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New Left Review I/105, September-October 1977

Vladimir Fisera

The Workers Councils: the Second Prague Spring

Although a great deal has been written and spoken about the Prague Spring, it has tended to focus on politics in the narrow sense of the term (democratic freedoms, relations with the Soviet Union, flags, tanks and blood) rather than on what François Châtelet has called ‘the political’—that is to say, the underlying relations between social groups, and between economics and the governmental and ideological levels. [*] This essay was written to introduce a collection of studies of the factory councils in Czechoslovakia; the collection is to be published shortly in English by Allison and Busby, as Vladimir Fišera (ed.), Workers’ Councils in Czechoslovakia, 1968–9 (forthcoming May 1978). The Prague Spring was accordingly pronounced dead soon after the change of season heralded by the Soviet troops. In reality, however, the phenomenon was too deeply rooted to be crushed at once, and the dual process of disintegration of politics and recomposition of the social and political reached its culmination only some time after that fateful night of 21 August 1968. Initially, the military intervention had but little effect on the organic construction of a global alternative to the bureaucratic system: until the fall of Dubcek on 17 April 1969, it was able only to neutralize or freeze internal expressions of the process at the apex of the level of politics. But by thus blocking the course of institutional renewal, it ultimately gave broader scope to the activities of the social movement and its direct expression—rank-and-file politics. In this way, the workers’ councils, which had been quite rare before August, gained in strength between December 1968 and June 1969 under the more innocuous name of enterprise councils.

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