Revolution and Counter-Revolution in Hungary. Hugo Dewar and Daniel Norman 1957

I: Background to the Revolution

Since 1789 there have been in reality but two powers on the continent of Europe – Russia and Absolutism, the Revolution and Democracy. For the moment the Revolution seems to be suppressed but it lives and is feared as deeply as ever. – Karl Marx

The enemies of the Hungarian revolution brazenly assert that it was instigated and led by ‘agents of the imperialist West’. An old, old story, always trotted out whenever a corrupt and oppressive ruling class is threatened in its power by an aroused people. And perhaps among the Communist bosses there are even some who half-believe this sorry excuse: for it must indeed be difficult for them to imagine that the patient common people, whom they have so long bullied and slave-driven and lied to with such contempt, could have found in themselves and of themselves the courage and strength to rise up against such formidable odds. Yet not only do all eye-witnesses of and participants in the revolution affirm its spontaneity, but official Stalinist statements, made when the outcome was still in the balance, themselves contradict the present propaganda. It was the ÁVH, the Stalinist security police, which, firing upon a peaceful, unarmed demonstration of students and citizens, caused the spark that exploded the pent-up force which had been accumulating for many years. That the revolution was unforeseen and unorganised is demonstrated by the entire course of the subsequent events. Let us look briefly at the background to the revolution.

From the Hungarian general election of 1945, the first and last free election to be held, four main parties emerged: the Smallholders Party with 245 seats; the Social-Democratic Party with 69 seats; the Communist Party with 70 seats; and the National Peasant Party with 23 seats. These parties formed a coalition government. As a result of Russian pressure the Ministry of the Interior continued to be the preserve of the Communists. When the Russian armies occupied the country in 1944-45 the organisation and control of a security police had been the Stalinists’ principle concern. In all the satellites it was this ministry that the Stalinists most coveted and which, with the backing of the Russian military, they always obtained. As Mátyás Rákosi said later:

There was only one organisation over which our party had control from the very first, and which never was influenced by the political coalition: that was the ÁVH... We maintained firm control over it from the very moment of its creation, and we made certain of it as a safe weapon in our fight...

Subsequent events showed what is meant by ‘our fight’. By 1948 the leaders of the opposition parties had been silenced – deported to Russia or imprisoned, or beaten to death, or shot, or forced to flee abroad. In 1949 the Communist leader László Rajk and several other leading Communists were themselves found to be too independent-minded for the Russians; they were sentenced in a frame-up trial and hanged; and many more Communists were imprisoned. In the same year Imre Nagy, also regarded as tainted with ‘national’ Communism, was removed from the Political Committee. Thus even the Communist Party, although all the other political parties had been suppressed, leaving it alone in the field, had to be itself disciplined into the servile tool of the Russians.

At the head of this party was Rákosi; at his right hand Erno Gerõ; behind them the ÁVH; and behind the ÁVH were the Russian tanks and artillery, whose presence was a constant reminder that Hungary lay under the domination of an alien power.

The disarray in the Communist camp following Stalin’s death in March 1953 sent Rákosi, Gerõ and Imre Nagy to Moscow for consultation and instructions. The inclusion of Nagy in this delegation was an indication of unrest within the party, for Nagy was associated with the opposition to Rákosi among the Hungarian Communists. His political rehabilitation was an effort to implement in Hungary the new ‘collective leadership’ principle. In July, Nagy replaced Rákosi as Prime Minister and a certain relaxation and betterment of living standards was apparent from then until 1955. But Gerõ became Minister of Interior and no really fundamental change in the regime was effected. The slight changes made were not enough to satisfy the people, but they were enough to arouse hope and to encourage opposition. The more courageous of the intellectuals, many Communists among them, had begun to voice criticism which, although cautious, amounted to an indirect attack on the regime. The Stalinists were alarmed at the potential threat, and Rákosi, still Secretary General of the party, took action. In the spring of 1955 Nagy was accused of ‘deviations’, stripped of his party posts and replaced by András Hegedus. Thus, torn by personal rivalries, more than usually incompetent and corrupt, utterly isolated from the people, and with a rank-and-file assailed by doubts, the Hungarian Communist Party was unable to achieve even the measure of collective leadership attained in Russia. In February 1956, Khrushchev’s dethronement of Stalin dealt it a further staggering psychological blow. László Rajk and his co-defendants in the 1949 trial are declared to have been innocent; Rákosi is made the scapegoat, forced to resign as First Party Secretary and replaced by – Gerõ. Thus again, in spite of admissions of past ‘errors’ and abundant promises for the future, nothing is changed. There is no escape valve for the pent-up forces of national discontent.

