116. Memorandum of Discussion at the 301st Meeting of the National Security Council, Washington, October 26, 1956, 9–10:42 a.m.1

[Here follows a paragraph listing the participants at the meeting.]

1. Significant World Developments Affecting U.S. Security

[Here follows discussion of unrelated matters.]

With respect to Poland, Mr. [Allen] Dulles stated that the reporting in the press had been fairly accurate to date. A dramatic cable had been received yesterday in the clear from our Embassy in Budapest.2 The writer of the report had been obliged to lie down on the floor as he was writing, in order to avoid being shot at. The following were the main points in the cable.

In the first place, Soviet troops had arrived in Budapest at four o’clock in the morning on Wednesday last.3 These troops were from the First Mechanized Division. In addition, certain reinforcements had arrived from Soviet forces in Rumania. The cable stated that the native Hungarian troops had thus far been held in the background, with the Soviet forces doing the actual fighting. Some Hungarian troops had already gone over to the rebels. It was also being alleged that certain Soviet tanks had gone over to the Hungarian rebels. Mr. Dulles expressed some skepticism at this report of Soviet military defectors, but indicated that it might possibly be true. In any event, at as late as eleven o’clock on Wednesday morning the Embassy had stated that tanks were fighting tanks in the streets of Budapest. The cable went on to provide other details of the fighting in Budapest, including the large demonstration in front of the U.S. Embassy, in the course of which the demonstrators called for U.S. assistance. As late as yesterday evening many sectors of the city were still in the hands of rebel bands.

In addition to the above intelligence, press reports early this morning stated that the situation had quieted somewhat in Budapest itself, and there was a partial lifting of the curfew. On the other hand, there were reports of disorders in at least two other Hungarian cities.

Mr. Dulles stated that it was of course too early to reach any firm conclusions on the intelligence summarized above. Nevertheless, he would give to the Council certain thoughts which he was entertaining on what was happening in Poland and in Hungary.

[Page 296]

In the first place, there was bound to be much soul-searching in Moscow as to whether a Gomulka-type regime could be permitted to function in Poland in view of what has happened in Hungary. Secondly, Soviet intervention in Hungary may have been due to Soviet unwillingness to submit to a second humiliation after Poland. On the other hand, the Hungarian revolt had from the outset exhibited much clearer anti-Soviet and anti-Communist bias than had the Polish disorders.

Thirdly, the Hungarian revolt may demonstrate the inability of a moderate national Communist regime to survive in any of the satellites. What has happened would seem to indicate only two alternatives: One, either to return to a hard Stalinist regime, or two, to permit developments in the direction of genuine democracy. It had become evident that the revolt in Budapest had early taken a far more serious turn than that in Warsaw. Indeed, Mr. Dulles believed that the revolt in Hungary constituted the most serious threat yet to be posed to continued Soviet control of the satellites. It confronted Moscow with a very harsh dilemma: Either to revert to a harsh Stalinist policy, or to permit democratization to develop in the satellites to a point which risked the complete loss of Soviet control of the satellites.

Mr. Dulles then commented on the effect of these events on neutral nations such as India, and on Yugoslavia. He emphasized that while Marshal Tito had approved of what had happened in Poland, he had remained silent on Hungary. The Marshal may well view what has occurred in Hungary with genuine alarm. Certainly any free election would make abundantly clear that there was no popular support for any kind of Communist regime in Hungary or in Poland.

Various members of the Council then commented on the possibility of an ultimate replacement of Soviet influence in the satellites by a Western orientation for these countries. In connection with this discussion Secretary Dulles mentioned a telegram which had come in to the State Department early this morning from our Ambassador in Warsaw.4 The portions of this message read by Secretary Dulles concerned themselves with the Polish economy and Poland’s resources. The Ambassador concluded that the Polish economy could be made viable if the Poles were permitted to trade anywhere they wanted to in normal fashion.

Mr. Allen Dulles, reverting again to the impact of these events on third countries, pointed out that while Communist China had welcomed the developments in Poland, it had been silent on what had [Page 297] occurred in Hungary.5 Nevertheless, the Chinese Communists may not be unhappy about Hungarian developments. If so, this could be the beginning of the first rift between Communist China and the Soviet Union.

The President inquired whether Mr. Allen Dulles had had any information about the Czech reaction to these events. Mr. Dulles replied that he had very little on this point.6 In any event, practically all the potential Gomulkas in Czechoslovakia had been pretty well slaughtered.

Turning to the immediate future, Mr. Allen Dulles stated his belief that the Soviet leaders in Moscow would try to convey an outward impression of continued unity of belief and action. Bohlen, for example, has reported that Bulganin and Khrushchev had been seen together at a recent reception in Moscow.7 However, Bohlen said he had never seen them looking so grim. In any event, the current Soviet leadership was certainly on the defensive, and Khrushchev is probably being held responsible for what has happened. Khrushchev’s days may well be numbered. It was quite possible that upon Zhukov would devolve the choice of Khrushchev’s successor. Indeed, it was even possible that Zhukov himself would be Khrushchev’s successor.

The President then asked if there were further questions. Admiral Radford inquired if there was any information as to the reaction of the United States Communist Party. Mr. Allen Dulles replied that he had read several editorials in The New York Daily Worker. These editorials had welcomed what had happened in Poland, but had little to say about Hungary. The President referred to the Attorney General’s recent report,8 which had indicated the gradual disintegration of the Communist Party, USA. The President also added that he thought it had been wise of him to issue his statement with respect to Hungary.9 He had noted many signs of approval in the course of his visit yesterday to New York City.

