Skip to main content Accessibility help

Students, Workers, and Social Change: The Limits of Czech Stalinism

  • John Connelly (a1)


Only a few years after the defeat of Nazi Germany, communists throughout eastern Europe began constructing new societies according to models imported from the Soviet Union. One of the most important tasks facing them in this enterprise was to establish firm bases of social support. For this, the Soviet model seemed straightforward: communists had to destroy the power of the old elites and recruit new elites from underprivileged social strata. In the 1920s the Bolsheviks had attempted to achieve these goals through higher education. By using affirmative action in student admissions and setting up worker preparation courses—the rabfaky—they broke the ability of the former upper classes to bequeath status and rapidly increased the numbers of workers and peasants among university students. Between 1927-28 and 1932-33 the number of working-class students doubled to half of all students, while the total number of students more than doubled. Issues of ideology aside, the logic of this transformation was simple: underprivileged social classes were likely to reward communists with loyalty in exchange for upward social mobility. The middle and upper classes, on the other hand, had considered it their prerogative to aspire to elite status. Their attachment to communism would always seem suspect, because in the best of cases it was based upon ideological commitment alone.



Hide All

This article was supported by funding from the American Council of Learned Societies, the Fulbright Commission, the Krupp Foundation at the Center for European Studies at Harvard University, the Spencer Foundation, the Sheldon Foundation at Harvard University, and the International Research and Exchanges Board, which provided assistance with funds from the National Endowment for the Humanities, the United States Information Agency, and the State Department, which administers the Title VIII Program. The author would like to thank Fiona N. Grigg,Jan Havránek, Jiři Kotášek, Igor Lukes, Pavel Machonin, and three anonymous readers for helpful criticisms.

1 Fitzpatrick, Sheila, Education and Social Mobility in the Soviet Union, 1921-1934 (Cambridge, Eng., 1979), 188 .

2 Bauman, Zygmunt, “Social Dissent in the East European Political System,” in Faber, Bernard L., ed., The Social Structure of Eastern Europe (New York, 1976), 129 .

3 On East Germany, see Hans-Hendrik Kasper, “Der Kampf der SED um die Heranbildung einer Intelligenz aus der Arbeiterklasse und der werktatigen Bauernschaft iiber die Vorstudienanstalten an den Universitaten und Hochschulen der sowjetischen Besatzungszone Deutschlands (1945/46 bis 1949)” (Ph.D. diss., Bergbauakademie, Freiberg in Sachsen, 1979); and on Poland, see Lewandowski, Jan, Rodowdóspoleczny powojennej inteligencji polskiej (1944-1949) (Szczecin, 1991). A comparison of the Czech, Polish, and East German cases is found in John Connelly, “Creating the Socialist Elite: Communist Higher Education Policies in the Czech Lands, East Germany, and Poland, 1945-1954” (Ph.D. diss., Harvard University, 1994), chaps. 4, 8.

4 For discussion of the rabfaky, see Fitzpatrick, Education and Social Mobility.

5 Brzezinski, Zbigniew, The Soviet Bloc: Unity and Conflict, rev. ed. (Cambridge, Mass., 1967).

6 Fitzpatrick, Education and Social Mobility, 118; Somr, Miroslav et al., Dějiny školstvia pedagogiky (Prague, 1987), 305 .

7 Speech to the Central Committee of 17 November 1948. Státni Ústřední Archiv— Archiv Ústředního Výboru KSČ, Prague (SÚA—AÚV KSČ), f. 19/7, a.j. 359/4. Even before their seizure of power, communists had known that few working-class students spelled weak political power at universities. For example, the newspaper Pochodeň of Hradec Králové wrote on 15 February 1946 that a reason for anticommunist student demonstrations in Brno had been the weak position of students from “worker and smallholder families,” especially in law faculties.

