Revolution and Counter-Revolution in Hungary. Hugo Dewar and Daniel Norman 1957

VII: The Scapegoats

It seems better when it is a question of countries whose acquisition is decided upon to allow them to exist for some time under their own native leaders, but in complete dependence on Russia... – From an official memorandum addressed to the Tsar by his Prime Minister, and quoted by Karl Marx in Herr Vogt

On 5 April 1956 Bulganin sent a telegram of support to Rákosi and his Prime Minister, András Hegedus. It read:

The Central Committee of the Hungarian Workers Party, led by the tested veteran of the revolutionary movement, comrade Mátyás Rákosi, has carried out a number of vitally important measures to strengthen the people’s democratic system and to carry out the great programme of building socialism in Hungary. The government of the Hungarian People’s Republic, and comrades Mátyás Rákosi and András Hegedus personally, have done and are doing everything to strengthen the friendship and cooperation between the Hungarian and Soviet peoples.

This personal reference by Bulganin had an effect opposite from that intended. The Russian leaders looked on the Hungarian situation merely as a struggle for leadership within the party. That was something with which they were only too familiar. They thought that all that was necessary was for them to express once more their confidence in Rákosi and that then the campaign against him would cease. However, the opposition to Rákosi within the party was no more than a pale reflection of the opposition in the country, and when this at last penetrated the skulls of the Russians they sent Suslov and Mikoyan to Budapest in July to order the ‘tested veteran’ to resign. However, still unable to gauge the strength of the people’s mood of revolt, they appointed another of their agents, Erno Gerõ, equally hated, in Rákosi’s place. As though to make clear to all their determination not to relax their hold over the country, they retained in office Rákosi’s team-mates, István Kovács, András Hegedus, István Hidas, Béla Szalai and Lajos Ács. As a sop to the opposition, however, they permitted János Kádár, and György Marosán, to return to the party leadership circle. Both had been in prison under Rákosi and their political ‘rehabilitation’ could be pointed to as a promise of reform. But they could hardly be regarded as men of outstanding qualities or strong will. Moreover, each had his skeleton in the cupboard. Kádár had been Minister of Interior when the fake trial of Rajk was staged, and the proofs of his participation in that legal murder were in the hands of the Russians. Marosán was apparently the least compromised, but he had worked as a secret Moscow agent inside the Social Democratic Party, preparing for its ‘merger’ with the Communist Party, that is to say, its dissolution. Their willingness to work with Gerõ against Nagy was itself a mark of perfidious ingratitude, since both owed him their freedom and return to public life.

The changes in personnel effected at the instance of Suslov and Mikoyan were paralleled by similar apparent concessions in the economic policy changes announced by Gerõ and Hegedus. However, armaments and heavy industry continued to receive the lion’s share of investment funds at the expense of consumer goods production. The proposed reduction in the rate of heavy industry production amounted to no more than three per cent in five years, and labour productivity was still to be increased, according to the amended plan, by 36 per cent. Real wages, even if Gerõ’s promises were fulfilled, would by 1960 still barely reach the prewar level.

‘There has – touch wood – been no Poznań in Hungary’, exclaimed Gerõ in a speech on 18 July 1956. But, indeed, touching wood was about all that the post-Rákosi leadership was able or willing to do. And when the storm at last broke over their heads the Russians promptly denounced Gerõ. He and his companions were accused of having ‘affronted Hungarian national feeling by endeavouring mechanically to carry out in Hungary... policies mechanically copied from the Soviet experience’, as the statement of the British Communist Party expressed it. These words were themselves a mechanical repetition of the words of an article in Pravda on 23 October 1956. Conveniently forgotten was the incontrovertible fact that neither Rákosi nor Gerõ nor any other satellite leader had ever taken a decision of any importance without first consulting the real masters of the country – the Russians.

