SUMMARY OF THE PUBLICATION
“SOCIALISM: REALITY INSTEAD OF MYTHS”
PREPARED WITHIN THE PROJECT
TEARING DOWN THE MYTHS ABOUT SOCIALISM AND WELFARE STATE
The publication presents a coherent opinion developed by the expert team of authors based on the facts, arguments, nature, and reality of the socialism in Czechoslovakia and it disproves the lasting myths about it. The publication focuses on the current and important social issues associated with socialism – both in Slovakia and in other countries, including Western ones. In Slovakia and other countries of the Eastern Bloc, socialism broke down more than thirty years ago along with the Berlin Wall but it has survived in heads of many people and it has been finding a way to heads of younger generations as well. Paradoxically, many people believe in viability of socialist ideas and call for increased importance of socialist elements. We believe that succumbing to the myths of socialism, affiliation to socialism, and resuscitation of its mutated forms and elements pose a threat to human freedom, prosperity, and safety and to the civilisation foundations which current societies have been built on.
The present threat is a combination of the collectivistic views and anti-capitalistic mentality of an important part of the public, intellectuals and, in particular, politicians and technocrats with decision-making powers. Moreover, older people often infect younger generations with socialist ideas by making them attractive through enticing catchwords. This process is supported by increasing popularity of socialism in the West where people do not have any actual experience with it and look at it through rose-coloured glasses.
These facts result in increasing trust in the state and support for enhancement of its powers and interventions while reducing the level of personal responsibility, actual business activities, and individual initiatives and blunting people´s alertness to curbing of their freedoms.
That is why it is important to learn the lesson offered by the history and unmask socialism and remind of its nature, real face, and unintended consequences. The aim of the publication is to discuss as an example the socialist experiment carried out in Czechoslovakia during the period from 1948 until 1989. Thus, we would like to contribute towards destruction of lasting myths about socialism.
The publication is based on our understanding of the principles and rules of a free civilized society and theoretical arguments related to the moral, cultural, and economic criticism of socialism, which we present in the initial chapter “General theoretical and methodological starting points” where we draw attention to the fact that socialism is a theoretical misconception contradicting the nature of a civilized society, free actions of people, and cooperation among people living in such a society. The very genetic code of socialism indicates that it is against civilization and is destructive for both people and society and that socialism inevitably results in repression, absence of freedom, living standard decrease, and failures and decline of the society. This which was also the case of Czechoslovakia during the period between 1948 and 1989 as it is demonstrated through facts and arguments presented in the publication.
Myths about socialism
Still, a lot of people in Slovakia perceive socialism positively and uncritically and this fact is supported by results of the public opinion polls carried out by the FOCUS agency within our project. According to the representative poll executed by the agency in 2018, the number of people who believe that life was better before the year 1989 than today is higher (almost 43%) than the number of those who believe the opposite and this is linked with acceptance of the myths about socialism. According to the above poll, up to 79% of respondents agree that life during socialism was safer and crime rates were lower, 77% agree that were enough useful jobs for everyone, 71% believe that the socialist regime directed people towards more moral behaviour, 63% are convinced that the healthcare system was better and people lived longer, 59% think that socialism was economically successful, 55% believe that the standard of living of a majority of the population was higher at that time and people made enough money and could afford more than today, and 45% believe that socialism was not a totalitarian regime (more data is presented in the chapter “Myths through the optics of current polls”).
In our opinion, other grounds behind the positive perception of socialism and roots of the myths about it surviving among a significant number of inhabitants of Slovakia include the fact that many people prefer security and guaranties to freedom (associated with risks and requiring responsibility), they relativize the totalitarian nature of the regime, and older people tend to succumb to sentimental optimism that they pass on to younger generations. Important causes behind this situation include a lack of historical memory and related indifference, distorted post-1989 personal history self-assessments, and the influence of communist propaganda on the awareness of the today´s society, which are analysed in chapter 1.7 “Nostalgy”. An example of the inertia of that propaganda, which only confirms the perversity of the socialist regime, is the thesis claiming a higher level of justice provided by the socialist regime in contrast to a capitalist society.
