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August 13, 2008

communism, in context

Walking along a street in Prague, I overheard an American say loudly, "They all eat lunch at 1 o'clock here. It's because of Communism--the inefficiency still exists." I hadn't realized that getting lunch at 1 made you a commie, but now I'm sure to eat mine before 12:30 pm.

Seriously ... visiting a recently communist country makes you think about the legacies of that system. And it was an awful regime. "The people" never owned the means of production; a few thugs controlled all the valuable stuff and used it for their own benefit. The story of Milada Horáková, a feminist, socialist, and democrat who was judicially murdered by the regime, serves as a fitting summary.

IMG_0365But it's not as if communism was the first authoritarian system in the country. The Nazi occupation lasted from 1939-1945. The Austrian Empire ruled from to 1620 to 1918. Even older and more consistent was feudalism, a system under which serfs were bound to the land and required to give their surplus produce to landlords who were also their political and judicial rulers. Serfdom was abolished in 1781 but its effects lingered. If one wants to feel a glimmer of sympathy for communism, it's worth thinking about the serfs who paid for the State Castle of Český Krumlov and so many other "stately homes." My photo shows only the corridor from the residential quarters to the baroque theater, built over an enormous ravine for the convenience of the resident Eggenberg family. They and their successors owned all this property not because of their creativity and industry, but because their distant ancestors had wielded big swords.

Of course, the solution to feudalism was not communism, but democratic and legal land reform, which the inter-war Czechoslovak government undertook. At that point, the State Castle became a public asset, and a charming one. But it is worth noting that communists were not the first to monopolize power in their own interests.

August 13, 2008 12:23 PM | category: none


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