50th Anniversary of Hungarian Workers’ Uprising

Its Significance for Workers Today

It is now well over a decade since the collapse of the USA’s first arch enemy, the ‘Empire of Evil’ that was the Soviet Union. The Cold War between the two imperialist blocs ended when the economically weaker and most fragile of the two, the Soviet bloc, was unable to withstand the force of the economic crisis that was pummelling world capitalism, both east and west. Whilst western states divested themselves of unprofitable industries and embarked on a course of ‘globalisation’ this option proved too difficult to engineer for the ruling class of the relatively closed, state capitalist soviet bloc. Ever since western ideologues have not ceased to propagandise about the failure of ‘communism’ and the disastrous economic consequences of state control of industry. This message is rubbed in with constant reminders of Soviet gulags, and the totalitarian police state in contrast to the ‘freedom’ and ‘democracy’ workers enjoy in the west. As we write, a parody of fifty years ago is being played out on the streets of Budapest by right wing demonstrators attempting to overthrow the government led by a millionaire “ex-communist”. Beyond this, the anniversary of a significant workers’ uprising has proved a golden opportunity for present day spin merchants to re-discover a struggle for ‘democracy’, ‘freedom’ and national self-determination against a savage communist dictatorship.

At the time too, this was what most people in the West believed the uprising to be. For many card-carrying Communist Party members and fellow-travelling intellectuals Hungary marked the end of their love affair with Stalinism. Such people had remained silent during Stalin’s purges to suppress any workers’ opposition inside the Party, the show trials of the Thirties, Stalin’s signing of the Nazi-Soviet pact, the dissolution of the Comintern (what was left of the Communist International) and Russia’s participation in the imperialist war which swallowed up millions of working class lives. They never questioned whether Russia and the system it had imposed on its satellites after the War was communist. For the most part they had remained silent in June 1953 when, following Stalin’s death the previous March, workers’ strikes in East Berlin had turned into an uprising against the regime which was put down by Soviet military forces. It was the same with Poznan in Poland earlier in 1956 when workers’ protests were put down by the army. When their liberal consciences finally balked as Soviet tanks rolled in against workers on the streets of Budapest their disillusion with the Soviet Union was only grist to the mill for the West’s anti-communist propaganda merchants. The message to workers that this is what you get if you struggle for socialism is a long one. And few workers realised that the Soviet Union had nothing to do with communism; that the Revolution of 1917 that had been the beacon for the whole world’s working class had been extinguished by a state capitalist counter-revolution brought about by the isolation and desperate impoverishment of the Russian working class.

Even would-be revolutionary political groups who had broken with Stalinism and who could accept that neither the Russian economy nor that of its satellites had anything to do with communistic production for human needs held on to the notion that there must be something more progressive about the Soviet Union. - This is what Tony Cliff’s ‘soft’ Trotskyist group, the International Socialists (forerunner of today’s SWP) argued even though they might accept that Russia was state capitalist, not communist, they went on to argue that state capitalism was ‘progressive’. (Implying that somehow this was a ‘step towards socialism’.)

Only our comrades of the Italian Left who had formed the Internationalist Communist Party in 1943, who had fought the so-called ‘bolshevisation’ of the Communist Party of Italy in the early Twenties, who had formed an opposition fraction whilst underground and under arrest in Mussolini’s Italy and whilst in exile abroad and had opposed every step in the Stalinist counter-revolution, recognised clearly that there was nothing progressive about state capitalism. For them the workers’ uprising - not just in Hungary 1956, but also in Poznan that same year and in East Berlin three years earlier - was part of a growing working class resistance to attacks by a capitalist regime whose interests were diametrically opposed to the interests of the working class.

As part of our tribute to the workers who rose up in eastern Europe in 1956 - not just for ‘democracy’ or independence from the USSR, but to defend their own interests - we are publishing a translation of a leaflet issued by the comrades of Battaglia Comunista (PCInt) in response to Poznan alongside the article we published ourselves1 for the 25th anniversary of the Hungarian uprising. In addition, there will be translations from more articles in Italian, on the IBRP website in the coming weeks.

(1) Workers Voice no. 5, series 2, Autumn 1981. Revisiting this article a quarter of a century on, it now seems rather glib to put down the absence of a revolutionary party in Hungary to the post-war boom (the reverse was rather the experience of Hungarian workers). The articles essential message remains.

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