‘Lenin awake, Brezhnev has gone mad!’ This inscription on the walls of Prague during the first days of the occupation reveals the caricatural truth of the Russian invasion of Czechoslovakia. Anti-communism, scenting an unexpected advantage, at once whipped up the invasion hysterically into a Russian Vietnam. The clouded, ahistorical consciousness of the West German liberal Press proclaimed it to be a second edition of the Soviet act of force in Hungary 1956. In reality it belongs to just that historical constellation (a moment of a process still meaninglessly unfurling through natural contingency) which provided the philosophical point of departure for Marx’s presentation of The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte: ‘Hegel somewhere observes that all great world historical events and individuals occur in a manner of speaking twice over. He omitted to add: once as tragedy, the second time as farce.’footnote1 Prague 1968 reflects the tragedy of Budapest 1956 as farce. The heroes of 1956 were executed, while those of 1968 came home in tears. The reformer-hero Dubcek may have been threatened with liquidation; yet his Russian hosts contented themselves thereafter with treating him to handcuffs and cold meals. Meanwhile in the streets of Prague isolated angry teenagers who resisted the occupation were gunned down. The ‘Hero of the ussr’ and grey-haired popular idol Svoboda, in Prague a Russian prisoner, was received in Moscow with the full diplomatic honours due to a Head of State and a counterfeit kiss of brotherhood. But this grotesque of corridor-politics among the ruling State functionaries (a product of haggling and blackmail) appeared to the betrayed and bartered mass of the Czechoslovak population as a brutal, Stalinist natural catastrophe. They resisted it with a traditional spontaneity and tactical skill. August 21st was the Eighteenth Brumaire of Russian foreign policy.

The resistance to the occupation was marked by the same ambivalence of political and historical consciousness that frequently surfaced during the reform period. This ambiguity objectified the liberal need for civic freedoms—a need traceable to the class position of the intellectuals and students who were the principal audience of the reform movement. This need derived essentially from a past phase of bourgeois emancipation, and it involved neither the ability, nor any desire, to activate an adequate proletarian class consciousness. Under the forced conditions of the military invasion, the popular will to resistance inevitably radicalized intellectual and journalistic liberalism, and its mass component thrusting towards the goal of sovereignty, into an intransigent national consciousness—just such a national consciousness as was historically generated in revolutionary periods of bourgeois politics. The ideological content of this nationalist resistance became diffused among the population as a growing indifference to Communism (without, however, the basic option for a socialist mode of production being as a rule put in question.) It became diffused too in the everwidening demand for neutrality, and in the restriction of protest against the Russian invasion merely to the principle of national sovereignty, of the non-interference of foreign powers in the internal affairs of another country.

On the other hand, the determination of the workers to strike gave embryonic expression to the practical necessity, still disguised by false consciousness, of pursuing the revolutionary class struggle of the proletariat (whose dictatorship had until that time been administratively confiscated) even on the material basis of nationalized production.

It was inevitable that the ruling ‘Reform Group’ around Dubcek would attempt to divide and impede the resistance of the masses—not only in view of the massive Russian pressure, but also in view of their own political aims and ruling interests. The ceaseless calls to act with prudence and—as a citizen’s first duty—to preserve order may have been genuinely motivated by a sincere fear, that should not be dismissed, of the danger of bloody suppression of an angry insurrection; nevertheless the fact is that they functioned to prevent the population from forming autonomous organs of resistance. The institutions of the working class, in the name of reform, behaved in a way typical of revisionist mass organizations: the verbally radical proclamation of an unlimited general strike was, in fact, followed by its fragmentation into a series of short strikes—a well-tested device, employed with virtuosity for years by the French Communist Party among others, for placating the workers’ will to struggle and simultaneously canalizing and controlling it.

The ‘Moscow Diktat’ which the demoralized reformers brought back to Prague was an obvious provocation to the nationalistic mood of the masses, which excluded any line of political compromise. ‘Betrayal’ was the immediate, spontaneous reaction to the communiqué of August 27th; for the first time Dubcek was not extolled unanimously and uncritically. The Russians had forced the functionaries of reform into the role of collaborators. Organization of resistance was no longer on their agenda—only a demobilizing appeal to the masses not to lose faith in the leadership. It is too early to make out whether the Moscow Diktat has helped to demote the reformers around Dubcek from their heroes’ pedestals, and hence to free the population from its illusions. For the time being at least the ideology of calm, order, and trust in the rulers has proved strong enough to discipline the masses.