Reality versus myths: Society and culture
Historical facts disprove the claims of the period propaganda and people´s current distorted positive views concerning socialism. From the very beginning, the regime showed its true face and manifested itself as unjust, lacking freedom, amoral, and antihuman. Its establishment was associated with power-based robbing people of their property (euphemistically called “nationalization” and “collectivization”) and liquidation and persecution of the individuals and social groups (“class enemies”) unwanted by the regime. The regime was more or less totalitarian throughout the entire period of its existence. The political monopoly of the communist party and its leading role within the society allowed it to decide not only about the economy and financial security of people but also about their destinies and lives while systematically using a network of tools, institutions and, in particular, a secret service (Štátna bezpečnosť – ŠtB).
De facto, socialist Czechoslovakia used to be a cage full of compulsorily employed people who were provided with basic life security but lacked freedom and were prohibited from travelling abroad and expressing opinions. The people who wanted to escape it were killed by the regime at the borders fenced around with barbed wire. Mere opinions or fabricated grounds served to kill, imprison, torture or otherwise persecute both individuals and their families. The socialist regime ripped off people of their freedom, dignity, and even lives while distorting the society. This is what we deemed the most important when assessing the real socialism and why we start the publication with the chapter devoted to the totalitarian nature of the regime.
The totalitarian nature of a regime is evidenced by its victims. The armed forces of Czechoslovakia killed 276 people at borders (49 out of them in Slovakia), the regime executed more than 247 people based on political grounds, sentenced approximately 260 000 people as political prisoners (out of that over 70 000 in Slovakia), and sent between 22 000 up to 23 000 citizens to convict labour camps (including 8 240 people in Slovakia). In addition, more than 4 500 people died due to consequences of imprisonment or in prisons, many people were forcibly resettled within the country, some were dragged to gulags in the Soviet Union (more details in Annex 1 “Victims of the Communist Regime”). Behind each number there are specific names and lives of people and their relatives destroyed by the regime. Their stories evidence the human dimensions of consequences of the regimen´s repression. Examples are presented in Annex 2 “Stories of the people persecuted by the communist regime”.
The fundamental moral consequence of the regime for people was their subordination to the political power and overall absence of freedom. The regime substituted that absence by forced obedience and required that people explicitly declare their acceptance of it. Moral consequences of socialism made people live in fear, lies, and pretence (two-facedness manifested in private and public life). Communists spread fear through repressive measures, omnipresent eyes and ears of Štb, and censoring. The socialist society was a society of fear where natural civic activities were curbed and pushed to go underground where they formed foundations for secular and Christian dissident movements. The most famous one was Charta 77 (discussed in chapter 1.3 “Civil society”) and the Secret Church Society. One of dissident members of the Secret Church was František Mikloško, author of chapter 1.4 “Religion and faith”.
Moreover, socialism awoke hatred and envy in people. Communists fuelled hatred through the policy of class conflict and labelled entrepreneurs as class enemies and farmers as “kulaks”, robbed them of their property, and then they wrapped that injustice up in the goals called “social justice” and “equality”. But their egalitarian approach fuelled envy too – they used forced and central interventions to equalize incomes and property but on the other hand, they created elite and privileged groups from among themselves and then selected groups of people subject to persecution. New classes were created in the society officially declared to be classless. The differences based on income and property were replaced by artificially created differences based on the party related and other non-market advantages and disadvantages. In fact, socialism created the equality in poverty and overall heading towards it with the exception, of course, of the ruling elite and its supporters. On one hand, equality was mistaken for sameness and on the other hand, the leading role of the communist party in the society led to preferential treatment of communist party members and “committed non-party men” and discrimination against all other citizens as it is analysed in chapter 1.2 “Equality” and chapter 2.6 “Social justice in practice”.
