and the Political Revolution
We are reproducing
an article first published in October 1986,
the 30th anniversary of the 1956 Hungarian workers' uprising against
This month is the
thirtieth anniversary of the Hungarian revolution of 1956. Even though
its outcome was a tragic defeat, in which at least 20,000 Hungarian
workers were killed and countless others injured, imprisoned and forced
into hiding or exile, it nevertheless was undoubtedly the most significant
pointer to future developments in the Stalinist states since the consolidation
of the bureaucracy around Stalin in the 1920s. It was the most vivid
confirmation of the perspectives of Trotsky, that the workers under
Stalinist dictatorship, far from accepting their conditions or demanding
a return to capitalism, would move in a political revolution to take
power into their own hands. The tremendously inspiring events of the
Hungarian October are full of lessons for the workers of Eastern Europe
and the whole world.
The 1945 Revolution
have tried to paint a picture of these events as the work of CIA agitators
and counter-revolutionaries. Nothing could be further from the truth.
The revolutionary traditions of the Hungarian working class in themselves
make such a claim incredible. Even prior to world war one there were
big strikes and wage demands. In 1905 there was a big movement of landless
labourers against wage cuts. In the Hungarian revolution of 1919 the
workers moved to overthrow the fragile regime of the bourgeois liberal
Karolyi because it could not satisfy their revolutionary demands. They
established a soviet republic. It was only due to the inexperience and
mistakes of the Hungarian Communist Party, under Bela Kun, that the
republic lost support from some layers of the peasantry, providing a
base for counter-revolution and the establishment of a brutal regime
of fascist terror under Horthy.
Then forty families
had owned two thirds of the land while 1.1 million peasants, out of
a population of 9 million, lived without land on the verge of starvation.
When industry was nationalised and a land reform carried through, in
the wake of the victory of the Red army in 1945 and the flight of most
of the old exploiting classes along with the retreating Nazi armies,
there was widespread support for these measures.
Yet this second
Hungarian revolution was carried through without the conscious participation
of the mass of workers. On the contrary, all genuine workers leaders
were tortured, imprisoned, put on show trial and purged from the party,
including many heroes who had fought in the underground against the
the Nazis. Some were even executed. The revolution was carried through
in a bureaucratic form, and a swarm of careerists jumped onto the bandwagon
of the party, including even some ex-fascists. Moreover the bureaucracy
in the USSR systematically pillaged the economies of the other Eastern
Bloc countries in the period 1945 to 1956. Goods were bought by the
USSR below world market prices, sometimes even below the cost of production,
while Russian goods were sold in Eastern Europe at inflated prices.
In fact the "fraternal bargaining" over these matters sometimes went
a little beyond the traditional limits governing such friendly co-operation
between "socialist allies": two ministers of foreign trade (Bulgaria
and Czechoslovakia) were executed quite specifically for trying to get
more equitable terms of trade!
looting, bureaucratic mismanagement and corruption, because the Hungarian
economy was now on a more advanced social base an immense programme
of economic reconstruction and development was carried through. Living
standards rose in the period 1945-49. Immeasurable advances were made
in the field of education, culture, and public health. Workers and youth
for the first time gained recreational facilities. Big advances were
made for women. Equal pay was established and all professions were opened
up to them. A system of creches, kindergartens and maternity benefits
including three months' leave on full pay was introduced. Yet at the
same time the bureaucracy accumulated for itself vast privileges: private
holiday homes with luxury hotel accommodation, cut off by barbed wire
from the mass of the population; imported luxury chauffeur-driven cars
while the mass of workers were herded like cattle onto crowded busses;
private hiring of musicians while the average worker did not even have
a record player; better food; better clothes; vastly superior housing.
Whilst their own
living standards were rising, the mass of workers were prepared to put
up with these injustices. But in 1955 the economy began to go into crisis
due to a series of bureaucratic blunders. The oil fields in Western
Hungary were accidentally flooded due to too rapid a rise in production
ordered by the head of state Rakosi. Dora Scarlett, a British Communist
Party member who was working in Hungary at the time, describes the appalling
mismanagement: "In the mines and factories work pledges had to be taken…seriously
and there was a terrific rush to fulfil them, even if it meant completing
a block of flats so badly that they would need repairing before the
year was out, or sending a consignment of goods 40 percent of which
might be rejects."
