Less than a year after the condemnation of mechanism by the dialectical school headed by Deborin, the Deborin school itself came under severe criticism. They were accused of ‘menshevising idealism’ or idealistic mistakes and slipping towards menshevik positions:
“In point of fact, it was before the first controversy had ended, while Deborin and his followers, during its closing years, were definitely gaining the upper hand, that a feeling arose among a large group of thinkers that neither of the contending schools was working out the kind of philosophic program and structure that were really needed. The feeling was that Deborin, and those who thought with him, had performed a necessary and valuable service in contending against the mechanists and exposing their errors, but that their own philosophical outlook suffered from… grave defects… they had lost touch with the very rapidly, and, indeed, momentously developing social and economic situation of the whole Soviet experiment, particularly, the problems centering round the introduction of the first Five Year Plan, and the building up of the collective farm movement. This area of problems found little reflection in the work of Deborin and his group (any more than in the work of the mechanists); hence arose the charge of the divorcement of theory from practice.
It was the intention to accuse Deborin not so much of outright, full fledged adherence to “menshevism”… but of a tendency, inclination or movement in that direction. It was as much as to say, if he is not a menshevik, he is at least talking like a menshevik; he is menshevising, and if we do not stop him, he will become, once again, a complete menshevik… before the revolution, he had been in fact a genuine menshevik. Philosophically, this meant an adherence to the views of Plekhanov, the intellectual leader of the menshevik faction, rather than to those of Lenin, the leader of the bolsheviks. It meant the belief that Plekhanov was the guiding philosopher of the movement rather than Lenin.” (Somerville, Soviet Philosophy: A Study Of Theory And Practice, pp. 221-223)
THEORY AND PRACTICE
“The character of the group which rose up in opposition to Deborin… emphasized… the social and political contribution which they felt the philosophy ought to make to the currently developing reality. They were rather strict Leninists, and inclined to show little leniency towards the shortcomings of Plekhanov. Among their leading figures were Mitin and Yudin…
It was… Deborin’s lack of a sharp orientation in the social and political sense that made Mitin accuse him of idealistic tendencies, that is, tendencies to deal with ideas apart from their connections with things.
We noted at the outset that one of the principal objections made to the work of Deborin and his followers was that they allowed theory to become divorced from practice. To understand this charge, we must go back to the event which had originally set the ball of controversy rolling. This event was the now famous speech delivered by Stalin at the Conference of Agrarian Marxists. This conference took place in December, 1929, in the midst of the titanic struggles to collectivize the land… In the course of his talk, which was mainly devoted to theoretical questions, or rather to the relation between certain theories and certain matters of practice, Stalin took occasion to make the remark which became so well known, and played such a large part in the philosophical discussion.” (Somerville, pp. 224-225)
“But if we have reason to be proud of our practical successes in the field of socialist construction,” he said, “it is quite impossible to say the same about our theoretical work in the field of economics in general, and in rural economy in particular. More than that: it is necessary to recognize that our theoretical work is not keeping up with our practical successes, that there is a gap between practical achievements and the development of theory. Meanwhile, what is necessary is that theoretical work should not only keep pace with the practical, but should move in advance of it, arming the practitioners in their struggle for the victory of socialism.” (Stalin, Concerning Questions of Agrarian Policy in the U.S.S.R., Speech Delivered at a Conference of Marxist Students of Agrarian Questions, December 27, 1929)
“What this meant in reality was the relation of philosophical work to the great practical problems.” (Somerville, p. 226)
“In this speech Stalin was severely critical of a number of theories at that time current in Soviet cultural life, for instance the mechanist theories of ‘equilibrium’ and ‘samotek’ [or automatism]… “ (Gustav Wetter, Dialectical Materialism, pp. 132)
The theory of equilibrium was Bukharin’s mechanist distortion of dialectics, which he took from the revisionist Bogdanov. The theory of samotek was another mechanistic theory which implied that history progresses inevitably and automatically regardless of consciousness. That is a one sided theory as it doesn’t understand that although history progresses due to material conditions, those conditions are expressed in ideas. For the proletariat, and in socialist society, this is even more the case. As Marx said:
“theory also becomes a material force as soon as it has gripped the masses.” (The Introduction to Contribution To The Critique Of Hegel’s Philosophy Of Right)
“It was the opinion of Mitin and his group that… neither the Deborinites nor the mechanists understood the gravity of the social situation; both were insensitive to their philosophic obligations in the face of it. They were not doing their part… “to find the laws of the transitional period,” i.e., the transition from NEP to socialism. It was that situation around which, as Mitin felt, the philosophic work should mainly revolve, whereas the Deborinites were principally preoccupied with problems of interpreting the history of philosophy. Meanwhile, in regard to sociological matters, it was Bukharin’s theories which, by default, as one might say, were left to stand in the field… It was such conditions that gave rise to Mitin’s charge of divorcement of theory from practice, and “scholasticism” on the part of the Deborin group.
The issues were discussed at length in a philosophical conference which met for three days in October, 1930. Everyone concerned presented his views. Among the leading speakers on one side were Mitin and Yudin, and on the other, Deborin, Karev and Sten. The closing stages of the discussion were marked by Deborin’s admission that his leadership had been faulty, and that he had not carried out his philosophic obligations in the face of the very serious social problems confronting the people. The consensus of opinion was that philosophic work should proceed along the lines indicated by Mitin’s group.” (Somerville, p. 227)
“On 25th January, 1931, in its resolution concerning the journal Pod znamenem marxizma [Under the banner of Marxism], the Central Committee of the Party condemned both mechanism and Deborinism, and demanded of the new philosophical leadership a war on two fronts in philosophy also:
‘In the field of philosophy the journal must wage a relentless struggle on two fronts: against the mechanist revision of Marxism, as the chief danger at the present time, and also against the idealist distortion of Marxism on the part of comrades Deborin, Karev, Sten and others.’
The Deborinists were accused, above all, of having separated philosophy from politics, theory from practice. They were rebuked for not having understood that Leninism represents a new epoch in philosophy, a reproach directed at their high opinion of Plekhanov. All the same it is noteworthy that it was mechanism which was described as the ‘chief danger’ at the present time.” (Wetter, p. 135)
“Lenin… had prescribed a critical attitude towards the Hegelian dialectic, and called for it to be reformed on materialist lines and applied to the concrete reality of the proletarian struggle for existence. Deborin, however, had done neither the one nor the other. In the first place the Deborinists had taken over the Hegelian dialectic as it stood, without transforming it into a materialist dialectic. They had supposed that in Hegel’s philosophy it was only the system that was idealistic, the method itself being a materialistic one…
In addition to their unmodified acceptance of the Hegelian dialectic, the Deborinists had committed a further error in taking an entirely abstract view of the dialectic, without applying it to the concrete problems of Soviet reality. Their whole activity had been occupied almost exclusively with Hegel’s Science of Logic, without taking any account of the questions of the day, the problems of politics and economics, the dictatorship of the proletariat and its struggle for the establishment of socialism. For them it was only the dialectic of logic that counted, not the dialectic of reality and the social struggle…
But it was not only in this Hegelian conception of dialectic that the idealism of the Deborinists presented itself… Their conception of matter is almost equally erroneous. They banish from it, indeed, everything which constitutes, in the Leninist view, the essential nature of matter, namely its character as an objective reality independent of our consciousness which gives rise to our sensations. The nature of matter in this sense is misrepresented in the definition given by Deborin, whose book Lenin the Thinker begins by framing the concept of matter correctly enough, but then goes on: ‘In the broader sense matter is the whole infinite concrete totality of “mediations”, i.e., ties and relationships’.” (Wetter, pp. 155-156)
“under [Deborin’s] direction the Hegelianizing of Marxism had reached such a point that for three or four years the whole work of the philosophical section of the Institute of Red Professors had been devoted to Hegel’s logic, and the last three or four courses had given no opportunity even for making acquaintance with the work of Feuerbach, let alone that of Marx and Engels.” (Wetter, p. 135)
DEBORIN ON PLEKHANOV
The Deboring group was seriously criticized for their view on Lenin and Plekhanov. They held the widespread position among ex-mensheviks, that Plekhanov had been the real theoretician while Lenin had only been a practical leader. They did not understand that Leninism was a higher stage of Marxism. They also did not see any flaws in Plekhanov’s theory and did not see any meaningful disagreement between Lenin and Plekhanov. In reality, Plekhanov was a great theoretician, but he also made many serious mistakes.
It should be stated that after the controversy Deborin did his best to correct his mistakes and made a thorough self-criticism. There were a lot of criticisms, but they were fruitful in the end. Deborin said in 1937:
“To speak concretely, let me cite my earlier views on the relation of Lenm and Plekhanov. A number of years ago, I used to be of the opinion, as my published writings show, that Lenin was our great political leader while Plekhanov was our great philosophic leader. I now see that this whole view of the situation sprang out of a false conception of the relation of theory and practice. I now see that Lenin was not only our political leader, but our theoretical leader as well — as a theoretician, greater by far than Plekhanov. Take, for instance, Lenin’s whole theory of imperialism. Plekhanov never worked out any comparable doctrine of the basic aspects of present day capitalism. Then take Lenin’s theory of the state — the whole concept of the Soviet state, which was of such critical importance in the building of socialism. It was Lenin who rose to that occasion in 1917, and not Plekhanov. Again, it was Lenin and not Plekhanov who understood the nature of the imperialist war, and who, consequently, never wavered in his attitude towards it, whereas Plekhanov completely lost his bearings, and adopted a chauvinist position.” (Quoted in Somerville, pp. 223-224)
“Deborin… had taken Plekhanov, the theoretician, as a complement to Lenin, the man of action; he had constituted himself the uncritical apologist of Plekhanov’s entire ouvre” (Wetter, p. 135)
“Long before the Revolution, Deborin’s book, An Introduction to the Philosophy of Dialectical Materialism, had appeared with a friendly preface by Plekhanov which was in great contrast to the remarks which Lenin penned in relation to the work. They were found in the margins of Lenin’s copy of one of Deborin’s chapters, printed in 1909 in advance of the full work. Lenin was greatly given to writing comments in margins, and among the remarks with which he sprinkled Deborin’s chapter were: “inexact,” “clumsy,” “fibs,” and “ne plus ultra of clumsiness.” There is only one favorable comment, “right,” next to an underlined passage.” (Somerville, p. 224)
“the objection was that… Deborin takes over from Plekhanov precisely what is least valuable in him, his apology for Feuerbach, the application of Feuerbach’s anthropological principle to epistemology, the discounting of Lenin’s theory of knowledge (the ‘copy-theory’ [aka. the theory of reflection]), the attempt to solve the epistemological problem of the subject-object relation in terms of purely metaphysical categories without regard for historical and revolutionary reality. The whole nonpolitical, unrevolutionary spirit of Deborin’s philosophy resembles that of Plekhanov’s.” (Wetter, p. 157)
“Elsewhere, in his Introduction to Volume IX of Lenin’s Selected Writings, Deborin modifies his opinion to some extent, maintaining that Lenin and Plekhanov represented different stages in the development of Marxism:
‘There is a difference between Plekhanov and Lenin which reflects what is peculiar to the historical phases of development in the revolutionary movement and the class-struggle of the proletariat.’
To this the [Marxist-Leninists] objected that the most important works of Plekhanov and Lenin, and not only the philosophical ones but also others, such as the polemic against the Narodniks, belong to the same period. Another well-known Deborinist therefore deals with the question in a rather different fashion. In an article in the magazine Pod znameneni rnarxizma he writes:
‘Plekhanov and Lenin are representative . . . not of different periods in the workers’ movement, but of different currents in it and in Marxism, a different type of insight into the same thing.’
But even this approach found no acceptance from the [Marxist-Leninist] point of view. To speak of different currents and tendencies in Marxism is to abandon Marxist-Leninism. It would mean reverting to the standpoint of the Second International, which looked on Marxism as an agglomeration of movements, tendencies, etc.” (Wetter, p. 158)
DEBORIN ON UNITY AND STRUGGLE OF OPPOSITES
“the mechanists were accused in their day of having interpreted the negation of the negation to signify a restoration of equilibrium; Bukharin, for example, thought of synthesis, not as the negation of the negation, but as a ‘reconciliation’ of opposites:
‘a unifying position, in which contradictions are reconciled’. [see Bukharin, Historical Materialism, p. 74]
The same objection was also brought against ‘menshevizing idealism’, Deborin, for example, having seen in dialectical materialism a reconciliation of empiricism and rationalism,’” (Wetter, p. 358)
“Mitin… makes it a further objection to Deborin that the latter’s view of dialectic represents a reconciliation of opposites, not a struggle between them. In discussing Kant’s antinomies, Deborin writes:
‘Kant opposed the thesis to the antithesis and attempts to show that the thesis excludes the antithesis, and hence that they cannot be reconciled or resolved. The positive dialectic, on the other hand, sees in thesis and antithesis opposites which are not mutually exclusive, but reconciled one with another.’
Mitin contrasts this view of dialectic with that of Lenin, according to which it is not the unity, but the opposition, which plays the primary role in the dialectic: the unity of opposites is relative, temporary, transient; whereas the conflict between mutually exclusive opposites is absolute, like development and movement itself.” (Wetter, p. 166)
MENSHEVIZING IDEALISM SUMMED UP
“To sum up, we may say that menshevizing idealism is condemned… firstly as an idealistic tendency in that it offers too many hostages to Hegelianism, adopts the Hegelian dialectic without transforming it materialistically, separates form and content and misconceives the nature of matter; secondly, as a menshevizing tendency, in that it represents a revival of the traditions of the Second International, separates theory from practice, philosophy from politics, failing thereby to practise partisanship in philosophy, over estimates Plekhanov, and underestimates the importance of Lenin in the development of philosophy.” (Wetter, p. 158)
AFTER THE DEBATE
“Since the above-mentioned condemnation of ‘menshevizing idealism’ by the Party Central Committee (25th January 1931), Deborin, having… acknowledged his ‘errors’, has been able thereafter to occupy leading positions in the scientific work of the U.S.S.R. In November 1935 he was elected secretary of the Social Sciences division of the Academy of Sciences, in 1938 we find him on the Council of the Philosophical Institute of the same Academy of Sciences, while in 1939 he was elected to the Presidium of the Academy itself. At present [in the early 1950s] Deborin is a member of the editorial board of the Vestnik, the official organ of the Academy of Sciences of the U.S.S.R.” (Wetter, p. 159)
Mitin and his collaborators received some criticism in the mid 1930s for not keeping up with the development of the political situation, but despite this, Mitin was considered a leading Marxist-Leninist philosopher:
“On the occasion of his nomination to ordinary membership of the Academy of Sciences [in 1939], Mitin’s services to Soviet philosophy were appraised by the Vestnik of the Academy as follows: Mitin is ‘one of the foremost researchers in the field of philosophy. For the past 10 years he has been engaged in investigating the problems of dialectical materialism and of the history of philosophy. Among the deepest inquiries devoted to the problems of dialectical materialism are works such as his Boevye voprosy material is ticheskoy dialektiki (Burning Questions of Materialist Dialectics), Engels i dialektichesky materializm (Engels and Dialectical Materialism), Materialist icheskaya dialektika—filosopya proletariat a (Materialist Dialectic—the Philosophy of the Proletariat), Stalin i rnaterialisticheskaya dialektika (Stalin and the Materialist Dialectic). As regards the history of philosophy, particular importance attaches to those works of Mitin which outline the interrelation of ideas between Marxism and classical German philosophy, more especially the philosophy of Hegel (Hegel i materialisticheskaya dialektika (Hegel and the Materialist Dialectic), Istoriya fdosofii Hegelya (Hegel’s History of Philosophy), Filosofiya prava Hegelya (Hegel’s Philosophy of Right). Translations of a number of Hegel’s greatest works are appearing under M. B. Mitin’s editorship (Science of Logic, History of Philosophy). In combination with his scholarly activities, Mitin pursues a thorough-going campaign against mechanist and idealist theories in the field of philosophy. In addition to his academic work, Mitin displays great activity as a lecturer and publicist. He is in charge of the philosophical and socio-political journal Under the Banner of Marxism and is at present Director of the Marx-Engels-Lenin Institute.’ (Vestnik Akademii Nauk SSSR, 1939, No. 2/3, p. 181.)” (Wetter, p. 179)
In this article I have discussed and criticized Plekhanov and Deborin at great length. However, I want to re-emphasize that Plekhanov was a great theoretician, and Lenin praised some of his philosophical works highly. Certain works of Plekhanov such as “The Development of the Monist View of History” and “The Role of the Individual in History” are classics of Marxism. In other words, it is good and useful to read and study Plekhanov. Plekhanov still failed to understand certain aspects of dialectics and made serious opportunist mistakes in politics, so his work must be read critically.
Deborin also wrote many good works and I also encourage people to study Deborin. Needless to say he also made many mistakes (some were serious, many were not so serious) but this article hopefully can serve as a guide to avoid many of them. But as Lenin said:
“It goes without saying that nobody can be blamed for making mistakes” the problem is when one chooses to persist in them. (Lenin, The Vperyodists and the Vperyod Group)
I also recommend reading the works of M. B. Mitin. You can find some of them collected on this page.
This series of articles will discuss the development of philosophy in the Soviet Union.
DEBATE BETWEEN MECHANISTS AND DIALECTICIANS (1920s)
“The period of the twenties in Soviet Russia was marked by an extended controversy in science and philosophy over the relative merits of dialectical and mechanistic materialism. There were actually two prongs to the discussion. One issue was whether or not the principles of dialectics, part of the official Marxist philosophy, were applicable to the natural sciences. The other issue was the actual definition of the principles of dialectics.
The initiative in this controversy was taken by a group of natural scientists who maintained that natural science discovers its laws by empirical research, and should not be subject to the imposition of preexisting philosophical laws. Their early spokesman, O. Minin, said that philosophy had to be thrown overboard together with religion… [and his slogan was] “overboard with philosophy… In addition, they favored the models of mechanics as the basis for scientific explanation, and many of the scientists believed that the principles of dialectics could actually be expressed in terms of mechanics. In this contention they found support from Bukharin in his Historical Materialism…
Resistance to this attack was organized among a group of philosophers led by A. M. Deborin at the Communist Academy, an organ of the Central Committee of the Party. A Society of Militant Materialist Dialecticians was organized, and support was gained from philosophers at the Lenin Institute, the Marx-Engels Institute, and the Institute of Red Professors… The position of the dialecticians was given further valuable support in 1925 by the Marx-Engels Institute’s publication of two important fragmentary works, Engels’ Dialectics of Nature and portions of Lenin’s philosophical notebooks.” (Raymond A. Bauer, The new man in Soviet psychology, pp. 24-25)
The debate between mechanists and dialecticians centered around the following main topics: 1. Many mechanists considered that philosophy was unnecessary and the only thing needed was natural science, or that the role of philosophy was very small, while dialectical materialists considered philosophy to be very important. 2. Mechanists considered that motion was mechanical, i.e. simple and not contradictory, while dialectical materialists considered that motion was due to contradictions and interactions. 3. Mechanists considered that motion was external to objects and phenomena while dialectical materialists considered motion to be inherent inside objects and phenomena. 4. Mechanical materialists were fatalistic determinists, considering that freedom doesn’t exist. Dialectical materialism holds a dialectical view of freedom and necessity. 5. Mechanical materialists were a heterogeneous group of revisionists and many also held vulgar materialist views and anti-marxist views in general.
MECHANISTS BELIEVED THAT PHILOSOPHY NEEDED TO BE GOTTEN RID OF
“mechanists… believed that the positive science had virtually eliminated the need for philosophy.” (Stephen F. Cohen, Bukharin and the bolshevik revolution, p. 114)
O. Minin distorts the view of Lenin and Plekhanov, claiming their discussions of philosophy were mere “slips of the pen”:
“Both V. I. Lenin, and Plekhanov also, employ old-fashioned terms such as “the philosophy of Marxism”, “the philosophical implications of the natural sciences” and so forth, but these terms as used by Lenin and Plekhanov are merely slips of the pen and nothing more. In fitting out and trimming the ship of science we must take care to throw, not only religion, but also the whole of philosophy overboard.” (O. Minin, Overboard with Philosophy, 1922, quoted in Wetter, Dialectical Materialism pp. 129-130)
IS THE SOURCE OF MOTION INTERNAL OR EXTERNAL?
“To the mechanist the concept of force is the means of explaining causal relationships in the world. Since his theoretical model is that of a machine which responds or adjusts to external force, there would be no initial motion in the system without the application of external force. The mechanist sees the world as consisting of rigid, isolated elements, so that if force is applied at one point it is transmitted by these rigid elements to other elements and so on. If forces equal in magnitude but opposite in direction are effective on the same point, no motion results but an equilibrium is established… Bukharin’s conception of equilibrium was a good example of this approach. To him society was a system which adjusted to the natural environment. The internal structure—the state of equilibrium within the system— is a function of the system’s external equilibrium. In such a scheme, the initiative always rests in external factors. This is illustrated by Bukharin’s statement: “We may say of a system that it is in equilibrium if that system of itself, without the application of external energy, cannot change its condition.” [N. Bukharin, Teoriia Iistoricheskogo materializma, p. 76]”
Bukharin talks about two kinds of contradictions, ones internal to the system and ones between the system and its external environment. He says the external contradiction is primary, while the internal is only secondary:
“It is quite clear that the internal structure of the system (its internal equilibrium) must change together with the relation existing between the system and its environment. The latter relation is the decisive factor” (Bukharin, Historical materialism, p. 79)
That is a completely anti-marxist position! Bauer sums up the criticism of the dialecticians correctly:
“The dialecticians argued that motion is an inherent property of matter, while the mechanists considered motion to be a property that is imparted to matter from without. The dialecticians contended that the mechanists’ position involved the positing of a prime mover to set matter in motion, and thus led to such concepts as God… This difference in interpretation of the nature of force is a key to understanding how certain Marxists who considered themselves to be dialecticians were criticized as being mechanists.” (Bauer, pp. 26-27)
The classics of Marxism understood the source of motion to be internal contradictions:
“A motionless state of matter is therefore one of the most empty and nonsensical of ideas — a “delirious fantasy” of the purest water.” (Engels, Anti-Dühring)
“Contrary to metaphysics, dialectics holds that internal contradictions are inherent in all things… and that the struggle between these opposites… constitutes the internal content of the process of development” (Stalin, Dialectical and historical materialism)
“The condition for the knowledge of all processes of the world in their “self-movement,” in their spontaneous development, in their real life, is the knowledge of them as a unity of opposites. Development is the “struggle” of opposites… [this view] alone furnishes the key to the “self-movement” of everything existing; it alone furnishes the key to “leaps,” to the “break in continuity,” to the “transformation into the opposite,” to the destruction of the old and the emergence of the new.” (Lenin, On the Question of Dialectics, in his Philosophical Notebooks)
Dialectical-Materialism holds that motion and development are constant and absolute, while rest and balance are only relative and temporary:
“The unity… of opposites is conditional, temporary, transitory, relative. The struggle of mutually exclusive opposites is absolute, just as development and motion are absolute.” (Lenin, On the Question of Dialectics, in his Philosophical Notebooks)
“All rest, all equilibrium, is only relative” (Engels, Anti-Dühring)
The classics of Marxism held that matter is uncreated, uncreatable, indestructible and eternal. It does not need a creator because it has always been:
“Thus we have once again returned to the point of view of the great founders of Greek philosophy, the view that the whole of nature, from the smallest element to the greatest, from grains of sand to suns, from protista to men, has its existence in eternal coming into being and passing away, in ceaseless flux, in un-resting motion and change, only with the essential difference that what for the Greeks was a brilliant intuition, is in our case the result of strictly scientific research in accordance with experience, and hence also it emerges in a much more definite and clear form.” (Engels, Dialectics of Nature)
“the eternally repeated succession of worlds in infinite time is only the logical complement to the co-existence of innumerable worlds in infinite space… It is an eternal cycle in which matter moves, a cycle that certainly only completes its orbit in periods of time for which our terrestrial year is no adequate measure, a cycle in which the time of highest development, the time of organic life and still more that of the life of beings conscious of nature and of themselves, is just as narrowly restricted as the space in which life and self-consciousness come into operation; a cycle in which every finite mode of existence of matter, whether it be sun or nebular vapour, single animal or genus of animals, chemical combination or dissociation, is equally transient, and wherein nothing is eternal but eternally changing, eternally moving matter and the laws according to which it moves and changes. ” (Engels, Dialectics of Nature)
“Whereas only ten years ago the great basic law of motion, then recently discovered, was as yet conceived merely as a law of the conservation of energy, as the mere expression of the indestructibility and uncreatability of motion, that is, merely in its quantitative aspect, this narrow negative conception is being more and more supplanted by the positive idea of the transformation of energy, in which for the first time the qualitative content of the process comes into its own, and the last vestige of an extramundane creator is obliterated.” (Engels, Anti-Dühring)
“Motion is therefore as uncreatable and indestructible as matter itself” (Engels, Anti-Dühring)
“It already becomes evident here that matter is unthinkable without motion. And if, in addition, matter confronts us as something given, equally uncreatable as indestructible, it follows that motion also is as uncreatable as indestructible.” (Engels, Dialectics of Nature)
Engels further says “the creation and destruction of motion… presupposes a creator.” (Engels, Dialectics of Nature)
Lenin and Stalin both referred to Heraclitus’s statement:
“Speaking of the materialist views of the ancient philosopher Heraclitus, who held that “the world, the all in one, was not created by any god or any man, but was, is and ever will be a living flame, systematically flaring up and systematically dying down”‘ Lenin comments: “A very good exposition of the rudiments of dialectical materialism.” (Stalin, Dialectical and Historical Materialism, quoting from Lenin’s philosophical notebooks)
ACCIDENT AND NECESSITY
“The mechanists were criticized for being rigid determinists. They argued that chance or accident were merely the products of our ignorance: “. . . in reality they think that only necessity exists. Accident is a product of our ignorance, and therefore exclusively a subjective phenomenon.” To the extent that the dialectic view of accident can be disentangled from Hegelian terminology it is this: Certain elements in a situation are more relevant than others for the problem at hand. The analyst concentrates on these elements, and factors external to his scheme of analysis, but which may impinge on the events with which he is dealing, he calls “accidents.” “Hence the accidental may be defined as a cause which is not directly related to the lawful inner development of a given phenomenon. It appears as something external in relation to it. That is to say there may be two or more quite independent series of causes and effects which may intersect, and this intersection is accidental.”
The mechanists, in holding to the view that chance is incompatible with causality, are accused of failing to distinguish between the relevant and the irrelevant. The essence of the difference is that to the person looking into the past, “complete” determinism makes sense since the relevance of events can be judged on the basis of the effect they have produced. The person looking into the future does not have such wisdom of hindsight, and he must make some decision before the fact of the relevance of the factors involved since he cannot take all conceivable variables into consideration.” (Bauer, pp. 30-31)
As Engels explained, in trying to deny accidents mechanical materialism actually lowers everything to the level of mere accidents:
“chance is not here explained by necessity, but rather necessity is degraded to the production of what is merely accidental. If the fact that a particular pea-pod contains six peas, and not five or seven, is of the same order as the law of motion of the solar system, or the law of the transformation of energy, then as a matter of fact chance is not elevated into necessity, but rather necessity degraded into chance” (Engels, Dialectics of Nature)
Mechanical materialism was perhaps the most serious threat in the history of Soviet philosophy. The debate between mechanists and dialecticians started in the realm of philosophy of science, because most of the mechanists were natural scientists and not philosophers. They advocated a simplistic position which underestimated the importance of philosophy. They had a tendency of saying that the “simple facts” discovered by science should be accepted at face value, and philosophy should simply repeat those findings. They did not question the methodology they had inherited from the capitalist class, and instead of developing a methodology of science based on Marxism-Leninism, they wanted to twist Marxist dialectics into the typical mechanism used by non-dialectical capitalist scientists and philosophers of science. However, the Soviet mechanists still claimed to support dialectics and claimed that in fact they were the real dialectical materialists. This confusion is exemplified by their slogan that “dialectics is mechanist”.
The mechanists also seriously underestimated the subject matter of philosophy. They believed that philosophy can only closely follow the findings of natural sciences, and thus it was only an appendage to science instead of having any possibility to develop relatively independently. Of course materialist philosophy must base itself on science and make generalizations based on scientific findings, but as Marx and Engels noted, philosophy has often been very much ahead of natural science, and philosophy at the end of the day is a separate and theoretical discipline. Most philosophical discussions and debates do not in fact merely summarize recent scientific findings, but discuss much more broad theoretical topics.
The way of thinking of the mechanists “might be characterized as an extreme empiricism. The word “extreme” here would have reference not only to a total exclusion of opposing philosophic tendencies, but also to a certain “untheoretical,” literal minded quality which attached to their conceptions and methods… “Materialism” to them meant a thorough reliance upon the methods and findings of experimental and exact natural science, which alone, in their view, was capable of coming to close grips with “matter” in its various phases. They did not hesitate to refer to themselves as “mechanists,” and to advocate the mechanistic terminology, not only in the philosophy of nature, but in the philosophy of history and society as well.” (Somerville, Soviet Philosophy: A Study Of Theory And Practice, pp. 213-214)
The mechanists claimed that only natural science could reach an understanding of matter. But matter is a philosophical category. A narrow empiricist might list various forms of matter: “matter is particles”, “matter is energy”, “matter is waves”, “matter is electro-magnetism”, but those things do not exhaust the category of matter. As Lenin said:
“Matter is a philosophical category denoting the objective reality which is given to man by his sensations, and which is copied, photographed and reflected by our sensations, while existing independently of them.” (Lenin, Materialism and empirio-criticism)
One of the leading mechanists was the future leader of the Right-Opposition, Nikolai Bukharin. He explicitly claimed that dialectics can be adequately explained mechanistically:
“It is quite possible to transcribe the ‘mystical’… language of Hegelian dialectics into the language of modern mechanics.” (Bukharin, Historical Materialism, p. 75)
Lenin had always maintained that Bukharin did not understand dialectics. During the trade union debate of 1921 Lenin said that Bukharin replaces dialectics with eclectics, i.e. mere mechanical combination:
“Bukharin’s fundamental theoretical mistake, which is substitution of eclecticism (especially popular with the authors of diverse “fashionable” and reactionary philosophical systems) for Marxist dialectics.” (Lenin, Once Again On The Trade Unions, The Current Situation and the Mistakes of Trotsky and Buhkarin)
Lenin had consistently attacked Bukharin’s mechanism and his use of revisionist and capitalist theories. Lenin particularly criticized Bukharin’s reliance on the anti-dialectical empirio-criticist Bogdanov:
“Lenin… particularly disliked what he called the use of “Bogdanovist gibberish” instead of “human language,”… Over and over again he greeted them with “ugh!”, “ha, ha,” “eclecticism,”” (Cohen, p. 114)
“Bukharin came out openly in favor of certain aspects of mechanism in his book, Historical Materialism… his opponents attacked not only his nomenclature, but his basic conceptions and theories, particularly the doctrine of social equilibrium, as being mechanistic.” (Somerville, p. 219)
“Precisely what the mechanist group asserted was that the dialectical conception of nature, properly understood, was the mechanistic conception. Thus [mechanist] Stepanov flatly entitled one of his articles, “The Dialectical Understanding of Nature Is the Mechanistic Understanding.”” (Somerville, p. 215)
THE DEBATE ON SPINOZA AND HEGEL
“The mechanists had gone so far as to advocate, for instance, that the study of the history of philosophy be scrapped in higher institutions… Just as the mechanists were prone to “play down” the study of the history of philosophy as such, they were inclined to belittle the role of classic philosophers in relation to the development of dialectical materialism. These tendencies came out with particular clarity in the voluminous discussions centering around Hegel and Spinoza… they probably would have been glad to forget all about Hegel. But they were not permitted to do so. Hegel became an issue. The “dialecticians” accused the mechanists of failure to comprehend the significance of the fact that Marx and Engels had built on Hegel, had profited immensely from the study of Hegel, and had advised everyone to do likewise.” (Somerville, p. 218)
“the contributors to [the philosophic journal] Pod Znamenem Marksizma must arrange for the systematic study of Hegelian dialectics from a materialist standpoint, i.e., the dialectics which Marx applied practically in his Capital and in his historical and political works” (Lenin, On the significance of militant materialism)
“In the discussion centering around Spinoza, the main question concerned the significance of his work for the philosophic constructions of dialectical materialism. The mechanists— in particular, writers like Axelrod and Timianski— were disposed to make short shrift of the matter by declaring Spinoza an outright idealist. Deborin and his group, however, were inclined to see great value in Spinoza, both as a dialectician and as a materialist. Properly taken, they argued, that is, taken in the light of his historical movement and direction, Spinoza belonged to materialism. They were ready to hearken back to Plekhanov’s conception that dialectical materialism could be characterized as a certain form of Spinozism.” (Somerville, pp. 218-219)
THE MECHANISTS ARE DEFEATED
“In 1929 the controversy came to a head. The immediate occasion of the crystallizing of the long debated views was the meeting in April of the Second All-Union Conference of Marxist-Leninist Scientific Institutions. This was a gathering made up of delegates (229 in number) from all the important scientific institutions of the country. All the leading figures were present and took part in the debates… The leading report was delivered by Deborin, and, in the end, as part of its proceedings, the conference voted a resolution on it which acted as a kind of official condemnation of mechanism.“ (Somerville, p. 220)
Points 6 and 7 of the resolution contain the direct and concrete reference to the mechanist position:
“The most active revisionist philosophical tendency during latter years has been that of the mechanists (L. Axelrod, A. K. Timiriazev, A. Variash, and others). Carrying on what was in essence a struggle against the philosophy of Marxism-Leninism, not understanding the foundations of materialist dialectics, substituting for revolutionary materialistic dialectics a vulgar evolutionism, and for materialism, positivism, preventing, in point of fact, the penetration of the methodology of dialectical materialism into the realm of natural science, this tendency represents a clear departure from Marxist-Leninist philosophical positions.
“The conference considers it necessary to continue the systematic criticism and exposure of the mistakes of the mechanist school from the point of view of consistent Marxism-Leninism.
“The most important problems confronting the philosophy of Marxism-Leninism are the further development of the theory of dialectics, and the thorough application of the method of dialectical materialism both in the field of social science . . . and natural science.
“The crisis through which the contemporary theory of natural science is passing is a continuation of that crisis which has already been analyzed by Lenin. The present successes of natural science do not fit into the pattern of the old, mechanistic, formal logic theories. Here, bourgeois philosophy paralyzes itself, attempting to utilize the crisis in natural science for its own ends. However, a genuine solution of the fundamental difficulties of natural scientists can be attained only by applying the method of materialist dialectics.” (Quoted in Somerville, pp. 220-221)
“the appearance (in 1925) of Engels’ hitherto unpublished work Dialectics of Nature… heartened the supporters of dialectical materialism… The dialecticians took yet further courage from the first publication, in 1929, of Lenin’s Philosophical Notebooks” (Wetter, Dialectical Materialism, p. 130)
BUKHARIN’S MECHANISTIC THEORIES
“the mechanists see something mystical, teleological, in the notion of dialectic. Bukharin accused Marx and Engels of having bequeathed to the proletariat a world-outlook by no means free from ‘a certain teleological flavour which inevitably clings to the Hegelian formula which speaks of a self-development on the part of “spirit”
In spite of this the mechanists themselves make use of the term ‘dialectic’, though interpreting it in their own mechanistic fashion. Bukharin proposes, in place of the ‘mystificatory’ dialectic, to found Marxism on the ‘theory of equilibrium’, which ‘would constitute a more general formulation, purged of idealist elements, of the laws governing material systems in motion’…
One outcome of this basic conception is the denial of quality, and of the emergence of new qualities. The mechanists taught that phenomena of higher order are attributable to those of lower order” (Wetter, pp. 140-141)
“In the social and political field, mechanism brought forward the theory of spontaneity. The latter represents a radical economic determinism according to which socialism will come about automatically, spontaneously, by natural necessity, in the course of the social and politico-agrarian development of the national economy, in consequence of the socialization process in the towns (industrialization), without the intervention of the collective class-will, without class-warfare in the countryside, without an active struggle for the collectivization of the economy… The class-war and the dictatorship of the proletariat thereby lose their significance…
In the mechanistic theory of samotek [I would translate this as “spontaneity” or “automatism”, the idea that development happens automatically regardless of consciousness] we may see the precise reason why mechanism finds no acceptance in Leninist Bolshevism: the mechanist thesis, which admits only of quantitative changes, leads to the denial of development by leaps and maintains that all such development is continuous. Evolution proceeds steadily, and not in jerks. Mechanism therefore implies the elimination of class-contradictions and avoidance of the class-struggle. Bukharin, the leading exponent of mechanism, was in fact accused of cherishing the hope that the larger peasants [kulaks] would move peacefully over to socialism.” (Wetter, p. 142)
THE MECHANISTS WERE A HETEROGENOUS GROUP OF REVISIONISTS
I quoted various authors who stated that the mechanists were mostly natural scientists and not philosophers. This is true, but the group of mechanists did also include philosophers. These philosophers were actually a very heterogeneous group of revisionists, utopian socialists etc.
“the authors reckoned as mechanists… themselves differed considerably in opinion one from another… The mechanists include both the vulgar materialists of the early years of the Soviet regime, such as Minin and Enchmen, and natural scientists… Among the mechanist philosophers, the most prominent is Bukharin, who applied the philosophy of Bogdanov to historical materialism and political economy, and endeavoured to supplant the materialist dialectic by his well-known ‘theory of equilibrium’. Finally, there are various other philosophers who are reckoned as mechanists, such as Axel’rod and Sarab’yanov, of whom the latter, however, is more of a positivist or subjective idealist, and Varyash, who ranks as a disciple of Freud.” (Wetter, pp. 142-143)
Trotsky also supported not only Freud but also a mechanistic view of society:
“Trotsky favored a fusion of Freudian theory and Pavlovian method” (Bauer, p. 54)
“[Marxist-Leninist philosopher] Mitin also draws attention to a further affinity on Trotsky’s part towards mechanism, rightly detecting in him opinions symptomatic of mechanistic materialism… Trotsky maintains phenomena of higher order to be deducible from those of lower order:
‘Psychology, in our opinion, is reducible, in the last resort, to physiology, and the latter in turn to chemistry, physics and mechanics… The same may be said of sociology… Society is just as much a product of the development of primary matter as the crust of the earth or an amoeba. Thus it is that scientific thought, with its diamond-drill methods, can penetrate from the most complex phenomena of social ideology to matter and its constituent elements, the particles and their physical and mechanical properties.’” (Wetter, pp. 173-174)
“The victory of the dialecticians was announced in April 1929, the same month in which Bukharin and other members of the Right opposition were stripped of much of their political power.” (Bauer, p. 26)
In the end some of the mechanists actually realized their mistakes and corrected themselves:
“comrades Perelman, Sarabjanov*, have appeared in the press criticizing mechanistic errors, first of all their own, and so are gradually joining in our common work.” (V. Adoratski, E. Kolman, A. Maksimov, M. Mitin, P. Judin, V. Raltgevitsh, “Questions of the day on the philosophical front”)
*Sarabjanov had already criticized Bukharin’s philosophical views despite himself being a mechanist at the time (Somerville, p. 219)
The physicist A. K. Timiryazev also went on to have a very successful career as a scientist and communist.
Ivan Skortsov-Stepanov died in 1928 right before the condemnation of mechanism, and Stalin praised him at his funeral:
“staunch and steadfast Leninist… Comrade Skvortsov-Stepanov devoted his whole life of brilliant labour to the cause of the victory of the dictatorship of the proletariat.” (Stalin, To the Memory of Comrade I. I. Skvortsov-Stepanov October, 1928)
Bukharin never corrected his erroneous and opportunist views.
Soon after the defeat of the mechanists, the leader of the “Dialecticians” A. M. Deborin, and the entire “Deborin school” were also criticized for idealist and semi-menshevik mistakes – but that will have to be the topic of the next episode. . .
Raymond A. Bauer, The new man in Soviet psychology
Stephen F. Cohen, Bukharin and the bolshevik revolution
Gustav Wetter, Dialectical Materialism
O. Minin, “Overboard with Philosophy”
Bukharin, Historical Materialism
Stalin, Dialectical and historical materialism
Lenin, On the Question of Dialectics, in his Philosophical Notebooks
In February 1949 the leader of the Catholic Church in Hungary, Cardinal Mindszenty was put on trial. He was accused of smuggling money, black-marketeering, espionage and treason. But first, let us see how things developed before that point.
Mindszenty was the strongest opponent of communism in Hungary, and he was later one of the leaders of the 1956 Hungarian Uprising. Understanding the Mindszenty case is important, not only for understanding anti-communism generally, but for understanding the ’56 uprising too.
