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1956: Class Revolts in Poland and Hungary
From Prometeo Series IV # 10, December 1986 - Translated by the CWO in 2006
1986 is a year of anniversaries and memories which, though sad, are rich in lessons for the proletariat: it is the fiftieth anniversary of the start of the Spanish Civil War, and the thirtieth of the movements in Poland and Hungary. It is also the thirtieth anniversary of another event of great significance in post-war history: that of Suez. The Party has already dedicated talks and debates in its central office in Milan to the Fiftieth Anniversary of the Spanish Civil War, as well as an article on the inside pages of Battaglia Comunista No 12. In this issue we are devoting our attention to the events of Poland and Hungary.
Necessity forces us to remember those days in October and November 1956 since we have to reply to, and combat, the clouds of bourgeois and social democratic historiography which try to pass these events off as the eternal conflict between freedom and absolutism, or just another episode of East-West rivalry in a persistent historiographic framework which ignores the question of class.
In this sense we think it is useful to republish the articles and positions taken by our Party on the events at the time, which gave a timely reply to the analyses of the bourgeoisie and Stalinists. Before looking at our comrades' articles, we think it is useful to give a brief outline of the events about which they wrote on the basis of facts which were not available to everyone in 1956.
At the end of the Second World War the Red Army militarily occupied the Eastern European
countries wherever they had beaten German troops. All of them were economically backward in comparison to the rest of Europe (huge landholdings and poor productivity, little industry and almost no foreign capital, a very large handicraft sector producing very little) with a majority of the population working in the backward agricultural sector. In Hungary, where there was some industrialisation between the wars, World War Two brought enormous damage and destruction, subsequently made worse by the dismantling and export of a lot of precious machinery by the Red Army. The situation can be summed up in the following figures: whilst industrial enterprises were working at the lowest possible percentage through lack of power and raw materials, in agriculture (in 1946) production was only half that of the pre-war period, despite the efforts of small farmers who had sown 95% of the cultivable area.
In December 1944 the provisional government formed in Debrecen enacted a great agrarian reform which overturned previous land ownership, one third of which was in the hands of families who supported the Head of State, Admiral Horthy (1), the pre-war, pro-Nazi dictator. Landholdings greater than 54 hectares were divided amongst 600,000 poor peasant and farm labouring families who had until then made up half the population. In fact the repartition of the land came about through the initiative of the peasants, organised independently of the central government, in their own local committees. This had led to an extreme fragmentation of the parcels of land which was immediately felt as they were not big enough even for the subsistence of a single family. Under the pressure of the USSR and with the official sanction of the Potsdam Agreement (2), which, amongst other things, established that all German-owned industry should be shipped to the USSR, the immediate nationalisation of heavy industry began. The only sectors exempted from this (like bauxite mining and oil) were those where the USSR had a monopoly by forming parodies of mixed Soviet-Hungarian companies. The USSR had immediately imposed (1945) the heaviest reparations which made the burden of the agreement even heavier. As a result, a) the Soviets established the price of imports and exports so that Hungarians had to pay for primary products above Western market prices whilst they had to re-export goods made from these raw materials at lower prices than normal. And, b) the firms which produced for the war reparations account had privileged access to the primary products which began to arrive from the USSR. In a word, with the Potsdam Accord and the Soviet-Hungarian Trade Agreement of 1945, the USSR immediately started the blood sucking relationship which would become the basis of the formal relationship with all its satellites. In 1945 65% of Hungarian output was dedicated to paying "reparations" to the USSR. In 1947 this still represented 18% of the national budget.
Between 1945 and 1948 it was not the Communist Party which stepped into the limelight but the Popular Front consisting of the Communist Party (CP), the Socialist, nationalist and peasant and small landowners parties, the usual grand coalition of the bourgeois left and right which post-war reconstruction called for. In the elections at the end of 1945 the Communist Party garnered 15% of the vote.
But the bourgeoisie of the "classical" western type was weak and had partially fled abroad: decades of easy living under the Horthy regime had made it inept in the political struggles of the parliamentary type. Its own representatives in the coalition (the small landowners and a fraction of the National Peasants Party) had no clear or articulated programme. The other petty bourgeois parties were in fact prey to factionalism, in a political-ideological crisis and incapable of posing an obstacle to the rise of a CP helped enormously but not decisively by Soviet support. The 1945 election gave a majority to the small proprietors party, the only representative of the right allowed to take part in the elections by Voroshilov, the commander of the Soviet occupying force, who had imposed a priori that whatever the result of the election the Popular Front Government modelled on that established in Debrecen in December 1944 would continue in power.
Thus the CP succeeded in holding onto the Home Office (Ministry of the Interior) led by Icore Nagy, and then in March, Laszlo Rajk (3), who soon organised a "state within the state" through a secret police modelled on the Soviet NKVD. And it was also under Soviet pressure that in January 1948 the Executive Committee of the Social Democratic Party expelled its right and centrist wings, including the Deputy Speaker of the National Assembly Anna Kethly and Industry Minister Antal Ban, and decided to fuse with the CP. The same fusions, though at slightly different times are to be found elsewhere, as in Poland, Romania and Czechoslovakia. Such fusions gave the CP a governmental majority allowing them to strengthen their position in the state until they de facto monopolised it. In 1949 the new constitution, based on the USSR's Stalin Constitution of 1936 was implemented.
