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 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 Myth that Stalin banned Hamlet

There is a widespread but baseless myth that ‘Stalin banned Hamlet’ in the USSR.

Shakespeare researcher Michelle Assay writes about it in “What Did Hamlet (Not) Do to Offend Stalin?” published in Actes des congrès de la Société française Shakespeare, 35, 2017.

THE MYTH IS SPREAD EVERYWHERE, EVEN BY ‘RESPECTED’ SCHOLARS

Assay writes:

“there is no official documentation that could provide a factual backbone for his so-called Hamlet ban.” (p. 1)

However, anti-communist propagandists have never needed sources or fact:

“Yet it has become received wisdom that Stalin not only hated Hamlet and its hero but accordingly banned any production in the Soviet Union. Stalin’s animus towards Hamlet features in almost every study dealing with Shakespeare and Soviet political/cultural life. The myth of the ban in fact takes various shapes: at best it is nuanced by such modifiers as “tacit” or “virtual”; at its worst the myth takes the form of highly exaggerated claims, which usually disregard the historical facts, including actual productions of Hamlet during Stalin era.” (p. 1)

The myth was spread even in so-called academically ‘respectable’ publications:

“Here are two examples from quite respectable publications: “Theatrical performances of Hamlet were subsequently [to Mikhail Chekhov’s 1924-5 production] banned until after Stalin’s death in 1953”, and “[in the 1940s] the play [Hamlet] had not been produced in the Soviet Union since Nikolai Akimov’s zany version of 1932.”Such statements can quickly be disproved. They disregard not only the provincial productions of Hamlet in the 1940s (for instance two in Belorussia directed by Valeri [also known as Valerian] Bebutov, one in 1941 at the Voronezh State Dramatic Theatre, and one in 1946 at the Iakub Kolas Theatre in Vitebsk) but also Sergei Radlov’s rather wellknown 1938 staging, which due to its great success toured widely beyond Leningrad and Moscow, as far as the Urals, Sochi and Belorussia, to almost unanimously positive reviews… More ideologically motivated are over-exaggerations of the kind found in Solomon Volkov’s widely debated concoction of Shostakovich’s supposed memoirs.” (p. 1)

HOW WAS THE MYTH INVENTED?

Assay suggests that the myth could have originated from Stalin’s statement (real or invented) that during WWII the nation needed an active optimistic hero, and not someone as passive and tragic as Hamlet. But as Assay writes, Hamlet was still performed during this period: “this in itself does not imply the complete absence of Hamlet… from the Soviet stage.” (p. 2)

Assay cites Dimitri Urnov’s article “How did Stalin ban Hamlet?” where Urnov suggests that the myth could have originated from the Moscow Art Theatre production of Hamlet from 1940, which was never completed. But “Urnov, however, goes on to argue – convincingly – that the production of Hamlet at the Moscow Art Theatre was halted not by Stalin but rather by many unfortunate circumstances and much internal tension within the Theatre itself.” (p. 3)


“There was at least one other contributing factor to the longevity of the myth of Hamlet and Stalin: the Hamlet fever that took over Soviet theatres following Stalin’s death” (p. 8)

However, this fever is hard to pinpoint. There had never been a Hamlet ban—Hamlet had simply been continuously produced. So when exactly did the fever begin? It is clear that Hamlet’s popularity increased over time and in the late 60s there was even a film. It seems clear that in the late 40s and early 50s there were other large projects and other topics which received most attention.


IN REALITY SHAKESPEARE AND HAMLET WERE CELEBRATED IN THE USSR

Assay writes that in reality Hamlet and Shakespeare plays were not only performed but:

“Bearing the seal of approval of Marx, Engels and Lenin, Shakespeare was indeed an attractive subject for schools and research institutes and provided “an ideal classic to reach the widest strata of readers and audiences and thus to bridge the gap which had frequently developed between modern art and the people.”” (p. 6)


In the late 40s when the Cold War intensified, the USSR became more and more critical of western capitalist propaganda in the form of culture. About this, Assay writes that Shakespeare was never under attack, only capitalist methods of Shakespeare criticism. Shakespeare’s works were translated and printed:

“During this critical period, it was not Shakespeare but supposed Western-style attitudes towards his scholarship that came under attack, including works of Mikhail Morozov that were deemed to be under Western influence… It was not the subject matter or the mere fact of writing about a foreign author that came under criticism, but Morozov’s [bourgeois] approach to Shakespeare scholarship… Following these attacks, and while politically correct “Soviet Shakespearology” was being supplanted by commentaries by Pushkin and Vissarion Belinski, there were also translations, often reprinted in anthologies.” (p. 7)


WHY THE MYTH WAS CREATED

Assay is a bourgeois scholar writing for a bourgeois publication. They only hint that there were political motives behind creating this myth—this fabrication—without delving any deeper into it.

Of course western academia used every opportunity to invent lies about the USSR, Stalin and Communism, including this totally non-existent ‘Hamlet ban’.

Khrushchev’s Dishonest Attack on the “Stalin Cult” (And the Role of Leaders in History)

Why did Khrushchev attack the “Cult of Personality”?

In 1956 the Soviet revisionist leader Nikita Khrushchev launched his attack on Stalin, the so-called “De-stalinization” and attack against the “Cult of the Individual”:

“It is of paramount importance to re-establish and to strengthen in every way the Leninist principle of collective leadership… The Central Committee… vigorously condemns the cult of the individual as being alien to the spirit of Marxism-Leninism”.
(Khrushchev, Report to the Central Committee, 20th Congress of the CPSU).

“…the cult of the individual acquired such monstrous size chiefly because Stalin himself, using all conceivable methods, supported the glorification of his own person”.
(Khrushchev, “The Secret Speech” in The Crimes Of The Stalin Era, Special Report To The 20th Congress Of The Communist Party Of The Soviet Union, p. 554)

Khrushchev attacked the cult of personality in order:
-to hijack the already existing criticism of cult-like behavior.*
-to attack his rivals by labeling them “Stalinists”
-to rehabilitate Tito
-to justify changes to policy and revision of theory

*for instance, according to Hungarian anti-communist historian Balázs Apor, there was already significant criticism of the ‘cult of personality’ before Khrushchev’s rise to power, but this criticism was never targeted against Stalin. (Source: Apor, The Invisible Shining)

Khrushchev’s project was accepted to the degree that it was, because it was legitimate to criticize the personality cult, though Khrushchev himself did it for false reasons.

Stalin Opposed the Cult of Personality

Khrushchev claimed Stalin orchestrated the Cult of Personality. But in reality Stalin always opposed it:

“I must say in all conscience, comrades, that I do not deserve a good half of the flattering things that have been said here about me…”
(J. V. Stalin, Reply to the Greetings of the Workers of the Chief Railway Workshops in Tiflis)

“You speak of your devotion to me… I would advise you to discard the ‘principle’ of devotion to persons. It is not the Bolshevik way. Be devoted to the working class, its Party, its state. That is a fine and useful thing. But do not confuse it with devotion to persons, this vain and useless bauble of weak-minded intellectuals.”
(J. V. Stalin, Letter to Comrade Shatunovsky, August 1930)

“The times have passed when leaders were regarded as the only makers of history, while the workers and peasants were not taken into account. The destinies of nations and of states are now determined, not only by leaders, but primarily and mainly by the vast masses of the working people. The workers and the peasants, who without fuss and noise are building factories and mills, constructing mines and railways, building collective farms and state farms, creating all the values of life, feeding and clothing the whole worldt hey are the real heroes and the creators of the new life.” (J.V. Stalin, Speech Delivered at the First All-Union Congress of Collective Farm Shock Brigadiers)

“I am absolutely against the publication of ‘Stories of the Childhood of Stalin’. The book abounds with a mass of inexactitudes of fact, of alterations, of exaggerations and off unmerited praise… the important thing resides it the fact that the book has a tendency to engrave on the minds of Soviet children (and people in general) the personality cult of leaders, of infallible heroes. This is dangerous and detrimental. The theory of ‘heroes’ and the ‘crowd’ is not a Bolshevik, but a Social-Revolutionary theory. I suggest we burn this book”.
(J. V. Stalin, Letter on Publications for Children Directed to the Central Committee of the All Union Communist Youth)

Stalin never accepted being equated with Lenin. He was only a continuer of Lenin’s work, a supporter of Lenin’s program:

“Robins: …throughout Russia I have found the names Lenin-Stalin, Lenin-Stalin, Lenin-Stalin, linked together.
Stalin: That, too, is an exaggeration. How can I be compared to Lenin?”
(J. V. Stalin, Talk With Colonel Robins, May 13 1933)

”MOLOTOV (. . . stated that he is and will always he a faithful disciple of Stalin.)
STALIN (interrupting Molotov): This is nonsense. I have no students at all. We are all students of the great Lenin.”
(Unpublished Speech by Stalin at the Plenum of the Central Committee, CPSU October 16, 1952)

Who really promoted the personality Cult?

Radek

The Cult of Personality was dishonestly fostered by Stalin’s enemies, by traitors who used it to promote their own careers or used it to hide their anti-Leninist positions. A good example of this was the Trotskyist Radek:

“The first issue of ‘Pravda;’ for 1934 carried a huge two-page article by Radek, heaping orgiastic praise on Stalin. The former Trotskyite, who had led the opposition to Stalin for many years, now called him ‘Lenin’s best pupil, the model of the Leninist Party, bone of its bone, blood of its blood’… He ‘is as far-sighted as Lenin’, and so on and on. This seems to have been the first large article in the press specifically devoted to the adulation of Stalin” (R. Medvedev, Let History Judge, p. 148).

Mikoyan

On the occasion of the celebration of Stalin’s fiftieth birthday in December 1929, Anastas Mikoyan accompanied his congratulations with the demand “that we, meeting the rightful demand of the masses, begin finally to work on his biography and make it available to the Party and to all working people in our country”. (‘Izvestia’, 21 December 1929, cited in: L. Pistrak: ibid,;164).

Ten years later, on the occasion of Stalin’s sixtieth birthday in December 1939, Mikoyan was still urging the creation of a “scientific biography” (‘Pravda’, 21 December 1939, cited in: L. Pistrak: ibid,.; p. 158) of Stalin.

An official biography was finally published in 1948. Khrushchev’s crony Mikoyan had been calling for such a biography for 20 years. But what did Khrushchev say in his ‘secret speech’? Khrushchev claimed that the book was created on Stalin’s instructions:

“One of the most chararacteristic examples of Stalin’s self-glorification and of his lack of even elementary modesty is the edition of his ‘Short Biography’. This book is an example of the most dissolute flattery”. (Khrushchev, “The Secret Speech” in The Crimes Of The Stalin Era, Special Report To The 20th Congress Of The Communist Party Of The Soviet Union, p. 554)

Grover Furr citing L.V. Maksimenkov points out that Stalin’s only involvement in the writing of his 1948 biography, was that Stalin diminished his own role. (Khrushchev Lied, pp. 117-121)

Ezhov

The right-wing opportunist and anti-Stalin traitor Ezhov was also a major builder of the “cult” around Stalin. Ezhov even demanded that the name of Moscow be changed to “Stalinodar” or “Gift of Stalin”. However, Stalin succeeded in preventing this from taking place:

“Ezhov commanded his subjects to create a project of renaming Moscow to Stalinodar (translated as “Stalin’s gift”)… But Ezhov didn’t take into account that Stalin hated plain flattery. He dismissed the suggestion as “foolish.”… There are accounts that Moscow was subject to another renaming campaign after WWII, (but Stalin refused the suggestion again)”
https://www.rbth.com/history/332610-why-bolsheviks-never-renamed-moscow

According to Sarah Davies in The Leader Cult in Communist Dictatorships: Stalin and the Eastern Bloc “On 20 May 1936, Stalin raised an item ‘On renaming towns etc.’ as a result of which the Politburo agreed to ban from 1 June 1936 the renaming of towns, small towns, district centres and railway stations.” (p. 41)

Khrushchev

However, the biggest architect of the “cult” was Khrushchev himself:

“It was Khrushchev who introduced the term ‘vozhd’ (‘leader’, corresponding to the German word ‘Fuhrer’).”
(Bland, THE ‘CULT OF THE INDIVIDUAL’ (1934-52))

At the Moscow Party Conference in January 1932, Khrushchev finished his speech by saying:

“The Moscow Bolsheviks, rallied around the Leninist Central Committee as never before, and around the ‘vozhd’ of our Party, Comrade Stalin, are cheerfully and confidently marching toward new victories in the battles for socialism, for world proletarian revolution”. (‘Rabochaya Moskva’, 26 January 1932, cited in: L. Pistrak: ‘The Grand Tactician: Khrushchev’s Rise to Power’; London; 1961; p. 159).

