János M. Rainer :

Stalin and Rákosi, Stalin and Hungary, 1949-1953

In my paper instead of contacts between Stalin and Hungary I prefer to concentrate on the top level contacts between Stalin and Rakosi for two reasons.

Firstly, because the Soviet-Hungarian relationship can be explained as a multi-level network (diplomatic, military, state security, economic, cultural) on the one hand, and a strict hierarchy on the other. This large transmitting network made the fulfilment of Soviet intentions sure even without personal involvement of Stalin himself, although he was undoubtedly the unquestioned head of the structure. (In fact the different branches of the transmission system seemed to be significantly independent one from the other and from the Kremlin center as well; especially from the advisors’ bodies.)

Secondly, because on the Hungarian side it was Rákosi’s prerogative to contact, meet and negotiate with Stalin. Usually neither other Hungarian leaders nor the Soviet Ambassador Jhevgenii Kiselev were present at their meetings. It was only Rakosi on behalf of whom letters and telegrams were sent to Moscow.

(Some words about the sources) The most important contemporary sources on the Stalin-Rákosi relationship are the chiffred telegrams exchanged between 1949 and 1952. (It is not known whether this channel of communication did not exist before 1949 or the texts were irretrievably lost, or they have been hidden. The messages were hand-written by the Russian telegraphists in a appointment book of rather insignificant outlook. In the above-mentioned period Rákosi sent 30 telegrams to Moscow. The adressee of the messages was “F”, “Fil” or form 1951 “Comrade Filippov”. Stalin, or somebody in “Filippov’s” name responded only nine times.

The second main source to approach the problem is Rákosi’s autobiography. His memoirs have just been published in Hungarian language (some parts were published in Russian earlier this year). Although it is a highly apologetic description, some details of it are extremely valuable. It is particularly interesting, for example, the way in which Rákosi remembered his rare personal meetings with Stalin.

What researchers miss unfortunately are the political letters. There is no trace of them in the Hungarian archives so far. On the base of the references in the telegram correspondence it is clear that Rákosi wrote at least five times to Stalin. However we don´t know practically anything about these letters, but their subjects.

(General overview of the contacts) Hungary and the Hungarian political situation did not constitute a particular problem for Stalin. The transformation of the socio-economic system in accordance with the Soviet pattern continued on significantly. Therefore the model of the top-level correspondence from Rákosi’s side was that the Hungarian leader supplied information for the center and/or asked for the approval of some measures. Two thirds of Rákosi’s telegrams contain informative materials. Half of them post festa, that is to say, the telegram was sent after the decision had been carried out. Rákosi made also proposals to Stalin in various cases. Stalin however did react neither to the information, nor to Rákosi’s initiatives.

The main topics of the telegram correspondence are particularly typical. These are, on the base of Rákosi´s letters:

a. The most important political trials and purges (in 12 telegrams, from which 5 was about László Rajk´s case) b. Foreign policy towards Hungary, towards the Westesn countries and Yugoslavia (10 telegrams, out of which 5 concerned Yugoslavia) c. Personal (cadre) questions, i.e. changes in the composition of the leading party and state bodies (Secretary, Politburo; Government) (in 6 telegrams). It is significant the almost total lack of economic and military questions.

The agenda of the personal negotiations were very similar to the telegram correspondence. From 1949 to 1952 Stalin met Rákosi at least six times, usually accompanied by other members of the Soviet leadership. One of these occasions was a protocol ceremony for the 70th birthday of Stalin. Before that time they met twice to discuss the Rajk case, first in July 1949 when they appraised the results of the first round of interrogations, and second on August 20, when they read through the text of the indictment in a confidential meeting. On January 8, 1951 Rákosi took part in the summit of the Communist leaders in the Kremlin together with Minister of Defense Mihály Farkas. Here the question of the forced development of satellite armies was on the agenda. The two following meetings in the summer of 1951 and 1952 were quite informal, nevertheless in 1951 the question of large future purges in Hungary was discussed by the testimony of Rákosi’s memoirs. Four out of Rákosi´s five letters dealt with purges and political trials. Two of them concerned the Rajk trial: one about the indictment, the another about the proposed sentence. Rákosi also informed Stalin about the plan to arrest the leftist Social Democrats and about the suspicions regarding János Kádár.

(Rákosi is pushing ahead, Stalin puts him on the brakes?) The content analysis of the telegrams makes the impression that Rákosi was not a simple executor of Stalin’s orders. On the contrary he seemed to have a significant sphere of independence in various fields. In case of the Rajk-affair the Stalin-Rákosi correspondence proves that it was the Hungarian Party chief who wanted to broaden the international dimensions of the trial: he was collecting damning “evidence” against leading members of almost each Communist parties in Eastern Europe. He did not limit his activity to the Eastern bloc. Well before the trial took place he had informed Stalin that ... Weinstock, member of the U. S. Communist Party was an agent provocateur who had “some connection” with the Rajk case.

