The first Secretary General of the U.N. at its founding conference in San Francisco, June 26, 1945, was Soviet espionage agent Alger Hiss. His appointment had been approved by Stalin at the Yalta Conference. Hiss had served as "international organization specialist." Many Communists were among the American delegation. They drew excellent salaries from the U.S. taxpayers.
Harry Dexter White was the assistant Secretary of the Treasury. Laughlin Currie was the Special Assistant to President Franklin Roosevelt. Lawrence Duggan, Noel Field, Harold Glasser, Irving Kaplan, Nathan Gregory Silvermaster, Victor Perlo, and Julian Wadleigh were pro-Communist operatives who played major roles in planning the U.N. structure, along with Solomon Adler, Frank Coe, Abraham G. Silverman, William H. Taylor, William L. Ullman, John Carter Vincent and David Weintraub.
It was agreed that the Undersecretary-General for Political and Security Council Affairs, with direct control over military operations, would always be a Soviet. The U.N. was virtually overrun by Communists, according to Senator James O. Eastland's testimony to a Senate Committee in 1952
"I am appalled at the extensive evidence indicating that there is today in the U.N. among the American employees there, the greatest concentration of Communists that this committee has ever encountered," Senator Eastwood told the committee. "These people occupy high positions. They have very high salaries and almost all of these people have, in the past, been employees in the U.S. government in high and sensitive positions."
The U.N. has been described as a "Trojan horse" for Left wing ideology. In 1915, Lenin proposed a "United States of the World". In 1936, the Communist International proclaimed:
"Dictatorship can be established only by a victory of socialism in different countries after which the proletariat Republics would unite on federal lines with those already in existence, and this system of federal unions would expand...at length forming the World Union of Soviet Socialist Republics."
The 1950 conviction of Hiss is a seminal event in American history. The fact that it occurred in the middle year of the century is symbolic. It served to divide the U.S. in a way that few events, if any, ever had. In some ways, the Hiss case was more divisive even than the Vietnam War. In fact the divisions in Vietnam can be traced to Hiss. Hiss and Nixon are inexorably linked. Nixon and Vietnam are, too. The entire nature of anti-war protest and media manipulation during Vietnam intensified upon Nixon's ascendancy to the White House. The prosecution of Vietnam by a Republican, in particular by Nixon, made the issue unbearable for the American Left. It all starts with Hiss.
The Hiss case changed everything. It preceded the Rosenberg executions and gave impetus to McCarthyism. McCarthyism, in turn, created the greatest backlash this nation has ever experienced. The backlash was so vitriolic because it had to be, in order to paper over the fact that McCarthy, for all his faults, was right. In disproving McCarthy, the biggest albatross around liberalism's neck is Hiss. To further infuriate the Left, the specter of Nixon never went away. The Left was forced to grind its teeth and watch "Tricky Dick" ascend to the Vice-Presidency, alongside the greatest hero of the century, if not since the birth of Christ - Eisenhower. Just when they thought they were rid of him after the Kennedy election and his "last press conference," Nixon reemerged, won an election after Bobby Kennedy was assassinated, and then to their horror was put in charge of an anti-Communist crusade. The Left had done extraordinary work in discrediting McCarthy and seemed to have succeeded in this effort. In so doing, they put themselves between a rock and a hard place, which was to conclude the fiction that the Communism Nixon and McCarthy opposed was not so bad, after all. LBJ could be excused as an overzealous Texan, but Nixon threatened to explode all their myths. Therefore, it became imperative to discredit Vietnam. Between Hollywood and the press in the 1960s and '70s, they came pretty close. Again, their greatest enemy is the simple, inexorable availability, and ability, of Truth to rise above all lies in America. This is precisely what is happening as you read these words.
Alger Hiss was the Establishment Man from Harvard Law School and the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. He had the looks and erudition of Kennedy, wore perfectly tailored suits. His resume was backed by testimony from a "Who's Who of American Government".
His social class heard Jekyll-and-Hyde stories of a double persona of underground treachery. It seemed impossible to believe.
"If Alger could be a Communist, anyone could be," was a typical reaction. As the Kim Philby case and Venona proved, almost anyone could be. Unless they were Republican.
Res ipsa loquiter.
The Communists particularly went after people like Hiss precisely because they offered the perfect elegant image. It was in this elegance that the peculiar nature of guilt was found to be an exploitable personality flaw. There are different kinds of guilt. In the West, there is Jewish guilt, Christian guilt, white guilt and American guilt. Together, any one of these hybrids of guilt was benign, and even good. Judeo-Christian guilt, for instance, is one of the foundations of morality and conscience. It manifests itself in different ways. Men refrain from insulting their mothers or cheating on their wives. White guilt is the foundation for racial equality, operating as the voice in the back of men's minds telling them to treat black people as brothers, because racism is a sin. American guilt has its purpose, too. It provides the political framework that tells our politicians to use U.S. power to do good in the world, and not as a conquering force.
But combined together, all these guilts could be twisted and turned into something terrible. The right Communist handler could twist it into an argument that the Americans were too fortunate, their history tinged more by luck than accomplishment; a nation of rich white racists who improperly "used" God to convince themselves of their violent Manifest Destiny.
In the years since, many Americans discovered college friends, husbands, lovers, colleagues, and business associates who turned out to be Communists. Nobody ever failed to feel shock. The Communists did not go after the Whittaker Chambers' of the world - frumpy, inelegant fellows who looked they might just be Red. They went after men like Hiss.
Many Communists were good looking men and women leading double lives during the Roosevelt and Truman Administrations. Most people who succeed in Hollywood are good-looking, too. After Hiss, when the House Committee on Un-American Activities was exposing the Communist virus, liberals in and out of government, especially in the media, counterattacked against the anti-Communists.
In so doing, liberals placed themselves in jeopardy. Even if they were not Communists, spies or even sympathizers, in defending those who were they became tacit "fellow travelers" and "useful idiots." The chaos of uncovering who was a Communist and who was not created a split in the U.S. that was exactly what the Communists wanted.
The Hiss case, the issue of Communist subversion and espionage, all combined to assign culpability to the Left. The threat of this culpability cannot be understated. If Communism turns out to be what is it is suspected to be, and if an easily defined political ideology of the U.S. and the West is readily assigned to it, then that ideology, liberalism, is in grave danger. Therefore, consequently and as a result thereof, the Left put themselves through every possible gyration to prevent this. It required downgrading the threat of Communism, and discrediting the work of the right.
Martin Dies, the founder and first chairman of the House Committee on Un-American Activities, wrote in "Martin Dies' Story", "Without exception, year in and year out, the American liberals have defended, protected, encouraged, and aided the Communists, both in the United States and abroad." Dies said that there is a "sympathetic tie between the ultra-liberals and the Communists. Actually, the ultra-liberals have always been socialists at heart."
Rooseveltian liberals were soulmates of Communism. It is only because of World War II that events shaped themselves in such a way that the military came to an appropriate place of leadership. This created a jingoistic, patriotic mindset that worked against the tacit, underhanded alliance between the American Left and Communism. American liberals simply decided that they would influence Communism, to "humanize" it, to bring it into the modern world. All they needed was time.
At the heart of this mindset was Alger Hiss, who is defended year after year to this day by political elements desperate to shed doubt on his guilt, because his guilt is their guilt. He exhausted his appeals and spent four years in prison. Subsequent revelations confirmed his guilt, proving that treachery and subversion were real. Still the liberals labor on his behalf.
Hiss drafted the United Nations Charter at the Dumbarton Oaks Conference, giving the Soviet Union three votes in the U.N., while every other nation had only one. Poland, the first country to resist Hitler and supposedly the reason why the West entered World War II, was barred from the U.N. until Communists approved by Moscow replaced the legitimate anti-Communist government of Mikolajczyk. As this was not accomplished until the fall of 1945, Poland's seat was empty in San Francisco.
At Yalta Alger Hiss had been the chief aide to Secretary of State Edward Stettinius. In the telephone system set up for the U.S. delegation, Roosevelt was number one, Stettinius number two, and Hiss number three. Photos of Yalta indicate the hovering presence of Hiss.
Hiss's resulted in the New York Times headline, "Alger Hiss, Divisive Icon of Cold War, Dies at 92." He was an icon of the New York Times and the liberals, but an enemy of America.
Res ipsa loquiter.
An interview with Alger Hiss
They called him Communist chic long before Castro and Che. Allen Weinstein was a liberal who set out to prove his innocence in 1978. Using the Freedom of Information Act, Weinstein exhausted the evidence. He failed in any and all attempts to exonerate Hiss. Hiss's guilt was re-confirmed in 1993 by the release of the files of the Interior Ministry in Budapest, and again in 1996 by the release of the Venona Papers.
While Hiss's guilt is not in doubt, he did continue to live in America for many years. It is part of America's tradition of freedom of speech that he was allowed to defend himself. In the spirit of fairness, I present this excerpt of a Hiss interview conducted by Judah Graubart and Alice V. Graubart for their book, "Decade of Destiny" (Contemporary Books, Inc., 1978):
"Few people held as wide a variety of sensitive government positions during the '30s (and '40s) as Alger Hiss. Serving in the Justice Department, on the Nye Committee and in the State Department, he was witness to and participant in much of the formation of America's pre-war foreign and domestic policies. Indeed, it is Mr. Hiss's belief that it was because he was so integral a part of the New Deal era that he became the personification of it for Roosevelt's posthumous enemies.