The 1953-55 Nagy
in the shops, especially of meat. People had to queue all night to get
the things they wanted. At the same time the bureaucrats carried on
with their opulent existence. The revolution of 1956 was a revolution
to rid society of this gang of parasites, torturers and murderers, who
claimed to rule in the name of the working class, and to reassert the
traditions of 1919 of the involvement of the working class in the revolution
and the subsequent running of society. One worker from the giant Csepel
plant told a western correspondent: "The West should not believe
that the workers fought to bring back Horthy or the landowners and counts.
We shall not give back the land, the factories or the mines."
The causes of the
1956 events also lie in the political developments within the bureaucracy.
Mirroring the economic crisis there were tremendous political upheavals.
In 1953 with the death of Stalin there were some signs of a "thaw"
in the monolithic rule of Moscow and its puppets in Budapest. Rakosi,
a hard line Stalinist, retired. Nagy, who had a reputation as a "liberaliser"
and was initially favoured in the Kremlin by Khrushchev, took over.
In several Eastern Bloc countries during the fifties a similar switch
was made. Bureaucrats who were denounced later as "Titoists"
came to the fore. This layer of the bureaucracy had no objection to
a one-party totalitarian system in which the leading layer had enormous
privileges, but they did oppose the Russian bureaucracy plundering all
the spoils of the nations' economic progress for themselves. Gomulka
in Poland played a similar role. It was the fact that these bureaucrats
had been persecuted by the USSR earlier, for taking an anti-Russian
stand, that gave them a certain credibility with the masses. The hopes
which the masses had originally placed in the revolutionary changes
of the immediate post-war years were revived. Some sections of the masses
believed that Nagy's "new course" would give the regime a
"human face". But behind the scenes there was a desperate
struggle going on within the bureaucracy, and much trepidation within
the Kremlin, as to the dangers inherent in even a microscopic dose of
A real measure of
just how little "return to legality" took place under Nagy was subsequently
revealed during the 1956 revolution itself. Within the first week 5,500
prisoners of war were released. These were men who had been sent back
from Russia eight years before but had been imprisoned again by the
hated AVO secret police.
The Petofi Circle
They had not been
charged and had no prospect of release. These people remained illegally
in prison, many assumed by relatives to be dead, during the Nagy period
of 1953-55. In fact the prison camps, allegedly intended for the
enemies of the revolution, were at this time full of common people,
workers, poor peasants, small stall holders, etc. Sandor Kopacsi, the
Chief of Police in Budapest in 1956, who subsequently resigned and got
political asylum in the west, gives an account of his tour of inspection
of these camps which reads like Dante's journey through hell. The camps
were packed full of dejected demoralized prisoners, who had never been
tried, who came up to him and told him of the petty crimes, such as
chicken stealing, they had been incarcerated for. Yet even the minuscule
moves in the direction of reform under Nagy proved eventually too much
for the nerves of Moscow. Khrushchev changed his attitude towards "the
In April 1955 Nagy
was removed from the premiership and expelled from the party as a "right-wing
deviationist". Rakosi was wheeled back in with a clampdown on all the
new policies. Yet the zig-zags of the Kremlin bureaucrats only whipped
up a mood of discontent amongst the Hungarian masses. When, in February
1956, Khrushchev's speech at the 20th congress denouncing Stalin's crimes
came to light, the whole of Hungary began to seethe with discussion.
A group of intellectuals, naming themselves the Petofi circle (after
the famous poet of the bourgeois revolution who was executed in the
defeat of the 1848 revolution and became a national hero), began to
meet regularly and semi-openly.
In his book, Kopacsi
makes a very interesting revelation about the morale of the state forces
at this time. In the spring of 1956 a squad of secret police were sent
into the Petofi circle and the active element of the Young Communist
movement, which was also bubbling with debate. As the dissidents' arguments
became more fully explained the police spies became more and more open
to the ideas about reforming the system which were being put forward
at these meetings. "Suddenly a majority of these 'spies' declared that
they were in agreement with the points made in the Petofi circle!" Kopacsi
recounts, "together they issued a statement, which they signed, declaring
themselves in solidarity with the ideas put forward by the young reformists
of the party."
The whole of the
Eastern Bloc was awash with discontent. The floodgates had begun to
burst even as early as 1953 with a massive strike wave and street fighting
in East Germany. In Plzen and Prague, Czechoslovakia there had been
riots. In the Hungarian industrial towns of Csepel, Ozd and Diosgyor
the masses had come onto the streets in protest against the conditions.
