* November 23, 1896 Dedice
† March 14, 1953 Prague
Communist politician and Czechoslovak President
Klement Gottwald was the illegitimate son of a poor peasant. Before the World War I he spent his apprenticeship as a future joiner in Vienna where he was active in the local working-class physical training movement and among the social democrat youth. In the years between 1915 and 1918 he served as a soldier in the Austrian-Hungarian army. In 1918 he deserted from the army. After October 28, 1918 he served for two years in the Czechoslovak army.
In the twenties he acted as a functionary of the Communist Party in Slovakia and edited their press. From 1926 to 1929 he was active in the Prague secretariat of the CP and consistently promoted Comintern policy in the face of the leadership there at the time. According to the locality of the secretariat in the Prague district of Karlin his young supporters began to be called "Karlin lads". In February 1929, in the course of the Fifth congress of the CP the thirty-three-year old Klement Gottwald and his Karlin lads (Guttmann, Sverma, Slansky, Kopecky, Reiman etc.) gained leadership in the party. Gottwald was elected Secretary General. Meanwhile he was already, since 1928, a member of the leading organ of the Communist International, its executive.
Gottwald and his closest associates at all times formulated their relationship to Czechoslovakia and the representatives of the Republic in the spirit of the directives of the Comintern and Soviet foreign policy. Thus in the first half of the thirties they considered Czechoslovakia to be a product of the imperialist World War and the Versailles system. They attributed fascist tendencies to the regime of the First Republic (at one time they even spoke of a fascist dictatorship) and regarded Masaryk's "Castle" as a focal point. They railed against the social democrats that they called social-fascists and presented them as possible "instigators of a fascist coup". They rejected any type of social reform as a "blunting of revolutionary endeavours directed toward instating a dictatorship of the proletariat".
On December 21, 1929 CP representative and parliamentary deputy, Klement Gottwald, addressed the Czechoslovak parliament, the National Assembly, in which he openly declared the manner and the kind of system his party intended to establish: "And we are the party of the Czechoslovak Proletariat and our supreme chief of staff is indeed Moscow. We go to Moscow to learn, do you know what? We go to Moscow to learn from the Russian Bolsheviks how to wring your necks. And you know that the Russian Bolsheviks are masters in this respect… That grin will be wiped off your faces!" Gottwald failed abysmally to keep many of his promises during his career. However, he lived up to his pledge to the dot with regard to a determination to abolish a democratic system and replace it with a dictatorship of the Communist Party according to the Bolshevik example.
In the second half of the thirties Gottwald enacted a number of changes in the policy of the CP. These corresponded to the modifications in the USSR foreign policy and in the policy of the People's Front and the defence of democracy against fascism which were paths laid down at the Seventh Congress of the Communist International in the summer of 1935. Nevertheless the People's Front was supposed to be a mere intermediate stage on the road toward a dictatorship of the proletariat according to the Soviet model. And those in the Communist Party who failed to understand this were in for trouble.
In September and October 1938 Gottwald ranked among the chief representatives of the opposition who voted against the Munich dictate. In November 1939 he emigrated to the Soviet Union where until mid 1941 he pursued a policy corresponding to the Soviet-German pact concluded in August 1939. He considered the changes which occurred following the attack on the USSR and the creation of an anti-Hitler coalition in June 1941 as a grand opportunity opening prospects. As of 1941 he began to play with the idea of later seizing power. He used Benes' ambassador to Moscow, Fierlinger, as his stool pigeon and "Trojan Horse" among the Social Democrats. He also made sure of his future "apolitical" Minister of National Defence L. Svoboda. The Czech Communists who had emigrated to the Soviet Union saw in him a suitable man "to connect Czechoslovak military glory with the Soviet Union's grand cause".
Just as Stalin came to an agreement with Churchill and Roosevelt in an anti-Hitler coalition, so the Communist Gottwald in December 1943 reached an accord with representatives of the London emigrant Benes to unify the home and foreign anti-fascist resistance movement. The conditions on the international scene and the war developments enabled Gottwald and his group to make fundamental statements regarding the post-war system in Czechoslovakia. The project of creating a National Front and the Kosice government programme was a brain child stemming from Gottwald's workshop, which guaranteed the exemption of the representatives of the resistance movement at home and the pre-war agrarians, national democratic and entrepreneur parties from sharing in the power of the renewed state. Benes and his non-Communist friends failed to realize at their negotiations in Moscow in March 1945 that "limited plurality" of the National Front concealed the seeds which would grow into a totalitarian system.
Gottwald returned to Prague on May 10, 1945 as deputy chairman of the government and the chairman of the National Front. As of 1945 until his death he held the post of chairman of the Czechoslovak CP. On May 26, 1946 the Communists won essentially democratic elections and on July 2 Gottwald became Prime Minister. From 1945 to 1947 he posed in the role of a judicious statesman and builder of the Republic. He even played with the idea of a "specific Czechoslovak road to socialism", which, by the way, Stalin himself put to him in July 1946. He gave farmers reassurances by saying "there will not be any kolkhozes in this country", he promised entrepreneurs security in their business ventures. At the same time, as early as in the summer of 1945, he had his agents established in non-Communists parties. He used his most loyal Communists in building a security system whose mission was to collect all kinds of information among the partners in the National Front so that he could send them to prison later on. Gottwald's people henchmen presided over the unified trade unions and the unified youth organization.
The non-Communist member of the National Front only came to understand in the autumn of 1947 that the game at democracy was slowly coming to an end, that they as partners who had been tolerated until now were becoming the "reactionaries" according to Gottwald who had to be dealt with in the interest of a "people's democracy". Their resistance in February 1948 which took the form of the resignation of 12 ministers was not only unprofessional, but above all in vain. Gottwald already had in his grasp the army, security and still more instruments to facilitate a coup. And this without the possible help of the Soviet Union which Stalin had offered.
After 1948 a dictatorship was established under the leadership of Gottwald and as of June 14, 1948 under his rule as a President, which soon met with disillusionment even among those who on February 25, 1948 had enthusiastically applauded Gottwald on Wenceslas Square. The first Communist President had robbed the citizens of Czechoslovakia of their homeland. Soviet advisors began to take decisions in the country. They prescribed "a steel concept" in the economy which was to be the ultimate cause of economic backwardness and ecological catastrophes. They were to advise on a coercive form to establish collective farms, in asserting a monopoly of Communist authority in education, science and culture, their interest concentrated in particular on security, the army, the public prosecutors, the courts. And they found many pupils in Czechoslovakia eager to learn. With reference to the Act No. 231/1948 Coll. stipulating the protection of the People's Democratic Republic over 230 people was sentenced to death and 100,000 citizens were condemned to serve many years in prison. Without a court hearing some 80,000 people were deported to forced labour camps in the course of five years. Tens of thousands of "anti-state elements" experienced forced disciplinary labour camps. Finally Gottwald sent to the gallows eleven of his closest party associates headed by R. Slansky. The country, and finally the demoralized Gottwald himself, suffering from alcoholism and a chronic venereal disease, were seized with fear. Gottwald died soon after his return from Stalin's funeral. The immediate cause of death was a ruptured aorta aneurysm. (nk)