To invade or not to invade? A new look at Gomulka, Nagy, and Soviet Foreign Policy in 1956

To invade or not to invade? A new look at Gomulka, Nagy, and Soviet Foreign Policy in 1956

Johanna Granville

ABSTRACT: Why did the Soviet Union intervene in Hungary but not in Poland? This article argues that the crisis in Hungary was much deeper. Hungarian communist officials were perhaps more willing to tolerate Soviet military “assistance,” because they were haunted by the political rightist “reaction” and their collective memory of the “white terror” that had overthrown Bela Kun’s communist regime in 1919 and made the communist party illegal in Hungary. There was no real Hungarian “Poznan.” Thus, Kremlin leaders, Hungarian party officials, Hungarian reform communist intellectuals, and even the student organizers of the October 23 demonstration were caught off guard by the revolution; it seemed to come from nowhere. Kremlin leaders could understand Polish workers’ demands for bread, but had a harder time understanding Hungarian demands for freedom. Both Gomulka and Nagy attempted to bridge the fundamental contradictions of de-Stalinization, namely, that to achieve political consolidation, their party leaderships had to strike a compromise between the aspirations of their populations and the demands of the Kremlin. Reasons why Gomulka succeeded, at least in the shortrun, and Nagy failed can be found both in their different personalities and the differences in the natures of the Polish and Hungarian crises.

The different courses of events in Poland and Hungary in October 1956 have long intrigued scholars. Why did the Soviet Union intervene in Hungary but not in Poland? One group of Cold War historians has explained Soviet actions by focusing on the two countries’ different historical experiences. They posit that, for the Russians, dealing with the Hungarians was a “novel experience,” since no part of Hungary had ever been under Russian rule. The Second World War, they add, was less traumatic for Hungarians than for Poles.1 A second group has emphasized individual personalities, arguing that the outgoing heads of the Stalin-era leadership, Edward Ochab in Poland and Erno Gero in Hungary, shaped events the most.2 Others in this group argue, alternatively, that Wladyslaw Gomulka and Stefan Cardinal Wyszynski were wiser, bolder leaders, better able to deter Soviet aggression than were Imre Nagy and Jozsef Cardinal Mindszenty.3 Still a third group has argued that, in contrast to the Poles, the Hungarians alarmed the Soviet Union by going too far, especially by declaring neutrality, withdrawing from the Warsaw Pact, and establishing a multiparty system.4

Nearly a decade has passed since communist bloc archives began to open, and thus perhaps it is appropriate to take stock and ask: do the new documents drastically alter these older explanations of the Polish and Hungarian events? This article will compare these events, drawing on recently declassified documents from Hungarian, Polish, and Russian archives. It will conclude that, while the documents do not alter the older interpretations significantly, they do highlight certain limitations of traditional explanations for the Soviet intervention in Hungary, as well as limitations of cold war historiography in explaining how the Soviet leaders managed their own backyard.

The crisis in Hungary was much deeper. Hungarian communist officials were perhaps more willing to tolerate Soviet military “assistance,” because they were haunted by the political rightist “reaction” and their collective memory of the “white terror” that had overthrown Bela Kun’s communist regime in 1919 and made the communist party illegal in Hungary. There was no real Hungarian “Poznan.” Thus, Kremlin leaders, Hungarian party officials, Hungarian reform communist intellectuals, and even the student organizers of the October 23 demonstration were caught off guard by the revolution; it seemed to come from nowhere. Kremlin leaders could understand Polish workers’ demands for bread, but had a harder time understanding Hungarian demands for freedom. Both Gomulka and Nagy attempted to bridge the fundamental contradictions of de– Stalinization, namely, that to achieve political consolidation, their party leaderships had to strike a compromise between the aspirations of their populations and the demands of the Kremlin. Reasons why Gomulka succeeded, at least in the short-run, and Nagy failed can be found both in their different personalities and the differences in the natures of the Polish and Hungarian crises.

Historians can easily challenge the first explanation (dealing with the Hungarians was a “novel experience” for the Russians). It is beyond the scope of this article to compare at length Polish and Hungarian relations with the Soviet Union. However, historians can easily point, for example, to the 1849 tsarist invasion to help the Austrians suppress the Hungarian revolution; the communist regime under Bela Kun (March-July 1919); and the experience of the thousands of Hungarian POWs in the USSR, some of whom were not permitted to return to Hungary until well into the 1950s.5 Moreover, one could easily reason to a different conclusion: the Russians’ alleged inexperience in dealing with the Hungarians might very well have discouraged them from intervening twice. Likewise, extensive experience with the Poles might very well have prompted the Khrushchev leadership to order a full-scale invasion.


As for the second group of historians, it is true in some ways that earlier personalities, such as Edward Ochab in Poland and Erno Gero in Hungary, shaped events to a great extent. This section will first provide some basic background information, then compare the Poznan and October 23 crises, and finally compare the personalities of Gomulka and Nagy.

Just two weeks after Khrushchev delivered his Secret Speech on February 25, Ochab replaced Boleslaw Bierut, who had died of a heart attack during the Twentieth Party Congress in Moscow, on March 12, 1956. In Poland, as in the other “satellite” countries a rift existed between the so-called Stalinist “Muscovites” (communist leaders who stayed in the USSR during World War Two) and the “home communists” (those who had languished in Stalinist prisons at home). In Poland, however, the Muscovites (e.g., Boleslaw Bierut, Hilary Minc, Jacob Berman, Edward Ochab, and others) never quite established dominance in the Polish communist party in the early postwar years. Wladislaw Gomulka and the indigenous communist underground had had too much authority.6 While Ochab had lived in the USSR during World War Two and developed strong loyalty to Moscow, he was nevertheless a middle-of-the-roader (“the Polish Hamlet”) who eventually relinquished power peacefully to Gomulka. He admitted that Gomulka should not have been arrested as a “rightist deviationist,” and agreed to nominate him and his closest political allies (e.g., Marian Spychalski, Zenon Kliszko, Ignacy Loga-Sowinski, and others) for Politburo membership at the Eighth Plenum of the Polish United Workers Party (Polska Zjednoczona Partia Robotnicza, or PZPR), which was set to take place on October 17, 1956.7


Before turning to the Hungarian case, it is necessary to examine the Poznan revolt of June 28-29, 1956, which further contributed to the difference in the October events in the two countries. Many scholars mention this revolt only in passing8 while others omit it from their historical narrative altogether.9 Still others have described the uprising more extensively, but-due to the lack of archival sources-mention very little or nothing about the Polish political and military decision making process during the crisis.10 Also sorely lacking in secondary literature is a detailed comparison of Polish and Hungarian crisis management styles in the Poznan revolt and October 23 Hungarian student demonstration, respectively.

On Saturday, June 23, workers of the Poznan Stalin Works [Zaklady Imieniem Stalina, Poznan, or ZISPO] locomotive plant in Poznan (Poland’s fourth largest city) met and decided to send a delegation to Warsaw to persuade the central authorities to meet five key demands, including a twenty percent wage increase. By June 28 the delegation had still not received an answer from the authorities about the wage increase, and rumors were also spreading that this delegation had been arrested.11 Thus, early that Thursday morning (later known as “Black Thursday”), the night and day shifts of ZISPO (which employed a total of 12,000 workers) decided to stage a demonstration.12 Assuming the original ZISPO delegation had been arrested, the crowd first attacked the city jail, free the prisoners, and seized weapons from the guards. Then the workers attacked the radio station engaged in jamming Western broadcasts. Still looking for allegedly arrested delegates, the demonstrators next attacked the building of the District Office of Security (Wojewodzki Urzad Bezpieczenstwa). This is where the first shots were fired about eleven o’clock.13 The demonstration escalated into large antigovernment riots in Poznan and other Polish cities.

The Poznan revolt differs from the Hungarian student demonstration on October 23-24, 1956 in several ways. First, the Poznan crisis was mainly a workers’ revolt caused by acute economic distress. Polish archives are full of top-secret, unpublished, letters sent to the CC PZPR, which illustrate this distress.14 Due in part to the limited nature of the crisis, the Polish authorities were able eventually to contain it.

Secondly, Ochab and his colleagues were physically present in Poland on June 28 and thus could take action, although after initial delay. Furthermore, the PZPR Politburo decided to send to Poznan a governmental delegation consisting of the Prime Minister Jozef Cyrankiewicz and Central Committee secretaries Jerzy Morawski (in charge of propaganda); Edward Gierek (in charge of heavy industry and transport); and Wiktor Klosiewicz (Chairman of the Central Council of Trade Unions). Cyrankiewicz was in charge of the political situation.15

Thirdly, First Secretary Ochab did not berate the Poznan workers over the radio during the crisis. Instead, at the later plenary session of the Central Committee on July 19, Ochab contritely acknowledged that the “callousness and bureaucracy of the authorities, both central and local” played an important role in the events.16 Surprisingly, documents reveal that not all PZPR members-even the more liberal ones-agreed that what happened was a spontaneous expression of workers’ grievances. Edward Gierek, who was considered to be a progressive PZPR Politburo member (and who eventually succeeded Gomulka as First Secretary), thought the demonstration had been planned well in advance.17 At a Central Committee meeting on July 7, Gierek said:

[W]hat goal did the organizers of the provocation have?… [T]he goal was to organize a strike in the whole city of Poznan … to organize armed robberies of the special buildings belonging to the government such as jails, courts, district attorney offices, etc…. There can be no doubt that the objective of these actions was to show foreign countries and the rest of Poland that there is a force against the government in the country [and] to pry the masses away from the government. II]n the morning hours of June [28], well-organized and bands armed with monkey wrenches, sticks, and crowbars, and sometimes even with pistols, using terror and provocation, forced the workers to stop work and to get out in the streets.18

Fourthly, the Polish leaders managed the Poznan crisis on their own, without calling in Soviet troops. None of the Polish leaders apparently even mentioned the possible need to do so.19 In the aftermath of the two Soviet interventions in Hungary and the inability of the Hungarian armed forces to contain the rebellion there, the Polish military’s containment of the Poznan riots has been portrayed as having been prompt and efficient.20 As PZPR member Jerzy Morawski later claimed in a television interview, the Polish authorities “reacted fiercely” to the Poznan events in order to reassure the Russians that their “military assistance” would not be needed.21 Some analysts say the Polish authorities even overreacted, i.e., that the riots could have been contained without any military force whatsoever.22

Until recently, little was known about the political and military decision making process at the height of the Poznan crisis. However, according to Polish historian Edward Jan Nalepa, who has done extensive archival research, the Polish response was far from efficient. “Everybody waited for events to develop, which became increasingly dramatic with each passing hour, “Nalepa wrote.23

After a flurry of initial phone calls, an emergency session of the PZPR Central Committee was convened at 10:00 a.m. on June 28.24 The objective was to decide how “to preserve public order” using only the Citizens’ Militia [Milicja Obywatelska, or MO] and the KBW “without asking for reinforcements from outside of the city.” Brigadier General Wlodzimierz Mug (head of the KBW) suggested calling in additional armored KBW units stationed near Szczytno, because the local KBW units were inadequate. (These KBW forces in Poznan consisted of only 329 soldiers, including 62 officers, and they were already busy guarding transport lines, stores, and other key points in the city).25 However, since these reinforcements could not arrive until the next day, June 29, the PZPR and military officials decided to call in regular army units under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of National Defense. A discrepancy exists in the sources on the question of who actually suggested the use of the Polish Army to suppress the rebellion. According to Ochab, Marshal Rokossowski volunteered to use the army units.26 General Mug, on the other hand, claims that Rokossowski remained silent during the meeting when the use of the army was discussed.27

In a somewhat disorganized manner on June 28 and 29, these regular army units, along with MO units, pursued insurgents hiding on rooftops and higher floors of buildings. Close analysis reveals that there were no evacuation and defense plans for even the most strategic public buildings in Poznan.28 The local police departments did not cooperate with the MO units (in large part because the demonstrators had robbed the police of their weapons).29

Finally, the Polish army and security forces did follow orders more or less. According to Nalepa, a few officers tried to resist firing on the crowds, but most members of the armed forces, especially the KBW, were willing to carry out the orders. (It should be remembered that the Polish military establishment was still dominated by many Soviet commanders and pro-Soviet Polish officers.)

