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International Reflective Writing

Czech Republic

Václav Havel: From a Political Dissident to a Dissident Politician

In examining Havel as politician it would be wrong to start with his entry into official politics in 1989. Havel has always been a politician of sorts—even when he was known predominantly as a playwright and a dissident. Most of his writings have dealt, one way or the other, with politics.

He continued a long tradition of Czech culture, which during periods of a lack of freedom served as an alternative channel of political communication. Political ambitions as well the criticism of various regimes were expressed through the language of culture.

It is an interesting hypothetical question whether Havel—if he grew up in freedom—would become an artist or a politician. In light of the fact that both literature and playwriting served Havel often as means for criticizing the totalitarian regime, one could argue that Havel was more likely to become a politician.

On the other hand, Havel has always been too unorthodox to be able to become a successful politician under “normal” conditions. In other words, Havel was catapulted into official politics by historical coincidences. If he had had to climb the ladder of party politics, it is quite likely he would have never made it all the way to the top.

The fact that Havel became the president by a historical accident has influenced his presidency. He was not always willing to play by the rules. Because he was not chosen on the basis of the rules of “standard politics”, during his entire presidency he somehow did not fit. Soon, he became a source of irritation for many party politicians. And he also irritated an increasing number of common people, for whom both his past and moralistic speeches represented an uncomfortable mirror. Surprisingly, he also irritated quite a few intellectuals, who could not understand why this man, in particular, became a favorite son of history. In the end, history, no doubt, will place Havel, even at home, where deserves to be.

From Arts to Poltiics

The adult life of Vaclav Havel is often analyzed in three separate periods: the artistic, dissident, and political. In reality, in each of those periods Havel was a writer, a dissident and a political being at the same time. What connects the three periods most of all is the fact that we can find politics in the background of all of his activities. In the fifties and the sixties, Havel ridiculed or questioned the language and practices of Communism in his plays and essays (and even some poems).  Havel’s own political activities--for example, in the Union of the Czechoslovak writers, in the editorial boards of some publications, and in some petition drives—were equally important.

In the 1970’s and the 1980’s, when Havel could not officially publish and stage his plays, he acted as an unofficial leader of the Czechoslovak dissident movement—which played the role of political opposition to the normalization regime. He considered himself to be a writer and playwright, but his plays as well as essays almost exclusively dealt with political issues.

After 1989, he became a professional politician; however, he was a rather unorthodox politician, who liked to see himself as a dissident of sorts among politicians. And although he stopped writing plays, he tried to remain a creative writer when writing most of his presidential speeches.

If we analyze all three periods of his life in more detail, it is apparent that politics—played an important role in all three of them--both as an activity and a theme of his writing.

Documentary film poster featuring Václav Havel, with the added graffito: ‘Vašku, it was enough, leave’.

The First period

In the 1960’s, Havel was seen as one of the most talented young playwrights and writers. However, he differed from most of his contemporaries in that his plays were not only artistic but also political acts. At the same time, they were deeply rooted in thinking about the alienated world of bureaucratic apparatuses. His plays were in essence parodies of the Communist world.

Havel started his political activities when he was only 20 years old. At a meeting of young writers in Dobris in 1956, he delivered a rebellious speech.  During this period, he also began publishing his poems and essays in the journal Kveten and elsewhere.

Some of his poems were overtly political. The same is true about some of his essays from this period. He was openly critical of the communist regime’s bureaucratic nature and of what he called “the banality of a certain kind of life” which prevailed in the communist regime. In fact, his first play, “Evening with the Family”, which he wrote in 1959, was a merciless parody of the communist society’s philistines.

 “The Garden Party," which made him famous after it was staged in 1963, again ridiculed the banality of everyday life in “a new society” as well as the language of the bureaucratized communist regime. In essence, it was a political play—an attack on the communist system, presented in the form of art.

Havel’s next play “The Memorandum,” written in 1965, is like “The Garden Party” set in the labyrinthine world of bureaucracy, once again in a nameless organization whose purpose is never articulated. Mr. Gross, its managing  director arrives at work, one morning to find   on his office desk a memorandum written in a incomprehensible language—Ptydepe. It turns out that this artificial language has been secretly introduced behind the director’s back by his deputy. The director attempts to stops this but, instead, he is demoted and replaced by the deputy who introduced the new language.