8 For universities in the Czech Lands, the exact total dismissed was 24.4 percent. SÚA—AÚV KSČ, f. 100/l,_a.j. 1155/23.

9 Pavlíček, Václav, “Čísla, která nutí k zamyšleni,Tvorba, 1957, no. 15:3 . In the 1953-54 school year, 26.6 percent of all Charles University students and 36.8 percent of law students there were of worker or peasant background. “Statistika škol a zařízení spravovaných ministrem škol za školní rok 1953/54,” Státní ústřední archiv—Úřad předsednictva vlady (SřA—řPV) 2481. Education Minister František Kahuda likewise pointed to the low number of students of working-class origin to account for the student demonstrations. Neue Zürcher Zeitung, 7 July 1956.

10 McClelland, James C., “Proletarianizing the Student Body: The Soviet Experience during the New Economic Policy,Past and Present, no. 80 (August 1978): 142 . On the continuing importance of social background in determining access to higher education in and beyond east central Europe, see Shavit, Yossi and Blossfeld, Hans-Peter, Persistent Inequality: Changing Educational Attainment in Thirteen Countries (Boulder, 1993).

11 The view of uniform and unmitigated imposition of the Soviet model upon eastern Europe in the Stalinist period enunciated by Zbigniew Brzezinski in his pioneering and brilliant Soviet Bloc has not been seriously challenged.

12 For a discussion of the influence of traditional culture on the culture of Leninist organizations, see Jowitt, Kenneth, “An Organizational Approach to the Study of Political Culture in Marxist-Leninist Systems,American Political Science Review 68, no. 3 (September 1974).

13 The reasons for East German intellectuals’ quiescence are complex and include a commitment to “antifascism,” the ideological polarization of a divided country, and an open border that helped drain away dissent. Yet none of these would have gained force without the Socialist Unity Party’s consistent policy of elite transformation. Meuschel, Sigrid, Legitimation und Parteiherrschaft: Zum Paradox von Stabilität undRevolution in der DDR, 1945-1989 (Frankfurt am Main, 1992), 128–29.

14 Kráčmarová, Hana, Vyšokoškoláci v revolučnich letech 1945-48 (Prague, 1976), 91 . In Brno, only a handful of professors, and about 6 percent of the students, were Communist Party members. Jordan, František, ed., Dějiny University v Brně (Brno, 1969), 269–70.

15 Buriánek, František et al., eds., 17. listopad: Odboj československého studentstva (Prague, 1945), 140 .

16 Mastny, Vojtech, The Czechs under Nazi Rule: The Failure of National Resistance,1939-1942 (New York, 1971) 37, 77, 80, 85.

17 Slovo národa, 12 December 1945.

18 Unanimous resolution of the workers of the iron mines at Krušná ěHora of 17 December 1945, Archiv České Akademie Ved (AČAV), Nejedlý Papers, Carton 24.

19 This citation from copy sent to the law faculty at Charles University, Archiv University Karlovy (AUK) Právnická fakulta, 733. The trade union committee of the Mautera Textile Factory in Nachod demanded the “expeditious legalization of factory militias.” Letter of 18 December, AČAV, Nejedlý Papers, Carton 24.

20 Students were demonstrating against the sacking of a lecturer who had criticized workers’ overtime work in munitions plants during the war. Čin (Brno), 10 February and 23 May 1946; Práce (Olomouc), 8 February 1946; Jordan, ed., Dějiny University v Brně, 271.

21 Národní osvobození, 5 December 1947; Svobodne slovo, 4 December 1947; and an undated flier of the Club of Czech National Socialist Academics entitled “Ministerstvo Propagandy? Či snad nový Goebbels?” Archiv Narodniho Muzea (ANM), Karel Englis Papers, Carton 778. The Czech National Socialist Party had nothing in common with the National Socialist German Workers’ Party. It was the party of Edvard Beneš, though he ceased playing an active role after World War I.