"I think the extent, the depth, the fury of the Depression caught most people of my generation by surprise and taught us, more than anything else, the importance of politics. When I graduated from college, I paid very little attention to such matters; those who were in politics seemed to me rather grubby and corrupt people. But while at law school, and then immediately after, the Depression began, and it indicated that things were not right with our country. The collapse, the whole economic picture, was widespread devastation.
"In New York, the Hoovervilles were on Riverside Drive, in Central Park, everywhere. One couldn't move around without seeing them. On Wall Street, where I worked, the famous men who were too proud to beg were selling apples for a nickel apiece. Once employed, sometimes running their own businesses, they got steadily more and more threadbare. The soup kitchens were much too inadequate.
"In '33, after Roosevelt became President, I was invited by Jerome Frank, the general counsel to the Agricultural Adjustment Administration, to come to Washington. I was not carried away by the idea, because I had only very recently come to the job I had in New York and was in the middle of a case. But a telegram from my former teacher, Felix Frankfurter, who had influenced me in law school, sparked my decision to go. The telegram read: 'On basis national emergency, you must accept Jerome Frank's invitation.'
"Well, it was like a call to arms, being told that the nation was in danger. I think many of us who went down in those first few weeks thought of ourselves as civilian militia going down for the duration of a real emergency, as if we were going to war. Roosevelt, in his Inaugural Address, used the sacrifices of war as an analogy. I think we believed that in a few years the emergency would be met; I know I always expected to go back to civil law. Practically none of us were in the civil service. We were going to be there only a short time and certainly weren't interested in a government career as bureaucrats. Therefore, the furthest thing from our thoughts was retirement benefits at the end of lengthy bureaucratic lives, and all the people in government - the civil servants - recognized that in us.
"We formed a good working relationship with the civil servants, who, we soon realized, were as much in favor of personal self-sacrifice and of working long hours for the public good as we were. Whereas we found them to be invaluable because of their knowledge and experience, many of them regarded us as reinforcements, to use the military analogy, since all their bright ideas, not unlike ours, had been refused by the Republicans. Now came people who would be sympathetic, and they were cheered up.
"When the New Deal came in, we pretty much had a free hand. Things were not working out the way business leaders had been led to believe they would; so we had public support. Roosevelt said he would experiment and if one thing didn't work, he would try another. The whole thing was improvised. We had some success and we had some failures, but certainly the bitterness of the Depression was for millions of people ameliorated by the benefits paid to the small farmers by the Works Progress Administration, by the relief funds and by the Federal Emergency Relief Act. The whole spirit of the New Deal, of such people as [Harry] Hopkins, [Harold] Ickes and Miss [Frances] Perkins, was so idealistic, so humanitarian, I think the public as a whole felt as it has not felt since - that the government cared about its duties and about individual citizens. There was a genuine sense of participation in the farm program where I worked. There were county committees set up for the farmers that not only handled a great deal of the administration - checking the acreage and so on - but also sent recommendations for improvements. It was an extraordinary period of public confidence in the government.
"The incident with Senator 'Cotton Ed' Smith occurred while I was with the Department of Agriculture in an official capacity. I helped draft the cotton contract for reducing cost on acreage, and we had provided that some of the payments made in exchange for reduction of the acreage should go to tenant farmers when the farm involved had tenants as well as an owner. Senator Smith had expected that all those payments would go to him as the owner. He came to see me in my office and was very angry because the payments, as we had drafted them, applied to him as well as to his tenants and were to be made directly to them. He said something to the effect, 'You can't send checks to my niggers,' as if they were hardly human and sending payments to them would be like sending them to his horses or mules, who wouldn't know how to handle checks. I explained that this was what was required under the statutes and that I assumed that my superiors accepted this view or they wouldn't have approved it in the first place. I was as polite to him as I could be, but I was in no way frightened. It wouldn't have meant much to me if I had been fired; I could have gone somewhere else or back to practicing law, and this was a matter of principle. It just seemed to me to be no big deal. The New Deal was the big deal.
"I should add that a year later, when the purge over the cotton contracts occurred, not only Senator Smith but also the cotton producers and their representatives in Congress changed things. In the second cotton contracts, we insisted not only that the payments go to the tenants but also that the same number of tenants be kept on the farm. It wasn't going to help the country, and it wasn't going to be fair, if the owner, in order to get the payments himself, dismissed some of the tenants. This we lost out on.
"During the purge, Jerome Frank, my boss, was asked to leave, as were Lee Pressman and a number of others, much to their shock, for they thought Secretary Wallace was supporting their position. But, when push came to shove, Wallace felt that there was too much opposition to his position in Congress and, in effect, backed down and jettisoned them. They became not scapegoats but something pretty close to it. Other people didn't resign but were fired only a few days later. Since I was then mostly on loan to the Nye Committee on the Munitions Industry as their counsel, I had no occasion to get involved in the purge. Nevertheless, my interest in the Department of Agriculture lessened from day to day, since the people I had worked with were gone, as were the idealism and innovation they had supplied.
"The reason I had been sent to join the Nye Committee was that at least two of its members were on the Senate Agricultural Committee and so Secretary Wallace tried to do them a favor. The objectives of the former committee were twofold. The first was to limit the actual trade in arms, something that is of interest again today, though on a much broader scale. The arms trade was considered then, as now, immoral. It was also thought that the arms trade maximized the danger of warfare between small countries. We found, for example, that the salesmen for a great arms firm would do their best to convince the officials of, let's say, a Latin American country that a neighboring rival country had military designs against them, and would encourage them to buy. They would then run to the neighboring country and say, 'Look, your rival has just bought this much.'
"I remember a particular letter that came out in the hearings, in which a local representative of one of the American munitions companies complained that the State Department was 'fomenting peace.' We had always thought of the word 'fomenting' as being used for war, not for something desirable, like peace.
"The committee's second objective was to take profit out of war. In that effort, it was supported by the American Legion and other veteran associations, which felt that it was unfair for businessmen to make big profits while the individual soldier should be expected to give up a job, in which he might have been receiving increased pay, to run the risk of being injured or killed.
"We explored that. We found that after every major American war, even the Civil War, there had been Congressional investigations into the wastes, the corruption, etc. We found that war does tend to encourage and promote corruption, and certainly extravagance. After all, when the issue is possible defeat, money doesn't seem so important. On the other hand, a lot of people benefit corruptly and greedily at such a time. But we were unable to figure any way to take the profit out of war, and the reports I helped write said this just wasn't very likely.
"Yes, I was approached by one of the DuPont lawyers who told me that 'whatever you're earning here, you could earn more,' or something like, 'Your talents would be useful.' Certainly it was an indication that I could get a job and I suppose that they preferred that I got the job early, rather than after I'd continued. No, I never doubted that it was an attempt, as you put it, to 'bribe me'
"Senator Nye? He was a friendly man with Midwestern gusto, vigor and simplicity. Not terribly sophisticated, not very learned, easy to work with, and a man of a good deal of conscience. He came from the Dakotas, where isolationism was strong. Therefore he was a spokesman for what he grew up with. He felt that Europe was less noble, beautiful, and pure than the American Middle West. That part of Washington's Farewell Address that went "Do not get involved with evil designs of foreign powers" must have been inculcated in his own thinking. In that sense, of course, he was oversimplifying the view. I found him to be very pleasant, conscientious and well meaning, though he was not of the stature of Senator Vandenberg, nor did he have the intellectual quickness and charm of Senator Bone or the dignity of Senator Pope.
"The committee came to be known primarily as the Neutrality Committee after the period I was with it - the isolationists believed in neutrality - and it began to recommend that the United States should, particularly if war broke out abroad, refuse to trade with either side. Although when the Spanish Civil War broke out, the terms of that Neutrality Act, which were not meant to apply to a civil war, did seem to apply to Spain, and Nye was willing to revise his own act, because he did not think it was proper to refuse to ship to the Loyalist government, the legal government of Spain. I think the reason was that he came from a region where populism was strong, and most populists are liberals. They cared about the little man, about the underdog and about decency. And Nye had some of this populist tradition himself.
"In '36, I went into the State Department because of Francis Sayre, the assistant secretary in charge of the whole economic aspect of foreign affairs, including trade. I had been working in the Department of Justice to protect the trade agreements from attacks, alleging they were un-Constitutional. When his assistant, John Dickey, left, Mr. Sayre asked me to come and work on trade agreements in the State Department and continue to supervise the litigation aspect, which I did.
"Concerning the Spanish Civil War, I would say that the State Department was short-sighted. It was difficult for them to sense what that war meant to Italy and Germany. They took more seriously than I think was warranted the efforts of the British and French in the nonintervention treaty. And the British, and the French, too, I think, were weak-kneed. They did not foresee that this would be the first victory of the Axis, that this was the beginning of World War II. Now, of course, the State Department had the excuse of simply trying to help the British and French carry out nonintervention. That's why the neutrality approach toward Spain was allowed to continue, even though Senator Nye was so sympathetic to the Loyalists, he was willing to work for removal of the embargo.
