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(en) History, Czech Republic, Slovakia and Bohemia anarchism

Date Mon, 18 Sep 2006 10:18:59 +0300


A brief but detailed history of anarchist ideas and the anarchist movement
The history of the Czech anarchism is a history of the development of
libertarian radicals, some of whom left their ideas and moved into high
power posts, or became propagandists of the Bolshevik totalitarian ideology.
Even after the revival of the anarchist movement we can see how the movement
forms stable organisations while at the same time also cutting-off into
activist ghettos. The history of Czech anarchism isn't black and white – and
that way perhaps it is more interesting and instructive.
Tradition before the rise of the movement
Many revolts can be found throughout the Czech Middle Ages. The
most considerable was the Hussite movement that in 1419-1434 lead
to a war between Catholics and those wanting church and social
reforms. Those most important in this movement were radicals
associated in the newly found town Tabor (that became for a short
time the first commune in the European history) and the radicals in
the adamits movement (blamed for nudism and sexual promiscuity).
Also very important were the peasant revolts with social motifs in 17th
and 18th century that mostly didn’t end well.

From the end of the 18th century national liberation ideas grew among
Czech people living in the Habsburk monarchy that included Austria,
Hungary, Slovakia, part of Poland, Italy etc. The conditions under the
Habsburk monarchy gave rise to a radically democratic nationalism,
supported mostly by young people. This group played a lead role in the
short 1848 Prague revolt. Bakunin, that time a radical democrat, also
cooperated with this group. However, the anarchist movement itself
would arise a few decades later.

The roots of Czech anarchism
The anarchist movement in the 19th century had several practical and
intellectual sources. First was labour radicalism, affected above all by
Die Freiheit magazine, edited by proponent of “propaganda by
deed” terrorism Johan Most. His ideas found strong responses in
Bohemia, and his magazine was (generally successfully) imitated.

Another source was the Czech socialist movement abroad, especially
in the USA, where the most active organisers and activists were being
expelled by the continuous repression. The most radical ones turned
to anarchism, and were extending it back into their countries.
Magazines like Budoucnost (The Future) in Chicago or Volne listy
(Free lists) in New York (from 1890 to at least 1917) had a
considerable influence over the anarchist movement, partly for its
contact with the international anarchist movement and partly because
they were not being censored.

Also a movement of socially radical youth around the magazine
Omladina (The Youth) had considerable importance. In February
1894, 68 of those were given short-term prison sentences. This
radicalised many of them and reassured them in their anarchist
convictions.

Anarchism and anarcho-syndicalism
The north-bohemian miners and the labourers in the textile industry
created the social base of anarchism. Understandably, individualism
and secret unions did not satisfy them.

In 1896, there was a 12 days miners’ strike. Eight thousand
miners got involved and several attacks on mine officials,
strike-breakers and the mine equipment occurred. But this was used
as a pretext for the army to suppress the strike, and as a consequence
many were punished by firing or expulsion from the country. A more
successful mining strike was in January 1900, held in Austria.

A meaningful inspiration for anarchists was the anarcho-communism
of Peter Kropotkin. This helped them to overcome individualism while
at the same time connecting with mutualism and cooperation. A small
anarchist loan office was founded and several cooperative project are
created, but altogether they weren’t very successful.

Another inspiration was revolutionary syndicalism. In 1903, after
several years of discussion, the North-bohemian mining federation
(Severoceska hornicka federace, SHF) arose with about eight hundred
members. A year later two other important organisations started. The
Czech anarchist federation (Ceska anarchistka federace, CAF) with
several hundred members was intended to be spreading clearly defined
anarchist ideas. The Czech federation of all unions (Ceska federace
vsech odboru, CFVO) (about 1200 members) was intended to be a
radical labour organisation. According to S. K. Neumann, poet and
anarchist organiser, the CAF was to be the "brains" of the movement,
while the CFVO its "fist" which showed its vanguardist aspirations.
The syndicalist founders of the CFVO could never agree with this.
They weren't just apolitical syndicalists, on the contrary, they had
been propagandists of anarchism for a long time.

The years 1905-1906 were very important, because under the
influence of the 1905 Russian revolution anarchists became more
active. Whereas sometimes they acted as a radical component in
reformist actions, they now began to take their own action. The
mining strike from the 30th August to 17th September 1906 was
important, but again ended unsuccessfully, because, besides other
reasons, of a lack of solidarity from the social democrats.

In 1908 the CFVO was officially dissolved (Austro-Hungarian
authorities terrified by its influence among railway's staff) and
repressed.

After the extinction of CFVO, the CAF became more significant,
which after it stopped publishing the magazine Prace (Labour),
succeeded in publishing a weekly magazine Zadruha (The
Cooperative). On the other hand, the syndicalist movement, never
revived its former force and significance, even with new organisations
being formed.

