Culture: Central Europe:
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A Overview of the Past 150 Years:
From a Central European Perspective
by Dr. Miloš Dokulil
Professor of Philosophy
Brno, Czech Republic
I – From the theoretical and revolutionary roots 150 years ago to new, rather peaceful branches at the end of the 20th century
European capitalism in the 2nd half of the 19th century was still in its rather slow (though somewhat stormy and partly rapid) evolution (even if it sounds somewhat paradoxical and strange so formulated). Also politically and socially Europe has always been a rather tumultuous scene. But, at the same time, we cannot immediately compare the period about 1848 and afterwards with the time at the end of 19th century and especially later on.*
* Author’s Note: When necessary, I believe all here mentioned events may be easily verified on the web. So I do not bother to quote the sources of each item I am here putting into effect. This contribution may be interesting in its general outlook and the connections it shows; and trying not to forget the variously asked and answered questions concerning the lifetime of a certain, and surely now “of age coming”, once respectable Marxism-Leninism.
On the other hand, the 19th century Europe was still overwhelmingly feudal, mostly represented with kingdoms and local gentry; and with colonies in other continents (famously G. Britain, France, Spain, Portugal). Civilization was not predominantly urban, but rural; not only in Europe, but also in America (to say nothing of other continents). Immediately after the Napoleonic wars the “ancien régime” in Europe (with Louis XVIII including also France) renewed its outer control over the states (the Congress of Vienna, 1814-15). Germany or Italy as national states did not yet exist. The rulers did not want to have to confront anything like the French Revolution again. At that time, it seemed that also both sides, poor workers and their rich bosses as new manufacturers, especially in Great Britain, could not be immediately and effectively protected and consoled. (Even the daily press, and already in the first half of the 19th century, could be dangerous in the outcome of the daily life especially in England and the British law tried to limit its influence.)
At the same time, we stress now the economic and social development in the first half of the 19th century. Europe started to build new roads and shortly afterwards also railways for the first steam trains. Production of daily use for mass consumption was also heightened. We can speak of an “industrial revolution” going on at that time. A production revolution was somehow coupled with growing awareness concerning general law and civil liberties as a parallel. Also ideas concerning national unity and sovereignty were then gradually spread (Italy, German territory, the Habsburg monarchy). With various democratic ideals spontaneously started the so-called “revolutionary year of 1848”. Let us not forget that, at that time, not paid work for the gentry still existed (“corvée”). One could buy oneself out (which was not easy for the majority of the subject vassals!). In the following years, agricultural production was not especially good. Emigration to America in the 1850es mostly had its social-economic background (only partially was the reason for such an action a political or religious motive).
And already in the sixties Karl Marx conceived his important and provocative analysis of capitalism, issued in 1867 (this year it is exactly 150 years ago!). His model and, at the same time, his addressee was the “working class” in Europe. — Let us remind us that, in 1861, in the then United States (of America) began a cruel four-years´ war between the Northern and the Southern States (with totally four million men in arms). The North was somewhat industrialized, the South was convenient for agriculture. The climate in the south was rather hot and agriculture there mostly dependent on imported black workers (as slaves). In both outwardly governmentally divided parts of US existed the system of slavery. It should be mentioned that the North did not abolish slavery sooner than merely after the war! (From the viewpoint of its motivation, the war had not started as a liberation war against slavery primarily, of course. See the history of 13th Amendment. The following mass murdering of Indians also should be mentioned.) — The ideas of Karl Marx from his “Das Kapital” had nothing to do with the situation in North America in the second half of the 19th century. In US, there evidently was no social-political pressure from below to reach power for the “oppressed”. Imported “working power” fleeing from Europe was glad to find job in America; not immediately to be not satisfied with the “production conditions” instead. US also served as a new and reliable protecting shield of personal existence for immigrants, also within the sphere of religion, politics and personal liberty.
So it seems that Marxism was, for its first half a century existence (1867-1917), a possible political formula only for European workers (and a guideline in socially European situation only, if at all).