"Regarding what was happening in Germany then, the State Department officials did not think that it was their duty to chastise the Germans. Any professional foreign office tends to feel that the domestic procedures of foreign countries are less important than the governmental relationships. From my own point of view, they were not aroused enough. I saw Nazism as a mortal danger. They tended to minimize the reports of what was going on in Germany. Of course, things were not as bad as they became later, but there was a tendency with State Department officials to say that the press was exaggerating what was happening there. The reason for my attitude was that I was more New Dealish than many people in the State Department. The New Dealers used to say that the writ of the New Deal ran everywhere except the State Department, which was more conservative and cautious. For example, if you look at the memoirs of George Kennan, who's almost exactly my twin in age, you'll see that he went immediately into the Foreign Service, and the Depression seems to have made no impact on him. His only complaint about it was his expression of annoyance with Roosevelt that the expense accounts of Foreign Service officers should be reduced as an economy move. Well, this was not the way people of the New Deal felt. We felt that this was a time of great suffering for the American people and everybody should pitch in and try to help. But the State Department was basically conservative; they came from a different medium. They had been protected all their lives.
"There were very few Jewish people in the State Department. Herbert Feis was the only one I can remember. I do not think the State Department favored Hitlerian anti-Semitism. The State Department's anti-Semitism may have been snobbish. That's possible. It was that kind of social fabric. But that's quite different from implying that the State Department as a whole or any official within it condoned the kind of brutality that Hitlerian anti-Semitism meant. Is that the idea of 'While Six Million Died'? I think that idea's very exaggerated.
"I also worked with Mr. Sayre in the Far Eastern Division. The American position was that Japan's aggression against China should not only not be rewarded, but that we should not continue our shipping of scrap iron to Japan, thereby facilitating Japan's access to the oil reserves of the Dutch East Indies, almost all of which were owned by American companies. So in order to free ourselves for discriminatory action - and it would take discriminatory action to say they could not get scrap iron but other countries could - we terminated the trade treaty guaranteeing equal practices.
"I always believed that war with Germany was inevitable, but not at all with Japan. I was conscious early in '35, certainly in '36, that we had reached a pre-war instead of a post-war era. I spoke to my college fraternity in Baltimore, saying that I thought war was coming in Europe. I saw that Hitler lived by expansionism, that this was the only way the Germany economy could keep going, and Hitler's power depended on his being a militarized and militaristic leader. So I thought we would be drawn into a war because Germany was strong and we would have to protect England and France, as we had in World War I.
"I felt quite the contrary about Japan. We never considered them a match for us, and they weren't. I don't think anybody in the State Department had anticipated the attack on Pearl Harbor. It seemed suicidal when it happened. If anybody would have said it would happen, we would have discounted it.
"No, I wouldn't say the New Deal ended abruptly with Pearl Harbor. It was under wraps, minimized in many respects, particularly those where it would come into conflict with business, as in wartime production. But those aspects of the New Deal that would facilitate production, such was the morale of labor, were treated with liberalism. I would say that the New Deal didn't really end until the Cold War began, and this was one of the functions of the Cold War and of McCarthyism - to discredit the New Deal.
"I never had any doubt as to the fact that McCarthyism was to attack Roosevelt indirectly. He was too popular, even when dead, to be attacked directly. If the New Deal could be attacked, if Yalta and his other policies could be attacked, then this was one way of removing the stigmata of Roosevelt from those policies. I've never doubted that one of the accomplishments of McCarthyism was to diminish sympathy for Roosevelt, sympathy for the New Deal, sympathy for the United Nations.
"But the New Deal will be needed when conditions get bad again. It only came to light when the traditional business hierarchy of leadership couldn't function anymore. That time will come again. Another Depression? I wouldn't go so far as to say that. But what I would say is that the serious malformations in the American economic and social structure with which the New Deal tried to deal, when not cured or corrected, were obviated by the war. The New Deal as an improvisation, as an experiment, never succeeded in making the major changes necessary to avoid the disasters of the Depression. Had it been thoroughly successful, we wouldn't have had the kinds of things that went on in the '60s, when the rigidity of American culture came up against the demands for major changes. The New Deal represented the same kind of attempt to break out of the rigidity that had led to the Depression and to the inability to change the format under which American culture had grown. I think the New Deal era and the '60s had some things in common, except that the New Deal was more restrained, had a better sense of history and was more practical. But the time will come again, I think, when those things will have to be combined for major changes, though I'm not sure that many people would agree with me."
"Disbarred from the practice of law, Hiss took a job as a salesman and wrote 'In the Court of Public Opinion', in which he rebutted the government's case point by point. He and his wife separated in 1959. He continued to assert his innocence, and over the years evidence surfaced to back his claim, including some 40,000 pages of FBI documents released to him in the 1970s. Based on information in the documents which indicated that the FBI hid evidence that would have helped clear him, Hiss filed a petition of coram nobis, asking that the verdict be overturned due to prosecutorial misconduct. The petition was turned down in Federal Court. Appeals were unsuccessful. In 1975, however, Hiss was readmitted to the Massachusetts Bar.
"Hiss married his second wife, Isabel Johnson, in 1986. Two years later, he wrote his autobiography, 'Recollections of a Life'. His grandson, Jacob Hiss, was born in 1991. Alger Hiss died at the age of 92 on November 15, 1996, still fighting for vindication. The release of information from Soviet and Hungarian archives disputed his claims, and the release of the Venona Papers, occurring near the time of his death, is the final nail in his proverbial 'coffin.'"
Hiss is a tragic figure. Why he did what he did is not well explained beyond the usual conjecture. It is sad that a man of such talents, education and ability did not make use of the opportunities available to him. One can only speculate the agitation Hiss must have felt when the U.S.S.R. dissolved, and he knew that, inevitably, espionage secrets would be made public. Then, what despair did Hiss experience when, after rehabilitating his image for decades, word came that the Venona Papers were discovered in the Soviet archives confirming his guilt?
East German uprising of 1953
On June 16, 1953, East Berlin newspapers printed a story about the poor handling of workers' rights by government officials. A rumor spread that quotas would be raised. Workers gathered to discuss their next meal, next paycheck, or day off. Construction workers marched to the Council of Ministers. Chanting, “We are not slaves,” they carried a banner reading, “We demand lower quotas.” They demanded to see Walter Ulbricht and other top leaders personally. These actions in Berlin led similar actions throughout East Germany. Soon, a full-scale protest of Marxist-Leninist-Stalinist ideology was underway.
The Russians immediately blamed the CIA. They were right and they were wrong. The CIA indeed was all over Eastern Europe in the 1950s, fomenting revolution, protest, and distrust of the Soviets. However, they were dwarfed by actual people, numbering in the millions, who quickly discovered that Stalin's promises were empty. They soon came to hate Communism.
In Germany, Fascists, Communists, fighters for Democracy, and Nationalists march in the streets with the workers, who protested their lack of representation in labor disputes, collectivist agreements, and at party conferences.
“Socialization” had pushed the country to the edge of economic destruction. The failure of Communism as an economic system in East Germany was the first true chink in the armor. Russia had always been a poor country, its peasant serf classes living in squalor while a small number of elites enjoyed luxury in the cities and in their dachas. China, similarly, was a rural nation of uneducated peasants. But Germany was a different story.
Germany had been an economic power and an industrial powerhouse with a highly educated, efficient, hard-working populace. They had natural resources and an infrastructure. East Germany, and in particular East Berlin, was the "test case" of Communism.
By 1953, West Germany and West Berlin were starting to show distinct signs of life. With the advent of the Marshall Plan, Democracy and economic progress was proving to be a successful combination. If East Germany failed in direct competition with the West, the failure of Communism would be exposed.
Now, workers had no rights. Living conditions were abominable. Anybody who complained was deemed made political prisoner with no civil liberties. Life was intolerable. The unfortunate citizens of East Germany had gone directly from Hitler to Stalin. Seeking lower living costs, higher wages, and reasonable quotas, thousands poured into the streets against the Soviets.
The Communist Party (KPD) was unpopular, not just because of Stalinism but because the Socialists were still blamed for abandoning Germany in World War I. Red Army abuses during the end of World War II were impossible to forget. The only way to quell East Germany was to crush resistance beyond all possibility of success. Any hope that Communism would be accepted by a willing populace was discarded by the brutal reality that only force could keep freedom from emerging.
Support for socialization had begun in 1946, when the Russians called for the merger of the Social Democratic Party (SPD) and the KPD. The SPD was a Leftist party with large popular support, but was also a party that would not corroborate with the introduction of Communism. In March of 1946, 80 percent of SPD members voted no against a planned merger of the KPD and SPD. Moscow then announced “in the interests of working-class solidarity” that the KPD and SPD had been combined to form “a single proletarian movement” with the creation of the Socialist Unity Party, or the SED. The SED quickly developed into the sole political party of the German Democratic Republic. By June of 1953, the party was as unpopular as the KPD had been in 1946.
The Christian Democrat Union and the Liberal Democratic Party, although not officially outlawed, were officially noted as “bourgeois” parties and monitored by the state. In 1952, Foreign Minister George Dertinger of the CDU was arrested for “hostile activities,” and Minister of Food Dr. Hamann of the LDP was imprisoned as a “saboteur." They were forced to sign dispositions backing the states' claims of their "treachery." Opposition to socialization became a virtual capital offense with party’s outlawed and individual opposition prosecuted in show trials. Free will and political choice were eliminated. The workers had no alternative but the streets to express themselves.
