“Discarding all its fig-leaves, its so-called ‘Marxism-Leninism’, ‘internationalism’, etc., the Soviet revisionist leading clique has brazenly resorted to direct armed aggression and intervention and is trying to create puppets with the help of guns. It is exactly what Hitler did in the past in his aggression against Czechoslovakia and the U.S. imperialism of today is doing in its aggression against Vietnam. The Soviet revisionist clique of renegades has long since degenerated into a gang of social-imperialists and social-fascists”. – Premier Zhou En Lai, August 1968
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Fifty years ago this month a dramatic people’s uprising in Czechoslovakia took place., in support of democratic reforms. It was made all the more dramatic because of the attempt by the Soviet Union’s ‘Red Army’ to suppress the pro-democracy movement.
Estimates vary but up to 500,000 Soviet and Warsaw Pact troops invaded Czechoslovakia to thwart the efforts by the Czech Communist Party government, led by Alexander Dubcek, to introduce reforms such as abolition of censorship and multi-party competitive elections.
The uprising by the Czech people was part of the great global disruption that happened in the landmark year, 1968.
Those of us on the left in Australia, who were building a movement in solidarity with the Vietnamese against US and allied aggression, supported the Czech rebellion. In the Czech workers and students, we saw the struggles of peoples everywhere fighting for freedom from imperialist aggression – and we saw ourselves, our own struggle for greater freedom.
Of all the governments around the world, none was as vehement as the Chinese Communist Party in its condemnation of the invasion. The Chinese government was highly critical of Dubcek’s revisionism too, in part because it did not go far enough in urging and organizing people’s struggle against the invaders.
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At the time, as a 17 year old, I found the invasion confusing, initially. There was appeal in the conspiratorial line spread by pro-Soviet revisionists that it was all a CIA plot to destabilize socialism. Conspiracy theories are alluring in that way: if something happens that you cannot make sense of, the conspiracy theory is always there to make sense of it for you. The problem is that it is usually wrong as it is plucked out of thin air.
Eventually, when I went to university, I met an impressive Marxist-Leninist named Dave Muller who I looked up to enormously. He patiently explained to me how the Soviet Union had abandoned socialism long ago and was now basically state capitalist and social-imperialist. I looked further into this – did some reading and arguing – and was even able to persuade my father that the Soviet Union had ‘gone bad’.
The bottom line for me at that time, as someone not well versed in theory, was that people were rising up – as we were, as the Vietnamese were, as the South Africans were, as the black Americans were – against unjust regimes and seeking something better. Czechoslovakia pushed a few of us already on the left in the Maoist direction. Including me.
Expressing the Chinese party line, Premier Zhou En Lai’s speech, made in August 1968, is worth reading in full. It is worth noting too how today’s pseudo-left takes the opposite view to the one we took back then on the elementary question of international solidarity and support for people’s struggle against unjust and oppressive regimes. The Arab Spring was seen by the pseudo-left as a CIA plot, as the Czech uprising was.
The speech in full:
“A few days ago, the Soviet revisionist leading clique and its followers brazenly dispatched massive armed forces to launch a surprise attack on Czechoslvakia and swiftly occupied it, with the Czechoslovak revisionist leading clique openly calling on the people not to resist, thus perpetrating towering crimes against the Czechoslovak people.
“This is the most barefaced and most typical specimen of fascist power politics played by the Soviet revisionist clique of renegades and scabs against its so-called allies. It marks the total bankruptcy of Soviet modern revisionism.
“The Chinese Government and people strongly condemn the Soviet revisionist leading clique and its followers for their crime of aggression- the armed occupation of Czechoslovakia- and firmly support the Czechoslovak people in their heroic struggle of resistance to Soviet military occupation.
“Over a period of time, modern revisionism with the Soviet revisionist leading clique as its center has been beset with internal contradictions and riddled with crises. The aim of the Soviet revisionist leading clique in brazenly invading and occupying Czechoslovakia is to prevent the Czechoslovak revisionist leading clique from directly hiring itself out to the Western countries headed by U.S. imperialism and to prevent this state of affairs from giving rise to uncontrollable chain reactions. This is an inevitable result of the great-power chauvinism and national egoism practised by the Soviet revisionist clique, and of the Khrushchev revisionism the Soviet revisionist clique of renegades has practised over the years.
“Discarding all its fig-leaves, its so-called ‘Marxism-Leninism’, ‘internationalism’, etc., the Soviet revisionist leading clique has brazenly resorted to direct armed aggression and intervention and is trying to create puppets with the help of guns. It is exactly what Hitler did in the past in his aggression against Czechoslovakia and the U.S. imperialism of today is doing in its aggression against Vietnam. The Soviet revisionist clique of renegades has long since degenerated into a gang of social-imperialists and social-fascists.
“The Soviet revisionist leading clique has all along pursued the counter revolutionary policy of U.S.-Soviet collaboration for world domination. Since the Glassboro talks, not to mention anything earlier, U.S. imperialism and Soviet revisionism have struck a series of dirty deals on such important questions as Vietnam, the Middle East and the prevention of nuclear proliferation. The present Czechoslovak incident is no exception. It is a result of the sharpening contradictions in the scramble for and division of spheres of influence by U.S. imperialism and Soviet revisionism in Eastern Europe; it is, moreover, a result of the U.S.-Soviet collusion in vain attempt to redivide the world. The aggression by Soviet revisionism was carried out with the tacit understanding of U.S. imperialism. Since U.S. imperialism has acquiesced in the invasion and occupation of Czechoslovakia by Soviet revisionism, how is it possible for Soviet revisionism to oppose the forcible occupation of south Vietnam by U.S. imperialism? In fact, Soviet revisionism has long become the No. 1 accomplice of U.S. imperilaim in its aggression against Vietnam and the rest of the world. That a big nation should have so wilfully trampled a small nation underfoot serves as a most profound lesson for those harbouring illusions about U.S. imperialism and Soviet revisionism.
“The armed aggression by Soviet revisionism has brought calamity to the Czechoslovak people, but it has also educated them, enabling them to realize gradually that revisionism is the root cause of this calamity. This is likewise a very good lesson for the people of the Soviet Union, the other East European countries and the rest of the world.”
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