Hungary 1956: a proletarian insurrection against Stalinism

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On the night of the 23rd and 24th October 1956 the Budapest workers, followed almost immediately by those in the rest of Hungary, rose up in an armed insurrection involving the whole country. They were outraged by the terrible exploitation and terror imposed by the Stalinist regime in power since 1948. Within 24 hours the strike spread to the main industrial cities and the working class, organised in councils, took control of the uprising.

This was a real revolt of the Hungarian proletariat against the capitalist order in its Stalinist form, which weighed like a leaden yoke upon the workers of the Eastern European countries. This is a fact that the bourgeoisie has spent the last 50 years hiding or (more often) distorting. In the censured, falsified version, the role and the decisive action of the proletariat are reduced to a minimum. And when it comes to the central role of the workers’ councils, no more than lip service is paid to them in anecdote. Or else they are lost in a mishmash of committees, national or municipal councils, each more nationalist than the other, when they are not quite simply tossed into the dustbin.

Even in 1956 the most disgusting lies circulated in the East as well as the West. According to the Kremlin, and this was relayed by the European CPs, the events in Hungary were no more than a “fascist insurrection” manipulated by “western imperialists”. For the Stalinists at the time there were two aims. They had to prepare and justify the crushing of the Hungarian proletariat by Russian tanks. They also had to maintain the illusion in the eyes of workers in the West that the Soviet bloc was “socialist” and prevent them at all costs from realising that the uprising of their Hungarian brothers was a proletarian struggle.

So the Hungarian insurrection was presented by one side as ”the work of fascist bands in the pay of the United States”, whereas for the other, the bourgeoisie of the Western bloc, it was palmed off as a struggle for “the triumph of democracy”, for “freedom” and “national independence”. These two lies are complementary and share the aim of hiding from the working class its own history and therefore its profoundly revolutionary nature. However, it is the version claiming that it was a patriotic struggle, in which there was a hodgepodge of classes called “the people” fighting for “the victory of democracy”, that has become the sole axis of bourgeois propaganda, now that the crimes of Stalinism have come to light and the Eastern bloc has collapsed.

By commemorating the crushing of this struggle every ten years, the bourgeoisie is continuing the work it began at the time of the events. Its sole aim is to prevent the working class from understanding that the Hungarian revolution expresses its own revolutionary nature, its ability to confront the state and organise itself into councils in order to do so. This, its revolutionary nature, is all the more striking in that it manifested itself in 1956, in the midst of the most difficult period of  counter-revolution. In that epoch the proletariat internationally was at its weakest, beaten down by the Second World War, muzzled and controlled by the unions and their partner, the political police. This is also why, given the difficulties of the period, the 1956 revolt could not have matured into a conscious attempt on the part of the proletariat to take political power and build a new society.

Frenzied exploitation under Stalinism

As usual, reality is very different from how the bourgeoisie present it.

The Hungarian insurrection was, above all, a proletarian response to the savage overexploitation that was being extracted in those countries that had fallen under the imperialist domination of the USSR after the Second World War.

Following the agony of war, the battering from the fascist regime under Admiral Horthy[1] and then those of the transitional government (1944-1948), the blows of the Stalinists marked another descent into hell for the Hungarian workers.

At the end of the war, in those areas in Eastern Europe that had supposedly been “liberated” from Nazi occupation, the Soviet “liberator” had the firm intention of establishing itself and of extending its empire up to the doors of Austria. The Red Army (closely followed by the Russian political police, the NKVD) dominated a zone from the Baltic to the Balkans. Throughout the region pillaging, theft and mass deportation to forced work camps were a bloody accompaniment to Soviet occupation and gave a foretaste of the Stalinist regimes that were soon to be set up. In Hungary it was from 1948, once the hegemony of the Communist Party over the political apparatus was firmly established, that the Stalinisation of the country became an accomplished fact. Matyas Rakosi,[2]  said to be Stalin’s best pupil, surrounded by his gang of assassins and torturers (like the sinister Gerö[3]), became the very personification of the whole Stalinist edifice in Hungary. Its main pillars were (according to the well-known recipe): political terror and the limitless exploitation of the working class.

