3. Liberation?

Submitted by libcom on March 27, 2005


"Under Socialism all will govern in turn and will soon become accustomed to no one governing".
V. I. Lenin. The State and Revolution (1917).

Some people still believe that the Red Army carried the tide of social revolution with it as it entered Eastern Europe in 1944. This is quite untrue. Not only was the real essence of the regimes (social exploitation) left unchanged, but for a long while even the existing political set-up was kept in being with only a few superficial changes. Even the same policemen were often kept on. As far as the masses were concerned all was the same as before. Only the language spoken by the occupying army had changed.

The reason for the Russian Government's collaboration with the "class enemy" was, according to Molotov, "to maintain law and order and prevent the rise of anarchy". Rumania, Bulgaria, and Hungary provide clear examples of whose 'law ' and what 'order' was maintained.


The first Eastern European state to be occupied by the Red Army was Rumania. The Russian Government immediately announced its intention of maintaining the status quo.

"The Soviet Government declares that it does not pursue the aim of acquiring any part of Rumanian territory or of changing the existing social order in Rumania. It equally declares that the entry of Soviet troops is solely the consequence of military necessities and of the continuation of resistance by enemy forces." [5]

The "enemy forces" were not Nazi desperadoes as might be expected from the statement, but guerilla armies who had been fighting the Nazis. These guerillas had originally been organized by the Peasant Party of which the leader was Iuliu Maniu. Maniu became a member of the new government. When he ordered his guerillas to disband and turn in their arms Moscow Radio commented: "Maniu's declaration is belated. Even before this order the Red Army Command had liquidated all bandit groups..."

Under the Nazis these guerillas had been 'brave resistance fighters'. Under the Kremlin they were 'bandits'. Could their continued resistance have been spurred on by the composition of the new government?

Molotov's guarantee not to interfere with the existing social order encouraged King Michael to appoint a reactionary government. General Sanatescu was made Prime Minister, [6] an office he was to hold for seven months. During this time the workers showed what they felt. There were many uprisings and revolts against the government. The Kremlin, with an army of a million men now in the country, then decided that if Sanatescu could not control the people, he should go.

Vyshinski travelled to Bucharest. Soviet artillery was posted in front of the royal palace. This was hardly necessary. His Majesty promptly complied with Russian demands. Sanatescu's ministry was dissolved and replaced with one headed by Petru Groza. [7] Gheorghe Tatarescu became Vice-Premier.

Both Groza and Tatarescu had been members of pre-war right-wing governments. In 1911 Tatarescu had led the suppression of a peasant uprising in which 11,000 peasants had been murdered. He was Minister of State at the time of the anti-Jewish pogroms of 1937. He was world famous as an exponent of extreme right-wing doctrines. The British Communist Party itself had called him "the leader of the Right pro-Hitler wing of the National Liberal Party", [8] the party which helped King Carol establish his fascist regime under Marshal Antonescu.

Prime Minister Groza's government was assisted by two leading members of the Communist Party, comrades Gheorge Gheorghiu Dej and Lucretiu Patrascanu. They were allotted the respective posts of Minister of Public Works and Communications and of Minister of Justice. Patrascanu soon made his 'socialist' position clear: "Industrialists, businessmen, and bankers will escape punishment as war criminals under a law being drawn up by Lucretiu Patrascanu, Minister of Justice, and Communist members of the Government. Rumania could not afford to loose the services of merchants and industrialists. M. Patrascanu said. He expressed the opinion that the country would pursue a more liberal policy towards this class than the French have". [9]

"Premier Groza said his government did not intend to apply either collectivisation of the land or nationalisation of the banks or industries and that the mere question showed ignorance of its programme".[10] Stalin himself advised Groza "to keep the system of private enterprise and private profit".[11]

So, factories and enterprises owned by foreign capital were also allowed to remain intact. Capitalists who had worked hand-in-glove with the Nazis were permitted to keep their wealth and continue their activities. That this happened with Groza as Prime Minister is hardly surprising. He was a banker and owned many factories and a large estate. Before the war he had been a minister in two right-wing governments under General Averescu (1920-1, 1926-7).