At the 17th Party Conference in January 1934 it was Khrushchev, and Khrushchev alone, who called Stalin “vozhd of genius”. (XVII s’ezd Vsesoiuznoi Kommunisticheskoi Partii (B.); p, 145, cited in: L. Pistrak: ibid.; p. 160).

In August 1936, during the Zinoviev-Kamenev trial, Khrushchev, in his capacity as Moscow Party Secretary, said:

“Miserable pygmies! They lifted their hands against the greatest of all men. . . . our wise ‘vozhd’, Comrade Stalin! Thou, Comrade Stalin, hast raised the great banner of Marxism-Leninism high over the entire world and carried it forward. We assure thee, Comrade Stalin, that the Moscow Bolshevik organisation — the faithful supporter of the Stalinist Central Committee — will increase Stalinist vigilance still more, will extirpate the Trotskyite-Zinovievite remnants, and close the ranks of the Party and non-Party Bolsheviks even more around the Stalinist Central Committee and the great Stalin”. (‘Pravda’, 23 August 1936, cited in: L. Pistrak: ibid,; p. 162).

At the Eighth All-Union Congress of Soviets in November 1936 it was again Khrushchev who proposed that the new Soviet Constitution, which was before the Congress for approval, should be called the ‘Stalinist Constitution’ because “it was written from beginning to end by Comrade Stalin himself”. (‘Pravda’, 30 November 1936, cited in: L. Pistrak: ibid.; p. 161).

“It has to be noted that Vyacheslav Molotov and Andrey Zhdanov did not mention any special role by Stalin in the drafting of the Constitution.” (Bland)

Why did the opportunists promote the Cult?

They did it to hide their own revisionism, to promote their own careers by trying to attach themselves to Stalin. Radek and Ezhov were conspiring against Stalin but they could never have defeated him openly. Radek and Ezhov pretended to be good loyal communists, when in fact they were not.

One might ask, “isn’t it counter-productive to foster this kind of hero-worship of Stalin, if one’s goal is to overthrow him?”. One might think it is counter-productive, yet that’s exactly what Khrushchev did successfully. Khrushchev promoted the cult more then anyone else, and used it to promote himself. But in the end he blamed the cult entirely on Stalin (who never even supported it) and Khrushchev then presented himself as some kind of great ‘democrat’ who fought against the cult!

Stalin knew that the cult was at least partially supported by traitors and opportunists, and he fought against it. He always gave credit to others, to the masses, to the party, and reminded people that the “great-man” theory of history is idealist.

The German writer Lion Feuchtwanger wrote:

“It is manifestly irksome to Stalin to be worshipped as he is, and from time to time he makes fun of it… Of all the men I know who have power, Stalin is the most unpretentious. I spoke frankly to him about the vulgar and excessive cult made of him, and he replied with equal candour… He thinks it is possible even that ‘wreckers’ may be behind it in an attempt to discredit him”.
(L. Feuchtwanger, Moscow 1937, pp. 93, 94-95)

The Finnish revisionist Arvo Tuominen wrote about a certain incident at a new years’ party in 1935. At this party Stalin parodied those who tried to suck up to him. He said:

“Comrades! I want to propose a toast to our patriarch, life and sun, liberator of nations, architect of socialism (he rattled off all the appelations applied to him in those days), Josef Vissarionovich Stalin, and I hope this is the first and last speech made to that genius this evening”.
(A. Tuominen, Bells of the Kremlin, p. 162).

Definition of “Cult of Personality”

In his attack against the “cult of Stalin” Khrushchev doesn’t treat the issue scientifically or in a marxist way at all. He never properly defines what the “Cult of Personality” even is. Khrushchev was not a theoretician, and did not understand what the role of individuals in history is. For Khrushchev, the “cult” was something vague like people singing songs about Stalin, naming cities after him, carrying pictures of him, and generally voicing their admiration and support for Stalin.

However, there is nothing inherently “cultish” or bad in admiring someone who legitimately has achieved something great. It only becomes a “cult” when the person in question is treated as an infallible god, and when people don’t simply respect his wise opinion, but uncritically accept everything without even thinking with their own brains.

Khrushchev never gave an exact explanation like this. Once again, Stalin had the correct position:

“Decisions of individuals are, always, or nearly always, one-sided decisions… In every collective body, there are people whose opinion must be reckoned with… From the experience of three revolutions we know that out of every 100 decisions taken by individual persons without being tested and corrected collectively, approximately 90 are one-sided…”
(J. V. Stalin, An Interview with the German Author Emil Ludwig)

A cult of personality promotes the idealist “great-man” theory of history. Stalin correctly said:

“the personality cult of leaders, of infallible heroes… is dangerous and detrimental. The theory of ‘heroes’ and the ‘crowd’ is not a Bolshevik, but a Social-Revolutionary theory.”
(J. V. Stalin, Letter on Publications for Children Directed to the Central Committee of the All Union Communist Youth)

The “great-man” theory is a remnant of bourgeois society and bourgeois ideology. To avoid this mistake, many Marxists today totally underestimate and disregard the importance of individuals and leaders. However, individuals and leaders do matter. It is not an irrelevant issue whether Stalin or Trotsky becomes the party leader, it is actually a very important issue.

“Marxism does not deny at all the role played by outstanding individuals or that history is made by people. But great people are worth anything at all only to the extent that they are able correctly to understand these conditions, to understand how to change them. If they fail to understand these conditions and want to alter them according to the promptings of their imagination, they will find themselves in the situation of Don Quixote… With us personages of the greatest authority are reduced to nonentities, become mere ciphers, as soon as the masses of the workers lose confidence in them”.
(J. V. Stalin, An Interview with the German Author Emil Ludwig)

To become a revolutionary leader, a person must win the support of the masses and correctly understand objective conditions.

Individuals always represent classes and tendencies. Stalin represented the proletarian political line, and thus relied on marxist theory and the support of the workers. Khrushchev represented a bourgeois line, the line which he pursued ended up restoring capitalism. Building socialism – a new superior type of system – requires a scientific theory and class consciousness. It is not easy to overthrow capitalism and the centuries of habits from class society. However, Marxist-Leninist theory provides the necessary answers for this work. In hindsight we can clearly see the erroneous policies and wrong positions introduced by the Khrushchevites, and avoid them in the future.


Truth About the Kronstadt Mutiny

THE KRONSTADT MUTINY

In March 1921 there was a mutiny against the Soviet government among soldiers in the fortress town of Kronstadt. The mutiny went on for two weeks, until it was suppressed by the Bolshevik government. The Kronstadt mutiny is one of those topics which is always debated: was it a heroic uprising against the ‘tyrannical bolsheviks’? Or was it an attempt at counter-revolution? Before I started researching this topic I thought that the Kronstadt mutiny was just a silly anarchist action – but its actually much worse then that.

THE LASTING MYTH OF KRONSTADT

The Kronstadt mutiny has remained a topic of discussion to this day. That is because it is always used as an example of supposed ‘communist tyranny’ by anarchists and revisionists, but also by capitalists and imperialists. They all claim that since the communists had to suppress a mutiny, therefore it proves they were anti-worker, oppressive and that they had turned against the revolution. Of course, this is simplistic and childish thinking and pure demagogy. Of course, there were other revolts and plots against the bolsheviks too, but the Kronstadt mutiny works much better for anarchist and capitalist propaganda purposes because at least on the surface it was done by soldiers of mostly peasant origin (and not by the rich) and because at least on the surface it had a left-wing agenda – however, the surface appearance doesn’t necessarily reflect the whole truth.

The first capitalist president of Russia Boris Yeltsin (the most hated Russian leader in known history) praised the Kronstadt mutiny and opened the archives on Kronstadt for researchers, so that they could prove how heroic the mutiny was and how evil the bolsheviks were. Unfortunately it backfired, since the primary source evidence doesn’t support his conclusion at all. The opened archives contain more then 1000 documents which include firsthand accounts by mutineers, secret White Guard reports, articles, memoirs etc. collected from a range of Soviet, White Guard, Menshevik, anarchist and western capitalist sources.

When the mutiny broke out it was immediately praised and supported in the capitalist media – actually, it was already praised and supported in the capitalist media two weeks before it had even broken out. This already shows that the mutiny was organized, or at least sponsored and supported by capitalists and western imperialist countries.

LEADER OF THE MUTINY PETRICHENKO

The leader of the mutiny was a political adventurer named Stepan Petrichenko. He had been in the Red Army, but considered himself an anarcho-syndicalist. He was also a Ukrainian nationalist. Petrichenko apparently remained an anarcho-syndicalist at least on the surface for most of his life, but one year before the Kronstadt mutiny he had tried to join the White Army. Anarchist historian Avrich writes:

“Petrichenko returned to his native village in April 1920 and apparently remained until September or October… The authorities, he later told an American journalist, had arrested him more than once on suspicion of counterrevolutionary activity. He had even tried to join the Whites…” (Avrich, Kronstadt, p. 95)

Avrich also discovered a secret White Guard Memorandum On Organizing An Uprising In Kronstadt.

Already pretty quickly after the events in Kronstadt we had absolutely solid proof the leaders and organizers of the mutiny were White Guardists or were working with White Guardists. And now with the archival materials, we have absolutely mountains of further evidence. If anyone says otherwise, they are wilfully ignorant or lying.

HOW THE MUTINY WAS ORGANIZED

In 1921 the country was in ruins after years of WWI and civil war. Fuel and food were always extremely scarce. As long as the civil war lasted, the population tolerated all these hardships. They understood it was inevitable in the war. However, in 1921 the war was coming to an end. Massive amounts of soldiers were sent home from the Red Army or at least taken away from battle. This created disturbances as people were no longer focused on fighting the White Army, and there were lots of badly adjusted jobless soldiers wandering around. Peasants also began opposing the war-time policy of grain requisition at fixed prices. Most soldiers themselves were peasants. This all combined together, to create some spontaneous disturbances. The policy of the government, was to evaluate the situation, change from war policies to peace time policies, and organize the reconstruction of the country and revitalization of the economy. However, that was an extremely difficult task which couldn’t be completed in one day.

There was unrest in Petrograd after several factories were temporarily closed due to fuel shortages. Some menshevik counter-revolutionaries were arrested without bloodshed. False rumors of workers being shot and factories even being bombarded, were spread in the fortress town of Kronstadt. Reactionaries took full advantage of these rumors and spread them.

“Mingled with the initial reports was an assortment of bogus rumors which quickly roused the passions of the sailors. It was said, for example, that government troops had fired on the Vasili Island demonstrators and that strike leaders were being shot in the cellars of the Cheka.” (Avrich, p. 71)

“the Petrograd strikes were on the wane… But the rumors of shootings and full-scale rioting had already aroused the sailors, and on March 2, at a time when the disturbances had all but ceased, they were drafting the erroneous announcement (for publication the following day ) that the city was in the throes of a “general insurrection.”” (Avrich, p. 83)

This was the necessary ideological preparation for the mutiny.

A mass meeting was held in Kronstadt on March 1 where anti-Communist statements and lies were spread. The meeting was orchestrated in such a way that Communists were not allowed to speak. The topic was raised that new elections to the Soviet should be carried out.

A delegate meeting of soldiers was held the next day on March 2. In this meeting it was proposed that all Communists be arrested. The delegates were amazed. However, the organizers of the mutiny made the completely baseless and hysterical claim that armed Communist detachments were about to surround the meeting and arrest everyone, therefore it was supposedly justified and necessary to begin rounding up and arresting Communists. This type of fear propaganda was cleverly used by the mutineers. Delegates had no time to think, they had no access to information, and Communists had no chance to speak. Thus the reactionaries could basically push through their anti-Communist policy.

