1419-today: Czech anarchism

A brief but detailed history of anarchist ideas and the anarchist movement in the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Bohemia.

Submitted by Steven. on September 12, 2006

The history of the Czech anarchism is a history of the development
of libertarian radicals, some of whom left their ideas and moved
into high power posts, or became propagandists of the Bolshevik
totalitarian ideology. Even after the revival of the anarchist movement
we can see how the movement forms stable organisations while at
the same time also cutting-off into activist ghettos. The history
of Czech anarchism isn't black and white – and that way perhaps
it is more interesting and instructive.

Tradition before the rise of the movement

Many revolts can be found throughout the Czech Middle
Ages. The most considerable was the Hussite movement that in 1419-1434
lead to a war between Catholics and those wanting church and social
reforms. Those most important in this movement were radicals associated
in the newly found town Tabor (that became for a short time the
first commune in the European history) and the radicals in the
adamits movement (blamed for nudism and sexual promiscuity). Also
very important were the peasant revolts with social motifs in
17th and 18th century that mostly didn’t end well.

From the end of the 18th century national
liberation ideas grew among Czech people living in the Habsburk
monarchy that included Austria, Hungary, Slovakia, part of Poland,
Italy etc. The conditions under the Habsburk monarchy gave rise
to a radically democratic nationalism, supported mostly by young
people. This group played a lead role in the short 1848 Prague
revolt. Bakunin, that time a radical democrat, also cooperated
with this group. However, the anarchist movement itself would
arise a few decades later.

The roots of Czech anarchism

The anarchist movement in the 19th century had several
practical and intellectual sources. First was labour radicalism,
affected above all by Die Freiheit magazine, edited by proponent
of “propaganda by deed” terrorism Johan Most. His
ideas found strong responses in Bohemia, and his magazine was
(generally successfully) imitated.

Another source was the Czech socialist movement
abroad, especially in the USA, where the most active organisers
and activists were being expelled by the continuous repression.
The most radical ones turned to anarchism, and were extending
it back into their countries. Magazines like Budoucnost (The Future)
in Chicago or Volne listy (Free lists) in New York (from 1890
to at least 1917) had a considerable influence over the anarchist
movement, partly for its contact with the international anarchist
movement and partly because they were not being censored.

Also a movement of socially radical youth
around the magazine Omladina (The Youth) had considerable importance.
In February 1894, 68 of those were given short-term prison sentences.
This radicalised many of them and reassured them in their anarchist

Anarchism and anarcho-syndicalism

The north-bohemian miners and the labourers in the textile
industry created the social base of anarchism. Understandably,
individualism and secret unions did not satisfy them.

In 1896, there was a 12 days miners’
strike. Eight thousand miners got involved and several attacks
on mine officials, strike-breakers and the mine equipment occurred.
But this was used as a pretext for the army to suppress the strike,
and as a consequence many were punished by firing or expulsion
from the country. A more successful mining strike was in January
1900, held in Austria.

A meaningful inspiration for anarchists was
the anarcho-communism of Peter
. This helped them to overcome individualism while
at the same time connecting with mutualism and cooperation. A
small anarchist loan office was founded and several cooperative
project are created, but altogether they weren’t very successful.

Another inspiration was revolutionary syndicalism.
In 1903, after several years of discussion, the North-bohemian
mining federation (Severoceska hornicka federace, SHF) arose with
about eight hundred members. A year later two other important
organisations started. The Czech anarchist federation (Ceska anarchistka
federace, CAF) with several hundred members was intended to be
spreading clearly defined anarchist ideas. The Czech federation
of all unions (Ceska federace vsech odboru, CFVO) (about 1200
members) was intended to be a radical labour organisation. According
to S. K. Neumann, poet and anarchist organiser, the CAF was to
be the "brains" of the movement, while the CFVO its
"fist" which showed its vanguardist aspirations. The
syndicalist founders of the CFVO could never agree with this.
They weren't just apolitical syndicalists, on the contrary, they
had been propagandists of anarchism for a long time.

The years 1905-1906 were very important, because
under the influence of the 1905 Russian revolution anarchists
became more active. Whereas sometimes they acted as a radical
component in reformist actions, they now began to take their own
action. The mining strike from the 30th August to 17th September
1906 was important, but again ended unsuccessfully, because, besides
other reasons, of a lack of solidarity from the social democrats.

In 1908 the CFVO was officially dissolved
(Austro-Hungarian authorities terrified by its influence among
railway's staff) and repressed.

After the extinction of CFVO, the CAF became
more significant, which after it stopped publishing the magazine
Prace (Labour), succeeded in publishing a weekly magazine Zadruha
(The Cooperative). On the other hand, the syndicalist movement,
never revived its former force and significance, even with new
organisations being formed.

