbalances and against monopolism in controlling the market.”

Reluctance of "hard-line" Stalinists to confront the economic problems and to adopt this progressive programme (progressive from the point of view of capital), and their subsequent political and military victory over "reformists" put the reform into cold storage. However, the need for restructuring and change of social management being a consequence of capital’s demand finally proved to be always more necessary and the only solution, which at the end 80’ appeared as unavoidable.

Let’s try now to briefly answer the question why there emerges a need for restructuring capital relation in 60’ and 80’. On the basis of what we have learned so far, we came to the conclusion that the Stalinist model at its beginning gambled on brutal increasing of extensive exploitation of proletariat (it herded as many people as possible to production, it prolonged working time in an open or hidden way and it tried to attack direct wage and social benefits). The limit of this way of sucking the surplus value was the class struggle. First of all there was a widespread "hidden"resistance in the form of absenteeism and floatation plaguing Czechoslovakian economy since the end of the Second World War (and having its roots even in Nazi Protectorate), which after February 1948 took a form of avoiding work duties for a part of young generation. In 1951 an open resistance appears in a form of wildcat strikes and smaller riots in Brno and its surroundings and later in 1953 (in connection with a monetary reform) in a form of wildcat strikes and unrest in Pilsen and many other cities. Although these struggles were defeated and the working class was disciplined, the threat of the previous fights and the same year rebellion in Eastern Germany and subsequently the revolt in Poland and the revolution in Hungary in 1956 made the ruling class of Soviet bloc adopt a directive saying that socialism cannot be built against the working class, but only together with it. In practice it often meant freezing of rate of exploitation or even its reduction. That is exactly what brought Czechoslovakian economy in the early 60’into the crisis and what put on the table the question of transition from the extensive exploitation to an intensive one (an intensification of work connected with technological innovations and social consequences related to this intensification). We believe that the fear of possible consequences, which could this transition provide for proletarian struggle, motivated the Stalinist nomenclature to repress Prague Spring. For the same reason, the period of normalisation didn’t bring anything new, no fundamental restructuring of the relation capital - labour. Therefore the whole economy and society was gradually falling into stagnation, dysfunction and decomposition, what called for other attempts to reform, which became more and more acute.

It was precisely this urgent need of capital to restructure itself, which produced bearers of the necessary changes in the shape of pro-reform faction in CPC, opposition economists and dissidents. And it was the same need to reform production, and a possibility to do so, the possibility opened by events of repressing down the students protest demonstration of 17th November, what made pro-capitalist opposition cooperate with the so-called pragmatics from CPC. It was therefore this very perspective of economic crisis and real political crisis what in November 1989 united dissent and some parts of official power and what forced them to healed mutual animosity in favour of united front of “struggle” for clearing the way for further development of capital, i.e. removing all obstacles of Stalinist state controlled economy and its political forms.

Let’s make a little excursion to what we mean when speaking about bourgeoisie and its factions, which were interested in political and economic liberalisation. We don’t grasp bourgeoisie in a sociological sense. It is not only the class of factory owners or of those driving Mercedes cars. It is a class of those who live on exploitation of proletariat, who organise and manage this exploitation. It is not defined by a simple ownership de jure, but rather by real relation of power over means of production, by the fact that they are administrators of capital, they personify capital. And this relation may take various forms more or less hiding the essence of this association with capital. This relation is in today liberal capitalism among others presented by managers who are de jure a kind of pseudo-wageworkers, but in reality they control means of production and live on surplus value, which was through them produced by proletariat. In the Eastern Block, this relation was represented by upper levels of state and party bureaucracy and technocracy, which legally owned nothing but de facto held power controlling both an individual enterprises and production as a whole. This was the bourgeoisie of Stalinism - real socialism.

The effort of these bureaucrats and technocrats to control individual and mutually antagonistic forces of capital through centralised economy, an effort so typical for all Stalinist state-parties in Eastern Europe, however had a side effect. At least since the turn of 70’ and 80’ the more and more obvious failure of this way functioning economy led not only to very careful and unsystematic attempts of central management to solve this situation while timorously dosing autonomy for individual companies and financial stimulus for their managements, but also to growth of black economy, which partially compensated for enormous deficiencies of official economy. This framework then gave rise to new social stratum, it helped it to gain larger or smaller sum of money, but at the same time it does not allow it to turn these finances into private capital, which would produce more money. It was possible to just “spend” these financial resources, but the possibilities of consumption offered in “socialist” economy were also limited. This new social stratum consisted not only of various directors-general and assistants of large enterprises, but also of party apparatchiks responsible for individual industrial sectors,all mostly loyal party members, and also of various enterprising heads of stores with sought and shortage goods, some moonlighting job employees and last but not least of for example underhand money changers. The existence and content of daily life of this social stratum members connected with the capital relation (even if it was a group significantly stratified) represented continuous pressure to release tied up economy, release, which would allow them to valorise accumulated exchange value and turn it into a real capital multiplied in exchange for labour. This pressure considerably participated in formation of a new political climate in the society, which contributed to economic and political liberalisation.

