Czechoslovakia, of all the East European countries, entered
the postwar era with a relatively balanced social structure and
an equitable distribution of resources. Despite some poverty,
overall it was a country of relatively well-off workers,
small-scale producers, farmers, and a substantial middle class.
Nearly half the populace was in the middle-income bracket.
Ironically, perhaps, it was balanced and relatively prosperous
Czechoslovakia that carried nationalization and income
redistribution further than any other East European country. By
the mid-1960s, the complaint was that leveling had gone too far.
The lowest-paid 40 percent of the population accounted for 60
percent of national income. Earning differentials between
blue-collar and white-collar workers were lower than in any other
country in Eastern Europe. Further, equitable income distribution
was combined in the late 1970s with relative prosperity. Along
with East Germany and Hungary, Czechoslovakia enjoyed one of the
highest standards of living of any of the Warsaw Pact countries
through the 1980s.
The matter of social groups and the differences among them
has been a delicate one for those in power in Czechoslovakia. In
the Marxist scheme, classes are defined in terms of their
relation to the means of production. Industrial production has
demanded a more differentiated labor force than the Marxist
notion of "one class owning and working the means of production"
foresaw. "From each according to his abilities, to each according
to his needs" proved an inadequate principle for distributing
socialist wealth. Even in Czechoslovakia, where the party's
pursuit of socialist equality was thorough, the "classless"
society turned out to be highly diverse.
In the mid-1980s, Czechoslovak censuses divided the
population into several occupational groups: workers, other
employees, members of various cooperatives (principally
agricultural cooperatives), small farmers, self-employed
tradesmen and professionals, and capitalists (see
Appendix A). Of these categories, "other employees" was the most
diverse, encompassing everyone from low-level clerical workers to
cabinet ministers. "Workers" were those whose jobs were primarily
manual and industrial. There was the time-hallowed distinction
between workers (manual or low-level clerical employees),
agricultural employees, and the intelligentsia (whose work is
primarily mental and requires more education).
Data as of August 1987