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Max Martin & Julius Falk

Hungary – the Wave of the Future

Hungary Previews Collapse of Russian Empire

(Fall 1956)

From The New International, Vol. XXII No. 3, Fall 1956, pp. 187–204.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

The workers of Csepel, the miners of Borsod; the proletarians, the students, the intellectuals; the oppressed of the entire Hungarian nation have written a chapter in the history of man’s struggle for freedom no less inspiring than the courage and nobility of any revolutionary struggle in modern times.

It was in 1945 that the Russian army, with the blessings of the Potsdam Agreement, saddled the Hungarian people with an army of occupation. There followed a decade of unsurpassed national oppression ” beatings, deportations, murders, political suppression. For the young it was the beginning of a lifetime of growing disillusionment and sorrow; for the old it was to be ten long years of poverty and terror; for the Hungarian nation there began an era of national humiliation, of being reduced to the level of a vast national concentration camp. These were the well springs of the Hungarian Revolution which aspired to two related objectives: national independence, and political and social democracy. They were also the background of a political catharsis which moved a small nation of nine million from fear to heroism, to pit only its will and small arms against one of the most mighty military machines in the world. And in that struggle the Hungarian people who have been neither subdued in spirit nor disrupted in its unity have proven to all who wish to see, the vulnerability of the Russian imperialist oppressor. And the lesson of these newly exposed weaknesses cannot be lost on other oppressed nationalities in the Russian orbit or among the subjugated millions in Russia itself.

When one considers the facts of the Hungarian revolution and understands its idealism and revolutionary purity, how enormous and monstrous becomes the Stalinist sponsored canard that the revolution was inspired by “fascists,” by “clerical reactionaries,” by “Horthyite officers.” Khruschev and Bulganin would have us believe that they were forced to protect the Hungarian working class from a “fascist counterrevolution” by slaughtering tens of thousands of Hungarian workers and youth, including members of the Hungarian Communist Party. But with all the accusations of “fascism” hurled at the Hungarian people, the Kremlin dictators have not produced a single shred of evidence to support their charges. The slander is so preposterous that the Russian Politburo , masters in the bizarre art of frame-up trials and forced confessions, have not been able to raise the curtain on one such staged production in Hungary. The charge is so far out of line with the reality that a little more time must pass before a well-rehearsed macabre and humorless grand guignol could be concocted. Even then such trials might not be held. For, unlike the Moscow Trials, who would believe them or defend them?

Did the Masses Fight For Capitalism?

TO DEPOSE STALINISM means more than the elimination of a terrorist Party from governmental authority; it means the destruction of a social system. Stalinism – or bureaucratic collectivism – is a class society in which the means of production have been nationalized and democracy extirpated; where the economy is planned and run by a despotic centralized state which seeks to perpetuate itself in the only manner it can – through violent repression and exploitation and with a monolithic self-discipline; and for the special benefit of a small minority of the population – plant managers, officers, state functionaries and, on top of the bureaucratic pyramid, the hierarch of the ruling Communist Party. The social power of this class, then, resides in its “ownership,” not of private property, but of the State which is the regulator of the entire economy and determinant of all social and political policies. Thus, a movement which succeeds in destroying the political power of bureaucratic collectivism destroys the entire system.

But what would replace the totalitarian order? What would be the new relationship of class forces? Would the industrial bourgeoisie be able to reassert itself? Would the exiled large landowners be permitted to resume their disrupted lives as parasites living off the rents and profits extracted from the peasantry? In our opinion, all this is impossible.

To those who insist, despite all evidence to the contrary, that the Hungarian revolution was led or initiated by forces bent on the restoration of the powers, privileges and economic wealth of the pre-Stalinist bourgeoisie, we suggest that they consider the following questions. Where in Hungary resides the moral, physical and social basis for a possible bourgeois restoration? Or, to break the question down further, who would approve of and ght for a return of bourgeois politicians to political power? What would be the mechanics whereby nationalized industries are divided among bourgeois elements? Who is left of the old bourgeoisie to receive such bounties? How would the alleged private capitalists sponsoring the revolution divide or operate industries and factories never owned by capitalists but organized by the state?

An objective examination of these questions will show that the statements of old Hungarian bourgeois and peasant politicians “in favor of socialism” not only reflect the anti-capitalist sentiments of the Hungarian masses, but are an admission that there is no social basis for a capitalist revival in Hungary. The pattern of economic development in Eastern Europe between the two world wars, the events of the Second World War, the fate of capitalism and capitalists during a decade of Stalinist rule have all served to render virtually impossible the restoration to power of a Hungarian bourgeoisie. [1]

In Hungary, as with most of Eastern Europe, capitalism never achieved the stability of capitalism in Western Europe or the United States. Because of the weakness of the Eastern European bourgeoisie, the entire area was easily penetrated by foreign capital. Before the war virtually all key positions in industry, transport and banking in Eastern Europe were foreign controlled. The main exception was Czechoslovakia. In order to protect their economies from totally succumbing to preying foreign capital, important areas of the economy were nationalized. Nationalization was to supply the economic and political counterweight to foreign exploitation and was required to develop industries which neither foreign capital nor native capitalists found sufficiently lucrative. The specific social weight of native capitalists was thereby weakened in Eastern Europe, as they were squeezed by the two jaws of an economic vise: foreign capital and nationalization.

With the German occupation during the war new blows were struck. The Germans confiscated at once all capital controlled by Jews as well as the considerable properties of Allied capitalists. In Czechoslovakia, for example, almost 60 per cent of industry and nearly 100 per cent of banking and insurance were in German hands.

