16. The Revolutionary Programme

The Revolutionary Programme

"Proletarian revolutions ... again and again stop short in their progress; retrace their steps in order to make a fresh start; are pitilessly scornful of the half-measures, the weaknesses, the futility of their preliminary essays. It seems as if they had overthrown their adversaries only in order that these may draw renewed strength from contact with the earth and return to the battle like giants refreshed. Again and again they shrink back appalled before the vague immensity of their own ends."
K. Marx, The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte (1852).

On Friday October 26, the newly formed National Council of Free Trade Unions published its famous resolution. This Council was a federation of the recently dissolved and reformed trade unions.

The resolution comprised a list of far-ranging demands. It gathered together and clarified the demands put forward by various Workers Councils throughout the country. It was signed by the President of the Council. The demands were as follows:


(1) That the fighting cease, an amnesty be declared, and negotiations begun with the Youth delegates.

(2) That a broad government, comprising representatives of the Trade Unions and of youth, be constituted with Imre Nagy as its president.

(3) That the country's economic situation be put to the people in all honesty.

(4) That help be given to people wounded in the tragic battles which had just taken place and to the families of the victims.

(5) That, to maintain order, the police and the army be reinforced by a national guard composed of workers and young people.

(6) That, with the support of the trade unions, an organisation of young workers be formed.

(7) That the new government start immediate negotiations for the withdrawal of Russian troops from Hungarian territory.


(1) Constitution of Workers' Councils in all the factories, to establish (a) workers' management and (b) a radical transformation of the system of central planning and direction of the economy by the state.

(2) Readjustment of wages: immediate rise of 15% in monthly wages less than 800 forints and of 10% in wages less than 1,500 forints. Maximum monthly wages to be fixed at 3,500 forints.

(3) Abolition of production norms except in factories where the workers' council elect to keep them.

(4) Abolition of the 4% tax paid by unmarried people and childless families.

(5) The lowest pensions to be increased.

(6) Family allowances to be increased.

(7) Speed-up of house building by the State.

(8) That the promise made by Imre Nagy be kept regarding the start of negotiations with the Government of the U.S.S.R. and other countries with a view to establishing economic relations ensuring mutual advantages by adhering to the principle of equality." [74]

The resolution concluded by demanding that the Hungarian trade unions should function as before 1948, and should henceforth be called: The Free Hungarian Trade Unions.

The Daily Worker of Saturday, October 27, 1956, significantly ignored the political demands, but published an approximately correct version of all eight economic ones. The economic points of the programme alone must have startled Daily Worker readers who simultaneously were being told that the revolution 'owed its inspiration to fascism'. The newspaper of the British Communist Party presumably took its line from Pravda. [75] The Kremlin mouthpiece, echoed the words of Shepilov, the Russian Foreign Minister, when it reported: "Events in Hungary have amply demonstrated that a reactionary, counter-revolutionary underground, well-armed and thoroughly trained for vigorous action against the people's system, had been set up there with help from outside ... (but) it is clear that People's Hungary had, and has now, a number of difficulties and unsolved problems. There have been serious mistakes in the economic field ..." [76]

But why did the Daily Worker keep so silent about the political demands of the National Council of Free Trade Unions? Undoubtedly, because the programme as a whole was further indisputable proof of what the real forces were behind the Revolution.

Although the Hungarian workers still saw the problem in terms of 'men of good will' in whom they could have confidence, they were sufficiently alive to the inadequacies of this view to demand that direct representatives of workers and youth be included in the Government, and that the Government be supported by the permanent arming of the youth and of the workers. Youth was undoubtedly the vanguard of the Revolution.

The Hungarian unions moreover were not prepared to leave to the Government the job of deciding everything in their name. Through their demand for the recognition of their own autonomous organisations (free, democratically-elected and truly representative of the class), they wanted to consolidate and extend the power they already held. Hence their demand for the "constitution of Workers' Councils in all factories". They may not have been aware of the implications of their demands and of their potential power to enforce them. Yet the trend was clear. In their everyday lives, in their work, they were not prepared to remain mere executants. They wanted to act on their own behalf.

For proof, let us look again at the first 'economic' point, which demanded the establishment of workers' management and a radical transformation of the system of central planning and direction of the economy by the State. The demand may be imprecisely formulated, but we can understand its basic logic. Workers were rejecting the idea that production should be planned independently of them. They were rejecting the State bureaucracy's 'right' to send down the instructions. They were intensely interested in what was to be decided nationally - and by whom; in what industries or what sections of industry the biggest efforts would have to be made - and why; what was to be the volume of production in each section and how production was to be organised. They wanted to know how all this would affect their standard of living, the length of their working week, and the rhythm of work it would all entail.

The basic logic of the first demand is reinforced by the second and third. We can have no doubt about what was really in the minds of the workers. The demand that production norms be abolished (except in the factories where the Councils elected to keep them) is quite precise. It emphasises an elementary point: since the workers are the producers, they must be free to organise their work as they understand it. They wished to be rid of the whole hierarchical set-up of the bureaucracy: from those at its summit, who took the key decisions about the level of production down through the 'office scientists', with their charts and graphs, seeking to interpret these decisions - down further still to the foremen and time-and-motion snoopers, on the shop floor, with their stop-watches, hustling the workers to make products out of blueprints. In all of these the workers saw attempts to dominate the labour process from the outside, attempts to subordinate human work to that of the machine - often to a point where the effort required was too great even for the machine itself.

It is characteristic of the managerial bureaucrats, both East and West, that they seek to maintain and widen a hierarchy among the workers. This, indeed, is essential to management. Only in this way can they hope to exercise a more complete control over 'their' labour force. The demand for a readjustment of wages was made to counteract this tendency. The Hungarian workers were quite aware that a wide range of pay scales (sometimes very complicated) enabled their rulers, on the one hand, to foster the growth of a 'labour aristocracy' which would support the established regime, and on the other hand, to divide the workers, to isolate them from one another.

This struggle against hierarchy and wage differentials is fundamental for any movement seeking to achieve workers' power and a classless society. It can be seen to emerge, in the United States, Britain, France, or Germany, whenever 'unofficial' strikes occur independently of the union leadership. To maintain its control, management seeks to sectionalise the managed. But in so doing it creates enormous problems for itself. As all this becomes clearer to the workers, as inevitably it must, the struggle becomes sharper. Due to the speed of modern technological development and to the ever-increasing division of labour, workers whose jobs once appeared to be different are now beginning to see that they are not as different as all that. Wage differentials (or, for the moment at least, their more extreme instances) begin to appear absurd.

The trade unions' resolution clearly revealed (and this is its great importance) that the Hungarian workers had discovered that under the rule of the bureaucracy, they had as little say in the running of their own affairs as they had had under private capitalism. They saw the real division in their industries, in their society, and in their lives, as the one between those who decided everything and those who had only to obey. A mere three days after the rising and still in the fire of battle, their programme was an affirmation of all they were fighting for. It was a fundamentally revolutionary programme, although they had little idea of how it was to be carried out.

This new federation of trade unions, shorn of the bureaucratic leadership, democratically elected and basing itself on the Workers' Councils and their demands, was typical of the Hungarian political scene in those last days of October 1956. Freedom became an elixir, gulped down greedily by those who had been dying of thirst. The people seemed to sense that this freedom was to be short-lived, so ardently did they go about re-arranging everything around them.