“the Bolshevik commissar barely had time to object to the irregular proceedings before being cut off by the “military specialist” in charge of artillery, a former tsarist general named Kozlovsky… “Your time is past,” Kozlovsky declared.” (Avrich, p. 81)

The adventurer, anarcho-syndicalist and would-be White Guardist Petrichenko declared that a so-called ‘Provisional Revolutionary Committee’ or PRC had been elected. This PRC would now take over.

“[T]he chair of the meeting, Petrichenko, quieting down the meeting, announced that ‘The Revolutionary Committee… declares: “All Communists present are to be seized and not to be released until the situation is clarified” (Introduction to Kronstadt Tragedy)

“suddenly… a voice from the floor… shouted that 15 truckloads of Communists armed with rifles and machine guns were on their way to break up the meeting. The news had the effect of a bombshell, throwing the delegates into alarm and confusion… it was the bogus report that Communists were preparing to attack the meeting that actually precipitated the formation of the Provisional Revolutionary Committee… Petrichenko himself took up the rumor and announced that a detachment of 2,000 Communists were indeed on their way to disperse the meeting. Once again pandemonium broke loose, and the delegates left the hall in great excitement.” (Avrich, p. 84)

Using skillful propaganda and deception Petrichenko claimed that the ‘Provisional Revolutionary Committee’ was elected by soldier delegates. However, this was simply a lie. No elections had been carried out. But the masses did not know that – after all, maybe their delegates in their meeting had elected such a committee? Who could say? This is a good example of how such a reactionary coup can happen.

The Provisional Revolutionary Committee or PRC was never elected, its members had already been chosen before hand. In fact the committee was already sending orders and messages, one day before it had supposedly been elected. The committee stated:

“[T]he Communist Party is removed from power. The Provisional Revolutionary Committee is in charge. We ask that non-[Communist] party comrades take control into their hands” (“To All Posts of Kronstadt,”, reprinted in Kronstadt Tragedy.)

Avrich also mentions how the PRC was never elected, though he claims it was merely “for lack of time to hold proper elections” (Avrich, p. 84)

This “Provisional Revolutionary Committee” actually consisted of opportunists, capitalists and counter-revolutionaries. Two members of this committee were Mensheviks who had opposed the October Revolution. Mensheviks and their foreign supporters believed Russia needed capitalism and wasn’t ready for a workers’ revolution. Ivan Oreshin, another member in the committee was part of the capitalist Kadet party, one of the leading parties under the Tsar. The head of the Committee was the would-be White Guardist Petrichenko. The chief editor of the Kronstadt mutiny’s newspaper, Sergei Putilin was also a supporter of the capitalist Kadets. Thus both the political leadership of the Kronstadt mutiny, and the mutiny’s propaganda outlets were under the control of counter-revolutionaries.

A genuine revolution is not led by anti-revolutionary Mensheviks or by capitalists. Already from its very inception, the Kronstadt mutiny was basically counter-revolutionary. However, that was just the beginning.

Other members of the PRC were a black-market speculator Vershinin, former police detective Pavlov, two ex-capitalists or property holders Baikov and Tukin “who had once owned no less than six houses and three shops in Petrograd. Another committee member, Kilgast, had reportedly been convicted of embezzling government funds in the Kronstadt transportation department but had been released in a general amnesty on the third anniversary of the Bolshevik Revolution.” (Avrich, pp. 93-94)

“Perepelkin may have been the only reputed anarchist among the rebel leaders, but… he was in a good position to propagate his libertarian views… [however] the sailors, for their part, never called for the complete elimination of the state, a central plank in any anarchist platform.” (Avrich, p. 170)

It was important for the leaders of the Kronstadt mutiny to appear like they were some kind of revolutionaries. They needed gauge the mood of the soldiers, and try to fool them. Leader of the Kronstadt mutiny, would be-White Guardist Petrichenko made the proposal to allow full freedom for “all socialist parties” in the public meeting of March 1. Immediately he was attacked by angry shouts by soldiers: “That’s freedom for the right SRs and Mensheviks! No! No way! …We know all about their Constituent Assemblies! We don’t need that!” (Kuzmin Report, Stenographic Report of Petrograd Soviet, 25 March 1921, quoted in Kronstadt Tragedy)

Petrichenko needed to be careful to not alienate his crowd. The Kadet Ivan Oreshin who was part of the PRC wrote: “The Kronstadt uprising broke out under the pretext of replacing the old Soviet… with a new one… The question of… extending the vote also to the bourgeoisie, was carefully avoided by the orators… They did not want to evoke opposition among the insurgents… They did not speak of the Constituent Assembly, but the assumption was that it could be arrived at gradually…” (Oreshin in Volia Rossii (April-May 1921), quoted in Shchetinov Kronstadt Tragedy)

The mutiny leaders understood that the soldiers didn’t actually support their goals, so they needed to keep their true goals secret. They could be achieved “gradually” by sneaky secret maneuvering.

During all these operations the reactionary organizers of the mutiny still carefully tried to use a cover of revolutionary and pro-worker language. They called each other ‘comrades’ and ‘the revolutionary committee’. However, they were adamant that Communists must be crushed. The vaguely anarchistic ideology, most likely influenced by Petrichenko, suited their purposes. All kinds of demagogical slogans were made about “freedom against bolshevik tyranny”, “soviets without communism” etc.

However, even if we didn’t know that Petrichenko had wanted to be a White Guardist it was still completely obvious that the Kronstadt mutineers were not following anarchist theory in any typical sense. They were not establishing a stateless society but an anti-Communist military dictatorship. 300 Communists were rounded up and thrown into prisons, but hundreds of Communists also managed to run away.

“The repression carried out by the PRC against those Communists who remained faithful to the communist revolution fully refutes the supposedly peaceful intentions of the rebels. Virtually all the minutes of the PRC sessions indicate that the struggle against the Communists still at large and against those still in prison, remained an unrelenting focus of their attention. At the last phase they even resorted to threats of field courts martial in spite of their declared repeal of the death penalty.” (Agranov, April 1921, quoted in Kronstadt Tragedy)

An anarchist thug named Shustov, was the commandant of the prison. Imagine being an anarchist and advocating the abolition of all prisons, but at the same time you’re literally a prison warden, and you keep arresting hundreds of Communists! Shustov was chosen as the executioner who would shoot the leading local Communists. There was a plan to carry out a mass execution:

“Early on the morning of March 18, Shustov set up a machine gun outside the cell, which contained 23 prisoners. He was prevented from slaughtering the Communists only by the advance of the Red Army across the ice.” (Kronstadt 1921: Bolshevism vs. Counterrevolution)

THE KRONSTADT DEMANDS

Lenin pointed out that the Kronstadt demands were quite vague and unclear. This was inevitable because they were not realistic policy proposals but a combination of utopianism, spontaneity and demagogic propaganda intended to gather enough support until the White Guard could take power and crush the Communists and all other opposition.

The essential demands were: (Source: March 1 Resolution, quoted in Kronstadt Tragedy)

1. New elections to the Soviets. In Kronstadt Communists were arrested and thus would not be allowed to run in elections. Instead the Soviets would be filled with mensheviks, white guards, anarchists and opponents of the October Revolution such as the SR kerensky types. Of course the reactionaries also hoped this could spread elsewhere and help destabilize the Soviet government. Needless to say this was not an anarchistic “stateless” order.

2. Full freedom of action for anti-Communist parties including the left-SR terrorists who tried to assassinate Lenin in 1918. The terrorist’s bullet hit Lenin in the neck but he survived. These anti-Communist forces would receive full freedom of action, but of course in Kronstadt the Communists would be repressed and prevented from all activism. Again, the reactionaries hoped this would spread to other areas too.

3. There should be no government regulation of trade-unions. Of course, in practice this simply meant that unions should denounce the Soviet government, sever their ties with the Soviet government and not follow instructions from it. If this demand was implemented it would lead to chaos because the unions were the government’s main instrument of economic management and workplace democracy. The demand for unions which did not collaborate with the workers’ government was also an essentially anti-socialist demand. Unions working with a proletarian state are an important part of planned economy and socialist construction.

4. Anti-Communist rebels like menshevik saboteurs, SR terrorists and those organizing revolts should be freed from jail.

5. The mutineers demanded bigger rations. Of course everybody wanted higher wages and bigger rations, but this was just a cheap attempt to garner popularity. Also, the bolshevik government was being basically forced to pay somewhat higher salaries and better rations for skilled experts, bourgeois officials and workers in strategic branches. They did not want to do this, but they had to. Those experts and officials could not be replaced right away, and if they didn’t collaborate the government would have huge problems. Therefore the bolsheviks simply had to accommodate those people until Red Experts could be trained to replace them. It may seem unfair, but failing to recognize this necessity is just another example of utopian stupidity.

6. The abolition of “war communism” or grain requisition. Again, this demand could gain some popularity. The peasants never particularly liked the system of war communism, though it was necessary for the war effort. The mutineers more broadly demanded that peasants should be able to use their land and property exactly how they see fit. They did not want collective agriculture or socialist planned economy, but instead who ever was lucky enough to have land should use it to the best of their ability and compete on the market. Landless would remain landless, and big peasants would get bigger.

7. The mutineers demanded the purging of Communists from the military and factory management, and abolition of Communist political departments from the army. The army at this point still had very large numbers of professional officers and soldiers from the times of the Tsar and Kerensky. These officers were needed and used by the Communists because of their skills and professional military training. However, because those officers and soldiers were not communists or workers, and were generally untrustworthy the Bolsheviks invented ‘political comissars’ to supervise the officers.

“former imperial officers were… [used] as “military specialists” ( voenspetsy ) under the watchful supervision of political commissars. In this way, badly needed command experience and technical knowledge were provided until a new corps of Red Commanders could be trained.” (Avrich, p. 66)

The Kronstadt mutineers demanded that this system be abolished. Such a demand might appeal to some anarchists, but one can only imagine what the result would be. The non-Communist officers inside the Red Army would no longer follow socialist instructions and the Red Army would stop being a proletarian army at all. In fact, this quickly happened and the old Tsarist officers Kozlovsky, Vilken and others were soon walking around like they were masters of the situation. In fact, they were masters during the mutiny.

According to the SRs the White Guard general Kozlovsky was ‘elected’ to the defence council of the Kronstadt mutiny, but it seems unlikely he could get elected. Its more likely he was simply chosen by the counter-revolutionaries into that post. The Menshevik newspaper Sotsialisticheski Vestnik published in Germany wrote that Kozlovsky and the other Whites tried to convince the Mensheviks and SRs to begin a general military assault against the Soviet government, but they were unable to convince them. The Mensheviks wrote: “The political leaders of the insurrection would not agree to take the offensive and the opportunity was let slip.“

WHITE GUARDS AND CAPITALISTS IN KRONSTADT

White emigres immediately began making plans to join the Kronstadt mutineers. A former associate of White General Dennikin, N. N. Chebyshev wrote about those times: “White officers roused themselves and started seeking ways to get to the fight in Kronstadt… The spark flew among the emigres. Everybody’s spirit was lifted by it” (quoted in Shchetinov, Introduction to Kronstadt Tragedy)

Imperialist France and Britain encouraged capitalist states on the Russian border to assist the Kronstadt mutiny. British foreign minister Lord Curzon sent a secret message to Finland On March 11 stating: “His Majesty’s Government are not prepared themselves to intervene… Very confidential: There is no reason, however, why you should advise the Finnish Government to take a similar course or to prevent any private societies or individuals from helping [the mutiny]” (Documents on British Foreign Policy 1919-1939).

Food and money came from rich capitalists and White emigres to support the Kronstadt mutineers. Tsarist Baron P. Y. Vilken, the former commander of the Sevastopol, used his spy contacts to deliver the money. His telegrams discuss sending the funds through Helsinki “which needs the money in the beginning of March” (Russkaia voennaia emigratsiaa 20-x—40-x godov).

