Communist Party of Czechoslovakia - The Party As The Ruling Elite

The Party As The Ruling Elite

Whatever the social composition of the party, it effectively functioned as a ruling elite–a group not known for self-abnegation. As an elite, it allowed the talented and/or politically agile significant mobility. Workers might have made up a minority of the party's membership, but many members (estimates vary from one-half to two-thirds) began their careers as workers. Although they tended to exaggerate their humble origins, many functionaries clearly came from the working class.

Several policies increased the social mobility of party members. Foremost was doubtless the process of nationalization, started after World War II, when scores of politically active workers assumed managerial-level positions. Periodic purges played a role as well, permitting the politically compliant to replace those less so. The numerous education programs offered by the KSČ for its members also represented a significant avenue of mobility, as did policies of preferential admissions to secondary schools and universities; these policies favored the children of workers and agricultural cooperative members especially.

It was hardly surprising that the KSČ membership guarded its perquisites. Aside from special shops, hotels, hospitals, and better housing for members, KSČ members stood a better chance of obtaining visas for study or travel abroad (especially to the West). Nonmembers realized that their possibilities for advancement in the workplace were severely limited. For anyone in a professional position, KSČ membership was a sine qua non for promotion. Part of the decline in workers as a proportion of total membership resulted from the rapid increase in the number of intelligentsia joining the party soon after the communists took power. In the 1980s most economic managers, executives in public administration, and university professors were KSČ members.

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