In Hungary – whose status was different from Czechoslovakia in that it was an ally of Germany – German capital and the German state made enormous inroads in its economy. German investments there were officially estimated in 1944 at 692 million dollars, and unofficially totaled at twice that figure. About a third of all Hungarian industry was in German hands and German capital in Hungary was valued at approximately one fourth of the total Hungarian national wealth, excluding land and buildings.

With the defeat of the German armies the power of capitalism in Hungary and all Eastern Europe was reduced to a minimum. In a number of countries such as Poland and Czechoslovakia, which had been occupied by the Germans, vast segments of their industry, left ownerless after the war, had to be statified to avoid a totally anarchic condition. Other industries which had been in operation during the German occupation, but were owned by Nazi collaborators, were also taken over by the state. All parties and virtually the entire population in these countries, including the “patriotic bourgeoisie,” favored this expropriation of property held by bourgeois Nazi-collaborators. Similarly, while the Communist parties were the outstanding proponents of nationalization, all important political parties stood for some degree of statification. What opposition was felt in bourgeois circles to the nationalization policy was considerably muted by their fear of the Stalinists and its popularity among the masses.

The decimation of the bourgeoisie in Hungary was no less complete than in Poland and Czechoslovakia though its demise followed a different path. Hungary was an ally of Germany in the war. It was not a German occupied nation. This became the legal pretext for the Russians to occupy Hungary as conquerors. As conquerors the Russians did not initially press nationalization on the Hungarian nation. For three years it preferred outright Russian seizure of industry, either through dismantling and looting, reparations, or in the form of Russian ownership of the country’s assets. However, with the successful “salami tactics” of the Hungarian Communist Party and its accession to undisputed control of Hungarian affairs made possible by Russian bayonets, the Kremlin withdrew its direct control of Hungarian economic life in favor of nationalization. Industries controlled by the occupiers were now run by its puppet government. In preparation for this nationalization, and subsequent to it, the Russians and their Hungarian hirelings systematically liquidated what was left of Hungarian capitalism. And in Hungary, as elsewhere, “liquidation of capitalism” meant more than expropriation. It was as often as not a euphemism for liquidation of life itself. Of those who escaped death, some managed to emigrate, others successfully integrated themselves into the Stalinist apparatus and some managed to survive, maintaining an obscure and marginal existence.

How, then, can one speak of the possibility of “capitalist restoration” in Hungary? But let us suppose for the moment that the revolution was led by restorationists. Let us also imagine that this restorationist revolution had succeeded. How would the victorious capitalists proceed to restore what they consider their due? How would they apportion the industrial wealth and resources of the nation? Who would receive factory “a” which had been organized by French capital before the war, or factory “b” constructed by Germans during the war, or factory “c” built under Stalinist auspices after the war, or factory “d” which actually belonged to a Hungarian industrialist before the war and who has long since perished of old age or in the war or during the post war Kremlin-style “liquidation of capitalism” How would our imaginary restorationists settle this rather annoying problem. Not one of them has a legitimate legal claim to either factory “a” “b” “c” or “d” How to resolve it? Draw lots? Consult the UN? It sounds and is facetious only because after fifteen years of war and Stalinism the mechanics of restoring power to native Hungarian capitalists presents an insuperable problem. But in order for this insoluble difficulty to become even a potential one, we would first have to witness the miracle of Hungarian capitalists rising from the dead to form the component parts of this much talked of restorationist bourgeoisie.

By capitalism, it may be argued, we have only been discussing industrial and financial magnates. But what are the possibilities of the return of the large landowning aristocracy to its former status?

While the majority of the population certainly approves the continued nationalization of large-scale industry and commerce, it is just as clear that many revolutionists and, undoubtedly, a majority of the peasants favor private ownership of the land. The Kolkhoz system is hated throughout the Stalinist world by the peasants who rightly regard the Stalinist collectives as a system of brutal bureaucratic exploitation. Had the Hungarian revolution succeeded, then, it would in all likelihood have meant the breakup of enforced collectives and the distribution of the land to individual peasant proprietors. There is nothing in this to disquiet socialists. On the contrary, the cry of land to the peasants has a progressive significance under Stalinism, just as it does in those areas of the world where land tenure still takes feudal forms and where there exists a reactionary landlord class which robs and exploits the peasantry.

The destruction of the Kolkhoz system in Hungary, could not possibly mean the restoration of the land to remnants of the old land owning classes. How could it? The peasants are opposed to the present collectivization because they want the land for themselves, not because they want to return it to their former landowners and revert to conditions of semi-feudal servitude.

That the Hungarian peasants will not tolerate a return of the landed aristocracy is a fact and not conjecture is shown in every act and statement made by revolutionary councils in rural areas and voiced by authoritative representatives of former Peasant and Small Landholders parties. Bela Kovacs, brought back to join the Nagy government, explained at a meeting of the reconstituted Smallholders Party at Pecs on October 31:

The Party has full rights to reassemble, but the question is whether on reconstitution the Party will proclaim the old ideas again. No one must dream of going back to the world of counts, bankers and capitalists: that world is over once and for all.

On November 3, Ferenc Farkas, national secretary of the National Peasant Party, reorganized under the name Petofi Party, made a speech listing the views on which the Nagy coalition government was “unanimous.” The list was headed by:

The government will retain from the Socialist achievements and results everything which can be, and must be, used in a free, democratic and Socialist country, in accordance with the wishes of the people.

