A Lesson of the Revolution: The Working Class vs The Totalitarian Myth

Submitted by AWL on 25 September, 2013 - 11:46

The Hungarian Revolution, temporarily defeated by Russian military force, has nonetheless already accomplished outstanding wonders and recorded magnificent victories, and that by virtue of its occurrence alone. It has dealt shattering blows to Stalinist barbarism as a world system, erecting a mighty barrier to Russian and international Stalinist aspirations to global domination.

It has produced important ideological repercussions, indeed a veritable revolution in the realm of ideas, which has begun to reflect itself materially among all social classes and forces, and which in the future will do so on an even vaster scale.

First and foremost, the struggle of the Hungarian people for democracy and socialism has virtually destroyed the myth of Russian and totalitarian invincibility. The significance of this result can bast be comprehended by contrasting the appearance of Stalinism today with the picture it presented some ten years ago.

Russia was completing its construction of a new empire in Eastern Europe then, doing so at a time when UK old empires were going under. A Russian grab" for all of Europe seemed possible and, in the eyes of some, likely. Mass Communist Parties grew in Western Europe; the hold of Stalinist ideology on millions of workers seemed secure.

Likewise, the complete triumph of Stalinism over the Asian masses appeared a distinct possibility. Capitalism on a world scale showed itself to be on the decline and the working-class struggle for socialist democracy seemed impotent, while Stalinism grew in power and influence.

In these circumstances, gloom about the future of democracy and socialism was widespread. Stalinism appeared to be stable and permanent. Many people came to believe that history held "1984" in store for humanity.

But the workers of Csepel, the students of Budapest University, the intellectuals of the Petofi Circle, the whole oppressed Hungarian nation, has risen to put an end to all that.

The poisonous myth of Stalinist invincibility has during the past period wreaked havoc in the socialist and labor movements, causing many to desert the struggle for socialism. The mass socialist and labor parties of Western Europe have lined themselves up behind capitalist imperialism, in good part, on the basis of the rationale that only NATO and the H-bomb could prevent the triumph of the Stalinist danger to humanity.In this country, the unions support Washington's bipartisan reactionary foreign policy and do not counterpose to it the alternative of a genuinely democratic
and progressive international program.

But now, since Hungary, an independent working-class line becomes possible.


Behind the pessimist myth lay this thought: The people living under Stalinism can do nothing to liberate themselves; totalitarianism is internally indestructible. Under its brutal sway no opposition can manifest itself and no organization for its overthrow can take place. Above all, the working-class fight for socialist emancipation is precluded. Moreover, the Stalinist monolith has a dynamism whose onslaught cannot be resisted by the peoples not yet its captives. Only the military might of the West can prevent the enslavement of the world, and it alone retains the possibility of promising eventual liberation for the peoples already under the heel of Stalinism.

One intellectual expression of these moods was to be found in Hannah Arendt's theories of totalitarianism. In Arendt's view, the rise of totalitarianism puts an end to the divisions of society into antagonistic social classes with their clashing social interests. The motor forces for social change and development present in non-totalitarian society disappear, as the class structure of society is replaced by an atomized, structureless, declassed, irrationally manipulated mass of people. This mass, the theory runs, is composed of innumerable fragments incapable of social cohesion and therefore completely unable to revolt.

For Arendt, modern totalitarianism has outmoded the classical Marxist analysis of social and political structure. One's economic position or one's relationship to others in the process of production loses most or all relevance to one's role in society. Thus there can be no common interest based on class position, nor any consciousness of that common interest, leading to solidarity and cohesion, nor can there be rational political goals as the ends of group action. Society is composed of a ruling elite and an amorphous mass of individuals; the mass is either in a state of mystique-dominated conformism or hopeless depression.

After Hungary, it is hard to remember that Arendt's The Origins of Totalitarianism was much admired some five years ago; that her theories were regarded as the latest word in sociological sagacity, much superior to the outdated class analysis of Marxism still retained by a few "socialist dreamers."

Far the Hungarian Revolution, like the October Days in Poland, conformed not to the discoveries of Arendt but precisely to the Marxian and socialist analysis of Stalinism.


On October 21 and 22 student groups met in Budapest and adopted a political program expressing their demands on the regime: not mobs of isolated individuals, but cohesive assemblages of persons belonging to a social group, and conscious of their common needs.

They called for an end to restrictions on their intellectual and academic life, and simultaneously developed a program in the interests of the entire nation, in keeping with their status as students and intellectuals: withdrawal of Russian troops, for free elections, for the right to strike, for revision of the workers' production norms, for revision of compulsory collective farm collections, etc.

They organized demonstrations for' the next day, sending delegations to the factories to achieve unity with the workers. The workers of Csepel went on the offensive; they proceeded to the army barracks, came to an agreement with the soldiers, and obtained arms from them.

Everywhere there was disciplined cohesive action; organization sprang up; programs were formulated in terms of class interest and expressed the rational political goals of the different classes and groups and of the nation as a whole. The very institutions created by the totalitarian society and regime, which, according to the dim view of those who regard Stalinism as the "wave of the future" will more or less eternally manipulate the "irrational mass," became the arenas in which the revolution was organized and prepared for - including the ruling Communist Party itself. It was proved that behind the totalitarian facade, beneath the monolithic veneer, social conflict and class struggle go on, expressing themselves in whatever structures and organizations exist.