Even within the Soviet Union there had been strikes and protests amongst
the prisoners within the labour camps. In May 1956 vast numbers of Russian
troops and armoured vehicles were sent into Tiblisi, capital of Georgia,
to crush an uprising sparked off by austerity measures. In June 956
the workers of Poznan, in Poland rose. Inevitably this also had an effect
on the young people inside the state forces. The Petofi circle even
held one famous all-night meeting of 6,000 with people spilling out
into the streets around demanding democratisation of the system and
intellectual liberty. This movement of intellectuals was a reflection
of the deep underlying discontent amongst the workers. In conditions
such as this where all political freedom is barred, it is often the
intellectuals who give the first overt expression of the movement swelling
up beneath the surface of society.
23rd October 1956
denounced this ferment. Yet even Szabad Nep, the Hungarian CP
paper, under the pressure of the masses was grudgingly forced into agreement,
in words, with the more secondary demands. The bureaucracy in Budapest
went into crisis over the question of whether to bring in more reforms
in an attempt to restore the ailing credibility of the party, or to
bring in more hard-liners and clamp down on all the ferment. Many bureaucrats
dithered between the two positions lacking any confidence in either.
In every subsequent political crisis in the Stalinist states the bureaucracy
has divided to differing degrees along these lines. In fact in Hungary
today the same split is opening up again.
A further symptom
of this indecision was the removal again of Rakosi in July 1956, because
he was obviously arousing the hatred of the masses. This time, however,
he was not replaced by a reformer but another hard-liner, Kadar. Kadar
had been imprisoned and appallingly tortured by the Stalinists. This
gave him a certain credibility in the eyes of the masses, but it also
made him a compliant tool of Moscow.
Nagy was further
demoted, confirming the impression that the leading circles within the
bureaucracy were absolutely determined not to tolerate any quarter for
reforms. The so-called Communist Party was by this time a Communist
Party in name only. It had been purged, terrorised, bribed and corrupted
into nothing more than a freemasonary of cynical careerists, and an
appendage of the totalitarian state. In the elections of 1945 the CP
had got 17 percent of the vote. Dora Scarlett reported an estimate made
in 1956 which is only a very rough guide but nevertheless significant,
that if an election was held with a guarantee of no interference, the
CP would have been lucky to get 10 per cent.
During the revolution
itself the CP of 900,000 vanished overnight. Today less than 1 percent
support the party. This applies to all the Eastern Bloc countries.
Over the summer
of 1956 discussion and opposition became widespread in the colleges
and in the factories. The revolution was already in motion. Hostility
amongst the masses towards the regime reached such a pitch that any
spark could set off an explosion. In October that spark came. Students
in Budapest called a demonstration for the 23rd. It was unprecedented
for a demonstration to be organised outside of CP control. The authorities
banned it but the organisers announced they were going ahead anyway.
Initially it was over the conditions of students but an atmosphere of
excitement spread amongst all the youth and workers of the town. A series
of wider political demands soon were included and eventually the youth
were being called to demonstrate in support of the workers of Poland.
What a marvellous testimony to the internationalism of the movement,
that the spark which ignited the revolution was actually a demonstration
of international solidarity!
Tens of thousands
flooded onto the streets. The secret police (AVO) understood that any
reforms whatsoever would inevitably include a calling of them to account
for their ten years of crime and organised terror. In panic they fired
on the crowd. When police arrived to try and restore order, the crowd
explained to the police how the AVO had fired on defenceless men, women
and children. The young policemen, who knew the cruelty of the AVO,
scarcely hesitated before handing over their guns to the crowd. Anyone
who says that the forces of the political revolution are powerless against
the arms of the state apparatus should look at the reports of Police
Chief Kopasci as he describes his conversations over the radio with
the different police units in the capital.
For example, he
describes a conversation over the radio with one of his lieutenants
during the October 23 demonstration, a Lieutenant Kiss (someone who
"was prepared to sacrifice his life for the party. But for the Stalin
are pulling down the Stalin Statue. Please send us orders immediately.
Comrade Lieutenant, tell me about this pulling down.
are about a hundred thousand people around the Stalin Statue.
you sure there are as many as that?
