Volume #14 - 1047.|
EUROPE, THE SOVIET UNION AND THE MIDDLE EAST
Chargé d'affaires in Czechoslovakia|
to Secretary of State for External Affairs
February 23rd, 1948|
Czechoslovakia is undergoing a political crisis in the form of a trial of strength between Communists and non-Communists, which, as this despatch is written, may be solved by a typical Czech compromise or by a Communist resort to direct action. There are many alarming rumours flying about Prague to the effect that the Communists are ready for a coup. On the other hand, the Communists, judged at least by the standards which their party has followed in other Eastern European countries, have been rather restrained or at any rate have not been as violent in their language as they could have been. They have not crawled too far out on a limb to be unable to return some distance in the direction of a constitutional settlement, and I am moderately optimistic of a compromise solution being reached, although prophecy is admittedly a risky business at this time and place. Presumably a good deal depends on the advice given by Moscow, perhaps through the Cominform in Belgrade. The more nervous see an ominous sign in the presence here of M. Zorin, former Soviet Ambassador to Czechoslovakia and now a Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs. He carne here ostensibly for the celebrations of the Thirtieth Anniversary of the Founding of the Red Army. which included the welding into one large organization of various societies for friendship with Russia. Those who take the darkest view of the political situation claim that M. Zorin was sent here to "take over".
2. Pre-election fevers began to rise noticeably some two or three weeks age and the word "nervousness" appeared in more and more political speeches and articles. A reading of the charges and counter-charges hurled at each other by the Communists and their opponents suggests that the worst case of nerves was suffered by the Communists who were alarmed at the vigour shown by the other parties and despondent of their chances of achieving their boast of 51% at the coming elections.
3. The particular issues at stake in recent controversies, such as the size of a bonus for civil servants or details of land reform, are symptoms rather than causes of the present tension. The fundamental fact is that the non-Communists have been displaying altogether too much energy to suit the Communists, and the latter have therefore seized upon whatever convenient arguments lay ready to hand or could be manufactured. They accused the non-Communist parties of entering into secret agreements to form an anti-Communist bloc; they talked of a supposed non-Communist plan to form a government of officials which would hold "undemocratic" elections; they claimed that the non-Communists were obstructing the completion of the Constitution and the passage of certain vital bills. To these and allied charges, the other parties replied with reasonably well-argued rebuttals, and the Communists took matters a step further by talking darkly of finding ways of enforcing the will of the people.
4. The Trades Union Council, a strongly Communist organization, has taken a leading part in these activities. One of their leading officials told a meeting that there were two roads to socialism, the slow way of development or the quick way of revolution; if some people did not like the slow way, the quick way would be resorted to. Mother said that it depended upon whether the Trades Union Council's demands (for a civil service bonus, etc.) were acceptable or not whether future developments would be peaceable or otherwise. He promised a nation-wide protest strike and a stoppage of all transport for five minutes. If not even Parliament would accept the Trades Union Council's demands, there would have to be a new demand - "Away with Parliament".
5. Disputes naturally took place in the Government as well as in the press and at public meetings. A Cabinet decision directing the Communist Minister of the Interior to make certain changes in the police (he was told to reverse himself on some particularly flagrant cases of firing non-Communists and replacing them with Communists) was not complied with. When non-Communist Ministers insisted on discussing this failure to carry out a Government decision, the Communist Prime Minister, M. Gottwald, found an excuse for breaking up the Cabinet meeting. The question was carried over to a meeting of the Council of the National Front, where a similar deadlock was reached after the non-Communists had vigorously accused the Communists of trying to divert attention from their efforts to gain complete control of the security machinery of the state. Communist control of the police, which has been actively debated for some time, became a critical issue and one on which eventually the Ministers from three parties submitted their resignations.
6. In the meantime, one of the more interesting items of news turned up by the non-Communist press was a report of a confidential meeting of Communist party leaders on February 8th which charted the following programme:
(1) The Chairman of the Trades Union Council would summon a conference of works councils;
(2) Rude Pravo, the Communist daily, would start a campaign against private enterprise;
(3) The National Socialists and Social Democrats would be accused of making a secret anti-Communist pact;
(4) After suitable preparation in the press and on the radio, the Trades Union Council would demand that all industrial concerns with more than fifty employees should be nationalized.
One by one these steps, or something closely approximating them, were taken and Communist party officials throughout the country devoted themselves to violent agitation.
7. It was on February 20th that the Ministers from the National Socialist, People's and Slovak Democratic parties, twelve in all, submitted their resignations to the President as a protest against Communist intransigence - with particular regard to Communist control of the police - while the Social Democrats took a middle position by criticizing the actions of both sides and calling for compromise and continuation of the National Front Government. These resignations could hardly have been offered unless the dozen Ministers concerned were reasonably confident of being asked and being able to stay at their posts. To present the Communists with a chance to form a government, either with or without the Social Democrats, which would leave the three protesting parties powerless on the sidelines, does not make sense. The President refused to accept these resignations, and his point of view was undoubtedly ascertained quietly before they were submitted. Up to this point the non-Communists had forced the issue and put the Communists on the defensive, I think it fair to say that the Communists regained the offensive on the morning of February 21st by organizing a mass meeting in the city's largest open square, which was harangued by M. Gottwald and other party leaders. This was arranged at very shod notice and was evidence of the discipline and capacity for organization that distinguishes the Communist party. The Prime Minister accused the resigning Ministers of representing domestic and foreign reaction (with much talk of spies and sabotage of the Slav alliances), and called for their replacement by people of good will from all political parties and national organizations. He concluded by calling for Action Committees of the National Front to be formed in every town and village by "democratic and progressive representatives of all parties and national organizations." As I said earlier, however, the speech could have been more inflammatory and could have demanded seizure of power by the Communists.
8. Following this mass meeting, which passed a pompous resolution of protest, a five-member deputation called on the President to demand the acceptance of the resignations of the twelve Ministers. Dr. Benes announced no decision on this question but pointed out that Czechoslovakia had a Parliamentary government and would continue to have one. He went on to say that the Communists, as the largest party, must participate in any government [that] was formed and that their leader, M. Gottwald, must be Prime Minister. Despite being pressed by the delegation for an immediate acceptance of the resignations, he said that he would have to discuss this with the Ministers in question and with the Prime Minister. "It is not for me to say that this or that person must or must not be in the government. There will be a Prime Minister and he will submit to me his proposals as to the members of the new government. I have always given serious consideration to the views of the Prime Minister. I repeat that I do not wish to weigh one intransigence against the other. I want only to tell you that we must tackle this problem objectively. It is my duty to persuade the parties to co-operate and not to set them against one another." A member of the delegation observed that the difficulties would spread from Prague to the provinces and that the working people did not think that the Ministers who had resigned could do successful work in the future. To this the President replied, "I understand your position, but you must also understand my own difficult situation. You may rely upon it that neither now nor in the future, in any circumstances whatever, will I accept anything that might mean the exclusion of this or that group from the government. I have already said that no one must think of the Communists being excluded from the government. That is something which I could never sign. I ask you to count on this fact, both now and in the future. 1 insist on this, but at the same time I ask everyone to bear in mind the difficulties that confront us and to help me in my work." Later in the day - it was a Saturday afternoon - the President left for his country seat to consider the critical issues at stake.
9. Thus ended a week of tense activity with nothing settled. I have etc.
1Voir aussi les documents 227-229. See also Documents 227-9