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

VIII: The Policy of Reprisals

A new revolution is only possible in the wake of a new crisis. But the one is as certain as the other... – Friedrich Engels

On 3 November, when Budapest was ringed with Soviet tanks and troops, the Nagy government sent, by agreement with the Russian Ambassador, Andropov, and the Russian military, two military representatives to settle the date of the withdrawal of the Russian forces, agreed to by the Russians earlier that day. The Nagy government’s representatives were General Maléter, Minister of Defence, and General Kovács, chief of General Staff. Of these two, Pál Maléter, former fighter in the International Brigade in the Spanish Civil War, and now raised from Colonel to the rank of General, had become a national hero on account of his stubborn and successful defence of the Kilian Barracks. for many days against superior Russian forces.

Maléter and Kovács went to the Russian military headquarters at ten o’clock on the night of 3 November, under a flag of truce. They entered those headquarters in the belief that the Russian officers with whom they would confer were men of honour. But Maléter and Kovács were mistaken. To the eternal dishonour of the Russian army, those two men were seized when they entered the conference room, and dragged away to prison. Nothing has been heard of them since.

In a broadcast of 4 November, Kádár gave his solemn word that ‘the government will not tolerate the persecution of workers on any pretext, for having taking part in recent events’. When he made this promise he knew of the cowardly treachery of his masters towards those two military representatives of the Nagy government. He knew also that Imre Nagy and others, among them the widow of László Rajk, had been forced to flee for safety to the Yugoslav Embassy and he would note without protest the later kidnapping by the Russians of those people when they left that embassy under a solemn promise by the Kádár government of safe conduct to their homes.

In view of these facts no one will be surprised at the vindictive reprisals that were taken against the defeated revolutionaries throughout the subsequent months. In the chronology the reader will find listed most of the instances of reprisal that the Kádár regime has admitted. That many hundreds, if not thousands, of prisoners were deported to Russia is already known to the world. That there were numerous summary executions of prisoners on the spot not made public can hardly be doubted.

Having reassembled its machinery of repression, the regime set to work to subdue the still recalcitrant spirit of the people by executing or imprisoning those national and local leaders who had not escaped abroad. In particular, it was imperative to strike at the leaders who had risen up from the ranks of the workers during the fighting and during the strike struggles that followed the military defeat. Whenever the regime announces the execution or imprisonment of ‘counter-revolutionary elements’ one knows that this refers mainly to such leaders. Words, for the Stalinists have only the same value as their ‘solemn promises’.

We need here mention only a few instances of the value of Kádár’s promise of no reprisals.

The tone was set by the Budapest radio announcement on 12 December that Sándor Rácz and Sándor Bali, leaders of the Budapest Central Workers Council, had been arrested the previous day. Simultaneously it was announced that the government had empowered the summary courts, set up under its decree imposing martial law, to pass sentences of death. That these two representatives of the industrial workers should be the first publicly announced victims of the policy of repression was no accident.

On 19 January, the ‘counter-revolutionaries’ Dudás and Szabó were executed; on the 24th ‘counter-revolutionaries’ Varga, László and István Batonai were sentenced to death, four others to between five and ten years’ imprisonment; on 25 January, the writers Tibor Tardos, Domokos Varga, Gyula Háy, Sándor Novobáczky and Pál Latay – all arrested, charged with participating in ‘counter-revolutionary activities’; 27 January, 34 arrests in Budapest; 8 February, three professors and seven students of Budapest University arrested; on the 12th, five sentenced to death; 21 February, Béla Bartha sentenced to 14 years for having organised demonstrations on 10 December, ‘as a result of which people were killed and injured’ (that is, workers killed and injured by Soviet troops and Kádár police); 4 March, the ‘chief organisers of the counter-revolution’ arrested in Heves (north-east Hungary) .

By these means the gang of hated Stalinists imposed upon Hungary by Russian military force asserts its will, and establishes once more the ‘people’s democratic order’. Courts-martial are set up, summary executions carried out; the Workers Councils are destroyed; the Writers and the Journalists Unions are dissolved; a special police force for the ‘suppression of counter-revolutionary activities’ is set up; the concentration camps are made ready.

Around 170 000 Hungarians have fled their homeland. Among them, as among any such large body of people, there are some whose motives for so doing may be questionable; but only the deliberately malicious will refuse to recognise that these refugees as a whole are men and women for whom freedom is precious; only those made inhuman by political bigotry or callous through prejudice will refuse to aid and comfort them. That is, after all, the very least that we can do to express our gratitude for the Hungarian people’s glorious battle, which in spite of defeat, in spite of all repression, continues, and will continue, until the victory is won.

For it is not possible that the government should be able to suppress an entire people. Leaders, those who achieve any degree of prominence during the revolution, these suffer the vicious reprisals of a government that knows itself hated by its subjects. But life cannot be defeated. Leaders of tomorrow will arise again from among the victims of today, from the ranks of the workers and peasants, from the intellectuals and students, from men and women in all walks of life.

Let us not forget that the struggle continues; and let us not forget our duty to demonstrate at all times and on all occasions our solidarity with that struggle.

In the long march of mankind towards a world of brotherhood and freedom the year 1956 will be forever remembered because of the heroism of the Hungarian people. Hail to you, Hungarian workers and peasants; hail to you, Hungarian poets, writers, intellectuals; and to you, youth of Hungary, hail!

The Hungarian people dealt Communist tyranny a blow from which it will never recover. The shoddy façade of Communist propaganda was torn down and the ugly reality laid bare for the eyes of all the world to behold.

The Hungarian people are again in bondage, and to the martyrs of battle against overwhelming odds are added the martyrs of defeat, for Russia’s puppets in Hungary are vindictive in victory. Yet even this works their destruction. ‘Rejoice not against me, O mine enemy! When I fall, I shall arise!

The Communist propaganda machine works desperately to repair the damage, to patch up the old camouflage with new lies and slander. In the long run all their efforts will be unavailing, but time is precious to those who live under the Iron Heel. Nor is the length of that run a matter of indifference to the Western world. Let us recall the words of Ignazio Silone, the great Italian socialist-humanist writer:

No country is spared the crisis of our age. There is no longer a geographic frontier of peace, freedom and truth. This frontier has moved into each individual country. What, then, is to be done? Gyula Háy has proposed ‘an offensive and defensive pact with truth’. I approve of the idea. We must first make peace with truth and establish a direct relationship with it... We must learn from the people what their truths are, and must let them know ours.

An urgent, immediate task is to spread the truth about the Hungarian revolution. Its lessons and the lessons of its aftermath must be instilled into our youth, into the youth of every country in the world, into all those who love freedom and loathe man’s inhumanity to man.