The Soviet Union, as victor and occupier of Eastern Europe, demanded that the vanquished and occupied countries, particularly those such as Hungary who had collaborated with the axis powers, pay huge reparations. In fact this was no more than an excuse to annex the productive apparatus of the countries that had just become its satellites and to make them work at full power for the exclusive economic and imperialist interests of the USSR. A veritable blood-sucking system was set up from 1945-1946 with, for example, the dismantling of factories and their transfer (workers included) to Russian soil.

In the same vein, COMECON was established in 1949. This was a market “for privileged exchange”, in which the privileges were decidedly one-way. The Russian state could dispose of its production by selling it at a price much higher than that offered on the world market. On the other hand, from its satellites it got goods at ridiculously low prices.

So it was that the entire Hungarian economy had to bend to the whims and the production plans of the Russian head office. This was demonstrated very eloquently in 1953 when the Korean war broke out and the USSR forced Hungary to convert the majority of its factories to arms production. From then on it became the Soviet Union’s main arms supplier.

In order to satisfy Russian economic desires and military imperatives, Hungarian industrialisation policy had to proceed at high speed and under great pressure. The five year plans, especially that of 1950, give rise to an unprecedented leap in production and productivity. However, as miracles do not fall from the sky, on the tracks and under the wheels of this galloping industrialisation we find, unsurprisingly, the frantic exploitation of the working class. Every ounce of its energy was to be sacrificed to the realisation of the 1950-1954 plan, priority being given to heavy industry associated with armaments production. This would be quintupled at the end of the plan. Everything was set-up to bleed the Hungarian proletariat dry. In this spirit, piece work was introduced and regulated and was accompanied by production quotas that were raised periodically. The Rumanian CP said with a good dose of cynicism that “piece work is a revolutionary system which eliminates inertia…everyone has the possibility to work harder…”. In fact the system “eliminates” above all those who refuse this “possibility”. The workers can choose between dying of starvation or dying at their post for a wretched salary.

Rather like the mythical Sisyphus, who was condemned in Hades to forever push a rock to the top of a mountain, the Hungarian Sisyphuses were condemned to infernal and relentless rhythms of work.

In most factories the administration realised at the end of each month that they were seriously late in relation to the inhuman expectations of the plan. So the signal was given for the ‘great rush’, an explosion of speed-ups equivalent to the “Stourmovtchina”[4] regularly experienced by the Russian workers. These “Stourmovtchina” took place not only at the end of each month but, increasingly, at the end of each week. The number of hours overtime increased dramatically, as did the number of work accidents. Men and machines were pushed to the ultimate limit.

To crown it all, it was not unusual for the workers to have the lovely surprise of discovering, when they arrived at the factory, a “letter of commitment” signed and sent in their name by...the union. Already exhausted, they found in their hands , “the solemn commitment” to increase production (once again) in honour of this or that anniversary or celebration. In fact, any occasion would do for launching this sort of “voluntary” day of work, which was also (it goes without saying) unpaid. From March 1950 to February 1951, there were up to eleven such days: “liberation” day, 1st May, week for Korea, Rakosi’s birthday and other events worthy of rejoicing and unpaid overtime.

During the period of the first five year plan, although production was doubled and productivity increased by 63%, the living conditions of the workers plummeted inexorably. In five years, from 1949 to 1954, take-home pay was reduced by 20%, and in the year 1956 only 15% of families lived above the subsistence level defined by the regime’s own experts!

The era of Stakhanovism was obviously not introduced into Hungary on a voluntary basis and because of love of the “socialist fatherland”. It is clear that the ruling class enforced it by means of terror,  threats of violent reprisals and very heavy sanctions if production norms were not met (moreover, these continually reached new heights).

Stalinist terror took a grip in the factories. So, on 9th January 1950, the government passed a law forbidding the workers to leave the workplace without permission. Discipline was strict and “infractions” were punished by heavy fines.

Such daily terror made it necessary to have an omnipresent police infrastructure. The police and unions had to be everywhere, to the point that in certain places the situation became ridiculous.  The MOFAR factory in Magyarovar, whose workforce had tripled between 1950 and 1956, had to recruit, in order to ensure the repression of the workers, not three but ten times more surveillance personnel: officials of the union, the party and the factory police.

The statutes given by the regime to the unions in 1950 are unequivocal on this point: “...organise and extend socialist emulation on the part of the workers, fight for better organisation of work, for the reinforcement of discipline...and the increase of productivity”.

But fines and bullying were not the only sanctions against those who were “recalcitrant”.

On 6th December 1948, while on a visit to the town of Debrecen, the minister for industry, Istvan Kossa gave out against “…workers [who] have a terrorist attitude towards the managers of nationalised industries…”. In other words, those who  did not bow “whole heartedly” to the Stakhanovist norms or else who  simply could not attain the improbable production quotas demanded. From then on, workers who did not look sufficiently “enamoured” of their work were regularly denounced as “agents of western capitalism”, “fascists” or “crooks”. In his discourse Kossa added that if they did not change their “attitude”, a period of forced labour might help them. This was not an empty threat, as is illustrated by the following case, among many, of a worker at the Györ car factory. He was accused of “wage fraud” and condemned to imprisonment in an internment camp. The statement of Sandor Kopacsi, internment manager in 1949 and prefect of police for Budapest in 1956, is also informative: “I would say that the camps contained workers, unfortunate farmers, some people from classes hostile to the regime. The job [of the director] was simple: he had to extend the detainees period of internment, generally by six months. […] Six months detention and six months extension. Of course it was not the ‘ten years’ and ‘fifteen years’ extra hard labour time in the Siberian wastes…Nevertheless the detainees did not go back to civil life from this internment – and it was internment, with the system of prolonging it ‘from six months by another six months –  any more than did those who had served fifteen to twenty-five years in the great Siberian north.[5]  In 1955 the number of prisoners increased dramatically and the majority of them, strangely enough, were “recalcitrant” workers.

Under the Rakosi regime tens of thousands of people disappeared without trace…they were in fact arrested and interned. At the time it was said that a profound evil afflicted Hungary: “the doorbell evil”. That meant that when the doorbell rang in the morning at someone’s home, they never knew whether it was the milkman or an agent of the political police (AVH).

The genuine proletarian insurrection of October 1956

However, the reign of terror, the presence of the Red Army and the torturers of the AVH did not have the desired effect: the anger within the proletariat became more and more palpable from 1948 onwards. The workers’ resentment was very close to exploding onto the streets. They felt the growing and irrepressible need to get rid of the whole hierarchical apparatus of soviet bureaucracy from those at the top, who took the key decisions about the level and norms of production, down to the foreman and other supervisors who, watch in hand, pushed them to transform these plans into finished products.

The exhausted workers were at the end of their tether. The conditions of exploitation were no longer bearable, the insurrection was incubating.

The situation that the USSR had created in Hungary was identical to what was happening in the other Stalinist states of the Eastern bloc. That is why the discontent of the workers was constant. From the beginning of June 1953 the Czech workers in Pilsen were confronted by the Stalinist state apparatus because they refused to go on being paid in the form of the famous piece work wages. A couple of weeks later, the 17th June 1953,  a big strike of workers in the building industry broke out in East Berlin following the general rise in production norms by 10% and wage reductions of 30%. The workers marched down the Stalin Allee to the cry of “Down with the tyranny of the norms” , “we are workers, not slaves”. Strike committees arose spontaneously to extend the struggle and they marched towards the other part of the city to call on the western workers to join them. As the famous wall had not yet been built, the western allies decided to hurriedly close their sector.  It was the Russian tanks stationed in the GDR (East Germany) which put an end to this strike. In this way the bourgeoisie in the East and that in the West joined forces in perfect agreement to confront the proletarian response. At the same time demonstrations and workers' revolts occurred in seven Polish cities. Martial law was proclaimed in Warsaw, Krakow, and in Silesia: there too the Russian tanks had to intervene to suppress workers' agitation. Hungary was also in motion. Strikes broke out initially in the working class district of the big centre for iron and steel production at Csepel in Budapest. It then spread to other industrial cities such as Ozd and Diösgyör.

The wind of revolt against Stalinism, which blew across the Eastern countries, was to find its high point in the Hungarian insurrection of October 1956.

