Tony Cliff

Background to Hungary

(July 1958)

From Socialist Review, 8th Year No. 13, 1 July 1958.
Reprinted in A Socialist Review, London 1965, pp. 222–8.
Transcribed and marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.
Thanks to Ted Crawford.

The murder of Imre Nagy and his associates is one more blot on the bloody history of Stalinism. One should remember that as far back as November 1956 Kadar gave safe conduct to Imre Nagy and a group of his associates to leave the Yugoslav Embassy and to go to their homes. Instead they were arrested by Russian troops and taken to Rumania. Then in March this year Kadar assured Tito that “no punishment would be meted out to Nagy for his past actions.” Now all these promises are betrayed.

Imre Nagy is not the first, alas, probably not the last of the Communist Party leaders to be murdered by the Stalinist leaders. Of the fifteen members of the first Bolshevik Government in 1917, only one, Stalin, survived the purges of the 1930s. Four died natural deaths, ten were either executed by Stalin’s order or died in his prisons. Of the 139 members and candidates of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Russia only 24 survived the purges by 1939.

Post-war Purges

A few years after the establishment of the “People’s Democracies”, at the end of the war, these countries were also engulfed in “purges” of the leadership. Of the six people who filled the post of General Secretary of the Party immediately after the establishment of the “People’s Democracies” the following four were accused of being “traitors” and “fascist agents”: Tito, General Secretary of the Yugoslav Communist Party; Kostov, General Secretary of the Bulgarian Party (executed); Gomulka, General Secretary of the Polish Party (arrested); and Slansky, General Secretary of the Czechoslovakian Party (executed). Of the six Foreign Ministers, the following four were accused of the same crime: Kardelj of Yugoslavia, Anna Pauker of Rumania (arrested), Clementis of Czechoslovakia (executed), Rajk of Hungary (executed). The list could be lengthened considerably.

It is true that in his “secret speech” to the Twentieth Congress, Khrushchev put the responsibility for the purges on Stalin and Beria. They were also made responsible for the breach between Moscow and Belgrade. But a short time after Khrushchev’s speech the Hungarian revolution was suppressed. And now Nagy, a member of the Communist Party for 39 years, has been murdered.

Nagy and his associates could not, from prison, have constituted a danger to the Kremlin rulers. Why then were they murdered? The immediate and obvious answer is: By accusing the Titoist, Nagy, of beintg a “traitor” and “imperialist agent,” Tito himself is being accused.

“David” Tito

Why do the Kremlin rulers hate Tito so much? What has exacerbated the Moscow-Belgrade conflict during the last three months? Why do the rulers in Peking encourage Moscow? What is the meaning of the conflict? The rest of this article will attempt to answer these questions.

The rulers in the Kremlin are accustomed to having their commands obeyed without question. The Vozhd (Leader) has the power to dictate production plans; to raise officials from obscurity and to send others to oblivion; to direct educational policy; to lay down the line for the fine arts; to allow or forbid the publication of books. This omnipotence of the Kremlin ruler was challenged by little Yugoslavia. David Tito dared to fight for national independence against Goliath Stalin.

Unlike the leaders of the “ People’s Democracies,” Tito and his friends came to power without the support of the Russian army. Mose Pijade, the eminence grise of the Yugoslav Communist Party, stated: “... certain heads of other parties ... arrived in their free countries in planes with pipes in their mouths, and ... for four years. four times daily, vainly called on the masses to struggle via radio, while we won our freedom with arms in our hands ...” (July 10, 1948). The Yugoslav leaders, therefore, felt superior to the Rakosis, Paukers and other governors of the Russian gubernias. and on an equal footing with the leaders of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. They naturally demanded full equality with Russia for their country and its full independence.

The logic of the struggle against Moscow’s domination compelled the Yugoslav leaders to expose more and more openly the real character of Stalin’s regime, and forced them to renounce, its more obnoxious features. By making it a question of life or death for the Yugoslav Government to enlarge its mass support. the struggle forced it to “liberalize” the dictatorship. As a counter to Stalin’s “bureaucratic centralism “Tito has attempted to implement “Socialist democracy.”

End of Empire

The administration was decentralized, beginning with the economy. Workers’ Councils were established. However, limited their power, they challenge the hierarchical structure (one-man management) of the administrative machine in the Russian empire.

Again, Tito has been much more benevolent towards the peasants than have the rulers of Moscow. He knows that “collectivization” in Russia so isolated and weakened the state that its very existence was placed in jeopardy. He cannot conduct a war on two fronts, externally against Russia and internally against the peasantry. And any attempt at large-scale and compulsory collectivization would have put him at the mercy of Stalin.

