Bob Gould, 2004

The 1956 Hungarian workers’ revolution: ignorance and amnesia

Source: Ozleft, March 24, 2004
Proofreading, editing, mark-up: Steve Painter

Green Left discussion list, March 24, 2004

The Hungarian Revolution in 1956, which was the culmination of the extraordinary year of upheaval in the Communist movement precipitated by Khrushchev’s Secret Speech exposing Stalin’s crimes, was along with the Secret Speech the defining political experience for hundreds of thousands of people in and around the Communist movement, including myself at the age of 19.

The ignorant, nostalgic, semi-Stalinist way these momentous events have been treated on Marxmail in the past 24 hours defies belief. Someone has managed to find a book by the subsequent Holocaust revisionist David Irving about the Hungarian revolution and is using this to imply, just as the Hungarian and Soviet Stalinists did way back then, that the uprising had a fascist aspect.

That’s rubbish, and can only be sustained by ignoring the vast literature on the events and the lead-up to them, much of it by eyewitnesses or participants, many of them Communists.

A young Australian scholar, an anarcho-syndicalist Marxist Sam Russell, did his PhD on the events in Budpest in 1956, with particular emphasis on the Budapest Workers’ Council. In the course of doing this thesis, he bought about 70 books on the events from my shop. He delivered part of his thesis at a recent workers’ control conference organised by Jura Books in Sydney.

We hope to make Sam Russell’s Jura conference paper on the Budapest Workers Council will be available on Ozleft soon.

The impact of Hungary and the 20th Congress of the CPSU on Communist Parties in Western Europe, Australia, the US and Canada was enormous, and many tens of thousands of people broke away from Stalinism because of these events.

The eyewitness literature, which underlines the essentially socialist character of the popular revolt, is enormous. It includes books and articles by the Communist Daily Worker journalist Peter Fryer, the British leftist journalist Basil Davidson, the Hungarian leftist George Palocsi Horvath (imprisoned in Hungary for nearly seven years), the Australian Communist writer Eric Lambert, one of the leaders of the Budapest Workers’ Council Balasz Nagy, the proletarian Communist who had worked in the Hungarian police, Sandor Kopacsi (see his extraordinary memoir, In the Name of the Working Class), and many other participants and observers.

The crushing of the Hungarian revolution, the murder of Imre Nagy, the premier, and his associates, and the subsequent crushing of the Prague Spring, 12 years later, in 1968, all contributed to the total undermining of any claim that Stalinist barracks socialism or state socialism had any right to claim the allegiance of the working class on a world scale.

The subsequent collapse of that system in most contries stemmed from its organic anti-working-class contradictions, not from any fascist conspiracy.

Amnesia, ignorance and the attempt to blacken the names of the tens of thousands of proletarian revolutionaries who revolted against Stalinism in 1956, and the hundreds of thousands of Communists in the West who supported them (including myself) is ahistorical nonsense.

In due course I will post on Marxmail and Ozleft Sam Russell’s bibliography for his thesis, which is the best on these matters I’ve encountered so far.

In the interim, those who appear so amnesiacally ignorant on these questions might benefit from reading Australian Communist Frank Hardy’s piece The Heirs of Stalin.

See also:

Budapest 1956: The Central Workers Council. Balasz Nagy

The Hungarian Tragedy, Peter Fryer

Discussion (Green Left)