Working Papers

The Revolt of The Intellectuals

The Origins of The Prague Spring and The Politics of Reform

With the possible exception of the Soviet Union in the Gorbachev years, the Prague Spring of 1968 remains unsurpassed as an attempt from within a Communist regime to build a more democratic form of socialism. Much of the impetus for fundamental reform in Czechoslovakia in the 1960s came from the intelligentsia, yet much of this same intelligentsia had, as we shall see below, helped bring a Stalinist regime to power a mere two decades earlier. The ideological odyssey of the Czechoslovakian intelligentsia — or, at least, its dominant left-wing component — from orthodox Communism to reform Communism is thus an integral part of the story of the Prague Spring.

As one of many instances where intellectuals have clashed with Communist Party authorities, the Czechoslovakian case raises broader issues about the politics of the intelligentsia in state socialist societies. Yet it should be emphasized at the outset that most of the intellectuals active in the Prague Spring were themselves members of the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia (hereafter referred to as the CPC) and remained faithful to the ideals of socialism. In a sense, then, the struggles between “reformist” intellectuals and “conservative” party apparatchiki was also a conflict within the CPC elite over the future of socialism. Nevertheless, the question remains: how was it the majority of the Communist intelligentsia came to see the Party apparatus as its adversary?