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1956: The Hungarian Revolution 



The hi31 l>i v of Lhc jTu.iifi[f=,ri£,n ■‘Vfitkers' fcvnlyTon against the Cowtounisi dictatorship. A 
^wicrul tlrihc w-iit declared, and worker:/ ouuueilt sprung, up ojCrukt lhc totiiLliy 

Iri rifit's, ihf workers artiHirl themsElvts ski rt fr.atevm&rtri with Iht- tmojif, liiii wrtv 
cv4.-ntu.alfy c rushed hy Soviet tuuks. 

Ll i l. sl-iZi*l out t>L" Love for tiosial^ia dul we Lire- ooiiuji^moratlng Lti.e _ L .k5& riuti^firiaj: upris.rj^: 
Hungary ‘oh was si prime example nt‘thc workirt!: clasp itscIt'rciicliinLr tor priwcT. fJonli-Sy 
signifleant, I Ion's p!ar:e in one of the mythres .1 ‘workers? spates'. 

Il ihovied fbr emu y. (IsiougjLGUl the world, tkiKnv ail-erEUTcjve to cap.laUajiL uni. Soviet 
caTYbmuTiiam - read stale capita I - sin - and it galvanised movements to wards genuine 
""p’oTutionary polk ins 

’TaHiits* 

When tfa& Soviei Army swept Lnnj Eastern I] lottpe lowm da tjic tml of the Second World Wu, 
trey did not in fact ihcnre ’workers and peasants. The same system us he time continued tn 
e^isi, with Stalin giving back ire to rcaetionajy govern merits. 

Bcrvvccn I : J19 aid The end of the Second Wnr ii W.ii KiirgH.riE.iis, muttered the Tk.sc .at regime 
e - 'Admiral Hn rhy. wheh murdered tf oupjuidft i:nd dzpnitec over -IvlKl^nCK' 1 Jews m the N : J7i 
■'i>n?Ciilim On i'::i rrip: : , i h I 'id 4 I hr £i>i rilfy WOS 'lihCs'Btfld hy I'iff Soviet :Hrrny arid fs U: ■/.- 
Hungarian. goventmeut justaJicd. beaced by Carnmriudcr-in-Lhkclf'Df tfie Jlnttiuimn Army. 
Bela Miklo? - a man cicermiiod wiLfi l3i e Iron Cross. l>y A<li>lI Hitler. This new ^ovcr'iiine it 
a pa in Supposed Ho III v i’ls hilei ‘.riHuituai y. 

The tTimnnmist Party anon began tn Infiltrate the gowerrincur, taking with it tre Ministry of 
tic Interior and control ofHuiiigai y’? WC'd I'm ilie e, die A VO. The A VO was feaiod ai id lilted 
by ilit I Lu:.i|ai iii:L wu iking t h.ss tveaL.se ui" llicit reu-urd jf .or. l.lc ujlc, murder ;iud beoauie u L" 
tre privileged posit inn they lurid in Hungarian Aocsiy. -eccivnng hetween tlv-TC and twelve 
tine? the average worker ?' pay. 

In die 1nca.1L, me the Soviet Army mok an immense anmuiu o fpEui liter ha; V. yyii'■! Ilier' iron? 
HuJigai v a. id icq.Lisitioned Irrjse invu L* o I grain, meat, vegetable* .u»d ;laii v |Mt?d.iCLS, Tire y 
lmaled u:l irurueme repLiruf Jons de::Land on E1 lieiu. jjy wLluLi mjesutl I he Hungarian working, 
class had in pay, in iond sTortagef? and In-vv wages. The krem n ended up cancel I mg halt'of 
■ ■'<: rcpattjlions sJill d io in Kd-S hicctnisc Ihr.y fenred an uprising 



1956: The Hungarian Revolution 

The history of the Hungarian workers' revolution against the Communist 
dictatorship. A general strike was declared, and workers' councils sprung up 
across the country. 

In cities the workers armed themselves and fraternised with the troops, but 
were eventually crushed by Soviet tanks. 

It is not out of love for nostalgia that we are commemorating the 1956 
Hungarian uprising: Hungary '56 was a prime example of the working class itself 
reaching for power. Doubly significant, it took place in one of the mythical 
'workers' states'. 

