___The Years of Changes in Hungary 1944–1948___Vissza
János Rainer M:

The Years of Changes in Hungary 1944-1948

The Soviet system was not introduced by one radical change in Hungary after the Second World War. On the contrary it was the result of a series of changes which came about one after the other. Although we still don’t know enough about the Soviet intentions and views towards Hungary, on the basis of the new archival evidence two fashionable judgements have to be modified. According to the first one Hungary’s fate had been decided in the moment the Red Army reached the Hungarian soil, or even before. The second conviction holds that the Hungarian Communists acted just as Stalin´s “agents” of Stalin, fulfilling his great “Plan” drawn up in Moscow about the end of the War. The aim of this “Plan” was not less than the total Sovietization of Eastern Europe including Hungary.

(The “Plan”) Deputy Commissar of Foreign Affairs, Ivan Maisky in his proposal “On the Desirable Principles of a Future World” from 1944 raised four priorities for the Soviet foreign policy: the security of the Soviet Union (a 30-50 year period of peace), the expansion of the empire (i. e. the consolidation of the Soviet territories obtained before and during the war), the maintenance in life of the anti-fascist coalition for the future, and imposing some kind of democratic transition in the former enemy countries. As regards this latter he supposed to do it “... in the spirit of the popular front and on the basis of broad democracy... In order to build up true democratic regimes necessary measures should be taken with the assistance of other countries, that is, in the first place of the Soviet Union, the United Kingdom and the United States. One should not shrink back from this intervention to the internal affairs of other states because only democratic systems can guarantee effectively the long-term peace...”(1)

(The first Hungarian people’s democracy) Hungary had no primary importance for the Soviets. As Maisky says “... the Soviet Union is not concerned in the existence of a strong Hungary”, and contrary to Romania in his plan there was no hint of particular, i.e. political-military relations to be developed between USSR and Hungary. Yet, the Hungarian Provisional Assembly and the government both were formed under direct and continuous Soviet surveillance.(2) Consequently Hungary became a “people’s democracy” just like the defeated Rumania, Bulgaria and the formally victorious Poland.

The term “people’s democracy” suggests a political structure which was in accordance both with the Soviet intention to create a sphere of security in Eastern Europe and with the contents of the Yalta Declaration. The overwhelming majority of local Communists in parliaments and governments, as well as, the holding of crucial positions in the police and the public administration satisfied the first claim. (Together with the Soviet-dominated Allied Control Commissions, of course.) “Representativeness”, i.e. the at least formal participation of all the democratic forces in the provisional “pseudo-coalitions” did the same concerning the second obligation. The situation in Hungary between 21 December, 1944 (Provisional Assembly) and 4 November, 1945 (parliamentary elections) was, by no means, corrisponded to this scheme.

(From “people’s democracy” to democracy: the first change) Parliamentary elections in 4 November 1945 brought about a new political situtation. While in Romania, Bulgaria, Poland and Yugoslavia the different political parties participated in unions or blocs in the elections, in Hungary real elections took place. Although the parties of the Provisional Assembly had declared in advance their intention to govern together whatever the results would be, the new coalition reflected the real proportion of votes.

In December 1944, before returning home, the Hungarian Communist leaders were offered quite a vast scope of independence by Stalin himself. It turned out in 1945, however, as Rakosi was sending messages frequently to Moscow requesting advice and he had hardly any reply, that this independence was even too large. It can be explained with Hungary’s specific status in the western periphery of the Soviet sphere of interest, a bit far from the focus of Moscow’s attention.(3) Consequently, the HCP wanted to follow the pattern and create a common election bloc, but as they had an almost blind faith in the success of the workers´ parties, they wanted to ally only with the Social Democrats. Rakosi deemed it to be enough to attain the majority. The Soviet proposal to form a wider bloc came only three weeks before the elections took place -- and right after the HCP-SDP “united front” had been defeated in the municipal elections in Budapest.(4) The self-confident HCP manoeuvred itself into a serious failure in the parliamentary elections and the Soviets showed a clear aversion to the Hungarian party. A comprehensive report on HCP’s policy from 1947 found that “In this respect the HCP abandoned the general political line which had prevailed in Yugoslavia, Bulgaria, Romania and Finland where an electoral bloc of the democratic parties had been set up. That kind of bloc suited well the interests of the Soviet Union and up to the Budapest municipal elections it existed formally in Hungary, too. ... The HCP obviously tried to resolve the Hungarian question independently of the Soviet Union´s general political line and sometimes it did not seem to understand this policy.”(5) In the early 1946 Hungary was not considered to be a “new, people’s democracy” by the Russians.(6)