There has also been some controversy about the number of casualties in the Poznan rebellion. According to the original Polish Press Agency’s report on June 30, 1956, thirty-eight people were killed and 270 injured.30 Later, on July 17, 1956, Marian Rybicki (the Polish Chief Public Prosecutor) revealed in an interview that the death toll was actually fifty-three, if one included those who died in the hospitals.31 Rybicki announced that nine soldiers and employees of the State Security Ministry (Urzad Bezpieczenstwa, or UB) were killed. He estimated the number of injured people to have been around 300, including 21 Polish Army soldiers, 13 UB employees and 5 militia members. More recent scholarship reveals that as many as 100 people died.32

Casualties aside, the Poznan revolt was an important learning experience, both for the Polish communist leadership and for the Polish armed forces. Despite their initial hesitation when faced with this emergency, Ochab and his PZPR colleagues discovered that they could address the workers’ grievances and still maintain the PZPR’s political monopoly while conforming to Soviet foreign policy and security interests. The Poznan experience made the Polish authorities more cautious and eager to avoid bloodshed in further rebellions in Poland itself, as well as in a conflict with the Soviet Union several months later in October.33 Reflecting back on Poznan, Gomulka told an audience in Katowice on December 4: “No one can doubt that the situation in Poland was very tense, as proven by the Poznan events…. In my opinion [Poznan and] the Eighth Plenum came in time to show us a new way. It is important to understand new ideas and content.”34 The Khrushchev leadership also learned valuable lessons from Poznan. Initially it blamed Poznan on “imperialists” who were “fomenting disunity” within the Soviet bloc.”35 Later the Soviet leaders admitted that their alarm was unfounded and that Ochab and Gomulka were reliable.36 Thus, in all likelihood, the Poznan experience indirectly helped convince the Khrushchev leadership that the Poles could deal with the “Polish October” themselves. In another sense, whereas the Soviet leaders could understand Polish workers’ demands for bread, they had a harder time grasping the Hungarian people’s demands for freedom.


The revelations in Khrushchev’s Secret Speech precipitated the collapse of the Hungarian communist party. Once the regime lost its self-confidence, all segments of Hungarian society were bound to manifest deep discontent. In comparison to the Polish leadership after Khrushchev’s speech, the Hungarian “Stalinist” leader Matyas Rakosi clung to power until July 1956-longer than any of the other Stalinist leaders, with the exception of Walter Ulbricht in the German Democratic Republic (GDR). Like Ochab, Rakosi spent the second World War in the Soviet Union and developed strong loyalty to Moscow, but he jealously guarded his power. Using the 1948 conflict between Stalin and Tito as a pretext, Rakosi (nicknamed the “Bald Murderer”) authorized a particularly cruel wave of purges within his own party, beginning with his rival, Laszlo Rajk, who was innocent of the “crimes” for which he was executed in 1949.37

After the riots in East Berlin in 1953, the Soviet leaders curtailed Rakosi’s monopoly of power by forcing him to relinquish one of his posts, the prime ministership, and to share power with the new Prime Minister, Imre Nagy. As someone who stood outside of Rakosi’s inner circle and who was not Jewish, Nagy-the Soviet leaders thought-could perhaps remedy some of the mistakes of the overzealous Stalinists by advocating New Course policies (e.g., increased production of consumer goods, relaxation of terror, and concessions to the peasantry).38 The New Course, however, was probably doomed to fail. It sought to buy off a discontent population without correcting the real imbalances that socialist industrialization had caused. An economic crisis resulted in 1954, which Rakosi cleverly exploited. As First Secretary, Rakosi sabotaged Nagy’s efforts from behind the scenes. This dual leadership caused extreme tension among political elites and the general population.

When Soviet Prime Minister Malenkov was ousted in February 1955, the New Course policies quickly lost favor. Nagy, too, was ousted for “rightist deviation” as Prime Minister the following April and expelled from the party altogether in November. Rakosi prevailed as head of the Party, but reform communist intellectuals did not forget Nagy, whom they saw as an alternative to Rakosi.39

In February 1956, the Polish and Hungarian communist parties took their cues from Khrushchev’s “Secret Speech” denouncing Stalin’s crimes and “cult of personality.” Purge victims were rehabilitated. Communist writers who had supported the Stalinist regime now heard the grisly details of the prisoners’ experiences and became demoralized. The question of responsibility surfaced and led to sharp intra-party debates. As in Poland, the rift deepened in Hungary between the Stalinist “Muscovites”40 and the “home communists,” with the latter group gaining popularity. As their criticism grew more radical, their audiences rapidly multiplied, especially at debates held in the so-called Petofi Circle [Petofi Kor], a discussion group of young party members. On March 29 Rakosi reluctantly admitted in a speech in Eger that Rajk had been an innocent victim of “provocation.” The police had “misled” the government, Rakosi claimed.

Finally in July 1956, Rakosi was forced to retire. In contrast to Ochab in Poland who assisted the reformer Gomulka, Rakosi did not support any protege and only outwardly promoted Erno Gero, a like-minded hard-liner.41 Indeed, it can be argued plausibly that, had Rakosi been replaced much earlier with a more liberal reformer like Imre Nagy or Janos Kadar (had each been viable candidates at the time), the entire Hungarian Revolution could have been avoided. Rakosi’s refusal to take full responsibility for the repression (especially concerning Laszlo Rajk) during the Stalinist period festered like a sore on the Hungarian body politic, growing more abscessed with each passing month until it ruptured in October. Ironically, as documents show, Rakosi still thought-as late as May, 1957-that he could return to Hungary. He actually claimed that the revolution had occurred because of his absence from Hungary since July 1956!)42 In Hungary then, there was a groundswell of hatred of the so-called “Rakosi-Gero, clique” and the “personality cult,” which was absent in Poland.43

On October 23, about ten thousand students participated in a demonstration in Budapest. Gomulka’s rise in Poland provided these Hungarian students and intellectuals with an opportunity to express their grievances against the Stalinist leaders and Soviet domination. The demand for returning Nagy, Rakosi’s opponent, was intended to parallel Gomulka’s return to power. The students began at the statue of the poet Sandor Petofi.44 After articulating the sixteen points and listening to the famous actor Imre Sinkovits recite poetry, the demonstrators marched in a symbolic gesture to the statue of the Polish General Jozef Bern-the hero of the Hungarian Revolution of 1848-1849-chanting slogans such as: “Independence based on freedom and equality!45 Poland shows us the way, let’s follow the Hungarian way! We’re the nation of Father Bem and Kossuth, let’s walk hand in hand!” When they arrived at Bern Square around 4:00 p.m., they placed flowers on the statue, hung up Polish flags, the Kossuth coat-of-arms and Hungarian flags-with the coat-of-arms symbol representing the communist regime cut out of the middle.46

In contrast to the disgruntled workers in Poznan, the Hungarian students’ demands were more political and harder for a conservative regime to meet. In the abovementioned “sixteen points,” the students tested the limits of the authorities on October 23 by boldly calling for the dismissal of Rakosi’s successor Ern6 Gerd, the reinstatement of the reformer Imre Nagy; the total withdrawal of Soviet troops from Hungary; and true independence and equality with regard to the Soviet Union, among other demands.47

Whereas in Poland, the overwhelming majority of Polish soldiers obeyed orders, the regular Hungarian army units wavered and some deserted to the side of the so-called freedom fighters. The soldiers were forbidden to open fire unless they were fired upon. Only the Hungarian State Security Authority (Allamvedelmi Hatosag, or AVH) units could shoot unhesitatingly at the Hungarian demonstrators.48

Unlike the Polish leaders during the Poznan crisis, the top Hungarian party leaders (First Secretary Erno Gero, Prime Minister Andris Hegedus, Janos Kadar, Antal Apro, and Istvan Kovacs) had been in Yugoslavia from October 14 to October 23 to patch up differences with Tito. (Gero had also spent most of September and the first week of October on vacation in the Crimea.) The delegation returned from Yugoslavia to Budapest on the day of the student demonstration. Although Gero did not know about the student demonstration before his departure (the students had not planned it as early as October 14), he suspected that the political situation in Hungary was grave and expressed his anxiety to Soviet Ambassador Andropov.49 According to new archival documents, a secret meeting of all the communist leaders was held in Moscow on October 24, during which Khrushchev wondered aloud why GerB, Hegedus, and others would dare to “spend time by the sea” when there were “signs that the situation in Hungary is extremely serious.”50

Thus, the situation in Budapest rapidly escalated in part because the remaining Hungarian leaders could not make key decisions until Gero’s delegation returned. By the time the Hungarian leaders arrived in Budapest in the morning of October 23, their options were narrowed. The Hungarian security forces and army had basically failed to contain the violence.

In contrast to Ochab’s conciliatory approach to the demonstrators, Erno Gero delivered a scathing radio speech at 8:00 p.m. on October 23 denouncing the Hungarian demonstrators as counterrevolutionaries, further enraging his audience. The Hungarian decision-makers had almost assumed that they would have to call in Soviet troops. Gathered in Gero’s room between 9:00 and 9:30 p.m. that evening, the MDP leaders went through the motions of debating the pros and cons of calling in Soviet troops, but in reality they were merely aiding Ger6 in his phone conversation with Khrushchev, during which he requested Soviet military assistance.51 In all likelihood, the Hungarian communist officials were rather haunted by the political rightist “reaction” and their collective memory of the “white terror” that had overthrown Bela Kun’s communist regime in 1919. The Horthy regime had banned the communist party and led the country headlong into an alliance with Hitler. Thus the inter-war period probably served as a reference point for the communist leaders in 1956 in interpreting the political violence around them. This fear may explain why a large section of the Hungarian party accepted Soviet intervention, and why a rift developed among Nagy’s followers after the outbreak of the revolution. Nagy and others wanted to return to some version of a “popular front” coalition and others strongly rejected such a retreat.

These officials also feared Hungarian troops were neither sufficiently conditioned nor trustworthy; Minister of Defense Istvan Bata said nothing to dispel their fears.52 Even Soviet Presidium members Mikoian and Suslov, who were in Budapest from October 24 on, thought the Hungarians were “exaggerating the strength of the enemy and underestimating their own strength.”53 According to Imre Nagy’s testimony, none of the members of MDP Central Leadership said a word when Gerd announced that he had ordered the Soviet troops to march towards Budapest.54 Thus, unlike the Polish Communists, ostensibly none of whom even mentioned the possible need to call for Soviet help, the Hungarian MDP members seriously did not consider refraining from calling for such aid. They seemed to associate anti-Sovietism automatically with anti-socialism.

Hence the first Soviet intervention in Hungary on October 23-24 was actually an invasion by invitation. Although Nagy was later blamed for inviting the troops, and Hegedus (the former Prime Minister) actually signed the official written invitation ex post facto, it was Gero who verbally requested them. The circumstances behind the request are rather puzzling. It is now known that Gerd summoned the military attache of the Soviet embassy for military assistance. Soviet ambassador Yurii Andropov then attempted to call into action the Special Corps [Osobii Korpus] in Hungary, headed by Pyotr Lashchenko, who replied that he needed a direct command from Moscow.55 The Soviet Presidium could not take action, however, until it received a formal request from the Hungarian leadership. Strangely enough, when Khrushchev called Gero (after Gero’s call to the Soviet military attache) to invite him to the emergency meeting on October 24 in Moscow, the latter declined, saying the Hungarian situation was too serious, but he did not say a word about his earlier call for military assistance. Andropov then called Moscow to inform Khrushchev about the situation. Only then did Khrushchev call Gero again to tell him the request would be fulfilled, but only if it was in writing. Gero refused, saying he did not have time to summon a meeting.56

The Hungarians’ initial request on October 23 for Soviet military aid appears to have led the Soviet leaders to conclude that the Hungarian communists, in contrast to the Polish leaders, could not by themselves maintain order in their country. Recall again Khrushchev’s exasperation expressed at the October 24 meeting about “what Comrades Gero, Hegedus, and others are doing” “spending time at the sea” when there were “signs that the situation in Hungary is extremely serious.”57 Furthermore, “One of the most serious mistakes of the Hungarian comrades,” Mikoian and Suslov cabled from Moscow that same day, “was the fact that, before twelve midnight last night, they did not permit anyone to shoot at the participants in the riots.”58 This initial crackdown only sparked further anti-Soviet rage among the population and caused more problems, including disorganization within Nagy’s new government and lynchings of AVO personnel. The Soviet Union ultimately decided to invade massively a second time on November 4. Had there been a “Hungarian Poznan,” perhaps the Hungarian leadership might have been able to close ranks.59


Other historians in the second group focus on the personalities of Gomulka and Nagy to explain the different outcome of events in Hungary and Poland. In this section I will compare these two leaders and then compare their behavior in the Polish “October” and the post-October 23 events in Hungary, respectively.