The climate of agitation that spread over Hungary obviously worried the Kremlin exceedingly. In an attempt to let off the steam in this overheated cauldron, Moscow  decided to remove from power the man who personified the terror of the regime. Matyas Rakosi was relieved of his post as first minister in June 1953, returned to power in 1955, followed by another reshuffle  in July 1956,  But  this made no difference as the tension that had built up was too great and living conditions did not improve. The cauldron was ready to explode.

In this pre-insurrectional atmosphere, which could have brought down the regime in power, the nationalist faction of the Hungarian bourgeoisie quickly understood that they had a card in hand to change their position as vassal of Moscow. Or else they could at least loosen the dog collar and  lengthen the leash. The rapid and forced sovietization of the Hungarian state, the total and undivided control of power by the Kremlin’s men supported by Red Army tanks, industry placed entirely at the service of the economic and imperialist interests of the USSR…this was too much for the national bourgeoisie. They were awaiting their moment to get rid of the occupier. Aspirations for national independence were very much present, even among some Hungarian Stalinists, the “national communists”, who called for a “Hungarian path to socialism” as propounded by a good number of intellectuals. They made Imre Nagy[6] their champion, the “hero” of the October insurrection. Likewise, the army could not have been sovietized without making concessions to the nationalism of the old officers. For them, the alliance with the USSR was not in the national interest, which was traditionally oriented towards the West. When the October uprising took place, the army too glimpsed the possibility of freeing itself from Stalinist fetters. This is why it participated in part in the street fighting. This patriotic resistance was personified by the general Pal Maleter and the troops from the Kilian barracks in Budapest. These factions of the bourgeoisie and the petty bourgeoisie poisoned the atmosphere of the workers’ revolt with their nationalist propaganda. It is no accident that to this very day the dominant class tries to turn Nagy and Maleter into mythical characters in the events of 1956. By presenting only these bourgeois “icons”, it gives credence to the lie that it was a “revolution for democratic and national liberation”.

This is why, after the dismissal of Rakosi in July, the climate of agitation was maintained by pressure from petty bourgeois elements, the nationalist intellectuals of the Writers’ Union and the students of the Petofi Circle. On 23rd October the latter organised a peaceful demonstration in Budapest which numerous workers attended. When they got to the foot of the statue of General Bem a resolution of the Writers’ Union was read out, which expressed the so-called aspirations for independence of the “Hungarian people”.

For the bourgeoisie this is the essence of the Hungarian insurrection …a collection of students and intellectuals fighting for national liberation from the Muscovite yoke. For the last fifty years the ruling class has thrown a veil over the main actor in the uprising, the working class, and its motivation, which far from being for national resistance and love of the fatherland, was above all attempting to resist the terrible living conditions imposed upon it.

When the workers came out of the factories, the masses of Budapest workers joined the demonstration. Although the gathering was officially over, the workers did not disperse, quite the contrary. Instead, they converged on parliament square and Stalin’s statue, which they began to destroy with sledgehammers and  blowlamps. Then the human tide moved towards the Radio building to protest against a statement made by the Prime minister, Gerö, which accused the demonstrators of being no more that a “band of nationalist adventurers trying to break the power of the working class”. That was when the political police (AVH) opened fire on the crowd and the protest movement became on armed insurrection. The nationalist intellectuals, who had initiated the demonstration, were overtaken at this point by the turn of events and, at the admission of the secretary of the Petofi circle himself, Balazs Nagy, they “were braking the movement rather than driving it forward”.

Within 24 hours the general strike, involving four million workers, spread throughout Hungary. In the large industrial centres workers' councils arose spontaneously. This was how the working class organised and controlled the insurrection.

The workers undoubtedly formed the backbone of the movement and they showed it by their unfailing combativity and determination. They armed themselves and built barricades everywhere. On every street corner of the capital they fought the AVH and the Russian tanks, against overwhelming odds. In fact, the AVH was very soon overtaken by events and a new government, formed urgently and led by the “progressive” Imre Nagy, called without hesitation for the intervention of soviet tanks to protect the regime from the anger of the workers. Nagy called ceaselessly for the restoration of order and the “surrender of the insurgents”. Later on this champion of democracy was to declare that the intervention of Soviet forces “was necessary in the interests of socialist discipline”.

