Analyzing the Moscow Trials

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.

Introduction

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.

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)

Chase stated: “I can tell you we have concrete information that Leon Trotsky, too, was an informant of the US government.” (Trotsky and Rivera were informants of the US government – American Researchers reveal)

David Alfaro Siqueiros alleges that Trotsky received funds also from the American fascist Hearst Press (cf. “The Assault on the House of Leon Trotsky”)

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.

History of the Hungarian People’s Republic (PART 5: Three Year Plan 1947-49)

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.

Nationalization

“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 [1948] 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 [1949] 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)

Rakosi said:

“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)

SOURCES:

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

Soviet environmentalism in the Stalin era

Introduction

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 concensus”

“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)

Cybernetics in the USSR: A Marxist-Leninist Perspective


“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)

“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)


INTRODUCTION

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)

Kolman

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)

TECHNOCRACY

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.

Lenin said:

“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)


ECONOMIC CYBERNETICS

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)








History of the Hungarian People’s Republic (PART 4: The 1947 elections)

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)


SOURCES:

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



History of the Hungarian People’s Republic (PART 3: Power struggle of 1946-47 – a struggle between progress and reaction)

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).

SOURCES:

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)

Aptheker, The Truth About Hungary

Ferenc Nagy, Struggle behind the iron curtain

Why was Lenin’s body mummified? Who decided it?

“Nothing would be easier and more obvious than to imagine that upon Lenin’s death his successors— with Stalin in the lead— quickly gathered in a back room and immediately understood the utility of preserving, displaying, and worshiping his body. A top-down manufactured cult of Lenin would then provide a substitute religion for the peasants, complete with the sainted founder’s relics, to replace the Russian Orthodoxy they were trying to destroy. It would enhance the legitimacy of Lenin’s successors and of the regime in general by tracing that regime’s descent from a founder, who was rapidly and intentionally becoming a mythical progenitor on whose pyramid the successor acolytes would stand to demonstrate their lineage… This idea, which is not uncommon in the scholarly literature, assumes that the Bolsheviks had a plan… Here it seems that there was no plan, no major role for Stalin but rather a series of contradictory, ad hoc, and contested proposals reflecting input both from below and above. Lenin’s successors stumbled and bumbled for a long time about what to do with his body.

First of all, it seems that Stalin had little if anything to do with the decision to permanently display Lenin. He was not on the Lenin Funeral Commission, chaired by Feliks Dzerzhinskii, where such decisions were made, and his associate Kliment Voroshilov, who was a member, bitterly opposed the idea. Stalin was a member of the Politburo, which, as it turned out, approved all the recommendations of the commission, but he seems to have played no active role in the decision. According to rumors that surfaced decades later (in the 1960s), Stalin had been the initiator of the idea to mummify Lenin even before Lenin died, having supposedly suggested it at an informal meeting of Politburo members in 1923, at which time Trotsky vehemently opposed the idea. This story is quite improbable on its face. The idea that such a careful political tactician as Stalin would openly talk about disposing of Ilich’s body while the latter was still alive, and in the presence of his arch-rival Trotsky, borders on the ridiculous. The senior leaders would consider it unpardonably crude to have such a discussion while their dear Lenin lived, and Stalin would certainly not have handed Trotsky such a faux pas on a platter…

The decision to preserve and display Lenin’s body was taken incrementally over a period of years, and it was not until 1929– 30 that his resting place was finalized in the stone mausoleum. At first, on 24 January 1924, Lenin was put in the Kremlin’s Hall of Columns for viewing by the public. Professor Abrikosov embalmed the body in customary fashion so it would last the three days until the funeral and burial. Nobody contemplated a longer viewing. Two days later, the huge crowds obliged the Politburo to order moving the display to Red Square near the Kremlin wall. Architect A. V. Shchusev was quickly conscripted to design and build a temporary structure there which was thrown together by 27 January. The crowds kept coming, and soon Shchusev was charged with designing a larger structure that was completed some weeks later. But it was not made to last. It was a wooden structure called the “temporary mausoleum.”

Meanwhile, during the extended viewing period… Lenin’s body began to decay. The Dzerzhinskii Commission was consequently faced with making a longer-term decision about the body. In February, commission member and engineer Leonid Krasin claimed that he could preserve the body through freezing, and on the seventh the commission authorized him to buy expensive German machinery for that purpose. By 14 March, the body continued to deteriorate and although Krasin continued to defend the freezing idea, the commission brought in Professors Zbarskii and Vorob’ev with a new chemical procedure for long-term preservation. It was not until 26 July that the commission made the final decision to embalm and display Lenin forever, based on Zbarskii and Vorob’ev’s procedure…

[About] whether or not even to have an open casket, there was sharp debate… Voroshilov took sharp issue with N. I. Muralov’s suggestion to display the body. According to Voroshilov, “We must not resort to canonization. That would be SR-like…” …Would Lenin have approved? Probably not, Dzerzhinskii admitted, because he was a person of exceptional modesty. But he’s not here; we have only one Lenin who is not here to judge, and the question is what to do with his body. He brushed aside deep questions, noting that everybody loved Lenin. Pictures of him were treasured; everyone wanted to see him. Lenin was a truly special person. “He is so dear to us that if we can preserve the body and see it, then why not do it?” “If science can really preserve the body for a long time, then why not do it?” “If it is impossible, then we won’t do it.”… the Dzerzhinskii group won the day… It was rather an incremental process.

Voroshilov, as we saw above, was afraid of the hypocrisy and person-worship… Other Bolsheviks, like Dzerzhinskii… thought that Lenin was such a special case as to not provoke such reflections…

As with preserving the body, the resistance to traditional monuments was strong… In October-November 1924, senior Bolsheviks Lunacharskii and Krasin made the case for monuments. “The question of monuments should be seen from the point of view of the demands of the revolutionary people.” The proletariat, they argued, has a solid sense of history and connection to the past. Proletarian monuments, unlike bourgeois ones, are not mere idols or signposts. Proletarian monuments are “sources of strength taken from the revolutionary masses. . . . A revolutionary monument is an active thing; it is a centralizer and transformer of social strength. . . . Revolutionary society does great deeds and therefore has a need to immortalize itself.” “Lenin’s tomb has already become a magnetic center for the masses, who visit it and whose literal voices of millions of people show that it answers a profound need of the masses.” … “We are an organic unified class doing great things and therefore naturally monumental.”… they concluded “We are not anarchists. We have great and brilliant leaders. So we conclude that monuments and monumentalism are completely natural in our revolutionary life.” Voroshilov, who resisted displaying the body, thought monuments were fine to maintain memory. After all, he had been to London to see Marx’s grave…

[When Lenin died] Thousands of unsolicited condolence letters and telegrams spontaneously poured in. The very decision to move Lenin’s body from the Hall of Columns to Red Square had to do with crowd control and was the result of thousands of requests from the public, especially from those unable to reach Moscow in time to see the body during the viewing period originally planned. The decision to build the second, “temporary” wooden and then the third permanent stone mausoleum had similar causes: the people kept coming, more than a hundred thousand in the first six weeks, despite bitter cold… proposals poured in from the provinces to build local monuments to Lenin and to name all kinds of things for him. Without permission, in Cheboksarai they build an exact replica of the mausoleum to be used as a bookselling kiosk. This caused much consternation in Moscow. Sailing in the wake of popular action, the regime quickly understood that they needed to get control of this process, and arrogated to themselves the right to approve or disapprove such requests; nothing could be built without their approval. Subsequently much of the work of the Dzerzhinskii Commission consisted of approving (but mostly disapproving) these proposals, which included everything from a proposal for an electrified mausoleum, complete with lightning bolts, to renaming the calendar months because as one letter-writer said, “Lenin was savior of the world more than Jesus.” (Arch Getty, Practicing Stalinism, pp. 69-77)

History of the Hungarian People’s Republic (PART 2: Democratic Coalition Government)


WWII caused massive destruction in Hungary, mostly because the German fascists stole everything they could and took it to Germany, and what little they couldn’t steal they blew up, burnt and destroyed.

WAR DEVASTATION

“The siege of Budapest lasted fifty-one days before the Russians captured the city. Hardly a house was intact and thousands of soldiers and civilians had been killed” (Pryce-Jones, The Hungarian Revolution, p. 17)

“The Germans, departing, had taken 214,000 tons of goods, including machinery and food, by barge or railway (32,000 waggons) or lorry (8,000 loads); 70,000 dwellings had been destroyed, and a quarter of the inhabitants were homeless… a gold train had taken away the valuables stolen, mainly from Jewish families. (The property stolen from Jewish families and others, and the gold reserve of the National Bank, ended up in mining shafts in Austria.) The Holy Crown of King Saint Stephen I and the crown jewels were also transported west…” (Stone, Hungary: A Short History, pp. 363-364)

“Half of the industrial plant, the railways, the bridges, the livestock, had gone.” (Stone, p. 365)

“Budapest was a city of rubble, burned tanks and rotting corpses… every bridge over the Danube destroyed by the Nazis. Of 35,500 apartment houses, 29,987 had been destroyed or badly damaged… Bands of starving children roamed in the streets, wailing for bread and their parents. Of the city’s fine bus service, 16 buses were left, the Germans had driven off in the rest. Gas, water supply, and electricity services were disrupted… all telegraph and telephone poles had been cut down by the Germans, railway lines had been cut through at regular intervals by special sabotage machines. Every road leading into Budapest had been mined, every bridge over thirty feet long destroyed.” (Burchett, People’s democracies)

“1,200 locomotives and over 40,000 railway wagons were driven off to Germany… there was no food in the country… livestock had been reduced from 8.6 millions to 3.2 millions. Budapest in early 1945 was a hopeless city of rubble, stench and starvation.” (Burchett)

“[M]ost of the agricultural machinery, tractors and combines had been destroyed or shipped back to Germany, eighty per cent. of the draught cattle had been killed” (Burchett)

“the German invaders and the Arrow Cross agencies endeavoured to take away everything they could lay their hands on… wherever this was not prevented by the resistance of the Hungarian people or the advance of the Soviet troops…” (Nemes, History of the Revolutionary Workers Movement in Hungary: 1944-1962, pp. 31-32)

“three-quarters of the pool of railway trucks, two-thirds of the operable locomotives and most of the motor vehicles. The value of the goods taken to the West amounted to about 2,000 million dollars. The retreating fascists had made 40 per cent of the rail network unusable and demolished thousands of railway and load bridges.” (Nemes, p. 83)

I’ve cited a lot of numbers here, but the level of destruction is almost impossible to comprehend. More then half a millions Hungarian jews had been killed in the holocaust, and hundreds of thousands of others had lost their lives at the hands of the fascists. Two-thirds of trains, almost all cars and buses and the vast majority of livestock had been destroyed in Hungary, while practically all homes in Budapest had been destroyed, electricity and railnetworks had been clipped into little pieces by sabotage machines, all major roads had been mined and practically every bridge had been cut. Half of industry had been stolen or destroyed, all the national bank’s gold reserves had been stolen. The fascists had left the country destroyed and starving.