Historians have described Gomulka as more Machiavellian than Nagy.60 Much of Gomulka’s attraction was his closeness to the workers, an image bolstered by his pre-war history of organizing strikes. He had no formal education; at the age of fourteen, he became a blacksmith’s apprentice and two years later, began to organize a union. His admittance into the clandestine Communist Party of Poland in 1926 and election as national secretary of the Chemical Workers’ Union in 1930 brought him into repeated clashes with the police. Over his lifetime, Gomulka was imprisoned four different times: in 1926 for revolutionary activity; in 1932 for organizing a textile strike at Lodz; in 1936 for revolutionary activity in Silesia; and in July 1951 for “nationalist deviationist crimes” including his opposition to the Cominform in September 1947.

Gomulka had also fiercely opposed the German fascists in underground Poland in the 1940s. Codenamed “Wieslaw,” he planned anti-Nazi sabotage and terrorism. These anti-German, anti-fascist sentiments ran deep, facilitating his ability to cooperate with the Soviet Union later in 1956.

Gomulka did not oppose the Germans on ideological grounds alone. He was also keenly aware of the new territory Poland had acquired from Germany on the basis of the Potsdam Agreement in 1945. In fact, in June 1945 he was placed in charge of the so-called Recovered Territories on Poland’s western border. Even in 1956, despite the Ulbricht regime’s official propaganda, Gomulka felt threatened by German revisionism. At one point he angrily asked Marshal Rokossowski: “Why did we in fact pay reparations to the Germans? It was explained that a certain section of German territory went to Poland, but we were not in fact allies of the Germans during the war …. I would never have agreed to this!”61

Thus, Gomulka especially appreciated the presence of the Soviet troops in Poland to help defend Poland’s western border. He was not about to submit to popular demand for their withdrawal. He grasped the fact that, ultimately, only the USSR could guarantee Poland’s new western frontiers. In his speech to the Eighth Plenum on October 19, Gomulka told the Polish communists: “Poland needs friendship with the Soviet Union more than the Soviet Union needs friendship with Poland…. Without the Soviet Union we cannot maintain our borders with the West.”62 These security concerns enabled him to empathize with the Khrushchev leadership’s own concerns about the security of the USSR’s western borders; Poland was the Soviet link to the German Democratic Republic, where a huge Soviet army was stationed. If we can judge from his recently declassified, handwritten account of the October 19 Polish-Soviet confrontation, Gomulka wrote: “Poland is not Bulgaria or Hungary-together with the USSR it’s the most important [country in the region]…. Without us [Poland], it’s not possible [for the Soviet Union] to organize a defense against imperialism.63

After the Poznan riot, opposition party members during the Seventh Plenum of the PZPR Central Committee called for Gomulka’s rehabilitation and readmission into the PZPR, which occurred in August 1956. On October 19, 1956, he was again elected first secretary of the PZPR.


To be sure, the Hungarian leader Imre Nagy had much in common with Gomulka. Both men were devoted to the communist ideology and received their ideological training in Moscow.64 Both had once held top positions in their respective communist parties.65 Both were ostracized from the communist party due to their stubborn adherence to nationalist convictions and disapproval of fast-paced collectivization, as well as their refusal to recant. The popularity of both “reformist” communist leaders wronged by Stalinists rose sharply in the era of destalinization.

Nagy was first appointed Prime Minister in 1953 but was demoted in 1955 and then expelled from the Hungarian Workers’ Party (Magyar Dolgozok Partja, or MDP) as a whole. He was not readmitted into the communist party until October 13, 1956, just one week before the student demonstration. (Gomulka-as mentioned above-was readmitted into the PZPR in August 1956, two months before the Polish “October.”)


There the similarity ends. Although nine years older than Gomulka, Nagy has been described by most scholars as less experienced and pragmatic than Gomulka-an idealistic, scholarly individual who innocently fell victim to the Kremlin’s political intrigues.

However, archival documents suggest that Nagy may not have been as heroic a figure as others have painted him. In his earlier years, Nagy’s loyalty to the Soviet Union may have outweighed his idealist tendencies. Nagy (“Agent Volodia”) served as an NKVD informer in the 1930s. In this way, he was probably protected by the NKVD/KGB and thus escaped the fate of Gomulka (as well as of Traicho Kostov of Bulgaria; and Rudolf Slinsky and Vladimir Clementis of Czechoslovakia) in the anti-Titoist purges. Having emigrated to Moscow in 1930, Nagy established contacts among the Hungarian emigre community, encouraging them to speak candidly with him, and then later reported on them. Of the people upon whom Nagy informed, fifteen were “liquidated” (shot) or died in prison, according to KGB archivists’ calculations. “Volodia,” his NKVD superiors wrote, is a “qualified agent” who shows great “initiative” and “an ability to approach people.”66

Nevertheless, Nagy’s early links to the NKVD may not have damaged his reputation to a serious extent First, as a foreigner in the USSR in the 1930s, Nagy would have been compelled to cooperate with the NKVD for his own survival. Second, these documents came to light in 1989, just when the Soviet hardliners, especially KGB chief Vladimir Kriuchkov, was trying to discredit the liberal reformers in Hungary. Indeed Kriuchkov sent Gorbachev the incriminating dossier on Nagy on June 16, 1989-the day of Nagy’s ceremonial reburial, which was attended by several hundred thousand Hungarian citizens. Third, only a handful of documents on Nagy’s activities have come to light Since they constitute only a fraction of the total number, they provide only a skewed picture.

In contrast to Gomulka, who studied in Moscow for one year, Nagy spent fourteen years in Moscow, from 1930 to 1944. Due to this long tenure in the USSR, Nagy-unlike Gomulka-was one of the so-called “Muscovite” communists, although a minor one. This heritage may have weakened his ability to appeal to nationality as Gomulka-who was held captive in a Stalinist prison in Poland-had done. While serving on the eastern front in World War I, Nagy was wounded and then taken prisoner by the Russian Imperial Army. He was in a POW camp in Siberia when the Russian Revolution brought the Communists to power in October 1917. The following year Nagy joined the Bolshevik Party and the Red Guard. In the spring of 1921 Nagy was sent to Moscow and from there he returned to Hungary to help organize the clandestine Communist Party.67 Nagy was arrested a second time in February 1927, but was released quickly for lack of evidence. He emigrated to Vienna. In 1930 Nagy participated as a delegate to the Hungarian Communist Party’s Second Congress in Moscow. He decided to stay in the USSR. Only in 1944 did Nagy return to Hungary with the Soviet army.

On the other hand, it should be pointed out that Nagy differed from the other Hungarian “Muscovites.” Although a fervent Marxist-Leninist, Nagy came from a provincial background and gravitated toward those who held nationalist and pro-peasant views. His sympathies lay with those who worked the land. By contrast, other Hungarian “Muscovites” such as Rakosi, Gerg, and Revai emerged from an urban, intellectual culture; they were motivated by grand theories. As mentioned earlier, an ethnic factor also set Nagy apart from Hungarian “Muscovites” such as Rakosi, Gero, Revai, and Farkas; he was a gentile, and they were Jewish.

Nagy spent at least six years conducting research and writing at the International Agricultural Institute (Mezhdunarodnyi Agrarnyi Institut) in Moscow. When one of his Russian colleagues, Vladimir Mikhailovich Turok, heard later that Nagy had become prime minister of Hungary, he was surprised. He recalled:

I remember a person named Imre Nagy from the Agricultural Institute. We shared the same office… facing each other. My first impression of him was of his heavily-built body, his engaging face, his cheerful disposition, and his fondness for women, just like any other Hungarian man. He spoke fairly good Russian…. When, several years later, I learned that he had become prime minister of the Hungarian Republic, my overriding reaction was surprise. (Everyone shared this reaction, which makes me think it was objective.) Nagy was an average politician with a good knowledge of, and rapport with, the peasantry, but nothing beyond that.68

In December 1944, Nagy served as minister of agriculture in the first Hungarian Communist government. He was briefly appointed Minister of the Interior after the first free elections of 1945 but resigned after six months, since it required a pitiless personality so antithetical to his own.69

Documents from the 1957 interrogations show, perhaps not too surprisingly, that Nagy originally opposed both the student demonstration of October 23 (fearing Ger6’s reaction) and later the declaration of Hungary’s neutrality.70 He even opposed the general workers’ strikes taking place in Hungary after the Soviet intervention of November 4.71 To be sure, Nagy made these statements under duress, and one must balance these documents with eyewitness reports and scholarly analyses. However, Nagy’s statements in the last two years of his life nevertheless remained remarkably consistent and courageous.

Thus, while Gomulka focused on political positions, Nagy tended to focus on cogent arguments. He seemed to believe that, if he could logically prove the correctness of his position, according to Marxist-Leninist principles, then others would change their behavior. Even in captivity in Snagov, Romania, he wrote letters to the Central Committee of the new communist party (renamed the Hungarian Socialist Workers’ Party-Magyar Szocialista Munkaspart, or MSZMP) calling for “a thorough and profound Marxist scientific and political analysis of the October-November events.” Nagy apparently believed he could assist the Kadir government:

I have not received any newspapers and the delivery of Pravda has stopped as well. Yet I feel that, if I were aware of the situation in Hungary, I might be able to improve the economic and political situation, which is still extremely tense.72

Later, in one of the same letters from Romania, he claimed, “I consider myself still a member of the MSZMP. I have never quit the party, and as far as I know, I was not expelled from it.”73 Seemingly oblivious even to the possibility that he might soon be hanged, Nagy assumed an almost pedantic “I-told-you-so” attitude toward his future executioners:

[I]n July 1956… I talked to comrade Mikoian in Budapest…. I pointed out that Erno Gero’s appointment as first secretary would not solve the problem because neither the party members nor the people accept him. I stated that the party and country were heading towards a serious catastrophe that could only be prevented by returning to the socalled “June Policy” [juniusi politika], with which the party and the people would happily identify…. I told comrade Mikoian that Rakosi’s anti-national, humiliating policies had caused more damage to Soviet-Hungarian relations… than had Dulles and American propaganda. Comrade Mikoian listened to it all. But if today, after the October events, he recalls this discussion, he will definitely admit that many problems could have been prevented if he had taken my words into account.74


Let us now return to Gomulka and examine his behavior before, during, and after the Eighth Plenum, which also helps explain why the Soviet leadership decided to intervene in Hungary rather than Poland. We will then compare Gomulka’s behavior to Nagy’s in the days leading up to the second Soviet intervention on November 4.

