ACCOUNT OF A MEETING AT THE CPSU CC, ON THE SITUATION IN POLAND AND HUNGARYCITATION SHARE DOWNLOAD
get citationThe CPSU CC Politburo meets to discuss the burgeoning crises in Poland and Hungary. Also participating was Hungarian leader Novotny. Khrushchev described for the Soviet leadership his discussions with Gomulka on the Polish situation. Khrushchev urges patience in dealing with Poland. On the situation in Hungary, Khrushchev tells the Soviet leaders that actions were taken at the request of the Hungarian leadership."Account of a Meeting at the CPSU CC, on the Situation in Poland and Hungary" October 24, 1956, History and Public Policy Program Digital Archive, SUA, Fond 07/16, Svazek 3. Originally published in English in the Cold War International History Project Bulletin no. 5 (Spring 1995): 53-55. First published in Hungarian by Tibor Hajdu, “Az 1956 október 24-i moszkvai értekezlet,” in Évkönyv 1992, I., ed. János M. Bak et al. (Budapest: 1956-os Intézet, 1992), 149-156. Translated by Mark Kramer. http://digitalarchive.wilsoncenter.org/document/112196
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Account of a Meeting at the CPSU CC,
24 October 1956,
on the Situation in Poland and Hungary
On 24 Oct. 1956 I [Novotny] attended a meeting of the Presidium of the CC CPSU. Comrades from the MSP Central Committee, the SED Central Committee, the BKS Central Committee, and the RDS Central Committee also were invited to take part.24 But the only ones who were actually present were the comrades from Germany, namely Ulbricht, Grotewohl, and Stoph, and the comrades from Bulgaria--Zhivkov, Yugov, and Damyanov.25
Comrade Khrushchev began by informing everyone about the situation in Poland and Hungary. He said that originally the Presidium of the CC CPSU wanted to inform the fraternal parties about the situation in Poland and about the outcome of the negotiations between the CPSU CC and the PZPR CC.26 But in the meantime important events had happened in Hungary. That is why he deemed it necessary to inform us about the situation there as well.
In essence, this is what he said:
When serious reports came in from Poland that far-reaching changes were expected in the top party posts of the PZPR, the CC CPSU decided to send a delegation to Poland.
The delegation negotiated mainly with Comrades Gomulka, Cyrankiewicz, Jedrychowski, Ochab, and the foreign minister.27
All these comrades, especially Gomulka, sought to defend everything that was happening in Poland. They assured the Soviet delegation that the measures being taken would not have an adverse effect on Poland's relations with the Soviet Union and the CPSU. On the question of why so many changes occurred in the [PZPR] Politburo, Comrade Gomulka said that the comrades who had not been reelected to the Politburo had lost the confidence of the party masses. The Soviet comrades are very worried because the [Polish] comrades who were removed from the Politburo were known to the Soviet party as old, trustworthy revolutionaries who were faithful to the cause of socialism. Among them is also Comrade Rokossovskii, who is of Polish origin but never gave up his Soviet citizenship.28
While the CPSU CC delegation was in Poland, certain maneuvers of the Soviet Army took place on Polish territory, which displeased Comrade Gomulka. The discussions between the delegations ranged from being very warm to rude. Gomulka several times emphasized that they would not permit their independence to be taken away and would not allow anyone to interfere in Poland's internal affairs. He said that if he were leader of the country, he could restore order very promptly. The representatives of the PZPR explained the arguments and factors that had led to the current situation in Poland. These were very unpersuasive and seemed to be outright fabrications. For example, Comrade Gomulka tried to convince the Soviet delegation that most of the blame should be placed on the presence of 50 Soviet security advisers in Poland and of many generals and other senior officers in the Polish army who still hold Soviet citizenship.
In addition, [Gomulka] said that Poland's obligation to supply coal to the USSR at excessively low prices had caused the difficult economic situation. Comrade Khrushchev emphasized to the Polish comrades, referring to several concrete examples, that on various occasions in the past, this had not been true.
After the CPSU CC delegation returned to Moscow, an official letter was dispatched to the PZPR CC from the CPSU CC saying that it was up to the Polish side to decide whether to send the Soviet advisers and the generals with Soviet citizenship immediately back to the USSR.