Mindszenty was in conflict with the Hungarian government from the very beginning and opposed even the government’s earliest policies. Mindszenty was a feudalist and a clerical-fascist. He opposed the Land Reform act and the abolition of the monarchy and declaration of a Republic.
Mindszenty’s struggle for a Monarchy and against the founding of a Republic
Until 1944 Hungary had been a fascist monarchy, controlled by landed aristocracy and the church. The Catholic Church was the largest land-owner and Cardinal Mindszenty as the Catholic Prince-Primate was the second highest political official in fascist Hungary.
Mindszenty was never going to accept Hungary becoming a Republic. In fact, he wanted to restore the Hapsburg dynasty which was ousted in WWI.
Journalist Ruth Karpf interviewed the Cardinal and said that Mindszenty “has never recognized the Hungarian Republic.” and “He told us at Esztergom that he considers the Republic unconstitutional and that for him Hungary is still as it has been for one past thousand years, a monarchy.” (quoted in Aptheker, p. 115)
“Cardinal Mindszenty and the Bench of Bishops in Hungary, declared: Cardinal Mindszenty and the Bench of Bishops strongly objected to the formal abolition of the monarchy and the setting up of a republic. They objected to the Coalition Government passing any decrees without the approval of the Cardinal.”(The London Times, April 8, 1950)
Mindszenty’s struggle against the Land Reform
“The Church was a very important landowner in Hungary; it was the biggest in fact… though the very large holdings were broken up [in the land reform], the small plots held by individual parishes were not as a rule touched… Mindszenty himself was implacably opposed to the land reform.” (John Gunther, Behind the Curtain, p. 190)
“The land reform he [Mindszenty] told us, was “anti-christian.”” (Ruth Karpf in The Nation, Jan 8, 1949)
“his [Mindszenty’s] pastoral letters, instructing the priests to preach against the land reform, were very harmful.” (Memoirs of Michael Karolyi, p. 339)
In a pastoral letter of May 24, 1945 Mindszenty said the Land Reform “was one most severely affecting the social structure of our country” and “threatens the very existence of ecclesiastical institutions by depriving them of their material foundations.” (quoted in Aptheker, p. 114)
“Elections were to be held in November, 1945, and on the last Sunday before polling day, Mindszenty let loose a pastoral letter, which partly in veiled terms, partly openly, attacked everything the coalition government had done… He attacked the institution of the republic, attacked land reform, attacked the policy of punishment of war criminals. He launched a bitter attack on the laws which liberalised divorce procedure. In the past it had been virtually impossible to obtain a divorce at all in Hungary. “It is our greatest sorrow and our most cruel wound,” wrote the Cardinal in his election-eve pastoral letter, “that the provisional Hungarian government has loosened considerably the indissolubility of marriage…. What can we expect of the democracy, of those parties which, without authorisation and competency, presume to interfere with so fundamental a pillar of healthy communal life?” The whole letter was a direct Church intervention in the election and aroused the hostility of all except the most bigoted Catholics or those who expected their estates to be restored by the Cardinal’s western allies. From that day on, despite repeated friendly overtures from the various governments, Mindszenty carried on a ceaseless war against the State.” (Burchett, The People’s Democracies)
Mindszenty’s struggle against the state’s education reform
In 1948 the Hungarian government proposed the nationalization of public education. Until that point most schools were owned by the church, there was no separation of church and state, teachers were mostly priests and the education obviously was religious-fundamentalist, creationist and also anti-semitic, nationalist and conservative. Obviously it was necessary to implement a separation of church and state, to make education secular and modern. Only a complete religious fundamentalist could oppose such a move. In practically all western capitalist countries too, education was public and not controlled by the church and the priests. However, Mindszenty as the leader of the Catholic Church in Hungary naturally opposed the education reform.
This developed into a full-blown conflict between Mindszenty and the government. Mindszenty was able to use the resources of the church against the state, though large amounts of priests and other christians did not have a problem with the reasonable education reform, and didn’t support Mindszenty’s fanatical views or his monarchism.
Wilfred Burchett interviewed Mindszenty about his stance on the education reform:
“[Burchett:] What do you regard the indispensable conditions for collaborating with the State?”
“[Mindszenty:]…Before there are any negotiations the schools must be returned to the Church”
“[Burchett:] In most western countries, primary education has been in the hands of the state for a long time, Cardinal. In England, Australia, America more than 90 per cent. of children receive their primary and secondary education in State schools. Why don’t you think this system would be suitable for Hungary?”
“[Mindszenty:] Our church schools are centuries old, the state only started teaching here in the middle of the last century. We have special teaching orders with a tradition of giving instruction in accordance with the laws of God.”
“[Burchett:] As far as I have understood the government decrees, I believe the government wanted the monks and nuns from the teaching orders to remain at their posts, to continue teaching, and it was you, Cardinal, who forbade them to do that?”
“[Mindszenty:] It is impossible for Catholics to take part in teaching which is under the control of a materialistic government. Better that the schools be closed and the children remain untaught.”
“[T]he Christian Lutheran and Calvinist bishops did accept these conditions and did have their properties returned… The government decree established the principle of state education and sanctioned the seizure of all church schools. The view taken was that… people had paid in taxes many times over for the schools built by the Churches with State money. But the government offered to return secondary schools, the Church colleges, Seminaries for training priests and pastors were not affected by the decree. There were three conditions attached to this return.
(1) The Church recognise Hungary as a Republic. (2) The Church recognise the fact of land reform. (3) The Church recognise the fact of nationalisation of industry. Recognition of these three facts entailed naturally the obligation not to agitate against these reforms, none of which came into conflict with religious practice.” (Burchett)
“It was impossible for Mindszenty to accept the first condition as at that time he was actively conspiring for the return of the Hapsburg Monarchy to Hungary. His priests, certainly on Mindszenty’s instructions were carrying out a constant whispering campaign against land reform and in the early days warned those peasants who accepted their masters’ land that they would be hung from the tree-tops when the British and Americans came.” (Burchett)
Intensification of class struggle
According to Lenin and Stalin, when the land-owners and capitalists were being overthrown and defeated by the proletariat, their resistance would not diminish but it would grow and become more fierce, more hardened and more desperate. When the capitalists know they are about to lose everything, they will resort to any means in order to protect their power and privilege. They will even resort to terrorism, conspiracy, coup’de’tat, assassinations or other risky maneuvers.
“the bourgeoisie, whose resistance is increased tenfold by their overthrow… and whose power lies, not only in the strength of international capital, the strength and durability of their international connections” (Lenin, “Left-Wing” Communism: an Infantile Disorder)
“The dying classes are resisting, not because they have become stronger than we are, but because socialism is growing faster than they are, and they are becoming weaker than we are. And precisely because they are becoming weaker, they feel that their last days are approaching and are compelled to resist with all the forces and all the means in their power.” (Stalin, The Right Deviation in the C.P.S.U.(B.))
This is why Mindszenty allied himself with fascists and was even advocating for the USA and the UK to invade Hungary to restore the Hapsburg monarchy. Carrying out a military take-over with help from Western powers was his last chance to protect capitalism and feudalism.
Mindszenty’s political activities
“The land reform [Mindszenty] told us, was “anti-christian.” Darwin, in his view, “was a dangerous heretic who should have been burned at the stake.” After the war he refused to change textbooks used in Catholic schools which describe the French Revolution as “that mob movement of the late 18th century in France which was designed primarily to rob the Church of its lands.” (Ruth Karpf in The Nation, Jan 8, 1949)
“The Government had shown excessive patience… Had they let him carry on his activities, a revolt of the peasants would probably have resulted…” (Karolyi, pp. 348-349)
Because of Mindszenty’s fascist agitation a group of people in the village of Pócspetri actually rioted and killed a police officer.
“Mindszenty’s opposition to the nationalisation of the Church schools… produced one small peasant rising at Pocspetri…” (Kartun, Tito’s Plot Against Europe, p. 84)
“the nationalization of schools in Pócspetri culminated in a brawl…” (Pünkösti Árpád, Rákosi a csúcson 1948-1953)
“a bloody riot took place in the courtyard of the town hall around 9 pm on Thursday, with one fatal victim”… “a former Horthyst ensign murdered police officer Gábor Takács.” (Szabad Nép, June 6, 1948, quoted in Pünkösti Árpád, Rákosi a csúcson 1948-1953)
“The next day, Catholic parishioners publicly condemn the actions of their Pócspetri colleague.” (Pünkösti)
“The parish priest of Pócspetri admitted that the murder had taken place at his instigation. He continued to incite him on the orders of his superior authorities.” (Szabad Nép, June 11, 1948, quoted by Pünkösti)
“One day… I watched the arrival of Cardinal Mindszenty to read mass in the Rock Chapel… It had little in common with a religious ceremony… Everywhere loudspeakers were amplifying his words… It was a political demonstration, much resembling an electioneering meeting. All those who were against the new regime had united in this demonstration…” (Karolyi, pp. 338-339)
Journalist R. H. Markham wrote from Budapest to the Christian Science Monitor (April 13, 1946) that conditions in Hungary: “are political clericalism, resurgent feudalism, and exaggerated nationalism, anti-Semitism and outright nazism… There does exist an extreme clerical element centered around Cardinal Mindszenty, which wants to restore church lands and the old autocratic regime. Naturally, the great proprietors who lost their estates through Hungary’s sweeping land reform, cooperate in every way with the clerical opposition.”
“Some of Cardinal Mindszenty’s close followers recently submitted a plan which… entails a 4-power supervision of the Hungarian Army and police force… Mindszenty’s followers also contend that a majority of the people would oppose Communist control with force and that the recent ill-starred plots (of Smallholder leaders in 1947) were a mere foretaste of what might come. These members of the small Liberty party and of the formerly dominant Smallholders appealed to London and Washington in the hope of getting one last opportunity” to prevent Socialism in Hungary. (Andrew Gyorgy, Governments of Danubian Europe, p. 130)
Mindszenty claimed that the Republic was illegal and the monarchist-clerical system should be restored:
“The continuity of constitutional rights seems broken.When the calamity shall have passed and the nation’s sobriety shall have built a bridge to arch over the cataract, then, by the right held sacred for over 900 years, the Primate of this country, as Pontifex and First Peer of the Realm shall take his share in the restoration of our juridical and constitutional life.”
He continues to say that the Land Reform which took much of the Church’s land is also illegal, and he doesn’t accept it:
“I say this without mourning over the lost worldly riches, yet without accepting as lawful, actions which had no legal sanction. (Ilona Polyani in World Affairs, London, April, 1949, p. 138, quoting from Hidverok, December, 1948.)
Mindszenty’s words inspired the creation of the newspaper Hidverok (Bridgebuilders) “set up by fascist and extreme Right-wing emigres and former soldiers from Hungary in 1948, in the American Zone of Germany. This journal consistently called for the restoration of the old regime and, in fierce terms, warned of a return to Hungary to wreak vengeance upon the “usurpers ” For example, its issue of March 10. 1949, contained a poem by one Kalman Serto, with this stanza:
“When we go back to the last attack With gnashing teeth We won’t even have mercy on infants, ‘ When we go on our last attack.” (Aptheker, p. 114 quoting from Hidverok)
“His first Pastoral Letter as Cardinal, issued October 18 1945 – just a few weeks prior to the general elections – excoriated the coalition government and denounced some of its proposals as deeply wounding the feelings of the Christian population,” a remark whose anti-Semitic overtones, given Hungary’s past, and the presence of some Jews among the governing coalition were manifest.” (Aptheker, p. 114)
“On June 21, 1948, George W. Herald, a correspondent for the International News Service, talked to the primate about the school situation. The journalist told Mindszenty that Catholic schools in France do not receive state support, there is no church school in Sweden, and if they do, they maintain it, and the agreement with the Reformed and Lutheran churches leaves several church schools in Hungary. Mindszenty replied that they were not interested in what they were doing with the other churches, the Catholic Church was not bargaining.” (Pünkösti)
“Vilmos Böhm [a right-wing socdem] dealt with Mindszenty a lot: “He is a stubborn, warlike man who defends the supposed or actual interests of his church to the extreme, but often loses prestige due to a lack of political, diplomatic understanding and tact … He prefers to support all previous systems – Horthy or Habsburgs – rather than democracy … He was opposed not only to the Communists, but to all democratic factors. His way of acting was completely incomprehensible and unwise. It can only be explained by his fanatical insistence on medieval feudal prerogatives … without any political or diplomatic sense. “” (Pünkösti)
A journalist of the New Statesman and Nation also interviewed the Cardinal in 1948 and wrote that: “He (the Cardinal) wanted Western intervention, hated all Socialist doctrine and… advocated a peasant society ruled by the Catholic hierarchy, I was impressed by his reckless courage and asked him if he wanted me to report what he said. He hesitated but said that he would rather I did not.” (The New Statesman and Nation, nov 17, 1956)
In the town of Tiszafüred the priests stole a statue of Jesus from a church, intending to blame the theft on commmunists:
“A clerical provocation [took place] in Tiszafüred: the statue of Jesus was stolen from the church… The statue was found by a fence and taken back to the church.” (Pünkösti)
During the election of 1949 when all the leftist parties campaigned together as the People’s Front, the reactionary priests claimed “there will be three days of darkness [like in a bible story], during which the Americans will occupy the country… if the People’s Front wins [the election], Hungary will become a member of the Soviet Union… war between Yugoslavia and Hungary will soon break out… the ballot papers will be marked and the incoming Americans can determine who voted for the People’s Front.” (Pünkösti)
The wildest rumor stated that “during the BCG vaccination [against tuberculosis], people are vaccinated with Russian blood to better respond to communist ideals and vote for the People’s Front.” (Pünkösti)
Mindszenty’s political views
“He closed the window and spread out an old atlas on the table… The atlas showed Hungary of the pre-war days, the Hungary of the Hapsburgs, Hungary before the Treaty of Trianon. When he spoke of Bratislava he gave it its ancient Hungarian name of Pozson. “For two hundred years capital of Hungary and now part of Czechoslovakia,” he said. “That should be the role of you journalists to-day,” he continued, tracing with his finger the old frontiers of Hungary, the bits that had been clipped off after the first World War, the changes since the last war.
“Hungary was a bastion against Slavdom, a bulwark against Communism. She should have remained that way, and what have you done? You have split her up among the Slavs and installed a Communist government. Voivodina to the Yugoslavs, Slovakia to the Czechs, Transsylvania to the Rumanians, an anti-Christian and godless government installed in Budapest. Instead of keeping us as a bastion against the Slavs, you have made of us a Slav spearhead of Communism. You have allowed the most cultured nation in Central Europe to be split up amongst barbarians…Was it not England herself that agreed at Munich to Hungary regaining her lost lands in Czechoslovakia?…” (Burchett)
“I had to interrupt the Cardinal for long enough to point out firstly that people in England blush when they hear the Munich Agreement mentioned these days; secondly, the Munich Agreement contained no word about the Hungarians joining in with the German wolves to bite chunks out of Czechoslovakia…”
“[He said] If the great powers and nations would carry out their statements about freedom and human rights, many of the wounds of Hungary, both internal and external, would be healed.” And he repeated his plea to me as a journalist to press in my despatches for a revision of Hungary’s frontiers that she should be restored as a bastion against Slavism and Communism.
“Journalists and newspapers don’t change frontiers, you know,” I said. “Frontiers are always changed as a result of military action. Hungary’s frontiers were changed because of World War I, and again after World War II. Do you believe these frontiers can be changed again without a World War III?” He looked at me fixedly with his brooding brown eyes and said slowly in German: “I believe there will be a new world war and one should have a clear idea already what sort of a new world one wants in Europe. In deciding that the journalists have a role to play.”
The Cardinal permitted me to take a picture of him at his desk before I left him. I did not see him again, nor [his interpreter] until they appeared before the People’s Court in Budapest four months later, charged with espionage, conspiracy and black marketeering.” (Burchett)
“The Cardinal… was not content with stopping the clock of history; he wanted to turn the hands back five hundred years, and if Hungary were to be plunged into a blood bath the like of which she had not known in her thousand years history, to restore Church dominance and the Church estates, he would not shrink from giving the signal. He and his followers were already paving the way for a new war. The Cardinal had deliberately cut himself off from the people and-from the new life that was being built. He pre-occupied himself with questions that had nothing to do with religion or the spiritual needs of the Hungarian people. He was unable to give me real facts about the persecution of religion in Hungary because there was no such persecution. Long overdue changes were taking place in Church-State relationships which Mindszenty could not accept.
The Roman Catholic Church had always played a dominant role in Hungary’s affairs…All Hungarian kings, from the time 1,000 years ago when Stephen was crowned by the Pope, were Apostolic kings. Throughout the centuries no important political decisions were ever taken without the prior approval of the church, often enough on the direct orders of the leading Catholic dignitary. Various Catholic orders maintained a state within the state. Abbots and Bishops were laws unto themselves, administered their estates as feudal landowners responsible to no one…The system did not change under the Regency of Admiral Horthy, although the latter was a Protestant. Church and state were identical and it must have been a severe shock to Cardinal Mindszenty to find in 1945, that he was not always consulted when important political and social decisions were taken. In 1945, 50 percent of all schools belonged to and were controlled by the Catholic Church. The Church was also the largest single land-holder in the country…” (Burchett)
Before the land-reform, church leaders used to be powerful and rich land-owners. When interviewed, one of them Abbe Justh, said: “The Communists would like to have closer co-operation with me… They asked me the other day to attend the opening of a new school: they always ask me to attend any local festivities, but I am always able to find some reason or other for not attending. I don’t want to lend the prestige of the Church to any of their functions. Church attendances are perhaps even better than before. Communists still come to Church and people who didn’t used to come attend now because the Church has become a political rallying point for them.” When I asked about specific anti-religious activities Abbe Justh said there were none and that compulsory teaching of religion in school still gave the Church plenty of scope to influence the children. He was critical of the Cardinal [Mindszenty] and said the latter could have obtained much greater concessions from the state if he had played his cards correctly.” (Burchett)
The School Reform
In the old schools which were controlled by the Church and had existed during the fascist regime“The textbooks were brazenly racist and chauvinist and expansionists; their viewpoint of science was medieval… By 1947, the Government had begun to introduce 8-year elementary schools, instead of the conventional 4-year (at most 6-year) schools that had hitherto sufficed for the overwhelming majority of Hungarians. After the 1947 elections, new textbooks were published by the government, including works in science which took account of the ideas of Darwin. The Church hierarchy remained intransigent and, on the question of education, the Cardinal refused even to enter negotiations unless the State first admitted the Church’s right to dominate the school system.” (Aptheker, p. 63)
On November 12, 1947 Mindszenty issued a Pastoral Letter, to be read in all churches, devoted to the textbook question. He said:
“The Government has introduced in the higher forms of the national and municipal schools a new textbook entitled The Life of Man. These schools are attended mostly by Catholic children. This book does not teach them anything concerning revealed truth. It presents man, not as God’s creature, but a being descended from the ape — a theory disregarded by serious scientists for some time. We understand very well why there is anxiety in certain quarters to proclaim man’s descent from the ape! But we, the Hungarian Bishops, defending the souls of the Hungarian children, will never acquiesce to the picture of God the Creator being obliterated in the minds of children and replaced by the hideous face of a monkey! We forbid, therefore, all Catholic parents, instructors and teachers under pain of sin to accept or to use this book. These pamphlets propagating self-abuse and circulated in many schools should be thrown in the fire.” (Pastoral letter, November 12, 1947 reprinted in Cardinal Mindszenty Speaks)
“By the spring of 1948, the Government picked up the gauntlet and introduced a measure for the gradual secularization of the schools. This measure included compensation where property losses to the Church resulted; it included continued employment (with a pay raise) of the existing teaching staff, plus two hours per week compulsory religious instruction in all schools. The law also exempted from its provisions “schools specifically dedicated to religious instruction,” which, indeed, were to continue to receive financial support from the State… this bill was approved by the Hungarian Parliament, on June 15, 1948, by a vote of 293 to 63, with 71 abstentions and absences.” (Aptheker, p. 63)
In another pastoral letter Cardinal Mindszenty said: “To the bitter disgrace of this country, falsehood, deceit and terror were never greater in the country” (Kertesz, Church and State in Hungary)
In his opinion what was happening in the country in 1948 were worse “terror” and “deceit” then had existed during fascism, worse then even under the Nazi regime of Szálasi where jews and leftists were being shot on the streets and dumped into the Danube river!
“the Catholic episcopate refused to negotiate on questions connected with nationalization” but “The Calvinists were of a different opinion. In accepting a compromise solution negotiated with the government, they could keep some of their schools. After the school nationalization act was passed, on June 16, 1948, the Cardinal announced the excommunication of every Catholic deputy who voted for the bill… ” (Kertesz, Church and State in Hungary)
Mindszenty told journalist Ruth Karpf that: “You understand, of course, that the Church never can and never will give up the natural right of the parents to educate the youth for God. What I mean is that we will fight this law with every weapon at our disposal!” (Quoted in Aptheker, p. 115)
However, when parents also supported the school reform Mindszenty said:
“it is not a question of the parents’ volition whether or not children are to receive religious instruction, since this would be a violation of God’s right to the soul of the child and the child’s right to a knowledge of the eternal truths” (Mindszenty’s Pastoral Letter, May 20, 1948 quoted in Aptheker, p.114)
“[Mindszenty] excommunicated all Catholic members of Parliament who voted for the Educational Reform Law; in July he ordered all Catholic schools (65% of all Hungarian schools) closed; in August he prohibited ordained teachers from continuing their work in public schools; in September he officially threatened to excommunicate any Catholic who criticized either his policies or his person.” (Aptheker)
The reality is that many catholic people and even many priests were angry at Mindszenty’s extremism and Mindszenty had to threaten to excommunicate them from the Catholic Chuch to keep them under his control. Most politicians (including the non-communists) also did not support Mindszenty. He could only rely on the most right-wing, and on the support from Western governments.
“On November 11, 1948, a Lutheran priest revealed [espionage committed by the church]“ (Pünkösti)
Communist leader Matyas Rakosi said that “Care must be taken to separate the Catholic Democrats from Mindszenty…” (Pünkösti)
On December 27, 1948 “rallies were held in Nyíregyháza [against Mindszenty]” (Pünkösti)
““The priests and parishes of Csanád demand the departure of Mindszenty “, and stated that… the cardinal was” the main obstacle to peace “” (Pünkösti)
Earlier a popular Catholic daily paper, Magyar Nemzet, had charged that “through this terrible inflexibility of his over the school issue he not only infringes upon the rights of Catholic parents but injures even the fundamental interests of the Church” (quoted in Aptheker, p. 115)
On 3 February 1949 Mindszenty was finally brought on trial for actions. The charges included espionage and treason in collusion with the Americans, trying to restore the Hapsburg monarchy in Hungary and overthrow the republic with American help, black-marketeering and money-smuggling, and deliberately causing the Crown of St. Stephen which was stolen by the Nazis, to end up in American hands and not be returned to Hungary.
“Here in the People’s Court in Marko Street in Budapest there was a minimum of ceremony and no trappings at all. Except for the uniformed guards only four people were not in civil dress and they were the Cardinal, his secretary, Dr. Zakar; Dr. Baranyai, Dr. Bela Ispanky. They all wore priestly dress and the Cardinal his ruby cardinal’s ring… The prisoners sat on a long bench opposite the panel of five judges… First the Cardinal… Next to him, Dr. Baranyai… Prince Paul, tall, languid, fair moustache, and the long hooked nose and blue eyes which are the distinguishing marks of the Eszterhazy family.” (Burchett)
“Mindszenty and Eszterhazy represented the most powerful forces in Central Europe for centuries. After the Church, Eszterhazy was the greatest landowner in Hungary. The Church and the aristocracy were brought to bay before a People’s Court. Sitting alongside the one professional judge, Vilmos Olti, were representatives of the political parties and trade unions, all in ordinary civilian clothes. Between the accused and their judges on the right sat the counsels for the defence.” (Burchett)
“The Cardinal looked physically just as he did when I interviewed him four months previously, but there was a change. Some of the arrogance was missing.” (Burchett)
“To understand Cardinal Mindszenty’s behaviour in the Court, one must delve a little into his personal background and into the functions of a Cardinal in Hungary. For a thousand years a Cardinal held the next highest rank to a King. The Kings of Hungary, from the year 1000 when Stephen was crowned by Pope Sylvester, were always crowned by the Cardinal with the Holy Crown of St. Stephen.” (Burchett)
Rev. Nicholas Boer, a supporter of Mindszenty states:
“The Primate is the Premier Prince of Hungary. He ranks immediately after the King as head of state… He is the sole person entitled to crown a king and thereby is in immediate relationship with the Holy Crown of Hungary… the Principle of the Holy Crown of Hungary declares that in Hungary the source of all rights is the Holy Crown, which unites the whole country, people and soil in a mystical body. The Holy Crown consists of two parts, the head, i.e., the king, and the members. Up to 1848 only the nobility was included in the latter; since 1848 it is the whole nation.” (Rev. Nicholas Boer, Cardinal Mindszenty) The bourgeois revolution of 1848 under Kossuth which failed to overthrow the monarchy and feudalism, but led to some reforms “was always severely condemned by Cardinal Mindszenty” (Rev. Nicholas Boer, Cardinal Mindszenty)
“Mindszenty or Joseph Pehm, which is his real name, was a Swabian of German origin. Until 1944, he was an ordinary priest and his parish was part of Prince Paul Eszterhazy’s estates. Ten days after the setting up of the Szalasi [Nazi] fascist government, on March 25, 1944, Pehm was made Bishop of Veszprem… nominated by the Papal Nuncio to Hungary, Msgr. Angelo Rotta. After the end of the war Mindszenty posed as a hero of the resistance movement, because he was arrested by the Szalasi Fascists and interned for four months. When Mindszenty began to emerge as a leader of opposition to the government; he was immediately built up in the Western Press, as a martyr who had suffered for his faith under the Nazis. In fact, as Mindszenty later told the Court and as is proven by documents in the hands of the Hungarian government, Mindszenty was not arrested for political or religious reasons, but over a dispute concerning requisition of property.” (Burchett)
“”My arrest on October 21, 1944, was not for political reasons,” Mindszenty told the Court, “but because Ferenc Schiberna, Lord Lieutenant for the County of Veszprem had found 1,800 pairs of shirts and pants, close on 100,000 pengo’s worth, hoarded in my palace, and because I had a disagreement with him over the requisitioning of accommodation. For this reason he interned me.” Before the Russian troops liberated Mindszenty he wrote several letters proving his right-wing sympathies in order to try and secure his release, and pointing out that the Vatican had been the first to recognise the Szalasi regime.” (Burchett)
“On October, 1945, Mindszenty was appointed by the Pope, Archbishop of Esztergom which carried with it the automatic title of Cardinal, Prince Primate of Hungary. For 25 years he had worked as a parish priest at Zalaegerszeg – and then within the space of eighteen months he rocketed from priest to Bishop, from Bishop to Cardinal. A meteoric rise… But the Cardinal saw even greater fame ahead. A Cardinal has the right to crown a King, Mindszenty was an ardent admirer of the Hapsburgs all his life… his new-found American friends supported and encouraged his dreams. The Holy Crown of St. Stephen was in American hands, the Pretender to the Hapsburg throne, Otto, was living in America. The Americans would make war on Russia, Mindszenty’s friend inside the country would open wide the gates to greet the “liberating” American troops, Otto would come back, the Cardinal would set the Crown of St. Stephen on his head. Church and Crown would be united again, estates turned back to the [noble families] Eszterhazys, Batthyanyis, Czirakys. Life would go back to the seventeenth, sixteenth, fourteenth centuries.” (Burchett)
“Up to the last moment before the trial started it seems Mindszenty thought he would be released or rescued.” (Burchett)
“Mr. Minister, you must take action by Thursday and I request you to do so, for a death sentence is likely and the trial will be pointed against America. They want to prove that I was paid by America for secret information. Please send a car and a plane, there is no other way out. With warmest regards. Mindszenty, January 23. P.S. – Please instruct Koczak immediately to meet the bearer of this letter to-day to discuss every detail. Mindszenty. P.S. – Please promise the pilot 4,000 dollars in the interest of the cause. I shall refund it. Mindszenty.” (Mindszenty’s letter to U.S. Minister, Selden Chapin, quoted in Burchett)
“The first to be heard in the trial was Dr. Baranyai and the Cardinal’s secretary, Dr. Andras Zakar. Although Baranyai pleaded not guilty, expert cross-examination by Judge Olti brought out a mass of damaging material which incriminated both Baranyai and the Cardinal.” (Burchett)
“Baranyai was a lively personality who tried to deny every charge made against him, but he could not satisfactorily explain the documentary evidence. Some sections of the Western press, and especially the Catholic press, tried to present the trial as a fake, with the accused brought into court drugged and tortured, mumbling carefully rehearsed admission of guilt, expressions of repentance and pleas for mercy. Baranyai and Mindszenty on the contrary made use of their priestly training to try and wriggle out of every charge against them…” (Burchett)
And not only western imperialist and catholic press, but as we see, also the Trotskyist press tried to paint Mindszenty, the clerical monarchist, friend of the imperialists and horthy, as an innocent victim of communism!
“Baranyai was being questioned about a meeting with other Legitimists when they selected the new Royalist cabinet which should govern the country after the Americans had overthrown the Republic.” (Burchett)
Let us take a look at the events at the trial. First, Baranyai was asked about a meeting of the monarchists, where they planned the overthrow of the Hungarian government. The capitalist press, the catholic church and the Trotskyists, claimed that the accused were drugged, beaten and forced to admit to all charges. But lets take a look at how the trial actually went:
“Judge Olti: Now let us speak of the first meeting at the Csekonics’ apartment. What was the object of that meeting? What was discussed there? Was it mentioned that you were to make reports on Legitimists [monarchists] working in the different Ministries and pass them on to Sandor Cserto, who would hand them on to Jozsef Mindszenty?
Baranyai: This was not mentioned here.
Olti: But you yourself said so in your statement to the police during the investigation – here it is.
Baranyai: Are those the minutes of the investigation?
Olti: Yes. Is this your signature?
Olti: Please look at the text also.
Baranyai: Well, if you please, this was not drafted by me.
Olti: But it is your statement which was taken down. The minutes which are kept by the clerks of the Court now are not drafted by you either.
Baranyai: I made this statement in the belief that only the minutes kept at the trial would be of importance.
Olti: Then you do not confirm what is written here?
Baranyai: No. I was late at the meeting because of official duties.” (Burchett)
Instead of simply admitting to everything, Baranyai denies the accusation, then he says he thought his testimony to the police would not be important, so he didn’t care about the details being correct. Then he says he cannot confirm what happened at the monarchist meeting because he was late.
He then gets into a political discussion with the Judge:
“Olti: Now in the spring of 1945 you prepared a plan in case the democratic State were overthrown here and a vacuum would have to be filled. Your plan named the persons who were to take over power and how they were to do it. Is that correct?
Baranyai: Please permit me to go back a little in time. The possibilities of solving the present world conditions; as everybody knows and sees that these conditions cannot last….
Olti: Now what exactly do you mean by this? That different forms of state are evolving?
Baranyai: I speak of world politics. I feel that the tension existing between East and West…
Olti: The international political tension will evidently be solved sooner or later.
Baranyai: Sooner or later. But it may well occur that the tension is solved by means of war. Well if this should happen through a war-this was our first supposition. Secondly if at the end of the hostilities the Western powers should come out victorious. The third, supposition was that the Americans might take over here as military occupation authorities. The whole plan which figured in my confession and the documents were based on these suppositions only. The proclamation, the list of cabinet members, and the plan to found a [monarchist ruling] party.
Olti: And do you think it right that high ranking clerical personalities should speculate on war? Baranyai: I beg your pardon…
Olti: And not only speculate but prepare for it?
Baranyai: No, I don’t think it right at all.” (Burchett)
“Baranyai strenuously denied throughout however that he had actually helped to bring war about. He maintained he only made plans should the war start. He read to the Court a memorandum he had sent to Mindszenty!
“When the great vacuum [the overthrow of the Hungarian Republic] has come about the first most important and difficult problem will be the institution of a regime resting on an ethical basis. It would be a political impossibility to base ourselves on the ruins of defeated Bolshevism. Only one point of departure would carry in itself the possibility of evolution – the Prince Primate. The dignity of the Prince Primate is consecrated in this country by the traditions of almost a thousand years. According to ancient national laws the Prince Primate is the repository of the King’s power in his absence. He seems to be the only acceptable and competent authority to appoint a new government… He would have to appoint the new government at the beginning of the American occupation. The government appointed by him must naturally accept this decision without reservations, without manoeuvres, unconditionally and honestly. Here there are names…” (and follows the list of the proposed cabinet).
This document, like so many others produced in Court, was contained in a tin cylinder buried by Dr. Zakar, on instructions from the Cardinal, in a cellar in the Cardinal’s Palace at Esztergom. Zakar disclosed the hiding place to the police a few days after he was arrested.” (Burchett)
“[Cardinal’s assistant] Zakar concluded his evidence by relating the numerous blackmarketing activities of the Cardinal in bringing dollars into the country without declaring them, and selling them at high rates on the black market.” (Burchett)
“[T]he Cardinal thought he could avoid being brought to trial by a repentant statement addressed to the Minister of Justice a few days before the trial was due to start.
“Dear Sir I beg the Minister of Justice to consider this announcement, or request. For some time publicly and repeatedly, there had been raised against me the complaint that I stand in the way of an agreement between State and Church, and that my attitude is hostile to the present order of the state… Now I want to contribute to an improvement in the general situation. Before the trial which is soon to open, I voluntarily admit that I have committed the acts I am charged with according to the penal code of the State. In the future I shall always judge the external and internal affairs of the State on the basis of the full sovereignty of the Hungarian Republic… After this admission and declaration the trial regarding my person does not seem to be absolutely necessary, therefore, not because of my person, but considering my position, I ask that my case be exempted from the trial on February 3. Such a decision more than anything else would facilitate a solution, even more than the wisest judgement of the Court… Please accept my sincere respect. Jozsef Mindszenty, Cardinal.”” (Burchett)
“The Court decided, however, after a short recess, that the Cardinal would stand trial with the rest of the accused. Mindszenty had played his last card and failed! He tried to make the best of a bad job, however, in Court by evasions and half replies, by an amazingly poor memory when it served his purpose. Asked whether he pleaded guilty or not guilty, he answered, in low, measured tones: “To the extent that I did commit a considerable part of the activities charged to me in the indictment, or as I indicated in my letter to the Minister of Justice, which you kindly read out this morning, substantially, to that extent I feel guilty… Of course this does not mean that I accept the conclusion of the Indictment. For example with regard to the offences mentioned in Section A, I do not deny one or another part of it, but I do not subscribe to the conclusion…” (Burchett)
From this we can clearly see, that Mindszenty was not tortured into admitting fake charges. In fact, he admitted as little as possible. And always tried to deny his guilt. However, the evidence was blatantly obvious. He had engaged in black market activities, smuggled dollars into the country etc. This could not be denied.
Before the currency reform implemented by the communists Hungary had had the worst inflation in world history. This was solved by abandoning the old currency (the pengo) and switching to a new currency (the forinth). It took billions of pengos to buy a loaf of bread, so bringing thousands of dollars into the country actually would have had a devastating effect on the pengo. Of course one individual wouldn’t be able to destroy or save the economy, but it would cause as much damage as any one individual could cause. The sums Mindszenty dealt with were very large: “Altogether about 97,000 dollars were handled in the Cardinal’s black market deals.” (Burchett)
Mindszenty said about the black-marketeering: “I realise the mistakes”, “I take the blame for what happened. I have written to the People’s Court concerning the paying back… I shall repay it as far as I am able.” (Court proceedings)
Mindszenty said he “realized the mistake”, but of course, it wasn’t a mistake but deliberate. To cover up his tracks, he informed the state bank of part of the money he received, but hid the vast majority: “On one occasion he registered 800 out of 15,000, on another occasion he declared 4,000 of 19,000, so there was no doubt that he knew the regulations regarding the declaration of foreign currencies.” (Burchett)
It was also blatantly obvious that Mindszenty had been a firm monarchist his whole life, and had opposed every progressive and democratic reform. Even capitalist historians don’t deny this:
“Mindszenty, born Joseph Pehm, of German… stock, was a narrow nationalist and conservative, but of fierce conviction… He had fought the advance of communism, but showed little understanding of the social issues which had to be solved. When Catholic schools were shut down, he ordered teaching priests to give up their jobs.” (Pryce-Jones, The Hungarian Revolution, p. 29)
The second charge was conspiring with the Americans. Nobody denies this charge anymore, they merely imply that the Americans were the good guys, so Mindszenty was correct in plotting with them. Mindszenty himself admitted this too.
“Mindszenty confirmed having sent an appeal to British and Americans to send military forces into Hungary in 1946. In all these cases, the documentary evidence was overwhelming” (Burchett)
“I request the help of America to put an end to the tremendous oppression and decay here, so that the unfortunate Hungarian people can be preserved for Western civilisation. A solution is possible with outside help…”~Mindszenty
The third charge was planning for the overthrow of the Hungarian government, and trying to restore the Hapsburg monarchy, with the help of American invasion troops. Mindszenty said “I do not deny one or another part of it but I do not subscribe to the conclusion”. What does he mean by not accepting the conclusion? They rationalized their actions. According to Baranayai they had a plan to establish a monarchy after the Hungarian government was overthrown, probably by invading Americans, and there was a “power vacuum”. However, he claimed they were not trying to cause a war, only preparing for a war. Mindszenty also denied having any leading role in this.
Of course, he would be the second most powerful man in the country. The only man above him would have been King Otto of Hapsburg. But it is possible Mindszenty didn’t consider himself the leader of the invasion, or the leader of a rebellion. He was more of a figure head. Regarding his meeting with Otto Hapsburg in America, Mindszenty said:
“Olti: Did you inform Otto of the situation, the activities and strength of the Hungarian [monarchists]?
Mindszenty: I spoke of that. At this meeting I spoke of that… I told him I did not think the moment was ripe at that time. [but]… it was still strongly rumoured in public opinion that a historic change might come about.
Olti: A third world war?
Mindszenty: A third world war. That is what they were discussing.
Olti: You were thinking of a third world war so you could establish a system of government here which would suit you…
Mindszenty: I beg your pardon, Mr. President, I was not working for a third world war.
Olti: But, if you please, was there any step taken… for the lessening of international tension?
Mindszenty: …we always prayed for peace.” (Burchett)
Finally Mindszenty was accused of anti-semitism, which he admitted. Again, this was not surprising at all, since anti-semitism was the norm among Hungarian conservatives and was part of the dominant ideology in Hungary before Socialism. “He admitted to having had an anti-Jewish attitude even as a young priest after Judge Olti read some newspaper articles he had published in 1919” (Burchett)
Mindszenty in fact, was far-right even compared to the other right-wing forces in Hungary. After the Nazis had been driven out, the Allied Commission banned all fascist parties. The most right-wing party, which was allowed to function was the Smallholders Party. When the Smallholders, National Peasants, Social-Democrats and Communists formed a coalition government and founded the Hungarian Republic, the Smallholder Tildy became prime minister. He represented the right-wing of the coalition. However, he was not right-wing enough for Mindszenty. “He admitted… he had strongly protested to Prime Minister Tildy in December, 1945, at the proposed abolition of the Monarchy.” (Burchett)
This admission might not seem like much, but considering Mindszenty was accused of wanting to overthrow the republic and restore monarchy, it is significant. Furthermore, it effectively means that Mindszenty was guilty of fascist-agitation, because the Allied Commission had banned all parties opposed to founding a republic.
“Mindszenty was determined from first to last to give nothing away that the State prosecutor did not know. He always waited with his replies for the Judge to put his cards on the table. There was at no time anything like the blind confession as suggested by Cardinal Spellman and sections of the Western press. When he made admissions, they were only when he was confronted by overwhelming evidence. Otherwise he “couldn’t remember”! For example:
Olti: Did you know of a memorandum prepared by Baranyai for the American government to be signed by four persons, in which the restoration of the Hapsburgs was advocated?
Mindszenty: I know of a memorandum, but I don’t know who signed it.
Olti: And yet you sent a special message to Baranyai insisting that Baron Ullman should sign it as a fourth signatory?
Mindszenty: Yes, that is so.
Olti: In fact such a memorandum was drawn up. Did you discuss it with Baranyai, and what did it contain?