In the chance to change, opened up by the November movement,pro-capitalist dissent and economists from Prognostic Institute,reorganized together in Civil Forum (CV), appeared as the best representatives of the social motion giving birth to that new social stratum with business ambitions. Pro-capitalist dissent, we stress! Therefore we speak neither about all dissidents as such nor about their organisations as a whole, we mean only those whose function in the social antagonism was in opposition to the interests proletariat, those who acted as a political faction of bourgeoisie, without having all the means usually available for this class, of those who were tied together with capital by programme and ambitions, without being its real administrators.Speaking about pro-capitalist dissent, the political bourgeois factions in opposition, we mean those who vehemently claimed their right to become a part of the ruling class, when constituting an alternative to ruling party, who claimed to be more and better trained to carry out power and who actively participated in developing of programme for the reform, which would enable them to access to capital executive. United front with technocrats aspiring to become private owners, which was set up in November 1989,allowed them to complete this reform and to put themselves to (from their point of view) an appropriate place - to a control panel of politics and economy.

And although ones more emphasised the economic liberalisation (in an effort to valorise accumulated values), while others emphasised rather the political liberalisation (convinced that capital should be managed democratically and with respect for human rights), the liberalisation of both proved to be a common interest after all, since both was necessarily connected and political revolution was a needful prerequisite for it. All those “forums”,“round tables” and jointly acting opposition and regime leaders hurrying hand in hand to establish democracy, all these were only different shapes of the temporary united front of forces of capital.

It was precisely this alliance what enabled the first negotiations between opposition representatives (initiative Bridge)and Prime Minister as early as at night of 18th to 19th November.One day later it was already a delegation of Civil Forum, who held talks with the government and on 28th November, that is to say only11 days after the student demonstration, old parliament unanimously cancelled constitutional article on the leading role of CPC in the society. A month later the same parliament thereafter co-opted new members and lastly it unanimously elected Václav Havel president.

This temporary alliance of individual reformist factions and forces of capital, even if technocracy itself and its allies from the dissent were not fully aware of that, expressed itself among others in the speech of Václav Havel presented at demonstration of 23rd November: "Civil Forum (...) disposes of qualified forces from all spheres of social life, which are capable of leading a free and pragmatic discussion about realistic process of changing political and economic circumstances in our country." For the same reason the future president addressed an action group of Coordinate centre of Civil Forum on 5th December while speaking about the need to delegate to government “a kind of our good representation (...) which would guarantee the continuity of power”.

So, this “revolution” passed quickly and broadly painlessly, the Stalinists were quickly replaced by democrats, sympathies to socio-economic “change” occurred at once also in the highest stratums of power and the ruling faction vigorously worked on its own deposal. All this shows how great was the need of capital toget rid of the old and too tight shell of “socialism”, and how much the united capitalist forces struggled across opposition as well as government to fulfill this need.

This temporary unity across bourgeoisie and opposition of medium and lower level apparatchiks and other clearly pro-capitalist groups is the only explanation for all speculation and conspirative theories about whether was the November “revolution” scheduled, to what purpose should it serve, whether it was commanded by secret police or CPC, etc. As we have already said, bourgeoisie is not fully aware of its historical role, which is the preservation of capital, and it absolutely doesn’t act as a single conscious being.It is however aware of its immediate interest – realisation of profit. It responds to the need of capital to valorise itself, it creates and changes conditions for this valorisation, and this is the essence of bourgeois politics. Even in the times of crisis when realisation of profit is in danger, if not for all the bourgeoisie,then at least for most of its factions, and the ruling class is forced to search for a solution as a united class, even in thesetensive moments of history there are always individual antagonistic interests of different factions, groups and individual capitalists,as well as those of social and political movements with capitalist ambitions and bourgeois programmes, what is hidden behind a facade of common benefit. Therefore, although they fulfilled together the need of capital to disrupt borders erected by Stalinist administration, these factions outwardly seem to be opposing toeach other. In this way they also grasped themselves as opposing to each other and in this sense they also acted in public.

