Big gains by communists
by Ken Biggs This year's electoral successes of the communist left in the Czech and Slovak republics (until 1990 the Czechoslovak Socialist Republic) are truly remarkable. All the more so because they did not happen in a "backward" part of the world but in the very heart of what increasingly unpopular Czech president Vaclav Havel likes to call "civilised" and "advanced" Europe. The Czech Republic is a NATO member and, if the US has its way at November's NATO enlargement summit in Prague, Slovakia will soon be one too. The EU recently told both countries they could join the EU in 2004. Fausto Sorino, a leader of Italy's Party of Communist Refoundation, wrote recently that, because of the Czech Communists' success in the June parliamentary elections, the French Communist Party leaders who claim that "communist parties of Leninist origin" have served their purpose and have no future had been proved wrong. The Czech Republic's Communist Party of Bohemia and Moravia is now arguably Europe's most influential communist party. In the June elections it was the only parliamentary party to increase its support, polling 880,000 votes (18.5 per cent) — an increase of 220,000 on its 1998 result. It also increased its number of seats in the 200-member legislature from 24 to 41. Its 17 extra seats were gained at the expense of all of its right- wing opponents. The pro-NATO, pro-EU Social Democrats lost 4 seats and half a million votes, the Civic Democrats lost 5 seats and 400,000 votes and the Two-Party Coalition 8 seats and 500,000 votes. Sorino also notes: "This advance was helped by the votes given by young people to the CPBM, a party which has not repudiated Lenin and the history of the communist movement in the 20th century and which has a critical — as opposed to a liquidationist — approach to the history of the 'real socialism' which was for almost half a century 'its own' turbulent history." True, as CPBM leader Miroslav Grebenicek told the Party's Central Committee in October, there are those in the party who would like to social democratise the CPBM and dogmatists who want to reduce it to an ultra- leftist sect mouthing pseudo-revolutionary slogans, but the political position of the vast majority of the Party's 120,000 members, including the third who are of working age, is as Sorino describes it. In referendums held in 1992 and 1993 CPBM members twice prevented attempts by various members of its leadership and MPs to remove the word "communist" from the Party's name. They saw this as an attempt to deny the positive achievements of the former Communist Party of Czechoslovakia (CPCz) both before and after the mass-backed 1948 socialist revolution. Those inside the CPBM who supported a change of name quit the party after their final defeat at its 3rd Congress in 1993. And the 400 members of the growing Communist Union of Youth can be in no doubt that they've joined a highly active and avowedly Marxist-Leninist organisation. Communist Party of Slovakia (CPS) In some ways the CPS's success in September's elections was even more remarkable. After a decade of effort, it finally broke through the 5 per cent barrier and won 11 seats in the 150-member Slovak parliament, polling almost 182,000 votes (6.3 per cent). What makes its achievement all the more remarkable, as Czech journalist Zdenek Horeni pointed out in the October issue of Postmark Prague, is that this is a Party which didn't even own so much as a typewriter or a telephone when it was refounded in the early 1990s after the original CPS was hi-jacked by a right-wing social democrat clique masquerading as the "Democratic Left". One factor explaining the Party's success in the elections is its policy of Party-building. Its membership has grown from a few hundred ten years ago to 23,000 now and its organisations operate in a quarter of the country's villages and all of its districts. How has it managed to accomplish this in a matter of a few years? By the sheer determination of its veteran members to build the party and by the roots it has put down among those who have suffered at the hands of the post-1989 restoration of capitalism. Its fight against mass unemployment, poverty and corruption in post-1989 public life, its principled opposition to NATO membership and its critical attitude to EU membership has won over many former members and supporters of the renegade-led Democratic Left Party, especially after DLP ministers in premier Dzurinda's "right-left" coalition became enthusiastic supporters of EU-backed right-wing policies like privatisation and public spending cuts. This cost the DLP dear. It lost all of its 23 seats at last month's election, polling less than 2 per cent of the votes. It had several times arrogantly rejected calls from the CPS for left unity based on an alternative economic and political strategy. As regional councilor Ivan Hopta, a CPS vice-chair and leader of its 11- strong Communist group in the new parliament, told the Czech communist daily Halo Noviny recently, many of the CPS's new members are young and people of working age, 70 per cent of whom were not members of the original CPS before November 1989. Hopta acknowledged that the CPBM's success in June gave new heart to the Slovak communists in their battle to win representation in parliament and so gain them a platform for promoting their socialist alternative. He also expressed appreciation for the help given by the Czech communists to the CPS during its campaign. Lessons As for lessons for the electoral work of other communist parties, one is the importance of work in local government. The role of the CPBM's more than 6,200 local councillors in fighting for new jobs at a time of record post-1989 unemployment of over 9 per cent is the bedrock of its national support. Another is the need to popularise an alternative economic strategy that creates jobs for the jobless, especially the young unemployed, homes for the homeless, decent pensions for seniors and additional resources for the expansion of vital social services like education and healthcare. With workers in jobs rather than on the dole, a situation is created in which the advance to a socialist society becomes a realistic aim. Both Parties are now setting their sights on further gains in the municipal elections which will be held in the Czech Republic in November and in Slovakia in December.
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