The roots of the decline of the Czech

The Czech anarchist movement had many faults. For instance,
the low participation of women. Czech anarchism also had artists,
writers, editors of magazines and propagandist, but not one theorist.
The movement was also busy with all kinds of infighting, which
discouraged many originally interested workers. Organisations
such as CAF and CFVO needed leaders of each union and besides
that, leaders of the movement as a whole. These were mostly the
anarchist magazine’s publishers, who were in fact “full
time activists”. This resulted in creating some kind of

Probably the biggest problem was that the
anarchist movement after twenty years of existence didn't achieve
any success. On the contrary, the strikes were ending unsuccessfully
and even the project of creating a "communist colony"
was unsuccessful. As we can see, the movement wasn't able to organise
one successful strike. This led to a feeling of ineffectiveness.

At the beginning of the war Bohuslav Vrbensky
(1882-1944), an anarchist and dentist, tried to work out a concept
to solve the situation. He decided to concretise anarchist positions
and define them not only against any state but, before all, against
the Austria-Hungarian state. This had a clear aim, the independent
stateless organisation of Bohemia. At the same time they needed
an efficient form of organisation, which was supposed to be a
"specific political party" not involved in the state
legislative body and relatively autonomous yet much better than
the present CAF. Michael Kacha (1874-1940), cobbler and editor
of the magazines Prace and Zadruha was against this proposal.
In 1914 Vrbensky's proposal was accepted. Though all changes to
the program were to be in the long term, the CAF changed to the
federation of Czech anarchist communists (FCAK).

The big war

Any other changes in the movement were stopped by the
outbreak of World War I. Immediately after, anarchist organisations
and their magazines were prohibited, and confiscation of property
and internment of many activists occurred. In their places came
those who got involved in the movement recently. Their first goal
was to maintain the movement, which they succeeded despite many
of them leaving to fight in the war. In 1915 anarchists held several
strikes in northern Bohemia and perspectives for new activities
are opened. Prague anarchists got involved in the workers’
self-activity and the creation of workers’ councils.

Under the difficult wartime conditions the
anarchists changed from a movement opposed to any state to a radical
part of Czech national liberation. In Bohemia the anarchists fought
for the independent Czech state. The 22nd January 1918 the anarchists
were actively involved in a big strike and parallel demonstration,
during which they made their speech with other socialists. They
wanted to extend the strike into northern Bohemia, and they discussed
it with Alois Rasin (later ultra-right Finance Minister) and Jaroslav
Preiss (director of a big bank). This attempt of class collaboration
was an absolute failure, because these representatives of the
interests of capital supported the strike with their words, not
their money.

During these activities the anarchists got
closer to the dissidents among social democrats and above all
with national socialists (socialist nationalists not nazis), with
which they had the pre-war anti-militarist fight. The anarchists
started to endeavour to unite all socialist parties and in February
1918 they invited the others to do it. Only the anarchists and
the national socialists united in the Czech (later Czechoslovak)
socialist party (CSS). The anarchists participated significantly
in the creation of their program, which was socialist and considerably
autonomous. It left a longer-term space for a social revolution
and libertarian socialism but this was just a temporary concession
from the national socialist opportunists, only to strengthen their
party during the histrorical crisis. The anarchists participated
in the common general strike the 14 October 1918 and in promulgation
of the Republic the 28 October 1918 as well.

Ministers, deputies and founders of
the Communist Party

In 1919, a meeting of anarchists took place where, despite
the disagreement of the members, the leaders persuaded them that
it was necessary to be united with the national socialists. This
was the end of the classical anarchist movement.

The new Czechoslovak Republic was being supported
by the anarchists, because they saw many socialist hopes in it.
Vrbensky became the minister of supply (1918-1919), later the
minister of public works (1920) and also the minister for health
service and physical training (1921-1922). B. Vrbensky, S. K.
Neumann, T. Bartosek and L. Landova-Stychova represented the anarchists
in parliament. But their hopes were very soon disappointed. The
anarchists helped the republic to gain the workers’ sympathies.
Step by step they were being deprived of any real influence over

The reactions of anarchists varied. In 1920
the group around S. K. Neumann and his magazine Cerven stood down
(he himself had left parliament already, his place taken by anarcho-syndicalist
Vaclav Draxl). This group went through the enthusiasm about the
Russian revolution and finally unconditionally accepted Bolshevism.
S. K. Neumann after leaving the CSS established a federation of
communist groups, which later united with the Communist Party
of Czechoslovakia (KSC).

The extinction and the rebirth of
the Czech anarchism...

Former anarchists also acted in another way. Fratisek
Sauer, well-known anarchist bohemian is famous as one of the founders
of the "black arm", which took empty buildings and gave
them to working families. This was the first kind of squatting
in the Bohemia.