All the unclearness and speculations about possible agreements and secret interests are based exactly on the presumption that there were real oppositions and alternatives in the so called velvet “revolution”. However, in fact the only viable variant in what was going on November 1989 was the reformist part of bourgeoisie together with dissent related to the perspective of reproduction of capital - i.e. those who claimed the right to become a part of the ruling class, united by capital in need of restructuring. Secret police or CPC didn’t have any agreement for change of regime with the opposition, and neither such an agreement existed within the ruling party. All of the actors were connected (without being aware of it until the final consequences) only by the interest to reform management of capital in order to solve the crisis of profitability and reproduction of capital before it will strike in full drive (although they only succeeded to postpone it). All this however doesn’t change anything on the fact, that on the level of ideology they stayed hostile opponents, and so they were in their consideration and presentation.

However as soon as this programmatic capitalist alliance completed its historic task, as soon as it succeeded to eliminate old forms of managing economy and society and thus allowed capital to expand further, this united front broke up as the united interest of capital disappeared. Bourgeois factions competing with each other came forth with their mutually competitive interests, which have been since then derived from new cleavages brought by new management of capital.

Bourgeoisie of the Eastern Block was primarily established, organised and profiled via the ruling “communist” party and the State. This way it also solved its inner conflicts. "Economic level" of its class position and forming of interests which derived from it (technocracy versus bureaucracy as its specific parts) and factional confrontations remained on the contrary, considering the defeat of reformist programme of 1968, secondary. November 1989 though initiated the process of transforming bourgeoisie in relation to capital, it redefined its relation to means of production and priority was given to (simply said) “economic level” of reproduction of ruling class. From then on, it will no longer be the contradiction between the political bureaucracy and the economic technocracy what will form individual bourgeois factions, but different capitals.


The unaccommodating economic structure was not the only reason for reforming the management of capital. An equally important reason was long-lasting practical inability of bourgeoisie to effectively increase the rate of exploitation of proletariat and thus to ensure a sufficient extent of profit. Both, constant and variable capital needed restructuring, the variable one moreover needed discipline to be imposed on it.

It has always been precisely the rate of exploitation of variable capital (i.e. labour force) what is crucial for capital. Only the value extracted from living labour is a source profit, and therefore it is necessary to permanently reduce that part of the working day in which worker produces compensation for his daily wage, and to extend that part when he “gives” its work to capitalist without being paid for that.

The well known motto "we pretend to work and they pretend to pay us" was only one of the expressions of lack of capacity of the ruling class to impose on workers an increase in exploitation or actually to make them accepting it. And this also goes for the entire Eastern Block, even though the resistance of proletariat appeared in different countries in different degree.

When Polish government announced global increase in food prices in the summer of 1976, proletarians replied while ceasing work in dozens of factories. Many went even further in manifesting their protest against these new governmental measures, which in effect increased exploitation through decreasing real wages. Workers from tractor factory Ursus prised up rails on the main railway line to the city, in Radom proletarians took to the streets and set on fire a building of the ruling party. One day after the government had announced the price increase; it already had to be withdrawn facing the untenable situation in the streets. Four years later the government tried to enforce price increase again (this time it was a question of price of meat) and it had to face class anger again. The strike was started in Ursus tractor factory, during two weeks the resistance spread throughout the country and there were already 350 thousand workers in strike. The government pressed by the four years of postponing the price increase, couldn’t give in this time and it violently repressed the movement. Bourgeoisie in this situation (from its point of view) necessarily had to massacre and to discipline non-obedient variable capital, but it definitely wasn’t a kind of standard and the most suitable state for valorisation of capital. The need for reform, which would make the exploitation of labour force more effective, aroused before capital across Eastern Europe always more clearly.

The general economic situation of Czechoslovakia in 80’ was not as a disastrous as for example that one in Poland. Difficulties of capital to valorise itself nevertheless appeared in all spheres and bourgeoisie was trying hard to make the working class pay the costs of the crisis of the so-called “Soviet model”.

The crisis, which had been ruining economy since the beginning of 80‘in such a way that companies from COMECON countries even started to a large extent to barter between them, since money didn’t meet their function of a universal value equivalent, this crisis brought a decline of bureaucratic plan and an increase in autonomy of company technocracy. The bourgeoisie started to split up: Stalinist dinosaurs and political functionaries refused to face and solve the problems, while the faction more connected to the economic base of the system searched for the way to make the economy more efficient.

One of the expressions of this tendency was for example Gorbatchov with his “perestroika” and “glasnost” and finally even the Czechoslovakian reform itself. CPC supposed to start this reform since 1th January 1990 and it justified it in its resolution “On complex transformation of economic mechanism in Czechoslovakian Socialist Republic and its guarantees” in December 1987 while saying that “(...) it is necessary to provide for new quality of growth of GDP which is a condition for better satisfaction of real people’s needs (...) The results (...) of analyses clearly confirm that without a qualitative improvement (...) a space for the necessary changes (...) in development of production forces (...) cannot be opened and therefore a space for social objectives of our society.”