“The Russian banks, with the former Tsarist minister of finance Kokovtsev at their head, began to collect money for Kronstadt. Goutchkov, the head of the Russian imperialist party, got in contact with the English and American governments to obtain food supplies.” (Radek, The Kronstadt Uprising, 1921)

“The Whiteguard emigres in Paris organized collection of money and provisions for the mutineers, and the American Red Cross sent food supplies to Kronstadt under its flag.“ (A History of the USSR, volume 3, p. 307)

“the Russian Union of Commerce and Industry in Paris declared its intention to send food and other supplies to Kronstadt… an initial sum of two million Finnish marks had already been pledged to aid Kronstadt in “the sacred cause of liberating Russia” (Avrich, p. 116)

“the Russian-Asiatic Bank contributed 225,000 francs. Additional funds were donated by other Russian banks, insurance companies, and financial concerns throughout Europe, and by the Russian Red Cross, which funneled all collections to Tseidler, its representative in Finland. By March 16 Kokovtsov was able to inform the Committee of Russian Banks in Paris that deposits for Kronstadt already exceeded 775,000 francs…” (Avrich, p. 117)

The leaders of the Kronstadt mutiny published an article on March 6 where they claimed to oppose the Whites. However, this was more deception as Petrichenko and many of his associates were White Guardists. Two days later on March 8 they welcomed a secret delegation of allies, which included a courier from the SR Administrative Center, an agent of Finnish State Security, two representatives of the monarchist Petrograd Combat Organization and four White Guard officers, including Baron Vilken.

The Whites were disguised as a “Red Cross” delegation sent from Finland. According to a detailed report by White Guardist Tseidler to his HQ, the delegation was immediately invited to ajoint session of the PRC and the general staff officers. A plan was reached to use the Red Cross as a cover to organizing sending food, supplies and funds to Kronstadt. (Source: Tseidler, Red Cross Activity in Organizing Provisions Aid to Kronstadt, 25 April 1921).

White emigre and former member of the Kronstadt leadership Kupolov wrote later that some of the Kronstadt leaders (probably mensheviks and anarchists) were not too happy about the monarchist and White Guard plots. However, Petrichenko was simply using them and planned to eventually get rid of them too. Kupolov writes:

“The PRC, seeing that Kronstadt was filling up with agents of a monarchist organization, issued a declaration that it would not enter into negotiations with, nor accept any aid from, any non-socialist parties… But… Petrichenko and the General Staff secretly worked in connection with the monarchists and prepared the ground for an overthrow of the committee…” (Kupolov, “Kronstadt and the Russian Counterrevolutionaries in Finland: From the Notes of a Former Member of the PRC”)

This is exactly why the Bolsheviks stated that while many of the Kronstadt mutineers were not White Guards or members of the capitalist class, their action still furthered the goals of the White Guard counter-revolution and of capitalist restoration. The White Guards were simply using these mensheviks and hapless opportunists.

The PCR claimed:
“In Kronstadt, total power is in the hands only of the revolutionary sailors… not of the White Guards headed by some General Kozlovsky, as the slanderous Moscow radio proclaims.” “We have only one general here… commissar of the Baltic Fleet Kuzmin. And he has been arrested.”” (Avrich, p. 99)

In exile Petrichenko stated:
“Cut off from the outside world, we could receive no aid from foreign sources even if we had wanted it. We served as agents of no external group: neither capitalists, Mensheviks, nor SR’s.” (Avrich, p. 113)

These days we know that he was lying.

Anarchist sailor Perepelkin, who was there in Kronstadt stated:

“And here I saw the former commander or the Sevastopol, Baron Vilken with whom I had earlier sailed. And it is he who is now acknowledged by the PRC to be the representative of the delegation that is offering us aid. I was outraged by this. I… said, so that’s the situation we’re in, that’s who we’re forced to talk to. Petrichenko and the others jumped on me… There was no other way out: they said. I stopped arguing and said I would accept the proposal. And on the second day we received 400 poods of food and cigarettes. Those who agreed to mutual friendship with the White Guard baron yesterday shouted that they were for Soviet power.” (Komarov Report, 25 March 1921)

“Any doubts about Vilken’s motives (his officer background was known to the rebel leaders) were brushed aside, and the Revolutionary Committee accepted his offer.” (Avrich, p. 122)

This has of course continued to this very day. The pseudo-Anarchists in Rojava made the same exact arguments. They said, they needed to collaborate with American imperialists because American imperialists were giving them funding, training, military support and weaponry. And were they really expected to win all on their own without such support? But such opportunistic logic merely reduces any movement into helpless puppets of capitalists and imperialists.

Wrangel’s right hand man, White General General Von Lampe literally laughed at the anarchists, mensheviks and SRs. He wrote in his diary that their propaganda was “full of justifications to dispel the thought, God forbid, that the sailors were under the influence of [White Monarchist] officers… The SRs don’t understand that in such a struggle, what are needed are severe and determined measures.” (Quoted in Kronstadt Tragedy)

An editor for the mutineer newspaper Lamanov stated: “Up until the seizure of Kronstadt by Soviet troops I thought the movement had heen organized by the Left SRs. After I became convinced that the movement was not spontaneous, I no longer sympathized with it… Now I am firmly convinced, that, without a doubt, White Guards, both Russian and foreign, took part in the movement. The escape to Finland convinced me of this. Now I consider my participation in this movement to have heen an unforgivable stupid mistake.” (Minutes of Cheka Interrogation of Anatoly Lamanov)

On March 15 the Kronstadt mutineers secretly sent two of their leaders to Finland, to ask for support. At this time Finland was ruled by the ferocious White Guard government of Mannerheim and co. which was launching invasions into Soviet-Karelia and supporting the Russian White Generals. When the mutiny was being defeated, on March 17 Petrichenko and the leaders ordered the crews of ships Petropavlovsk and Sevastopol to blow up the ships and flee to Anti-Communist Finland. However, at this point the soldiers had already begun to think their leaders must be reactionaries and did not follow orders. They rose up, saved the ships and arrested all the officers and Provisional Committee members they could get their hands on.

After the Kronstadt mutiny had failed and its leaders had fled to Finland, they agreed to join the White Army of Wrangel:

“In May 1921 Petrichenko and several of his fellow refugees at the Fort Ino camp decided to volunteer their services to General Wrangel… in a new campaign to unseat the Bolsheviks and restore “the gains of the February 1917 Revolution.”” (Avrich, p. 127)

It is very significant that at this point they were no longer in Kronstadt, and thus didn’t need to pretend they supported the October Revolution. Hence they now began to only praise the February revolution of Kerensky!

The Petrichenko gang and the Whites forces of Wrangel agreed to “the retention of their slogan “all power to the soviets but not the parties.”… the slogan was to be retained only as a “convenient political maneuver” until the Communists had been overthrown. Once victory was in hand, the slogan would be shelved and a temporary military dictatorship installed…” (Avrich, pp. 127-128)

THE REACTIONARY PROPAGANDA CAMPAIGN

The Kronstadt mutineers and their capitalist allies carried out a massive propaganda campaign to support the mutiny. They published lies claiming that supposedly the Bolsheviks were carrying out atrocities and supposedly everybody was rising up against them. In fact, nothing of the kind happened.

The Kronstadt newspaper wrote on March 7: “Last Minute News From Petrograd” – ”Mass arrests and executions of workers and sailors continue.”

On March 8 a Finnish capitalist newspaper Hufvudstadsbladet published the following lies, provided to them by Mensheviks: “Petrograd workers are striking… crowds bearing red banners demand a change of government – the overthrow of the Communists.”

On March 11 the Kronstadt newspaper wrote: “The [bolshevik] Government In Panic.” “Our cry has been heard. Revolutionary sailors, Red Army men and workers in Petrograd are already coming to our assistance … The Bolshevik power feels the ground slipping from under its feet and has issued orders in Petrograd to open fire at any group of five or more people gathering in the streets …”

“Moscow Rising Reported. Petrograd Fighting.” (London Times, March 2, 1921)

“Petrograd et Moscou Seraient aux Maine des Insurgés qui ont Formé un Gouvernement Provisoire.” [“Petrograd and Moscow will be in the hands of the insurgents who have formed a provisional government”] (Matin, March 7)

“Les Marins Revoltés Débarquent à Petrograd.” [“Rebelling sailors land in Petrograd”] (Matin, March 8)

“Der Aufstand in Russland.” [“The uprising in Russia”] (Vossische Zeitung, March 10)

“In Petrograd the remnants of the SRs, Mensheviks and various anarchists banded together… [and] collaborated with the newly formed monarchist Petrograd Combat Organization (PCO), as the PCO itself asserted (PCO Report to Helsinki Department of National Center, no earlier than 28 March 1921; reprinted in Kronstadt Tragedy). The [monarchist-capitalist] PCO even printed the Mensheviks’ leaflets! On March 14… [they] issued a leaflet in solidarity with Kronstadt that said not one word about socialism or soviets, but instead called for an uprising against “the bloody communist regime” in the name of “all power to the people” (“Appeal to All Citizens, Workers, Red Army Soldiers and Sailors,” 14 March 1921; reprinted in Kronstadt Tragedy).” (Kronstadt 1921: Bolshevism vs. Counterrevolution)

“Savinkov, aide to Kerensky… in his Warsaw newspaper Svoboda, printed on Polish [capitalist] government money, boasts (24th February) “I fight against the Bolsheviks, I fight alongside those who have already struggled with Kolchak, Denikin, Wrangel and even Petlioura, strange as that may seem.” (Radek, The Kronstadt Uprising, 1921)

Savinkov wrote that the sailors of Kronstadt had captured the battleship Aurora and fired its cannons on Petrograd. This never actually happened. He wrote: “when the cruiser Aurora fired on Petrograd it was an expression of repentance for the sin committed on the 25th of October 1917 with the bombardment of the Winter Palace, the seat of Kerensky’s ministry.”

“The Roul of Berlin, the organ of the right wing of the Cadet Party, wrote “The uprising of Kronstadt is scared, because it is an uprising against the idea of the October revolution”. The Society of Russian Industrialists and Financiers of Paris, when they heard the news from Kronstadt, decided to not worry about the extremist demands or the primitive cause of the mutiny [“les revendications extremistes cause primitive de la mutinerie”] because its essential point was that “the sailors were for the overthrow of the Communist government” [Dernières Nouvelles de Paris, 8th March].” (Radek, The Kronstadt Uprising, 1921)

The reactionary mutineers claimed that mass uprisings had broken out in Petrograd and Moscow to support the Kronstadt mutiny, but this was a total lie. Even Menshevik leader Dan admitted in his 1922 book that “the Kronstadt mutiny was not supported by the Petersburg workers in any way” (quoted in ‘The Mensheviks in the Kronstadt Mutiny,” Krasnaill Letopis’, 1931, No.2). This is easy to understand, because the mutiny was not based on genuine political organizing or a genuine program. It was a plot organized by White Guard reactionaries and political adventurers, by spreading false rumors, lies, and exploiting the temporary difficulties and confusion in Kronstadt at the time in order to carry out a military coup, repress the communists and prevent the workers and peasants from understanding what was actually going on.

It was enterily unlikely that workers would support the mutiny in other towns where they could not be simply tricked by plotters, and where they had their working class and Communist organizations. The Kronstadt mutiny used anarchists, left-SR terrorists and Mensheviks as their henchmen but even they were to a large extent simply fooled into it, as White Guardists were secretly trying to orchestrate many aspects of the mutiny for their own purposes.

Its also worth pointing out that the best revolutionary elements in the left-SRs, left-Mensheviks and even anarchists had already seen the error in their ways and joined the Bolshevik Party either right before the October Revolution or soon after it. Only the worse elements like terrorists, utopians and right-wing Mensheviks now opposed the Bolsheviks. The anarcho-syndicalist “Worker Opposition” also supported the Bolsheviks in crushing the Kronstadt mutiny.