The roots of the decline of the Czech anarchism
The Czech anarchist movement had many faults. For instance, the
low participation of women. Czech anarchism also had artists, writers,
editors of magazines and propagandist, but not one theorist. The
movement was also busy with all kinds of infighting, which
discouraged many originally interested workers. Organisations such as
CAF and CFVO needed leaders of each union and besides that,
leaders of the movement as a whole. These were mostly the anarchist
magazine’s publishers, who were in fact “full time
activists”. This resulted in creating some kind of elite.

Probably the biggest problem was that the anarchist movement after
twenty years of existence didn't achieve any success. On the contrary,
the strikes were ending unsuccessfully and even the project of creating
a "communist colony" was unsuccessful. As we can see, the
movement wasn't able to organise one successful strike. This led to a
feeling of ineffectiveness.

At the beginning of the war Bohuslav Vrbensky (1882-1944), an
anarchist and dentist, tried to work out a concept to solve the situation.
He decided to concretise anarchist positions and define them not only
against any state but, before all, against the Austria-Hungarian state.
This had a clear aim, the independent stateless organisation of
Bohemia. At the same time they needed an efficient form of
organisation, which was supposed to be a "specific political party" not
involved in the state legislative body and relatively autonomous yet
much better than the present CAF. Michael Kacha (1874-1940),
cobbler and editor of the magazines Prace and Zadruha was against
this proposal. In 1914 Vrbensky's proposal was accepted. Though all
changes to the program were to be in the long term, the CAF changed
to the federation of Czech anarchist communists (FCAK).

The big war
Any other changes in the movement were stopped by the outbreak of
World War I. Immediately after, anarchist organisations and their
magazines were prohibited, and confiscation of property and
internment of many activists occurred. In their places came those who
got involved in the movement recently. Their first goal was to
maintain the movement, which they succeeded despite many of them
leaving to fight in the war. In 1915 anarchists held several strikes in
northern Bohemia and perspectives for new activities are opened.
Prague anarchists got involved in the workers’ self-activity and the
creation of workers’ councils.

Under the difficult wartime conditions the anarchists changed from a
movement opposed to any state to a radical part of Czech national
liberation. In Bohemia the anarchists fought for the independent
Czech state. The 22nd January 1918 the anarchists were actively
involved in a big strike and parallel demonstration, during which they
made their speech with other socialists. They wanted to extend the
strike into northern Bohemia, and they discussed it with Alois Rasin
(later ultra-right Finance Minister) and Jaroslav Preiss (director of a
big bank). This attempt of class collaboration was an absolute failure,
because these representatives of the interests of capital supported the
strike with their words, not their money.

During these activities the anarchists got closer to the dissidents
among social democrats and above all with national socialists (socialist
nationalists not nazis), with which they had the pre-war anti-militarist
fight. The anarchists started to endeavour to unite all socialist parties
and in February 1918 they invited the others to do it. Only the
anarchists and the national socialists united in the Czech (later
Czechoslovak) socialist party (CSS). The anarchists participated
significantly in the creation of their program, which was socialist and
considerably autonomous. It left a longer-term space for a social
revolution and libertarian socialism but this was just a temporary
concession from the national socialist opportunists, only to strengthen
their party during the histrorical crisis. The anarchists participated in
the common general strike the 14 October 1918 and in promulgation
of the Republic the 28 October 1918 as well.

Ministers, deputies and founders of the Communist Party
In 1919, a meeting of anarchists took place where, despite the
disagreement of the members, the leaders persuaded them that it was
necessary to be united with the national socialists. This was the end of
the classical anarchist movement.

The new Czechoslovak Republic was being supported by the
anarchists, because they saw many socialist hopes in it. Vrbensky
became the minister of supply (1918-1919), later the minister of public
works (1920) and also the minister for health service and physical
training (1921-1922). B. Vrbensky, S. K. Neumann, T. Bartosek and
L. Landova-Stychova represented the anarchists in parliament. But
their hopes were very soon disappointed. The anarchists helped the
republic to gain the workers’ sympathies. Step by step they were
being deprived of any real influence over matters.

The reactions of anarchists varied. In 1920 the group around S. K.
Neumann and his magazine Cerven stood down (he himself had left
parliament already, his place taken by anarcho-syndicalist Vaclav
Draxl). This group went through the enthusiasm about the Russian
revolution and finally unconditionally accepted Bolshevism. S. K.
Neumann after leaving the CSS established a federation of communist
groups, which later united with the Communist Party of
Czechoslovakia (KSC).

The extinction and the rebirth of the Czech anarchism...
Former anarchists also acted in another way. Fratisek Sauer,
well-known anarchist bohemian is famous as one of the founders of
the "black arm", which took empty buildings and gave them to
working families. This was the first kind of squatting in the Bohemia.