“The Red Army tried to preserve Budapest and especially its citizens as much as possible, heavy artillery and bomber plains didn’t bomb the city.” (SKP vuosikirja VI, p. 122)

Despite their own problems, the USSR was able to send food aid to Hungary, for example:

“At the end of March, the Soviet Union sent 1,500 wagons of cereals, 300 wagons of meat and 200 wagons of sugar to Hungary as loan.” (Nemes, p. 60)

“After liberation the Red Army was first to deliver food supplies and medical aid to Hungarians, saving the citizens of Budapest from starvation and epidemic.” (SKP vuosikirja VI, pp. 122-123)

LIBERATION. END OF THE WAR. DEBRECEN PROVISIONAL GOVERNMENT.

While the fighting was still going on, a provisional anti-fascist government was set up in Debrecen. This anti-fascist government, was a coalition of the Communist Party, Social-democratic Party, The National Peasant Party, the Smallholder Party, as well as trade-unions and other democratic forces. National Committees of trade-unionists, communists, partisan fighters and others also spontaneously emerged in liberated areas. These united to the Debrecen government and became the foundation of a new democratic state.

“Tanks and field-guns stood blackened where they had been hit and the bodies of soldiers lay unburied in the winter, but politics were beginning. In villages, towns, districts, and counties occupied by the Russians, ‘national committees’ sprang up, run by representatives of left-wing movements or trade unions. A National Council on these lines was installed in Debrecen on 21 December 1944…”
(Pryce-Jones, p. 19)

“…230 delegates assembled, a third of them Communists, from villages and townships liberated by the Red Army, and they elected a new government from all the anti-Fascist parties. Its programme included land reform and confiscation for war criminals…” (Stone, p. 361)

“For the first time after 25 years underground, the Communist Parly began to freely operate and it was the first to begin the work of reconstruction and the creation of a new power.” (Nemes, p. 33)

“The great cause of national reconstruction and joining in the war against the nazis required the creation of a new central power, a new Hungarian state. A clear-cut programme had to be drawn up to rally the national forces and rebuild the country. The Communist Party issued such a programme for a democratic national rebirth published on 30 November 1944 in the Debrecen newspaper Neplap.

This document stated:

“Our country is experiencing the most disastrous catastrophe in its history. The leaders of Hungary, hiring themselves out to the Germans, plunged Hungary into the Hitlerite imperialist war… They aligned themselves with the German fascists, because with such help they intended to subjugate the neighbouring peoples and ruthlessly suppress the Hungarian people within the country and keep them in slavery. The country is suffering under the fatal consequences of this criminal policy. Despite this, the Communist Party proclaims that there will be a Hungarian rebirth!”” (Nemes, pp. 34-35)

“In April the provisional government moved to Budapest… The Communist Party line for the moment was that Hungary was experiencing a [bourgeois democratic] revolution… and that all [democratic] elements should therefore co-operate. ‘Unite All Forces for Reconstruction’, was the slogan coined by Matyas Rakosi, First Secretary of the Hungarian Communist Party. As a proof of goodwill, Communists helped to rebuild churches. They also activated the other political parties permitted by the Allied Control Commission.” (Pryce-Jones, pp. 20-21)

Zinner also points out “The apparent concern of the Communists with national welfare and the zeal with which they led the reconstruction of war-damaged installations, including churches…”

(Revolution in Hungary, p. 50)

“The provisional government undertook to conclude an armistice with the Allies, to pay the reparations, to wage war against Germany, to repeal anti-Semitic and antidemocratic laws, to guarantee democratic rights and to institute universal and secret suffrage, to disband right-wing political movements and punish war criminals, and to effect a land reform.” (Kovrig, The Hungarian People’s Republic, p. 64)

“The leader of the Hungarian Communist Party, Mátyás Rákosi, stepped onto the tribune. He was welcomed with immense enthusiasm. “Long live Rákosi! Long live Rákosi!” resounded from the crowd… “Freedom!” Comrade Rákosi began his speech and hundreds of thousands roared back from every corner of the square: “Freedom!”” (Apor, The invisible shining, p. 58)

By April 4th the whole territory of Hungary had been liberated from the Nazis. (Ignotus, Hungary, p. 152)

“Hungary received aid from the Soviet Union for restoring the economic life and production e.g. to replace the horses stolen by the Germans, new horses and cars were brought for transporting food supplies. The Soviet Union aided the development of the Hungarian national economy and living standard of the citizens by reducing war reparations by 50%.” (SKP vuosikirja VI, pp. 122-123)

LAND REFORM

The most important political action of the provisional government was land-reform. It was undeniable, that the Hungarian peasants had suffered horribly under the rule of the Hapsburg monarchy and then under Horthy.

“In Hungary, peasants… were… more then the rest, oppressed and exploited.” (Ignotus, p. 171)

“…the greatest problem of modern Hungary: the vast inequality of landholding. It was a largely peasant country, and the peasants often farmed with primitive methods.” (Stone, p. 50)

“…smallholders only amounted to about one-third of the rural population; the rest were either totally landless or ‘dwarf-holders’: compelled, that is, to sell their labour on a market where manpower was cheaper than anything else.” (Ignotus, p. 172)

“before the war some 400,000 Hungarians possessed so little land that they had to sell their labor power as agrarian serfs in order to keep from starvation, and another 400,000 had no land at all.” (Behind the curtain, p. 181)

Historian Elizabeth Wiskemann wrote “In Hungary the distribution of land remained… the most unjust in central Europe” (in R. R. Betts, ed., Central and South East Europe, London, 1950, p. 98)

“Among East European countries, Hungary was the worst instance of the system of giant landed estates and their complement, a vast agricultural proletariat, living below subsistence level. This state of affairs was preserved unimpaired up to 1945.” (Ilonya Polanyi, World Affairs, a magazine published by the London Institute of World Affairs April, 1949, p. 134.)

Before WWII “it was calculated that… In Hungary 24%… of the rural population belonged to the category [of unemployed or under employed].” (Nevalainen, marxilaisen taloustieteen oppikirja osa 2, p. 67)


“In March [the Debrecen government] carried through a land reform. This was long overdue, in a country where almost half the arable land had belonged to one percent of the landowners. Four and a half million acres were now distributed among 660,00 peasants… Tremendous posters everywhere claimed this reform as an achievement of the Communist Party.” (Pryce-Jones, p. 19)

“Committees dominated by Communists and the National Peasants’ Party people carried out the redistribution… and within three months 8 million acres had been taken over, some for state farms but the greater part (5 million acres) given to 500,000 new owners… The Catholic Church lost 90 percent of its lands…” (Stone, pp. 370-371)

“[The second largest landowners in Hungary] The Eszterhazys between them owned 750,000 acres of which the senior member of the family, Prince Paul Eszterhazy, owned 300,000. They owned 15 castles in Hungary, several more in Austria and Bavaria… There was only one larger landowner in Hungary and that was the Roman Catholic Church.” (Burchett)

The Peasants had lived in misery, while the richest 1% had owned half the land in the whole country. The land had primarily belonged to the clergy and the nobility, who now lost most of the power they had held century after century. They had literally lived like kings, standing over the peasants. The Land-reform was necessary, to destroy feudal social relations, to free the peasants from the total power of the church and the noble families. Although land-reform was only the first step, it immediately produced favorable results. Economist Warriner writes:

“The land reform has brought a complete social and economic transformation in the countryside… In 1947, I visited again the same villages that I had known in 1936, where land had now been distributed.

The most noticeable change then was better food: the new peasants were eating wheat and rye bread regularly, instead of maize, and drinking coffee with sugar, unknown before… Peasants who had been

estate labourers before, and had now become owners of the standard 12 acre holding, said that in a bad year their real income was twice what it had been before, and with a good harvest would be three or four times as high. Their money income was large enough to buy boots for the whole family. Two years later, in 1949, the dominant impression in the villages was the good supply of consumer goods; ‘Nepboltok’— ‘People’s Shops’— had been started, with a wide range of textiles, shoes, aluminium saucepans, china.” (Warriner, p. 134)

Journalist Wilfred G. Burchett interviewed one of the noble families after the land-reform. The nobility had lost their massive land holdings, and their numerous castles, mansions and private parks:


“[Countess Eszterhazy] shuddered when I asked what had happened to the properties at Tata. “It’s too dreadful to speak about.” she said. “The castle has been turned into a lunatic asylum, the beautiful old Hunting Lodge has become a Communist Youth Hostel, the English Park was turned into a training ground for the Olympic team, because they said the atmosphere and climate was like that of England and would help the team that was going to England for the Olympic Games. The parks are all thrown open, anyone can wander through them,” and her china-blue eyes filled with tears.” (Burchett)

“I made a tour of some of the Eszterhazy castles to see for myself what was going on. Tata is a beautiful village, about ten miles off the main road between Budapest and Vienna. Sure enough the main castle had become a hospital for the insane, the Hunting Lodge – was full of gay young people, including a group of Canadians who had been working on one of the volunteer youth brigade projects. It was Sunday, in mid-summer, the two magnificent parks were crowded with villagers and peasants, reclining in the shade of massive oak and elm trees. More peasants and some workers from the nearby Tata coal mines (Eszterhazy property before they were nationalised), were splashing away in a fine swimming pool that had formerly been a private preserve of the Eszterhazys.” (Burchett)

“[L]ives [of the Tata peasants] are still hard, they still work from dawn to dark and have little enough at the end of the month to buy clothes or other necessities with. They are still plagued by priests who tell them it’s sinful to have taken the land of their masters, and that God and the Americans will punish them for it.

“My boy’s at the university,” said one brown old peasant, squatting on the ground in the English park at Tata. “He’s learning to be an engineer. D’ye think I could ever have managed that in the old days? If I’d saved up everything and could sell a pig or two, I couldn’t even keep him at school after he was twelve. Now they even pay him for learning. He’s at one of the People’s Colleges and they pay him enough that he sends me and the missus a bit on the side.”

Of the land reform, he said, “We could have done with a bit more land. It’s hard to make do without 10 acres, but we live all right. We eat better than we ever did”” (Burchett)

“At the village of Eszterhazy the castle had been turned over to an Agricultural College. On the Sunday I visited it, there was a big Mothers’ Day meeting in progress. In the castle courtyard, seats had been set out in the warm autumn sunshine, and parents were watching a performance by the school children. On other Eszterhazy estates parks had been thrown open to the public, in some cases used as plant research stations, castles used as hospitals, schools, orphanages, youth hostels.” (Burchett)

Rakosi had said “in front of the [horthyist] court in 1926 that “land will only be distributed in Hungary by the Communists!”” (Apor, p. 55) Now his promise became reality!

““Blessed should be the name of he who has granted us land,” a delegation of farmers from Szolnok
County told Rákosi in early March…” (Apor, p. 55)


FACTORY COMMITTEES

It was essential to begin normal production as soon as possible, to produce necessary goods, electricity, and to repair war damage. Factories destroyed by the war, and looted by the Nazis, had to be restored. Workers organized into Factory Committees, took over the management and control of factories.

