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(en) Britain, Anarchist Federation Organise #67 - Organise! remembers the fiftieth anniversary of the 1956 Hungarian Revolution.

Date Sat, 09 Dec 2006 09:05:35 +0200

The Soviet army advanced into Eastern Europe in 1944. If certain people believed that this would lead to liberation, they were soon to be proved wrong. Not only was capitalism not abolished but the old fascist regimes, like those in Hungary, Romania and Bulgaria, which had operated as willing junior partners of the Nazis, were maintained in a sense in that the old political structures were maintained. The personnel of the regimes were for the most part, kept in place. The Soviet leader Molotov remarked that above all "law and order had to be maintained to prevent the rise of anarchy"!
The new Hungarian government had at its head Bela Danolki-Miklos, a general decorated by Hitler and who had acted as go-between linking the Nazi regime and the fascist government of Admiral Horthy, who in 1919 had launched an horrendous White Terror against the first Hungarian Revolution.

Horthy, because of his Magyar nationalism, had proved to be an unsteady ally of Hitler, who had sent in a German occupying army.

Many Hungarians were stunned when a Nazi dignitary, who still recognized Horthy as the legitimate leader of the country, was put in place at the head of a government, with the window dressing of a few socialists and Communists.

The Soviet regime had an objective of controlling the country through setting up a Hungarian Communist Party divested of any elements who still dreamed of any real form of communism. The Party gained control of the Ministry of the Interior and its secret police, the AVO. In 1948 it got control of the Ministry of Defence. It chopped up the opposition by allying with one current against another. It used torture and murder and repression. The forces of repression were a curious mixture of the old scum of the Horthy regime and the new scum of the Communist Party.


Russia imposed severe reparations on Hungary which drove living standards down and led for a time to famine. Moscow demanded $300million in equipment and agricultural products. These went to Russia for the most part, the rest being sent to Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia.

Despite the repression of the AVO and the presence of the Red Army, the situation in Hungary became explosive. Moscow had to reduce its demands from 25% to 10% of national budget of Hungary spent on reparations.

Massive nationalizations led to an economy co-managed by the Hungarian government and the Soviet Union. Workers in nationalized industries suffered appalling conditions, based on piecework with rewards for higher productivity (Stakhanovism) with the lowest wages for the majority!

A long struggle between the working class and the new regime began in this period. Absenteeism and doing as little as possible at work were the main weapons of the working class. The regime denounced "lazy workers" and the falls in productivity and the bad quality of goods manufactured. In 1948 the Minister of Industry said: "The workers have adopted a terrorist attitude towards the directors of nationalized industries."

A law was passed forbidding workers to leave their workplace without permission.

At the same time from 1948 to 1950, the Communist Parties of Eastern Europe expelled from their ranks a large number of what they called supporters of "Titoism" (in Hungary, nearly 500,000 were expelled!)

In March 1953, Stalin died. Workers' revolts broke out in Pilsen, Czechoslovakia where a demonstration of Skoda workers and arms factory workers was savagely repressed. Two weeks later, the workers of East Berlin rose up, setting off revolts throughout East Germany viciously put down by Russian tanks.

The Soviet leadership had to adopt a new strategy. In Hungary this meant that the `hard' leader Rakosi was demoted and the `soft' Imre Nagy was appointed as Prime Minister. Several reforms were put through: light industries were revived, which hitherto had suffered at the expense of heavy industry which the USSR had needed, there was increased production of consumer products, individual peasants were given aid, and repression became less severe. The Kremlin hoped that this would quieten the Hungarian working class.

After Khrushchev came to power in the USSR, Nagy was dismissed and Rakosi put back in place. Most of the concessions put through in the last 20 months were taken away little by little. Pressure to increase reparations redoubled.


On 28th June 1956 the workers of Poznan demonstrated demanding the withdrawal of the Russians, the end of piecework and `Bread and Freedom'. Again the revolt was brutally crushed.

In Hungary workers continued their struggles with a series of strikes. This encouraged intellectuals, artists, writers and students to put forward their demands. The Petofi Circle was founded by students in the Communist Youth organisation. This became an important centre for debate and discussion. At the same time underground pamphlets began to circulate, literary reviews appeared and semi-public meetings took place. Rakosi made an attempt to forbid these meetings but failed. He wanted a massive roundup, but the Soviets were fearful of things getting out of control and intervened to have Rakosi dismissed again. He was replaced by his right hand man, Gero.

This allowed the Writers Union to boot out all Rakosi supporters from its leadership, replacing them with dissidents and even non-Communists.

The regime tried to curry favour by exonerating Rajk, a Communist dissident executed earlier for Titoism. Two hundred thousand people turned up when Rajk's body was exhumed to be re-buried for an official funeral. Before his disgrace Rajk had been in charge of the AVO. Most of those who turned up that day came not to honour Rajk but to show their opposition to the regime.


Through local union branches workers called for the running of the factories by the workers. The National Committee of Unions turned these demands into `union democracy' and `worker's control'.