“SOVIETS WITHOUT COMMUNISM! DOWN WITH COMMUNISM!” – IDEOLOGY OF THE KRONSTADT MUTINY

Milliukov, one of the capitalist leaders of Russia who was ousted by the October Revolution, wrote in his newspaper which he published in Paris, that reactionaries need to support the Kronstadt mutiny. He therefore advocated the slogan “Down with the Bolsheviks’ Long live the Soviets!” (Poslednie Novosti. 11 March 1921). The first step was to get rid of the Bolshevik Communists, after that it would be easy to restore the power of the capitalists.

“The [capitalist]… Milyukov, supplied the Kronstadt counter-revolutionaries with the watchword “Soviets without Communists””(A History of the USSR, volume 3, p. 307)

Stalin said: “Soviets without Communists — such was then the watchword of the chief of the Russian counter-revolution, Milyukov…” (J. Stalin, Articles and Speeches, Moscow, 1934, , Russ, ed., p. 217)

“But the class enemy was not dozing. He tried to exploit the distressing economic situation and the discontent of the peasants for his own purposes. Kulak revolts, engineered by Whiteguards and SRs, broke out in Siberia, the Ukraine and the Tambov province… All kinds of counter-revolutionary elements — Mensheviks, SRs, Anarchists, Whiteguards, bourgeois nationalists—became active again. The enemy adopted new tactics of struggle against the Soviet power. He began to borrow a Soviet garb, and his slogan was no longer the old bankrupt “Down with the Soviets!” but a new slogan: “For the Soviets, but without Communists!”

A glaring instance of the new tactics of the class enemy was the counter-revolutionary mutiny in Kronstadt… Whiteguards, in complicity with SRs, Mensheviks and representatives of foreign states, assumed the lead of the mutiny. The mutineers at first used a “Soviet” signboard to camouflage their purpose of restoring the power and property of the capitalists and landlords. They raised the cry: “Soviets without Communists!” The counter-revolutionaries tried to exploit the discontent of the petty bourgeois masses in order to overthrow the power of the Soviets under a pseudo-Soviet slogan.

Two circumstances facilitated the outbreak of the Kronstadt mutiny: the deterioration in the composition of the ships’ crews, and the weakness of the Bolshevik organization in Kronstadt. Nearly all the old [revolutionary, communist Kronstadt] sailors… [had been sent away to the] front, heroically fighting in the ranks of the Red Army. The naval replenishments [sent to Kronstadt to replace them] consisted of new men, who had not been schooled in the revolution. These were a perfectly raw peasant mass who gave expression to the peasantry’s discontent with the [grain requisition system and war communism]. As for the Bolshevik organization in Kronstadt, it had been greatly weakened by a series of mobilizations for the front.”
(History of the CPSU(B) short course)

Anarchist historian Avrich writes that the bulk of Kronstadt sailors had fought in anti-Communist forces before: “…we have it from Petrichenko himself that “three-quarters” of the Kronstadt garrison were natives of the Ukraine, some of whom had served with the anti-Bolshevik forces in the south before entering the Soviet navy.” (Avrich, p. 93)

“Throughout the Civil War of 1918-1920, the sailors of Kronstadt… More than 40,000… replenished the ranks of the Red Army on every front.” (Avrich, p. 62)

“There can be little doubt that during the Civil War years a large turnover had indeed taken place within the Baltic Fleet… old-timers had been replaced by conscripts from the rural districts… By 1921… more than three-quarters of the sailors were of peasant origin, a substantially higher proportion than in 1917, when industrial workers from the Petrograd area made up a sizable part of the fleet.” (Avrich, p. 89)

The temporary weakness of the local Communist organization in Kronstadt, the mass influx of politically uneducated people from the countryside, who were even anti-communists, and the sending of politically educated, experienced proletarians away to the frontlines during the war – these factors allowed the SR utopians, terrorists, anarchists, mensheviks and outright capitalists, monarchists and White Guards to gain a temporary foothold in Kronstadt.

One of the reasons for the relative weakness of the Kronstadt Bolshevik party organization, was that Trotskyists and Zinovievites were in a strong position there:

“The work of political education was at that time badly organized in the Baltic Fleet, and the Trotskyites… managed to get into leading positions…” (A History of the USSR, volume 3, p. 307)

A power struggle began between the opportunist factions of Trotsky and Zinoviev. At this time Lenin had been waging ideological struggle against Trotsky’s bureaucratic position on the questions of war-communism and role of the trade-unions. Zinoviev took advantage of this to strengthen his own opportunist faction. Trotskyists themselves admit this:

“Seizing on Trotsky’s wrong-headedness, Zinoviev mobilized his own base in the Petrograd-Kronstadt area against Trotsky… Zinoviev opened the floodgates of the Kronstadt party organization to backward recruits while encouraging a poisonous atmosphere in the inner-party dispute. The rot in the Kronstadt Communist Party organization was a critical factor in allowing the mutiny to proceed” (“Kronstadt 1921…”, Spartacist, Spring 2006 #59, )

There is no honor among scoundrels! A few years after this the renegade cliques of Trotsky and Zinoviev would unite their forces against the Bolshevik party.

“The authority of the party was further undermined by a struggle for political control in the fleet, which pitted Trotsky, the War Commissar, against Zinoviev… As a result of this dispute, the commissars and other party administrators lost much of their hold over the rank and file.” (Avrich, p. 70)

ANTI-SEMITISM

Another piece of information, indicating that the Kronstadt mutineers did not represent the best revolutionary elements, but actually some of the most politically backward elements, was their rampant anti-semitism. Anti-semitism of course was quite common in Russia at that time, but it was not tolerated among the Communists. It was more common among peasants then workers.

“feelings against the Jews ran high among the [Kronstadt] sailors, many of whom came from the Ukraine and the western borderlands, the classic regions of virulent anti-Semitism in Russia” (Avrich, p. 179)

One of the Kronstadt newspaper editors Lamanov, said that people constantly wrote anti-semitic articles about Jews having “murdered Russia” but he usually succeeded in preventing them from being published. (Source: Further Minutes of Questioning of Anatoly Lamanov, 25 March 1921)

“Vershinin… [member of the PRC] shouted an appeal for joint action against the Jewish and Communist oppressors…” (Avrich, p. 155)

“Jews were a customary scapegoat in times of hardship and distress… In a particularly vicious passage [one sailor] attacks the Bolshevik regime as the “first Jewish Republic”… he labels the Jews a new “privileged class,”… calling the government ultimatum to Kronstadt “the ultimatum of the Jew Trotsky.” These sentiments, he asserts were widely shared by his fellow sailors… Witness the appeal of Vershinin, a member of the Revolutionary Committee… on March 8… “Enough of your ‘hoorahs,’ and join with us to beat the Jews. It’s their cursed domination that we workers and peasants have had to endure.” (Avrich, pp. 179-180)

WHY DIDN’T THE BOLSHEVIKS NEGOTIATE A PEACEFUL SETTLEMENT?

Anarchists usually claim that the Bolsheviks saw the Kronstadt mutiny as some great threat to their power. That supposedly the “heroic struggle” of the mutineers could’ve inspired everyone to overthrow the Bolsheviks. However, this is completely false.

Lenin wrote:

“This Kronstadt affair in itself is a very petty incident. It no more threatens to break up the Soviet state than the Irish disorders are threatening to break up the British Empire.” (Lenin, On the Kronstadt revolt)

The Menshevik leader Dan admitted in his 1922 book that “the Kronstadt mutiny was not supported by the Petersburg workers in any way” (quoted in ‘The Mensheviks in the Kronstadt Mutiny,” Krasnaill Letopis’, 1931, No.2)

The Bolshevik government suppressed the mutiny because the Whites still tried to use it as a springboard for restarting the civil war with foreign imperialist backing.

“What the authorities feared, in other words, was not so much the rebellion itself…” (Avrich, p. 134)

“Of greater concern to the Bolsheviks was the determination of the [white] emigres to gain access to Kronstadt and use it as a base for a landing on the mainland. This would have meant nothing less than a resumption of the Civil War…” (Avrich, p. 134)

The ice was quickly melting so time was of the essence. Kronstadt had an extremely strong fortress and heavy weaponry. It would be very difficult to attack, and if the ice melted the only way to get there would be on battleships. Kronstadt itself also had two battleships. Therefore if the Bolsheviks waited and didn’t attack and take the Fort right away, the resulting battle might be catastrophic in its casualties and material damages. The mutineers also felt that they had gone too far, and there was no turning back. They felt they couldn’t negotiate their way out of this and simply had to fight as long as possible.

Zinoviev carried out pointless negotiations with the mutineers, which achieved nothing and only allowed the counter-revolutionaries to fortify their defenses.

“Zinoviev negotiated with the traitors for seven whole days, thereby giving them time to fortify themselves.” (A History of the USSR, volume 3, p. 307)

TROTSKY’S ROLE

It is often stated that Trotsky led the suppression of the Kronstadt mutiny, and that under Trotsky’s leadership the soldiers committed atrocities. However, both of these claims are false. The military defeat of the mutiny was entirely led by Voroshilov. Trotsky himself wrote later:

“The truth of the matter is that I personally did not participate in the least in the suppression of the Kronstadt rebellion” (Trotsky, More on the Suppression of Kronstadt)

The soldiers, 300 of whom had been delegates to the 10th Bolshevik Party Congress, acted heroicially but Zinoviev who was in a power struggle with Trotsky at the time, spread all kinds of lies about the military operation, saying that it was organized by Trotsky and that all kinds of mistakes and wrong-doings supposedly occurred. But the bureaucratic mistakes of Trotsky, neglecting ideological education in the army and navy, and the further sabotage of Zinoviev contributed to the outbreak of the mutiny.

DEFEATING THE MUTINY

“The mutineers gained possession of a first-class fortress, the fleet, and a vast quantity of arms and ammunition… Against the Kronstadt mutineers the Party sent its finest sons—delegates to the Tenth Congress, headed by Comrade Voroshilov. The Red Army men advanced on Kronstadt across a thin sheet of ice; it broke in places and many were drowned. The almost impregnable forts of Kronstadt had to be taken by storm…” (History of the CPSU(B) short course)

“Picked units of the Red Army were sent to crush the Kronstadt counter-revolution. The Tenth Congress of the Party, which was in session at that time, sent 300 of its delegates, headed by K. E. Voroshilov, to reinforce them. On March 16, the revolutionary soldiers… commenced an assault upon the main forts of Kronstadt, rushing forward in spite of continuous machine-gun fire and the bursting shells which broke the already fragile ice over which they were advancing. In the front ranks of the assault columns was Voroshilov, setting an example of Bolshevik courage and valour.” (A History of the USSR, volume 3, pp. 307-308)

APPENDIX. LENIN ON KRONSTADT:

“What does it mean? It was an attempt to seize political power from the Bolsheviks by a motley crowd or alliance of ill-assorted elements, apparently just to the right of the Bolsheviks, or perhaps even to their “left”—you can’t really tell, so amorphous is the combination of political groupings that has tried to take power in Kronstadt. You all know, undoubtedly, that at the same time whiteguard generals were very active over there. There is ample proof of this. A fortnight before the Kronstadt events., the Paris newspapers reported a mutiny at Kronstadt. It is quite clear that it is the work of SRs and whiteguard émigrés, and at the same time the movement was reduced to a petty-bourgeois counter-revolution and petty-bourgeois anarchism. That is something quite new. This circumstance, in the context of all the crises, must be given careful political consideration and must be very thoroughly analysed… There is evidence here of the activity of petty-bourgeois anarchist elements with their slogans of unrestricted trade and invariable hostility to the dictatorship of the proletariat… they wanted to correct the Bolsheviks in regard to restrictions in trade—and this looks like a small shift, which leaves the same slogans of “Soviet power” with ever so slight a change or correction. Yet, in actual fact the whiteguards only used the non-Party elements as a stepping stone to get in. This is politically inevitable. We saw the petty-bourgeois, anarchist elements in the Russian revolution, and we have been fighting them for decades. We have seen them in action since February 1917, during the great revolution, and their parties’ attempts to prove that their programme differed little from that of the Bolsheviks, but that only their methods in carrying it through were different. We know this not only from the experience of the October Revolution, but also of the outlying regions and various areas within the former Russian Empire where the Soviet power was temporarily replaced by other regimes. Let us recall the Democratic Committee in Samara. They all came in demanding equality, freedom, and a constituent assembly, and every time they proved to be nothing but a conduit for whiteguard rule. Because the Soviet power is being shaken by the economic situation, we must consider all this experience and draw the theoretical conclusions a Marxist cannot escape… We must take a hard look at this petty-bourgeois counter-revolution with its calls for freedom to trade. Unrestricted trade—even if it is not as bound up initially with the whiteguards as Kronstadt was—is still only the thin end of the wedge for the whiteguard element, a victory for capital and its complete restoration. We must, I repeat, have a keen sense of this political danger.”
(Lenin, Tenth Congress of the R.C.P.(B.))