When Gross attempts to learn what is written in his memo, he discovers that he needs a special authorization for a translation, and the application form is in Ptydepe. In other words, as Gross notes, “The only way to know what is in one’s memo is to know it already.” In the end, the Ptydepe plot fails, Gross is reinstated, but only at the cost of tolerating another new language called “Chorukor”. Havel is telling us that the system cannot be reformed, just like the communist system.

In other words, the first plays by Havel were quite political: they ridiculed both totalitarian practices and the absurdity of the totalitarian speak. Although delivered through playwriting, Havel’s message was political. At the same time, Havel was a dissident of sorts already then—at least, when we compare him with other people who wanted to democratize the regime. In 1965, at a conference of Czechoslovak writers, Havel openly criticized what he ridiculed in his plays: conventional and pseudo-ideological thinking, which, in his mind, permeated the social life of the country and was causing much damage.

He also became active in editorial circle of Tvar, a new cultural journal, which was later closed down, and revived again, for a short period of time, in 1969. At the Congress of Czechoslovak Writers’ Union in 1967, Havel delivered a passionate speech, in which he demanded the reopening of Tvar. In March 1968, he signed an open letter with 150 other writers and other cultural figures, addressed to the Central Committee of the Communist Party, in which the signatories supported further democratization. He was also elected as the chairman of a group of writers within the Union of Czechoslovak Writers, who were not members of the Communist Party.

He tried to put a distance between himself and his communist colleagues in other ways as well. In June 1968 he and some 30 other personalities issued a declaration demanding that the Social Democratic Party, which had been forcibly merged with the Communists in 1948, get a chance to explain to the public why it should be renewed.

Havel was politically active even after the Soviet-led invasion. In the spring of 1969, he delivered a powerful speech at the congress of the newly established Union of Czech Writers. His made his last public speech for almost 20 years at a meeting in Ostrava in June 1969. The communists called the meeting a provocation.

In July 1969 Havel coauthored a statement addressed to the Federal Assembly, the government,  and the Politburo of the Communist Party, in which some cultural figures rejected the policies of normalization. It came as no great surprise that later Havel was vilified in the infamous Communist Party document called “The Lessons from the Crisis Development in the party and society."

Vaclav Havel waves to the crowd of demonstrators on Wenceslas Square in Prague on December 10, 1989.

The Second Period

When Havel became a “professional” dissident, he continued to see himself as a playwright and writer, but his activities focused more and more on the practical tasks he performed as the unofficial head of the political opposition in the country. The opposition did not exist officially, it did not have its own party, but it had its own undisputed leader—Vaclav Havel.

Even the so-called Vanek plays, which Havel wrote in this period, were more openly political than his plays from the 1960’s. In 1972, he and 34 other writers signed a petition demanding an amnesty for political prisoners. But one could argue that Havel officially entered politics as the head of the nascent dissident movement in 1975, when he wrote his famous letter to President Gustav Husak.

The letter was a merciless analysis of social and political conditions under the normalization regime. Among other things, Havel wrote: “There are fewer people than ever who really believe everything that the official propaganda says and support the government. On the other hand, we have more hypocrites than ever—to a certain extent, every citizen is being forced to become a hypocrite.”

A year later, Havel took part in efforts to defend the Plastic People of the Universe, a rock group whose members were put on trial. And in 1977, he was one of the organizers and first signatories of Charter 77, a document that launched a human rights movement in Czechoslovakia. Havel was one its first three spokesmen.

In 1978 he published his most important political essay: “The Power of the Powerless.” It was a penetrating analysis of the decaying communist regime, which has since become one of the classics of the political literature of the 20th century.

The regime silenced Havel in 1980, when he was sentenced to a four-year prison term. His “Letters to Olga”, which were censored by prison authorities, were understandable less political. However, in 1984, shortly after his release from jail, Havel published another political masterpiece: “The Politics and Conscience”. Between 1984 and the fall of the communist regime in 1989 he published a number of other interesting political texts and continued playing a leading role in the dissident movement.

Vaclav Havel with Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama (center) and Rabiya Kadeer, head of the World Uyghur Congress, at a human rights conference in Prague in 2009.

The Third Period

In 1989, Havel and other dissidents were forced to become active politicians, when they led round-table talks with the collapsing communist regime. In the hindsight, it is, of course, possible to criticize Havel and other dissidents (and some people do so) for being too soft, for preferring “a velvet revolution” to being hard on the Communists. However, given the fact that Havel and his colleagues had little or no experience with professional politics, it can be argued they managed the transition process quite well.

