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"Imre Nagy aka 'Volodya' - A Dent in the Martyr's Halo?" by Johanna Granville

"Imre Nagy aka 'Volodya' - A Dent in the Martyr's Halo?" by Johanna Granville

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Published by szerzo
When Nikita Khrushchev dropped the other shoe with his “Secret Speech” at the Twentieth Party Congress in February 1956, not only did he expose Stalin’s crimes, he also created a public image of himself as a patron of “different paths to socialism” that would later prove hard to uphold. All over Eastern Europe, the “little Stalins”—Mátyás Rákosi in Hungary, Antonín Novotný in Czechoslovakia, Bolesław Bierut in Poland, and their like—watched fearfully, wondering how far de-Stalinization would go. Meanwhile, their opponents, who had criticized Stalinist policies, suddenly rose in popularity and stature.
The Hungarian leader Imre Nagy was one such critic. Having served briefly as Hungary’s prime minister (July 1953-March 1955), Nagy had become famous for his censure of the pace of collectivization, his expertise in agrarian reform, and advocacy of greater production of consumer goods. In Western history texts, Nagy has become a genuine hero and tragic figure. As former KGB chief Vladimir Kryuchkov wrote bitterly, Nagy acquired in death a “martyr’s halo.” A professor of agricultural economy and long-time member of the Hungarian Academy of Science, Nagy, we know, was something of a “bookworm,” an idealist mixed up with ruthless politicians of Mátyás Rákosi’s ilk. And yet, certain puzzles in the history of Nagy’s career have remained. For one thing, Mátyás Rákosi, who was the most powerful man in postwar Hungary, detested
him. Given Rákosi’s hatred of Nagy, why was it not Nagy - rather than László Rajk - who was branded the first Hungarian “Titoist agent” in Stalin’s sanguinary witch-hunt that swept Eastern Europe from 1949 to 1952, and cost the lives of Traicho Kostov (Bulgaria), Rudolf Slansky and Vladimir Clementis (Czechoslovakia), and the freedom of Władysław Gomułka (Poland)? Apparently, someone was protecting him “at the center” (in Moscow). The translated Russian archival documents printed below reveal that Imre Nagy, codename “Volodya,” enlisted with the Soviet secret police on September 4, 1930. According to the secret police report of March 10, 1938 translated below, Nagy was again recruited three years later, on January 17, 1933, by the OGPU's successor, the NKVD. Of Nagy's numerous submissions to the Soviet secret police denouncing his émigré colleagues, at least the handwritten ones should be seen as authentic. The story of how these archival documents - three of which are translated below - initially emerged in late 1988 from the KGB archives has more to do with Soviet and Hungarian party politics amidst the revolutionary upheavals of the late 1980s and early 1990s than with scholarly investigation. Since these materials were selected specifically to discredit Nagy and undermine political trends in Hungary in 1989, scholars should certainly be cautious in evaluating them.
When Nikita Khrushchev dropped the other shoe with his “Secret Speech” at the Twentieth Party Congress in February 1956, not only did he expose Stalin’s crimes, he also created a public image of himself as a patron of “different paths to socialism” that would later prove hard to uphold. All over Eastern Europe, the “little Stalins”—Mátyás Rákosi in Hungary, Antonín Novotný in Czechoslovakia, Bolesław Bierut in Poland, and their like—watched fearfully, wondering how far de-Stalinization would go. Meanwhile, their opponents, who had criticized Stalinist policies, suddenly rose in popularity and stature.
The Hungarian leader Imre Nagy was one such critic. Having served briefly as Hungary’s prime minister (July 1953-March 1955), Nagy had become famous for his censure of the pace of collectivization, his expertise in agrarian reform, and advocacy of greater production of consumer goods. In Western history texts, Nagy has become a genuine hero and tragic figure. As former KGB chief Vladimir Kryuchkov wrote bitterly, Nagy acquired in death a “martyr’s halo.” A professor of agricultural economy and long-time member of the Hungarian Academy of Science, Nagy, we know, was something of a “bookworm,” an idealist mixed up with ruthless politicians of Mátyás Rákosi’s ilk. And yet, certain puzzles in the history of Nagy’s career have remained. For one thing, Mátyás Rákosi, who was the most powerful man in postwar Hungary, detested
him. Given Rákosi’s hatred of Nagy, why was it not Nagy - rather than László Rajk - who was branded the first Hungarian “Titoist agent” in Stalin’s sanguinary witch-hunt that swept Eastern Europe from 1949 to 1952, and cost the lives of Traicho Kostov (Bulgaria), Rudolf Slansky and Vladimir Clementis (Czechoslovakia), and the freedom of Władysław Gomułka (Poland)? Apparently, someone was protecting him “at the center” (in Moscow). The translated Russian archival documents printed below reveal that Imre Nagy, codename “Volodya,” enlisted with the Soviet secret police on September 4, 1930. According to the secret police report of March 10, 1938 translated below, Nagy was again recruited three years later, on January 17, 1933, by the OGPU's successor, the NKVD. Of Nagy's numerous submissions to the Soviet secret police denouncing his émigré colleagues, at least the handwritten ones should be seen as authentic. The story of how these archival documents - three of which are translated below - initially emerged in late 1988 from the KGB archives has more to do with Soviet and Hungarian party politics amidst the revolutionary upheavals of the late 1980s and early 1990s than with scholarly investigation. Since these materials were selected specifically to discredit Nagy and undermine political trends in Hungary in 1989, scholars should certainly be cautious in evaluating them.

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Published by: szerzo on Apr 05, 2009
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 Imre Nagy aka 'Volodya'--A Dent in the Martyr's Halo?
1
 Copyright: Johanna Granville, in
Cold War International History Project Bulletin
, no. 5(Woodrow Wilson Center for International Scholars, Washington, DC), Spring, 1995, pp.28, and 34-37. Also at http://www.wilsoncenter.org/index.cfm?fuseaction=topics.home&topic_id=1409.When Nikita Khrushchev dropped the other shoe with his “Secret Speech” at theTwentieth Party Congress in February 1956, not only did he expose Stalin’s crimes, he alsocreated a public image of himself as a patron of “different paths to socialism” that wouldlater prove hard to uphold.
2
All over Eastern Europe, the “little Stalins”—Mátyás Rákosiin Hungary, Antonín Novotný
 
in Czechoslovakia, Boles
ł
aw Bierut in Poland, and theirlike—watched fearfully, wondering how far de-Stalinization would go.
3
Meanwhile, theiropponents, who had criticized Stalinist policies, suddenly rose in popularity and stature.The Hungarian leader Imre Nagy was one such critic. Having served briefly asHungary’s prime minister (July 1953-March 1955), Nagy had become famous for hiscensure of the pace of collectivization, his expertise in agrarian reform, and advocacy of greater production of consumer goods. These were, of course, the same policies thatKhrushchev advocated, having adopted them from his rival, Georgii Malenkov, after thelatter was safely ousted from the prime ministership. Nagy, author of the 1953 “NewCourse,” was Khrushchev’s political kinsman, the epitome of communist new thinking forhis time.In Western history texts, Nagy has become a genuine hero and tragic figure. As formerKGB chief Vladimir Kryuchkov wrote bitterly, Nagy acquired in death a “martyr’s halo.”A professor of agricultural economy and long-time member of the Hungarian Academy of Science, Nagy, we know, was something of a “bookworm,” an idealist mixed up with
1
 
This is an updated version to reflect new research.
 
2
 
Expression drawn from Adam Ulam,
The Rivals
(NY: Penguin Books, 1971), p. 245.
3
 
The Polish Communist leader Bierut dropped dead, apparently from a heart attack, soonafter Khrushchev’s “Secret Speech.”
 
ruthless politicians of Mátyás Rákosi’s ilk. Although ostensibly a harmless theorist, Nagywas repeatedly the victim of Moscow power plays.
4
In 1955, in connection with the newanti-Malenkov coalition, he lost the prime ministership and was accused of “right-wingdeviationism.” His shining moment came when he led a reformist communist surge topower and regained the prime minister’s post, and still more briefly, after some hesitation,led a popular nationalist revolt against the Soviet Union from October 23 to November 4,1956. On November 4, 1956, Nagy was forced out of power by a massive Sovietintervention, and ultimately, at 5 a.m. on June 16, 1958, after a secret show trial, theHungarian quisling János Kádár (and Khrushchev) had him executed, to show other EastEuropean leaders just how far Moscow would permit liberal reforms in the Soviet bloc togo. Imre Nagy, it was said, despite the political setbacks it would bring him, was alwaysready to speak the truth, to refuse to perform self-criticism (“
samokritika
”). Indeed,Machiavelli’s admonition seemed to address Nagy perfectly: “The man who neglects thereal to study the ideal will learn how to accomplish his ruin, not his salvation. Any manwho tries to be good all the time is bound to come to ruin among the great number who arenot good.”
5
To be sure, Nagy’s refusal to recant did not always bring him ruin—not at first. Itearned him the respect of his people, especially the members of the Pet
ő
fi Circle, aliterary-intellectual group with strong nationalist leanings.
6
As KGB Chairman IvanSerov reported to Moscow from Budapest three months before the Hungarian revolt,
4
 
