In February 1948, Czechoslovakia became a "people's
democracy"--a preliminary step toward socialism and, ultimately,
communism. Bureaucratic centralism under the direction of KSC
leadership was introduced. Dissident elements were purged from
all levels of society, including the Catholic Church. The
ideological principles of Marxism-Leninism and socialist realism
pervaded cultural and intellectual life. The entire education
system was submitted to state control. The economy was committed
to comprehensive central planning and the elimination of private
ownership. Czechoslovakia became a satellite of the Soviet Union;
it was a founding member of the Council for Mutual Economic
Assistance (Comecon) in 1949 and of the Warsaw Pact in 1955
(see Appendix B;
The attainment of Soviet-style
"socialism" became the government's avowed policy.
A new constitution was passed by the National Assembly on May
9, 1948. Because it was prepared by a special committee in the
1945-48 period, it contained many liberal and democratic
provisions. It reflected, however, the reality of Communist power
through an addition that discussed the dictatorship of the
proletariat and the leadership role of the Communist party. Benes
refused to sign the Ninth-of-May Constitution, as it was called,
and resigned from the presidency; he was succeeded by Gottwald.
Although in theory Czechoslovakia remained a multiparty
state, in actuality the Communists were in complete control.
Political participation became subject to KSC approval. The KSC
also prescribed percentage representation for non-Marxist
parties. The National Assembly, purged of dissidents, became a
mere rubber stamp for KSC programs. In 1953 an inner cabinet of
the National Assembly, the Presidium, was created. Composed of
KSC leaders, the Presidium served to convey party policies
through government channels. Regional, district, and local
committees were subordinated to the Ministry of Interior. Slovak
autonomy was constrained; the KSS was reunited with the KSC but
retained its own identity
The Communist Party of Czechoslovakia
, ch. 4).
Gottwald died in 1953. He was succeeded by Antonin Zapotocky
as president and by Antonin Novotny as head of the KSC. Novotny
became president in 1957 when Zapotocky died.
Czechoslovak interests were subordinated to the interests of
the Soviet Union. Stalin became particularly concerned about
controlling and integrating the socialist bloc in the wake of
Tito's challenge to his authority. Stalin's paranoia resulted in
sweeping political changes in the Soviet Union and the satellite
countries. In Czechoslovakia the Stalinists accused their
opponents of "conspiracy against the people's democratic order"
and "high treason" in order to oust them from positions of power.
Large-scale arrests of Communists with an "international"
background, i.e., those with a wartime connection with the West,
veterans of the Spanish Civil War, Jews, and Slovak "bourgeois
nationalists," were followed by show trials. The most spectacular
of these was the trial of KSC first secretary Rudolf Slansky and
thirteen other prominent Communist personalities in November and
December 1952. Slansky was executed, and many others were
sentenced to death or to forced labor in prison camps. The KSC
rank-and-file membership, approximately 2.5 million in March
1948, began to be subjected to careful scrutiny. By 1960 KSC
membership had been reduced to 1.4 million.
The Ninth-of-May Constitution provided for the
nationalization of all commercial and industrial enterprises
having more than fifty employees. The nonagricultural private
sector was nearly eliminated. Private ownership of land was
limited to fifty hectares. The remnants of private enterprise and
independent farming were permitted to carry on only as a
temporary concession to the petite bourgeoisie and the peasantry.
The Czechoslovak economy was subjected to a succession of
(see Economic Structure and Its Control Mechanisms
, ch. 3).
Following the Soviet example, Czechoslovakia began
emphasizing the rapid development of heavy industry. The
industrial sector was reorganized with an emphasis on metallurgy,
heavy machinery, and coal mining. Production was concentrated in
larger units; the more than 350,000 units of the prewar period
were reduced to about 1,700 units by 1958. Industrial output
reportedly increased 233 percent between 1948 and 1959;
employment in industry, 44 percent. The speed of
industrialization was particularly accelerated in Slovakia, where
production increased 347 percent and employment, 70 percent.
Although Czechoslovakia's industrial growth of 170 percent
between 1948 and 1957 was impressive, it was far exceeded by that
of Japan (300 percent) and the Federal Republic of Germany
(almost 300 percent) and more than equaled by Austria and Greece.
For the 1954-59 period, Czechoslovak industrial growth was
equaled by France and Italy.
Industrial growth in Czechoslovakia required substantial
additional labor. Czechoslovaks were subjected to long hours and
long workweeks to meet production quotas. Part-time, volunteer
labor--students and white-collar workers--was drafted in massive
numbers. Labor productivity, however, was not significantly
increased, nor were production costs reduced. Czechoslovak
products were characterized by poor quality.
The Ninth-of-May Constitution declared the government's
intention to collectivize agriculture. In February 1949, the
National Assembly adopted the Unified Agricultural Cooperatives
Act. Cooperatives were to be founded on a voluntary basis; formal
title to land was left vested in the original owners. The
imposition of high compulsory quotas, however, forced peasants to
collectivize in order to increase efficiency and facilitate
mechanization. Discriminatory policies were employed to bring
about the ruin of recalcitrant kulaks (wealthy peasants).
Collectivization was near completion by 1960. Sixteen percent of
all farmland (obtained from collaborators and kulaks) had been
turned into state farms
, ch. 3).
Despite the elimination of poor land from cultivation and a
tremendous increase in the use of fertilizers and tractors,
agricultural production declined seriously. By 1959 prewar
production levels still had not been met. Major causes of the
decline were the diversion of labor from agriculture to industry
(in 1948 an estimated 2.2 million workers were employed in
agriculture; by 1960, only 1.5 million); the suppression of the
kulak, the most experienced and productive farmer; and the
peasantry's opposition to collectivization, which resulted in
The 1960 Constitution declared the victory of "socialism" and
proclaimed the Czechoslovak Socialist Republic. The ambiguous
precept of "democratic centralism"--power emanating from the
people but bound by the authority of higher organs--was made a
formal part of consitutional law. The president, the cabinet, the
Slovak National Council, and the local governments were made
responsible to the National Assembly. The National Assembly,
however, continued its rubber-stamp approval of KSC policies. All
private enterprises using hired labor were abolished.
Comprehensive economic planning was reaffirmed. The Bill of
Rights emphasized economic and social rights, e.g., the right to
work, leisure, health care, and education. Civil rights, however,
were deemphasized. The judiciary was combined with the
prosecuting branch; all judges were committed to the protection
of the socialist state and the education of citizens in loyalty
to the cause of socialism
(see Constitutional Development
Data as of August 1987