17. Report Prepared in the Bureau of Intelligence and Research0

IR No. 8005


The degree of freedom of expression allowed Eastern European intellectuals1 as of early 1959 lies somewhere between the rigidly enforced Party line of “socialist realism” that characterized the period before Stalin’s death and the “thaw” that reached peak intensity in the period leading up to and just after the Polish and Hungarian upheavals of late 1956. During the two and a half years since the Hungarian revolution, [Page 73] the Eastern European regimes have tried—with varying degrees of success—to refurbish and strengthen their controls over all spheres of cultural life. Economic and other pressures have been used, but so far there has been little recourse to the police and other strong administrative measures of the Stalin era.

At present, Polish intellectuals have considerably greater latitude of expression than their counterparts in any other Eastern European bloc country. At the other extreme is Albania, which has passed through the Stalin and post-Stalin periods with its intellectual life unchanged. Throughout the period under review the regimes have been faced with the same problem they have had since their coming to power: the necessity of securing and maintaining the cooperation of intellectuals (the “opinion makers”), while trying, at the same time to move toward their ideological goal of forcing intellectual life into the mold of “socialist realism.” At the end of the period, as at the beginning, press and official complaints about intellectual life make clear that the problem is still far from solution. In Yugoslavia, since the 1948 Tito-Cominform break, intellectuals have been allowed an increasing latitude of expression, with the yardstick of “socialist realism” gradually abandoned.

Polish and Hungarian Efforts to Re-Establish Controls

The eruptions that took place in Poland and Hungary in 1956 saw the virtually complete disintegration of the regime controls over intellectual life. Writers, journalists, and artists led the way in taking over or disrupting government and party apparatuses of control. With the rise of Gomulka to power in Poland and the quelling of the Hungarian revolution, the new governments began to cast about for methods of re-establishing these controls. The Gomulka regime has relied in its efforts largely on persuasion, while the Kadar regime has vacillated between force and inducement. In both cases the resistance of the intellectuals has kept the regimes from achieving more than limited success.

Poland. When Gomulka returned to power in October 1956, the Polish Party’s control over intellectual life was almost nonexistent. Writers were free from censorship; publishing houses were independent of effective state control. The main Party newspaper, Trybuna Ludu, did not necessarily present anything more than the views of its editors. In the early months of 1957, Gomulka’s position became strong enough to begin introducing certain measures to control literacy and journalistic activity. Regime spokesmen began to stress the “socialist responsibility” of writers and pointed to the international difficulties (difficulties the USSR) that certain journalists had caused.

The first concrete steps taken were those aimed at increasing the regime’s control over the press. Through 1957 the process of weeding out editors and journalists was carried on at a rapid pace. In the wake of an [Page 74] increasing number of appeals and warnings against irresponsible discussion, the student periodical Po Prostu was forced to stop operation in October. The cultural magazine Europa was banned before publishing its first issue.

So far at least, there has been no strong attempt to reintroduce “socialist realism,” but the regime has made known its desire to have Polish intellectuals adapt themselves to a minimum degree of “socialist orientation.” While economic and other means of pressure have been used to gain some sort of conformity, the Party is clearly unwilling to resort to repressive measures. In the short run, it cannot suppress intellectual freedom for fear of losing the intellectual support it still has.

Nevertheless, certain steps were taken in the closing months of 1958 that indicated the Polish regime’s preoccupation with the weakness of its system of controlling intellectual life. A plenum of the Central Committee held in October formulated a “new cultural policy” and enunciated various proposals (still only on paper) directed toward improving the situation. One proposal called for the establishment of a high-level cultural agency to keep closer tabs on the direction and scope of foreign contacts. Another stressed the need for a new “ideological commission” within the Central Committee (to supplement the existing Cultural Commission); still another emphasized the need for more direct contact between the Party and writers, while a further one called for the establishment of a “Central Coordinating Commission” for cultural and educational matters with branches throughout the country.

