17. Dual Power

Dual Power

"What constitutes dual power? The fact that by the side of the Provisional Government, the government of the bourgeoisie, there has developed another, as yet weak, embryonic, but undoubtedly real and growing government - the Soviets of Workers and Soldiers Deputies ... a power based not on laws made by a centralised state power, but on outright revolutionary seizure, on the direct initiative of the masses from below."
V. I. Lenin, On Dual Power (April 1917).

Several parties suddenly re-appeared, including the Social-Democratic Party, the National Peasant Party, and the Smallholders Party. Kadar disclosed that the Communist Party had been 're-organised'. It was to have a new name: the Socialist Workers' Party. The new Executive Committee would only be composed of those who had fought against Rakosi (himself, Nagy and five others!).

Twenty-five new dailies replaced the five dreary and obedient mouthpieces of the defunct 'people's bureaucracy'. Not only did people get news, real news at last, but also clashes of opinion, full-blooded polemics, hard-hitting commentaries, satire and wit.

But there was little to be gay about in Budapest. Day and night, gunfire could be heard. There was no public transport. Knocked-out Russian tanks stood raggedly about the streets, while others rumbled continually up and down. Shattered buildings with gaping holes cast grotesque shadows across hundreds of bodies lying in the streets amid the broken glass, empty cartridges and other debris. Occasionally, a van with a Red Cross flag or a lorry-load of 'freedom fighters' would go crunching by. Some food shops were open. The cinemas, theatres, and restaurants were closed. In the ferment of activity, there was no time or thought for entertainment.

From Friday night on, the struggle had become increasingly bitter. By this time, 5,500 political prisoners had been released by the revolutionaries. During the night of Saturday to Sunday, the 'boys' broke into Budapest prison and released all the political prisoners. Their poor physical condition and the nauseating stories they told of torture by the A.V.O., heightened the people's hatred for the secret police. This, coupled with the fact that only the A.V.O. fought with the Red Army, brought the people's anger to a climax. Almost every captured A.V.O. man was beaten to death and hanged by the feet, to be spat upon by the angry crowds.

Budapest Radio was still calling for a cease-fire. Again and again it repeated Kadar's and Nagy's promises. They promised immediate wage increases. They promised the formation of Workers' Councils in all factories. (Since every factory already had its Workers' Council, this was a sinister offer indeed). They also promised an immediate start of negotiations to put Russo-Hungarian relations on a basis of equality. But they added that none of these things would be done until 'law and order' was restored. Throughout, 'law and order' remained Nagy's refrain.

Whom did Nagy want to impress with his demands for 'order'? The workers? He was quite aware of what was happening up and down the country. He knew that delegates from the main committees throughout Hungary had met in Györ to co-ordinate and put forward the people's demands. These now included "withdrawal of Hungary from the Warsaw Pact". The presence in Györ of delegates from Budapest probably gave credence to the report that a provisional government was being formed there. Nagy had to get some 'influential' support quickly.

Nagy went to Budapest Radio again. (All other radio stations in the country - Miskolc, Györ Pécs, Szeged, Debrecen and Magyaróvár - were now controlled by the Revolutionary Councils). He announced some concessions. The A.V.O. would be dissolved. The Government would be 're-organised'.

A cease-fire was promised while the Government 're-organisation' was in progress. By this time, a number of fighting groups had surrendered, because their ammunition had run out. Others, weakened by casualties, had been rounded up. But at several points, notably Szena Square and the Killian Barracks, groups were still holding out. By the weekend many people began to think the Revolution had gained some kind of victory. Russian tanks were no longer attacking. There were rumours that they were about to withdraw from Budapest.

Yet the workers were suspicious of Nagy. His various pronouncements about 'order' and so on, seemed to them deliberate delaying tactics, aimed at getting a tighter grip on the country. On Monday, October 29, delegates from Councils throughout the country, meeting at Györ sent Nagy a strongly worded resolution, re-affirming their demands. This message almost amounted to an ultimatum.

Early on Tuesday morning, Budapest Radio confirmed that the Red Army was to withdraw. Later in the afternoon a statement that "the withdrawal of the troops of the Soviet Union has begun", was broadcast in the name of the Prime Minister. At the same time, Nagy said that "to ensure complete orderliness of the troops' departure, every citizen must refrain from any provocative, disturbing or hostile action". He also appealed for a resumption of work. Similar appeals were broadcast the same day by Tildy and Kadar.

Red Army units began withdrawing from Budapest at 4 p.m. The workers remained suspicious. The Councils' delegates at Györ immediately put out a call for the General Strike to be maintained and strengthened [77] until the last Russian soldier had left the country. A resumption of work would only be considered when negotiations were started on the basis of their other claims.

* * *

The country was still locked in strike when an official statement was issued that it was not Imre Nagy but András Hegedüs and Ernö Gerö who bore full responsibility for calling in Russian troops on the previous Wednesday morning. At a time when Nagy's authority and that of his 'Government' were at their lowest, they decided to disclaim all responsibilty for one of the most important events of the whole period: the invoking of the Warsaw Pact! But Nagy gave no reason for his seven-day silence on this matter. The fact did not escape the notice of the Hungarian workers. A few days earlier they might have been impressed. Now, the strike continued.

