86. Despatch From the Legation in Hungary to the Department of State1

No. 77


  • Legdes 57, August 17, 19562


  • Hungarian Political Developments: The First Six Weeks After Rakosi


Although it is too soon properly to evaluate the new era in Hungary which began with the resignation of Rakosi, a number of characteristics of this period seem to be evident:

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There has been no personality cult built up around Gero.
The influence of Kadar seems to be considerable.
An effort is being made to gain support from the Nagy element of the Party and from non-Communist parties.
The attitude toward intellectuals has definitely changed since the meeting of the Central Leadership in July.
A number of modest concessions have been made toward the general population.
A general review of economic policy may be under way.
The regime has adorned itself with a new halo of democracy, progressiveness and freedom.
There is some reason to believe that relations with the United States will gradually improve.

An examination of these characteristics leads toward the conclusion that events have moved faster and more favorably than most observers anticipated. While it is true that many steps which have been taken must be labelled as concessions made desirable because of the strength of the opposition and designed to head it off; and while it is also true that the basic conflict continues between those wishing to cushion the effect of the 20th Congress in Hungary and those willing or wishing to permit a more natural development of ideological thought and political practice (within limits); nevertheless the arena of political conflict, and perhaps of economic, appears to be further to the right than six weeks ago, and in many cases further to the right than under Nagy during 1953–54. There is reason to believe it will move still further in this direction in the next few months.

What was possibly the first overt Soviet intrusion into the domestic scene since Rakosi’s resignation took place recently; whether or not this interpretation is the correct one, there is little doubt that such an intrusion will occur if developments in Hungary move too fast. Whether it could now be resisted more successfully than in the past, and the effect of Soviet intervention on Hungarian political developments, are very important questions for the future.

The reference despatch reviewed certain of the events which preceded and led up to the removal of Rakosi from his pre-eminent position in this country. His removal, although properly referred to as the ending of the Stalinist era, may also be called the beginning of a new era in Hungary which so far cannot be adequately designated. [Page 233] While it is true that many events and developments which have become evident since Rakosi’s demission had their origin long before July 18, the changes that have occurred recently and are still continuing have already resulted, as the Hungarian regime has been the first and loudest to claim, in a noticeably different atmosphere here.

Although it is still far too soon after Rakosi’s dismissal to describe, and particularly to evaluate accurately, the era now beginning, it is not too early to set down certain of its highlights and characteristics as they have become evident since July 18. The following appear worthy of note:


There has been no personality cult built up around Gero. While his name has appeared regularly in the press since the end of Parliament, he has made no public speeches (despite many opportunities) and has been referred to only casually (although favorably) by other speakers. His principal public statement was made in a Pravda article dated August 26, reprinted in Szabad Nep on August 28. This Pravda support is of course significant in itself but would in our opinion be much more so were Gero playing a more active role in public life and were there more marked differences in viewpoint between Gero and others.

Rumors about Gero’s health have been conflicting: It is known that some time ago he was in poor health (ulcers), yet in Parliament July 30 he appeared brown and healthy, and he gave that same impression to New York Times correspondent John MacCormac on August 14. A later unconfirmed report was received, however, to the effect that his general health is still very poor; and in fact that he uses facial make-up in order to conceal his pallor and poor appearance.


The influence of Kadar seems to be considerable. This judgment is admittedly based largely on his speech at Salgotarjan on August 12, which was reported in detailed summary in Szabad Nep and almost completely in the Nograd County paper. The Legation considers it certainly interesting and probably significant that Kadar was the first and is still the only top figure except Gero to devote himself primarily to internal political matters, or at least the only top figure prominently covered in Szabad Nep as so doing. Exceptions to this might be Marton Horvath in his editorial of August 12, and Marosan’s article of August 19, but both of the latter statements were obviously directed toward [Page 234] particular goals. Other spokesmen have devoted themselves largely to economic problems or to special topics, such as relations with Yugoslavia.