The situation in Russia dictated a policy of relaxation of tensions, and in the satellites this policy served to tie the hands of the Stalinists and strengthen the opposition. In Hungary the mood of criticism had taken firm hold and began to spread and deepen. The June rising in Poznań (Poland), strengthened the feeling of cautious hopefulness, further stimulated the ferment of ideas. Imre Nagy, associated in the minds of the people with the period of relative relaxation between 1953 and 1955, and now once more back in the party leadership, begins to be looked to within and outside the party as the man of the hour. With the triumph of Gomułka, Poland’s national Communist, hope begins to centre on Nagy. Might not Hungary, too, have her ‘Gomułka’? This fact is of the utmost significance: for the unanimous choice of Nagy by all the opposition elements shows beyond the shadow of a doubt that there existed no serious body of opinion desiring a return of the Horthy era. This very fact alone refutes the allegations of an ‘imperialist’-inspired plot to restore capitalism, later concocted and assiduously propagated by Moscow and her hacks.

Neither the Hungarian government, nor any of its apologists, has ever been brass-faced enough to claim that all was well in Hungary before the revolution. Even that tissue of lies, half-lies, misrepresentation and shuffling evasions, the official ‘Hungarian’ version of events entitled the Counter-Revolutionary Forces in the October Events in Hungary had to admit that Rákosi’s policy was ‘criminal’ and that it had consequently aroused ‘deep indignation and a broad popular movement’. Be it noted further that some of those Hungarian Stalinists who subsequently came to heel at Moscow’s command and condemned the revolution, themselves confessed its true cause. Thus István Dobi stated on 1 December 1956:

If in this country people have reason to complain against the inhuman character of the regime which was swept away on 23 October – and everyone knows that there was cause enough for bitterness – then the villages had many times more reasons to complain than the towns. It would be difficult to say which was bigger – the stupidity or the wickedness of the Rákosi regime’s rural policy. (Népszabadság, 2 December 1956)

And in a broadcast on 11 November Kádár himself admitted that:

I can affirm, speaking from personal experience, that there is not a single man or leader in Hungary today holding state or party office, who would wish to restore the old mistaken policy or methods of leadership. But, even if anyone should still wish to restore the old methods, it is certain that there is no one capable of doing this; for the masses do not want the return of the old mistakes, and would relentlessly sweep from power any leader who might undertake this.

Here Kádár – speaking at a time when the situation was still fluid, when the working people were still stubbornly persisting in the passive resistance of strikes and go-slow tactics – is concerned with lulling the suspicions of the masses. And so, in spite of the usual mealy-mouthed reference to ‘mistaken’ policy and methods, he is forced to admit what the true purpose of the uprising was, and to admit that it was wholly justified. Moreover, he at that time even implied that an uprising would again be justified should there be a return to the old ‘mistakes’.

On 1 November, when, although shaking in his shoes, he had still not scuttled away to the Russian military headquarters, Kádár, in the hope of ingratiating himself with the workers, declared the revolution ‘a mighty movement of the people’ evoked ‘chiefly by the indignation and embitterment of the masses’. But when he realised that he was too compromised by his past to gain the confidence of that mighty movement, he ran to his only friends (how temporary even they may yet prove!). Installed in office by Russian tanks and artillery, he still, since the situation remains tense and the economy of the country is at a standstill, adopts a placatory tone. He admits ‘mistaken’ policy and methods and promises that there shall be no return to the past. It is a matter of expediency; promises cost nothing.