These views coming from spokesmen of former agrarian-based parties can hardly be confused with any alleged conspiracy to restore the old days of parasitic landlordism. Nor, by any stretch of the most undisciplined imagination can one presume that the support given by all peasants to Hungary’s embattled workers, supplying them with free food deliveries and promising to continue such aid for the duration of their strike, was done in the hope that a victory of the Workers Councils would give them the privilege of being exploited by the Esterhazys once again. The opposition of these Workers Councils to a return of the large landed gentry was known to all in and out of Hungary; an opposition shared by peasant and worker alike. That this opposition to the old landlords reflects a steadfast mood of the peasants was evidenced in a statement issued on January 6th by Ferenc Nagy, an exiled rightist leader of the Landholders Party and former Premier, which denounced a committee of old emigre Hungarians organized in the United States in 1948. Ferenc Nagy repudiated this committee, which he, himself, had helped to form, as a reactionary body “hoping to restore the Horthy regime or the Hapsburg monarchy in Hungary.” While renouncing the old committee Ferenc Nagy sought to participate in the Revolutionary Hungarian Council now being organized in France by representatives of the political parties which supported the October–November revolution.

Ferenc Nagy understands that the Hungarian peasants, who formed the mass base of his party, want no part of the old order. His action – regardless of motive – is an index of the moods of the Hungarian people and gives the lie to Stalinists and to those habitual apologists for the Kremlin who would have us believe that a vast army of emigre landlords is converging on Hungary’s frontiers, champing at the bit, as they await a successful revolution which will install them once again in their manors and castles.

The Program of the Revolution

The Hungarian Revolution was animated by an irrepressible urge for national independence and political democracy. But to appreciate the full significance of the revolution it is necessary to underline the fact that its tenacity, organization and consciousness was provided, in the main, by the Hungarian working class, the backbone of the revolution.

As a background to the military struggle, the workers organized a general strike, which became perhaps the longest general strike in history. Workers Councils sprang up everywhere. The revolutionary forces triumphed in all the industrial centers of Hungary; Gyor, Miskolc, Dunapentele, Pecs. Said a UP dispatch during the early days of the revolution: “The rebels appeared strongest in the great industrial section of Borsod,” which is the center of some of the most important steel plants and coal mines in the country. The major organized forces in the country in the October 23rd to November 4th period consisted of workers” organizations which assumed the positions of spokesmen for the revolution. Moreover, after the second Russian attack on November 4, as a result of which the Nagy government was deposed and replaced by the quisling Kadar regime, the working class organizations remained the main source of opposition.

Acknowledging the primacy of the working class in the Revolution moves one a long way toward an answer to the question: what was the ideology of the revolution? We are dealing here, it must be remembered, with European workers, among whom militant supporters of capitalism are rare creatures. What is more, we are discussing the one country in the world aside from Russia which had a Soviet government for at least a short period after World War I; a government Socialists and Communist formed jointly in 1919 that enjoyed the support of the working class, whether or not it had the support of a majority of the country as a whole. These socialist traditions were not dissipated and could not be wholly repressed in the reaction which followed the defeat of the 1919 revolution. During the hard long years of Horthyite rule, the Social Democratic Party, seriously handicapped by its semi-legal status, continued to exert considerable influence among workers, and even the smaller Communist Party maintained a significant working class following. In 1945, the Social Democratic and Communist Parties were backed by the overwhelming majority of workers.

The manifestos, demands and programs developed by the Workers Councils in the recent revolution are eloquent testimony to the strength of these socialist traditions. For the revolution was spontaneous in the sense that there was no well organized underground network working out details of revolutionary program and organization. But, while the forms of revolution sprang up almost overnight, they were readily filled with the ideological content of socialism, supplied by the workers and intellectuals whose traditions survived, not only the Horthyite terror, but ten years of Russian directed dictatorship.

On October 24, the Workers Council of the Borsod region called for a government in “the spirit of Bela Kun and Laszlo Rajk.” [2]

On October 28, the Workers Committee of Gyor declared: “We do not wish to return to the old capitalist system. He want an independent and socialist Hungary.” Lugosy Gora, a mechanic and member of the Communist Party, who was elected president of the Council of Magyarovar, informed reporters that he was against the reactionary proposition of a government of emigres and explained that he was for an end to class distinctions. The Austrian socialist, Peter Strasser, who had participated in the deliberations of the Sopron Committee for National Liberation, stated that “they are absolutely opposed to the restoration of the old regime of Horthy” and wanted socialism. The Revolutionary Committee of Gyor declared that it opposed “the formation of a counter-revolutionary government which would furnish a juridical basis for foreign intervention and the transformation of our country into a second Korea.

On October 25, a manifesto read over Radio Miskolc, which was in revolutionary hands, explained.

We have had enough of this autocracy of certain leaders. We too want socialism, but according to our own special Hungarian conditions, reflecting the interests of the Hungarian working class and the Hungarian nation, and our most sacred national sentiments.

Three days later, this same radio station announced:

In the course of our several days fight for freedom the joint demands of the entire country are slowly beginning to take shape. Therefore, we workers, students and armed forces under the leadership of the workers council and student parliament of Miskol submit the following proposal:

1. We demand a new provisional government, one truly democratic, sovereign and independent, fighting for a free and Socialist Hungary, excluding all ministers who served in the Rakosi regime.