As far as the Hungarian people were concerned, with each day that passed the statement assumed a diminishing significance. It was now irrelevant. But it was relevant to the 'leadership'. It showed their dilemma. They were desperate to regain their authority, to re-establish their 'order' and control. Who knows exactly how far they were successful? Many intellectuals welcomed Nagy's statement, like drowning men clutch at a straw. They took Nagy back into their hearts. The Government regained some of its authority. A large proportion of the Army and ordinary police began once again to obey its orders. As instructed, they took over, unopposed, from the Russian units withdrawing from Budapest.

On the other hand, the workers in parts of Budapest and in the rest of the country remained armed and solidly behind their own organisations. A classical situation of 'dual power' existed.

The Hungarian people were weakened at an extremely critical time by the Government's frantic desire to regain control. The Red Army had only withdrawn to positions outside Budapest! The city was ringed with Russian tanks. At the same time, fresh Russian troops were pouring into the country from the north-east. By Thursday, November 1, (when British aircraft were busy bombing Egyptians at Suez) these new Red Army units had already reached Szolnok, in central Hungary. They were about eighty miles from Budapest.

As soon as the Revolutionary Councils, Workers' Councils, and other autonomous organisations in North-east Hungary (e.g. Miskolc) learned about these Russian troop movements, they informed all other Councils throughout the country. Ultimatums were sent to Nagy that unless Red Army soldiers immediately stopped entering Hungary and withdrew, the Councils would take drastic action. This clearly implied that the people themselves would try to stop them.

The Councils received no official answer. Several ministers of Nagy's reorganised Government again appealed for 'order' and for a resumption of work. The strike was now gripping the few hitherto functioning sections of industry. "The workers reiterated: first the Russians must leave, then they would end the strike." [78]

By the evening of November 1, Nagy was under very great pressure indeed. The Hungarian Government delegation which included Pál Maléter, the well-liked Communist of Killian Barracks fame, who was now Minister of Defence, and General Istvan Kovacs his Chief of Staff - were still negotiating with Kremlin representatives about Red Army withdrawal and other military arrangements. The Russians issued a statement that the troops entering Hungary were there simply to cover their withdrawal. But Nagy was now well aware of the Kremlin's purpose. He knew what the fresh Russian divisions were for. He was desperate.

Just before 7 p.m., Prime Minister Imre Nagy, who earlier in the day had taken over the Foreign Ministry, broadcast a short speech in which he declared the neutrality of the 'Hungarian People's Republic'. Nagy had moved a long way towards meeting the demands of the revolutionaries. On October 24, he had invoked the Warsaw Pact. On November 1, he revoked it. But it was too late.

The next day, Friday November 2, the Russian delegate at the United Nations declared that all reports about Russian troops moving back into Hungary were "utterly unfounded". Most of the Western delegates had a rough idea of the real situation in Hungary. Reports from various radio stations controlled by the revolutionaries had been picked up by Western monitoring services on the Continent, in the United Kingdom and in the U.S.A.. Yet neither then nor later did Western delegates 'embarrass' the U.S.S.R. by questioning the truth of its delegate's statement. How could they? The American Secretary of State, John Foster Dulles, had summed up their attitude eleven days earlier (October 22). In a speech in Washington, he defended the legality of Russian troops being in Poland under the Warsaw Pact: "From the standpoint of international law and violation of treaties, I do not think you could claim that it would be a violation of a treaty." [79]

At 2.18 p.m. on Saturday, November 3, Radio Budapest announced "the Soviet delegation has promised that no further trains carrying troops will cross the Hungarian frontier". This promise may well have been kept. Red Army units had by now occupied air fields, main road functions and railway stations in almost the whole of the country apart from the big cities.

Later in the afternoon, four of Nagy's ministers - Kadar, Apro, Marosán and Münnich - disappeared. They were in fact at the Russian Embassy to which they had been invited for a meeting with Mikoyan, recently flown in from Moscow. Many members of Nagy's latest Government were confident the Russians were not going to attack. Even Pál Maléter, leader of the Hungarian delegation still negotiating at Red Army headquarters, is said to have "trusted their words and sincerity". On the same day two ministers, Dr. Zolton Tildy, Minister of State, and Geza Losconczi held a press conference in the Gobelin room at Parliament House, Questioned about the imminence of a new Russian attack. Tildy said, "Such a tragedy is humanly impossible ... it will never take place."

The workers did not share this optimism. The General Strike was now complete. The workers were really in control. If Nagy was really any different from the rest, now was the chance to show it. An appeal from Nagy for the workers to stand fast would have galvanised the revolutionaries. Instead Nagy appealed to ... U.N.O.!

Just before midnight, Colonel Pál Maléter and General Kovacs were arrested by Red Army officers while officially still taking part in 'negotiations'. They were imprisoned in a villa on Gorky Allée. The scene was set.