23. Why?

Submitted by libcom on March 27, 2005


"All political struggles are class struggles, and all class struggles for emancipation ... turn ultimately on the question of economic emancipation."
F. Engels, Ludwig Feuerbach and the End of Classical German Philosophy (1888).

"Terror implies mostly useless cruelty perpetrated by frightened people in order to reassure themselves."
F. Engels, Letter to Marx (September 4, 1870).

It is still not known for certain how many people lost their lives during the Hungarian Revolution. Estimates range from 20,000 to 50,000 Hungarians and from 3,500 to 7,000 Russians. The number wounded was very much higher. Since November 1956, many thousands have been executed. The number imprisoned runs into tens of thousands - most of the political prisoners released during the Revolution were later rounded up.

Some people have been aware, for a long time, of the true character of the Russian regime and of the counter-revolutionary role played by its agents (the Stalinist parties) in the working class struggles of the previous thirty years. Some remember the pitiless way the Party repressed all working class opposition within the U.S.S.R., and the sufferings it inflicted on whole populations, deported at the time of collectivisation. [93] It nevertheless seemed incredible that, before the shocked gaze of workers and Communists in every country, the Russian bureaucracy should have assumed responsibility for crushing with thousands of tanks an insurrection which had mobilised every section of the Hungarian people, and particularly the youth and the working class.

The Krushchevs, the Mikoyans, the Bulganins, had accused Stalin of every evil of the past. They had claimed to be impotent spectators of a terror they abhored. For the preceding few months they had been cavorting around the capitals of the world exhibiting themselves as 'decent chaps'. But they were guilty of a crime which matched any of Stalin's previous atrocities.

Why did the Kremlin decide to crush Hungary ?

We have examined the 'official' excuse: Nagy was powerless to stop a fascist counter-revolution. Nagy was certainly powerless. But powerless to check the workers! For the Russians to admit this would be to admit the failure of their Communism. That is why Mao Tse-Tung, Tito, Gomulka, indeed the whole Communist hierarchy throughout the world, whatever their other differences, [94] all supported the Kremlin line. The Russian bureaucracy could find compromises with the Tildys, the Kovacs, even the Mindszentys. It could still govern by making concessions. Indeed, this had already been done, not only in Hungary, but in all the so-called 'Peoples' Democracies'. BUT THERE WAS NO BASIS WHATEVER FOR COMPROMISE WITH THE AUTONOMOUS ORGANISATIONS OF THE WORKING CLASS IN ARMS (THE COUNCILS). THEIR VICTORY WOULD HAVE SPELLED TOTAL DEFEAT FOR THE BUREAUCRACY!

Some have said Russia had no alternative but to keep Hungary well within its grip, for to withdraw would have left her vulnerable from the West. Militarily, this argument is false. Whereas Poland and East Germany were vital, Hungary and Rumania were not. It is reported that Krushchev himself had been considering the evacuation of Hungary. He believed this would have meant an immense gain in prestige. But this was before the Revolution.

Others have said that Eden's barbarous attack on Egypt (on November 1, 1956) greatly influenced the Kremlin's decision to launch the second attack against the Hungarians (on November 4). Because of the Suez venture, the United States propagandists were unable to exploit the Hungarian tragedy to the full. But although this was a coincidence of great convenience to the Kremlin, it is simply not true that it basically influenced their decision. The build-up of Russian armour in north-east Hungary had been going on for several days before Eden announced his ultimatum to Egypt.

Between October 23 and November 4, the working people of Hungary had spontaneously organised their own power through their Councils. To these Councils they immediately gave the greatest possible extension. These autonomous groups had formed, with extraordinary speed, a military force capable of momentarily neutralising the Russian army and the A.V.O., if not of actually compelling them to retreat. Their demands had resulted in a radical change of the workers' position within the framework of industry. They had attacked exploitation at its very roots. Public order, their order, had been maintained. The distribution of food, fuel and medical supplies, had been carried out magnificently. Even a reporter of The Observer recognised this: "A fantastic aspect of the situation is that although the general strike is in being and there is no centrally-organised industry, the workers are nevertheless taking upon themselves to keep essential services going, for purposes which they themselves determine and support. Workers' Councils in industrial districts have undertaken the distribution of essential goods and food to the population, in order to keep them alive. The coal miners are making daily allocations of just sufficient coal to keep the power stations going and supply the hospitals in Budapest and other large towns. Railwaymen organise trains to go to approved destinations for approved purposes..." (November 25, 1956).

The network of Workers' and Peasants' Councils which sprang up spontaneously was the biggest single gain of the Hungarian Revolution. This was the great historical significance of Hungary '56. This has immortalised the Hungarian people. By the end of October, government by Workers' Councils was virtually a fact. This is the simple yet powerful truth that evaded so many at the time - and since.

In their decision to crush this little country, the Kremlin's logic was cold, consistent, and ruthless. They could not tolerate, on their very doorstep, a country in which ordinary people were, for the first time in history, running their own affairs and were more-over advancing, in giant steps, towards genuine equality. It could not be tolerated because of the example it would have given to the other oppressed 'satellite' peoples already seething with discontent. To allow the Revolution to triumph meant to allow its influence to be felt and acted upon by the working class of Czechoslovakia, Rumania, and Yugoslavia. The workers in these countries were suffering exploitation similar to that from which the Hungarians had freed themselves. To allow the Revolution to develop would have meant giving an immense impetus to the movement in Poland which for a month had extracted concession after concession from the Polish bureaucracy as well as from the Kremlin.

Finally, revolution in Hungary could not be tolerated because of the example it might set to the great subject people on its north-eastern borders - in the Soviet Union itself. That Russian soldiers were handing over weapons to Hungarian revolutionaries (and, in some cases, actually joining their ranks) must have chilled the spines of Krushchev and his henchmen. If sections of the Red Army proved unreliable in putting down a 'foreign' uprising, how would the army react to a similar uprising in Russia itself. Of such stuff were nightmares made!