Two big branches of Marxism (elaborated together with Friedrich Engels) are normally defined: the dialectical (“philosophical”) and historical (“social-political”) materialism. Of course, more important – and immediately applicable – was its “historical” version; it did not necessitate any accompanying knowledge and schooling. Workers should only organize their production by themselves; without the previous (actual) proprietors of the enterprises (as those ones in the program seductively expropriated). Till 1917 and as a practical application of Marxism there were only social-democratic parties in Europe (or elsewhere).
The so-called “Leninism” (as another description of practical application of Marxist ideas) internationally started to exert its influence only after the outbreak of the revolution in Russia (in 1917, half a century after the publishing of Marx´ Capital); since that time and in a majority of countries, many a communist party arose there as the allegedly only relevant and authentically true Marxist organization, competing with its parallel and already before that time existing social-democratic party. In this way, Marxism got two competing variants; not only theoretically but practically, too. Where there had not been a rather big social-democratic party before 1917, there hardly could immediately originate a viable “Leninist” (communist) party. Between the two world wars in the 20th century we can find several rather big communist parties in Europe, but not elsewhere (with one not easily explainable exception: China). Africa and South Asia were still ruled under the colonial regime and USA also had another tradition of production in the South and incomparably other internal relationships between the capitalists and their workers in the North (to say nothing of Latin America, mostly agriculturally established and developed).
Both the world wars also were – differently – an outer sign of a considerable pressure concerning certain social and political values and their robust neglect and defense. (In both those wars, USA were directly drawn in only later.) The following “cold war” period after 1945 was specifically important as a possible power stabilizer also for ML ideas within the communist so-called “Camp Of Peace”, and that for more than forty years. (USA in the 20th century practically conserved a two-party system, one of them conservative, the other liberal; without any respectable leftist party not only till the end of the century.)
We should not forget that, before and after the Chinese Revolution of 1911 and before and after the Second Sino-Japanese War (1937-45), China would not serve as another good example of the global description of preferences for an efficient communist movement hinted at above (being, from the start, in the shadow of Marx´ Capital), although it is now surely the most important verbally quoted communist state in our contemporary world. Already from 1921 (founding of the Communist Party in China) and then under Mao Zedong (especially during the 2nd world war and afterwards in Mao´s “cultural revolution”) and also within the “Socialist Camp” the Chinese communists faced mostly other social and economic, to say nothing of cultural, problems than USSR (and Russia before 1917), not to mention the Chinese Civil War (started in 1927 and going over to a national war of liberation facing the beginning of a partial Japanese occupation from 1937 on; and then finalizing victoriously the fight with nationalist forces of Kuomintang in 1949). Although formally being led by communists for nearly 70 years China, notwithstanding, does not present an ideal or model example of a pure Marxist course, and not only and especially in the last years.
The surprising events in socialist Europe towards the end of 1989 started the rather spontaneous demolition of the so-called “World Socialist System” led by USSR, together with its ideas (the would-be “Scientific Communism”). The so-called “class struggle” seemed to lose its propagandist force both inside and outside the then communist world almost immediately, too. On the other hand, the previous five-year production planning was not exactly something positively unique which should go on existing when, repeatedly, there were constant shortages of material here and surpluses there. And the capitalist neighborhood could go on and might produce first-class products, even when not always coming first within the mutual competition on the track. (Let us not forget the legendary Sputnik 1 of 1957. In this way and at that time, a very visible socialist triumph of exactly 60 years ago!)
The same thing holds for the previously aggressive communist characteristics of USA as an imperialist country (even if it is still based on the capitalist economic order till today). In no comparable way can we speak of an active and constantly attacking communist ideology against imperialism in the European socialist states in a similar manner immediately a short time after 1989 as it had been the case during the preceding years. — And we should not omit to mention the political and economic integration process in Europe importantly starting immediately after WWII. Let us cite the Treaty of Brussels from 1948 as one of those acts leading shortly afterwards to the “Western European Union” in 1954; and not ending this important unification process in Europe with the Treaty of Maastricht on European Union from its signature in 1992 and, shortly afterwards, former communist countries successively acceding to this deal!