Havel became a professional politician on 29 December 1989, when he was elected the president of Czechoslovakia. However, even after he was catapulted by history into the highest post in the country, he remained partly a dissident and partly a writer.

The purpose of his writing changed, but many of his speeches were unique philosophical essays. In comparison with other domestic and foreign politicians, Havel also spoke about matters that most politicians usually do not touch—global responsibility, the dangerous self-motion of the industrial society, active citizenship, etc.

He also played an important role in propagating the important role of a vibrant civil society in modern democracies. His various speeches and other public statements on the theme of civil society form the backbone of his political legacy from the time of his presidency. His conflict with Vaclav Klaus about the role of civil society was basically a conflict about the nature of Czech democracy.

Havel has been often accused of never extricating himself fully from some political concepts that he subscribed to as a dissident—most important, the concept of non-political politics. If we simplify, we can say that the followers of this concept believed that politics in a post-communist society should be based more on a civil society than political parties.

Two remarks are in order here. First, as far as the origins of the concept are concerned, the idea was a logical reaction to the communist environment of inflated partisanship and the symbiosis of the party with the bureaucratized state. Dissidents, and not only in Czechoslovakia, were understandably skeptical to the role of political parties in general. They hoped that, after the fall of Communism, politics will be much more based on personal engagement, authenticity, etc.

At the same time, it is necessary to dispute some views, according to which Havel remained faithful to the idea of non-political politics even after 1989. It is true that he often criticized political parties, in particular their excessive partisanship and a lack of cooperation with the civil society. At the same time, he recognized early on the fact that political parties were indispensable in modern democracies. His main concern was, just like earlier in his life, that  parties should not function as mere apparatuses, which communicate with the public in their own “ptydepe” and are alienated from reality.

His fears proved to be quite justified. In an article, published on the occasion of the 15thanniversary of the Velvet Revolution, Havel wrote:

“…15 years after the fall of Communism, we again witness political apathy. Democracy is increasingly seen as a mere ritual. In general, Western societies, it seems, are experiencing a certain crisis of the democratic ethos and active citizenship.

It is possible that what we are witnessing is a mere change of paradigm, caused by new technologies, and we have nothing to worry about. But perhaps the problem is deeper: global corporations, media cartels, and powerful bureaucracies are transforming political parties into organizations whose main task is no longer public service, but the protection of specific clienteles and interests. Politics is becoming a battleground for lobbyists; media trivialize serious problems; democracy often looks like a virtual game for consumers, rather than a serious business for serious citizens. 

When dreaming about a democratic future, we who were dissidents certainly had some utopian illusions, as we are well aware today. However, we were not mistaken when we argued that Communism was not a mere dead end of Western rationalism. Bureaucratization, anonymous manipulation, and emphasis on mass conformism were brought to “perfection” in the Communist system; however, some of the very same threats are with us today.

We were already certain then that if democracy is emptied of values and reduced to a competition of political parties that have “guaranteed” solutions to everything, it can be quite undemocratic. This is why we put so much emphasis on the moral dimension of politics and a vibrant civil society as counterweights to political parties and state institutions.“

As far as the future political direction of the Czech Republic was concerned, a change in Havel’s attitudes to NATO was as important as were his various statements on the subject of political parties and a civil society. He quickly discarded some of his ideas form the dissident era that NATO should be abolished together with the Warsaw Pact and became a strong advocate of NATO enlargement to Eastern Europe as well as strong ties with the USA. At the same time, he was a tireless advocate of European integration. It may be useful to note—now that the EU is going through a serious internal crisis—that Havel already in 1998, in a speech in the French Senate, pleaded for the creation of a bicameral European parliament, pretty much like the US Congress. In fact, he was calling for the creation of a European federation.



Josef Čapek

Josef Čapek (1887-1945) was born in Hronov, Bohemia (Austria-Hungary, now Czech Republic). He was three years older than his brother Karel Čapek (1890-1938), who was to become one of the most influential Czech writers of the 20th century. Josef Čapek at first studied weaving (1901–3) at a craft school in Vrchlabí, but soon it became obvious that his talents for painting and designing called for more intensive training. For the next 6 years he studied decorative painting at the School of Applied Arts in Prague. 