Mindszenty (after a short pause): I don’t remember its contents any more.” (Burchett)
“He tried to hedge also on the question of the Holy Crown, which was taken to Germany by the retreating fascist forces of Szalasi. Mindszenty was counting on placing the Crown on the head of Otto Hapsburg and he wanted to keep it in a safe place till the time arrived. Judge Olti produced a letter, however, from Mindszenty to the U.S. Minister, Selden Chapin, and the latter’s original reply, asking that the crown should not be returned to Hungary but to Rome. “Since the cause is a very important one for our nation and since demands for its return and military advances might be fatal for the Crown, only Rome could reassure us.”” (Burchett)
Mindszenty needed this crown, because he believed that when monarchy was restored, he needed to place it on the head of Otto Hapsburg. Hence, he wanted it to be delivered to the Vatican, and not to the Hungarian government. Of course, this crown was the property of Hungary and by having it delivered to the Vatican he committed a crime. It is significant that Mindszenty said “military advances might be fatal for the Crown”. He believed that a new war would soon come to Hungary and the crown might be destroyed, so it had to be kept safe in the Vatican. The new war, obviously could only be the American invasion. Whether such an invasion was a realistic possibility, Mindszenty at least believed in it.
“Mindszenty’s naive belief in the imminent advance of the U.S. military forces into Hungary, was reflected again in that letter. In any case he had no business to go over the head of the Hungarian government in the matter of this very valuable and historic relic of the Hungarian people, but in the court, Mindszenty would not admit he had committed an illegal act. Olti: It shows that this was an illegal method and illegal activity against the State. Wasn’t it? Mindszenty: I’m sorry that I did not think at that time to turn to the government for help.” (Burchett)
He claims he accidentally didn’t turn to the government, regarding the crown. He was either lying and using stupidity as a shield, or he still considered himself as Cardinal Prince-Primate, to be above the government of the Republic.
“On the question of having prepared regular reports for the U.S. Legation and even requests for U.S. intervention in Hungarian affairs, Mindszenty asked to be permitted to make a statement. “As announced before, I accept the evidence before the Court and regret having despatched these documents… The primary aim of these letters was not to expose faults or to do harm… My intention was to help but I chose the wrong way to do the right thing. At any rate it would have been better not to have despatched those letters. I regret having sent them and in the future I shall never depart from my basic principle – pointed out in my letter to the Minister of Justice – to observe the external and internal policy of the Hungarian state in the light of its complete sovereignty. Please accept this statement. Olti: We shall put it on the record and shall consider its value.” (Burchett)
Mindszenty who had always been a hardline enemy of the Republic, who had never agreed to collaborate or compromise, was now finally offering a compromise solution. For years he had always said it was anti-christian to collaborate with this new government, but now his power was seriously threatened, and he still tried to cling to it. So he offered, if they didn’t prosecute him, he agreed to collaborate with the government, to stop using the church as a weapon against the government, and bring peace between the church and the secular state. He had already made this proposal right before the trial. But as we shall later see, this was purely an opportunist move. Mindszenty never really changed his mind. He was always a hardline reactionary. If he was now offering a compromise, it was only strategic. If he was ever given half a chance, he would conspire against the government again. If he was ever given power again, he would use it for his reactionary purposes.
Let us take a look at one more interesting point at the trial, when Mindszenty was asked about his plans to leave the country:
“Olti: And what sort of statement did [American minister] Chapin make?…
Mindszenty: …he brought up the proposal that, that I should go abroad.
Olti: And he would help you in this…?
Mindszenty: It seemed that he would not refuse to–
Olti: Do not give such diplomatic answers, but answer straightforwardly. Did he offer that in case you decided to take this step he would help you, or did he say that he would not help you?
Mindszenty: Is it absolutely necessary that I give an answer?
Olti: No, you don’t have to answer a single question. Court procedure permits you not answering but perhaps you are taking away from yourself a point of defence, something that it is my duty to call to your attention… But at the enquiry before the Prosecutor you did answer this question.
Olti: Do you wish to answer this?
Olti: Then please go ahead. Did he offer help to you to get out of the country?
Mindszenty: He did offer, not that he would get me out, but that he would help me.
Olti: That he would help in getting you abroad?
Olti: And what did you answer to this?
Mindszenty: I said to this…
Olti: Please speak louder
Mindszenty: …That I would remain at home.
Olti: After this did you not consider flight at all?
Mindszenty: Please, your Honour, permit me not to answer.
Olti: As you wish. You are not obliged to answer.” (Burchett)
We can see the answer to this question, in the secret message that Mindszenty had tried to send to U.S. Minister Chapin, in which he asked for America to help him escape. He wrote:
“They want to prove that I was paid by America for secret information. Please send a car and a plane, there is no other way out. With warmest regards. Mindszenty, January 23.”
“Mindszenty was questioned for five hours by Judge Olti. He was repeatedly asked if he was tired, if he would like a break, but always answered that he felt fit.” (Burchett) However, there were two 30 minute breaks. Though he denied some of the charges, he was found guilty of delivering espionage reports to the Americans, of requesting military intervention by the Americans, trying to organize the overthrowing of the republic and restore the Hapsburg monarchy, of preventing the return of the crown of St. Stephen to the Hungarian government, of anti-semitism, and of black-market activity. He would remain imprisoned until counter-revolutionaries released him in 1956, and brought him to Budapest as their leader.
Prince Paul Eszterhazy was an important witness in the Mindszenty case. “His crimes were mainly connected with large-scale black-marketeering, but he admitted that he paid Mindszenty above the normal black-market rate for dollars because he knew the Cardinal was engaged in a conspiracy to restore the Hapsburgs and needed money for the work.” (Burchett)
Eszterhazy was much more courageous in the court room then Mindszenty:
“Olti: Did you know Jozsef Mindszenty personally? Did you know he was a Legitimist [i.e. monarchist]?
Eszterhazy: I thought he was.
Olti: Are you also a Legitimist?
Eszterhazy: I don’t want to offend the existing form of government, but in my heart of hearts I must confess to being a Legitimist due to my ancestral background.” (Burchett)
When Prince Paul Eszterhazy was asked why he exchanged currency with Mindszenty for a very high price, and didn’t use some other black-marketeer who could’ve given him a better deal, he said he was hoping Mindszenty would use the profits for funding the monarchist cause:
“Olti: …why should you have wanted to pay a higher price to Jozsef Mindszenty than you would have paid to a person unknown to you also engaged in selling dollars on the black market?…
Eszterhazy: I thought that eventually the difference would be used for Legitimist purposes.” (Burchett)
“Olti: Who was the drawer of the cheques?
Eszterhazy: On two of them I believe it was Spellman, Archbishop of New York. The drawer of the third was someone else, an American clerical…
Olti: …How many dollars in cheques and banknotes did you buy up and later send abroad?
Eszterhazy: 11,000 dollars after the liberation, 18,000 before that, 29,000 altogether.” (Burchett)
One amusing detail: “Afterwards one of Prince Paul’s employees testified in court… Asked by the Judge if it were true that he had taken a suitcase [of black market money] abroad, he replied: “If you please, sir, not abroad, only to Austria.” He was still living in the days of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.” (Burchett)
John Gunther points out the same incident:
“When Prince Paul Esterhazy was asked why he smuggled financial paper abroad… he replied, “We did not send them abroad. We sent them to Austria!”” (Behind the curtain, p. 193)
“Of the other three accused only Dr. Bela Ispanky, dean of a Catholic college, contributed really interesting evidence. Sleek and sly, he did his best with Jesuitical cunning to deny his guilt, but he was branded as a cheap spy, who spied not for particular hatred of the regime in Hungary, but because he was paid in dollars for spying. His career, however, was not a long one. He was quickly found out and arrested. He was recruited by a French woman, Mme Pomrelot, who said she was an agent for the British Secret Service, and worked with Mihailovich, Mindszenty’s Hungarian agent in Rome.” (Burchett)
The spy Ispanky received a package from Mme Pomrelot. The package contained materials for writing secret letters:
“Ispanky: The package contained two sheets of paper treated with chemicals… Some chemical substance for developing the writing, two tubes of it… [and]… 200 dollars.
Olti: 200 dollars. Did you open the packet while the lady was there?
Ispanky: She opened it and gave it to me. She told me that if the two above-named gentlemen should come to see me, I was to tell them to use the chemically treated sheets…
Olti: Louder please…
Ispanky: …which had been simply treated with wax, so that writing leaves no visible marks on it; they may cover the sheets with writing and if they make a chemical solution of the pills in hot water and rub the sheets with the solution, the writing will become apparent.” (Court testimony)
The Trotskyist Dewar tries to prove the innocence of Mindszenty once again:
Dewar writes: “Let us attempt to sum up the above testimony. We are told of two sheets of paper, which is at one time simply ‘waxed’ and at another time ‘chemically treated’…” (Dewar, The Modern Inquisition)
Dewar tries to be clever. And indeed, this type of semantics is his only argument, he has nothing else. A paper treated with wax is a paper treated with a chemical solution. Or Ispanky is simple ignorant about scientific terminology, and calls waxed paper chemically treated paper. It doesn’t matter, and doesn’t prove his innocence.
“…on which writing will not show, but on which a neutral text can be written. We have the accused Ispánky at one time stating categorically that he wrote — ‘to be exact’ — on this paper, and at another time that he wrote on ordinary notepaper” (Dewar)
Ispanky explains the method somewhat poorly, but anybody who is not playing stupid can still understand. He wrote normal text, on normal paper. However, this paper could be treated, and a secret messaged could be written on the paper also.
“…we have two tubes of chemical substance, which later become pills, to be used in the preparation of a solution capable of making visible the invisible writing… although it was not necessary to go to the trouble of preparing this solution because any acid solution would serve the same purpose…” (Dewar)
This really demonstrates how hard Dewar tries to find contradictions where none exist. Two tubes, containing pills that can be dissolved in water. This chemical is optimal for making the secret writing visible. However, Ispanky mentions that: “If some official organ should have checked it and found it suspicious, it would have been enough to draw a line across the letter with any kind of dye or acid solution, and the writing would have been discovered.” (Court testimony) That of course wouldn’t have been the best way of trying to read the text, but it would’ve revealed that some kind of message was written there.
Actually according to CIA whistleblower Phillip Agee, chemicals for secret writing are usually disgused as pills:
“Secret writing (SW)… systems are categorized as wet systems, carbons and microdot. The wet systems use chemicals, usually disguised as pills, which dissolve in water to form a clear ‘ink’.” (Philip Agee, Inside the Company: CIA diary, p. 77)
“…and finally we have the espionage reports simply typed, and then again they are not typed but written in invisible ink…” (Dewar)
Dewar is either an idiot or hopes that his readers are idiots.
The indictment says: “Dr. Bela Ispanky… did send to Rome… on chemically prepared sheets, secret data of a political and economic character which he had partly collected himself and partly obtained through Laszlo Toth”. “Dr. Laszlo Toth… handed to Dr. Bela Ispanky, typewritten secret data for forwarding to Rome…”
And in his testimony Ispanky said: “President: Did you write the report in your own hand or on the typewriter? Ispanky: One could only write them in handwriting”
So what does this all mean? What is the great mystery that the Trotskyist Dewar is unable to piece together? Ispanky gathered some information himself, but also received typewritten information. He then forwarded the information to spy Mihalovics in Rome, by writing by hand in invisible text. If the Trotskyist Dewar cannot understand this, then maybe the problem is with him, not with the trial.
Dewar spends all his energy in trying to show supposed contradictions in the testimony of the spy Ispanky, who was only a small player in the trial. This demonstrates that Dewar barely had anything in his arsenal. He uses cheap semantic tricks, and it ends up all being completely futile and a mere distraction, because Mindszenty was proven guilty many times over. Nobody could deny the black-marketeering, or his plans for monarchist restoration or even his spying. Everybody agrees that Mindszenty was in secret communication with the American diplomats in Hungary, with Rome and with clerical authorities and other authorities in the United States. The only reason Dewar wastes time on Ispanky is because that was the only place where he thought he could argue Mindszenty’s innocence, even though his argument is extremely weak.
Dewar used one other argument though:
“What puzzled many observers of this trial was the attitude of Mindszenty. The world press reported that he stood up in court and ‘confessed’ to everything… Yet on page sixty-five of this report Mindszenty… admitted some of the acts ascribed to him, but denied the interpretation put on them by the authorities.” (Dewar)
This is the same thing I already pointed out. And the same thing that Burchett pointed out. Mindszenty didn’t flatly admit to all charges, but instead admitted only to those charges which were completely impossible to deny. And somehow Dewar uses this as an argument that the trial was staged and that Mindszenty was innocent! The western media wanted everyone to think Mindszenty simply flatly admitted to non-existent crimes, as a result of torture. But he didn’t. Which only proves that the trial was not staged.
Trotskyist Dewar has one more trick up his sleeve:
“Ispánky is there found guilty of selling two hundred dollars on the black market, and thereby he is said to have ‘gravely damaged the interests of the economy’. This is rather a small sum to ‘gravely damage’ the economy of the country. But according to Decree 8400 of 1946, Article 20, Paragraph 2: ‘The penalty shall be death if the act has gravely damaged the interest involved in the stability of the Hungarian forint.’ (The same penalty applies under Article 17 of this Decree.) It is therefore clear why the words ‘gravely damaged’ are employed in the indictment, even although the sum is so small.” (Dewar)
This is quite something. Dewar implies that Ispanky was given the death sentence for an allegedly small crime. However, that’s not true at all. None of the people were given death sentences, but only prison sentences and some loss of property. Ezsterhazy and Mindszenty as the main culprits, got 15 years i.e. a “life sentence” while the lesser criminals got a few years only. Second of all, Ispanky was not convicted of damaging the Hungarian currency at all. Dewar must have been reading the trial transcript wrong, or he is just lying. Prince Paul Ezsterhazy and Mindszenty were convicted of damaging the currency, because they had been speculating with tens of thousands of black market dollars but not Ispanky with his 200 black market dollars. This perfectly illustrates Dewar’s dishonesty or the carelessness of his research!
Western Commentary On The Trial
To sum up, Mindszenty and his group were found guilty of spying on behalf of the Americans, running an illegal monarchist group which planned Hapsburg restoration in collusion with American or British invasion troops. They were also found guilty of black-market activity and money-smuggling. This money was also used for monarchist purposes. The cardinal was also accused of preventing the Hungarian crown from being returned to Hungary. He did this because he needed to have the crown ready for Otto Hapsburg once monarchy was restored in Hungary.
The Western press, the catholic press and the Trotskyist press, all claimed Mindszenty was completely innocent. In fact he was supposedly not a fascist or a horrible reactionary, but some kind of saint.
The Western press spread such lies about Mindszenty’s trial, that those Western News Correspondents who were present at the trial actually intervened and defended the legitimacy of the trial:
“In view of untrue reports written and broadcast abroad about the journalists’ coverage of the Mindszenty trial the undersigned foreign correspondents wish to state that we regard these charges as unfounded attacks upon the integrity of our own reporting and we categorically wish to deny:
“1. That censorship of any kind is being exercised upon our telephonic and telegraphic dispatches.”
“2. That the translation of the trial from Hungarian to our various languages is inaccurate; the fact is that the majority of correspondents either speak Hungarian themselves or are accompanied by their personal interpreters, and there have been no complaint, or indications that the official interpreters who are provided in addition are guilty of any kind of sly distortion.”
“3. That the only correspondents granted visas or admitted to the courtroom are communists or communist sympathizers.”” (New York Times, Feb. 6, 1949 quoted in Behind the Curtain, p. 195)
Even Mindszenty’s biographer admits that “the credible charges were… that the Cardinal, faithful to his monarchist convictions, had suggested… the crown of St. Stephen… should not be returned to Hungarian soil… Perhaps he had also fervently hoped that the western nations would agree to no peace treaty which left Hungary” under communist control. He further says that “it might be true… [the Cardinal] had side-stepped the regulations governing the exchange of currency.” (Shuster, In Silence I speak, p. 131)
So even the Cardinal’s own official biographer admits a lot of the charges. Of course he is ‘cutting his losses’ by admitting that these charges are true, while trying to deny the rest. Also ‘side-stepping monetary regulations’ is simply a euphemism, the Cardinal smuggled tens of thousands of black market dollars into the country. You can’t do massive smuggling, and then say it was just a ‘side-stepping of regulations.’
The Western capitalist press, and the Trotskyis press, didn’t really present any good reason why anybody should think Mindszenty was innocent. The man was a monarchist and a clerical-fascist, it was obvious. The western capitalist and Trotskyist press failed to provide convincing arguments, so even regular American citizens were not convinced by them:
“Mindszenty was found guilty of treason and lesser crimes by the courts of his country. He had been repeatedly warned that his activities looking to the restoration of the monarchy in Hungary would bring him in serious conflict with the communistic laws of his country. He chose to ignore these warnings and kept on with his treasonable activities, which ultimately led to his arrest, trial and conviction for treason.” (O.L.S., “Is Mindszenty’s Trial Miscarriage of Justice?”, The Boston Herald, 12 February, 1949)
“What legal, demonstrable proof do we have that Joseph Mindszenty is not guilty? Merely reiterating that the accused is a prince of the church who wouldn’t do such things is a rather weak way of presenting convincing evidence. What legal, demonstrable proof do we have that the Cardinal was either drugged or tortured into his confession of guilt?” (H.J.S., “Feels Proof Lacking”, The Boston Herald, 12 February, 1949)
Good question. The western press and the Trotskyit press always claimed that Mindszenty was tortured or drugged into making false confessions. From the trial itself, we already saw that he tried to admit as little as possible and was not very co-operative.
Mindszenty’s biographer writes:
“treatment may of course involve using various kinds of torture… During the Middle Ages almost any desired confession could be obtained by an efficient application of the rack and the wheel.” It is absolutely hilarious and grotesquely hypocritical for a spokesperson for the Catholic Hierarchy to be talking about Medieval torture methods and Racks! The Inquisition which tortured people with racks was an instrument of the Catholic Church!
Later he even admits himself that such methods could not have been used on Mindszenty in any case:
“These instruments are, however, rather clumsy if the victim is expected to appear before a modern court in a more or less dapper condition. The impression made on the bystanders by a defendant reduced in part to shreds might be undesirable.” (Shuster, p. 6)
If the Cardinal had been beaten to a pulp and starved into a skeleton, everybody would have seen it in court. So he couldn’t have been mistreated in that way. And if he had been tortured into making false confessions, there was no guarantee he wouldn’t reject them in court.
“In the Western press, the trial was reported as an attack on religion, and Mindszenty as a martyr who confessed under the influence of drugs. In fact the charges related only to his political activities; the drug explanation was discredited by the Western Press correspondents…” (Warriner, p. 32)
“Later on, those who felt disappointed that [Mindszenty] was not more pugnacious in the dock spread the belief that he must have been doped with a mysterious drug. I think this is nonsense.” (Ignotus, Political Prisoner, p. 78)
“it is almost inconceivable that a man [like Mindszenty] … could have been drugged or tortured to the precise point where the Communists themselves, in open court, would be safe either of the risk that physical or psychological signs of maltreatment would be easily apparent in the Cardinal to all observers, or that he might recant the recantation” (Behind the curtain, p. 192)
Even these anti-communist authors argue that Mindszenty was not tortured or drugged.
“February 8, 1949, Il Tempo, Roman evening newspaper: “Mindszenty died and someone impersonated him in court.”” (Pünkösti)
That of course was disproven when Mindszenty was released from prison. The capitalist press simply had to claim Mindszenty was innocent, even if they had no real evidence to prove it.
Professor emeritus at Harvard, Gaetano Salvemini wrote that “the charge that the Cardinal was engaged in activities connected with a Hapsburg restoration seems substantiated beyond any doubt” (The Nation, August 6, 1949)
“The Reformed Church, largest Protestant denomination in Hungary, issued a statement holding that Cardinal Mindszenty’s arrest resulted from his political, not his religious activities. This was signed also by leaders of the Methodist, Baptist, Adventist and Hungarian Free churches. At the same time, three Lutheran bishops published a declaration that, “Cardinal Mindszenty’s activities would have been forbidden by any government” (Christian Century, February 2, 1949)
What about the other charges?
“Cardinal Mindszenty, he had really acted as the President of a Shadow-Cabinet ‘in case the regime changes’, and had negotiated with American diplomatic representatives… [Reverend Father] Bozsik told me he had known about a ‘military line leading to the Americans'” (Ignotus, p. 75)
“How much of the charges against the Cardinal was true? He was doubtless a frantic opponent of Communism and of the Republican regime… and of many a social reform it had introduced… Did he then conspire with the representatives of foreign powers?… He certainly advised the Americans not to return the Crown of St. Steven to Budapest but to deposit it at the Vatican… It is also true that the Cardinal buried in his grounds a tube which contained his secret notes. It was a great triumph for the A.V.H. [state security] to discover it.” (Ignotus, p. 76)
Mindszenty stated: “I returned to Hungary from the United States in the middle of July. At home I had secret political talks and I only reported to the monarchist leaders [and not the government]. I convened in secret… I wrote a letter to Mr. Chapin… on Sept. 20, 1947, in which I recommended ‘that the United States should buy up all Russian assets in Hungary, and one of the demands that would be a condition of the purchase would be the complete withdrawal of Soviet troops. In this way the United States, which is anyway interested in oil, would… acquire an economic and political basis in Central Europe.’… Jusztin Baranyai had exact knowledge of this correspondence but wider Catholic circles also had heard of it and this aroused a hope that the time for a change in the system of government was not far off. It was this that prompted Baranyai to prepare his memorandum on a provisional [monarchist] government and his list of the people who were to be its members.” (quoted in Behind the Curtain, p. 196)
US diplomat Arthur Schoenfeld wrote that Mindszenty’s political activity “is based on the conviction that war will break out in the near future between the Soviet Union and the Western powers.” (Pünkösti)
Mindszenty’s assistant Dr. Zakar told the police: “Mindszenty asked [US diplomat] Schoenfeld for American occupying troops to come to Hungary… To Mindszenty’s question, US Ambassador Chapin replied that it was possible for a war to break out soon. The prince-primate asked the American ambassador not to return the holy crown, it would be better to transport it to Rome.” (Pünkösti)
“Shortly before his arrest, George Bilainkin, a special correspondent for the Daily Mail, conducted a two-and-a-half-hour, unpublished interview with Mindszenty… “the cardinal had urged an” immediate invasion “by British and American troops. When I said that this would probably lead to a nuclear war, he replied, “its still better then Bolshevism””. (Pünkösti)
Mindszenty was obviously guilty and he was a horrible medievalist. However, in the modern day he is praised by the capitalist press as a hero of anti-communist resistance. He is praised as the heroic leader of the 1956 Hungarian Uprising (which gives a hint to the character of that uprising). Mindszenty’s innocence was defended by the Trotskyists, such as Dewar, and another well known Trotskyist author named Peter Fryer even claimed Mindszenty supported socialism! No wonder the Hungarian communists strongly believed that Trotskyists were merely tools of imperialism.
In 2019 Mindszenty was declared a Saint by Pope Francis.
Religious Freedom in the Hungarian People’s Republic
Mindszenty and other feudalists and fascists of course pretended like they were martyrs or victims of pointless persecution.
Mindszenty’s biographer writes: “there was a blood-freezing challenge to a whole people. Who would now be a spokesman for the aggrieved, and who would uphold the inalienable dignity of the human conscience? The shepherd was stricken.” (Shuster, p. 5)
Kertesz, a supporter of Mindszenty writes the following: “The real issue between Communism and Western civilization is of a general ideological and moral nature. This was clearly defined by the head of the Catholic Church, Pope Pius XII, on February 16, 1949… this conflict opposes the defenders of a totalitarian regime against the champions of a conception of the state and society founded upon the dignity and the liberty of man.” (Kertesz)
Of course Kertesz conveniently ignores that Pope Pius XII collaborated with Hitler! The Catholic Church continued to collaborate with fascist Franco, and Mindszenty’s fascist followers kept dreaming about the restoration of either Horthy or the Hapsburgs. Of course Mindszenty’s criminal conspiracy could not be tolerated.
In reality the government had no interest in attack the church as such. The government wanted full separation of church and state. The church was completely free to discuss religious and spiritual issues, but it shouldn’t be involved in politics or pushing a theocratic right-wing agenda. Christianity has nothing to do with capitalism. There is no reason why a christian should think supporting the restoration of capitalism is part of their religion. The communists defended the rights of atheists, and defended materialism and science from attacks by religious fundamentalists but they also fully recognized the rights of religious people:
“they [the communists]… preached the necessity of cooperation with the Catholic Church. In some villages Communist local organizations were eager to help in rebuilding the churches destroyed by the war…” (Kertesz)
“Communist-led brigades helped repair scores of village churches and in several cases completely rebuilt them.” (Burchett)
“The Church was left with more privileges in Hungary than it enjoyed in most Western countries. After the land reform, bishoprics were still left with 300 acres, abbeys with 100 and rural parishes were allotted between 15 and 30 acres… The State, even after the predominantly Communist regime was elected in 1947, still offered to subsidise the Church, but with decreasing payments for twenty years, by which time the Church was supposed to make itself self-supporting, as it is in most countries. The Protestant churches gladly accepted this arrangement. Mindszenty himself was given a salary equal to that of the Prime Minister, archbishops fifty per. cent. more than that of a Cabinet Minister, Bishops the same as Cabinet Ministers, and lower grades of clergy correspondingly high salaries … religious instruction was compulsory in the schools. (It was only in late 1949 that this was abolished and religious instruction put on a voluntary basis.)” (Burchett)
“The government… has invited the Church to participate in various constructive functions in which the Church and its followers could take part, without any sacrifice of religious principles. It was Cardinal Mindszenty however, who forbade in a Pastoral Letter any Catholic Youth organisation to take part in the great project to build a canal between Hungary’s two major rivers, the Danube and the Tisza… When the Catholic Boy Scouts groups started to co-operate with other youth organisations of which Cardinal Mindszenty disapproved, he dissolved the Boy Scouts. His policy was to isolate the Church and Catholics as a whole from any movement which spelt progress.” (Burchett)
“When members of the National Teachers’ Union were given the opportunity to discuss the project for nationalising the schools, Cardinal Mindszenty threatened to excommunicate any Catholic teacher who even took part in the discussions, and any parents who dared advocate secularised education. He refused to allow the monks and nuns from the teaching orders to use the new text books prescribed by the Hungarian Minister of Education… Priests who opposed his wishes were excommunicated. The churches gradually became centres of political intrigue and propaganda rather than places of worship. Peasants and workers were taught that the new, the brighter life they were living was sinful. For the peasants it was a mortal sin that they had laid hands on the property of the former landowners. The workers were told obliquely that they sinned in working at the benches of factories whose owners had been expropriated. The parish priests told them privately that they would soon be punished when the British and Americans came. In the background, the Cardinal was quietly intriguing… he became a willing tool of the Americans who would not have hesitated to brush him and his hero, Otto of Hapsburg, aside, as soon as they had played their roles… The Cardinal’s hopes and plans were laid bare in the trial which completely discredited Mindszenty in Hungary…” (Burchett)
“Not all catholics, it should be pointed out, necessarily adopted the Mindszenty point of view. For instance several Catholic groups still co-operate with the government… and one very eminent Catholic, Archbishop Gyula Czapik of Eger… refused to permit Mindszenty’s pastoral letters to be read in his diocese.” (Behind the Curtain, p. 190)
Even Mindszenty’s biographer admitted that the Church could still keep its religious academies for teaching priests etc.
“The former Central Seminary of Budapest is now known as the Theological Academy. A seminary at Nyiregyhaza trains priests for the Greek Uniate Churches… these institutions were relatively free to follow the traditional course of study. No effort was made to impose books prepared by the Government” texts were “imported from abroad, through the cooperation of a Central Agency in Rome… In addition subscriptions to the most important periodicals in Catholic theology and allied fields were provided, so that seminarians are kept in constant touch with the best thinking and writing being done in other lands… Tens of thousands of Bibles were likewise sent without incident.” (Shuster, p. 272)
Though there has been considerable tension and conflict after the Vatican in 1955 condemned all those priests who collaborate with the Hungarian government.
“Everywhere we found freedom to worship… In Poland and Hungary religious instruction by priests is still compulsory in state schools. Nowhere has there been an official attempt to prevent people worshipping as they please.” (New York Herald Tribune, quoted in Behind the Curtain)
“And it is certainly a fact that the churches are open – and crowded – everywhere.” (Behind the curtain, p. 34)
In fact religious education was not made voluntary until 1949. Before that it was still mandatory for everybody.
While Mindszenty advocated Western internvetion, the progressive clergy supported peace and opposed imperialist wars.
Lutheran Bishop Laszlo Dezeri criticized Mindszenty and “said that the Hungarian people’s democracy will come to an even deeper understanding with Christians of the Lutheran Church.” (Investigation of Communist takeover and occupation of Hungary. Fifth interim report of hearings before the Subcommittee on Hungary of the Select Committee on Communist Aggression, p. 73)
Lutheran Bishop Lajos Veto “bitterly attacked Mindszenty” and “approved of the 5-year plan.” (Investigation of Communist takeover and occupation of Hungary, p. 73)
“Bishop Janos Peter, has indicated that conditions in Hungary are favorable for the growth of the churches and that freedom of religion still exists.” (Investigation of Communist takeover and occupation of Hungary, p. 2)
Protestant Bishop Albert Bereczky stated “Our church accepts the new situation created by Hungarian democracy which progresses towards socialism.” (Investigation of Communist takeover and occupation of Hungary, p. 73)
Bishop Bereczky “expressed gratitude “that every possibility for preaching the gospel freely in Hungary has been given.”” (Investigation of Communist takeover and occupation of Hungary, p. 73)
At the Paris Peace Conference on April of 1949 he stated: “We must therefore, stand up boldly for the truth of socialism. Christianity has long enough been a companion of the capitalist system…” (Investigation of Communist takeover and occupation of Hungary, p. 73)
Archbishop Czapik spoke at the World Peace Assembly in Helsinki, Finland 1955: “Another demand of Christian morality is that war must not bring suffering to innocent people who take no active part in it. Hydrogen bombs, nuclear weapons and in general weapons capable of effecting mass destruction should not be used under any circumstances.” (Shuster, p. 267)
Archbishop Czapik continued:
“The Hungarian people, standing in the presence of its ruins, has taken up the task of reconstructing its country with all the energy it can muster, and without shrinking from any sacrifice. It has inscribed in its constitution freedom of conscience and of religion, and has enlarged the scope of social welfare. It has made every effort, even in difficult circumstances, to create improved social conditions… In this endeavor… there has been realized the rallying of all the forces of Hungarian society, from those of the Government to those of the last honest citizen, be he a manual worker or an intellectual” (Shuster, p. 268)
In the course of the revolutionary movement in Hungary the Social-Democrats had very noticeably split into a left-wing and a right-wing. Reactionaries had suffered many defeats and as a result the Social-Democrat Left was much stronger than the Right. The Social-Democrat Left-Wing supported collaboration with the Communists and had become closer and closer to Communism ideologically. They supported socialist construction and class struggle, and held Marxist positions on various issues. The Social-Democrat Left represented the old Marxist tradition within Social-Democracy.
“The Social Democratic Party, after being driven underground during the Second World War, had been able to reactivate over 350,000 members, mainly industrial workers, by the end of 1945 with its slogan ‘Democracy today, Socialism tomorrow’. It supported the idea of a people’s republic, far-reaching democratic reforms, the nationalisation of key industries and the confiscation of the great estates… The party leadership frustrated both ex-minister, Karoly Peyer’s attempt early in 1946 to return the party to [an anti-communist] line and the negotiations, held in the autumn of 1947, aimed at achieving closer cooperation of all anti-Communist forces under the leadership of the Smallholders’ Party.” (Jörg K. Hoensch, A history of modern Hungary, p. 168)
“Regarding foreign policy… the [SDP] left wing preferred an all-out pro-Soviet line.” (László Borhi, Hungary in the Cold War, 1945-1956: between the United States and the Soviet Union, p. 63)
“Among the Social Democrats… the upper hand was gained by the faction in the party leadership which was openly sympathetic to the Communist call to defend the unity of the working class in its struggle against reactionary elements and those wishing to restore capitalism.” (Jörg K. Hoensch, A history of modern Hungary, p. 171)
“As a result of the acceleration of revolutionary progress, the members and officials of the Social Democratic Party came still closer in ideology to the Communist Party. It was increasingly recognized that the fusion of the two parties should not be delayed too long. The number of those who went over to the Communist Party was also increasing. The right-wing elements in the Social Democratic Party were considerably upset by these events and fought against them, because further revolutionary
transformations and the unification of the two parties would be tantamount to a complete political defeat for them… The right wing of the Social Democratic Party in Hungary launched a campaign to induce the party executive to take more vigorous action against any efforts to unite the two parties. On 15 October a memorandum signed by 34 officials of the party organizations of 16 factories in Budapest and its vicinity and of three district party organizations was submitted to the party leadership…
They did not touch on a single issue of reconstruction or the struggle against reaction… The principal topic of their petition was to proclaim the “party interests”… They reproached the party executive for failing to fight against the Communist party with sufficient vigour to protect and increase the Social Democratic positions. They demanded the removal of the left-wing activists from the Party centre and their replacement with their own people. As befits persons who were having the ground swept away from under their feet they raised the idea that if their demands were not satisfied, it would be better for the SDP to dissolve of its own accord. Events progressed towards the unification of the two workers’ parties, but those who submitted this memorandum preferred the dissolution of the party to any possible unification with the Communist Party.
The leadership of the Social Democratic Party considered the internal situation of the party and the memorandum submitted on 18 October. Antal Ban observed that some were expecting an American-Soviet war and an American victory, and wanted to see a pro-American policy.“ (Nemes, pp. 174-175)
“In October 1947, at a session of the SzDP’s party Executive the right wing demanded that the left-wing leaders be ousted and that the SzDP break with the policy of co-operation with the Hungarian Communist Party. The idea that the SzDP should dissolve itself as a gesture of protest was also raised. The left wing… launched a counter-offensive in response.” (Borsányi & Kende, p. 121)
Matyas Rakosi said:
“The outcome of over three years of struggle is that the working class and labouring peasantry hold power in Hungary. During the past three and a half years the working class, headed by our Party, has proved its ability to govern the country. It has become the leading and decisive force and is recognised as such by the overwhelming majority of the people. This recognition brought into the Party this spring thousands of Social-Democratic workers. The correct policy of the Communists isolated the Right Social-Democrats and brought about healthy conditions for the fusion of the two workers’ parties.” (Rakosi, Unity congress of the Workers’ Party of Hungary)
“The left-wing leaders of the Social Democratic Party were justified in emphasizing that the right-wing faction was placing the Social Democratic positions in jeopardy, because it set their party against the revolutionary interests of the working class which had at last achieved power. In the meantime, an increasing number of people left the Social Democratic Party, which was losing its prestige, and joined the Communist Party, which was gaining prestige. By January and February 1948, this transfer of allegiance was assuming the proportions of a landslide. At the same time even more people simply quit the party… party membership and the party’s mass influence were rapidly diminishing.
It was then that the left-wing leaders of the Social Democratic Party… recognized: unification must not be delayed any longer and all opponents of this move should be energetically countered… political unity of the working class should take place in Hungary with the active collaboration of the Social Democratic Party, rather than at the cost of its disintegration. This however made it imperative that the party should be cleansed of anti-communist elements.
In mid-February , there was an open break between the representatives of the left and right wings in the leadership of the Social Democratic Party. Anna Kethly, Imre Szelig and their associates, together with the centrists who joined them, including Antal Ban, were forced to abdicate their leading positions in the party. Following this, several right-wing and centre members of the party executive also resigned, some of them, because they opposed the SDP’s support of the merger and others because they did not want to hamper unification and expected to facilitate its preparation and implementation by standing aside.” (Nemes, pp. 178-179)
Already previously right-wing Social-Democrat leader Karoly Peyer had united with right-wing elements in the Smallholder Party and tried to launch an anti-communist campaign inside the Social-Democrats. However, it failed and he was expelled:
“Peyer launched an open campaign against the pro-Communist trend within the S.D.P., but was defeated, and this left him and the Social Democratic right isolated in the Party. He was reproved and eventually left it to join the Hungarian Radical Party (Magyar Radikalis Part).” (George Schöpflin in Martin McCauley ed., Communist power in Europe, 1944-1949, p. 101)
“the leader of the right-wing, Karoly Peyer, withdrew from the Social-Democratic Party and ran on the ticket of one of the bourgeois parties. This, of course, gave rise to confusion among the Social-Democrats… the Social-Democrats and bourgeois parties fought for the vote of the petty bourgeoisie, with the result that the Social-Democrats lost heavily in this struggle.” (Revai, The activities of the C. C. of the Hungarian Communist Party)
“When the ‘right-wing’ Social Democrats opposed a merger… their spokesmen, who included the former government ministers, Karoly Peyer, A. Kethly, F. Szeder and A. Ban, were expelled following an internal party struggle which lasted until February 1948.” (Jörg K. Hoensch, A history of modern Hungary, p. 183)
“The exposure of the right Social-Democrats made our Social-Democratic comrades realise that the existence of rival working-class parties was altogether unnecessary, and that this inter-party rivalry was most detrimental not only to the interests of the working people but to Hungarian democracy as a whole. A spontaneous movement for the formation of a united workers’ party gained ground among the working class, thousands of Social-Democratic comrades expressed their desire to join our Party. For the time being we have stopped recruiting new members, but thousands of people are impatiently waiting for the day when entry into the Party will be renewed.” (Rakosi, problems of ideological and theoretical work in the communist party of Hungary)
“At the beginning of 1948 a rapidly growing number of SzDP members decided to switch to the Communist Party… By February the flow of social democrats to the Communist Party reached such proportions that the MKP Political Committee was forced to order a temporary clamp-down on new membership. The SzDP met in congress on 6-8 March 1948. This congress resulted in complete victory for the left wing. The resolution adopted at the congress stipulated that the new party leadership begin “talks immediately with the leadership of the Hungarian Communist Party with a view to creating the ideological, political and organizational conditions necessary for the forming of a united workers’ party.” (Borsányi & Kende, p. 121)
“The thirty-sixth annual Congress of the Social Democratic party, meeting in Budapest in February , ended with a widely publicized and spectacular victory of its extreme left-wing leaders over the more conservative right-wing members, who seemed to have been completely discredited… The final outcome of the Social Democratic Congress was a dramatic decision of the party leadership to liquidate its moderate members and to integrate its activities with those of the Communist party.” (György, Governments of Danubian Europe, p. 117)
“Then in March 1948 at the Social Democrats’ congress, the Communist-influenced left… called for a merger with the Communists. It took place on 12 June after a joint congress, and the Magyar Dolgozók Pártja, the Hungarian Workers’ Party, was born.” (Stone, p. 399)
“[O]n 12 June… the Social Democrats voted to join outright with the Communists combining into the Hungarian Workers Party.” (Pryce-Jones, pp. 28-29)
At the founding congress of the new party Rakosi said:
“The congresses of the workers’ parties, the Communist and Socialist parties of Hungary adopted an unanimous decision to unite. This historic event is an occasion for joy and satisfaction not only to the working people of Hungary but also to the supporters of democratic progress throughout the world. In line with this decision, which marks a new epoch in the history of our country, we have gathered here to announce the fusion of the two fraternal parties, to discuss the problems of work of the new party and also the draft programme and statutes of the party, which have been submitted to the congress for consideration.” (Rakosi, Unity congress of the Workers’ Party of Hungary)
During the merger as a temporary measure the Hungarian Communist Party “Politburo decided to identify a core of activists as “party workers.” At the time of the merger over 100,000 members possessed special party worker cards.” (Bennett Kovrig, Communism in Hungary: from Kun to Kādār, p. 228)
Challenges involved in an underground party becoming a mass party
The merger of the two workers’ parties happened on the basis of Marxism-Leninism. The merger could be worthwhile only on such a basis:
“One of the prerequisites for the fusion was that the Social-Democratic comrades should adhere to the position of Marxism-Leninism. In accordance with this we drafted a joint programme which we submit to the congress for consideration. This programme not only analyses international and domestic problems in the spirit of the teachings of Marx-Engels-Lenin-Stalin, but also outlines the tasks confronting the united party, tasks which the united Workers’ Party must complete without any loss of time.” (Rakosi, Unity congress of the Workers’ Party of Hungary)
“It is of vital importance to us to turn the Party into a truly monolithic organisation, imbued with a single spirit, a single desire and a single will. It is imperative that the comrades who have come from the Social-Democratic Party quickly master the theory of Marxism-Leninism and accept iron Party discipline.“ (Rakosi, Unity congress of the Workers’ Party of Hungary)
“What was the party like that came into being with the fusion of the Communist Party and the Social Democratic Party?… The united party which came into being was a Marxist-Leninist party.