The world does not show the same – or at least similar – political, economic and social structure as it was the case exactly 150 or 100 years ago. Or also some 70 or 60 years ago. To say nothing about the time some 20 years ago, so near to our contemporaneity that we already count it as the beginning of the era of technically developed computers and a forerunner of globally important idea of “Artificial Intelligence”.
II – Central Europe as a partial (and rather problematic) model of how to successfully germinate a controversial idea from the outside if and when…
Czechoslovakia can possibly serve as a partial model for the introductory questioning mentioned in the preceding part (I). 50 years before WWI the Czech lands were already an efficient industrial basis for the Austrian-Hungarian monarchy, and thus not only a possible model for Marx´ ideas but also of their suggestive application in practical – and social-revolutionary – way. The Czech and German workers in the Czech historical lands during the cited time more and more participated in organized social-democratic movement. (Slovakia at that time was to be considered a part of mostly agricultural Hungary.)
From 1918 till 1939, for twenty years in Central Europe, there began to exist there a new state, the Czechoslovak Republic (“ČSR”; with an important 3,1 million minority of Germans and 3/4 million of Hungarians, and also nearly half a million of Carpathian Russians; with totally 13,6 million of inhabitants in 1921). In it, in the Czech “historical lands”, persisted a rather strong social-democratic party; at first, it was the strongest party in the state. Thus, it could also unexpectedly serve as a massive basis for the distribution of communist ideas when they spread over Europe.
Something should be added here immediately. Surely from the 19th century on Czechs, as members of a Slavic family of nations, considered the Tsarist Russian regime as something very near their hearts. Russia as a state, importantly spread over two continents, could somehow compensate various subconscious feelings of inferiority to them. During the WWI an important part of externally organized Czech-Slovak legions fighting against the Austro-Hungarian monarchy originated in Russia. This Czech-Slovak “Russian legion” was also to fight its way out of the war against the Red Army. So there were several conscious, as well as subconscious, contacting points not only “globally” and “traditionally” with Russia, but also with recent information concerning various ideas born there, too, including the Russian Revolution of 1917.
In the first Czechoslovak parliament elections of 1920 the social-democratic party got nearly 26 % of votes! The second and third place, both with 11 %, took a religiously profiled party based mostly in the countryside (the Popular Party) and another social-democratic party, the German one. Imagine the total “Left Camp” percentage then! Only some time later followed the schism in the social-democratic party, the founding of a separate Communist Party, and a union of German and Slovak social democrats with their Czech partners in one organization. If it were not too late for founding an efficient corresponding “striking force” representing the so-called working class. (Nearly all the governments in Czechoslovakia after 1918 – till 1938 – were formed as a coalition.) We cannot overestimate the then existing social structure of Czechoslovak inhabitants: its focus mostly in the countryside, with not very big towns everywhere; and important national minorities within.
In the next parliamentary election (1925), its winner shockingly were the agrarians! But only with nearly 14% of votes. And, closely the second, were the communists (13%)! The third, with nearly 10%, was the above quoted Popular Party. And as only the fourth, with nearly 9%, could present itself the Czechoslovak Social Democratic Party, the sovereign victor of the previous first elections! (Let us compare these results with the preceding ones five years ago once again.) Of course, various blocks of political parties could alter (if not totally change) the value of the results here now put down. Czechoslovakia during those 20 years before WWII, and on the basis of various party blocks in the set-up governments, solidly remained a traditional “Western” type of democracy.
After May 1945 something quite different laid the ideological foundations of Czechoslovakia. There were here two strongly differentiated and clearly articulated currents of foreign resistance representing the external background of the previous war: the camp organized and seating during the war in the West, and the Eastern one, both ones with also their corresponding (and mutually competing and clearly separate) military and political components. And the first Czechoslovak foreign government came to Prague after the defeat of the Nazis in May 1945, as if symbolically and verbally united, from the East (via Moscow and Slovakia). And the Czechoslovak government started its activities as if under the conceived auspices of the Soviet Union as the “Liberator” of Czechoslovakia (not much commenting that the war was not yet totally over; to say nothing publicly or officially of the mutual pact between Berlin and Moscow in summer 1939 and the following mutual military alliance of these two contractors when straight away afterwards – in September 1939 – they jointly liquidated Poland!). Immediately from May 1945 on, as if USSR were only an external solemn and declaratory guarantee of Czechoslovak liberty (later on as the only alleged pledge of Czechoslovak “independence”); but USSR was immediately and much more a necessary “facing” of victorious communist ideology for Czechoslovak internal propaganda promoting a communist type of “socialism”, moreover as the coveted future of humanity.