“The management of industrial plants was taken over by the factory committees as they were known. For the time being these did not change the legal status of the plant: this remained in private ownership. Since, however, in most cases the owners and the company management had fled the country the factory committees assumed responsibility for the most important tasks linked with the starting of production.“ (Borsányi & Kende, The History of the Working Class Movement in Hungary, p. 103)


“with the setting up of factory committees under Communist leadership workers’ control was realized in practice.” (Nemes, p. 37)

“[Communists and Social-Democrats] jointly pushed through a government decree which was passed in February [1945] for the recognition of the activities and jurisdiction of the factory committees. The factory committees were officially authorized to take control of production as well as the trade activities of the industrial companies, and could play an active role in the regulation of labour relations and the administration of companies. Control by the workers in factories and mines was established as soon as they started to operate, but pressure had to be exerted on the right wing… to give government approval to this practice. The right wing considered this a forced concession. At the same time they emphasized the capitalist ownership of the factories, in order to be able to limit later the jurisdiction of the factory committees to the settlement of labour disputes. However, the factory committees were power positions of the working class which strengthened the government’s influence among the workers and at the same time reduced capitalist exploitation.” (Nemes, p. 65)

The masses had already dealt two serious blows to the landowners and capitalists: the land had been redistributed to the peasants, and workers established themselves in Factory Committees, which already had an important role in managing factories even though they were still privately owned, and they were a position from where the workers could defend their interests against the capitalists. Capitalists no longer had total control over the factories, and if Hungary was to build socialism, transferring factories to socialist ownership could happen smoothly since they were already worker controlled. The workers were already learning to manage the factories themselves, without the capitalists.

1945 ELECTIONS


“In November 1945 the first completely free election, under secret ballot, ever held in the history of Hungary took place” (Behind the Curtain, p. 177) (There actually were elections with universal secret ballot already during the 1919 Hungarian Communist Revolution, but ignoring that Gunther is correct)


The four largest parties received the following results:

“Smallholders received 57 per cent., Communists and Social Democrats 17 per cent. each, National Peasants 6 per cent. The coalition government or “People’s Front” continued in office.” (Burchett)

It was significant that despite decades of intense anti-communist propaganda, and a prevailing environment of reactionary nationalist and religious ideology, the Communist Party emerged as one of the largest parties. In fact, the Communists had the same amount of votes as the Social-democrats, despite the fact that the Communists had never been able to organize legally before, and had been heavily persecuted. Of course, the Communists had some supporters from their underground years. They also received new support because they were the main organizers of the anti-fascist resistance movement and partisan movement. The Communists were also the main organizers of the land-reform. They had quickly emerged as the leading force in the Factory Committees and as an equal partner with the Social-Democrats in the Trade-Unionions. The Communists were used to underground conditions, and thus their organization was not paralyzed by the Nazi occupation and Arrow-Cross coup de’tat to the same extent as the other parties.

“Despite the persistence of popular stereotypes concerning the Communists, the first few months of 1945 witnessed a remarkable increase in the MKP’s popularity. Membership skyrocketed: the organization had only a few thousand members in January, but by October, Party membership had reached half a million” (Apor, p. 36)

“the party’s main newspaper Szabad Nep, whose chief editor was comrade Revai. The newspaper soon increased from 100,000 to 300,000 copies.” (SKP vuosikirja VI, p. 126)

Some right-wing anti-communists might want to claim that communists simply rigged the elections, or used some kind of election fraud, but this was not the case. Even anti-communist historians like Paul E. Zinner, were forced to admit that:


“…the election was free; it met the highest standards of democracy; it was secret, universal, and direct and everyone could vote according to his conscience… On the basis of the conduct of the election and the reaction of the Communists to its outcome, no one could describe their behavior as anything but impeccable. They obviously did not tamper with the ballot” (Zinner, p. 40)

According to Zinner there were “Liberties seldom, if ever, experienced before (free election by democratic franchise, free press, free speech, an intensive formal parliamentary life)” (p. 37)

“in Hungary… free elections took place” (Kertesz, S. D., The Methods of Communist Conquest: Hungary 1944-1947)

The big winner of the election, was the Smallholders party, a rather amorphous centrist party without any clear ideology or message. It was logical that the Smallholders could receive a lot of votes, but their popularity was of temporary character, the Smallholder Party appealed to everyone, and at the same time, didn’t fully satisfy anybody. In a country where the vast majority of the population had never been able to vote before, the Smallholder Party seemed like a safe bet. It would’ve been unrealistic for them to suddenly jump to the Communist Party or Social-Democratic Party. Likewise the National Peasant Party was distinctly left-wing, and thus couldn’t appeal to everyone, and also focused primarily on the Peasants, and thus didn’t appeal to the urban population.


NEW CURRENCY

The devastation of the war, massive theft of Hungarian property and gold by the Nazis, the terrible shortage of goods and black-marketeering had caused massive inflation.

“In 1945 and 1946 Hungary was in the grip of the greatest inflation in history… People rushed out with their whole week’s salaries to buy a few bus tickets or a loaf of bread.” (Burchett)

In order to make the situation tolerable, workers at factories often received their wages in food and other products directly, and other goods were rationed.

“Most experts were of the view that a stable currency could not be established without a foreign loan.”
(Borsányi & Kende, p. 110)

The inflation was so bad, that the Communists suggested a completely new currency:

“On the initiative of the Communists a currency reform was worked out and put into effect on August 1, 1946. One new Forint was valued at 426, followed by twenty-seven zeros of the old pengoes. Overnight Hungary had a stable currency which could buy real goods which now began to appear in the shops. Currency reform won the Communists great prestige…” (Burchett)

Hungary’s gold had been stolen and production had been decimated. There was a shortage of everything and black market prices skyrocketed. But as soon as production got going again, it was possible to solve the inflation since prices remained stable and the currency could actually get consumers what they wanted.

After the currency was stabilized, right-wing anti-communist ‘historians’ changed their narrative. Nowadays they describe the ending of the worst inflation in world history, as nothing special. They do not want to give communists credit for this achievement, and instead suggest that the inflation really could have been easily ended and blame the communists for ending it too slowly. For example, in his book Revolution in Hungary, Zinner says: “once inflation was in progress, the communists refrainted from halting it.” and “Hungary’s currency could have been stabilized long before August 1, 1946”! (p.54)

Even putting an end to the worst inflation in history, is not good enough for anti-communists. They don’t give communists any credit for it. I would like to ask mr. Zinner, if ending the inflation was supposedly so easy, then why did the capitalist opposition parties or the Smallholders Party not do it, and instead claimed that it could only be solved with massive loans from the West?

The communists had emerged as one of the biggest parties in Hungary, and clearly as the most active political force in the country. They had a plan for the reconstruction of the country and solving economic and social problems. They led the creation of the anti-fascist democratic coalition government. They organized workers into factory committees, which began to restore production. The communist party grew into a mass party of hundreds of thousands of members. The communists also carried out land-reform together with the national peasant party, and stabilized the currency. As a result of these and many other successful policies the popularity of the communists would continue to grow rapidly, while the popularity of the right-wing and reformist forces would begin to diminish.


SOURCES:

David Pryce-Jones, The Hungarian Revolution

Norman Stone, Hungary: A Short History

Wilfred G. Burchett, People’s democracies

Dezső Nemes, History of the Revolutionary Workers Movement in Hungary: 1944-1962

SKP vuosikirja VI

Paul E. Zinner, The Revolution in Hungary

Bennett Kovrig, The Hungarian People’s Republic

Balazs Apor, The invisible shining, p. 58)

Pal Ignotus, Hungary

John Gunther, Behind the curtain

R. R. Betts, ed., Central and South East Europe

Ilonya Polanyi, World Affairs, April, 1949

Doreen Warriner, Revolution in Eastern Europe

Eino Nevalainen, marxilaisen taloustieteen oppikirja osa 2

Borsányi & Kende, The History of the Working Class Movement in Hungary

Kertesz, S. D., The Methods of Communist Conquest: Hungary 1944-1947

History of the Hungarian People’s Republic PART 1: Horthy’s Hungary


Introduction

This article series presents a short history of the founding of the Hungarian People’s Republic: the establishing of a Socialist system in Hungary. We will explore the conditions in Hungary before socialism, and then the events which led to Socialism being victorious. Hungary had many national peculiarities which make this investigation interesting, it is also a notable example of a relatively peaceful socialist transformation. It was still a communist revolution, but a relatively peaceful one. We will explore how that was possible, what the results of the socialist system were, and what challenges it had to face.

HUNGARY IN THE EARLY 1900s

After suffering a crushing defeat in WWI, Hungary had become one of many stagnant little Eastern European fascist dictatorships. The country had lost 2/3 of its territory in the war, was economically under developed, dependent on the West, and still semi-feudal. Hungary was technically still a monarchy, though it had no monarch anymore. The fascist dictator Horthy was serving as a Regent, i.e. a leader in the absence of a king. Hungarian society was ruled by the landed-aristocracy, medieval nobility, clergy and to a lesser extent the rising capitalist class. Most wealth in the country was in the hands of the Catholic church.

As economist Doreen Warriner stated, Hungary, like most Eastern European countries, was already a fascist dictatorship before the Nazis:

“…the outstanding fact about eastern Europe as a whole, with the exception of Czechoslovakia, was that it was Fascist-ruled. The regimes headed by Horthy, Boris, Beck Stojadinovic and Antonescu were not the creation of Nazism on the contrary, they had come to power long before… as a result of the victory of internal reaction in the nineteen-twenties… Western powers… openly aided Horthy in the

Hungarian counter-revolution… The popular parties were crushed out of existence by extremes of oppression in Horthy’s White Terror in 1920… Western powers did not protest… so long as the dictatorships were anti-Soviet, it did not matter if they were also anti-democratic.” (Warriner, Revolution in Eastern Europe, p. ix)

The ideological climate of Hungary was dominated by nationalism and religion. Anti-semitism was widespread. Catholicism was the largest religion, but there was also a substantial Calvinist and Lutheran minority.

“Up to 1918 the desire for national independence… had been a progressive force. But when national independence had been achieved… [east European] dictatorships exploited the national grievances to build up their own power” (Warriner, p. x)

In the case of Hungary, this was particularly easy because Hungary had suffered so much in WWI and lost so much of its territory. This particular form of nationalist rhetoric was also particularly reactionary, because similar to nazism in Germany, it centered around starting a new war where Hungary could restore itself to the status of a great imperialist power, like it used to be.

“In Hungary is the strongest, the most pervasive nationalisn in all Europe. In the chauvinism sweepstakes the Hungarians beat even the Poles.” (John Gunther, Inside Europe, p. 425)

James D. Evans calls nationalism in Hungary “a veritable obsession” (That Blue Danube, London, 1935, p. 127) and European correspondent for the Overseas News Agency and the New York Post, Leigh White wrote that “the Magyar [Hungarian-MLT] curse is chauvinism … it is simply a dementia” (The Long Balkan Night, p. 15).

Leftist, democratic and communist parties were illegal in Horthyist Fascist Hungary. There was a parliament though, and several parties existed which were used by Horthy to fool the people and maintain a facade of democracy. The social-democratic party was the only legal supposedly “left” party in the country. It was allowed to function in the 20s and early 30s if it agreed to collaborate with Horthy, and not try to organize strikes or resistance.

“The Social Democratic Party… [had] its wings… clipped by a previous formal agreement with [Horthy’s prime minister] Bethlen under which the Social Democrats would abstain from rural politics and undertake to keep the trade-unions out of the political sphere.” (Kovrig, The Hungarian People’s Republic, p. 32)

“…Bethlen managed a deal with the socialists in December 1921, by which they… accepted limits on trade union activity…” (Stone, Hungary: A Short History, p. 279)

Theoretically the trade-unions existed, but their activity was strictly limited. The Horthy government specifically demanded that the Social-Democrats and trade-unionists not organize in the countryside, because the vast majority of the population were peasants. So, although trade-unions existed, the vast majority of people could not join them, and while technically there was a parliament, the vast majority of people couldn’t vote either.