“I emphasised the danger of Kronstadt because it lies precisely in the fact that the change demanded was apparently very slight: “The Bolsheviks must go . . . we will correct the regime a little.” That is what the Kronstadt rebels are demanding. But what actually happened was that Savinkov arrived in Revel, the Paris newspapers reported the events a fortnight before they actually occurred, and a whiteguard general appeared on the scene. That is what actually happened.” (Lenin, Tenth Congress of the R.C.P.(B.))

“The way the enemies of the proletariat take advantage of every deviation from a thoroughly consistent communist line was perhaps most strikingly shown in the case of the Kronstadt mutiny, when the bourgeois counter-revolutionaries and whiteguards in all countries of the world immediately expressed their readiness to accept the slogans of the Soviet system, if only they might thereby secure the overthrow of the dictatorship of the proletariat in Russia, and when the SRs and the bourgeois counter-revolutionaries in general resorted in Kronstadt to slogans calling for an insurrection against the Soviet Government of Russia ostensibly in the interest of the Soviet power. These facts fully prove that the whiteguards strive, and are able, to disguise themselves as Communists, and even as the most Left-wing Communists, solely for the purpose of weakening and destroying the bulwark of the proletarian revolution in Russia.“ (Lenin, Tenth Congress of the R.C.P.(B.))

“The vacillation of the petty-bourgeois element was the most characteristic feature of the Kronstadt events. There was very little that was clear, definite and fully shaped. We heard nebulous slogans about “freedom”, “freedom of trade”, “emancipation”, “Soviets without the Bolsheviks”, or new elections to the Soviets, or relief from “Party dictatorship”, and so on and so forth. Both the Mensheviks and the SRs declared the Kronstadt movement to be “their own”. [Menshevik] Victor Chernov sent a messenger to Kronstadt. On the latter’s proposal, the Menshevik Valk, one of the Kronstadt leaders, voted for the Constituent Assembly. In a flash, with lightning speed, you might say, the whiteguards mobilised all their forces “for Kronstadt“. Their military experts in Kronstadt, a number of experts, and not Kozlovsky alone, drew up a plan for a landing at Oranienbaum, which scared the vacillating mass of Mensheviks, SRs and non-party elements. More than fifty Russian whiteguard newspapers published abroad conducted a rabid campaign “for Kronstadt”. The big banks, all the forces of finance capital, collected funds to assist Kronstadt. That shrewd leader of the bourgeoisie and the landowners, the Cadet Milyukov, patiently explained to the simpleton [Menshevik] Chernov… and to the Mensheviks Dan and Rozhkov, who are in jail in Petrograd for their connection with the Kronstadt events… that there is no need to hurry with the Constituent Assembly, and that Soviet power can and must be supported—only without the Bolsheviks.

Of course, it is easy to be cleverer than conceited simpletons like Chernov, the petty-bourgeois phrase-monger, or like Martov, the knight of philistine reformism doctored to pass for Marxism. Properly speaking, the point is not that Milyukov, as an individual, has more brains, but that, because of his class position, the party leader of the big bourgeoisie sees and understands the class essence and political interaction of things more clearly than the leaders of the petty bourgeoisie, the Chernovs and Martovs. For the bourgeoisie is really a class force which, under capitalism… and which also inevitably enjoys the support of the world bourgeoisie. But the petty bourgeoisie, i.e. … cannot… be anything else than the expression of class impotence; hence the vacillation, phrase-mongering and helplessness…

[Menshevik leader] Martov showed himself to be nothing but a philistine Narcissus when he declared in his Berlin journal that Kronstadt not only adopted Menshevik slogans but also proved that there could be an anti-Bolshevik movement which did not entirely serve the interests of the whiteguards, the capitalists and the landowners. He says in effect: “Let us shut our eyes to the fact that all the genuine whiteguards hailed the Kronstadt mutineers and collected funds in aid of Kronstadt through the banks!” Compared with the Chernovs and Martovs, Milyukov is right, for he is revealing the true tactics of the real whiteguard force, the force of the capitalists and landowners. He declares: “It does not matter whom we support, be they anarchists or any sort of Soviet government, as long as the Bolsheviks are overthrown, as long as there is a shift in power; it does not matter whether to the right or to the left, to the Mensheviks or to the anarchists, as long as it is away from the Bolsheviks… ‘we’, the capitalists and landowners, will do the rest ‘ourselves’… History proves it. The facts bear it out. The Narcissuses will talk; the Milyukovs and whiteguards will act.”
(Lenin, The Tax in Kind)

“You must have noticed that these extracts from the whiteguard newspapers published abroad appeared side by side with extracts from British and French newspapers. They are one chorus, one orchestra… They have admitted that if the slogan becomes “Soviet power without the Bolsheviks” they will all accept it. Milyukov explains this with particular clarity… He says he is prepared to accept the “Soviet power without the Bolsheviks” slogan. He cannot see from over there in Paris whether this is to be a slight shift to the right or to the left, towards the anarchists. From over there, he cannot see what is going on in Kronstadt, but asks the monarchists not to rush and spoil things by shouting about it. He declares that even if the shift is to be to the left, he is prepared to back the Soviet power against the Bolsheviks…”
(Lenin, The All-Russia Congress Of Transport Workers)

SOURCES:

Paul Avrich, Kronstadt: The 1921 Uprising of Sailors in the Context of the Political Development of the New Soviet State

[Avrich provides a lot of useful factual information, however he is pro-anarchist. He sees the Kronstadt mutiny as a tragedy which could never have succeeded but he sympathizes with it. Despite everything he tries to deny that the mutiny was orchestrated by the Whites. He admits that the Kronstadt mutineers collaborated with Whites, Monarchists, Capitalists, foreign powers, Mensheviks and SRs but basically claims “that doesn’t matter”. His book is from 1970 when the archives were still closed. For that reason he relies quite heavily on dishonest Menshevik and Anarchist sources which have nothing to support their claims, and often he takes Petrichenko’s words at face value. He also doesn’t understand Marxism and therefore distorts it. Perhaps it was impossible to publish in American academia unless one reached an anti-bolshevik conclusion? Still he deserves credit for his discoveries.]

White Guard Memorandum On Organizing An Uprising In Kronstadt, reprinted in Avrich

Primary source documents printed in “Kronshtadtskaia tragediia 1921 goda, dokumenty v dvukh knigakh” (“Kronstadt Tragedy”):
-Kuzmin Report, 25 March 1921
-Agranov Report, April 1921
-“To All Posts of Kronstadt,” Kronstadt Izvestia
-Ivan Oreshin, Volia Rossii (April-May 1921)
-Kronstadt March 1 Resolution
-Tseidler, Red Cross Activity in Organizing Provisions Aid to Kronstadt, 25 April 1921.
-Kupolov, “Kronstadt and the Russian Counterrevolutionaries in Finland: From the Notes of a Former Member of the PRC”
-Komarov Report, 25 March 1921
-Von Lampe’s Diary entry
-Minutes of Cheka Interrogation of Anatoly Lamanov

Kronstadt 1921: Bolshevism vs. Counterrevolution, Spartacist #6 Spring 2006
[Very good article, which brought many primary source documents to my attention. The article propagates erroneous Trotskyist views but luckily they have practically nothing to do with the topic of Kronstadt and can thus be ignored.]

Documents on British Foreign Policy 1919-1939

Russkaia voennaia emigratsiaa 20-x—40-x godov

Radek, The Kronstadt Uprising, 1921

History of the USSR volume 3
http://ciml.250x.com/archive/ussr/english/history_of_the_usssr_part3.pdf

Stalin, Articles and Speeches, Moscow, 1934, Russ. ed., p. 217, quoted in History of the USSR vol. 3

Hufvudstadsbladet, March 8, quoted in “The Truth about Kronstadt” by Wright

Kronstadt Izvestia, March 7 & 11, quoted in Wright

Sotsialisticheski Vestnik April 5, 1921, quoted in Wright

“Petrograd et Moscou Seraient aux Maine des Insurgés qui ont Formé un Gouvernement Provisoire.”, Matin, March 7, quoted in Wright

“Der Aufstand in Russland.”, Vossische Zeitung, March 10, quoted in Wright

The Mensheviks in the Kronstadt Mutiny,” Krasnaill Letopis’, 1931, No.2

Dernières Nouvelles de Paris, 8th March quoted in Radek

Trotsky, More on the Suppression of Kronstadt

History of the CPSU(B) short course
https://www.marxists.org/reference/archive/stalin/works/1939/x01/ch09.htm

Lenin, Once Again On The Trade Unions, The Current Situation and the Mistakes of Trotsky and Buhkarin
https://www.marxists.org/archive/lenin/works/1921/jan/25.htm

Lenin, The Trade Unions, The Present Situation And Trotsky’s Mistakes
https://www.marxists.org/archive/lenin/works/1920/dec/30.htm

Lenin, On the Kronstadt revolt
https://www.marxists.org/archive/lenin/works/1921/mar/15.htm

Lenin, Tenth Congress of the R.C.P.(B.)
https://www.marxists.org/archive/lenin/works/1921/10thcong/index.htm

Lenin, The All-Russia Congress Of Transport Workers
https://www.marxists.org/archive/lenin/works/1921/mar/27.htm

Lenin, Third Congress Of The Communist International https://www.marxists.org/archive/lenin/works/1921/jun/12.htm

Lenin, The Tax in Kind
https://www.marxists.org/archive/lenin/works/1921/apr/21.htm

The Wallenberg Mystery solved? (CIA/OSS espionage against socialist Hungary)

Practically everybody who reads any book on Hungarian history will run into the name Raoul Wallenberg, Swedish capitalist diplomat and humanitarian. Wallenberg who was in Hungary during WWII used his wealth and diplomatic immunity to protect people from the Nazi bandits of the Hungarian ‘Arrow-Cross’ and the Gestapo. When he disappeared after WWII it became a cliché to accuse Stalin of “killing this innocent heroic man”.

Indeed, Wallenberg doesn’t seem like the typical villain at all, if he really protected people from the Arrow-Cross. So what happened to him? Nobody knew. Every capitalist history book simply repeated the same assumption: ‘Wallenberg was a hero, who was killed by the Soviets for no reason’.

In 2001 documents were discovered by accident in a barn in Virginia. These documents dealt with a highly secret CIA subcontractor, or a spy-ring which worked for the CIA but wasn’t officially part of the CIA. The spy-ring was called ‘The Pond’. It left almost no files, and we can assume what we have discovered is only the tip of the ice-berg. The 2001 documents might be the first verification that The Pond existed, but already in the 60s a disgruntled ex-spy mentioned some of The Pond’s operations in Hungary in his book The Spy and His Masters, written under a false name of course.

After the 2001 discovery the CIA has written an official explanation of what The Pond was and did. There is absolutely no reason why we should simply take their word for it. Instead the official history written by the CIA must be taken with a massive grain of salt. Due to increased interest in the case, the CIA released some information in 2010, confirming that The Pond existed, and revealing names of some of its members. Only three names have been admitted: James McCargar (the disgruntled spy mentioned above, and author of The Spy and His Masters), John Grombach (leader of the spy-ring) and Ruth Fischer (an Austrian-German Trotskyist).