The reform designed to reverse drop of the total increase in production and productivity of labour considered the cause of the problems in defects of planning and state management and in lack of motivation of companies (both management and employees). The reform’s pillar was a law on state companies, which would become independent economic units with their own economy and with limited central financing, subsidies and state plan, which would then play only a role of a framework: to prognosticate, to define a goal of the national economy, whose implementation however depended on individual companies. Foreign trade would remain mainly in the hands of the state, but part of the profit in foreign currency would go directly to the enterprises. Foreign investors would be allowed in a form of joint business organizations where majority of Czech capital would be preserved. Mainly the sector of service was supposed to be supplemented by allowing private business.

This reform however boded ill for proletariat. An attractive bait of self-management laid by the government may be enough to partially pacify troublemakers, as it in the “Directive to ensure complex reconstruction of economic mechanism” approved in 1988 guaranteed “participation of working collectives in decision making process on essential issues of economic and social development of an organization (...)”. But this “Socialist self-management”, which would be based on organisations of already existing National Front and especially trade unions (Revolutionary Union Movement, RUM) under whose competence would be for instance the elections of directors, all this was nothing else than just a step towards self-management of the same exploitation and poverty.

Moreover, proposals aiming to increase the motivation of workers to step up productivity (that is to say to increase their rate of exploitation) were much more important to this reform. Economy was supposed to provoke “scramble for crown” and to stimulate growth in consumption particularly of “luxurious” goods (such as colour TVs, walkmans, the first PCs, “real jeans”, etc). The reform took into account gradual liberalisation of already increasing prices, only prices of basic and strategic products were planned to remain regulated. Tuzex shops, selling western goods for special foreign currency exchange vouchers, were blooming. Bourgeoisie and its flunkies were supposed to be no more ashamed of luxury they have been enjoying and special health facilities Sanops or specific stores with all assortments available only for the elite became the symbol of this new social “peace”.

General worsening of living conditions, low nominal wages,reduction of indirect wages, increasing in the rate of exploitation, lack of consumer goods, advancing ecological disaster, etc., together with total bureaucratisation and idiotisation of the society, all this materialized itself in a general dissatisfaction of proletariat, in a disgust at the ruling party and its flunkies. This dissatisfaction, in addition to the “economic” reasons, became a cause for the necessity to carry out the political and economic reform. However it didn’t turn into an autonomous activity of working class in Czechoslovakia, the class didn’t come out against the regime opposition as a class and didn’t self-organise the struggle against exploitation and exploiters. It didn’t happen, partly because this dissatisfaction of proletariat was debilitated by pro-capitalist dissent organised in Charta77[1] and other organisations, where the proletariat got organised together with its future exploiters, under motos alien to our class and around bourgeois programme. But first of all also because proletariat itself reproduced this programme, as well as it reproduced the social relation wage labour- capital on a daily basis at work. No such cracks appeared in this process, which would produce such a level of class struggle which could lead to a rupture with bourgeois programme.

The attempt of bourgeoisie to maintain the current rate of profit by way of double tactics - by increasing of exploitation of proletariat and by removal of one its factions advocating obsolete and inefficient administration of capital, which had become an obstacle for further development, was at the end of '80 simply complemented with workers’ dissatisfaction and its pursuit of removing those, who organised their poverty and lack of whatever.

This happened neither by accident nor because of pernicious influence of bourgeois propaganda. Proletariat and bourgeoisie are both personifications of two poles of capital as a social relation - labour and capital. These opposed poles are in a mutual relation: one requires and produces the other. Convergency of the bourgeoisreformist effort and the dissatisfaction of workers in November1989 was therefore only a logic result of the crisis of Stalinist shape of the labour - capital relation. The crisis required restructuring and, under the given historic circumstances, it gave to the proletarian effort to gain better conditions of living reformist content (the effort of proletariat to get an improvement of conditions of living didn’t contained subversion and over coming of capital as a social relation, but on the contrary it contained reproduction of the relation labour - capital). In other words, it was among others the dissatisfaction of working class itself, what had produced pro-capitalist dissent and the reformists in the ruling party and which had at the end 80’ laid the trap in which were the proletarians finally entrapped in November 1989. The content of this dissatisfaction was actually not only rate of exploitation as such. The workers were to a large extent discontent also with difficulties in reproducing the labour force itself, that is to say problems related to insufficiency in services and consumption. The general expression of this mood was hankering after western consumer society and the omnipresent fascination by commodities from behind the iron curtain. Workers in certain sectors also became angry due to rumours about possible layoffs and renewal of official unemployment linked with the governmental reform forthcoming in 1990.

