24. Meaning of the Hungarian Revolution

The Meaning of The Hungarian Revolution

"The emancipation of the workers contains universal human emancipation - and it contains this because the whole of human servitude is involved in the relation of the worker to production. Every relation of servitude is but a modification and consequence of this relation."
K. Marx, Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts (1844).

When the Hungarians were finally crushed, the Western crocodile began to weep. But it leered as it wept.

We have already seen how, in the West, 'political' comment was centred upon the nationalistic aspects of the Revolution, no matter how trivial. Why were Western politicians so selective in their support and so parsimonious in their praise for Hungary's October? Basically because they were opposed both to its methods and to its aims.

"The view prevailing among United States officials was that 'evolution' towards freedom in Eastern Europe would be better for all concerned than 'revolution', though nobody was saying this publicly", wrote the New York Times (October 27, 1955). And as to ends, can anyone imagine the President of the United States, the House of Representatives, the British Prime Minister, Her Majesty's Government, Her Majesty's Loyal Opposition, the T.U.C.'s General Secretary or Her Majesty's trade union leadership supporting the fundamental social, economic, and political aims of the Hungarian Revolution? What capitalist government could genuinely support a people demanding 'workers' management of industry' and already beginning to implement this on an increasing scale? Such governments might go to war to protect their own class interests. One cannot conceive of them going to war to protect the interests of a Revolution which showed every sign of making both them and their bureaucratic counterparts in the East redundant. For, as Peter Fryer wrote, the Hungarian Revolution showed "the ability of ordinary working men and women to take their affairs into their own hands and manage them without a special caste of officials". [95]

Naive observers could not understand why the West, having 'failed' to take a military initiative over Hungary, did not at least make some political gesture. Shocked noises they made, in U.N.O. and elsewhere. But an effective political initiative involved supporting, clarifying, and propagating the most important demands of the Hungarian workers, those that were the mainspring of the Revolution, in particular the demand without which it would not have been a people's revolution at all: Workers' Power - a complete change in the relations of production.

"The relations of production (boss-worker; manager-managed; order-giver - order-taker) remain the basis of the class structure of any society. In all countries of the world these relations are capitalist relations because they are based on wage labour." [96] The Hungarian working class attempted to transcend class society by striking at the very roots of the social system.

Certain Western observers thought their methods 'chaotic'. They deplored their 'absence of organisation'. But the Hungarian workers had instinctively grasped, although perhaps not explicitly proclaimed, that they must break completely with those traditional organisational forms which had for years entrapped both them and the working class of the West. This was their strength. They saw that it meant breaking with those very institutions which they themselves had originally created for their emancipation, and which had later become fetters upon them. New organs of struggle were created: the Workers' Councils which embodied, in embryo, the new society they were seeking to achieve. Western 'observers' could hardly be expected to recognise all this, or to elaborate on this theme!

The working class of Western Europe, although stirred by the struggle of their Hungarian comrades, remained passive. Yet, they alone had the power to save the Revolution. They stood and watched because they were (and still are) under the ideological influence of the 'leaderships' of 'their own' organisations. The degeneration of these organisations is not due to 'bad leaders' who 'betray'. "The problem has much deeper roots ... The political and trade union organisations of the working class have increasingly adopted the objectives, methods, philosophy, and patterns of organisation of the very society they were trying to supersede. There has developed within their ranks an increasing division between leaders and led, order-givers and order-takers. This has culminated in the development of a working class bureaucracy which can neither be removed nor controlled. This bureaucracy pursues objectives of its own." [97] Once this is perceived and acted upon the days of the bureaucracy will be numbered.

In the organisation of their Workers' Councils and in the reorganisation of their trade unions, the Hungarians had shown an awareness of the fact that "the revolutionary organisation will not be able to fight the tendency towards bureaucracy unless it functions itself according to the principles of proletarian democracy and in a consciously anti-bureaucratic manner." [98] The various Councils that sprang up all over the country had the greatest possible autonomy. As far as we have been able to discover, no one ever questioned the principle that delegates elected to the Central Councils should be revocable, at all times. The principle became an immediate reality, automatically accepted and acted upon.

The massacre of the Hungarian people, the destruction of the organisations they had built during their brief spell of freedom and the re-imposition of total bureaucratic control over all aspects of their lives brought an end to an era: the era during which the Russian bureaucracy had partly succeeded - despite Stalin - in passing themselves off as defenders of Socialism and as champions of the working class. Now it would never be the same again!

The Hungarian Revolution of October 1956, wrote its message in the blood of thousands of ordinary working people, particularly the youth. The message is that, today, the class struggle throughout the world is not one between East and West, between Labour and Tory, or between employers and trade union leaders. It is the struggle of the working class for its own emancipation. It is the struggle of the working class against all the bureaucratic regimes, institutions and ideologies, which, in both East and West, obstruct its road to freedom.

Whatever we choose to call the new society we aspire to - the classless society in which men are truly free to develop to the full, and to manage all aspects of their lives - its establishment will depend on several essentials. It will depend on a different and entirely new attitude to 'leadership' from that prevailing in the traditional organisations of the 'left' today. It will depend on an understanding that the objective of the Revolution is not just a change in the formal ownership of property but the abolition of all special strata in society, managing the activities of others from the outside. It will depend finally on the realisation, by working people, of their ability to manage society and of the urgent need for them to do so. Without this no progress can be made towards solving the gigantic problems that confront humanity, not least of which is whether tomorrow will ever dawn or whether at any moment we shall all be destroyed in a nuclear holocaust.

Famous intellectuals have written learned books about the world's problems in an age when life on earth could be wiped out by the decisions and actions of infinitesimal minorities. Because of their particular position within society few of these intellectuals have dared to speak out and to proclaim that the solution to these problems implies a profound social revolution in which the working people, the vast majority of mankind, will take power into their own hands and proceed to build a society where they are masters of their fate. They must do this themselves and cannot delegate the task to anybody. Real freedom depends on the extent to which this revolutionary task is both understood and acted upon.