Ten years ago this Autumn Stalinism showed that it was still very much alive, that it had not been buried either with Stalin or at the 20th Congress — and that those who said it had were wishful fools or liars. The Hungarian workers rose for socialist democracy, an end to the grinding economic regime of parasitic Stalinism, and in favour of national liberation from the oppression of the Russian bureaucracy — and they were mercilessly crushed by the might of the Soviet Union. It was shown decisively that "de-Stalinisation" was a change of gears, an adjustment of tension and tempo - but in no sense a basic change. The monster was still sucking blood and had sharp and deadly teeth with which to defend itself.
Ten years is too short a time for a detailed re-telling of the story here to be necessary; but we will Last honour the proletarian martyrs of 1956 by briefly examining the lessons of their struggle.
We have seen the contributions of Capitalism's ad-men on this anniversary: pius breast-beating, mixed with assurances that Hungary is far better off today. They were willing and eager to scream about the rape of Hungary, as they still do, reaping the anti-socielist propaganda harvest of their lives - but the capitalists themselves, behind their hypocrlsy, were just as concerned as the Stalinists that on no account should a democratic workers state, freed from the stifling and disfiguring scab of Stalini sm, be allowed to emerge. A Titoite Yugoslavia is one thing: self assertion by the armed masses a different and deadly thing. No 1ess than the Bureaucracy did they fear the Hungarian mass movement, and for the same reason.
On the day before the fighting began Dulles, then US Secretary of State, openly defended the legality of Sviet troops in Eastern Europe. During the bloodbath the New York Times reported the US Government as openly opposed to the revolt, and embarrassed by it. They had let the Russians koow in the most diplomatic language that they would 'defend' Berlin and Austria — but as for hungary... Dulles hed already given the line on that. The Hungarians were left to their fate; to the capitalists they were only useful as propagenda - and for this purpose the only good revolution was a crushed revolution.
We know the story of Hungary. The centuries-long struggle against both Austria and Russia for national emancipation; a Bolshevik government, the first Hungarian Commune, in 1919, put down in blood by the white counter-revolution; the Horthy years with the Hapsburg admiral at the heed of the reaction; the war in alliance with Germany and the aftermath of defeat, with Hungary as the battleground; the Russian occupation which had no use for the class differentiation of the days of Lenin and Trotsky: next, Hungary part of the Soviet sphere of influence as recognised by the Great Power Conferences, real power in the hands of the Russian army, and the CP with ample time to demonstrate the possibility of a "peaceful revolution" — provided you have first broken the back of the state, or someone has; the years of Rakosi's terror, vented first against the honest communists who found reality under the extended fiat of Stalin nearer to Horthy's barbarism than to any kind of socialism, who resisted or resented the conception of the satellite states as milch-cows for the Russian economy; and then the attempt to ease the tension of the police terror that for years had ruled from Siberia to central Germany - an attempt which finally got out of hand for the bureaucracy and led to the Hungarian explosion.
When Stalin's crimes - portion of them - were denounced by his accompolices and suacessors, the bureaucracy shook to its foundations. In Hungary critical voices emerged, at first among the intellectuals and students. Laslo Rajk was now rehabilitated. Leader of the war-time underground CP who later resisted the Stalinist corruption, he was hanged in 1949 after confessing to fantastic crimes at one of the show trials, modelled on the Moscow trials of the thirties, which took place throughout Eastern Europe at that time. Over a quarter of a million workers and students marched behind his disinterred bones, in a resurgence of popular feeling comparable to the giant funera1 of [the Fenian] O'Donovan Rossa in Dublin in 1915. Soon the workers were out in the streets, arguing, discussing, while the erstwhile tyrants hesitated to resort to repression that might exacerbate the situation. When the stiff-necked Stalinist Gero clique did finally make up their minds it waa too late.
THE SYMBOLS COME DOWN
A programme of democratic demands was drawn up: withdrawal of Russian troops; an end to compulsory production norms; workers' control — industrial ard political; a ceiling on the salaries of managers and technicians, as Bolshevik Russia had known. When the AVO (the political police) opened fire on students who demanded that this programme be broadcast over the radio it sparked off a series of pitched battles. After a week of bitter fighting against tanks and machine guns, the workers controlled Budapest: the Russian army was withdrawn. Workers' councils organised the means of life. Popular confidence swelled and grew, and took the form of cleansing the streets of Budapest of the symbols of Stalinism. Hammers and sickles which had come to represent tyranny were torn down; the proliferate statuary of the State crashed to the ground. The elation and solidarity of proletarian freedom was everywhare. A new goverrment emerged, composed of members of the CP who had been in disfavour at various times, led by Nagy and PIaleter.