Like František Kupka and some other modernist Czech artists, Josef Čapek found himself in the right place at the right time - the place being Paris and the time the year 1910. He stayed in Paris together with his brother for about twelve months, while he studied at the Académie Colarossi. Both brothers at that time became friends with the poet Guillaume Apollinaire, who through his essays was one of the strongest driving forces behind several streams of modern art, including Cubism. Karel Čapek later became the Czech translator of Apollinaire's poetry. After the brothers' return to Bohemia, for some time Josef Čapek continued to paint essentially in the Cubist style, while gradually modifying Cubism with some elements of Expressionism and Symbolism.

As talented as his brother Karel, though perhaps never quite so well known, Josef Čapek was not only active as a painter, but he was also successful as playwright, graphic artist, illustrator, scenic designer, novelist, writer of children’s books, non-fiction writer, journalist and art critic. Several of his works - notably The Insect Play - were written in collaboration with Karel, who also credits him with inventing the word robot, which made Karel Čapek instantly famous, after he wrote the stage play R.U.R. (Rossum's Universal Robots). In a humorous little article, Karel Čapek told the story of how the word Robot (the Czech noun "robota" meaning "labor") was born:

The author of the play R.U.R. did not, in fact, invent that word; he merely ushered it into existence. It was like this: the idea for the play came to said author in a single, unguarded moment. And while it was still warm he rushed immediately to his brother Josef, the painter, who was standing before an easel and painting away at a canvas till it rustled. "Listen, Josef," the author began, "I think I have an idea for a play." "What kind," the painter mumbled (he really did mumble, because at the moment he was holding a brush in his mouth). The author told him as briefly as he could. "Then write it," the painter remarked, without taking the brush from his mouth or halting work on the canvas. The indifference was quite insulting. "But," the author said, "I don't know what to call these artificial workers. I could call them Labori, but that strikes me as a bit bookish." "Then call them Robots," the painter muttered, brush in mouth, and went on painting. And that's how it was. Thus the word Robot was born; let this acknowledge its true creator. (Lidove noviny, 24.12.1933)

From about the late 1920s, Josef Čapek became much influenced by the Bohemian folk art, which resulted in a series of paintings, lithographs and pastels inspired by country life and children's plays. Another area of activity in Čapek's life was childrens' books, for which he wrote the stories and drew pictures. Well known became his charming book, The Tales of Doggie and Moggie, nine stories about a dog and a cat, who want to do things the way the humans do, quite inevitably with mixed success. It was previously published by Methuen as Harum Scarum (the dreadful film of the same name with Elvis Presley released about the same time in the early 1960s must have swayed the publishers towards using this title, which has not much to do with the stories).

When Czechoslovakia was taken over by the Nazis in March of 1939, Josef Čapek, who was very well known for his anti-Hitler stance, was immediately arrested (his brother was already dead by this time). He was sent to different concentration camps (Dachau, Buchenwald, Sachsenhausen). Josef Čapek nearly survived to see the end of the war, but sadly he died in 1945, apparently of pneumonia, only a few days before the prisoners of the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp were freed by the Allied Armies.

More than 60 years after his death, Čapek is regarded as one of the best Czech visual artists ever. 

Source: Weimar:

Josef’s art at:

Josef Čapek's Work



Karel Čapek: Finding Hope

One of the most important Czech writers of the 20th century. Karel Čapek was born in Malé Svatonovice, then Austria-Hungary, now Czech Republic.

Karel Čapek wrote with intelligence and humor on a wide variety of subjects. His works are known not only for interesting and exact descriptions of reality, but also for his excellent work with the Czech language. He is perhaps best known as a science fiction author, who wrote long before science fiction became established as a separate genre. He can be counted as one of the founders of classical non-hardcore European science fiction, which focuses on possible future (or alternative) social and human evolution on Earth, rather than technically advanced stories of space travel. However, it is best to class him with Aldous Huxley and George Orwell as a mainstream literary figure who used science-fiction motifs.

Many of his works discuss ethical and other aspects of the revolutionary inventions and processes that were already expected in the first half of 20th century. These included mass production, atomic weapons, and post-human intelligent beings such as robots or intelligent salamanders.

In this, Čapek was also expressing fear of upcoming social disasters, dictatorship, violence, and unlimited power of corporations, and trying to find some hope for human beings. Čapek's literary heirs include Ray Bradbury, Salman Rushdie, Brian Aldiss and Dan Simmons.

His other books and plays include detective stories, novels, fairy tales and theatre plays, and even a book on gardening. The most important works try to resolve the problem of epistemology, or "What is knowledge?": The Tales from Two Pockets, and first of all the trilogy of novels Hordubal, Meteor and An Ordinary Life.

