19. The Proletariat Fights On

The Proletariat Fights On

"The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles."
K. Marx and F. Engels, Manifesto of the Communist Party (1848).

But the workers were not cowed. Despite Government appeals, threats, and terror, the importance of the Workers' Councils, formed in October, increased daily.

The Councils maintained and strengthened the solidarity of the General Strike. Intellectuals, peasants, and other non-industrial workers who had not hitherto fully appreciated their importance now turned even more towards them. They recognised that here was the heart of real power in the country. Kadar knew it too. The Councils had already shown how efficiently they could run the country. And in the process, Kadar, the Government, the A.V.O., indeed the whole bureaucratic set-up, had been exposed as not only superfluous to the needs of the people, but as an encumbrance holding back their advance to real freedom.

The ruling minorities of the whole world had been given redundancy notices by the workers of Hungary. A new form of society was here being juxtaposed to the old. The rottenness of the 'old' was being forced into relief. The shock was not only felt in Moscow. It reverberated through the managing and bureaucratic 'elites' the whole world over. The Hungarian workers had made it quite clear they did not want the 'Communism' of the Kremlin. In so doing, they had made it equally clear that capitalism, even in its 'enlightened ' form, was just as irrelevant to their needs. Most important of all, they had proved once again that the achievement of 'workers' power' and the emancipation of the working class can only come from below, from the workers' own action, and never from a 'leadership' acting on their behalf.

In the conditions of pre-revolution Hungary a movement advocating ideas such as our own would almost certainly have been liquidated. It was just these ideas nevertheless that came to the fore during the last week of October. Several people had no doubt held them for some time. For others, they were born out of the impact and intellectual ferment of the struggle itself, as part of their class instinct and elemental sense of solidarity. A group with views such as ours [Solidarity] might have helped, during the revolution, explicitly to formulate these ideas and to warn of the dangers of the bureaucratic counter-revolution. As it was, the ideas emerged clearly enough to gain the allegiance of hundreds and later of thousands and tens of thousands of people. This was a grave threat to the Kadar Government. It was, above all, a threat to the Russian bosses who had 'elected ' it ... with their six thousand tanks. The threat had to be smashed.

* * *

Large-scale military resistance ceased by Saturday, November 10. Scores of disabled Russian tanks lay scattered around Budapest. It had obviously been contrary to accepted military strategy to send so much armour into the built-up areas of a city to suppress a revolution. One reason for the Kremlin's decision may well have been their shocked realisation of how much fraternisation had taken place between Russian troops and the Hungarian people during the first attack.

On November 4, to be sure of success, the Russians felt it necessary to use a large number of troops. They put them in tanks (called 'Kadar taxis' by the Hungarians) to reduce to a minimum physical contact with the civilian people. Russian soldiers would thus see less of Hungarian living conditions, see less that it was ordinary working people they were fighting. Yet they could see the devastation their bombardment was causing in the cities. In his last unpublished dispatch to the Daily Worker, Peter Fryer wrote: "I have just come out of Budapest, where for six days I have watched Hungary's new born freedom tragically destroyed by Soviet troops. Vast areas of the city - the working class areas above all - are virtually in ruins. For four days and nights Budapest was under continuous bombardment. I saw a once lovely city battered, bludgeoned, smashed and bled into submission." [87] By the end of that terrible week, a trickle back to work began. But the workers had not submitted. Most sections of industry were still strike-bound.

In the towns, organised resistance by groups of fighting workers and youth ended on November 14. Although sporadic fighting continued well into 1957, in the country districts, the military defeat of the Hungarians was complete. But what everyone had thought would only take a few hours. had taken over a week. And the Hungarian people were still not defeated. The Workers' Councils were gaining strength. They proclaimed that their demands remained unchanged. These were similar to those put forward by the Council of Hungarian Trade Unions - although in some cases there was now more stress on the demand for the 'release' of Nagy and for the withdrawal of Russian troops. The General Strike continued.

* * *

While the fighting was still raging Kadar began to act against the Workers' Councils. He proceeded cautiously. In terms of active support the Councils had far greater power in the country than had the Government. Kadar made a few selective arrests of members of the Councils' Action Committees. This had little or no effect. Others immediately took their place.

