Presentation on the 1956 Hungarian Revolution
Notes by Paul Feldman for the Rough Guide to the Future conference 21 October 2006
- Brief history of Hungarian state. The pre-war Hungarian state was fascist and it joined the Nazi Axis.
- The post-war Hungarian state created by Soviet Union as a result of Yalta – a conference between Churchill, Stalin and Roosevelt in the Crimea in February 1945 that carved up Europe.
- When the Red Army liberated Hungary (which was occupied by Nazis) in 1945, a number of exiled Hungarian Communist Party cadres returned with a plan for a political take-over.
- Initially, elections were allowed and the Communist Party got around 13%. A multi-party government was formed.
- The Hungarian state replicated the Soviet state. The USSR had degenerated into a totalitarian, bureaucratic state through a series of bloody counter-revolutionary episodes which took the lives of millions, including the surviving leadership of the 1917 revolution. So Moscow imposed a Stalinist and not a Communist regime in Hungary.
- Within three years, the Hungarian state was transformed along the lines dictated by Stalin in Moscow. Soviet army remained in the country. Other parties were thrown out of the government or forced to merge with the ruling party. The transformation was carried through by a series of mini-coups against rival parties which was completed by 1948.
- Because Stalinism rested on state-owned property, industry was nationalised and land transferred from private owners. But it was controlled by the bureaucratic state, with leaders enjoying special privileges.
- The next eight years saw mass purges touching one in ten of the population, falling living standards, famine, theft of Hungary’s uranium and stripping of factories for sending to USSR.. Where things could be “Russian” they were – uniforms, education, language. Hungary was a miserable place.
- Even as thaw set in after Stalin’s death in 1953, Hungary remained totally Stalinist.
- 1956 – watershed year: Khrushchev secret speech in February. Lifted the lid on Stalin’s crimes and introduced a collective leadership in USSR; Poland: mass movement for democracy in Poznan in June – Soviet threatened armed intervention but held back.
- In Hungary, “legal” opposition gathered around Nagy, who was out of the party. Intellectuals began campaigning for change.
- Timetable of the revolution:
- October 6: 150,000 gathered for reburial of Rajk, a victim of the show trials
- October 22: students draw up their 16 demands
- October 23: student march joined by cadets and workers. Students outside radio station fired on by AVH secret police and armed uprising is sparked. Police and soldiers hand out weapons
- October 24: Soviet tanks enter Budapest and meet fierce resistance
- October 25: Massacre outside parliament building
- October 24-27: Revolution spreads to every town in Hungary. Sometimes peaceful, sometimes violent where AVH resist and fire on people. Revolutionary Councils in the towns and Workers’ Councils in the factories assume power as existing party-state apparatus collapses. AVH is disbanded
- October 24-29: Bitter fighting, mostly led by workers from factories. Sections of the Hungarian army join insurrection and some Red Army units fraternise. Hundreds dead on both sides
- October 27: A provisional government, emerges led by Imre Nagy. Old Stalinists are ousted. Revolutionary committees appear in government ministries and denounce previous policies
- October 30: Ceasefire comes into effect and Soviet troops start to withdraw from Budapest and Moscow signs fresh agreement with Hungary and other East European countries. Support for Nagy in official press in SU
- November 1: Nagy declares Hungary a neutral country. Forms multi-party government. Government recognises revolutionary and workers councils
- Elections are promised. Rumours of Russian troops massing on Hungary’s borders
- November 1: Khrushchev agrees to launch full-scale invasion and sends 150,000 troops, tanks and planes into Hungary. Nagy declares Hungary neutral and appeals to the UN for support
- November 4: Russian troops at outskirts of Budapest. Nagy and his supporters flee to Yugoslav embassy
- November 4: Fierce fighting for several days, particularly at Csepel, the factory area outside the capital. Fighting lasted here until the 9th. Russians used artillery and aerial attacks. Workers rejected appeals by Russians to surrender
- In the mining town of Pecs, 5,000 volunteers took to the hills around the town and battled the Soviet troops for three weeks
- November 4 onwards: 200,000 flee the country via Austria. Soviets arrest and deport tens of thousands
- November 7: Kadar says he has formed a government in place of Nagy. Greeted by general strike
- November 14: Revolutionary Councils and Workers Councils are derecognised and begin to be shut down. 200,000
- November 22: Nagy is abducted as he leaves Yugoslav embassy. Executed in 1958 by Kadar regime
- December 4: 30,000 women dressed in black hold silent protest march in Budapest
- December 11: another general strike against Soviet occupation and Kadar government. Leaders are arrested and later jailed.
The nature of the revolution was spontaneous; national (end of Soviet occupation) democratic (in place of police state) and socialist (workers’ councils).
More than 30 years later, Gorbachev announced that Soviet troops would never again suppress independence. Hungarian regime voluntarily dissolved and called multi-party elections. Soviet troops finally left in 1991.
In 1957 the UN General Assembly published a report on Hungary which said: “What took place in Hungary was a spontaneous national uprising, caused by longstanding grievances. One of these was the inferior status of Hungary with regard to the USSR; The uprising was led by students, workers, soldiers and intellectuals, many of them Communists or former Communists. Those who took part in it insisted that democratic socialism should be the basis of the Hungarian political structure, and that the land reform and other social achievements should be safeguarded. It is untrue that the uprising was fomented by reactionary circles in Hungary or that it drew its strength from ‘Imperialist’ circles in the West.”