22 Studentské noviny, 21 January 1947. In Czech the word student connotes both university and high school student.

23 Svobodné noviny, 7 June 1947.

24 For a general discussion of these demonstrations, see Pousta, Zdeněk, “Smutećni pochod za demokracii,” in Jech, Karel, ed., Stránkami soudobých dějin: Sborník statík pětdšedesátinám historika Karla Kaplana (Prague, 1993), 198207 .

25 SÚA—AÚV KSČ, f. 19/7, a.j. 358/17-18.

26 “Zákon ze dne 21. dubna 1948 o základní úpravě jednotného školství (školský zákon),” Sbirka zákonů a nařizeni republiky Československé, č. 95/1948, 831-33.

27 SÚA—AÚV KSČ, f. 19/7, a.j. 358/11-15.

28 The rest of the freshman class consisted of the children of officials (34.2 percent), small businessmen (9.7 percent), pensioners (5.7 percent), and large farmers (3.9 percent). SÚA—AÚV KSČ, f. 19/7, a.j. 260/37.

29 SÚA—AÚV KSČ, f. 19/7, a.j. 359/109-11.

30 SÚA—AÚV KSČ, f. 19/7, a.j. 260/39.

31 An additional approximately 1,700 freshmen were supposed to come from special preparatory schools for worker-peasants (the ADKs [absolventi dělnických kursů = graduates of worker courses]). Actually only slightly more than 1,300 ADKs enrolled. SÚA—AÚV KSČ, f. 19/7, a.j. 290/2.

32 SÚA—AÚV KSČ, f. 19/7, a.j. 278/287ff.

33 SÚA—AÚV KSČ, f. 19/7, a.j. 316/22.

34 SÚA—AÚV KSČ, f. 19/7, a.j. 300/11-12.

35 SÚA—AÚV KSČ, f. 19/7, a.j. 300/85-86.

36 SÚA—AÚV KSČ, f. 19/7, a.j. 359/121.

37 SÚA—AÚV KSČ, f. 19/7, a.j. 302/20.

38 SÚA—AÚV KSČ, f. 19/7, a.j. 279/170.

39 SÚA—AÚV KSČ, f. 19/7, a.j. 279/170.

40 SÚA—AÚV KSČ, f. 19/7, a.j. 302/118.

41 “Zákon ze dne 24. dubna 1953 o školské soustavě a vzdělávání učitelů (školské zákon),” 23 April 1953, Sbirka zákonů republiky Československé, č. 31/1953, 193-95; Urban, Rudolf, Die Organisation der Wissenschaft in der Tschechoslowakei (Marburg/Lahn, 1958), 211 .

42 Letter of Státní úřad plánovací to Minister of Education Ernest Sykora, 15 July 1953, Státní ústřední archiv—Státní úřad plánovac (SÚA—SÚP) 435. In order to meet the plan for university freshmen in 1954-55, the planners suggested keeping the juniors in high school.

43 Letter from Štoll to Široky, 18 February 1954, in SÚA—ÚPV 2474, 12/3.83.3.

44 See, for example, the extensive reports in SÚA—SÚP 435, which fail to project the number of worker-students who will be accepted into university freshmen classes.

45 SÚA—AÚV KSČ, f. 19/7, a.j. 349/63. Connelly, “Creating the Socialist Elite,“ chap. 8.

46 SÚA—AÚV KSČ, f. 19/7, a.j. 265/55; f. 02/4, a.j. 176/10.

47 SÚA—AÚV KSČ, f. 19/7, a.j. 349/47-48.

48 SÚA—AÚV KSČ, f. 19/7, a.j. 347/180.

49 In another case, a number of bourgeois children were recommended for high school, but the regional commission revoked their acceptance. This left the town with one class of high school students instead of the two that were planned (SÚA—AÚV KSČ, f. 19/7, a.j. 347/180). In general, the report said, teachers did not even know the social origin of their students.

