Peter Fryer

Hungarian Tragedy

10. What now?

’In The Hungarian People’s Republic’, says the 1949 Constitution, ‘all power belongs to the working people,,’ For a brief time this autumn that statement became true. The people tasted power, and they are not relinquishing it without a most tenacious struggle. Every day that has passed since the fighting stopped has brought news confirming this book’s chief contention: that the turmoil in Hungary was a people’s movement against tyranny, poverty and foreign occupation and tutelage. The revolution was defeated – was drowned in blood and buried in rubble and lies, rather; but the movement continues, stubborn, desperate, seemingly irrepressible. The industrial proletariat of Hungary is daily demonstrating before the entire world its calm defiance of a puppet government, buttressed by foreign arms, which has the audacity to call itself a ‘Workers’ and Peasants’ Government’. The government threatens dismissal, cajoles, pleads, bribes with offers of food, but the workers prove that they are the real masters. The miners stand by to flood the pits, the factory workers simply stay away from the factories. They prefer starvation and ruin to submission. This is a people whose spirit will be very hard to break.

Such an episode as the disappearance (or deportation) of Imre Nagy and his companions, allegedly for their own safety, provides fresh evidence of the true state of affairs in Hungary and adds fresh fuel to the flames of the workers’ anger and determination. The workers’ councils are clearly still flourishing and are refusing to limit their activities to production matters, but are interfering vigorously in affairs of State. Proof of the dissatisfaction of Hungarian Communists with the crushing of the revolution is the extraordinary episode of the strike of journalists and printers employed on the Communist newspaper Népszabadság. It was a strike against Government interference with the freedom of the Press. In an attempt to have printed a commentary on the dispute between Pravda and the Yugoslav Communists, the staff of Népszabadság rewrote it every day for several days. But the Government demanded that these Communist journalists should support unconditionally the views expressed by Pravda. In Hungary, as in Britain, many Communist journalists prefer to think for themselves.

Gradually, the truth about events in Hungary is becoming known to honest Communists all over the world. According to the Manchester Guardian’s Warsaw correspondent, Polish journalists returning from Budapest ‘have described in their papers in the most vivid colours what really happened in Hungary’. The Polish newspaper Zycie Warszawy has roundly condemned Soviet intervention in Hungary, glorified the Hungarians as heroes and attacked the revival of Stalinism. The paper said the Hungarian revolution started like the Poznan uprising in Poland, which was to change the course of Polish history, and developed into ‘a mutiny against Stalinism on an international scale’. The real struggle, the paper added, was about Soviet domination of the countries of Eastern Europe.

This comment from Socialist Poland suggests a significant aspect of the Hungarian tragedy: the contrast between Poland and Hungary. In Poland the healthy forces inside the Communist Party acted quickly enough and resolutely enough; by great good fortune the outstanding anti-Stalinist, capable of rallying the bulk of the Party and the mass of the people behind him, and strong-nerved enough to stand up to Russian bluster, had not been shot. Today in Poland the people are behind the Party as never before, democratisation is proceeding swiftly, and there is every chance that Poland will achieve a measure of prosperity in a matter of a few years. In Hungary the picture is a very different and a very sombre one. Rajk was executed and, unhappily, Kádár and Nagy were not bold enough to act in time. A revolution has been crushed, but the troops who crushed it, and the Government they have installed, are sitting on a volcano of hatred and resentment. It will be a very long time indeed before the economy recovers. Already the total loss of production in Hungary since October 23 exceeds 6,000 million forints (£181 million at the official rate of exchange).

It is hard to say what the immediate future holds for Hungary. The present regime, so unrepresentative and so obviously powerless to act on its own, cannot last. There can be no return to the past. Capitalism has nothing to offer Hungary, and most people do not want it. The return to power of the Rákosi-Gerö group would be unthinkable. Equally, the people do not want the present limbo, this shadow-world of chaos, hunger and despair. If Nagy were brought back as Prime Minister, a representative people’s front govenment formed, and the country cleared of Soviet troops the people’s co-operation might then be won for the gigantic task of reconstruction that faces this gallant but crippled little country.

The land of Rákóczy and Kossuth, of Petöfi, Vörörsmarty Arany, Ady, Madách and Móricz, of Bartók and Kodály, deserves liberty and happiness. Fresh tribulations may await the Hungarians, but they will win liberty and happiness in the end.

Last updated on: 15.1.2012