(From democracy to “people’s democracy”: the second change) After the election failure the HCP leadership came to the conclusion that its primary task was to correct the results (i.e. the vast majority of the Western-oriented democratic Smallholders’ Party) by all means, first of all by adopting extra-parliamentary measures. As Rakosi put it in 1947, right after the elections they made plans for dividing up the Smallholders Party. He also intended to restrict the suffrage in order to discriminate political opponents.(7) This time Moscow did not want to keep under control this fervour. On the contrary, the Soviets gave several times active support to the HCP. For example, just as the negotiations on the formation of the government in November 1945 began, Stalin directly intervened in the process through the ACC to counter-balance the Smallholders’ victory.(8)

The second change can be divided into two stages. As for the first, the slow transition started in January 1946 with the establishment of the Supreme Council of Economic Affaires led by the Communists. It was followed by the mass campaign against the Smallholders, thank to which their parliamentary fraction diminished by more than 20 MPs (March, 1946), and the dissolution of civil and religious associations in July 1946. At the end of 1946 the Communist dominated security police revealed a totally insignificant “conspiracy” in which a handful of politicians and bureaucrats of the old regime was involved. Since the group had some contacts with the Smallholders, it was like a Christmas gift for the HCP leadership - an opportunity to shift gear from the low to full speed. Due to alleged participation in the “conspiracy” six MPs, one minister and the general secretary of the Smallholders, Bela Kovacs were arrested, the latter by the Soviet military police. Rákosi wanted to go further immediately and sent several messages to Stalin about the far-reaching conspiracy headed by the Smallholder Prime Minister Ferenc Nagy (with the Western powers in the background). At the end of April Molotov, having been warned by the Truman-doctrine, stopped the zealous Rákosit who dreamed about a great show-trial. After the expulsion of the Communist ministers from the French and Italian governments at the beginning of May 1947, Stalin switched on the green light. Soviet MGB organs fabricated compromising material about the Hungarian Premier who was spending his holiday in Switzerland since the beginning of March. Instead of returning home (and being arrested, quite surely) Ferenc Nagy chose the resignation and the emigration (30 May,1947).

(“People’s democracy” in the Soviet bloc: the third change) So far the Soviet policy towards Hungary and other East-Central European countries was wavering between cautiousness and decisiveness. The Marshall Plan, especially its clear tendency to create a Western European integration including also Germany, made the Soviets to choose the way of conflict with the West. While Moscow thought it to be natural that they were keeping under control their sphere of security, the formation of another sphere based on democratic principles seemed to be unacceptable for them.(9) As a first-hand reaction, the Soviets forced the Czechoslovak and the Polish government to refuse the participation in the Plan. Soviet intentions to establish some kind of organizational form of cooperation of the Communist parties also changed radically.(10)