Later, in the 1930s, Čapek's work focused on the threat of brutal Nazi and fascist (but also communist) dictatorships. His most productive years corresponded with the existence of the first republic of Czechoslovakia [1918-1938]. He wrote Talks with T.G. Masaryk, a Czech patriot and first President of Czechoslovakia and a regular guest at Čapek's Friday garden parties for Czech patriots. This extraordinary relationship between the great author and the great political leader is perhaps unique, and is known to have been an inspiration to Václav Havel. He also became a member of International PEN.

Karel Čapek died in the December preceding the outbreak of World War II and was interred in the Vysehrad cemetery in Prague. Soon after it became clear that the Western allies had refused to help defend Czechoslovakia against Hitler, he refused to eat or leave his country and died of double pneumonia. The Gestapo had ranked him as "public enemy number 2" in Czechoslovakia. His brother Josef Čapek, a painter and also a writer, died in the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp.

After the war, Čapek's work was only reluctantly accepted by the Communist regime of Czechoslovakia, since during his life he had refused to believe in a communist utopia as a viable alternative to the threat of Nazi domination.

Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk & Karel Čapek in 1931

Why I am not a Communist

December 2, 1924 in the Pritomnost (Presence) magazine

This question appeared out of the blue among a group of people who were normally inclined to do anything else rather than to busy themselves with politics. It is certain that nobody among the present would raise the question "why I am not an Agrarian", or "why I am not a Social Democrat". To be no Agrarian, by itself, signifies no definite view or life belief; however, to be no communist means to be a non-communist; to be no communist is not a simple negation but rather a certain credo.
For me personally the question brings relief, since I have been under great need, not to start polemics with Communism, but rather to defend myself in my own eyes for not being a communist and why I cannot be one. It would be easier for me if I were one. I would live thinking that I contribute in a most intrepid way to the redemption of the world; I would think that I stand on the side of the poor against the rich, on the side of those in hunger against bags of money; I would know what to think about this and that, what to hate, what to ignore. Instead, I am like a naked man in a thorny bush: with my hands bare, not covered by any doctrine, feeling my impotence with respect to helping the world and often not knowing how to protect my conscience: If my heart is on the side of the poor, why the heck am I not a communist?
Because I am on the side of the poor.