It was an important question to what extent the vanguard character of the party would prevail — not only in its role in the life of society, but also in its organizational composition; in addition to the genuine vanguard, to what extent would it rally the sympathizers, in other words the people who supported the policy of the party, but did not come up yet to the requirements of party membership.
It is a universal experience that a legal revolutionary party when it becomes a mass party inevitably includes in its ranks, side by side with the vanguard, a part of the sympathizing masses, who constitute a constant source for refilling and strengthening the party. This also happened to the Communist Party, a large number of sympathizers were persuaded to join… This was one of the results of party rivalry, of a situation when even the number of the registered members of each party figured in the struggle for positions. Consequently, there were many formal admissions to membership, the sort of “joining” which did not mean more for the entrant than a single act, which was not even followed by the payment of the monthly membership dues. This kind of formal membership was even more extensive in the Social Democratic Party.” (Nemes, p. 182)
When the Hungarian Communist Party emerged from the underground, and became a legal party, it recruited members very actively. It was important to draw as many workers, peasants and intellectuals, as well as all partisan fighters and anti-fascist fighters into the party. It was important to increase the party’s membership, because this increased its prestige and influence in the elections and the political struggle of the time.
However, this created its own challenges. First of all, it was difficult for some veterans of the underground party to adapt to the new conditions. Some members held the ultra-left view that they should have simply taken power in a violent revolution, right away in 1944-45, and did not see the “peaceful path” to socialism as a possibility.* This is because they didn’t analyze the concrete conditions of Hungary at the time.
[*Naturally the “peaceful path” to socialism is not a universal or common phenomena, but was related to the very specific and even exceptional conditions of Hungary at the time. It also should not be understood as a “peaceful growing of capitalism into socialism” without a revolution, without the smashing and overthrow of the bourgeoisie]
Another challenge was, that when so many new members were recruited into the party, new recruits were bound to be of lower quality and ideologically weaker. The Hungarian Party quickly grew from mere thousands, to tens of thousands, and in a few years hundreds of thousands. This was not entirely unique though, the Finnish Communist Party also only had thousands of members when it was underground, but still had tens of thousands or even hundreds of thousands of supporters. When the party became legal, it also had a massive influx of those who had always supported them, but had been too afraid, or unable to join the party when it was underground. Still, the Hungarian Party recruited much more actively then most communist parties, and when it was combined with the Social-Democrats, its membership reached as many as 800,000 in a country of 9 million people.
In early 1948 party members were told to apply for new membership cards. In this process 150,000 inactive members who didn’t renew their membership were removed. As the merging of the two parties was happening, 40,000 people had left the social-democrats and joined the communists. A temporary ban on new members was adopted. Focus now shifted away from quantity, to quality. Right-wingers from the social-democrats were not allowed to join the new party, and ideological education was stepped up.
In various speeches and articles Rakosi gave a thorough analysis of the issues related to the merging of the two workers’ parties:
“It is too early as yet to predict what the membership of the party will be, but it will certainly exceed the million mark. This contains the danger of inflating the Party and of obliterating the demarcation line between the Party and the working class. That is why we have considered it necessary to introduce stricter rules when accepting new members and in this way ensure the healthy growth of the party…” (Rakosi, Unity congress of the Workers’ Party of Hungary)
“It would be incorrect, of course, to draw a parallel between the Communist Party of Hungary and the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. But what can be said is that in our Party there are relatively and in absolute figures all the more so — considerably fewer Communists possessing a clear understanding of Marxist-Leninist theory and who could, in all justice, be considered members of the general staff of the working people.
From this it follows that, comparatively speaking, our Party should have considerably fewer members than the CPSU(B). But what is the actual state of affairs? Last autumn Party membership reached 800,000 and, notwithstanding thousands of exclusions in connection with the exchange of membership cards, is now reaching the million mark. In view of the forthcoming fusion of the Communist and Social Democrat Parties, and the mass entry of peasants into the Party, this growth will continue in the united party.
Our Party is not only made up of the vanguard detachment of the working class, but also includes the absolute majority of industrial workers…
How did it come about that our party found itself developing in this way? At first we strove to get the most conscious workers, peasants and progressive intellectuals, who had had some experience of struggle, to join our ranks. To ensure this we accepted members only on the basis of a detailed questionnaire, backed with recommendations by two veteran members of the Party. However, we quickly realised that by following this procedure, we remained in the minority compared with the Social Democrats and other parties which were competing with us. These workers, peasants and intellectuals who were eager to join the Party because they sympathised with the Soviet Union, the Soviet Army or with the vigorous and selfless activities of our Party, these people, in their overwhelming majority had never taken part in the labour movement and wanted to master Communist theory as members of our Party. When we did not accept these sympathisers into the Party, disillusioned and hurt they joined the Social Democratic Party which had a united front with us and which did not follow a line of such strict selection.
The result was that the Social Democratic Party grew by leaps and bounds and soon outnumbered us. In the summer of 1945, for instance, it frequently happened in the course of the factory committee elections that Social Democrat comrades, using the arguments that they had double our membership in the factories, insisted on getting two-thirds of the majority… Moreover, the Right Social Democrats referring to this fact made even more extravagant demands on us. They used this argument in the autumn of 1945 at the time of the General Election when they prevented a common election list being put forward. The immediate effect of this rivalry was that we opened wide the Party doors, which explains the rapid increase in its membership. We were not happy about this and we recognised the dangers inherent in the influx into our Party” (Rakosi, The party—the vanguard)
“Unquestionably many people have come into our Party—and this is even more true of the Social Democrat Party — for whom it would have been much better had they first passed through a definite preparatory school of socialism in the trade unions or in other mass organisations, and had not immediately joined the Party which they can thus directly influence” (Rakosi, The party—the vanguard)
“Comrade Stalin has pointed out how dangerous it is to turn the Party into a scattered, amorphous, disorganised “formation” which loses itself in a sea of “sympathisers” and obliterates the demarcation line between the Party and the class and bypasses the task of the Party to raise the unorganised masses to the level of a vanguard detachment.
We failed to take full account of the danger that a quantitative increase can lead to a deterioration of quality. We were misled by the circumstance that, despite its swollen ranks, our Party was able to carry out its tasks: to create and consolidate the people’s democracy. At the same time however, there were signs that the existence of a vast number of members lacking Communist education was beginning to hamper the Party in carrying out its vanguard role. A number of recent symptoms show that at critical moments some of its members allowed themselves to be influenced by non-class conscious elements and even enemies of democracy…
It should be noted that careerists of all kinds and enemies are now trying to get into the Party… Our enemies are trying to get into the Party in order to cause us a lot of harm…
The Party, —continued Stalin, could not but know that it was strong not only in the number of its members but, above all, in their quality. The Bolshevik Party combated this danger in various ways: Party purge, temporary non-acceptance of new members, but mainly by adopting a series of measures designed to raise the ideological level of the Party. The composition of the Party must be steadily improved, wrote Stalin at the time, by raising the level of the Party member’s consciousness and by accepting into the Party on an individual basis, only comrades who have been tested and are devoted to the cause of Communism. It is necessary, said Stalin, to extend the propaganda idea of Marxism-Leninism, to raise the theoretical level and political tempering of our cadres. In the main we too, must take similar measures. The task will be much easier during the registration of members in the united party when, fortunately, two-party rivalry will play no role.
Now that the two workers’ parties are combining and the dangerous element of rivalry is eliminated, it is high time that the Party become a party in accordance with Marxist-Leninist theory. For the purpose of raising the ideological level of the Party, the question of study must be given priority… The Political Bureau has decided that the six-month Party school be changed into a one-year school for 50 students. The six-month school will be attended by 100 members annually, the number of three-month courses will be increased to six. About 10,000 Party members will attend the weekly Party school in the course of a year. We shall increase the number of courses and promote individual studies. Each year every Party worker must master, in independent study, at least the material of the three-month course. Naturally, members of the united party will attend these party schools. Apart from this, the special commission handling the matter of study for the two parties is now dealing with the question of refresher courses for the Social-Democratic comrades. We are devoting special attention to the education and discipline of the Party functionaries.” (Rakosi, The party—the vanguard)
“The question of the fusion of the two parties was decided at the recent congress of the Social-Democratic Party. However, as stressed by the leading Social-Democratic comrades, the ideological basis for fusion must be Marxism-Leninism. So that in a few months’ time thousands of former Social-Democratic members of the united party will be fully justified in demanding that we acquaint them with the teaching of Marxism, further elaborated by Lenin and Stalin. But this is only one aspect of the tasks facing us. Apart from the Social-Democratic comrades our Party is being joined by the people from the peasant population and by the intelligentsia. For instance, in the province of Zemplen alone 5,000 small peasants, teachers and doctors joined our ranks in the month that preceded the closing of recruitment.
These peasant people have come to us not because they are acquainted with Marxist-Leninist theory but because of their convictions, which have taken shape in the course of three years observation and experience, that our Party is the most consistent and honest party, is the party that most successfully represents and defends the interests of the working people of Hungary. These peasants and representatives of the intelligentsia will bring with them not only their sentiments of sympathy for our Party but also various prejudices and mistaken conceptions. Unless we take timely measures to provide thousands of new people who will be joining our ranks during the coming weeks and months with the minimum theoretical and ideological education then the theoretical level of our Party, none too high at the moment, may be lowered still more.” (Rakosi, problems of ideological and theoretical work in the communist party of Hungary)
The two parties united on a very equal basis. First, local chapters of social-democrats and communists united, then district levels and finally highest levels. Rakosi said:
“Following the congress, the leadership of the two workers’ parties set up mixed political and organizational committees. On June 12 the Communist Party congress will take place and will decide the question of fusion. The Central Committee has resumed recruiting to the Party, which is being joined by thousands, not only by workers and small peasants, but even by medium peasants.” (Rakosi, Unity congress of the Workers’ Party of Hungary)
The social-democrats had expelled their right-wingers, and now decisively abandoned the opportunism of the 2nd international, and returned to their revolutionary marxist roots. This is why the merging on marxist-leninist principles was possible. It would still take time to develop all these elements into a party of truly iron unity and high theoretical caliber.
Although political and theoretical education is the most important way of improving the quality of party members, it was also absolutely necessary to purge the party of right-wingers, careerists and other harmful elements. Rakosi said:
“As is known, when we carried through the exchange of membership cards, new cards were not issued to thousands of former Party members whom we considered unworthy of the Party’s confidence.” (Rakosi, Unity congress of the Workers’ Party of Hungary)
“the Social-Democratic Party is removing the Right elements from its ranks – between 8,000 to 9,000 have been expelled, already. A thorough purge has been carried out in the Parliamentary fraction where 33 of the 68 deputies have been recalled or expelled from the party. When the fusion of the two workers’ parties is accomplished the new party will hold 46 per cent of the seats in Parliament.” (Rakosi, Victory of the People’s Democracy in Hungary)
Later at the second congress of the united party Rakosi also discussed this topic:
“In order to eliminate… undesirable elements we decided upon the supervision of membership. This supervision which was carried out in our Party after suitable preparation, in the first half of 1949, extended to more than one million members. Of these, we excluded 190,407 members and qualified another 125,672 as candidates to membership. Besides, there were many tens of thousands of members who did not report for supervision” (Rakosi, Report to the Second Congress of the Hungarian Working People’s Party)
The Hungarian Working People’s Party
The result of the merger was that communists gained the support of the absolute majority of the working class and that social-democracy was effectively eliminated as a competitor to genuine socialism, i.e. Marxism-Leninism. Right-wing social-democracy still continued as an underground force which attempted to sabotage socialist construction.
The new party; the Hungarian Working People’s Party, was a mass Marxist-Leninist party. It was a vanguard party, although many of its new members still needed a lot of education. It was easily the largest party in the parliament with 46% of the vote.
The bulk of the Social-Democrat members were loyal working class activists, and many of the Left-Social-Democrat leaders also genuinely supported socialism and accepted Marxism. The best element of the Social-Democrats firmly joined with the Communists. Speaking about the new party Rakosi said:
“when the decisive hour struck, when development put the organic implementation of working-class unity on the agenda, the healthy kernel of the Social-Democratic Party stood at the height of its historic task and was capable of acting correctly… The bulk of the Social-Democratic Party was, in these decisive months, loyal sons of their class and people, and they sealed this loyalty with honest and sincere unity with the Communists. All the successes and achievement of the two and a half years which have passed since prove that this merger was correct and healthy, have opened up new sources of strength and gave new vigour to Hungarian Socialist development. The fruit of this merger is our united, unbroken and great Party, the Hungarian Working People’s Party, fighting under the banner of Lenin and Stalin, and fired with Communist spirit” (Rakosi, Report to the Second Congress of the Hungarian Working People’s Party)
After having discussed the merger of the left-wing Social-Democrats into the Communists, let’s discuss the Right-wing Social-Democrats. Who were they? Where did they come from? And what became of them?
The Right-Wing Social-Democrats
As I mentioned briefly in part 1 the right-wing social-democrats basically acted as a fake opposition in fascist Hungary. They made an agreement with the fascist government to not organize peasants, to not organize government employees, to not organize political strikes, and practically to not organize strikes at all but prevent them, to not criticize the government but instead defend the fascist government internationally. They defended the White Terror and promised to attack the communists and all revolutionaries and label them terrorists. In return the right-wing social-democrats were allowed to operate legally, and basically got full control of the party and the trade-unions. This agreement is known as the Peyer-Bethlen agreement – Peyer was the leader of the right-wing social-democrats and Bethlen was Horthy’s prime minister.
“As the white terror raged the social-democratic party began negotiations with Horthy. In December 1921 they agreed, that social-democrats can get a few seats in the parliament, publish their newspaper censored by the government and get amnesty for interned social-democrats. However, social-democrats were not the only ones interned, communists were also imprisoned and the amnesty didn’t include them… On top of that they promised to try to get support from [international] social-democrats for Horthy’s land of white terror…” (SKP vuosikirja VI, p. 114)
As the liberal count Karolyi writes:
“[Bethlen] brought the Social Democrats to heel, drawing up a secret pact with them. This pact, accepted by the Socialist Party under duress, made them agree to his franchise bill with its open [non-secret] ballot for the rural districts, and his prohibition on all farm-laborers’ organizations. This meant the complete control of the peasantry and was of major importance to the landowner Bethlen.” (Karolyi, p. 234)
“In Budapest, on December 22, 1921, an agreement was signed by the Prime Minister and four Cabinet Members, on behalf of the Horthy Regency, and by five leaders of the Hungarian Social-Democratic Party—Messrs. Peyer, Farkas, Miakits, Popper and Bencs. Here:
The delegates of the Hungarian Social-Democratic Party declare that they agree to the wishes expressed by the Prime Minister, both with regard to foreign and home policy, and give assurance of fulfillment on their part.
They agreed “not only to abstain from all propaganda injurious to the interests of Hungary, but on the contrary will carry on an active propaganda on behalf of [fascist] Hungary.”” (Atpheker, p. 21, quoting The Labour Monthly (London) April, 1925, VII, PP- 242-44.)
Conservative historian Professor C.A. Macartney writes:
“The terms are believed to amount to the following: It was noted that large open-air meetings were prohibited, and the unions of the State officials, railways, and postal workers, which had been dissolved, could not be revived. The Social-Democrats agreed not to make anti-Hungarian propaganda abroad, to dissipate false (!) rumours of terrorization current among foreign Socialists [i.e. to lie that there is no White Terror], and to adopt the “national” internal policy, they agreed to collaborate on economic policy with the national parties, to abstain from political strikes, and to refer wage disputes to arbitration. They would break with the revolutionary parties. They agreed not to extend their agitation to the agricultural labourers… They would also confine their agitation among the miners within such limits as not to endanger the continuity and measure of production.
In return the Government agreed to arrest and intern none but terrorists, Communist agitators, and other dangerous persons” and to release right-wing social-democrats. (C. A. Macartney, Hungary, p. 266)
After this agreement between the right-wing social-democrats and the fascist government of Horthy became known three years later, the II International criticized it – as the social-democrats belonged to the II International – but nothing else happened. The II International didn’t expel them, and the criticism had absolutely no impact. These right-wing social-democrats remained as the leaders of the party throughout the Fascist period. When Hungary joined the Axis Peyer was the Chairman of the Social-Democrats, and the leader of the government-recognized Trade Union Federation. They were also allowed seats in the parliament, and many of them such as Anna Kethly sat in the parliament all throughout WWII when Hungary was fighting a war of aggression on Hitler’s side.
The right-wing social-democrats, who it is accurate to call social-fascists (people who pretend to be socialists, but really defend fascism) represented Hungary in the League of Nations and tried to act like there was no White Terror, and that Hungary really wasn’t all that bad.
“Invariably, also, Hungarian foreign delegations, as those appearing at the League of Nations, were made up largely of Social-Democratic leaders, men such as the ubiquitous Peyer, or Peidl or Garami.” (Aptheker, p. 22)
The job of the right-wing Social-Democrats was to prevent strikes and to keep the workers under control. During the Great Depression New York Times wrote in its headline of September 2, 1930: “Reds Lead Jobless in Budapest Battle; 2 Die, 257 Wounded. Workers, Erecting Barricades, Driven Out by Tanks. Socialists Unable to Control Protests.”
By “Reds” they mean communists, and by “socialists” they mean right-wing social-democrats. In other words, communists organized workers while right-wing social-democrats sent tanks to kill them.
During WWII the right-wing social-democrats were allowed to operate as helpers of the fascist war effort. When the war had started, right-wing social-democrat leader Peyer wrote to Undersecretary of State Alador Boor:
“During the last few days individuals have repeatedly appeared at the premises of the trade unions under my leadership and attempted to persuade the workers present to commit various unlawful acts. I have the honour to present with respect the reports I received.” (A photostatic copy of this letter, and a translation, are in The Labour Monthly (London), July, 1950, Vol. 32, p. 317)
In other words, workers tried to organize sabotage against the fascist war, but Peyer the right-wing social-democrat, prevented this and informed the authorities. At this point it should be mentioned that there were leftists inside the social-democrat party too, and even communists had infiltrated into the party. Those leftists did try to oppose the war, and this leftist faction became more influential after the Nazis occupied Hungary and banned all parties, even the social-democrats. But the right-wing social-democrats always co-operated with fascism to the bitter end.
“During the years of the war… the Social-Democratic apparatus, including its Parliamentary delegation and its press… though exercising a critical approach, sought fundamentally, as Rustem Vambery wrote, “to make the war popular with the working class.”” (Aptheker, p. 23)
When the defeat of fascism seemed imminent, the right-wing Social-Democrats (Karoly Peyer, Anna Kethly etc.) met with the right-wing leaders of the Smallholder Party to discuss how they should react to the fact that Communists would inevitably become a legal party, and powerful. The right-wing Smallholder leader Ferenc Nagy writes about this in his memoirs:
“the leaders of the Social-Democratic Party met with us to discuss how the parties would react to the unavoidable entry of the Communists into the postwar political arena.” (p. 38)
“Social-Democratic leaders… promised to fight any thrust of Communism, and declared that their platform was general suffrage, private property and self-government; and believed that on this basis our efforts could be coordinated.” (p. 38)
“This is very consequential for the post-1945 period. First of all, as Elizabeth Wiskemann points out, the political reputation of the Social Democrats was “soiled” and this “left them in a weak position when the revolution came.” More important, the Social-Democratic agreement with the fascist [Horthy] Regency had seriously weakened all levels of working-class trade-union organization and had totally neglected the mass of the peasantry in the face of the vilest kind of chauvinistic, anti-Semitic and fascistic propaganda. There had been, therefore, a minimum of any kind of democratic or popular opposition… to extreme reaction and ultra-nationalism…
Meanwhile, the Communist movement had been illegalized, its members arrested, imprisoned for long terms, executed and, not infrequently, summarily murdered by the police or other agents of the Regency.” (Aptheker, p. 24)
This is briefly the history of the Right-wing Social-Democrats. They were fascist collaborators and supporters of the imperialist war effort. Together with the Right-wing leaders of the Smallholder Party (mainly Ferenc Nagy) they had made a secret agreement to do everything in their power “to fight Communism”, as Ferenc Nagy admitted in his memoirs. The Right-wing Social-Democrats were an anti-communist and pro-fascist force, and they became a group of spies, saboteurs and obstructionists hindering the Hungarian Popular Front government from the inside, and working on behalf of Western (mainly American) intelligence services.
As a result some right-wing social-democrats were imprisoned for espionage and conspiring against Hungary together with the American imperialists. Other right-wing social-democrats escaped to America and continued working for the CIA there.
“1949 September 16. The Voice of America broadcasts the statement by Karoly Peyer, the right-wing Social-Democratic traitor to the working class who had fled to the West, in which he states that the people’s democratic state order in Hungary “can only be overthrown with foreign aid”.” (Documents on the hostile activity of the United States Government against the Hungarian People’s Republic, p. 23)
This “foreign aid” obviously means foreign invasion and American funding of counter-revolutionary armed units.
The liberal count Karolyi characterized the Right-Wing Social-Democrats in the same way, as agents of foreign imperialism. He wrote about these reactionaries that:
“The few political [emigres] form an amorphous mass of all shades and parties, Fascists, Royalists, Social Democrats, Reactionaries, ex-Communists and militant Catholics… they exist on hopes of war between the West and the East which might enable them to regain their lost positions. In order to live, all of them are obliged to work for the highest bidder, usually the U.S.A.” (Karolyi, p. 220)
The Hungarian government discovered that right-wing social-democrat leader “Karoly Peyer suggested to [American diplomat] McCargar that if he received American support he would take steps to overthrow the Hungarian Government and to prepare for a change of regime. The matter was also raised of Peyer fleeing abroad and there forming a counter-government with American aid.” (Documents on the hostile activity of the United States Government against the Hungarian People’s Republic, p. 91)
And of course this is what happened, Peyer fled to America. However, the Hungarian government didn’t know at the time (though they suspected it) that McCargar who presented himself as a diplomat, was actually a CIA agent, and actually even led his own organization inside Hungary which was far more secret than normal CIA operations. This is known because in the 60s McCargar wrote a book about some of his activities. The book was published under a false name, but some people were already able to figure out it had to be McCargar. In 2010 documents were finally declassified which confirmed that McCargar had led an ultra-secret spy organization in Hungary.
According to his book (The Spy and His Masters: A Short Course in the Secret War) McCargar (alias Christopher Felix) led his spy organization in Hungary between 1946-48. After this he had to flee. One of McCargar’s agents, codename ‘Paul’, was “a very high member of the Government, a Smallholder. A lawyer by profession” and codename ‘Leo’ “was a Smallholder Member of Parliament”. His other agents included diplomats, officials, for example codename ‘Sara’ “of a nominal Peasant Party membership… [in] the Political Section of the Foreign Office, where she… [had] access to all of that section’s most confidential correspondence.”, codename ‘Sam’ “an official in the [Communist] Trade Union Council” and codename ‘Edmund’ “an officer of the A.V.O. [Hungarian intelligence service]”, codename ‘Guy’ was “the holder of an important post in the National… Police” and codename ‘Anna’, was a monarchist who was involved with the Church. They were also in contact with Smallholder leader Bela Kovacs and right-wing social-democrat leader Karoly Peyer. This American spy organization infiltrated all the main political parties, all sections of the Hungarian government and state including even the Hungarian intelligence service and the police. And it organized all reactionary sections of the population: right-wing Smallholders, right-wing social-democrats, monarcho-fascists and reactionary priests.
As McCargar only talked about his spies with codenames, most of them have never been identified. He mentions Bela Kovacs and Karoly Peyer with their real names, but who for example, was codename “Paul” (a very high member of the government, and a smallholder) or codename “Leo” (a smallholder member of parliament)?
The conspiracy of Bela Kovacs and Ferenc Nagy was revealed. Kovacs was arrested and Ferenc Nagy escaped to America. Peyer also managed to escape but Anna Kethly was arrested. At that point the Right-wingers had already lost control of the Social-Democrat party, and Kethly had even been expelled from it. It seems they got into contacts with American intelligence services exactly because they had lost control of the party and had no other ways of clinging to power.
Naturally anti-communists like to pretend that all these people were completely innocent of any crimes and that they were simply persecuted for some other reason. But Ferenc Nagy doesn’t make it a secret that he was looking for the violent overthrow of the Popular Front government, with American support. The OSS/CIA agent McCargar also admits (although under a false name, and three decades after the fact) that he had recruited Bela Kovacs, Karoly Peyer and Ferenc Nagy. Even anti-communist historians have also admitted, that Bela Kovacs belonged to the illegal Fascist secret society called Hungarian Unity, and that he was their infiltrator inside the government.
In the end the old right-wing leaders “[Smallholder] Bela Varga, [Right-Wing Social-Democrats] Karoly Peyer, Szelig, [Smallholders] Sulyok and Pfeiffer… set up their counter-revolutionary headquarters under U.S. State Department supervision in Washington.” (Kartun, Tito’s plot against Europe: the story of the Rajk conspiracy, p. 55)
Jörg K. Hoensch, A history of modern Hungary
László Borhi, Hungary in the Cold War, 1945-1956: between the United States and the Soviet Union
Dezső Nemes, History of the Revolutionary Workers Movement in Hungary: 1944-1962*
György Borsányi & János Kende, The History of the Working Class Movement in Hungary*
[*Nemes, Borsanyi and Kende are Kadar-era revisionist authors and while their analysis is fine, it is largely plagiarized from Rakosi.]
Also check out my three articles explaining the Moscow Trials from beginning to end (part 1, part 2, part 3).
Apparently communist historian Grover Furr has a book called “Moscow Trials as Evidence”. I have not read the book (I’ll check it out some day). However, I have read all the transcripts of the trials themselves, and they indeed provide fascinating information.
The vast majority of people who dismiss the Moscow Trials as a “fraud”, “frame-up” or “hoax”, have never read the trial material. It is also possible that many are not knowledgeable enough about the context to understand the trial material, even if they read it. The materials themselves are not difficult to understand, but if one is a) ignorant on the context and b) has a strong anti-communist bias, they might conclude that if there is something they don’t understand, or something which seems strange or far-fetched, then it must be fraudulent.
In actuality, however, the trial materials are absolutely believable. I strongly recommend everyone interested in the topic to actually read the materials. Almost everything in the trial materials is verified by independent evidence, or has a very logical and rational explanation (if one is not too blinded by bias). As a result the trials seem completely legitimate and truthful.
Of course, there are some details which are questionable. At every trial, defendants will always try to lie about certain things, they will forget things, get details wrong etc. This only further makes the trials more credible, because if there actually were absolutely zero contradictions or mistakes, it would suggest the thing could be scripted.
Why would someone believe the trials were a fraud?
The most common reason is simply that anti-communist historians claim the trials were a fraud. For most anti-communists this is the only reason. However, there are other possible reasons too, which are a bit more legitimate:
1) The accusations made at the trials seem extraordinary, at least if one is not familiar with the context or the motives and reasoning of the defendants. For those who are familiar with the defendants’ track record, their views and methods, the trial findings seem like a natural outcome of their past careers, and is only an escalation and “stepping up a notch” of the activity they were already doing in the past. For almost every accusation there is a precedent in the well-known past careers of the defendants. The more you know about the defendants and the facts surrounding the case, the more obvious their guilt seems. But in any case, the crimes (treason, espionage, terrorism etc.) are not ordinary every day crimes.
2) Many people think the defendants “were old Bolsheviks”, and “would not commit crimes like this”. Countless people have dismissed the trials on these grounds alone, but it is an argument entirely based on ignorance. Firstly, the status of the defendants as Old Bolsheviks is dubious at best. They had all committed various acts of treachery against Lenin, been in opposition to Lenin on countless occasions, for many years or even the majority of their careers, had opposed Lenin and Bolshevism in countless ways. Secondly, many of the defendants had engaged in acts very similar to those accused at the trials, already in the past, but usually (though not always) in less severe forms.
If one imagines the defendants as “Old Bolsheviks”, as “revolutionary Saints” who had always been nothing but loyal, and had never engaged in anything like this in the past, and if the crimes had been completely unprecedented, unheard of, and come entirely out of the blue, then it would indeed seem quite unbelievable. However, the opposite is the case. The defendants were a group of life-long oppositionists, and life-long professional underground conspirators, with a track record of similar acts. Stalin and all of his closest associates were also Old Bolsheviks. If the argument is that “Old Bolsheviks would never do anything wrong or terrible”, then we must conclude that Stalin must be entirely correct. The only difference is that Stalin and his associates were actually Old Bolsheviks in substance and not only in name. Stalin and his associates were never in opposition against Lenin. (See my article “Stalin & the myth of the ”Old Bolsheviks”” where I discuss this in more detail.)
3) Many people claim “the defendants would not unite with fascists, would not use terrorism” etc. because those positions are seen as un-marxist. However, this is also based on ignorance. The defendants all rationalized everything they did based on their own (albeit twisted) version of “marxism”. From the point of view of their worldview and their program, it all makes absolutely logical sense. Of course, their plan was still overly risky, adventurist, and unlikely to succeed. However, the plans of the Left-Opposition and the Trotskyist Opposition were always notorious for being adventurist, extremely risky, overly hasty, aggressive and, quite frankly, more like frenzied utopias of fanatics, rather then realistic and scientific plans.
The opposition (which the defendants belonged to for most of their careers) was also extremely well-known for flip-flopping on every conceivable position. To mention only some examples: Bukharin went from being the leader of the Left-Opposition to the leader of the Right-Opposition, from a main supporter of extremely left-policies during the civil war, to supporting the opposite policies only couple years later. Trotsky had changed his positions so many times that Lenin said “Trotsky, however, has never had any “physiognomy” at all; the only thing he does have is a habit of changing sides” (Lenin, The Break-Up of the “August” Bloc).
“Trotsky, on the other hand, represents only his own personal vacillations and nothing more. In 1903 he was a Menshevik; he abandoned Menshevism in 1904, returned to the Mensheviks in 1905 and merely flaunted ultra-revolutionary phrases; in 1906 he left them again; at the end of 1906 he advocated electoral agreements with the Cadets (i.e., he was in fact once more with the Mensheviks); and in the spring of 1907, at the London Congress, he said that he differed from Rosa Luxemburg on “individual shades of ideas rather than on political tendencies”. One day Trotsky plagiarises from the ideological stock-in-trade of one faction; the next day he plagiarises from that of another” (Lenin, The Historical Meaning of the Inner-Party Struggle in Russia)
“That is just like Trotsky! He is always equal to himself—twists, swindles, poses as a Left, helps the Right, so long as he can.” (Lenin to Inessa Armand, Labour Monthly, September 1949)
Trotsky had flip-flopped between various kinds of anti-Bolshevism for more then a decade, until he joined the Bolsheviks in 1917. Right before joining he had said at a conference of his group:
“I cannot be called a Bolshevik… We must not be demanded to recognise Bolshevism.” (Leon Trotsky, Mezhrayontsi conference, May 1917, quoted in Lenin, Miscellany IV, Russ. ed., 1925, p. 303.)
After joining the Bolsheviks Trotsky soon went into opposition against Lenin. By 1927 he had been expelled from the party, and he was advocating his own Trotskyist theories again, which strongly differed from the line of the party. To expect some kind of “Leninist orthodoxy” from these people is not logical.
Therefore, the argument that “the defendants would not do X, because they would think it un-marxist or un-Bolshevik” is not accurate. They supported one position one day, and the opposite position the next day, and always justified it by appealing to Marxism, or even to Bolshevism. The Trotskyists, Bukharinists and co. believed that they were the ones “creating Marxism”, they were the ones who would decide what Marxism means, they would decide what is Marxist and what is un-Marxist. Trotsky and Bukharin considered themselves to be theoreticians and authorities on Marxist ideology practically on the same level as Lenin, and certainly above everyone else.
They were also quite willing to re-interpret Marx himself, to say that “certain parts of Marx are outdated and must be revised” etc. According to Marxism-Leninism, the world had entered into a new stage of capitalism, and therefore new theories were needed. Trotskyists and Bukharinists agreed about this, but their theories were entirely different. They thought, if Lenin and Stalin can develop new theories, why couldn’t they?
There are signs that their view on terrorism was changing. Even in his public writings, Trotsky argued that “stalinism” had entered into a stage of “bureaucracy” which made terrorism inevitable, and practically justifiable, though he doesn’t say it openly:
“discontent is spreading within the masses of the people, for which the means of proper expression and an outlet are lacking, but which isolates the bureaucracy as a whole; if the youth itself feels that it is spurned, oppressed and deprived of the chance for independent development, the atmosphere for terroristic groupings is created.” (Trotsky, On the Kirov Assassination)
Trotsky has a track record of not stating his actual positions openly. For example, during the Brest-Litovsk crisis, he did not have the courage to join the Left-Communist Opposition openly and to advocate for a “red holywar” (Bukharin’s words). Instead Trotsky advocated “neither peace nor war”, which in reality opposed Lenin’s demand to sign the peace treaty, and supported the Left-Communist position of not signing it.
Lenin was very familiar with Trotsky’s common tactic, which he followed throughout his entire career, of not stating his views clearly and openly, but covering them up with vague and radical phrases and using deception. About Trotsky’s dishonest and covert protection of right-opportunism and liquidationism Lenin said:
“All that glitters is not gold. There is much glitter and sound in Trotsky’s phrases, but they are meaningless… If our attitude towards liquidationism is wrong in theory, in principle, then Trotsky should say so straightforwardly, and state definitely, without equivocation, why he thinks it is wrong. But Trotsky has been evading this extremely important point for years… Although Trotsky has refrained from openly expounding his views, quite a number of passages in his journal show what kind of ideas he has been trying to smuggle in.” (Lenin, Disruption of Unity Under Cover of Outcries for Unity)
Bukharin and the Left-Opposition had also collaborated in the past with Left-SRs, who supported and used terrorism. They also advocated and attempted a coup’de’tat in 1918, which the Left-Opposition did not oppose in principle. Bukharin himself admitted this already in the 1920s, long before he was ever on trial.
Bukharin wrote in Pravda, January 3, 1924:
“I consider it my Party duty to tell about the proposal made by the Left Socialist-Revolutionaries at a moment of bitter factional struggle so as to paralyse that idyllic varnishing of the events of the Brest period which has been practised by the comrades of the opposition…”
“They depicted the Brest period in the Party as ‘the height of democracy.’ I know very well that this was a period when the Party was within a hair’s breadth of a split, and when the whole country was within a hair’s breadth of its doom.”
When the left-opposition “pointedly compared current norms with the free discussions during the Brest controversy, Bukharin tried to discredit the earlier period by disclosing that Lenin’s arrest had been discussed by Left Communists and Left Socialist Revolutionaries in 1918, and asserting that it had been “a period when the party stood a hair from a split, and the whole country a hair from ruin.”” (Stephen F. Cohen, Bukharin and the Bolshevik Revolution: a political biography, 1888-1938, p. 156 quoting from Pravda, January 3, 1924, p. 5)
Someone might ask “didn’t the Bolshevik party of Lenin also have a brief alliance with the Left-SRs?” Yes they did, but in those days the Left-SR party was not the same. The Left-SR party was a wavering petit-bourgeois utopian socialist party which included many different elements. Only the terroristic and reactionary elements joined with the Right-SRs and Bukharin’s “Left-Communists”. The best elements of the Left-SR party opposed the reactionary coup. They created two new parties: the Narodnik Communists and Revolutionary Communists, which both soon dissolved themselves and simply joined the Bolshevik Party.
Zinoviev and Kamenev had also cultivated terroristic views among their supporters, which they admitted in 1935.
Furthermore, the United Opposition (of Trotskyists and Zinovievists) had written in the late 1920s that they would not rule out assassinations. They wrote that if something happened to Trotsky, they would “take revenge” by killing Stalin and all the the other Politburo members. Perhaps they decided to do it, even if nothing happened to Trotsky. Trotsky himself wrote that Kirov was killed as “revenge”:
“I remembered one of the Opposition’s leaflets in February of the year ’29, before Trotsky’s exile. A square of paper with untraceable script: “If an attempt is made to assassinate Comrade Trotsky, we will exact revenge. . . . We hold personally responsible for his safety all the members of the Politburo: Stalin, Voroshilov, Molotov, Kaganovich, Kalinin, Kirov, Kuibyshev…”” (Lev Kopelev, The education of a true believer, p. 300)
It is also often argued that Trotsky would find fascists so repugnant that he would never work with them, but in reality Trotsky was a calculating politician who was willing to work with any “enemy of his enemy” i.e. any enemy of Stalin. In Trotsky’s mind he was not really helping the fascists (at least not in the long run) but playing fascists and Stalin against each other, and Trotsky imagined he would be the true beneficiary. Trotsky had a long history of doing this. In exile from the USSR Trotsky was living on money provided to him by capitalists, he wanted to get political asylum in the USA and was willing to provide the US Secret Services information about communists and the USSR in exchange. The USA declined to give Trotsky asylum, but instead they kept in touch with him, assisting him, while Trotsky got asylum in Mexico. This has been revealed in documents released since the 90s.
“Trotsky and his staff began giving U.S. consular officials in Mexico information on communists and alleged Comintern (Communist or Third International) agents in the U.S. and Mexico.” (Trotsky in Mexico: Toward a History of His Informal Contacts with the U.S. Government, 1937-1940, William Chase, p. 1)
“Trotsky also received periodic financial contributions from rich American sympathizers.” (Chase, p. 11)
Let’s take a look at the trials themselves. There are some particular points I want to comment on:
The Zinoviev-Kamenev Trial (1936)
I cannot give a full explanation here of trials or what the opposition was trying to do. I assume the reader of this article already has a pretty good idea. If not, check out my three part video or my three part blog article.
At the trial the Zinovievite Opposition was accused of planning to murder Stalin, Kirov and others. But why Kirov? Kirov had replaced Zinoviev as the Leningrad Party Secretary, and had basically decimated Zinoviev’s organization and replaced it with “stalinists”. That is a good reason to want Kirov out of the picture. The Zinovievites also believed they could kill Stalin, and after Stalin’s death there would inevitably emerge a power struggle, and Kirov was likely to win it. Therefore, it was necessary to kill Kirov and all the other “top stalinists”.
Counter-revolutionary terrorist Grigory Tokaev has independently corroborated this in his memoirs written after his defection to the West. Tokaev admitted to belong to an “opposition group which… had been forced to contemplate acts of political terror against both Kirov and Kalinin… Kirov was shot by yet another underground group.” (Tokaev, Comrade X, p. 2)
Tokaev was in contact with other terroristic groups. He stated:
“there had already been no less than fifteen attempts to assassinate Stalin, none had got near to success, each had cost many brave lives.” (Tokaev, Comrade X, p. 49)
Bukharin’s colleague Humbert-Droz who later became an anti-communist has also verified that the Right-Opposition was planning to form a coalition to murder Stalin.
“I went to see Bukharin… He brought me up to date with the contacts made by his group with the Zinoviev-Kamenev fraction in order to coordinate the struggle against the power of Stalin… Bukharin also told me that they had decided to utilise individual terror in order to rid themselves of Stalin.” (Humbert-Droz, De Lénin à Staline, Dix Ans Au Service de L’ Internationale Communiste 1921-31)
At the trial the Zinovievites were accused of plotting to organize the arrest and killing of the entire “stalinist leadership” at the 17th Party Congress. This is also corroborated by Tokaev.
“In 1934 there was a plot to start a revolution by arresting the whole of the Stalinist-packed 17th Congress of the Party.” (Tokaev, Comrade X, p. 37)
Zinovievites and Trotskyists had formed a United Bloc in 1932 which also included many other groupings including Right-Oppositionists. However, nothing is mentioned about that at this trial. This will be an important piece of information later.
Some might claim that Zinoviev and Kamenev were honest and always spoke the truth, and that their denials were truthful, but they had already been put on trial in 1935 where they admitted moral guilt for Kirov’s murder, as they had cultivated anti-party and terroristic views among their supporters (the murderer had been a supporter of Zinoviev). However, at the trial in 1935, not only did Zinoviev and Kamenev not reveal that they had actually planned the murder, not only indirectly inspired it, but they also kept secret their contact with the Trotskyists and Bukharinists, and concealed the existence of the Bloc of Rights and Trotskyites, which had been formed in 1932, as documents prove. They continued to try to hide the Bloc in the trial in 1936.
”The bloc is organised, it includes the Zinovievists, the Sten–Lominadze Group and the Trotskyists (former capitulators). The Safar–Tarkhan Group have not yet formally entered they have too extreme a position; they will enter very soon…” (A letter from Sedov to Trotsky written in invisible ink, discovered by Pierre Broue, Library of Harvard College 4782)
The document also mentions by name I. N. Smirnov, Preobrazhensky and Ufintsev: “the I.N. Smirnov Group, Preobrazh. and Uf…” (Ibid.)