On October 30, the revolutionary Radio Szombathely broadcast the demands of the National Committee of County Vas:

We ... declare that we want a free, independent, democratic and Socialist Hungary headed by the government of Imre Nagy.

The broadcast declared these to be “the uniform demands of the population.” On the same day Radio Miskolc beamed appeals to the people of other satellites:

Slovaks, Rumanians and Serbians, blood is flowing from our wounds and you are silent! We are fighting for liberty and you call us fascists. Rakosi’s colleagues, who were not Hungarians, but enemies of our country, said the same thing ... We see that you too are groaning under the yoke we wish to throw off; now foreign interests want to incite you against us. We have every confidence that you will not believe their lies ... We have proposed a Socialist State form which will guarantee the free development of our people and stop the clash between East and West. We are fighting for you, too, for peace, for Socialist truth, for the guarantee of the free development of our peoples. Help us in our fight.

During all the days it was in revolutionary hands, this radio station manifested a high degree of internationalist consciousness, addressing appeals to other peoples in Eastern Europe, Rumanians, Poles, Czechs and Slovaks. In one broadcast it declared:

We do not want bourgeois parties, but Social Democratic parties, parties which will never again oppose the demands of our people ... We believe that you also are thinking along these lines and do not believe the calumnies of the Czechoslovak radio.

On November 12, the Workers Councils of the 11th District of Budapest, where military resistance continued to the very end, adopted a resolution whose first point stated:

We wish to emphasize that the revolutionary working class considers the factories and the land the property of the working people.

On November 2, Radio Kossuth reported the demands made by a delegation of 28 members of the Workers Council of Borsod-Abauj-Zemplen County to Imre Nagy and Zoltan Tildy, whom they visited in Budapest. Among them:

We will not return the land to the landlords, nor the factories to the capitalists, nor the mines to the mining barons, nor the Army command to the Horthyist generals.

Subsequent developments showed that the Councils did not intend to dissolve of their own volition after the triumph of the revolution. They conceived themselves to be permanent bodies of working class rule in the factories, and desired to play a distinctive political and social role in Hungary’s future. In so doing, they underlined their similarity to the initial objectives of the workers councils (Soviets) in the Russian Revolution of November 1917.

On November 7, Russian military forces called upon the revolutionary military forces in Dunapentele to lay down their arms. In reply, the Military Command and the National Committee of Dunapentele, declared:

Dunapentele is the foremost Socialist town in Hungary. The majority of its residents are workers and power is in their hands ... The workers will defend the town from Fascist excesses ... but also from Soviet troops ... There are no counter-revolutionaries in the town ...

A section of the revolutionaries, mainly former Communist Party members, consciously thought of themselves as “Communists,” as “Marxist-Leninists.” They were in control of Radio Rajk whose broadcasts gave every indication of their socialist and “Bolshevik” ideology. On November 10:

Comrades, now you can see ... that it is impossible for any kind of “proconsul,” even if called a government, to serve the interests of the Hungarian nation under Russian imperialism. There is only one course-to shake off the Russian terror regime or die.

We Hungarian Communists, the faithful followers of Rajk, will do our utmost to shake off the Russian yoke ...

The Socialist heart of the Hungarian Revolution did not beat for the workers” organizations alone. Youth and student revolutionary bodies and committees of intellectuals which mushroomed during the revolution showed that they, too, were for socialism. The nine-point program adopted by the Revolutionary Committee of Hungarian Intellectuals on October 29, listed as its fifth point: “All of the factories and the mines are the property of the workers.” The appeal of the Revolutionary University Students Committee declared on October 31:

We want neither Stalinism nor capitalism. We want a truly democratic and truly Socialist Hungary, completely independent from any other country.

And on November 12, a proclamation of the Armed Revolutionary Youth declared: “For a neutral, independent, democratic and Socialist Hungary!

Stalinism – A Source of Revolution

Where did the Hungarian working class receive the political education indicated in every move it made? We have already mentioned the socialist traditions of the Hungarian workers and intellectuals. But that is, admittedly, only a partial explanation; it does not satisfactorily explain the form and sophistication of the Workers Councils, their phenomenal political acumen, their revolutionary parlance. An added factor, we believe, is Stalinism, itself, as a special type school of socialist learning.

All totalitarian movements seek a mass base, a popular force which will help carry them to power and from which they can draw a minimum of continued support once power is achieved. The fascist seeks this base in the discontented middle class and among the most backward sections of the population; but the Stalinist movement by its very nature tries to build its base among the working class and other advanced sections of the population. Even where Stalinism has already come to power, and, even where it has come to power on Russian bayonets, as is the case in Hungary, it must continue to play for some support from its own working class, from its youth and intellectuals. Fascism, unlike Stalinism makes little pretense at being an internationalist movement, it does not feel compelled to present a refined ideology but is content to develop a limited social program combined with a program of action which appeals to the most base and ignoble prejudices of middle class and lumpen elements. Stalinism, on the other hand, appealing to workers and intellectuals, could never make any headway among them without dressing itself in the garb of socialist internationalism. It poses as the standard bearer of socialism, of Marxism, of Leninism. It presents an ideology. It lays claim to all that is glorious in past struggles for freedom. It adopts the American revolution, the Paris Commune and the Russian Revolution as part of its social genealogy. But in order to maintain its pose as an international movement of socialist thought and action it must “educate.” And this it does in a certain narrow, restricted and selective sense. It actually provides an emasculated Marxist education. Some socialist books are censored (others are prohibited), Lenin’s writings are selected with caution and misinterpreted with perverse abandon – but they are presented, along with unimpaired Marxist literature.

