21. The Proletariat Crushed

The Proletariat Crushed

"The civilisation and justice of bourgeois order comes out in its lurid light whenever the slaves and drudges of that order rise against their masters. Then this civilisation and justice stand forth as undisguised savagery and lawless revenge ... a glorious civilisation, indeed, the great problem of which is how to get rid of the heaps of corpses it made after the battle was over!"
K. Marx, The Civil War in France (1871).

On December 2, 1956, The Observer reported: "... the (Hungarian) Government's plan to divert Workers' Councils into innocuous channels by 'legalising' them as organs of economic self-government, somewhat on the Yugoslav model, but denying them the right to put forward political demands or issue a newspaper, has merely led to continued deadlock in Budapest."

The erratic negotiations between Kadar government officials and representatives of the Workers' Councils then came to an abrupt end. Two prominent members of the Central Workers' Council were invited to a meeting with Kadar and his henchmen at the Government Building. They were the 24-year-old Chairman, Sandor Racs - a pre-October 23 member of the Communist Party and a toolmaker of the Belajanis Electrical Works in South Buda - and the secretary, Sandor Bali, a worker from the same factory. On arrival at the Government Building, they were arrested. All the workers at the Belajanis factory immediately went on a sit-in strike. They refused to resume work until their comrades were released. It was, of course, an 'unofficial' strike. [89] The factory was seized by hundreds of armed police and Government militia. In spite of this, the sit-in lasted for three days, during which time no work was done. Under the pressure of threats and victimisation the workers were eventually forced to resume work. Police and militia were posted all over the factory. Whenever workers gathered to talk, they were instantly dispersed. Still the workers were not defeated - they began a 'go-slow'. This, combined with an unplanned campaign of poor-quality individual workmanship, reduced production to 8% of normal. Kadar's comment on these workers was the same as that of managers, politicians, and trade union leaders throughout the world - the workers were 'sheep' led by 'subversive elements', 'agitators', 'irresponsible, self-seekine demagogues', 'spies and agents of Capitalism'. (In the West, for 'Capitalism' read 'Communism').

The scene was now set for a full-scale purge of the Workers' Councils. Many prominent committee members were arrested and jailed. This tactic of selective arrests was also applied to many militant student groups. But a reserve of supporters was standing by, ready to step into the breach. When the authorities realised this, widespread arrests of rank-and-file Workers' Council members followed.

A form of passive resistance by the masses then developed. similar to that previously described. It continued for months. I feel this period, beginning in December, 1956, can most graphically be portrayed in diary form:

December 2, 1956 -

Copies of Népszabadság (Communist Party newspaper) burned in the streets by crowds, who were later dispersed by Russian troops.

December 4, 1956 -

A demonstration by 30,000 women in Budapest, many wearing the national colours of red, white, and green (the only way they knew to symbolise their fight for freedom) gathered at the Tomb of the Unknown Warrior in Hero's Square. Russian troops fired over their heads. One woman was hit by a bullet.

December 5, 1956 -

Demonstrations numbering many thousands in all parts of the country, including several in Budapest. Another large demonstration of women in Budapest, marched towards the Petöfi statue shouting "Russians go home!" "We want Nagy!" "Russian tanks out!" Some were carrying wreaths and flowers in memory of relations who had been killed. They did not reach the statue, but were intercepted by Russian tanks and infantry. Nepakarat (Trade Union newspaper) refers to the revolution as "a great mass movement".

December 6, 1956 -

Nepakarat states: "It is no wonder the masses, who were denied every possibility of expressing their will, finally took to arms to show what they thought." Several factories surrounded by Russian troops and A.V.O.. Hundreds of factory workers in the famous 'Red' Czepel, fight Russian troops and A.V.O., as latter try to enter a factory to arrest three members of a Workers' Council. Russian tanks open fire on unarmed demonstrators in Budapest: two killed and several wounded.