Colonel, there are more than a hundred thousand, if not two hundred
thousand. All of Heroes Square, all the edge of the woods is black
with people. What shall I do?
how many men have you got?
er…twenty-five Comrade Colonel!
Look at what the people are doing and you will know straight away…You
see Comrade Kiss these are specialists. They are workers from one
or other of the big Pest factories. Only the workers possess the
equipment to do what you report."
This is how Kopasci
describes the first news over the police radio that the masses were
"The tone of
the junior officer at the other end was one of catastrophe: 'Comrade
Kopasci the participants have guns.' I asked for complete silence
in the room. I thought the man I was talking to had gone mad. 'I
don't quite understand. Repeat Comrade Lieutenant.' In a measured
tone the lieutenant repeated the account of how young recruits has
been surrounded by the crowd, told they needed weapons to defend
themselves against the security police and then how one soldier,
then two, had offered their guns to the people.
"In my office
silence reigned. My colleagues looked at me motionless. From the
gravity of my voice and the look on my face they understood that
the news I was getting was no joke. 'My boy how many arms have you
distributed and what type?'…I awaited the reply, the blood frozen
in my veins. 'Twenty-five or thirty rifles and about as many small
machine guns. Some rounds of ammunition as well. What are your orders?'
I could only give one: 'Barricade yourselves in and turn out your
clearly illustrate how powerless and terrified the bureaucracy were
in the face of an armed movement of the masses. They show that once
the workers are on the move all the seeming strength of the state forces
comes to nothing. Parallel with the rapid conquest of the streets went
a very rapid development of political consciousness of the masses. One
meeting held in the town centre began with a demand from the crowd that
the government send a minister to address them about what reforms it
proposed to make. The bureaucracy hesitated and vacillated for an hour
and then decided to send the minister of agriculture. By the time he
arrived the mood of the crowd had changed to hostility towards anything
the government may have offered and they booed him off the platform.
One of the features of all revolutions is this very quick development
of the political consciousness of the masses.
The first invasion
The Russian bureaucracy
responded to these events with panic measures. On the night of October
23-24 they sent in the tanks. Everyone fought them in the streets. People
brought small arms out of their homes with which to attack them. Children
as young as thirteen or fourteen set to them with Molotov cocktails.
Such ferocious resistance on the part of the Hungarian workers and youth
inevitably made a big impression on the Russian soldiers. They began
to question why they had been sent. Some had been told by their officers
that it was a fascist rebellion that needed crushing. This did not square
with such widespread and popular resistance. By dawn some of the Soviet
soldiers were leaving their vehicles and joining the mass demonstrations.
Some of the tank crews decorated their tanks with the flag of the revolution
(the Hungarian flag with the coat of arms removed). Russian troops asked
for political asylum. They saw in the determination of the Hungarian
workers the capacity to set up a new type of regime that would not hand
them back to the Russian commanders.
A vast crowd assembled
in front of the parliament building. The AVO fired on the crowd. Russian
troops moved in and defended the crowd from the AVO. All public buildings
were taken over by the workers. The radio was requisitioned for the
revolution and the demands of the workers broadcast to the rest of the
nation and beyond. Russian troops used their tanks to give backing to
the assault of the workers on the police headquarters.
The prisons were
open. Whole labyrinths of underground passages, cells and torture chambers
were unlocked. Prisoners walked out like ghosts, men and women who had
been assumed dead for years. In fact the network of secret police passageways
under Budapest was so vast that throughout the weeks of the revolution
relatives and friends searched for prisoners. Tappings could be heard
in the further recesses. Some were so hidden that the revolution never
reached them, before they could be found the counter-revolution had
up everywhere. One CP eyewitness said "people hungered and thirsted
for the printed word as though they had crossed a desert." From six
dreary official papers twenty-five lively dailies with circulations
going into millions sprang up within a few days.
Arising out of the
spontaneous political interests of the masses a number of new political
parties sprang into life, including a Social Democratic Party and a
Peasants Party. The right for a multiplicity of political parties to
exist was enshrined in the programme of the political revolution. Without
a doubt the experience of the Hungarian revolution shows that the workers
had the capacity to take over and run society. And they had the strength
and determination to win against all odds.
Such was the effect
on the consciousness of the masses that moral attitudes changed overnight
with the enthusiasm of the fight for a new society. Open suitcases taking
collections for the families of those killed in the fighting were left
unguarded on the street corners. Peasants showed their support for the
revolution by bringing cartloads of food into Budapest and distributing
it free. This in a country where people were still living in poverty!