The Legation’s first impression of the Kadar speech, as reported in Legtel 703 and based on the Szabad Nep summary, was that it was rather moderate in tone. We were also impressed by Kadar’s reversal of the usual order of Rakosi’s shortcomings, and by his implication that the errors of rightist deviation were due in part to the earlier errors of the Stalinist period, i.e., blaming Rakosi for anything Nagy may have done. Based on the full version of the speech, the moderateness of Kadar’s tone is not nearly so obvious. In fact the main difference between Kadar and Gero’s speech of July 18 to the Central Leadership appears to the Legation to be the difference in approach to the People’s Political Front (see Paragraph 3d below).

As an aside on the question of Kadar’s present role, a recent remark of the Soviet Ambassador to the Belgian Minister should be mentioned: Mr. Andropov said that he liked Mr. Kadar very much, placing particular emphasis on the “very”. On the other hand, reports have been received that would indicate that Kadar is not very highly regarded in non-Communist circles, being considered neither extremely intelligent nor very strong.

The fact that relations with Yugoslavia have continued to develop favorably, both economically and politically (Yugoslavia is to send a Parliamentary delegation to Budapest before the end of the year, and both countries’ missions are to be raised to Embassy level) may possibly throw light on the Yugoslav reaction to Kadar. Since the Yugoslavs can hardly view Gero with great affection, and since they have long been rumored as supporters of Kadar, present Yugoslav-Hungarian relations, if they show anything, probably also point to Kadar’s significance in the regime.


An effort is under way to gain support from the Nagy faction of the Party and from non-Communist parties. This development, of which there was little sign prior to the removal of Rakosi, may represent one of the most significant characteristics of the new regime. There has been considerable evidence to support the conclusion that this effort is under way and that it is a strong one: [Page 235]

The constant rumors, supported by a number of public statements, that Nagy can return to the Party the day he accepts certain conditions (which are reported to be only the briefest admission of error—an admission which Nagy has so far not felt free to make). Kadar’s statement referred to above, that Nagy’s errors were the fault of Rakosi, may even mean that he will not have to make this confession, and, as reported in Legtel 70, the issue of Nagy’s return to some official position may easily be hanging fire over the amount of influence he would be allowed to exert.
The public statements of Marosan and Szakasitz (Weeka 34),4 which emphasized the unity of the international laboring classes.
The overtures to non-Communist Party leaders (Legation despatches 52 and 685 —Secret).
The changed attitude toward the People’s Patriotic Front. In discussing the PPF, Kadar on August 12 did not place such emphasis on the leading role of the Party within the PPF as was the case before July 18, or even the case in Gero’s closing speech to the Central Leadership, but rather on the definition of the PPF as the “joint political movement of Communists and non-Communists for common goals in which they agree . . .”; and he added “There are (many such goals) in which honest patriots, Party and non-Party workers are of the same opinion. . . .” Gero, on the other hand, said on July 18 that “we must see to it that the People’s Front should actually be led by the Party . . .”,6 although he did not feel that Communists should constitute a majority “everywhere and in each organ.”

The significance of Gero’s statement is emphasized by his remarks in the Pravda article of August 26: “The PPF comprises the broadest strata of our people: workers, peasants, and intellectuals, working small people, all patriots who love the people, and everyone who wants a lasting peace and supports the easing of international tension. The role of the Patriotic People’s Front became somewhat dimmed recently. This was also due to the efforts of certain rightist elements to deny the right of Party leadership in the Patriotic People’s Front and to place the Patriotic People’s Front in a certain respect above the Party, which would have practically meant bringing the Party into opposition to the Patriotic People’s Front. On the other hand, there asserted [Page 236] themselves also sectarian views as a result of which the People’s Front, as a broad mass movement, was underrated. This fault was remedied by the July resolution of our Central Leadership.”

In this connection, it has been rumored that a new pro-Nagy publication (possibly edited by Ivan Boldiszar—see Legdes 73)7 is to be started, and that the “Party man” on Magyar Nemzet, Imre Komor, is to be removed and replaced by Geza Losonczy, who is definitely pro-Nagy. It is possible, in fact that Magyar Nemzet might become a “pro-Nagy” organ if Losonczy becomes its real chief.