The Second Party Conference employ Soviet-like five-year plans. In July of 1952, at the Second Party Conference in Berlin, Ulbricht declared the “establishment of socialism." Increased output without parallel increases in wages were demanded of industry. In 1936, production of ingot steel hit 1.2 million tons. Plans announced at the Second Party Conference called for production to reach 3.4 million tons in 1955 when it was almost at its capacity at 1.9 tons in 1952.
Quotas replaced incentive, with individual laborers ordered to reach a certain level of productivity. Retroactive enactment of the quota system resulted in smaller paychecks. Stores remained empty of the bare necessities. High reparations for damages incurred during World War II had sapped the economy. Heavy industry "replaced" consumer production, turning the country into a near-slave state working strictly for the Soviets, not unlike a giant concentration camp. No economic exchange between East Germany and Russia occurred, as it would in a normal, capitalist trade economy. Factories were completely disbanded and sent to Russia. The industrial capacity of East Germany was pushed to its capacity while consumer goods were not produced, resulting in food and clothing shortages. The GDR lacked basic essentials because all German goods traveled to the Soviet Union.
The political system stressed class destruction and "equality," resulting in East Berlin workers’ pleas “to live like humans.” Historian Rainer Hildebrandt described the life of Horst Schlafke, pushed into combat as a Hitler Youth at age 16. He was placed in Soviet re-education camps at 18, then pressed into three years of forced labor in the Ukraine. Waking up at 4:30 A.M. for the workday, he would be lucky to have a roll and a cup of coffee before a 10-hour shift on the Stalinallee construction projects. "Breakfast" might be "butter" on a roll. He "volunteered" on Saturdays to clean up rubble. He struck, along with others, in 1953. Berliners already resented the Russians because Soviet troops had rampaged the city for three days at the end of the war in what they called “the Great Rape.” Life for East Berliners had become so bad that the threat of death did not deter them.
East Germans saw high-ranking party officials driving in the few cars of the GDR. They knew that the party officials had separate clothing and food stores available at their disposal, which contrasted with propaganda disparaging Western “class warfare” and “bourgeois ways”. Communist lies were so obvious that the entire system would have been a big joke, if not for the deadly seriousness of it.
Party officials were dragged out of their cars and beaten on the streets during the uprising. Arrests followed, but when word spread a quasi-rebellion continued. It lacked a political cause or leadership, however. Instead, worker committees from cities attempted to individually bargain with local officials without an actual understanding of what others were attempting to attain. Solidarity failed to capitalize on the backing of the public by not addressing Ulbricht and the Soviets with one voice. No solid plan emerged and the strikers were left with no tangible goal to demand.
The workers believed that the demand for “freedom” would prompt America to assist the revolutionaries. Rhetoric from West Berlin was thought to be the approach of the Western Allies. Aside from low-level CIA covert operations, however, the hoped-for liberation did not occur. Kennan's containment policy was the order of the day, and besides, the U.S. was still handling Korea in 1953.
Concessions were made by the SED. The workers were not trust because they followed a history of lies. When it was obvious the Americans were not coming, workers returned to their work sites, loitered in the streets, or beat up party members, but nothing was accomplished. Realizing the SED had gotten the best of them, riots ensued.
Agitated workers emerged as "leaders" of small revolts. Without a central plan, the riots were spontaneous but sporadic. RIAS broadcasts advocated a workers' uprising.
Soviet tanks and troops soon rolled into the capital city and other areas where protests were taking place. All of East Germany came under martial law as the Soviets regained control. A sense of schizophrenia permeated the bizarre atmosphere. Individual Soviet Army soldiers fraternized and encouraged the workers, since the soldiers were intimately aware of how bad the Communist system was. But the military commanders put an end to that, ordering the crowds to be fired upon. 21 people died the first day. The crowds spotted and killed moles or supposed government spies. Immediate concessions were made such as lowering of quotas and releasing of some political prisoners, but the SED did not live up to its promises. The workers on Stalinallee who started the revolt were brought to trial the following year for sedition. The SED hardened its policies, and from that point forward, there was no chance that East Germany would be a real, autonomous nation.
McCarthyism created a fear and loathing of the Communism system, but the hysterical nature of the attacks failed to allow for a clear policy on how to handle it. Stefan Brant's critique of the East German system states, “The Plan demands great effort. Still man is but the means. And still achievement lags. The system fails…It has often attained the seemingly impossible. Yet it has failed. It has never achieved its end. It has changed the world but not man; it has transformed conditions of life but not life itself. The Plan has never conquered the individual."
Western historians used the uprising to make it out, cartoon-like, into what fit the Western model of "anti-Communism." The East German uprisings indeed were "anti-Communist," but they were complicated by side issues. For instance, the uprising did not gather into a mass revolt. Students were the only other group to consistently join in the uprising. Most people were too intimidated by the Soviets to join. Democracy and unification were what the West was told the workers wanted, fitting a romantic vision that failed to understand the more specific nature of their demands.
The middle class and farmers, for instance, did not strike. The workers made up the most adamant Communists, as they always had. Ella Sarre was a political instructress whose job was converting and propagandizing of local workers to Communist doctrine. As a member of the Free German Youth (FDJ), she had welcomed the Russian occupation. She worked on Stalinallee. Agreeing with the workers on many issues, she decided to join them on their excursion to the Council of Ministers.
Greeted by an ovation after tossing her blue FDJ jacket to the protestors and saying that the workers must unite to gain their demands, she evaded the secret police (Stasi) and was one of the few women protestors the next day at the Brandenburg Gate. A devoted Communist, she rose against the regime because she viewed it as having corrupted socialism. Her case is just one example of the vagaries of history, because her protest, like others, was not due to the "failure" of Communism, but regarded the failure to providing decent living conditions. The argument then comes down to whether the failure to provide decent living conditions is in and of itself the failure of Communism.
Western estimates of the revolt are that it took place in 274 towns, with 372,000 protesters encompassing about seven percent of the workforce. Eastern sources say it was in 270 towns, with 300,000 workers encompassing five percent of the workforce. Eastern estimates placed the non-work force involvement in the uprising at 40,000; Western estimates placed it between 70,000 and 80,000.
Certainly, unlike many events in the Iron Curtain, the East German uprising was viewed more closely because of the vantage point of West Berlin. Berlin remained the hotspot for the most intense activity; 61,000 protestors poured through the streets of East Berlin. Approximately one-fifth of the people revolting in the GDR did so in East Berlin. Leipzig had 20,000 protestors. Berlin was a town of great political activity - calls for government resignations, reunification, and parliamentary government. The rest of the GDR was more apolitical.
The strategy to make the strike a nationwide affair led radical workers to West Berlin and reached the Radio in American Sector (RIAS). "Thousands" were waiting to take down the government. The concept of an armed revolution was inspiring and frightening to U.S. policy makers. According to the RIAS East Germans had “city squares where they could meet.” An interview airing on the RIAS encouraged workers not in Berlin to revolt in a violent and political manner, thinking that the Americans would come if there were “a crisis for freedom” (a term Willy Brant, West Berlin's Mayor, used).
Propaganda was undoubtedly a major part of the East German uprising. Extreme perspectives make it hard to create a balanced picture of life behind the Curtain. Surrounded by portraits of Stalin and Ulbricht, bombarded with Communist crap, German identity and culture failed to exist after 1945. East Germans had seen all the propaganda that any people could ever see. Between the Kaiser, Hitler and Stalin, they had lost hope. The natural sense of German patriotism and love of the Fatherland led many to hate the SED for "betraying" them more than the Soviets for occupying them.
The East Germans were the first in a succession, including the Hungarians and the Poles to rise up against the occupying forces of Communism. The Russians learned nothing from it, because the lessons were not what they wanted them to be.
Hungarian revolt of 1956
Hungary is bordered by Slovakia, Ukraine, Romania, Yugoslavia, Croatia, Slovenia, and Austria. Approximately 36,000 square miles, it has an arid climate with cool winters and hot Summers. Most Hungarians belong to ethnic groups known as Magyars. Magyars originated in the 800's A.D. from members of Turkish tribes mixing with Slavic Tribes. Budapest is Hungary's capital and largest city. It is divided into two parts: Buda and Pest, and visitors to these cities are stunned to discover some of the most beautiful women on the face of God's Earth. People in Hungary are mainly Roman Catholic. Since the fall of Communism religion has returned to Hungary. Years of repression have not zapped from the people their zest for life. Budapest has some of the best nightlife and most engaging people anywhere. That a country like this could have been held under Stalin's yoke is an unspeakable evil.
Stalin, Roosevelt and Churchill agreed on Stalin's "buffer zone" requirement, and Hungary fell under their control along with Albania, Bulgaria, Poland, and Czechoslovakia. Congress voted on the Policy of Containment. In 1953, Stalin died. The intense power struggle that followed produced Nikita Khruschev; rural, uneducated, moderate, and a war hero. The satellite countries thought Stalin's death meant more freedom and power. Hungary's citizenry was educated, erudite, somewhat aristocratic, and above all others in the orbit, they wanted complete freedom.
Hungary had been part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, chafing at Vienna's control. After World War I, they enjoyed a brief period of independence, but barely had time to recover from the Great War when Hitler went on the move.
In 1953, due to Stalin's death, the wave of protests and strikes, originating in Eastern Germany and going through to Czechoslovakia, Hungary, and Poland, took fire in. Hungary protested even more than the other nations.