“…Hungary was… dominated by estate owners, magnates of the Esterhazy-Karolyi class in the Upper House or gentry with middling-sized estates, who occupied most parliamentary seats. This was a gentlemen’s parliament…” (Stone, pp. 145-146)

Wilfred Burchett pointed out that at the best time during Horthy’s rule “in Hungary less than 30 per cent of the population had the right to vote…” (Burchett, People’s Democracies). Norman Stone says the same in his book Hungary: A Short History “The suffrage… widened to 27 percent…” (p. 279)


While some parties were allowed to function under these restrictions, the Communist Party and any genuinely democratic or leftist parties were banned outright. Still, the Communist Party tried to organize underground despite the persecution.

“The traditional political climate in Hungary had been anything but favorable to the Communists… The penalties were so severe, and the skill shown by the Hungarian security police in ferreting out Communist organizers… was so great as to discourage all but the most determined from seeking Communist ties.” (Zinner, The Revolution in Hungary, p. 27)

The Communists were labeled enemies of the fatherland, enemies of god and as jews. The Church controlled the education system, so the limited schooling that people received was virulently nationalistic, chauvinistic and religious. Jews were frequently lynched, treated as second class citizens and excluded from political and academic life, so large numbers of them joined unferground leftist democratic movements including the communist party. Thus the accusation that communists were all jews was very much a self-fulfilling propechy: the communists were part of the few who accepted the jews, and both jews and communists were persecuted by the state. I will discuss this in more detail later.


Warriner describes the situation of Hungary very aptly in the following way:

“With political oppression economic stagnation went hand in hand… Hungary… [was] mainly agricultural, with the bulk of the population on the land as small peasant farmers or landless labourers. Industry developed very slowly. The greater part of industrial and financial capital was owned by foreign interests.“ (Warriner, p. xi)

“…the standard of living, measured in manufactured goods, was very low, and during the ‘thirties was falling. For this widespread poverty the only remedy would have been industrialisation. But to this the obstacles were shortage of capital, and the lack of an internal market due to the poverty of the peasants. Foreign capital did not relieve the shortage, because it was invested only in the raw materials needed by the West… Peasant poverty therefore created a vicious circle, with no way out. It was not a transient thing, which could be expected to disappear with gradual economic advance, for within the existing set-up there could be no such thing as a gradual economic advance. The dictatorship… existed to prevent it, to protect the interests of the foreign investors, and their local capitalists and landowners, who both had vested interests in stagnation. The ruling class was a paralytic network of interests resisting change, topped off by a… dictator, and banked up on nationalism.” (Warriner, pp. xii-xiii)

“What eastern Europe primarily needed was the industrial revolution, and without the shift in the European balance of power resulting from Soviet victory it would never have come. Western Europe, so far as it was interested in eastern Europe at all, was interested in keeping it backward, as a source of cheap food and cheap labour…” (Warriner, pp. xiii-xiv)

ANTI-SEMITISM IN HORTHY’S HUNGARY

“The two social categories branded as ‘destructive’ since the 1919 counter-revolution, namely Jewry and the industrial working class… were treated as outcasts, or at best as second-class citizens, with painful consequences…” (Ignotus, Hungary, pp. 165-166)

“…universities were ruled by right-wing student organizations called fraternal societies… They received semi-official support from the government and were given preference among those applying for state scholarships. The patrons of the fraternal societies, the so-called domini (usually outstanding right-wing public figures) lent them a helping hand after graduation… Neither the semi-official mentors nor the domini objected… when at the beginning of the academic year, the fraternal societies launched noisy and brutal ‘Jew-beatings’… to scare off the Jewish students already admitted in limited numbers to the universities.” (Szász, Volunteers for gallows, p. 32)

Historian Kovrig wrote about Hungarian anti-semitism:

“[A]nti-Semitism remained as a latent and disintegrative force.” (Kovrig, p. 27)

However, as a reactionary Hungarian emigre, Kovrig naturally turns everything upside down. He doesn’t think that jewish workers, peasants and intellectuals were radicalized because they were oppressed second class citizens. Instead he blames anti-semitism on the jews, implying that if only the jews had submitted to oppression and not struggled for rights, then there wouldn’t be anti-semitism against them (p. 26). It is the old self fulfilling prophecy. Jews joined leftist parties because those are only places that welcomed them, and they fought for their rights. The reactionaries then turn around and say ‘the leftists are all jews’ and ‘jews are a bunch of troublemakers and revolutionists’.

Even the British conservative anti-communist historian David Pryce-Jones admits that:

“Jews had often become revolutionaries in the hopes of changing their status in a country of traditional anti-semitism.” (The Hungarian Revolution, p. 36)

“In… Hungary… the virulently racist, anti-Semitic prejudices of the population, fanned and incited by the prewar, semifascist regimes, drove Jewish workers and intellectuals to the communists, the only party that had put up an uncompromising fight against the preparers of the Holocaust.” (Hodos, Show Trials, p. 149)

“The record of Horthy’s Hungary was besmirched by anti-Semitic legislation… [the first Hungarian nazi] law was passed at the end of 1938, limiting Jewish employment…” (Stone, p. 300)

You can tell Stone (who was an adviser for Margaret Thatcher) was being very generous to Horthy. In fact there were anti-jewish laws much earlier then 1938.

“it is undeniable that many citizens of Budapest are fiercely anti-Semitic” (Gunther, Behind the curtain, p. 183)

“The feeble support for the Communist movement in Hungary [in the 20s and 30s] was closely linked to the rise of anti-Semitism in interwar Hungary and the popular perception of the Communist Party as a Jewish organization… a “Jewish conspiracy” in the eyes of many. The Party leadership was very much aware of the persistence of anti-Semitism in Hungarian society” (Apor, The Invisible Shining, p. 36)

HUNGARY JOINS THE AXIS

Hungary joined WWII on the axis side for three main reasons: its close historical and economic ties with Germany, Hungary’s own Fascist system with similar goals to Germany, and because of the Treaty of Trianon. That was the treaty after WWI where Hungary had been reduced to less then 30% of its size. The explicit goal for Hungary in the war, was to try recreate its lost empire. Hungarian forces invaded the USSR together with Germany. Fascism had ramped up in Hungary throughout the 30s but now it reached yet a new level. The Horthy government also participated in the holocaust:

“…familiar features of Nazi terror rule set in… the Yellow Star on Jews and ‘Jewish houses’, while from the provinces practically the whole of Jewry (including Christians of Jewish origin, in some cases even gentiles of ‘mixed blood’) was deported for ‘final solution’… Parliament, purged of [even pseudo] leftist parties and anti-Nazi conservatives… political dissenters, including well-known journalists, capitalists, and trade-unionists as well as politicians proper, were deported en masse.” (Ignotus, p.189)

“Adolf Eichmann arrived on 19 March with a detachment of thirty-two Gestapo ‘specialists’, and [prime minister] Sztojay approved an immediate plan to send 100,000 Jews for ‘labour’ – in fact, to Auschwitz… measures against Jews: the yellow star, prohibitions on buying food in short supply, freezing of bank accounts, closure of shops… By the end of April ghettoisation went ahead, starting with Kassa and going through the rest of the country… then the deportations got going, on 15 May.” (Stone, p. 319)

“Then Eichmann turned his attention to Budapest, where since May 170,000 Jews were concentrated in 1,900 ‘yellow star’ apartment houses, while 120,000 lived illegally in Christian households. On 25 June a curfew was imposed on the ghetto Jews, and they were unable to receive guests; and the deportations were to start on 6 July.” (Stone, p. 321)

However, as the war went on, it became clearer and clearer that the Soviet Union was winning. It became necessary for the Hungarian rulers: the imperialists, clergy, nobility and capitalists to start thinking of options of how to get out of this war, which they were losing.


“At the time, the ruling circles feared that if they supported the nazis to the very end, the power of the Hungarian landlords and capitalists would also be eliminated after the German invaders had been driven out. They not only had to realize that the defeat of Germany was unavoidable, but also had to recognize that their hopes of peace, based on a compromise between the British and Americans on the one hand, and the Germans on the other, were false. The very last moment came when the Horthyite leading circles, who had often been deceived and humiliated by Hitler’s government and the German general staff, could still take the step of assisting Hungary to join the anti-Hitler coalition. The only way to do this was to ask the Soviet Union without delay for an armistice [and switch sides]…”
(Dezső Nemes, History of the Revolutionary Workers Movement in Hungary: 1944-1962, p. 14)

Germany’s defeat was certain, so it was best to abandon the Axis and surrender. That way, the Horthy government hoped it could save itself. Horthy calculated that he could join the Allies, and not be destroyed by them. However, he hesitated to make an armistice, because he was hoping that he could surrender to the Anglo-American troops, instead of surrendering to the Soviet troops. The rule of the capitalists and Horthy, would be better protected if it were the Western troops that occupied Hungary, and not the Soviets.

“The key idea was to get Hungary into a ‘neutral’ position, fighting Bolshevik Russia, but not the English and Americans it wanted to befriend… the political ruling class was… concerned… with saving its own skin. Its project… included the preservation of… [the] undemocratic system, an attachment to the revisionist vision… and a move over to the Allies but without calling a halt to the war with Russia…” (Molnar, A concise history of Hungary, pp. 287-288)

“When the Red Army began its operations in Hungary, three German and three Hungarian armies were stationed in the area of the Carpathian Ukraine, North Transylvania and in the region east of the Tisza. Two German army groups joined their front to the south… The German general staff had at their disposal bigger military forces in [this] area… than in both the West European and Italian theatres of war. This explains why the Horthy clique hoped that, with German assistance, they could hold back the Red Army until the arrival of the Anglo-American forces, and that was why they hesitated until the last minute to ask for an armistice.” (Nemes, pp. 15-16)

At the same time, the anti-fascists, led mainly by the communists, were organizing themselves to rise up and fight the Nazis:

“The German occupation… created a new situation for the working class movement. The legal working class movement ceased to exist… After a common platform had been hammered out, the Hungarian Front, a united organization of anti-fascist resistance, was formed in May 1944 – The Front comprised communists, social democrats, smallholders, and the National Peasant Party as well as the Dual Cross Alliance, an organization representing the anti-German wing of the ruling class.”
(Borsányi & Kende, The History of the Working Class Movement in Hungary, p. 97)


It was possible for Hungary to change sides, and turn their army against the Nazis:

“The combined strength of the Hungarian forces in the theatre of war totaled about 450,000 men. This represented a significant force… The Hungarian general staff had another quarter of a million armed troops in Budapest and other districts available to disarm the German invaders. [The anti-fascist resistance movement] The Hungarian Front was ready to provide all assistance to this end.” (Nemes, p. 16)

However, the Horthyists wanted to avoid a conflict between them and the Germans, wanted to delay the arrival of the Red Army and hoped that the British and American forces would come to Hungary first.