A delegation from the PZPR was invited to meetings in the USSR along party lines [po stranicke linii]. On 23 Oct. 1956 Comrade Gomulka told the CPSU CC that he would accept the invitation and that he would arrive after 11 Nov. 1956. Comrade Gomulka also asked Comrade Khrushchev to have the Soviet forces return to their camps, as he had been promised.29 From the telephone conversation between Comrade Gomulka and Comrade Khrushchev, Comrade Khrushchev got the impression that Comrade Gomulka was attempting to earn the confidence of the CPSU CC.
On this occasion the two sides arranged that a long-planned exchange of delegations between Trybuna Ludu and Pravda would take place in the near future.30
Typically, at plenary sessions of the PZPR CC the majority of speakers would express their wish for friendship with the USSR and other states of people's democracies.
The opinion of the CPSU CC is that in the case of Poland it is necessary to avoid nervousness and haste. It is necessary to help the Polish comrades straighten out the party line and do everything to reinforce the union among Poland, the USSR, and the other people's democracies.
Poland is in a catastrophic economic situation. There is a shortfall of 900,000 tons of grain. Coal mining is in very bad shape also. After the 20th CPSU Congress, Poland adopted the same social measures as in the USSR, but did not have sufficient means to carry them out. That is why Comrade Ochab turned to the CPSU CC delegation with a request for a loan. When Comrade Khrushchev remarked that perhaps the USA would give them a loan, [Ochab] answered that Poland would ask for a loan from the USA but he doubts that the USA would give them one. Comrade Khrushchev surmised that Comrade Ochab was answering hastily on the spur of the moment.
Comrade Khrushchev said that the GDR and CSR had asked the CPSU CC to resolve the problem with Polish coal at the highest level. But [Khrushchev] believes it would be inappropriate to do that at this time because it would unnecessarily exacerbate the affair and lead to disputes and polemics between fraternal parties about this matter, which the Poles, even with the best of intentions, cannot do much about.
Comrade Gomulka's speech will not be published in the USSR because it would have to be accompanied by commentaries that would lead, in turn, to further disputes and polemics, which would be highly undesirable. It is necessary to help Poland. The USSR is willing to provide the necessary grain. All possible measures will be taken to ensure that by 1958, or at the very latest by 1959, the USSR will no longer be dependent on Polish coal. Most likely the USSR will also agree to the loan request.
Later on, before the meeting ended and after the main discussions, Comrade Ponomarenko delivered a report about a political rally today by workers in Warsaw. Comrade Gomulka gave a speech there.31 There were more than 150,000 people.
Among other things, Comrade Gomulka said that the PZPR CC had received a letter from the CPSU CC which stated that it was up to the Polish side how to resolve the matter of the Soviet security advisers. He expressed his view that the presence of the Soviet advisers in Poland at this time was in Poland's interests.32 This was greeted with wide and loud applause.
He further emphasized that the presence of Soviet troops on Polish territory was necessary because of the existence of NATO and the presence of American troops in West Germany.33 And this view, too, was greeted with loud and long applause.
He condemned all those who want, by means of demagogic talk, to undermine trust in the Polish army, which is under the exclusive command of the Polish government and the PZPR CC.34 He appealed to the crowd to finish the rally and commit themselves to work for the good of the Polish people.
It was the view of Comrade Khrushchev that this speech by Comrade Gomulka gives hope that Poland has now adopted a course that will eliminate the unpleasant state of affairs. He said that finding a reason for an armed conflict now would be very easy, but finding a way to put an end to such a conflict would be very hard.
On the Situation in Hungary
Comrade Khrushchev said he does not understand what Comrades Gero, Hegedus, and others are doing.35 There were signs that the situation in Hungary is extremely serious. That did not prevent Comrades Gero and Hegedus from continuing to spend time by the sea. And as soon as they returned home they left on a "trip" to Yugoslavia.
When Comrade Khrushchev talked by phone on 23 Oct. 1956 with Comrade Gero, whom he summoned for a consultation, Comrade Gero told him that the situation in Budapest is bad and for that reason he cannot come to Moscow.
As soon as the conversation was over, Comrade Zhukov informed [Khrushchev] that Gero had asked the military attache at the Soviet embassy in Budapest to dispatch Soviet troops to suppress a demonstration that was reaching an ever greater and unprecedented scale. The Presidium of the CC CPSU did not give its approval for such an intervention because it was not requested by the highest Hungarian officials, even when Comrade Gero had been speaking earlier with Comrade Khrushchev.