The Radek-Pyatakov Trial (1937)
At this trial of the famous Trotskyist Radek and the famous Left-Communist/Left-Oppositionist Pyatakov, the motivations and the program of the Trotskyite-Zinovievite United Opposition is explained in greater detail. Trotsky had claimed that building Socialism in One Country was impossible and that the Soviet industrialization would inevitably fail. Due to challenges and hardships in the struggle to industrialize, many oppositionists had accepted Trotsky’s view in 1928-33. The position of the Right-Opposition was also that rapid industrialization and building of Socialism were impossible. They found common ground with the Trotskyists. Pyatakov was a close colleague of Bukharin (the head of the Right-Opposition, and the previous head of the Left-Communist Opposition). The different oppositions were closely connected.
When the danger of a second World War increased, Trotsky argued that the USSR would inevitably lose the war to Japan and Germany. This position was accepted by many oppositionists in the mid 1930s.
“Only the overthrow of the Bonapartist Kremlin clique can make possible the regeneration of the military strength of the USSR… The struggle against war, imperialism, and fascism demands a ruthless struggle against Stalinism, splotched with crimes. Whoever defends Stalinism directly or indirectly, whoever keeps silent about its betrayals or exaggerates its military strength is the worst enemy of the revolution” (Trotsky, A Fresh Lesson: On the Character of the Coming War, 1938)
Trotsky stated that Stalin fears the coming war because it will lead to his overthrow:
“The Soviet bureaucracy fears a great war more than any ruling class in the world: it has little to win but everything to lose… the Moscow bureaucracy itself will be thrown into an abyss before the revolution comes in the capitalist countries.” (Trotsky, The Second World War, 1940)
Radek explained, that since they believed the USSR would not be able to win the war, it was necessary to make agreements with foreign powers (UK, Poland, and mainly Japan and Germany), to make compromises. When those countries attacked the USSR, the oppositionists would take power, and they would already have agreements with those foreign powers. These agreements would grant foreign powers all kinds of concessions: territory, trade-deals, the ability to invest in the USSR (as had been done during the NEP) etc. The Opposition believed these concessions would save the USSR from disaster, and were also totally in line with the rest of their program.
They believed that Socialism could not be built in one country, and therefore it was necessary to restore the NEP. Foreign investment would perfectly fit with this. It is true that the Left-Communists and Trotskyists had previously opposed the NEP and preferred war-communism, but now they changed their minds. It is not surprising and not even particularly dishonest and not exceptionally unprincipled, their position had simply evolved. War-communism would not be applicable anymore, the European revolution of 1917-23 had ended, and the situation was entirely different.
According to the Oppositionists, because the USSR’s defeat in the war was considered inevitable, the correct position was “revolutionary defeatism”. This meant intentionally sabotaging the defensive capacity of the USSR to hasten the inevitable defeat. This is a twisted version of Lenin’s “revolutionary defeatism” and “turning imperialist war into civil war”. In the 1920s Trotsky had already advocated the so-called “Clémenceau Thesis”, which claimed that while the USSR was threatened by invading enemy armies, by capitalist encirclement, it was necessary to overthrow the government and thus save the country.
“What is defeatism? A policy which pursues the aim of facilitating the defeat of one’s ‘own’ state which is in the hands of a hostile class. Any other conception and interpretation of defeatism will be a falsification. Thus, for example, if someone says that the political line of ignorant and dishonest cribbers must be swept away like garbage precisely in the interests of the victory of the workers’ state, that does not make him a ‘defeatist.’ On the contrary, under the given concrete conditions, he is thereby giving genuine expression to revolutionary defencism: ideological garbage does not lead to victory!” (Trotsky’s letter to Orjonikidze, July 11, 1927)
“Examples, and very instructive ones, could be found in the history of other classes. We shall quote only one. At the beginning of the imperialist war the French bourgeoisie had at its head a government without a sail or rudder. The Clemenceau group was in opposition to that government. Notwithstanding the war and the military censorship, notwithstanding even the fact that the Germans were eighty kilometres from Paris (Clemenceau said: ‘precisely because of it’), he conducted a fierce struggle against petty-bourgeois flabbiness and irresolution and for imperialist ferocity and ruthlessness. Clemenceau was not a traitor to his class, the bourgeoisie; on the contrary, he served it more loyally, more resolutely and more shrewdly than Viviani, Painleve and Co. The subsequent course of events proved that. The Clemenceau group came into power, and its more consistent, more predatory imperialist policy ensured victory for the French bourgeoisie. Were there any French newspapermen that called the Clemenceau group defeatist? There must have been: fools and slanderers follow in the train of every class. They do not, however, always have the opportunity to play an equally important role” (Trotsky’s letter to Orjonikidze, July 11, 1927)
Later Trotsky attempted to defend himself by saying:
“The Clémenceau example, the example from the political experience of a class inimical to us, was used by me to illustrate a solitary and a very simple idea: the ruling class, in the guise of its leading vanguard, must preserve its capacity to reform its ranks under the most difficult conditions” (Trotsky, The “Clémenceau Thesis” and the Party Regime)
“Reforming party ranks” here means overthrowing Stalin and abolishing the so-called “stalinist system” which allegedly prevented the proper functioning and reforming the party.
When Trotsky went into exile Radek refused to go with him. This resulted in a split between the two. Some might argue that since Radek split with Trotsky, the charge that he returned to Trotskyism was fabricated. However, Zinoviev also split with Trotsky in 1927, and Trotsky was very bitter about it. Despite of that, documents from the Harvard Trotsky archive prove that Zinoviev joined with Trotsky again in 1932, and even in these documents Trotsky makes bitter remarks against the “old capitulators” and “ex-Trotskyists”, i.e. those capitulators like Zinoviev and ex-Trotskyists like Radek who did not emigrate with Trotsky in 1927. Still they all united into a common bloc in 1932.
Radek explains that his betrayal against the party, and his re-joining the Trotskyists took place because he still remained friends with many “ex-trotskyists” who had not left with Trotsky, but who adopted the Trotskyist position again as soon as the difficulties and hard class struggle of 1928-33 began. Radek explained that he would always hang out with Trotskyists, hear them attacking the party and the government’s policies, and would not say anything or do anything to stop them. Thus he was already one foot in Trotskyism. Gradually he joined their group, and was finally asked to join by Trotsky.
Radek explains his personal motives for joining and later abandoning the Trotskyists. He said that he fully believed defeat of the USSR in the war was inevitable. As a result he supported the defeatist position, for him the only possible position. This position might sound crazy to any sane person, but the Left-Communists had previously made statements saying that in the interest of World Revolution, it was acceptable to sacrifice Soviet Power, to sacrifice the USSR to a defeat in war. A Left-Communist text from 1918 said:
“In the interests of the world revolution, we consider it expedient to accept the possibility of losing Soviet power which is now becoming purely formal.” (quoted in Lenin, Strange and Monstrous)
However, according to Radek, as the industrialization was proceeding he began to believe the USSR actually could win the war. This in his own words meant that the Trotskyist program was “unreal”, i.e. not in accordance with real facts. He began distancing himself from them, not because of any love for Stalin or any loyalty towards the USSR, but because of purely tactical calculations.
Radek’s testimony is completely believable. It actually would be hard to believe anything else. The entire plot flows inevitably from the logic of Trotsky’s position, and any other outcome is impossible. The trial features countless moments which testify to its authenticity and truthfulness, for example the questioning of the German engineer. The court has an unnecessary and awkward interaction with the engineer regarding whether he needs an interpreter or not. It demonstrates that this is a real court, with real people, and it was not scripted.
Same goes for the testimony of the international vagabond Arnold (who also had countless other names). Arnold is a small character in the whole thing, but his convoluted story takes a very long time to get straight. If a script-writer had manufactured the whole thing he probably would have cut that whole segment. The engineer and Arnold were involved in the Opposition’s sabotage activities against Soviet industry (especially militarily strategic industry). Pyatakov was a high official working in industry, so he had all the opportunities for sabotage.
The Opposition united with all enemies of the Stalin government: all oppositionists, mensheviks, nationalists, anti-communists, SRs etc. This is not unusual because e.g. we know from documents discovered in the Harvard Trotsky archive that Trotsky had supported forming a bloc (or a coalition) with countless opposition groups, in his past Trotsky had united with anti-Leninists of all shades (in the so-called “August Bloc”) and the Left-Communists had also united with the Left-SR and Right-SR parties, which were both anti-communist parties and held views that strongly contradicted Left-Communist and Trotskyist ideology on numerous important points.
At this trial there is still no mention of the Right-Opposition, although they had entered into the United Bloc with the Trotskyists, Zinovievites and Left-Communists since 1932. The NKVD already had the documents to demonstrate this (and corroborating documents have been found in the Harvard Trotsky archive) but no charges were brought against Rights at the trial. Keep this in mind when we get to the next section.
Bukharin was mentioned in passing a couple of times, because he had been with Pyatakov when numerous relevant events had taken place. However, no charges were brought against Bukharin and he was not connected to the crimes. The oppositionist views he had advocated in the past together with Pyatakov and in 1928-30 were mentioned, but it was assumed that his participation in the opposition had ended. The other leader of the Right-Opposition, Tomsky, was also mentioned briefly.
The Bukharin-Rykov Trial (1938)
When Tomsky realized the police were on his trail, he committed suicide and left a note claiming that ex-NKVD chief Yagoda was actually also a secret member of the Right-Opposition. When Yagoda was relieved of the leadership of the NKVD due to incompetence, the connection of the Right-Opposition to the Trotskyists and Zinovievites were disclosed. It became clear that Yagoda had been hiding the fact that the Right-Opposition (and its leaders Bukharin, Tomsky and Rykov) were in a united bloc together with the other criminals. All this has been verified many times over.
Yagoda was replaced as the head of NKVD by Yezhov, who was also a secret member of the Right-Opposition but this was not revealed until later. At the trial, some defendents claimed their plan was to murder Stalin and other high officials, like they had murdered Kirov, and to murder Yezhov. This obviously cannot be true because Yezhov himself was working together with the Opposition. There are two possible explanations:
1) Some defendants (low level conspirators) did not know Yezhov was a Rightist. Yezhov had a deep cover. This is very probable. 2) Some of them (highest ranking conspirators) were shielding Yezhov by claiming they had tried to murder him. This is also probable.
At the trial it became evident that even under “normal” conspiratorial conditions, the defendants did not usually know what other people in the organization were doing. This is normal for underground organizations. Trotsky and the high-ranking members of the conspiracy did not even reveal their true program to most of their underlings.
Yezhov was promoted to the NKVD to investigate the mine explosions caused by sabotage. This is my own speculation and I have not found evidence to prove it, but it is possible that the opposition orchestrated these explosions not only for the sake of sabotage, but specifically to engineer Yezhov’s promotion.
At the trial the Riutin platform was discussed. The Riutin platform was an oppositional program from 1932, which claimed that Stalin has created a system of feudal exploitation of the peasantry, and demanded his violent overthrow. This program was adopted by the Right-Opposition, the Left-Communists and Trotskyists. The Riutin group itself was a rightist group. It was known that young supporters of Bukharin had been involved in the Riutin group.
Bukharin had admitted at a Central Committee meeting where he had been questioned, that he had known about the group. He had not informed the party about this conspiratorial group, allegedly because he had tried to “reason with” the group and persuade them to stop what they were doing. Later Bukharin admitted that he was part of the group himself, and that his name had been left out of the group’s program for secrecy. However, he denied being the main architect of the program (which he probably was).
Historical facts fully corroborate the trial findings. The pro-Trotsky historian Pierre Broué actually discovered documents from the Harvard Trotsky archive which verified that in 1932 Trotsky had ordered the creation of the united bloc of Rights and Trotskyits. It also included Zinovievites, the Sten-Lominadze group and others. These documents mention the names of many of the most famous defendants such as Preobrazhensky, I. Smirnov and Sokolnikov.
A letter from Sedov to Trotsky states:
“The [bloc] is organised it includes the Zinovievists, the Sten–Lominadze Group and the Trotskyists (former “[capitulators]”). The Safar–Tarkhan Group… will enter very soon.” (Document No. 3, Letter from Sedov to Trotsky, Library of Harvard College 4782)
The letter also laments the arrest of the secret Trotskyist center and states that the loss of these old Trotskyist leaders is a serious defeat, but they still have links to agents on the ground level:
“The collapse of the “old men” is a heavy blow but the links with the workers have been preserved … “ (Ibid.)
“In the struggle to destroy Stalin’s dictatorship, we must in the main rely not on the old leaders” (Riutin Platform)
The Soviet communist had known that since 1929 Bukharin had tried to create a bloc with Zinovievites and Trotskyites, although perhaps Trotsky had not officially responded yet. It also seems clear that some of the wavering Trotskyists were not ready to create this alliance yet in 1929. In any case, the Soviet government had already discovered it and confronted Bukharin:
“At the beginning of 1929 it was discovered that Bukharin, authorized by the group of Right capitulators, had formed connections with the Trotskyites, through Kamenev, and was negotiating an agreement with them for a joint struggle against the Party.” (History of the CPSU(B) – Short Course. There’s also an audio version)
According to Bukharin’s friend revisionist Humbert-Droz the Bukharin rightist group had terrorist plans against Stalin’s life already since 1929, and already had an embryonic alliance with the Zinovievites and Trotskyists. By 1932 this had evolved into a firm program i.e. the “Riutin platform”—and the same year the bloc was officially formed on Trotsky’s orders.
Let’s discuss the behavior of people at the different trials. Zinoviev and Kamenev had denied and lied at their trial. Radek had explained his motivation in great detail at his trial. At the Bukharin-Rykov trial, the most well-known incident besides the testimony of Bukharin, has to be the testimony of Trotskyist Krestinsky.
At the first session Krestinsky was very emotional. He denied everything, shouting “I am not a trotskyite! I have never been a trotskyite!” and then collapsed into despondency. Some anti-communist commentators were impressed by Krestinsky and thought he spoke the truth. So when Krestinsky admitted the charges in the later sessions it was claimed that he had been coerced. But actually, Krestinsky was well known as an old Trotskyite, he had belonged to Trotsky’s opposition in the 1920s and everybody in the USSR knew it. His emotional denial was obviously false and a product of desperation. Nobody at the time took Krestinsky’s denial seriously.
If Krestinsky had said “I am not currently a Trotskyist” it would at least be possible. But he had screamed repeatedly “I have never been a Trotskyist” which was blatantly absurd. He explained that he was simply acting hysterically, denying everything due to panic and shame. This seems entirely believable. Otherwise we would have to assume that the organizers of the trial ordered Krestinsky to act out this hysterical episode, which probably would have required a professional actor to pull off, unless he was being genuinely hysterical.
Bukharin tried to not agree with anything the prosecutor said. He minimized his guilt at every opportunity, rationalized everything and tried to make himself into a martyr. He claimed he did not know what his friends and supporters were doing, and that he had nothing to do with their crimes, but he generously “accepts the responsibility for what they did.” This was his attempt to avoid actual guilt and to paint himself as a martyr. He denied knowing about the assassinations or espionage.
A small detail which most people probably miss, is that Bukharin constantly tried to attack the communist Valerian Kuibyshev, who had recently been murdered by the rightists. Kuibyshev was a supporter of Stalin and a member of the politburo, but he was known as a radical and had previously been close to Left-Communism. Bukharin constantly tried to insert statements about Kuibyshev, in order to demonstrate that Left-Communists were not disloyal. This is one of the many examples of Bukharin using cunning strategy to deny everything.
Bukharin used this strategy particularly when the court was discussing the Left-Communist and Left-SR coup attempt of 1918. When Lenin succeeded in implementing the decision to sign the Brest-Litovsk Peace Treaty, which Left-Communists and Left-SRs opposed, the latter decided that Lenin should be overthrown and arrested. Other high-ranking government officials who supported Lenin’s policy (namely Stalin and Sverdlov) also had to be arrested. Trotsky did not need to be arrested because he opposed Lenin’s position. Trotsky actually knew about the plot.
The Left-SRs launched the coup attempt, assassinated the German ambassador in the USSR to sabotage the peace treaty, and carried out an assassination attempt on Lenin. Lenin was shot in the neck, but he survived. The Left-Communists did not join it, due to tactical considerations. Bukharin admitted all this, as it was well-known. However, he denied the charge that the plan had been to execute Lenin, Stalin and Sverdlov. The prosecutor pointed out, that the Bolshevik leaders might not surrender without a fight, and violence might have to be used, which would lead to them being murdered, but Bukharin refused to answer this line of questioning.
The charges mentioned at this trial truly were more monstrous then before, such as the plot to murder Lenin and Gorky. However, the plot to arrest and overthrow Lenin was already well known. It just hadn’t been put into this kind of context before, and it had been assumed that Bukharin’s and Trotsky’s oppositional activities had ended, and they had become loyal to Lenin and the party. When put into its proper context, the grotesquely horrible nature of their plan became clear. It was so horrible, that many refused to believe it. The plot to murder Gorky was particularly sadistic.
Gorky was an old man, and if he died it wouldn’t necessarily be surprising. But his son, who was a young man, also died mysteriously. They were both murdered by the same doctor, who had been coerced into it by Yagoda and the Right-Opposition. Why was this necessary? Because Gorky had a lot of influence on the literary and artistic community internationally, and the intellectual circles generally.
Gorky used this influence to paint the USSR and Stalin in a positive light, and to support Soviet foreign policy. This foreign policy consisted of trying to create a collective defense treaty against aggressive states, i.e. against fascist states. The USSR briefly had a defensive agreement with France and Czechoslovakia, and their relations with the UK temporarily improved in the mid 1930s. For the upcoming war it was highly important to remove this support of Stalin.
Rykov’s last plea is very interesting, especially his discussion about the murder of Gorky. He admits his other crimes but defends himself against that particular murder charge, and the way he does it is quite interesting. He says defendant “Enukidze only said we should politically liquidate Gorky”. In other words, Rykov in no way denies the murder, in fact he gives strong testimony against Enukidze. However, he claims to not have understood that Enukidze’s words meant murder. Of course it is possible that Rykov is lying (the murder of Gorky was such a disgusting crime he might have been ashamed) but this event surely couldn’t have been written by a script writer, its too convoluted and doesn’t serve a propagandist purpose.
Many other defendants of course lied at their last pleas, most blatantly Bukharin. They tried to save themselves by “repenting of their crimes” and tried to protect other hidden conspirators. They even mentioned their hatred for Yezhov, though Yezhov himself was the most powerful rightist conspirator still loose. If the trial had been scripted, they surely would not have included mentions of Yezhov, because the trial paints him as an enemy of Trotskyism, which he wasn’t.
The Bukharin-Rykov Trial also mentions the topic of nationalist, fascist and separatist groups who worked with the opposition. Separatists were also among the defendants. The nationalists served as a link to fascist powers. The Oppositionists also maintained their own communications with foreign fascists, but also with the local fascist separatists. The Opposition had agreed to give Soviet territories to the fascist powers, and one way to hasten this was to support separatism. During this period Trotsky began to publish writings calling for the separation of Ukraine from the USSR.
It is repeatedly mentioned at the trials that Trotsky and Bukharin wanted to restore capitalism. This is rejected by their defenders, because in their minds the charge is absurd, Trotsky and Bukharin were not supporters of capitalism. However, it should be understood that by “restoration of capitalism” they meant a return to the NEP. This is clarified at the trial, but it often gets lost.
However, Trotsky and Bukharin considered that the return to NEP would mean giving more power to the capitalists then before, more concessions to foreign investors, and also curtailing democracy. Radek and Bukharin both discuss this in detail. All of that was considered necessary so that they could hold power and build up the productive forces. For Bukharin it was based on his rightist economic views, and for Trotsky it was based on his idea that socialism cannot be built in one country.
Some concluding remarks:
The trial materials are full of all kinds of details, and I couldn’t possibly deal with all of them. I think anyone interested in the trial should read the material, and hopefully with some of the context and explanation that I have given, you can understand the material more easily. The material convincingly shows the guilt of the Oppositionists and any honest and critical reader should conclude the trials were accurate and bona fide. It is quite natural that the main tactic of the anti-communists is to discourage people from reading the materials, and instead to spread lies and caricatures about them.
The Three-Year Plan was launched on August 1, 1947. The purpose of the plan was first of all to reconstruct the country after the massive devastation caused by the war, but also to start building a new society with better living conditions. The plan involved the nationalization of large mines and banks.
“The mines had been nationalised first, followed by some industrial concerns which had remained in private hands, and the banks. In March 1948, came the general nationalisation law which covered all factories employing more then one hundred workers.” (Pryce-Jones, p. 28)
“From July 1946 heavy industry was taken over by the state, and in 1947 ten banks. By March 1948 all industries employing more then a hundred workers were taken over, and late in 1949 all employing more then ten.” (Stone, pp. 413-414)
In the previous article I showed that the vast majority of Hungarians supported socialist policies even if they didn’t all vote for the communist party, because all the parties in the government coalition had adopted the same socialist program for the country. The vast majority of the population supported not only the nationalization of banks, but also of factories:
“Additional evidence… includes a study prepared in December 1945 by the respected Hungarian Institute of Public Opinion. In an extraordinary and quite surprising display of support for radical change, 67 percent of the respondents said that they favored the nationalization of factories (with 32 percent opposed and one percent “don’t know/no answer”), while 75 percent favored the nationalization of banks (with 23 percent opposed and one percent “don’t know/no answer”). Results reported by Robert Blumstock, “Public Opinion in Hungary,” in Walter Connor, Zvi Gitelman et ah, Public Opinion in European Socialist Systems (New York; Praeger, 1977), p. 140.” (Charles Gati, Hungary and the Soviet bloc, p. 70)
Recovery and living standard
“The Three-Year Plan that covered the period of 1947-49 aimed to increase investment and industrial production… Official and independent estimates put the resulting increase in the national income over 1938 levels at anywhere from 16 percent to 24 percent; the plan promoted a remarkable recovery” (Kovrig, p. 75)
“Hungarian industry has surpassed the pre-war level… For example, already by October  the nationalized mining industry had increased its production to 37% higher than before the war. The real wage of the workers in Hungary is 15-20% higher than before the war.” (Kommunisti, no. 3, 1949, s. 130)
“The standard of living for the mass of the people was higher than it had ever been in Hungarian history.” (Howard K. Smith, p. 315)
“[U]nemployment had vanished… For the first time in Hungarian history, a complete system of socialized medicine was created and there was provided paid vacations for all workers, really universal education, and important social security benefits, especially for the incapacitated and the aged.” (Aptheker, p. 67)
The Budapest correspondent of The (London) Times, writing April 1, 1948, summed up the overall situation during the period of the Three-Year Plan:
“Listening to the wealthier peasants, to some of the middle classes, and to those [who had property confiscated], one would think that there was no one behind this Government at all. Listening to the poorer peasants, to their sons and daughters educated free in the new colleges, to young boys and girls going out to build railways, new fields, bring in harvests, and to most workers, one would think that the whole country was enthusiastic for it… Treaties have been signed with nations near by, for centuries enemies… Deserts of ruins have been rebuilt…” (quoted by E. P. Young in The Labour Monthly, Jan. 1957).”
“The three-year plan also provided for the creation of numerous labor unions. Since 1944 the railwaymen, post-office workers, heavy industrial workers, and even government employees formed unions, all of them in branches of industrial and public life, where they had been strictly forbidden under earlier regimes.” (Gyorgy, p.133)
“To come to Budapest in August, 1948… One could sense in the first days the elan of a people striding forward with a faith in the future based on what had been accomplished in the few years since the Liberation. The physical signs of reconstruction were there in front of everybody’s eyes to see, the new bridges over the Danube, whole streets repaired and rebuilt, food and clothing shops well stocked with unrationed goods. There was confidence and hope in the voices of youths and girls, marching through the streets singing their songs of liberation.” (Burchett)
“Village stores, full of new consumer goods which peasants had never seen in their lives before, or at most in Budapest shop windows, were packed with customers. Electrification of the villages gave the peasants an interest in electrical cookers, irons and other gadgets they had never dreamed of before. They were all available in the new village stores. Houses were springing up everywhere in the countryside on sites allocated from the large estates. In Budapest; the shops were crammed with unrationed food and textiles, crammed also with buyers until late at night. To enable the workers to do their shopping in comfort – it is the fashion now in Hungary for both husband and wife to work – the co-operative food stores stay open until 10 p.m. In each district there are special stores which maintain a twenty-four hours’ service.” (Burchett)
“…my travel in England would be limited by petrol rationing, and in Hungary petrol rationing, as all other forms of rationing, has long been abolished.” (Burchett)
“On May Day  Budapest was a mass of banners, singing, marching people, flowers, mobile buffets and groups picnicking in every park and garden. It was the greatest celebration Budapest had ever known.” (Burchett)
“…in the spring of 1949, with the Three-Year Plan well on the way to completion, the people could justifiably celebrate four years of astounding progress.
The rebuilt city, the restored homes and bright new workers’ flats, the four new bridges over the Danube, the rubble heaps converted into gardens – this was all something done by the Budapestians themselves, at first working with their bare hands…” (Burchett)
“Nationalised industries delivered trams and buses to restore the city’s transport service, industrial workers put in extra shifts, at first on the most meagre rations, to get the city’s life pulsing again. Hand in hand with reconstruction went the social and economic reforms, without which the tempo of work and morale of the workers could not have been sustained. The nationalisation of the key industries, equal pay for women, establishments of creches and nursery schools, and generous maternity leave and pay for pregnant and nursing mothers, paid holidays and requisitioning of the former luxury hotels for workers’ holiday resorts…” (Burchett)
Burchett interviewed an old couple in Budapest in 1949. The old man Dindoffer said:
“We had it hard those first months… No food, no heating, no proper roofs over our heads and no clothes. Look at us now,” and he waved his hand round the flat, walked over and opened the wardrobe to show his own winter and summer suits, his good winter overcoat… “I never had two ‘best’ suits in my life before. Now I have one for winter, one for summer. He opened his wallet and showed two 100 forint notes (worth six pounds). I’ve got money in the bank and I always have a little reserve of cash in my purse. Did we ever have spare change in the house in the old days, Mama?” And Mama shook her head and murmured, “More often we were in debt.”
In Dindoffer’s normal week; he earned eight pounds, but as the old chap worked regularly twelve hours a week overtime, his average earnings were thirteen pounds ten a week. For his flat, including heating in winter, he paid eighteen shillings weekly.” (Burchett)
“There had been a very marked rise in real wages, and a rise in the living standards of the poorest peasants. In economic terms, the revolution was brilliantly successful.” (Warriner, p. 31)
“In addition to the average rise, there has been also a rise in the incomes of the lowest paid industrial workers, whose incomes have been levelled up by new wage scales. This large group is certainly much better fed than before… because they receive subsidised rations or factory canteen meals. All industrial workers have benefited by a great extension of social services — insurance, paid holidays, family allowances— which before were non-existent…” (Warriner, p. 81)
“Agriculture needed to be intensified… For both these developments, social welfare and intensification, the Three Years Plan (1947-49) made ample provision. The social results are apparent in every village” (Warriner, p. 97)
Success of the plan
“Bourgeois circles cherished the hope that the Plan was bound to fail. Some of them even claimed that nobody would seriously think of tackling it. This was the cherished dream of Hungarian reaction. However, the Plan is going ahead at a steadily increasing rate” (Rakosi, People’s Democratic Transformation in Hungary: Report to the Third Conference of the Hungarian Communist Party)
The plan was even more successful then predicted.
“All the targets in the original draft of the plan were much lower than those which were finally fixed, and were raised in the second half of 1949 when it was clear that the Three Years Plan targets had been easily over-fulfilled.” (Warriner, p. 99)
“The Three-Year Plan was completed almost 8 months ahead of schedule. Industrial production during the Three-Year Plan reached 140 percent of the last peacetime year. Agricultural production almost reached the prewar level. The standard of living of the workers is, on the average, 37 percent higher then before the war.” (Five-Year Plan of the Hungarian People’s Republic)
“Investment in industry and infrastructure had gone up from almost nothing to a fifth of the national income by 1948, and in 1949 industrial production was substantially above the level of 1941.” (Stone, p. 414)
“In the west, there are three current criticisms of the east European plans. The first, and simplest, is that the plans cannot be achieved… and that… there is never any proof that the targets are actually reached… Hungarian statistics claim that real wages had risen by… thirty-three per cent, in 1949 as compared with pre-war, and these figures can be roughly confirmed by observation—better food, cheaper housing would certainly be sufficient to account for a rise of the order claimed… there is no truth in the criticism that the plan results are not known…
A second line of criticism is that if the plans are achieved, they are achieved by forced labour… This is not true either, for though forced labour does exist it is not the means by which the plans are carried out… This sort of slapdash criticism shows only a complete ignorance of what the real conditions are in most of these countries; there is no need to force labour into industry, because there is so much labour on the land that it is easy to obtain any number of workers by the offer of regular industrial wages, and better food…
The third line of criticism is a genuine one. It is that the plans can be achieved, and achieved without forced labour but only at the cost of the workers present standard of living because the big investment in construction must mean cutting down the production of consumption goods. Now of course it is true that the increased investment must be made at a cost if a big proportion of labour is occupied in building dams and blast furnaces it will not bring in any immediate return in a bigger output of consumer goods and food. That in itself is no objection to the plans; it is indeed their real justification. For precisely what was wrong with the economy of east Europe before was that it did not invest enough… There can be no argument against raising the rate of investment as such” (Warriner, pp. 109-111)
“We have resolutely dislodged landlord-capitalist reaction and representatives of Western imperialism from the political and economic life of our country. The Three-Year Plan which was viewed sceptically not only by our enemies but sometimes even by our supporters, will be fulfilled seven months ahead of schedule.
We consider our economic achievements to be of the utmost importance, but we do not for a moment forget that the individual is the greatest asset of the people’s democracy. And that is why we consider the improvements in the public health to be no less important than our economic successes during the recent difficult years… The fact that we have now more marriages, that the birth-rate is higher and the death-rate lower than ten years ago, that we have been able to reduce infant mortality from 9 per cent to 6 per cent in Budapest – all this speaks of the vast improvement in the economic and living conditions of the working people.
Women are beginning to take an active part in the life of our country. In the past the Hungarian woman was shackled by capitalist exploitation; she did not enjoy equal rights with men, she shouldered the burden of family and household cares…
It is no exaggeration to say that the strength of our people’s democracy can be numerically determined, like the temperature on a thermometer, by the role women play in it. And we shall ensure that the role of the working women in the life of our country grows rapidly in the future.
There has been a radical change in the people’s attitude to labour. More and more people are beginning to understand the connection between individual effort and the common cause. They have adopted a new attitude to work, their outlook has broadened, they see the connection between their personal work and building up the country, realising that by better work they can build a better future. The slogan, “Work better and you will live better” has acquired a new and profound meaning. Realisation of this meant that work is no longer regarded as something that has just got to be done; it is more and more becoming a matter of honour and glory, a great incentive in strengthening the nation and building Socialism; it has given rise to new methods. Thanks to this we are able to carry out the Three-Year Plan in 2 years and 5 months…
In speaking of the gains of Hungarian People’s Democracy during the past four years we must not for a minute forget that we were able to achieve them only because we had the daily assistance and support of our liberator, the Soviet Union.” (Rakosi, Strengthening the People’s Democratic Order)
Pryce-Jones, The Hungarian Revolution
Stone, Hungary: A Short History
Charles Gati, Hungary and the Soviet bloc
Kovrig Bennett, The Hungarian People’s Republic
Kommunisti, no. 3, 1949
Howard K. Smith
The (London) Times, writing April 1, 1948
Gyorgy, Governments of Danubian Europe
Howard K. Smith, The State of Europe
Burchett, People’s Democracies
Warriner, Revolution in Eastern Europe
Rakosi, People’s Democratic Transformation in Hungary: Report to the Third Conference of the Hungarian Communist Party
Five-Year Plan of the Hungarian People’s Republic
Rakosi, Strengthening the People’s Democratic Order
There is a persistent myth that the USSR in the Stalin era was harshly anti-environmentalist. The research of historian Stephen Brain convincingly debunks this myth. Brain is a bourgeois anti-Stalin historian (who makes certain mistakes due to his pro-capitalist bias) but nevertheless, his main conclusion is correct and definitively proved: Stalin’s government supported strongly environmentalist policies.
However, Soviet environmentalism wasn’t the same kind of liberal-idealist environmentalism which existed in capitalist countries. It did not put any inherent spiritual or supernatural value on nature. Nor was Soviet environmentalism merely interested in conserving natural resources, like many western theorists. Instead the USSR saw the natural environment as something which offers economic, psychological and aesthetic value to human beings. Soviet environmentalism was tied to the deep humanism of Soviet socialism. The Soviets understood that humanity is not separate from nature, but is a product of nature, and deeply connected with nature.
Stephen Brain writes:
“Environmentalism survived and—even thrived—in Stalin’s Soviet Union, establishing levels of protection unparalleled anywhere in the world” (Stephen Brain, Stalin’s Environmentalism, p. 93)
“the Soviet Union in the 1940s went about protecting from exploitation more forested land than any other country in history. Accordingly, it is accurate to say that the Soviet Union developed a real and effective environmentalist program… Stalin emerges as a peculiar kind of environmentalist… his policies withdrew millions of hectares [of forest] from economic exploitation on the grounds that this would improve the hydrology of the Soviet Union. These millions of hectares were left more or less untouched, in keeping with the supposition that complex, wild forests best regulated water flows, and thus one may conclude that Stalin’s policies were steadfastly environmentalist—and because of the way they were carried out, preservationist as well.” (Stephen Brain, Song of the Forest: Russian Forestry and Stalinist Environmentalism, 1905-1953, p. 2)
“Stalin also actively promoted forest environmentalism for the benefit of the state, establishing levels of protection unparalleled anywhere in the world… Stalin’s environmental policies codified into law an assumption that healthy land was forested land and that deforestation represented serious environmental dangers to the state’s larger project of modernization, in the form of droughts, floods, hydrological disturbances, and crop failures… Forest protection ultimately rose to such prominence during the last six years of Stalin’s rule that the Politburo took control of the Soviet forest away from the Ministry of Heavy Industry and elevated the nation’s forest conservation bureau to the dominant position in implementing policy” (Song of the forest, p. 116)
However, “after Stalin’s death, the forest protection bureaus were demoted or eliminated entirely” (Stalin’s Environmentalism, pp. 97-98)
“Such an assertion, clearly, represents a significant revision to the existing consensus about Soviet environmental politics, which holds that Stalin’s government was implacably hostile to environmentalist initiatives.” (Stalin’s Environmentalism, p. 93)
“the shortcomings of Soviet environmental policy [which actually took place in the revisionist period, not in the Stalin-era~MLT]… have been extrapolated into a sweeping conclusion that conservationist or preservationist awareness in the Stalin era was entirely lacking.” (Song of the forest, p. 4)
The revisionists actually carried out projects in the 1960s, 70s and 80s which had very serious environmental effects. The Siberian oil industry, the gas industry and the drying of the Aral sea by the revisionists are usually given as examples. However, in the Stalin era the USSR had a completely opposite policy. There is no link between the environmentally destructive policies of the revisionists and the Marxist-Leninist policies of Lenin and Stalin.
Immediately after the October Revolution Lenin had called for nationalization and conservation of forests:
“We must demand the nationalisation of all the land, i.e., that all the land in the state should become the property of the central state power. This power must fix the size, etc., of the resettlement land fund, pass legislation for the conservation of forests, for land improvement, etc.” (Lenin, The Tasks of the Proletariat in Our Revolution)
Lenin and Stalin already supported environmental protections in the 1920s:
“Lenin and Stalin called for aggressive afforestation at Party conferences in the 1920s” (Song of the forest, pp. 143-144)
However, in the Lenin and Stalin periods, the USSR did emphasize that humanity must use science to improve production, build industry, electricity etc. Statements were made, which emphasized that humanity changes the world. These statements were then twisted into supposed “evidence” of Soviet hostility towards nature:
“by the late 1980s, scholars of Soviet environmental history had documented a number of grave environmental problems in Russia, many of which had roots, or appeared to have roots, in the Stalin era. Soviet promethean proclamations from the 1930s, typified by Gorky’s famous dictum “Man, in changing nature, changes himself” and Ivan Michurin’s motto “We cannot wait for kindnesses from nature; our task is to wrest them from her,” strongly influenced this view, along with accounts of the mammoth engineering projects of the first Five-Year Plan. The failure to adopt meaningful emissions controls like those enacted in the West in the 1960s further reinforced the impression of Stalinist enmity toward nature.” (Song of the forest, p. 3)
“Ronald Suny’s discussion of the first Five-Year Plan provides a representative expression of this interpretation: “…insensitivity to the limits of nature was characteristic of capitalist industrialization as well, but in the Soviet Union general ecological ignorance was compounded by the bravado of the Communists…” So dominant is this interpretation that countervailing evidence has been unable to shake it” (Song of the forest, p. 4)
Stephen Brain shows in his paper that the so-called “consensus view” is false. This graph shows that protected forests (group I+II) were logged less and less over time, despite the fact total lumber harvests increased consistently. Group I forests could not be logged at all, and group II could only be logged at a sustainable rate and it had to be approved by the Sovnarkom. This demonstrates that the Soviets definitely prioritized the protection of these ecologically important forests:
In reality, the USSR under the leadership of Lenin and Stalin was not insensitive to the limits of nature or hostile to nature. In actuality: “the Stalinist political and economic system made meaningful economic and political sacrifices in the interests of environmentalism” (Song of the forest, p. 10)
Brain mentions numerous examples of researchers pointing out that the USSR in the 1970s was polluted, and they blamed it on Stalin. Brain says that the most sophisticated version of the consensus view—represented by Douglas Weiner—stated that there was some nature protection in the Lenin era, in the form of non-governmental nature preserve scientific stations, which debunked the claim that there was absolutely no kind of environmental protection. However, because these non-governmental preserves were abolished in the Stalin era when socialism was constructed, Weiner claimed this proves that “stalinism” is entirely hostile to environmentalism. This claim is fallacious. The nature preserves of the Lenin era prove that Lenin was not hostile to environmentalism. In the Stalin era the non-governmental nature preserves were abolished only because they were replaced by even more powerful state-enforced environmental protections and state-controlled nature preserves.
It is true that the USSR did not have emission controls like countries have today, and that is sometimes used as a criticism of the USSR, but this argument is illogical. In those years, emission controls did not exist in any country, and there were practically no environmental protections or laws in any capitalist country at all to speak of:
“Prior to the 1960s, environmental law did not exist as a discrete domestic and international legal category.” (A. Dan Tarlock, History of environmental law) except perhaps in the USSR, as we shall see further in this article.
“environmental law is a byproduct of the rise of environmentalism as a political force throughout the world [only] since the 1960s” (Tarlock)
For comparison, the US environmental protection agency was founded only in 1970. In the capitalist world there was no concept or understanding of the biosphere as something which needed protection:
“The science-based idea that the biosphere was a fragile system vulnerable to human-induced impairment only became widely accepted after World War II.” (Tarlock)
However, the idea of the biosphere was actually invented in the USSR by scientist V. I. Vernadsky, a student of V. V. Dokuchaev. The idea of nature being fragile and that it could be harmed by human action, was already researched and pioneered by Dokuchaev, and in the Soviet period by many of his students, such as V. R. Williams. Vernadsky elaborated his view in his book The Biosphere, which won a Stalin Prize in 1943.
Yet anti-communists have always dismissed these scientists or are completely ignorant of them. As a result they spread the interpretation that Stalin’s Soviet Union was hostile to environmentalism and sustainable practices:
“So dominant is this interpretation that countervailing evidence has been unable to shake it: William Husband’s recent survey of Soviet children’s literature from the Stalin era, for instance, revealed a multiplicity of encoded attitudes toward nature, with a “small but significant number” of books depicting nature in a nonadversarial way. Yet for Husband, such sympathetic portrayals of nature did not suggest a more complex attitude toward the environment, but instead represented only a failure of totalitarianism: “Stalinist-era literature,” he writes, “eluded the hegemony the dictatorship sought, and in so doing it demonstrated an important limit to political control in the USSR.” Although the English scholar Jonathan Oldfield recently pointed out the need for scholars to “move purposefully beyond broad understandings of the Soviet environmental legacy” in order to check a “tendency towards overly crude interpretations of Soviet environmental degradation,” the consensus remains basically unchallenged.” (Stalin’s Environmentalism, p. 95)
It is also wrong to claim that forests were protected only because of industrial or agricultural reasons, although those were priorities:
There are examples discussing the aesthetic and psychological benefits of the forests as well, from “a December 1917 editorial in the journal Lesnaia zhizn’ i khoziaistvo (Forest Life and Management) claiming that “the forest has always had . . . an enormous beneficial influence on the psyche and spiritual store of humans,” to the speech of a delegate at a January 1949 forest conference asserting that “the forest is an enormous moral force for our country.”” (Song of the forest, p. 10)
History of environmental laws in the USSR
Catastrophic clear cutting of Russian forests began during the first world war. Due to the terrible poverty and the needs of the war effort it continued during War Communism (1918-1921). During War Communism the Bolsheviks devised a plan to repair the damage caused to the forests, once peace was achieved. Here is a poster from the forest administration depicting this plan:
In the 1920s a debate arose between two rival schools of thought: “the conservationists”, followers of G. F. Morozov, and “the industrializers”, followers of S. A. Bogoslavsky. Morozov’s ideas had their roots in the theories of V. V. Dokuchaev, while Bogoslavsky relied on contemporary German theories.