Claims of democracy and human rights, economic reform, higher volume of consumer goods and greater availability of services,etc., all those claims which individual proletarians paraded with during the Velvet “revolution”, were thus not inserted in their mouths only by bourgeois propaganda, but rather by lack of rupture with capital and with capitalism as a bourgeois project, the rupture which was in November 1989 certainly not on the agenda.

For all that the bourgeoisie continued to ensure really thorough final form of restructuring through propaganda. The historic interest of proletariat is destroying capitalism as such. However, at that moment, this interest didn’t materially and immediately emerge for our class. Proletariat therefore could not recognise it and instead it acted completely against this interest. It acted in accordance with the reformist opposition, which only wanted to change the management of capital and was always clear about that: “We don't therefore want set up our own programme of political or social reforms or changes, but we want to lead a constructive dialogue with the political and state authorities on our field ofactivity. We are against hateful fighting, witch hunts, new divisions, revenges and vengeances. We are for the democraticdebate in the atmosphere of working cooperation of all citizens and all social forces. We know that a complete agreement of all with all is never possible, and we even don't think that it would be useful. However, we believe, that even opponents can mutually respect each other as people and as citizens and that they can look for what they may agree about in a calm debate not tinged with passions or bitter recollections. After all the tragic events and turbulences of recent decades we can see the only perspective in areal national reconciliation on a democratic basis”, declared Chartists in 1987 for instance.

Civil Forum revealed the bourgeois character of its programme even more concretely in 1989: “This crisis is an evidence of ineffectiveness of current political and economic system. Almost all the mechanisms necessary for society being able to appropriately respond to changing internal and external conditions have been removed“ (...) “Monopoly of CPC in filling all important posts creates unfair vassal system paralysing the society as a whole.” In other words – let’s build free market and share the power with us - that was the genuine project of reformist forces of capital, whether drawn by Civil Forum with its declaration: “We don't want to ruin our economy. On the contrary, we want it to work better”, or by reformists from CPC, Lubomir Strougal and Antonin Kapek for instance, who came out with a similar idea of economic reform and changes in society in March 1987. And proletariat, unable to formulate its own programme, as unable to constitute itself as class, which would oppose destruction of production based on exploitation against any reform and which would clearly postulate social revolution as the only way out of social and economic misery, this proletariat bore this bourgeois programme inits perspective and activity in November 1989, since it considered it a solution for poverty and it took into the streets in the name of this programme. Our class was demonstrating, tinkling keys and singing national anthem and while trying to get rid of barbed wire collar proletariat itself finally put his head into a collar which was maybe made of velvet, but it served to the same purpose. It was once again the bourgeoisie and its allies who fastened this collar and who walked the proletariat to demonstrations, then to the elections and who finally tied our class again at the same kennel and the same miserable bowl of rinds. The vast majority of proletarians thus after the successful completion of “velvet revolution” accepted the bourgeois moto that it is impossible to work in a socialist way (that is to say to work at the old rate of exploitation) and to live in a capitalist way in the same time (that is to say to live in a consumer society).

Civil Forum as an organisation of capital however did nothesitate to prevent any possibility, albeit at that moment onlyhypothetical, that it the proletarian revolutionary programme couldbe formulated. It immediately proclaimed itself a “realrepresentative of critically thinking Czechoslovakian public” and“the only factual representative of people’s will”. And it tried tohedge also against potential explosions of proletarian rage, whichcould go adrift its control: “We are interested in pragmaticprocedure and not in violence. We don't want rudeness.” (...) “Weask all the citizens to behave temperately, tolerantly,democratically,” Civil Forum appealed to the demonstrators. And atthe same it clearly proclaimed that proletarians in the streets areonly a backdrop, even if a necessary one: “(...) state powerrepresentatives claim that the problems of the country cannot besolved in the streets. That is exactly what Charta 77 has beenclaiming since thirteen years. Civil Forum is ready to immediatelynegotiate with the power elsewhere than in the streets. Thereforeit is not up to us, but up to them whether the democracy in ourcountry will be born in the excited atmosphere of a square orquietly at various workplaces.”