Politically-conscious Rumanian workers did not expect such a government to represent interests other than those of the big landowners and financiers. Nor did they wonder why Groza was openly opposed to measures of social reform and why he staunchly upheld the sanctity of private property. But that a government carrying out a policy of suppressing workers and peasants, that had been virtually appointed by Soviet Russia, forced many Rumanian revolutionaries to think. It forced them to change opinions and ideals they had held for years. Eventually, even Maniu and his supporters withdrew from Parliament. But such were the rumblings among the people that even this trivial demonstration of independence could not be tolerated by the government and its Communist supporters. Maniu was promptly charged with being 'anti-monarchist ',[12] a 'fascist' and an 'enemy of the people'.

Maniu was tried and sentenced to solitary confinement for life.[13] The President of the tribunal was the wartime Director General of prisons and concentration camps. He owed his appointment to the tribunal to a leading member of the Communist Party, Patrascanu.


When the Red Army occupied Bulgaria the Russian-backed 'Fatherland Front' Government took over. It was headed by Colonel Khimon Georgiev, Colonel Demain Velchev was Minister of War. Both had been former leaders of the Military League, a fascist organisation sponsored by Mussolini.[14]

Colonel Georgiev had also been the instigator of the fascist coup of 1934 which had dismissed Parliament, dissolved the unions and declared them illegal. He had then become Prime Minister and had begun a reign of terror which, in its ruthless ferocity, surpassed even that of 1923. The Minister of the Interior of the new 'Fatherland Front' Government was Anton Yugow; a Communist leader. He controlled the state security forces and was responsible for maintaining 'order'.

When the Nazi military machine eventually collapsed, the great majority of the Bulgarian people were naturally overjoyed. Although tired of war and oppression, their relief did not lead them to inactivity. Revolution - the opportunity at last to become the masters of their own destiny - now appeared possible. During the autumn months of 1944, in Sofia and other towns, workers' militias arrested the fascists and clamped them in gaol. They held mass demonstrations. They elected full democratic people's tribunals. The police were disarmed and in many cases disbanded.

The soldiers' feelings were in harmony with those of the people: "Reports on the Bulgarian forces of occupation in Western Thrace and Macedonia vividly recall the picture of the Russian Army in 1917. Soldiers' councils have been set up. Officers have been degraded, red flags hoisted, and normal saluting has been abolished."[15] This similarity to 1917 was anathema to the Russian and Bulgarian 'Communist' leaders. Backed by the Russian High Command, the Minister of War, Colonel Velchev, issued a strict order to his troops. "Return immediately to normal (sic) discipline. Abolish Soldiers' Councils. Hoist no more red flags."

Sincere Bulgarian Communists denounced the hypocrisy of the Russians. Molotov attempted to quell the ensuing furore: "If certain Communists continue their present conduct, we will bring them to reason. Bulgaria will remain with her democratic government and her present order ... You must retain all valuable army officers from before the coup d'état. You should reinstate in the service all officers who have been dismissed for various reasons."[16]

The sinister ring of these words echoed through Bulgaria. In 1934, the fascist Colonel Georgiev had attacked the workers. He had suppressed strikes with loss of life and declared them illegal. In 1945, the same Colonel Georgiev, now a Communist stooge, attacked striking workers as 'fascists.' "In March 1945 a number of coal miners struck for higher wages. They were immediately branded as 'anarchists' and 'fascists', and rushed into jail by the Communist-controlled state militia."[17]


In 1918, the feeling in Hungary had been strong for revolutionary change. These feelings had for a time been peacefully channelled through the Government of Count Karolyi, who had a reputation for being some kind of a Socialist. The Karolyi Government made some concessions to the people. In March 1919, the Allies brought about the fall of the Karolyi Government. They issued Hungary with an ultimatum concerning the frontier with Czechoslovakia which Hungarians felt would be 'crippling the cripple'.

Patriotic and revolutionary feelings combined and Bela Kun's [18] Government rode in on the crest of a new revolutionary wave. Communists dominated the new administration, although it contained a number of Social Democrats.

In March 1919, the new government proclaimed the Hungarian Soviet Republic. This was not imposed on the country by a Russian army. There was no direct contact between Hungary and Russia. Russia had quite enough to contend with at this time.

Prisoners of war returning from Russia gave accounts, excitedly and with undisguised admiration, of the Great Revolution, news of which inspired the people with hope for a new way of life. How badly the Hungarians needed to cling to such a hope!