On November 12, 1956, Kadar made more promises. He promised that the secret police would be abolished. He was ready to negotiate with Kremlin representatives about the complete withdrawal of Russian troops. Some of the most-hated Stalinists would be removed from the Party. The people did not believe him. Kadar then announced that twelve leading Stalinists had been expelled from the Party, including Ernö Gerö. [88] This move caused a few workers to return to work. But there was still a partial strike. Industrial activity was not even half-hearted. Public transport was chaotic. The train service was haphazard. When some trams ran in Budapest, crowds stopped them and the blackleg crews were chased home. People employed in hospitals remained at work. So did those concerned with food packaging and distribution, but they threatened to strike if there was any large resumption of work.

Unsuccessfully, the Kadar Government appealed, threatened, begged, making bigger and bigger verbal concessions. The Kremlin sent in more divisions of infantry. It made no difference. The strike, though not total, continued. The Workers' Councils continued to increase their power, which daily showed itself greater than that of the Kadar Government.

Kadar then appealed directly to the workers to end the strike. He used the bogey argument of rulers everywhere: inflation. They threw his appeal back in his face with a list of further demands: recognition of the Central Council as the negotiating body representing the workers, the release of prisoners, the withdrawal of Russian troops, and the restoration of Nagy as Prime Minister. Although the workers managed most of the factories, these demands showed they knew that their power might eventually be broken by more ruthless methods. They were determined to 'interfere' for as long as they were able to, and in such a way as to leave them with some concrete achievements. The 'release of Nagy' now featured in all their demands. He had by now become a symbol, rather like Rajk had, earlier in the year, when his rehabilitation had been repeatedly demanded.

A tacit admittance of where real power lay came on Friday, November 16, when Kadar was obliged to start negotiations with the Councils. The delegates from some Councils agreed to ask workers to resume work on condition that a number of their demands were immediately satisfied and the rest later.

At the meeting on November 17, Kadar was told that his appeal had gone out: Workers' delegates then demanded that a National Workers' Council be set up by decree. Kadar said this was unnecessary since there was already a 'Workers' Government' in Hungary. But he agreed to the recognition of individual Councils and to the establishment of some form of factory militia. He added that if workers' delegates would use their influence to ensure a resumption of work, he would use his to obtain a withdrawal of Russian troops and negotiations between Warsaw Treaty countries about Hungarian neutrality. Workers did not trust this somewhat ambiguous promise. They asked for it to be put in writing. Kadar refused, saying his word should be enough.

The situation was confused. Very few workers resumed work. The negotiations went on fitfully. Precariously, dual power survived.

Towards the end of November. Kadar tried another method to reduce the workers' resistance. As the industrial area of Budapest was the base of this resistance, the peasants were forbidden from bringing food into the area except by permission of the Government. The Red Army saw to it that the order was complied with. At the same time ration cards were issued, but only to workers who reported at the factories. This was clearly an attempt, not merely to starve the workers into submission, but also to drive a wedge between them and the peasants who wanted to sell their produce.

But still the strike continued. The Russians and their puppet Government were becoming increasingly apprehensive about the situation. So much so that, when word got around that the Central Workers' Council of Budapest was to hold a meeting in the National Stadium on November 21, the 'official' authorities believed the mass meeting would set up another Government, in opposition to Kadar's. This was not only untrue, but quite unnecessary. On November 21, Russian tanks barred the roads leading to the Stadium. The few people already there were dispersed by the A.V.O.. In answer to this, the Central Workers' Council called for the strike to be strengthened.

Kadar again appealed for a return to work. Again the workers renewed their demands. And again they increased the pressure by adding new ones: the formation of a Workers' Militia; freedom to publish their own uncensored newspaper; a meeting with Nagy. Kadar reverted to threats. The movement he had earlier referred to as 'a great popular movement', he now called 'counter-revolutionary' - the Workers' Councils were 'fascist-led'! This charge left workers in no doubts as to what was now to happen. In both East and West, a prelude to a successful purge is the raising of a bogey and its denunciation.

The following day, Kadar made his intentions crystal clear. He declared: "... a tiger cannot be tamed by baits, it can be tamed and forced to peace only by beating it to death ... Every worker, instead of drawing up and scribbling demands must immediately and unconditionally begin to work to the best of his ability."

Kadar's attitude merely reflected the Kremlin's, where patience was getting short. The huge army they had in the country was causing them grave problems. Apart from the loss of world prestige entailed in their inability completely to suppress a small country, the oppressed people of Eastern Europe were watching closely. The Kremlin's troops were inadequately fed. Discipline was poor. The longer Russian soldiers stayed in Hungary, the more clearly they perceived the truth. Some had already joined the guerillas in the mountains. Many others had to be disarmed and sent back to Russia, in sealed wagons, because they refused to carry out orders. The Kremlin decided it was now time both to smash the Workers' Councils and to get rid of Nagy.