Salient. An Organ of Student Opinion at Victoria College, Wellington, N.Z. Vol. 11, No. 1. March 17th. 1948
When is a Democracy? — Debating Club Checks up on Czechoslovakia
When is a Democracy?
Debating Club Checks up on Czechoslovakia
A well attended meeting of the College Debating Club on Friday, 12th March, became most heated over the motion "That the present Czechoslovak Government is not based on democratic principles."
Mr. B. O'Connor opened the case for the affirmative by remarking that "World events happen purposely to suit the convenience of V.U.C. Debating Society." The question was, he admitted, a vexed one. Facts were very difficult to get at, and it must be acceded that there was much evidence to justify European suspicion of the long hand of American economics.
"Democratic principles" called for definition, and Mr. O'Connor stated that in essence they were two—free, secret elections, and the existence of an opposition. Today neither principle was adhered to in Czechoslovakia. The Communists had struck at the heart of democracy with their coup d'etat, and, on thinly disguised orders from Moscow. M. Gottwald had undertaken purges of the remaining shreds of independent thought, while Prague was being filled by jacked-booted Russians in long overcoats to swamp the polls when the Communist-conducted election took place in two months. On the other hand Mr. O'Connor had seen no evidence of "dollar imperialism" in Czechoslovakia.
Mr. W. Cameron opened the negative case by pointing out that Mr. O'Connor had acknowledged his ignorance of facts and offering to enlighten him. He followed the history of the Czech Government from 1945 when the Provisional Government was formed. All parties agreed (1) to oust collaborators, and (2) to implement a radical programme of nationalization. The 1946 elections resulted in the four parties (Communists, Socialists, Social-Nationalists, and Christian Democrats) in setting up a unanimous United Front Government, Last month leading members of the latter two groups resigned over a petty issue in the hope of bringing down the United Front. The Socialists and Communists, however, together with members of other parties, stood firm, and occupying a majority of seats in the Assembly, carried on the Government with the approval of Dr. Benes. That was nothing but democratic, since the majority still ruled.
Mr. J. Milburn next took up the affirmative cudgels. He failed to see how 40 per cent., the Communist strength, constituted a majority. He continued to explain how, in his view, Communism was, by its very nature, the antithesis of democracy. Equality before the law, the right [unclear: of] 60 per cent. to express its views, had vanished as the Marxist claw descended on Prague. And Masaryk, the heroic name that meant so much . . . driven to suicide (cries of "Did he fall or was he pushed?") Democracy had vanished from Czechoslovakia.
Mr. R. Smith, seconding the negative case, referred to Mr. Milburn's speech as an "emotive diatribe." Mr. Smith compared "democracy" in capitalist countries, notably the United States, with the Socialist ideal of democracy. If democracy was "Government of the people, by the people, for the people," it should be complete control by the people of every facet of their life. What sort of freedom did Wall Street and its subsidiary cartels represent? What even elementary democratic rights had negro voters in Georgia? Reaction was willing to stoop very low in its fight against Socialism—people's democracy; we knew that from the history of the conspiraces against Soviet Russia. The issues today in Czechoslovakia were clear; it was Socialism for the people, or subjugation to a foreign Power.
From the Floor
Mr. Benda (aff.) made a dramatic speech, utilizing his Czechoslovak nationality. He said Dr. Benes had accepted the new Government under pressure.
Mr. Curtin (aff.) was opening a blazing torrent of abuse against "Communist totalitarians" when an interjector inquired whether he was any relation of the Iron Curtain.
Mr. Bollinger (neg.) pointed out that had the 1946 elections in Czechoslovakia been held under our system, the Communists would have considerably over 50 per cent, of the Assembly.
Mr. Cameron reiterated the fact that the Czech Government was not run by 40 per cent., but by over 60 per cent.
Mr. O'Connor repeated charges of violence, intimidation, and the crushing of democratic opposition.
The motion was put to the meeting and carried.
Mr. A. H. Scotney placed Mr. O'Connor as the evening's best speaker, with Mr. Benda second. Mr. O'Brien and Mrs. Mathews were third equal, and Mr. Milburn and Mr. Bollinger were fifth equal.