First, Ochab, Gomulka, and other Polish communist party officials were more aware of the long-term problems brewing in Poland and were better able to define them. According to the recently declassified protocol of the Politburo meeting on October 8 and 10, the party leaders articulated four specific reasons for the crisis in the PZPR: 1) a lack of unity in the Politburo; 2) lack of connections between the leadership and the Party activists; 3) a lack of authority among the leadership; 4) an “unfair situation in the relations between the PRL [Polish People’s Republic] and Soviet Union.”75 The latter item refers to Polish coal sold to the USSR for very low prices, and to the large number of senior officers in the Polish army who neither spoke Polish, nor held Polish citizenship. The problem of non-Polish officers in high military ranks was easily identifiable and solved. Although Ochab had also complained to the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU) Central Committee about the Soviet advisors (on September 11, 1956 on his way to China), the advisors did not start to leave until after Gomulka came to power.76 In 1953 there were approximately 30 advisers at the Ministry of Public Security [Ministerstvo Bezpieczenstwa Publicznego, or MBP] and about 25-30 at the Provincial Bureau(s) of Public Security level. Knowing the importance of positions, Gomulka insisted that all Soviet officers and advisers from the Polish Armed Forces and security apparatus be removed, especially Marshal Konstanty Rokossowski from the PZPR Politburo. Although not elected First Secretary until October 19, Gomulka was a PZPR member, having been readmitted in August 1956, as mentioned above. For the first time since the campaign against the “rightist-nationalist deviation” of 1948-1949, Gomulka was invited to attend the Politburo meeting on October 12.


Six days later, on October 18, on the eve of the Eighth Plenum of the PZPR, the Soviet Ambassador to Poland, Pantaleimon K. Ponomarenko, told Ochab that the CPSU Politburo had decided to send a delegation to Warsaw in order to discuss the situation in the PZPR and the country. The Soviet leaders’ visit to Warsaw was not completely unexpected, as some writers have claimed.77 As Gomulka later told the Plenum:

They approached us, saying that they intended to arrive before the Plenum. Our answer was: it would be better if you arrived on the second day of the plenum or maybe in two days, but not before the plenum. And that must have made them even more nervous. Well, maybe not nervous, but it must have appeared suspicious. [I to ich widocznie jeszce bardziej zdenerwowato, ale moze wydawaly im sie, rzeczy podejrzane.] They decided to come immediately.78

The Soviet delegation arrived at 7:00 a.m. on October 19, and was met by the Polish delegation at the airport. After an initial two-hour meeting, the Poles and the Soviets agreed that the Eighth Plenum would begin that morning (10:00 a.m.) to allow Gomulka and others to be elected to the Central Committee, but that no further decisions would be taken by the Plenum until the meeting with the Soviets had ended.

At 10:00 a.m. Ochab opened the Eighth Plenum, proposing the “election of Comrade Wladyslaw Gomulka to the post of First Secretary” and for the “number of Politburo members to be limited to nine in order to secure unity and greater efficiency.” Ochab then asked that the Plenum adjourn so that talks could be held with the Soviet leaders who had arrived unexpectedly. As Gomulka later said, “We opened the plenum, we broke it, and we started talking to them.”79

The Soviet delegation returned to Moscow early in the morning of October 20. That day Gomulka delivered a long speech at the Eighth Plenum, explaining the gist of his talks with the Russians. This speech was not published in the USSR, because Soviet leaders thought it would have to be accompanied by extensive commentary and would spark too much debate.80 Gomulka received tumultuous applause from a relieved crowd of about 500,000 Polish citizens when on October 24 in front of the Palac Kultury i Nauki in Warsaw, he announced that Khrushchev had just promised to stop the advance of Soviet troops toward Warsaw within two days, i.e. by October 25.81


Khrushchev and his colleagues did not suddenly fly to Warsaw on October 19, on the eve of the Eighth PZPR Plenum, solely to prevent Wladyslaw Gomulka’s election as First Secretary of the PZPR, as some basic accounts of the crisis sometimes imply. As Khrushchev pointed out in his memoirs, Gomulka held “a position that was most advantageous for us. Here was a man who had come to power on the crest of an anti-Soviet wave, yet who could now speak forcefully about the need to preserve Poland’s friendly relations with the Soviet Union and the Soviet Communist Party.”82 He continued: “Our embassy informed us that a genuine revolt was on the verge of breaking out in Warsaw. For the most part, these demonstrations were being organized in support of the new leadership headed by Gomulka, which we too were prepared to support.” In an interview, Ochab confirmed this view when he said: “Basically our Soviet friends wanted to make Gomulka First Secretary. At one point Khrushchev said to Gomulka: we bring you greetings.”83

Khrushchev worried that the policies Gomulka and his supporters promoted were anti-Soviet in nature. In his memoirs (cited above), Khrushchev added that, although he was “prepared to support” Gomulka, he was concerned about the “demonstrations” which “had a dangerously anti-Soviet character.”84 In the handwritten account of the October 19 Polish-Soviet confrontation cited earlier, Gomulka shows that he understood why Khrushchev was concerned about the imminent new appointments in the Polish party leadership:

I [Gomulka] am returning to work under an anti-Soviet slogan…. [For the Soviets] the question is not about people, but [about] what kind of politics are lurking [behind the proposed] personnel changes. The atmosphere in Poland is anti-Soviet and the organizational decisions are anti-Soviet.85

Scholars have also claimed that Gomulka’s tough, self-confident stance helped convince Khrushchev that Gomulka had things under control in his own country. However, one gets the impression from the interview with Ochab (cited above) that Gomulka’s tough stance may actually have worked against him. As Ochab said:

Presumably they thought Gomulka would put the country in order and was the one to stake their bets on …. But Gomulka… displayed considerable toughness of character during those difficult talks.86

The secondary literature moreover explains or implies that Gomulka’s behavior during Khrushchev’s sudden visit is what convinced Khrushchev that military intervention was not necessary. However, according to the notes by Vladimir Malin of the secret CC CPSU Presidium session on October 20, the Soviet leaders had not completely ruled out a military intervention in Poland. On the day they returned to Moscow, they had said: “There’s only one way out-put an end to what is in Poland. If Rokossowski is kept, we won’t have to press things for a while.” Apparently they mentioned the need to order “maneuvers,” “prepare a document,” and “form a committee.”87 This suggests that Gomulka’s bold behavior during the Soviet leaders’ visit to Warsaw had not completely convinced them that an intervention was not necessary. Indeed, newly declassified documents reveal that the Khrushchev leadership was still extremely worried about the Polish situation as late as October 24, as illustrated by the convening of an emergency meeting of all communist party leaders in Moscow on that day to discuss the Polish situation.88

Focusing still on the role of the individual (Gomulka) to explain the Soviet decision not to intervene, one should thus bear in mind the significance of Gomulka’s statements and leadership after the Eighth Plenum. This aspect has been relatively neglected in the secondary literature, which tends to view the “showdown” on October 19-20 between the Soviet and Polish delegations during the Eighth Plenum as the turning point of the Polish crisis.

Indeed, Gomulka’s political position was perhaps less secure than commonly thought. The situation in Poland was still volatile in late October and November 1956. Strikes and demonstrations continued to erupt in Polish cities well after the Eighth Plenum in October. Rallies took place in Gdansk, Szczecin, and other cities on October 22. A demonstration the next day, October 23, in Wroclaw, almost ended in violence. As late as November 18 in Bydgoszcz, a spontaneous street demonstration broke out, during which people called for the “overthrow of the Stalinist regime in Poland” (i.e., Gomulka’s) and protested the coercion of Poland by the USSR.89 Had Gomulka displayed weak leadership or approved too strongly of the Hungarian uprising, the Soviet leaders could easily have decided to send tanks rolling back into Poland. (On October 28, to prevent the Hungarian uprising from “shifting farther to the right,” Gomulka sent a delegation to Budapest composed of Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Marian Naszkowski and Member of the Central Committee Artur Starewicz.)90

Another aspect of Gomulka’s behavior that helped to reassure Khrushchev and his colleagues that a military intervention was not necessary is the measured pace and scale of his political and economic reforms. Gomulka and his colleagues implemented reforms slowly. While they worked to eliminate the most oppressive Stalinist features, such as arbitrary arrests, collectivization of agriculture, Herculean work norms, and persecution of the Roman Catholic Church, they also maintained the command economy and the monopoly of the Polish communist party. Gomulka also insisted on retaining Soviet troops and membership in the Warsaw Pact. Polish citizens grew disillusioned, but still believed in the late 1950s that Gomulka’s policies resulted from Moscow’s coercion.

Thus, the second group of historians are partly correct in pointing to the difference in Gomulka’s and Nagy’s personalities to explain the Soviet decision to invade. However, one must keep in mind at least two other factors that influenced the decision: 1) Soviet apprehension about how to end a military conflict with Poland; and 2) the escalating crisis in Hungary. During the secret October 24 meeting, Khrushchev reportedly said “Finding a reason for an armed conflict [with Poland] now would be very easy, but finding a way to put an end to such a conflict later on would be very hard.”91 Given the will of the Polish people to fight, it is possible that any Polish leader with a modicum of popularity, not necessarily Gomulka, would have been suitable to the occasion.

Likewise, the simultaneous eruption of the Hungarian crisis constrained the Kremlin’s military resources and reduced its reaction time. Had there been no unrest in Hungary, might the Khrushchev leadership have decided to intervene in Poland? Might they have judged Gomulka’s behavior differently without having Imre Nagy’s actions as a basis of comparison?


In contrast to the situation in Poland, the problems in Hungary had been festering over a longer period, due to Rakosi’s tenacious hold on power. As mentioned earlier, Imre Nagy was not even admitted back into the MDP until October 14, a week before the first student revolt. He had no real authority to speak for the Hungarian leadership until October 24 when he was appointed Prime Minister. Nagy’s awareness of his lack of status explains in part why he came across as hesitant in his speech to the student demonstrators on October 23.

The Soviet leaders realized that the initial Soviet intervention on October 24 only exacerbated the situation, later bringing on a wave of lynchings by the insurgents of the AVO agents.92 After Imre Nagy was voted in as Prime Minister on October 23-24, he issued a plethora of reformist decrees. In fact, from October 24 on, Nagy did not lead the uprising; he was instead desperately trying to keep up with the accelerating events and ever more radicalized popular demands. The Communist party was in shambles; membership was rapidly evaporating. Eventually the Soviet leaders realized Nagy had lost control of the party leadership, which was incapable of reform. It would be useful to review briefly Nagy’s fast-paced reformist measures in the period between the initial Soviet intervention and the final crackdown of November 4, which were so antithetical to Gomulka’s.

Unencumbered by fears of German revanchism, Nagy announced in an October 25 speech that negotiations about the withdrawal of Soviet troops from Hungary would take place. According to diplomatic cables, Soviet Presidium members Anastas Mikoian and Mikhail Suslov later scolded Nagy for not informing them in advance, saying they considered this “a most crude mistake, because the withdrawal of Soviet troops will inevitably lead to an intervention by American troops.”93

Then, in a single day, October 28, the Nagy government broadcast another declaration at 5:25 p.m., calling for a cease-fire; amnesties for those involved in the uprising; a raise in salaries and pensions, the immediate withdrawal of Soviet troops from Budapest and follow-up negotiations for a full troop withdrawal from Hungary. He also rejected previous characterizations of the uprising as a “counterrevolution,” saying “this movement aims at guaranteeing our national freedom, independence, and sovereignty, of advancing our society, our economic and political system on the way of democracy.”94 Nagy also promised to dissolve the AVO and create new state security organs 95 The primary motive of the AVO in combining efforts with the Soviet troops was to seek protection, rather than to assist in counterinsurgency operations. According to KGB chief Ivan Serov’s reports, some of the Hungarian agents actually disguised themselves in Soviet uniforms.96 Mikoian and Suslov also expressed concern about what would happen to former AVO agents after Nagy’s decision to disband the organization.97

Two days later, on October 30 at 2:30 p.m. Budapest time, Nagy formalized the establishment of a multi-party state, with full participation by the Smallholders Party, the National Peasant Party98 and the Social Democratic Party, as well as the Communists. He also formed an “inner cabinet” of the national government consisting of Zoltan Tildy, Bela Kovacs, Ferenc Erdei, Janos Kadar, Geza Losonczy, Anna Kethly (from the Social Democratic Party), and himself. On the same day, a “revolutionary national defense council” of the Hungarian armed forces was set up, which supported the demands of revolutionary workers’ councils.