The tanks entered Budapest on 24th October at about 2 o’clock in the morning and the armoured vehicles came up against the first barricades in the workers’ districts on the outskirts of the town. The Csepel factory with its thousands of engineering workers put up the most stubborn resistance; obsolete guns and Molotov cocktails against divisions of Russian armoured vehicles.

Nagy, the legitimate candidate of all nationalist aspirations, was unable to impose calm. He never got the confidence and disarmament of the workers because, unlike the intellectuals and part of the Hungarian army, the workers were not fighting for “national deliverance”. Although they may have been contaminated by patriotic propaganda, they were basically fighting against terror and exploitation. On 4th November, coinciding with Moscow’s replacement of Nagy by Janos Kadar, 6,000 soviet tanks entered the capital for a second round in order to definitively end the uprising. The bulk of the attack was against the workers’ districts on the outskirts: red Csepel, Ujpest, Kobanya, Dunapentele. Although the enemy was a hundred times stronger in terms of men and weapons, the workers continued to resist and fought like lions. “At Csepel, the workers were determined to fight. On 7th November an artillery barrage was unleashed, backed up by aerial bombardment. The next day a Soviet emissary came to ask the workers to surrender. They refused and the battle continued. The following day another officer gave a last ultimatum: if they did not give up their arms they would have no district. Again the insurgents refused to submit. Artillery fire became more and more intense. The soviet forces used mortars with rocket launchers, which caused a lot of damage to the factories and buildings nearby. The workers ceased fighting only when the ammunition ran out". (Budapest, the insurrection by Francois Fejtö)

Only hunger and lack of ammunition seemed able to end the fighting and the workers’ resistance.

The workers’ districts were razed to the ground and some estimates put the number of deaths at tens of thousands. However, in spite of the massacres, the strike went on for several weeks. Even when it was finished, resistance continued to appear sporadically up until January 1957.

Organisation in workers’ councils reappears

Courage, the struggle against poverty, exasperation at the conditions of exploitation and Stalinist terror are the elements that explain the tenacious resistance of the Hungarian workers but another aspect must be taken into account; the fact that this revolt was organised by means of workers’ councils.

In Budapest, as in the provinces, the insurrection was immediately accompanied by the constitution of councils. For the first time in 40 years their struggle against Stalinist bureaucracy led the Hungarian workers to spontaneously discover this form of organisation and proletarian power. The council form had first been created by their fathers in Russia during the 1905 revolution and then in the revolutionary wave beginning in Petrograd in 1917 and spreading to Budapest in 1919 with its brief Republic of Councils. From 25th October 1956, the towns of Dunapentele, Szolnok (a large rail centre), Pecs (the mines in the south-west), Debrecen, Szeged, Miscolk, Györ were directed by workers’ councils, which organised the armament of the insurgents, the provisioning and presenting of economic and political demands.

This was also how the strike was controlled in the main industrial centres in Hungary. Sectors that were fundamental for the mobility of the proletariat, such as transport, or those that were vital, such as hospitals or electricity, continued to function in many cases on the order of the councils. It was the same for the insurrection:  the councils formed and controlled the workers’ militias, distributed arms (under the control of the workers in the arsenals) and demanded the dissolution of certain state organisms.

Very early, on the 25th October, the council of Miscolk called upon the workers councils of all towns to “coordinate their efforts in order to create a single and unique movement”. The concretisation was to be very slow and chaotic. After 4th November an attempt was made to coordinate at a district level the activity of the Csepel councils. In the 13th and 14th zone the first district workers’ council was set up. Later, 13th November, the council of Ujpest was behind the creation of a powerful council for the whole of the capital. So was born the Central Council of Greater Budapest. This was the first, though belated, step towards a unified authority of the working class.

However, for the Hungarian workers, the political role of the councils, although at the very heart of this organ aimed at taking power, was no more than a stopgap, a role that the situation imposed for want of a better one In the meantime they waited for the “specialists”, the “political experts” to take over the reigns of power again:  No-one is suggesting that the workers councils themselves could be the political representation of the workers. Certainly…the workers’ council must carry out certain political functions because it is opposed to a regime and the workers have no other representation but this is provisional.” (Statement made by Ferenc Töke, vice president of the Central Council of Greater Budapest.)

