Encyclopedia of Trotskyism On-Line: Revolutionary History, Vol. 7 No. 2


Hungary 1956

International Communist Union
Hungary 1956: When the Workers’ Councils Raised the Banner of the Proletarian Revolution
Workers Fight, London, 1996, pp. 28, £1.00

THIS pamphlet, no. 30 in the Internationalist Communist Forum series, commemorates the fortieth anniversary of the Hungarian uprising, as well as placing it within the framework of the analysis developed by the ICU’s parent organisation, Lutte ouvrière. It makes the claim that the objective of the Hungarian insurgents was to create ‘the dictatorship of the proletariat’ (p. 1) by overthrowing an ‘artificial bourgeois regime’ (p. 4), further defined as a ‘bourgeois regime ... prone to nationalist tendencies’ (p. 6). This is in line with Lutte ouvrière’s theory that the Soviet Union alone was a workers’ state, and that in spite of the parallel social, economic and political structures, all the ‘peoples’ democracies’, as well as China, Cuba, etc., remained bourgeois. This is not as illogical as it sounds, for it is undeniable that the USSR alone was founded by a true workers’ revolution, and so must retain more of a working-class character than states created by peasant insurrection or imposed by Russian conquest.

But there are obvious problems with this analysis, which surface from time to time in the text. It is early on admitted that it was Hitler’s conquest, rather than the Soviet occupation, which destroyed the embryonic bourgeoisies of Eastern Europe, and that ‘to all intents and purposes, the Eastern European bourgeoisies were therefore virtually expropriated by German capital’ (p. 2). Yet within a year or so these seemingly dead bourgeoisies come to life, apparently without any injection of capital, and Stalin is then said to have ‘filled the political vacuum with these artificial bourgeois regimes’ (p. 4), so that ‘because the Eastern European state bureaucracies remained intact, representing the same privileged classes, these regimes retained their original fundamental constitution’ (p. 6).

But for a state to retain a bourgeois character, a bourgeoisie has to wield power within it. The bourgeois parties in the Eastern European governments were transparent fictions, and real power lay in the hands of the local Stalinist bureaucrats, installed in office by a several million-strong Russian army in 1945. Whatever happened to the Marxist analysis of the state as ‘armed men standing in defence of property’? Wasn’t the Red Army the instrument of a workers’ state? Doesn’t the victor in a war between states of a different class character impose his property forms upon the vanquished? Even this text has to admit that ‘the Soviet bureaucracy was already in control of the state machineries’ (p. 6). So the only way out of the contradiction is to argue that Stalin’s puppets administering these states somehow represented the bourgeoisie there as well, so, for example, Imre Nagy is described as ‘a responsible politician of the bourgeoisie, and at the same time an entrenched Stalinist’ (p. 12).

It has to be said that the demands of the Hungarian insurgents as summarised in this pamphlet in no way prove that they were facing a bourgeois state. They are no different from the programme of a workers’ insurrection against Stalinism in the USSR as defined by the Transitional Programme. Khrushchev’s regime had already degenerated far from the norms of a workers’ republic, whereas regimes such as that of Rákosi and Gerö had never even approached them. By 1956, the distance was about the same, so that taking on one regime meant taking on the other.

Al Richardson

Updated by ETOL: 3.10.2011