Prior to the Pravda article, the Legation viewed the efforts mentioned above under (a), (b) and (c), as well as Kadar’s change in emphasis concerning the PPF and the rumored pro-Nagy paper or periodical, as directed primarily at gaining broader non-Party but still political (as opposed to popular) support. This policy, it was thought, stemmed basically from the increasing realization within the Party that its political support (that is, its support among “political” circles) as well as its popular support, is so small. Kadar seemed to be saying that the Party has shut itself off from the rest of the country when he said “You must not be afraid of listening to the opinions expressed by non-Party workers in the PPF and of hearing time and again views which are neither Marxist nor Communist.” He seemed to mean that the basic purpose of this admonition is to “consolidate unity” between the Party and other groups, and he pleaded with both Party members and working masses to have confidence in the Central Leadership. He went on to say that “of course no one can work miracles and neither can the Central Leadership of the Party. At present the situation is, however, such that the Central Leadership can guarantee an unwavering, consistent and unequivocal leadership and conscientious careful dealings with the cause of the state, the working masses and the people. The Central Leadership is determined . . . to submit to the arty membership, the working masses and the people, in the spirit of confidence, the most important problems even if these problems are grave and difficult ones. We assume that our Party membership, our worker’s class and all our working people have learned a great deal and have developed politically in recent times.”

This statement certainly does not sound as though there were great discord today within the Central Committee of the Party; although it is true that the latter has always attempted to present a monolithic surface to the public, even when the Committee was almost rent asunder by dissension (witness the October 1954 and March 1955 resolutions).

Yet the different emphasis regarding the PPF as between Gero (in his July speech and his Pravda article) and Kadar seems to signify at least a difference in approach and perhaps a conflict between the two [Page 237] views. Even though Gero stated that the fault of underrating the Party role in the PPF had been corrected by the July Central Committee Resolution, Kadar spoke after that resolution. Perhaps the Gero article constitutes a warning, the first public warning thus far noted, that the Soviets are concerned lest the effort to broaden the political base of the Party might weaken Party control. On the other hand, it may mean only a slightly different emphasis given for publication in Moscow.


The attitude toward intellectuals has definitely changed since the meeting of the Central Leadership in July. (See Legdes 78.)8 Inter alia, a number of developments are evident: The sharp criticism of the Petofi Club excesses have died out; Marton Horvath in an important article on August 12 implied that the leaders of the opposition were not really to blame, which seems to indicate that they may be readmitted to the Party—as in fact rumor already has them; the regime appears to be moving to liberalize its treatment of intellectuals’ children (although its discrimination against such children did not apply to leading Party intellectuals); and literary magazines are already beginning to speak out about the special privileges enjoyed by the top Party hierarchy.

The changes in this field were formalized in a recent Central Committee resolution which was probably designed to anticipate future demands from the intellectual groups, as well as to define the limitations within which intellectual freedom will be free to move. The most revealing reaction to this resolution was an article by pro-Nagyist Geza Losonczy in Muvelt Nep of Sept. 2. Losonczy welcomed the words of the resolution, at least as a partial statement of the requirements of the intelligentsia, but pointed out that their fulfillment could be realized only by means of struggle. Losonczy referred to the June 30 resolution of the Central Leadership, which cracked down on the Petofi Club, as an example of the kind of mistrust with which the intellectuals have had to contend down to the present. The article seemed to augur that the regime could hope to win the fight for the mind of the intellectual only by vying with a vocal rightist element.