50 Gymnasia continued to have the poorest worker representation of any of the high schools (44.5 percent). SÚA—AÚV KSČ, f. 19/7, a.j. 347/223 and a.j. 349/54-55.

51 SÚA—AÚV KSČ, f. 19/7, a.j. 347/234.

52 SÚA—AÚV KSČ, f. 19/7, a.j. 349/8.

53 SÚA—AÚV KSČ, f. 19/7, a.j. 349/16-17. For similar reports from Prague, see SÚA—AÚV KSČ, f. 19/7, a.j. 349/26. In formulating admissions guidelines for competitive high schools for the 1954-55 school year, the KSČ leadership took account of the reaction of parents. SÚA—AÚV KSČ, f. 02/3, a.j. 262/297-98.

54 A colleague in Humpolce likewise asserted that bourgeois children were unfit for physical labor. SÚA—AÚV KSČ, f. 19/7, a.j. 349/8-9.

55 SÚA—AÚV KSČ, f. 02/5, a.j. 79 b. 4/2.

56 Stipends might have been especially helpful to families who removed their children from school because of the distance. SÚA—AÚV KSČ, f. 19/7, a.j. 347/72-73.

57 SÚA—AÚV KSČ, f. 19/7, a.j. 347/72-73.

58 SÚA—AÚV KSČ, f. 19/7, a.j. 359/4.

59 SÚA—AÚV KSČ, f. 19/7, a.j. 260/2-7.

60 Archiv University Karlovy, Svaz vysokoškolského studentstva (AUK SVS), B166.

61 SÚA—AÚV KSČ, f. 19/7, a.j. 290/8.

62 SÚA—AÚV KSČ, f. 19/7, a.j. 290/17.

63 SÚA—AÚV KSČ, f. 19/7, a.j. 290/10.

64 SÚA—AÚV KSČ, f. 19/7, a.j. 290/77-78.

65 SÚA—AÚV KSČ, f. 19/7, a.j. 290/31.

66 See the 1951 suggestion for extending the courses to two years in order to increase the number of worker-students at university. SÚA—AÚV KSČ, f. 19/7, a.j. 290/133.

67 SÚA—AÚV KSČ, f. 02/4, a.j. 113/21/3.

68 SÚA—AÚV KSČ, f. 19/7, a.j. 290/90, 92.

69 These students chose the following fields of study: 760 technical sciences, 91 architecture, 22 applied arts, 254 agriculture and forestry, 5 veterinary medicine, 62 law, 42 science, 58 humanities, 133 education, and 56 medicine; 30 went on to the military medical academy and 14 to the VSPHV. SÚA—AÚV KSČ, f. 19/7, a.j. 290/29-30.

70 SÚA—AÚV KSČ, f. 19/7, a.j. 290/78.

71 SÚA—AÚV KSČ, f. 02/4, a.j. 107 b.29/1-2. The breakdown was coordinated with several ministries.

72 SÚA—AÚV KSČ, f. 02/4, a.j. 113 b.21/3-4. East German communists issued more precise definitions aimed at workers who were involved in production before the war and at peasants with fewer than 10 hectares of land. See “Stenographische Niederschrift des Referats des Genossen Anton Ackermann auf der Arbeitstagung fiber die Frage der Auswahl und Zulassung zum Hochschulstudium; Freitag den 6. Mai 1949,” 7-9 in Stiftung Archiv der Parteien und Massenorganisationen im Bundesarchiv, Berlin, Zentrales Parteiarchiv IV2/9.04/464 (unnumbered).