Imre Nagy was appointed as the Hungarian premier. Nagy was a moderate reformer, popular with the people. Kruschev, however, was trying to establish himself with a hard-line Politburo and rebellious satellites. The Stalinist crimes were being disavowed by all the same people who made them happen.
With the advent of nuclear weapons, the Western powers formed NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization). The Soviets made the Warsaw Pact with its satellite countries. The treaty dragged Hungary into a pact for mutual defense they did not want.
On October 23, 1956, students and workers gathered near the statue of General Bem in front of the Polish Embassy, boycotting and demanding. They advocated for "A socialist Hungary, truly independent; Imre Nagy reinstated in his former office; the state established on a new economic basis; new leaders for the Party and government; those responsible for mistakes held accountable at a public trial…" (Radio Budapest).
Premier Hegedus lost control and the secret police, known as the AVO, tried to stop them with tear gas. Arrests were made, but the crowd tried to free the insurgents. The secret police opened fire on them. The Hungarian Police arrived, but gave up their weapons to the protesters after hearing of the AVO shooting. Now, armed students outnumbered the secret police. The Soviets were called in, declaring martial law.
The Soviet Army met resistance. Some soldiers even joined the resistance. The new Hungarian flag hung over their tanks as they fought with the people of Hungary.
On October 24, Nagy was named premier of Hungary in place of Hegedus. Nagy took the students and workers side. On October 27, Nagy announced a new government. On October 30, it went into operation. Nagy abolished the one-party system, in favor of something called The National Peasant Party. It was later renamed the Petofi Party. Their plank was economic reform with free elections, no Soviet troops, withdrawal from the Warsaw Pact, and Hungarian neutrality.
The Soviets played along, took their tanks out of Budapest, and withdrew their troops. But withdrawal is not retreat. They did not go all the way back to the Soviet Union like they had promised. On November 3, reinforcements arrived on the Hungarian border. On November 4, 1956, the Soviet Army crushed the revolt.
"Soviet troops attacked our capital with the obvious purpose to overthrow the legitimate Hungarian Democratic government," Nagy announced on the radio. "Our troops are fighting. The government is in its place." It was his last speech to the Hungarian people.
Radio signals were broadcast all over the world pleading to "HELP HUNGARY!" The Eisenhower Administration, holding to the containment policy, did not intervene.
Many Soviet soldiers were told nothing about their mission. Some thought that they were in East Germany, or even the Suez Canal Zone. Only when they came in contact with the Hungarians did they know they were crushing a revolt against Communism. Once this happened, they lost intensity. Their intensity was "restored" when the Soviet generals ordered the executions of soldiers who did not carry out orders. A tank driver who took a detour to avoid driving over women and children blocking the street was murdered on the spot.
The Soviets captured the airports and major buildings, quickly installing their new government. The insurgents were determined to rid their country of Communism. Women, children and the elderly fought the Communists. The Hungarian people of 1956 proved themselves to be some of the most courageous the world has ever seen. Their "failure" is no more a failure than America's efforts in Vietnam. It was all part of the long struggle to victory in the Cold War. The Hungarian resistance never ended until 1989.
Over 20,000 Hungarians died and 200,000 rebels fled to the West. Those who could not escape were arrested and executed. Nagy fled to the Yugoslav Embassy where he was offered protection, but he was on a bus that was taken over by Soviets. Janos Kadar, Nagy's party secretary, replaced him as premier. No free elections or economic reforms were made. In 1958, Nagy was secretly tried and executed. The U.S.S.R sent natural resources into the country to keep the people "happy."
"We shall shut their mouths with goulash," Khruschev said.
Fall-out of the East German uprising in Poland and beyond
The East German workers' strikes were the first real chink in the Communist armor. The Hungarian Revolution was one of the most vociferous efforts at resisting it. The Communists needed scapegoats. Western agents were a favorite target. Open dialogue with the West was shut down. A period of isolated secrecy cloaked the 1950s. Walter Ulbricht emerged as the man in charge of East Germany, and subsequent "runaway socialists" taught Moscow that only trusted hardliners should be placed at the top of their satellite governments.
After Stalin's death, the West hoped for some thawing in the relationship, but there was little if any. The Soviets may have wanted to open dialogue, but they had too many "secrets" to contend with. They were dealing with open rebellions, and the public airing of Stalin's tyranny created a closed, "keep it in the family" mindset.
Germany's division was not intended to be permanent, because the Soviets at first deluded themselves into thinking the West would tire of defending West Berlin. Berliners wanted reunification, but only absorption of the east into the west, not the other way around. In 1953, Eisenhower suggested a possible détente. Winston Churchill followed up with a speech to the British House of Commons requesting a summit conference between the four great powers, "To resolve all matters of dispute between East and West."
On March 10, 1952, the Soviet Union had offered to discuss German reunification and rearmament, but the U.S. rejected it. When the West made offers, the Soviets and East Germans said no. Shifts in Soviet leadership had created paranoia in their relations outside the bloc. The West was accused of "warmongering" and sabotaging the GDR. There is some truth to this, since the CIA was actively working against the Communists night and day.
"In its capacity as the leadership of a Marxist-Leninist party the Politburo made its findings known in an official announcement, drew attention to the errors committed in the past year and recommended to the government a number of measures designed to correct those errors," was the official Communist statement. "…And at that very moment the Western agencies decided to mount their D-day in order to frustrate this initiative for improving living conditions in the German Democratic Republic."
The Allies wrote to their East Berlin counterpart, "You and the rest of the world are well aware of the true causes of the disorders which have recently occurred in East Berlin, and it is…unnecessary to tell you that the three powers in West Berlin had no responsibility whatever for instigating them." Eisenhower, in his July 23 letter to West German Chancellor Konrad Adenauer, declared that the actions of the East German leaders showed, "The political bankruptcy of the SED," while the Secretary of State declared the uprising, "Demonstrates that the people…want to run their own affairs and not be run from Moscow."
Ulbricht was compromised in the post-Stalin period since he was seen as part of the "hard line errors" of the past. In looking back at the 1950s, it is now possible to see that what was considered "hard line," or "secretive," was really an examination of what was obviously a failed system, and the desperate attempt to maintain it. Communism might not succeed, but the men in power did not for a second want to lose their power base.
Ulbricht defied both the Kremlin and his enemies by continuing the hard line as long as possible, claiming the East German economy was being destroyed by, "Sabotage, arson, and theft of documents." He faced a threat from Franz Dahlem. Two SED leaders rivaled Ulbricht, too. Minister of State Security Wilhelm Zaisser, and Rudolf Herrnstadt, editor-in-chief of Das Neue Deutschland, the official Communist newspaper of East Germany, both favored a new line and were close to Moscow, particularly the notorious Lavrenti Beria, Stalin's right-hand man.
"The majority of the Politburo sympathized with Zaisser and Herrnstadt," said Erich Honecker, who supported Ulbricht openly.
Ulbricht's survival is indicative of how difficult reform was to achieve in the Communist world. Realpolitik always took a backseat to survival, but when the rubber hit the road, sometimes politicians in this "Alice in Wonderland" world did the craziest things.
When East Berlin construction workers demonstrated at a time when the Politburo was meeting, it was reported that there were workers outside demanding the new quotas be revoked. A few hours later they agreed to take that action.
"The party is abandoning an admittedly mistaken road and taking the right one," Ulbricht said. Moscow did not like insubordination, which Ulbricht showed in his prior actions. Beria's post-Stalinist removal gave Ulbricht the "out" he needed, and kept his nose above water in his rivalry with Zaisser and Herrnstadt. In the "up is down, down is up" world of Communism in the days after Stalin, Moscow could rehabilitate and discriminate almost on a moment's notice. Shortly after the uprising, Zaisser and Herrnstadt suddenly were "Beria people." The death of a tyrant was their bad luck.
"The workers' revolt did not overthrow Ulbricht - it saved him," said Carola Ahern. "They had good reasons for doing this. His ouster was one of the workers' major demands, but after initial wavering the Kremlin decided that to surrender to this demand would involve great loss of face and might be interpreted as a concession made from weakness, leading in turn to new disturbances with even more far-reaching demands. The Soviet leaders imposed certain conditions together with their decision, of course: Ulbricht was to engage in 'self-criticism' of his previous conduct and he was to support the New Course wholeheartedly. Ulbricht was in no position to continue his resistance to the New Course after what had happened in the preceding weeks. He had learned only too well -from the revolt and from the fate of Beria - what was at stake."
"Ulbricht did not survive in spite of the weakness revealed by his government on June 17," said Baring. "He survived because of that weakness, because Moscow could not afford to take the risk of having him replaced. Instead of bringing about his downfall the protesting workers and conspiratorial SED functionaries unwittingly contrived to prevent it."
Ulbricht held power until 1971. He had the complete support of Moscow. Erich Honecker, who led East Germany until 1989, was his handpicked successor. If any lesson can be gleaned from the uprising in East Germany and other satellites, it is that it solidified Moscow on the concept of putting people they could easily predict in positions of power, and keep them there a long time. Not exactly a party of term limits.
Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Romania, Albania, Bulgaria, and Poland all picked up on the East German rebellion, and all felt the crackdown. Albanian dictator Enver Hoxha attended a meeting with the Presidium of the Soviet Communist Party and determined that there was unity, with Malenkov and Beria trying to establish a dominant position. Molotov held his peace. Mikoyan shouted. Bulganin swore. Each of these men found himself picked off in the struggle to succeed Uncle Joe.
When Lavrenti Beria was executed, it could have been a major moment in Soviet history, but the demise of the "monsters" was not an honest attempt at reform. Instead, it was nothing more than scapegoating in a society that needed a lot of scapegoating. Real reform went down the drain. Some scholars argue that Beria's "mistake" was arguing for a new understanding with America. The ascension of the greatest military leader in history to President of the U.S. made the Soviets feel very uneasy. It was threatening to them. In retrospect, Ike was a moderate who was less likely to use military force than most and was very happy to hold the Kennan containment line. But in "talking tough," which was a requirement of the conservative wing of the G.O.P., Ike had the Soviets scrambling. The Communists attacked at Dien Bien-phu the next year, which could have been a calculation on their part to test Eisenhower in a place that seemed relatively "safe."
In this atmosphere, the Soviets were dealing with their own "blacklist." The SED claimed to have a Russian memorandum showing Beria had carried "his desire for compromise to such lengths that his policies might have led to the abolition of East German socialism." These charges were reported in 1965. In 1991 it was determined that Beria, and possibly Molotov and Malenkov, had been "ready to virtually concede East Germany to the West." Khruschev acknowledged as much.
This is an extraordinary prospect. Is it possible that Beria, a man who rightfully goes down in history with people like Josef Mengele as one of the most evil human beings ever, was willing to "give back" the "hard won" enclave of socialist paradise that was East Germany? Mao, the man Nixon called a "monster" in 1950, opened China. Global politics makes for some strange bedfellows. It is also ironic that Kruschev, who emerged as the Politburo's hard-liner, later was purged for not being hard-line enough against the "boy Kennedy." The one thing that was a constant in Moscow was a hard-line Politburo.
The East and West just ended up digging in. It is probably a little unrealistic to believe they ever would have given up Communism in East Germany. Even if they had, Vietnam and the "space race" would have kept the Cold War going. East Germany was, in the end, too important. It was a symbol of the conquering Red Army, and contained all those smart, productive Germans (as opposed to the various Slavs that made up much of the bloc). The fact is, the Soviets had their own "domino theory" to worry about. East German independence would have fed a hunger for freedom that not only would have fueled the rest of the Warsaw Pact, but might have lit the American fire enough to get beyond Kennan's edict.
"America immediately placed her bets on Germany and made efforts to unite it, and if she had succeeded, a victorious Germany would have been created…10 times worse than it is now," former Polish Deputy Premier Jakub Berman remembered his party's opinion at the time. East Germany's Communist rulers were the most adamant against reunification, which is telling.
All politics aside, Beria had enemies, which happens when you kill a lot of people and spread terror for years. His demise without Stalin was inevitable. The shakeups in Hungary were the next crisis. When the Soviets invited a Hungarian delegation to Moscow, Jozsef Revai was not asked to attend. He was not a major player in Hungary, but his absence made it plain that Moscow was asserting its total control. Beria had welcomed Mátyás Rákosi, the President, secretary-general, and "wise father" of Hungary, by asking him, "Well, now, are you still around? Are you still the head of the Hungarian government?"
The Soviets informed Rákosi their economy was collapsing, which is indicative of central planning. Budapest apparently only could know what was going on in Budapest by being informed by Moscow. Industrialization was too rapid and collectivization of agriculture was to blame, they were told. Hungarians were "committing crimes against socialist law," ironically by following the Moscow line. The Politburo fired Rákosi, Revai, Mihaly Farkas, and Ernö Gerö, although Rákosi kept the title of General-Secretary (but not President). Economic Minister Gerö remained a party leader with no office. Nagy replaced Rákosi. Agricultural collectivization was a disaster. Nothing had been learned from past mistakes. Five-year plans just led to more five-year plans.
Nagy's attempted reforms were the genesis of the 1956 uprising and Soviet military intervention. East Germany was the "lesson" that led to action against Rákosi.
"The Soviet leaders could not believe the official explanation that these [East German] events were set in motion by 'provocateurs in the pay of the imperialists'," Meray states. "They must have been fully aware of the fact that the discontent of the masses…was the result of their own policies." Adam Ulam argued that Rákosi had to resign because the Soviets "insisted on the local Stalins being brought down a notch and on at least the appearance of collective leadership."
The Soviets wanted to avoid the "East German mistake" by making necessary changes in Hungary and elsewhere. The theory behind their largesse was to avoid repeated revolutions in other countries. They were partly successful. Czechoslovakia's uprising was in part the result of the East German strike, years in the making. Hoxha, Polish leader Edward Ochab, and Romania's Nicolae Ceauçescu all gave lip service to Moscow.
Czechoslovakia had a reasonable standard, as far as Communist countries go. Hard-liner Antonin Novotn was still in power as recently as 1967, with a statue of Stalin prominently displayed in Prague. Alexander Dubcek replaced him. Dubcek was the man who believed in "Socialism with a human face." He was vague, but by his time vagueness was the best the people could hope for.
Romania was the country most directly governed by Moscow, and therefore they were not as effected by the East German situation.
"There is no greater crime against the workers than that committed by Nagy and his accomplices…at the time when the Hungarian people had to stand the great trial of a counter-revolutionary rebellion," was the official Romanian line regarding Hungary, during the time of Nagy's trial.
Romania's Gheorghe Dej was not of an independent mind, but he was somewhat unpredictable.
"A chameleon," Enver Hoxha said of him. In the 1950s, Moscow was unpredictable, and therefore so was Dej. Nicolae Ceauçescu, who would go down with the wall and be a symbol of hated Communism, was actually an individual. He replaced Dej when he died in 1964, declaring "the international policy of our country is based on…the principles of…non-interference in internal affairs." He criticized the "Prague Spring" four years later.
"Since when have the principles of socialist Democracy, of socialist humanism, the perfecting of socialist relations…become a counter-revolutionary threat?" he asked. Ceauçescu's "independent streak" was actually just what Moscow needed, since it proffered the fiction to the Romanian people that they had a leader who did not toe the line. In 1953, however, the country was a mere puppet regime.
Albania was a tiny, isolated Stalinist country. Albanian leader Enver Hoxha made little reference to the East German situation in his memoirs. They broke with Yugoslavians, the Russians, and the Chinese, all because they were too moderate. Hoxha had respect only for Wilhelm Pieck. Of Ulbricht he said, "He was a haughty, stiff-necked German, not only with small parties like ours, but also with the others…However, while he received great aid…he was never ready to help others."
Hoxha ruled Albania with a steel hand. Ceauçescu would eventually use him as his model in Romania when trouble appeared on the horizon. Hoxha urged putting down Hungarian agitators four months before the situation came to a head in 1956. Hoxha opposed any reforms that came about because of East Germany or Hungary. He pulled his country from the Warsaw Pact in 1961, committed to Stalinism.
Bulgaria was staunchly loyal to the Soviets. Vulko Chervenkov and later Todor Zhivkov were Moscow's faithful servants. Zhivkov was named their leader in 1961 on the strength of his personal relationship with Kruschev. He ran Bulgaria for over 20 years.
He was "a worthless person, a third-rate cadre, but one willing to do whatever Khruschev, his ambassador, or the KGB would say," Hoxha said of him. Bulgaria, however, had little effect on much of anything. Ceauçescu never refereed to Zhivkov in his writings. Ulam's book does not mention any Bulgarian leaders, including Zhivkov. East Germany had no bearing on Bulgaria's place in the Soviet sphere.
Leaders in the Polish Communist Party were concerned about their economy.
"We had no guarantees [the imperialists] would not leap down our throats at any moment…" former First Secretary Edward Ochab explained. "The ones who organized the 1953 putsch in the GDR, for example. That's why, for all our poverty, we had to spend considerable amounts on national defense. We tried to explain to our allies that our situation at home was dangerous, but we did not always, or fully, succeed in cutting military spending. That was why even wage increases were not always sufficient."
Deputy Premier Berman estimated "around 15 per cent" of the national revenue went to the military. Poland dealt with strikes similar to East Germany. "In its passion for rapid industrialization-second only to that for power for the Communists - the Polish regime…placed heavy burdens on the working class: [including] The constant raising of work norms." Major strikes were common in Poland during Communism. The national character in this country yearns for freedom and independence. They were willing to strike any deal for it during the days of Napoleon, and sent their most beautiful maiden to his bedroom in an effort to secure it sexually.
In 1956 at Poznan, several protesters died when the Polish military fired on them. Ochab refused to blame the Poznan strike on the West, which was what Moscow had told him to say.
"I told them there was no proof, and that I could not make a claim of that kind at the Central Committee Plenum," he said. Polish leadership played a difficult game. They needed the U.S.S.R. to "legitimate" them, but as Jakub Berman said, "The Soviet delegation will always get its own way…Maybe they did not lord it over us as blatantly as they did elsewhere because we were more familiar with their little tricks, but we still preferred not to shoulder all the blame…"
In adhering to Moscow, Poles felt their government was weak, but in the atmosphere of the times, the alternative was anarchy. There is no evidence that the Americans were going to foment and finish any Polish revolutions. Party leaders were subject to miscalculation. After Poznan, strikes ensued in 1970, 1976, and 1980, all shadowed by the East German strike of 1953.
