[Marxism] Peter Fryer

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Sat Nov 4 07:48:00 MST 2006


Guardian, Friday November 3, 2006

Peter Fryer
Communist journalist who told the truth about Hungary 1956
Terry Brotherstone

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 





More information about the Marxism mailing list