73 One of these supervisory trips occurred on 16-17 March 1950. SÚA—AÚV KSČ, f. 19/7, a.j. 260/19.

74 SÚA—AÚV KSČ, f. 19/7, a.j. 290/78.

75 SÚA—AÚV KSČ, f. 19/7, a.j. 260/175.

76 SÚA—AÚV KSČ, f. 19/7, a.j. 290/121.

77 SÚA—AÚV KSČ, f. 19/7, a.j. 290/78-79, 107.

78 SÚA—AÚV KSČ, f. 100/1, a.j. 1154/34.

79 During the entrance examinations, ministry representatives took special pains to make sure that “academic” criteria did not prevail: “At the beginning, the method of testing was sometimes a bit academic (Hradec, Ostrava), although in the course of the examinations a correction was made.” SÚA—AÚV KSČ, f. 19/7, a.j. 290/107-10, 120-21.

80 Emphasis in original. SÚA—AÚV KSČ, f. 19/7, a.j. 290/107.

81 SÚA—AÚV KSČ, f. 19/7, a.j. 260/178.

82 A report from early 1951 speaks of a very strenuous schedule, with “escalating competition,” “daily inspections,” “exhausting student meetings,” and “collective kinds of study in so-called shock-worker groups.” SÚA—AÚV KSČ, f. 19/7, a.j. 290/1.

83 In other courses this criticism took place weekly, however. SÚA—AÚV KSČ, f. 19/7, a.j. 290/83, 90-92.

84 Course members worked as political agitators and took part in labor “brigades” to mines or construction sites, for example. SÚA—AÚV KSČ, f. 19/7, a.j. 290/115-16.

85 SÚA—AÚV KSČ, f. 19/7, a.j. 260/175.

86 SÚA—AÚV KSČ, f. 02/4, a.j. 188 b. 18/3-4.

87 SÚA—AÚV KSČ, f. 19/7, a.j. 260/244 (reverse).

88 SÚA—AÚV KSČ, f. 19/7, a.j. 265/59.

89 SÚA—AÚV KSČ, f. 19/7, a.j. 265/59 and a.j. 260/129,244 (reverse).

90 SÚA—AÚV KSČ, f. 19/7, a.j. 290/11-12.

91 SÚA—AÚV KSČ, f. 19/7, a.j. 331/27-29.

92 SÚA—AÚV KSČ, f. 19/7, a.j. 283/25-26.

93 SÚA—AÚV KSČ, f. 19/7, a.j. 283/43.

94 SÚA—AÚV KSČ, f. 19/7, a.j. 290/32.

95 SÚA—AÚV KSČ, f. 19/7, a.j. 290/33-34. See also the report of 27 July 1951, which shows that ADKs scored better at the agricultural university (Brno) and in social sciences, yet worse in mathematics and chemistry. SÚA—AÚV KSČ, f. 19/7, a.j. 287/8.

96 The quality of ADKs fell in successive classes at the Technical University’s mechanical engineering faculty, the faculty that had attracted the greatest number of graduates of the worker courses. In 1951, 27.7 percent of the freshmen and 34 percent of the sophomores at the Technical University were graduates of the worker courses. Their performance was testimony to the weaknesses of the selection process and to the inadequacy of one year’s preparation, especially in mathematics and descriptive geometry. An increase in instruction time of one-half to one year was strongly urged. SÚA—AÚV KSČ, f. 19/7, a.j. 311/28, 34.

97 SÚA—AÚV KSČ, f. 19/7, a.j. 290/32-34; f. 100/1, a.j. 1155/171-72.

98 SÚA—AÚV KSČ, f. 02/4, a.j. 87/2-4.

99 “Stížnosti na s. Valoucha z Brna” (undated), AČAV, Valouch Papers, i.č. 852.

100 Letter to Nejedlý from “Skupina ADK,” 12 June 1954, AČAV, Nejedlý Papers, Carton 24.

101 On the party’s resistance to permitting expelled students to return to universities, see the 8 November 1951 report of Miroslav Valouch, AČAV, Valouch Papers, ix. 833. See also SÚA—AÚV KSČ, f. 19/7, a.j. 288/24.