Rákosi was extremely eager to do as much trouble for the Yugoslavs as possible. In April 1951 on the pretext of an alleged attempt on the Hungarian chargé d’affaires in Beograd he wanted to break off all the diplomatic relations with Yugoslavia. He also tried to throw Stalin’s suspicion on his old rivals, the Czechoslovak leaders. It was in April, 1949 when he stopped at the Hungarian border the Czechoslovak military shipments on the way to Yugoslavia -- and informed comrade Filippov at the same time. He did not want to hand over the evidence gathered on “hostile elements” during the Rajk interrogations to the Czechs -- but he did it when the first information on Slánsky affair reached him. Sometimes he even thought himself to be a player on the international field. In February 1950 in a long telegram he reported about the revelation of “a large spy-network” headed by U. S. citizen Robert Vogeler. In July of the same year he informed Stalin that “taking into account the Korean events we would not release Vogeler.”

Stalin kept silent but it does not mean that he was always satisfied with his “best Hungarian disciple”, as Rákosi liked to be called. On the contrary there are several proofs of his aversion to the Hungarian general secretary. While Rákosi described their relationship as an idyllic partnership based on mutual respect, almost on love, many traces show that Stalin at least sometimes tried to put him on the brakes. He was not sure for example whether the accusation brought against Rajk had been well-founded. He stopped Rákosi when the latter wanted to produce another Budapest show-trial in 1950, this time against the former left-wing Social Democrats. The next year as he was given report on Rákosi’s suspicions concerning Farkas and the state security chief Péter, Stalin demanded an explanation. Rákosi remembered that Stalin had asked him: “Why do you want to have Mihály Farkas shot” and “what is the problem with Péter”. Stalin criticized the rapid collectivization of the Hungarian agriculture and proposed to implement it slowly and carefully. He was careful himself. He acted by the imperial paradigm of the Soviet foreign policy rather than the revolutionary one. That’s why he tried to moderate Rákosi’s extremist initiatives which could destabilize at least a small part of the great front. It is highly characteristic what he wrote to Budapest about the Beograd affair in May, 1951: “Comrade Rákosi, we advise you not to force the case with the Yugoslavs (n’e forsirovat’)”

(To interfere when it needs really) Stalin did not consider Hungary as a single state but as part of a region. So his most fatal interference concerned the Eastern European satellites as a whole. At this point I think Rákosi’s testimony about the summit meeting on January 8, 1951 in the Kremlin is reliable:

“The Soviet side was represented by Stalin and some other members of the Politburo. Beside them -- if I am right -- there were Marshal Vasilyevskii and General Stiemenko, Chief of Staff of the Soviet military forces. There were also the general secretaries of the Communist parties of the social democracies, except Bierut, and the ministers of defense. Stiemenko reported on the international and military situation, he gave a short and concise account. He listed the figures of the NATO´s military force and informed us about the NATO´s military plans. He made the point that by the end of 1953 the NATO will implement its military preparation and to counterbalance it the military forces of the Socialist countries must be sufficiently increased. He precised immediately the figures the Socialist countries must reach by the of 1953. Hungary was told to build up an army of 150000, 9 divisions by that time.

Participants at the meeting were all convinced that the time was to short to realize this project. Marshal Rokossovskii, at that time Polish minister of defense, admitted that the figure which was proposed by Stiemenko to Poland, originally was planned to be reached only by the end of 1956, which means that they have to accelerate the rythme of the development two times, and it would have been a tough task. Stalin said that if Rokossovskii could guarantee that until 1956 there would not be a war, they were free to implement their original plans, but in case he could not, it had been better if they would have accepted Stiemenko´s proposal. Chervenko said they agreed with the project but Bulgaria did not have heavy industry at all, they did not produce significant amount of steel, therefore they could promise to realize the military development, if the Soviet Union would provide them with equipment. Stalin replied that the military industry of the Soviet Union had been displaced into the Ural and to the region east of it. He told Chervenko to look at the map to understand that in case of a war it would be very difficult to supply war materials to Bulgaria from there. He suggested that Bulgaria would develop its own military industry and contemporary the heavy industry, which meant practically the same. Also the other parties considered the figures too high and Stalin claimed that their opinion would be taken into account. Stiemenko however stood firm, he argued that the figures were worked out on the base of the potentialities of each countries, there are so confirm with their capability and it was very important to realize them. Stalin so withdrawed his previous promise.”

1951 was the second year of Hungary’s first Five-Year Plan. In the light of Hungarian economic history the first version of the plan which had been drawn up in 1949 introduced radical changes in the organic development trends of the Hungarian economy. As the Soviets claimed a rapid increase of the potential of the Hungarian Army and war costs the plans had to be changed. The second Party congress increased the scheduled output figures enormously, especially in the field of heavy industry. The lack of any Soviet help (except the assistance of planning experts and advisors) meant that the other sectors, first of all agriculture had to bear the costs. Another loser was the population of the country: the standard of living decreased 20 % between 1951 and 1953. Moreover, the zealous Rákosi could not accept the status the Soviets outlined for the Hungarian Army. It was the very last one, smaller than the Bulgarian although Hungary had more industrial capacity, not to say about its larger population. Thus Rákosi agreed with the Soviet proposals and as a political Stakhanovist overfulfilled the plan. Up to Stalin’s death the strength of the Hungarian Army reached 210.000. As a result the Hungarian economy came to such a deep crisis that Stalin’s successors suggested the revision of the industrialisation plans. Still the consequences of the Stalinist transformation had a long-term effect on the economy of Hungary.

(Paper presented on October 4, 1997 at the workshop “European Archival Evidence. Stalin and the Cold War in Europe", Budapest, 1956 Institute)
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