Hungary was a predominantly peasant country in - which the distribution of land was more unjust than in any other part of Europe. Almost all the land was owned by aristocrats and by the Church. The majority of the people were landless, unemployed, and close to starvation. To end the feudal land structure at this time would have been a truly revolutionary act.

Bela Kun's Government lasted a little over four months. Some argue there was no time for such measures. But not even the promise was made. Had such steps been taken, Bela Kun's regime might have lasted longer. It would have been difficult, if not impossible, for successive governments to take the land away from the peasants again, without facing the prospect of prolonged civil war. As it was, the Kun regime was overthrown as soon as the Rumanian Army had occupied Budapest. Bela Kun fled to Russia on August 1, 1919. [1]

The demise of the Kun Government had been planned at Szeyed by Admiral Nicholas Horthy and his supporters. Representatives of the Rumanian Army had been present. A White Terror was let loose on Hungary by Horthy's foreign assisted counter-revolution. The first fascist regime in Europe was set up. For the Hungarians, all former horrors were now surpassed. Thousands of Communists and Socialists were rounded up by fascist gangs, beaten, tortured, killed. The Trade Unions were violently suppressed. Those merely suspected of socialist sympathies were tortured and finally murdered. Thousands of people, quite unconnected with such ideas, suffered persecution and death. So frightful were the reports of atrocities that even the British (who knew all about atrocities in India) were moved to send a Parliamentary Commission to Budapest. The Commission reported that "the worst stories of mutilation, rape, torture and murder" were proved.

The activities of the Hungarian Communist Party at this time are referred to by Peter Fryer in his book Hungarian Tragedy: "The tiny Communist Party carried out its work in deep illegality. It made the kind of sectarian mistakes that are so easy to make under such conditions, with leaders in jail and murdered" (p.29). The movement was 'decapitated' and floundered. This is inevitable under conditions of civil war, whenever revolutionary movements are obsessed with the cult of leadership. It is a pre-requisite of success under such conditions, that the leading activities of a movement be spread as far and wide as possible throughout its membership. No one should be indispensable. Arrested 'leaders' should always be replaceable by others.

For the Hungarian people the following years under Horthy's fascist tyranny were full of dread and suffering. Some people have claimed that Horthy's regime was not truly fascist. But we must remember that fascism in power may take a variety of forms. Although basically similar, the regimes of Hitler, Mussolini, Franco, and Salazar also differed in several particulars. Perhaps Horthy's regime could best be called 'rule by aristocratic fascists'. Whatever its name, its sickening bestiality, as far as the ordinary people were concerned, remains as a scar on the body of humanity.

The Horthy regime took part in World War II on Hitler's side. However, towards the end of this war a movement developed which sought to detach Hungary from its alliance with Nazi Germany. Nazi troops then occupied the country and the terror ruled again. Left-wing militants were ruthlessly hunted out and exterminated. Some 400,000 Hungarian Jews were deported to agony and death in Nazi concentration camps.

Despite this long history of misery, the Hungarian people had not given up their hope of a better life. When in 1944 the Red Army began to occupy the country the people were well disposed towards it. They sincerely held Russia to be a friend. They trusted the promise of liberation. Many Russians had given their lives in bitter battles to drive out the German Nazis. The glorious ideals of 1917 were not forgotten. So trusting were the few Hungarian Communists that they helped to organise the dividing up of large estates among the peasants.

In December 1944, a Hungarian government was formed at Debrecen in the Russian-occupied area. A shudder went through the people. The First Minister was the Hungarian Commander-in-Chief General Bela Miklos de Dolnok. Bela Miklos had been the first Hungarian personally to receive from Hitler the greatest Nazi honour: Knight Grand Cross of the Iron Cross. Only a few months earlier, in July 1944, General Bela Miklos had held the highly trusted job of messenger between the principal organiser of the White Terror, Admiral Horthy, and the vilest Nazi of them all, Adolf Hitler. [20]

There were two other generals in the Government: Vörös and Faragho. General Janos Vörös, Bela Miklos's ex-Chief-of-Staff, became Minister for Defence. Imre Nagy became the Minster for Agriculture. The rest of the Government was formed of members of the Communist, Social Democratic, and Smallholders parties. The Economist described it at the time as "a queer collection of the local denizens and the parties of the left".