“The new offensive of the Red Army started on 6 October 1944 and the Soviet troops began their campaign to liberate Hungary… the Communist Party urged an immediate cease-fire and castigated those who were hesitating and delaying its conclusion… It appealed to Hungarian soldiers: “Join forces with the Red Army in the struggle against fascist barbarism!”” (Nemes, p. 17)

“On the initiative of the Communist Party, the Hungarian Front issued an appeal to the officers of the army: “Our criminally irresponsible government… is delaying… the only decision which could save our country and our national army from complete destruction. This decision is: an immediate armistice with the Red Army and armed struggle against the German invaders.” …It called upon the officers of the garrisons to supply arms, ammunition and explosives to the workers and peasants and the anti-German intelligentsia, and assist them in their struggle. “There is no time for further hesitation and long preparations. Act now!”” (Nemes, pp. 17-18)

The Communists were adamant that it was necessary to arm the workers to prevent a Nazi coup, as the Nazis would undoubtedly take over the Hungarian government, if they suspected that Hungary might want to switch sides. The Horthy government refused to arm the workers, and was more concerned with trying to split the anti-fascist resistance movement and have communists and leftists removed from it (Nemes, p. 18).


THE NAZIS TAKE OVER: SZALASI’S COUP

On October 15th Horthy announced his cease-fire with the Soviet troops. Immediately, he was arrested by the Nazis and the government was taken over by them:

“Within a few hours he was deposed and taken prisoner by the Germans. In his place ex-Major Szalasi, the leader of the most extreme Nazi Party, the ‘Hungarists’ or ‘Arrow-cross Fascists’, was appointed ‘Leader of the Nation’. All points of strategic importance in the capital, including the vital broadcasting centre, were occupied by the Gestapo and other German formations.” (Ignotus, p.190)

“By the evening all stations and the radio were in German or Arrow Cross hands, and at 5.30 a.m. on 16 October Veesenmayer came to the Castle to take Horthy and the others to Gestapo headquarters… There he abdicated… to give Szalasi authority to form a government.” (Stone, p. 341)

This was a strategic move on Horthy’s part:

“…the Hitlerite general staff were able to make their preparations for the Arrow Cross coup, and they concentrated about three divisions of German forces in the area of Budapest… At noon on 15 October, Horthy announced the cease-fire over the radio, after first informing the Germans of the step he was about to take. He also made this fact known in his proclamation: “I informed the local representative of the German Reich that we were concluding a preliminary cease-fire with our enemies.” The Hungarian Front had not been informed in advance of the announcement of the cease-fire, whereas the Germans had been given prior notice.” (Nemes, pp. 21-22)

The Hungarian military had not been given instructions about what to do in this situation. They had not been given instructions to unite with the Red Army and turn against the Germans. However, the Germans who knew the situation before hand, had ordered the Hungarian Commanders to not obey any instructions without first asking the German command. Horthy was not genuinely switching sides, to unite with the Soviets against the Germans. He was merely making a statement of armistice, thus giving him some credibility in the eyes of the Allies, but in practice not fighting the Germans. The Hungarian army stayed firmly under German control and had not been made ready to fight against Germany.

As a result of Horthy’s sabotage of the anti-fascist resistance, of his refusal to give weapons to the workers, of his opportunist maneuvering, the Arrow-Cross Nazi Coup, which had been prepared well before hand, took place. In order to delay the Red Army, and thus to protect power of the capitalists and nobility, Horthy was willing to unleash the Hungarian Nazi Party, the Arrow-Cross, on the Hungarian people.

“The Germans… persuaded Horthy to withdraw his proclamation and resign as head of state in favour of Ferenc Szalasi, the Arrow Cross leader. On the demand of the Germans, Horthy issued a statement on 16 October that declared his proclamation of the previous day to be null and void, and called on the Hungarian army to continue the war against the Soviet Union… Horthy and his associates pulled out, but they did so leaving the country, without any resistance, in the hands of the German invaders and their Arrow Cross agents.” (Nemes, p. 22)


THE RULE OF THE ARROW-CROSS

The rule of Szalazi was the worst time in Hungarian history. There were daily mass killings and the remaining jews were hunted down, rounded up and put into cattlewagons that would take them to Germany — to their death. As the Nazis’ time was running out, the Arrow-Cross began simply killing all the jews they could find, right then and there, without bothering to try to transport them to Gas Chambers. It was truly senseless, because the war was already almost over. Nazi forces were in full retreat, to escape the advancing Red Army. Only those who were completely blinded by Nazi propaganda, still thought they could turn things around and win the war. It was in these conditions that Szalasi’s Arrow-Cross Party took over, it was the last ditch effort by the most fanatical reactionaries to cling to power, before their total defeat.

“Violent anti-Semitic propaganda issued from the radio, inciting pogroms… When the siege began, the Arrow Cross were still murdering about fifty Jews every night, and in early January three Jewish hospitals were ransacked: 17,000 Jews were killed in this period. Just before the Red Army arrived, the militia had picked up children in the Jewish orphanages in Pest and Buda and were deterred from shooting them only because they themselves now had to flee.” (Stone, p. 345)

“While the German regular army dismantled and transported westward all that was movable in factories and trade-combines, the armed Arrow Cross gangs were roving the streets and knocking up households at will with demands for jewelry, cash, and lives. As winter set in, with ice-floats blocking the Danube, and the people of Budapest shivering in cellars beneath the thunder of Soviet gunfire and Allied air raids, the Hungarian Nazis took their final toll in blood and property, no longer bothering themselves about deportation when railway waggons were not available, but shooting their victims on the spot… The hunt was directed against political dissenters and jews… by the end of the war some two-thirds of Hungary’s Jewish population (practising and converted), including some 40% of those in Budapest, were exterminated. On the whole territory which during the war was supposed to be run by Hungarians, about 600,000 Jews lost their lives. The Nazis left behind a wholly devastated country…” (Ignotus, p.191)

The guns of the Red Army could already be heard, and despite all the lies and propaganda against communism that Hungarians were subjected to, despite the reactionary medieval ideology that they had been submerged in for centuries, people knew that nothing could be as bad as the Arrow-Cross. Even many anti-communist historians agree that Hungarians anxiously waited for the Red Army to liberate them, save them from the Arrow-Cross and finally bring peace again.

“Szalasi’s Arrow Cross government was to have a reign of terror which brought anarchy, destruction and almost civil war to the country. The more outrageous the behavior of the fascists, the more the Red army was looked upon locally as a liberating force. Throughout Hungary, ordinary people came to wait eagerly for the Russians… Few people waited more eagerly then the Jews, for whom this was a desperate life-and death matter.” (Pryce-Jones, p.15)

“For the next weeks, as the Russians closed the ring around Budapest, the Arrow Cross fascists roamed the city in bands looking for Jews or Communists. They shot them on the spot, or sometimes hanged them. Inhabitants became used to hurrying past street-corner murders, and averting their eyes in case they were accused of helping subversives.” (Pryce-Jones, p. 16)

THE HUNGARIAN PARTISAN MOVEMENT

“the Communists were the earliest and most effective fighters against the Nazi invaders and oppressors; it was the Communists, as a rule, who initiated and led military and political action; it was they who were hounded most mercilessly by the Fascists… it was they who imparted discipline and organization to the scattered patriotic forces.” (Gunther, p. 36)

“Directly after the Arrow Cross coup, the Communist Party issued another appeal to the Hungarian people… It again emphasized… all-out national resistance against the German invaders and their Arrow Cross accomplices… it asked every member of Hungarian society: Where do you belong, to the nazi front or the Hungarian Front? Whoever belongs to the Hungarian Front “acts and organizes the national resistance”.” (Nemes, p. 25)

“Before… 15 October… the Communist Party was the only party in Hungary that organized armed resistance. The Budapest action guards… already operated. On 6 October one of these groups, the Marot group, blew up the statue of Gyula Gombos, regarded as a symbol of Hungarian fascism… German motor vehicles and guns were destroyed, railway tracks around Budapest were repeatedly blown up, hand-grenade and sub-machine-gun attacks were launched against German and Arrow Cross headquarters and guards, and communication lines were damaged…. They encouraged resistance and increased the feeling of uncertainty within the Arrow Cross camp and power apparatus, thus speeding up their collapse.” (Nemes, p. 25)

“After 15 October larger Communist partisan groups of from 30 to 80 members were formed in the outlying districts of Budapest. During their activity they contacted the anti-nazi officers of several Hungarian military units and with their help acquired arms… Among the suburban groups the armed activities of the Ujpest and Kobanya-Kispest partisans were significant. They killed nearly one hundred Arrow Cross and SS members.” (Nemes, pp. 25-26)

“The partisan units and the small resistance groups that came from the Soviet Union or were formed at home together caused a total of over 3,000 casualties — dead, wounded and prisoners — to the fascist troops and their auxiliary detachments… Compared to the Soviet, French and Yugoslav partisan struggles, or the uprising in Slovakia, the partisan movement in Hungary was of modest dimensions. Nevertheless, its significance went far beyond its direct military impact, because it encouraged the growth of other forms of national resistance. ” (Nemes, p. 27)

“With the support of the other parties of the Hungarian Front, a broader front emerged early in November, with the formation of a joint body named the Liberation Committee of the Hungarian National Uprising.” (Nemes, p. 29)

“The appeal of the Young Communist League appeared at the end of October announcing the reorganization of the League and its action programme… It designated the main tasks of the League to organize and mobilize armed troops of working-class youth and to increase their participation in the national resistance, together with other youth organizations… Communist students at the Gyorffy College established contact with anti-nazi groups of students at two other colleges and at the Universities of Technology and Economics… these formed a joint organization called the Freedom Front of Hungarian Students, and their anti-nazi propaganda activities were particularly successful.

The Young Communist League also initiated a broad youth coalition that was formed in November under the name of the Freedom Front of Hungarian Youth. It consisted of the Young Communist League, the Freedom front of Hungarian Students and a peasant party youth group… Some representatives of the religious youth organizations also joined the developing anti-nazi youth front. Within the framework of this front was organized the Gorgey battalion consisting of 100 to 120 students and young workers…” (Nemes, pp. 30-31)

There was an attempt to organize a general national uprising, together with partisans and those units of the Hungarian army who wanted to fight the Nazis, but unfortunately the leaders of the uprising were caught by the Gestapo. “They were court-martialled in December and executed by the Arrow Cross forces… they gave their lives for the national liberation.” (Nemes, p. 31)

The Hungarian anti-fascist heroes, led by the Communists and other patriotic forces believed in the approaching victory. They knew that the dark days of Nazi occupation and fascism were coming to an end. The insane terrorism of the Arrow Cross would finally stop. The anti-fascist heroes fought fearlessly to win peace and a new better life for their country.




SOURCES:

Doreen Warriner, Revolution in Eastern Europe

John Gunther, Inside Europe

John Gunter, Behind the curtain

Evans, That Blue Danube

White, The Long Balkan Night

Kovrig Bennett, The Hungarian People’s Republic

Norman Stone, Hungary: A Short History

Zinner, The Revolution in Hungary

Paul Ignotus, Hungary

Béla Szász, Volunteers for gallows

David Pryce-Jones, The Hungarian Revolution

Hodos, Show Trials

Apor, The Invisible Shining

Dezső Nemes, History of the Revolutionary Workers Movement in Hungary: 1944-1962

Molnar, A concise history of Hungary

György Borsányi and János Kende, The History of the Working Class Movement in Hungary

Wilfred G. Burchett, Peoples’ Democracies

FEW WORDS ABOUT MY SOURCES:

Almost all my sources are established “respectable” anti-communist/pro-capitalist mainstream historians. The only exception is that I cite 2 books by Hungarian communist historians: one by Nemes and the other by Borsányi & Kende. Burchett is also a journalist with communist sympathies.