102 Report of 3 June 1952, Archiv ČAV, Valouch Papers, Sg. IV i.č. 852.

103 Bundesarchiv, Abteilungen Potsdam, C20/1019/85-87; Fitzpatrick, Educationand Social Mobility, 16, 182, 242.

104 For example, the 1948-49 recruiting drive for students in Poland “obligated“ party, youth, trade union, and peasant organizations to direct to universities “the most gifted and socialized (uspoleczniona) worker-peasant youth.” AAN KCPPR 295/XVII/61/ 14-14a.

105 In 1956, 55.2 percent of Czechoslovak students enjoyed some form of state scholarship. The figures in Poland and East Germany were 71.0 percent and 90.7 percent, respectively. By 1960, the Czech figure had dropped to 22.1 percent, while the East German total remained constant. Historická statistickd ročenka CSSR (Prague, 1985), 595, 597; Rocznik statystyczny 1960 (Warsaw, 1960), 357; Rocznik statystyczny1970 (Warsaw, 1970), 423, 439; Statistisches Jahrbuch der Deutschen Demokratischen Republik1960/61 (Berlin, 1961), 133.

106 SÚA—AÚV KSČ, f. 19/7, a.j. 321/124-25.

107 Cited in Connor, Walter D., Socialism, Politics, and Equality: Hierarchy and Changein Eastern Europe and the USSR (New York, 1979), 220 .

108 Vaclav Brabec, “Životní úroveň a některé stránky diferenciace čs. společnosti v padesátych letech,” Revue dějin socialismu, special number, (1968): 1072.

109 Krejči, Jaroslav, Social Change and Stratification in Postwar Czechoslovakia (New York, 1972), 7172 .

110 SÚA—AÚV KSČ, f. 100/3, a.j. 25/1.

111 In 1964 and 1970 respectively, the top decile in Czechoslovakia and East Germany was receiving 17 percent of the personal income. Compendium of Social Statisticsand Indicators 1988 (New York, 1991), 616.

112 For the role of education in according status in socialist societies, see Connor, Socialism, Politics, and Equality, 133.

113 For the success of the Socialist Unity Party’s policies in creating basic loyalty among the new intelligentsia, see Staritz, Dietrich, Geschichte der DDR, exp. ed. (Frankfurt am Main, 1996), 171–72.

114 Krejči, Social Change, 104.

115 In 1959 a reporter at the ministry of foreign affairs recommended against attempting to improve the crash courses because “we strive to get our employees from the universities.” SÚA—AÚV KSČ, f. 100/3, a.j. 25/62.

116 Schöpflin, George, Politics in Eastern Europe, 1945-1992 (Oxford, 1993), 153 .

117 Several of the leading figures of the reform movement were among the worker cadres who had finished university. Foreign policy expert Václav Kotyk and professor of aesdietics Miloš Jůzl were both ADKs. Interview with Professor Jan Havránek, 11 July 1996, and with Professor Jiří Kotášek, 12 July 1996.

118 Sieber, Malte and Freytag, Ronald, Kinder des Systems: DDR-Studenten vor, imund nach dem Herbst ‘89 (Berlin, 1993).

119 Benda, Marek et al., Studenti psali revoluci (Prague, 1990), 60 .

120 In the liberal atmosphere of the mid-1960s, Czech socialscientists confirmed that strong currents of anti-intellectualism had inundated die KSČ apparatus after the 1948 revolution. See the contributions to Revue dejin socialismu of 1968 and 1969, and in particular the probing studies by Jůzl Maňák, Lenka Kalinová, Václav Brabec, and Jana Neumannova.

121 KSČ local organizations’ initiatives in education were limited to campaigns to reform primary and secondary schooling. At the initiative of communist functionaries, unified schools were introduced in September 1945 in Duchcov, Osek u Duchovca, Hrdlovek, Písk, and the Spořilovž section of Prague. Somr et al., Dějinyškolství, 301-3.

122 Cohen, Gary B., Education and Middle-Class Society in Imperial Austria (West Lafayette, 1996), 198–99.


Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed