Research memorandum

CEPS Maarssen June 2010


The Great Purge of the mid-1930s swept away the older Bolshevik generation, decapitated the Comintern of its old cadres as well. Stalin’s terror gave birth to a generation of convinced Stalinist bureaucrats and police officers that would transform the Soviet Union’s social and cultural structure all together with the ruling Communist Party. Meanwhile, most Polish and Hungarian Communists living in Moscow were murdered. Varga survived the Stalinist purges in which two of his brothers-in-law and a nephew disappeared. Though he was close to Kun, he did not share the latter’s fate. Probably Stalin saw in Varga his servant and very apt author of useful reports commenting on international economic problems. In contrast to Kun, Varga’s role in the ECCI had always been very modest. Though he was a foreigner, he never traveled to Western Europe or established contacts with foreign scientists or journalists. He could have nonetheless been a “spy” at the service of the British or German government. In 1935 he left Hotel Lux where practically most foreign functionaries of the Comintern were living, for a private apartment in Moscow, which indicates that he preferred keeping his fellow Comintern functionaries at a distance. Stalin’s error started after the killing of Sergey Kirov on 1 December 1934, the Politburo approved an emergency decree enabling the conviction and execution of terrorists. Thereupon, passing over his chief Yagoda, Nikolai Ezhov initiated a campaign (Ezhovshchina) against foreign spies as well. Soon he would gain control of the whole People's Commissariat for Internal Affairs (NKVD). On 1 February 1935 the Central Committee appointed Ezhov its secretary. Then, he initiated the prosecution of the former Party opposition after having arrested in the early months of 1935 a large group of the Kremlin staff. Then, Ezhov rounded up more “terrorist groups” all linked to Trotsky, Zinoviev and Kamenev. A verification operation of all party members was carried out to unmask the enemies having crept into the Party. Special attention was paid to foreigners who had infiltrated the CPSU(b) as spies or Trotskyite agents. The verification operation was ended not later than September 1936. Ezhov’s zeal led to the dismissal of his chief Yagoda and his own appointment to People’s Commissar of Internal Affairs. By 1 December 1935 about 177,000 members and candidates had been expelled. Of them 15,218 had been arrested. In August 1936 the first of the Moscow show trials occurred. Confessions, convictions, and executions intensified the vigilance campaign and skewed other actions against traitors. The exact number of Stalin’s victims is not known.1 Arrests occurred in all sectors of society and touched people in high places, their family members, their colleagues and friends. A large number of responsible staff of the Comintern was arrested, including I. A. Pyatnitsky2, Béla Kun and V. G. Knorin. Everybody could be arrested in these years, especially foreigners with a Leftist past. Being politically close to Kun and his faction, Varga must have been affected by Kun’s disgrace and execution in 1936. Varga nonetheless survived, but his wife lost two of her brothers in the purges. Kun’s arrest and death illustrates the way in which Stalin got rid of foreign Communist leaders he distrusted or who were opposing him. Especially the Kun leadership of the Hungarian Communist Party (HCP) had caused problems because of its ideological fractioning and political setbacks in Hungary. An alliance with the SocialDemocratic MSZDP was tried after Jószef Révai had made in mid-1934, a study for the

Known is that the total number of people brought to trial in 1936 was 324,850, in 1937 940,850 and in 1938 641,760. Sentenced to capital punishment in 1936 were 1,120, in 1937 392,380 and in 1938 372,210. Persons arrested by the state security authorities and sentenced to execution amounted to some 5.5 million persons for the period from 1921 to 1953. 2 Pyatnitsky had been Stalin’s man in the Comintern, but in 1937 he rebelled against him, and perished.


ECCI. Even after the Seventh Congress of the Comintern, Kun refused to change his basic attitude to the MSZDP. Béla Kun’s position was considerably weakened because of his indecent behaviour during the Seventh Comintern Congress.3 On 20 November 1935 Otto Kuusinen informed the Hungarian leadership and several parties that they had not aligned their tactics to the guidelines of the Seventh Congress.4 At the January 1936 meeting of the Central Committee’s of the HCP, heated debates compelled Kun to exercise self-criticism. A resolution was passed acknowledging that the party had been dilatory in adopting the new tactics.5 Meanwhile, the situation of the Hungarian Party became subject of heated debates within the ECCI.6 Kun’s methods of leadership were described as sectarian and bureaucratic. Factional struggles and nepotism were all the time dividing the Central Committee. Dimitrov and Manuilsky investigated the case of the HCP. In May 1936, a provisional Secretariat led by Zoltán Szántó7 was formed. The party office in Vienna was closed down. 8 The Hungarian section operating within the Comintern was dissolved. Though Kun was invited to assist the new leadership in its work, his future looked grim now that Stalin was preparing for the first series of great ideological trials with Zinoviev and Kamenev as his main victims. On June 6, 1936, Kun stood as the accused before the International Control Commission of the Comintern. After deposing several charges against Kun on 29 June 1936, the International Control Commission dismissed the Hungarian officials. There was no decision with respect to Kun.9 Finally, a special commission was set up to examine his case. The final conclusions

On 14 December 1935 he reacted in a letter to his Central Committee concerning his ‘failure to adequately apply the Congress line in practice to the situation in Hungary and to the work of the CP of Hungary’ and his behavior at the Congress which had ‘caused doubts within the CI leadership as to whether the proper attitude of the CC HCP toward the new Comintern leadership has been guaranteed’. Letter signed by Kun, RGASPI, f. 495, op. 18, d. 1038, ll. 241-243, translated from German into Russian. 4 On 21-25 December 1935 a plenary meeting of the CC CPSU(b) had passed a resolution that the enemies, including the agents of foreign intelligence services had managed to infiltrate the CPSU(b) ranks disguised as members of fraternal parties. Verification of party documents and measures against agents of the class enemy were decided. RGASPI, f. 495, op. 18, d. 1071, l. 64. 5 Meanwhile Kun had spent most of the time at the Kremlin hospital were he was treated by his friend László Pollacsek for his diabetes (Borsányi 1993: 416-7). 6 Participated in the discussions: Dimitrov, Togliatti, Kuusinen, Kun, Komor, Nemes, Zoltán Szántó, Révai (Borsányi 1993: 418). 7 Zoltán Szántó (alias János Szalai, or “Elek”), born in 1893. In 1919 he was deputy head of the Political Department of the Hungarian Red Army Main Command. Later he headed the secret apparatus of the CPH’s Foreign Bureau. In 1935-36 and 1938-39 he was CPH representative in the Comintern. In 1945 he left for Hungary. [RGASPI f. 45, op. 74, d. 101,ll. 38-42, copy in Russian in type script, translated from German, signed by Z. Szántó on 29.6.1936.] 8 A provisional secretariat was settled in Prague with as leading figure Zoltán Szántó. The economist István Friss, the stonecutter Lajos Papp, and the locksmith Ferenc Bozsóki assisted him. In 1937 Révai arrived in Prague where he would emerge as the great party ideologue applying the new tactic. 9 For eight months, Kun had been promised a job, but these promises had not been fulfilled. ‘It was Manuilsky who took a particularly unjust position towards him. He badgered him, but when he saw him (Kun) after his illness, he smothered him with kisses’. Kun went to Stalin who received him in presence of Molotov, Mikoyan and Andreev. Stalin sent him to Ezhov in order to solve this problem. Kun: ‘I said, that it was when I did not stand up when Manuilsky appeared [on the podium at the Comintern Congress] and did not applaud him. This caused a great laughter, but I added that later this accusation was directed against only one other CPH member’. On this his not standing up, see Franz Grosz (Iohann Nagy, Gusti) (1893-1937), a lawyer, member of the Hungarian Social-Democratic Party in 1912, Communist in 1918, in 1923 emigration to the Soviet Union, and member of the CPSU(b), between 1931 and 1936 secretary of the CC CPH, member pf the foreign committee, Hungarian delegate to the ECCI and delegate at the Sixth and Seventh Comintern Congress. In June 1936 expulsed pf the CC CPH by ECCI after ECCI had discussed on 27 May 1936 his attitude at the 7de Comintern Congress. Grosz allegedly expressed his hostility by failing to stand up when the audience gave standing ovations to Dimitrov and Manuilsky, who had been elected to the ECCI’s Presidium. Grosz explained his action by the fact that the Hungarian delegation was denied the right to nominate Bela Kun to be a member of the ECCI


of the commission were that Kun had tolerated the contamination of the Party by provocateurs. Another example was his intervention at the party meeting regarding the expulsion of Lajos Magyar from the Party.10 Along with other members, he had contributed to the sabotage of the new line of the Seventh Congress of the Comintern. He had continued his own sectarian line and fomented antagonisms within the Central Committee. Therefore Kun’s participation in the work of the Communist Party of Hungary would be stopped (Borsányi 1993: 424-5). At that time the Moscow-based HCP had already been purged of all so-called Zinoviev people, among them Varga’s youth friend Lajos Magyar.11 Magyar had been identified as a go-between between the followers of Zinoviev and Kamenev and the Versöhnler faction in the KPD (Unfried 2002: 167). Magyar was arrested on 29 December 1934 after the murder of Kirov. In 1936, as the purge gathered momentum, more Hungarian Communists began to disappear. Most of them were arrested in 1937 and 1938. Many prominent names can be mentioned: Kun, Ede Chlepko, Resző Fiedler, Ferenc Jancsik, Ernő Pór, József Rabinovics, Béla Vágó, Ferenc Bajáki, István Biermann, Desző Bokányi, Jenő Hamburger, József Haubrich, Frigyes Karikás, Gyula Lengyel, József Madszar, István Vági, Ferenc Huszti (alias Grosz), Imre Komor, etc. At least sixteen former Central Committee members were among the victims of Stalin’s purges. Others were very lucky when surviving. Such a lucky survivor was “proletarian writer” Andor Gábor who in early 1937 had published a volume of short stories about underground work in Germany. Herbert Wehner (Kurt Funk), who was at that moment also under investigation of the NKVD,12 read this volume of short stories and objected in a review article to inaccuracies of Gábor’s portrayal of illegal party work in Germany (Meyer 2006: 74-5). Walter Ulbricht initiated a disciplinary action against Gábor who was at that time staying at Hotel Lux. 13 Then Ulbricht called for a discussion about the activities of all the Hungarian writer-comrades. Varga had got wind of this affair and contacted Dimitrov with a note in favor of Gábor’s case.14 Dimitrov succeeded in stopping the investigation process.15 Victims of the purges believed that everybody could be a traitor. According to Solovev (quoted in Hedeler 2003: 23), Varga and Voytinski had been so afraid because of the treatment inflicted on the suspected persons by the NKVD that they had tried to blame everything on him. People with a foreign passport were better off, but only at the condition that their fatherland was willing to protect them against Stalin’s wrath. Ervin Sinkó had kept his French passport; in 1937 he was allowed to leave. The reality of oppression in the Soviet
Presidium. In October 1937, the ECCI reviewed Grosz’s case. The ECCI decided to expel him form the party as an enemy of the people. On 10 December 1937, the Military Board of the Supreme Court of the USSR sentenced him to be shot. 10 Lajos Magyar was close to Pyatnitsky and Zinoviev (Müller 2001: 130). 11 Lajos Magyar [Milgdorf] had married Alice Abramovitz (1901-71). The latter was a Versöhnler having stayed in the camps until 1955. Magyar was called a ‘double-dealer Magyar and his accomplice in the anti-party activities, Abramovich even before their role in the bandit Zinovevite group became quite obvious’. RGASPI, f. 456, op. 1, d. 274, ll. 117-121. 12 Varga played a role in this investigation carried out by the leading organs of the Comintern. Together with Dimitrov, Togliatti, Moskvin, Manuilsky, Kuusinen, Pieck, Florin, Losovski and Page Arnot he participated in an ECCI discussion on 7-11 February 1937 on the “German question” and Trotskyite propaganda (Müller 2001: 147-53). 13 According to Gyula Háy, Wehner left for illegal activities in Germany. Háy’s story is mixed up with fantasy. In 1937, Wehner stayed in Belgium and Holland. In the beginning of 1938, he returned to Moscow (Frederik 1969: 126-7; Meyer 2006: 66-80; Müller 2001). 14 Gyula Háy pretends that Walter Ulbricht had been denunciator (Frederik 1977: 233). 15 Shortly after this affair was closed, Andor Gábor started a revenge action against Bredel. Differences between the leadership of the German Section and the Deutsche Zentral-Zeitung arose. This would culminate in an NKVD raid on the paper (Pike 1982: 141).


Union came to home to Hungarians in Western Europe as well. In England, Mihály (Michael) Polányi heard that his niece Eva Striker [Stricker]16 had been arrested in May 1936, on false charges of secretly introducing German swastikas in her ceramic designs and owning two pistols for the purpose of assassinating Stalin. She was kept in prison for sixteen months (Szapor 2005: 82). Eva Striker [Stricker] was released in September 1937 and put on a train to Poland.17 The fate of Kun is interesting because he was still considered as one of the leading outlawed Comintern functionaries in exile for having been the exponent of the Hungarian Council’s Republic. In the western media he enjoyed some notoriety; journalist eagerly begged his commentary on world politics. For Stalin this could have been a good reason to liquidate him without organizing any show trial or public case. Kun’s liquidation followed on his former downfall as Comintern official and HCP leader. He was removed from the Comintern leadership at a meeting of the ECCI on 5 September 1936, a Saturday morning. Barred from the Hungarian Party, the unemployed, Kun was looking for a new function. Meanwhile Kun could not completely be ignored. Incapable to express himself he started writing an essay on Petőfi. Finally, he was put in charge of the Social and Economic Publishing House. In the mean time, many of Kun’s friends had been arrested or disappeared ‘regardless of which faction they belonged’ (Borsanyi. 1993: 432). Among them was Dr. József Madszar, physician and brother in law of Oszkár Jászi; or Dezső Bokányi and the construction worker István Vági who were both considered as spies. One day in early June 1937, Kun told his wife about a chance encounter with Varga. To the greeting “How are you?” Varga had replied apprehensively: “For the moment, free”. Kun commented: “To think that even an intelligent man like Varga can say stupid things!” (quoted in Kovrig 1979: 128; Kun Bélané 1969: 419). According to Mrs. Kun, her husband still received telephone calls from Stalin. But on the night of 29 June 1937, they came to arrest him. Documents of the investigation led by the NKVD ascertain that Béla Kun was not allowed to sleep and forced to stand on one leg at the night in the office of the investigator. On July 2, 1937 he would give the necessary testimony and confirmed everything the NKVD wanted.18 Kun confirmed that the basic tasks of the counterrevolutionary organization in the Comintern were the creation of an extended anti-Comintern underground in communist parties and undermining of the line of the Central Committee. The arrested Comintern personnel, however, gave the most contradictory testimonies. They admitted their guilt and testified that they had been recruited by the German or British intelligence services. Kun said that he had


Daughter of Laura Polányi (1882-1959), Eva Striker was trained as a painter at the Academy of Fine Arts in Budapest. She was influenced by the Bauhaus. She became arts director at the Dulvo Porcelain Factory near to Moscow. Her brother, Misi, was in charge of the Patent Department of the Invention Office in Moscow headed by Gyula Hevesi. About Laura (“Mausi”) Polányi’s life see Fermi (1971: 11 and Szapor (2005). 17 Her brother, Misi, his wife Hilde, and their mother, “Mausi”, left the Soviet Union a month later. But her husband, Alex Weißberg, having been arrested in Kharkov where he worked as a foreign expert, remained in prison. In 1939, he was sent back to Germany. There, the Gestapo imprisoned him. He could escape to Sweden before the Nazi’s invaded the Soviet Union (Scott and Moleski 2005: 163; Gulick s.d.; Striker 1999; Szapor 1997, 2005: 83-5). 18 His wife and his son-in-law, the writer Antal Hidas, were also arrested and deported but they survived


created a Trotskyist organization inside of the Comintern led by Knorin and Pyatnitsky. 19 On 29 August 1937 he was judged and shot on the same day.20 However, the very reason for Kun’s sudden disappearance is still a mystery. At the time of Kun’s rehabilitation in 1956 the date of his death was indicated as November 30, 1939. In 1989, the Soviet Embassy in Budapest, however, communicated that he was executed on August 29, 1938. But no documents were exhibited to confirm this communication. Varga’s role in the Kun affair is not yet completely elucidated. Why did he communicate in Pravda of 21 February 1956, on Kun’s fate?21 Varga wrote that Kun was a ‘born revolutionary well versed in Marxist teaching, he had no linking for (…) reformist policy…’. That Kun was a ‘born revolutionary’ is true. That he was well versed in Marxist teaching was less evident. People having met him could ascertain that Kun liked reading novels; he spoke different languages, including French and Italian; he liked to talk about many subjects with foreign guests. Kun’s rehabilitation was, however, halfhearted. Varga remembered that in 1955 Hungary had surpassed the prewar level of industrial production by three and one-half times which referred to Rákosi’s recent economic “successes” making of Hungary a ‘developed industrial state’! Varga ended his article with the line that the ‘bright memory’ of Béla Kun will always ‘be preserved in the hearts of the Hungarian people, in the minds of Communist fighters in all countries.’ In general, Kun was not very popular among Hungarian fellow Communists. Fogarasi called him a ‘morally negative person’ and a revolutionary uniting ‘many defects’ in his person, such as (…) ambition, striving for power, vanity, fame addiction (...). From then on the complete principleness (sic) is only a small step’ (Fogarasi 1988: 225-6). About Varga’s role in the Kun affaire some rumors – but not more than that – circulated in Moscow. First of all, Kun and Varga were not close friends. Varga must have disliked Kun’s arrogance. Second, Kun was in charge of the Balkan Bureau of the Comintern where he had caused some incidents and people like Béla Vágó and August Kreichi belonging to Kun’s narrow circle had slandered that there existed a counterrevolutionary organization led by Varga.22 Had Varga been present when Kun was sentenced to death on August 29, 1937? After the Second World War, Borys Lewytzkyj referred to Varga’s presence at the trial, but without giving any evidence (Lewytzkyj 1967: 137). From documents exhumed later, Kun had been brought to trial before the Comintern Executive Committee composed of Dimitrov, Pieck, Togliatti and Varga. These four persons must have been his judges. But that Varga had delivered Kun a stab in the back by alleging that in 1919 Kun had undermined the Councils’ Republic, should have been an invention (Kovrig 1979: 128). Like most of his colleagues, Varga had been subject of inquiries by the NKVD. These difficulties were certainly due to the many contacts he had with Stalin’s enemies in the 1920s and early 1930s. Bukharin, Karl Radek and Henryk Walecki23 had been among his regular visitors at his dinner table.24 In addition, as a foreigner he always could be identified as an

He also named other Comintern members of this counterrevolutionary organization: Hugo Eberlein, Andrey Karolsky, Robert Krebs, Günther Reimann, Shin Shvab (Sepp Schwab?), Richard Mehring, Harry Pollitt, Pavel Mif, and others. Accused were also Lajos Magyar, Jakov Abramov-Mirov, Bortnovsky-Bronkovsky (Starkov 1994: 1297-316). 20 Not on 30 November 1939, as said at the moment of his rehabilitation in 1956 (Borsányi 1993: 435). 21 According to Béla Fogarasi, Kun’s rehabilitation had been decided by Rákosi in order to save himself: ‘Der Versuch einer nachträglichen Glorifizierung des Béla Kun von 1919 von Seiten Rákosis war ein historisch kostümiertre Versuch sich selbst zu rechtfertigen’ (Fogarasi 1988: 227). 22 Testimony by Karl F. Kurshner, 22 January 1941, RGASPI, f. 495, op. 73, d. 107, ll. 37-40. Original in Russian. Typewritten (translation in Chase 2001: 401-3). 23 Real name: Maximilian Horwitz; he translated into French Varga’s writings.


enemy of the people or a spy after his two brothers-in-law, Arnold25 and Willi26 Grün, who were living and working in Moscow, had been arrested and executed. Varga knew many people who had been arrested. Among them was Ernő Seidler.27 Varga’s intimate friend Gyula Hevesi,28 who was also close to Eva Striker [Stricker], was arrested in 1938, but survived the camps and returned to Hungary in 1945. Béla Szántó was expelled from the party in December 1937 and arrested on 24 February 1938. Until December 1937, he had been employed as a Director at the Heavy Industry’s Scientific Library. He was released on 29 April 1940 as a result of the closing of his case. He was readmitted to the CPSU(b).29 In a letter from K. F. Kurshner to Dimitrov it appears that the NKVD of the Moscow region had made a file, case number 1444, on Varga. In March 1935, Ezhov summoned Varga, who employed many foreigners in his institute, to unmask anti-party elements and enemies of the people. In September 1935 he asked Varga to disclose the counterrevolutionary underground filled with foreign agents. Therefore he demanded information about each staff member. But Varga was very reluctant to cooperate in that matter (Jansen and Petrov 2002: 38). In Ezhov’s opinion, Varga had underestimated the counter-revolutionary danger in his institute where many foreigners were employed. Varga was instructed to produce at once the mandatory references as well as a special list of those who had been in close contact with Zinoviev, Kamenev, Radek, Bukharin, and others. When Varga failed to comply, Stalin personally interfered, explaining that Varga insufficiently understood the complexity of the political situation and that he was completely trustworthy.30 Only in March 1940 the decision followed that Varga’s membership of a counter-revolutionary organization was a myth. Varga’s difficulties may have been caused by the activities of ‘Agent Volodya’, Imre Nagy’s alias. Nagy31 served as an NKVD agent through the whole 1930s. ‘Volodya’ was a very active and ‘qualified agent’ showing great ‘initiative’ and ‘an ability to approach people’. He provided 38 names of Hungarian Communists for recruitment. Historian Johanna Granville

His wife was a good cook which facilitated contacts with Bukharin. Interview with Mária Varga, Moscow, November 2000. 25 Arnold Grün who had some artistic leanings as poet, painter and illustrator, was working in a railroad factory in Moscow. He was executed in 1937. 26 Willi Grün was known as Willi Fenyő. In Moscow he worked for the firm Exportkhleb. He was executed in 1937. 27 Seidler was married to Stella Münch. He was a teacher of German language at the Lenin School in Moscow. The Seidler’s were acquainted with the Varga’s. Stella went later back to Hungary. There she belonged to a circle of old Moscow friends knowing the Varga’s very well. Among them were Dr. András Havas, Ferenc and Rózsi Lóránd, Gyula and Gezi Lengyel, Goda and Olga Gábor, Gyula and Jolán Hevesi, and Jolán (Ilona) Szilágyi who was Tibor Szamuely’s widow. Jolán Szilágyi (1895-1971) was an artist making posters during the Councils Republic and later cartoons for Krokodil and the Moscow-based Hungarian journal Sarló és Kalapács. She had been a member of the Galilei Kör in Budapest. After the fall of the Councils Republic she migrated to Vienna and later to Berlin where she joined the KPD (1923-33). After Hitler’s take-over she fled to Moscow. Party Archives, Budapest, Varga files, 783.f.22.ő.e.; Open Society Archives, Budapest, file Szilágyi Jolán/Szamuely Tiborné. 28 At that time, Hevesi was working for the Soviet film industry. Szapor, 2005, p. 88. In Moscow he had been living at Hotel Lux. In his memoirs, however, he pretends having been employed during the NEP period by Siemens (Hevesi 1959: 357-64). 29 Still jobless, he was denied sick benefits. He asked for material support at the ECCI’s Cadres Department and the authorization to go to a sanatorium. Letter from Bála Szántó to the deputy head of the ECCI’s Cadres Department Belov, requesting material support, 9 June 1940. RGASPI, f. 495, op. 199, d. 184 (II), l. 93. 30 In September 1935, Varga was ‘extensively trusting’. Ezhov added: “And because of that the enemy wins” (quoted in Jansen and Petrov 2002: 82-3). 31 After his arrival at Moscow in 1930, Nagy was employed at the Institute of Agricultural Sciences under the Bulgarian Kolarov. At that time Nagy was a secondary functionary publishing in Sarló és Kalapács (1929-37) (Sickle and Hammer), Agrárproblémák (Agrarian problems), and Új Hang (1938-41) (New Voice) (see Molnár 1979: 201-44). He lived with his family in a room at Frunze Square (Molnár 1989: 172-73).


reported later that ‘of the total number of people upon whom Nagy is reported to have informed, fifteen were ‘liquidated’ (shot) or died in prison, according to KGB archivists’ calculations’ (Granville 2002: 672). This affair was sketched in a note of KGB Chief Kryuchkov32 also published in Rodina (Fatherland).33 Nagy was arrested on 10 March 1938,34 but four days later released because of an “administrative fault” committed by the NKVD. He already had helped arresting at his Agrarian Institute several traitors, he reported on a plot laid by a group ‘Incorrigibles’ constituted by Sári Mánuel, V. Baros, Lajos Magyar, Tegdas and [Pál] Krammer [Kéri]. Another group called the ‘Restorers’ was formed with E. Varga, F. I. Gábor, K. Slosser,35 Elek Bolgár,36 S. E. Varga, Gerel, and G. Lukács. The documents refer to a brief arrest (maybe an interrogation) of Varga.37 Purges at different levels of Soviet society and institutions were accompanied by a stricter political and security control by the NKVD and the Central Committee. The workings of the scientific institutes were closely observed. On 6 January 1938 Molotov ordered geographer and botanist Vladimir A. Komarov (president of the Academy of Sciences of the USSR) to obtain the research results the country needed. Deborin and Varga were ordered to call for a general meeting where this problem should be discussed as well (Hedeler 2003: 350). Obviously, Varga trusted on Stalin’s protection and esteem. He was nonetheless upset that many of his compatriots had been arrested and that members of his institute had disappeared in jail or the GULAG. Some had belonged to the opposition in the 1920s. Dalin was arrested and disappeared to the Norilsk zinc mines of Yakutia. He was liberated in 1956. Pavel Lapinski was arrested in 1938. Milgram, M. Yuelson and Gertsenshteyn were victims of Ezhov’s policy. Esfi Gurvich was arrested as well. The same happened to E. L. Khmelnitskaya who was a close collaborator to Varga and professor at the Frunze Academy of the Red Army, but after an intervention of her husband L. Leontiev she was liberated (Duda 1994: 134). It seems that the Asian specialists at the China Institute38 of the Comintern had been the principal victims of Stalin’s repression policy. Many of them disappeared. Among them were Pavel Mif, Kantorovich, Abramson, Astafiev, Iolk, Safarov, Breman and Dalin. Only Dalin (1956) and Astafiev (1941) reintegrated the Academic world. Historian Gerhard Duda pretends that about one-tenth of Varga’s personnel had been arrested, which explains why his institute was unable to fulfill its plan for 1937. One of the rare persons publicly opposing the ‘pogrom atmosphere against foreign comrades’ was Varga. At a meeting of the partkom of his institute on 28 September 1937 he stated: ‘The

Granville (2002) refers to the KGB Chief Kriuchkov’s Report of 16 June 1989 to Gorbachev and also to other documents available at the RGANI (f. 89, per. 45, dok. 80, 2). 33 ‘Neyizvestnye fakty iz biografye Imre Nadja’, Rodina, 1993, no. 2, pp. 55-57. 34 ‘I report that on the night of the 4-5th of March of 1938 the agent of the second division “Volodya” Nagy, Vladimir Iosifovich (Hungarian Communist Party) (Imre Nagy) was arrested by the 11th Dept of the UNKVD of the Moscow region. “Volodya” was recruited on 17 January 1933 and during all that time gave valuable material about the anti-Soviet activities of a number of people from the Hungarian political émigré community. Recently “Volodya” actively cultivated the fundamental objective of the intelligence case “The Incorrigibles” including: BAROS V., MANUEL S., MADZSAR, TEGDAS, and a number of others. Volodya was recruited without a preliminary check in the 8th department of the GUGB, and remained under arrest for 4 days. When we asked on what grounds was “Volodya” arrested, they freed him on 8 March of this year. I report this information by your orders’. Report signed by Altman, 10 March 1938. TsKhSD, f. 89, per 45, dok 80, 2. 35 Kurt Schlosser was Bertha Grün’s son, thus a nephew of Varga’s wife. 36 Elek Bolgar (1883-1955) was a sociologist and economist. Born in Kosice (Kassa). 37 Reports on agent “Volodya”, Documents provided and translated by Johanna Granville KGB Chief Kryuchkov’s Report, 16 June 1989, Chairman of the KGB V. Kryuchkov. Source: TsKhSD, f. 89, per. 45, dok. 82. 38 Together with Pavel Mif, Karl Radek, Voytinsky and J. Breman, Varga had become member of the editorial board of Tikhy Okean (1934-38) (Duda 1994: 134).


fact alone, not in the Soviet Union to be born, cannot be a reason referred to by the institute’ (quoted in Studer and Unfried 2001: 83). On 7 October 1937 Varga wrote a letter to Stalin complaining that many good and honest foreign colleagues – because they were foreigners – and Soviet citizens working in enterprises and institutes had been dismissed.3940 On 28 March 1938, Varga wrote another letter to Stalin with a copy to Dimitrov and Ezhov in which he at length complained about arrests among cadres of illegal parties in the Fascist countries (Probleme des Friedens und des Sozialismus 1989: 999-1001; Duda 1994: 137; McDermott and Agnew: 1997: 244-6). He told Stalin that ‘foreigners are indiscriminately viewed as spies; foreign children in school are cursed as Fascists, etc’.. He attributed these facts to remnants of the past and capitalist encirclement. But arrest of innocent people led to ‘demoralization’ of the cadres of the Communist Parties of fascist countries. He noted that demoralization gripped the majority of Comintern workers and extended up to specific members of the ECCI Secretariat. Varga thought that many NKVD workers were ill informed about the ‘history of fraternal parties’ and that false denunciations had led to the arrest of ‘honest revolutionaries from outlawed parties’. Confronted with increasing numbers of arrests, foreigners did not know whom to trust or what to believe in. For them, fear of arrest was constant. ‘Each evening many foreigners gathered their things in anticipation of possible arrest’ (Chase 2002: 298-300). In this letter of a ‘true Bolshevik’ Varga is not asking for a specific favor or intervention. Stalin is informed that xenophobia is developing in Soviet society as a result of the ongoing repression against foreigners. This letter is written in the submissive style Varga used in his correspondence with Stalin. Varga operates as Stalin’s confidant who is anxious about the iniquities he all the time is confronted with and which are detrimental to the cause of the Comintern. In the second part of his letter Varga enumerates some appropriate measures enabling the NKVD to unmask the traitors and enemies more efficiently! At any rate, this letter reveals a faithful party worker whose main concern is to assure the survival of the Soviet Union. It was well known in those days that every German exile could be an agent of the Gestapo. Having contacts with foreigners, even if they had obtained Soviet citizenship and Bolshevik party membership, could be dangerous. On 26 March 1938, a Hungarian exile told Varga that the ‘best part of the Hungarian emigration had been arrested. The reason why is unknown, but is typical that I heard from the Russians that “all foreigners had been arrested”‘ (quoted in Studer and Unfried 2001: 83). However, the HCP never would recover from the Great Purge conducted by Ezhov. After Kun’s execution Party life came to a standstill. The crisis was so deep that party journal Sarló és Kalapács disappeared Új Hang,41 a journal specializing in harmless philosophical and literary subjects replaced it in January 1938. Its egular contributors were Gyula Háy, Ernst Fischer, Imre Nagy, Béla Fogarasi, Lajos Péteri and Gyula Alpári. Poems of György Faludi and Attila József added to the journal’s literary prestige. Új Hang remained a rather glossy42 journal publishing short stories on history and literature, with Varga’s review of Sándor Gergely’s history book43 or his historical essay on
39 40 41

Varga’s letter (quoted in Dehl et al. 2000: 61. Source: TsKhSD: Fond 495, Per 73, Dok. 60, p. 9).

The first editorial board was formed by Sándor Barta, Béla Balázs, György Bölöni, Zoltán Fábry, Imre Forbáth, Andor Gábor, Sándor Gergely, György Lukács, József Madszar (he was Oszkár Jászi’s brother-in-law) and László Vass. 42 Obviously, Új Hang had the function of uniting the Hungarians in the Soviet Union by printing accounts written by well-known Hungarian émigrés on their home country or on general scientific subjects. Dr. Andor Havas wrote on medical experiments (Új Hang, 1941, vol. 4, no. 2, pp. 84-92). 43 Book is treating events in 1514 Hungary. Új Hang, 1940, vol. 4, nos 5-6, pp. 18-23; historian Erzsébet Andics wrote on social democracy in Hungary (Új Hang, 1943, vol. 7, no. 3) and Varga treated agrarian problems in his


the 8-hour day.44 Sometimes Varga contributed on problems of international politics as well.45 At the outbreak of the Second World War, Varga specialized in problems of economic warfare and German dependency on imports of raw materials and oil from the Balkans. 46 He gave an interview on the Soviet-Finnish war47 and the Bessarabian question48 or commented on the occupation by the Red Army of Bessarabia.49 Varga’s role in Hungarian party life remained rather insignificant. He did not even comment on Rákosi’s release from Horthy’s jails. That was Ernő Gerö task after having acquired Kun’s position.50 Conclusions Several reasons may have played a role in Varga’s physical survival during the Great Terror. First of all, Varga was not a typical “politician” participating in party fighting. Second, he did not participate actively in Russian party life. He sided with the faction in power without becoming openly a Stalinist agent or a spy. Third, Varga tried to keep in touch with Stalin during the whole period of intense repression. Fourth, Varga adhered to Dimitrov’s Popular Front tactic only after a period of hesitations, but he never opposed changing tactics. Varga stayed loyal to Stalin and never became a frontrunner in any political or factional campaign. Though his Institute of World Economy and World Politics had lost some of its most valuable collaborators during the Great Terror, no campaign was launched to have him dismissed or imprisoned. Stalin must have hold Varga in a very high esteem too. In December 1938, he trusted on Varga for supervising the German translation of his History of the All-Union Communist Party (Bolsheviks) - Short Course (Brandenberger 1999).

home country in that issue. 44 Új Hang, 1940, vol. 4, no. 10, pp. 106-109. 45 On the Anschluß (1938, vol. 1, no. 3, pp. 65-72), on the October revolution and Hungary (1939, vol. 2, no. 3, pp. 5-9), on the fall of the Habsburg dynasty (1939, vol. 2, no. 3, pp. 5-9), on Hitler, Flandin, Schußnigg, social democracy, Austria, and Slowakia (1939, vol. 2, no. 4, pp. 19-22). Varga wrote an “in memoriam” on his comrade in arms Sándor Varjas in 1939, vol. 2, no. 11, pp. 11-12. In this period, Varga combined historical contributions (the war on the Balkans in 1914 and the Berlin-Bagdad Railroad (1939, vol. 2, no. 8, pp. 10-20) with articles on actual political events such as Molotov’s speech of 31 August 1939 on the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact (1939, vol. 2, no. 10, pp. 98-105). 46 Varga, ‘A gazdasági háboru’, in Új Hang, 1940, vol. 2, no. 4, pp. 60-65. 47 Varga paid much attention to the military situation in Kola and the city of Kirov. Új Hang, 1940, vol. 3, no. 2, pp. 84-85. 48 Varga, ‘A husszéves roman uralom eredményei Bessarábiában’, Új Hang, 1940, vol. 3, no. 9, pp. 56-65. 49 Új Hang, 1940, vol. 3, no. 9, pp. 56-65. 50 Új Hang, 1940, vol. 3, no. 12, pp. 3-7.


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