My Century And My Many Lives, by Frank Munk
Frank Munk, my grandfather, wrote this autobiography to record his memories
from 1901 onwards. This history and its postscript are available on our family website in his
memory as they tell a complete story of the 20th century. These memoirs may be referenced as
long as proper attribution is made; our family retains ownership and copyright. We have one
request: if you reference this material in any way, please send us email at
firstname.lastname@example.org and a copy of the paper, if possible, as we would
like to know when this material is of interest and we are curious as to how it is being used.
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© Copyright 1993, 1994, The Munk/Ragen Families
ON THE FRINGES OF
I got into national
politics very early after my arrival in Prague in 1919. The political system was
still in a fluid state after the revolution. Originally geared to opposition to
the government in Vienna, it suddenly had to take responsibility for a new state
of some 14 million people at a time of new upheavals all around Czechoslovakia,
a beaten Germany, a Bolshevik Russia and a bevy of new succession states.
All in all, the
Czech political parties (there were so far no Slovak ones) adapted to the new
realities pretty well. Very early there formed a coalition of the five major
parties, with occasionally some smaller ones, to lead the country. In fact for
the rest of the first republic, which lasted 20 years, all major decisions were
taken by the five men leading the five parties, known in Czech as "petka," i.e.,
Some of us,
including me, regarded the emerging system as essentially not quite democratic.
I was one of the first who tried -- but failed -- to revive Masaryk's Progressive
party, with its orientation to humanism, real democratism and cooperation among
people. There were two leading lights in the leadership, Professor Emanuel Rádl
and another Professor, Zdenek Nejedly. I was to be the head of the youth
movement and was in very close contact with those two. The effort failed, partly
because President Masaryk did not give it his silent support.
Perhaps wisely he
voted for an efficient, if not always entirely democratic, system. Subsequently,
Rádl became perhaps the most influential Czech philosopher after Masaryk. His
important book called "The War of Czechs against Germany" ["Válka Cechu proti
Nemcum"] warned of the threat of national intolerance, anticipating not only the
scourge of Nazism, but also the inhuman expulsion of all 2 1/2 million Germans
from Czechoslovakia at the conclusion of WWII.
joined the Communist party. After its seizure of power in 1948 he became
Minister of Education and perhaps the most hated man in the country for many
years, responsible for the purging of universities and for intellectual
I was soon
attracted to my professor of economics, Josef Macek, a Social Democrat and one
of the administrators of land reform, which took land from the aristocracy and
distributed it to the peasants. He influenced me not only intellectually by
being a strong Keynesian, but more directly by recommending me for a Rockefeller
Foundation Fellowship in the United States, where I spent two years (1931-1933)
at Harvard and Columbia. Without this scholarship I could not have become a
professor in this country.
Like Macek, I was
for a time interested in an idea promoted by another Social Democrat, Senator
Frantisek Modrácek, who advocated an economic system based on cooperatives owned
by employees. It did not get off the spot either. At about the same time
Masaryk's old daily CAS [TIME] was restarted with silent support and some
financing from the President and I became editor of its student department. It
was an easy job for me because I had by that time become one of the student
leaders, as described elsewhere in these memoirs.
At the end of the
1920s, I finally joined a real and important political party, known
successively as the National Social Party, the National Socialist Party and the
Czech Socialist Party. The latter incarnation was of course caused by the desire
not to be confused with the Nazis. There were at the time three different
parties, broadly of the left, namely the Communists on the extreme left, next
the Social Democrats and then our party. President William Clinton would have
had no difficulty joining it.
I became chairman
of the Economic committee of the party and exerted some limited influence on its
policies, primarily by initiating two devaluations of the national currency, the
Czechoslovak Crown, together with my Social Democratic counterpart, later a
leading Communist, Zdenek Fierlinger. Both devaluations led to increasing
exports and thus an improvement in the economy. When I left Czechoslovakia in
1939 I was carrying messages from the party.
books listed below provide additional background on this period of history to
help illustrate this portion of my grandfather's memoirs.