These new demands added a revolutionary content to the agitation which up to then had been one of protest. The Petofi Circle took up the demands of the workers and turned them into a narrow demand to be made on the government. Learning that the old Polish leadership had had to resign, despite the support of Moscow, the intellectuals thought that their moment had come. The Petofi Circle called for a demonstration of solidarity with their "Polish brothers" for 23rd October. The government banned the protest but then backed down when it learnt that people were massing throughout Budapest. Fifty thousand gathered to hear a resolution from the Writers' Union. This called for national independence on socialist principles, equality of relations with the USSR and a revision of the economic agreements, direction of the factories by the workers and technicians, the departure of Rakosi and for a new government with electoral freedom.

The demonstration was due to end but many taking part decided to march on Parliament. A hundred thousand gathered. It was decided to go to the main radio station so that the demands could be broadcast. On the way there, a huge statue of Stalin was dragged off its plinth and smashed.

Thousands more joined the march, including many workers. At the radio station, AVO thugs hidden in the building fired on the crowd, killing many. The crowd continued to advance, overwhelmed the police outside and took their arms to fire at the building.

Workers returned to arms factories where they worked and loaded lorries with arms which were taken to the radio station.

The panicking Communist Party leaders put the `soft' Nagy back as Premier. But it was under his leadership that the government called on the Red Army to help "restore order".

"It was the workers who..saved the struggle from complete collapse. They saw the Nagy issue as largely irrelevant. In the society they were glimpsing through the dust and smoke of the battle in the streets, there would be no Prime Minister, politicians, and no officials or bosses ordering them about," says Andy Anderson, author of Hungary 1956.

"The young workers led the way and everyone followed them," - 21 year old worker at United Electric factory in a Budapest suburb.

Workers and students set up a revolutionary council. The battle continued around the radio station. Nagy called for the laying down of arms and promised widespread democratisation. This failed to deter many people. The revolutionary Council of Workers and Students called for a general strike.


Russian tanks moved in and many barricades were built against them. Fighting went on for three days in Budapest with workers and students using molotovs, arms they had captured and even a small field gun with which they bombarded the tanks.

Meanwhile the revolution was spreading.

At Magyarovar the AVO fired on a crowd killing over a hundred people. Armed workers and students from nearby Gyor arrived. The AVO headquarters was captured, and the surviving AVO thugs were beaten to death or lynched.

The general strike spread through Budapest and out into the main industrial towns. Revolutionary committees and councils were set up all over Hungary. Councils were formed in the mines, the steel mills, the power stations. Many issued programmes. Their essential demands were revolutionary in that they shook the foundations of the bureaucracy and were almost certain to lead from there to the creation of real communism.

Peasants and farm workers organised food deliveries to the urban workers and drove out the State farm collective managers. In some areas land was redistributed, in other the collectives continued under their control.

Soon Budapest prison was captured and all the political prisoners were released. When revelations came of the terrible conditions, torture and beatings, almost every AVO man captured was killed by the crowds.

Nagy now promised the disbanding of the AVO, and the Red Army withdrew from Budapest. However, this was merely to regroup. Nagy was warned by the councils that unless the Red Army withdrew completely, they would force them to.

The Nagy government assured the people that the Russians would not attack again. But soon Pal Maleter and Kovacs, who had been leading lights in the Budapest fighting, were arrested during negotiations with the Red Army. The Red Army opened fire on all the major cities on November 4th. MIG fighters strafed the population. The working class bore the brunt of the fighting that followed. Many Russian tanks were destroyed.

The AVO came out of the holes in which they had been hiding and began to hang insurgents in groups on the bridges over the Danube in Budapest. Many of those hanged were workers.


By November 14th, armed resistance on a large scale had ended. Although many began to return to work, the strike continued in most industries.

The new government under Janos Kadar started to arrest members of the councils. But the councils continued to consolidate their power and Kadar was forced to hold talks with them.

He began to use other means to destroy the councils. He started issuing ration cards, but only to those who returned to work, and used the Red Army to stop food deliveries to the towns by peasants. Nagy, seen as too liberal, was arrested. Later he and Maleter and others were executed in Moscow.

Kadar began arresting more workers' delegates, as well as delegates of student bodies. Many came forward to take their place. When the State realized this, they went in for wholesale arrests of workers. Mass demonstrations continued, and workers fought the AVO and the army when they came to arrest their delegates. Many were gunned down by the AVO. The arrests and executions continued through 1957. It was announced that the workers councils would be replaced by works councils, controlled by trade union bureaucrats, completely subservient to the State. And finally it was announced that any remaining councils were to be abolished.


It comes as no surprise that the Hungarian working class received no support, no arms, no medical supplies from the Western powers. What they fought for was as much opposed to capitalist democracy as it was to the state capitalism of the Soviet Union.

As for the Western trade unions, they did nothing. The International Confederation of Free Trade Unions rejected an appeal from the workers councils for an international boycott. Contrast this with the action of Liverpool and Hull dockers who refused to touch cargoes on Soviet ships.

The Hungarian Revolution helped dispel the clouds of mystification around the USSR and its satellites. It reaffirmed the notion of unrelenting struggle by the working class against all bosses and masters, no matter how they attempt to disguise themselves as the workers' representatives.

It lights the way to a new society for which so many working people have given their lives.

The best way to honour the Hungarian Revolution is to continue the struggle for human emancipation and the coming of a new society based on equality and social justice.
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