In the initial period of its rise the CP was aided by the fact that the peasant and proletarian masses were pushing for radical changes as the nationalisation of industry and the banks, the anti-clerical campaign and the redistribution of the land appeared to be. But even in 1949 many illusions were beginning to collapse.
In August 1947 the first three year plan for investment and production, accompanied by the nationalisation of all commercial and industrial enterprises with more than 100 employees had already been launched. Its inauguration brought about the re-establishment of the rigid hierarchy between workers and management which had already been the pattern under the Fascist regime of Horthy. This time management was in the hands of members of the CP which grew in the meantime with the entry of profiteers and businessmen coming from other parties.
And the proletariat? The proletariat, after the defeat of the attempted revolution by the party of Bela Kun never recovered. The military defeat of Bela Kun (4) had made a shift to the right a lot easier, and so led to complete Stalinisation of the CP, whilst the Horthy regime made sure it remained in an economically dire situation. As it was mainly made up of agricultural workers at the time of "liberation", deprived as it was of its own political instrument, devoid of almost any reference to its own historic programme it was a defenceless victim sacrificed on the altar of capitalist reconstruction. Any reforms that gave the illusion of an improvement in conditions were easily accepted, especially as they were presented under the glorious name of socialism. The agricultural component was momentarily hypnotised by the redistribution of land. Increases (though hardly significant) in industrial wages also lulled the proletariat to sleep. The anaesthetising of the class was enough to ensure the basis for the rise of the CP, giving it political and, above all else, electoral support. Not a single proletarian body associated with a real revolutionary and socialist movement was established (not even in a lukewarm imitation by the political forces around at the time). Those which did arise in 1944-5, later lauded by Social Democratic commentators as organs of direct democracy, were totally different to the workers councils seen in the Russian Revolution and which would be seen in the Hungarian October of 1956. They were just the local bodies of the Popular Front appointed by the leaders of its constituent parties and thus their chief characteristic was to melt like snow in sunlight once the central government had taken logistical administrative control over the entire national territory. It would have been a totally different thing if these committees really had been true expressions of the rank and file of the agricultural and industrial working class, i.e. if they had been the product of the entry of the class into its own history and thus the bearers of their historic and immediate demands.
Something similar had happened in Spain at the dawn of the Civil War, even if in Iberia the proletarian tragedy was magnified by the combativity and direct involvement of the working class in those committees which the leftist organisations had set up. The ideological disaster was also complete in Hungary. The illusion that socialism could come about through the, more or less peaceful, conquest of power by a party which said it was the class party, the Communist Party, without any revolutionary mobilisation of the class in its own organs of struggle before and after taking power, had triumphed. But what did the victory of the CP, and the entry of Hungary into the orbit of the USSR really mean for the workers and peasantry?
Naturally the Soviet model had to be followed. Above all economic "planning", forced industrialisation, collectivisation of land, increases in production and productivity were the imperatives soon demanded by the CP. There really was no other option. Leaving aside political and economic subservience of the CP to Soviet Stalinism, there was also a compelling economic need dictated by the commercial and economic vassalage which the USSR had imposed on Hungary as it had on all the conquered countries. Steelworks operated with raw materials and coal from the USSR at very high prices in order for low cost steel to be sold back to the USSR.
This is just one example of the whole arrangement. Forced industrialisation, especially in heavy industry, collectivisation of the land (the first thing to be carried out so that ex-farm workers became small landowners and were thus very happy with their new "opportunity") had very high costs for the working class as a whole.
The standard of living of the Horthy years remained as did the dictatorship of the bosses, in order to increase the speed of work and lengthen the working day, with no increase in wages. Stakhanovism, exemplary communists and all the beauties of the Soviet organisation of labour were all now established by a dictatorship even mote pitiless than the previous one. On top of this, as exploitation became greater, the harsher the political dictatorship became, and the more widespread the torturing inquisition of the secret police. These are the characteristics which prepared the way in the decade before October 1956.
In February 1956 the CPSU held its 20th Party Congress, the congress which began de
-stalinisation. Had the Soviet leaders come to their senses regarding the "errors" and "excesses" of Stalinism in order to return to the principles and practice of a workers' or socialist state? Certainly not!. The errors criticised were those which were no longer part of economic policy and the excesses had been faithfully followed by the very people who were now criticising them, and who were the products of those errors. The principles and practice of a workers' state remained in the dustbin..., where the counter-revolution carried out under the moustache of Stalin, had thrown them. In reality the 20th Party Congress confirmed a new era in the history of the state capitalism of the Soviet Empire: economic planning had to be revised in the sense that investment in heavy industry was reduced and a new attention was given to agriculture. The strain of the first great push for industrialisation had ended and with it also ended the regime of political terror which had enabled it. An increase in consumption as well as in the circulation of money and commodities had also to mean a greater relaxation in everyday life. In the competition with the West the USSR could not remain as it was. This was the significance of the 20th Party Congress.
But a similar new era had already been inaugurated at the beginning of 1953 by Imre Nagy in Hungary. Succeeding Rakosi in the post of Prime Minister after the failure of his Five Year Plan, Nagy launched another plan which argued that small independent enterprises had to be supported, even those outside the agricultural sector, the extension of the great steelworks at Dunapentele was abandoned, as was the financing of heavy industry and the compulsion for landowners to join cooperatives. Furthermore the Nagy Government had robustly scaled down the tasks and activities of the AVO (secret police) closing its labour camps and eliminating many of the instruments of terror from the factories. The Hungarian working class had a little breathing space. However in 1955 the change in the Soviet economic plan led to a serious industrial crisis which led to unemployment. In March 1955 the meeting of the party leadership, which was still headed by Rakosi put him back in the saddle. To the proletariat this appeared like a return to Stalinism which Nagy had cherished the hope of getting rid of for good. The new plan did not differ much from that of Nagy, but its origins made it more clearly anti-working class in intent.