As later events, including developments in Hungary itself, have shown, liberalisation was possible without loss to the bureaucracy, and the Polish October 1956, which had acted aa a spur to the Hungarians, showed that a bending to mass pressure, controlled by a section of the bureaucracy, was also acceptable. But the crime of the Hungarians was that they had asserted their freedom arms in hand. This was the danger, the fuse to the powder keg. Real power wasn't in the hands of the Nagy government, but was held by the workers and students. The Russians had retired, but they were far from satisfied.
Nagy announced the withdrawal from the Warsaw Pact. And the opportune moment arrived for the Russians to return, when the English-French-Israeli invasion of Suez set the example in the slaughter of the people of Port Said. A new onslaught against the Budapest workers was now made so much easier. A new army crossed the border, unaffected by the spirit of Budapest, set up a 'provisional' Government under Janos Kadar, hitherto a supporter of Nagy. Now the 'Red' army had the most modern tanks, and they retook Budapest after heavy fighting, with great casualties for the rebels — the most determined of whom were concentrated in the workers' areas such as Czopel and Dunapentele. Thus the armed resistance was broken; but for weeks afterwards the workers held out in the slow grinding battle of a general strike.
The irony of the situation emerged when workers mounted a bust of Lenin on their barricade to taunt the advancing Russians! But this was the natural place for even a statue of Lenin in the Budapest of 1956. It was as if some force of historic truth acted through the confused people who put it there, to ensure that 'Lenin' was seen in his rightful place - with tha proletarian insurgents...
The Stalinists still say it was a fascist counter-revolution; and still they find believers, who are surely credulous to believe in a fascist general strike! Of course there were fascists. Some had found good jobs terrorising workers as members of the AVO — these the workers dealt with mercilessly, as they dealt with other known Stalinist terrorists. The struggle was conducted ty the proletariat with proletarian weapons: the general strike; the counoils of workers deputies; and armed struggle - albeit with pityably poor arms against tanks. The Stalinist lies were exposed when the Daily Worker's Budapest correspondent, Peter Fryer, defended the Bungarian workers from the shameless hired hacks of their murderers.
The workers burnt only the symbols of 'communism' — its real meaning rose, phoenix-like, in their programme: not to restore Capitalism or the landlords, but to retain nationalised property cleansed of the bureaucracy and privilege which were the social basis of the terror. There was some feeling for restoring the land to the smallholders who had been forcibly collectivised in the barbarous Stalinist manner. But the big landlords, including the Catholic Church, which owned half of all Hungary until Nagy's agrarian reform after the war, would have needed a better army than that which the workers had defeated either to regain possession or restore their rule.
It must be admitted that the situation was fluid and many possibilities existed: only a struggle between different tendencies would have decided the outcome. Between the withdrawal of the first Russian army and the final suppression a Government essenially centrist balanced on top of the workers' councils. Its perspective was one of consolidation of limited gains rather than of extenling the revolution to spread the fire to the heart of the bureaucratic power - Russia.
The great vacuum was the absence of any pre-ordered party which could raise the magnificent spontaneous action of the masses to a higher level of effectiveness, such as was imparted in 1917 by the Bolshevik Party. Hungary discredited the belief in an easy non-rovolutionary self-reform by the bureaucracy for some 'revolutionary marxists' who had given way to wishfull thinking. The debilitating negative proof of defeat showed those who had striven to maintain the conception of the Lenin-type Bolshevik party after the degeneration of the Comintern were correct, and no less correct in regard to the anti-bureaucratic revolution in the East as to the anti-capitalist revolutiow im the West.
Tbe l0th Anniversary finds the Stalinist world split down the middle, its 'monolithic' unity rent by the narrow national interests of the Chinese and Soviet bureaucracies. East European and Russian living standards have risen, the terror has been relaxed - but still the congenital crisis of Stalinism continues, still this regime of oppression of the working class and betrayal of socialism must disguise itself with 'socialist' camouflage; it remains unsettled and the rulers need gimmicks and 'experiments' — every gimmick and every sort of experiment to ward off the one solution - the initiative of the masses of the workers.
After Berlin in 1953, Hungary was the first great lightning flash of the coming revolution of the workers in the Stalinist states. The Hungarian workers were isolated and they were crushed, and the re-inforcements for this came from the heart of Russia. But tomorrow, when the rumblings in Russia itself explode in the mass movement of the workers to reclaim the power to control their own lives - where will the bureaucrats get re-inforcements from then? When the Rhssian workers move decisively no power on earth will accomplish what Krushchev's tanks did in Budapest in November 1956.
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