The limits of the movement and of the councils

This reveals one of the most serious limitations of the uprising: the low level of consciousness of the Hungarian proletariat, who could go no further given the lack of revolutionary perspective and without the support of the international proletariat. In fact the events in Hungary were against the general trend, they took place in a sinister  period, that of the counter revolution, which weighed on  the working class in the East as well as the West.

The workers were indeed the motive force of the insurrection against a government that was supported by Russian tanks. But although the movement was motivated by the bitter proletarian resistance against exploitation, the enormous combativeness of the Hungarian workers should not be confused with a clear demonstration of revolutionary consciousness. The workers’ insurrection of 1956 marked an inevitable reflux in the level of consciousness of workers in relation to that in 1917-23, at the time of the revolutionary wave. Although the workers’ councils at the end of the First World War appeared as political organs of the working class, the expression of its dictatorship; the 1956 councils on the other hand never threatened the state. Although on 29th October, the Miscolk workers’ council announced “the suppression of the AVH” (which was easier to connect with the terror of the regime), in the confusion it also added: “The government should depend only on two armed forces: the national army and the regular police.” Not only was the existence of the capitalist state not threatened but also its two main instruments for armed defence went unmolested.

By contrast, the councils of 1919, that had a clear understanding of the historic goal of their struggle, raised the need to dissolve the army. In the same period, when the Csepel factories created their councils, it was with the slogans:

* down with the bourgeoisie and its institutions

 * long live the dictatorship of the proletariat

 * mobilise for the defence of the gains of the revolution by arming the people.

Moreover, in 1956 the councils went so far as to undermine themselves by considering themselves to be no more than organs for the economic management of the factories:  We do not claim to have an economic role. On the whole we think that, just as specialists are needed to manage the economy, so too political leadership must be taken by experts.” (Ferenc Töke).

Sometimes they went as far as to see themselves as a sort of committee for the workplace. “The factory belongs to the workers, the latter pay the state a tax calculated on the basis of production of dividends fixed according to the profits…the workers' council decides if there is conflict at the level of hiring and firing of workers” (resolution of the Council of Greater Budapest).

During the dark days of the 1950s, the international proletariat was bled dry. The appeals of the Budapest councils to “the workers of the rest of the world” to “strike in solidarity” remained a dead letter. Moreover, like their class brothers in other countries, the consciousness of the Hungarian workers was very low in spite of their courage. In this situation, the councils arose instinctively but their role, the seizure of power, was inevitably absent. The councils of 1956 were “the form without content” and so can only be viewed as “incomplete” councils or at best a rough sketch of councils.

This made it all the easier for the Hungarian officers and intellectuals to imprison the workers in the prison of nationalist ideas and for the Russian tanks to massacre them.

Although the workers did not see the councils as political organs, Kadar, the Russian high command, and the great Western democracies considered them, on the basis of their experience, to be extremely political organs. In fact, in spite of the great weakness of the working class because of the period, the crushing of the Hungarian proletariat shows just how much the bourgeoisie fears any expression of the proletarian struggle at any time.

From the beginning, when Nagy talked about disarming the working class, he was thinking of the sub machine guns of course but also and, above all, of the councils. In addition, when Janos Kadar regained power in November, he expressed the same preoccupation: the councils must “be taken in hand and purged of the demagogues who have no place in them.

From the moment that the councils appeared, the unions in the pay of the regime threw themselves into the work that they know best: sabotage. When the National Council of Unions (NCU) “proposed to the workers and employees to start…electing workers councils in the workshops, factories, mines and in all workplaces…” it was to better get control of them, to reinforce  their tendency to confine themselves to economic tasks, prevent them from raising the question of the seizure of power and to integrate them into the state apparatus. “The workers’ council will be responsible for its management before all the workers and before the state…[the councils] have the immediate and essential task of ensuring the return to work, to establish and guarantee order and discipline.” (Declaration of the NCU presidium, 27th October).