"December 1970, and in a much more massive way August 1980, witnessed revolutions in the classical Marxist sense…" Ulam wrote, "the only comparable action in recent time, and on a much smaller scale, had been the uprising of the East German workers in June 1953."
Poland faced recession in the 1950s, causing tensions over their contribution to the other Bloc nations. In 1956 a Warsaw Pact economic meeting was held. Hoxha recalled Ochab refusing to accept raising quotas in the Polish coal industry unless further investment in Poland was made. Arguments ensued. The nine East European countries, from Moscow to Tirana, were affected by the 1953 uprising, which created instability with a lasting effect. In the mean time, the Central Intelligence Agency was stirring up trouble every chance they could, God bless 'em. The East German strikers had demanded "free elections…free government…and a freely negotiated peace with [West Germany]." They finally got their wish 36 years later.
The "church of America": The CIA's covert actions in Guatemala, 1954
Oh, the Central Intelligence Committee. The statement "you either love 'em or hate 'em" is often used in describing their role in the life of America, America's enemies, and the world. To some, they were Ivy League supermen, willing America's greatness on the rest of the Earth, foiling those nasty Communists at every turn. To others, they were bigoted right wing zealots sticking their big snout where it did belong and was definitely not welcome. Some say they are a bunch of old white guys who let America down when she needed them the most on 9/11. Or they were demonic supremacists, desperate to stay relevant and willing to paint a portrait of enemies that only they could fight. Bad intel. Unsavory characters. Too secretive. Not reliable. Too insulated. Patriotic. Sanctioned by God. Take your pick.
The CIA, like America, is often a "bull in a China shop"; clumsy, too big, too obvious, unwanted, unneeded, and absolutely necessary. Like America, The Company reflects the basic premise of American foreign policy, which is engagement. There are many in the intelligence community who love to be engaged. Teddy Roosevelt talked about being in "the arena." While this statement referred to elected public figures, it also applied to U.S. foreign policy. He decided we should "walk softly and carry a big stick."
Over time, Roosevelt's "big stick" policies resulted in an America that became all-powerful. With that power came responsibilities. Many criticize America for our covert wars, black ops, propping up dictators, teaching the art of torture, sanctioning mass killing, subverting Democracy, and all the other things we do. Fine, criticize away. There is much to criticize. The rumors are true. The worst you do not even know about. But all of these underground adventures are not engaged in because somebody at Langley watched too many James Bond movies. The fact is, the responsibility is ours. There is a God and there is a Satan, and they are at war. It happens every day, 24/7. It would be nice if somebody else could handle our responsibility. Great Britain's MI6 does a fine job. So does Israel's Mossad. But in this world, that is not so much dangerous as it is evil, nobody else is capable of dealing with all the forces of chaos arrayed against goodness and order. It requires getting our hands dirty, "dealing with the devil," and sometimes propping up dictators.
From the safety of a Capitol Hill hearing room, the editorial suites of the New York Times, or the cafes of Paris, it is easy to criticize, hate and blame. To cry for the innocent victims of American over-indulgence. In "A Few Good Men", Jack Nicholson as Lieutenant Colonel Nathan Jessup says, "We live in a world that has walls, son. Whose gonna guard those walls, you?…Deep down in places you don't want to talk about at parties, you want me on that wall! You need me on that wall!
"…You have the luxury of not knowing what I know, which is that…death, while tragic, probably saved lives, and that my appearance here, while grotesque, saves lives! We use words like honor, code, loyalty. We use these words as the backbone of a life spent defending something…
"I have neither the time nor the inclination to explain myself to a man who sleeps under the very blanket of freedom that I provide, then criticizes the way I provide it…"
It is completely instructive to note that in the perfect world of director Rob Reiner and screenwriter Aaron ("The West Wing") Sorkin, before the audience can say, "Right on, Jack," Tom Cruise immediately exposes his character as a criminal. Reiner and Sorkin make a valid point in "A Few Good Men", the same point that Plato made in "The Republic" when he talked about tempering the warrior spirit with civilian caution. There is no doubt that there are Marine officers who sacrifice enlisted men in order to advance their careers. The point is that it does not happen much and is overshadowed by the sacrifice, honesty and sheer integrity of all the unsung heroes that they choose not to portray. Scandals and screw-ups are sexy.
The CIA was flying high in the 1950s. A new agency, they were born out of the swashbuckling OSS run during World War II by "Wild Bill" Donovan. These were the real "best and brightest." Most were recruited right out of Yale's "Skull 'n' bones," Harvard's frat row, or Wall Street's elite law firms. Young men, white, not just WASP in the traditional sense but believing Christians, wearing tweed sweaters, smoking pipes, readers of Nietzsche and Shakespeare.
These guys had broken the codes that beat Hitler and Tojo. Now they were in a full-scale jihad against international Communism. While the gulags were rumors to some, not believed by others, unimportant to most, these were the people who interviewed the survivors, the defectors and the true believers of Communism and anti-Communism. They knew about the death camps, the forced marches, the torture chambers. They knew these people were out to win. The CIA was the last line of defense, at least in their minds.
One of the early and successful CIA-orchestrated operations occurred in 1954. The Company overthrew Guatemalan ruler Jacobo Arbenz Guzmán. This act is still viewed by America's detractors to explain why the U.S. goes too far. It caused unrest in Latin America and much hatred towards America, a country said to prop up "Banana Republics," that did little more than make it possible for U.S. business interests in the region. There is truth to this premise, but the flip side deserves its due, too. Communism was spreading. Wherever it spread, death, destruction, horror descended upon the people enveloped by it. Its greatest export was refugees. In trying to prevent it, topple it or undermine it, the CIA was not just making the road safer for capitalism (which, by the way, is a perfectly noble goal), but also improving the lives of ordinary people. Sometimes these operations went very smoothly, and other times they did not. Sometimes errors in the plan were identified and used by opponents for political purposes, years after the fact. The critics, for the most part, are those timid souls and countries that have stood on the sidelines of history, accepting a fatherly role when things turn out just right, and orphaning the inevitable failures, screw-ups and botches.
The overthrow of the Arbenz regime led to Civil War in Guatemala, a war that lasted 36 years and created more than 100,000 casualties and 1 million refugees. Many mistakes were made in Guatemala, but the CIA still used it as a "text book" example of how to run future operations. Critics point to Cuba a few years later as a repeat of errors, although the Cuba case is significantly different. The CIA believed that the Soviets were using the Democratically elected government of Guatemala to establish Communism in the Americas. Subsequent intelligence indicates that this may not have been the case, which does not mean it was not the case. However, the Left seized upon "evidence" that the Soviets were not fomenting Marxism-Leninism in Latin America and accepted it. Considering what their goals were, it was not unreasonable to assume they were, and in fact they may have been. The archives revealed much, but not everything. Much of the Cold War is likely to remain murky forever. Regardless of whether the CIA had "noble" intentions or not, the political reality of Guatemala was semi-disastrous. The overthrow of Arbenz resulted in worldwide political condemnation, and the damage to the U.S. in the region has had a lasting effect. All of this is for public consumption. Behind closed doors, America's strong stance against Communistas caused many a Latin American political and business leader to breathe a sigh of relief and say to Americans at cocktail parties, "By the way, I can't be quoted saying in the newspaper, but we appreciate what you did." The Alger Hiss-built United Nations howled in shocked indignation that the U.S. would try to remove an ideology responsible for more deaths than Hitler.
The battleground of the Cold War in the late 1940s, 1950s and beyond was the Third World. This was the undeveloped middle territory that was neither Communist nor Democratic. If it was Democratic it was so corrupt that it perverted the Jeffersonian ideals of Democracy. The Third World could be found in Latin America, Africa, the Middle East and on native-populated islands. The people were brown-skinned, black, or some other variation thereof. They were never white, as in Western or Eastern Europe. The Third World was the perfect place to exploit. The Communists had all the cards. They could argue that the native people had been exploited and were the victims of racism. Colonialism had left ugly wounds, and the charges did not lack truth. Huge numbers of people lived in the Third World. They represented potential armies. Many natural resources were prizes of the Third World. Leaders in this part of the world tended to be corrupt to the gills and backed by Western business interests.
On March 12, 1947, President Truman told Congress "…that it must be the policy of the United States to support free peoples who are resisting attempted subjugation by armed minorities or by outside pressures." In August, 1949, the U.S.S.R. became a nuclear superpower and China was "lost." The U.S.S.R. backed the invasion of South Korea by the North Korean Army in 1950. Many thought war was inevitable with the Soviets. Considering this danger, revisionists who look back at this period and excoriate efforts to prepare for war, root out spies, create allies and gain an edge must be considered sophists at best.
In 1944, Guatemalans overthrew dictatorship. Jacobo Arbenz was a military hero in the Guatemalan Revolution. In 1949, he helped put down a rebellion led by Major Francisco Arana. In 1950 he detained Arana's protégé, Castillo Armas, for his role in a coup attempt. Armas used bribes (possibly paid by The Company) to get out of prison and fled for Honduras. In 1950, Guatemalan elected Arbenz.
The CIA then began planning Operation PBSUCCESS, a paramilitary and psychological campaign designed to overthrow the popular, elected Arbenz and replace him with the exiled Armas.