Morozov’s supporters advocated sustainable practices and their position was favored by the Soviet government. However, during the first years of the First Five Year Plan, the ultra-left supporters of Bogoslavsky managed to label conservationists as bourgeois, and as people who hinder industrialization. Supporters of Bogoslavsky explicitly attacked sustainability as an outdated bourgeois concept, and stated that nature had to serve interests of industry without any limitations. Otherwise, man was allegedly subordinated at the mercy of nature, instead of nature being subordinated to a rational plan.
However, the ultra-leftists were used flawed undialectical reasoning. They did not correctly see humanity and nature in their inter-relation. The economic plan should be sustainable and take limits of nature into account, otherwise nature would be destroyed. This in no way meant subordinating the economic plan to blind natural forces. In fact, the ultra-left “industrializers” were advocating an idealist voluntaryist position which totally ignored material conditions and material limitations. The Marxist-Leninist position realizes that humanity is limited by material conditions, but can master material conditions more and more, and plan them rationally, thus becoming more and more freed from them, but never absolutely free from them.
Similar ultra-left tendencies raised their heads in other fields too during the first years of the First Five Year Plan. This is because the party and the working class had to focus on attacking Right-Wing views in those crucial years. However, the situation was soon corrected, and sustainable environmental policies gained the upper hand.
“In the 1920s, when representatives of the industrial bureaus advanced visions of a new, socialized landscape, with highly abstracted, regularized forests and logging quotas based on industrial demand, the party leadership sided with conservationists who championed traditional ideas such as sustainable yield. But later, in the 1930s, after industrialists and student activists succeeded in labeling such concepts as bourgeois, advocates of conservationism regained the upper hand by citing the theories of the pre-revolutionary soil scientist V. V. Dokuchaev, who linked the hydrological stability of Russia to the maintenance of permanent forest cover… After 1931, hydrological concerns became the justification for the creation of a vast forest preserve in the center of European Russia, at the time the largest in the world.” (p. 96)
1931 environmental regulations
“Stalin… personally initiated legislation predicated on the belief that Russia’s hydrology necessitated forest protection. Party archives show that on May 30, 1931, Stalin raised a topic for discussion, “On the order of cutting of timber,” requesting Sovnarkom to prepare “in a month’s term, a draft law about the absolute forbiddance of cutting timber in certain regions so as to conserve the water in other regions.” On July 15, Sovnarkom returned its draft law to the Politburo, and by the end of July 1931, Decree No. 519, dividing all the forests of the country into two zones – the forest-industrial zone, and the forest cultivation zone – became law.” (Stalin’s Environmentalism, p. 109)
“Regardless of which bureau controlled them, the forests in a one-kilometer belt along both banks of the Volga, Dniepr, Don, and Ural rivers were made off-limits to any logging whatsoever.” (Stalin’s Environmentalism, p. 109)
1936 environmental regulations
“The party leadership chose… in 1936, to strengthen forest protection further, by greatly expanding the zone of protection, and, with Stalin’s direct participation, by creating a powerful new administration to enforce the new regulations… in July 1936 a new agency was founded, the Main Administration of Forest Protection and Afforestation (GLO) whose sole duty would be to look after lands henceforth called “water protective forests.”…
Forbidden under threat of criminal responsibility was any cutting of the forest (aside from sanitary cutting) in vast zones lying a) in a twenty-kilometer belt along the Dniepr and two of its tributaries, the Don and three of its tributaries, the Volga and ten of its tributaries, the Ural, and the Western Dvina; b) in a six-kilometer belt along two tributaries of the Dniepr, four tributaries of the Don, five tributaries of the Volga, two tributaries of the Ural, and two tributaries of the Oka; and c) in a four-kilometer belt along five tributaries of the Don, eleven of the Volga, one of the Bel’, and one of the Oka.
In the areas that lay outside these belts but still inside the basins of the rivers named above, logging was allowed, but this would be conducted by the GLO, and the harvest could not exceed the annual growth of the forests in question.” (Stalin’s Environmentalism, pp. 110-111)
“The 1936 law reached far beyond the scope of its predecessor… These protected zones were so extensive that they amounted to a majority or near majority of forest land in most oblasts of central Russia, and moreover, a significant percentage of total land in many oblasts… the initiative came from the very top of the party apparatus. As the deputy head of Narkomzem’s forest protection arm, V. M. Solov’ev, reported to a convention of foresters, “this unusual law, comrades—a turning point in forest management—was developed under the direct guidance and with the direct participation of Stalin himself.” (Stalin’s Environmentalism, p. 111)
1943 environmental regulations
“Soviet forest protection grew yet more robust… on April 23, 1943… dividing the nation’s forests into three groups, two of which were subject to protective measures. Into Group I went “the forests of the state zapovedniki, soil protective, field protective, and resort forests, [and] forests of green zones around industrial firms and towns”; in these forests, only “sanitary cuts and selective cuts of overmature timber” were allowed, with clearcuts of all types forbidden. Into Group II went all the forests of Central Asia and along the left bank of the Volga; here, only cuts less than or equal to the annual growth, “ratified by Sovnarkom,” were allowed. Group I and II forests remained under the control of the GLO. In Group III were grouped all other forests, on which no restrictions whatsoever were imposed.
The 1943 classification greatly expanded upon the protections provided by the 1936 law; the forests of entire oblasts, among them Moscow, Voronezh, Kursk, Smolensk, Vladimir, Tambov, Penza, Riazan’, Saratov, Rostov, and Stalingrad, were placed in groups I and II, protecting them, at least ideally, from all exploitation. Over time, the size of Group I forests grew tremendously, until they represented by far the world’s largest area so protected.” (Stalin’s Environmentalism, p. 114)
1947-1953 regulations and the peak of forest protection
“Stalin-era environmentalism reached its zenith in 1947 with the creation of the Ministry of Forest Management (Minleskhoz).” (Stalin’s Environmentalism, p. 115)
“the period of 1947 to 1953 indeed did represent a high point in Soviet forest management.” (Stalin’s Environmentalism, p. 117)
“forest protection in general, received more institutional support during the years from 1947 to 1953 than at any other time in Russian history.” (Song of the forest, p. 10)
Professor Viktor Nesterov of the Timiriazev Agricultural Academy wrote in Pravda on January 19, 1966 that:
“There is a pressing need for an all-Union forest management agency with its own system of subordinate organizations. … Specialists express the opinion that a USSR Ministry of Forestry could become such a competent agency. Incidentally, such a ministry existed from 1947 to 1953. During that time forest workers managed to do a great deal: The amount of sowing and planting of new groves was sharply expanded, and the trimming of the cutting areas was achieved everywhere. The ministry set up two hundred forest-protection stations outfitted with machinery. The annual volume of forest sowing and planting increased sevenfold. We are by no means thinking of idealizing the activity of this ministry, but the results of its work were apparent to everyone who had anything to do with the forests.” (quoted in Stalin’s Environmentalism, p. 117)
“in 1890 the soil scientist Dokuchaev experimented with shelter [forest] belts. During the Soviet period scientists continued to plant trees—millions of them—in order to increase agricultural productivity, particularly on the collective farms and in the wooded steppes of European Russia. The greatest impetus and plan for afforestation and reforestation were apparently Stalin’s; in 1948 he supposedly laid the groundwork for a fifteen-year project to plant trees on more than ten million acres… obviously the Plan benefited the Soviet Union” (Jack Weiner, The Destalinization of Dmitrii Shostakovich’s ‘Song of the Forests’, Op. 81 (1949), p. 214)
“Shelter forest belts have been planted already on more than 800,000 hectares, 306,800 hectares in this spring alone. An irrigation system for 122,000 hectares has been completed, for which it was necessary to build 8,000 irrigation pools and water tanks. The tasks for this year include planting of 700,000 hectares of forest and building of 7,587 irrigation pools.” (Kommunisti, no. 6, 1950, p. 387)
The destruction of environmental protections by the opportunists and Khrushchevite revisionists
“After Stalin’s death, the conservation bureaus fell from their prominent position” (Song of the forest, p. 117)
“The period when Minleskhoz dominated Soviet forest management, however, was brief. On March 15, 1953, six days after Stalin’s funeral, Minleskhoz was liquidated. With the functions of Minleskhoz transferred to the Ministry of Agriculture, forest conservation fell into deep decline. The number of workers assigned to forest matters in Moscow fell from 927 to 342 in the space of six months, a drop of 62 percent, and then to 120 workers after a year.” (Stalin’s Environmentalism, pp. 117-118)
“The synapse is nothing but a mechanism… and must have its precise analogue in the computing machine.” (Norbert Wiener, Cybernetics: Or Control and Communication in the Animal and the Machine, p. 14)
“The synapse in the living organism corresponds to the switching device in the machine” (Norbert Wiener, The Human Use of Human Beings, p. 34)
“to say that thought is material is to make a false step, a step towards confusing materialism and idealism” (V. I. Lenin, Materialism and Empirio-criticism)
“One day we shall certainly “reduce” thought experimentally to molecular and chemical motions in the brain; but does that exhaust the essence of thought?” (Friedrich Engels, Dialectics of Nature)
Cybernetics is a set of theories and practices developed mainly by American mathematician Norbert Wiener in the late 1940s. He invented his theories during WWII while working for the US military. Cybernetics is difficult to define exactly, but its supporters usually say it deals with “information”, “control” of processes, and it uses analogies which equate living beings and society to machines. For example, a cyberneticist might describe the functioning of a state as a kind of machine, or the functioning of the human mind as a calculator. The precise definition of Cybernetics and the precise meaning of cybernetic ideas will be discussed later in this article.
In 1952 Mikhail G. Yaroshevsky published an article in the Soviet literary gazette, titled “Cybernetics – “science” of obscurantists”. Other articles appeared, and cybernetics was heavily criticized in the USSR, finally being authoritatively labeled a reactionary pseudo-science in the 1954 Short Philosophical Dictionary. However, in the 1960s and 70s cybernetics became fully accepted in the revisionist USSR and was heavily promoted by the government, to the point that it was included in the khrushchevite party program and Khrushchev praised it as vital for building communism. The period of the early 1950s is therefore now described as the “anti-cybernetics campaign”.
This article investigates the significance of this “campaign”, the reasons why cybernetics was later accepted, and the supposed merits and demerits of cybernetics.
WHY IS CYBERNETICS A PSEUDO-SCIENCE?
Let’s first discuss the Soviet criticism of cybernetics. Its worth quoting the full entry of the 1954 Short Philosophical Dictionary. Afterwards I’ll try to unpack its meaning:
“CYBERNETICS (from the Greek word meaning helmsman, manager) is a reactionary pseudo-science, which arose in the U.S.A. after World War II and which was spread widely in other capitalist countries. It is a form of modern mechanism. The adherents of cybernetics define it as a universal science of the connections and communication in technology, of animals and the life of society as well as of the “general organization” and direction of all processes in nature and society. Thereby cybernetics identifies mechanical, biological, and social correlations and laws with one another. As every mechanistic theory, cybernetics denies the qualitative specificity of laws in the various forms of being and of the development of matter, reducing them to mechanical laws. In contradistinction to the old mechanism of the 17th and 18th Centuries cybernetics considers the psycho-physiological and social phenomena no longer as analogous to the simplest mechanisms but to electronic machines and apparatus, whereby it equates the work of the brain with the work of an automatic calculator and the life of society with a system of electrical and informational communications. In its very essence cybernetics is directed against the materialistic dialectic, against modern scientific physiology, which was founded by I. P. Pavlov, and against the Marxist, scientific conception of the laws of social life. This mechanistic, metaphysical pseudo-science is most compatible with idealism in philosophy, psychology, and sociology.
Cybernetics makes particularly clear one fundamental trait of the bourgeois outlook, namely its inhumanity, its effort to turn the worker into an accessory of a machine, into an instrument of production and into a weapon of war. The imperialist utopia of replacing the living, thinking man, struggling for his own interests, with a machine in production as well as in war is characteristic of cybernetics. The instigators of a new world war use cybernetics in their dirty, practical affairs. Under the guise of propaganda of cybernetics in the countries of imperialism, scientists of various specialties are being attracted to develop new methods of mass extermination of people – electronic, telemechanical, automatic weapons, the design and production of which have turned into a large branch of the military industry of the capitalist countries.” (Short Philosophical Dictionary, 1954)
1. Cybernetics is not a science, therefore it is a pseudo-science
First of all Soviet marxists denied that cybernetics is a science. It does not have a precise subject-matter, a precise definition, and all supposed cybernetic advances have actually been discovered by other disciplines such as electronic engineering, computer-science, mathematics or physiology. Cybernetics overlaps with other sciences in a confused and arbitrary way. While a real “hybrid science” like biochemistry studies chemical processes involved in biology, cybernetics does not do anything comparable. Instead cybernetics is more like a worldview or a philosophical theory than a science.
Slava Gerovitch writes in his book about cybernetics:
“Cybernetics is an unusual historical phenomenon. It is not a traditional scientific discipline, a specific engineering technique, or a philosophical doctrine, although it combines many elements of science, engineering, and philosophy. As presented in Norbert Wiener’s classic 1948 book Cybernetics, or Control and Communication in the Animal and the Machine, cybernetics comprises an assortment of analogies between humans and self-regulating machines: human behavior is compared to the operation of a servomechanism; human communication is likened to the transmission of signals over telephone lines; the human brain is compared to computer hardware and the human mind to software; order is identified with life, certainty, and information; disorder is linked to death, uncertainty, and entropy. Cyberneticians view control as a form of communication, and communication as a form of control: both are characterized by purposeful action based on information exchange via feedback loops. Cybernetics unifies diverse mathematical models, explanatory frameworks, and appealing metaphors from various disciplines… physiology (homeostasis and reflex), psychology (behavior and goal), control engineering (control and feedback), thermodynamics (entropy and order), and communication engineering (information, signal, and noise) and generalizes each of them to be equally applicable to living organisms, to self-regulating machines, and to human society.” (Slava Gerovitch, From Newspeak to Cyberspeak: A History of Soviet Cybernetics, p. 2)
2. Cybernetics ignores qualitative differences. It is a vulgarizing theory.
This leads us to the second problem of cybernetics. It tries to be a universal science which applies equally to living, non-living, material and non-material, conscious and non-conscious, social and non-social fields. All of these areas are qualitatively so different that they cannot be equated. In order for the same law to truly apply in all these fields, the law must be extremely broad, akin to a philosophical generalization such as the laws of dialectics. Secondly, we would expect the law to function somewhat differently at qualitatively different levels of organization. However, cybernetics doesn’t heed any of these criticisms but instead imposes the same exact laws on all levels of existence.
“To sum up: the many automata of the present age… lend themselves very well to description in physiological terms. It is scarcely a miracle that they can be subsumed under one theory with the mechanisms of physiology.” (Wiener, Cybernetics, p. 43)
“there is no reason… why the essential mode of functioning of the living organism should not be the same as that of the automaton” (Wiener, Cybernetics, p. 44)
W. Ross Ashby writes in his book Introduction to Cybernetics that “the worker in any of the biological sciences”, “The ecologist”, “The economist”, “The sociologist”, “And the psychotherapist” all may want to apply cybernetic principles. Someone might argue that the same “simple mechanisms” of cybernetics are not adequate for these different fields. However, Ashby assures as that “This, however, is not so.” (p. 244)
In reality cybernetic “laws” are not laws at all, so it would be better to call them principles. These principles involve things like “loops” and “feedback”. According to cybernetics, everything transmits and reacts to “information” in loops: some kind of stimuli is received and it causes reactions. This process keeps going as a loop. Something like walking has often been used as an example by cyberneticists. As the process happens, the body receives new stimuli based on changing circumstances and corrects its actions based on this new information. This is called “feedback”. A process or “loop” which receives “information” and corrects itself according to “feedback mechanisms” is called “controlled” or even “self-controlled”.
These concepts are borrowed from actual fields of science or engineering, such as physiology, control engineering etc. They are often valid in their own fields, but cybernetics applies them arbitrarily to fields where they don’t belong, and applies them imprecisely. Principles describing the motion of mechanical machines are too crude to describe living beings, and principles describing the motion of non-conscious living beings are too crude to describe consciousness or society. Yet, cyberneticists have equated the media to a sensor which receives a stimuli from the people, and the president to a logic circuit which reacts to the stimuli.
“Cyberneticians combined concepts from physiology (homeostasis and reflex), psychology (behavior and goal), control engineering (control and feedback), thermodynamics (entropy and order), and communication engineering (information, signal, and noise) and generalized each of them to be equally applicable to living organisms, self-regulating machines (such as servomechanisms and computers),and human society.” (Gerovitch, Newspeak to Cyberspeak, p. 87)
Wiener understood the difference between life and death, conscious and unconscious, not as qualitatively different levels of organization of matter, but as only quantitative differences, different amounts of entropy, a term which he borrowed from physics and imposed on every other field.
Wiener “suggested that it was “best to avoid all question-begging epithets such as ‘life,’ ‘soul,’… and the like” and speak merely of the decrease of entropy in both humans and machines.” (Gerovitch, Newspeak to Cyberspeak, p. 90)
An example of how unscientificly, imprecisely and loosely Wiener operated with his concepts, and how deeply vulgarizing this method was, is that Wiener even equated organization with beauty and entropy with ugliness, and presumably it would therefore be possible to demonstrate that a work of art is more beautiful if it is more organized and less entropic. (On what basis do we consider something to be more organized? That Wiener did not say) Therefore beauty and aesthetic value itself would be reduced to mere numbers and quantities:
“For Weiner, the notion of entropy… became a measure of choice, randomness, and organization, with all the rich cultural connotations of these concepts, including beauty and melody.” (Gerovitch, Newspeak to Cyberspeak, p. 91)
The popularization of cybernetics in western academia relied on circular reasoning which Gerovitch describes in his book.
“The historian Geoffrey Bowker has described this circular process as a chief feature of the language of cybernetics. It served an important social function by supporting “legitimacy exchange” among scientists: “An isolated scientific worker making an outlandish claim could gain rhetorical legitimacy by pointing to support from another field—which in turn referenced the first worker’s field to support its claims. The language of cybernetics provided a site where this exchange could occur.” In Bowker’s words, the author of the “conditional probability machine,” A. M. Uttley, “used mathematics to support his physiology and physiology to support his mathematics, using cybernetic terminology to spiral between the formal properties of classification machines and the nature of the brain.”… [A similar trick was carried out by Wiener] On the first pages of his Cybernetics, Wiener suggested the computer as a model for the nervous system… A few pages down, he turned this analogy around and described the computer itself in neurophysiological terms… In another example, physiological homeostasis was conceptualized as a feedback-controlled servomechanism, while servomechanisms themselves were described in anthropomorphic terms. The historian Lily Kay argued that “signifying homeostasis as negative feedback and then resignifying such servomechanisms as organismic homeostasis amounted to a circularity.”” (Gerovitch, Newspeak to Cyberspeak, pp. 94-95)
Cyberneticians then expanded this method of false equivications to broad philosophical questions, and by using semantical tricks and logical fallacies came to their desired conclusions:
“First the cyberneticians asked grandiose questions: What is life? How do we know the world? What governs human behavior? Next they translated these questions into cyberspeak, then substituted for them much narrower versions that could be answered within a particular specialized field of study: mathematics, logic, control theory, or communication engineering. Then they said that these grandiose questions had now been “precisely defined.” After obtaining the answer to a “precisely defined” question, they claimed that it could be applied universally, far beyond the original specialized field. Thus cyberspeak became a universal language for answering grandiose questions.” (Gerovitch, Newspeak to Cyberspeak, p. 96)
3. Cybernetics is a form of mechanism
The problem which was often emphasized by the Soviets is that cybernetics is a modern form of mechanism or mechanical materialism. As the dictionary states, the mechanical materialism of the 17th and 18th centuries equated people and nature to simple mechanical machines. Cybernetics equates everything to computers or electric calculators. This tendency is extremely widespread today and people have gotten so used to it that they hardly even question it.
However, it goes beyond simply equating living things and societies to dead machines. Cybernetics also sees everything mechanically, metaphysically, i.e. anti-dialectically. It reduces everything to simple “loops”, “feedback mechanisms”, “algorithms”, and “controls”. These loops, circuits and controls are all static and rigid, while reality is fluid, dynamic, complicated and contradictory. The only kind of development and change that cybernetics understands is feedback. It is blatantly evident that this worldview was developed by a bourgeois mathematician and not by a dialectical philosopher.
It is true that some revisionists have tried to explain feedback “dialectically”. Dialectics explains that things have self-motion, i.e. they develop due to their internal contradictions which develop towards something. Some revisionists have claimed that feedback can be understood as a dialectical contradiction. However, dialectical contradictions are not a simple process of action, reaction and another action. That is a simplification which characterizes them taking turns temporaly. In reality the contradictions mutually define each other at every single instant. Sometimes a reaction can simply be caused by an action, but their temporal causality can also be reversed, or they can both happen simultaneously.
To make this easier to understand let’s use an example. A commodity is a unity of two contradictory things, use-value and value. The contradictions exist within each other, and cannot be separated into any kind of action at moment 1 and reaction at moment 2.
Let’s take another example. In capitalism there exist such categories as wage-labour. This is a phenomenon created by capitalism and maintained by capitalism every day. However, labor is much older than capitalism. Chronologically it emerged much earlier. As such it could not be created by capitalism. The fact is that labor was the basis of capitalism just like capitalism is now the basis for wage-labor. Marx begins his analysis of capitalism with the analysis of the commodity, the product of capitalism. Yet, this product is also much older than capitalism. Capitalism is just as much the product of commodities as the other way around. Such a paradox is difficult to explain as a feedback mechanism.
Commenting on Zeno’s paradoxes Engels actually defined motion itself as a paradox and a contradiction. At one moment a body is located at point A and the next at point B. At each separate instance the body is stationary at some point which can be clearly mapped, and yet it is moving and not stationary. How to depict this using cybernetics?
4. Cybernetics is merely a vulgarization of real science
Cybernetics tries to explain phenomena similar to automation science, scientific physiology developed by I. P. Pavlov, laws of nature, society and thought discovered by dialectical materialism etc. However, cybernetics does it much more poorly than these other disciplines. In dealing with physiology cybernetics actually plagiarizes Pavlov, but distorts everything and dumbs it down by a factor of ten. This is understandable since Norbert Wiener had read Pavlov and was aware of his work, but lacked an adequate grasp of physiology or Pavlov’s theories. Wiener was a mathematician and if one only has a hammer, all problems look like nails.
5. Cybernetics supports idealism
Cybernetics is fully compatible with idealistic notions in sociology, psychology and other sciences. Wiener denied the material basis of cybernetic processes saying “Information is information, not matter or energy.” (Wiener, Cybernetics, p. 132)
6. Cybernetics depicts bourgeois inhumanity
Needless to say the capitalists would love to replace every worker with a machine. Machines don’t need to be paid wages, and most importantly they will not go on strike or rebel. Imperialists have also harnessed automated or semi-automated machines such as drones for their purposes. The imperialist dream is to have automated weapons systems, which will unhesitatingly commit any atrocity.
Someone might point out that Wiener used pacifist phrases, and eventually did not want to support the USA war machine anymore. However, we are interested in the objective significance of his theory, not his subjective opinion. Wiener actually began developing his theory of cybernetics after his career as a weapons researcher for the military. His attempt had been to create anti-aircraft guns with aim-assisting functions, and later he often claimed that this experience was crucial for the invention of cybernetics. It turns out the guns developed by Wiener did not work, he was fired and the project was ended:
“his anti-aircraft predictor did not work very well, and in January of 1943 his wartime project was terminated” (Gerovitch, Newspeak to Cyberspeak, p. 61)
“[David] Mindell argues that “cybernetics… recast military control in a civilian mold”… some view it as an extension of military patterns of thinking and behavior into the civilian realm” (Gerovitch, Newspeak to Cyberspeak, pp. 54-55)
Defenders of cybernetics have sometimes asked “how can cybernetics be a dangerous weapon of imperialism, if it is also a useless pseudo-science?”. The last few sentences in the dictionary make this perfectly clear. Cybernetics itself is a pseudo-science, but it is used in propaganda to attract scientists into the field of automation in service of capitalism and imperialism. The media hype about cybernetics all turned out to be false. It did not create superhuman robots which would easily replace men. It did not create any such thing. However, it served the imperialists in an ideological campaign against marxism, as a form of sabotage inside the USSR, and as propaganda in favor of automatic weapons systems. It also served as reactionary utopian propaganda which claimed that all the societal ills of capitalism could be solved with the introduction of cybernetics – thus it prolonged the existence of capitalism and defended it from criticisms.
THE PROPAGANDA TO PROMOTE CYBERNETICS IN THE CAPITALIST WORLD
When Wiener’s book “Cybernetics” was published, it was immediately promoted heavily by the imperialist media monopolies. The media companies praised the book to high heavens claiming it to be an absolutely essential classic of our era:
“The Saturday Review of Literature noted that it appeared “impossible for anyone seriously interested in our civilization to ignore this book.” “It is,” the magazine commented, “a ‘must’ book for those in every branch of science.”” (Gerovitch, Newspeak to Cyberspeak, p. 96)
After reading the book, I can conclude that it is mostly very low level “pop science”, with very little scientific merit at all. The book consists of stories about Wiener’s career, philosophical ramblings and analogies about how there is no difference between societies, humans, animals and machines.
Couple of chapters consist of mathematical formulae, which I cannot comment on. Those chapters make exactly the same conclusions and claims as the rest of the book. In any case, it seems these chapters were intended to impress non-mathematicians and make the book seem more “scientific” and smarter then it actually is. But why would we ask a mathematician to answer philosophical, social, or even biological questions? Yet it seems these chapters really did impress people, and made them think that this “smart mathematician” could answer all questions about life. Cybernetics promised simple solutions to big problems:
“A large portion of the book was occupied by complex mathematical chapters, which a broad audience could not possibly understand. These chapters, although “largely irrelevant,” fulfilled an important rhetorical function: they greatly impressed lay readers, thus conferring legitimacy on the bold claims made in a plain language in the rest of the book. Cybernetics promised solutions to a wide range of social, biological, and technological problems… Complex social and biological phenomena looked simpler… when described in cybernetic terms.” (Gerovitch, Newspeak to Cyberspeak, pp. 96-97)
The massive propaganda campaign continued until cybernetics became universally accepted in the West:
“The popular press hailed digital computers as “electronic brains.” Scientific American published an accessible account of cybernetics under the provocative title “Man Viewed as a Machine.” The computer specialist Frank H. George threw a challenge to the readers of the English journal Philosophy: “You can’t tell me anything that your wife can do that a machine can’t (in principle). [sic!!]” Political scientists spoke of the “nerves of government.”… Business consultants began to sell “management cybernetics.” (Gerovitch, Newspeak to Cyberspeak, p. 97)
The effects of this campaign are still very much present today. Cybernetic terminology is still widely used in politics, sociology etc. In the field of genetics simplistic cybernetic terminology has become the norm, genes or dna are described as carriers of information, codes, or as blueprints:
“Molecular biologists conceptualized the gene as “the smallest message unit”… Biological specificity was “re-represented through the scriptural tropes of information—message, alphabet, instructions, code, text, reading, program. The narratives of heredity and life [were] rewritten as programmed communication systems.”” (Gerovitch, Newspeak to Cyberspeak, p. 97)
Let us now deal with the history of cybernetics in the USSR.
WERE CYBERNETICS BOOKS BANNED IN THE STALIN ERA?
A cyberneticist named Kopelev claims they were, but historian V. Shilov says that: “Kopelev’s story made in 1949 is hardly possible.” (Valery Shilov, Reefs of Myths: Towards the History of Cybernetics in the Soviet Union, p. 2)
The information about this is actually very conflicting. Perhaps some books were banned, but the sources don’t agree about this. The fact is that cybernetics books would have been available only in the foreign language libraries, for those who spoke foreign languages, and the general public or even most scientists didn’t care about them.
G. N. Povarov said that “in the Library of Foreign Literature one could get this book freely. There I read it. It was approximately in 1952–1953. So this book was not prohibited by censorship” [3, p. 12]] (Shilov, p. 2)
A.V. Shileyko claimed he had access to the book [Wiener’s “Cybernetics”] at a philosophical seminar in the early 1950s. (Shilov, p. 2)
V. A. Torgashev declares that “Wiener’s book “Cybernetics” published in 1948 was translated in USSR in 1949 (in fact its second edition appeared in the open sale only in 1958. However, the book was available in libraries earlier)” [7, p.48-49].” (Shilov, p. 2)
The notorious revisionist and defector Kolman seems to be the source of many of these myths:
“A. Kolman in the article published after his [defection to] the West wrote that he had read Wiener’s book due the help of some unnamed secretary (very important person!) of the Communist Party Central Committee. But in memoirs published 5 years later he told this story in another way – more extensively and heroically” (Shilov, p. 2)
Of course there would be nothing wrong in principal with refusing to publish cybernetics books, or to remove them from public libraries. The only reason cybernetics books should be and were available to some degree is so that people could criticize them.
THE ANTI-CYBERNETICS CAMPAIGN IN THE USSR
Gerovitch claims in his book, that soviet philosophers were not knowledgeable on cybernetics, and many had not read Wiener’s books but only his interviews. He claims the campaign was based on ignorance and strawmen. However, it seems his source for these statements is Khrushchev’s secret speech and other similar statements at the CPSU 20th Party Congress, which slandered and attacked previous policies and rehabilitated cybernetics. So Gerovitch’s claim is not very credible right off the bat. Secondly, it is clear that the authors of the Philosophical Dictionary were knowledgeable, and their criticism is still fundamentally not different, let alone contradictory, with the criticisms made by the earlier supposedly “ignorant” soviet critics.
It is true that the criticisms of cybernetics evolved somewhat, but that is only natural. During intellectual discussion views always develop and evolve. Initially certain philosophers linked cybernetics with semantic idealism, but this connection was later dropped. Different authors pointed out different aspects of cybernetics, but the main point was always the same: it is a form of modern mechanism and idealism.
But for the sake of argument, let’s assume that some soviet critics really did not read Wiener’s book Cybernetics Or Control and Communication in the Animal and the Machine. Indeed, it seems certain only some read it. Is it necessary to read Wiener’s book, in order to conclude that Cybernetics is idealistic and mechanistic? No, it is not necessary at all. The basic premises of cybernetics are fundamentally idealistic and mechanistic and it is completely unnecessary to delve into the intricate details of it to come to this conclusion.
However, I read Wiener’s Cybernetics, his later book The Human Use of Human Beings, as well as other influential cybernetics texts such as Design for a brain by W. R. Ashby and his textbook Introduction to cybernetics. These books are not worth reading. They are low quality philosophical ramblings and vulgar pop-science, with some mathematics thrown in. These books also did not change my perception of cybernetics one bit, but only confirmed what was already blatantly evident.
Gerovitch claims soviet critics took Wiener’s statements out of context, but the same controversial claims demonstrating mechanism (equating humans and societies to machines, to animals, to viruses etc.) and idealism (claims that “information” and “signals” are not material) are repeated numerous times in books by Wiener and also by Ashby, so this is not a case of taking quotes out of context or of mere slips of the pen on the part of Wiener.
THE SIZE OF THE CAMPAIGN
Marxist philosophers certainly opposed cybernetics. This is made clear by the entry in the short philosophical dictionary. However, it was not considered a very important problem and the “campaign” against it was small:
“the campaign against cybernetics… was not of large scale – there were near ten publications… Anti-cybernetics articles were not published in the occasional press organs” (Shilov, p. 3) but in specialist technical journals, philosophy journals etc.
Shilov is confident he has the complete list of anti-cybernetic articles, and the list includes only 10. However, many of the 10 publications which Shilov lists as “anti-cyberneticist” did not even mention cybernetics. Even the famous article mentioned by every historian “Mark III, a Calculator” by Boris Agapov which ridiculed the Times article “Can Man Build a Superman?” did not directly mention cybernetics. In the opinion of historian Loren Graham there were only 3-4 articles against cybernetics:
“At the beginning of 1950s Soviet ideologists were definitely hostile to cybernetics, despite that the total number of anti-cybernetics articles was probably not more than three or four” (Loren R. Graham, Science, Philosophy, and Human Behavior in the Soviet Union, p. 272)
If we assume Shilov is correct and Graham is wrong, than this is yet another example of the shoddy quality of bourgeois research. It probably also indicates that the campaign against cybernetics was indeed small, since some of the articles were in publications too niche for Graham to even know about them. However, I think Shilov is exaggerating and trying to increase the number of articles to the maximum, at least by including both the dictionary entry (which Graham doesn’t include because it is not an article) and Agapov’s “Mark III” (which doesn’t mention cybernetics) as anti-cybernetic articles.
Shilov’s list of “anti-cybernetics” articles:
-Boris Agapov, “Mark III, kal’kuliator”, Literaturnaya Gazeta. 4 May 1950. P. 2. -Mikhail G. Yaroshevsky, “Kibernetika – «nauka» mrakobesov”, Literaturnaya Gazeta. 5 April 1952. P. 4. -Bernard E. Bykhovskii, “Kibernetika – amerikanskaia lzhenauka”, Priroda. 1952. 7. P. 125-127. -Kirill A. Gladkov, “Kibernetika, ili toska po mekhanicheskim soldatam”, Tekhnika – molodezhi. 1952. 8. P. 34-38. -Yu. Klemanov, “«Kibernetika» mozga”, Meditsinskii rabotnik. 25 July 1952. P. 4. -Bernard E. Bykhovskii, “Nauka sovremennykh rabovladel’tsev”, Nauka i zhizn’. 1953. 6. P. 42-44. -Materialist, “Komu sluzhit kibernetika?”, Voprosy filosofii. 1953. 5. P. 210-219. -“Kibernetika”, Kratkii filosofskii slovar’. Moskva, 1954. P. 236-237. -Theodor K. Gladkov, “Kibernetika – psevdonauka o mashinakh, zhivotnykh, cheloveke i obshchestve”, Vestnik Moskovskogo universiteta. 1955. 1. P. 57-67.
DID THE CAMPAIGN PREVENT DEVELOPMENT OF COMPUTER TECHNOLOGY?
Cybernetics is a confused and badly defined “science”. As a result it was very often confused with computer technology and automation in general. As a result many people questioned the very existence of the campaign against cybernetics since computer technology was simultaneously highly developed in the USSR:
“Many problems are still the object of acute disputes… Was it [an] anti-cybernetics campaign at all?” (Shilov, p. 1)
P. L. Kapitsa, a conservative but skilled physicist from the tsarist days is a perfect example of this confusion. He argued that since computers are very important, it was a bad idea to attack cybernetics. As if the two are somehow the same thing:
“In 1962 Academician P. L. Kapitsa remarked caustically that … had our scientists back in the year 1954 paid attention to the philosophers, had they accepted that definition [of cybernetics as a reactionary pseudoscience] as a guide to further development of this particular science, we may safely say that our conquest of space, of which we are so proud and for which the whole world respects us, could never have been a reality, since it is wholly impossible to steer space vehicles without recourse to cybernetics.” (David Holloway, Innovation in Science-The Case of Cybernetics in the Soviet Union, p. 309)
Iurii Zhdanov, the son of the party theoretician Andrei Zhdanov, also makes the same mistake. He argued that Stalin always supported computer technology and as a result he did not oppose cybernetics:
“Iurii Zhdanov, the former head of the Science Department of the Central Committee in 1951-53, recalled in his memoirs: “While Stalin spoke against modern genetics, he never opposed cybernetics [by which Iurii means computer technology]. On the contrary, in connection with the space enterprise every effort was made to advance computer technology. In particular, our department had an assignment to help Academician S. A. Lebedev with the construction of the first machines of the BESM type (the High-Speed Electronic Calculating Machine [Bystrodeistvuiushchaia elektronnaia schetmaia mashina]). And that was done…”
The MESM, the first stored-program electronic digital computer in Europe, was already working in Kiev, and two more machines were under construction in Moscow… On 11 January 1950, following the first successful tests of the MESM, the government authorized two independent projects to build large high-speed digital computers: one at the Institute of Precise Mechanics and Computer Technology in Moscow (the BESM), the other at the Special Design Bureau No. 245, also in Moscow (the Arrow [Strela]).” (Slava Gerovitch, “Russian Scandals”: Soviet Readings of American Cybernetics in the Early Years of the Cold War, pp. 563-564)
Gerovitch states categorically:
“The myth that the anticybernetics campaign was a major obstacle to the development of Soviet computing has already been exposed… On the contrary, party and government authorities provided complete support to computing, control engineering, and communications engineering” (Slava Gerovitch, “Russian Scandals”, p. 566)
“Even though cybernetics was labeled in the Soviet press a “pseudoscience,” computers were not considered “pseudo-machines.” Soviet critics of the cybernetics campaign only branded as “idealistic” and “mechanistic” the use of man-machine analogies in the life sciences and the social sciences; they did not at all object to the use of computers for automation and scientific calculations, which were regarded as acceptable “materialistic” applications. The critics even called the invention of a computer a “real scientific and technical achievement” and argued that computers had “great value for the most diverse phases of economic construction.” Computers, they claimed, could make “calculations of any degree of complexity in the shortest possible time,” being capable of “completely flawless operation and procurement of results.”” (Gerovitch, Newspeak to Cyberspeak, p. 142)
The USSR developed the first digital computers in Europe, the second in the world, and was at the cutting edge of computer technology in the Stalin era. Fields related to computer research and automation were rapidly being developed in the USSR exactly at the same time as the pseudo-science of cybernetics was condemned:
“it is possible to find in Soviet literature mention of the rationalization of mental labor and of thinking machines as early as 1926” (Maxim W. Mikulak, Cybernetics and Marxism-Leninism, p. 454)
“As early as 1934 the Soviet Academy of Sciences had organized a commission on remote control and automation. The year 1936 witnessed the introduction of the journal Avtomatika i telemekhanika. In 1950 the Institute for Precision Mechanics and Computer Technology came into existence; its chief function was to develop the practical aspects of programming. And it took three volumes to record the reports made in 1953, at the Second All-Union Conference on the Theory of Automatic Regulation, on the progress of automation and cybernation from 1940 to 1953. Excellent textbooks on servomechanisms and control systems were written by B. S. Sotskov (1950), G. A. Shaumian (1952), and E. P. Popov (1956).” (Maxim W. Mikulak, Cybernetics and Marxism-Leninism, p. 464)
David Holloway is an anti-communist historian, but he describes this accurately:
“a distinction was drawn between computer technology and the theories of cybernetics. The former was regarded as an important technological advance, while the latter were seen as a malignant ideological growth on the real science of automatic control. Second, the central focus of cybernetics was seen to be the analogy drawn between the brain and the computer; and particular exception was taken to the view ascribed to cyberneticians that the only feature distinguishing brain from computer is the former’s size and capacity. Cybernetics was condemned for attempting to transfer the laws of motion peculiar to some forms of matter to qualitatively different forms where other, higher, laws operate. It was mechanistic in its disregard for such differences; but in so far as it ignored, dismissed, or failed to solve the problem of human consciousness, it was held to leave the door open to idealism and clericalism. Cybernetics was seen as an excrescence on the decaying body of capitalism, reflecting its inhumanity, its aggression, and its fear of the proletariat. The fascination of the ‘thinking machine’ for the bourgeoisie lay, it was said, in the hope of substituting automatic machines for recalcitrant workers, or for pilots who might refuse to bomb peasant women working in the rice fields. Finally cybernetics was said to embody the vain hope that ‘the contemporary technocrats-the cyberneticians’ would be able, with the help of computers to effect substantial changes in the social system. But these ambitions were doomed to failure, for the fundamental problems of capitalist society were not amenable to technological solutions. It was the character of the economic system that determined the course of technological development, not technology that determined social development.” (David Holloway, Innovation in Science-The Case of Cybernetics in the Soviet Union, pp. 310-311)
“Soviet critics complained that the concept of feedback was much cruder than the Pavlovian concept of reflex. Moreover, cybernetics left open the question of the nature and origins of consciousness, which Pavlov was said to have explained by reference to speech, the ‘second signalling system’ which was peculiar to man alone. This had developed as a result of man’s involvement in labour and social interaction, with the consequent need for extensive communication between man. Further, in neglecting the content of speech, cybernetics denied an active role to man’s mental activity.