Polish writers continue to resist pressures on their freedom to write as they wish. At a December 1958 writers’ conference in Wroclaw, for example, they firmly and clearly condemned censorship of literary works by the regime. The government sarcastically rejected the writers’ complaints and went on to criticize in sharp terms the silence of certain writers and a “coffee house dictatorship” among intellectuals—the regime’s way of describing the professional ostracism that is shown any writer or artist that gives in to regime blandishment or pressure.

The latest incident in the continuing struggle between the regime and writers broke into the open in early April 1959. The point at issue was a directive set forth by the Minister of Culture the beginning of 1959 that all Polish writers must obtain official approval before signing contracts with foreign publishers. The Writer’s Union fought the new directive and has apparently won its case. Reportedly the Minister of Culture has revised his original statement to read that the directive was meant to be a suggestion and that the submission of foreign contracts for official approval was to be on a voluntary basis.

Hungary. Polish reluctance to use strong means for the re-establishment of cultural controls was not initially duplicated in Hungary. The Kadar regime began to take a strong stand against dissident [Page 75] writers and other intellectuals soon after Soviet troops had put down the revolution. In April 1957 the Writer’s Union was abolished (replaced by a regime-oriented Literary Council) and other literary and artistic groups were reorganized. A Central Committee session of June viciously attacked writers, and throughout the rest of the year numerous intellectuals were arrested. In clamping down on cultural life, the regime made use of the phrase “counterrevolutionary activity” as a convenient peg on which to hang its accusations.

The Party resolution of June 1957 was reinforced by a strong “cultural directive” of August 1958. But despite these pressures, writers have continued to resist the regime’s efforts to bring about conformity. Their main weapon has been silence. Kadar has recently admitted that many writers have been “silent” for six months or more. Other complaints have been that they have written only about “atemporal” and “apolitical” subjects, if they have written at all.

The apparent failure of strong-arm methods to achieve regime goals in obtaining the cooperation of the intelligentsia has apparently led the Hungarian regime to decide that a policy built on “comradely criticism” and inducement is more likely to be effective than force in bringing intellectuals into line. This “comradely criticism,” however, has become increasingly sharp and the regime has made clear that its patience is not unlimited. The regime intends to revive the Writer’s Union to take over or supplement the work of the Literary Council—apparently to increase pressure on writers to write as well as to conform. The press continues to attack “deviationists” of various categories (particularly the populists and folk writers who are criticized for overemphasizing nationalism and for attempting to build a third road to socialism). But for the present at least, there is little use of the police to enforce conformity. Whether this new policy will be long continued or will in fact prove effective is not yet clear.

Orthodox Regimes Seek to Strengthen Control Apparatus

The “thaw” and the 1956 upheavals in Poland and Hungary had only limited effect on the activities of intellectuals in the other and more “orthodox” bloc countries. In Albania no relaxation of the regime attitude was apparent, while Czechoslovakia, East Germany, Rumania, and Bulgaria had short periods of relaxation in the wake of the 1955 Geneva Conference and the 20th CPSU Congress. When writers and other intellectuals have threatened to get out of hand, however, they have been quickly disabused of ideas of intellectual freedom.

The position of intellectuals in these countries falls into one general pattern. Writers, artists, composers, and playwrights have been criticized (and have sometimes been the victims of stronger sanctions) for not staying within the bounds of “socialist realism.” But the regimes [Page 76] have not, like the Polish and Hungarian Governments, been compelled since 1956 to re-establish control apparatuses—they have had only to strengthen existing mechanisms. New measures have been introduced for this purpose, but the use of drastic “administrative” measures characteristic of the Stalin era has been notably missing.

The police have not been commonly used to force complete conformity, and criticism of a book that had been published or a play that was already being shown to the public, has made clear that censorship is not absolute. Contacts with the West continue in varying degrees, although the regimes carp from time to time about the excessive influence of such contacts on the population (particularly the youth).

Czechoslovakia. The Czech and Slovak Central Committees used the Polish and Hungarian upheavals to sharpen their attacks on “revisionism” in literature and art and impose tighter supervision over the press and literary journals. Party press organs criticized those writers considered “too liberal” and all through 1957 forced changes in editorial boards to insure greater compliance with the Party line. In December a new commission to censor the press was established.