Stalinist “socialist educators” are aware of the great danger to its system inhering in even a warped version of socialist theory and history. But for all its consequent attempts to denude the Socialist classics – which are read – the basic ideas of socialism break through the curtain of lies, even if only diffusedly. In reading Marxist literature a serious student, a perceptive worker or a searching intellectual will not fail to recognize the similarities between their own conditions of life and the oppressive circumstances which moved socialists to participate in and sometimes to lead great liberating struggles of the past.

Stalinism claims as its heritage the Russian Revolution of November 1917, but as with almost all else, it tries to subvert the essential truth of the revolution. Facts, names, dates, policies, objectives are omitted or distorted. Despite this, it is difficult for Stalinist propagandists totally to obscure the spirit of the Russian Revolution. Many Hungarian workers and students who were undergoing indoctrination courses one evening and fighting Russian tanks the next morning learned their lessons of the Russian Revolution well. The following appeal to Russian soldiers broadcast over Budapest’s Radio Kossuth on November 7, is a remarkable illustration of just how well the workers understood the Russian Revolution:


Your state was created at the cost of bloody fighting so that you could have freedom. Today is the thirty-ninth anniversary of that revolution. Why do you want to crush our liberty? You can see that it is not factory proprietors, not landowners, and not the bourgeoisie who have taken up arms against you, but the Hungarian people, who are fighting desperately for the same rights you fought for in 1917.

Stalinist education can facilitate the conscious expression of such deadly parallels – deadly, that is, for Stalinism.

Stalinism not only aids in this fashion the ideological arming of the democratic revolution; it also teaches methods and principles of political organization. It emphasizes the historic role of the working class in political and social struggles, it correctly points to the need of worker, peasant and student solidarity against the common foe. (Of course, the Stalinist instructor means only one thing by “common foe” – its own foes; but the lesson is not wasted.) It lays heavy stress on the necessity of organization for achieving political objectives.

Thousands of Hungarian workers and students listened to their tutors for years, and even read the texts. They learned their lessons perfectly. For the “strategy and tactics” and the organizational techniques of the Hungarian peoples” revolution were above reproach from a socialist viewpoint. The students, lectured at interminably about the importance of the working class, acted accordingly. One of the first efforts of Budapest University students to implement their demands formulated on October 24, was to send delegations to the factories to explain their program and propose coordinated activity. And the organization of Workers Councils, which followed so closely the form and character of the Russian Soviets of 1917 suggests that propaganda on the Russian Revolution and the united front of the working class was not in vain.

In these and other ways, Stalinist education, designed to seek a base among the working class, suggests the organizational weapons and ideological armaments of a democratic and socialist opposition.

The Hungarian people have taken advantage of another aspect of Stalinist totalitarianism. Stalinist regimes are under the compulsion to organize the masses. They create a multitude of organizations for purposes of indoctrination and to maintain their control over and check on the people. There are student groups, youth circles, unions for the workers, special associations for intellectuals, leagues for women, study circles for peasants, etc. And there are branches of Communist workers directly affiliated to the ruling Communist Party. The organizations obviously vary in composition, inclusiveness and degree of authority. But they have this in common: they are all sponsored or authorized by the Communist party ” and they are the only organizations permitted to function.

This compulsion of Stalinism to organize the masses in order to paralyze them, has an internal defect. It provides the people with innumerable organizations in which they can assemble and which can become centers of opposition. That is what happened in Hungary where not only government sponsored, broad organizations of workers, students and intellectuals gave the revolution its initial organized character, but where they were joined in revolt by whole branches and districts of the Communist Party itself. The masses who were either obligated to join State organizations or who voluntarily entered them learned to use the only channels open to them as a means of expressing their own democratic aspirations. [3]

The level on which Communist means of oppression are turned into instruments of revolution vary greatly. Some organizations are, undoubtedly, consciously penetrated by democratic elements seeking a base of political operation. Other, initially acquiescent segments of the population, learn to adapt state sponsored organizations to their own needs as their opposition to the regime grows. In the Communist Party, itself, workers who voluntarily joined it out of misguided idealism, learning through their own experience the anti-socialist character of their Party leaders, but still convinced of the need for a militant socialist party, attempt to turn the Party into an instrument of anti-Stalinist revolution. Classic examples of the latter can be found in the broadcasts of Radio Rajk. In its message of November 6:

Comrades, join the pseudo-Communist Party of Janos Kadar immediately, possibly in leading positions, and do your best to make a truly Communist Party of it. However long and hard this task may be, turn it into a Hungarian Communist Party ... But despite all disgust and abhorrence, we true Hungarian Communists must stay in the Party of the infamous and treacherous Janos Kadar who, under the false banner of Communism, will continue to serve as Rakosi’s successor, Russian imperialism, and who accepted this assignment from those hands, dripping with blood, which carried out history’s vilest massacre in Hungary ...

And on November 7:

Comrades, let us preserve the fighting spirit of Marxism-Leninism, let us continue to fight within the framework of our betrayed and outraged Party for the independence of the Socialist Hungarian nation.

