Salami Tactics


from the Corvinus Library of Hungarian History, The New Central Europe



One of the major objectives of the Potsdam conference, as stated by Secretary of State Byrnes, was to reach agreement on "plans for carrying out the Yalta Declaration on Liberated Europe, with the hope of ending the constant friction which had prevailed over Russian policy in Eastern Europe since the Yalta Conference." The American delegation (and for that matter the British delegation headed by Attlee) contemplated no "showdown" with Russia such as Churchill had planned. On the contrary, as Byrnes put it, in words true for Britain and Western public opinion at large as well as for America: "The Soviet Union then had in the United States a deposit of good will as great, if not greater, than that of any other country."   Western complaints against Russian policy in the liberated countries were indignantly rejected by Stalin. He was "against sovietization of any of those countries," Stalin assured Churchill.


Secretary of State Byrnes suspected that East- West "friendship" would require the West to let the Soviet Union establish "complete suzerainty" over the Eastern European states.


It can only be surmised that Western firmness could have stopped Soviet aggressiveness. It is certain, however, that Western softness ruined whatever chances existed for saving Eastern Europe from complete Soviet domination. The West's appeasement policy toward Russia was led by the United States. Critics of the Secretary of State, James F. Byrnes, have often pointed out his inexperience in foreign affairs. Sumner Welles, for instance, spoke of Byrnes's profound ignorance of even the rudimentary facts of international life. Whatever his shortcomings, however, it seems that Byrnes's conduct of American foreign policy was in harmony with the public opinion then prevailing in the West, and even in accordance with the fundamental meaning of the Yalta agreements, namely, that friendship between Russia and her western neighbors should be the cornerstone of peace in Europe.


With American demobilization the West's military strength, which was the asset Russia admired above all, melted away from Europe as Churchill had feared, while the West now focused its policy on the drafting of the first five peace treaties with former enemy states, Italy, Bulgaria, Romania, Hungary and Finland. The irony of this period of peacemaking was that while the Western Powers were anxious to speed up work on the peace treaties in the hope that termination of the state of war and withdrawal of occupation forces would reduce Russian influence, the Russians were rapidly extending their grip over the whole of Eastern Europe, including former allied as well as former enemy countries. In two of the former enemy states, Bulgaria and Romania, sovietization made great headway behind the facade of the "National Front" coalition governments. In Hungary where alone of the Soviet- occupied countries a promising start had been made toward democracy, with the free elections of 1945, the chief aim of Soviet tactics was to destroy the Smallholders' party which represented the majority of the electorate (57 percent) in the coalition government.


Communist strategy to seize power by infiltration, terror and the splitting up of anti- Communist forces ("polarization" of the enemy, as Communist jargon called it) was not confined to the former enemy states. The pattern was basically the same everywhere: the Communists seized control of the "levers of power," in particular the security police, the army general staff and the publicity machine.6 They wiped out the independent Socialist workers, organizations by "uniting" them with the Communist parties. They crushed peasant resistance to communism by destroying the independent agrarian parties.



In Poland the target of Soviet attacks was Mikolajczyk's agrarian Polish People's party, a suppressed minority in the coalition government, but representative of the majority of the Polish people.


Meanwhile, in Yugoslavia no Soviet interference was needed to promote communism: Tito was both determined and sufficiently strong to extirpate the opponents of his Communist dictatorship. The dramatic climax of Tito's unscrupulous drive against his enemies was the execution of Draza Mihailovic his rival in the partisans, war against Germany.

       While the Communists were leading the campaign of retribution for crimes committed during the Hitler era, they were themselves perpetrating criminal acts. In spite of official tact toward Soviet Russia, the Western governments could not help but notice violations of the Yalta agreements in the Soviet sphere of influence. Western protests against rigged elections, arbitrary arrests, unfair trials, coercion, intimidation, violence and disregard of international obligations in the Soviet satellites soon became a matter of Western diplomatic routine. The battle of diplomatic notes was on, while the Big Four Foreign Ministers worked on the first five peace treaties.