In spite of this increased pressure for conformity, there were several incidents in 1958 and 1959 that indicated the regime’s control apparatus was not absolute. Josef Skvorecky’s novel The Cowards, which was applauded immediately after its 1958 publication, was subsequently denounced as “cheap, slanderous, and sensation seeking.” The head of the publishing house that put out the book was fired. Czech composers were told that they “were not immune to revisionist tendencies” and must make greater efforts to bring their music into closer touch with “real life under socialism.”

In early 1959 regime spokesmen warned writers against such tendencies as “revisionism,” “subjectivism,” and “apoliticism.” Films produced and already shown were condemned for “pessimism” and “bourgeois content” and banned. Theater managers were criticized for putting on plays “that the people want to see” rather than “those that would guide and instruct.” They were also criticized for presenting “too few Soviet plays, only occasional Czech or Slovak contemporary plays, and none written by playwrights in other People’s Democracies.” Comparable regime efforts to insure intellectual conformity are apparent in all other fields of cultural activity. The “cultural conference” scheduled for this July will no doubt see those efforts raised to a still higher pitch.

East Germany. The “thaw” in East Germany, which began shortly after the 20th Congress of the CPSU, was concentrated in a limited number of philosophical and theoretical writers. No doubt with the 1953 uprising still vividly in mind, the regime took quick and forceful action (such as the arrest of “revisionist” Professor Wolfgang Harick in November 1956 and his trial in early 1957) to keep the intelligentsia in line; [Page 77] but it has used persuasion as well as force to attain its goal of conformity with “socialist realism.” It has offered intellectuals a number of material and other incentives, including high wages, generous bonuses, and pleasant and paid vacations. The so-called “technical intelligentsia” (e.g., research professors, physicists, engineers) have received special consideration, such as access to Western publications and rather broad freedom of travel. Most significantly they have not been forced to become Party apologists as the price of advancement. The principal limitation placed on their activities has been that they are not publicly to oppose the regime.

Over the last several months the regime has intensified its efforts to strengthen the leadership of its cultural organizations, particularly those in East Berlin where contact with the West is greatest. Several of the Party’s most capable and loyal cultural officials have recently replaced less effective officials there. The regime has also stepped up its efforts to emphasize traditional German values, with the aim of increasing the impact of its propaganda in both East and West Germany. “Socialist realism” remains the touchstone for new literature, but the old works now being reprinted and commented on have made room for such subjects as “Germany’s cultural heritage,” in which Goethe, Schiller, Bach—even Wagner—are presented as progressives and nationalists who looked eastward for inspiration.

Rumania. Rumania’s “thaw” which began in mid-1955, was cut short in May 1956, when Alexandru Jar and several other writers criticized the Party’s cultural line and demanded more intellectual freedom. The regime’s response was immediate and the press was soon carrying Jar’s abject effort at self-criticism, along with those of his fellow “deviationists.”

Through 1957 and early 1958 press articles and official spokesmen called attention to the regime’s dissatisfaction with the work of Rumanian intellectuals. The latter were accused of “seeking refuge in the past,” “loss of contact with the people,” and even “bourgeois nationalism.” In 1957, for example, a conference of historians was sharply taken to task for dwelling on such subjects as “medieval sewerage and water problems” and the “organization in the middle ages of provincial towns” in the area that is now Rumania. Although authors were criticized for a number of failings that would have meant loss of position or even imprisonment in the Stalin era, no one was singled out for punishment—although the regime talked of “making examples.”

Since mid-1958, the regime has taken a number of steps to increase its control over every sphere of intellectual life. Literature, art, music, the social sciences, have been among those to receive increased attention. Several new decrees have been aimed at tightening the regime’s control over theatrical repertories and artistic organizations. Also [Page 78] during the last year, the regime has introduced decrees with the goal of improving the social composition of university students (i.e., to increase the percentage of those with worker or peasant parents), and to increase student participation in manual labor.