Shortly thereafter, a call came through from the Soviet embassy in Budapest saying that the situation is extremely dangerous and that the intervention of Soviet troops is necessary. The Presidium authorized Comrade Khrushchev to discuss this matter by phone with Comrade Gero.36
As it turned out, Comrade Khrushchev informed Comrade Gero that his request will be met when the government of the HPR [Hungarian People's Republic] makes the request in writing. Gero responded that he is not able to convene a meeting of the government. Comrade Khrushchev then recommended that Hegedus call such a meeting in his capacity as chairman of the Council of Ministers. Although that had not happened as of today, the situation developed in such a way that Comrade Zhukov was given orders to occupy Budapest with Soviet military units located on Hungarian territory and in Uzhgorod.37 The redeployment of the units was slow and difficult because of dense fog. In an effort to protect at least Comrade Gero, an armored car was sent to Budapest. The vehicle passed right through Budapest without the slightest resistance. The other troop formations of the Soviet army did not arrive until 24 Oct. 1956 at 4:00 a.m., when the sessions of the MSP CC plenum were already over in Budapest.
Comrade Khrushchev recommended to Comrade Gero that he tell everyone that the plenum of the MSP CC had not taken place before the demonstration was suppressed. It turned out that this did not happen. As was expected, a new politburo was elected at the plenum. It included some members from the previous politburo: Apro, Hegedus, Gero, and Kadar.38 It also had new members: Imre Nagy, Kobol (the head of the 1st department of the CC MSP, who recently spoke out strongly and sharply against the politburo), Gaspar, Szanto (the head of the institute for cultural ties with foreigners), Marosan (a persecuted but good comrade), Kiss (the chairman of the KSK), and Kallai (the head of the department of culture of the CC MSP).39 Selected as candidates were: Losonczy (a journalist who was very active in campaigning against the leadership of the party) and Ronai (chairman of the NS).40
In the new politburo there are three people who were persecuted in the past and have now been rehabilitated. Among the old members not elected [to the new body] are: Hidas, Szalai, Mekis, Kovacs, Revai, Acs, Bata (a candidate), and Piros (also a candidate).41
Those elected to the secretariat were: Gero (1st secretary), Kadar, Donath (director of the Institute of Economics), Kobol, and Kallai.42 Among them are three persecuted comrades. Of the old members of the secretariat, those who were dismissed were: Szalai, Egri, Veg, and Kovacs.43
Within the government, Nagy has been selected as chairman of the Council of Ministers and Hegedus as first deputy chairman of the Council of Ministers.
There were no longer any demonstrations in Budapest on the evening of 24 Oct. 1956. Near the Danube there were several groups of bandits. These consisted of groups of 15-20 people armed with pistols and weapons seized from soldiers. Resistance is still occurring on certain street corners, roofs, and balconies. On several streets there were barricades. The bandits temporarily occupied two railway stations and one of the two radio stations. The bandits wanted to tear down the statue of Stalin. But when they were unsuccessful in this task, they seized a welder's torch and cut the statue to pieces, and then disposed of the whole thing.
The Hungarian internal security forces performed very well, but suffered most of the casualties from among the 25 dead and 50 wounded.44 Also, one Soviet officer was killed and 12 soldiers were wounded. The unrest has been confined to Budapest so far. Everywhere else, in the cities and the villages, there is calm. The workers from the Csepel factory defended themselves with bare hands against armed bandits.
In Hungary after a decision by the government, an "action group" of five [akcni petka] was set up to suppress the uprising. It consists of Bata, Piros, Kovacs, Emerich, and Zoltan Vas, who in the past spoke out very strongly against the MSP leadership and now is centrally involved in organizing the fight against the bandits.45 The group consists entirely of people who were not elected to the [Hungarian] Politburo.
On the morning of 24 Oct. 1956, Nagy spoke on the radio.46 He called for order, and he signed a decree establishing a military tribunal which is authorized to pass immediate sentence on anyone who puts up resistance. Generally, the bandits are spreading the word that Nagy has betrayed the uprising.
He spoke again later on in a similar vein. He also mentioned that the Hungarian government had asked Soviet troops to enter Budapest.
In his third speech on the radio today, he said that the positive thing the students had begun was being abused by the bandits to foment turmoil and shoot people. He appealed for order and urged people to give up their arms by 1:00 p.m.