A number of modest concessions have been made toward the general population. These were described in more detail in Legdes 56, [Page 238] August 17,9 and included primarily improvements in the judicial field (control of secret police and abolition of special courts, improved “socialist legality”, economic concessions and removal of hindrances to religious instruction).
A general review of economic policy may be under way. Although this statement cannot be confirmed, there is the following evidence to support it:
The fact that the second five-year plan is to be presented to Parliament only in December, after one full year of the period is over. Parliament is also to meet in October. After the “full country-wide discussion” of the plan which took place in early summer, there would seem to be no obvious reason why Parliamentary examination of the plan should wait until December (although it can also be argued that if there is then no major change in the plan this fact would demonstrate the unimportant role of Parliament, since the plan would have been accepted as a fait accompli long before Parliament had a chance to examine it).
The logic of the situation. One would expect Hungary to make modifications in the plan, largely imposed upon it by the USSR, as soon as its relations with that country permitted. While we do not know that things have gone so far, some changes within certain limits might be assayed if they were felt warranted by other developments.
The economic situation, which has not improved. Since the goals under the new plan were to be attained primarily from an increase in productivity, continuing difficulties in this regard and with production costs should make the initial goals less attainable.
The reports that Nagy wishes to make changes in economic policy (Legtel 70).
The change in priority in the speech of Marton Horvath at Pecs (about August 18—see Hungarian Press Summary No. 193),10 when he reversed the usual order and referred to the need to insure a higher living standard even if other goals had to be adjusted.
The regime has adorned itself with a new halo of democracy, progressiveness and freedom. This was most evident in Parliament (Legdes 56), but has not been limited to that short period. Nor in fact has the placing of this halo been limited to any one intentional act carried out by the Hungarian regime. The fact that the average individual has felt an improvement in his personal security, and even greater freedom to contact Westerners has been attested to in Budapest by small events: an obviously greater willingness on the part of Hungarian individuals to have contact with even that blackest of bete noires in Hungary, a member of the U.S. Legation; two personal visits to the Legation in the last few days to ask for a collection of modern American literature (Legtel 80)11 and material on medical schools (Legdes 76);12 etc.
There is some reason to believe that relations with the United States will gradually improve (Legdes 66).13 While it is too soon to make a conclusive judgment in this regard, a number of steps have been taken recently which appear to indicate that a slow improvement in relations with the United States is desired by the Hungarian Government.

Comment and Conclusions

An observer’s interpretation of the above developments will of course depend on a number of factors, including whether the developments turn out to be real ones, the reaction of the Hungarian population, and the extent to which the observer himself, or in this case the [Page 240] American Legation, is also being wooed. The Legation’s reaction has been to interpret the recent changes, including Rakosi’s ouster, as conciliatory steps made desirable by the strength of the opposition to the Stalinist faction, first represented by Rakosi and now by Gero, and concurred in by the Soviets. The steps have been interpreted as designed to head off this opposition and to permit the present regime to bridle the opposing forces, who have become more unruly due to the Twentieth Congress, for as long as possible. Further concessions will be made as and if they become necessary in the eyes of the regime; or on the other hand, some already placed before the altar of the public may be withdrawn when the regime has attained sufficient strength. The basic forces here might be described as: 1) the relatively pro-Soviet forces which are anxious to cushion the shock of the Twentieth Congress within Hungary; and 2) the more liberal groups which are attempting, at least for the moment, to permit a natural development of political and intellectual endeavor, albeit within certain limits. These more liberal groups of course include a wide range, united in the past primarily in their opposition to the “doctrinaires”. Both groups are also motivated by the necessity of bringing about economic improvement within the country, although they would follow different roads towards this goal.

It may not be correct, however, to polarize the two groups so clearly into opposing forces; or rather, it may not be correct to characterize them today as the old pro-Rakosi-ites on the one hand and everyone else on the other. This period is one of flux, when because of the ideological effect of the Twentieth Congress and because of the personal effect of the removal of Rakosi, new ideological and personal relationships, and new limits to the freedom within which individuals and groups can act, are being worked out. Although these limitations still remain, present “policy” (while ostensibly under the control of Gero) is considerably more liberal—or promises to be—in many respects (religious instruction, control of secret police, freedom of discussion, Parliamentary behavior) than previously under Nagy. Presumably, Nagy has in the meantime moved somewhat further to the right. Therefore the eventual resting point of Hungarian policy cannot yet be foreseen, because the liberalizing factors which have been set in motion are still at work and will be for some time to come.

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At this time, the reporting officer believes that there are strong liberalizing forces in Hungary which are now freer to operate than in the past, and that the full effect of their activity has not yet come about. At the same time, restraining forces continue to be voiced and felt, as they will in the future. And on the whole the present political line, or arena of conflict, dividing these two forces, and perhaps also the economic line, is to the right of its position before July 18.