Let no-one in the face of these facts say that human nature is unchangeable,
that people will always want to accumulate for themselves and that there
will always be crime, even under socialism.
In desperation at
their troops defecting to the revolution the Soviet authorities withdrew
them from Budapest. In his memoirs Khrushchev recalls the vacillations
within the top circles between "crushing the mutiny" or pulling "out
of Hungary": "I don't know how many times we changed our minds back
and forth." Desperately seeking a means to contain the situation, in
consultation with Moscow through Andropov, then the ambassador in Hungary,
the leaders switched once again to concessions. On October 25 the premier,
Gero, who had provoked the masses further by a ranting speech on the
radio about fascist agents, was removed at Moscow's bidding. Several
of the worst Stalinist die-hards were removed from the Politburo and
Nagy was suddenly rehabilitated and made premier.
But despite his
reputation as a "reformer", on the crucial questions confronting the
Hungarian workers Nagy was no different from the hard-line Stalinists.
Moscow persuaded him to declare martial law. He dumbly acquiesced with
the Soviet decision to send troops to crush the movement. On the first
day of his new premiership 300 workers were killed outside the parliament
building by the state forces. His hands were drenched in blood from
the outset. But given the tremendous power and sweep of the revolution
he was a last line of defence for the bureaucracy because of his reputation.
Nagy offered an
amnesty for all those who handed in their weapons. The Soviet authorities
started a display of "negotiations" with his new administration, offering
the masses the hope of a peaceful withdrawal of Soviet troops from the
country. In reality this was a smokescreen behind which they were preparing
for more effective military action. The truth was that the irresistible
sweep of the mass movement rendered the Nagy government completely impotent.
Without army, police or mass backing, it was a government in name only,
an administration suspended in mid-air.
Rumours flew around
as to the actions of the Russian columns. There was much confusion.
Some sections of the masses did not want to believe that a new invasion
was in the offing. If they were coming why were they going? Yet to anyone
prepared to think things through carefully, it was clear their job had
not finished. They were not far outside Budapest and their ranks were
being swelled by reinforcements. Soviet troops took over all the airports.
Here we get a glimpse
of the role that an organised revolutionary party would play in a political
revolution. To equip the advanced workers with a clear analysis, strategy
and tactics for the spread of the revolution into the other Stalinist
states, and thus to prepare for the next battle of the revolution it
was necessary for their experiences to be brought together within one
party. Such a party would have directed agitation and propaganda to
the wide layers of the masses who were hoping against hope that things
would not come to a second clash. It would have based itself on the
workers who were warning: "Don't lay down your arms." "No trust in the
Nagy government to implement the demands of the revolution." A revolutionary
party would have prepared politically clear slogans with which to meet
the next wave of Soviet troops. Most important of all it would have
formed a government based on the newly created workers' organisations
and have immediately arrested Kadar and all the other representatives
of Stalinism who still clung onto the shadow of power. Above all it
would have undertaken from the outset of the revolution the task of
directing propaganda to the workers of all the Eastern Bloc countries,
Power in the hands
of the workers
All these tasks
the advanced workers moved towards, through their own experience, in
the two weeks of the revolution. The programme of the revolution had
gone through different stages as the workers' consciousness leaped forward.
In reality it was an elaboration of the programme of Lenin, put forward
in April 1917, to defend the revolution against bureaucracy. The workers
- Workers' councils
in all factories to establish workers' management and a radical
transformation of the system of state central planning and directing.
- Wage rises
of 15 percent for the lowest paid, 10 percent for other workers
and an upper limit of £106 on salaries, which in the money of those
days would have done away with the privileged position of the bureaucracy.
- Abolition of
production norms except in factories where the workers' council
decided to keep them.
- Increases in
the lowest pensions.
- Increase in
- A fairer system
- A more rapid
programme of house building by the state.
These demands, which
contain not a hint of nationalism, religion, or reaction are the answer
to all those who say that the revolution against the Stalinist bureaucracy
is anti-socialist. They are a brilliant confirmation of the prognosis
Trotsky had put forward in relation to the character of the political
revolution. This was a programme with a wide appeal to the masses. Yet
although of crucial importance, a programme on its own does not guarantee
the outcome of a revolution. This is especially so when this programme
is arrived through a series of successive approximations based on the
conclusions the workers draw from their experience of each phase of
The prior existence
of a cadre organisation within the ranks of the most conscious workers,
armed in advance with perspectives and at least a general understanding
of what was necessary, would have made an enormous, and probably a decisive
difference to the outcome of the revolution.