However, there is also reason to believe Wallenberg was another member of The Pond. Indeed, this explains what happened to him. In the 1990s the CIA admitted that Wallenberg had been an agent of the OSS working against the Germans. Having placed an OSS agent in Fascist Hungary, it seems almost self-evident that the the USA kept using this agent to spy on pro-Soviet Hungary after the war. McCargar (who himself was a CIA spy stationed in Hungary disguised as a diplomat) also mentions at least a dozen of other spies and contacts (using fake names of course) he had in Hungary, and some in Switzerland, and his group was certainly not the only one in Hungary at the time.

Though the CIA has admitted since the 90s that Wallenberg was OSS (which later became CIA) one can still read in history books as recent as 2010 (A Concise History of Hungary by Miklos Molnar) and 2018 (Hungary: A Short History by Norman Stone) statements which outright claim or at least imply that Wallenberg was simply an innocent man or a hero, who was attacked by the Soviets for absolutely no reason. Naturally none of these books mention that he was part of a spy-ring intended to attack and potentially destroy the new government of Hungary. They don’t mention it, even though it would actually provide an answer to this mystery, which has puzzled people for decades and decades. Its almost like they don’t want an answer to the mystery? They would rather perpetuate lies, malicious hints and assumptions against the USSR, than give the real answer.

The “Holodomor” explained

INTRODUCTION

The famine in Ukraine, the so-called “holodomor” was a serious natural disaster. The collectivization of agriculture began in 1928 and the Ukrainian famine of 1932-33 seriously threatened the success of collectivization and the entire Five-Year Plan.

The primary reasons for the famine were the weather conditions. There were two serious crop failures in a row (and others before) because of drought and snow which prevented sowings. A plant disease called ‘grain-rust’ also destroyed much of the crops. ‘Rusted’ crops can look normal and so the government didn’t originally recognize that much of the food was ruined. The bulk of this article describes the causes of the famine in detail, based on the research of Mark B. Tauger, Associate Professor of History at West Virginia University, who has published many peer-reviewed scientific papers and articles on these topics.

WHY DID THE COLLECTIVIZATION OF AGRICULTURE TAKE PLACE?

The collectivization began in 1928 because of several reasons:

  • the USSR needed to industrialize to build socialism. Collectivization was necessary in order to grow enough food for a larger industrial proletariat.
  • the USSR needed to industrialize fast, to build a strong modern military to defend itself
  • class relations inside the country had reached a crisis in 1927. The NEP succeeded in rebuilding the economy after the Civil War, but it allowed the rural capitalists (‘kulaks’) to grow stronger. Most small farmers only produced enough food for their own families and didn’t sell food. Most food on the market was produced by large kulaks. They demanded less regulations on prices, and demanded higher prices for higher profits. They controlled the food supply of the cities and could use this to blackmail the government. In 1926-27 the kulaks were refusing to sell or produce food. The government responded by confiscating food which they were hiding. Kulaks responded by destroying food, slaughtering animals, and stopping farming etc.

The Soviet government had two options: to accept the demand for de-regulation and move back to unrestricted capitalism. Or to fight the kulaks and move towards socialism. Of course they chose to fight. It was impossible to accept the kulak demands, it would’ve meant the death of the socialist revolution and the country would’ve remained underdeveloped.

Poor peasants were encouraged to take over lands from kulaks which were not being used, and set up collective farms on those lands. The fight intensified in the countryside and kulaks were able to destroy many farm buildings and kill huge amounts of animals. This contributed to the famine, but was not the main cause of it.

Prof. Mark Tauger has shown conclusively that the Soviets couldn’t have avoided the famine in any way. The weather caused the crops to not grow, and thus they didn’t have enough food regardless of what they did.

Right-Wing propagandists claim that collectivization caused the famine, which is obviously false. We have evidence that the famine was caused by crop failure due to weather, but also the famine ended when the collective farms produced a good harvest. And after that the Soviet Union didn’t have famines anymore, except because of the war.

Some right-wingers also claim that the famine was purposefully orchestrated to kill Ukrainians, but there is no evidence of that. Ukraine received a million tons of food aid from the Russian SSR etc. The famine was a disaster for the Soviet economy, so they would never have caused it on purpose.

TAUGER’S RESEARCH:

WAS THE FAMINE ORCHESTRATED ON PURPOSE?

“A Ukrainian nationalist interpretation holds that the Soviet regime, and specifically Iosif Stalin, intentionally imposed the famine to suppress the nationalist aspirations of Ukraine and Ukrainians; revisionists argue that the leadership imposed the famine to suppress more widespread peasant resistance to collectivization… recent research has cast substantial doubt on them. Several studies and document collections have shown conclusively that the famine did not stop at Ukraine’s borders, but affected rural and urban areas throughout the Soviet Union, and even the military.”
(Prof. Mark B. Tauger, Natural Disaster and Human Actions in the Soviet Famine of 1931-1933, p. 2. From now on this article will be cited simply as “Tauger”)

The Soviet government sent several millions of tons of food aid to Ukraine. This was all they had, but not enough. The famine was not caused by any government decision or policy, but by natural disasters which lead to crop-failures:

“The Soviet government did have small reserves of grain, but continually drew these down to allocate food to the population… virtually the entire country experienced shortages of food… the Soviet Union faced a severe shortage, and the most important cause of that shortage has to have been small harvests in 1931 and 1932… Russia itself has endured more than one hundred fifty famines in its thousand years of recorded history, virtually all of which resulted directly from natural disasters, in most cases drought…” (Tauger, p. 7)

“[E]nvironmental disasters… have to be considered among the primary causes of the famine. I argue that capital and labor difficulties were… not as important as these environmental factors, and were in part a result of them… I conclude that it is thus inaccurate to describe the Soviet famine of 1932-1933 as simply an artificial or man-made famine…” (Tauger, p. 8)

In his article “The 1932 Harvest and the Famine of 1933” Tauger explains that grain procurement by the government was decreased in 1932 which should’ve left more food in villages assuming that the harvest was alright. But there was famine because the harvest was ruined by natural disasters. Procurement or export weren’t the problem. The narrative that the government supposedly took all the food and left people to die, cannot be supported by evidence.

“The low 1932 harvest worsened severe food shortages already widespread in the Soviet Union at least since 1931 and, despite sharply reduced grain exports, made famine likely if not inevitable in 1933.” (Tauger, “The 1932 Harvest and the Famine of 1933”)

This situation makes it difficult to accept the interpretation of the famine as the result of the 1932 grain procurements and as a conscious act of genocide. The harvest of 1932 essentially made a famine inevitable.” (Tauger, “The 1932 Harvest and the Famine of 1933”)

Anti-communist eye-witnesses are unreliable in any case, but in “Natural Disaster and Human Actions in the Soviet Famine of 1931-1933” Tauger demonstrates that the reason eye-witnesses might’ve claimed the harvest was good, is probably because they didn’t have the expertise to recognize diseased crops on the fields. More of this later in the article.

DROUGHT

The crop-failure was not caused by the Soviet system. In fact other countries at the same time also experienced droughts and famine. However, capitalist-colonialist regimes behaved much more cruelly in these situations:

“The Soviet regime was not unique in this experience: other major agricultural countries in the world also encountered major natural disasters and food crises in the early 1930s. The United States in 1930-1931 endured what was termed “the great southern drought,” which affected twenty-three states from Texas to West Virginia, brought immense suffering and increased mortality, and caused a major political scandal when Herbert Hoover refused to allocate food relief from federal government resources… French colonies in western Africa in 1931-1932 endured a drought, locust infestation, and the worst famine ever recorded there, though the French authorities continued to demand taxes.” (Tauger, pp. 9-10)

Russia before the Bolshevik Revolution was a poor underdeveloped country. As such, it was food insecure and at the mercy of natural disasters and crop failures. To combat droughts, pests, floods and other disasters it would’ve been necessary to build massive irrigation projects, drains, pesticide industries and to improve the soil. Something which the Russian Empire had completely neglected. It fell upon the shoulders of the Soviet government to overcome these challenges.

“Russia itself has endured more than one hundred fifty famines in its thousand years of recorded history, virtually all of which resulted directly from natural disasters, in most cases drought…” (Tauger, p. 7)

“The grain crisis and famine of 1928-1929 were among the main factors that led Soviet leaders… to undertake the collectivization of agriculture. Even in 1930 many regions had unfavorable weather and crop failures… The domestic context of the 1931-1933 famine, therefore, was one of chronic food insecurity. Natural disasters, especially drought alone or in combination with other environmental factors… repeatedly caused crop failures during the early years of the Soviet Union and threatened to revive the food crises and famine of the Civil War period…” (Tauger, p. 9)

Before the famine many grain-growing areas only had 25% of the necessary rain:

“[D]rought played a central role in precipitating the famine crisis… In the main spring-grain maturation period of mid-April to mid-June, precipitation in the southern Urals and Western Siberia was one-fourth of the amount that agronomists there considered necessary for normal plant growth.” (Tauger, p. 11)

“Serious famine conditions in villages and towns in Ukraine by early 1932 required special food relief. The regime admitted the seriousness of this drought publicly, in particular by holding a conference on drought in October 1931 attended by agricultural specialists as well as Sovnarkom chairman Viacheslav Molotov and other high officials. The government also established a meteorological monitoring service and began plans for construction of major irrigation projects along the Volga and in other drought-prone areas. The Central Committee also dispatched seed and food loans to most of the severely affected regions.” (Tauger, p. 12)

Collected grain had to be sent back to the farms, because otherwise they wouldn’t have any seed-grain to sow:

“This was the situation throughout the eastern regions. The Urals oblast’ … had to obtain a seed and provisions loan of 350,000 tons, 45 percent of its procurements. Kazakstan received back 36 percent. Western Siberia 22 percent, Bashkiria 20 percent.” (Tauger, p. 12)

WINTERKILL AND TEMPERATURE FLUCTUATIONS

“Other weather conditions quite distinct from drought affected the 1932 crop. In January 1932 a sudden warm spell in the southern regions of the Soviet Union caused fall-sown crops to start growing, after which winter temperatures returned and killed a portion of the crop. In Ukraine this winterkill destroyed at least 12 percent of fall-sown crops, more than double the long-term average; in one district 62 percent of winter crops failed.” (Tauger, p. 13)

CROP-DISEASES

It may sound paradoxical but despite the early drought and snow which prevented sowing and killed crops, the rest of the year was actually much too humid. Heavy rainfall (as much as triple the normal rain) destroyed crops and the humidity stimulated the spread of plant-diseases, massive growth of the insect population and weeds, which also destroyed crops.

