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Moscow's Man in the SED Politburo and the Crisis in Poland in Autumn of 1980
By Michael Kubina'
the late 1970s, Soviet-East German relations had become tense due to East German leader
Erich Honecker's Westpolitik and the increasing economic dependence of the German Democratic Republic (GDR) on the Federal Republic of Germany (FRG). Evidence of these strains can be found in minutes recorded by Gerhard Schürer, head of planning for the Socialist Unity Party of Germany (SED), of a March 1979 conversation during the 24th convention of the GDR/ USSR Parity Government Commission. According to Schürer's account, USSR Council of Ministers chairman N. A. Tikhonov, a member of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU) Politburo, complained about the GDR's increasing co-operation with the West at Soviet expense. Schürer wrote: “Comrade Tikhonov had a fivepage long document, which he under no circumstances was willing to hand over to me. I answered (sic) as follows: The material you are using was obviously created by someone who doesn't know anything about the cooperation between the GDR and the USSR or was onesidedly searching for negative facts or unfounded insinuations."
It remains unclear from whom Tikhonov had received his material. Moscow however, was not only informed through official channels about what was going on within the SED's most senior decision-making body, but had its own informants in the East German party politburo itself. One of them was Werner Krolikowski,' a postwar cadre of the SED, who from 1973 to 1976 displaced Günter Mittag as the SED Central Committee (CC) secretary for economic affairs. Krolikowski became a personal enemy of Mittag and Honecker when Honecker in 1977 once again reinstalled Mittag in his former position. Krolikowski in turn became first deputy to the head of the government, prime minister Willi Stoph, with responsibility for economic matters.
In the first half of the 1970's Krolikowski began to inform Moscow regularly about developments within the SED politburo which in any way could jeopardize Moscow's position in East Germany. As an ideological puritan, loyalty to Moscow was his first priority. Both ideological purity and the close alliance with Moscow were-in Krolikowski's view-being increasingly jeopardized by Honecker's and Mittag's policy towards Bonn.
Until the GDR's demise, Krolikowski remained a reliable informant for Moscow. His behavior in the SED politburo did not reflect his sharp criticism of Honecker and Mittag in his communications with Moscow. But he frequently warned the Soviets of the potentially disastrous
results Honecker's policy could have for Moscow's position in Germany. In 1984, for example, he urgently warned the Soviets about Honecker's cadre policy: “The cadre-political changes within the politburo carried out by the 8th CC Plenum of the SED,4 following the proposal and suggestion of EH [Erich Honecker]"—so the title of a
for Moscow dated 4 June 1984—served only “to strengthen the personal power of EH." One could count on the fact that, at Honecker's behest, all “comrades, (who were) old warriors and attached to the Soviet Union, will be systematically neutralized, dismissed from the politburo and replaced by other persons." Two years later Krolikowski tried in vain to win Moscow's support for Honecker's removal.6
Krolikowski kept detailed notes, which I utilize in this paper. They are often grammatically incorrect, and his handwritten corrections appear on many of the typewritten pages. His handwritten comments preceding each date are blotted out or indecipherable. These dates seem to indicate the date on which they were handed over to the Soviets rather than the day on which they were written. Erich Honecker and Günter Mittag are mentioned only by their initials (EH and GM).?
Krolikowski's reports provide new evidence on the question of whether Honecker really pressed for a Soviet invasion of Poland in autumn 1980. This issue, as well as the question of whether and when a serious military invasion by the Soviets might have occurred, is still a matter of controversy. There are good reasons to believe that the danger of a military invasion was rather small, at least after the Moscow summit on 5 December 1980.8 But one should not assume that, in the autumn 1980, Honecker was not convinced of the necessity of an invasion, and that the Soviet preparations for it were not to be taken seriously. Similar arguments have already been made in detail elsewhere and do not need to be restated here. 10 Since some scholars still argue that some "interpretational doubts"!2 remain, new evidence that seems to corroborate the thesis stated above is provided below.