It will be recalled that a third group of scholars posit that the Hungarians-in contrast to the Poles-alarmed the Soviet Union by going too far, especially by declaring neutrality and withdrawing from the Warsaw Pact. To be sure, Nagy’s declarations on November I did accelerate the pace of events. However, it should be noted that other Hungarian leaders had already been calling for neutrality and Warsaw Pact withdrawal well before Nagy did, and that, initially, Nagy had opposed the withdrawal move. For example, Bela Kovacs (the secretary general of the Independent Smallholders Party until February 1947) gave a speech to that effect on October 30. The speech was delivered at a meeting of the Independent Smallholders Party in Pecs and was reported in the first issue of the revived party newspaper in Budapest, Kis Ujsag.99 Moreover, as the “Malin Notes” show, the Soviet leaders had already decided to intervene for a second time on October 31, before Nagy’s appeal for neutrality.100

Thus, in contrast to Soviet motivations in Poland in October (which was to prevent something from happening, or at least to get reassurance that something bad was not going to happen), Soviet motivation in Hungary was apparently to undo the damage that had already occurred.


Why was Imre Nagy not able to deter Soviet military intervention? To be sure, Imre Nagy, like Wladyslaw Gomulka, was extremely popular. As we have seen, students were actively calling for him to replace Gerd. As with Gomulka, the Khrushchev leadership was at first willing to rely on Nagy to control the party; in fact, this was the original motive in permitting the Hungarian “comrades” to elect him as prime minister during the all-night Parliament session on October 23-24.

As late as October 28 at an emergency Presidium meeting in Moscow, the Kremlin leaders still believed they could count on Nagy. According to Malin’s notes, Bulganin said: “In Budapest there are forces that want to get rid of Nagy’s and Kadar’s government. We should adopt a position of support for the current government. Otherwise we’ll have to undertake an occupation. This will drag us into a dubious venture.”101

Yet, Nagy had personality traits different from Gomulka. He was naively idealistic, believing that the socialist system could live up to its revolutionary, humanistic and democratic promise. These idealistic convictions often rendered him stubborn, and this threatened Soviet and Hungarian communist officials. Earlier in 1955, he refused to recant, compelling the Rakosi leadership to expel him completely from the party. This in turn prevented the party from controlling him. Again, in early October, 1956 during discussions with Gerg and others about his readmittance to the MDP, Nagy refused to mention in his letter that he would distance himself from the opposition.102 Nagy probably would have been able to serve as deputy prime minister in the post-invasion KadAr government had he agreed to keep Soviet troops in Hungary.103

Moreover, Nagy had a different kind of popularity than Gomulka. His friendliness encouraged his political colleagues, other institutions, and press organs to take initiatives without Nagy’s knowledge or permission.104 This led to a multiplication of overlapping curfews, ceasefires, decrees for reform, and a dizzying acceleration of events between October 23 and November 4 that convinced the Khrushchev leadership that Nagy could not control his party leadership and government Archival documents enable us to envision clearly the utter confusion in Nagy’s Parliament in the days leading up to the second Soviet intervention.105 To illustrate this confusion, it would be useful to examine the circumstances surrounding the announcement of a curfew.

On October 24 at 4:30 a.m. a curfew was announced on the radio. “Citizens are permitted on the streets only between 10:00 a.m. and 2:00 p.m.”106 Later, on that same day, at 4:24 p.m., the radio announcer said: “Citizens are prohibited to go out between 6:00 p.m. and 6:00 a.m. the following morning,”107 The following day, October 25, at 5:38 a.m. the radio broadcast a message on behalf of the City Council and the Political Committee of Budapest urging all citizens to go back to work. That same day, at 10:47 a.m. the radio warned Budapest citizens not to go out between 6:00 a.m. and 6:00 p.m. “unless absolutely necessary.”108

During the October 25 session of the MDP Central Leadership, one of the party leaders Ferenc Nezval asked incredulously: “Did the Political Committee know what the situation was like this morning when it informed people they could go to work? Fighting began after that!”109 Indeed, at 10:30 a.m. AVO personnel began shooting from the rooftops at about 25,000 unarmed Hungarians who had gathered in front of the Parliament building, shouting “Down with Gero! The radio is lying, we’re no bandits!” After 40-45 minutes, about 234 citizens were killed and the crowd had disappeared.110

The next day, October 26, at 4:15 a.m. citizens were told they could go out only between 10:00 a.m. and 3:00 p.m. A year later, on September 2, 1957, during one of his interrogation sessions, Nagy explained: “The ordering and lifting of the curfew was discussed at the October 26 session of the Central leadership. I mentioned that it was not me who ordered the curfew but somebody else in my name. Sandor Nogradi answered that the Council of Ministers ordered the prohibition.”111 “It is pointless to bring up my responsibility as if I am a criminal,” Nagy complained. “In my opinion, if I am responsible, it is within the collective responsibility of the Political Committee and I accept that.”112

Nagy announced a ceasefire on October 28. While they welcomed the ceasefire, Mikoian and Suslov seemed to interpret it to mean the voluntary surrender of all weapons. The following day they reported from Budapest back to Moscow: “The insurgents declare that they will give them [weapons] up after the Soviet troops leave Hungary. Thus the peaceful liquidation of this hotbed is excluded [i.e., impossible].”113 They went on to say: “We will achieve the liquidation of these armed Hungarian forces. There is just one fear: the Hungarian army has taken a `wait-and-see’ position. Our military advisors say that the relationship of the Hungarian officers and generals to Soviet officers in the past few days has been worse. There is no trust as there was earlier. It could happen, that the Hungarian units sent against the insurgents could join these other Hungarians, and then it will be necessary to once more undertake military operations [with Soviet military forces].”

By October 31, as mentioned above, Moscow leaders made the final decision to invade a massive second time in Hungary. As Serov reported to Moscow:

The political situation in the country is not getting better; it is getting worse. This is expressed in the following: in the leading organs of the party organs there is a feeling of helplessness. In the party organizations there is a process of collapse (raspada). Hooligan elements are seizing regional party committees and killing communists.114


In summary, access to communist bloc archives in recent years has heightened the importance of multi-factor explanations of Soviet interventionism. However, new archival material does not in itself necessarily shed light on Soviet decision making; indeed, it is difficult to use this material to trace patterns in decision making. Diplomatic reports from all three countries tend to be strictly factual and lack in-depth reflection on the differences between the Polish and Hungarian situations. Soviet diplomats in particular were especially cautious not to speculate, but simply to report the facts. Moreover, they tended to take a hardline position perhaps, in order to prove their loyalty to Moscow. The fact that “anti-Soviet movements” were growing in Poland and Hungary increased the danger that they, the diplomats, would be perceived, at minimum, as not having been “strict” or “vigilant” enough, or at worst, as having encouraged this antiSoviet feeling. Being especially “vigilant,” of course, could improve one’s chances for promotion in the Soviet hierarchy. It is noteworthy, for example, that Ambassador Yuri Andropov, who took a very strict approach to the 1956 revolution, was promoted in 1957 to the post of director of the CPSU Central Committee department for ties with communist parties in the bloc countries after the November 4, 1956 invasion.115 Janos Kadar’s pro-Soviet government also presented him with a special award.116 Clearly, Andropov’s “vigilance” was richly rewarded.

This article has attempted to show how the unique outcome of events in Poland and Hungary depended not only on individuals (Gomulka and Nagy), but also on the interplay of top communist personalities, the mood of the masses, and the overall sequence of events themselves. While all three schools of thought outlined earlier have validity, archival findings encourage a more nuanced view of Gomulka and Nagy and the ways in which they interacted with their colleagues and their constituencies. Wladyslaw Gomulka was perhaps less successful in deterring the Soviet leaders during the latters’ October 19 visit to Poland and less secure politically in his own country than originally thought. In addition, Imre Nagy may not have been as “innocent” and progressive, given his past NKVD connections and his initial opposition to the very decisions for which he has gone down in history as having made. Moreover, the impact on Polish decision-makers of the Poznan revolt several months before the October events has been underemphasized in secondary literature. Documents also indicate that the Polish military was perhaps less efficient in suppressing the Poznan revolt than previously thought.

Research for this article was supported in part by long and short-term grants from the International Research & Exchanges Board (IREX) and the Woodrow Wilson Center, East European Studies division.

A list of abbreviations used in the footnotes appears at the end of the article.

1 See Adam Bromke, “Poland” in Bela K. Kiraly and Paul Jones, eds., The Hungarian Revolution of 1956 in Retrospect (Boulder, CO: East European Quarterly, 1978) 89. Also Ferenc A. Va li, Rift and Revolt in Hungary (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1961) 264. Gyorgy Litvin points out that Hungary “had nothing to lose by its actions” because it was the only East European satellite whose communist leaders “did not bring any `wedding gifts’ from Moscow,” unlike Poland (given land once part of eastern Germany) and Romania (given Transylvania). See Litvan, “A Forty-Year Perspective on 1956,” in Terry Cox, ed. Hungary 1956-Forty Years On (London: Frank Cass, 1997) 19-20.

2 See G. H. N. Seton-Watson, “Introduction,” in Kiraly and Jones 3. Also see Joseph Rothschild, Return to Diversity: A Political History of East Central Europe Since World War II (New York: Oxford University Press, 1989) 157-59; Francois Fejto, A History of the People’s Democracies: Europe Since Stalin (London, 1971) 52; and Michael Checinski, Poland: Communism, Nationalism, Anti-Semitism (NY: Karz-Cohl Publishing, 1982) 122, fn. 30. A plethora of excellent scholarly monographs exist on the Hungarian Revolution, which cover additional important aspects, including the Suez crisis, the Chinese role, and the Soviet document published in Pravda, on October 31, 1956, about “Friendship and Cooperation with Socialist States.” Given the limited scope of this article, however, I will focus exclusively on the Polish and Hungarian events themselves.

3 See Paul Kecskemeti, The Unexpected Revolution: Social Forces in the Hungarian Uprising (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1961) 144; Konrad Syrop, Spring in October: The Story of the Polish Revolution [of) 1956 (NY: Frederick A. Praeger, 1957) 188-89; Frank Gibney, The Frozen Revolution (New York: Farrar, Straus, and Cudahy, 1959) 16-17; and Mark Kramer, “The Soviet Union and the 1956 Crises in Hungary and Poland: Reassessments and New Findings,” Journal of Contemporary History 3.2 (1998): 170. (The Polish Primate, Stefan Cardinal Wyszynski was arrested in 1953 and released on October 28, 1956. He supported Gomulka’s policies. Jozsef Cardinal Mindszenty, the Hungarian cardinal and Archbishop of Esztergom since 1945, was sentenced to life in 1948 and released on October 31, 1956. On November 4, he took refuge in the U.S. Embassy in Budapest. He was less supportive of Nagy.)

4 See M.K. Dziewanowski, Poland in the Twentieth Century (New York: Columbia University Press, 1977) 182; Adam Bromke, “Poland,” in Kiraly and Jones 88. Two other influential books which encompass one or more of the explanations outlined above are: Paul Zinner, Revolution in Hungary (New York: Columbia University Press, 1962); and Bill Lomax, Hungary 1956 (London: Allison & Busby, 1976).

5 Most Hungarian POWs were returned after the peace treaty was signed, and others returned in 1948. But many others stayed in the USSR. Numerous top secret documents in GARF (Moscow), specifically from fond P-9401, opis 2, delo 141, concern prisoners of war [POWS] who were incarcerated in the prison division of the Soviet Ministry of Internal Affairs [tiuremnyi otdel MVD SSSR] and usually released in small groups. On January 14, 1946, for example, Kliment E. Voroshilov (then deputy chairman of the Council of Ministers) transmitted to Viacheslav Molotov the appeal of the Hungarian government to the NKVD of the USSR requesting the liberation of eight Hungarian POWs. In 1956 a total of 350 adults and 7 children were repatriated, most of whom were from Germany, Austria, Hungary and Rumania. See GARF, f. 9413, op. 1, d. 207, 1. 31, “Protokoly operativnogo soveshchaniia rukovodiashchego sostava Tiuremnogo otdela MVD SSSR.”

