My case is typical of many people of my generation who entered the political arena as secondary school students in the late thirties. The Spanish Civil War was in progress and the danger of a German invasion already hung over Czechoslovakia. We were, of course, very excited about the fight of the Spanish people against fascism, and saw the important role of the communists in that struggle—though without any real understanding of the problems involved. Then we saw that the communists were the most resolute opponents of fascism in Czechoslovakia and internationally, and this brought us into sympathy with the Communist Party. It is most important to understand that Czechoslovakia, unlike the other East European countries subsequently liberated by the Red Army, had always had a legal Communist Party before the war. During the 20 years of bourgeois parliamentary government between 1918 and 1938, there had been real guarantees for democratic freedom. The fact that Czechoslovakia was an industrialized country, and had a working class with long revolutionary and democratic traditions, was the basis for the subsequent success of the Communist Party.

When the invasion of Czechoslovakia proper started in 1939, we saw the Communist Party as the only force which opposed it—although there were, in fact, other patriotic groups which did so too. It was at this time that I joined the Communist Party and became a part of its underground network. I helped to produce and distribute leaflets and newspapers, organize students and so on, until 1940 when I was arrested.

The Nazi/Soviet pact, of course, came as a great shock to us. But right from the moment of the invasion, when the resistance started, Russian policy had dismayed us. For example, I remember clearly a friend’s case. He was much older, had been a Communist since his university studies in 1933 and was one of the leading members of the party in our city in Moravia. When he received instructions from the Comintern after the Nazi occupation he was extremely shaken. Even messages signed by Gottwald himself stated that the German solders who had invaded Czechoslovakia were, in fact, proletarians in soldiers’ uniforms and therefore in no way class enemies! The real enemies were the Czech bourgeoisie headed by Beneš, and the American and British plutocrats. This was the Comintern line at the time. I remember my friend refused to transmit these instructions to the members of the party. They would have meant that instead of fighting against the occupiers we would be fighting against our own people. In fact the Party throughout the country modified these instructions, saying firstly that the comrades in Moscow were not well informed about the situation and secondly that the instructions were completely out of touch with reality. When the German/Russian pact was signed at the end of August, this was a further shock. We had received a lot of explanations of how the Soviet Union had been obliged to do this, because of the refusal of the Western powers to conclude a military treaty and in order to buy time. Despite our feelings, we could appreciate rationally that the pact probably was necessary. But what we did not understand at all were the positive articles which we started to read in the German newspapers about the Soviet Union and the broadcasts we heard from Radio Moscow at the time: instead of working to build up the Resistance, they began toning down all anti-fascist propaganda and just putting out items about how many pigs there were on some kolkhoz or other and how many tons of such and such a product the Soviet Union had produced. I remember the comrades were very angry when they saw that what was involved was not just a pact of non-aggression with a fascist country, but rather some sort of political agreement. Another thing which dismayed us was Molotov’s speech after the collapse of Poland, in which he spoke of Poland as an artificial state from its creation, now destroyed for ever by the common action of the German and Soviet armies. But all these hesitations came to an end in June 1941, when the war between the Soviet Union and Germany started. After that, of course, the situation changed completely; the Moscow Party leaders now gave full support to the Resistance and cooperation with other anti-fascist forces began.

I would not say that the Communist Party was the main force. In fact we claimed after the war that we were the main force, but it is difficult to assess. There certainly were other groups—though not so well organized as the Communist Party. I think the claim that the Communist Party was the only, or the main, force in the resistance was a sectarian one.

To answer that, one must go back to the history of the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia. I have mentioned that the party was always a legal one, unlike in the other Eastern European countries. It was founded in 1921 as the result of a break with the Social Democratic Party. Again, in contrast to other Central and Eastern European countries, it was from the very beginning a real mass party. The leader at that time, Šmeral, developed some sort of conception of a Czechoslovakian path to socialism, which brought him into conflict with the Comintern and with the 21 points laid down by it. The mass base of the Communist Party in Czechoslovakia which was the sign of its real success was very adversely affected by the Fifth Congress in 1929, when Gottwald took over the leadership. This Congress, officially called the Congress of Bolshevization, was in fact a congress of subjugation of the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia to the Soviet leadership. It accepted the crushing of the Soviet opposition and Stalin’s conception of building socialism in one country, and acknowledged the Soviet Union as the single monopolistic centre of the international revolutionary movement. The acceptance of this line led to the elimination of many outstanding leaders from the party, which lost about 70 per cent of its membership during this period. Later on it won a lot of them back through its fight against fascism, starting in 1934–5 with the new line of the Comintern—the Popular Front. It was in this period between 1929 and 1939 that a new leading nucleus of the party was developed—Gottwald, Slánský, Kopecký and others. They were educated to a complete subordination to the Soviet Party and to Stalin. It was, in fact, this leadership which was in the Soviet Union during the war, and which came back unchanged to take power after the liberation. The people who were inside the country were never, in fact, integrated into the leading positions of the Party and they were always viewed with a certain suspicion. Take, for example, Smrkovský. Smrkovský was one of the leaders of the Prague uprising and a central figure in the underground committee of the party at the end of the war. He became vice-president of the Czech National Council in 1945. But the very fact that he organized the popular uprising was held against him. For Gottwald’s aim had been that the country should be liberated by the Soviet Army, not by a popular uprising, whereas the whole strategy of the ‘internal’ party had been directed towards a popular uprising, towards partisan struggle. Of course during the war the contradictions were not apparent, because even Gottwald appealed for an uprising and for armed struggle. But as we learnt later, the Soviet Union insisted categorically that Czechoslovakia should be liberated by the Soviet Army and this fact was of decisive importance. Consequently, in all ideological work and propaganda the role played by the Resistance Movement at home was played down and sometimes even portrayed as hostile. It was in this context that when the political trials started in 1949, Smrkovský was accused of being an agent of the Gestapo, put in prison and condemned, together with many other leaders of the Resistance Movement. Since they drew their political strength from the popular movement, they were considered insufficiently disciplined or loyal to the Soviet leadership, and for this reason they were viewed with a certain suspicion.

My personal role was a very small one because I was a young student. When I was arrested I was 17 years old; I spent about one year in prison, then I was released on parole because I was under 18. I was on the point of being arrested again when the German/Soviet war began, but I escaped from where I had been assigned to stay while on parole. I spent the remaining four years of the war underground, with a false name, in various regions of Czechoslovakia. Since I was being looked for by the Gestapo, my parents were taken as hostages, and my mother was killed by the Germans. My brother had been arrested with me in 1940, but he remained in prison for the whole five years the war lasted. I spent the last 2½ years of the war in a small village called Koronec near Boskovice in Moravia. I was the secretary of the local village administration, under my false name of course—and was able to continue my underground work at the same time. There was a partisan movement in the area; there were a lot of Soviet prisoners of war who had joined us and we were able to help our people.

It began in 1944 and was, of course, strongest in the mountainous part of the country. It was strongest of all in Slovakia, after that in Eastern and Central Moravia where I was, and it was weakest in Bohemia, which is much more densely populated and industrialized, lies on a plain and was more tightly controlled by the Germans.