The facts I present here can be considered very reliable, because they are confirmed both by pro-communist and anti-communist sources. I chose to cite mostly anti-communist historians, since they obviously have no bias to lie on behalf of communism. This way the information should be acceptable to non-communists.

That said, capitalist historians are dishonest and biased against communism, so I typically don’t recommend any of them. The only non-communist book on this topic I can recommend is “Revolution in Eastern Europe” by Doreen Warriner, it is both objective and well researched, with lots of empirical data. The other non-communist history books are extremely flawed, I had to verify everything I quoted from them from multiple sources and make sure it was true.

Nemes, Borsányi & Kende are not perfect either, they are kadarist revisionists. I agree with the facts I quoted from them, but not necessary with everything they might say.

At the end of this series I will probably discuss the research process and the sources in detail.

The Finnish Communist Revolution (1918) PART 7: The Civil War

“To the front”

When the Finnish revolution and civil war began on midnight between 26-27 of January 1918, the country had already been in a revolutionary situation for months. The February revolution of 1917 had dismantled the Tsarist police and created a serious power vacuum in the country. A people’s militia had been created to carry out police duties, but the militia was not a typical police force at all and consisted largely of ordinary workers.

The conditions of the working class, poor tenant-farmers and household servants were very bad. They worked anywhere from 10 hours per day, 16 hours per day, or in the case of household servants basically an unlimited amount of hours. Unemployment was also high and famine was a serious danger. One quarter of the population were at an imminent risk of starvation.

The socialists won elections in 1916 but in 1917 the government was disbanded by the Russian Empire. There was also no municipal democracy: in municipal elections people with more property had more votes. The ordinary people lived in terrible conditions and didn’t have many peaceful ways of trying to improve their situation.

When the Tsarist police and other repressive institutions collapsed, the Finnish workers began strongly demanding an 8 hour working day, reasonable wages, food at decent prices and equal suffrage. Household servants began demanding the right to organize, and tenant-farmers began demanding land reform. There were massive demonstrations, protests and strikes.

The rich capitalists, aristocrats and politicians tried to use the police to suppress the people, but the new police – the people’s militia – didn’t always obey the rich. It often sided with the people.

Finland didn’t have its own military so in order to repress the people, the capitalists needed to create a military. That is why the White Guard was created. The White Guard carried out violent and brutal attacks against protestors and striking workers and peasants. To protect themselves, the workers and peasants created their own Red Guards, which were unarmed at first.

In December 1917 the Socialists began a General Strike demanding an 8 hour working day, democracy, end to the repression, food for the starving and other similar demands. This strike caused the Finnish state to completely collapse. Red Guards, who had only a small number of rifles, spontaneously occupied most government buildings and important locations. Power was in the hands of the people.

However, the capitalists and right-wing politicians managed to trick the people. They promised that the socialists could form a government if they just ended the General Strike. The socialists accepted and ended the strike, but it was all a lie. The capitalists and right-wing politicians now refused to allow the socialists to form a government, and they refused to grant any of the people’s demands, although some workplaces were forced to accept an 8 hour work day.

Already for months, the Finnish capitalists, right-wing politicians and aristocrats had been building a secret White Army in the region of Ostrobothnia. They had stockpiled massive amounts of weapons and ammunition which they had received from Germany and Sweden. They had hidden large amounts of food, and created a secret network of White Guard agents, disguised as volunteer fire-departments, forest offices and under other kinds of cover. They had received hundreds of non-commissioned officers from Germany, who were now training White troops in Ostrobothnia.

It was absolutely necessary for the capitalists to have total control inside Finland. The militia was unreliable, and they couldn’t tolerate the existence of the Red Guards. They also couldn’t keep the people from protesting or going on strike. Of course, they categorically refused to grant the people’s justified demands – instead they were going to rely on violent repression.

The situation had become more and more revolutionary, but the December General Strike was a turning point. The Bolsheviks had taken power in Russia in October, which demonstrated that a workers’ revolution was possible. The December General Strike showed to the Finnish capitalists, exactly how precarious their situation was if the workers decided to rise up and take power. Therefore, the capitalists massively speeded-up their military preparations. They needed to create a strong army, attack the workers, destroy the Red Guard, and install a military dictatorship or a monarchist dictatorship.


THE WHITE ASSAULT: The declaration of war


The war began with an assault by the White Army, North from most of the big population centers. The Whites had previously withdrawn the senate and most capitalist politicians to their new secret capital in Vaasa. This became the seat of the White government.

The Whites began their assault under the pretext of trying to liberate Finland from Russia. This might seem very strange. After all, Finland had already been given independence by the Soviet Russian government, and the Russian police, the Russian governor general and other Russian authority inside Finland had been totally dismantled. So how could they claim they were defending themselves from the Russians?

The fact is, there were still some Russian troops inside Finland. This is because Finland did not have its own military, and the Russian Empire had been worried that Germany might invade Finland. WWI was still going at this point.

The remaining Russian troops inside Finland were not stable fighting units. During the last days of the Russian Tsarist Empire and the Russian Provisional Government, the army had completely collapsed. Soldiers had started to leave their barrackses and go home. The soldiers had supported the February revolution and killed their monarchist officers. In Finland, the capitalists had tried to use Russian troops against demonstrators but the troops didn’t obey. Sometimes the soldiers defended the workers and peasants who were demonstrating. These troops were not in Finland to occupy or oppress the people, in fact, they refused to do so.

British historian Upton says the Russian soldiers: “had neither the will nor the ability to retain control in Finland.” (Upton, The Finnish Revolution 1917-1918, p. 272)

“It was quite clear that the presence of the Russians was to be temporary, and that the defense of Petrograd was the sole reason for their remaining.” (Upton, p. 249)

The Whites accused the socialists of wanting the Russians to stay, so they could use them for their own purposes but historian Upton completely debunks this:

“Not the slightest hint had been given that the party wanted the Russians to stay…” (Upton, The Finnish Revolution 1917-1918, p. 249)

The Finnish capitalists themselves had often tried to use Russian soldiers against Finnish workers, but socialists never had any intention of doing so. The social-democrats were anyway not in favor of violence, and didn’t speak Russian.

Furthermore, the military had absolutely collapsed, most units were barely held together and the Russian army couldn’t have oppressed Finland even if they had wanted to. On top of that, the Soviet Russian leader V. I. Lenin, had promised that the troops would be gradually withdrawn from Finland. The only thing holding this back was the war. Soviet Russia was intending to stop its participation in WWI and immediately when a peace treaty could be signed between Soviet Russia and Germany, the troops would begin to be withdrawn.

In reality, already for months troops had been returning home even without orders. Lenin also ordered the military to not interfere in Finnish affairs, not that the soldiers would’ve wanted to anyway. Consistently when the Finnish capitalists had asked Russian soldiers to attack demonstrators and thus interfere, the soldiers had refused.

In short, there were Russian troops in Finland, but they were confined to their barrackses and were not in fighting condition. This is why, when the Whites attacked the soldiers, they defeated them easily. The soldiers were not interested in fighting or prepared for it.

“Their Russian opponents were mostly demoralized, isolated… without any obvious cause to fight for, and mostly taken by surprise” (Upton, p. 272)

The Soviet-German peace treaty was signed on March 3, 1918, about a month after the Finnish civil war started. The Whites were in a hurry. If they wanted to pretend that the civil war was a “national war” against Russia, and not a class war against the Red Guards, then they had to attack right away before the Russian troops were pulled out.

“Mannerheim ordered the war to begin with the disarming of Russian soldiers in Southern Ostrobothnia … small number of Russian barracks thinly spread out, were not in any condition for battle, so a surprise attack guaranteed an easy victory and a large amount of weapons and supplies. The intention was that the early success would inspire the whites, boost moral, instill a sense confidence…

The Russian soldiers posed no threat, had been ordered to not get involved in Finnish affairs, and were waiting to be pulled from the country after a peace had been made between Germany and Russia. So why did Mannerheim choose to attack them? To get weapons, boost morale etc. but there was a more important reason:

“The goal of targeting the Russian soldiers was to make the war a seem like a national war against Russians. Mannerheim’s secret order of 25. of January… said to attack the Russian soldiers on 28 [of January]… [source: Erinnerungen, p. 171] Around the same time, though not right away, the working class movement concluded that revolution was unavoidable…” (Holodkovski, Suomen työväen vallankumous 1918, p. 148)

In white guard propaganda the war was presented as a “national war” against Russian tyranny. But this was a lie. Soviet Russia had given Finland independence and had agreed with the Finnish government that the remaining Russian troops would be pulled after Russia signs a peace treaty with Germany. The white guards screamed that Russia had no reason to fear a German intervention, although Russia was still at war with Germany. In fact, the whites themselves would arrange a German intervention into Finland.

The real target of the white attack were not the Russian soldiers, that was demonstrated by the war itself. The real target was the Finnish working class.

“There was no need of war to remove the Russian soldiers; they would have removed themselves in a little while.” (Upton, p. 272)

To give some perspective, according to historians such as Paasivirta (Suomi vuonna 1918, p. 206) only 1000-4000 Russians participated in the fighting. The exact number is not known, but it is small, and without question most of these soldiers were only acting in self-defence and trying to retreat to Soviet-Russia. The Soviet Russian government allowed volunteers to help the Finnish reds, but the Soviet government had its own war to fight and was not in a position to send troops. They gave the Finnish reds rifles and bullets, and also significant amounts of food.

The White war effort was not a war of independence, the capitalists themselves had a very mixed relationship with the independence movement (most of them were not committed to it) while the Russian Bolsheviks and Finnish socialists had supported Finnish independence much more strongly.

The White commander Mannerheim himself actually admitted that the real target of the war, were the Reds, who he calls huligans and bandits:

“The peasant army of independent Finland under my command does not wage war against Russia, but has risen to protect freedom and the legal government and to ruthlessly defeat the huligan and bandit forces, that publicly threaten the country’s legal order and property.” (Mannerheim quoted in S. Jägerskiöld, Gustaf Mannerheim 1918, p. 56)

“…Mannerheim himself proved that foundational claim of bourgeois propaganda, that supposedly a national liberation war had started in Finland, to be a lie, and admitted the class character of the war…” (Holodkovski, p.166)

The White government also told Sweden, that they were fighting a civil war and not a war with Russia. However, the Whites also wanted to deny that this was a class-war and instead claimed that the Reds were criminals and huligans:


“The Swedish government was told: The struggle which is now in progress in Finland is not a class war… but is a collision between, on the one side a legal social order… and on the other side plain terrorist activity… criminal gangs, which have initiated violence against all human and divine rights…” (Upton, p. 311)

“Mannerheim told the Swedish minister that… “the Reds have begun a rebellion…”” (Upton, p. 311)

Lastly, although the Russian troops did not want to fight, and were told to not interfere in Finnish affairs, and although the actual war was in fact fought between White Guards and Red Guards, and not between Finland and Russia, its worth mentioning that at times Russian soldiers still tried to defend themselves from the Whites. The Whites then tried to use this as proof of Russian aggression. The Whites executed their Russian prisoners and carried out mass killings and massacres against Russians, although reactionary monarchist Russian officers actually worked together with the Whites. Mannerheim himself had been a Czarist officer whose job it was to oppress Finland and other nations in the Russian Empire. Mannerheim did not speak Finnish, and had no ties with the Finnish people and he also had a soldier assistant who only spoke Russian. These were the aristocratic and militarist “independence warriors” who claimed they were not fighting a class war, but a “national war”.


