Our Party

1. Origins (1848 - 1870)

There is an unfortunate tendency of some to confuse the concepts of socialism, communism, and Stalinism.  The fight for the social and political rights of working people is by many even intentionally identified as an attempt to establish a „dictatorship of the proletariat“.  Of course, the labor movements in Western and Central Europe arose in connection with industrialization as part of national democratic movements.  This is true of the Czech labor movement, which grew out of the general nationalist movement that first declared its political program in 1848 and again in the late 1860s.

The catalyst in this process was the development of Western European labor movements, which resulted in the founding of the First International in 1964, and gradually culminated in the tempestuous events of the Paris Commune in the spring of 1871.

2. First Steps (1870 - 1890)

The Ještěd summit which took place in August of 1870 played an important role in this development.  In 1874, representatives of Czech worker’s associations took part in founding the Austria-wide Social Democratic Party, but four years later due to organizational reasons an independent Social Democratic Party of Czechoslovakia within Austria was founded.

It managed to survive the first decade in spite of police persecution, official harassment, the first wave of political trials against Social Democrats, and internal dissension.  In the 1890s, Czech Social Democracy gained a dominant position among the working class and a significant portion of the intelligentsia.

3. The Steiner Era: Gaining independence, maturation and growth

The process of gaining independence from the Austrian International continued and culminated in the founding of an independent Czechoslovak Social Democratic Worker’s Party in 1893.  In March 1897, the party sent its first five representatives to Parliament, headed by the party’s leader at that time, J. Steiner.

After supporting universal suffrage (1905), in the elections of 1907 the party received a mandate with 38% of the Czech vote.  Working with the Social Democrats were the independent Czechoslovak Labor Union, the Workers’ Education and Training Academy, the Workers’ Athletic Association, the Association of Democratic Students, the Central Union of Czech Cooperatives, business organizations of the Association of Socialist Merchants and Tradesmen, and numerous other organizations.

4. The question of national independence and factions within the party. The founding of the Czechoslovak Republic (1914 - 1920)

During the First World War there were sharp ideological divisions within the Social Democratic Party between supporters of the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy (B. Šmeral) and those backing Masaryk and an independent state (F. Modráček, F. Soukup, R. Bechyně, V. Tusar). Over time, the latter group gained predominance and actively joined in the anti-Austrian resistance.

In the new country of Czechoslovakia, the Social Democrats were a powerful force gaining 25.7% of the votes in the Parliamentary elections of April 1920.  However, the party soon split as the Moscow-supported communist wing broke away.  This artificially induced confrontation ended in a fight for the party headquarters (Lidový dům) in December of 1920.  Czechoslovak Social Democrats emerged from this tragic conflict in a much weakened position.

5. The Hampl Period: From crisis to consolidation and further gains (1920 - 1939)

For the next ten years the new leadership attempted to regain its lost position.  A breakthrough came with the leadership of A. Hampl, and subsequently the party platform of J. Stivín, which was adopted at the 16th Congress in 1930.  This platform was loosely coordinated with similar efforts of the national socialist party (Beneš’s platform was approved a year later).

A great success of Hampl’s leadership was the founding of the Czechoslovak Social Democratic International at the Smíchov Merger Congress in January 1928.  The Social Democrats were one of the most important parties of the First Republic, represented in an overwhelming majority of coalition governments and counting President T. G. Masaryk among their supporters.

6. During the Second Resistance (1938 - 1945)

Following the Munich Agreement, the party was reorganized into the National Labor Party, which after March 15th, 1939, became a bastion of anti-Nazi resistance.  It gave rise to two key organizations of the Second Resistance which were close to social democracy: Petiční výbor Věrni zůstaneme (the We Shall Remain Loyal Petition Committee) and Rada tří (The Council of Three).  These took part in drafting the manifesto of the democratic second resistance entitled Za svobodu, or For Freedom.

Of the nineteen pre-war members of the party’s board of directors, 12 were imprisoned and 7 perished.  8 social democratic representatives and 3 senators were executed by the Nazis.  Many members of the party went into exile, taking part in resistance movements abroad and representing social democracy in the Czechoslovak government in exile and State Council.

7. Third Republic: A brief moment of limited democratic experience (1945 - 1948)

In the spring of 1945, Czechoslovak Social Democrats resumed their activities as part of the National Front. As early as May 1945, conflict arose between those urging close cooperation with the communists (Z. Fierlinger) and supporters of ideological, political, and organizational independence (V. Majer, I. Dérer).

Following the communist putsch in February 1948, the former group definitively won out when Fierlinger, who had been removed at the Congress of 1947, illegitimately returned as head of the party. Soon thereafter, its activities were unlawfully terminated upon the party’s merger with the Czechoslovak Communist Party in June of 1948, which was carried out in violation of the party statutes.  Over 200,000 of the 370,000 social democratic rank and file at the time refused to sign the merger declaration.

