4. Salami and Reparations

Salami and Reparations

"An intelligent victor will, whenever possible, present his demands to the vanquished in instalments."
A. Hitler, Mein Kampf (1925).

In the East European states, the systematic destruction of the Socialist and Peasant parties began gently. It continued with increased tempo until, by 1948, they had been virtually liquidated. It was essential that no means of opposition be open to the people if the tools of the Russian bureaucracy, the national Communist parties, were to carry out their programmes.

The people were already beginning to feel that their trust in Soviet Russia was being betrayed. There is no more bitter and painful disappointment than that caused when a friend betrays your trust. The Hungarian Communists knew this. They knew what passions it would arouse. They were only a minority. Their ruthless determination to hold on to power had to be made apparent to all.

Their instrument of repression was of course the police. Complete control of this force was essential. By gaining the key post of the Ministry of Interior, this was assured them. Through this Ministry they also controlled the Civil Service. All the key positions were held by their members. The party of the proletariat, far from destroying the existing state machine, utilised it and strengthened it to establish its dictatorship over the proletariat. In later describing their methods. Rakosi said that in those days the very idea of the dictatorship of the proletariat was discussed only in limited Party circles. "We did not bring (it) before the Party publicly because even the theoretical discussion of the Dictatorship of the Proletariat as an objective, would have caused alarm among our companions in the coalition. It would have made more difficult our endeavour to win over ... the majority of the mass of the workers." [26]

The winning over of the workers to a revolutionary programme would have been only too easy. But the Party would have lost control of the workers in the process. In their fear of this, the Party united with their bourgeois 'companions in the coalition'.

Rakosi explained how the 'Revolution' had been made from above and how it had brought the Hungarian Communist Party to power. He described how, through the Ministry of the Interior, the Party had been able to 'unmask' the leaders of the Smallholders Party, 'reveal' their crimes and 'remove' them. Rakosi described how the opposition was cut into slices (like a salami sausage) and discarded. "In those days this was called 'salami tactics' ... We sliced off, bit by bit, reaction in the Smallholders Party ... We whittled away the strength of the enemy." [26]

Rakosi also described the fusion of the Communist Party with the Social Democratic Party as a complete victory for the Communists and utter defeat for the Social Democrats. (How easy this must have been, with the Minister of the Interior to reveal the 'crimes' of the Social Democrats!) He then related how the Communist Party 'captured' the army, police, and state security forces (i.e. the secret police). This was achieved in "bitter battle ... the more so because our Party already had a strong foothold in those organisations ... When in the autumn of 1948, our Party took over the Ministry of Defence, the vigorous development of the defence forces could start." [26]

That the absolute control of the secret police is indispensable to those who wish to suppress the people, was also made quite clear by Rakosi himself. "There was one position, control of which was claimed by our Party from the first minute. One position where the Party was not inclined to consider any distribution of the posts according to the strength of the parties in the coalition. This was the State Security Authority ... We kept this organisation in our hands from the first day of its establishment." [26] The leaders of the Communist Party knew exactly what they were doing when they took control of the A.V.O. (Secret Security Police).

The Hungarian secret police used all the latest techniques of torture and murder known to the Gestapo and N.K.V.D. Soviet occupation troops had been immediately followed into Hungary by the 'political experts' of the N.K.V.D., who immediately proceeded to 'reorganise' the security forces. These were now staffed by a curious mixture of the old vermin of the Horthy regime and the new scum of the Communist Party. This human garbage occupied a privileged position in Hungarian society. The national average wage in 1956 was about 1,000 forints a month. The pay of A.V.O. 'rankers ' was 3,000 forints a month. Officers were paid between 9,000 and 12,000 forints a month. All were passionately hated by the Hungarian people.

The 'salami tactics' of taking over the State apparatus evoked criticism from a number of Communist Party members. The 'leadership' dealt with their critics ... through the police. The Party was directly responsible for the terror, the murder, the torture and the beatings which were a feature of Hungarian life under the Rakosi regime.

* * *

Along with violent political suppression, the workers also suffered the slower agony of deteriorating economic standards, amounting at times to starvation. The reparation payments extracted by Russia accounted for this to no small degree.

The reparations plot was hatched at the Yalta Conference, where the West had agreed with Stalin to carve up Europe into spheres of influence. After World War I the Soviet Union had vigorously condemned the reparations exacted from Germany by the victorious Allies through the Treaty of Versailles. It continually and correctly emphasised that these extortions placed an intolerable burden upon the German working class who were not responsible for the war and for the damage it had caused. At the time, the same opinions had been clearly and firmly voiced by the various national Communist Parties. During World War II, as the hopes of a Russian victory grew brighter, this line was dropped. It looked as if the Russians might be on the receiving end of reparations. The chameleon ideology of their 'socialism' showed itself. What was deemed 'robbery' by the capitalist states became 'justice' when the Russians practised it.

Exact figures as to the quantity of machinery, etc., dismantled and sent to the U.S.S.R. are not available. One estimate for Hungary puts it at 124 million dollars. Like Hitler's army, the Red Army lived off the country it occupied. Here again exact figures for these occupation costs are lacking. However, an addition to the country's population of over a million men must have used up a great deal of the nation's food produce alone. A rather hypocritical American note to the Russian Government, dated July 23, 1946, stated that "the Soviet Forces had, up to June 1945, taken out of Hungary four million tons of heat, rye, barley, maize and oats. (The total pre-war annul production of these grains was a little over 7 million tons.) Of the foodstuffs available for the urban population in the second half of 1945, the Soviet Army had appropriated nearly all the meat, one sixth of the wheat and rye, one quarter of the legumes, nearly three quarters of the lard, a tenth of the vegetable oils and a fifth of the milk and dairy products. Extensive requisitioning of food was going on as late as April 1946." The food shortage during this period was so serious that each person was getting at the most only 850 calories a day - less than in Germany or Austria. As one might expect, the increase in the death rate was alarming.

Another unknown quantity is the amount of material (personal goods, etc.) which found its way to Russia through looting.

The known list of reparations extracted from Eastern Europe is staggering enough. We cannot here go into the details for each country. Some details about Hungary should give a picture of the whole.

The total-reparations demands from Hungary amounted to 300 million dollars. Two-thirds of this went to Russia and the rest was divided equally between Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia. Industrial goods constituted 83% of the total. The remaining 17% was agricultural products. Before the war, industrial products made up only about a quarter of all Hungarian exports. The British parliamentary delegation which visited Hungary in the spring of 1946, stated that the combined costs of reparations and of the occupation amounted to 30% of the national income (reparations 18%, occupation 12%). A U.S. representative at the October 1946 session of the Paris Peace Conference had put these costs at 35% of the national income.

The scale of these reparations placed an enormous burden on the Hungarian economy and hence on the producers: the working class. By 1948, despite the A.V.O. and the Red Army, their resentment might have erupted into the streets. The danger was reported to the Kremlin. In July 1948 Russia decided to waive half the reparations still due. On December 15, 1948, the Finance Minister, Erno Gerö, was able to tell the Hungarian Parliament that, although in 1948, 25.4% of the national expenditure went to pay Russian reparations, only 9.8% of the budget for 1949 would be allocated to this purpose.