It showed for many, throughout the world, a new alternative to capitalism and 
Soviet communism - read state capitalism - and it galvanised movements 
towards genuine revolutionary politics. 

“Fascists” 

When the Soviet Army swept into Eastern Europe towards the end of the Second 
World War, they did not in fact liberate workers and peasants. The same system 
as before continued to exist, with Stalin giving backing to reactionary 
governments. 

Between 1919 and the end of the Second World War Hungarians suffered the 
fascist regime of Admiral Horthy, which murdered thousands and deported over 



400,000 Jews to the Nazi concentration camps. In 1944 the country was 
'liberated' by the Soviet army and a new Hungarian government installed, headed 
by Commander-in-Chief of the Hungarian Army, Bela Miklos - a man decorated 
with the Iron Cross by Adolf Hitler. This new government again supported 
Horthy as ruler of Hungary. 

The Communist Party soon began to infiltrate the government, taking with it the 
Ministry of the Interior and control of Hungary's secret police, the AVO. The 
AVO was feared and hated by the Hungarian working class because of their 
record of torture and murder and because of the privileged position they held in 
Hungarian society, receiving between three and twelve times the average 
workers’ pay. 

In the meantime the Soviet Army took an immense amount of plunder back with 
them from Hungary and requisitioned huge amounts of grain, meat, vegetables 
and dairy products. They loaded an immense reparations demand on Hungary 
which meant the Hungarian working class had to pay, in food shortages and low 
wages. The Kremlin ended up cancelling half of the reparations still due in 1948 
because they feared an uprising. 

Moscow continued to exploit Hungary in other ways: they sold to Hungary at 
above world prices and bought its exports at well below world prices. By 1950, 
Hungary was thoroughly integrated into the political and economic system of the 
USSR, with the state-decreed collectivisation of agriculture and nationalisation 
of industry. 

But ill feeling and unrest was beginning to grow: workers reacted to the newly 
introduced system with go-slows, poor quality work and absenteeism. 
Disaffection spread rapidly. 

Dissent within the Communist Party also grew, and purges began. In Hungary, 
483,000 Party members were expelled and hundreds executed. 

Hope 

Joseph Stalin died on March 6, 1953. The hopes of workers rose: they thought 
there was a chance of ending the dictatorship over the proletariat. Later that year, 
there were risings in Czechoslovakia and East Germany, which were quickly 
suppressed. In the USSR a strike movement began on July 20 involving 250,000 
slaves in the forced labour camps. The Stalinists responded by executing 120. 



This upsurge among the workers of the Iron Curtain countries forced the Party 
bosses to take a softer line. At the 20th Congress of the Russian Communist 
Party in February 1956, Khruschev began to denounce Stalin. This was followed 
almost immediately by the Poznan revolt in Poland. Polish tanks crushed the 
revolt. 

Petofi 

Similar events began to unfold in Hungary. The Petofi Circle was formed in 
April 1956 by Young Communists: it was named after Sander Petofi, the famous 
national poet who had fought for Hungarian freedom in 1848 against the 
Austrian Empire, and was backed by the Writers Union. Soon thousands were 
attending meetings of the Circle, and the articles that they wrote for their literary 
gazette began to circulate among workers. By July, discussions on conditions in 
Hungary and in particular the AVO had multiplied. Some speakers at Circle 
meetings even demanded the resignation of Imre Nagy, the Party head. 

This critical spirit spread to the workers, who began to demand more control 
over 'their' 

factories. They wanted trade union democracy, workers participation and 
consultation of management with the union committee on wages and welfare. 
The Petofi Circle supported these demands. They were put to the government in 
a request to hand over the factory administration to the workers. 

While Gero, First Secretary of the Hungarian Communist Party, was meeting 
Tito in Belgrade, the Petofi Circle decided to call for a demonstration in 
solidarity with Polish workers who were on trial as a result of the Poznan revolt. 
The authorities, who wanted to avoid confrontation, allowed the protest. The 
Petofi Circle and other discussion groups met, as well as dissident student 
organisations including the official Communist Party youth group and decided to 
march on October 23 to the statue of Josef Bern in Budapest, a Pole who had 
fought with the Hungarians against the Austrian monarchy in the 1848-9 
revolution. 

