83. Telegram From the Legation in Hungary to the Department of State1

32. Department pass USIA. Legtel 31.2 Further factual details drawn from press accounts of recent HWP Central Committee meeting include following.

Rakosi’s speech accompanying letter of resignation3 dilated further on his health, and also on his mistakes in violation Socialist legality and in field of personal cult which “made party work more difficult . . . diminished attractive power of party . . . obstructed constructive criticism and . . . democratism . . . offered points of weakness for enemy to attack”, etc.4

Hegedus speech brief, largely devoted to outlining changes in party organs, praises Rakosi for services before blaming for mistakes and also attacked Nagy.

Long speech delivered by Gero5 stressed: successes of Socialist camp and fading of imperialism, with less chance of war; continued danger from imperialist enemy, who tries to sow discord in Communist bloc, using “liquidation of personal cult centered around Stalin” as tool (Poznan, Petofi Club, Western spies also cited); party democracy gaining, but enemy at home had some successes in confusing many members, and Politburo has not had full support even of CC; control of debates and press been mistakenly allowed to slip out of party hands; economic situation better but still tense; must appeal to financial interest of individual; plan for industrial expansion, capital investments and national income to be reduced small amounts, but 25 percent increase in real wages retained; no more national loans; further reduction of 15,000 in armed forces; collectivization to be continued but only per voluntary principle, and even kulaks’ rights to be [Page 225] respected; unity and discipline essential to party and nation; less bureaucracy needed; “Socialist legality” essential; army and security organs must have full support; both right deviations (Nagy attacked) and “sectarianism” to be guarded against; most “differences of opinion” occur with intelligentsia, which must be won over by party.

Reactions other Western Legations (only limited number contacted thus far but these well-informed) show generally two schools of thought which differ mainly in emphasis:

[One] School considers Soviet role as that of brake in preventing situation from going much further. Action taken estimated by Soviets as minimum concession to stave off further party revolt, and one which would at same time permit restoration order. According this reasoning Poznan (and possibly even Petofi Club) riot strengthened Rakosi’s hand and perhaps resulted in smaller concession being worked out than might otherwise eventually have come about. Future situation probably to be highlighted by renewed party revolts within reasonably short period of time since present solution satisfies no one. Regime now setting about to forestall these revolts extent possible. Future concessions will be determined by relative strength these actions as well as by international situation.
Another school views situation as evolutionary, not revolutionary; despite minuteness of concession, nevertheless Rakosi is gone and Kadar is installed. Gero’s health poor, his role may not be paramount for long. Some concessions have been granted to non-Stalinist party faction and to general public. There will probably be room within framework of new regime’s controls for more freedom of expression within party. If flare-ups do not come too quickly or too sharply, then in course of time gradual liberalization is probable.

In Legation view based on analysis possible thus far, situation suggests that conflicting forces engendered by recent developments i.e., trend toward surface liberality sparked by 20th Soviet Party Congress on one hand, and reaction influenced by such open criticism of local party as voiced in Petofi Club, and by Poznan riots, on other, have resulted in curious and perhaps unstable compromise, i.e.:

Number 1 Stalinist Rakosi out as First Secretary Party—but Gero with hardly more savory record in; new blood in Politburo includes such relatively non-doctrinaire elements as Kadar and Marosan—but old gang with exception Rakosi still there; some lip service paid to Socialist legality and free criticism, slightly smaller industry investments and abolition peace loan, as well as softer words for erstwhile [Page 226] “kulaks”—but need for party solidarity behind central leadership, danger from “enemy” abroad and at home (latter including Imre Nagy and right deviationists) stressed.

In any event, evident that those at controls felt something should finally be done, after continuing postponements of meeting to aid letting off steam of current discontent. But whether such solution can satisfy any group for long seems most doubtful.

While too soon yet to reach definitive conclusion, we tend toward belief that Soviet pressure was exercised in favor of minimum concession possible at time, and that fact changes made in spite of previous Soviet support of Rakosi, evident up to Mikoyan’s arrival, show deep and broad nature opposition to Rakosi as personification of old system. We doubt that opposition will be satisfied with this crumb for very long and believe that any efforts to reinstitute tighter controls might in fact work to speed new outburst. While much depends of course upon Kadar’s role in future, we are not inclined to think at moment that his role is intended to be paramount nor that it is now intended that he use new position as stepping stone to become Gero’s successor. On whole Legation inclined to foresee some period of uneasy equilibrium followed later by clearer trend direction of which depends on results achieved by present Hungarian leadership at home and of current Soviet policies on international plane.

Suggestions for media treatment follow:

Insofar possible judge up to now, reaction Hungarian people to Rakosi’s departure seems to be one of relief, tempered however by usual skepticism, fundamental lack of public interest in Communist party maneuverings and disappointment over Gero as successor. This change in leaders, viewed against background post-20th Congress atmosphere, probably considered by part Hungarian people as small landmark on road to liberalization and possible symbol new changes [Page 227] and better things to come. Consequently believe media justified in cautiously supporting current relatively hopeful and expectant mood on part Hungarian people by playing up point that change came basically from below, forced on reluctant Russian masters and Hungarian Stalinists by Hungarian situation. Suggest media review recent Hungarian actions beginning with writers revolt and climaxing in Petofi Club, which forced this change. While media can make clear that Gero also old pro-Russian Stalinist, and acceptable to Russians only because of this, and that his new line not yet proved, he nevertheless caught in irreversible stream of events in which Hungarian people now clearly playing large role.

Legation believes Western press and public opinion will be shocked at minimum nature of concessions in light promises made since March. If this the case, believe media can profitably play this up.

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 764.00/7–1956. Confidential; Priority. Repeated to Vienna and Munich.
  2. Supra.
  3. For Rákosi’s letter of resignation and accompanying speech, published July 19, see Zinner, ed., National Communism, pp. 340–342.
  4. All ellipses are in the source text.
  5. For extracts, see Zinner, National Communism, pp. 342–345.