Honecker's annual meeting with Soviet leader Leonid I. Brezhnev in the Crimea in August 1980 turned out to be a rather unpleasant experience for him. At this meeting Brezhnev sharply criticized Günter Mittag. Former Soviet diplomat Yuli Kvizinskij remembers Brezhnev at the airport telling Honecker straight to his face that “he had no trust in Günter Mittag. But Honecker ignored the remark."3 Immediately after Honecker's return from the Crimea, the strikes in Poland escalated to crisis proportions all over the country. Beginning on 12 August
1980, one day after the Crimea meeting, the SED
Plenum in December 1980, he drew up a working paper leadership began receiving several telegrams per day from in preparation of the forthcoming 10th SED Party Warsaw on developments in Poland. On August 18, the Congress in spring 1981, claiming “to deal frankly and State Security Ministry (Mfs), began producing regular critically with the condemnable practice of ideological coreports on the public mood within East Germany regarding existence in the policy by EH and GM toward the the Polish events.!4 At the same time the Intelligence imperialistic FRG. They are pursuing a policy of Department (Verwaltung Aufklärung) of the East German ideological appeasement (Burgfrieden) toward the FRG National People's Army (Nationale Volksarmee - NVA) and the USA for stinking money."20 Of course, began issuing regular reports on the situation in Poland. Krolikowski did not put forth such demands, neither at the On August 19, for example it was reported that the
13th CC Plenum nor at the 10th Party Congress. He only situation would probably escalate further. The report also talked about them within a small group of Honecker warned that the aim of the counterrevolutionary forces was critics, especially with Willi Stoph and with contacts in the “elimination of the socialist state order”, and that the Moscow. Often informed of important decisions only intervention of armed counterrevolutionary forces” afterwards and lacking clear signals from Moscow where should be reckoned with.'s Reports to the SED and NVA nobody was interested in provoking another leadership leadership usually revolved around the key question as to crisis within the empire, no one within the SED Politburo whether or not the Polish comrades were willing and able was willing to attack Honecker. Honecker instead had to destroy the strike movement using their own force on made an ally in Mittag, who, according to Krolikowski, their own and gave a rather skeptical appraisal.
was ready “to be at Honecker's command in any mess."21 Though the SED leadership feared the Polish
Honecker's “extremist" attitude towards Poland, as developments and their possible effects on the GDR, 17 Krolokowski put it, served to divert attention from his own the crisis temporarily provided Honecker with an
problems. In particular, Honecker wanted to prevent any opportunity to divert attention from internal problems. He parallels being drawn between himself and the ousted skillfully tried to deflect Brezhnev's criticism that the SED Polish party chief, Edward Gierek. Both had started a lacked ideological steadfastness and loyalty to the
decade before as “reformers," and both had led their Kremlin. Krolikowski later complained to Moscow that countries into tremendous indebtedness towards the West. Honecker did not inform the Politburo about Brezhnev's Krolikowski complained to his Soviet comrades, "[hje did harsh critique of Mittag's economic course and that he everything entirely on his own, without (the) PB tried to "brush CPSU criticism of EH made at the Crimea [Politburo), and then only after the fact cynically informed by L.I. Brezhnev under the table.”' 18
his dummies in the PB [...). Every week EH and GM go In light of what had happened, Krolikowski saw a hunting together—discussing and planning their further chance to settle accounts with Honecker and Mittag and political doings." their “political mistakes.” Before the 13th SED CC
While Honecker was on a state visit to Austria in
More Documents and Information on the Polish Crisis
Mark Kramer, Top-Secret Documents on Soviet Deliberations during the Polish Crisis, 1980-1981. Special Working Paper No. 1
grudnia 1981 r. (Warsaw: IPS, 1998)
November 1980, Stoph and MfS chief Erich Mielke had a brief conversation about which Stoph informed Krolikowski, who then made a note of it. Mielke was reported to have declared his determined opposition to Honecker's "unilateral actions. "23 Stoph said he had asked Mielke to change his tactics," adding that "it was not sufficient to inform only EH. Whenever it was possible he was to inform the other PB members as well. Mielke said that this was quite difficult, since EH specified who was to be informed and who was not. [...] He plotted only with GM. He usually hunted only with GM. Mielke was only invited when (Soviet Ambassador P.A.) Abrasimov24 was invited as well."25 Concerning Poland, Mielke reportedly stated: “When EH makes super-demanding claims on the FRG, it is not due to Brezhnev’s criticism at the Crimea, but rather because EH got frightened to the bones by the events in Poland. He fears that he could have similar problems in the GDR, and he is afraid of FRG influence!"26 Mielke, best informed within the SED leadership about Honecker's intentions second only to Mittag, had no doubts “that EH reckoned on the Soviets marching into Poland." Mielke himself, he said, had "always pointed out the strong anti-Sovietism in Poland to the Soviet friends,” which made it difficult, “to achieve the necessary changes."27
The fact that Honecker, right before the December 1980 Warsaw Pact summit in Moscow—which had been initiated by him—wanted the SED Politburo to give him a blank check for a decision to intervene, is also confirmed
a by another politburo member, the head of the so-called Free Trade Union Federation (FDGB) of East Germany, Harry Tisch. After the collapse of SED rule, but before the party's documents became accessible, Tisch recalled the crucial “extraordinary politburo session" in Strausberg, the site of the GDR Defense Ministry near Berlin: “I believe that Honecker at that time had the idea to prevent Poland from breaking out militarily, meaning among other things, possibly intervening ... I know that today nobody wants to remember. But I remember that there was a politburo session in Strausberg-it was, I think, the Day of the People's Army—when we talked about the situation in Poland and Honecker asked for the authority to take all [necessary) steps so that nothing could happen and he wouldn't need to ask the Politburo again.28 And he got the agreement. So he got the right to take all steps, including military steps.