THE WORKERS’ REVOLUTION

The Finnish social-democratic party was controlled by a center-left faction which had not been very keen on revolution. The party had decided by a narrow margin, to not carry out a revolution during the December General Strike. They had agreed to end the strike, in hopes of being able to form a government and carry out peaceful reforms. However now the socialists realized that the whites had secrelty built a massive army, were passing dictatorial laws and were preparing for a war to crush the workers, destroy the Red Guard, and strip the people of all their rights. The socialists saw the whites were being mobilized. The Reds finally began to make hasty preparations, 2 days before the white assault.

The working class itself was very militant, much more militant then the social-democrat politicians. The trade-union and the Red Guard were also quite revolutionary. The party had a very small right-wing faction, which opposed the revolution and immediately went into hiding when the revolution started. This right-wing group led by Väinö Tanner, later collaborated with the whites and the German invaders. The party also had a leftist revolutionary faction, but the biggest group were the center-leftists. The center-left was not keen to start a revolution, but when the civil war was imminent, they realized they needed to act, they needed to defend themselves, and they couldn’t simply abandon the workers to be slaughtered by the Whites. They started a revolution:

“The social-democratic party committee, the central command of the workers’ militia and the central command of the red guard published a declaration on 26. of January that an executive committee has been created as the highest revolutionary authority.” (Esa Koskinen, Veljiksi kaikki ihmiset tulkaa, s.54)

“The… declaration alerted the masses that the bourgeoisie has begun an armed attack against the working class movement to strip away those democratic rights, which it only recently won in the revolutionary struggle of the general strike” (Hyvönen, Suurten tapahtumien vuodet 1917-1918, p. 98)

“…the Workers’ executive committee gave the worker guards orders to prepare for occupying all government buildings and strategic locations.“ (Holodkovski, p. 175)

“The orders stated that mobilization of the worker guards was to be begun on the 26. of January at midnight and to be completed in three days. Worker guards were to be given special lists of people, who were to be arrested and transported to locations where guards were responsible for their safety and good treatment. After the order to begin the revolution is given, the parliament, the university, regional governments, highest government organs and banks are to be taken over under the supervision of persons appointed as worker guard comissars. The central command had the right to seize for itself those buildings and locations it saw fit as well as transportation and telephone. [Source: “Красный архив” (“Red archive”), 1940, vol. 2 (99), pp. 34, 35]” (Holodkovski, p. 175)

“Bourgeois newspapers were to be closed down.” (Hyvönen, p. 98)

“On the 27. of January the [more moderate] Workers’ guard and [the more militant] Red guard were merged, taking the name the Red guard.

The executive committee considered serious resistance by the white guards a possibility and gave the Red guard central command the following order: the Red guard has, if necessary the right to use armed force against those members of the white guard who attempt armed resistance. Those members of the white guard who surrender without resistance, must be disarmed. Their commanders must be arrested and transported to the militia building… the imprisoned or wounded must not be treated brutally or inhumanely… any weapons and large amounts of food must be confiscated and listed, signed by the owner of the supplies or two wittnesses. [Source: H. Soikkanen, Kansalaissota dokumentteina, II, pp. 34-35]“ (Holodkovski, pp. 175-176)

“Throughout the country corresponding messages were sent to [Red guard] regional commands… At 11 o’clock at night on January 27. Red guard detachments began to occupy locations mentioned in the orders of the previous day in the capital of Finland. A red lantern and red flag appeared in the tower of the workers’ club as a signal that the revolution had begun.” (Holodkovski, p. 176)

“…Helsinki was quickly taken under red control without a fight. By the end of January the most important cities of Southern Finland were under the control of the reds… A declaration of revolution to the people of Finland was published in The Worker on 28. of January, which stated that the working masses have taken state power in their hands. At the same time it encouraged all the working class organizations and [red] guards [and militias] to fulfill their revolutionary duty, everyone according to their ability.” (Koskinen, p. 54)

The following examples are from a Southern municipality:

“The command decided on 4. of February to announce that all weapons and ammunition were to be brought to the Red guard within 24 hours of the announcement… The confiscations happened without incident and e.g. in the manor of Vaanila Nyberg’s flying column was served pancakes and jam. [A local man] testified… that [the Red Guard leader] Nyberg was quiet and polite when conducting the gun search…” (Koskinen p. 62)

“The Red guard of Koikkala-Vaanila carried out gun confiscations with the help of 17 men and 6 horses in the villages of Koikkala, Hongisto, Röylä, Paksalo, Mynterlä, Vaanila and Lehmijärvi.” (Koskinen p. 62)

“The confiscations began on 4. of February. Aleksander Stick said he took part in the confiscations of weapons in at least 25 houses. They took the shotguns and browning rifles, which were taken to the workers’ club… on 5. of February… property owning farmers brought their guns voluntarily. But they were unusable as the owners had left parts of them at their homes.

The telephone centers were taken under control. In Koski-Suittila the watchman at the “phone-central” was to make sure the manager mrs. Åström only allowed calls to the food-authority, the doctor or drugstore. Other calls were not allowed. Elderly men worked as watchmen…

Travel without permit was not allowed. Permits were given by the local command. At [the train] station guards inspected those traveling by railway.” (Koskinen p. 62)

The workers’ executive committee stated in their declaration to the Finnish people:

“The great moment of the Finnish working class revolution has arrived. Today the working people of the country’s capital have bravely defeated the sinister den of oligarchy, that started a dangerous war against its own people… Members of the criminal senate prepared in the capital disgusting plans to have Finns spill the blood of their brother Finns, and a treacherous attack against the organized working class of Finland. In doing this they made themselves guilty in such brazen treason as to request foreign monarchist governments to send murderer troops to slaughter the Finnish people. Thus the entire freedom and life our our nation was in great danger… [the workers must] rise to save themselves and the whole nation from that destruction and misery… The senate has committed countless crimes to steal for itself that state power which belongs to the people. Apparently the main plot was that the senate wished to crush the working class movement with bloodshed, shackle all attempts at democracy and bury the poor people’s hopes for change in the slumber of death.” (“To the working people of Finland”, quoted in Holodkovski, p. 177)

So the revolution began. The Reds were still poorly organized and poorly armed compared to the whites and the whites also managed to steal most of the state’s funds to their new capital. The Reds occupied government buildings and infrastructure, organized control of public transport and created a system where travel was only allowed if one had a permit. This was to prevent spying, smuggling etc. The Reds tried to monitor the telephone centers to prevent spies from listening on calls, and to allow the scarce telephone to be used only for important calls. The Reds spent a lot of time confiscating weapons from local landlords, rich peasants and capitalists. The Reds easily took control (often practically without resistance) in all the southern areas, and in the bigger population centers in other regions of the country too.

The right-wing counter-revolutionary faction of Väinö Tanner split from the social-democrat majority and stayed in hiding throughout the civil war. At the end of the war these traitors collaborated with the Whites and invading Germans. The centrists united with the revolutionary left-wing faction of the social-democrats to support self-defence by workers, and to protect democracy from a capitalist military-monarchist dictatorship which the whites were building.


FIGHTING THE WAR

“In armed struggle the Finnish working class movement was forced to operate in unfamiliar circumstances. It was clearly visible in the formation and arming of the red guards and especially in directing the battles. A newly arising class, such as our working class was, could naturally never compete in the realm of military expertise with the ruling classes, who in that realm held all the experience. Officers are always serving the prevailing system, dependent on it and grown attached to it… The most populous and important region, Southern-Finland, ending up under working class control, made it possible for the reds to aim their attack towards the North, which the whites had chosen as their base area… But in order for the war effort to have been directed correctly, the red leadership would have needed to know the laws of revolutionary war. However, the revolutionary leadership of the red troops did not know them, and this was evident since the very beginning of the war effort.

Initially the reds quite correctly began advancing towards the North, but even so it wasn’t done with as much energy and determination as it could have. For example the Haapamäki—Pieksämäki railroad ended under white control due to the slow start of the red advance. When after stopping at Vilppula, the reds didn’t immediately make serious attempts to breach North, the whites were able to fortify this section of the railway under their control. Poor understanding of the character of a revolutionary war was also demonstrated by the fact that immediate firm actions were not taken to raise the red guards of the North to battle, and after the red guards of the North had suffered defeat, there weren’t serious attempts to organize them into a partisan movement behind white lines.

In preparation for the victory of the Russian October revolution the Bolsheviks always had the clear and determined goal to secure the military victory over their opponent. After the path of armed struggle had been chosen, every party organization prepared for an armed rising… When societal forces are being driven to an armed conflict, all other issues depend on this conflict; all other action must be subordinated to serve the armed effort in such a situation. — In this sense it is justified to criticize the actions of the Finnish social-democratic party. The party was late in preparing for the struggle and thus when the situation arose, couldn’t provide the necessary leadership to the most important struggle, that of the workers’ and tenant-farmers’ red guard. Important administrative actions and fulfilling the goals of the revolution could only lead to results if victory had first been insured in the war effort.

The early portion of the war resulted in the whites capturing Northern-Finland and the reds Southern-Finland. A front emerged accross the country from West to East. From Merikarvia through Ikaalinen, Virrat, Ruovesi, Vilppula, Jämsä, Mäntyharju, Savitaipale and Vuoksenniska all the way to Lake Lagoda. The military initiative shifted to the red guard in late February. In early March a general offensive was being planned, the goal of which was to capture the Haapamäki—Pieksämäki railroad. Clear signs of fatigue began to show among white troops. The peasant troops who had been forcibly conscripted or recruited through lies or bribery, now began to understand the nature of their war against the Finnish workers and tenant-farmers. Furthermore the monarchist agitation of the white officers and bourgeois newspapers helped to expose the real goals of the whites. Most of all, Spring was approaching and peasants were getting restless about neglecting their farms.” (Hyvönen, pp.117-119)

At the beginning of the war, both sides were still recruiting more troops. The Whites began forced conscription in their territory, while the Reds organized volunteers. Both tried to quickly throw forces at the front. The Reds still lacked weapons, but were able to mobilize ten thousand armed troops very quickly. During the course of the war, the size of both armies increased to 80,000 each.

The war can be understood in three phases: The formation of the front, the Red General Offensive, and the White General Offensive.

During the first phase, both sides rushed forwards. The Reds tried to advance North as fast as possible, and the Whites tried to run towards the South. Both sides thus tried to get more territory. This was important for controlling strategic locations and resources. It was particularly important to control railways, which played a huge role in the war. There were no tanks, and practically no cars. Resources and reinforcements were transported on rails, and armored trains were used in battle. I will discuss individual battles or series of battles in detail in further videos, but here I will give a brief overview of the war as a whole.

The first battle of the war was waged in Lyly, a village North of the city of Tampere on February 2nd. The frontline can be separated into three parts: the Northern Front, which formed North of Tampere, the Eastern front North of Vyborg, and the center front basically between them. It was convenient for the Whites that while population centers like Oulu, Varkaus and others were all taken over by workers, they were inside the White territory and far away from the Red territory in the South. The Whites could then go from town to town, and eliminate the Reds there.

The Reds were a bit too slow to advance forward and thus gave Whites an unnecessary advantage. The Reds also lacked the necessary military skills and military discipline, to carry out a massive general offensive. As I described in the article about the structure of the Red Guard army, the units were too decentralized to coordinate massive attacks. They could hold their own against the Whites, and defend successfully even though the Whites had superior weaponry and professional officers. But the Reds had a difficult time trying to attack.

