Peter Fryer

Hungarian Tragedy


Since I began this book I have been informed that the London District Committee of the Communist Party has suspended me from Party membership for three months. The reason given is my ‘action in publishing in the capitalist Press attacks on the Communist Party’. The District Committee’s statement says that when asked why I had not discussed my views with the editor of the Daily Worker or the Executive Committee of the Party ‘he replied that he had no confidence in either’. That is perfectly accurate. The statement ends with a warning, to which my attention is drawn in a covering letter from the district secretary, that if ‘Peter Fryer should resort to the capitalist Press or to a capitalist publisher to carry forward his attacks on the Party, this would make it necessary for the District Committee to take further action’. This is quite clearly a threat to expel me if I continue to tell the truth about Hungary. The publication of this book is my answer.

It is painful after fourteen years to contemplate an estrangement – even if, as I am convinced, it will be only temporary – from a movement which has meant everything in the world to me. It was equally painful, after nearly nine years’ work proudly performed at less than a labourer’s wage for the Daily Worker, work which gave me profound satisfaction and joy because I felt able to tell the truth and do battle against injustice every day of my life, to have to resign from the paper because it would not let me do an honest job in Hungary.

The decision is a hard one. But I am not going to be gagged.

As I write there lie in front of me two of the many letters I have recieved from Communists, Labour Party members and others. The writers of these two both spent long periods in Eastern Europe. ‘Anyone who has “seen” must speak out’, says one. ‘It is an imperative duty to speak out and warn.’ The other, who lived in Hungary, says: ‘Every honest Communist ought to be heartsick at the suffering inflicted by the Party on the Hungarian people.’

The real reason for my suspension is that the leaders of the Communist Party are afraid of the truth. Fortunately they have no AVH to help them suppress it. They kept the truth out of the Daily Worker, but cannot censor what I write elsewhere. They cannot put me in prison. The most they can do is threaten me – and the threat serves only to show their bankruptcy.

Many people have asked me why, when I resigned from the Daily Worker, I did not also resign from the Communist Party. Such a step, they tell me, would be consistent with the horror and revulsion I felt at what I saw in Hungary. To this my reply is that the Hungarian revolution, for all the evil and rottenness it revealed, has not made any difference to the need for a working-class party in Britain based on Marxist principles. In so far as I understand Marxism I agree with it, and I believe that its application to the British people’s problems in a creative, undogmatic way will help us build a Socialist Commonwealth in our country and so make our lives much happier. No doubt there will be many readers of this book who are against the idea of a Socialist Commonwealth anyway, or who do not agree with the Marxist idea of how it is to be attained. I respect their opinions, but I hold to mine: that Marxists have a big contribution to make as an organised force to the British Labour movement, both in the field of ideas and in the field of leadership. I am all too well aware that the British Communist Party has been to a large extent discredited through the political dishonesty and mistakes of its leaders and their abandonment of Socialist principles. I would say, however, that just as Hungary was not an example of Socialism or Communism, so these leaders have ceased to be Communists. Their attitude to the Hungarian revolution is the final proof of this. Their blind, disgraceful approval of Soviet intervention has shown that they are unfit to lead any longer. They are clearly prepared to destroy the Party as a political force rather than allow free discussion of their mistakes. The sooner they are swept away the better. And I do not doubt that they will be swept away, once the honest, rank-and-file members of the Party realise how shamefully they have been lied to and misled.

The crisis within the British Communist Party, which is now (Daily Worker, November 26) officially admitted to exist, is merely part of the crisis within the entire world Communist movement. The central issue is the elimination of what has come to be known as Stalinism. Stalin is dead, but the men he trained in methods of odious political immorality still control the destinies of States and Communist Parties. The Soviet aggression in Hungary marked the obstinate re-emergence of Stalinism in Soviet policy, and undid much of the good work towards easing international tension that had been done in the preceding three years. By supporting this aggression the leaders of the British Party proved themselves unrepentant Stalinists, hostile in the main to the process of democratisation in Eastern Europe. They must be fought as such.