The 20th Party Congress legitimised the aspirations of the masses in liquidating Stalinism at its roots. But this was not what the newly converted anti-Stalinists in Moscow either could, or would, allow.
Chronicle of Events
Poznan, (Poland). Workers in the Stalin workshops went on strike holding a huge assembly calling on workers in other enterprises, and later marched demanding, "it is our revolution, bread, liberty, democracy, down with the bosses". They also attacked the prisons and the office of the secret police. They are not content with throwing out some leaders in homage to the de-stalinisation orchestrated by Moscow but put forward their own demands. Bread, because the state capitalist regime didn't give them it, liberty and democracy, because the lack of them were the most obvious aspects of Stalinist oppression.
Is this too little for us to talk of a class revolution? Yes, but it is enough for us to talk of a class revolt which could grow. Freedom and democracy for the proletariat, self-organisation of the proletariat in order to administer power and the economy would all be necessary in a revolution. But this is a product of a political growth which can also be very rapid if, within the proletariat, there already actively exists its most politically conscious and organised part, its party. The objective conditions for a growth of the movement existed but what was lacking was the class party. However the proletariat had risen on its own autonomous terrain. The regime screamed of Western provocation and attempted to pass the episode off as the desperate act of a minority in the pay of America, but these were obvious lies.
The de-stalinisation campaign had been carried out in Poznan at the same time as new speed-ups of work were ordered and for the workers of the Stalin workshops there was a 3O% reduction in wages. The repression was very harsh; workers had to face armoured cars sent against them by the regime. The policy was the stick and the carrot. At the same time as this harsh repression the government announced that the immediate demands of the workers in the Stalin workshops would be satisfied and promised that the process of de-stalinisation would carry on. Drowned in blood the revolt halted, but the unrest continued. From July to October workers, and many of the youth, remained on a war footing. In October Khruschev arrived in Warsaw with 14 generals. There was a fear that the Soviets were about to carry out a coup. But the Soviet leaders had understood that the Polish Communist Party was still capable of controlling the situation and restoring order. This was because in the meantime it had been "purged" recalling as leader Gomulka. He had been expelled from the party in 1949 as a Titoist but opportunely took over on the 4th August.
The heroism and the mobilisation of the workers were not enough to break out of the cage of the state capitalist regime. But it was the first sign to the European proletariat of what the "socialist fatherland" was. It constituted a severe blow to the credibility of Soviet "socialism". European vanguards had to begin to draw the lessons. And this is what our comrades who wrote in 1956 argued-and which we reprint in the articles which follow this.
Budapest. The Petofi Circle announced a demonstration in solidarity with the Poles. The Government had banned it but at the last moment authorised it. Masses of factory and office workers left work and joined the intellectuals and students who had called the demonstration. To begin with the march went smoothly. It seemed that in Budapest the main demand was to request the rehabilitation of Nagy who had been thrown out of office in 1955, and remained so, even after the 20th Party Congress which left a Stalinist gang in charge. The Soviets, in the holy name of party unity, did not feel like getting rid of the whole Rakosi, Gero (5) etc. group. This was seen by the masses In Budapest as another act of continuing Stalinism. Nagy had represented the "new course" of anti-stalinism before it had even been announced. It seemed therefore that the recall of Nagy could stop the movement. The same manoeuvre had already been carried out successfully in Warsaw. However Gero attacked the demonstrators as provocateurs and the demonstrators counter-attacked. A column from the demonstration headed towards the radio studios and tried to get in. The secret police fired on the crowd and the first deaths occurred.
During the night clashes continued, but the soldiers in the barracks armed the workers, amongst them workers from the arsenal. And the workers of Budapest were clearly the most important force in the struggle. Late in the evening Gero announced the recall of Nagy to the government. But the clashes continued, an obvious sign that the workers were no longer simply content with a change of personnel. The workers now advanced their demands and by continuing the struggle also drew in the intellectuals who until then had only demanded the return of Nagy. The workers no longer wanted to work at speeds dictated by the Government, they no longer were prepared to accept the orders of the party and the unions, those state agents who were the management of the factories. They wanted the right to strike which the regime had always denied (the virtue of living under "really existing socialism"!) and they demanded also the withdrawal of the Soviet forces of occupation.
Budapest. A real battle developed in front of parliament between those workers and youngsters who had received weapons on the one side, and the security forces and the armoured Soviet troops on the other. Radio Budapest announced that the Soviet Air Force had also taken part. The workers of the Cespel workshop formed the vanguard of the struggle and they moved the struggle on to the higher stage of insurrection when they called for a general strike.
In the evening the state radio called on the workers to resume work the following morning.
In the rest of the country. At Miskolc, at Gyoer, at Szeged and in other smaller places the workers immediately entered the struggle as soon as they heard news of the clashes in Budapest. Everywhere they formed councils and workers committees. It was the great new development which the Hungarian proletariat gave to us. The example set in Miskolc was important. Here all the workers of the workshops elected a council which immediately called for a general strike, except in the electricity supply sector, transport and hospitals and immediately sent a delegation to Budapest to link up with workers in the capital. They published a programme in four points:
- immediate withdrawal of Soviet troops;
- formation of a new government;
- recognition of the right to strike;
- a general amnesty for all insurgents.