The Achievements of the Revolution

ON NOVEMBER 4TH, when victory seemed so close, the Hungarian revolution was submerged in a sea of blood. And Hungary, today, remains a land of incalculable suffering, the misery of its oppressed population compounded by the anguish of death, by torn cities and broken lives, by cold, hunger and new persecutions, by bitterness and frustration. But the Hungarian people show no signs of regret that they struck a mighty blow for freedom. They remain resourceful and defiant. They know that their revolution was not “premature.” That knowledge, unfortunately, is not shared by all in the so-called civilized world. The word, “premature,” or its equivalent, has become the favorite adjective applied to the Hungarian Revolution by those who have misgivings over any revolutionary struggle by the masses against Stalinism (this category extends from the State Department on one side to Deutscherites on the other), and by others who are blinded to the tremendous tangible accomplishments of the Hungarians” “premature” revolution.

The Hungarian people achieved nothing less than striking the death blow to Stalinism as a world system.

The first visible crack in Stalinism was in the Titoist defection 8 years ago; similar disintegrative tendencies operating within satellites were further revealed by the murder of Rajk and Kostov and the imprisonment of Gomulka. The myth of Stalinist invulnerability received a rude shock with the Berlin uprising of June 1953. It was further weakened by the “revelations” of the Twentieth Congress, the Poznan Revolt and the recent Polish revolution.

But the Hungarian Revolution has wrought unprecedented havoc on the power of world Stalinism. In the West it is cutting wide swaths into Communist Parties. Not even the “revelations” of the Twentieth Congress spelled such direct and immediate disaster for them.

In Italy, the Hungarian Revolution has enlarged the gulf between the Nenni-led Socialist Party and the CP. The Confederation of Labor, Italy’s most powerful union movement, dominated by the Communist Party, rebuked the Russians for their use of troops in Hungary and decried “undemocratic methods of government.” [4] The effect in the shops was no less dramatic. Shop steward elections recently held in a number of plants have been marked by hitherto unknown defeats for the Communists. Eugenio Reale, Italian Senator and one of the best known figures in the CP sent in his resignation along with his condemnation of Russian aggression. (After receiving his resignation, the CP decided not to honor it and expelled him instead.) A large number of Communist mayors, deputies, senators endorsed Reale’s sentiments. Party branches passed resolutions supporting the Hungarian people. Vasco Pratolini, one of the Italian Party’s leading writers in breaking from the CP wrote an article which Unità refused to publish where he “condemn[s] the Soviet aggression wholeheartedly and without any reserve whatever.” His attitude was seconded by hundreds of other Italian intellectuals in or close to the Party.

In France, reputed to have the most die-hard of western Communist parties, the toll has been heavy among intellectuals in the Party and on its fringe. The most publicized defection is that of Jean Paul Sartre, but, as in Italy, denunciations of the Russians and the French Communist Party have been made by literally hundreds of intellectuals. While significant proletarian sections of the Party have not as yet left [5], the CP has obviously suffered the alienation of many in its ranks. Strong evidence of this was the Party’s dismal failure to rally more than a few thousand in a counter-demonstration following the burning of CP headquarters by Parisian demonstrators.

In England, the Communist Party has been badly shaken. One-fourth of the staff of the London Daily Worker left the paper. Important Communist trade union leaders, intellectuals and rank and filers have pulled out of the Party.

In the United States, the Hungarian Revolution has pulled a shroud over any movement in the United States which does not take a clear cut position of opposition to Russian totalitarianism. In the past, the Communist Party was able to rally support for almost any Kremlin sponsored iniquity. Whether it was GPU directed murders in Spain, the infamous Russian purges in the Thirties or the Stalin-Hitler Pact, the Communist Party could always depend on the support of thousands in its ranks. And on the outside, there were always the reliable “progressives” ranging from Beverly Hills society lights to genuine labor leaders. Today, the American CP can rally no one.

What is no less significant is that the Kremlin is finding it equally difficult to rally the American CP as it once could.

The impact of the Hungarian revolt on the fate of Kremlin rule in the satellites is already a matter of historical record. In Hungary, it is now clear, the Russians won a Pyrrhic victory as the Revolution’s reverberations have transmitted powerful tremors throughout the Russian empire and more than an echo remains in Hungary. There is “unrest” among students in East Germany, demonstrations by the Hungarian minority in Transylvania, student protest in Rumania; and in Poland, the Gomulka regime which tries to meet some demands of the masses at the same time that it attempts to conciliate the Kremlin and maintain its own bureaucratic rule, cannot indefinitely check the passions of the Polish people whose every public act shows that it seeks not merely a “limited” Russian occupation, or a “limited” authoritarian regime, but is bent on struggling for complete independence and freedom.

The impact of the Hungarian Revolution is also felt in the citadel of the Empire ” Russia. The Revolution proved that Russian troops forced to act as storm troopers of imperialism are not dependable. Whole divisions of the original army of occupation had to be replaced by more “reliable” troops. But caution dictated that even replacements be deceived as to their military mission, many of them being led to believe that they were going to fight American “fascists” or defend the Suez Canal from British-French imperialism. Defections from the Russian Army were reported; not only among the original occupying soldiers and officers, but from the new, presumably more trustworthy troops.

The Kremlin cannot trust its own troops recruited from the young workers and peasants to crush revolution in Eastern Europe. And it is small wonder. For the anti-Kremlin resentment that has accumulated in ten years of totalitarian rule in Eastern Europe has its parallel in the accumulated hatred born of a quarter-century of oppression that the Russians feel toward their own regime. Even the question of national independence, a key factor in the Hungarian Revolution, finds its counterpart in Russia. The “Soviet Union” includes 140 different national and ethnic groups comprising approximately 50 percent of its population, all of whom are subjected to various degrees of oppression. The initial popularity of the Nazi invaders among some of the oppressed minorities in Russia, the destruction by the Kremlin ” through deportation and genocide ” of several national minorities, the revelation by Khrushchev that Stalin (was it only Stalin?) was threatening the destruction of Russia’s largest minority ” the Ukrainians, the organization during and after the war of a mass national resistance movement which fought both German and Russian imperialism, each in its own way reveals that the national question operates as a disintegrative force, not only in Stalinist colonies, but in Russia itself.