By September 1947, when the Szklarska Poreba Cominform meeting started, the Hungarian Party assessed its own position very carefully. As Jozsef Revai told, “it has not been decided yet whether in Hungary there will be a people’s democracy or a bourgeoise one, whether Hungary joins the new democracies or will be the stronghold of Anglo-American imperialism.”(11)Although Zhdanov was not dissatisfied with Revai’s report, the Hungarian Communists couldn’t obtain Moscow’s approval. In the August 1947 parliamentary elections only the united front of the four independent coalition parties took part (including the purged Smallholders) instead of a bloc. Despite of the grave violations of the electoral law the front received slightly more than 60 % of the votes. The Democratic opposition, namely the Christian Democrats and the Hungarian Independence Party got about 40 %. Results were all the more unpleasant because Rakosi two weeks before the elections had sent a very optimistic forecast to Moscow with an estimation “less than 15 %” for the opposition.(12) “The Communist Party ... made fatal mistakes in the 1947 electoral campaign, too. [The HCP] overestimated his power and underestimated that of the reactionary forces.” -- as it was put down in a summary report on HCP activity made by the CPSU International Department for Stalin, at the end of 1947.(13)

After Szklarska Poreba the Hungarian Communists decided that instead of “parliamentary methods” they would have “to mobilize the masses”, instead of blocs of parties they would have to create mass organizations under Communist leadership; they would have to exclude all the other parties from the headquarters of armed forces, to “limit srictly and, after all to destroy the economic power of the bourgeoisie”.(14) In general, the HCP “would have to change his political line as a whole.”(15) And so it happened. Some weeks after the Cominform had been founded the Hungarian Independence Party was suppressed. Within the Central Comittee apparatus the elaboration of the new principles of the socialist economic policy started, the same in the field of agricultural cooperatives. The most characteristic political event of the third change was the forced disintegration of the Social Democratic Party and then the unification of the HCP with the rest of it in June 1948. So late because Stalin, interestingly enough, advised the HCP to be cautious again in late 1947 - early 1948.(16)

(Soviet system, soviet bloc: the fourth change) For Moscow the alignment of the Eastern European countries´ foreign policy and political system to Soviet satellite policy claims wasn’t enough. In case of cold or warm war conflict even the minimal divergence from the Number One pattern was considered as a risk. So after the Cominform had been founded Stalin might have thought that time came to put an end to all concepts and practices of “national ways to socialism” or “relatively peaceful transitions”. In spring 1948 the International Department of CPSU(b) CC prepared one report after the other on the “anti-Marxist”, “nationalist” deviations of Eastern European Communist parties. Some of them were rather indictments than evaluations. Especially sharp tone was used considering the activity of Yugoslav, Polish and Czechoslovak parties.(17)

By the assumption of Russian scholars Noskova and Murashko, Stalin planned a large-scale purge in the leadership of the satellite parties in spring 1948.(18) If it was so, the Hungarians had some reasons to be anxious. The report from March, 1948 on “The nationalist mistakes of the Hungarian Communist Party leadership and the bourgeoise influence in the Hungarian Communist press” was not so tough in tone as the ones on the Czechs and the Polish. However, it did not sound very well that the Hungarian party leadership “while displaying his party before the country and the people as a national one, often misses the right line and takes nationalist positions”. Or another example: Rakosi, Revai and Farkas “didn’t take into account” the economic interests of the Soviet Union. The major part of the report concerned the inadequate propaganda about the Soviet Union, especially its mishandling in the press (the Communist-run satirical journal “Pesti Ize” was even characterised as pornographic from the beginning to the very end).(19) Now one may even smile on this “analysis” but then it had a very serious objective. It was not less than the abolition of all the democratic and pluralist reminiscences still in life within the framework of “people’s democracy” (limited freedom of the press, relatively autonomous national culture, etc.) As the Soviet-Yugoslav conflict was becoming more and more tense, Moscow could have added the old mistakes of HCP leadership to this rather comrade-like criticism: tactical faults in two elections, Rakosi’s zealous behaviour in other cases, his strikingly warm relationship with the Yugoslavs, etc. But Rakosi also realized what was at stake and he went quickly further. Just after the unification with the Social Democrats the nationalization of all religious schools was announced and almost contemporarily a crusade initiated against the most powerful Hungarian church (the Catholics). After the nationalization of the industry in March, 1948, the pressure concentrated on the individual farmers (called kulaks from then on). Since the summer 1948 the HCP’s national “pathfinders” (Imre Nagy) were openly criticised as right-wing deviators. So the Hungarian party leadership demonstrated his ability to understand the Yugoslav lesson and started the reconstruction of the society along the Soviet pattern. One year later, in 1949, when the Rajk case started it served only an additional proof.

