Continuing our series of heroes, I would like to honour Zdenek Mlynar (1931-1997). Mlynar was an idealistic Czech communist who, as the principal author of the Action Programme of the Czechoslovak Communist Party (KSC), was the key theoretician of the Prague Spring in 1968. Mlynar had earlier been selected by the party to study Marxist theory and law in Moscow in the 1950s, where he was a fellow student and friend of another young, idealistic communist, Mikhail Gorbachev. Upon his return to the CSSR, Mlynar worked within the KSC to increase democracy, both internally within the party and in public life, becoming one of the reformers around Alexander Dubcek in the mid 1960s.
After the invasion of the CSSR by forces of the Warsaw Pact in 1968, Mlynar refused to submit to the reimposition of stalinism (during the so-called “normalization” period), and was expelled from the KSC. After co-organizing and signing Charter 77, he was forced into exile. In contrast to the courage and integrity of Mlynar, of Vaclav Havel and of their fellow members of the Czechoslovak opposition, the man who is currently Czech President, Vaclav Klaus, kept quiet during this period.
After departing Moscow in 1955, Mlynar and Gorbachev met again next in 1967. When Gorbachev visited Prague in 1969, he was not permitted to see Mlynar. They did not then meet again until 1989. Mlynar was married to Rita Budinova (later Rita Klimova), the first post-Communist Ambassador from Czechoslovakia to the USA.
Archie Brown has noted that the reformers of communism in Czechoslovakia in 1968 were the same generation as those who reformed communism in the USSR twenty years later. In both cases, the reformers were people who were born in the 1920s and 1930s, and who thus came of age after the imposition of communism. Also, in both cases, the reformers were true believers in socialist ideas, and neither cynics nor opportunists. Unlike the situation in Hungary, Poland, and the DDR between 1945 and 1989, change to communism in the CSSR and the USSR came not from below but from above.
Past entries in this series are here.
Footnote: Not only were the reforms of Gorbachev driven, leninist-fashion, from the top. Charles Fairbanks [2008, pp. 64-65] has argued that there may be a direct link between the ideas of left-Stalinist Andrei Zhdanov (1896-1948), and Gorbachev’s reforms, via Finnish and Soviet politician Otto Kuusinen (1881-1964), Kuusinen’s protegé politician Yuri Andropov (1914-1984), and economists Aleksey Rumyantsev (1905-1993) and Aleksandr Yakovlev (1923-2005). Rumyantsev was founding editor of the international journal Problems of Peace and Socialism in Prague from 1958-1964, and the journal’s Russian editorial staff in this period had been selected by Kuusinen and Andropov. For example, Gorbachev’s close aide, Georgy Shakhnazarov (1924-2001), had twice worked for this journal in Prague, in between stints at the International Department of the Central Committee of the CPSU, working indirectly for Andropov, via Fedor Burlatsky (1927-2014).
Charles H. Fairbanks : “The nature of the beast”. Chapter 6, pages 61-75, of Gvosdev .
Nikolas K. Gvosdev (Editor) : The Strange Death of Soviet Communism: A Postscript. New Brunswick, NJ, USA: Transaction Publishers.
Mikhail Gorbachev and Zdenek Mlynar : Conversations with Gorbachev on Perestroika, The Prague Spring, and the Crossroads of Socialism. New York, USA: Columbia University Press. Translated by George Shriver, with a Foreword by Archie Brown.
Zdenek Mlynar : Night Frost in Prague: The End of Humane Socialism. London, UK: C. Hurst and Co.