Demonstrations 

The ruling party panicked. Their Minister of the Interior banned the march, but 
because it was already forming in parts of the city, they lifted the ban. The 
demonstration was mostly young people, with a small number of workers 



downing tools to join in. Outside the Parliament buildings they called for Imre 
Nagy, who had been expelled from the party for 


'deviationism'. Nagy had faithfully carried out all of Stalin's policies. When, 
however, he was replaced by arch-Stalinist Rakosi, he had won much misplaced 
sympathy. By now, Gero was broadcasting over the radio and denouncing the 
demonstrators as counter-revolutionary. 

As the day turned to evening, 100,000 people gathered. The crowd decided to 
march on the radio station to request their demands be broadcast, tearing down a 
giant statue of Stalin as they went. The radio building was heavily guarded by 
AVO, but eventually a delegation was 

let into the building. But two hours passed and still no sign of the delegation. 

The crowd grew extremely restless and began to demand that the delegation be 
released. Suddenly the crowd leapt forward. The AVO men opened fire with 
machine-guns on the unarmed mass. Many fell but the crowd continued to 
advance and overwhelmed the policemen, taking their weapons to fire at the 
radio buildings. 

News of the events in Sandor Street spread fast. Workers returned to arms 
factories where they worked and with the night shift workers loaded lorries with 
arms. These were taken to Sandor Street and distributed. In the surrounding 
streets workers and students began to set up road blocks. 

Various manoeuvres were meanwhile taking place inside the Government and 
the Party. Gero arranged that Nagy should replace the colourless Hegedus as 
Premier. At 8am Wednesday morning it was announced that the Government had 
asked for Russian Army units stationed in Hungary to help 'restore order'. 

Councils form 

Workers and Students in Budapest set up a revolutionary council - not seen since 
the 1918 

Revolution - early on Wednesday morning. A pitched battle swarmed around the 
radio building, while manoeuvring continued inside the Communist Party. Gero 
was replaced as First Secretary by Janos Kadar. Kadar came from the working 
class. He had been a 'Titoist' 



and had been imprisoned and tortured horribly. The bureaucrats thought this a 
fine move - a perfect sop to the rising discontent. Nagy broadcast at 9am calling 
for the laying down of arms and promising widespread democratisation. 

In response the Revolutionary Council of Workers and Students issued leaflets 
demanding a general strike. Russian tanks rolled into the city the same day and 
fierce fighting broke out. 

Barricades were built from barrels. Later these were strengthened with railway 
coaches and weapons from a goods yard. The workers and students used 
Molotov cocktails, arms they had captured, and even a small field gun with 
which they bombarded the tanks. 

General strike 

The strike called by the Revolutionary Council of Workers and Students spread 
through the whole of Budapest and out into the main industrial towns - Miskolc, 
Gyor, Szolnoc, Pecs, Debrecen. Revolutionary committees and councils were set 
up throughout Hungary. 

Everywhere workers armed themselves and in some towns, radio stations 
broadcast messages against the Stalinists, telling the people not to be fooled by 
the Government into surrendering their arms. 

Many councils quickly issued programmes calling for political and civil liberty, 
the withdrawal of Russian troops, workers management of the workplace and of 
industry, the banning of the AVO and freedom for trade unionists and parties. 
Some of the programmes wanted the return of 'parliamentary democracy' while 
others gave support to Nagy. 

Peasants and farm workers organised deliveries of food to the workers in the 
cities. They drove out the kolkhoz (State farm) managers. In some areas they 
redistributed land, while in others they kept the collectives going under their 
own management. 

The Observer said: 'Although the general strike is in being and there is no 
centrally organised industry, the workers are nevertheless taking it upon 
themselves to keep essential services going for purposes which they determine 
and support. Workers councils in industrial districts have undertaken the 
distribution of essential goods and food to the population, in order to keep them 



alive... It is self help in a setting of Anarchy. " 

Fighting continues 

Fighting between the insurgents and the Russian Army increased in intensity. On 
Saturday 

night, Budapest prison was captured and all the political prisoners were released. 
The people soon heard all the stories of terrible conditions, of torture and 
beatings that had been inflicted. 

Budapest Radio continued to call for a ceasefire, promising immediate wage 
increases, negotiations for Russian-Hungarian political and economic equality. 