Despite all stories in the Russian press of “fascist counter-revolution” in Hungary, the Russian people cannot be quarantined from the truth. Through reports from returning soldiers, by their instincts and experience which leads them to disentangle and translate Russian newspapers, the events in Hungary can only increase the Russian people’s hatred of the regime and inspire it with a new measure of strength and self-confidence. Manifestation of Hungarian inspired acts of defiance by Russian workers and students have already been reported.

These, then, are the success of the Hungarian Revolution which some analysts are now prepared to discount as “premature.”

Two other concrete achievements must be noted. First, by discrediting Stalinism in the eyes of the entire world working class, it thereby helps to eliminate a serious obstacle in Europe and in the United States to the resurgence of a socialist movement. Second, by encouraging revolutionary discontent in the Stalinist controlled world, it has reduced the danger of war. The Kremlin must begin to move more cautiously. It knows that it cannot risk a war when its own base is seething.

THE ACCOMPLISHMENTS OF THE Hungarian Revolution does not even end here. Events in Hungary and Poland have contributed to the clarification of political and theoretical problems, each one of which has its own political significance.

One myth which the Revolution has relegated to the status of a political curio is the conception of Stalinism as an internally indestructible force. A founder of this school, the discredited James Burnham, has devoted all his talents and much of his time to elaborating his views to his readers and to the State Department. The world is divided into two camps for Burnham – the American and the Russian. The latter cannot be overthrown by the peoples it holds in captivity. Since Stalinism is not only internally indestructible, but of necessity expansionist, the only means open for the West to defend itself is through a series of provocative, military adventures. That the specific acts he suggested in his writings would be climaxed inevitably by a global war is nothing that would faze a man like Burnham. He is not one to run away from a deduction. “If ‘a’ then ‘b’” is the law of logic to which he once dedicated a book.

But Burnham’s neat little package has been shaken by every major development inside the Russian empire for the past 10 years and altogether exploded with the first Molotov cocktail thrown at a Russian tank in a Budapest street. To the extent that the Hungarian Revolution has undercut the ideological moorings of such war-mongering elements as Burnham in the United States, it has made another contribution to peace.

Burnham’s logic was reinforced by the theories of totalitarianism advanced by Hannah Arendt which struck a responsive chord among many ex-radicals and one-time socialists who saw Stalinism as the invincible wave of the future. In Arendt’s view, under totalitarianism, the divisions of non-totalitarian society into antagonistic social classes with their clashing interests, come to an end. History is thrown into reverse with all the motor forces of social change inherent in a democratic society grinding to a halt. Instead of class struggle, we have a structureless mass of people, atomized, declassed and irrationally manipulated by the totalitarian power into a hopeless depression or a dispirited conformism.

Again, in the Hungarian and Polish revolutions Arendt’s pessimism has met the same end as Burnham’s logical militarism.

If the Hungarian-Polish events have reduced Arendt’s pessimism to a curious incongruity, what have they done for the prognostications of Isaac Deutscher?

In an article written shortly before the Hungarian and Polish Revolutions in Partisan Review (Fall 1946), Deutscher summarized his views. It is recommended reading for all who want to know where he stands.

Deutscher is an optimist – a bureaucratic optimist. Change can take place in Russia, Deutscher claims, unlike the pessimists. Indeed, it is taking place. And it is all for the good. But it is the change of a self-reforming bureaucracy which should not be disturbed in its progressive evolution. Where capitalism needs to be overthrown by the working class, the Kremlin rulers (class? caste? bureaucracy? – it is not clear in Deutscher) are themselves the agents of progressive economic and political reform. Stalinism arose as a brutal dictatorship, out of the backwardness of the Russian economy. The dictatorship, however, fulfilled an economic and social function. It industrialized the nation. By increasing economic wealth it tends to destroy itself.

“By fostering Russia’s industrialization and modernization Stalinism has with its own hands uprooted itself and prepared its ‘withering away’.”

For Deutscher, the relaxation which followed Stalin’s death and culminated in the Twentieth Congress was not the product of class struggle. It was not the attempt of a desperate and unstable regime to ward off the hostility of the masses who saw in the death of Stalin and the consequent dislocation of the bureaucracy, a crack in the monolithic wall through which they might pour with all the fury of a flood. Not at all. The Twentieth Congress marked a new era in the bureaucracy’s supervision of its own dissolution as a ruling dictatorial power.

The bureaucracy, which under Stalin was creating the conditions for democracy, is now beginning to move toward that goal with an implied new consciousness. It now begins to introduce, gradually, slowly, even unwillingly (to make a concession to anti-Soviet elements), the methods and institutions of political democracy.