I have seen poverty so painful and undescribable that it has made bitter to me everything I am. Wherever I have ever been I ran from palaces and museums to see the life of the poor, in the humiliating role of a helpless spectator. It is not enough to see and it is not enough to sympathize; I should live their life, but I am afraid of death. This biting, inhuman poverty is not borne on the heraldry of any party; as for these terrible slums with neither a nail to hang oneself nor a dirty rag to lay on, communism tries to reach them with its cry from a careful distance: the social order is to blame; in two years, in twenty years, the flag of the Revolution will unfold, and then --
What, in two years, in twenty years? Are you capable to admit so indifferently that one should live like that even two more winter months, two more weeks, two more days? Bourgeoisie that cannot or does not want to help here is a stranger to me; but equally strange to me is Communism that, instead of help, brings the flag of the Revolution. The final word of Communism is to rule, not to save; its gigantic slogan is power [moc], not help [pomoc]. As Communism sees them, poverty, hunger, unemployment are not unbearable pain and shame but rather a welcome reservoir of dark powers, fermenting by lots of anger and resistance. "The social order is to blame." No, rather all of us are to blame, whether we stand over human poverty with hands in our pockets or the flags of the Revolution in our hands.
Poor people are no class, they are precisely the declassed, excluded and unorganized ones; they will never dwell on the steps to the throne, whoever sits on it. The hungry ones do not want to rule but to eat; with regard to poverty it is indifferent who rules; the only thing that matters is how we, human beings, feel. Poverty is neither institution nor a class, it is a disaster; looking for an appeal to immediate humane help, I find only the cold doctrine of class rule. I cannot be a communist because its morality is not the morality of help. Because it preaches abolition of the social order [rad] and not abolition of the social crime [zlorad] that is poverty. Because if it wants to help the poor at all, it does so conditionally: first we have to rule and then (perhaps) it will be your turn. Unfortunately, not even this conditional salvation is guaranteed by the writ.
Poor people are not a mass. A thousand workers can help one worker in his struggle for existence; but a thousand poor people cannot help one poor to get even a piece of bread. A poor, hungry, helpless person is absolutely isolated. His life is a history for itself, incompatible with others; it is an individual case because it is a disaster, though it is similar to other cases like a rag to a rag. Turn the society whichever side up, the poor will fall to the bottom again, most often joined by others. I am not a scratch of an aristocrat but I do not believe in the value of masses. After all, nobody, I hope, maintains seriously that masses will rule; they are just a material instrument to attain certain goals; they are simply political material in a much harder and more ruthless sense than the party-members of other colors are. It is necessary to press people into a kind of shape so that they become a mass material; it is necessary to give them a uniform made out of certain cloth or certain ideas; unfortunately, one can seldom take the uniform made of ideas off after eighteen months. I would begin to respect communism deeply if it came to the worker and told him honestly: "There´s something I ask of you but I do not promise you anything; I ask that you be an item, a unit, a material for me, just as you are an item and material in the factory; you will obey and remain silent, just as you obey and remain silent in the factory. As a reward, you will one day, when everything changes, remain what you are; you will fare worse or better, whether this or the other I cannot guarantee; the order of the world will be neither more generous nor kinder to you, but it will be juster." - I think that most workers would quite hesitate to accept this offer - and yet it would be supremely honest, and who knows whether for highly moral reasons it might not be more acceptable than all offers presented so far.
To feed poor people with promises is to rob them. Perhaps life is easier for them when you paint fat geese on the willow for them; but in practical respets, today just like one hundred years ago the sparrow in one´s fist is better than a pigeon on the roof of the government building and a fire in one´s oven is better than the red cock on the rafters of palaces which are, moreover, much less numerous here than what would think a person who is being forced to accept class consciousness instead of one´s own eyes - since, apart from a few exceptions, we are, as to life standards, a not very well-off nation, a fact one usually fails to mention. Usually one says that the poor have nothing to risk; but on the contrary, whatever happens the poor are those who risk the most because if they lose something they lose the last bit of bread; with the poor´s bread one should not experiment. No revolution will be realized on the backs of a small number of people, on the contrary - it will be on the backs of the highest number of people; whether it is war or currency crisis or anything else it is the poor who bear the earliest and heaviest consequences; quite simply, there are no limits and no bottom to poverty. The most rotten thing in the world is not the roof of the rich but the roof of the poor; shake the world and then look and see who it is that has remained in the rubble.
So what is to be done? As for me, I do not take much consolation in the word "evolution"; I think that poverty is the only thing in the world that does not evolve but rather just grows chaotically. But it is not acceptable to postpone the issue of the poor until the establishment of some future order; if they are to be helped at all, one has to start right away. It is open to doubt, however, whether the world of today still possesses sufficient moral means for that task; communism says it does not; well, it is just this refusal in which we differ. I do not mean to say that there are enough perfectly just people in this social Sodoma; but in each of us Sodomites there is a bit of the just and I believe that after some sustained effort and some substantial waving of hands we could agree on quite decent justice. Communism says, however, that an agreement is excluded; apparently it doubts the human value of most people as such, but of that thing I will treat later. The present-day society did not tumble down when it brought about some or other protection of the unemployed, aged and sick; I am not saying that it is enough but the important thing for both the poor and me is that that much has been possible to do today, on the spot, without irritated waiting for the glorious moment when the flag of the Revolution will unfold.