Intellectuals and students had launched an initiative on the day before but by now everything was already in the hands of workers organised in councils. The official radio still invited the workers to return to work: it was a sign that the general strike was still solid, despite the fact that Nagy was now the head of the government.
In Miskolc the radio was in the hands of the workers' council and was already being listened to by the entire country. In one bulletin the council declared that it was for...
a government where communists are installed devoted to the principles of proletarian internationalism which is first Hungarian, and which respects our national traditions and our thousand year past.
Something of a paradox to have internationalism mixed with nationalism? Not really, when we consider what had brought it about. This declaration was aimed at the USSR which, until then (and for how much longer thereafter seeing that it has lasted until today!), had dominated. political and economic activity in Hungary in order to suck it dry. At the outbreak of the revolt its political actions were of necessity confused, inadequate from a revolutionary point of view, but understandable nonetheless. What we mean is the development of an internationalist instinct to call on workers in other countries to carry out the very same revolt against the state, on the basis of a genuinely communist programme. This would have been enough to overcome the dangers container-in the reference to the "thousand year tradition". But the proletariat in Hungary was also politically and theoretically disarmed. It was certainly playing into the hands of those who could put the accent on the nationalist content of the movement; or for the Hungarian bourgeois-bureaucracy to achieve a peaceful compromise, or even for the USSR to denounce the reactionary nationalism which justified the intervention of the army to the proletariat of the other Eastern Bloc countries. In this sense in the end the Soviets even won in this way. But it was in the nature of things and in the nature of their movement that the Hungarian workers made that declaration on October 24th 1956, and it was enough to mark out the current movement as potentially subversive.
On the other hand the workers of Myskolc were not satisfied by the promises of Nagy who, the day before, along with Kadar, had announced on the radio that they had requested the withdrawal of Soviet troops. Nor did they agree with the nationalist leader's bringing into the government spokesmen of the reactionary party of small landowners. Kovacs and Tildy, "the small landowners", recalled by Nagy, were good representatives of anti-Soviet nationalist hate seeing that Kovacs had been imprisoned by the Soviets for "espionage" and that Tildy had been President of the Republic straight after the war! In an extraordinary bulletin of the 27th the Myksolc council stated that it had
taken power throughout the entire county of Borsod. It severely condemns all those who want to describe our struggle as a struggle against the will and power of the people.
And it added:
We have confidence in Imre Nagy but we disagree with the composition of his government. All those politicians who sold out to the USSR should not have government posts. Peace, liberty, independence.
The general strike continued. Nagy's measures could have satisfied the petty bourgeoisie of Budapest, and some of the peasantry, but not the workers, neither in Budapest, nor anywhere else.
On that very day the Csepel workshop workers declared in the Young Communist newspaper:
Until now we have not had the chance to speak. We have learned, in these tragic times to remain silent and to tread with the stealth of a wolf. But stay calm, even we will speak out.
They had something else in mind - workers' self-management.
The various workers' councils had put out so many declarations and statements that the Hungarian trades unions, under pressure from their rank and file could, after three days of insurrection, do no less than publish their own declaration which we summarise at length here. Politically the unions demanded:
- an end to the struggle, a government amnesty and the beginning of negotiations, including youth representatives;
- a broader govemment which incorporated representatives of the unions and the youth with Nagy as President and the economic situation be open to a free debate;
- an agreement of aid to the people proven to be injured in the tragic clashes and that the same aid be extended to the families of the victims;
- the army and police are supported in the maintenance of law and order by a National Guard made up of students and workers;
- a youth organisation be set up with the help of the unions;
- the new government to immediately begin talks on the withdrawal of Soviet troops from Hungarian territory.
Economically the unions demanded:
- the formation of workers' councils in all workplaces;
- the establishment of workers' management;
- the radical transformation of the planning system and the management of the economy by the state;
- a review of wages with an immediate 15% increase of those wages below 800 florins and a 10% rise for those below 1500 florins;
- a minimum wage to be fixed at 3500 florins a month;
- all production rates to be abolished except where the workers councils asked to keep them;
- abolition of the 4% tax on unmarried workers and on families without children;
- an increase in the very low pensions;
- an increase in family allowance;
- acceleration of the building of state housing;
- the promise made by Nagy to open talks with the USSR and other Eastern Bloc countries to establish economic relations based on mutual advantage and the principle of equality to be kept.
In conclusion the document stated that the unions should return to the way they functioned in 1948 and to call themselves "Hungarian Free Trades Unions".
It was a typical example of the behaviour of unions in the face of a situation where insurrection had already taken place. On the one hand they were under pressure from rank and file workers who compelled them to include in their "programme" the most immediate demands which the workers had already put forward without waiting for the unions. On the other hand they reformulated these demands with that congenitally reformist content which compromised with capitalism, and the regime which represented it. In short, the unions played their same old counter-revolutionary role. For example, lets consider the part of the document devoted to wage demands. They were a complete break with the previous pattern. Stalinism, like other capitalist regimes, promoted widely differentiated wage rates (in the USSR the wage range of industrial worker to factory manager ranged between 100 and 2000) with the normal payment to workers being in the lowest band. The October 26th document tended to demand immediately:
- a reduction of wage range inequality;
- the implementation of this demand through the immediate raising of the lowest wages whilst not altering the highest wages.
