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Irving Howe

Imperialist Bloc Stages European Tug of War

Stalinists Take Over
in Hungarian Coup

(9 June 1947)

From Labor Action, Vol. 11 No. 23, 9 June 1947, pp. 1 & 2.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

The continuous and unrelenting war for the control of the European continent being waged at present between the Anglo-American bloc (which means primarily the U.S.) and Stalinist Russia is sharpening; it is erupting in a series of new manifestations. Most important of these are the political crises which have recently broken out in three countries: France, Italy and Hungary. The facts in brief:

In France, no doubt under the pressure of U. S. agents who hinted that If the Stalinists remained in the French cabinet the forthcoming loan to France might not be ... forthcoming, the Stalinists were dropped from the cabinet. Now the Social Democrats “rule alone” even though they are a minority party. Of course, this is a bit of a farce: actually they are ruling as trustees of French capitalism and Anglo-American imperialism. In any case, however, a squeeze play has been worked on the Stalinists, Who thought that no cabinet would be formed without them. In France at least, the Stalinists don’t yet dare to come out with a full-fledged policy of opposition to the government; they content themselves with “criticism.” They have deliberately restrained the French workers from striking; in some instances they have even played the role of strike-breaker.

In short, in France the Stalinists are not yet prepared for a showdown, if only because they, and their master in the Kremlin, know that the U.S. will not tolerate the loss of France and would be ready to take extreme measures in case of such a loss. Such extreme measures, not even perhaps short of war, the Russians are not in a position to counter. As a result they restrain themselves and their followers in France. (This fact, it should be added, provides a great opportunity for exposing the Stalinists in France, for showing how their vassalage to Russian foreign policy makes them betray the interests of the French workers.)

In Italy, a similar situation has developed. Again largely under the prompting of Anglo-American imperialism, a new cabinet has been formed without either the Stalinists or the pro-Stalinist “Socialist” party of Pietro Nenni.

The premier, De Gasperi, is leader of the Christian Democratic Party, which is the party of the Italian capitalist class and of the Vatican. He has chosen a cabinet of “non-party technicians” – which means of floating bourgeois politicians – and his justification for excluding the parties of the “left” has been that their inclusion might prevent a loan from the U.S. (In the present catastrophic economic position of Italy, such a loan is a very important political device.) Such a statement, however, is merely an inverted way of saying that the U.S. is demanding the exclusion of the Stalinists from power as its price for the loan. In turn, the Stalinists are trying to play it a little rough. They have organized demonstrations and some of the “Partisans” are reported to have taken to the hills. But it seems, at the moment, doubtful if Stalin is prepared to precipitate a civil war in Italy; here, too, he must know, the bloc of capitalist powers is making a stake and will not give up without a fight.

So that we come to Hungary, where there has taken place the most sensational news event of the week. The premier, Ferenc Nagy, of the conservative bourgeois Small Landowners Party, has been forced to resign as a result of Russian pressure and he has. been replaced by a Quisling from his own party who will serve as front for the Stalinists. This Quisling, Lajos Dinnyes, is a minor figure from the Small Landowners Party who has been pushed to the post of premier by the Russian occupation because of his willingness to take orders from it.

Inside Hungary

The situation in Hungary is remarkable from a number of points of view. The Small Landowners Party, to which Nagy belongs, is a bourgeois party with a considerable following among the Hungarian peasants, who comprise a majority of the country’s population. In the last election held in Hungary in 1946, the Small Landowners Party polled 57 per cent of the vote. The Stalinists got 17 per cent and the Social Democrats 17 per cent. This absolute majority was given to the Small Landowners Party not, we think, because of any intrinsic attraction it may have to the Hungarian people, but because they sought a means of registering their dissatisfaction with the Russian occupation. And since the Stalinists and the Stalinized Social Democrats were both playing ball with the Russian occupation, there was only one party for which dissident votes could be cast: the Small Landowners.

After this resounding defeat for the Stalinists, a shaky cabinet was then set up with Ferenc Nagy, leader of the Small Landowners, as premier, and with Stalinist and Social Democratic representation far beyond that which their strength warranted. Nagy tried to resist, to some extent, the gradual domination of Hungary by the Russians, but in many respects he played along with them. The Stalinists gained control of the Ministry of the Interior, which meant control of the police. They staged a series of “purges” in which they eliminated enemies of their rule. All the while the might of the Russian army was behind them. Finally with the aid of the Social Democrats (the cowardly role of the Social Democrats in the Stalinist occupied countries we shall comment on some other time) they squeezed out Nagy and installed their puppet.

Presumably the new cabinet is to exist only until a new election. Such an election would, all reports indicate, tend to be like the recent election in Poland: a get-up for the Stalinists. The technique of breaking up and destroying all opposition groups is the same in all countries which the Stalinists occupy.

Without question this is a victory for the Russians in the tug of war now being waged in Europe. Though Hungary Was within their sphere of control, the elections in that country proved a severe moral blow to the Russian claims to popular support. Now they will stage another election ... more carefully.

At the moment there is nothing the Anglo-American bloc can do. Perhaps a protest note; but that is all. As the New York Times correspondent, Bertram Hulen, reports from Washington, one result will be that the U.S. government will now “pay more attention” to (that is, try to exert more control over) events in France and Italy.

In these events we see still another part of the general tendency for all small, or second-rate nations in Europe to be swallowed up by the major imperialist powers. Either openly through outright force – as Russia does. Or more subtlety, through financial pressure – as the Anglo-American bloc. In either case and to varying degrees, the sovereignty of every European people is being destroyed.

It is for this reason that in the hands of the revolutionary socialists in Europe today, the program and slogan of “national liberation; withdraw the troops of all the occupying powers; full self-determination for all peoples” is so powerful. It is the road to mass struggle; to driving out the imperialist occupation and thereby to destroying their native agents and the capitalist structure.

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