For the strategic planning of Stalin´s politics broadening the territorial boundaries of his personal influence it seemed not to be sufficient to tolerate a block with other and ideologically “bourgeois” parties. Even in Czechoslovakia after 1945 the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia prepared the conditions for a transfer of power safely into the hands of solely communists as its executor. It was especially important not to let the situation result in a setback of communist popularity which already seemed to show itself at the end of 1947. In February 1948 the Communist Party matched the crisis to its proper ends and perfectly displayed what to do to fully take over the political power.
Probably here is now the time to consider the personal background of somebody who might or would like to present himself as a communist. Without much talk about it, it is quite natural that many manually working people could feel personally addressed by communist ideas (in mass gatherings mostly, without deep studies of the corresponding books; somehow as if also feeling gratitude for the liberation from the Nazis through the Red Army). Some other followers did not need to belong to the so-called working class but were to be specified by a certain longing and need to influence other people; and under the favorable conditions now being mentioned the times were ripe for doing so successfully and with personal upswing, and so – moreover – to create a “new” society. (Then also originated a Czech rhyme about youth destination: “We are a new youth, Gottwald´s youth.” Gottwald was already a dignitary of also international communist movement before the war; and as chairman of the Czechoslovak Communist Party he was elected immediately after WWII, in May 1945; then also as president of the republic, from June 1948.)
Shortly after the February communist putch of 1948 (the so-called “February Victory of the Working People”) the now fully communist government prepared a program of socialization of the village. As if it were to be in the countryside a logical and necessary parallel to the already nationalized factories in towns, it also was a rather clever form of how to peacefully (but with the state coercing power behind it) nationalize private fields in the countryside. The campaign started in December 1948 and at last finished in formally legalizing the taking over of private land and agricultural machines in three successive periods (without any compensation, of course). In this way, after only 12 years, in 1960 was proclaimed the “Czechoslovak Socialist Republic” (under the basic and robust – political and military – influence and backing of USSR).
Then in 1968 (if we observe the communist timetable since 1948), somewhat unexpectedly, there started the so-called “Prague Spring”; and after another twenty years (in 1989), as a surprise, the “Berlin Wall Demounting” took place. It means: twice occurred a 20 years´ socialist period (or cycle), every time – and in this way as if somewhat regularly – heading towards a crisis of the “socialist” system. And only once (only nearly 50 years ago from now) the forces of the communist coercive power could somehow overrun the risks to be deadly and finally confronted with its verbal ideology in practical life…
In 1968, even the Czechoslovak Communist Party was, at last, involved in the reforming process for a short period of time. But, before that, some problems already emerged at the end of 1967. The Party had no good reputation for some months in a too striking way. There were repeated shortages of some products on the market. (“That is the result of planned economy?”) Also a regular supply of electric current was not attainable. And now, imagine for a moment students in autumn without current in evening time when they might prepare themselves for their regular studying. Prague students demonstrated already at the end of October 1967. The general secretary of the Communist Party of the Czechoslovak Socialist Republic at that time (A. Novotny) wanted to secure his position by his intervening at the general secretary of the Communist Party of USSR (then L. Brezhnev). Brezhnev did not immediately see the situation so dangerous. The Czechoslovak Communist Party had already two mutually dissenting groups in its bosom, the traditional conservatives and against them the corresponding and then somehow “awakened liberals”. Some personal changes occurred in several important posts in between. This movement abruptly ended by the military occupation of the country by the so-called Warsaw-Pact Forces in August 1968. At that time (already nearly 50 years ago?), it was – as if – an international military action, patronized by the Soviet Union (under Brezhnev, of course), having nothing similar to compare it with, and legally it was quite a lot problematic. After that the so-called “normalization period” started; with following rigorous purges in all layers of Czechoslovak public which assured going on in the already well verified steps of the previous repressive and police state for another 20 years.