The revolution had
transformed Budapest over the short space of a week. Kopasci paints
a vivid picture of the parliament building in these days of workers'
power. "This immense 'Westminister on the Danube' was more like the
Smolny Palace in Petrograd, Bolshevik headquarters in 1917…than the
old parliament chamber in London. The corridors and rooms were packed
with delegations of workers, peasants, soldiers, artists, writers and
politicians of different parties which had not been seen at all since
1947." Effectively the workers had taken power. In the provinces the
workers had joined the movement and come out on strike. In the mining
towns there was a very solid strike. All the workers were on the streets.
There was an atmosphere of insurrection.
Amongst the peasantry
too there was a big movement. The old Stalinist collective farm managers
were driven off with knives and pitchforks. The peasants elected revolutionary
committees. It is true that in some areas they broke up the land from
the collectives into private plots. But this was linked with a warning
that if any of the landlords tried to come back the peasants would organise
a second revolution. Undoubtedly even these peasants would have, through
experience, if the Hungarian workers had held onto power and established
a regime of workers' democracy, come to the conclusion voluntarily that
they were better off in collectives. This is how Peter Fryer, a reporter
for the British Communist Party paper, the Daily Worker described
the workers' councils:
"In their spontaneous
origin, in their composition, in their sense of responsibility,
in their efficient organisation of food supplies and of civil order,
in the restraint they exercised over the wilder elements of the
youth, in the wisdom with which so many of them handled the problem
of Soviet troops and, not least, in their striking resemblance to
the soviets or councils of workers', peasants' and soldiers' deputies
which sprang up in Russia in 1905 and again in February 1917, these
committees, a network of which now extended over the whole of Hungary
were remarkably uniform. They were at once organs of insurrection
- the coming together of delegates elected by factories and universities,
mines and army units, and organs of popular self-government which
the armed people trusted. As such they enjoyed tremendous authority,
and it is no exaggeration to say that until the Soviet attack of
November 4 the real power in the country lay in their hands."
The second invasion
The Nagy government,
the last fig leaf of the authorities, effectively had no control. Power
was in the hands of the revolutionary committees. The advanced sections
of the workers, big sections of the youth and the industrial workers
sensed that things could rapidly come to a head. They prepared to once
more defend the revolution. A new wave of strikes began which rapidly
reached the proportions of another general strike.
At this juncture
the Russian bureaucracy began their second assault on the revolution.
At 4 in the morning of Sunday November 4, Russian tanks, having encircled
Budapest, began to bombard it with shells from the hills outside. By
dawn they had entered the city and occupied key buildings including
the parliament. The attack came across the nation all at once. Every
city was pounded by artillery and then occupied.
Yet far from being
crushed in one simple and massive assault as the Russian bureaucrats
had hoped, the second invasion in fact spurred on the workers to even
greater struggle making them more determined than ever to fight for
the revolution to the finish. The consciousness of even the widest sections
of the masses exploded into new life. Those who had not participated
previously in the street fighting came pouring out to join the "veterans"
of the previous week. The workers fought, along with children, students,
the old and the soldiers and police who had come over. They built or
rebuilt barricades. They occupied positions before the Russian columns
entered the towns. The fighting was ferocious. The tanks were attacked
by the masses from all sides. Russian soldiers later reported that they
had never seen such determined resistance.
But this second
wave of Soviet troops had very little understanding of what they were
crushing. Many of them had been hastily transported from the far-eastern
provinces of the Soviet Union and could speak no European languages.
Peter Fryer, in a final dispatch to the Daily Worker, which the editor
hid from his staff, said: "Some of the rank and file Soviet troops have
been telling people that they had no idea they had come to Hungary.
They thought at first they were in Berlin, fighting German fascists."
Some had even been told they were on the Suez Canal. The Hungarian workers
attempted to hand them leaflets, but there was very little infantry
action because the top officers feared the fraternisation that had occurred
before. The Russian tanks came in and pumped shells into the buildings
where they thought the resistance was.