Here, it wasn't the unions themselves who were talking, but the pressure of the workers forced them to advocate these demands. We should stress here that the union document followed dozens of communications from the factory councils putting forward these ideas. Why did the unions take up the workers demands, denying their previous policies which had always accepted the establishment of wage norms set from above, and acting as accomplices of the state in getting them carried out? There can be no doubt, nor any debate about it. The reason was the need to recover their credibility amongst the mass of workers in order to control them.
The whole of the political part of the document expressed the union line at the time on the control and content of the growing movement of the workers in their struggle against capitalism. Even here the unions were forced to play the game of making concessions to proletarian self-organisation. This explains the paradox of the demand for a National Guard alongside the Army, put forward by those workers now in arms, not only against the Soviets, but also against the regime. All the rest, including the idea of preserving the army and police, takes us back to the perspective of stabilising the situation, making revolution unnecessary. Indeed, what is the sense of calling for the establishment of "a youth organisation" in, and with the unions, when the young are already organised in schools, political and cultural circles, and have demonstrated their capacity for military action which already presupposes the existence of rank arid file organisation? The only explanation is that they wanted the young to submit to the very institutions against which they were heroically fighting, naturally through .the mediation of the unions. And as to a broader government all they were asking for was a facelift for the regime in order for stability to be restored. They called for the struggle to end, but the government and the state were still in place. This meant that asking the workers and students to lay down their arms since Nagy already was the government and they only asked him to broaden it.
In the early afternoon on Friday October 26th the street battles against the Soviet tanks raged again. The government, which maintained that it had already made enough concessions and that the councils, which had already expressed confidence in Nagy should obey it, issued an ultimatum that all arms should be laid down before 10.00 p.m. But on the morning of the 27th fighting flared up again. The official radio declared that those who continued to fight were "bandits" and would be treated as such. The security forces of the Hungarian regime were still to be found fighting alongside Soviet troops. In the night of Saturday 27th and Sunday 28th October the insurgents attacked the main prison in Budapest and killed the two Farkas, chiefs of police under the ultra-stalinist Rakosi Government.
October 28th Sunday
The revolutionary councils in the provinces have multiplied but these are made up of different layers of the population. The proletariat was a major component which tended to give its character to the movement but it did not lead it. An historic accident? No, the situation remained confused because the proletariat did not have the instruments to deepen the class character pf the movement and thus take on the leadership of the social movement: it did not have its class party, nor, and this is much more serious, had it maintained a historic memory of its own past experiences. The Stalinist counter-revolution which began in the second half of the 1920s, had completely wiped out any theoretical expression of the class programme, right down to its basic notion of the consciousness and memory of the working class, and of their vanguards in the struggle. And thus this allowed the Government, frightened by the extension of the struggle to the entire country, to accept talks with representatives of the students and agreed an armistice with them, even though the street fighting continued throughout the whole of Sunday. Notwithstanding this armistice the fighting just raged on. Obviously the announcement of the armistice had made no difference. Thus between 1.00 and 2.00 p.m. the Government ordered the armed forces to cease fire.
At 3.00 pm. Budapest Radio (the official one) announced:
Soon the fighting will stop. The guns will go silent. The city will be quiet. The quiet of the dead. It's time to reflect on the meaning of this atrocious massacre whose real causes are Stalinism and the bloody madness of the Rakosi regime.
At 4.00 p.m. Nagy announced that Soviet troops would withdraw immediately.
But the Soviets did not leave Budapest and instead went on the attack.
The fighting continued. The Soviets stated that they would wait until the insurgents laid down their arms before withdrawing. The councils of Gyor and Miskolc urged everyone not to give in and rejected this "invitation". The Soviets said they would depart in the evening and in fact did leave the city. But they re grouped a short distance away to await reinforcements.
In the climate of excitement and confusion typical of every insurrection, the old forces were reformed. Nagy prepared to open the Government to these forces. The proletariat remained in the same state as before: it put forward its immediate demands, it was the leading element in the street fighting but it failed to articulate its autonomous class programme. Furthermore the councils in the provinces, originally only composed of workers were now open to other social groups and they began to echo democratic and nationalist demands. The Gyor Council published a programme which was presented to the councils in Pecs, Debrecen, Szekesfehevar, Nyregyaza, Solnok, Magyarovar, another cities in the provinces, which read:
We demand from the Government:
1. the creation of a free, sovereign, independent, democratic and socialist Hungary;
2. the law to allow free elections and universal suffrage;
3. the immediate departure of Soviet troops;
4. the drafting of a new constitution;
5. the abolition of the AVO (the secret police). The Government should rely only on its two armed forces, the national army and the ordinary police;
6. A total amnesty for all those who have taken up arms and Erno Gero and his accomplices to be put on trial;
7. Free elections within two months with the participation of more parties.
The step backwards was obvious even compared with the demands of the unions of three days previously. Their document called for an extension of the Government to include the unions and the youth movement. In this one it was to be open to the re-launched bourgeois parties, including openly reactionary ones like those of the small landowners. The demand for the army and police to be reinforced by workers' and students' militias had disappeared to be replaced by the simple maintenance of the army and police. Again the union document even if only tactically did refer to the workers' councils, which had a real existence at the time, whilst in the Gyor document the government of the State is entrusted to the winner of a bourgeois-democratic election. The unions on the 26th had put forward demands for clear economic policies such as "the radical transformation of the planning system", the Gyor council went back to general but very bourgeois demands for a Hungary "free, sovereign, independent, democratic and... socialist" (which did not mean anything). Were the councils backward in comparison with the unions. Yes and no. Yes, because in form the demands were a return to the past; no, because were still (but not for much longer) direct expressions of the movement i.e. expressions of the rank and file.