However, it was understood that remaining on the defensive mean the death of any revolution, so the Reds correctly understood the importance of taking the initiative and attacking. The second period of the war was the Red General Offensive which lasted from the end of February to the middle of March. Fierce battles were fought during this time, but the Reds did not succeed in destroying the Whites.

However, time was not on the side of the Whites. They didn’t control industrial centers and would eventually run out of resources. Also as spring approached, the soldiers conscripted by the Whites wanted to go work on their farms. This might have been necessary in any case, as the Whites would otherwise start running out of food. The Reds could fight a long war and be completely fine, but the Whites couldn’t. The Whites were thus in a hurry to launch their own general offensive, and it had to succeed, otherwise they were ruined.

The Whites only won the war, because of the following reason: they agreed that Germany should invade Finland in the South and attack the Reds in the rear. In exchange, the Whites would turn Finland into a German protectorate with a German king. Finland would sign a highly exploitative trade agreement with Germany, and Germany would dominate Finland politically and economically.

Because of the German invasion the Reds had to split their forces. There was chaotic fighting in the rear against the rapidly advancing Germans, while also trying to hold the front in the North. The Whites on the other hand were able to concentrate their troops on an attack in the North, against Tampere. This was the most important battle of the war, and had massive casualties on both sides, and caused massive destruction in the city. The victory in Tampere and the German invasion in the South gave the Whites the initiative, and they were able to keep their attack rolling from then on. This lasted through March to the beginning of May.

During the final phase of the battle Mannerheim gave his notorious declaration to the people of Tampere:

“To the citizens and troops of Tampere! Resistance is futile. Raise a white flag and surrender. Enough citizen’s blood has been shed. Unlike the reds we don’t kill our prisoners. Send your representatives with a white flag. MANNERHEIM”



This was a complete lie. After the battle in Tampere the Whites carried out a mass extermination and slaughtered prisoners of war and civilians. This became a trend, and they carried massacres and atrocities after most victories. This is why practically every town in Finland, even smaller ones, have mass graves, and monuments to victims of the Whites. They continued mass killings after the war in the White Terror.


Mannerheim’s lie “we dont kill prisoners unlike the reds” was even more gross, because not only did the whites arrange mass killings of prisoners and civillians all the time, but the reds on the other hand practically never did. The red government never ordered any mass executions. The small amount of white prisoners or capitalist civillians who were killed, were killed by reckless undisciplined elements who disobeyd orders. This happened against the orders of the reds. On the other hand, Mannerheim in his notorious “weapon in hand”-order, instructed to treat all red guard prisoners as traitors, and the punishment for treason is the death sentence. For this reason the White Terror killed more then 30,000 people while the so-called “red terror” killed only around 1000 people. And this remarkably low number includes violence by random criminals and thieves, which was falsely blamed on the reds. The number also includes executions which the reds carried out against criminals and murderers who had infiltrated inside the red guard. Red guard members who committed crimes or violence against civilians were punished, sometimes with death. But for the Whites slaughtering civilians was policy, and those who criticized it were attacked.

As the Whites and Germans advanced, the Reds began moving East to escape to Soviet Russia. There they founded the Communist Party, and made plans to continue the struggle against the White dictatorship.

WHY DID THE REDS LOSE THE WAR?

I will start with the least important reasons, and end with the most important.

The Reds were militarily inexperienced, but this is somewhat unavoidable as the workers and poor peasants necessarily have less officers and career soldiers in their ranks. The ruling classes always foster a reactionary military. This situation was made more difficult because Finland hadn’t had a military since 1901. This meant that only very few members of the population had military training: practically only those who had served in the Tsarist military. Obviously the vast majority of Tsarist officers were far-right reactionaries, such as Mannerheim. Some had gone to Germany as “jägers” to be trained by the German Imperial army, but majority of these were right-wingers and wealthier people too. The police also had some training with weapons, but obviously most police officers were also rightists. This meant that the Reds had an exceptionally serious lack of military training. The situation was more favorable for the Bolsheviks as the October Revolution took place during WWI. The workers and peasants had been conscripted by the Tsar, and had been fighting the war for years and thus were already quite battle hardened and capable soldiers. Still, this difficulty wouldn’t have been insurmountable.

The Reds also had a serious tendency towards indecisiveness, softness, a reformistic and legalistic attitude and style of work. This is because they came from a reformistic background and had been under the influence of the reformist and opportunist 2nd international. The Finnish Reds were not rotted to the core by this opportunism, and in fact they overcame it. However, it caused problems and challenges. I’ve discussed the Reds military difficulties and softness in detail in part 6.

As a consequence of their softness and reformistic attitude, the Reds focused a lot on carrying out the policies which they promised: land reform, job programs, democracy, social welfare etc. but this was premature. They should’ve focused 100% of their efforts towards winnig the war. The Red government represented the highest point of Finnish society, it was truly the most humane, most free, most progressive and enlightened government that this land has ever had. However, it was tragically destroyed because they lost the war. The people’s dream was drowned in blood by the White butchers and their German masters.

The Finnish revolution began in the most difficult circumstances. The Bolsheviks were able to carry out their revolution at an opportune time, and only had to fight the civil war later. The Finnish revolution began as a civil war. This meant that organizing the government, the economy and everything else had to be done during the chaos of war. An exceptionally difficult task. The Reds also had to learn how to fight, how to lead an army, how to build an army, as the war was already raging. The Reds had not learned revolutionary skills before hand, everything had to be learned in the fighting itself. However, they were up to the task. They were learning. The Red Guard became a quite strong and capable fighting force, and if the war had lasted longer, if the Reds had had more time, they would’ve become truly skilled revolutionaries and they would’ve won.

The Finnish Reds were not familiar with Leninism other then superficially. They couldn’t read Russian and did not have a Leninist vanguard party. Their party was of the old social-democrat type, althought it was a leftist social-democrat party, and not a counter-revolutionary one. While the Leninists were conscious revolutionaries, the Finnish Reds were still somewhat groping in the dark. They had a revolutionary heart, but lacked the necessary knowledge and experience.

It is universally acknowledged these days that the revolution should’ve been started during the December 1917 General Strike. The workers were able to take power easily, they surprised the capitalists and the capitalists were not able to respond. It was a devastating mistake to end the strike and return to “normal” life. It gave the capitalists the opportunity to build up their army, make a deal with Germany, and launch the civil war at a time that was suitable for the Whites but unfavorable for the Reds. This is biggest mistake the Finnish Reds made, while their biggest deficiency was their unfamiliarity with Leninism.

However, despite all these difficulties, mistakes and problems, the Reds were becoming more experienced, were moving closer to Leninism and would’ve been able to rectify all the mistakes if not for the German invasion. The Whites needed Germany, and they would not have been able to fight a protracted war. However, the German invasion would probably not have happened if the Reds had taken power in December 1917. The German invasion would also possibly not have happened, if Leon Trotsky had not sabotaged the peace negotiations at Brest-Litovsk. Kuusinen wrote:

“I forgot to mention a third cause of the defeat of our revolution in 1918: this was the well known theatrical gesture made by Comrade Trotsky at the first Peace negotiations with the representatives of the German Government at Brest-Litovsk (January/Februarv). The peace conditions proposed at that time by the German government were much more favourable than those dictated later, both for Soviet Russia and for the Finnish workers’ government. Before Comrade Trotsky left for Brest-Litovsk for the last time (at the end of January), Comrade Lenin told him that he should sign the peace treaty at once…

Had peace come about between Germany and Russia at that time, then it is highly probable that the German government would have sent no troops to Finland. This conclusion of ours is based upon the memoirs of German generals, published after the war.

But on 10th February, Comrade Trotsky refused to accept the conditions of peace offered by the Germans. A valuable month passed before the peace treaty was accepted, and during this time Soviet Russia was obliged to abandon Reval and other cities at our (Finland’s) back to the Germans. And during the same time the German troops struck their blow at us.” (O. W. Kuusinen, “A Misleading Description of the “German October””)



THE SOCIAL-DEMOCRAT LEADERSHIP IN THE REVOLUTION

Y. Sirola, O. W. Kuusinen & K. M. Evä


Around the time of the revolution, the social-democrat leadership began taking its first steps towards Bolshevization. Leaders such as Kuusinen and Sirola began studying the ideology of Leninism for the first time.

“Those leaders of the Finnish working class movement who later became founders of the Finnish communist party, began to gradually distance themselves from traditional parliamentary tactics and more and more adopt a firm revolutionary stance. This was aided by the experience of Soviet-Russia and becoming more closely familiar with Lenin’s ideas. At the end of 1917 Sirola began with the help of a Finnish-Russian dictionary, to read Lenin’s text “Can the Bolsheviks Retain State Power?”[source: E. Salomaa, Yrjö Sirola sosialistinen humanisti, p.225]“ (Holodkovski, p. 150)

“On 12. of January he published in “The Worker” his article titled “Will the situation develop to a revolution?” [Kehittyykö tilanne vallankumouseksi?], where he stressed especially those questions which were important for supporters of revolution: pointed out Marx’s words that ending up on the defensive, is the death of an uprising, thought it essential to follow Danton’s slogan “Courage, courage and once more courage”, and explained how important it was for the bolsheviks to win the support of the peasantry. [source: E. Salomaa, Yrjö Sirola sosialistinen humanisti, pp.226-227]

A strong desire to look into Lenin’s works had also arisen in Kuusinen after he had met Lenin and discussed with him shortly before the October revolution. [Source: U. Vikström, Torpeedo, p. 50] For Kuusinen also, the problem was that he didn’t speak Russian. Kuusinen only began studying Lenin’s book “The State and Revolution”, which is of special importance in taking a correct Marxist stance on the bourgeois state and for understanding the necessity of the dictatorship of the proletariat, during the final period of the Finnish revolutionary government, and therefore this theoretical study couldn’t influence the revolutionary government’s policy.” (Holodkovski, p. 150)

It became evident that a Leninist party of the Bolshevik type was essential for a successful revolution but the Finnish socialists were lagging in behind in this regard, still influenced by the reformist trend of Kautsky and the 2nd international. Both Kuusinen and Sirola would later write their own criticisms of the SDP’s reformism from a Marxist-Leninist perspective. The most well known is “The Finnish Revolution: A Self-Criticism” by Kuusinen.

SOURCES:

Upton, The Finnish Revolution 1917-1918

Holodkovski, Suomen työväen vallankumous 1918

Mannerheim, Erinnerungen

Paasivirta, Suomi vuonna 1918

Suodenjoki & Peltola, Köyhä Suomen kansa katkoo kahleitansa

S. Jägerskiöld, Gustaf Mannerheim 1918

Esa Koskinen, Veljiksi kaikki ihmiset tulkaa

Hyvönen, Suurten tapahtumien vuodet 1917-1918

“Красный архив”, 1940, vol. 2

H. Soikkanen, Kansalaissota dokumentteina

Kuusinen, “A Misleading Description of the “German October”

Salomaa*, Yrjö Sirola sosialistinen humanisti

Vikström, Torpeedo



*Salomaa was a communist who became a big revisionist eurocommunist especially since the 1960s. The history books he wrote are still mostly good and correct, and had to follow the party line more or less. However, after de-stalinization he used every opportunity to falsely attack Stalin in his books.