But for the Hungarian revolution, Pravda would doubtless have continued to forget that ‘each nation has its national traditions and customs which must be respected’. Pravda pointed to the adoption of Russian army uniforms in Hungary as an example of ‘mechanical copying’. Yet had not this same thing been done by Russia’s pro-consul in Poland, Marshall Rokossovsky? Was it not also done in Rumania by General Bodnaras? ‘There is no need for everybody to have his hair cut to the same pattern’, declared Pravda. Yet it is quite obvious that this brilliant discovery would never have been made by Pravda but for the fight for freedom in Poland and the revolution in Hungary.

According to the British Communist Party statement, quoted above, Rákosi and company were also guilty of ‘economic errors’, of pressing too hard the drive for industrialisation without adequate ‘consideration of specific conditions in Hungary and with insufficient attention to the improvement of living standards’. Pravda was more explicit in this connection: ‘A considerable part of the means was earmarked for the building of new large enterprises that were beyond the power of a small country like Hungary.’ Rákosi and company ‘mechanically copied the experience of the Soviet Union in the field of industrialisation’, continued Pravda, ‘despite the fact that the leaders of the Hungarian Workers Party were repeatedly given comradely advice not to do this’. Could hypocrisy go further?! How strange that Bierut in Poland should have also ignored this ‘comradely advice’; that the present leaders of Rumania, Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia and Albania should continue to ignore it. The fact is, the ‘comradely advice’ given was such as to encourage these ‘errors’. Bulganin backed Rákosi. Then Suslov and Mikoyan had to go to Budapest to oust him. But they put Gerõ in his place. And then these two had to go once more to Budapest, during the uprising, to get rid of these men when they wanted to – when, in fact, circumstances compelled them to; why did they not do it before?

The simple truth is that Hungary’s economic plans went first to Moscow for approval. Hungarian economy, like that of the other satellites, was organised to fit into the Russian economy. Her industry became almost wholly dependent upon raw materials from the USSR. As radio Budapest admitted on 29 September 1956, the Hungarian iron foundries and steel works depended almost exclusively on Russian ore, and 90 per cent of Hungary’s cotton and wool pulp continued to come from Russia. Rákosi and Gerõ, like the other leaders in the satellites, were the executors of policies worked out in Moscow. Those orders were followed by all, in spite of the fact that they were disastrous for the economy of each country concerned and for the standard of living of the people. Where was the ‘comradely advice’ when, for example, Stalin in 1951, as a consequence of the Korean war, ordered a further tilt in the balance in favour of heavy industry in the service of armament production? Hegedus himself admitted in his report to a meeting of the Hungarian Central Committee that the switch to armament production in 1951 had been fatal for the economy of the country. Real wages dropped everywhere behind the Iron Curtain from 1951 to 1953. The policy of relative relaxation and an increase in consumer goods production followed in Hungary by Nagy from then on until he was deposed in 1955 was itself not a sign of increasing Hungarian independence, but simply a reflection of the post-Stalin climate in Russia. And again, where was the ‘comradely advice’ when Nagy was kicked out? The fact was that when Khrushchev defeated Malenkov the Hungarian Stalinists took their cue and defeated Nagy. As the Budapest joke ran: ‘When Khrushchev takes snuff, Rákosi sneezes.’

The third point of the British Communist Party statement, still echoing Pravda, concerned ‘the grave political errors and crimes; concentration of power in the hands of a small group around Rákosi and Gerõ and the abandonment of democratic methods of leadership, bureaucratic tendencies and criminal abuses in the operation of the state apparatus and in the powers and methods of the police and security police...’. Of course, in this respect Rákosi and Gerõ are not accused of having ‘mechanically copied’ Russia. Yet everyone, including the Stalinists, knows very well that the terror methods of the ÁVH in Hungary were faithfully copied from the terror methods of the MVD in Russia, whose experts were, indeed, sent to Hungary to ‘advise and instruct’.

It is hardly necessary to say that our purpose in exposing the hypocrisy of the Stalinists’ ‘excuses’ for the degeneration and corruption of their party in Hungary is not to whitewash Rákosi and Gerõ. The point is that these gentlemen and their colleagues were carrying out orders; true, willingly enough so far as most of them were concerned. But those who pulled the strings will not escape judgement before the bar of history by blaming everything on their puppets.