THE murder of Imre Nagy and Pal Maleter has been widely compared with the continuous reign of terror by which Stalin maintained his supreme power in the Soviet Union. But in certain respects it is much worse.
One often hears people saying that the crimes of men like Stalin and Hitler are worse than anything previously recorded in the sufficiently lamentable history of human government. In regard to the numbers affected—one view of the number who, directly or indirectly, suffered death through Stalin's tyranny is that it reached about 13,000,000 — and to the subtlety of means by which so many were trapped and tortured into avowal of information or crimes they had never committed, the modern totalitarian record is certainly unique. But no one can read political history without realising that it is filled with monstrous cruelties and crimes, political and ideological, more crude no doubt than the modern record, but no less evil.
THE margin between relatively civilised politics and barbarous politics is inevitably a
thin and frail one. After all, " respectable " war itself, with all the death, suffering, hatred, and lies which it necessarily involves, is nothing else but the final breakdown of social and international accommodation by political means. And, leaving formal war itself aside, the pursuit through political manoeuvres of personal ambitions or a deep national or class cause can easily lead to treachery, murder, bloodshed, whether to avert revolution or through revolution.
It is, happily, a far cry from the unreasoning temper and hatred, into which otherwise highly civilised people can so easily fall when some issue seems directly to endanger what they deeply value, to gross political crimes; but both are equally expressions of the crude passion which lies somewhere within us all and which can emerge for almost frivolous reasons.
But it has been the part of most human societies, so well aware of the fires so inadequately damped down by civilised habits, to seek for ways and means of safeguarding certain conventions, certain principles, which they will agree to respect. These have, alas, worn thin in modern times as compared, say, with the rights of sanctuary in earlier and more Christian days. Nevertheless, all the cruelties of modern warfare are felt to carry less guilt than the deliberate flouting of the international conventions in war which preserve a human witness to man's claim to remain civilised even though killing, hate, and lying flourish all around him.
In the case of the murder of Nagy and those associated with him, the Soviet Union and Communism have made themselves responsible for the public flouting of diplomatic immunity and their own solemn promise to give the men safe conduct.
Logically, it may seem a small point that Stalin and his heirs, who make no bones about murdering their political opponents and rivals, with or without fake trial, have not respected what is left of international convention of immunity and safe conduct. But in reality it marks the difference between the inner logic of politics and war, where the reign of terror always lies under the crust of civilised ways, and the persistent human effort to continue to bear witness that society, even at its worst, still wants to rise above itself and stand by certain conventional agreements.
It is in that sense that these murders, internationally committed and in open defiance of the conventions of civilisation, are greater crimes before humanity than any number of killings and murders resulting from the inner logic of political revolutionary strife and the most total of wars.
Some may well believe that the Communist leaders have anyway, long ago, crossed even that last harrier of respect for any convention, any civilisation. One cannot tell. But, where this is the case, they usually make a pretence of respecting such conventions, if only for their own ultimate good.
WE may therefore reasonably conclude that only extraordinarily powerful and dangerous inner pressures among the Communist leaders can account for this crime.
It is not easy to make any sequent pattern out of the constantly changing policy of Khrushchev or out of his many sided personality. But it did seem that through all the apparent contradictions he was shaping a Communist empire with many attractive baits for the uncommitted regions of the world and one whose economic and scientific progress was forcing the free world more and more on to the defensive. In other words, he was building up a force which could meet the West, for example at a Summit Conference, so well armed that negotiations, while they might relieve the West of some of its worst anxieties, would actually greatly increase Communist world prestige.
Suddenly, he commits this international crime which not only stirs up again all the international feeling about the Hungarian uprising and its ruthless repression, but destroys all his efforts to reassure the free world that Communism is evolving along lines, contrary indeed to the "capitalist" ideology, but civilised and up to a point cooperative.
It would seem that only the realisation that this policy was, unknown to us, actually weakening, rather than strengthening, the cohesion and strength of Communism can account for this step designed to strike terror among the satellite countries, and not least Poland.
Khrushchev has many rivals within the Soviet Union and outside it, only too ready to stick to the old ways, and it is a question now whether he can expect to maintain his supreme power even at the cost of a crime which will remind not only the West, but the uncommitted nations, so anxious to play with Mtn. that whatever anyone may think in the Communist world, its policy is really determined by the shackles with which its evil past has bound it.