The Czech/Czechoslovak Social Democratic Party is, thanks to the hundred and forty years for which it has officially existed, present almost everywhere in the public space. Its activity and political successes are commemorated not only by the buildings in which the party and institutions close to it had their headquarters. Further historical traces of the social democratic movement come in the form of memorial plaques, gravestones, streets, the sites of the big demonstrations for universal suffrage or the major congresses such as that in spring 1938. Testimony to the lives and work of Social Democrats comes from the official conference and annual reports, the written history of social democrat enterprises and organisations and – unfortunately only in rare cases – from independent written histories of the party.
The aim of the website Lidové domy.cz is not to tell the history of the social democratic movement. We have set ourself a far more important goal: to remind people of all the places where it has been possible to come across the social democratic movement over the hundred and forty years of its existence. To increase public awareness of the idea that this or that pub saloon could be a place where political meetings took place, a place where workers’ choirs met or a place where the Workers’ Physical Training Organisation (DJT) met. That in this house lived a significant Social Democrat editor or politician. And that even in a district cemetery in the borderlands it is possible to find the graves of interwar politicians and victims of the struggle against the Nazis at the end of the 1930s.
Everyone can become involved in work on the website Lidové domy.cz. All you need to do is look around you, browse through old newspapers, write to firstname.lastname@example.org to find out where you should look, and to send in photos of places connected to the history of the Social Democrats, together with a short description. You can also, when walking around a particular town, have a look yourself to see all the places where it is possible to find traces of organised workers’ and social democratic movements.
In the 1840s, workers‘ movements were already shaking up the present-day Prague suburb of Smíchov, as well as the factories in Mladá Boleslav. Preparations for the establishment of a social democratic party had taken place in various Prague inns before the memorable year of 1878, when the party was founded at the inn U Kaštanu in the Prague suburb of Břevnov.
In terms of structure, the Social Democrats were the most significant party of the First Republic. There were many organisations associated with it – trade union associations, in particular the Czechoslovak Trade Union Association, publishing houses such as the Central Workers’ Bookshop and Publishing House, a bank, an insurer, and magazines and newspapers, of which the most important was Právo lidu (People’s Right). The seats of all these institutions all over the country naturally form part of the map of landmarks of the social democratic movement.
Few people know that the People’s House complex in Hybernská street in Prague also contained an independent electricity plant during the First Republic, or that the architects Josef Gočar and Jan Kotěra were among the architects who entered the architectural competition for the conversion of the People’s House into the “Palace of Labour”. Just the history of the People’s House in Prague and its forefrunners would provide enough material for a sizeable book. And Prague was also home – in Nekázanka street – to the secretariat of the German Social Democratic Party in Czechoslovakia (DSAP) and in the 1930s, on the corner of Křižíkova street and Karlín Square, the secretariat of the exiled Social Democratic Party of Germany (SOPADE).
The Social Democrats were not only a driving force behind the October revolution of 1918 and the declaration of the independent Czechoslovak Republic, of which a reminder is the Municipal House in Prague. They also held key positions in First Republic politics, and until the last moment were defenders of Czechoslovak interwar democracy, both in the form of the Czechoslovak Social Democratic Workers’ Party and the minority German Democratic Workers Party in Czechoslovakia. A memento of this is the People’s House in Cheb (1 Baltazara Neumanna square) which the Sudeten German Social Democrats fought to defend against the Nazis with weapons in their hands.
People connected with the social democratic movement also headed the civil anti-Hitler resistance movement during the Second World War. This is commemorated by a number of plaques, of which the most significant, in Prague’s Anny Letenské street, commemorates the activity of the We Shall Remain Faithful Petition Committee and its political manifesto, For Freedom. Into the New Czechoslovak Republic.
The Social Democrats were imprisoned by the Nazis and the Communists, and in a number of cases were the direct target of communist repression, being the most significant opponents of the Communist Party. This is commemorated by the memorial plaques and gravestones of those who did not survive.
Social Democrats were also the first people to renew political competition in the Czechoslovak Republic after November 1989, with the ČSSD’s Renewal Committee being active in the very first days of the Velvet Revolution. Few people now know that its headquarters was in the space above the Václav Špála Gallery on Národní třída in Prague, and that at the same time organisational groups of the revived party appeared in towns all across the country.