(1)See Istochnik, 4 (1995)

(2)Islamov, Murashko, Noskova, Volokitina (eds.),Vostochnaia Evropa v dokumentakh rossiiskikh arkhivov 1944-1953, tom I, Sibirskii khronograph, Moscow-Nowosibirsk, 1997. Docs. No. 23, 25, 29, 33, 34.

(3)Charles Gati, Hungary and the Soviet Bloc, Duke University Press, Durham, 1986.

(4)Ferenc Nagy: The Struggle behind the Iron Courtain, MacMillan, New York, 1948. See also Vostochnaia Evropa, op. cit. Docs No. 98, 100.

(5)Vostochnaia Evropa, op. cit. p. 610.

(6)Boris Ponomarev: Demokraticheskie preobrazhovanie v osvobozhdennykh stranakh Evropi, Bolshevik, 22. vol. No. 6. March 12, 1946. On the mistakes of the HCP see also Moshetov’s report to Stalin on the HCP, RTsKhIDNI, f. 17. op. 128. d. 1090. and Vostochnaya Evropa, op. cit. Doc. No. 268.

(7)Politikatorteneti Intezet Leveltara (PIL, Archive of Institute for Political History, Budapest) 274. f. 7/123. o. e. Notes of Matyas Rakosi about the three years of HCP.elsô három évérôl. See also PIL 274. f. 2/33. o. e. Rakosi’s report on HCP CC session, 22 Nov., 1945.

(8)Vostochnaia Evropa, op. cit. Docs. No. 105, 107, 111., 113.

(9)M. M. Narinskii: SSSR i plan Marshalla. Po materialam Arkhiva prezidenta RF. Novaia i noveishaia istoriia 2, (1993) pp. 11-19.

(10)See Grant M. Adibekov, Kominform i poslevoyennaya Evropa, Rossiya Molodaya, Mscow, 1994. Leonid Gibianskii: Kak vozhnik Kominform, Novaia i noveishaia istoriia, 4, 1993. Grant Adibekov: How the First Conference of the Cominform Came About. In: The Cominform. Minutes of the Three Conferences 1947/1948/1949. Fondazione Giangiacomo Feltrinelli, Milano, 1994. 3-9.

(11)RTsKhIDNI, f. 77. op. 3. d. 92

(12)Rakosi’a report 13 August, 1947 in: Vostochnaya Evropa, op. cit. Doc. No. 231.

(13)RTsKhIDNI, f. 17. op. 128. d. 1090.

(14)PIL 274.f . 3/112. o. e. HCP PC Oct. 9, 1947. Report on International Conference, Sept. 22-27, 1947, pp. 35-36.

(15)Ibid. 38.

(16)PIL 274. f. 3/134. o. e. HCP PC Febr. 26, 1948. Rakosi’s report, p. 10.

(17)Vostochnaia Evropa, op. cit. Docs. No. 267, 272, 274.

(18)G. P. Murashko, A. F. Noskova, A szovjet tenyezô Kelet-Europa orszagainak haboru utani fejlodeseben (Soviet Factor in the Development of Eastern European Countries After the War), Multunk, 2 (1996) p. 76.

(19)Vostochnaia Evropa, op. cit. pp. 802-806.

Paper presented 19 February 1998, Conference "The Czechoslovak February, 1948", Prague.

Kérjük írja meg véleményét, javaslatait.
Copyright © 2000 National Széchényi Library 1956 Institute and Oral History Archive
Utolsó módosítás:  2006. szeptember 27. szerda

Keresés a honlapon