In the cultural field also, Belgrade is much more liberal than Moscow. One has only to visit its art exhibitions to see this. (One should not, however, exaggerate the blessings of Tito’s regime – the Djilas case speaks for itself!)

See-saw Shocks

Titoism denotes the beginning of the end of Russia’s empire. Hardly had Stalin’s empire extended into Central Europe than cracks began to appear in its structure. The Titoist rebellion put Stalinism’s internal contradictions on the plane of popular discussion, revealing all their ramifications. It raised the question of whether an empire with a materially and culturally backward mother country can exist. The further the Stalinist empire advanced westwards, the larger is its population whose standards of living and culture are higher than those of the Russian peoples, who have a national history, culture and consciousness of their own, and who do not expect to be moulded by foreign forces. In the present, when the peoples of Asia and Africa are awakening to the fight for their national liberation, it cannot be expected that the peoples of Europe, which was the cradle of the national movement and the national state would succumb for any length of time to an imperialist Power.

Titoism also breaks the framework of conformism inherent in totalitarian state capitalism. In Lilliput Gulliver finds that the Emperor “is taller by almost the breadth of my nail than any of his 4ourt which alone is enough to strike awe into the beholders.” If another were to grow as tall as the Emperor, the awe would quickly disappear. This is exactly the effect of Tito.

Why has the breach between Moscow and Belgrade occurred now?

Since the Hungarian revolution it has become clearer and clearer to the rulers of the Kremlin that iron hoops are necessary to hold the system together, that concessions and reforms from above may well lead to revolution from below. Hence, straight after the Hungarian revolution, relations between Moscow and Belgrade cooled somewhat; hence Tito’s critical speech at Pula (November 11, 1956), and the freezing of Soviet credits to Yugoslavia. However, when, a few months later, Tito showed his readiness to compromise with Moscow (by, for instance recognizing the East German Republic, which led to Western Germany’s severing diplomatic relations with Yugoslavia and consequent damage to the latter’s economy) Moscow relaxed a little and the Soviet credits were released.

This friendship-enmity see-saw received a severe shock in November 1957 when Tito rejected his final chance of bowing completely to Moscow’s leadership, by refusing to sign the declaration of the twelve Communist Parties – a declaration proclaiming the leadership of the Soviet Communist Party in the world Communist movement. Since then, propaganda against Yugoslavia has become more and more insistent and vehement. Soviet credits were again frozen. On March 3, 1958, Russia’s satellite, Bulgaria. accused Yugoslavia of wishing to grab Bulgarian territory. Similar accusations were made by Albania. And now – Nagy is executed.

The Hungarian revolution was therefore the turning point in Russo-Yugoslav relations. Since then Moscow has been set on wringing complete conformism from her satellites, with the inevitable result of a headlong collision with Belgrade.

Another factor determining the timing of the new offensive against Yugoslavia is the consolidation of the one-man dictatorship of Khrushchev in Russia.

Less than two months after the death of Stalin, when the Stalinist and Western capitalist press was talking about the new “collective leadership in Russia, the Socialist Review wrote:

The whole of Russian society is built in the form of a pyramid, with the principle of one-man management in every field. The factory is run by its manager, who appoints the departmental managers, who, in turn, appoint the foremen. The manager himself is appointed by the head of the State trust, who is appointed by the Minister. The Minister is actually, if not nominally, appointed by the Prime Minister and General Secretary. During his lifetime, Stalin was responsible for making the most important appointments: he was the supreme bureaucrat!

And again:

The group administration at the top of the Russian regime to-day is in conflict with the seteup of the Russian economy, society and state. Such a conflict cannot exist for any length of time. A regime of bureaucratic state capitalism, with the terrific social strain it involves, needs the blood of a purge to make the wheels go round. The present set-up at the top is therefore temporary. (Socialist Review, March 1953).

The same article also pointed to Khrushchev as the heir to Stalin’s position of General Secretary of the Communist Party and probable future dictator of Russia.

Khruschev’s progress

The process of Khrushchev’s rise to power has been greatly accelerated in the past year or so.

Of the 10 members of the 1953 Presidium (the former Political Bureau, the highest organ of the Party), only three (Khrushchev, Mikoyan and Voroshilov) are still in the same position. All the others have been purged.

The Prime Minister after Stalin’s death, Malenkov, together with his four First Deputies (Beria, Molotov, Bulganin and Kaganovich) have been purged.

Of the 15 present members of the Presidium, 11 are Secretaries and Party functionaries, and are thus under Khrushchev in the Party hierarchy. The posts of General Secretary and Prime Minister are united in one person – Khrushchev – just as at the height of Stalin’s power.

As in Stalin’s time, the press is kowtowing to the Leader Khrushchev pronounces on architecture and art, on science and world affairs, on industry and agriculture, on education, etc., etc., and the press slavishly quotes his words of wisdom.

