1. Introduction


"Socialism is man's positive self-consciousness."
K. Marx. Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts (1844).

At 3.00 a.m. on November 4, 1956, fifteen Russian armoured divisions comprising 6,000 tanks massed at key points in Hungary to make final preparations for their second assault on a relatively defenceless people. The first assault, little more than a week earlier, had been a confused affair. Moscow pretended not to have been consulted. Hungarians had not been expected to fight the tanks almost with their bare hands. Russian soldiers had not been expected to go over to the side of the Hungarian workers in such numbers. This time, there were to be no mistakes. At 4.00 a.m. the tanks went in.

It took them nearly two weeks to crush the main centres of armed resistance. One of the greatest proletarian revolutions in history was drowned in blood. It is bitter irony indeed that those who ordered this massacre claimed to be the standard bearers of the glorious revolution of October 1917. Thirty nine years earlier, Russia had for a while been the headquarters of world revolution. From there the clarion call had gone out to the toiling and oppressed people of the world to overthrow their masters and to join hands with the Russian workers in building a new society. Today, however, it is not the midwives of the Revolution who occupy the Kremlin, it is its undertakers.

After World War II, the Russians succeeded in enforcing their 'socialism' along the banks of the Danube and up to the frontiers of Austria. They ruled an area extending from the Baltic in the north to the Balkans in the south. Over a hundred million people of various nationalities had fallen within the embrace of the new Russian bear. For many years these people had been bullied, oppressed, manipulated, managed, either by Czarist Russia or one of the Western States. Under Stalinist rule they fared no better. Their chains were if anything tightened. To them the word 'socialism' came to mean its very opposite.

In March 1953, Stalin died. In June the workers of East Berlin rebelled. The revolt, remarkable for the political character of the demands put forward, was soon quelled by Russian tanks. By 1956, these subject nations were becoming more and more of a political liability to Russia's rulers. The Russian bureaucracy recognised the danger: at the 20th Congress Krushchev himself debunked the Stalin myth and promised to liberalise Stalin's methods. But Krushchev and his supporters soon found themselves in a dilemma. It is difficult to continue practising a religion after you have destroyed its god. Although Russia's rulers attempted to break with some of the worst evils of their past, they were (and remain) incapable of coping with the root causes of these evils.

The workers of Poznan, in Poland, were the first to demonstrate what they thought of the 'changed' road to 'socialism'. The Hungarians were surprised and later elated to see how leniently these rebellious workers - and even their 'leaders' - were treated. In their turn they rose. They were victorious. And then they were crushed by the very methods Krushchev had denounced only a few months earlier. Many throughout the world were shocked at this butchery. Most of all it shocked those honest workers and intellectuals who sincerely looked to Russia as the defender of socialism. To them a treasured ideal, an ideal for which they had fought and suffered for many years, and for which many of their comrades had died, had proved to be worm-eaten.

The Hungarian Revolution was the most important event in working class history since October 1917. It marked the end of an era and the beginning of a new one. It irrevocably destroyed any moral advantage the Kremlin and those who support it may ever have had. But it was much more than this. It was a very positive event. From the Hungarian Revolution can be drawn lessons of the utmost importance for all who wish to bring about the change to a classless society in Britain or anywhere else in the world.

In 1956 the Hungarian working class inscribed on its banner the demand for workers' management of production. It insisted that Workers' Councils should play a dominant role in all realms of social life. It did so in a society in which the private ownership of the means of production (and the old ruling class based on it) had been largely eliminated. And it did so in a society in which political power was held 'on behalf of the working class' by a self-styled working class party. In putting forward these two demands under these particular circumstances, the Hungarian workers blazed a trail. In the second half of the twentieth century their ideas will become the common heritage of all workers, in all lands.

The Hungarian Revolution was far more than a national uprising or than an attempt to change one set of rulers for another. It was a social revolution in the fullest sense of the term. Its object was a fundamental change in the relations of production, in the relations between ruler and ruled in factories, pits, and on the land. The elimination of private property in the means of production had solved none of these problems. The concentration of political power into the hands of a bureaucratic 'elite' had intensified them a thousandfold.

By its key demands, by its heroic example, and despite its temporary eclipse, the Hungarian Revolution upset all previous political classifications and prognoses. It created new lines of demarcation not only in the ranks of the working class movement, but in society in general. It exposed the theoretical void in the traditional 'left'. A mass of old problems have now become irrelevant. Old discussions are now seen to be meaningless. The time is up for terminological subtleties, for intellectual tight-rope walking, for equivocation and for skilful avoidance of facing up to reality. For years to come all important questions for revolutionaries will boil down to simple queries: Are you for or against the programme of the Hungarian Revolution? Are you for or against workers' management of production? Are you for or against the rule of the Workers' Councils?

Most people have only a very superficial knowledge of these weeks of October and November 1956. They have less knowledge still of the events which led up to them. We feel this book may contribute to a better knowledge and understanding of what really took place.