18. The Second Russian Intervention

The Second Russian Intervention

"Will Hungary move further forward toward Socialism, or will she allow the forces of reaction to gain the upper hand and restore a scheme of things that would throw the nation back a generation?"
Pravda, November 4, 1956.

At 4 o'clock on Sunday morning, November 4, Budapest was roused by the thunder of shells bursting in the city centre. Hundreds of guns in the hills of Buda opened fire, their flashes flood-lighting the MIG fighters, as they screamed over the city. The armed forces of the Russian State had begun their attack to crush the Hungarian workers.

The attack was country-wide and simultaneous. All the major cities were pounded by artillery. But the people were not terrorised. They knew that the uneasy truce of the last few days wouldn't last. They knew that, militarily, the situation was hopeless. Yet at the first sound of gunfire they were galvanised into action. Young and old, workers, students, soldiers, and children, all took up their positions in the streets before the armoured divisions had reached the outskirts of Budapest. The barricades were rebuilt, at times with the same materials used on October 24. In some places children loaded handcarts with suitable objects and dragged them to the barricade builders.

The Russian tanks entered Budapest, their guns blazing. They were firing phosphorus as well as ordinary shells. Several buildings were soon in flames. The tanks were immediately attacked by the people. Pitched battles were fought with the inevitable outcome. The tanks advanced towards the town centre. The struggle was repeated in the other large towns of Hungary. Györ for example; was completely surrounded by a steel wall of tanks, squeezing in relentlessly. Everywhere, the people fought even mare courageously and against far greater odds than ten days earlier. There were now fifteen Russian armoured divisions in the country, with six thousand tanks. Who could still deny this was a popular revolution?

At 6 a.m. Nagy, with fifteen others and their families, sought refuge in the Yugoslav Embassy, where it had earlier been agreed they would be given protection. Just after 7 a.m., the first Russian tanks reached Parliament Square. Obviously acting on orders, a number of officers rushed into the Parliament Building. They found no one to arrest.

In the streets, between the tall buildings, the din of battle was becoming deafening. Smoke from burning buildings, exploding shells and Molotov cocktails, mixed with the dust from crashing masonry to create a choking fog. The sight of the mounting dead and the agonising cries of the wounded created a fog to choke the mind. Was this nightmare a 'defence of socialism'?

As the tanks continued their advance, strong points of resistance emerged: Szena Square and the Killian Barracks as in the earlier battles. The single field gun by the Corvin Cinema was still in action. At several points near the old Royal Palace in Buda, along the Boulevard and at the Polytechnic, the revolutionaries could not be dislodged.

Despite very heavy bombardment, all the big working class districts - particularly 'red' Czepel, Dunapentele, Ujpest, Köbanya - were still in the hands of the workers. [80] In the first Russian attack, these working class areas had been subjected to lighter treatment. Now, they bore the full weight of the onslaught. The new Russian troops had no sentimental feelings about Hungarians. They had been well indoctrinated: the freedom fighters were 'fascists' and 'bourgeois capitalists'. Peter Fryer, in his last dispatch to the Daily Worker (which the editor would not even allow his staff to see) says: "Some of the rank-and-file Soviet troops have been telling people that they had no idea they had come to Hungary. They thought at first they were in Berlin, fighting German fascists." [81] These new troops were disgruntled at having to come to Hungary. Some were frightened, not only by the sight of so many of their tanks standing burnt-out and silent, but by the ferocity and courage of the Hungarians. Hand-to-tank fighting was going on in many streets. People ran up close to the tanks and made sure their Molotov cocktails did not miss - it is difficult for a tank to train its guns on a close target. Some got so close to the tanks that they were able to throw in hand-grenades, then close the driver's hatch.

The fight of the Hungarian workers should be remembered by those who say the British working class has been completely demoralised by their rulers' well-propagated ideology of 'self'. In Hungary, years of violent suppression and concentrated propaganda had failed to destroy the workers' vision of a new society. They were fighting what they knew to be a military force a thousand times more powerful than themselves. But they were fighting for something more than bread and circuses. They were fighting for a totally new way of life. In a mere eleven days they had become giants.

At this stage Janos Kadar came forward to help the Kremlin put the clock back. At Szolnok, sixty miles southeast of Budapest, Kadar formed what he called a new Workers' and Peasants' Government. [82] This Government immediately issued a proclamation. It had asked the Russian Government "for help in liquidating the counter-revolutionary forces and restoring order". The Daily Worker of November 5 had put it slightly differently: "It called for Soviet aid to close the Austro-Hungarian border across which fascist elements had been streaming for several days." [83] This all appeared an underestimation of the 'wisdom' of the Russian Government, which had started to 'help in liquidating' the Revolution several hours before the Kadar Government had even been formed! Kadar's part was that of an 'accessory after the fact' pretending he was speaking before the fact.