Two anarchist assassinations were attempted in the Czechoslovak
Republic. In January 1919 16-year-old A. L. Stastny shot at the Prime
Minister Karel Kramar, later very unpopular, at that time the man that
gave rise to the independent state. The attempt wasn't successful. In
1923, 19-year-old Josef Soupal who executed the, this time
successful, attempt. The target of the second was the unpopular
Minister of finances Alois Rasin, responsible for the exploiting
currency policy. Both attempts discredited anarchism, increasing
repression and feelings of support to the victim. After the second
attempt the first Czech fascist organisation “Cervenobili” (Red
and Whites) was formed during the hysterical demonstrations of the
Right.

In this context, any attempt to renew the anarchist tradition was
destined to fail. This wasn’t helped by the fact that in 1923, a
group that tried to do it followed anarchism with religious enthusiasm
(e.g. one important member of this group named his daughter
Bakunina!) and elitism - the "enlighted minority group of
anarchists”. This group didn't last even a year. After this, there
isn’t any information about an anarchist movement, only
absolutely fragmentary actions concerning a few individuals, who
perhaps sympathised with anarchism.

So the flag of the libertarian Left was overtaken by the Trotskyists. But
we must specify, that the Stalinists denoted as “Trotskyist" almost
anybody who criticised their system from a revolutionary Marxist
position. Many didn't revolt against this label because at the time a
“Trotskyist” was the public enemy number one, and so this
word had the excitable sense of political taboo.

Czechoslovak surrealists took the libertarian left position and it lead to
their ostracism from the Stalinist’s side and later to their going
underground. An interesting representative of the Czech underground
culture is a poet, prose-writer and philosopher Egon Bondy,
influenced by Trotskyism, Maoism and sympathies with anarchism.
The movement of the revolutionary youth, a Trotskyist group, against
which there was a trial in 1971, was influenced by anarchism too.
Besides Trotsky, the Czech Trotskyist movement published many
other books e.g. the French text Socialisme ou barbarie.

After the fall of Bolshevism in 1989 the Trotskyists created a free
platform of the autonomous and liberal activities called Leva
alternativa (“The left alternative”), in which the anarchists also
participated. However, alternative culture had a much more important
influence on the rise of anarchism. The punk subculture gave rise to
an environment sympathetic to anarchist ideas. A very important
magazine was Voknoviny (window-newspaper), after 1989 renamed
Kontra. This magazine became explicitly anarchist in 1991 with the
title A-kontra. It was the first nationwide magazine in the
Czechoslovak anarchist movement. Already at that time quite strong
anarcho-punk groups coexisted, especially gathered around local
political music zines of different levels.

The Czechoslovak anarchist association (Ceskoslovenske anarchistke
sdruzeni), was founded in October 1989 in Prague, a month before the
change of regime. Involved in the Leva alternativa they tried to
coordinate anarchist activities. They were organising anti-militarist
demonstrations and very soon street fights with the fascist skinheads
started, culminating in a huge battle at Letenska in Prague in 1992,
which ended with a victory for the anarchists. Anarchists also
protested against the abandonment of the original ideals of the "velvet
revolution", the creation of a new elite and restoration of the market
capitalism.

...and its development
In 1991 the Anarchist Federation is formed around the magazine
Autonomie, which attempted to include all parts of the anarchist
movement. Besides this, another organisation started, the
Anarchosyndikalisticka iniciativa (Anarcho-syndicalist initiative),
which had a little influence. Theories from abroad and inspiration from
foreign anarchists had the most significant influence on the
movement's development.

The first split in the anarchist movement occurred in 1992. While the
majority wanted to boycott the elections, some of the A-kontra
editorial staff defended the opinion that it would be better to vote for
the Communist Party. They chose this as a "lesser evil", because they
themselves were not able to hold back the aggressive Right and
capitalism.

An important event in the Czech anarchist history was the September
2000 IMF and World Bank meeting in Prague. Anarchists together
with Trotskyists, radical environmentalists other organisations formed
a platform Iniciativa proti ekonomicke globalizaci (INPEG) and were
intensively involved in the protests. But the protests, which
culminated in a demonstration of 12,000 people and running battles
with the police, had a lot of problems. The coalition agreed in what it
opposed but didn't give an alternative. Because of the one day of
protests the work with common people in the Czech republic was
forgotten. For more, the campaign in the medias after the protests
strengthened the repressive climate in the Czech Republic.

After the protests the weakened movement was going on in its
activities, the single organisation development, but also the
atmosphere of the “activist ghettos" is strengthened throughout
the movement. Meanwhile, some attempts of self reflection occur.

Translated by Petra Horska, edited by libcom
source: A-kontra
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