8.  First period of the party in exile and the Stalinist led attack against “social democratism” (1948 - 1968)

Thanks to the functionaries and party members who went into exile, ČSSD never suspended its activities.  As early as April 1948, representatives in exile in London established the central executive committee of the party abroad.  Despite intense persecution, social democratic thought did not die out at home, as shown by the wave of workers’ strikes in 1953 and the trials of Social Democrats from 1954-1955 as part of the communist attacks against social democratism.

Several Social Democrats were executed in the fifties, while the leaders of an attempt to illegally establish Czechoslovak independent social democracy, V. Dundr and prof. Z. Peška, were sentenced in the M. Horáková trial to fifteen and twenty years in prison respectively.

9. During the Prague Spring (1968 - 1969)

At the peak of the democratization process in the spring of 1968, a group of former Social Democrats, consisting mostly of recently released political prisoners, attempted to renew the activities of the party, citing that its liquidation twenty years prior had been invalid.  In April 1968, a five-person preparatory committee chaired by Z. Bechyně was created and contact re-established with the Social Democrats in exile.

The possible re-emergence of the party, which would mean breaking up the communist monopoly on power, encountered resistance from the conservative factions and some of the progressives in the Czechoslovak Communist Party (KSČ) and provoked sharp rebukes from Soviet leaders.  At the same time, this was broadly supported by the Czech democratic public, including many celebrities.  Many reform communists who were expelled from KSČ from 1969-1970 became standard bearers of the social democratic opposition to the regime during the „normalization“period of the seventies and eighties, joining Social Democrats in their dissent or even in exile.

10. Second period of the party in exile, intellectual affinity to dissidents (1969 - 1989)

In the early seventies, the Czechoslovak Social Democrats in exile were buoyed with the new energy of persons arriving in the post-August wave of emigration. In September 1973, the first plenary meeting of the Czechoslovak Social Democrats in exile was held, assuming the character of an extraordinary party congress.  In 1978, the centennial anniversary of the party’s founding was celebrated in Zurich and publication was renewed of the party’s quarterly newsletter, Právo lidu (The People’s Right), under the stewardship of J. Loewy.  In August 1983, the 22nd Congress of the Czechoslovak Social Democrats in exile was held in Zurich, while the 23rd Congress was held in Heidelberg in June 1989.

While the exile party maintained the continuity of Czechoslovak Social Democracy in international forums, within the country a group of „independent socialists“ headed by R. Battěk was active, ascribing to the principles of the Socialist International and standing on the platform of Charter 77.  In addition there was the group of pre-February Social Democrats, led by S. Klaban and B. Nedbálek. Both groups had contacts with the Social Democrats in exile.

11. From the November restoration to the present (1989 - 2005)

As the events of November unfolded, a preparatory committee was immediately established to restore social democracy (headed by Chairman S. Klaban and Secretary B. Nedbálek), which governed the party until the 24th Congress.  In December 1989, the first domestic issue of the restored Práva lidu was published.

The Czechoslovak Social Democratic Party was officially restored at the 24th Congress held in March in Prague-Břevnov. Since that time, congresses have been held in Ostrava (April 1991), Hradec Králové, where the party name was changed to the Czech Social Democratic Party (February 1993), Bohumín (April 1995 and 1997), Brno (March 2005 and March 2007) and Prague (April 1999, April 2001, March 2003, May 2006 and March 2009). The historic headquarters of the party since 1907 has been Lidový dům on Hybernska ul. in Prague.

12. Most recent congress – The 36th ČSSD Congress in Brno

The 36th ČSSD Congress was held at the Brno Exhibition Centre on March 18th and 19th, 2011.  Here, delegates held elections for a new ČSSD Chairman as well as for the entire ČSSD leadership. Bohuslav Sobotka was elected new party Chairman, Michal Hašek was elected 1st Vice-Chairman, and a woman, new Vice-Chairwoman Marie Benešová, joined the ranks of ČSSD leadership. Lubomír Zaorálek and Zdeněk Škromach retained their positions as Vice-Presidents, and were joined by new Vice-Presidents Jiří Dienstbier and Martin Starec.

The congress delegates also expressed their appreciation for the many years that Valter Komárek has devoted to social democratic politics, electing him honorary Vice-Chairman.  Also present at the 36th ČSSD Congress were distinguished foreign guests including Chairman of Direction – Social Democracy Robert Fico, Normen Eisen, Ambassador of the United States; Johannes Haindl, Ambassador of the Federal Republic of Germany, Yaakov Levy, Ambassador of the State of Israel and others.  The delegates discussed the stance of social democracy on current political questions and also adopted resolutions regarding the current political situation.  These documents included the Platform of Social Democracy for the 21st Century, which provides an ideological basis for the medium-term program of ČSSD.

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