The regime systematically influenced people´s minds through massive propaganda delivered particularly via media (as it is discussed in chapter 1.6 “Media”) and various types of “seminars”. The socialist propaganda made use of festivities that included both small events commonly celebrated by people (so called civil ceremonies) and nationwide events such as celebrations of 1 May and nationwide Spartakiades. They served to indoctrinate people with the idea presenting history as an inevitable progress that finally results in a socialist society that will develop into a communist society. We discuss this issue in chapters 1.2 “Equality”, “Myths through the optics of current polls”, and 1.5 “Festivities and alternative culture”.
The socialist propaganda and the socialist culture framed by it have left significant traces in minds of people and those traces still kind of support the nostalgia associated with socialism and the strong and “caring” state. The moral and economic consequences of socialism have been still manifesting themselves through, for instance, low personal responsibility levels and the absence of respect towards ownership, contracts, and other agreements, which leads to corruption and reliance on the state and supports the culture of dependency on the state and distrust as concerns business, market, and profit – this all is linked with the economic and social myths about socialism.
Reality versus myths: Economy and living standard
We used a comparison of the overall economic performance of socialist Czechoslovakia with other Western countries, e.g. Austria, as the framing starting point for the opinion on the economic reality of socialist Czechoslovakia. While the 1948 GDP per capita in Czechoslovakia was higher than in Austria (121%), it dropped down to 58% by the year 1989 based on the official, yet overestimated data. Similarly, the economies of Czechoslovakia and other Eastern Bloc countries were lagging behind (some of them more significantly) when compared with the Western countries with market-oriented economies. For instance, the performance of the German Democratic Republic dropped after the socialist experiment to one third of the GDP per capita in the Federal Republic of Germany. Other socialist experiments failed as well both economically and in other aspects (chapter 2.1 “Economy – falling behind the West”).
The socialist measures implemented in our country contradicted economic rules, actual functioning of the economy, and the principles of a civilized society because official economic activities were subject to political decision-making by the communist party elite and people were prohibited from owning anything that could serve to carry out even minor business activities.
The invisible hand of the market, capital ownership, business, competition, motivating profit, and free choice of consumers were replaced by the visible hand and interest of the ruling communist party, its central plans, propaganda, and institutional pressure in all areas. The communist party determined “from an ivory tower” what and how much factories and cooperatives are to manufacture, grow, and export as well as the prices for which they may sell their products to retail shops. The government determined flat nationwide prices and regulated them, while the prices were unrealistic, they did not fulfil the coordination role and provided no economic information as to, for instance, relative scarceness. The monopolistic political regulation of the economy without any feedback and possibility for companies to go bankrupt resulted in inefficiency, wasting, a lack of investments to the detriment of future development, goods shortage, and low quality. The economy focused on meeting political requirements (particularly those of the Soviet Union), fulfilment of central plans, and maintenance of own running instead of satisfying demand and/or actual needs of people (chapter 2.2 “Centralized economy without private ownership”).
Moreover, socialist Czechoslovakia together with other Eastern Bloc countries made efforts to achieve economically senseless and unfeasible economic self-sufficiency. The fact that Czechoslovak manufacturers exported mainly to other socialist countries evidences their low efficiency and competitiveness (chapter 2.3 “Economic relations with other countries”), which were caused by unnecessarily high employment rates preserving non-productive activities and low labour productivity resulting from, for instance, the senseless compulsory employment rule. The government determined and regulated labour demand, offer, and price and maintained the one hundred percent employment rate that was backed by the threat of imprisonment for those who would not work. Persecution took various forms and one of them was to make it impossible for certain people to have the job they wanted and forcing them to perform other work; for instance, intellectuals were “punished” by being forced to perform physical work as we write about it in chapter 2.4 “Work and employment rate”.
