[Marxism] Peter Fryer
lnp3 at panix.com
Sat Nov 4 07:48:00 MST 2006
Guardian, Friday November 3, 2006
Communist journalist who told the truth about Hungary 1956
The death of Peter Fryer aged 79, comes 50 years
to the week since his honest reporting of
Hungary's 1956 revolution for the Daily Worker
(now the Morning Star) split the Communist party
of Great Britain, and changed his own life. A
loyal CP member since 1945, and a Worker
journalist for nine years, he immediately wrote a
short, passionate book Hungarian Tragedy in
defence of the revolution - and was expelled from the party.
Fryer's book has been compared to John Reed's Ten
Days that Shook the World on the Bolshevik
uprising of 1917. A few days before he died,
Fryer heard that Hungary's president had awarded
him the Knight's Cross of the Order of Merit of
the Republic, in recognition of his "continuous
support of the Hungarian revolution and freedom fight".
Sent by the then Worker editor, Johnny Campbell,
to report on a "counter-revolutionary" uprising,
Fryer's loyalty was to communism, Marx's "truly
human society", not to the CPGB's Stalinist line.
Realising that he was witnessing a popular
uprising of students and workers, he sided with
the revolutionaries. His dispatches were savagely edited, then suppressed.
In 1949, Fryer had covered the Hungarian
Stalinist regime's show trial of Hungarian party
leader, László Rajk. In good faith, he reported
Rajk's "confession" - made with the promise of
being spared, but resulting in his execution - as
proletarian justice. So, when the Soviet leader
Nikita Khrushchev's revelations about Stalinism
at the 1956 Soviet Party congress were followed
in Hungary by Rajk's cynical "rehabilitation",
Fryer's engagement with the CPGB's crisis was
personal. The "doubts and difficulties" shared by
many members, for him meant confronting the part
he felt he had played in Rajk's murder.
Held up at a border town on the road from Vienna
to Budapest, Fryer saw his first dead bodies - 80
people shot during a demonstration. It was his
turning-point. Attending the election of a
workers' council at a state farm was the last
straw. An apology that it was taking all day
because "we have absolutely no experience of
electing people" made him think: "So much for 'people's democracy'."
In late October 1956 there was a lull which
followed from the brief Soviet withdrawal and
ended with the Soviet army's return to Budapest
on November 4 to crush the revolution. During
that period Fryer offered to edit an
English-language paper, and he was proud to read,
in a 1961 Hungarian emigré bibliography of the
revolution that this was "of capital importance
as regards the character of the insurrection: the
only foreign journalist who decided to act for
the sake of Hungary was a Communist".
Hungarian Tragedy played a big part in the CPGB's
fierce internal discussions which followed the
Soviet invasion and led up to its Easter 1957
Hammersmith congress. But the party proved
irredeemable. By then Fryer was working with the
Trotskyist "club" of Gerry Healy (obituary
December 18 1989), for which he edited the weekly
Newsletter and co-edited Labour Review. These
publications represent one of the few attempts by
British Trotskyists to engage in serious dialogue
and for a while they attracted a wide range of authors.
The narrow-minded, and sometimes brutal,
authoritarianism Healy substituted for Marxist
politics soon drove Fryer away. For quarter of a
century, he lived another life, writing on the
history of Portugal, Grundyism, censorship, and,
above all, black history and music.
His best-known book, Staying Power (1984), on the
black presence in Britain was followed by Rhythms
of Resistance (2000), which makes a significant
contribution to the study of the impact of African music in Latin America.
The son of a Hull master mariner, he won a
scholarship to Hymers college in 1938. The young
Fryer was impressed by the local Communist
party's opposition to Sir Oswald Mosley's British
Union of Fascists. But he was an anarchist until,
inspired by the Red Army, and "a patriot of the
Soviet Union", he joined the Young Communist League in 1942.
He also gravitated towards journalism notably at
the Yorkshire Post. But his CP membership and the
paper's Tory politics proved an unstable mix and
on the last day of 1947 he joined the Daily Worker.
In the late 1980s the expulsion of Gerry Healy
from what had become the Workers' Revolutionary
Party allowed Fryer to return to the political
dialogue left unfinished 30 years earlier. Fryer
wrote a splendid column for the often rather earnest weekly Workers' Press.
In his last few weeks, he had a success as a
pianist playing blues at the Caipirinha jazz bar in Archway, north London.
He is survived by Norma Meacock, his partner, and
their son, two daughters and three grandchildren.
· Peter Fryer, journalist, born February 18 1927; died October 31 2006
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