When Egon Krenz, Honecker's short-time successor as SED General Secretary (18 October—3 December 1989), was asked about the special session in Strausberg, he professed to memory gaps: "I can't remember such a secret session of the politburo in Strausberg. And it would have been strange that we should have gone to Strausberg in order to have a politburo session there. In Strausberg the sessions of the National Defense Council, not those of the politburo, usually took place. Well, there was strong interest in resolving the situation in Poland, but I know of no case in which the GDR ever called for aggression
toward Poland. Who told you that joke?”30 But, according to Politburo minutes No. 48/80, Krenz, as a candidate of the Politburo, did in fact join the “extraordinary session of the Politburo" on the 28 November 1980, in Strausberg. 31 It is quite astonishing that Krenz could not remember this session, because it was indeed “strange” that a politburo session took place in Strausberg.
The reason, however, for transferring the session to Strausberg was not, as Tisch remembered, because it was the Day of the People's Army.32 The location for the session rather indicated that it was due to the growing military crisis. The only topic under discussion was what possible action might be taken toward Poland. After Brezhnev had given his long-awaited approval for a summit of Warsaw Pact leaders, the SED politburo authorized (even if only ex post facto!) Honecker's letter to Brezhnev of 26 November 1980. In his letter, Honecker had emphasized his urgent proposal “that we meet together in Moscow for a day right after the 7th Plenum of the PUWP (Polish United Workers' Party) CC (on 1-2 December 1980), the decisions of which, in our view, will not be able to change the course of events in Poland in any fundamental way.” The summit should devise “measures of collective assistance for the Polish friends to permit them to overcome the crisis."33 In Strausberg, Honecker was given authorization by his Politburo “to take necessary measures in agreement with the CC of the CPSU."34
Today, even high-ranking NVA personnel assume that Honecker “recommended an intervention as a last way *to stabilize socialism’ in Poland.”35 As is evident from the documents, for Honecker, the crucial point had already been reached in the fall of 1980.36 However, the summit on December 5 in Moscow gave the Polish leadership one more “chance.” Honecker, after realizing that there was little likelihood of a military intervention, deleted the sharpest phrases from his speech manuscript.?? But nevertheless, he was the only party chief who refrained from saying anything about the possible impact a military intervention could have on the process of détente. 38 Only the Romanian state and party chief, Nikolaie Ceausescu, dared to use the word “intervention,” seriously warning of its consequences.
Back in Berlin, Honecker tried to sell his defeat in Moscow as a success. Krolikowski announced to Moscow, “EH's and GM's attitude towards Moscow is still bad, hypocritical and demagogic. EH learned nothing from the Crimea meeting. He takes the events in Poland as confirmation (handwritten: for the correctness of his policy and proof] for the mistakes of L.I. Brezhnev and the CPSU PB according to the evaluation of EH and GM [handwritten: during the Crimea meeting). Cleverly, he tries to capitalize on the events in Poland. [...] EH and GM assume that the CPSU leadership, facing the crisis in Poland, highly value each positive word which EH utters about the Soviet Union and that their criticism at the Crimea meeting will be forgotten.' Hermann Axen,
SED CC secretary for international relations and member of the GDR delegation, briefed the SED politburo about the meeting in Moscow on December 9,4 emphasizing, “of primary importance: that the meeting occurred. Due to several initiatives of Comrade E. Honecker." Axen's report made clear what Honecker's intentions in Moscow had been: "Impressive was the argumentation by [Czechoslovak] comrade (Gustáv Husák on the basis of the CPCZ (Communist Party of Czechoslovakia) experience of 1968. Comrade Ceausescu repeated the Romanian objection against a military relief campaign." Axen also stressed the SED's skepticism with regard to an "inner Polish” solution. The assistance" provided to the PUWP leadership in Moscow, he underlined, "will only be effective if (I stress ‘if') it is used the way it has to be and was meant." According to Axen, Polish party leader Stanisław Kania had indeed announced that “measures for introduction of the 'martial law' were in preparation. But [Kania's] speech shows that no clear concept and program of action exists.” The meeting therefore told the “PUWP and the public: Up to here and no further! Sort things out, otherwise extreme measures must be taken! [...] However, nothing has been decided yet.”