6 See Kecskemeti, op.cit. on this point, p. 135. Despite the fact that Bierut was thirteen years older than Gomulka and more trusted by Moscow leaders, he had arrived late in Poland from German-occupied Minsk, in the middle of 1943, after Gomulka had already established himself as one of the founders of the new party, the Polish Workers’ Party (Polska Partia Robotnicza, or PPR.)

7 It was later moved to October 19. (Soon after his election in April 1956 as the new party secretary, Ochab had initially reiterated charges of “nationalist deviation” against Gomulka, but he later changed his views).

8 For example, Bromke 87-93; Ferenc Feher and Agnes Heller, Hungary 1956, Revisited (London: George Allen & Unwin, 1983) 9; Tibor Meray, Thirteen Days that Shook the Kremlin, trans. Howard L. Katzander (New York: Frederick A. Praeger, 1959) 52; Jiri Valenta, “Soviet Decision Making and the Hungarian Revolution,” in B61a Kiraly, Barbara Lotze, and Nandor F. Dreisziger, eds., The First War Between Socialist States: the Hungarian Revolution of 1956 and its Impact (New York: Columbia University Press, 1984) 266; Michael G. Fry and Condoleeza Rice, “The Hungarian Crisis of 1956: the Soviet Decision,” Studies in Comparative Communism XVI.1-2 (1983): 87; Bennett Kovrig, Communism in Hungary (Stanford, CA: Hoover Institution Press, 1979) 293; Jorg K. Hoensch, A History of Modern Hungary, 1867-1986 (London: Longman, 1988) 215; and Gyorgy Litvan, ed., trans. Janos M. Bak and Lyman H. Legters, The Hungarian Revolution of 1956: Reform, Revolt, and Repression, 1953-1963 (London: Longman, 1996) 51. (In the latter book, the Poznan revolt is incorrectly described as having taken place in July, 1956.)

9 For example, David Pryce-Jones, The Hungarian Revolution (New York: Horizon Press, 1970); Endre Marton, The Forbidden Sky (Boston: Little, Brown, and Co., 1971); Charles Gati, Hungary and the Soviet Bloc (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1986)

10 Syrop 42-54; Dziewanowski 177; Checinski 104.; R. F. Leslie et al., The History of Poland Since 1863 349-51; Andrzej Szczypiorski, trans. Celina Wieniewska, The Polish Ordeal: The View From Within (London & Sidney: Croom Helm, Ltd., 1982) 62; and William P. Lineberry, ed., Poland: The Reference Shelf (New York: H.W.Wilson Co, 1984).

11 The minor demands relating to bonuses and repayment of taxes, however, had been met. On the rumors about the arrest see PZPR 237/237, “Polska Zjednoczona Partia Robotnicza Komitet Centralny Sekretariat-Narada poswiecona omowieniu wypadkow poznanskich,” 7. VII.56, s.9.

12 The workers apparently wanted to capitalize on the fact that many Western reporters were present in Poznan to cover the Twenty-Fifth International Fair that had opened on June 17.

13 Edward Jan Nalepa, Pacyfikacja Zbuntowanego Miasta. Wojko Polskie w Czerwcu 1956 r. w Poznaniu w swietle dokumentow wojskowych (Warszawa: Wydawnictwo Bellona, 1992) 22. Also Syrop 49-52 passim.

14 AAN (Warsaw) “Polska Zjedoczona Partia Robotnicza Komitet Centralny, Biuro Listow i Inspekcji, Biuletyn #32/143, Warszawa, 7.VII.1956, s. 24. One worker, Jozef Juszczyk, complained in a letter to the CC PZPR: “About 40 people left the shop today without bread, butter, and meat. Why is it so? Why do people complain? They are right. They bring potatoes, but after an hour they are gone. No one feels responsible for the supplies. Maybe it is not important, but after a while it becomes important for a person and then unhappiness arises.[Dzis, wlasnie okoto 40 osob odezlo ze sklepu z gorzkimi slowami, brak chleba, masta, miesa. Dlaczego tak jest, dlaczego ludzie przeklinaja? Przecieiz majo racje …Brak poczucia odpowiedzialnsci za ten odcienk pracy. To sa, soprawy tak malo wazne ale jak doniosle dla czlowieka i miedzay innymi rodzq niezadowolenie].

15 Nalepa, Pacyfikacja Zbuntowanego Miasta 27.

16 Resolution Adopted by the Central Committee of the Polish United Workers Party at its Seventh Plenary Session, July 18-28, 1956, in Paul Zinner, ed. National Communism and Popular Revolt in Eastern Europe (New York: Columbia University Press, 1956) 146-47.

17 PZPR (Warsaw) 237/V/237 “Polska Zjednoczona Partia Robotnicza Komitet Centralny Sekretariat-Narada poswiecona omowieniu wypadkow poznanskich,” 7. VII.56, s. 6-7.

18 Ibid.

19 Thorough perusal of declassified Polish documents pertaining to the Poznan crisis show no mention of possible Soviet “assistance.” Classified documents may still reveal that the idea was raised, although it is highly improbable.

20 See, for example, Zinner 126; Gibney 6; Zbigniew K. Brzezinski, The Soviet Bloc: Unity and Conflict (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1967) 248; Harry Schwartz, Eastern Europe in the Soviet Shadow (New York: John Day Co., 1973); Nicholas Bethell, Gomulka: His Poland, His Communism (New York: Holt, Rhinehart, and Winston, 1969) 208; Daniel F. Calhoun, Hungary and Suez, 1956 (Lanham, MD: University Press of America, 1991) 115; Syrop 52. Syrop acknowledges that “it took a considerable military

force to bring the situation under control.” But then he continues “Sporadic fighting…was localized and apparently no one was hurt [emphasis added].” See below for statistics on casualties.

21 Cited in Tony Kemp-Welch, “Khrushchev’s `Secret Speech’ and Polish Politics: The Spring of 1956,” Europe-Asia 48.2 (1996): 206, fn. 148.

22 According to Syrop, “one high-ranking Communist said later in private that up to the moment of the first shots a couple of fire engines using their hoses could have put an end to the demonstration.” Syrop 51. Edward Nalepa, on the other hand, avers that “Even when tens of thousands of people were already demonstrating on the streets of Poznan beginning in the early morning of June 28, the situation might have been neutralized by a visit of high-ranking party representatives, who could have made a political declaration of some kind to the people. But nobody wanted to face the crowd in Poznan.” Nalepa 22.

23 Nalepa 23.

24 Ibid. At 6:30 a.m. on June 28, Jozef Lipinski, commander of the Tenth Division of the KBW was the first person to deliver the message to Brigadier General Wlodzimierz Mug (head of the KBW) about the possibility of street demonstrations in Poznan. Mug then called Franciszek Jowiak, Deputy Prime Minister. Around 7:00 a.m. Leon Stasiak, the first secretary of the PZPR Central Committee in Poznan, informed Ochab about the situation. General Ryszard Dobieszak, commander of the MO, Wladyslaw Wicha, the Minister of Internal Affairs, and Witold Sienkiewicz, Chairman of the Committee for Public Security Affairs [Komitet do Spraw Bezpieczenstwa Publicznego] were also informed early that morning.

25 Ibid.

26 Marshal Konstanty Rokossowski was born in Poland in 1896 but moved to the Soviet Union at the age of seventeen and joined the Soviet Communist Party in 1919. He suffered in the Stalinist purges of the late 1930s, and commanded the Belarusan front toward the end of World War Two. Poles despised him as the one who led the Red Army forces to “liberate” Poland, after conveniently waiting on the other side of the Wisla River for the Polish resistance forces to expend their energies in the futile Warsaw Uprising of 1944. He served as Polish national defense minister from December 1949 to November 1956, despite the fact that he was a Soviet citizen. He was removed from the PZPR Politburo on October 20, 1956 and recalled to the Soviet Union in mid-November 1956.

27 Nalepa 24. Also Teresa Toranska, Them: Stalin’s Polish Puppets, trans. from Polish by Agnieszka Kolakowska (London: Collins Sons and Co., 1987) interview with Ochab 60.

28 Ibid. 65.

29 Ibid. According to Nalepa, Colonel Pietrzak, the commander of the Citizens’ Militia in Poznan received a report about the the ZISPO workers’ demonstration at 6.30 a.m. All he did was send a few patrols to report on the general location of demonstrators. Then, as late as 6:00 p.m. that day, Pietrzak decided to move all policemen back to their departments to avoid the robberies, but it was already too late.

30 See “The Events in Poznan,” Borba [Yugoslav newspaper], July 1, 1956, cited in Zinner 139. Also cited in Nalepa, Pacyfikacja zbuntowanego miasta 55.

31 This figure (53 deaths) has been quoted most often in secondary sources. See See Syrop 42; Bethell 208; and Mark Kramer, “Hungary and Poland, 1956: Khrushchev’s CPSU CC Presidium Meeting on East European Crises, October 24, 1956,” Cold War International History Bulletin issue 5, Spring 1995 (Washington, DC: Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars): 50.

32 See Jaroslaw Maciejewski and Zofia Trojanowicz, eds., Poznanski Czerwiez (Poznan, 1981). These editors composed a list of 100 people. In another study published the same year, the number of deaths is stated to be 73. See Aleksander Ziemkowski, Poznanski Czerwiec 1956 (1981), 2nd ed. Cited also in Nalepa 55.

33 Wlodzimierz Jastrzebski, “Bydgoski Pazdziernik 1956 r. jako przejaw oporu spolecznego przeciwko totalitarnej wladzy” in Wlodzimierz Jastrzebski, ed., Rok 1956 w Bydgoskiem. Materialy z konferencji naukowej na temat: ‘Bydgoski pazdziernik 1956r.’ (Bydgoszcz: Instytut Historii Wyzszej Szkoly Pedagogicznej w Bydgoszczy, 1996) 57.

34 AAN (Warsaw) 237/V-324, zespol: PZPR Komitet Centralny, dzial: Sekretariat, opis jedn.”Przemowienia Gomulki, Katowice, 4.XII.56, s. 3.

35 RGANI (Moscow), f. 3, op. 12, d.1005, IL. 2-2ob. “Rabochaia zapis’ zasedaniia Prezidiuma TsK KPSS, 9 i 12 iiulia 1956 g.,” 12 July 1956. Also see “Pol’skii narod kleimit organizatorov provokatsii,” Pravda (Moscow), 1 July 1956: 6.

36 RGANI (Moscow), f. 3, op. 12, d. 1005, II. 49-50, “Rabochaia zapis’ zasedaniia Prezidiuma TsK KPSS, 20 oktiabria 1956 g.,” written by V. N. Malin. At this meeting the Soviet leaders had accused the Soviet Ambassador to Poland, Ponomarenko, as having been “grossly mistaken in his assessment of Ochab and Gomulka.” Khrushchev also revealed his own erroneous assessments during his September 1956 meeting with Ochab, who had stopped off in Moscow on the way back from Beijing. See AVP RF, op. 38, por. 9, papka, 126, d. 031, 1. I. “Priem Posla Pol’skoi Narodnoi Respubliki v SSSR tov. V. Levikovskogo, 10 sentiabria 1956 g.,” 11 September 1956, memorandum from N. Patolichev, Soviet deputy foreign minister. Cited also in Mark Kramer, “The Soviet Union and the 1956 Crises” 171.

37 It should be remembered that Laszlo Rajk (1909-1949) served as Minister of the Interior from 1946 to 1948 and thus was responsible for ordering the security services to dismember the Smallholders Party in 1946 and 1947.

38 Much hatred among the Hungarian population was directed against the “big four” Hungarian communist leaders who dominated Hungary in the postwar period, who all happened to be Jewish: Rakosi, Farkas, Revai, and Gero. Soviet diplomats discussed this at length. See, for example, RGANI, o 28, rolik 5195, delo 479,1. 1-2, Iz Dnevnika K. A. Krutikova, “Zapis’ Besedy s Poverennym v Velakh Vengrii v KNR Sall, 17 dekabria 1956. Anti-semitism was also prevalent in Poland, stimulated by the fact that at least two prominent Stalinist leaders, Jakub Berman and Hilary Minc, were Jewish, as was the more “progressive” Roman Dambrowski.