One of the Soviet critics went on to comment on cybernetics as a social theory. He argued that cybernetics, by claiming that man is not, in essence, different from a machine, played down the crucial fact that man lives in society. Hence it made no distinction between different socio-economic formations, and conceived of society merely as a complex mechanism, consisting of a certain number of elements, and subject to mechanistic laws such as that of feedback. By focusing on the structure of communications it ignored the laws of social development; by ignoring the content of social information it made it impossible to grasp ‘the essence of the phenomena of social life’. As a social theory cybernetics rationalized capitalist society by explaining social change in terms of improvement in ‘group information’, without reference to the mode of production. The crisis of capitalist production could be explained away as the self-regulating mechanism of the market. Because of the need for centralized control the cyberneticians argued that world civilization should be centralized-with its headquarters in Washington.” (David Holloway, Innovation in Science-The Case of Cybernetics in the Soviet Union, p. 311)
One of the main advocates of cybernetics, the notorious revisionist Aksel Berg claimed that condemnation of cybernetics had hindered computer research, but even anti-communist Holloway has shown this is completely false:
“In 1960 Academician Berg wrote that ‘it took such a long time to form a sensible attitude to cybernetics that undoubted harm was done to our science and technology ‘… Berg had referred to the way in which the fears of philosophers had held up the development of computer technology; but, as has been mentioned, computer technology was exempted from the initial attacks on cybernetics. In 1949 the first department of Computer Mathematics in the Soviet Union had been set up at Moscow University, and in the following year the Academy of Sciences established an Institute of Precision Mechanics and Computer Engineering. Work on digital computers had begun in the late 1940s, and by 1953 several different computers had been completed.” (David Holloway, Innovation in Science-The Case of Cybernetics in the Soviet Union, p. 312)
“In the 1990s, the cybernetics boom was blamed for numerous shortcomings of Soviet science. “This doctrine, which called itself a science of control, chained the technological élan of a great nation,” wrote one commentator in a Russian on-line magazine. “Domestic science wasted immeasurable time and effort on the chimera of cybernetics, while the field of computer technology was deprived of full-scale funding.”” (Gerovitch, Newspeak to Cyberspeak, p. 4)
DID SCIENCE SUFFER UNDER STALIN AND FLOURISH UNDER KHRUSHCHEV?
Anti-communist Gerovitch finds it “paradoxical” that science actually developed much better in the Stalin era. There are two simple reasons why this happened: 1) the government gave more funding to science 2) the party gave more guidance to scientists and encouraged criticism of false and fruitless ideas. However, anti-communists have always called this guidance and criticism as something tyrannical which hinders science.
“this image of science suppressed by political interference is hard to reconcile with the impressive scientific achievements of the Stalinist era, which earned Soviet scientists a host of Nobel Prizes in physics and chemistry. In the postwar period, scientific and engineering institutions and large-scale industrial and construction projects aimed at fulfilling Stalin’s ambitious plan of the “great transformation of nature” mushroomed, and the Soviet Union celebrated an unprecedented “cult” of science and technology. It was during this period that Soviet scientists built their first atomic and hydrogen bombs. Paradoxically, Soviet science appeared to thrive under Stalin’s totalitarian rule better than in the relatively liberal climate of the Khrushchev regime.” (Gerovitch, Newspeak to Cyberspeak, p. 5)
“[Loren] Graham has dispelled the popular myth of Soviet scientists’ being blinded by Marxist ideology and has shown how dialectical materialism, the official Soviet philosophy of science, was fruitfully integrated into the scientific outlook of many Soviet scholars.” (Gerovitch, Newspeak to Cyberspeak, p. 5)
“Although Soviet science enjoyed reform and looser ideological constraints under Khrushchev, it is worth noting that, strictly speaking, Soviet science may have accomplished more under Stalin… Under Stalin, Soviet physicists and chemists pioneered work for which chemist Nikolai Semyonov, physicist Igor Tamm, economist Leonid Kantorovich, and physicist Pyotr Kapitsa received Nobel Prizes decades later. Other Soviet scientists – including Igor Kurchatov, Lev Landau, Yakov Frenkel… and other world-renowned figures – also developed atomic and thermonuclear bombs, a lynchpin in Stalin’s rapid and forceful industrialization of the remnants of the Russian Empire from a backwater country into a global superpower in only a few decades… Many Soviet scientists successfully employed dialectical materialism as a genuine source of inspiration, not a forced ideology, in their scientific work.“ (Benjamin Peters, Normalizing Soviet Cybernetics, in Information & Culture Vol. 47, No. 2 (2012), p. 153)
CYBERNETICS PROMOTED BY REVISIONISTS
The first stages
In the mid-1950s the revisionists supported cybernetic ideas being advocated. In 1955 a new edition of the Short Philosophical Dictionary was issued, where the entry on cybernetics was removed. In the late-50s cybernetics was no longer called a pseudo-science. However, Soviet scientists, philosophers and engineers still resisted the western pseudo-science. Because they could no longer condemn it as a pseudo-science, they merely pointed out that it did not have an original subject-matter and did not contribute anything that wasn’t already being performed better by actual sciences:
“Ernest Kolman… confirmed the nihilistic state of mind of some of his colleagues toward Wiener’s theory and other branches of Western science and revealed the continuing Soviet antagonism to cybernetics; its opponents no longer referred to the theory of control and communication in the machine and living organism as pseudoscience but now argued that it was identical with automation and therefore deserved no separate title to existence. It was apparent to Kolman from the sessions on automation sponsored by the Soviet Academy of Sciences in October 1956 and from the discussions held by the Moscow Mathematical Society in April 1957 that the very same engineers, technicians, and mathematicians who were furthering automation opposed Wiener’s cybernetics and that the narrow specialists in biology, physiology, psychology, and linguistics could not reconcile themselves to cybernetics because it represented a misalliance” of incongruous disciplines.”” (Maxim W. Mikulak, Cybernetics and Marxism-Leninism, Slavic Review Vol. 24, No. 3 Sep., 1965, p. 453)
In other words, real scientists opposed cybernetics even after the communist party had stopped condemning it and had adopted a tone of approval. The opposition to cybernetics was not simply imposed on the scientific community by any “tyrannical stalinist official”. The scientists opposed it even on their own.
“It is important to note, however, that it was not the philosophers alone who rejected cybernetics: In the arguments which were carried on about cybernetics some engineers, technologists and mathematicians, who were themselves doing both practical and theoretical work in the field of automatic systems, came forward as its opponents. They asserted that cybernetics had no right to existence as an independent science, that theories of automata were sufficient.” (David Holloway, Innovation in Science-The Case of Cybernetics in the Soviet Union, p. 314)
Cybernetics was heavily promoted in the USSR by Ernest Kolman who Benjamin Peters in his article “Normalizing Soviet Cybernetics” characterizes as “a failed mathematician” (p. 159). Kolman, who saw himself as a philosopher of science was described as a “true stalinist” but in reality he was only a careerist. His commitment to marxism had always been self-serving and disingenuous. He was hardly someone defending the integrity of marxism from bourgeois pseudo-science and “had spent time in a Stalinist labor camp after World War II for straying from the party line in his interpretation of Marxism.” (Peters, p. 160). This is probably not the actual reason for his imprisonment, but in any case it suggests he was at best guilty of ideological deviations and in all likelihood guilty of crimes against the Soviet Union.
Later Kolman defected to Sweden where he openly rejected Leninism entirely and strongly criticized both Marx and Engels. Many of his stories about his past have also been debunked, so nobody should really trust him.
In the late 50s he began promoting cybernetics through writings and speeches. To give cybernetics some credibility Kolman actually linked it to the idealist revisionist Bogdanov, and revisionist traitor Bukharin:
“Along with Bogdanov’s tectology, Kolman also numbers Bucharin’s praxeology among the first beginnings of Soviet cybernetic research” (Michael Csizmas and Patrick McNally, Cybernetics, Marxism, Jurisprudence, Studies in Soviet Thought Vol. 11, No. 2 (1971), p. 90)
The other main supporter of cybernetics, Aksel Berg, also described cybernetics as a universal science of government similar to the ‘universal organizing science’ or tektology of Bogdanov, which also had a large influence on Bukharin:
“Berg actively used his huge influence and connections in the party and government to promote cybernetics as a universal “science of government,”” (Slava Gerovitch, “Russian Scandals”, p. 566)
Other revisionists, for example the East German Georg Klaus made the laughable claim that developers of cybernetics Ashby and Wiener both “produce… clearly recognizable dialectic and materialistic trains of ideas” (Kybernetik in philosophischer Sicht, p. 23, quoted and translated in Gotthard Günther, Cybernetics and the dialectic Materialism of Marx and Lenin, p. 8)
The trio Sobolev, Liapunov and Kitov
Together with Kolman and Berg, the originators of cybernetics in the USSR were mathematicians Sergei Sobolev,Aleksei Liapunov and computer engineer Anatoly Kitov. Together they wrote the influential early pro-cybernetics article “The Main Features of Cybernetics”. (Gerovitch, Newspeak to Cyberspeak, p. 173)
“In the autumn of 1954 Liapunov organized a “seminar on machine mathematics” at Moscow University. He did not limit seminar topics to purely mathematical problems, however. Liapunov… incorporated the entire range of cybernetic issues into the seminar’s agenda. Liapunov’s seminar met regularly for several years and served as a nexus of public exchange of cybernetic ideas… While cybernetics was still referred to in the press as a “reactionary pseudoscience,” the participants of Liapunov’s seminar openly discussed most recent Western cybernetic works” (Gerovitch, Newspeak to Cyberspeak, pp. 174-175)
During the discussion of the article “The Main Features of Cybernetics” by Sobolev, Liapunov and Kitov “The Deputy Editor-in-Chief of Voprosy filosofii, Mark Rozental’, objected to the use of the word memory with respect to computers, arguing that memory was a mental attribute. Kitov replied that memory was nothing more than “the ability to preserve information” and contended that “one should not be afraid of calling this thing memory both here and there [in men and machines].” “Why can’t we say memory but have to say storage device?” he asked. “The matter is to preserve a difference between man and machine,” Rozental’ explained. “The real difference is that man is a social being; he is formed under the influence of his [social] environment. There is no need to see a difference where it is not even tangible,” Kitov retorted.” (Gerovitch, Newspeak to Cyberspeak, p. 181)
“In October of 1958, speaking on cybernetics at the All-Union Conference on Philosophical Problems of Natural Science, Sobolev brushed aside the philosophical critique of cybernetics as utterly irrelevant:
“We [Sobolev and Liapunov] admit that we do not even understand some of these [philosophical] questions in relation to cybernetics… One cannot divide physics into materialistic physics and idealistic physics… There is no such thing.”
…Sobolev did not use any philosophical arguments to refute the charge of idealism; instead, he claimed that philosophical terminology simply was not applicable to cybernetics.” (Gerovitch, Newspeak to Cyberspeak, pp. 181-182)
One could ask, if the cyberneticians even admit that they do not understand philosophical questions or philosophical objections to cybernetic claims, how can they be so arrogant as to simply reject these criticisms without even understanding them?
Sobolev and Liapunov also clearly were not familiar with Lenin’s words that:
“no natural science… can hold its own in the struggle against the onslaught of bourgeois ideas and the restoration of the bourgeois world outlook unless it stands on solid philosophical ground. In order to hold his own in this struggle and carry it to a victorious finish, the natural scientist must be a modern materialist, a conscious adherent of the materialism represented by Marx, i.e., he must be a dialectical materialist.” (Lenin, On the significance of militant materialism)
Cybernetics is accepted officially by the Khrushchevites
Cybernetics was finally adopted officially by the revisionists at the 20th party congress, and adopted into the party program at the 22nd party congress:
“In 1961 the Central Committee began promoting cybernetics at the Twenty-Second Party Congress as “one of the major tools of the creation of a communist society.” First Secretary Nikita Khrushchev in particular promoted a far-reaching application of cybernetics.” (Benjamin Peters, “Normalizing Soviet Cybernetics”, Information & Culture Vol. 47, No. 2 (2012), p. 164)
“In 1958 an entry on cybernetics finally appeared in the additional volume 51 of The Great Soviet Encyclopedia… This article acknowledged Norbert Wiener’s pioneering role in the development of cybernetics and effectively legitimized this field in the Soviet Union. The author of this article was none other than Andrei Kolmogorov [famous mathematician and cybernetist]. A separate article, co-authored by Kolmogorov’s student, was devoted to Wiener…” (Gerovitch, Newspeak to Cyberspeak, p. 151)
To rehabilitate cybernetics its supporters avoided discussing philosophical problems, instead going for a “neutral” technocratic approach. Cybernetics terminology was changed to hide its mechanistic character, the word “mechanism” was removed from all descriptions of cybernetics by its developers, Wiener’s “feedback mechanism” was renamed “the theory of feedback”. The revisionist authors emphasized the theoretical nature of cybernetics to distance it from American pragmatism. (Benjamin Peters, “Normalizing Soviet Cybernetics”, p. 156)
By the 1960s the revisionist leaders had decided that cybernetics was so important, that it should be given its entire division in Soviet science. Keep in mind, the entire scientific establishment in the USSR consisted of only three large divisions: physico-technical and mathematical, chemico-technical, and biological. The revisionists claimed that the fashionable western pseudo-science was as important as these major divisions of science!
“In the later 1960s the Academy of Sciences of the USSR vaunted cybernetics as an entire division of Soviet science, one of only four divisions.” (Benjamin Peters, “Normalizing Soviet Cybernetics”, p. 167)
Things became even more ridiculous, when revisionists began arguing that really all the other fields should be subordinated under cybernetics, and seen as mere subcategories of it:
“Others waxed extravagant in arguing that even the remaining three divisions – “the physico-technical and mathematical sciences, chemico-technical and biological sciences, and social sciences” – could be read, without much conceptual violence, as subfields of the overarching expanse of Soviet cybernetics, given its ecumenical commitment to stitching together the mechanical, the organic, and the social: a totalizing mission begun with Wiener’s attempt to analogize (in his subtitle to his 1948 Cybernetics) “the animal and the machine” and later (in his subtitle to 1950’s The Human Use of Human Beings) “cybernetics and society.”” (Benjamin Peters, “Normalizing Soviet Cybernetics”, p. 167)
Cybernetics departments kept multiplying like viruses. Cybernetic were created for everything imaginable. Cybernetic psychology, cybernetic geography, cybernetic economics. What’s next? Cybernetic art and cybernetic cuisine?
“Adopting this broad view institutionally, the Academy of Sciences originally categorized cybernetics into eight sections, including mathematics, engineering, economics, mathematical machines, biology, linguistics, reliability theory, and a “special” military section. With Berg’s influence on the Council on Cybernetics, the number of recognized subfields grew to envelop “geological cybernetics,” “agricultural cybernetics,” “geographical cybernetics,” “theoretical cybernetics” (mathematics), “biocybernetics” (sometimes “bionics” or biological sciences) , and, the most prominent of the Soviet cybernetic social sciences, “economic cybernetics.””(Benjamin Peters, “Normalizing Soviet Cybernetics”, p. 167)
Cybernetic legal theory was added, and naturally the new western fad “semiotics” developed by bourgeois linguists and idealist philosophers, was thrown in and given its own department:
“By 1967 the range of sections had expanded to include information theory, information systems, bionics, chemistry, psychology, energy systems, transportation, and justice, with semiotics joining the linguistic section and medicine uniting with biology.” (Benjamin Peters, “Normalizing Soviet Cybernetics”, p. 167)
CYBERNETICS AS A SHIELD FOR OTHER REACTIONARY THEORIES
Leading cyberneticists were reactionaries who had been fighting against genuine science:”In July 1954 Sobolev published an article in the leading Party organ, Pravda… Using dogmatism as a euphemism for the Stalinist legacy in Soviet science, Sobolev specifically attacked the schools of Lysenkoist biology and “Pavlovian” physiology” (Gerovitch, Newspeak to Cyberspeak, p. 164) Cybernetics became a haven for all kinds of idealists and revisionists, pseudo-scientists in all fields from psychology, linguistics to law and natural science:
“Sheltering a huddling crowd of unorthodox sciences, including “non-Pavlovian physiology (‘psychological cybernetics’), structural linguistics (‘cybernetic linguistics’), and new approaches in experiment planning (‘chemical cybernetics’) and legal studies (‘legal cybernetics’),”” (Benjamin Peters, “Normalizing Soviet Cybernetics”, p. 167)
The acceptance of cybernetics did not only mean that a useless pseudo-science was adopted in the field of automation or eletronics. It served to promote pseudo-science and to attack real sciences in many other fields, particularly in physiology, but also psychology, biology etc. “Cybernetics began to serve as an institutional umbrella for various unorthodox research trends previously suppressed by dominant Stalinist schools… “biological cybernetics” (genetics), “physiological cybernetics” (non-Pavlovian “physiology of activity”), and “cybernetic linguistics” (structural linguistics).” (Gerovitch, Newspeak to Cyberspeak, p. 8)
In 1960 “there appeared an article by Ljapunov and Sobol’ev, ‘Cybernetics and Natural Science’, in which the thesis of acquired inheritance was rejected” and the authors attacked michurinism and defended mendelism by saying that “classical genetics is in agreement with cybernetics.” (Michael Csizmas and Patrick McNally, Cybernetics, Marxism, Jurisprudence, p. 94)
“Problemy kibernetiki, for example, published papers on the application of cybernetics to genetics, thereby providing a haven for geneticists.” (David Holloway, Innovation in Science-The Case of Cybernetics in the Soviet Union, p. 327)
Pavlovian physiology was not compatible with cybernetics, and therefore it had to be destroyed. The council setup to maintain Pavlov’s work was dissolved:
“Of the more specific objections raised to cybernetics, that based on Pavlovian theories about higher nervous activity no longer carried the same force, since the Pavlovian orthodoxy had been greatly weakened in the mid-1950s… The Council on the Problem of the Physiological Teaching of Academician I. P. Pavlov, which had been set up to ensure that the resolutions of the 1950 Conference were enforced, seems to have held its last meeting in 1953. See Vestnik Akademii Nauk 0953, 6), 6I-2.” (David Holloway, Innovation in Science-The Case of Cybernetics in the Soviet Union, p. 331)”The frontiers between physiology and engineering are those where cybernetics has had most effect on the conduct of research, and here the situation was more complex. Cybernetics was condemned as incompatible with Pavlov’s theories; consequently the reaffirmation of Pavlovian teaching in 1950, and the subsequent purge of those who had attempted to revise his work, provided a powerful obstacle to cybernetics. One of those purged in 1950 exemplifies this clearly. In the 1930s P. K. Anokhin… had introduced into the physiology of the nervous system the idea of the ‘return afferentation’ of the results of an action to the actor-almost identical with the concept of feedback. This work, however, was condemned for conflicting with the Pavlovian theory of the reflex arc. Anokhin had attempted to rehabilitate his own work in the light of cybernetics:
When cybernetics appeared on the scene and when I began to talk of our Soviet priority in the theoretical treatment of physiology, friends told me: ‘Give up talking about that!’ It’s alright to outstrip a scientific discovery by eleven years, but we don’t advise you to outstrip bourgeois obscurantism by eleven years. In as much as research in physiology was held up it was by the stress on Pavlovian orthodoxy, and only at second remove by the attacks on cybernetics.” (David Holloway, Innovation in Science-The Case of Cybernetics in the Soviet Union, pp. 312-313)
“Nikolai Aleksandrovich Bernshtein (1896–1966), who would later play the leading role in Soviet “physiological cybernetics.” Throughout his career, Bernshtein spoke openly and consistently about his disagreement with Pavlov’s doctrine of conditional reflexes… As early as 1934, Bernshtein proposed to replace the classical Pavlovian concept of the “reflex arc” with a “reflex circle.”” (Gerovitch, Newspeak to Cyberspeak, pp. 44-45)
“Bernshtein… disagreed with Pavlov conceptually and did not even attempt to portray himself as an orthodox Pavlovian, became a prominent target of ideological criticism… His critics… accused him of attempting to “belittle” Pavlov’s significance. Furthermore, since Bernshtein cited foreign [imperialist] authors, he was charged with “kowtowing before foreign scientists” and “anti-patriotism.” The critics also attached to Bernshtein’s doctrine the usual labels: idealism (for using mathematical analysis) and mechanicism (for regarding the human body as a self-regulating mechanism). They even accused him of holding onto the “false theory of mutations” (i.e., genetics). At the 1950 “Pavlov session,” critics alleged that he knew “neither the letter nor the spirit of Pavlov’s teachings.”” (Gerovitch, Newspeak to Cyberspeak, p. 46)
“The “father of Soviet cybernetics,” Aleksei Liapunov, had developed a longterm friendship with a number of leading Soviet geneticists since the early 1940s, when he was involved in a controversy between Kolmogorov and Lysenko over the validity of statistical analysis in the interpretation of genetic experiments. In the late 1940s, Liapunov organized a kruzhok (a “circle,” a home study group)… he offered informal courses on genetics and the theory of probabilities and statistics, which were not taught to biology students at the university. Risking his position as a Party member and a researcher at a closed institution working on classified projects, Liapunov often invited persecuted geneticists to give guest lectures and transmit their “forbidden knowledge” to this select group. Geneticists… seized this opportunity… Such prominent biologists as Dubinin, Romashov, Sakharov, Timoféeff-Ressovsky, Zavadovskii, and Zhebrak spoke at the meetings of Liapunov’s kruzhok.” (Gerovitch, Newspeak to Cyberspeak, p. 183)
Liapunov was involved in signing the anti-lysenko letter of 94 reactionary scientists in 1955 which was expanded in 1956 to the so-called “letter of 300”.
“Liapunov signed the addendum and took an active part in soliciting signatures from influential Soviet scientists; in particular, he managed to obtain Sobolev’s support” (Gerovitch, Newspeak to Cyberspeak, p. 184)
“Liapunov’s propagation of cybernetic ideas was closely connected with his defense of genetics.” (Gerovitch, Newspeak to Cyberspeak, p. 186)
“The cybernetics movement began to spread over a wide range of disciplines. “Biological cyberneticians” challenged the Lysenkoites in biology; “physiological cyberneticians” opposed the Pavlovian school in physiology; “cybernetic linguists” confronted the traditionalists in linguistics. The opponents of dominant schools in various fields began speaking the language of cybernetics.” (Gerovitch, Newspeak to Cyberspeak, p. 204)
“As the historian Mark Adams has demonstrated, genetics “hid under protective language: to cognoscenti, such terms as ‘radio-biology,’ ‘radiation bio-physics,’ and ‘physico-chemical biology’ functioned as a kind of protective mimicry, serving as euphemisms for both orthodox genetics and molecular biology.” Genetic research was conducted not in biological institutions (which were controlled by the Lysenkoites) but under the roofs of physical and chemical research institutes. One of the code names for genetics in this period was cybernetic biology.” (Newspeak to Cyberspeak, p. 211)
“In October of 1958, at the All-Union Conference on Philosophical Problems of Natural Science, Aleksei Liapunov and Sergei Sobolev delivered a paper in which they portrayed [mendelian] genetics as an implementation of the cybernetic approach in biology” (Newspeak to Cyberspeak, p. 211)
“Liapunov became the head of the Biological Section of the Council on Cybernetics; as the editor of the series Problemy kibernetiki… he published works on genetics. In particular, Liapunov helped his close friend Nikolai Timoféeff-Ressovsky [a mendelist who had defected to Germany and worked for the Third Reich]… to resume active research and publications after returning from Stalinist labor camps. Timoféeff-Ressovsky’s first lecture after his return to Moscow was given at an informal gathering in Liapunov’s apartment… Thanks to Liapunov’s efforts, however, this article, written in collaboration with the geneticist Raisa Berg, appeared in the fifth volume of Problemy kibernetiki in 1962. To justify this publication, Timoféeff-Ressovsky and Berg injected a few cybernetic terms in their article.” (Newspeak to Cyberspeak, p. 212)
“Speaking at the 1962 conference, the leading specialist in pattern recognition, the mathematician Mikhail Bongard of the Institute of Biophysics, argued that Pavlovian reflex theory, if subjected to a cybernetic test, failed to explain pivotal physiological mechanisms” (Newspeak to Cyberspeak, p. 222)
“Bongard argued that reflex theory was clearly not adequate for explaining higher nervous activity… Instead, Bongard argued, one must look for a solution by building cybernetic models.” (Newspeak to Cyberspeak, pp. 222-223)
“Sobolev, in particular, argued that there was no limit to the applicability of notions of cybernetics to living organisms: “In cybernetics, a machine is defined as a system capable of accomplishing actions that lead to a certain goal. Therefore, all living organisms, and human beings in particular, are in this sense machines. Man is the most perfect of all known cybernetic machines. . . . There is no doubt that all human activity manifests the functioning of a mechanism, which in all its parts obeys the same laws of mathematics, physics, and chemistry, as does any machine.” Pavlovian physiologists tried to oppose this trend, but they could hardly resist the thrust of the cybernetics wave.” (Newspeak to Cyberspeak, p. 224)
Ever since the rise of Khrushchev, the Soviet revisionists had tried to create a “less political” technocratic system. Western imperialist ideas were not seen as questionable by the revisionists, instead they were embraced in the hope of gaining somekind of pragmatic usefulness. Khrushchev’s corn fiasco, which attempted to transplant American hybrid corn into the USSR is only one notorious example. The technocrats also encouraged Soviets to not criticize Western imperialist “innovations”, and as a result doctrines like cybernetics, “brutalism” in architecture etc. were imported from the West to the USSR. The technocrats wanted optimal pragmatic solutions, and considered them “non-ideological”—their use of brutalism being a prime example. But brutalism is also a prime example of how this kind of supposedly non-ideological system is actually completely ideological. Brutalism, an imperialist Western trend, replaced Socialist Realism in architecture.
“to belittle the socialist ideology in any way, to turn aside from it in the slightest degree means to strengthen bourgeois ideology.” (Lenin, What is to be done?)
The revisionists gleefully accepted “pragmatic” technocratic solutions very similar to right-deviators of the past, such as Bukharin and his use of Bogdanov’s “universal organizing science”:
“In the 1960s, “optimal planning and control” became a motto of the cybernetic movement. Soviet cyberneticians assumed that the main problem of the Soviet economy lay in the inefficient mechanisms of data collection, information processing, and control, and offered a solution based on mathematical modeling and computer-aided decision making. They believed that computers produced a politically neutral, “optimal” solution” (Gerovitch, Newspeak to Cyberspeak, p. 256)
“In the late 1960s, cybernetic ideas were incorporated into the writings of a leading Party theoretician, the philosopher Viktor Afanas’ev… Adopting terms from cyberspeak, Afanas’ev began talking of “social information” and “the scientific management [upravlenie] of society.”… During the early anti-cybernetics campaign, Soviet critics had attacked cybernetics for being a “technocratic theory.” Now the ideological attitude toward technocratic aspirations of cyberneticians was completely reversed. In 1967 the authors of the fifth volume of Cybernetics—in the Service of Communism wrote with pride that “the view of society as a complex cybernetic system with a multi-dimensional network of direct and feedback links and a mechanism of optimization, functioning towards a set goal, is increasingly gaining prestige as the main theoretical idea of the ‘technology’ of managing society.”… Berg’s Council on Cybernetics played a crucial role in the ideological rehabilitation of the legacy of Aleksei Gastev and other Soviet pioneers of the [bourgeois anti-communist theory of] “scientific management” movement of the 1920s.” (Gerovitch, Newspeak to Cyberspeak, p. 285)
As Lenin had said, belittling Marxism would of course lead to it being replaced by bourgeois ideology more and more.
RE-WRITING OF MARXISM TO SERVE CYBERNETICS
First in the Khrushchev era cybernetics was fully rehabilitated:
Under A. Berg’s leadership a philosophical section was created “to reconcile cybernetics with dialectical materialism by adapting dialectical materialism to cybernetics. Philosophers loyal to cybernetics duly accomplished this task. First, they managed to incorporate the concept of information into the canonical list of categories of dialectical materialism.” (Gerovitch, Newspeak to Cyberspeak, p. 258)
“Cybernetics occupied a prominent place in the fundamental five-volume Philosophical Encyclopedia, published in 1960–1970. The philosopher Aleksandr Spirkin, head of the Philosophical Section, served as Deputy Editor-in-Chief of the encyclopedia, and he secured the publication of an 11-page article on cybernetics. (The article on mathematics was only 6 pages long.) The encyclopedia also included as separate entries such terms as control systems, information theory… thus turning them into philosophical categories. The encyclopedia article on cybernetics fully reflected the new domination of cybernetic discourse over the old philosophical clichés [i.e. over marxism]. The first draft, written by Ernest Kolman, was mildly critical of cybernetic claims, but after a discussion at the Philosophical Section of the Council on Cybernetics it was forcefully rejected. Kolman emphasized the “qualitative differences” between humans and machines, and argued that cybernetic devices did not have consciousness and therefore could not think. Cybernetics supporters brushed such formulations aside… The new version, which was eventually published, placed no philosophical limits on cybernetics” (Gerovitch, Newspeak to Cyberspeak, p. 259)
In the Brezhnev era this went even further:
“Afanas’ev quickly translated the basic principles of operation of the Soviet government into cyberspeak… The government, the Communist Party, and other political and public organizations constituted the controlling subsystem, while the economy, science, and other social activities made up the controlled subsystem. The Party, “the most important element of the scientific control of socialist society,” played, of course, the role of the chief controller” (Gerovitch, Newspeak to Cyberspeak, p. 285)
Thus the brezhnevites reduced even Marxism to cybernetics, the Marxist theory of the party and state was now being replaced by bourgeois pseudo-science!
“the Party principle of “democratic centralism,” for example, could easily be interpreted as control by means of feedback.” (Gerovitch, Newspeak to Cyberspeak, p. 286)
Naturally, Western imperialist economic theories were also studied by the revisionists, and they experimented with market mechanisms. Revisionist theories were also rehabilitated. Khrushchev had created the system of de-centralized regional planning. The Kosygin-Liebermann reforms of 1965 introduced profitability or the profit-principle as the guide for enterprises (which had explicitly been condemned by Stalin in his “Economic Problems of Socialism in the USSR). Cyberneticists also suggested de-centralized planning.”The idea of indirect centralization, introduced by [cyberneticist] Viktor Novozhilov, was based on a mathematical theorem stating that the equilibrium point in a many-person non-coalition game would be an optimum. Applying the results of game theory to the Soviet economy, economic cyberneticians argued that the central government did not need to impose specific output quotas on individual enterprises; instead, it could set “optimal” prices and investment efficiency norms, then allow individual enterprises to make their own decisions. If the criteria of economic performance were properly formulated, the independent activity of individual enterprises should lead to the fulfillment of the national plan. In contrast to the accepted view, economic cyberneticians argued that the ideal of “optimal planning” could be achieved by a radical decentralization of economic decision making and a regulated use of the market mechanism:
“The finding of an optimum may take place in a decentralized way, i.e. the equilibrium point, or optimum, can be found as a result of an exchange of information between economic organs, each of which independently solves the problem of optimization guided by its own individual (local) criterion of optimality. . . . In this way, it is possible to use the market mechanism for organizing the process of the decentralized working out of the optimal plan.”” (Gerovitch, Newspeak to Cyberspeak, p. 274)
“Describing the Soviet economy in quintessential cybernetic terms, Novozhilov argued that the market mechanism was equivalent to the feedback principle:
“By now it is already widely known that cybernetics justifies khozraschet [the profit-principle] as the compensator of randomness in a planned economy. A socialist economy is a very complicated system subject to the activity of a multiplicity of random factors and not lending itself to description in full detail. The control of such systems is possible only on the condition that there exists a self-regulator with feedback… the market mechanism is such a regulatory mechanism… The detailing, correction and fulfillment of the plan must be regulated by khozraschet.”” (Gerovitch, Newspeak to Cyberspeak, p. 275)
Novozhilov argued that rational planning was impossible and that a socialist economy was impossible without a mindless “self-regulator” and that this regulator must be the market.
The cyberneticians tried to refute Marxism and considered value to be entirely irrelevant when it comes to prices. That is an anti-marxist statement in line with unscientific vulgar economics.
“Economic cyberneticians strongly emphasized their reliance on “objective” computation and “objective” valuations. Contrasting their approach with the traditional discourse of Soviet political economy, which was loaded with ideological formulas borrowed from the Marxist theory of value, they strongly asserted the discursive autonomy of economic cybernetics from political economy: “[The Marxist concept of] value and objective valuations are two completely different and incommensurable things. Value is a category of political economy and objective valuations are an algorithmic formula for the calculation of equilibrium prices in an optimal plan. [footnote 82, chapter 6”]” (Gerovitch, Newspeak to Cyberspeak, p. 275)
The arrogance of the revisionists was shown by the fact that they assumed cybernetics must be correct, and since political economy doesn’t fit with cybernetics – so much the worse for political economy, it must be thrown into the trash. Keep in mind that this was being argued by Kantorovich, who himself was not an economist at all, but an engineer. Glushkov was not an economics expert either, but a mathematician:
“Sharply criticizing orthodox economists at a 1959 session of the Academy of Sciences, Kantorovich argued that the impossibility to translate their theories into cyberspeak made the shallowness of these theories self-evident” (Gerovitch, Newspeak to Cyberspeak, p. 276)
FEW REMARKS ON OGAS – A NATIONWIDE COMPUTER NETWORK
In the 1960s cyberneticists advocated building a nationwide network of computers, which could be used to plan the economy. Of course, this would’ve meant their distorted view of planning with market mechanisms. This project was supported by all cyberneticists, but its main architect was Glushkov.
The computer network (known as OGAS) was supposed to link each production facility, each warehouse and each shop to a network which would connect them to computer centers. These centers would track the amounts of products and resources and carry out necessary calculations. The plan eventually failed because of its impracticality. It would’ve been astronomically expensive. There were also bureaucratic problems, as different government organs, both civilian and military, would’ve had to share information and even share the same computers.
In principle a computer network for economic planning is not a bad idea, but its also not a universal panacea, or a magic fix, like the cyberneticians claimed. They believed that the only problems in the revisionist Soviet society were problems of optimal organization. They believed that all problems could be solved through technology, which is deeply misguided. The truth is that 1) problems of the revisionist Soviet society could have been solved even without such a computer network, and 2) such a computer network on its own would not have solved the problems.
Let’s discuss what exactly the computer network was intended to achieve.
“Glushkov indeed admitted that his project for a nationwide network of computation centers would cost more than the space program and the atomic project put together.” (Gerovitch, Newspeak to Cyberspeak, p. 278)
Yet, how much more could be achieved if these massive funds were put into other projects? The cost of the project strongly hindered it from being completed, but we must also ask if the project itself even made any sense. The idea of a fully computerized planning system, where every factory, enterprise, warehouse and shop are connected to computer networks sounds very good. It would improve efficiency because people wouldn’t need to write as many reports, wouldn’t need to make calculations in their head, and the computer would tell people how to organize scheduling of shipments, organize construction etc. more efficiently.
But we must ask, if there is an industrial plant which uses technology of the 1930s, 1940s or 1950s, is adding computers to the plant really the best use of resources? Doubling the budget could massively improve the technology used in heavy industry. Hydraulics were being improved, coal boilers were used but gradually diesel generators became more prevalent. Electronics replaced mechanics. These kinds of improvements helped the Soviet economy grow massively in the post-WWII era, and also allowed for growth of the productive forces in the West. Computers would have improved production much less, but their cost would have been astronomical. It simply wouldn’t make sense. Imagine for the sake of argument that a computer improves efficiency by 10% so that we need 9 people to do what previously required 10. By giving every collective farm new better tractors, repairing old tractors, or by giving miners new drills, construction workers new excavators, would “free up” much more labor, much more cheaply.
Buying a computer in the 1960s, just so that a warehouse – let alone a simple shop – could track its inventory, would be madness, when the computer would cost so much that we could hire the necessary personnel to check the inventory 100 times over. Nowadays the situation is different. Computers and networks are cheap, wages are high, and it is more difficult to improve production through inventions in heavy machinery. But we shouldn’t impose our modern context back to the 1960s.
“Several pilot projects aimed at the development of small-scale computerized systems for production control and information management at individual factories had little success. “Optimal” control yielded poor results when the technology of production was old and obsolete, as was often the case at Soviet factories. At a metallurgical plant in Dneprodzerzhinsk, the use of computers to control a technological process saved minutes, while hours were wasted because of inefficient technology, faulty sensors, and lack of coordination among the stages of production. Glushkov admitted that any potential profit from management-information systems was also lost because of constant interruptions in supply and the inefficient organization of the industry as a whole. “Optimal planning and control” turned into a pure mathematical abstraction.” (Gerovitch, Newspeak to Cyberspeak, p. 278)
It is quite funny to hear anti-communists like Gerovitch, and revisionists like Glushkov lament the supposedly bad state of the Soviet economy. They talk about “old machines”, meaning machines less then 20 years old. In heavy industry it is common and often even rational to use machines for 15 years. They were talking about interruptions in supply etc. and blamed it all on “communism”. But these problems were never unique to the USSR. The same exact issues are part of production, a fact of life, even today in the most high-tech capitalist countries. Their complaints simply show how out of touch with the reality of production these cybernetic utopians were.
In the factory where I work, there is constant massive inefficiency due to “human errors”, due to shipments of raw materials not arriving on time, due to bottlenecks because of bad planning or due to mistakes, due to unpredictable breakdowns of machines, due to repair staff being too busy, due to constant problems with faulty raw materials etc. etc. And yet, all the inventories are tracked by computers automatically. A custom-built computer system is used for calling repair crews (often times they don’t respond to the computer system, so workers have to walk to their office physically, or call them on the phone). At best, the computer automatically tells us if we are running out of materials – but that wouldn’t be very difficult for a human to do. The computer tracks how many orders still need to be fulfilled, it tracks the production quotas of workers etc. which is a legitimate help, but not something revolutionary. Perhaps the most innovative thing is that the computers automatically track error messages from machines in the production process, which can alert managers that there is a problem in production. But often times these systems don’t work – or it is entirely redundant, because the workers themselves always immediately recognize the problem themselves.
This is not to detract from the usefulness of computers. Computers serve useful functions, and they should also be used to aid economic planning.
So what would’ve been the appropriate use for computers in the 1950s and 1960s in the USSR? Computers should’ve been used as massive calculators, to calculate the most difficult problems which humans practically could not do. They should’ve been used in science and in every field where mathematics is needed. Military and scientific computers should be allocated based on the needs of various institutes, so that smaller institutes might get their own smaller computers, or many institutes would share one big computer. This, in fact, is exactly what was done in the late Stalin-era.
Eventually, automatic information collection and processing, and telecommunication could be used, when it became economically viable i.e. cheaper and more useful. Instead of trying to spread computers everywhere, they should be centralized because they were so expensive and scarce. There was also a lot of room for the economy to grow even without computers. In the late Stalin-era the USSR was attempting to massively increase agricultural yield through mechanization and agricultural practices, to massively increase industrial production by building new plants, equipping them with new machines etc., and trying to improve education through numerous ambitious projects. To accomplish these necessary and extremely rewarding tasks (which the revisionists never fulfilled) computers had only very limited applicability, but they were put to good use for scientific problems, military ballistic calculations, weather forecasting etc.
“Glushkov argued that, unless the processing of economic information was automated, by the mid 1980s nearly the entire adult population of the Soviet Union would be engaged in planning, accounting, and management.” (Gerovitch, Newspeak to Cyberspeak, p. 281)
This is simply a gross exaggeration. It also assumes that the cybernetic de-centralized planning system was not an economic plan at all. In reality the cybernetic “plan” included increased market mechanisms.