„No one has ever seen such a revolution, which would take placeunder such a silence as the last one; there was shouting in thesquare of Vaclavak for one week and some shouted even for twoweeks. Euphoria lasted for three weeks, anticommunist witch hunthad the longest life, it endured half a year until the electionsand it can hope to survive”, that is how Egon Bondy[2] commentedvelvet “revolution”. His remarks are to a large extent correct.Those who in the hope for a better life took part to the fight ofmajority of reformist forces of capital against minority of rigidbourgeoisie (the fight over power), those who were enthusiasticallyfreezing for a few days on squares, where they stood by a“historical compromise” when Marta Kubishova sang national anthemtogether with Hana Zagorova (a scene repeated some days later byKarel Kryl in duet with Karel Gott)[3], all those have neveractually left their places in factories, shops and schools, wherethey continue to transform their lives into capital, managed bytheir former “friends” from the opposition movement. Nevertheless,they played a crucial role in this movement, whose success was fromthe beginning based on the fact that their perspective and activitywill not go beyond perspective and activity of labour for capital.This role was crucial, because without their active participationthe reform would simply not be possible.


The misalliance of proletarians and the reformist bourgeoisiewas a necessary historic product and a precondition which allowedthe realization of the economic and political reform. Reformistfactions of ruling class knew it already in 60‘and that is why theauthors of the economic reform of that time themselves advocated“strengthening of critical attitude of the public againststupidities of planning system” and “obtaining mass support forforthcoming systemic changes”, and why they went round factoriesand enterprises with their presentations and explanations. And thecapitalist opposition of Charta 77 knew it as well, when in 1987 inits “Word to fellow citizens” published a sop seemingly standingfor the interests of proletariat: “Our country is supposedly ruledby working class. This formal affirmation has never been in such afrightening contrast with reality as it is today. Superiorpolitical officials travel round this country surrounded by policeguards in cars with bullet-proof glasses and with an immoralabsolute right of way. (...) They have their consumer benefits,special supplier, special services and special health care, specialand mysterious incomes. Their power gives them a great manyprivileges and in circumstances, when it is for normal citizens socomplicated to arrange or to get so many things, for them it isnothing else than a matter of one telephone conversations; even tomake their less hardworking child to pass all exams at universitywithout any problems.” (...) “All of us can immediately start totell the truth since tomorrow. (...) And not only the truth aboutcommon mess we see around, in the production, in shops or services,but also the truth about its causes. About bad managers who can –supported by their unconditional political loyalty – commit anydamages. About nonflexible way of economic management anddecision-making. About delusiveness and formality of plans andabout pointless performance of their endless series of oftencompletely opposite indicators. About the incredible inability ofcentrally managed production to respond to the living needs of thesociety, about the incomprehensible but tolerated loses of thelargest industrial enterprises and about the wasting of energy ininefficient industrial sectors. And of course, about the terriblemonster of bureaucracy pigging such a large part of the outcomes ofhuman work and in the same time making this work complicated andwasted.” Further comments from the same document howeverimmediately put this statement in its place: “We believe thatpeaceful resistance against all the evil, tolerance, politeness,openness to truth and different point of view and patientpersistence, these are the best tools, our society may use in theforthcoming fight for its emancipation, for social reconstructionand democratic order. (...) We call for nothing but courage tobecome citizens in full, creative and the strongest sense.”

Even the reformist bourgeoisie was however aware of the danger,which could hypothetically come from proletariat. “If we onlywaited that the social contradictions deepen so that catastrophiccourse of the things enforces a change, we would cut our ownthroat: we all would pay for their deepening and unforeseeableimpacts of an explosion which could one day come”. Once again theopposition was in accordance with the reformists in government:“(...) if we did nothing, the street itself would deal with it intwo years,” told the PM of Czech government Ladislav Adamec in June1988 to the General Secretary of CPC Central Committee MiloshJakesh.

All these and various other “leaders” were afraid of the streetand therefore they were trying to lead it and to canalise it. Thatindicates that the fact that the proletarians started moving wasfor all that a little practical expression of class antagonism, aweak manifestation of tendency of proletariat to constitute itselfas a class against capital, the tendency which was however speedilyannulled by citizen perspective, by bourgeois perspective ofpolitical revolution. The question obviously is why the proletariatdidn’t constitute itself as a class at least partially aware of itshistorical interest. Why our class didn’t reach the point ofrupture with the reformists? Why it didn’t oppose both temporarilyunited capitalist forces? But it would completely a-historical tobase the answer to this question on a comparison of “revolution” in1989 with the revolutionary wave of 1917-1921 and to enumerate whatour class should do and did not do.

Proletariat in November 1989 finally went out to the streets. Itdemonstrated, it was beaten up, it demonstrated again, it madestrike and founded strike committees, it requested examination ofthe police intervention, demonstrated again, it ridiculed thegovernment bashaws and at the same time it zealously applauded toits false friends from the opposition, which already negotiatedabout their seats in the government.