To believe that the issue of the poor is the task of the present and not of the upcoming order means, however, to be no communist. To believe that a piece of bread and fire in the oven today is more important than Revolution in twenty years is the sign of a very non-communist temper.
The strangest and least human element of communism is its weird gloominess. The worse the better; if a biker hits a deaf granny it is a proof of the rottenness of the present order; if a worker sticks his finger in between the wheels of the machine, it is not the wheels that will mash his poor finger but rather the bourgeois, and will do so with bloodthirsty pleasure. Hearts of all people who for some or other personal reasons are no communists are beastly and repulsive like an ulcer; there is not one smittereen of good in the entire present order; whatever is is bad.
In a ballad of his, [the communist poet] Jiri Wolker says: "In your deepest heart, you poor, I can see hatred." It is a horrible word but the curious thing is that it is completely improper. At the bottom of poor people´s hearts there is rather an amazing and beautiful gaiety. The worker by the machine will crack a joke with much more enjoyment than the factory-owner or the director; construction workers at the site have more fun than the building-master or the landlord, and if there is a person singing in a household then it is definitely more often the maid wiping the floor than her mistress. The so-called proletarian is naturally inclined to an almost joyful and infantile conception of life; the communist pessimism and melancholy hatred are artificially pumped into him, and through unclean pipes. This import of desperate gloom is called "the education of masses towards revolutionarism" or "strengthening of class consciousness". The poor, having so little, are being bereft even of their primitive joy of life; that is the first payment for a future, better world.
The climate of communism is ghastly and inhuman; there is no middle temperature between the freezing bourgeoisie and the revolutionary fire; there is nothing to which a proletarian could dedicate himself with pleasure and undisturbed. The world contains no lunch or dinner; it is either the mouldy bread of the poor or the gorging of the overlords. There is no love, for there is either the perversity of the rich or the proletarian conceiving of children. The bourgeois inhales his own rottenness, the worker his consumption; thus, somehow, the air has disappeared. I do not know whether journalists and writers have persuaded themselves to believe this absurd image of the world or whether they consciously lie; I only know that a naive and inexperienced person, such as the proletarian usually is, lives in a terribly distorted world which really is not worth anything else for him than to be undone and uprooted. But since such a world is just a fiction, it would be very timely to undo and uproot this ghostly fiction, for instance by some revolutionary deed; in that case, I am enthusiastically supportive. There is no doubt that in our tearful valley there is far too much undescribable disaster, excess of suffering, not quite enough well-being and very little joy; as far as I am concerned, I do not think I am inclined to depict the world in too rosy colors but whenever I come across the inhuman negativity and tragic of communism I feel like shouting in an appalled protest that it is not true and that in spite of everything it does not look like this. I have met very few people who would not deserve a crumble of salvation for an onion; very few of those onto whom the Lord, being just a little sober and generous, could spit fire and sulphur. The world contains much more narrow-mindedness than real vice; but there is still sympathy and trust, friendliness and goodwill enough so that one cannot break the stick over the world of humans. I do not believe in perfection of either present or future humankind; the world will become a paradise neither by persuasion nor by revolution, not even by annihilation of the human race. But if we could somehow gather all the good that is, after all, hidden in each of us sinful human beings, then, I believe, one could build on this a world kinder yet than the one so far. Maybe you will say that it is just a simpleton´s philanthropy; well yes, I do belong to those idiots who love human beings because they are human.
It is very easy to say that, for instance, the forest is black; but no tree in that forest is black, rather it is red and green, because it is simply a pine or a fir. It is very easy to say that the society is bad; but go and find some essentially evil people there. Try to judge the world for a moment without brutal generalizations; after a while, there won´t be a grain left of your principles. One premise of communism is an artificial or intended ignorance of the world. If someone says they hate Germans I would like to tell them to go and live among them; in a month´s time I would ask them whether they hate their German landlady, whether they feel like cutting the throat of their Germanic radish-seller or strangling the Teutonic granny who sells them their matches. One of the least moral gifts of human mind is the gift of generalization; instead of summarizing our experiences, it simply strives to supplant them. In communist papers you cannot read anything else about the world but that it is worth nothing through and through; anyone for whom opinionatedness does not represent the peak of knowledge won´t think this quite sufficient.
Hatred, ignorance, essential distrust - this is the psychical world of communism; a medical diagnosis would say that it is pathological negativism. If one becomes a mass, one is perhaps more easily accessible to this infection; but in private life, it is not sufficient. Stand for a moment next to a beggar at the corner of the street; try to notice who are the pedestrians that most likely spin out the penny from their pockets; in seven cases out of ten they are people who live themselves on the border of poverty; the remaining three cases are women. In all probability, a communist would deduce out of this fact that the bourgeois has a hardened heart; but I deduce something more beautiful, namely that the proletarian has usually a soft heart and is substantially inclined to kindness, love, and dedication. Communism with its class hatred and resentment wants to make this person a canaille; the poor does not deserve such a humiliation.