‘Mistakes’, ‘bureaucratic manifestations’, ‘mistaken policy and methods’, these words are calculated to deceive. Their very use proves that these men have no intention of making any fundamental change in the regime. These words will be used more and more frequently in an attempt to cover up the truth. Hungary was exploited to serve Russian economic interests and aims, which was the reason for the revolutionaries’ demand that the facts about Hungary’s foreign trade be published. The workers were being exploited more viciously even than they had been under the prewar regime, which was why the revolutionaries demanded a complete revision of the so-called norms in industry and a radical adjustment of wages. The peasants were being equally exploited in the collectives and those still farming their small plots constantly harassed and persecuted, hence the revolutionaries’ demand for a revision of delivery quotas, rational use of the produce, and equal treatment for the peasant farming individually. The artists and writers were being squeezed into the strait-jacket of conformity to the dictates of a clique of bigoted politicians whose only criterion of judgement was the degree to which a work of art served the interests of the arid doctrine of so-called socialist realism.

Simply ‘mistakes’, ‘errors of judgement’ and so on. At bottom, don’t you see, this was really a workers’ state. A ‘workers’ state’, however, at the summit of which sat a new class of wealthy and privileged taking full advantage of all these little ‘mistakes’. So that:

Curtained cars swept by overcrowded trams. They bought in secret shops goods which ordinary people could get only seldom or not at all. They were guarded at every step. (Népszabadság, 18 December 1956)

They were ‘guarded at every step’. That is the official Communist organ speaking. Guarded against whom? Counter-revolutionaries? Fascists? Agents of the imperialist West? Not at all. Guarded against the wrath of the Hungarian people.

And guarded by whom? By the security police, the ÁVH, of which that same journal wrote:

The working masses also loathed the organisation which should have protected the interests and power of the working people. Mátyás Rákosi personally directed the ÁVH.

One truth, and one lie to counter-balance it. Rákosi is made the scapegoat for the system. Whom do they think to hoodwink with this stale rubbish about ‘the power of the working people’?

But how is it possible for them to be consistent and logical? In spite of all ‘mistakes’, there remains the ‘power of the working people’, the extent of which is seen from the following, also from the official Communist newspaper:

It was no wonder that the masses who were denied every possibility of expressing their will finally took to arms to show what they felt. (Népszabadság, 19 December 1956)

It is clear from the above that the present official Hungarian version of the causes and aims of the uprising differs fundamentally from that given out while the Stalinists were still staggering under the shock of the event. The present version is no more than a carbon copy of the Russian. Voroshilov characterised the Hungarian people’s gallant struggle for freedom as ‘a counter-revolutionary putsch’, a ‘fascist putsch’, in which ‘the international imperialist forces directed by certain United States circles played the main and decisive role’ (Soviet News, 2 January 1957). In similar vein, Pravda of 5 January pronounced that the crime of Rákosi and Gerõ was not their work of imposing police terror on the people but their lack of vigilance in not obtaining in good time ‘the information about the intentions of the counter-revolutionary forces and about their preparations to attack the people’s democratic order’. Thus – ‘the people’s democratic order’! – of a system that was not of the people, had nothing in common with democracy, and whose only order was that of a prison! Could any juxtaposition of three words contain a greater lie? And this has been the general tenor of Moscow-Communist propaganda on the subject ever since.

There is a reason to believe, however, that the people installed in power by the Russians are themselves not immune from the pressure of the general spirit of the people, who, even in defeat, remain obdurate to all efforts to reconcile them with the present state of affairs, within the Communist Party itself there continues to exist a strong ‘national’ Communist influence which seeks every opportunity of loosening the Russian hold over the country. The Hungarian revolution has been suppressed but its leaven continues to work. ‘Rejoice not against me, O mine enemy! When I fall, I shall arise.’