Bulgaria. Bulgaria experienced little literary ferment in the period leading up to and including the Hungarian revolution. It was only after the revolution had been put down that a number of plays, novels, and short stories were published that showed the disgruntlement and disaffection of writers who demanded the relaxation of literary censorship. The main outlet for these complaints was Plamuk, a literary journal started by the Writer’s Union in early 1957. The most popular of these works—later classified as “black” literature by the Party—were Todor Genov’s play Fear and Emil Manov’s novel An Unauthentic Case, both of which underscored corruption and power-hunger in Party ranks. Manov, one of Plamuk’s editors, came forth as the leading spokesman against “socialist realism” and Party domination of artistic creation.

Through the first half of 1957 the regime seemed undecided as to what steps to take in meeting this challenge. It launched a campaign against Polish, Hungarian, and Yugoslav “revisionist” intellectuals in the spring of 1957, but very little was said about the Bulgarian variety. The first sharp debates between Party spokesmen and the dissident writers began in the summer. By October Fear and An Unauthentic Case were among those literary works condemned by the regime as “revisionist.” In December six editors of Plamuk were fired, and in January they were followed by the chief editor of the Bulgarian daily Otechestven Front.

In March 1958 the press began to carry a series of recantations—Genov in April, and Manov, the last to be brought into line, in May. The latter’s defeat marked the conclusion of the regime’s campaign against Bulgaria’s dissident writers. Since then the press has carried articles criticizing various features of Bulgaria’s cultural life, but to all intents and purposes the orthodoxy of “socialist realism” is now unchallenged.

Albania. The “thaw” and the events of 1956 left Albanian intellectuals untouched. From time to time writers and artists are criticized for not emphasizing “socialist realism” to the extent desired by the regime, but in general Albania’s limited number of intellectuals support the regime and its goals—and by so doing they maintain their highly privileged status.

Yugoslavia Allows Wide Latitude of Intellectual Freedom

“Socialist realism” was abandoned by the Yugoslav regime shortly after the 1948 Tito-Cominform break. There has been nothing since then to indicate that it, or any other yardstick of cultural purity, would be introduced. Yugoslav ideologues like to describe their cultural line as “the [Page 79] new socialist humanism,” but in fact there has been little regime effort to set limits on or guide intellectual activity. Painters and graphic artists are completely free, as underscored by their wide-ranging choice of subject matter and style. An exhibit of Yugoslav paintings is as diverse (and as extreme) as anything seen in Western Europe or the United States. While there are limits on the content of literary works, those limits are wide—mainly that Tito, or his government, is not to be criticized. Writers are well aware of this “off-limits” area and have steered clear of giving the regime cause for retaliation. They have generally left politics to Party theoreticians.

Contacts with the West run the whole gamut of intellectual life. Western European and American plays, particularly those in the socialist or avant-garde genre, are extremely popular. The same is true of books, magazines, and art.

Although not frequently done, the Yugoslavs enjoy taunting about “socialist-realism” in the bloc, with the sharpest barbs reserved for Bulgaria and other neighboring countries. Over the last several months the Yugoslavs have rebutted bloc criticism of Yugoslav cultural life in broadcasts beamed in Polish to Europe—in perhaps the hope that in this way they can show their support for the Poles in rejecting Soviet cultural dictation.

  1. Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, OSS-INR Reports. Official Use Only. The source text bears the following notation: “This is an intelligence report and not a statement of Departmental policy.”
  2. In this survey the term “Eastern Europe” includes the Soviet bloc countries of Poland, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, East Germany, Rumania, Bulgaria, and Albania. It also includes Yugoslavia. The term “intellectual” covers those groups included in the “intelligentsia” class of communist jargon, among which are writers, poets, artists, sculptors, composers, and others in the fine arts, as well as journalists, teachers, and students. The term is basically synonymous with “opinion molders.” Because writers have been the most influential of Eastern European intellectuals, this survey is built mainly on their activities. [Footnote in the source text.]