Vaclav Havel’s “Power Of The Powerless” A Powerful Anti Communist Essay

Vaclav Havel wrote, The Power Of The Powerless in October 1978, an essay about dissension in the communist society of Czechoslovakia before its fall in the 1989 Velvet Revolution. After the revolution, Vaclav Havel became the first and only President of Czechoslovakia and the first President of the Czech Republic after the Velvet Divorce. Vaclav […]

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Vaclav Havel wrote, The Power Of The Powerless in October 1978, an essay about dissension in the communist society of Czechoslovakia before its fall in the 1989 Velvet Revolution. After the revolution, Vaclav Havel became the first and only President of Czechoslovakia and the first President of the Czech Republic after the Velvet Divorce.

Vaclav Havel’s mentor Jan Patočka died of a stroke after an 11-hour interrogation by the Czechoslovakia secret police. Havel dedicated his essay to his late mentor. Havel’s essay became one of the most influential pieces of anti-communist literature in the Eastern Bloc, inspiring revolts against the Soviet Union machine across Eastern Europe.

Havel writes about a hypothetical grocery store manager turned dissident, “therefore everyone who steps out of line denies it in principle and threatens it in its entirety.”

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Rod Dreher writes about the stories of Soviet-era communism and its oppression and the future of “soft totalitarianism” in Live Not By Lies. Check the price on Amazon here.

Havel’s Powerful Dissident

Havel’s practical example of the dissident living under the Soviet-era Czechoslovakia communist machine was the neighborhood greengrocer. The grocer, a manager of a fruit and vegetable store makes the smallest of actions a powerful anti-communist statement.

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The grocer routinely puts up a sign outside his business that read, “Workers of the world, unite!” There is nothing special about this sign or the grocer, he represents the multitude of those living under Soviet-era communism. Why did he comply with the Soviet system by hanging a sign with the party’s slogan?

He does it because these things must be done if one is to get along in life. It is one of the thousands of details that guarantee him a relatively tranquil life “in harmony with society,” as they say.

Vaclav Havel “The Power Of The Powerless” October 1978

The grocer’s sign with the Soviet slogan represents the object from which he later breaks from in order to become a dissident. Havel writes, “In doing so, however, he has himself become a player in the game, thus making it possible for the game to go on, for it to exist in the first place.”

In this way one man’s rebellion represents the power that he actually has, but has yet to realize. By refusing ideology he shares common ground with all dissidents, a refusal to comply. This communal pact, strength in numbers, leads to real change. This was seen in history with the 1989 Velvet Revolution which overthrew the communist government of Czechoslovakia.

The Grocer’s Rebellion

Havel raises the hypothetical – what would happen if the grocer one day stopped complying?

In this scenario, Havel’s grocer freely chooses at great peril to live outside of the mainstream. The sign protected him from informers and demonstrated his acceptance of the machine’s expectations for him. The grocer decides to live apart from the lies, and in the truth. He lives in a way described by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn in his Live Not By Lies essay.

Let us now imagine that one day something in our greengrocer snaps and he stops putting up the slogans merely to ingratiate himself. He stops voting in elections he knows are a farce. He begins to say what he really thinks at political meetings. And he even finds the strength in himself to express solidarity with those whom his conscience commands him to support. In this revolt the greengrocer steps out of living within the lie. He rejects the ritual and breaks the rules of the game. He discovers once more his suppressed identity and dignity. He gives his freedom a concrete significance. His revolt is an attempt to live within the truth.

Vaclav Havel “The Power Of The Powerless” October 1978

The grocer stops with the sign, stops voting in meaningless elections, speaks his mind at political meetings, and even demonstrates allegiance to other dissidents. The grocer is no longer allowing the game to continue, and exposed it as a mere game, as Havel puts it.

The Grocer’s Punishment

As you expect the grocer is swiftly punished, the system “spews him from its mouth”. But the grocer’s actions have a powerful impact.

He has demonstrated that living a lie is living a lie. He has broken through the exalted facade of the system and exposed the real, base foundations of power. He has said that the emperor is naked. And because the emperor is in fact naked, something extremely dangerous has happened: by his action, the greengrocer has addressed the world. He has enabled everyone to peer behind the curtain. He has shown everyone that it is possible to live within the truth.

Vaclav Havel “The Power Of The Powerless” October 1978

Vaclav Havel embodied this form of individual resistance to the communist regime. Through his Civic Forum party he led the Velvet Revolution that toppled communism in Czechoslovakia in 1989.

The post Vaclav Havel’s “Power Of The Powerless” A Powerful Anti Communist Essay appeared first on HistoryAddicted.com.


Vaclav Havel’s “Power Of The Powerless” A Powerful Anti Communist Essay was first posted on February 27, 2021 at 9:35 pm.

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