It is to be expected that the “line” would change less rapidly in the case of foreign affairs than in the case of internal, as has been the case. To adopt a very different foreign policy line would mean a clear break with the Soviet Union, which even a much more liberal internal policy would not, at least to the same extent, imply. Furthermore, foreign policy is more a matter of propaganda in many fields than a matter of day-by-day existence, and there is consequently not so much pressure for an immediate change. In addition, as already pointed out, there is some evidence that foreign policy is changing, although very slowly and not yet very significantly.

Events in Hungary have moved faster and farther since the removal of Rakosi than was anticipated by many at the time. While much that has reportedly taken place has not yet been fully confirmed, and while many promises have not yet been fulfilled, there is without doubt a new atmosphere in the country. The main question at the moment is not so much “What is present policy?” as it is “What will happen in the next six months?” There has so far been little evidence of the Soviet brake being reapplied (although the Gero article in Pravda may possibly be the first), but if developments move too fast there is no doubt that an effort will be made to use this brake. Whether, as in July, Soviet influence will be considerable, or whether the Hungarians can emulate what their Polish brethren are apparently doing and reduce Soviet influence remains to be seen.

Distribution: The Department is requested to forward processed copies of this despatch to USIA, MRC Munich, PAD Vienna, other Iron Curtain Missions, AmEmbassy Belgrade, and one processed copy to this Legation.

N. Spencer Barnes

Chargé d’Affaires, a.i.
  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 764.00/8–3056. Confidential. Drafted by John T. Rogers, Second Secretary and Consul at the Legation.
  2. This 18-page despatch, August 17, contained as an introduction four summary conclusions regarding Rákosi’s resignation: (1) opposition to him came primarily from within the Hungarian Communist Party; (2) Yugoslav influence alone was not enough to bring on his removal although it helped “to create and maintain Party factionalism”; (3) the Soviet role was that of “controlling and guiding factors which were already in play”; and (4) opposition to Rákosi was ideological as much as personal. (Ibid., 764.00/8–1756)
  3. Dated August 15, not printed. (Ibid., 764.00/8–1556)
  4. Joint Weeka 34, telegrams B–187 and B–188 from Budapest, August 25. (Ibid., 764.00(W)/8–2556)
  5. In these despatches, dated August 15 and 24, respectively, the Legation reported that it had received reports that former Democratic Party Leader Anna Kéthly and former Secretary General of the Smallholder Party Béla Kovacs had been informally contacted on behalf of the Hungarian Government to resume public life. (Ibid., 764.00/8–1556 and 764.00/8–2456, respectively)
  6. All ellipses in this document are in the source text.
  7. Dated August 29, not printed. (Department of State, Central Files, 764.00/8–2956)
  8. In this despatch from Budapest, August 30, the Legation reported on a recent undated resolution of the central leadership of the Hungarian Workers Party in which the shortcomings of the intelligentsia in Hungary were detailed and recommendations to overcome them were offered. (Ibid., 764.00/8–3056)
  9. These concessions included promises by the supreme prosecutor to control the secret police, to abolish special courts and return control of courts and prisons to the Ministry of Justice, to release 300 political prisoners, to make economic concessions to private peasant farmers and farm cooperatives, and to tolerate religious instruction for children. (Despatch 56 from Budapest, August 17; ibid., 764.21/8–1756)
  10. Not found.
  11. “Dated August 27, not printed. (Department of State, Central Files, 511.642/8–2756)
  12. Dated August 29, not printed. (Ibid., 864.432/8–2856)
  13. In this despatch, August 24, the Legation listed and described five measures taken by the Hungarian Government to remove obstacles to discussion of Hungarian-U.S. problems. The measures were the release from prison of two ex-employees of the Legation, the release of U.S. correspondents, reduction in the “tailing” of Legation personnel, cooperation with the Legation in some administrative matters, and elimination of travel notification requirements. (Ibid., 611.64/8–2456)