39 Recent scholarship indicates that Hungarian workers might not have been politicized until at least February 1956 (by Khrushchev’s speech), and in some cases not until the outbreak of the revolution. See Mark Pittaway, “The Social Limits of State Control: Time, the Industrial Wage Relation, and Social Identity in Stalinist Hungary, 1948-1953,” The Journal of Historical Sociology 12.3 (1999): 271-302. The conservative middle class may not have become politicized until the revolution as well.

40 The Hungarian “Muscovites” included Matyas Rakosi, Erno Gero, Jozsef Revai, Mihaly Farkas, Ferenc Munnich, Zoltin Szanto, Zoltan Vas, Imre Nagy and others. The “home” or indigenous Hungarian communists included Laszlo Rajk, Giza Losonczy, Gyula Kallai, Janos Kadir, Sandor Haraszti, Szilard Ujhelyi, and others.

41 In an interview, Ochab later said “I wasn’t at all anxious to keep my position.” See Teresa Toranska, “Them: “Stalin’s Polish Puppets (NY: Harper and Row, 1987), p. 78.

42 AAN (Warszawa) 237/XXII-841, “Notatka a rozmow przeprowadznych na temat czerwcowej konferencji WSPR,” 6. Vi. 1957, s. 30, Budapeszt. (From the consul of the Polish embassy in Budapest, Mosczenski, to Korolczyk, Director of the First Department of the Polish Foreign Ministry). Rakosi was never permitted to return to Hungary. He lived in Moscow, was then exiled to Krasnodar, Tokmak (Kirghizia), Arzamas, and finally to Gorky, where he died on February 5, 1971. See the letters written in 1957 by Rakosi to the CC CPSU in attempts to return to Hungary, e.g. TsKhSD (Moscow), f 89, per 45, dok 67, 11. 1-9. Pismo Matiasa Rakoshi, Moskva, 15 fevralia 1957 g., perevod s vengerskogo. Also see reference to several phone calls and visits Rakosi made to Janos Boldoczki, the Hungarian Ambassador to the USSR. RGANI (Moscow), f. 89, per. 45, dok. 54, 1. 5, Iz Dnevnika Zamchevskogo, Zaveduiushchii Piatego Evropeiskgo Otdela MIDa, “Zapis’ Beseda s Poslom Boldotskogo, 28 noiabria 1956 g. For a recent account of Rakosi’s years in exile, based on new archival documents, see V. L. Musatov, “Istoriia odnoi ssylki: ‘Zhitie’ Matiasa Rakoshi v SSSR (1956-1971 gg),” Kentavr (Moscow), no. 6 (November-December 1993): 72-81.

43 Of course, JAnos Kadir in 1957 used the explanation of the Ra kosi-Germ clique to bolster his own authority against hardliners represented by Revai. Kadar’s position remained shaky until at least 1958, if not later.

44 Sandor Petofi, arguably the most famous Hungarian poet, played a leading role in Hungarian literary life before the Hungarian Revolution of 1848. He disappeared during the Battle of Segesvar, on July 31, 1849.

45 Jozef Bem was born in 1794, in Tam6w, Galicia, which is now part of Poland. Although a Polish army officer who trained at the Warsaw Military School, Jozef Bem offered his services to the Hungarian leader Lajos Kossuth in 1848 and defeated his opponents in Transylvania and the Banat region.

46 MOL (Budapest) 1676/2000/XX-5-h, 1 doboz, 1 kotet, “Esemenynaptar, 1956, old. 137.

47 The actual number of recorded points varies, according to the youth groups, instititions, and cities in which they originated. One of the first meetings of the communist youth organization DISZ (Dolgozok Ifjustag Szovetsege) took place in the town of Szeged, where students articulated twelve points (paralleling the twelve points drawn up by Hungarian youth in the March 1848 Revolution. Other students at the Technical University in Budapest expanded the list to sixteen.

48 The State Security Department (Allamvedelmi Osztaly, or AVO), which was reorganized in 1949 and renamed the State Security Authority (Allamvedelmi Hatosag, or AVH), was reincorporated into the Hungarian Internal Affairs Ministry in the autumn of

1953. The organization was commonly referred to as the AVO and its employees the “AVOs.” The term AVO will thus be used throughout this article.

49 RGANI, f. 5, op. 28, d. 394, 1. 256, “Zapis’ Besedy s Erno Gero, 2 sentiabria 1956 g.,” September 27, 1956.

50 See the report written in Czech by Jan Svoboda, a top aide to Czech Communist leader Antonin Novotny, of a key meeting on October 24 of top CPSU Presidium members and East European Communist leaders (except Gomulka and Ger&). Statni Ustredni Archiv [Central State Archive in Prague,or SUA], Fond 07/16, Svazek 3, “Zprava o jednani na IOV KSSS 24. rijna 1956 k situaci v Polsku a Madarsku” (“Account of a Meeting at the CPSU CC, October 24, 1956, on the Situation in Poland and Hungary”). See Tibor Hajdu, “Az 1956.oktober 24-i moszkvai ertekezlet,” Evkonyv 1. (Budapest: 1956-os Int6zet, 1992) 149-56. For an English translation, see Mark Kramer, “Hungary and Poland, 1956: Khrushchev’s CPSU CC Presidium Meeting” 1, 50-56. Imre Nagy, too, was absent from Budapest on the eve of the student demonstration. He was attending a wine festival in western Hungary and returned to Budapest only on October 23.

51 The Hungarians’ debates on this issue are best reconstructed from the reminiscences of Andras Hegedus, Janos Matolcsi, and Jeno Fock, all located in PIL [Politikatorteneti Intezet Leveltara]: H-168;; and 867.f.f-215 respectively. For a useful essay on Hungarian decision making on October 23, see Zoltan Ripp, “Hiba a rendszerben-oktober 23,”Otvenhat oktobere es a hatalom: a Magyar Dolgozok Partja vezeto testuleteinek dukumentumai 1956 oktober 24-oktober 28 (Budapest: Napvilag Kiado, 1997).

52 Istvan Bata (1910-1982), a Moscow-trained army officer, served as Hungarian minister of national defense until October 24, 1956. A deeply compromised “Stalinist,” he fled to the USSR in a Soviet miltary aircraft on October 28, 1956, not to return to Hungary until 1958.

53 AVP RF, f. 059a, op. 4, p. 6, d. 5, 1. 1: “Shifrtelegramma iz Budapeshta,” Cable from A. I. Mikoian and M. A. Suslov to the CPSU Presidium, October 24, 1956.

54 Janos M. Rainer, “A Parlamenttol a Fo utcaig. Nagy Imre gondolati utja 1956. november 4.-1957. aprilis 4,” Evkonyv I (Budapest: 1956-os Intezet, 1992) 125.

55 See “Zprava o jednani na IV KSSS 24. rijna 1956 k situaci v Polsku a Madarsku.” Also Fyodor Lukianov, “Khrushchev Ostorozhen; Andropov Nastaival,” Izvestiia 169 (July 24, 1992).

56 The formal request did not actually arrive in Moscow until five days later. Andropov sent it in a ciphered telegram on October 28, 1956. See AVP RF, f 059a, op. 4, p. 6, d. 5, 1. 12. “Shifrtelegramma” October 28, 1956.

57 “Zprava o jednani na UV KSSS 24. rijna 1956 k situaci v Polsku a Madarsku.”

58 AVP RF, f. 059a, op. 4, p. 6, d. 5, 1. 1: “Shifrtelegramma iz Budapeshta,” Cable from A. I. Mikoian and M. A. Suslov to the CPSU Presidium, October 24, 1956.

59 A major event occurred on October 6, when about 200,000 people gathered to rebury Laszlo Rajk’s remains. Although this ceremony was later dubbed “rehearsal for a revolution,” it remained nonviolent.

60 The analysis of political personalities is an exercise in relativity, of course. Wladyslaw Gomulka was certainly less skilled in communist Realpolitik than GDR leader Walter Ulbricht, who stayed in power the longest. Gomulka’s naivety eventually led to his downfall in December 1970. For a perceptive comparison of these two leaders, see the memoirs of Gomulka’s Polish-German interpreter Erwin Weit, At the Red Summit: Interpreter Behind the Iron Curtain (New York: Macmillan, 1973) 173-75 passim.

61 AAN (Warsaw), KC PZPR, paczka 12, teczka 46a, s. 29-36, “Nieautoryzowane Wystapenie tow. Wieslawa na posiedzeniu Biura Politycznego w dniu 12 pazdziernika 1956 r.”

62 Schecter and Luchkov, eds. Khrushchev Remembers: the Glasnost Tapes, (Boston: Little, Brown, 1990), op. cit., p. 115

63 Gomulka Family Private Papers. See translation of Gomulka’s notes in L. W. Gluchowski, “Poland, 1956: Khrushchev, Gomulka, and the `Polish October’,” Document 2, Cold War International History Bulletin 5 (1995) (Washington, DC: Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars): 42.

64 According to the Osteuropa Handbuch Polen (Cologne: 1959), Gomulka studied at the International Lenin School in Moscow, 1934-35. As biographer Nicholas Bethel] points out, for some reason this piece of information is omitted in an earlier biographical pamphet entitled Wladislaw Gomulka- Wieslaw, Dzieje, Walki i Mysli (Lodz, 1947).

Gomulka was born on February 6, 1905 in the Bialobrzegi district of Krosno, at that time part of the Poland ruled by Austria-Hungary. He was greatly influenced by his father Jan, a Socialist and laborer in the oil fields who had emigrated with his wife-before Wladyslaw’s birth-to the United States, but had emigrated back to Poland, disillusioned. See Bethell, Gomulka 2, 13.

65 In December 1945, at the First Congress of the PPR in Warsaw, Gomulka was elected a member of the Politburo and secretary general of the Central Committee.

66 See RGANI, f. 89, per. 45, dok 79.Nagy’s OGPU Enlistment, 4 September 1930; and RGANI, f. 89, per. 45, dok. 82, KGB Chief Kriuchkov’s Report, “About the Archive Materials Pertaining to Imre Nagy’s Activities in the USSR,” June 16, 1989. And: RGANI, f. 89, per 45, dok 80, 2., From the Deputy Director of the 4th Dept GUGB of the

NKVD USSR to the Commissar of State Security 3 rank, Comrade Karutskii. Some of these documents are still classified. They are located in the personal files for Imre Nagy in the KGB archive and among the Comintern documents kept at RGASPI (Russian State Archive of Social and Political History). See Valerii Musatov, “Tragediia Nadia,” Novaiia Noveishaia Istorii 1 (1994): 167. Also Kuz’minev, “Yesli Ne Zakryvat’ Glaza,” Literaturnaia Rossiia 51:1507 (1991): 22-23.

67 In Hungary the Communist Party had been banned since the fall of B6a Kun’s Hungarian Soviet Republic in 1919. In 1925 the left-wing radicals within the Social Democratic Party founded the Socialist Workers’ Party which maintained close ties with underground communists.

68 Cited in Janos M. Rainer, Nagy Imre: Politikai eletrajz, elso kotet, 1896-1953 (Budapest: 1956-os Intezet, 1996) 170.

69 See Janos Rainer, “The Life Course of Imre Nagy,” in Cox, 144.

70 MOL (Budapest) XX-5-h, 8 kotet, 13 doboz (1956-1958), old. 99, Jegyzokonyv, Nagy Imre kihallgatasarol, Budapest, 1957 szeptember 2. Nagy told his interrogators: “As I confessed during my questioning of April 15, 1957, I did not agree with the planned strike of students. I did not find it right.” To be sure, Nagy made these statements under duress, while in captivity, and one must balance these documents with eyewitness reports and scholarly analyses. However, Nagy’s statements in the last two years of his life nevertheless remained remarkably consistent and courageous.

71 MOL (Budapest) XX-5-h, 1 kotet, 1 doboz (1956-1957), Budapest, 1957 februar, old. 193(b). This is a letter handwritten by Imre Nagy from Romania. Page numbers appear only on every other page; thus I have used alphabetical letters to distinguish the pages.