Ten days after the first demonstration 75 percent ofproletarians participated in two-hour “general” strike proclaimedby Civil Forum. As well as today's trade union dances, even thisevent had nothing in common with real proletarian action and thereformist bourgeoisie manifested it clearly since the beginningwhen Civil Forum stated that: “the proclaimed general strike on27th November is a political protest strike and does not pursueother objectives,” and it proposed set of measures guarantying that“the strike will not cause material or other damages”. To avoidpossible problems with strikers depressed by laughable course ofthat “come out of the people”, the opposition faction of the rulingclass came the same day with other slap across the face ofproletariat: “Coordination centre of Civil Forum propose to put anend to the national strike movement since 27th November 1989. Theway we are now able to finish the strike is the way we will be ableto start it gain.”

But even other things happened.

Despite the fact that Obrana lidu[4] in the name ofCzechoslovakian People's Army claimed that: “(...) we are ready,together with workers, peasants and intelligence, to defend andsave achievements of socialism”, the soldiers of compulsorymilitary service, since 18th November isolated in barracks from theouter world, stood up for the striking students immediately afterthey got some information about the movement and forbid themselvesto be deployed against the demonstrators. Confrontation betweenthose, who wanted to suppress the movement with violence, andthose, who refused to be a tool of repression, didn’t result in anopen conflict, but we can call it one of the decisive moments ofNovember 1989. Even in the form in which it materialised itself,that is to say limited to the lowest level of its practicalexpression and unable to be further developed in the given moment,the position of the “draftees” represented a certain degree ofdecomposition of repressive forces.

We can see this decomposition of army and police and otherrepressive state forces in proletarian struggles all around theworld, for the last time for instance in Argentina in 2004, whenthe rebels were joint by many policemen and soldiers, since theeconomic collapse and the resulting perspective of miserableexistence hit equally even those against who were supposed tointervene against the social movement. Proletarian movement inChina was in the spring of 1989 joined by entire army regimentsoriginally intended for slaughtering it, because neither army,divided into officers’ elite benefiting from all privileges andordinary soldiers, drilled, poorly fed and accommodated in inhumanconditions, avoided class confrontation. Soldiers repressing massdemonstrations and riots in many provinces and cities wereconfronted with proletarian cordons calling for fraternisation andpreventing their actions. Thousands of soldiers deserted burningconvoys of tanks and military trucks and together with proletariansthey took up arms against loyal parts of the army. And yet, thisrevolutionary-defeatist movement was defeated by the repression, ithad showed to bourgeoisie that even soldiers remain onlyproletarians in uniforms and, regardless of all the oaths ofloyalty to the state, they have still more in common with theirclass brothers and sisters in factories and schools, than withthose who drive them against them.

When around 4 000 militiamen, supposed to attack striking highschools, universities and theatres, were brought to Prague in thenight from 21st to 22nd November, the strikers were ready to fightback – students of DAMU[5] for instance planned to builtbarricades in the school and they were building an escape route outof buildings for a case besiege. Although the Popular Militiaforces finally withdrawn an order to attack, the intention todefend occupied buildings by power was a clear rupture with all theappeals for nonviolence proclaimed by the reformistbourgeoisie.

And last but not least, students and actors who went round thefactories, for instance in Prague, in order to agitate for supportfor the “general” strike, assumed the tasks set up by the movement,because no movement can survive without expanding itself.

A cruel twist of fate - all these proletarians, as well as manyothers, not only took through their activity their false friends tovarious offices, but they also enable transformation ofreproduction of capital and labour, when they had helped to promotethe programme of its reform. This is the real content of the“velvet revolution”, this is what is the legend about: it was apeaceful exchange of one management of capital for another, not thefanciful image of freedom and heaven as it was described by themedia. This is why it is so popular among bourgeoisie all over theworld, because it is the best example of how could one faction ofbourgeoisie shielded by mass support of proletariat take up powerfrom another faction without using violence or armed struggle.