A delegation from the CPSU CC Presidium was sent to Hungary this morning; it included Mikoyan, Suslov, and Serov.47
During the meeting of the [Soviet] Presidium, those comrades informed the Presidium by telephone about the situation [in Hungary]. They said that Comrades Mikoyan and Suslov had attended the [Hungarian] Central Committee meeting. The situation, in their view, is not as dire as the Hungarian comrades and the Soviet ambassador have portrayed it. Budapest itself is more or less calm. Resistance is limited to certain rooftops and house balconies, from which the enemy is shooting. The internal security forces respond quite freely to each of their shots, which creates the impression of a battle. One can expect that by morning there will be total calm. The Soviet embassy let itself be encircled and protected by 30 tanks.
Among the Hungarian leadership, both in the party and in the state, there is an absolute unity of views.
There is no doubt that Nagy is acting courageously, emphasizing at every opportunity the identity of his and Gero's views. Gero himself had told the Soviet comrades that protests against his election as 1st secretary were occurring. But Nagy had emphasized and reemphasized that those protesting against him did not include even a single member of the Central Committee. Only certain individuals were behaving that way.
In Budapest roughly 450 people have been arrested. In response to a question from Comrade Ulbricht about whether it is known who is leading the uprising, Comrade Khrushchev said that according to reports the insurgents had set up their headquarters in the Hotel Astoria. This had been captured by Soviet troops. It appears that the groundwork for preparing a coup was organized by writers and was supported by students. The population as a whole has reacted passively to everything, but has not been hostile toward the USSR.
Comrade Khrushchev recommends that we not cover the situation in Hungary in our press until the causes of everything have been well clarified.
The representatives of the fraternal parties who were present joined the discussion. All of them expressed support for the stance of the CPSU CC Presidium.
Comrade Ulbricht emphasized in his speech that in his view the situation had arisen because we did not act in time to expose all the incorrect opinions that had emerged in Poland and Hungary. He assumed that it would behoove each party to give a response in the press to certain incorrect opinions.
Comrade Khrushchev recommended that they think about the problems in greater depth. We must realize that we are not living as we were during the CI [Communist International], when only one party was in power. If we wanted to operate by command today, we would inevitably create chaos. It is necessary to conduct propaganda work in each party, but we cannot permit this to turn into polemics between fraternal parties because this would lead to polemics between nations. The plenum of the CPSU CC in December will discuss ideological questions and, a bit later, the question of how to raise living standards, particularly the faster construction of apartments as one of the basic prerequisites for boosting living standards. The extent to which patience is required can be seen from the recent case in Zaporozhe.48 Here 200 people refused to work because those responsible for guiding the work of the factories, including party functionaries, union leaders, and the top manager, did not do anything to induce the employees to work to the limit. Did they refuse to work because some ideological matters were unclear to them or because they were opposed to the Soviet regime? No, they refused because basic economic and social issues had not been resolved. Ideological work itself will be of no avail if we do not ensure that living standards rise. It is no accident that the unrest occurred in Hungary and Poland and not in Czechoslovakia. This is because the standard of living in Czechoslovakia is incomparably higher. In the USSR more than 10,000 members of the CPSU were rehabilitated and more than a million were released from prison. These people are not angry at us [in Czechoslovakia] because they see we have done a lot to raise the standard of living in our country. In our country they also listen to the BBC and Radio Free Europe. But when they have full stomachs, the listening is not so bad.
It is necessary to improve ideological and propaganda work and to bolster the quality of the work of the party and state apparatus geared toward managing the economy.
24. MSP, SED, BKS, and RDS are the Czech acronyms (as of October 1956) of the Hungarian, Bulgarian, and Romanian Communist parties, respectively. SED is the German acronym for the East German Communist party. It is interesting that Hungarian Communist leaders were invited, even though they did not end up taking part.
25. Svoboda here misspells the name of two of the East German officials: Willi Stoph, writing it as Stopf; and Otto Grotewohl, writing it as Grottewohl. Walter Ulbricht, the third East German official, was then head of the SED; Grotewohl was prime minister; and Stoph was defense minister. The three Bulgarian officials were: the Communist party leader, Todor Zhivkov; the prime minister, Anton Yugov; and the president, Georgi Damyanov.
26. PZPR is the Polish acronym for the Polish United Workers' Party.
27. Gomulka, Jozef Cyrankiewicz, Stefan Jedrychowski, and Edward Ochab were top Polish Communist party officials; the Polish foreign minister at the time was Adam Rapacki, who later became known for the so-called Rapacki Plan for conventional arms control in central Europe. Here, as elsewhere, Svoboda misspells the names of both Jedrychowski and Cyrankiewicz, using a hybrid of Czech and Polish spellings.