The Chairmen of the Workers' Councils at the Ganz and MAVAG factories arrested.

The Central Workers' Council (Budapest) proclaims: "The Government does not build its power on the Workers' Councils in spite of Comrade Kadar's promises ... Members of Workers' Councils are being arrested ... dragged from their homes during the night without investigation or hearing ... peaceful meetings of Workers' Councils are interrupted or prevented by armed force". The Council demands a reply to this proclamation by 8 p.m. on December 7.

December 7, 1956 -

Demonstrators (workers, students, and many women) fired on in the industrial towns Pécs, Bekeskaba, and Tatabanya. Widespread arrests of rank-and-file members of Workers' Councils.

No reply to the Central Workers' Council proclamation.

December 8, 1956 -

10,000 people demonstrate against the arrest of two members of the Workers' Council in the mining town of Salgatarjan: 80 casualties, dead and wounded. (Coal and uranium miners were outstanding passive resisters. Output fell to less than half of what it had been before the Revolution. Many mines were flooded.)

More clashes between workers and A.V.O. in the so-called 'Communist Party stronghold' of Czepel, due to further arrests of workers.

Strikes (unofficial) reported from all parts of the country. The first resolution passed by Kadar's 'Socialist Workers' Party' states that Workers' Councils are "to be taken over and cleansed of unsuitable demagogues".

Still no reply to the proclamation of the Central Workers' Council of Budapest.

December 9, 1956 -

Demonstrations by worker and students in Budapest increase. The Central Workers' Council declares a 48-hour general strike to begin on December 11 "...in protest against the repression of workers and their freely chosen delegates".

Martial law declared.

The Kadar government dissolves all Regional and Central Workers' Councils - but adds that it will not dissolve those in the factories and mines.

December 11, 1956 -

In the town of Eger, demonstrators force the release of jailed members of the Workers' Council.

The Chairman of the Central Workers' Council (Budapest), Sandor Racs, and its secretary, Sandor Bali, are arrested. To show Kadar and the Russians what support the Workers' Councils still enjoy among workers throughout the country, the great, historic, 48-hour General Strike begins. The response is practically unanimous.

December 12, 1956 -

At Eger a large crowd of demonstrators is fired on by the police - two workers killed, some wounded. Hand grenades then thrown by the demonstrators who occupied, for a short time, a small building which housed a printing press. Revolutionary leaflets and posters are produced and distributed. Népszabadság commenting on the 48-hour strike, says: "A strike, the like of which has never before been seen in the history of the Hungarian workers' movement ..." but claims it is the result of intimidation by 'counter-revolutionaries'. In Budapest, the whole electricity supply is cut off. This hadn't happened even during the thick of the recent battles. Rail and other forms of transport paralysed throughout the country. Factories at a standstill. Large numbers of Russian tanks sent into the streets of the capital. The Kadar Government empowers Summary Courts automatically to pass the death sentence on people declared 'guilty'. At Kutfei, a 23-year-old worker is sentenced to 10 years imprisonment for having a revolver and ammunition at his home. Big house-to-house searches for arms continue - often carried out by Russian troops.

December 13, 1956 -

"People in Budapest are laughing today." - Sam Russell, Daily Worker.

December 14. 1956 -

The two-day strike, having shown its strength, ends. The Government reminds the people that all demonstrations and assemblies are 'officially' banned. Pravda states that the attempted revolution in Hungary was "a fascist putsch ... (in which) ... the international imperialist forces, directed by certain United States circles, played the main and decisive roles".

December 15, 1956 -

Death penalty re-introduced for striking. János Soltész brought before a Court Martial in Miskolc, charged with hiding arms, and executed immediately after the trial. This is the first known execution for this offence. Jozsef Dudas, popular chairman of the Budapest Revolutionary Committee, executed. Gyula Hay and many other writers and intellectuals arrested.