“And most important, despite the regional droughts mentioned above, 1932 was overall a warm and humid year. In several regions heavy rains damaged crops and reduced yields… [there was] heavy rainfall in 1932 which was double or triple the normal amount in many regions. “ (Tauger, pp. 13-14)

“such rainfall encourages the spread of crop diseases. This type of problem chronically affected the Soviet Union… The most important infestation in 1932 came from several varieties of rust, a category of fungi that can infest grains and many other plants…” (Tauger, p. 15)

The most sinister aspect of grain-rust and other such diseases, is that they are hard to detect. Crops can look normal for a long time but be inedible:

“Although in some cases rust will kill grain plants, rusted grain ordinarily will continue to grow, form ears, and in general appear normal; but the grain heads will not “fill,” so that the harvest will seem “light” and consist of small grains, or of fewer normal-sized grains, and disproportionately of husks and other fibrous materials. In other words, a field of wheat (or barley, rye, oats, or other grain, all of which are susceptible to rust) could appear entirely normal and promising, and yet because of the infestation could produce an extremely low yield… Rusts have been the most common and the most destructive infestations of grain crops, and remain so today… In 1935, wheat stem rust caused losses of more than 50 percent in North Dakota and Minnesota…” (Tauger, p. 15)

“In 1932, however, a large epiphytotic of rust, one of the most severe recorded, affected all Eastern Europe… Studies of estates in Germany found losses of 40 to 80 percent of wheat crops, a scale not seen in decades, if ever… In Hungary, a leading specialist described the rust epidemic that year as the worst in generations; additional reports from elsewhere in the Balkans, Czechoslovakia, and Poland referred to “fantastic” losses.” (Tauger, p. 16)

“Identifying rust required specialized knowledge and training… peasants in the North Caucasus could not distinguish between rust and other diseases…This problem was by no means limited to the USSR; a study of wheat growing in Maryland in 1929 found an inverse relation between the condition of the crop and its final yield, because the high rainfall that stimulated plant growth also fostered plant diseases: “A farmer observing a lush stand reported a high condition, not recognizing the development of the disease before harvest time.” The fact that rust was difficult for nonspecialists to detect helps to explain the numerous claims in memoirs and testimonies of a good 1932 harvest Famine survivors in the Volga region whom the Russian historian Viktor Kondrashin interviewed, however, remembered that in the 1932 harvest the ears were somehow “empty,” the characteristic one would expect from rusted grain.” (Tauger, p.17)

“While rust infestations were not a new problem in Russia, the extreme outbreak in 1932 took agronomists by surprise…” (Tauger, p.18)

“Rust was not the only plant disease to affect Soviet agriculture in 1932: large outbreaks of smut also caused substantial losses. Smut spreads through the soil or from contaminated seed, and like rust does not alter greatly the external appearance of the crop… the disease not only destroys grain in infested plants but also easily contaminates healthy grain in the harvest… Smut had been a severe problem in Soviet agriculture during NEP [in the 1920s]. Infestations in many parts of the country in 1922 caused substantial losses, in extreme cases more than 80 percent…” (Tauger, p. 18)

INSECTS AND PESTS

“The warm, humid weather in 1932 also led to severe insect infestations, including locusts, field moths, and other insects on grain and sugar beets… [There was a] failure of winter sowings due to pests and the above-mentioned winterkill in 333 districts in Ukraine, encompassing an area of 747,984 hectares, which inducted 8.6 percent of winter sowings and 10.5 percent of winter wheat.” (Tauger, p. 20)

WEEDS

“Weeds were a major problem through the famine period… The unusually warm and wet weather in 1932 greatly stimulated this weed growth” (Tauger, p. 40)

LACK OF HORSES AND OTHER DRAUGHT ANIMALS

Lack of horses contributed to the famine. The majority of animals were owned by rich peasants (kulaks). Most poor peasants only owned a single horse or cow, and one third of peasants didn’t own any. Because most animals were concentrated in the hands of kulaks, they were able to slaughter large amounts of them as a form of economic warfare. However, the biggest cause for lack of horses was the famine itself:

“Animals were the immediate victims of shortages in 1930-1933 since starving peasants had no choice but to feed themselves first from the dwindling reserves” (Tauger, p. 22)

“By April 1932 30-40 percent of the horses were incapable of work.” (Tauger, p. 24)

It would be a mistake to blame the famine on sabotage by kulaks or by capitalists, but instances of sabotage did occur:

“some 5,000 tractors purchased from the American company “Oliver” had leaking radiators and loud sounds in their mufflers, transmissions, and motors… Allis-Chalmers tractors purchased in 1930 arrived with missing parts.”
(Tauger, p. 24)

The Soviet Union was producing tens of thousands of tractors during 1932 but this was not enough to meet the growing need, due to the unexpected catastrophe.

SOIL EXHAUSTION

Soil science was invented in Russia because of the extreme soil exhaustion in the final period of the Russian Empire. This continued to be a problem for the early USSR especially when it was decided to try to cultivate new lands and increase crop-area. Grain was a priority, so peasants neglected crop-rotation which caused exhaustion of the soil. This was due to ignorance but also due to economic motivators. The government also considered that to solve the grain-shortage this was acceptable for a period of 5 years maximum, but no more. However, already in 1932 the Politburo issued a decree to increase crop-rotation and thus combat soil exhaustion.

“soil exhaustion from repeated sowings of grain in the same fields and lack of crop rotations caused serious declines in yield… This situation reflected a general problem in the Soviet Union: despite its vast size, [due to the Czarist backwardness] the country had surprisingly little good agricultural land; at this time the United States had more land under crops than the Soviet Union.” (Tauger, pp. 38-39)

“[I]n September 1932 the Politburo formed a commission… to raise crop yields and combat weeds. Stalin and Molotov themselves joined this commission, and the result was the decree of 29 September “on measures for raising harvest yields.” This decree ordered that all party, state, and economic organizations focus their work on raising harvest yields “as the central task of agricultural development at the present moment” and specified measures to increase grain sowings at the expense of technical crops and to introduce crop rotations.” (Tauger, p. 46)

PEASANT RESISTANCE?

During collectivization of agriculture the Communists deported many rural capitalists (kulaks) from their land and gave the land to poor and landless peasants. It is often claimed that this “ruined” Russian farming. However, that’s false:

“the common assertion that dekulakization removed the best farmers from farming contains two arguments that are questionable at best… “poor” or “middle” peasants were potentially just as competent farmers as the “kulaks.” Dekulakization, therefore, would not have removed all the best farmers, even if officials applied the policy to remove the “well-off’ farmers.” (Tauger, p. 26)

It is also often claimed that the famine resulted from massive peasant resistance. This is also false:

“Peasant resistance and unwillingness to work in the collective farms are fundamental themes in discussions of the famine and Soviet agriculture generally… My research on Soviet farm labor policies and actual peasant practices and my reading of this literature, however, has made me skeptical of the argument for labor resistance… for peasant resistance to have been sufficient to cause the low 1932 harvest an extremely large number of peasants would have had to act this way… the argument asserts that the majority of peasants attempted to deprive their families and fellow villagers of sufficient food to last until the next harvest. This interpretation, therefore, requires us to believe that most peasants acted against their own and their neighbors’ self-interest. This viewpoint is difficult to accept both on general human terms and particularly when applied to peasants in Russia and Ukraine. The great majority of these peasants had lived for centuries in corporate villages that had instilled certain basic cooperative values, and the kolkhozy perpetuated basic features of these villages.” (Tauger, p. 28)

“Although observers at the time argued, as do some scholars today, that peasant resistance took forms that diminished the harvest, the evidence… leads to a more ambivalent conclusion. Some peasants’ actions clearly indicated that they sought to do as much as possible to save the harvest… in some cases peasants restored kolkhozy (reports referred to cases in the Middle Volga, Nizhnii Novgorod, and Moscow regions)…” (Tauger, p. 33-34)

There was real sabotage committed by kulaks and middle-peasants who had been persuaded by kulaks. This sabotage still wasn’t among the main causes of the famine:

“Only in certain types of actions can we discern a clear, conscious effort to reduce food production… In some cases …[saboteurs] attacked kolkhozniki working in the fields in order to induce them to join with the leavers and divide up the farm… In the Middle Volga, Nizhnii Novgorod, Ivanovo, and Northern regions, arson destroyed thousands of hectares of unharvested grain and hundreds of tons of harvested grain, in addition to hundreds of thousand of hectares of forests, cut timber, housing, and fuel. In some places [saboteurs] attacked officials and other peasants involved in harvest work and destroyed harvest machinery” (Tauger, p. 33-34)

However, there were no real signs of massive peasant resistance. Tauger states that from what we can see: “at least some peasants worked hard, and this situation was not limited to Ukraine.” and other peasants “may not have worked less” (Tauger, p. 36)

In reality, the Soviet government relied on the workers (industrial but also agricultural) and poor and middle peasants:

“the regime’s actions during and after the famine indicated that they did not see the peasants exclusively as enemies. For example, the political departments formed in MTS and sovkhozy in early 1933 to organize farm work during the famine… promoting thousands of peasants… and… relied on the peasants to overcome the crisis. ” (Tauger, p. 49)

In reality, older sources which described alleged peasant resistance may simply have mistaken fallow land as “abandoned by resisting peasants”. Eventually these stories became widespread in anti-communist circles and were repeated constantly:

“[C]ritical observers may have mistaken fallows as abandoned lands.” (Tauger, p. 39)

Peasant resistance was also exaggerated because the government “may have misinterpreted as a protest what may have been simply a farm with more labor than it could employ” (Tauger, p. 36)

REPRESSION?

Anti-communists have claimed that the USSR was only able to “force” peasants to farm during this period due to extreme repression such as punishing those farms who refused to sell excess grain. However, according to Tauger the repression was not quite so severe:

“repressive measures… however, seem to have had limited effects.” (Tauger, p. 37)

Instead of believing in conspiracy theories, it is much more likely that the peasants farmed simply because it was in everybody’s best interest. The collective farm movement was not something completely alien to them, and the movement itself relied on tens of millions of peasants and activists.

DID THE USSR EXPORT FOOD DURING THE FAMINE?

The USSR needed capital to purchase industrial goods, machines and to hire foreign experts. This was part of the Soviet Industrial Revolution, to turn a backward country into a modern industrial country. The Russian Empire also used to expert raw-materials (mainly grain and cotton) because it was a backward agrarian state. The USSR tried to escape this backwardness.

“[T]hat put the Soviet Union under intense pressure to export commodities”
(Tauger, p. 44)

The USSR tried to achieve some level of economic independence but was being squeezed ruthlessly by foreign countries, which forced it to export:

“According to the commercial counselor of the British Embassy in Moscow, writing in late 1931, “failure [by the Soviet government] to meet its obligations would certainly bring disaster in its train. Not only would further credits cease, but all future exports, all Soviet shipping entering foreign ports, all Soviet property already in foreign countries would be liable to seizure to cover sums due. Admission of insolvency would endanger the achievement of all aspirations based on the five-year plan and might indeed imperil the existence of the government itself” (PRO FO 371. 15607 N7648/ 167/38, 6-7). German Chancellor Bruening told a British diplomat in Berlin in early 1932 that if the Soviets “did not meet their bills in some form or other, their credit would be destroyed for good and all” (PRO FO 371 16327 N456/ 158/38).” (Tauger, “The 1932 Harvest and the Famine of 1933”)

It is often claimed that the government supposedly had lots of food, but simply exported all of it. This is a conspiracy theory, and is not based on any reliable evidence.

“The amount of grain exported during the peak of the famine in the first half of 1933, however, approximately 220,000 tons, was small, less than 1 percent of the lowest harvest estimates, and the regime was using virtually all the rest of the available harvest to feed people.” (Tauger, p. 6)

“Total aid to famine regions was more than double exports for the first half of 1933.”
(Tauger, “The 1932 Harvest and the Famine of 1933”)

“The severity and geographical extent of the famine, the sharp decline in exports in 1932-1933, seed requirements, and the chaos in the Soviet Union in these years, all lead to the conclusion that even a complete cessation of exports would not have been enough to prevent famine.” (Tauger, “The 1932 Harvest and the Famine of 1933”)

The fact is that even if all exports had been stopped, it wouldn’t have prevented the famine. However, it would have made industrialization impossible and thus kept the country in poverty, and at risk of future famines. Industrialization was a necessity in order to end famines. If the harvest of 1932 had been successful, as everyone hoped, then there would not have been any famine. However, the USSR at the time was still not industrialized and therefore was to a large extent at the mercy of environmental factors outside of their control.

TAUGER’S CONCLUSION

The [low] harvest of 1932 essentially made a famine inevitable.
(Tauger, “The 1932 Harvest and the Famine of 1933”)

“Any study that asserts that the harvest was not extraordinarily low and that the famine was a political measure intentionally imposed through excessive procurements is clearly based on an insufficient source base and an uncritical approach to the official sources. The evidence cited above demonstrates that the 1932-1933 famine was the result of a genuine shortage, a substantial decline in the availability of food… [The famine was] the result of the largest in a series of natural disasters… it is clear that the small harvests of 1931-1932 created shortages that affected virtually everyone in the country and that the Soviet regime did not have the internal resources to alleviate the crisis.” (Tauger, p. 48)

The famine ended in 1933 when the collective farms produced a successful crop, much larger then ones before. The collective system demonstrated its effectiveness by increasing crop yields continually.

MORE READING:
Holodomor, myth and reality
Blood_Lies by Grover Furr (Best short book to read on the topic)
Fraud, Famine and Fascism by Douglas Tottle
Collectivization and the “Ukrainian holocaust” (from Another View of Stalin)
Famine of 1932 (from “the Real Stalin” series)