In 1989, something very uncommon and nearly miraculous – and surely unthinkable at that time – happened again. It started in Berlin as already here mentioned above. And various activities of dissent afterwards happened in the majority of socialist states at that time without being effectively – i.e., without negative reaction – oppressed. The Soviet Union ceased to exist within two years; all its so-called “union republics” started to be formally independent…
And after that what? Already a quarter of a century we are confronted with another development on the central territory of the previous USSR, with no relapsing into the exactly (or similarly) previous communist type of regime. Although we cannot exclude that – after Gorbachev and Yeltsin, and especially now under Putin – Russia is heading for a special type of unforeseen activities causing much concern not only in Russia´s vicinity. To say now nothing of the annexation of Crimea and infiltration into the eastern territory of Ukraine. And not commenting the somewhat one-sided activities of Russia in Syria (for the benefit of the totalitarian president Bashar al-Assad). These deeds sanctioned by Russian president Putin are not textbook examples of “socialist” (or “democratically” motivated) operations.
Thus we do not dispose of any government in Europe now which would in some way follow a doctrinally Marxist-Leninist (and truly communist) path. And, simultaneously, we have not inherited any theory of communism growing out of an experience with a totalitarian regime leading out, at last and perhaps shockingly, in a democratic one. Of course, Marx and Engels did not presuppose anything which could be taken as a possible transition from socialism (as the alleged most fair and equitable system for humankind) to something somewhat similar to an already “antiquated” and antecedent social system preceding it. Which, in all previous “lands of people´s democracies” in Europe, as well as in Russia as their “mother state”, evidently somehow happened. Probably the less so it was possible – during the concrete situation of WWI – to think of a revolutionary Lenin who might have been alternatively oriented in a possibility of a legitimate regression of a social revolution into institutions bearing also signs of the previous “bourgeois” times. Has anything authentically “Marxist-Leninist” been left for us and for our 21st century life in Europe? (Or also for the USA?)
But, on the other hand, in the contemporary Czech Rep., there still exists a politically efficient (and “parliamentary”) “Communist Party” (!); but it is not, any more, proclaiming the “social revolution” or the “class struggle” of the past. Here it seems there is not any comparable and efficient background for an ideological – though only verbal – “class struggle” from the past. The so-called “production method” has not shown any reasonable ideological reflex of the technological and social situation to be implemented in an original Marxist way now. So that we might have a problem here with looking for something specifically “communist” in the Program of the quoted Communist Party of Bohemia and Moravia (“KSČM”). We have to admit that KSČM belongs to before and now electable parties in the Czech Republic after 1989. The previous totalitarian tradition of that party, meanwhile, may be easily cut off? It seems that what counts now is only the cleverness with which its representatives speak about the contemporary maturing goals for the government and how they criticize the contemporary political activity in the Parliament. At least, nominal communists do so; and they make it “without fear and shame”. (And with Marxism-Leninism totally set aside!)
III – Have conditions changed for a viable application of a revolutionary idea in a new (and very much different!) space-time background?
Actually, we can find no small immigration wave to Europe. Where are its causes and background? Somewhere in Africa or Near Orient. But mostly in Africa with its robust natality boom. And, of course, considering another culture – and the Muslim religion – at its base there! (With its intensity and general background, it cannot be compared, in any way, with the Mexican invasion into USA as another big scourge or an already announced project of a protective wall as a probably efficient barrier against it there.)