Fortunately the unions, which had been formed under the Rakosi government, had very little credibility with the workers, as is testified by this rectification made by the council of Greater Budapest on 27th November: “The unions are at present trying to give the impression that the workers’ councils are constituted by the unions. It is superfluous to say that this is a gratuitous assertion. The workers alone fought for the creation of the workers councils and the struggle of the councils in many cases was obstructed by the unions, which made sure they did no tgive them any help.”

The democratic bourgeoisie's complicity with Stalinist repression

On 6th December the arrest of members of the councils began (they were a prelude to more massive and bloody ones). Several factories were surrounded by Russian troops and the AVH. On the island of Csepel, hundreds of workers gathered the little force that remained to them and made a last stand to stop the police from entering the factories and making arrests. On 15th December, the death penalty for striking was enforced by special tribunals authorised to execute on the spot any worker found “guilty”…lines of bodies that had been strung up adorned the bridges of the Danube.

On 26th December, Gyorgy Marosan, social democrat and minister of the Kadar, declared that, if necessary, the government would put to death 10,000 people to prove that it and not the workers’ councils were the real government.

Together with the Kadarist repression, it was the relentlessness of the Kremlin that crushed the working class. For Moscow, it was certainly necessary to pull into line its satellites and their aspirations for independence. However, more important still, they had to eradicate the spectre of the proletarian threat and its symbol, the workers’ councils. This is why the Titos, Maos and the Stalinists of the whole world gave their unconditional support to the Kremlin’s line.

The bloc of the great democracies also gave their full agreement to the repression. The American ambassador in Moscow, Charles Bohlen, tells in his memoirs that on 29th October 1956, the secretary of state, John Foster Dulles, delivered him an urgent message for the Soviet leaders, Krushchev, Zhukov and Bulganin, Dulles was to tell the leaders of the USSR that the United States did not consider Hungary or any other satellite to be a possible military ally. In other words, “Gentlemen you are the masters in your own house, it is up to you to clean up.”

Contrary to all the lies that the bourgeoisie has continued to heap on the memory of the 1956 insurrection in Hungary, what took place was a workers’ struggle against capitalist exploitation. Certainly the period was not a propitious one. The whole working class was no longer directed towards the perspective of an international revolutionary wave as in 1917-23, which had produced the shortlived Hungarian Republic of Councils in March 1919. For this reason the Hungarian workers could not clearly raise the need to destroy capitalism and to take power. This explains their failure to understand the highly political and subversive nature of the councils that they had produced in their struggle. Nevertheless, what was so courageously demonstrated by the revolt of the Hungarian workers and their organising themselves into councils, was the revolutionary nature of the proletariat. They reaffirmed the historic role of the proletariat as Tibor Szamuelly[7] formulated it in 1919: “Our aim and our task is the destruction of capitalism”.


[1] Former military chief of Hungary and dictator (regent for life) from 1920 to 1944. 

[2]  Secretary general of the Communist Party of Hungary (KPU) and first minister after 1952.

[3] A leader of the NKVD in Spain, Enrö Gerö in July 1937 organised the kidnap and  assassination of Erwin Wolf, a close collaborator of Trotsky. He returned to Hungary in 1945 to continue his work as a Stalinist butcher in the position of General Secretary of the Hungarian Communist Party. 

[4] Russian word designating the same phenomenon of forcing work rates to the extreme.

[5] Sandor Kopacsi, In the name of the working class. 

[6]  On 13 June 1953, in framework of destalinisation, Nagy replaced Matyas Rakosi as first minister.  Despite advocating the idea of a “national and human socialism”, the struggle for power re-emerged inside the party and it was the Stalinist group of his predecessor Rakosi which prevailed.  Imry Nagy was relieved of his functions on 14 April 1955 by the leadership of the Hungarian Communist Party and was some months later excluded from the party.

[7] A leading figure in the Hungarian workers movement, Tibor Szamuelly was the ardent proponent for the creation of a Unitary Communist Party regrouping Marxists and Anarchists, which finally saw the light of day in November 1918. Its programme was the dictatorship of the proletariat. As a passionate defender of the revolution in Hungary he was executed by counter-revolutionary forces in August 1919.



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