Either way, Kadar and the others were guilty of complicity. They carry a full share of responsibilty for the savage and brutal massacre of thousands of workers and young people in Hungary.

The Kremlin remained consistent in its lies and hypocrisy. Later in the day, while mass murder continued, the Russian delegate, Sobelev, calmly addressed a meeting of the United Nations Security Council. "Events in Hungary", he said, "have clearly shown that the workers there, who had been able to make great achievements under a democratic regime, had rightly raised a number of questions appertaining to the eradication of certain shortcomings in their economic life. But they were exploited by reactionary, counter-revolutionary elements who wanted to undermine the popular regime and restore the former landlord and capitalist regime in Hungary. [84]

Goebbels claimed that "the bigger the lie, the more it's believed". He never bettered this one. The workers were leading a Revolution against a 'democratic regime' which had given them 'great achievements'? They had raised 'questions' about 'shortcomings in their economic life'?

Demands become 'questions'. Total exploitation becomes 'shortcomings'! Note again the fear of admitting, no matter how guardedly, the existence of political dissatisfaction! And does the workers' programme look like that of a people bent on restoring capitalism and led by 'reactionary and counter-revolutionary elements'?

'Counter-revolution' was the propaganda bogey of the day. Just after midday on Sunday, November 4, Moscow Radio announced that the "counter-revolution in Hungary has been crushed". Later in the afternoon, the Kremlin broadcast that the "complete defeat of the counter-revolution is under way". At 8pm Kadar announced that the "counter-revolution" had been completely defeated. Following Kadar, Moscow Radio reverted to its midday statement declaring that "order has been restored in Hungary and the resistance of a negligible handful overcome with the assistance of the Budapest population." [85] In fact, heavy fighting was to continue for about ten days.

What did the Kremlin mean by "counter-revolution"? Through careful propaganda over the years they had sustained the myth that despite their tactical zig-zags, theirs were still the original revolutionary aims of October 1917. Members and supporters of the various communist parties have been led to revere the Soviet Union as the vanguard and guardian of this revolution. Any movement that opposed Russian 'socialism' was branded as 'counter-revolutionary'. This was just one of the many smears used by the Russian bureaucracy to discredit those who fundamentally challenged its rule. The Hungarian revolutionaries believed they were fighting for a society in which the basic conflict in production and social life had been removed - for a classless society in which the people themselves managed their factories, their industries and thus their lives. They had had their illusions in Russia savagely dispelled during the previous twelve years. No one has done more than the Hungarians to expose the myth of Russia as the vanguard of such a revolution and of such a society. They exposed it with their political and economic organisation. They exposed with their revolutionary demands. They exposed it in a grim battle with the Red Army. Above all, they exposed it with their humour.

Out of their misery came an incredible and heart-rending humour. It emphasised rather than disguised the people's bitterness. As all major resistance drew to its close, a week after the second Russian attack, hundreds of posters, roughly produced and simply worded, began mysteriously to appear on the ruins of Budapest - like smiles through tears. Their irony was crushing. One neatly showed the Hungarians' contempt for Russian smear tactics: "Ten million counter-revolutionaries at large in the country!" Another said "Former aristocrats, land and factory owners, Cardinals, Generals, and other supporters of the old capitalist regime, disguised as factory workers and peasants are making propaganda against the patriotic government and against our Russian friends." Another recalled a phrase from pre-revolution travel propaganda: "Come and see our beautiful capital in Soviet-Hungarian friendship month." A skit on the Government and its spate of propaganda about what 'honest' Hungarians were doing [86] appeared in a little poster which said: "Luckily, seven honest men were found in the country. They are all in the Government."

During the week, this puppet Government took up the old Stalinist tactic of blowing hot and cold in its psychological war for the minds of the Hungarian people. Kadar kept up a continuous barrage of promises and threats. But it had no effect. The people had been immunised through years of bitter experience. He announced 'changes'. Many members of the A.V.O. - Rakosi's and Getö's secret police - were still alive. As the Red Army began to take control, they crawled out of their hiding places, like rats from sewers. Kadar, who had already changed the name of the Communist Party to the Hungarian Socialist Workers' Party, now changed the name of the A.V.O.. New names, new uniforms. But they still behaved like the secret police of a totalitarian state. Not only were they eager to act on Kadar's orders. They were burning for revenge. During the last week of October, the workers, enraged by A.V.O. atrocities, had chased them underground. With the Red Army to protect them, they now reverted to their terror methods. Torture and beatings began again. While fierce battles were still raging, freedom fighters were being hanged from the bridges on the Danube and in the streets. Almost all were workers. The bodies, sometimes hanging in groups, had notices pinned to them: "This is how we deal with counter-revolutionaries".