Now, we cannot forget various clashes of two mutually different cultures (and their original religious and social cornerstones) in Europe. The Islamic way of life and its rules do not allow to observe and regulate any birth control or preventive measures. Correspondingly, contemporary Africa especially brings incredibly many new births and thus incomparably too many people to be, later on, employed; even if there are not sufficient places of work for them at home to offer. (As an example, imagine only the population of Nigeria: from less than 50 million in 1950 to a contemporary increase up to 189.5 million in 2017!) Women in Islam traditionally are not “humanly equal” to men till today. For women, even how to dress appropriately is religiously prescribed in much detail (though not equally everywhere). For Muslims religion is also incomparably more in esteem and daily observances of the cult are regularly carried out in such a way which has not been a comparable case in the Christian (or “Western”) world for many centuries. There is no vivid memory of a “class struggle” in and behind life in the Muslim world as a possible ideological basis for a cure of social situation. The enemy always was and still is in the “West”; so it is a phenomenon outside their world. And so, Marxism cannot preferentially be behind various forms of social and political criticism in Africa or Asia, less so is there to be seen anything of the hinted kind in Europe now. America does not challenge such a situation in any comparable way, either. And in a nominally Marxist – and communist – state like big China (with population of 1,385 billion to be expected in 2017!) the communist dignitaries try to complement the large-scale production by small-scale individual activities; not by suppressing them as it was the case at the beginning of socialist economy of communist type everywhere.
Globally, there might be in front of us something like humanitarian responsibility as a probably basic problem. To say now nothing special of one particular – or parallel, or accompanying; or “only falsely illustrating” – challenge as is, e.g., the visible and dangerous course of the unmistakable climate changes recorded during the last decennia and the more so, beyond any doubt, in recent years! (Including, in a row, all the 12 months of the last year, 2016, can serve as an example. To mention or add nothing about the Australian coral reefs /Great Barrier Reef/ in this connection as a possible cautionary example.)
A spontaneous export of the “labor force”, mostly from Africa (and the Near Orient) to Europe (disposing of a rather high evolution of the means of production, counting with many automatic processes) is not anything classically described in Marxist manuals either. Many processes of production, services and administration cannot be actually realized without computers (i.e., without also a rather qualified work as its concomitant!). Manual work cannot be standardized as a model activity for the “working class” – as a globally homogeneous and massive “class” – anywhere any more. Some technical advances have developed exponentially (many a time with their operators simultaneously collaborating). The old models of ML describing an internal and directly observable antagonism between the capitalist and his so-to-speak serf do not hold in this 21st century in their original illustrative – and fully antagonistic – descriptions any more, either.
We have to count with people as individuals, operators, enterprisers, government members; and their different responsibilities (understandably and immediately concomitantly considering social justice and personal rights accompanying them). If there is a problem, there may be several alternatives to solve it (not only in accord with one premeditated and final statement described exclusively and in an authoritative way by Marx or Lenin). The solution should always comply with “local conditions”; and reasonable requirements of all participants should be relevantly considered.
Let us not forget and, at the same time, let us remember that Marx wrote his “Capital” (as “A Critique of Political Economy” as subtitle) exactly 150 years ago (1867). He had in his mind Europe at the beginning of the second half of the 19th century (of course not Europe or America at the beginning of the 21th century). The same thing holds for Lenin who started his efficient (though bloody) revolution exactly 100 years ago (1917). To say nothing of the times of building up the communist world in Europe and Asia after WWII (and vehemently starting this process some 70 years ago; not considering now immediately other and historically unique and eventful activities in European Western states leading to the now so important European Union; to say nothing of Brexit now).
Times have changed very much since the events mentioned in the preceding paragraph! Technically, economically, scientifically, and also culturally. And nearly everywhere in the contemporary world. (Even if this world cannot be counted as “peaceful”. But this is coupled more with the Muslim world and its various religiously profiled antagonisms being passed over and conserved for centuries than only with somehow formally described social conditions within the working process of the relatively rather near past and utilizing for such a description the ML phraseology.)
Although being somehow in connection with the ML ideology, we should not forget and leave aside the dangerous activities of communist North Korea (which is also our – rather strange – contemporaneity). At the same time, the climate on our globe also needs more than only quoting its last diagnosed barrier of 400 ppm of CO2. Locally this “limit” was already sometimes and somewhere broken in 2012 and 2013; and since April 2015 this index did not return below 400 ppm anywhere where it is globally registered and is being permanently above this suggestive barrier and continuously rising (if I may be allowed to mention it; please see: www.climatecentral.org/.../world-passes-400-ppm-threshold-perm..)…
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