THE FAILURE OF CYBERNETICISTS TO DEFINE WHAT THEIR “SCIENCE” EVEN IS
“Cyberneticians, who aspired to make other scientific disciplines more objective by “cybernetizing” them, could hardly agree, however, on exactly what cybernetics meant.” (Newspeak to Cyberspeak, p. 246)
Cyberneticists couldn’t even agree on what cybernetics is. It was becoming very evident that this “science” was sterile and had reached a dead end. Years went by, and the task of explaining what this new “science” was, remained unfulfilled:
“the internal discord among mathematical cyberneticists swelled, suggesting anything but a unified front. Leading Soviet cyberneticists defined the field in dramatically different terms: Kolmogorov fought to claim information as the base of cybernetics, whereas Markov preferred probabilistic causal networks, Lyapunov set theory, and Iablonskii algebraic logic. In 1958, only three years after their initial article, Kitov, Lyapunov, and Sobolev published an article outlining four more definitions of cybernetics in the Soviet Union, emphasizing the dominant study of “control systems,” Wiener’s interest in “governance and control in machines, living organisms, and human society,” Kolmogorov’s “processes of transmission, processing, and storing information,” and Lyapunov’s methods for manipulating the “structure of algorithms.”” (Benjamin Peters, “Normalizing Soviet Cybernetics”, p. 166)
Like true cosmopolitans they romanticized the American founder of cybernetics and appealed to him as some kind of mythic authority. All these claims about the efficacy and clearness of cybernetics were totally fictitious. Just as fictional was the status of Wiener as an authority:
“Igor Poletaev, a leading Soviet information theorist… argued in 1964 against the then-plastic understanding of cybernetics. He legitimated his call for disciplinary coherence by invoking the iconic and mythically clear foreign founder, Norbert Wiener, claiming that “‘terminological inaccuracy’ is unacceptable, for it leads (and has already led) to a departure from Wiener’s original vision…” (Benjamin Peters, “Normalizing Soviet Cybernetics”, p. 166)
“Poletaev continued, “the specificity of the cybernetic subject matter completely disappears, and cybernetics turns into an ‘all-encompassing science of sciences,’ which is against its true nature.”” (Benjamin Peters, “Normalizing Soviet Cybernetics”, p. 166) However, in reality, this confusion precisely is the true nature of cybernetics.
“The mathematician Nikolai Timofeef-Ressovsky, a practicing cyberneticist, once put the same sentiment in lighter terms… he replaced the Russian word for “confusion” or “mess” with the term “cybernetics,”” (Benjamin Peters, “Normalizing Soviet Cybernetics”, p. 166)”In 1961, a Soviet philosopher concluded from a survey of the methodological problems of cybernetics that… cybernetics is connected with dialectical materialist philosophy as its natural and necessary world-view basis.”, Even in 1961, and certainly in the late 1950s, this was little more than a pious hope, and it was not until some years later that serious philosophical analysis of cybernetics was under way. Moreover, the initial arguments about cybernetics had shown great differences of view about its relationship to dialectical materialism.” (David Holloway, Innovation in Science-The Case of Cybernetics in the Soviet Union, p. 329)
Computers and automatic information processing had never been criticized and had always been supported in Stalin’s USSR. However, the revisionists now falsely gave all credit for computer technology to cybernetics, even though it had had nothing to do with it. By doing this they dishonestly gave cybernetics a veneer of being practically useful and having some contributions to science.
But at the same time they actually demonstrated that cybernetics is not a scientific discipline at all. Although the cyberneticists could never define what exactly cybernetics is, it was agreed that it was supposed to be some kind of universal theory dealing with information, and not merely a theory of computer automation. By equating it with computer automation they totally undermined the claim that cybernetics was a new independent discipline with its own subject-matter:
“What is most interesting about the use of the term cybernetics is the way in which it now came to embrace computers and automatic control systems, which had been excluded from the attacks on cybernetics. This usage undoubtedly created some difficulties for the advocates of cybernetics by drawing attention away from the general theory of control processes and focusing it on computers. But it was also of the utmost importance in helping to legitimate cybernetics. For the practical usefulness of computers was being more clearly realized in the Soviet Union, and military and space successes were claimed by the advocates of cybernetics as evidence of the practical value of their science.” (David Holloway, Innovation in Science-The Case of Cybernetics in the Soviet Union, p. 318)
“Undoubtedly many Soviet scientists saw in cybernetics and the traditional theory of control and communication a duplication of effort since the traditional theory was well established before Wiener’s entrance into this area… Soviet philosophers have not as yet established to their own satisfaction any clear relationship between Wiener’s theory and the other sciences, nor have they sharply delineated the area of operation for cybernetics.” (Maxim W. Mikulak, Cybernetics and Marxism-Leninism, pp. 457-458)
“The Rumanian scholar I. N. Belenescu pinpointed the following characteristics of matter in motion: (1) all motion exists in time and space; (2) all forms of motion involve the interactions of things and events; and (3) all forms of motion contain within themselves contradictions and a unity of contradictions, and a unity of continuity and noncontinuity. In his estimation Wiener’s cybernetics did not possess any particular form of motion of its own; therefore, it could not be treated as a science in the same sense as physics, chemistry, or biology. Pursuing Belenescu’s thinking to its logical conclusion, Ukraintsev, in 1961, did not anticipate that cybernetics would make any new discoveries or establish any new laws of moving matter.” (Maxim W. Mikulak, Cybernetics and Marxism-Leninism, p. 458)
By the 1970s the emperor had absolutely no clothes left. Nobody could explain what cybernetics even is, but somehow it included absolutely everything and absolutely nothing:
“cybernetics had grown to a nearly all-encompassing size… By the 1970s seemingly little more than a name (kibernetika) and a common interest in computer modeling held together this loose patchwork of institutions, disciplines, fields, and topics.” (Benjamin Peters, “Normalizing Soviet Cybernetics”, p. 167)
By the 1980s cybernetics, a term which nobody can define, and which not many people remember today, was discarded:
“By the 1980s the term “cybernetics,” which, although no longer new, had failed to mobilize consensus, diffused in relevance to the point that it gave way to the rise of its replacement, “informatics.”” (Benjamin Peters, “Normalizing Soviet Cybernetics”, p. 167)
Cyberneticists claimed they would make everything precise but in reality their own system was incredibly confused and meaningless:
“The computer came to symbolize a new spirit of rigorous thinking, logical clarity, and quantitative precision, contrasting sharply with the vague and manipulative language of Stalinist ideological discourse [sic]… Soviet cyberneticians sought a new foundation of scientific objectivity in the rigor of mathematical formulas and computer algorithms and in the “precise” concepts of cybernetics… they put forward a computer-based cybernetic criterion of objectivity as overtly non-ideological, non-philosophical, non-class-oriented, and non-Partyminded. The cyberneticians aspired to bring computer-based objectivity to the entire family of the life sciences and the social sciences by translating these sciences into cyberspeak.” (Gerovitch, Newspeak to Cyberspeak, p. 8)
And how did the cybernetic project fulfill its goals and promises? It turned out to be an utter failure.
HOW DID IT ALL END?
Kolman defected to the West, but things did not necessarily go any better there—quite the opposite. Norbert Wiener himself had become disgusted with American militarism and how his ideas were used. He became more and more pessimistic over time. As a stupid liberal he hoped for some kind of “third way” between capitalism and socialism.
The other leading American cybernetics pioneer Claude Shannon wrote already in 1956:
“[Information theory] has perhaps been ballooned to an importance beyond its actual accomplishments. Our fellow scientists in many different fields, attracted by the fanfare and by the new avenues opened to scientific analysis, are using these ideas in their own problems. . . . It will be all too easy for our somewhat artificial prosperity to collapse overnight when it is realized that the use of a few exciting words like information, entropy, redundancy, do not solve all our problems.” (Claude Shannon, “The Bandwagon”, quoted in Gerovitch, Newspeak to Cyberspeak, p. 98)
“Eventually, Shannon withdrew from the public eye and refused to speak about his “information theory.”” (Gerovitch, Newspeak to Cyberspeak, p. 98) Many of the founders of Soviet cybernetics themselves were totally disappointed. Liapunov abandoned his position already in the 1960s:
“Liapunov began to distance himself from the fussy activity of [Berg’s cybernetics] council… Liapunov, the accepted “father of Soviet cybernetics,” declined to write for the series Cybernetics—in the Service of Communism… As one memoirist put it, after Liapunov’s departure “the center that had unified cybernetics disappeared” (Gerovitch, Newspeak to Cyberspeak, p. 263)
In the 70s the long time linguistic cyberneticist, structural linguist “Mel’cuk… no longer wanted to play the cybernetics game. He even called one of his own articles on the connection between cybernetics and linguistics “showy and shallow.”” (Gerovitch, Newspeak to Cyberspeak, p. 281)
“Igor’ Poletaev (a close associate of Liapunov and the author of the first Soviet book on cybernetics), who had once fought to legitimize cybernetic research, bitterly told his friends in the 1970s: “Now it is I who will say that cybernetics is a pseudo-science.”” (Gerovitch, Newspeak to Cyberspeak, p. 289)
These days, anti-communists often claim that in the Hungarian parliamentary election of 1947 there was some kind of election fraud, just like they claimed about the 1945 elections. However, there is absolutely no proof of this. On the contrary:
“Such newspaper correspondents, however, as those representing Le Monde in Paris and the Times and Herald Tribune in New York, reported that, in general, so far as they could see, “there was neither violence nor abuse,” and that elections went off rather quietly and fairly… the general verdict, even of anti-Left observers, was that on the whole the election was quiet, free and bona fide.” (Aptheker, The Truth About Hungary, p. 56)
This is going to sound absolutely ridiculous when I spell it out, but the “strongest proof” of election fraud, is that people who were working or for some other reason, away from their home district, were still allowed to vote. Blue ballot tickets were given to people who were away from their home district but still wanted to vote. According to anti-communist mythology, communists gave out a lot voting tickets to these people, who then supposedly voted in many different places. However, there is actually no proof for this. This is mostly based on rumors and eye-wittness testimonies of reactionaries.
If a right-winger saw a stranger who wasn’t from there, vote, how exactly would he know this person had voted many times? Of course he couldn’t know that. Right-wing conservatives simply saw strangers that they didn’t know, and being hostile to outsiders, immediately invented these lies. Of course its a nice story: “Communists arriving from outside, to vote here”, but its only a story.
Anti-communists claim that communists believed they would get an absolute majority through this kind of fraud, but anti-communist historians have actually never agreed how many extra votes this should have gotten the communists. They don’t agree, because there is no proof for this, and thus it is naturally impossible to calculate. They usually suggest merely tens of thousands of votes, which might sound like a lot, but considering that the communists got more then a million votes, it really has very little significance. If more then five million people vote, how exactly would tens of thousands of fake votes supposedly get you an absolute majority? Its absolutely ridiculous. Naturally no documents about rigging of elections have ever been found, despite the communist archives being available to right-wing researchers today.
This myth about the 1947 election has become very famous these days, but back in the day people didn’t really care about it much. Instead they had a completely different argument for why they considered the election to be rigged. What was their reason? It was because nazis were not allowed to vote. However, it should be kept in mind that in most countries immediately after WWII, nazis were not allowed to vote. Hungary wasn’t in any way different in this.
The Clerical Fascist Cardinal Mindszenty complained that fascists were not allowed to vote. However, while in 1945 5,100,000 people voted, in 1947 the number of voters had not decreased but increased to 5,400,000.
American journalist Howard K. Smith wrote that “only some 300,000 Hungarians were disqualified from voting on suspicion of having had Nazi affiliations… The proportion of disqualifications [of Nazis] was the same as in the elections of democratic Belgium, where there were certainly far fewer Nazis than in Hungary” (Smith, The State of Europe, p. 303).
So the truth is, only a relatively small number of people (actual Fascists) were disqualified from voting, while in reality the voting in 1947 was even more representative then earlier, and even more people voted then ever in the past.
After the ousting of reactionaries the Smallholders party was being taken over by the Left-Wing. A core of the most Right-Wing deputies left, to create a new even more Right-Wing party:
“Zoltan Pfeiffer, led another fifty deputied from the Smallholders, this time as the Independence Party.” (Stone, Hungary: A Short History, p. 395)
“The right-wing forces organized new parties in order to campaign in the elections. Under the leadership of Zoltan Pfeiffer, a lawyer ousted from the Smallholders Party, a party was formed which subscribed to the ignominious cause of neo-fascism. Istvan Barankovics, a conservative politician, organized a clerical party, and there was a party, headed by Margit Schlachta, which received support
from the various orders of nuns. Father Istvan Balogh a former leader of the Smallholders Party, also organized a new party. In addition, the Bourgeois Democratic Party and the Radical Party contested in the elections as they had in 1945.“ (Nemes, History of the Revolutionary Workers Movement in Hungary: 1944-1962, p. 153)
All these new reactionary parties ran in the 1947 elections, against the Popular Front coalition.
The Communists emerged as the largest party with 22%, the Social-Democrats lost some of their votes and now had 14%, since the reactionaries of various types had now left the Smallholders their support was reduced to 15% and the National Peasant Party increased its support to 8%. The biggest right-wing parties were the Barankovics clericals with 16% and Pfeiffers neo-fascists nationalists with 13%.
Communists won 22% of the votes. “Making a common list with the parties of the Left they could claim a majority.” (Pryce-Jones, The Hungarian Revolution, p. 28)
Its worth noting that at this point even the Smallholders had accepted the Communist proposal for a Three Year Plan of reconstruction, nationalization of the biggest banks and state control of key sectors of the economy. The Social-Democrats and National Peasants also supported this in their programs, together with other Communist demands such as purging of fascists and punishment of war-criminals. So although the Communist Party still did not get the absolute majority of votes, the other parties of the coalition had moved to the left and accepted the main points of the Communist program. Of course it would’ve been somewhat unrealistic to imagine that all Hungarians would become Communists in only two years, but it is evident they still supported Socialism in all practical questions:
“the total voting for the two parties standing for Socialism came to about 38% of the entire electorate… In addition, many of the planks of the other parties included more or less complete adherence to Socialism; it seems reasonably clear that, by 1947, a majority of the Hungarian electorate was voting in favor of Socialism, of varying modes and degrees.” (Aptheker, pp. 57-58)
“The entire coalition polled 61 percent.” (Kovrig, The Hungarian People’s Republic, p. 67)
Some anti-communist have claimed as usual that communists used some type of election fraud. However, no evidence of this has ever been produced. And besides, the communists gained a moderate increase from 17% to 22%. Meanwhile Social-Democrats lost 3% and the Smallholders lost much more. Is it not more logical that the Communists simply attracted some new voters from these parties, due to their achievements?
I’ll give some examples. The anti-communist historian Paul E. Zinner writes:
“…Communist mayor of Budapest… won respect for the dramatic and efficient supply of the capital with food in the fall of 1945, when famine threatened. The Communist Minister of Transportation, Erno Gero, won plaudits as the chief architect of the rapid rebuilding of the Danube bridges in Budapest and elsewhere. (A popular slogan in Hungary at the time was “Eljen Gero-Hidvero: “Long Live Gero the Bridge Builder.)… Finally, the Communists received credit for stabilizing the Hungarian currency in the summer of 1946 after a runaway inflation… the Communists made a favorable impression by both their agricultural and their industrial policies.” (Zinner, Revolution in Hungary, pp. 51-52)
“between 1945 and 1947… all major social groups benefited from the economic upsurge. The workers scored impressive social gains. The middle class was able to recover losses dating back to the closing phases of the war. But the most striking social and economic advances were made by the peasantry. Communist economic policies contributed significantly to maintaining “alliances” with the peasantry and the middle class.” (Zinner, p. 55)
Special correspondent in southern Europe for the Nation, Hilde Spiel, wrote from Budapest: “The wildest inflation in history has ravaged Hungary during these last few weeks.” She writes that the “feudal landlords” and “a number large financiers left in Hungary, besides a large and bloated bureaucracy” are hindering the governments effort to stop the inflation. She writes:
“The only danger to the country seems to lie with those citizens who are determined at all costs to prevent economic stabilization. They are to be found among the few remaining big financiers and industrialists, the disgruntled state officials, and the landed gentry deprived of their property. Aided by their social standing, and their undeniable charm, they try to influence members of the Western Allied missions against the government, hoping to obstruct the financial reconstruction and thus unseat the present regime. ” (The Nation, August 24, 1946, pp. 211-13)
Despite this obstruction by reactionaries the communists had succeeded in stopping the inflation, as I mentioned in part 2.
“the Communists’ call for the country’s reconstruction fell on fertile ground. Their slogans advocating equality, land reform, and the punishment of war criminals had a significant appeal, whereas their attempt to include formerly disenfranchised social groups in political affairs brought them genuine popularity.” (Apor, The Invisible Shining, p. 37)
“the reconstruction plan launched by the Communists and supported by the other parties, was an undisputed success.” (Molnar, A concise history of Hungary, p. 301)
“Erno Gero, Minister of Public Works and Reconstruction… was the hardest worker at his office, always the first in the morning and the last at night…” (Karolyi, p. 326)
“Their competence, energy, and at times, a wise sense of diplomacy… were recognized by everyone… The bourgeois parties were of little consequence, having no definite programme, and no leading personalities.” (Karolyi, p. 334)
“According to opinion polls, in 1947, especially in the countryside, he [Rakosi] was by far the most esteemed Hungarian politician, and he was considered the most suitable for the post of prime minister.” (Pünkösti, Rákosi a hatalomért)
“Rákosi enjoyed remarkable popularity among the Hungarian population in the postwar years, especially among the petty bourgeoisie, the intelligentsia, and the industrial workers of Budapest. In January 1946 he was the country’s second most popular politician… and he rose to first place a year later. He was considered the most skillful leftist orator in May 1948, and an August 1947 poll showed that the majority of respondents regarded him as the person best qualified to be prime minister… Rákosi’s… popularity… is normally attributed to his—and the MKP’s—role in reconstruction after the war. The Party’s popularity was partly reflected in the sudden growth of its membership after the war. Many of the newcomers joined the Party because of the role it played in reconstruction: land distribution, the introduction of the new currency, and price reductions for basic commodities were popular measures… Rákosi’s relative popularity seems genuine enough” (Apor, pp. 185-186)
But no! Even after such achievements, if the Communists grow their support even by 5% anti-communist immediately accuse them of election fraud!
The results of the 1947 election were somewhat similar to the 1945 elections, the government still needed to be a coalition, but as a coalition it had a comfortable majority. The most noticeably change was the split between the left and right. The amorphous ‘big tent’ Smallholders had split, and half of them were now in opposition to the government. While the left had become more united, the right-wing was becoming more disunited. They worked together, but were clearly divided into two different groups: Pfeiffer’s nationalists who were more urban, and Barankovics’s catholics who were rural. The Catholic Church also got into conflict with the Barankovics Party, because it wasn’t considered conservative enough.
“Signs of disintegration began to appear in the Barankovics Party… Although this party had won the vast majority of the Catholic vote, it was unable to come to an agreement with [extremely conservative-MLT] Cardinal Mindszenty, Hungary’s Archbishop Primate. Because of the conflicts between the Church leadership and the leadership of the Barankovics Party, the clergy withdrew their support from the party. After this the organizations of the Barankovics Party, most of which had been set up during the election campaign, rapidly fell apart. The party leadership, too, was affected by these developments. Many left the party altogether.” (Borsányi & Kende, The History of the Working Class Movement in Hungary, p. 120)
“The collapse of this party was precipitated by the fact that Jozsef Mindszenty, head of the Catholic Church, was dissatisfied with the party’s activity. On the one hand Mindszenty distrusted Barankovics, who had established contact with left-wing circles during the war… Mindszenty stubbornly insisted on the restoration of the Habsburg dynasty, which he expected to result from a third world war and from an American military victory in that war. Thus, the Barankovics Party came under attack from both right and left. Realizing that his situation was hopeless, Istvan Barankovics left the country and his supporters in Hungary announced the dissolution of the party.” (Borsányi & Kende, p. 125)
Aptheker, The Truth About Hungary Smith, The State of Europe Stone, Hungary: A Short History Nemes, History of the Revolutionary Workers Movement in Hungary: 1944-1962 Pryce-Jones, The Hungarian Revolution Kovrig, The Hungarian People’s Republic Paul E. Zinner, Revolution in Hungary The Nation, August 24, 1946 Apor, The Invisible Shining Molnar, A concise history of Hungary Memoirs of Michael Karolyi: Faith without Illusion Pünkösti, Rákosi a hatalomért Borsányi & Kende, The History of the Working Class Movement in Hungary
1946 and 1947 were years of intense class struggle, and struggle against Fascist and Feudal remnants. Certain representatives of the Horthy administration had been allowed into the People’s Front, because they had turned against Germany at the very end. However, they were reactionaries and militarists. All kinds of reactionaries also tried to join the Smallholders Party. A struggle began to oust them from power. These reactionary elements had opposed the creation of the Republic, and the land-reform.
Right-wing historian Norman Stone writes that: “In March 1946 Voroshilov [as a representative of the Allied Commission] arrested two [Smallholder] deputies who had opposed the proclamation of a republic…” (Stone, Hungary: A Short History, p. 393)
In the eyes of the Allied Commission, these types of monarchist politicians could not be tolerated. There were some “pure monarchists” in Hungary, mainly among the clericals and nobility who wanted the Hapsburg monarchy to be restored, but most opponents of the Republic were Horthyite fascists.
The reactionaries also campaigned for land to be returned to the feudal estates and large land-owners. It was easy for the workers, peasants and democratic intelligentsia to unite against such a blatantly reactionary stance:
“On 7 March [1946-MLT] the Left Bloc [Communist Party, Social-Democrat Party, the National Peasant Party and trade-unions-MLT] held a mass meeting in Budapest’s Heroes’ Square. This was one of the biggest mass demonstrations since the liberation. Hundreds of thousands shouted the slogan: “Out with the enemies of the people from the coalition!” A sweeping majority of the proletariat living in the capital marched to Heroes’ Square, where they were joined by large masses of all the progressive strata of the population; all in all over 300,000 working people participated at the demonstration.” (Nemes, History of the Revolutionary Workers Movement in Hungary: 1944-1962, p. 110)
“The resolution adopted at the mass meeting stated that the parties defending democracy “are confronting the gathering of the reactionary forces with the power of the organized working masses and are ready fully to eliminate any right-wing actions”. In response to the attacks against the land reform, the statement declared: “Not an inch of land is to be returned!” It demanded that the Smallholders Party exclude reactionary elements from its ranks. At the same time, it welcomed the “manifesto of the progressive democrats of the Smallholders Party and welcomed the friendly hand offered in the joint struggle”.
The next day, the representatives of the Left Bloc submitted their demands to the leadership of the Smallholders Party… Four days later, the Smallholders Party executive issued a statement declaring that it accepted the demands and it would exclude twenty right-wing parliamentary representatives from the membership of the party.” (Nemes, p. 111)
Or in the words of right-wing historian Norman Stone:
“Communists…set up a left-wing bloc, with the Social Democrats, the trade unions and the National Peasants’ Party, which with street demonstrations early in 1946, demanded the expulsion of… twenty Smallholder deputies as reactionaries. The Smallholder government might have resisted, but the party was not united [the Smallholder left sided with the left Bloc-MLT]” (Stone, pp. 393-394)
Stone gives the impression that he wishes the Smallholders had really stood their ground, and given uncompromising support to these Horthyite reactionary elements, which is a testament to how anti-communist he is.
Other demonstrations were also organized:
“In the demonstrations against the “speculators and stockjobbers,”… organized by the way under the insignia of the Leftist Bloc… there were easily 100,000 persons, if not more.” (Miklos Molnar, A short history of the Hungarian Communist Party, p. 111)
“the number of marchers arriving at communist gathering places was usually two to three times as large as at the gathering places of the SZDP.” (Árpád Pünkösti, Rákosi a hatalomért)
“In many places, the MKP organized the SZDP, in some places even the FKGP, not to mention the Peasant Party.” (Árpád Pünkösti, Rákosi a hatalomért)
The communists did this in order to support the Popular Front of the 4 parties. This is a good indication of the fact, which has also been pointed out by many others, that the communists were clearly the leading political force in the country.
There were also violent attacks by fascists and reactionary elements, who were still very numerous in the country:
“At Kunmadaras, a former chief instructor in the fascist para-military youth organization provoked,
with anti-semitic demagogy, a mass affray on 21 May, during which two people, a Communist and a Social Democrat, were killed and 18 people were injured. A few days later at Karcag, a fatal clash with the police was touched off, when a clerical leader of the Catholic young men’s association and a leading member of the local Smallholders Party youth group organized a fascist demonstration in support of a war criminal, against the democratic order. In the middle of June, the Smallholders Party chief notary and the chairman of the local Smallholders Party branch, organized a demonstration against the workers’ parties in Nyirtura, and a member of the Hungarian Communist Party was stabbed.
A few days later, on the main boulevard of Budapest, fascist assassins ambushed two Soviet officers killing them together with a girl, a young worker who happened to pass by; several passers-by were wounded. On 31 July, on the eve of the introduction of the stable forint— fascist elements organized an anti-semitic demonstration at Miskolc, taking advantage of the just anger of the people against speculators. Led by provocators, a crowd of people invaded the police building and dragged out two local mill-owners, who had been arrested for black-marketeering, and lynched one of them. Because a group of the lynchers was arrested, another fascist demonstration occurred the next day, when an officer of the democratic police was killed…” (Nemes, p. 118-119)
Fascist and anti-semitic attitudes were still so widespread in 1946 that it was possible to incite lynchings and mass killings of Jews, other minorities and leftists. Most fascists and reactionaries were not physically eliminated, because Hungary had switched sides in the war. The Hungarian army was not destroyed, and many members of the Horthy administration were allowed to remain in the state machine at least temporarily.
Western right-wing historian Norman Stone mentions some of the same Fascist attacks:
“…the background being the enormous inflation and black-marketeering, there were pogroms. Peasants in Ózd and, more ominously, workers in Miskolc rioted and lynched. In Kunmadaras on 20 May 1946 a riot broke out against the People’s Judges and a Communist leader; two Jews were killed and fifteen wounded…” (Stone, p. 388)
“The police and the people’s courts dealt with the murderers and provocators. They discovered and suppressed a number of fascist conspiracies. The Minister of the Interior in July disbanded the Catholic young men’s associations, the Boy Scouts, the Emericana student organization and several other right-wing associations because of their anti-democratic activities and their assistance to the fascist conspirators.” (Nemes, p. 119)
Stone might deny the fascist or far-right nature of these crimes, and try to justify them. But considering he admits that the murderers wanted to lynch communists, social-democrats and jews, it seems impossible not to conclude that they were fascists. Undoubtledly the Hungarian authorities acted completely correctly when they suppressed these fascists, racists, reactionary murderers and their accomplices.
REACTIONARY CRIMINALS INSIDE THE SMALLHOLDER PARTY
The Arrest of Bela Kovacs
The Smallholder general secretary Bela Kovacs was arrested due to his participation in a Fascist secret society:
“Bela Kovacs, the smallholder secretary general… was… arrested… but not before the party leadership had agreed to his questioning by the police… Kovacs was accused of complicity in a plot to overthrow the Hungarian People’s Republic, a plot allegedly prepared by the Hungarian Unity, a secret society dating from prewar years… The Hungarian Unity had at one time had an enormous… influence… Its membership comprised “racially pure” Hungarians… The Hungarian Unity had a political committee of seven members who, by virtue of their social background and record of service to the [Horthyite fascist-MLT] Hungarian state, were barred from holding public office [by the Allied Commission after liberation-MLT]. Kovacs… was… by temperament a fiery uncompromising opponent of Communism, ideally suited for liaison between the Smallholder Party and the Hungarian Unity. With due regard to his political post, he was a “silent” (eight) member of the Unity’s political committee of seven.” (Zinner, Revolution in Hungary, pp. 42-43)
Perhaps anti-communists would argue that Kovacs was not really a reactionary or a fascist, and was simply arrested for no reason. However, even the anti-communist historian Zinner very diplomatically admits that:
“If his participation in the political committee was a crime, he was guilty beyond doubt…” (pp. 42-43)
Undoubtledly it was considered a crime for a major government politician to belong to a completely fascist organization. More importantly, Kovacs as a government politician was acting as a “liaison” as Zinner says, so that Fascists who the Allied Commission had banned from the government, could still influence the government,from the inside, and have their own man, Kovacs, inside the government.
Zinner goes on to say that: “Kovacs… served to implicate other Smallholder leaders. A direct result was the flight of Ferenc Nagy, the Smallholder premier.” (Zinner, pp. 42-43)
“Kovacs… implicated… the Prime Minister [Ferenc Nagy]… He resigned on June 2 and has since remained in exile.” (Kertesz, S. D., The Methods of Communist Conquest: Hungary 1944-1947, pp. 44-45)
This brings us to the case of Ferenc Nagy.
Ferenc Nagy escapes to the West
“Late in 1946, a conspiracy involving a number of leading members of the Smallholders’ Party was discovered. The Prime Minister, Ferenc Nagy, leader of the party was abroad and refused to return. He was replaced as party leader and Prime Minister by Lajos Dinnyes, an agriculturist with a long record in the Smallholders’ Party.” (Burchett, People’s Democracies)
It is often implied that Ferenc Nagy was simply targeted by the communists so as to sabotage the Smallholders, but this accusation doesn’t really stand up to scrutiny. Warriner wrote that plots of this type were frequently used by reactionaries in Hungary: “Nagy and two other leaders of the Smallholders Party, Kovacs and Varga, were said to be involved… For the Hungarian reaction, plots were just political routine…” (p. 29) Even Zinner admits that Kovacs was guilty, and he implicated Ferenc Nagy, who then escaped the country.
“the two leftist parties were drawn even closer by the [discovery of the rightist] conspiracy and thus presented an inexorably united front… According to Jozsef Revai, editor of the Communist daily, Szabad Nep secretly intercepted messages clearly proved that the conspiracy aimed at working hand-in-hand with anti-Democratic organizations outside Hungary.” (Gyorgy, Governments of Danubian Europe, pp. 120-121)
Historians Argentieri and Lorenzo write: “The Hungarian Unity trial was not a fabrication. This anti-communist group was organized during the German occupation, but its members remained connected.” (quoted in Pünkösti, Rákosi a hatalomért)
“British envoy Gascoigne claimed that “there are at least a hundred reactionary organizations currently in Hungary”.” (Pünkösti, Rákosi a hatalomért)
Though these few reactionaries and conspirators were ousted, the Smallholders were not robbed of the Prime Minister position or their position in the government, instead they were allowed to keep those positions. However, this was a substantial defeat to the reactionaries and fascists, who felt that the Smallholders Party was no longer suitable for them:
“Various right-wing groups detached themselves from the party… The representative of the democratic wing tried to halt the full disintegration of the Smallholders Party through more definite co-operation with the Left Bloc. A new leadership, headed by Istvan Dobi, took over the party.” (Nemes, p. 151)
Before Bela Kovacs was interrogated the Smallholder Party was asked for permission, and they gave it. Later they also did not challenge the notion that Kovacs had been a secret fascist conspirator, who had only been using the Smallholder Party for his own nefarious purposes.
Liutenant-General Sviridov, chairman of the Allied Control Commission in Hungary wrote in his letter to Brigadier-General George H. Weems, head of the United States Mission on the Allied Control Commission on March 8, 1947:
“Even the Independent Smallholders Party itself recognizes the fact of the conspiracy against the Constitution and of the danger this implies for the young democracy of Hungary.” (quoted in Documents on the hostile activity of the United States Government against the Hungarian People’s Republic, p. 40)
Why specifically did the Fascists and reactionaries try to join the Smallholder Party? And why were there so many of them? The answers are quite simple. The Smallholders were the most right-wing of the large government parties. They also had no clear ideology, or target audience. Sure, most of their followers were petit-bourgeois, but in those conditions the capitalists, the clergy and fascists also gave their support to the Smallholders – who else could they support? The Communists? The Social-Democrats? The National Peasant Party which represented the rural poor? Of course not. It only left the Smallholders.
“In 1944 the entire state machine, the Army, the Church, the richer peasants, most of the middle class, as well as the real upper class of magnates and capitalists supported the Horthy regime; they now (after the war) supported the Smallholders.” (Warriner, p. 28)
Why was it so easy for Fascists to do this, and why were there so many? Because Hungary had previously been a Fascist country, but had switched sides. The Hungarian government was purged, and democratized, but countless bureaucrats from the Horthy days still remained in the state apparatus and the army. The ones who were ousted, also tried to come back, and why wouldn’t they? The right-wing politicians in the state apparatus also wanted to let more right-wingers join.
“The right wing of the coalition was very active in the struggle for administrative positions and managed to clear a number of fascists for such positions. The former administrative officials soon started to infiltrate the Smallholders Party and in many places the reactionaries who had become “Smallholders Party members” supplied certificates for each other in the defascization committees. The democratic forces ousted part of the reactionaries from public positions, but many retained their places or smuggled themselves back.” (Nemes, p. 69)
Anti-communist historian Zinner also confirms this, he says:
“On one extreme in the Smallholder Party were fellow travellers… who… helped to influence party policy in favor of the Communists. At the other extreme were those who constituted a link with the horthy regime…” (Zinner, p. 47)
There was a constant struggle in the government coalition between reactionaries and leftists, and in the society as a whole. Hundreds of thousands of people took to the streets, and protested against the reactionaries inside the Smallholders:
“400,000 of them, veterans, women’s organisations, trade unions etc. in a main square… The Smallholder party’s left wing… forced the executive to accept a Communist-influenced programme” (Stone, pp. 394-395)
What was this ‘communist influenced programme’ that Stone mentions? It was opposed by the Smallholder right, but supported by the Smallholder left. It was the program of nationalization, and the Three Year Plan of Reconstruction.
Economist Warriner writes:
“Then, in the spring of 1947, came the Communist and Socialist proposal to nationalise the five big banks. This was crucial, because the Big Three, the Credit Bank, the Commercial Bank and the Discount Bank, together controlled seventy per cent of the industry of the country. If this measure
were carried through, it would mean the liquidation of the former ruling class.” (Warriner, p. 29)
Another anti-communist historian David Pryce-Jones admits that a significant element supported the Smallholders party only because they saw it as the strongest opponent against the communists. This is logical since the Smallholders were the most right-wing party in Hungary allowed by the Allied Commission, the others had been full-on fascists or Nazi collaborators and were thus banned, though of course the Smallholders also had collaborated with Horthy’s fascism to an extent.
Reactionary elements flooded into the Smallholders party in 1945-47, but many Smallholders were democrats and wanted to work with anti-fascists and communists. They helped to expel many of the worst reactionaries from the Smallholders.
According to Pryce-Jones, the Smallholders split in two between “those who had supported them as a bulwark against the Communists” (p. 25) and those who wanted to collaborate with the Communists and leftists. Historian Kovrig Bennet corraborates this by saying “[The Smallholder party] attracted a wide range of noncommunist support which led to a lack of… common resolve: some of its members… sympathized more-or-less covertly with the communists.” (Kovrig, The Hungarian People’s Republic, p.66)
The liberal count Mihail Karolyi wrote:
“The Smallholders were thus gradually being ground between those [right-wingers] who had given [Ferenc] Nagy their support… and… [left-wing] crypto-Communists”
(Memoirs of Michael Karolyi, p. 324)
Karolyi also said about the Smallholders’ Party that: “reactionary elements… had infiltrated into it.” (p. 324)
Anti-communists Aczel and Meray also admitted that:
“there was some truth in it that the Smallholders Party offered a haven and support to the fascists, to the reactionaries, and to the large capitalistic forces still existing in the country.” (Aczel & Meray, The Revolt Of The Mind, p. 42)
“Due to pressure from rank and file members and after reactionary party leaders were exposed as participants of a plot against the Republic, the democratic elements gained the upper hand [in the Smallholders Party] and ousted the traitors.” (SKP vuosikirja IV, s. 227)
“Ferenc Nagy, the leader of the Smallholders Party an obscure but socially ambitious politician, became the mouthpiece of the bank-shareholders… “ (Warriner, p. 29)
Warriner’s opinion agrees completely with the testiomony of Ferenc Nagy’s secretary Ferenc Kapocs, who said that the Smallholders under Ferenc Nagy’s leadership were basically American puppets, funded with American money, and they were promising that if the Popular Front government was overthrown America could setup military bases in Hungary and get access to raw materials there, such as Hungarian oil:
“From May to June 1945, the Independent Smallholders Party started to build up its illegal home and foreign political echelon… they started to send suitable persons abroad and build up contacts with West-European foreigners in Hungary, in the first place Anglo-Saxons, and with contact-men living in the United states and Britain. This happened on the one hand for the reason that the Party should receive political support and on the other hand that foreign circles should be able to support the elections financially.
Ferenc Nagy… tried to play the concessions into the hands of America, as he said, he was thinking of oil and aerodromes, — and generally to make Hungary a South-East European economic and political base for America.” (quoted in Documents on the hostile activity of the United States Government against the Hungarian People’s Republic, p. 51)
However, this all had to be done secretly. Ferenc Nagy knew that violently overthrowing the Popular Front was very difficult since Soviet troops were still in the country. His plan was that it should be done immediately after Hungary signs the peace treaty with the Allies and United Nations and the Soviet troops leave. Kapocs said:
“Ferenc Nagy also added that an open stand on America’s side could only be taken after the ratification.” (Ibid.) i.e. after the ratification of the peace treaty. A lot of tactical maneuvering was taking place around the negotiations for the peace treaty, as you can see.
The Right-wing leaders in the Smallholder Party actually didn’t want new elections to be held, and tried to delay them as much as possible, because they calculated that Smallholders still had a very good position in the government but after the elections they probably would not, because they were sure to lose support in the election. So instead they made contacts with American espionage services, fascist secret societies etc. and hoped the peace treaty would be ratified before new elections. They could then try to overthrow the People’s Front.
Hungarian communist theoretician Jozsef Revai said at an international communist meeting:
“Hungarian reaction, supported by American imperialism, was in general opposed to new elections… The very fact that we were able to hold the elections defeated the plans of reaction. Even at the time of the election campaign the Americans tried to get the Smallholders’ Party as well as the Social-Democrats to boycott the elections. Our plan was to carry out the elections and thus strengthen the Party, to win a majority of Left democratic parties and thus secure the predominance of the Left parties in Parliament and in the government.“ (J. Revai, The activities of the C.C. of the Hungarian Communist Party, Informative report delivered at the conference of representatives of several Communist Parties, held at the end of September, 1947, in Poland, published in For a Lasting Peace, For a People’s Democracy!, No. 3, December 15, 1947)
It was no wonder that the popularity of the Smallholders was quickly disappearing. Historian Andrew Gyorgy, despite being an anti-communist, gives a very illustrative characterization of the situation:
“…the Smallholders’ party of Hungary… seldom engaged in the defense of the depressed elements of their peasantry. On the contrary, by their lack of interest and political opportunism they gradually weakened the foundations of the class they were supposed to protect. They were composed of extreme conservatives who upheld primarily the interests of a wealthier kulak group. This category was particularly well represented in Rumania and Hungary, where the so-called peasant parties were organized and managed by typical townsmen… Collaborationist, fascist elements have actually taken refuge in the peasant parties… Consequently, the peasant parties were faced with the unpleasant situation of offering asylum to politically undesirable groups while misrepresenting the interests of their own class. Slowly the nature of these postwar movements changed and the political coloring altered until their ranks are filled not only by peasants but, more than even before the war, by the urban bourgeoisie, the bureaucracy, and people of an extreme rightist, nationalist background.” (Governments Of Danubian Europe, pp. 48-49)
The Right-Wing smallholder leader Ferenc Nagy was the Secretary of the Hungarian fascist diet during WWII as Nagy writes in his memoirs (p. 33), which he wrote after escaping to the USA.
Ferenc Nagy’s autobiography “is anti-Semitic… and anti-Communist and anti-Soviet to an hysterical and fanatical degree.” (Aptheker, The Truth About Hungary, p. 75)
Ferenc Nagy writes in his memoirs that he and his collaborators had “clandestine meetings with Western representatives” and says that restoration of capitalism in Hungary is only possible through American invasion (Ferenc Nagy, Struggle behind the iron curtain, p. 455)
He says that after capitalism is restored the common people must be removed from political life. He writes: “The misled masses must be de-politicalized. In the new world order, the masses must have no opportunity or occasion to go astray politically” (pp. 459-60).
Stone, Hungary: A Short History
Nemes, History of the Revolutionary Workers Movement in Hungary: 1944-1962
Miklos Molnar, A short history of the Hungarian Communist Party
Árpád Pünkösti, Rákosi a hatalomért
Paul E. Zinner, Revolution in Hungary
S. D. Kertesz, The Methods of Communist Conquest: Hungary 1944-1947
W. Burchett, People’s Democracies
A. Gyorgy, Governments of Danubian Europe
Documents on the hostile activity of the United States Government against the Hungarian People’s Republic
Doreen Warriner, Revolution in Eastern Europe
Kovrig, The Hungarian People’s Republic
Memoirs of Michael Karolyi: Faith without Illusion
Aczel & Meray, The Revolt of the Mind
SKP vuosikirja IV
J. Revai, The activities of the C.C. of the Hungarian Communist Party, published in ”For a Lasting Peace, For a People’s Democracy!”, No. 3, December 15, 1947)