The standard of living of the people in socialist Czechoslovakia lagged significantly behind that in Western countries (e.g. Austria) and was lower than the current living standard in our country as we discuss it in chapter 2.5 “Financial and property related situation of population”. According to official statistical data, we were lagging significantly behind Austria and other countries with market economies, as far as development of wages (excluding inflation rates) is concerned. A comparison of the situation by the end of the socialist era with our current situation shows similar results. The average wage and average pension have increased more significantly than the inflation rates or prices for a majority of goods and services in Slovakia after the year 1989. It means that an employee with the average wage and a pensioner with the average pension can afford greater amounts of almost all goods than they were able to afford by the end of the socialist era. While the average pension, excluding inflation rates, stagnated in the eighties of the 20th century, it has been increasing significantly following the short drop caused by transformation. The actual purchasing power of people during the socialist era was even lower than the purchasing power indicated by the official statistical data based on which we present the above and other results of our analyses discussed in chapters 2.5 “Financial and property related situation of population” and 2.6. “Social justice in practice”.
The living standard of inhabitants was characterized also by an insufficient, and much lower when compared with Austria and other Western countries, level of consumer durable goods, e.g. size and equipment of flats and houses, electrical appliances, cars, etc. and by low quality, much lower than in Western countries, of goods and services. Another negative impact of the centrally planned economy on the quality of human life were increasingly frequent shortages of certain goods and limited assortments; there used to be waiting lists for certain goods such as cars and people interested in buying them were often condemned to several years lasting waiting.
The low quality of life, which was falling behind when compared with Western countries, was accompanied by a low life expectancy and worsened population health. While the lifespan in Slovakia was higher than in Austria in 1960 (by 2.5 years as concerned men), in 1989 it was significantly lower (by 5.5 years in men). In chapter 2.7 “Health and healthcare system”, we state that the lifespan has been increasing significantly since the fall of socialism – by 7 years for men and 5 years for women.
The bad situation was caused also by the quality of environment, which used to be lower in our country than in Western countries, e.g. air pollution, the concentration of hazardous dust particles in Czechoslovakia after the end of the socialist era was almost double the rate in Austria or Germany. The low quality and safety of food (chapter 2.9 “Environment and centrally planned economy”) represented another hidden problem. The economic failures affecting living standard were manifested also through a low level of infrastructure which was lagging behind the levels in Western countries as it is discussed in chapter 2.8 “Infrastructure” where we state, for instance, that the electrified railways and motorways in socialist Czechoslovakia were significantly shorter and numbers of plane passengers were lower than in Austria, factoring in respective numbers of inhabitants.
The regime restricted the population´s living standard also by bureaucratic barriers to travelling abroad, particularly to Western countries, using special travel permits and foreign currency allowance permits. The major constraint on the quality of life of people during the socialist era was the overall lack of freedom, including the impossibility to move to a Western country.
Reality versus myths: State and citizen
As concerns citizens and their unfreedom, the dominant position of the state was based on the regime´s legal framework: its constitution (the first constitution was adopted in 1948, the second constitution adopted in 1960 had a more significant impact that was enhanced by the third federal constitution adopted in 1968) and on laws, e.g. the Act on Protection of the People´s Democratic Republic of 1948, which practically permitted prosecution of anybody due to any grounds whatsoever, the State Border Protection Act of 1951 that restricted the freedom of movement and the Criminal Code of 1961 that was primarily intended to protect the regime and to restrict human freedoms (chapter 3.1 “Law and justice in practice”).
The dominance of the state controlled by communists manifested itself also in other areas. National committees were not autonomous self-government bodies but just a long hand of the central government of the communist elite enforcing its central control over the economy and society. Similarly, elections fully controlled by the communist party ruling the state used to be only formal and were compulsory for citizens. As we state in chapter 3.2 “Self-governments and elections”, there was no free choice of candidates from various parties that would campaign as we know it today based on the elections carried out in the free democratic world.