The results were disastrous. A peace treaty establishing a constitutional Democratic Republic was not ratified by the government until 1996. In the years in between, Guatemala suffered countless dictators and casualties. Armas was assassinated in 1957, after reversing many of Arbenz' progressive reforms implemented to help the people. After Armas, chaos reigned until the legislature appointed General Miguel Ydígoras Fuentes president in 1958. Two years later, Fuentes faced rebellion when Fidel Castro tried to export his revolution to the rest of Latin America. The rebellion was put down and the fighters escaped into the mountains. They created the Rebel Armed Forces (FAR). Fuentes was kicked out in 1963, replaced by General Enrique Peralta Azurdia, who held the presidency for three years. Azurdia reigned over a when a terror group waged war against the FAR guerillas.
A puppet civilian government "ran" Guatemala from 1966 to 1970, but the military continued to prosecute their "dirty war" against FAR. The military controlled Guatemala from 1970 to 1982, while the FAR and PGT (Communist Party) coalesced into the Guatemalan National Revolutionary Unity (URNG). In 1982, a military coup installed General Efraín Ríos Montt as leader of the country. Montt offered amnesty to the URNG. URNG refused it and launched an intense campaign, ratcheting up the civil war, with disastrous consequences. The indigenous people were forced into labor in support of the military campaign. In the process more than 400 indigenous villages were destroyed.
Montt lasted until his military ouster in 1983. In 1985, civilian leadership (again "allowed" by the military) took over in Guatemala. Civil war did not end, and the military's terror campaign continued. In 1990, the U.S. cut off most of their military aid to Guatemala. Jorge Serrano Elías became president in 1991. He seized dictatorial control in May of 1993, but was forced to resign. In 1996, the government and the rebels signed a peace treaty ending the civil war. Now, there is a stable Democracy in Guatemala.
CIA Deputy Director of Plans Richard Bissell was the mastermind of the original Guatemala operation. He felt that it was a success when outlined against the larger battle with global Communism, and used it as a model for Cuba. The many mistakes in Guatemala were viewed from the short range, not the long view. In this respect, it might be considered a Pyrrhic Victory. On the other hand, despite the suffering, wars and torture in Guatemala, it is fair to ask what would have happened had the U.S. simply stayed out. A comparison with Cuba helps answer that question. Cuba under Castro has for 44 years been an "orderly" society, a country without civil war. Despite this, more people have died in Cuba. More people were tortured in Cuba. More people were imprisoned in Cuba. Today, Democracy is in place in Guatemala, and Cuba continues to torture and imprison another generation of political prisoners. In other words, the worst possible "anti-Communist" country is still better than a "model" Communist one.
The question is not whether the worst of something else is better than Communism. That is not a valid question. The question in Guatemala is whether the fear of it becoming a Communist puppet regime was real, and therefore whether the CIA's drastic actions were warranted. The bottom line argument behind so many individual "excesses" is whether Communism was the real threat. If it was, then anything to combat it is justified, and nobody else was equipped to do it. All the other nations could stand on the sidelines and keep their hands clean while the U.S. was rolling in the mud with one helluva an alligator.
"The language, arguments, and techniques of the Arbenz episode were used in Cuba in the early 1960s, in Brazil in 1964, in the Dominican Republic in 1965, and in Chile in 1973," said Marlise Simons. Years later, the CIA recognized flaws in the Guatemala model. A 1992 classified report published an in-depth look PBSUCCESS.
In Cuba, civilian uprisings twice counted on to overthrow Castro. Bissell expected the amphibious landings of Brigade 2506 to inspire them, followed by mass defections, combined with paramilitary support to the exile brigade and a follow-up force to topple Fidel. It was Bissell's understanding that this had been the model for Guatemalan "success." He therefore incorporated it into the permanent Company "playbook."
Later CIA reports showed, however, that while recruits joined the rebels, they did so only where they were not in danger of meeting military resistance. Once combat started, recruits were loath to put their lives on the line. This is an important lesson that to this very day is not understood well, and possibly never will be.
The United States itself was a country formed by rebellion, and thus revolutionaries had willingly put their lives in danger en masse to further an ideal. In the Civil War, both Union and Confederate troops did the same thing. Two world wars had created a romanticized "hero," a "freedom fighter" who was willing to die for a "cause." In the Cold War, it was much more complicated than that. The Communists were a dirty, filthy lot. Because of that, American intelligence saw a continuation of the "freedom fighter" mentality. This meant that those fighting for Communism would not have their
heart in it, while those fighting against it would be willing to sacrifice in the noble effort to defeat it.
When put to the test, this theory did not play out down the line. First, Castro's revolutionistas fought hard. In Vietnam it was the Communists who were committed and the South Vietnamese who seemed not to have their hearts in it.
Exile forces in Guatemala had high desertion rates in combat, but Bissell's disregard of this factor played itself out again at the Bay of Pigs. The CIA was unable to maintain secrecy in the Bay of Pigs, a major public relations blow. Castro owes his early credibility to this. Castro had spies who reported to him on the training of anti-Castro exiles in Guatemala in the Fall of 1960. The New York Times, God bless 'em, ran a front-page story proclaiming "Anti-Castro Units Trained to fight at Florida Bases" a few days before the Bay of Pigs. Bissell, however, was not disturbed by the Times' exposure. In Guatemala, similar exposes had occurred. Bissell felt these stories worked in his favor by creating confusion and misinformation, since the stories were more often than not planted or incomplete. As part of PBSUCCESS, a double agent, for instance, gave details to Jacobo Arbenz. When Arbenz went to the press, Guatemalans thought it was planted to make Arbenz' reputation look like a sympathetic, besieged character.
The root of Operation PBSUCCESS was the CIA's belief that the Soviets were using the Democratically elected government of Guatemala as a Communist front.
The Guatemalan Communist party, Partido Guatemalteco del Trabajo (PGT), had less than 4,000 members and less than 200 active members in a country of nearly 3 million. PGT members held only four of the 61 seats in the Guatemalan congress. They held no more than six or seven sub-cabinet positions, heading the state's media and social security administration. They held no major military positions. Although the PGT held no positions in Arbenz' cabinet, Arbenz was close personal friends with a number of the PGT's founding members.
The CIA believed the PGT had a conjunctive relationship with the U.S.S.R. The land reforms enacted by Arbenz were, in their view, influenced by the PGT. It is taken as a matter of faith now that the PGT did not have such influence, and land reform was merely a populist political ploy. There is a "clean break from Communism" aspect to this concept that really does not hold water. The CIA had infiltrated Guatemala, the government as well as the peasants, the military and the opposition. If after all the "humintel" that resulted in this infiltration they were proven wrong, it shows several possibilities. One is overenthusiastic hubris on the part of The Company (very possible). Another is that the Communists fooled them to make them look bad (not a likely scenario and certainly not one that resulted in the prescriptions the Communists wanted). The reality is probably somewhere in between, with resulting events not being predicted ahead of time, in part because the commitment Bissell thought the "freedom fighters" had could not be counted on.
The land reforms Arbenz implemented have been characterized as similar what the U.S. sponsored in Japan and Formosa after World War II. Subsequent PGT documents showed no evidence that the PGT were influenced by the Soviets.
CIA historian Nick Cullather wrote in the CIA's report on PBSUCCESS in 1992, "The overthrown Arbenz government was not, many contend, a Communist regime but a reformist government that offered perhaps the last chance for progressive, Democratic change in the region." Piero Gleijeses, professor of American Foreign Policy and Latin American Studies at The School of Advanced International Studies at John Hopkins University and author of "Shattered Hope: The Guatemalan Revolution and the United States", wrote, "The Guatemalan revolution - Jacobo Arbenz above all, with his Communist friends - challenged this culture of fear. In 18 months, from January 1953 to June 1954, 500,000 people (one-sixth of Guatemala's population) received the land they desperately needed. For the first time in the history of Guatemala, the Indians were offered land rather than being robbed of it. The culture of fear loosened its grip over the great masses of the Guatemala people. In a not unreachable future, it might have faded away, a distant nightmare."
All of this might be true, but in 1954 the CIA did not think Arbenz was a populist land reformer. They thought he was a Communist. Certainly America did not intend to do harm. This is such a key point that it cannot be overestimated. The U.S. does not intend to do harm. The harm it inadvertently does cause is tragic, is condemned, and is exposed for the entire world to see. The covert operation in Guatemala was not kept secret, and much enduring resentment manifested itself throughout Latin America and the Caribbean.
"The Guatemala intervention shaped the attitudes and stratagems of an older generation of radicals, for whom this experience signaled the necessity of armed struggle and an end to illusions about peaceful, legal, and reformist methods," wrote historian James Dunkerly. Newspapers in Britain and Germany attacked America's "modern forms of economic colonialism."
The U.N. Secretary General said the U.S. had operated against their charter. The CIA's Guatemalan campaign may have spurred Castro from borderline Communism to complete partnership with Kruschev. The air bombings preceding the Bay of Pigs preceded Castro's announcement that Cuba was a Communist state on April 16, 1961. He signed a military treaty with the Soviet Union in 1962 and accepted Soviet SA-2 missiles. Was Guatemala (and Cuba) a self-fulfilling prophecy, the result of paranoia in Langley? Many think it was. I think to believe that is delusional.
Causes Steven Travers Supports
Conservative, Christian, USC, American patriotism