Moreover, once the revolution was successful - as it was during the tragically few days from October 28 to November 4 in Hungary - social and political life flowered again. Class, social group, party, faction: all of the old divisions and organizations in society, whose elimination totalitarianism was supposed to have accomplished long ago, reappeared, vigorous and flourishing. The old Social-Democratic Party was reorganized; likewise the peasant parties, and many others. Mass meetings were held, newspapers founded, debate and discussion took place.

Social and political life reassured itself, proving that it had existed all the time; obscured by the totalitarian structure of the state and society perhaps, but existing nevertheless; for the totalitarian Stalinist society is a class society - different from other class societies, of course, from capitalism for example - but sharing with other class societies that which is common to all exploitive, class-based systems of social production and organization.

One thing which is common is the crucial fact that the conditions of existence for the masses in an exploitive, disharmonious, class-ridden society cause the oppressed to struggle against those very conditions of existence, and create the means whereby such struggle can occur. And in our day the inevitable tendency of such struggle is toward the creation of that harmonious society in which all classes, class distinctions, class division and the exploitation of man by man will disappear: socialism.


But if the Hungarian Revolution has struck shattering blows at the myth of totalitarian invincibility and confirmed the Marxist analysis of Stalinism as a class society in general, it has also demonstrated once again the socialist view of the key role of the working class in the struggle against all oppression and as the bearer of the socialist emancipation of society. The Hungarian workers have made clear that they, and they alone; can lead all of the oppressed in the fight to establish socialist democracy, and that it is in reality possible for them to do so.

The socialist assessment of the role of the workers, it must be borne in mind, bases itself not-on some "religious worship" of workers, nor on the idea that working people as individuals contain some inherent superior virtues lacked by others; as both ignorant and malicious critics of Marxism "explain" but on the objective facts of working-class life:

In modern society, whether capitalist or bureaucratic-collectivist, they are the chief victims of mass oppression. The circumstances in which they live force them to combat this oppression. They constitute a basic urban class In societies where cities are the centers of social and political life and power; the very process of capitalist or bureaucratic-collectivist production organizes them in the factories, producing social cohesion and solidarity among them. As a result of the modern production process huge masses of workers can be mobilised quickly: their role In production enables them to paralyze society at will, and also to take command of society at will. In the advanced industrialized nations which dominate the world they represent the clear and overwhelming majority of the population; and finally, the realization of their aspirations does not require the establishment of a new ruling class and a new tyranny, but on the contrary, is directed toward the abolition of all class oppression and all tyranny.

The students of Budapest who began the Hungarian Revolution knew this, as their action in reaching out for contact and unity with the working people, the young workers in particular, conclusively showed. As a result of the systematic selection imposed by the regime itself, the students were overwhelmingly working-class in parentage, themselves. They realized - with what exact degree of theoretical clarity it is not of course possible to know - that while they might formulate the revolution's program and might even initiate the actual uprising, the working men and women would have to provide the bulk of the combat forces, and act as the main organizer and leader of the struggle.

Their expectations were not disappointed: the response of the workers proved them and the theories of scientific socialism right.

In Poland the workers, armed and in possession of the factories, won Gomulka his victory, administered a defeat to the Natolin pro-Russian faction of the Communist Party, and convinced the Russians not to intervene. In Hungary the working masses, organized in their class organizations, the newly formed Workers' Councils, accounted for the bulk of the actual military struggle in the streets, in the October 24-28 period which was ended by the withdrawal of Russian troops from Budapest and the capitulation of Nagy to the revolution, and also during the week following the November 4th reintervention of the Russian army.

To back up the actual military operations, the workers in Budapest declared a general strike, and were followed in this by the workers in all other industrial centers of the country. Their strike action paralyzed all social life in the country, proved that the Kadar regime could not last for a single moment without the presence of Russian tanks, and, before the second Russian attack, made the revolution master of Hungary. And even after the-Russians had reimposed their military rule in the middle of November, the workers continued the general strike for weeks and weeks, in a tremendous display of heroism, solidarity and determination to fight against the anti-working-class dictatorship which Stalinism is.


As in oil revolutions in modern times, the workers created councils as their organs of struggle during the revolution. In "Red" Csepel. near Budapest; in Miskolc, heart of the mining region of Borsod: in Debreczen, Szeged, Gyor, Magyarovar; in every industrial center of Hungary, Workers Councils were organized. These bodies, under the democratic control of the workers themselves, rooted in the sites of working-class life - the points of production - at once became the leaders of military struggle and of social life. In cooperation with the other organized revolutionary forces.

They organized the demonstrations against the regime and fought against the Russian troops in the early part of the revolution and led the resistance to the reimposition of Russian military rule later on. They, together with the representatives of the students, soldiers and new political parties, maintained order in the cities, and carried out all necessary social functions.

They arranged for contact with the peasantry and the feeding of the city populations. They organized and conducted production in the factories on the days and in the places where the decision was to work, and prevented it where and when the decision was to strike. In so doing, they demonstrated the socialist view that the workers, and they alone, are the class essential for the production of the necessities of life, and that the "services" of ruling classes can be dispensed with.

Both in deed and in word - the latter in the form of the countless manifestos, proclamations and programs adopted and published or broadcast by the various Workers Councils, Revolutionary Committees, etc.- they explicitly announced their intention of seeing to it that these class organs of the working people not only organized the revolution against Stalinism but remained on afterwards, both as instruments of workers' control in the factories and as organs of working-class leadership in the democratic rule by the people which would result from the revolution.

The Hungarian Revolution proved that socialist freedom, not "1984," is the wave of the future.

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