Trade Unions again 're-organised' and a 'reliable' leadership installed. The name 'National Council of Free Trade Unions' is, hypocritically, retained. (See Appendix III, February 26, 1957).

December 17, 1956 -

Miners give Kadar conditions for resumption of normal work. These include: formation of their own independent committees to represent them in negotiations with the management; withdrawal of all Russian troops; Nagy to be Prime Minister. A spokesman added: "If the government does not accept these conditions, no work will be done in the mines even if we miners have to go begging or emigrate from our Motherland." (The Times, December 17, 1956).

Reported a third of the labour force at the uranium mines in Pécs had left. Another third had been declared redundant because of electrical power shortage.

December 20, 1956 -

Police empowered to imprison people for six months, without trial, whom they suspect of 'threatening public safety and production'.

December 25, 1956 -

Reports of many executions. Strikers being singled out and victimised to intimidate the others. Strikes do not last long in such conditions of terror.

December 26, 1956 -

Gyorgy Marosán, the Social Democrat and a Minister in the Kadar Government, [90] declares that, if necessary, the Government will execute 10,000 people to prove that they are the real Government, and not the Workers' Councils.

December 29, 1956 -

Declaration of the Hungarian Writers' Union: "We have to state with a depressed heart that the Soviet Government made a historical mistake when it stained the revolution with blood. We predict that the time will come when the great power that erred will repent. We warn everyone away from the erroneous judgment that revolution in Hungary would have annihilated the achievements of Socialism but for the interference of Soviet arms. We know that that is not true." [91] (The Observer, December 30, 1956).

* * *

The events chronicled for December 1956 are only some of those we have been able to check. There were reports throughout the month of armed resistance by guerillas, particularly in the Borsod region (Hungary's largest industrial area), Veszprom, Miskolc, Szambathely, Vac, Kunszentmarton, even in the hills of Buda itself. There were moreover almost daily reports of large-scale arrests, trials, sentences and executions of workers students and intellectuals. These would often be announced by Radio Budapest as a means of intimidation.

The diary for 1957 (see Appendix III) shows that open resistance gradually lessened. Nevertheless, strikes and demonstrations continued throughout 1958 and 1959.

Between December 1956 and December 1957 bureaucratic control was progressively tightened. Of particular significance during this period was the systematic destruction of the Workers Councils by the Party leaders. First there was the selective arrests of Council committee members. Next, many rank-and-file members were arrested. Then the Kadar Government stated on December 9th 1956 that all regional and central Workers' Councils were dissolved, although those in individual factories and mines were tolerated for a while longer.

The intimidation worked. By early January 1957, members of Councils not yet arrested began to resign. By the middle of the year, the purpose of the Councils had been completely destroyed. The workers' own delegates had been removed and replaced by government stooges. In September 1957, Antal Apró, Deputy Premier, announced that the remaining Workers' Councils were to be replaced by Works Councils, "under the leadership of the trade unions" (any shop steward will know what this means!).

By the beginning of November, the Workers' Councils were being attacked by Ferenc Münnich, Minister of the Interior, as "led by class-alien elements". It was "necessary to replace this whole set-up as soon as possible by new organisations".

On November 17, 1957, it was officially announced that all remaining Workers' Councils were to be abolished forth-with. The very name 'Workers' Council' now both embarrassed and infuriated the regime. The bureaucracy attempted the impossible: to expunge from the memory of the Hungarian people and from History itself the great, positive experience of working class self-administration.

Comments

rat
Aug 25 2013 20:15

"The civilisation and justice of bourgeois order comes out in its lurid light whenever the slaves and drudges of that order rise against their masters. Then this civilisation and justice stand forth as undisguised savagery and lawless revenge ... a glorious civilisation, indeed, the great problem of which is how to get rid of the heaps of corpses it made after the battle was over!"
K. Marx, The Civil War in France (1871).

That vivid image which Marx comes up with here seemed to almost apply to the 2011 August riots in the UK.