Secretary Dulles then informed the Council that the State Department had just sent out messages to all the friendly co-signatories of the Hungarian Peace Treaty, to ascertain if any of these countries was disposed to take any action in the United Nations with respect to [Page 298] Hungary.10 In the case of Yugoslavia, which was one of the signatories, it had been left to Ambassador Riddleberger’s discretion whether to put this problem to Marshal Tito.11

The President, referring to the message on Poland’s economy and resources, stated that the question of trade interested him immensely, in view of his long-held conviction that the United States should trade as widely as possible with the Soviet satellites. On the same point, Secretary Dulles stated that one sentence in the telegram from Warsaw had emphasized the fact that nearly all the Polish textile mills were geared to use U.S. short-staple cotton rather than Egyptian long-staple cotton.12 This, thought Secretary Dulles, would be of interest to the Secretary of Agriculture. The President agreed that this was worth thinking about.

Governor Stassen recalled a talk he had had with Gomulka several years ago, before the latter had been put in prison. On this occasion Gomulka had protested his friendliness toward the United States and had also outlined his desire to follow an independent road to Socialism in Poland. With reference to Governor Stassen’s observation, Mr. Allen Dulles stated that Gomulka’s long speech a few days ago represented the most violent denunciation of the entire Soviet economic system which had ever [been] issued anywhere from any source. He had accordingly sent copies of this speech all over this Government and to many places overseas.

At this point, Governor Stassen inquired whether, in view of the great significance of what was taking place in Hungary and Poland, it would not be advisable for the President to call a special meeting of the National Security Council to discuss the whole problem of Hungary and Poland. The President replied that he was not sure that discussion in the National Security Council was the best initial step. He did believe, however, that the responsible departments and agencies should proceed at once to formulate the clearest possible analysis of what had happened in these two countries. Such an analysis could then be presented to the National Security Council. Such a procedure he believed better than to plunge right into a discussion in the Council on these difficult subjects.

Governor Stassen pointed out that basic decisions would have to be taken presently by the Soviet Union. They would either have to revert to the old harsh policy of Stalin toward the satellites, or else they would have to let things go on as they were going. The President [Page 299] replied that if the Soviets did revert to the Stalin policies, they would stand bankrupt before the whole world. Pointing out that he had a memorandum on his desk,13 the President said that he was concerned about another question which was possibly being posed for the Soviet Union. In view of the serious deterioration of their position in the satellites, might they not be tempted to resort to very extreme measures and even to precipitate global war? This was a situation which must be watched with the utmost care. After all, observed the President, Hitler had known well, from the first of February 1945, that he was licked. Yet he had carried on to the very last and pulled down Europe with him in his defeat. The Soviets might even develop some desperate mood such as this.

Governor Stassen wondered if it would not be prudent to try to get some message to Marshal Zhukov indicating that the achievement of freedom in the Soviet satellites should not be considered by the Soviet Union as posing any real threat to the national security of the USSR. We should make clear that this development would not impel the Western powers to make any warlike move against the Soviet Union. The President stated that he did not believe such a move would be worthwhile. He doubted if the Soviet leaders genuinely feared an invasion by the Western powers. He thought that a better procedure would be to ask the NSC Planning Board to provide an analysis of what had happened in Hungary and Poland and to make any suggestions which it could as to what the United States might do in the light of these developments. All of the members of the National Security Council had representatives on the Planning Board and could make their views available.

[Here follows discussion of unrelated matters.]

The National Security Council: 14

Noted and discussed an oral briefing on the subject by the Director of Central Intelligence, with specific reference to Poland, Hungary, and the Middle East.
Noted the President’s directive that the NSC Planning Board prepare a comprehensive analysis of the developments in Hungary and Poland, and possible courses of action in the light thereof which the United States should consider.

[Here follow the remaining agenda items.]

S. Everett Gleason
  1. Source: Eisenhower Library, Whitman File, NSC Records. Top Secret. Drafted by Gleason. The time of the meeting is from the Record of the President’s Daily Appointments. (Ibid.)
  2. See Document 108.
  3. October 24.
  4. Telegram 540 from Warsaw, October 26, not printed. (Department of State, Central Files, 748.00/10–2656)
  5. Circular telegram 319, October 27, addressed the question of Communist Chinese support for the Polish effort to escape Soviet domination. The addressees were instructed to rebut any suggestion that the Chinese were supporting the Poles. (Ibid., 748.00/10–2756)
  6. Telegrams reporting on Czechoslovakia’s response to developments in Poland and Hungary are ibid., 749.00 and 764.00.
  7. Reported in telegram 924 from Moscow, October 24. (Ibid., 764.00/10–2456)
  8. Attorney General Herbert Brownell, Jr., sent a memorandum to the President on this subject on October 7. The text was printed in The New York Times on October 8.
  9. See footnote 2, Document 107.
  10. See Document 113.
  11. See footnote 3, Document 113. In telegram 549 from Belgrade, October 27, Ambassador Riddleberger reported that the Yugoslav Acting Foreign Secretary had indicated his government’s inclination to doubt the “utility” of approaching the Soviets at that time. (Department of State, Central Files, 764.00/10–2756)
  12. See Document 110.
  13. Not further identified. The Presedent noted in his diary for October 26 that he “warned both the Chairman of the Chiefs of Staff and the Director of the Central Intelligence Agency to be unusually watchful and alert during the crisis occasioned by the Hungarian revolt.” (Eisenhower Library, Whitman File, Eisenhower Diaries)
  14. Paragraphs a–b that follow constitute NSC Action No. 1623. (Department of State, S/SNSC (Miscellaneous) Files, Lot 66 D 95, Records of Action by the National Security Council)