Bourgeoisie of Eastern Block smelt the risk, which couldpotentially come from proletarian movement standing out of itscontrol, as in the USSR, Poland, Romania and Yugoslavia the classstruggles became reality in various extent and various intensityand they increasingly complicated the possibility to solve thecritical situation. Bourgeois forces in Czechoslovakia weretherefore trying to direct proletarians towards its own interestssoon enough. However, it was rather a fleetingly spotted or evenonly anticipated phantom of proletarian struggle, and not a ghostof communism, what was haunting Czechoslovakia. Proletariatappeared under false flags of domination of capital, and it wasexactly our class who then raised these flags and who bore themuntil the victory by exactly that activity, which was a consequenceof the period shape of class antagonism and in which thereforeappeared in a very weak and limited way –exactly the same as wasthis activity itself – the tendency of proletariat to establishitself as a class against capital, the tendency materializingitself in the practical activity of historical class movement. Notonly the ruling faction, but also the Civil forum reacted to thistrend immediately, but because its ghost dispersed by itself, theirreactions were not very dramatic. Proletariat was satisfied by fewdemonstrations, the ridiculous two hours strike and cooptation ofbumbling Havel and company, whose rate of “radicalism” correspondedto the mood of workers. The activity of bourgeoisie was that easyto push through also because it partially followed the same“manoeuvre” used in the mid-60’ which also didn’t meet a practicalcritique of the proletariat.

Thus, proletariat didn’t reach a sufficient degree of rupturewith capital in the given historical form of its contradictiverelation with capital; it didn’t come to such a level of classstruggle which could lead to a break with bourgeois programme andto constitution of struggling class. Therefore proletariat itselfreproduced the programme of one of the capitalist factions (thereformist one); therefore it further continued the dailyreproduction of the social relation of labour – capital.

The defeat of Czechoslovakian proletariat in 50’, re-confirmedby “Prague spring” and August 1968 and 1969, the impossibility offurther reproduction of capital as a social relation on the basisof “class compromise” originated in the second half of 50’ andlater modified during normalisation, 80’ marked with stagnation andslow degradation, all this did not lead to an increase of classstruggle and therefore not even to constitution of proletariat as aclass against capital. First visible manifestations ofdissatisfaction appeared only in 1988. The consequence of thesehistorical limits then was that proletarians (except for very weakexpressions of the antagonism) could not overcome their existenceas class for capital and therefore the only possible perspectivewas not the revolution, but the reform. Thus the capitalistopposition forces could quite easily convince the workers that theWestern form of capital (at which they were looking up for at least10 years, mainly in terms of consumption and thus implicitly interms of rate of exploitation) is better than the Eastern “realsocialist” one and that after a short period of tightening theirbelts a real improvement of living conditions will come.

Bondy prophesied that the future of the new bourgeois order willbe short: "It will soon start to throw itself from side to side beas a can tied to a cat’s tail of the scrape of the world dividedinto those who didn’t win while winning and now seek tooth andnail, where the victory fled, and those who always have the worstof it and those are always the poor all over the world. And whenthey will hold their ground, there will be troubles also here athome.” But he was wrong, at least in terms of time perspective.

This text cannot sufficiently answer a question why thesetroubles seem to be within distance beyond sight for the moment.But we can surely say that they will certainly come one day oranother, because the conditions that will give a birth to them werealready established. And the events of November 1989 contributedtheir part to that.

[1] To express ourselves more clearly, both Charta 77 and CivilForum and others were without any doubt bourgeois organisations,which temporarily served to establish then interests of capital. Inthe same temporary way they attracted also proletarians whoorganised themselves inside them. This fact of course doesn’t makebourgeois of any member of these and similar organisations. As wellas there are proletarians for instance in trade unions, which arebourgeois organisation par excellence, there were proletarians alsoin Charta 77 and Civil Forum. Therefore when we talk aboutbourgeoisie of CV or about the opposition bourgeoisie, we meanthose who have been ruling class according to their social functionwithin the context of social antagonism, and not those who havebeen active members bourgeois organisations, but according to theirsocial role in capital they have been nothing else than theexploited, proletarians.

[2] Egon Bondy, writer and a poet, an author of total realismschool, Marxist, Maoist and unclassable opposed the mainstreamdissent, Charta 77 and later Civil Forum, claiming that it requiresnothing else than a change of the ruling faction. Translator’snote.

[3] Kubishova and Kryl represented those artists who were bannedfrom public performances by the CPC after 1968 for their supportfor Prague Spring, while Zagorova and Gott were pop music stars ofthe real socialism, both of them involved very much in propagatingits ideology. Translator’s note.

[4] Obrana lidu (People’s Defense) was thenewspaper of the Czechoslovakian People’s Army. Translator’snote.

[5] DAMU – Theatre Academy of Arts is adramatic college in Prague. Translator’s note.

By Tridni Valka (aka Class War Group), taken from www.tridnivalka.tk


Jun 19 2010 19:07

See also at www.tridnivalka.tk:

“Velvet Revolution”: A Relatively Open-Ended Match?

Review of “November 1989: The Proletariat Bonded With a Velvet Tricolour” by the Collectively Against Capital (KPK)

Unfortunatelly there's no English version of KPK's text yet