The world of today does not need hatred but rather good will, readiness to help, consensus and co-operation; it needs a kinder moral climate; I think that with a bit of simple love and sincerity one could perform wonders. I defend the present world not because it is the world of the rich but because it is also the world of the poor and then also of those in the middle, of those who nowadays, ground between the mill-stones of capital and class proletariat, maintain and save, with more or less success, the largest part of human values. I do not really know those proverbial upper ten thousand, thus I cannot judge them; but I have judged the class which is called bourgeoisie in such a way that it has brought me the indiction of dirty pessimism. I say it so that it gives me more right to defend, to a degree, those to whose failures and crimes I am certainly not blind. Proletariat cannot substitute this class but it can enter it. Despite all programmatic swindles there is no proletarian culture; nowadays there is on the whole no folk culture either, no aristocratic culture, no religious culture; all that is left of cultural values depends on the middle class, the so-called "intelligentsia". If only proletariat claimed its share in this tradition, if only it said: Okay, I will take over the present world and manage it with all the values that are in it - then perhaps we could shake hands and give it a try; however, if communism pushes forth by immediately refusing, as useless camp, everything that is called the bourgeois culture, then goodbye and farewell; then everyone with a bit of responsibility starts to take into account how much would go wasted.

I have already said that real poverty is no institution but a disaster. You can reverse all orders but you will not prevent human beings from strokes of bad luck, from sickness, from the suffering of hunger and cold, from the need of a helpful hand. Do whatever you like, disaster presents human beings with a moral, not a social task. The language of communism is hard; it does not talk of the values of sympathy, willingness, help and human solidarity; it says with self-confidence that it is not sentimental. But this lack of sentimentality is the worst thing for me, since I am just as sentimental as any maid, as any fool, as any decent person is; only rogues and demagogues are not sentimental. Apart from sentimental reasons you will not hand a glass of water to your neighbor; rational motives will not even bring you to help and raise a person who has slipped.

Then, there is the issue of violence. I am no spinster to make the sign of the cross whenever I hear the word "violence"; I admit that sometimes I would quite enjoy beating up a person who produces a series of wrong reasons or lies; unfortunately it is impossible because either I am too weak to beat them or they are too weak to defend themselves. As you can see, I am not exactly a bully; but if the bourgeoisie started to shout that they go hang the proletarians then I would certainly get up and run to help those who are being hanged. A decent person cannot side with the one who threatens; whoever calls for shooting and hanging disrupts human society not by social revolution but by offending natural and simple honesty.
People call me a "relativist" due to the singular and apparently rather heavy intellectual crime that I try to understand everything; I spend my time with all doctrines and all literatures including negro tales and I discover with a mystical joy that with a bit of patience and simplicity one can reach some agreement with all people, whatever their skin or faith. It seems there is some common human logic and a reservoire of shared human values, such as love, humour, enjoying good food, optimism and many other things without which one cannot live. And then I am sometimes gripped by horror that I cannot reach agreement with communism. I understand its ideals but I cannot understand its method. Sometimes I feel as if I spoke a strange language and its thought was subjected to different laws. If one nation believes that people should tolerate each other and another nation believes that people should eat each other, then this difference is quite pictoresque but not absolutely essential; but if communism believes that to hang and shoot people is, under certain circumstances, no more of a serious matter than to kill cockroaches, it is something that I cannot understand though I am being told it in Czech; I have a terrible feeling of chaos and a real anxiety that this way we will never agree.
I believe till this very day that there are certain moral and rational chuttels by means of which one human being recognizes another. The method of communism is a broadly established attempt at international miscommunication; it is an attempt to shatter the human world to pieces that do not belong to each other and have nothing to say to each other. Whatever is good for one side cannot and must not be good for the other side; as if people on both sides were not physiologically and morally identical. Send the most orthodox communist to handle me; if he does not knock me down on the spot then I hope I will reach personal agreement with him on many things - as long, however, as these do not concern communism. But communism principially disagrees with the others even in points that do not concern communism; talk with communism about the function of the spleen and it will tell you that this is bourgeois science; similarly there is bourgeois poetry, bourgeois romanticism, bourgeois humanism and so on. The firmness of conviction that you find in communists in every detail is almost superhuman: not that the conviction were that exalting, rather that they do not get fed up by it at the end. Or perhaps it is no firmness of conviction but rather some ritual prescription or, after all, a craft.
But what I especially regret are exactly proletarians who are thus cut off from the rest of the educated world without getting any other substitute than the attractive prospects of the pleasures of the Revolution. Communism shuts down a cordon between them and the world; and it is you, communist intellectuals, who stand with colorfully painted shields between them and all that is ready for them as the share for newcomers. But there is still a place for the doves of peace - if not in your midst then above your heads, or directly from above.

I feel lighter after having said at least so much, though it is not all; I feel like after having confessed. I do not stand in any herd and my argument with communism is not an argument of principles but rather of personal conscience. And if I could argue with others´ conscience and not with principles I believe it would not be impossible at least to understand each other - and that, by itself, would be a lot.

translated and provided by: Martin Pokorny;



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