Those who mythologise about the councils in order to counter-pose them to the party have something to think about here. The councils had, from a class point of view, now become representative of an undifferentiated civil society (which we saw happen when it they were opened up to other social strata). This is what they became but they were born as organisational expressions of the workers' movement. This meant that allowing the infiltration of other classes robbed the councils of their class character; this meant that the proletariat did not have the strength to draw the other strata on to its programmatic terrain. It had widened its organisations to other classes without first having established its own class character because it did not have its own programme, the clarity of a line to hold to and which it could call on others to line up behind. It did not have its party. And again, looking at the facts, the councilists are like those who claim to counter-pose the conditions and the chemical mixture of a series of reactions to the detonator and the method of the reaction itself, and don't understand that there is no laboratory anywhere where reactions happen without one or other, or all, of these necessary factors.
All the conditions were now prepared to give Nagy a way out.
Nagy announced the end of the single party state and the return to a coalition government similar to that of 1946. He created a new government with only two CommunistParty ministers, sharing the other portfolios amongst the Social Democrats, the Peasant party and the small landowners party. He founded a new "Socialist Workers'" party and announced the neutrality of Hungary and denounced the Warsaw Pact. Free elections and universal suffrage were promised.
The summit agreement did go some way to meeting the already quoted demands of the Misko1c council as did the programme announced by Nagy. But the movement, and the struggle, did not stop.
Huge Soviet armoured contingents entered Hungary. The troops were fresh from deep within the USSR and less at risk of solidarity with the insurrection as some Soviet soldiers already had been. The attacking forces, contrary to any form of communism (whether "real" or true) begin to speak louder. The ordinary workers always feared Soviet intervention, Different declarations of the councils and youth organisations amongst them the Youth Federation expressed firm opposition to any attempt to turn back.
The Youth Federation issued an appeal which declared:
we don't want a return to the fascism of Admiral Horthy. We don't want the land to go back to the big landowners or the factories to the capitalists.
The attitude of the rank and file in which the labour force, notwithstanding everything, was still dominant, was such that Tildy, leader of the party of small proprietors, declared:
The agrarian reform is an established fact. Well-intended though the kolkhoz are the land will remain with the peasants. The banks and the mines will remain nationalised, the factories will remain the property of the workers (sic!). We have made neither a restoration nor a counter-revolution but a revolution.
The bad faith was obvious. But Tildy was forced to say these things as a result of the reality where he found himself governing with Nagy and his comrades. He had less fear of the Soviets than he had of the workers who could wreck the armistice which had been agreed.
The general strike continued whilst the radio continued to plead with the workers to lay down their arms, to maintain unity and return to work. At the same time the Councils which had been created by the workers were now open to other social strata and to their different parties who were now able to get a hearing for their solutions and resolutions amongst ordinary workers. We have already seen the Councils put forward the political compromise which they had forged internally, and which was not at all revolutionary. But the Councils always remained the one new experience arising everywhere on the basis of workers' initiatives. Nagy, although making increased concessions to the bourgeois right, recognised them as autonomous class organisations. He was forced in to it but he did. And this was where, according to the bourgeois (which included himself) view, his "tragic error" arose. The Soviets used the excuse of the right wing reactionary danger, of a mounting counter-revolution, in order to justify the final attack and massacre. In reality what they really feared was the workers' councils. They feared their possible contamination of the rest of the bloc even if these councils still had no programme, no party nor a revolutionary line to work on.
The Soviets had allowed the formation of a coalition government and had conceded its demands in order to get out of the war; they had also experimented successfully with ways of getting their own policies accepted domestically. Why would they still have anything to fear? Why did they have to intervene with tanks if the danger wasn't really something else, and was precisely the working class? Here a word of warning: Hungary in 1956 was not Czechoslovakia in 1968. In the twelve years separating the two dates new conditions and new tensions within the imperialist blocs had emerged; Czechoslovak nationalism was the nationalism of a declining social force faced with the rise of a red state bourgeoisie. It was instead the nationalism of the Czech state bourgeoisie that felt so strong and at the same time so pressured by the Soviet bear that it dared to make an
attempt to escape its clutches. There were no workers councils in 1968 but the soviet tanks intervened to smash the veiled nationalism of both the state bourgeoisie and the Prague petty bourgeoisie.
In Hungary in 1956 there was none of this. Nagy who, at the end of October, under the pressure of the workers and peasants, had promised to leave the Warsaw Pact had not even minimally questioned relations with the USSR in his plan of two years previously. The difference was that in Hungary in 1956 the workers councils existed. They were an autonomous mobilisation of the proletariat which put forward its own demands against a state which they revealed to the workers of the whole world as exploitative. This was what the Kremlin could not tolerate.
To Soviet eyes the situation on November 2nd was still open and, in a certain sense, this was true. The internal political stalemate between Government and Councils, between the Government and the insurgents left two possible ways out:
- The first was that the continuing concessions of Nagy to the Right would restart the military conflict between the Government and the workers councils, with the possible risk of a radicalisation of the movement in which we cannot exclude the possibility of a rebirth of internationalist vanguards. However, the re-opening of the direct conflict between the Government and the workers would have created an "unacceptable" example to workers of the other Eastern bloc countries including those in the USSR.