One Soviet diplomat called Nagy a “malicious muddlehead” (“
 zlonamerennyi putanik 
”). I.Zamchevskii, “About Imre Nagy and his Politics with the Yugoslav Leaders,” ArkhivVneshnei Politiki Rossiiskoi Federatsii (AVP RF) [Archive of Foreign Policy of the RussianFederation], fond [f.] 077, opis' [op.] 37, papka [p.] 191, delo [d.] 39, list [l.] 86. AlsoDaniel F. Calhoun,
 Hungary and Suez, 1956: An Exploration of Who Makes History
(Lanham, MD: University Press of America, 1991), p. 57.
5
 
Niccolo Machiavelli, N. H. Thompson,
The Prince
(New York: Dover Publications, 1992),pp. 39-40.
 
6
The Pet
ő
fi
 
Circle was an organization of Hungarian communist intellectuals founded in1955. Sándor Pet
ő
fi
 
was a revolutionary poet during the 1848 revolt against Austria. (LajosKossuth was the Hungarian revolutionary leader in the 1848 uprising.)
 
“The young people in the Pet
ő
fi Circle say that Pet
ő
fists are also communists, but they
 
don’t want to copy Russian methods....If we Pet
ő
fists are ‘Martovtsists’ [March people](of the 1848 revolution), then Imre Nagy is our new Lajos Kossuth.”
7
Even Rákosi, whowas shipped off to Moscow for “treatment” in July 1956 (he remained in the USSR untilhis death in 1971), acknowledged Nagy’s popularity. Intending to discredit him afterhis own arrest by Soviet forces, Rákosi wrote to the CPSU Politburo: “Nagy at the presenttime is undoubtedly the most popular [figure]. The whole imperialist camp supportshim, as well as the influential Yugoslavs. All the Hungarian anti-socialist forces standbehind him.”
8
And yet, certain puzzles in the history of Nagy’s career have remained. For one thing,Mátyás Rákosi, who was the most powerful man in postwar Hungary, detestedhim. Rákosi was responsible for Nagy’s complete expulsion from the HungarianWorkers’ Party (HWP) in November 1955 - not the Russians (an example of the EastEuropean “tail” wagging the Soviet “dog”).
9
Rákosi - dubbed “Stalin’s best disciple,” andby others the “Bald Murderer” or less reverently “Asshead” - had so effectivelycreated his own cult of personality in Hungary that he could shake his little finger andthat person would be no more.Given Rákosi’s hatred of Nagy, why was it not Nagy - rather than László Rajk - whowas branded the first Hungarian “Titoist agent” in Stalin’s sanguinary witch-hunt thatswept Eastern Europe from 1949 to 1952, and cost the lives of Traicho Kostov (Bulgaria),
7
 
Notes of Ivan Serov, July 26, 1956, Rossiiskii Gosudarstvennyi
 
Arkhiv Noveishei Istorii
(
RGANI
)
[Russian State Archive of Contemporary History], f. 89, per. 45, dok. 4, l. 2.
8
Letter of Rákosi to Khrushchev, December 15, 1956, RGANI, f. 89, op. 2, d. 3, l. 80.
 
9
 
“Expressed opinions at the Hungarian Politburo Session, July 13, 1956,” RGANI, f. 89,per. 45, dok. 3. “There were 13 Hungarian comrades present - Politburo members andcandidate members, as well as comrade Mikoyan A. N. On July 13, 1956 at 3 p.m...heparticipated in the Politburo session, which continued for four hours....About Nagy,Mikoyan said it was a mistake to expel him from the party, even though hedeserved it, given his behavior. If he were in the party, he could be forced to be obedient.
The Hungarian comrades made their work comrades made their work harder onthemselves
....”[emphasis added].

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