The peace treaties were signed in Paris on February 10, 1947, but the expectation that they would be instrumental in reducing Soviet influence in Central Europe proved entirely unrealistic. In Hungary and Romania, even the peace treaties entitled the Russians to keep military units to maintain "lines of communication" to their zone of occupation in Austria. But no treaties, however perfect, could have forced the Russians out of the Danube Valley anyway. The Communists, far from withdrawing, were stepping up their offensive throughout Central and Eastern Europe.


In Hungary the decisive moment, portending the end of the democratic prelude to Communist dictatorship, came in February 1947, when Béla Kovács general secretary of the Smallholders' party, was arrested by the Soviet authorities on charges of reactionary conspiracy. Toward the end of May a Communist coup overthrew the government of the Smallholders, premier, Ferenc Nagy, who was also accused by the Communists of being involved in this alleged conspiracy. But in fact, the Smallholders' party was not involved in any conspiracy, and the accusation against it by the Communists was a blow against democratic elements. For though the party was not altogether immune to reactionary influences, its bulk was made up of peasants who were stalwart supporters of agrarian reform, the backbone of Hungarian democracy in the making. Premier Nagy was vacationing in Switzerland at the time of the coup and he was called to return in order to clear himself of the Communist charges. With the choice of becoming a martyr or an exile, he chose the latter. His successor was an obscure figure of his own party. But the country's real boss was now Mátyás Rákosi one of the outstanding figures of international communism and a self- confessed practitioner of so- called "salami tactics," which consisted of slicing up the Opposition piece by piece until all opposition was destroyed.

       Following the Communist coup in Hungary new elections were held in the summer of 1947. In spite of intimidation and fraud, the Communist party gained only 22 percent of the votes (as against 17 percent in 1945), while the ad hoc organized opposition, lucky to have survived the pre- election terror, the Independence party and the Catholic Democratic People's party, received 30 percent. The remaining votes went to the Smallholders and the National Peasants, who, purged of their democratic leaders, became mere tools of the Communists in the "coalition." Soon all the opposition parties, harassed by the Communists, were disbanded, and their leaders fled to the West.



In August- September 1947, the spotlight was turned on the rule of The New Central Europe.  


Terror in Bulgaria, when the peasant leader, Nikola Petkov, was tried and executed. Dimitrov, the country's Communist dictator, later declared he could not pardon Petkov because the Western Powers had intervened in his behalf, and this constituted interference with Bulgaria's sovereignty. Implied in Dimitrov's statement was the warning that Western protests would not deter the Communists from their chosen path, quite the contrary.


In Romania, in October, the aged leader of the Romanian Peasant party, Iuliu Maniu, was put on trial, to be sentenced to life imprisonment. In the same month Mikolajczyk was accused by the Communists of being an "agent of Western imperialists" and he fled from Poland. In December, Michael King of Romania, then a figurehead only, abdicated and left the country. Thus the last of the kingdoms in the Soviet orbit fell. (The British saved, in Greece, one of the five pre- war Balkan kingdoms.) Romania, proclaimed a republic, followed the example of Yugoslavia, Bulgaria, Albania, and Hungary which had been a kingdom without a king ever since 1919. But republicanism, the cherished ideal of so many democrats in these former monarchies, did not expand the rule of democracy. Communist control over the satellites of the Soviet sphere of influence was being drawn tighter and tighter. Only one country, Czechoslovakia, seemed to be able to get along with Russia without succumbing to Soviet domination, as had once been hoped for all the countries of Central and Eastern Europe.


[That left by 1948 only Czechoslovakia free from Soviet conquest...]


An extract from the Corvinus Library of Hungarian History, The New Central Europe

This extract from an internet encyclopaedia on the history of Hungary gives a more detailed, fairly traditional, account of the Soviet seizure of power in eastern Europe.