The new government still considered Admiral Horthy the legitimate ruler of Hungary. The Minister for Defence, General Vörös, ended his first speech over the Russian radio with the contradictory slogan: "Long live a free and democratic Hungary, under the leadership of Admiral Horthy!". The first declaration of the Russian-sponsored government as broadcast by Moscow radio on December 24, 1944, proclaimed: "The Regent of our country, Nicholas Horthy, has been seized by the Germans. The mercenaries now in Budapest [2l] are usurpers. The country has been left without leadership at a moment when the reins of government must be taken in strong hands ... Vital interests of the nation demand that the armed forces of the Hungarian peoples, together with the Soviet Union and democratic peoples, should help in the destruction of Hitlerism. The Provisional Government declares that it regards private property as the basis of economic life and the social order of the country and will guarantee its continuity".

General Miklos, Knight Grand Cross of the Iron Cross, had read the proclamation. It sounds incredible. How could such a man call for "the destruction of Hitlerism"? To people like Bela Miklos, the privileges, prestige and power that go with leadership, were the paramount considerations. The nature of the leadership, its policy, methods and aims, were of secondary consequence. But how could Soviet Russia put such men into leading positions? The main reason was given by Miklos himself in the declaration quoted above: "... The country has been left without leadership ...". In other words a political vacuum existed. There was a real danger of it being filled by the organisations thrown up by the industrial and agricultural workers. The workers had taken Communist propaganda at its face value. They had already begun to act upon it. This was extremely dangerous for the Soviet leadership and for all those who accepted it. The only people the Russians could rely on were the remnants of the previous ruling groups.

Russian beliefs that nobody other than erstwhile managers and administrators could run the country were not new. The seeds had been sown in Russia itself, shortly after the October Revolution and long before the Stalin era. Prior to the Revolution the Bolsheviks had repeatedly advocated workers' control of production. But as early as the spring of 1918 - and long before the difficulties imposed by the Civil War - leading Party members were stressing the advantages of 'one-man management' of industry. They were soon actively denouncing those within their own Party - and those outside it - who still held to the view that only collective management could be a genuine basis for socialist construction.

We cannot here deal with this extremely important and complex period of working class history, nor with the extremely tense controversies which this question of management gave rise to. [22] There can be little doubt, however, that it is in the events, difficulties, and conflicts of this period that one should seek the real roots of the degeneration of the Russian Revolution. Many years later, even the bourgeoisie was to perceive the significance of what then took place. When The Guardian [23] refers to Lenin's writings of March 1918 as "dealing in part with emulating capitalist organisation of industry within a socialist framework", it is merely expressing this awareness with its customary mixture of naivete and sophistication.

The dangers that would flow from such ideas had been clearly perceived in Russia by a grouping known as the Workers Opposition. As early as 1921, one of its prominent members, Alexandra Kollontai, had written: "Distrust towards the working class (not in the sphere of politics, but in the sphere of economic creative abilities) is the whole essence of the theses signed by our Party leaders. They do not believe that the rough hands of workers, untrained technically, can mould these economic forms which in the passage of time shall develop into a harmonious system of Communist production.

"To all of them - Lenin, Trotsky, Zinoviev and Bukharin - it seems that production is such a 'delicate thing' that it is impossible to get along without the assistance of 'managers'. First of all, we shall 'bring up' the workers, 'teach them'. Only when they grow up shall we remove from them all the teachers of the Supreme Council of National Economy and let the industrial unions take control over production. It is significant that all the theses written by the Party leaders coincide on this essential point: for the present we shall not give the trade unions control over production. For the present, 'we shall wait'. They all agree that at present the management of production must be carried on over the workers' heads by means of a bureaucratic apparatus inherited from the past." [24]

In the capitalist West, of course, there had never been any 'nonsense' about the workers controlling and managing production. When the Western powers 'liberated' parts of Europe in 1945, the Military Governments set up by the occupying armies ensured that only people with a particular social background or a particular kind of previous experience were put or retained in commanding managerial or administrative positions. [25] To the victors it mattered little to what ends - or to whose ends - this experience had been put in the past. Like spoke to like - and they got on fine! The mystique of management cut across national boundaries.

As it became obvious that the future rulers of Hungary would be the Communist Party and its rapidly forming bureaucracy, the place-seeking elements came flocking in. The Party became the recruiting centre for the future 'leaders ' and managers. (A similar process had occurred in Germany, with the rise of Hitler's party.) Economic administration and political rule were concentrated into fewer and fewer hands.