72 MOL (Budapest) XX-5-h, 1 kotet, 1 doboz (1956-1957), Budapest op.cit., old. 191 (a)-191 (b).

73 Ibid., p. 194 (a).

74 Ibid., p. 199 (a).

75 AAN (Warszawa), KC PZPR, paczka 15, tom 58, s. 172-4, “Protokol z posiedzenia Biura Politycznego z dnia 8 i 10.X.1956 r., n. 124.

76 AVP RF (Moscow), F. Referentura po Pol’she, op. 38, por. 9, papka, 126, d. 031, 1. 1. “Priem Posla Pol’skoi Narodnoi Respubliki v SSSR tov. V. Levikovskogo, 10 sentiabria 1956 g.,” Memorandum ot N. Patolicheva.

77 For example, Janos Tischler writes “Gomulka… went to the Palace of Belweder [sic.]… to meet a Soviet delegation, having arrived quite unexpectedly under Khrushchev’s leadership.” Unpublished English translation of paper presented at the conference “Hungary and the World, 1956: New Archival Evidence” in Budapest, September 26-29,1996.

78 AAN (Warsaw), Arch. KC PZPR, 237/V-241. “Stenogram Krajowej Narady Aktywu Partyjnego odbutego w dn. 4 listopada 1956 r.: Wystapenia W. Gomulki,” 4 November 1956, s. 166.

79 AAN (Warsaw), KC PZPR, 237/V-241. “Stenogram Krajowej Narady Aktywu Partyjnego odbutego w dn. 4 listopada 1956 r.: Wystapenia W. Gomulki,” 4 November 1956, s. 166. [Przyjechali, mysmy ich przywitali, plenum mysmy otworzyli, przerwali i rozpoczeli z nimi rozmowy.]

80 See “Zprava o jednani na UV KSSS 24. rijna 1956 k situaci v Polsku a Madarsku” op. cit. fn 50. supra. The speech was, however, published in Hungary in the party newspaper Szabad Nep on October 23, the day of the student demonstration. (Ulbricht banned its publication in the GDR, however.) Weit, op. cit. p. 171.

81 See text of Gomulka’s speech on October 24.”Przemowienie towarzysza Wladyslawa Gomulki,” Trybuna Ludu, October 25, 1956.

82 Strobe Talbott, trans and ed., Khrushchev Remembers: the Last Testament (New York: Bantam Books, 1974) 205.

83 Toranska, interview with Ochab 77-78.

84 Ibid.

85 Gomulka Family Private Papers. See fn 61 supra.

86 Interview of Edward Ochab, op. cit., p. 78.

87 Vladimir Malin was head of the General Department of the Central Committee of the Soviet Union during the entire Khrushchev period. He took extensive notes of all Presidium meetings, although verbatim transcripts of CPSU Presidium meetings were not kept in the 1950s. See RGANI (Moscow), F. 3, Op. 12, D. 1005, LI. 49-50, Working Notes from the Session of the CPSU CC Presidium on October 20, 1956, written by Vladimir Malin. Often the notes are very brief, consisting of sentence fragments, so it is not clear what is meant here. Presumably the Soviet leaders planned to have military maneuvers and install a committee of pro-Soviet officials to eventually take over the Polish government after a Soviet intervention. For other useful eyewitness reports, monographs and documentary collections on the Hungarian crisis and Soviet decision making published in recent years, see Evgenii I. Malashenko, “Osobyi korpus v ogre Budapeshta,” Voenno-Istoricheskii Zhurnal 10 (1993): 24. Malashenko’s account is published in four consecutive issues of the journal: October, 1993, 10: 22-30; November, 1993, 1: 44-51; December, 1993, 12: 33-37; and January 1994, 1: 30-36. Also see Jelcin-Dosszie Szoviet Dokumentumok 1956-rol (Budapest: Szazadveg, 1956-os Intezet, 1993); Hianyzo Lapok: 1956 Tortenetebol: Dokumentumok a volt SZKP KP Leveltarabol (Budapest: Zenit Konyvek, 1993); Magyar-Jugoszlav Kapcsolatok 1956 Dokumentumok

(Budapest: MTA Jelenkor-kutato Bizottsig, 1995); Viacheslav Sereda and Janos M. Rainer, eds., Dontes a Kremlben, 1956. A Szovjet Partelnokseg Vitai Magyarorszagrol (Budapest: 1956-os lnt6zet, 1996); Janos M. Reiner, Nagy Imre: Politikai eletrajz, elso k6tet, 1896-1953 (Budapest: 1956-os Intezet, 1996; and the collection of documents edited by E. D. Orekhova, V. T. Sereda and A. S. Stykalin, Sovetskii Soiuz i Vengerskii Krizis 1956 Goda: Dokumenty (Moscow: Rosspen, 1998).

88 See fn 50 above. Because a crisis developed unexpectedly in Hungary at the same time, the communist leaders discussed both Poland and Hungary, but the meeting was originally called to discuss Polish events. Gomulka and GerB could not attend, but communist leaders from Czechoslovakia (e.g. Novotny, et al.), East Germany (e.g. Ulbricht, Grotewohl, and Stoph), and Bulgaria (Zhivkov, Yugov, and Damianov) were present.

89 Jastrzebski 57.

90 AMSZ (Warsaw), z. despesz., w. 48, t. 612, k. 215, s. 76, Szyfrogram nr. 17654 z Budapestu, 28 pazdziernika 1956, Adam Willman (Polish Ambassador in Budapest).

91 “Zprava o jednani na UV KSSS 24. rijna 1956 k situaci v Polsku a Madarsku.”

92 At the time of the first intervention (October 24), Ern6 Ger6 told Mikoian and Suslov over the telephone: “[T]he arrival of Soviet troops in the city has a negative effect on the disposition of the inhabitants, including the workers.” AVP RF, f. 059a, op. 4, p. 6, d. 5, 1. 1: “Shifrtelegramma iz Budapeshta,” Cable from A.I. Mikoian and M.A. Suslov to the CPSU Presidium, October 24, 1956.

93 RGANI (Moscow), f. 3, op. 64., d. 483, 1. 128. “Telegramma A.I. Mikoiana i. M.A. Suslova iz Budapeshta v TsK KPSS 26-ogo oktiabria.”

94 “Radio Address by Imre Nagy Announcing the Formation of a New Government,” Oct. 28, 1956 in Zinner 428-32.

95 One of the demands of the protesters in October 1956 was for the elimination of the AVO, since this had been the key organization involved in the repression and terror of the 1949-1952 period. Many AVO agents became the targets of lynchings and other violent reprisals during the last week of October.

96 RGANI (Moscow), f 89, per. 45, dok. 10, L. 2. “Telegramma 1. A. Serova iz Budapeshta v TsK KPSS 28-ogo oktiabria.”

97 RGANI (Moscow), F.059a, Op.4, P.6, D.5, L1.13-14. “Shifrtelegramma: TsK KPSS,” October 29, 1956, ot A. Mikoiana i M. Suslova.

98 This party was renamed the Pet6fi Party on November 1, 1956.

99 See Kis Ujsag, Nov. 1, 1956, 2. Kovacs was in a Soviet prison from February 1947 until the fall of 1955. He was a member of Imre Nagy’s cabinet from October 27, 1956, and a state minister, November 3-4, 1956.

100 An emergency meeting of the CPSU presidium was convened on October 31 to reevaluate the decision of the previous day not to use force Marshal Zhukov was “instructed to work out a plan of measures and report on it. [Poruchit’ Zhukova razrabotat’ sootvetstvuiushchiy plan meropriiatiy sviazannykh s sobytiiami v Vengrii, i dolozhit’ TsK KPSS.] RGANI, f. 3, op. 12, d. 1006, II. 15-18ob, “Rabochaia zapis’ zasedaniia Prezidiuma TsK KPSS, 31 oktiabria 1956 g.,” written by V.N. Malin. Also

RGANI, f. 3, op. 64, d. 484,1. 41, “Postanovleniie Prezidiuma TsK KPSS: O polozhenii v Vengrii. Vypiska iz protokola # 49, P49/VI ot 31 oktiabria 1956 g.”

101 RGANI (Moscow), f. 3, op. 12, d. 1005, II. 54-63, “Protokol’naia Zapis’ Zasedaniia Prezidiuma TsK KPSS, 28-ogo oktiabria 1956 g.” avtograf V. N. Malina.

102 RGANI, F. 89, 0. 2, D. 2, L. 75, “Informatsiia Andropova iz Budapeshta, 12 oktiabria 1956 g.”

103 RGANI, F 3, 0 12, D 1006, L. l8ob, “Protokol’naia Zapis’ Zasedaniia Prezidiuma TsK KPSS, 31-ogo oktiabria 1956 g.”

104 As mentioned above, Nagy tended to focus on making correct verbal arguments and expecting others to change their behavior. His colleagues were, perhaps more like Gomulka in emphasizing political positions instead.

105 Many otherwise excellent secondary works in English, even the handful published in the 1990s, fall short of depicting the actual disarray of the Nagy parliament during the brief democratic interlude, from October 24 to November 4. These include Gyorgy LitvAn, ed. trans. Janos M. Bak and Lyman H. Legters, The Hungarian Revolution of 1956: Reform, Revolt, and Repression, 1953-1963 (London: Longman, 1996); Terry Cox, ed. Hungary 1956-Forty Years On (London: Frank Cass, 1997); and Jeno Gyorkei and Miklos Horvath, Soviet Military Intervention in Hungary (Budapest: Central European University Press, 1999). Gyorkei and Horvath do provide a useful account of the military complications. See 32-35.

106 MOL (Budapest) 1676/2000/XX-5-h, 1 doboz, 1 kotet, “Esemenynaptar, 1956, old. 141. Defense Minister Laszlo Piros repeated this over the radio at 9:18 a.m. “Gyorsiroi feljegyzes az MDP Kozponti Vezetosegenek Ulesdrol, 1956.oktober 25, [1] a,” Otvenhat oktobere is a hatalom, op cit. old. 42.

107 Ibid. (Otvenhat oktobere es a hatalom).

108 Ibid.

109 Gyorsiroi feljegyzes az MDP Kozponti Vezetosegenek Uleserol, 1956. oktober 25, [1] a, Otvenhat oktobere es a hatalom: a Magyar Dolgozok Partja vezeto testuleteinek dukumentumai 1956 oktober 24-oktober 28 (Budapest: Napvilag Kiado, 1997).

110 MOL (Budapest) 1676/2000/XX-5-h, 1 doboz, 1 kotet, “Esemenynaptar, 1956, old. 143.

111 MOL (Budapest) XX.-5-h 8 kotet, 13 doboz (1956-1958), old. 100, Jegyzokonyv, Nagy Imre kihallgatasarol, Budapest, 1957 szeptember 2.

112 Ibid, old. 102.

113 RGANI (Moscow), f. 89, per 45, dok. 12, 1. 1, “Informatsiia Mikoiana i Suslova ot 30 oktiabria 1956 g.

114 Ibid.

115 RGANI, f. 89, per. 45, dok. 75,1. 3, “Notes of Yuri Andropov to the CC CPSU of August 29, 1957.” This document is signed “Andropov, Head of the Department of the CC CPSU for ties with the Communist and Workers’ Parties of the Socialist Countries.”

116 AVP RF, f. 077, o. 38, por. 3, p. 192, 1. 11, From the Diary of P. S. Dedushkin, “Notes of a Conversation with the Hungarian Ambassador in Moscow Boldoczki,” December 4, 1957. “IT]he Presidium of Hungary issued a decree on Sept. 28 awarding Andropov the ‘Order of the Banner of Hungary’ as a token of gratitude for his fruitful activity in deepening Hungarian-Soviet friendship.”

JOHANNA GRANVILLE is an Assistant Professor of Political Science at Clemson University and author of The First Domino: Hungary and the USSR in 1956 (forthcoming). She has worked extensively in archives in Moscow, Budapest, Warsaw, Berlin, and Vienna on Fulbright, IREX, and ACTR grants.

Copyright Canadian Assosciation of Slavists Dec 2001

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