Nagy attempted to calm the situation down. He promised that the AVO would be 
disbanded, and that the Government would be re-organised. Though several 
groups of insurgents had surrendered due to lack of ammo, the fighting 
continued around Szena Square and the Killian Barracks. 

A meeting of Council delegates at Gyor reaffirmed their demands to Nagy. On 
Tuesday morning, Budapest Radio announced the withdrawal of the Russian 
troops. Nagy asked for calm from the people while this withdrawal took place, 
and for a return to work. The Red Army began to withdraw from Budapest that 
afternoon. The workers in Budapest and in other parts of the country remained 
armed and ready. 

It was fortunate they maintained their vigilance because the Russians had only 
withdrawn to surround the capital with a ring of tanks. From the north east, 
Russian reinforcements entered the country. Local councils sent news, and Nagy 
was warned that unless Red Army troops withdrew, the Councils would attempt 
to stop them. The strike throughout industry would not end until troops were 
withdrawn. By November 3rd, the Red Army detachments had occupied most 
strategic points in the country, apart from the cities controlled by insurgents. 

Members of the Nagy government assured the people that Russia would not 
attack again. The working class did not believe their assurances - with good 
reason. The Russians opened fire with tanks and artillery on all major cities the 
next morning. Russian tanks trundled into Budapest, firing conventional and 
incendiary shells. 



Janos Kadar, a member of the Nagy government, now formed a 'Workers and 
Peasants Government.' Nagy had already sought refuge in the Yugoslav Embassy 
with fifteen other officials and their families. This new government asked the 
Russian government to help them in liquidating the ‘counter-revolutionary’ 
forces. 

The fighting went on for over a week. Over the radio Moscow had announced 
the complete crushing of the 'counter-revolution' by midday of November 4. 
Organised resistance of the Hungarian working class nevertheless continued 
until November 14th. 

The end 

As the war ended the AVO came out the holes they had been hiding in. They 
began to hang insurgents in groups on the bridges over the Danube and in the 
streets. 

Fighting continued in country areas into 1957, but it was sporadic and isolated. 
Although many began to return to work, striking continued in most industries. 
Kadar worked to undermine the power of the Worker's Councils. He arrested a 
few members of the Council's Action Committees. This failed to intimidate. 

Next he promised the abolition of the AVO, the withdrawal of Russian troops, 
and a purge of Stalinists from the Party. Some workers believed this and returned 
to work. But the strike continued in many areas and in many industries. On 
November 16, Kadar was forced to start talks with delegates from the Councils. 
They demanded that a National Worker's Council be set up, which Kadar 
rejected, saying there was already a "workers government." 

However, he was forced to agree to the recognition of individual councils and 
the setting up of a factory militia. Kadar said that if work resumed, he would 
negotiate for a withdrawal of the Russian Army. The delegates asked that he put 
this in writing, which he refused. Kadar tried other methods. He used the Red 
Army to stop food deliveries to the towns by peasants. 

He started issuing ration cards - but only to workers who reported for work. Still 
the strike 

continued. Kadar and his Russian masters were getting impatient. Already 
disaffection was spreading inside the Red Army. A few joined the guerillas, 
whilst many more had to be disarmed and sent back home because they refused 



to carry out orders. In response, the Hungarian government tried yet another 
tactic. Arrests of workers' delegates began. 

Many council delegates were rounded up, as well as delegates of student bodies. 
Many came forward to take their place. When the State realised this, they began 
imprisoning the rank and file as well. Over the next few months, resistance 
continued against the onslaught of the 

'Workers Government'. Mass demonstrations continued, and workers fought the 
AVO and the soldiers when they came to arrest their delegates. Through 1957, 
the arrests, imprisonments and executions continued. Those Council members 
not arrested began to resign, with the last Council remnants being quashed by 
November 17th that year. 

There are no official figures for how many people died in Hungary in 56-57. 
Between 20 and 50,000 Hungarians and 3 to 7,000 Russians is the estimate. The 
number of wounded was much higher, and over 100,000 fled across the border. 
Strikes and demonstrations continued into 1959, and the struggle for workers’ 
power continues to this day. 

Adapted from A Special Supplement of Anarchist Worker, November 1976: 
Hungary 56 by Nick Heath 


Edited by Rob Ray and John S