The top Soviet officers
desperately manoeuvred to "maintain the morale" of their troops by shooting
those of their men who displayed any sympathy for the Hungarian workers!
For example, one Soviet tank officer was executed because his column
had found its road blocked by a line of women and children sitting in
their path. Instead of christening the street with their blood he drove
his contingent round another way. Several of the soldiers who complied
with this were also executed. In the prison yards of Budapest such executions
continued all day and all night. This grisly fact illustrates that despite
all the measures taken by the Russian bureaucracy the Hungarian workers
made an impact on the minds of quite wide layers of even this second
wave of troops.
Despite this show
of strength the bureaucracy almost failed to regain control. It took
fifteen divisions, with six thousand tanks, backed up by MiG fighter
planes to quell the movement. Buildings were pumped with phosphorus
to set them on fire. One commentator, Andy Anderson, described it thus:
"Smoke from burning buildings, exploding shells and Molotov cocktails
mixed with the dust from crashing masonry to create a choking fog. The
sight of the mounting wounded created a fog to choke the mind."
Yet even with such
brutality on the part of the Russian bureaucracy it took weeks to finish
the job. On November 4 the still-born Nagy government, which represented
nobody and no-one, was replaced by one under the hard-liner Kadar. He
appealed for the workers to go back to work but the strike intensified.
On November 5 he "warned", he "hoped for" and he "requested" a return
to work. On the 6th and 7th he "threatened". On the 8th his henchman
Marosan declared "it is the duty of every decent worker to go back to
work." But throughout the workers remained on strike and more and more
Russian tanks fell victim to the heroic armed resistance of the masses.
Hungary '56: Portent
of future struggles
The most forceful
and long-lasting resistance to the invasion came precisely from the
big working-class areas of Budapest. Hospital figures show that the
injured consisted of 70-80 percent young workers. These figures are
incompatible with the Stalinist slur that the insurgents were hotheaded
lumpen proletarians egged on by fascist provocateurs. "Red" Cespel,
so called because it had been in pre-war days a bastion of the CP, was
one of the last districts to hold out. Open resistance continued in
isolated pockets well into 1957 and even in 1958 and 1959 there were
strikes and demonstrations as the workers attempted to resist the remorselessly
tightening grip of bureaucratic control.
The victory of the
bureaucracy did not come easily. 1956 opened up a new period of economic
development for the Hungarian economy. The Russian bureaucracy deliberately
decided to pump resources into the country. They had been so frightened
by the revolution that they wanted to ensure the masses were kept more
content to avoid a repetition. Living standards rose significantly for
the Hungarian masses for the rest of the 1950s and the 1960s. To put
it in the words of Khrushchev: "We shall shut their mouths with goulash."
Even in the seventies there was still substantial progress. This was
the basis for the relative stability of the Kadar regime.
The Hungarian Revolution
of 1956 was a glorious page in working-class history. It added to the
heritage of mankind a priceless experience. It showed, not just in books
but in living historical experience, that there was an alternative to
the brutality of Stalinism that did not consist of a return to capitalism.
It was in this sense a pointer to the future of mankind. Victory was
possible. In reality victory was won, but it was snatched away again
by the second Soviet invasion. Victory could have been consolidated
only by spreading the revolution to the Soviet troops, including the
far-eastern contingents, and that would have entailed spreading the
revolution into the USSR itself. The material basis for the victory
of the bureaucracy lay in the relatively progressive role that the Stalinist
system was playing at that time. Even then a successful revolution in
Hungary, headed by a revolutionary party that knew what it was doing
and where it was going, could have been the trigger to set off the revolution
within the USSR.
Today however, conditions
are infinitely more favourable. The bureaucracy no longer plays any
sort of progressive role in the USSR or Hungary. The economic outlook
is gloomy for Hungary. The rate of growth has been less than 1 percent
for the last five years. The Hungarian economy ran a trade deficit of
£308 million in the first seven months of this year - almost three times
higher than the same period last year - partly due to the fall in prices
of its oil product exports. Living standards are no longer rising as
they were in the decades following 1956. Once again the whole of the
Eastern Bloc is wracked by ferment and discontent. The events in Poland
in 1980 and 1981 are only the tip of the iceberg. The heritage and experience
of 1956 will be invaluable to the new generation of Hungarian workers
and the workers of Eastern Europe as they move into battle to reopen
the unfinished war against the bureaucracy.