Two anarchist assassinations were attempted
in the Czechoslovak Republic. In January 1919 16-year-old A. L.
Stastny shot at the Prime Minister Karel Kramar, later very unpopular,
at that time the man that gave rise to the independent state.
The attempt wasn't successful. In 1923, 19-year-old Josef Soupal
who executed the, this time successful, attempt. The target of
the second was the unpopular Minister of finances Alois Rasin,
responsible for the exploiting currency policy. Both attempts
discredited anarchism, increasing repression and feelings of support
to the victim. After the second attempt the first Czech fascist
organisation “Cervenobili” (Red and Whites) was formed
during the hysterical demonstrations of the Right.

In this context, any attempt to renew the
anarchist tradition was destined to fail. This wasn’t helped
by the fact that in 1923, a group that tried to do it followed
anarchism with religious enthusiasm (e.g. one important member
of this group named his daughter Bakunina!) and elitism - the
"enlighted minority group of anarchists”. This group
didn't last even a year. After this, there isn’t any information
about an anarchist movement, only absolutely fragmentary actions
concerning a few individuals, who perhaps sympathised with anarchism.

So the flag of the libertarian Left was overtaken
by the Trotskyists. But we must specify, that the Stalinists denoted
as “Trotskyist" almost anybody who criticised their
system from a revolutionary Marxist position. Many didn't revolt
against this label because at the time a “Trotskyist”
was the public enemy number one, and so this word had the excitable
sense of political taboo.

Czechoslovak surrealists took the libertarian
left position and it lead to their ostracism from the Stalinist’s
side and later to their going underground. An interesting representative
of the Czech underground culture is a poet, prose-writer and philosopher
Egon Bondy, influenced by Trotskyism, Maoism and sympathies with
anarchism. The movement of the revolutionary youth, a Trotskyist
group, against which there was a trial in 1971, was influenced
by anarchism too. Besides Trotsky, the Czech Trotskyist movement
published many other books e.g. the French text Socialisme ou

After the fall of Bolshevism in 1989 the Trotskyists
created a free platform of the autonomous and liberal activities
called Leva alternativa (“The left alternative”),
in which the anarchists also participated. However, alternative
culture had a much more important influence on the rise of anarchism.
The punk subculture gave rise to an environment sympathetic to
anarchist ideas. A very important magazine was Voknoviny (window-newspaper),
after 1989 renamed Kontra. This magazine became explicitly anarchist
in 1991 with the title A-kontra. It was the first nationwide magazine
in the Czechoslovak anarchist movement. Already at that time quite
strong anarcho-punk groups coexisted, especially gathered around
local political music zines of different levels.

The Czechoslovak anarchist association (Ceskoslovenske
anarchistke sdruzeni), was founded in October 1989 in Prague,
a month before the change of regime. Involved in the Leva alternativa
they tried to coordinate anarchist activities. They were organising
anti-militarist demonstrations and very soon street fights with
the fascist skinheads started, culminating in a huge battle at
Letenska in Prague in 1992, which ended with a victory for the
anarchists. Anarchists also protested against the abandonment
of the original ideals of the "velvet revolution", the
creation of a new elite and restoration of the market capitalism.

...and its development

In 1991 the Anarchist Federation is formed around the
magazine Autonomie, which attempted to include all parts of the
anarchist movement. Besides this, another organisation started,
the Anarchosyndikalisticka iniciativa (Anarcho-syndicalist initiative),
which had a little influence. Theories from abroad and inspiration
from foreign anarchists had the most significant influence on
the movement's development.

The first split in the anarchist movement
occurred in 1992. While the majority wanted to boycott the elections,
some of the A-kontra editorial staff defended the opinion that
it would be better to vote for the Communist Party. They chose
this as a "lesser evil", because they themselves were
not able to hold back the aggressive Right and capitalism.

An important event in the Czech anarchist
history was the September 2000 IMF and World Bank meeting in Prague.
Anarchists together with Trotskyists, radical environmentalists
other organisations formed a platform Iniciativa proti ekonomicke
globalizaci (INPEG) and were intensively involved in the protests.
But the protests, which culminated in a demonstration of 12,000
people and running battles with the police, had a lot of problems.
The coalition agreed in what it opposed but didn't give an alternative.
Because of the one day of protests the work with common people
in the Czech republic was forgotten. For more, the campaign in
the medias after the protests strengthened the repressive climate
in the Czech Republic.

After the protests the weakened movement was
going on in its activities, the single organisation development,
but also the atmosphere of the “activist ghettos" is
strengthened throughout the movement. Meanwhile, some attempts
of self reflection occur.

Translated by Petra Horska, edited by libcom

source: A-kontra