History is being rewritten to enhance the role of the new Leader. To take one example. Prior to Stalin’s death, the official line was that the Germans were routed in Stalingrad by “the brilliance of Stalin’s strategic plan;” after Stalin’s dethronement, Soviet historians and military leaders wrote that this plan was not worked out by Stalin but by Zhukov; after Zhukov fell from favour, it appeared that this too was incorrect, and that Zhukov merely took over the plan worked out by Khrushchev. As Marshal Eremenko, who commanded the Stalingrad Front, wrote: “All this noble and laborious work (the preparation of victory) was carried out under the guidance of the member of the War Council for the Stalingrad and the South-Eastern fronts – N.S. Khrushchev.” (Kommunist, No. 1, 1958, p. 31)

There is no doubt who is the boss. When the “collective” leaders came (at the beginning of February) to a banquet in the Kremlin in honour of the Soviet intelligentsia, the applause accompanying the speeches was carefully graded: Bulganin, at that time still officially Premier, got only “Applause;” Voroshilov, the President, “Stormy applause; Mikoyan, First Deputy to Khrushchev “Vigorous Applause,” and Khrushchev himself, “Prolonged applause turning into ovation (all rise).” (Pravda, Feb. 9, 1958).

With his personal dictatorship established, Khrushchev, like Stalin, cannot but be angered by any suggestion of disobedience in the “Communist” world.

China’s role

An especially ugly role has been played in the anti-Yugoslav campaign by Mao’s China. Why is this so?

After the Hungarian Revolution, Mao thought it prudent to allow some concessions to the people, to open some avenues of criticism so as to let off steam. He advanced the slogan, “Let a hundred flowers bloom.” However, during one month of this policy, it became clear that popular criticism went far beyond the limits intended by Mao, and threatened to engulf the regime.

To quote only a few of the criticisms published in the Chinese press: one Li Shi-chun said that the Public Security Personnel were as numerous as “the hairs on a tiger” and were “dreadful and hateful” (New China News Agency, August 22, 1957). Another, a student from Nanking University, said: “the system of personnel dossiers was a ruler’s tool with which the Tsars dealt with revolutionaries” (Kwangsi Jih Pao, October 3, 1957).

One, Liu Tseng, declared that “Party members are secret agents and they are worse than the Japanese agents during the occupation” (New China News Agency, June 30, 1957). In Psing Hua University. a number of students and professors branded Communists as a “privileged class,” “even Fascists” (Chung Kuo Ching Nien Pao, June 21, 1957). One Hsu Hsing-Chin. wanted “to end the practice of making the high-ranking cadres a privileged class” (New China News Agency, May 27, 1957). Again, while complaining of the generally low standard of living of the people. one Ko Pei-Chi stated that not all suffered: “Who are the people who enjoy a higher standard of living? They are the Party members and cadres who wore worn-out shoes in the past but travel in saloon cars and put on woollen uniforms now.” (Jen Min Jih Pao, May 31, 1957). Again, one Chu Yun-Shan said “Government cadres should differ in duties and not in status. Some are deeply conscious of being officials; they occupy special positions even when taking meals and seeing operas” (New China News Agency, May 30, 1957).

Chou Ta-chio, a student at the Aviation College in Peking, spoke about the “new class” of Communist Party officials who “had obtained high advantages from controlling financial activities” – the “leaders’ class” (New China News Agency, July 16, 1957). Liu Ti-sheng, an assistant professor at Nanking University, called upon the Communist Party to “liberate the Chinese people for a second time” (Jen Min Jih Pao, July 12, 1957). A professor of sociology, Li Chinghan, declared that the Communist Party “rules the people with Marxist-Leninist textbooks in its left hand and Soviet weapons in its right” (Jen Min Jih Pao, August 30, 1957).

After a month of the “hundred flowers” policy, all of them – except that of Mao – were declared weeds that had to be destroyed. An offensive against “Revisionism” was launched. Hence Mao’s deep hatred of Tito and Nagy.

The Peking People’s Daily on June 4, went so far as to state that “the criticism of the mistakes of the Yugoslav Communist Party made by the Cominform in its 1948 resolution was basically correct and necessary. It calls the Titoists “a shameful band of renegades.

On the war path

Chen Po-ta, one of the top theoreticians of the Chinese Communist Party, in an article called Yugoslav Revisionism is a Product of Imperialist Policy, states that US imperialism successfully “carried out a policy of spending a great deal of money to bribe, thus bringing about “the degenerate policy of the Tito group” (NCNA, Peking, May 31, 1958).

Stalinism is on the war path!

Last updated on 16 February 2017