- The second, much less probable outcome, was that the continuing concessions to the Right would succeed, with a real shift in orientation of Hungary's international policy and thus a serious risk of repercussions in a very problematic set of international events (Suez, (6) Cold War etc).
Why was this second hypothesis less probable? Because the social forces on the Right to which concessions had been made were not those of a strong private bourgeoisie (which had now either fled aboard or had reinvented itself wearing state capitalist clothes and therefore was subordinate to the USSR). They were above all the peasants and the urban petty bourgeoisie to weak to be the carriers of a new state which would be able to challenge an empire like the USSR. .
The Soviets could and "had to" take the initiative to end the deadlock. They did so with promptness and speed.
Soviet tanks attacked. As expected they came up against the workers' councils who fought with all the anger, all the strength and capacity for heroism of which only the proletariat is capable. It was a massacre but the armed resistance of the workers to the armoured vehicles and sophisticated weapons of the Soviet soldiers went on for over six days!
The proletariat suffered thousands of dead whilst inflicting quite a few losses on the enemy. Armed resistance ended. The general strike, however went on.
Kadar was now head of the Government under the protections of Soviet troops. His programme largely accepted the workers' demands, including workers' management of the factories. But the workers, who remained in their councils, did not return to work in the days that followed.
After a week of invitations and pleas to return to the factories which were ignored by the workers, Kadar was forced to enter into direct negotiations with the central workers' council of Budapest. It is a sign that Kadar had understood that the only way to get the workers back to work is if the decision is seen to come from the councils. Once again, even after such a bloody repression, the councils were still the real expression of power in the Hungarian revolt, and they continued to exist. On the explicit condition that a whole series of their demands have to be met immediately and that not one syllable of the others will be given up, the Budapest council gave the order on the radio for a return to work.
But after a brief pause the workers struggle started again. Strikes and agitation broke out in the months that followed and Kadar was "forced to establish martial law". The excuse of a reactionary threat served to cover and justify in some way to the eyes of the western proletariat the shootings, internments and very heavy repression which was unleashed anew (and this time by the national government against the working class). The workers' councils fought on. Though defeated at a time when they could have gone on the offensive they regrouped on a purely defensive terrain demanding reforms but they still fought on. And our comrades recorded this well into 1957.
The revolution had not happened; the capitalist state had not been beaten and proletarian blood had flowed in rivers. But one great political outcome had occurred: councils had re-appeared as the genuine expression of workers self-activity, the "finally discovered" form of insurrectional struggle and proletarian power in one of the satellite countries of the homeland of "real socialism"; the myth of the Eastern Bloc states as "workers' states" had begun to collapse. It also confirmed that "there" too the working class would have to make a revolution, and it would have to do so by rediscovering its own mass organisations and political instruments, i.e. its councils and its internationalist class party. Our comrades in 1956 recognised all this in the sacrifices made by our Hungarian comrades. We now let them speak.Mauro Stefanini
(1) Nicholas Horthy de Nagybanya had been an Admiral in the former Austro-Hungarian Empire. He was installed by the Allies after World War One after they invaded Hungary to put down the first Hungarian Soviet Government in 1919-20. He then unleashed a White Terror, massacring hundreds of communists and workers. Failing in his aim to restore the Habsburgs he established a dictatorship which lasted a generation. He turned Hungary into a Nazi satellite after 1940 but this did not prevent the occupation of his country by his masters in March 1944. He was then imprisoned by the Nazis in October 1944 for calling for an armistice with the Allies. This saved his life since he was in a Bavarian castle when the Americans took over that area. His previous anti-working class history ensured that he was allowed to go quietly into exile in Portugal where he died in 1957.
(2) Signed in a former Hohenzollern hunting lodge just outside Berlin after the defeat of Germany in the summer of 1945, this was the real peace treaty which ended the Second World War, since it defined the future spheres of influence of the USSR and the USA in Europe. It apecifically allowed the Soviet Union (which had paid the highest material price for defeating the Nazis), the right to loot Eastern Europe of its industries in the name of “war reparations”.
(3) Not content with the rise of the local Hungarian Communist Party Stalin wanted party completely subservient to Moscow. Already defied by Tito in Yugoslavia (who managed to survive beyond the reach of the Red Army) Stalin decided to purge any local communist leadership of the Eastern European states. In Czechoslavakia it was Slansky, and in Hungary it was Rajk who was hanged for treason in 1949 (as this was Stalinism he naturally pleaded guilty).
(4) Bela Kun had been Minister of War in the Hungarian Soviet Government of 1919-20 but he is always seen as its most dynamic character. In 1919 the Hungarian workers were in the vanguard of the international revolution bring one of only three revolutions which threatened the capitalist system throughout Europe. Kun returned to the USSR after Horthy’s victory (see Footnote 1) but he joined the opposition to Stalinism and was shot in the Purges in 1936.
(5) Matyas Rakosi,, a personal friend of Stalin took over after the fall of Rajk and was a clone of his master. A ruthless tyrant he was referred to in official statements as “our father and great master, Stalin’s greatest Hungarian pupil”. His friend, Erno Gero, was notorious for his murdering of both communist and anarchist dissidents on the Republican side in the Spanish Civil War. Together they represented the most vicious face of Stalinism in Hungary.