The dominance of the state and its political elite within the relationship with citizens was particularly obvious in the area of security. The regime tolerated the widespread criminality that was excluded from statistical data and defined by the period motto “if you do not steal, you rob your family”. The data officially available today demonstrate that the crime rates during socialism are comparable to those existing today. As far as the relationship between the state and the citizen is concerned, it is symptomatic that the communist party used ŠtB and other security bodies against citizens. The communist party was arbitrarily deciding who was an enemy of the regime and had to be persecuted. Thanks to the methodical evoking of fear among people and enforcement instruments and institutions, the totalitarian regime (chapter 3.3 “Security”) undermined not only the freedom, dignity, morals, and living standard of inhabitants but it also posed a permanent security threat to them.
The reality of socialist Czechoslovakia had devastating impacts on both people and the society. We are still facing some of those impacts, including distorted ways of thinking. Moreover, mutated forms of socialism represent a serious threat to our freedom and prosperity that we enjoy in their current forms thanks to the values and institutions of the capitalist Western civilization. The Czechoslovak experience from the period between 1948 and 1989 serves as an historical example of a social experiment that failed following the actual implementation of socialism and confirms the theoretical arguments about its antihuman, anticivilization, and systemically failing basis (while proving socialism to be an erroneous idea).
This knowledge should serve as a reminder, lesson, and source to refuse other similar social experiments such as the “democratic socialism” fata morgana and all other more or less open or concealed forms and elements of socialism and collectivism that make use of, as one of their pillars, intentional control and management of the economy, society, and individuals. To achieve this goal, we would like to offer arguments and facts tearing down the myths about socialism and revealing the true nature of the communist regime in Czechoslovakia and destructive influences of its elements within the society.
We believe that our publication will contribute towards people´s greater awareness and their refusal of the actual threats posed by various forms of socialism while making them think and act more in compliance with the values and principles of the civilized Western society based on personal freedom and responsibility.
Peter Gonda, co-editor of the publication
Bratislava, April 2020.
Annex: Table of Contents of the publication “Socialism: Reality instead of Myths”
Editors: Peter Gonda, Peter Zajac
GENERAL THEORETICAL AND METHODOLOGICAL STARTING POINTS (Peter Gonda, Martin Slosiarik)
MYTHS THROUGH THE OPTICS OF CURRENT POLLS (Ivan Kuhn, Radovan Potočár, Peter Zajac, Peter Gonda)
1 REALITY VS. MYTHS: SOCIETY AND CULTURE
1.1 Totalitarian nature and victims of the regime (František Neupauer, Soňa Gyarfašová)
Annex 1: Victims of the communist regime (František Neupauer)
Annex 2: Stories of the people persecuted by the communist regime (Soňa Gyarfašová)
1.2 Equality (Peter Zajac)
1.3 Civil society (Boris Strečanský)
1.4 Religion and faith (František Mikloško)
1.5 Festivities and alternative culture (René Bílik)
1.6 Media (Soňa Gyarfašová)
1.7 Nostalgy (Boris Strečanský)
2 REALITY VS. MYTHS: ECONOMY AND LIVING STANDARD
2.1 Economic falling behind the West (Peter Gonda, Radovan Potočár, Peter Krištofóry)
2.2 Centrally controlled economy without private ownership (Peter Gonda, Radovan Potočár, Radovan Kazda)
2.3 Economic relationships with other countries (Radovan Potočár, Peter Krištofóry)
2.4 Labour and employment (Radovan Potočár, Peter Gonda)
2.5 Financial and property related situation of people (Radovan Potočár, Peter Gonda, Jakub Šimek, Peter Krištofóry, Zuzana Žúžiová)
2.6 Social justice in practice (Jakub Šimek, Peter Gonda)
2.7 Health and healthcare system (Rudolf Zajac, Peter Pažitný, Daniela Kandilaki, Ľubica Löffler)
2.8 Infrastructure (Peter Krištofóry, Tomáš Krištofóry, Zuzana Žúžiová)
2.9 Environment in the centrally planned economy (Radovan Kazda, Radovan Potočár)
3 REALITY VS. MYTHS: STATE AND CITIZEN
3.1 Law and justice in practice (Lukáš Krivošík)
3.2 Self-governments and elections (Dušan Sloboda)
3.3 Security (Juraj Krúpa)