To conclude, Krolikowski's notes corroborate the thesis that SED leader Erich Honecker indeed sought a hardline-military—solution in the fall/winter of 1980 and—for one—very likely took initial Soviet preparations for an intervention seriously.
by GM, is certainly wrong.
And though absolutely necessary, no conclusions are being drawn from the events in Poland for the policy of our party, concerning e.g.:
- the application of Leninist standards of party work;
- the Marxist-Leninist analysis of the situation and the consequences resulting from it;
- the acknowledgement of criticism and self-criticism from top to bottom;
- to take action against the `spin' towards the West in the GDR;
the fight against spreading nationalism here, which is also fed by the events in Poland;
- the penetration by bourgeoisie ideology via the Western mass media and visitors;
measures to prevent further indebtedness of the GDR [to the West);
- overcoming the gaps between purchasing power and production.
These extremely important questions, however, are not mentioned in the report at all, much less treated in a profound way. The opposite is the case. The internal situation of the GDR is represented as if there are no difficulties, although changes are necessary and are ever more forcefully demanded within and outside of the party.
What are the crucial motives behind EH's and GM's use of the events in Poland for their plans in such an extraordinary manner?
1. They use them in order to make others forget the CPSU critique, ventured at EH by L.I. Brezhnev in the Crimea; they pretend to be super-revolutionaries, the initiators of the current consultation among the General Secretaries and First Secretaries of the fraternal parties in Moscow. At the same time, they think, they are countering the unsatisfactory Soviet incapacity to act in the Polish question.
Their extraordinary handling of the Polish events pursues the domestic goal of defeating all attempts to draw parallels between EH and Gierek.
2. EH and GM use the Polish events to allow GDR achievements to appear still more beautiful and brighter, as an example of the almost sole intact socialist system in the world.
3. Their extreme condemnation of the events in Poland strike at the Soviet Union, and in an indirect way, accuse the Soviet Union of being unable to keep the socialist states in its realm, unable any longer to strengthen their unity and unanimity.
Werner Krolikowski, “Comment on the Report of the PB to the 13th Plenum of the SED CC, which was prepared and submitted by Günther Mittag,"
handwritten, 5 December 1980 (excerpt)
4. While a principled argument with FRG imperialism is missing, the assessment of the situation in the People's Republic of Poland lasts for 20 pages. Indeed, the comrades and many workers watch the developments in Poland with great concern. They also expect a response by the party leadership, its assessment of the situation and of what is to be done in order to change the situation in favor of socialism.
However, it simply cannot be true that patronizing statements are made before the Plenum of the CC of our party, about what the PUWP must and must not do in order to smash the counterrevolution and guarantee the continued socialist development of Poland. Fraternal assistance and even advice for the solution of the extremely complicated crisis situation in Poland are necessary. There is no doubt about that. But the way this has been discussed on the CC Plenum, based on the report
(Source: Personal papers, document obtained by Michael Kubina and translated by Bernhard Streitwieser.]
Michael Kubina, is a research fellow with the Forschungsverbund SED-Staat at the Free University of
Berlin since 1992. He is co-editor of “Hart und Kompromißlos durchgreifen" SED contra Polen 1980/81 (1995). His research interests include the 1980/81 Polish crisis and the SED party apparatus.
The author would like to thank Bernhard Streitwieser for assistance with the translation.
* Information on an internal talk between Comrade Tichonov and Comrade Schürer. Recorded by Schürer for Honecker's attention: 21.3.1979, Bundesarchiv Berlin (BArch-Bin] DE 1-56257.
Not to be mistaken for his brother, Herbert Krolikowski, who at that time was serving as Undersecretary and First Deputy of the GDR Foreign Minister, as well as General Secretary of the Political Consultative Committee of the Warsaw Pact countries.
