The National Front (in Czech: Národní fronta, in Slovak: Národný front) was a (permanent) coalition (or rather group) of parties – since 1948 also of various associations and mass organisations – from 1945 to 1990 in Czechoslovakia. During the Communist era in Czechoslovakia (1948 – 1989), the existence of the National Front enabled the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia to maintain the fiction of political pluralism and at the same time to control the participating parties and mass organisations. Similar "coalitions" with identical names (in the German Democratic Republic) or similar names (in Poland, Bulgaria, Vietnam) existed in other Communist states.
1943 – 1948
During World War II, Czechoslovakia disappeared from the map of Europe. At the end of World War II, Czechoslovakia now found itself within the sphere of influence of the Soviet Union. Thus the political and economic organization of postwar Czechoslovakia was largely the result of negotiations between Edvard Beneš and KSC exiles in Moscow. The Czechs and Slovaks supporting the re-establishment of Czechoslovakia started negotiations on the creation of the concept of a future popular anti-Nazi coalition of parties in December 1943 in Moscow. The concepts of the KSC (having contacts in Moscow) and of the non-Communist parties were different.
Finally, the National Front was founded in April 1945, when the first post-war Czechoslovak government came into being in Košice, while the Soviet Union and Czechoslovak troops were liberating Czechoslovakia. The National Front government was a coalition of 6/8 parties:
- The coalition was dominated by the "socialist" parties (KSC, KSS, the Czechoslovak Social Democratic Party), and the (once liberal) Czechoslovak National Socialist Party (not to be confused with the German and Austrian parties of the same name; the CNSP had been formed decades before them and followed an entirely different policy).
- Certain other parties were also included in the coalition: the (Catholic) Czechoslovak People's Party, the (Slovak) Democratic Party, and later also the (Slovak) Labour Party and the (Slovak) Freedom Party.
The Slovak People's Party was banned as collaborationist with the Nazis. The Government decided not to let re-create other democratic parties, such as the Republican Party of Farmers and Peasants, which existed before 1938.
The Communists viewed the National Front as a permanent entity, while the remaining parties considered it a temporary coalition untill normal conditions would arise in Czechoslovakia. Many quarrels arose between the KSC and the remaining parties of the National Front in the transitory period 1945 – 1948, until the KSC definitively seized power in Czechoslovakia on 25 February 1948.
1948 – 1990
The new National Front got rid of most non-Communist parties and various associations and mass organisations became new members. The member parties were the KSC, the Czechoslovak People's Party, the Czechoslovak Socialist Party, the Slovak Freedom Party and the Party of Slovak Revival. Some of the mass organisations were the trade unions (the Revolutionary Trade Union Movement), the Czechoslovak Union of Youth, the Union for Czechoslovak-Soviet Friendship and so on. For details see below.
The new National Front has functioned as a conveyor of KSC policy directives to the other political parties and mass organizations. An important function of the National Front was to nominate all candidates for public offices and to supervise elections. Individuals running for public office did not have to be communists, but all candidates had to be approved by the National Front. Thus, National Front candidates typically received more than 99 percent of the votes (voters in Czechoslovakia had the right to refrain from marking their ballots if they did not want to vote for any of the National Front candidates; however, few voters exercised that right for fear of official reprisal).
Together with the establishment of the Czech Socialist Republic and Slovak Socialist Republic in 1969, the National Front of the Czech Socialist Republic and the National Front of the Slovak Socialist Republic were established as organizations partly making up, partly supplementing the National Front of the Czechoslovak Socialist Republic.
The National Front ceased with the Velvet Revolution in 1990.
Member parties and organisations (in the 1980s)
In the 1980s, the National Front included (besides the KSC and the KSS):
A) Two Czech noncommunist parties and two Slovak noncommunist parties:
- the Czechoslovak Socialist Party, which had approximately 17,000 members in 1984, drew most of its membership from the urban middle class and white-collar employees.
- the Czechoslovak People's Party, which had about 66,000 members in 1984, was primarily Roman Catholic and rurally based.
- the Party of Slovak Revival
- the Slovak Freedom Party
The two Slovak parties were very small and drew their support from the peasant population and Roman Catholics. Each party was organized along the lines of the KSC, having a party congress, central committee, presidium, and secretariat. Other than having a small number of seats in the Czech National Council (parliament), Slovak National Council (parliament), and the Federal Assembly (parliament), these parties had little input into governmental affairs. They served as auxiliaries of the KSC and in no way represented an alternative source of political power.
B) A myriad of mass organizations in the workplace, at schools, and in neighborhoods. Although mass organizations permeated nearly all aspects of social organization, the most important consisted of trade unions, women's groups, and youth organizations. Whereas in noncommunist nations such organizations act partly as political interest groups to put pressure on the government, in Czechoslovakia the mass organizations have acted as support groups for the KSC and as channels for the transmission of party policy to the population at large. This is evidenced by the fact that KSC officials directed the mass organizations at virtually every level. A few examples are:
- The Revolutionary Trade Union Movement (ROH), which claimed over 7.5 million members in 1984, combined trade unions of workers in virtually every productive capacity. The organization of the Central Council of Trade Unions was similar to that of the KSC in that it consisted of a central committee that selected a secretariat and a presidium. In addition to the chairman, the Central Council of Trade Unions had two deputy chairmen. In the spirit of federalized bureaucratic structures that permeated Czechoslovak political organization in the 1970s, the Czech Council of Trade Unions and the Slovak Council of Trade Unions were created.
- The Czechoslovak Union of Women (ČSŽ or ČZŽ), which had about 1 million members in 1984. Its structure includes the familiar secretariat and presidium and a central auditing and control commission. Like the trade union governing organization, the Czechoslovak Union of Women oversaw the Czech Union of Women and the Slovak Union of Women.
- The Socialist Union of Youth (SSM or SZM), which in 1983 claimed over 1.5 million members. A branch organization for youth from eight to fifteen years of age was known as the Pioneers. The aim of both groups was to propagate communist values among the youth and prepare them for membership in the KSC.
- The Czechoslovak Red Cross (ČSČK)
- The Union for Czechoslovak-Soviet Friendship (SČSP or ZČSP)
- The Union of Agricultural Cooperatives
- The Union of Anti-Fascist Fighters (SPB or ZPB)
- The Union for Cooperation with the Army (SVAZARM or Zväzarm)
- The Peace Committee
- The Physical Culture Association (ČSSTV or ČSZTV).