28. The reference here is to Konstantin Rokossowski, who attained the rank of Marshal of the USSR in the Soviet Army. As noted in the introduction above, Rokossowski had been installed as defense minister and commander-in-chief in Poland in 1949 while retaining his status as a top Soviet officer. The resentment that many Poles felt toward Rokossowski (and toward other Soviet officers who served in high-level command posts in the Polish army) led to the Soviet marshal's ouster at the 8th PZPR plenum.
29. According to Gomulka's speech on October 24 ("Przemowienie towarzysza Wladyslawa Gomulki," 1), the pull-back of the Soviet forces was to be completed within two days, that is, by the 25th.
30. Trybuna Ludu was the main daily newspaper of the Polish Communist party, and of course Pravda was the main daily of the CPSU.
31. For the text of this speech, see "Przemowienie towarzysza Wladyslawa Gomulki," 1.
32. This is not quite what Gomulka said, though it is not inconsistent. He stated that "the question of whether we need Soviet specialists, and for how long we will need their help, will be for us to decide alone."
33. Actually, what Gomulka said was that the continued presence of Soviet troops on East German territory would be in accord with Poland's vital interests.
34. This statement was a reply by Gomulka to those in Poland and elsewhere who argued--accurately, as new evidence has confirmed--that real command of the Polish army at the time lay with Moscow not with Warsaw.
35. At the time Erno Gero was the first secretary of the Hungarian Communist party, and Andras Hegedus was the Hungarian prime minister.
36. At this point, the report begins misspelling Gero's name as Gore and continues to write it that way through the rest of the document.
37. Uzhgorod is the Ukrainian town along the border with Hungary and Czechoslovakia.
38. Antal Apro was the deputy prime minister; Janos Kadar succeeded Gero a few days later as head of the Hungarian Workers' Party.
39. New names mentioned here include Jozsef Kobol, whose surname is misspelled in two different ways in this report; Sandor Gaspar, who was a close ally of Nagy; Zoltan Szanto, who was a close friend of, and senior official under, Nagy (Szanto fled with Nagy to the Yugoslav embassy in November 1956); Gyorgy Marosan, who was a close friend of Kadar (the two were in prison together) and a Party secretary; Karoly Kiss, who was the head of the Party Control Commission (KSK is the Czech acronym); and Gyula Kallai, who was foreign minister from 1949 to 1951, when he was arrested (and subsequently was in prison with Kadar).
40. The references here are to Geza Losonczy, a leading critic of the Rakosi regime; and Sandor Ronai, a former Social Democratic leader.
41. All those mentioned here had been close allies of Rakosi: Istvan Hidas was deputy prime minister; Bela Szalai was director of central planning; Jozsef Mekis was an economic policy adviser; Istvan Kovacs was the Budapest party secretary; Jozsef Revai was the chief party ideologist; Lajos Acs was a party functionary; Col.-General Istvan Bata was minister of national defense until October 27; and Laszlo Piros was minister of internal affairs. (Piros's surname is misspelled "Byros," and Mekis's is misspelled "Mikes.")
42. The only new name mentioned here is Ferenc Donath, a close friend of Nagy who had been persecuted under Rakosi.
43. The only new names mentioned here are Gyula Egri (misspelled as Egre) and Bela Veg, who had also been a candidate member of the politburo.
44. These casualty figures include only Hungarian troops and security forces; they do not refer to deaths and injuries among the protesters. See Malashenko, "Osobyi korpus v ogne Budapeshta" (Part 1), p. 29.
45. Zoltan Vas (whose name is misspelled as Vess Zolt) was another close ally of Nagy; like Zoltan Szanto, Vas fled with Nagy to the Yugoslav embassy in November 1956.
46. For the text, see "Discours de Imre Nagy du 24 octobre 1956," in La Revolution Hongroise vue par les Partis Communistes de l'Europe de l'Est: Presentation Quotidienne par les Organes Officiels (23 octobre-15 novembre 1956) (Paris: Centre d'Etudes Avancees du College de l'Europe Libre, 1957), 265-266.
47. Unlike Mikoyan and Suslov, Ivan Serov was not a member of the CPSU Presidium. At the time he was the head of the State Security Service (KGB).
48. Zaporozhe is an industrial city on the Dniepr River in southeastern Ukraine.