Hermann Weber, Geschichte der DDR (München: dtv, 1985), pp. 475 ff.
“The cadre-political changes ...," handwritten, 4 June 1984.
See "Schmeichelei und Unterwürfigkeit,” Interview mit Sowjetbotschafter Wjatscheslaw Kotschemassow, in Der Spiegel 47 (16 November 1992), pp. 148-149; Vjaczeslav Koczemasov, Meine letzte Mission. Botschafter der UdSSR in der DDR von 1983 bis 1990 (Berlin: Dietz Verlag, 1994), pp. 56 ff., 69 ff.
For legal reasons the source of these notes cannot be disclosed. Some of Krolikowski's notes, also without their source specified, have already been published; however, in these publications no differentiation was made between typewritten and handwritten sections. See Peter Przybylski: Tatort Politbüro (vol. 1): Die Akte Honecker (Berlin: Rowohlt, 1991) and (vol. 2): Honecker, Mittag, Schalck-Golodkowski (Berlin, Rowohlt, 1992). Przybylski served for 25 years as press spokesman of the GDR, chief public prosecutor, and as such presented the educational crime film series, “The public prosecutor takes the floor," on GDR TV. It is interesting to note that after reunification, Przybylski was accused of plagiarism by former co-workers at the “Institute for Marxism-Leninism” at the SED CC. To avoid criticism of the book before its publication, Przybylski's publisher decided to advertise the book under an anonymous author. Immediately after its publication, Hans Modrow, the last SED Prime Minister of the GDR, vainly tried to take legal action against the circulation of the book. Erich
Honecker, Zu dramatischen Ereignissen (Hamburg n.d.: Runge, 1992), pp. 65 ff. The Krolikowski notes, both those published by Przybylski as well as those quoted here, appear authentic.
See the introduction in Michael Kubina and Manfred Wilke, eds., “Hart und kompromißlos durchgreifen.” Die SED contra Polen 1980/81. Geheimakten der SED-Führung über die Unterdrückung der polnischen Demokratiebewegung (Berlin: Akademie Verlag, 1995), esp. pp. 24 ff.; Jerzy Holzer, “Drohte Polen 1980/81 eine sowjetische Intervention? Zur Verkündung des Kriegsrechts in Polen am 13.12.1981," Forum für osteuropäische Ideen- und Zeitgeschichte 1(1997), pp. 197-230; see also the outstanding contemporary analysis by Richard D. Anderson, “Soviet decision-making and Poland,” Problems of Communism 2:25 (1982) pp. 22-36; and Mark Kramer, “Poland 1980-81: Soviet Policy During the Polish Crisis,” Cold War International History Project Bulletin 5 (Spring 1995), pp. 1, 116-139.
See Raymond L. Garthoff, “The Conference on Poland, 1980-1982: Internal Crisis, International Dimensions," Cold War International History Project Bulletin 10 (March 1998), pp. 229232.
See Kubina and Wilke, SED contra Polen, p. 20 ff., and Michael Kubina, “Honecker wäre einmarschiert. Die Rolle der SED-Führung während der Krise in Polen 1980/81,” Eicholz Brief: Zeitschrift zur politischen Bildung 2 (1996), pp. 40-47.
See Holzer, "Sowjetische Intervention?" pp. 201 ff.; also Armin Mitter, "Ein Hauch von Freiheit. Akten der SED-Führung zur Unterdrückung der polnischen Demokratiebewegung," Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, 3 August 1995.
Jerzy Holzer, “Stan wojenny: dla Polski czy dla socjalizmu?” in Gazeta Wyborcza, 7 June 1994, pp. 19-21, here p. 20. Holzer's argument here, among other things, is based on a falsely dated document, which, he quotes without marking his omissions. He incorrectly dates minutes of two talks between the CC Secretaries, Joachim Herrmann and M.V. Zimyanin, respectively, at the end of November, as occurring immediately before the crisis summit in Moscow on 5 December 1980, when in fact the talks took place at the end of October, a whole month earlier. See the discussion in Kubina and Wilke, SED contra Polen, p. 96 ff.
Julij A. Kvicinskij, Vor dem Sturm. Erinnerungen eines Diplomaten. (0.0. (Berlin) Siedler, o.J. ), p. 262. Günter Mittag, Um jeden Preis. Im Spannungsfeld zweier Systeme (Berlin: Aufbau-Verlag, 1991), pp. 35 ff.
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