(6) The coincidence of the Hungarian Revolution with the Suez crisis was a factor which allowed Soviet military intervention to succeed. For more on Suez see Revolutionary Perspectives 40.
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- Bourgeois revolution
- Competition and monopoly
- Core and peripheral countries
- Democracy and dictatorship
- Exploitation and accumulation
- Factory and territory groups
- Historical materialism
- Party and class
- Proletarian revolution
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- Automotive industry
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- 01. Prehistory
- 02. Ancient history
- 03. Middle ages
- 04. Modern history
- 1800: Industrial revolution
- 1911-12: Turko-Italian War for Libya
- 1912: Frazione Intransigente Rivoluzionaria of PSI
- 1912: Republic of China
- 1913: Fordism (assembly line)
- 1914-18: World War I
- 1917: Russian Revolution
- 1918: Frazione Comunista Astensionista of PSI
- 1918: German Revolution
- 1919-20: Biennio rosso in Italy
- 1919-43: Third International
- 1919: Hungarian Revolution
- 1921-28: New Economic Policy
- 1921: Kronstadt rebellion
- 1921: Partito Comunista d'Italia
- 1922-45: Fascism
- 1922-52: Stalin is General Secretary of PCUS
- 1925-27: Canton and Shanghai revolt
- 1925: Comitato d'Intesa
- 1926: General strike in Britain
- 1926: Lyons Congress of PCd’I
- 1927: Vienna revolt
- 1928: First five-year plan
- 1928: Pantin, Frazione di sinistra della IC
- 1929: Great Depression
- 1931: Japan occupies Manchuria
- 1933-43: New Deal
- 1933-45: Nazism
- 1934: Long March of Chinese communists
- 1934: Miners' uprising in Asturias
- 1934: Workers' uprising in "Red Vienna"
- 1935-36: Italian army invades Ethiopia
- 1936-38: Great Purge
- 1936-39: Spanish Civil War
- 1937: Bureau International des Fractions de la Gauche Communiste
- 1938: Fourth International
- 1969-80: Anni di piombo in Italy
- 1971: End of the Bretton Woods system
- 1971: Microprocessor
- 1973: Pinochet's military junta in Chile
- 1975: Toyotism (just-in-time)
- 1977-81: International conferences convoked by PCInt
- 1977: '77 movement
- 1978: Economic reforms in China
- 1978: Islamic Revolution in Iran
- 1978: South Lebanon conflict
- 1979-89: Soviet war in Afghanistan
- 1979-90: Thatcher government
- 1980-88: Iran-Iraq War
- 1980: Strikes in Poland
- 1982: Falklands War
- 1982: First Lebanon War
- 1982: Sabra and Chatila
- 1983: Foundation of IBRP
- 1984-85: UK Miners' Strike
- 1986: Chernobyl disaster
- 1987-93: First Intifada
- 1987: Perestroika
- 1989: Fall of the Berlin Wall
- 1989: Tiananmen Square protests
- 1991: Breakup of Yugoslavia
- 1991: Dissolution of Soviet Union
- 1991: First Gulf War
- 1992-95: UN intervention in Somalia
- 1994-96: First Chechen War
- 1994: Genocide in Rwanda
- 1995: NATO bombing in Bosnia
- 1999-2000: Second Chechen War
- 1999: Introduction of euro
- 1999: Kosovo War
- 1999: WTO conference in Seattle
- 2000: Second intifada
- 2001: G8 summit in Genoa
- 2001: Piqueteros' movement in Argentina
- 2001: September 11 attacks
- 2001: War in Afghanistan
- 2003: Second Gulf War
- 2004: Asian Tsunami
- 2004: Madrid train bombings
- 2005: Banlieue riots in France
- 2005: Hurricane Katrina
- 2005: London bombings
- 2006: Anti-CPE movement in France
- 2006: Comuna de Oaxaca
- 2006: Second Lebanon War
- 2007: Subprime crisis
- 2008: Automotive crisis
- 2008: Global crisis
- 2008: Onda movement in Italy
- 2008: Pomigliano struggle
- 2008: Riots in Greece
- 2008: War in Georgia
- 2009: Israel-Gaza conflict
- 2009: Post-election crisis in Iran
- Amadeo Bordiga
- Anton Pannekoek
- Antonio Gramsci
- Arrigo Cervetto
- Bruno Fortichiari
- Bruno Maffi
- Celso Beltrami
- Davide Casartelli
- Errico Malatesta
- Fabio Damen
- Fausto Atti
- Franco Migliaccio
- Franz Mehring
- Friedrich Engels
- Giorgio Paolucci
- Guido Torricelli
- Heinz Langerhans
- Helmut Wagner
- Henryk Grossmann
- Karl Korsch
- Karl Liebknecht
- Karl Marx
- Leon Trotsky
- Lorenzo Procopio
- Mario Acquaviva
- Mauro jr. Stefanini
- Michail Bakunin
- Onorato Damen
- Ottorino Perrone (Vercesi)
- Paul Mattick
- Rosa Luxemburg
- Vladimir Lenin
- Anti-globalization movement
- Antifascism and united front
- Armed struggle
- Autonomism and workerism
- Base unionism
- Communist left inspired
- Cooperativism and autogestion
- ICC and French communist left
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- National liberation movements
- Parliamentary center-right
- Parliamentary left and reformism
- Peasant movement
- Revolutionary unionism
- Russian communist left
- Statism and keynesism
- Student movement
- Latin America
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