‘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.

The contradictory nature of the post-Stalinist reforms, condensed in the programmatic formula of democratic socialism, was abruptly revealed in the Prague students’ revolt of 1967. The protests of the students against the brutal police rule of the Novotny régime were limited for the most part to demands for constitutional guarantees and liberalization of the press. At the same time they apologized to the us ambassador in Prague for a demonstration by their North Vietnamese comrades, because the us flag had been torn down from the embassy.footnote2 The social content of the reform movement was articulated by intellectuals and students, and its practical self-definition reproduced classical liberalism. Its conception of democratic socialism was itself still affected by the Stalinist autonomy of the State machine from which it sought to free itself. The historically distorted idea which underlay the movement was that an étatistic, economist reduction of the socialist mode of production and exchange to an administrative collectivity had occurred; and that consequently the principium individuationis of the liberal phase of bourgeois society was unable to blossom in any material sense, but had been liquidated as a function of control. The syncretic global opinion that the revolutionary theory of the proletariat and still more its praxis sought to throttle the autonomous individual for the sake of the uniform collectivity, corresponded negatively to the pressing need of the reformist intelligentsia for socialism and ‘individual freedom’ to be compatible. It was seen as confirmed in practice by Stalinism and convergent theoretically with liberal ideology. In this conception there survived the capitalist separation of collective species and single individual—a separation which was the object of a philosophical critique in Marx’s early writings that was fundamental in the formation of historical materialism. The reforms in Czechoslovakia aimed to top off nationalized production with a liberal-democratic superstructure—a superstructure whose emancipatory content (freedom of the press, of opinion, of association) was wholly derived from a long-vanished phase in the formation of bourgeois society. In that phase of its historical dynamic, the institutionalized fiction of the autonomous, self-sufficient juridical person—embodiment of bourgeois individuality—revealed itself as a pure abstraction of the socially necessary outward appearance of commodity exchange, under cover of which the material power of the economic surplus held unrestricted sway. It is only Marx’s strategic conception of a socialization of the means of production that can free the principle of bourgeois individualism from the purely abstract existence of the character-masks of commodity ownership, and liberate the competing wage-labourers from the social desolation of their atomism. But this idea has been transformed in the heads of Yugoslav and Czechoslovak philosophers of reform into, at best, the mutilated form of diluted existential, ontological or phenomenological versions of Marx’s theory of alienation, and into the emasculated worldview of a ‘humanistic image of man’ supposedly enunciated by Marx. These theorists fail to understand that communism according to Marx Engels aims at the ‘production of the form of exchange itself.’footnote3 This means that the present productive relations of abstract labour, which isolate private producers one from another, must be destroyed in the course of a socialization achieved through revolutionary struggle. They must be destroyed in order to make possible the ‘collective mode of production’ of direct producers, and finally that of the unconstrained ‘association of free men’. The false notion that the new socialist mode of production should be propped up by the old liberal institutions generated the feeble idealism in theory and the blind revisionism in practice of the post-Stalinist reforms in Czechoslovakia.

The Czechoslovak reform movement’s rational interest in liberalization was only able to express itself in the ideologically deformed conception of a restoration of ‘republican’ freedoms. It clothed itself in the worn garments of the petrified conceptual world of the liberal State, long since rendered repressive by the dynamic of neo-capitalist concentration. This conceptual world finds its legitimation in the bourgeois ‘Realm of Ethics’—in those unrestricted social relations that correspond to the sphere of circulation of commodities, in which according to Marx ‘Freedom, Equality, Property and Bentham’ hold sway. The diminution of free competition between property-owners of equal status and worth—a consequence of the monopolistic depersonalization of the market—has deprived the sphere of circulation of its power of ethical legitimation.footnote4 Historically, this has resulted in the structural transformation under neo-capitalism of the liberal, constitutional State into the authoritarian welfare State.