Papers presented by Thomas Haigh since 2019

2020 Charlotte, North Carolina

"Three Empires in the East: IBM’s Communist Collaboration"

Thomas Haigh, University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee and Siegen University


This paper features work produced during my ongoing collaboration with Petri Paju of the University of Turku. An earlier article from the same project, exploring IBM’s role in the creation of modern Europe, won the Scranton and Wilkins prizes from BHC in 2017. This new paper explores the Cold War history of IBM behind the so-called Iron Curtain. Drawing on archival research, interviews, and oral histories we chart the surprising resilience IBM’s Eastern subsidiaries during the coldest decades of the cold war We look particularly at IBM Hungary, which remained in business throughout the period. After struggling during the Stalinist era, corporate diplomacy that let IBM free imprisoned executives and reopen ties with its subsidiary during the upheavals of 1956, grow its business there even after the Soviet reinvasion, and finally begin computer sales in 1960s as part of a larger Eastern European operation coordinated from neutral Vienna. IBM’s global and regional leaders, its Hungarian staff, their customers, and the Hungarian government perused their own interests in ways that defy simple stories of East vs. West. Seen in terms of IBM’s strident anti-communism this collaboration is hard to explain. Looking at the personal histories of IBM’s key regional personnel hints at a different story. Baron George Daubek, the former head of its Czech operations, found sanctuary in Vienna and quickly rose to lead IBM Austria. In the cold war narrative he was a refugee from the East, finding sanctuary in the West. History and geography are not so simple though. Vienna, the capital of the lost empire in which Daubek held his noble rank, is in fact to the east of Prague. Budapest, with which he coordinated IBM’s trade, was the former co-capital of the same empire. Three empires were overlaid on the same cramped map, vying and collaborating across time: Soviet, American, and Hapsburg.