They were Stalin’s men. They did what he told them and they were dependent on him. To what extent is an open secret inside the Party. The famous programme The British Road to Socialism, for example, issued in February 1951 (without the rank and file being given a chance to amend it) contained two key passages, on the future of the British Empire and of the British Parliament, which were inserted by the hand of one Joseph Stalin himself, who refused to let them be altered.

These men remain Stalinists. But Stalinism has been revealed, both in theory and practice, as a monstrous perversion of Marxism. Leaders who still believe in it and still practise it cannot be trusted to go on leading, and cannot protect themselves from exposure by an appeal to the Communist principles they have grossly betrayed.

Look at the hell that Rákosi made of Hungary and you will see an indictment, not of Marxism, not of Communism, but of Stalinism. Hypocrisy without limit; medieval cruelty; dogmas and slogans devoid of life or meaning; national pride outraged; poverty for all but a tiny handful of leaders who lived in luxury, with mansions on Rózsadomb, Budapest’s pleasant Hill of Roses (nicknamed by people ‘Hill of Cadres’), special schools for their children, special well-stocked shops for their wives – even special bathing beaches at Lake Balaton, shut off from the common people by barbed wire. And to protect the power and privileges of this Communist aristocracy, the AVH – and behind them the ultimate sanction, the tanks of the Soviet Army. Against this disgusting caricature of Socialism our British Stalinists would not, could not, dared not protest; nor do they now spare a word of comfort or solidarity or pity for the gallant people who rose at last to wipe out the infamy, who stretched out their yearning hands for freedom, and who paid such a heavy price.

Hungary was Stalinism incarnate. Here in one small, tormented country was the picture, complete in every detail: the abandonment of humanism, the attachment of primary importance not to living, breathing, suffering, hoping human beings but to machines, targets, statistics, tractors, steel mills, plan fulfilment figures ... and, of course, tanks. Struck dumb by Stalinism, we ourselves grotesquely distorted the fine Socialist principle of international solidarity by making any criticism of present injustices or inhumanitites in a Communist-led country taboo. Stalinism crippled us by castrating our moral passion, blinding us to the wrongs done to men if those wrongs were done in the name of Communism. We Communists have been indignant about the wrongs done by imperialism: those wrongs are many and vile; but our one-sided indignation has somehow not rung true. It has left a sour taste in the mouth of the British worker, who is quick to detect and condemn hypocrisy.

Stalinism is Marxism with the heart cut out, de-humanised, dried, frozen, petrified, rigid, barren. It is concerned with ‘the line’, not with the tears of Hungarian children. It is preoccupied with abstract power, with strategy and tactics, not with the dictates of conscience and common humanity. The whole future of the world Communist movement depends on putting an end to Stalinism. The whole future of the British Communist Party depends on a return to Socialist principles.

That I am ostracised by the petty Stalins in the British Communist Party is of no consequence. What is important, and what must be stopped without delay, is their dragging Socialism in the mud. The writing is on the wall for them. Once too often they have lost an opportunity to speak out in ringing words against oppression. This time their shame is so obvious that anyone who has not retired into a fantasy world can recognise it. Thousands of British Communists in these past few weeks have seen this sickening betrayal of Socialism by leaders who put their faith in T54 tanks rather than in the Hungarian people, who are prepared to spit on a nation’s agony and grief rather than venture even the mildest doubt about the infallibility of Soviet policy. For many Communists this tragic betrayal by their leaders has brought a poignant personal dilemma, and they have resolved it by leaving the Party. Their decision is regrettable, for it strengthens the Stalinist hard core at a moment when the chance of removing them has never been so strong.

The British Communist Party will be able to hold up its head before the British people only when it has settled accounts with the dark heritage of Stalinism which still fetters it, which makes its leaders walk by on the other side while Hungary lies bleeding. Then we shall witness the flourishing of a real Communist Party, dedicated to the principles of Socialist humanism. Marx called revolution ‘a human protest againt an inhuman life’. The Hungarian revolution was precisely that. It has shown the way forward. In our own small way we British Communists, too, can become Freedom Fighters.

Last updated on: 15.1.2012