[Marxism] Hungary 1956

H. Rakovsky rakovsky at excite.com
Tue Mar 23 11:37:53 MST 2004

Hungary 1956
   I believe all 3 interpretations of the events in Hungary in 1956 have truth to them:
1. It was a fascist and antisemitic pogrom
2. It was leading to a capitalist restoration
3. It was a workers' rebellion with commun-ist elements

These conflicting interpretations are made the more possible because in fact the rebel groups were divided into factions.
Plus, there were not two sides here, but really 4, and it is not clear who to put where because sympathies changed sides. 
Russians, Rakoci Stalinists, rioters, and a divided cabinet.

1. I suggest reading David Irving's book "Uprising" where he goes to Hungary in 1986 and gives many first hand accounts. His own perspective sympathizes with the Hungarians, not the Russians.
   He characterizes it as an uprising, not a full revolution.
It is important to remember that the riot didn't take all of Hungary, only Budapest. 

Irving explains how Rakoci and the other leaders were Jewish and so was the Hungarian secret police. Anti-semitism played a big role in the Hungarians' feelings.
   The hungarians had fought WWII only 10 years earlier, and accounts show that their soldiers were often more vicious than the Germans' against prisoners. A few years ago, I met an elderly hungarian lady here in the US. She asked me pleasantly if I had read "Mein Kampf." 
I said, "You mean HITLER's Mein Kampf?" She was totally silent.
    The cardinal whom the hungarians freed from prison in the riot was Mindszenty, a strong fascist, anti-Semite, and collaborator from the war. Even the Vatican could not tolerate him after it was reformed in the 1970's and had him removed from office.
     The lynchings and tortures of maybe 100 people, just suspected of being related somehow to the AVH were reminiscient of the pogroms.

2. Irving and other accounts show the CIA's hand. He criticizes the CIA for stirring the people up with agitation, funding and involvement in dissident groups, while hoping they would have a revolt, but not supporting them militarily when it broke out.
Planes were arriving from the NATO countries with wartime exiles. NATO was certainly one of the factors.

Most Hungarians who had experienced communism through Rakoci became strongly opposed to it. They did not want any kind of Socialism, just as later in 1989. 1st hand accounts of witnesses and the sentiments of survivors show this. They were no longer inspired to any kind of communism by WWII partisans.
That is different from the other Soviet countries where there had been Destalinization or in Yugoslavia. In Hungary, though, they had a sharp contrast between Stalinism and the Western countries,* and many wanted the latter model.

As a result, the cabinet announced it was going to withdraw from the Warsaw Pact and set up a multiparty system with bourgeois parties. The latter is not incompatible for Socialism. But for Lenin, anyway, he would not have let any bourgeois parties interfere with his Dictatorship of the Proletariat, especially when there was an unstable situation.

Some people might say, yes, the "truely conscious workers" were in a minority, but that is their job to seize power and convince the others. But the fact is that Nagy was not in real control of the situation. Irving's book and historical research shows that he was scared of being lynched like the other party members in the Republic Square Massacre. There is also research that He had been an NKVD informer in the 1930's. He told the rioters to be peaceful, but he was not the instigator. Once the revolt had happened, however, he supported it and led in an official sense. (but not in control)

Fidel Castro also understood that there were forces going to a capitalist overthrow. He said it was illegal to international law, but gave support with that criticism. Khrushchev was also surprised when Tito (not in the Warsaw Pact) recommended an invasion. Of course, one does not have to like any of them, but  Western newspapers too saw it as a capitalist democratic uprising against Communism. 

3. the dissonance between the Rakoci/Stalinist regime started with radical intellectuals in the "Petofi circle." They had a demonstration that fraternized with the Soviet army, which wanted to go home anyway (it was stationed since the war,  which happened in all Allied occupied countries, eg West Germany) There were idealist communists who were swept up in the revolt and who wanted a reform communism. Most of them, along with the intellectuals, including the cabinet leaders followed the BUKHARIN model of communism.
Many of the leaders who joined the revolt, like the police chief Kopasci (His autobiography's title shows this- In the name of the Working Class) saw themselves making a kind of anarchosyndicalism.
Some of the Budapest factories were involved in the anarcho-syndicalism, but it's not clear how much. Obviously if they wanted a capitalist restoration, they would take it out of the control of the appointed managers, but without a market system, they couldn't go any further. Without capitalist owners to appoint a manager, the workers would have to decide themselves who would be the supervisor. So in that sense a transition to Anarchism or a market system would look the same at that stage. 
Strictly speaking of course they could make equal "stocks" for the workers or draw "lots" for a manager, but that is not realistic. So it depended on what the people wanted to do. And that was mixed. Probably many of them didn't have any kind of plan, but were just enraged against Rakoci's terror. Nevertheless, as Kopasci's memoir shows, many of the workers and Petofi-type students wanted the anarcho-syndicalism. So this interpretation is true too.

According to Khrushchev, they weren't revolting against Communism but against Stalinism, which was in place with Rakoci since Stalin's time. (Khrushchev ended the GULAG in Russia and carried on Destalinization, which occurred in many countries like Gomulka replacing Beirut in Poland.) But he said Nagy couldn't control it, it got out of hand, so that is why they sent in the troops.

The psycology of the formely fascist Hungarians played a psychological role for Khrushchev, as did the tensions of the Colod War. When he was in retirement in 1968, he was bitter about the invasion of Czechoslovakia: "They weren't even on the Fascist side," he told his son. 
In fact, Khrushchev supported the anti-Stalinist cabinet at first. He would have been happier if there had made reforms like Gomulka did in Poland and where there was an anti-Soviet revolt, which went ok. Khrushchev brought out Soviet troops there and he was in the process of doing it in Hungary, even as the riots continued. So there also has to be an understanding of Khrushchev as a person who pushed reforms, but was ready to crack down if it endangered the "Socialist Bloc." In the case of Hungary, that crackdown was very harsh. Khrushchev put alot of emphasis on "the Hungarians handling things."

But with Kadar in power, who had seen his friends killed when they surrendered, the Hungarians were very cruel. The rioters had hanged and burned people alive. It wasn't "people's courts" or anything like that. But in the same way, Kadar was more oppressive than Lenin or Khrushchev could have been. Kadar was later to make "reforms" in the 1960's, like what should have happened in the early 1950's. But Kadar oversaw hundreds or thoudands of executions, including hangings, like that of Nagy. When the Russians gave Nagy over to "the Hunagrians" it was a cruel death for a person who was not interested in violence himself or an instigator.

In conclusion, the Hungarian Revolt of 1956 was a horrible, cruel, tragedy. Budapest turned into a hellhole for everyone and it is wrong to idealize either side. Maybe you can say Khrushchev was preserving Socialism or the "working masses" were inspired to Socialism, but that does an injustice to everyone's suffering. Instead, one has to take a deep understanding of all the factors involved.

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