The autocratic system of government, bequeathed by Stalin is shattered. The backbone of the M.V.D., the political police is broken. (!) The univers concentrationnaire is dissolving. Stalinist monolithic uniformity is slowly, painfully, yet unmistakably beginning to give way to a certain diversity of outlook. If the ‘liberal trend’ is defined as a radical lessening of governmental coercion and a striving for government by consent then this trend has been obviously and even conspicuously at work in Soviet society. (Emphasis added)

Deutscher moves accordingly. As the bureaucracy gradually introduces democracy – which is the beginning of the realization of the socialist dream in Russia – Deutscher degenerates from an “objective Historian” to a calm apologist for the dictatorship. And like all apologists he falsifies and distorts events and tries to force contradictory evidence into his preconceived patterns. This is most glaring in the case of the Hungarian Revolution wherein Deutscher, in a recent Reporter article, finds, not only understandable grievances among the people (he is always prepared to sympathize with the masses) but “elements of counter-revolution” as well. Who or what these “elements” are Deutscher never tells us. He cannot. But he has to locate them there, otherwise it will not jibe with his theory. If the Russian action in Hungary is decisive proof that, fundamentally, Khruschevism remains rigid in its determination to crush any move by the people for freedom, then it fails to correspond to Deutscher’s view of a new enlightenment moving the Russian regime in its objective striving for “government by consent.” All one has to do is to find a little “counter-revolution” or elements of it in Hungary and things are put to right. Without this fictional counter-revolutionary force operating in Hungary, how would Deutscher make the following analysis (written just before the Hungarian revolt) consistent with the Hungarian’s hatred of the regime:

The Soviet worker has begun to ‘finance’ in all earnestness the industrialization of the underdeveloped Communist countries; and he finances it out of the resources which might otherwise have been used to raise his own standard of living ... Here indeed two aspects of de-Stalinization – Russian domestic reform and reform in Russia’s relationship with the entire Soviet bloc – can be seen in actual conflict with each other

Where can one find a more glamorized and more falsified version of Russia’s relation to her satellites? And, note carefully, it is not the Russian government which finances Eastern Europe’s but the “soviet workers.” And this magnanimous display of Soviet solidarity is done in a spirit of socialist self-sacrifice – for if the “Soviet workers” were not pouring billions into Eastern Europe to build socialism there, then the bureaucracy would be able to advance even further its own economy, which, in turn, would mean that the bureaucracy could open the faucet of democracy a little wider. (One might say that for Deutscher the whole problem of democracy in Russia is a matter of high finance.)

Apparently the Hungarian worker didn’t appreciate the fraternal, self-denial of “the Soviet worker.” He saw and experienced in the Russian occupation, not an aid to the government’s economy or his social well being, but the imposition of political terror and economic exploitation in the interests of a foreign power and its puppet native ruling class.

If only the Hungarians showed a little more patience. If only they weren’t so susceptible to “counter-revolutionary elements.” If only they waited until the rulers in the Kremlin, observing a statistical upswing of Russia’s economy might have felt the time propitious for a little more democracy. As it was the Hungarians proved incapable of showing the patience and understanding peculiar to Deutscher.

The Hungarian workers did not understand that:

With public ownership of the means of production firmly established with the consolidation and expansion of planned economy, and – last but not least – with the traditions of a socialist revolution alive in the minds of its people, the Soviet Union breaks with Stalinism, in order to resume its advance toward equality and socialist democracy. (Emphasis Added)

Nor would they believe that:

Circumstances have forced Malenkov and Khruschev to act up to a point as the executors of Trotsky’s political testament. The wonder is not that they act these roles awkwardly, badly, and even monstrously badly, but that they act them them at all!

Up to what “point” Malenkov and Khruschev will execute Trotsky’s testament – as they did his body – is not discussed by Deutscher. It is a nice safety valve, however, for the uncertain future.

Deutscher has much in common with Hannah Arendt and other theorists of the invincible power of totalitarianism: A distrust of the masses. Arendt did not believe that the working class was capable of revolutionary action. Neither does Deutscher. Democracy, for him, is desirable, even necessary, but the working class is not capable of using it effectively. It must be doled out piecemeal by a benevolent dictatorship which replaces the working class as the harbinger of socialism in Russia and in Eastern Europe.

WHERE ARENDT VOICES hopelessness and Deutscher implies acquiescence to a benevolent self-reforming dictatorship the Hungarian working class acted on the basis of self-reliance. Its instinct, its traditions, its education taught it that no faith can be placed in the empty promises of the totalitarian enemy. It understood that the extent to which the Twentieth Congress relaxed the dictatorship at home and abroad was in the first place, a recognition of the strength and determination of the people’s hatred and opposition to the regime. Secondly, the “liberalization” was an effort of the Politbureau to avoid the disastrous self-cannibalism of life under the supreme authority of Stalin. But the reform has limits. History offers no example of an exploitative class committing suicide not even to justify the conceptions of Deutscher. And for the Russian ruling class to sponsor deep and wide democratic reforms, to transfer political power from its hands to those of the masses – hesitantly, of course, as Deutscher would note – means it self-liquidation.

If the Kremlin is moving toward “government by consent” why does it do it slowly? Why not all at once? If Russia – whose productive capacity is greater than any other country in the world excepting the United States – needs to increase its industrial potential and labor productivity what prevents the Politbureau from initiating a thorough extension of democracy right now? Would Russia revert to capitalism if democracy were won – or given? Obviously not. Would democracy in Russia strengthen the economy or weaken it, make it move efficient or less efficient, eliminate bureaucracy in planning or add to it? Certainly the former on all three counts, unless one could establish that the people are too stupid to rule and to plan. Would a democratic Russia be more stable internally than Russia governed by a narrow section of the population? That is clearly the case. Would a democratic Russia, liberating the satellite countries of its present foreign rule, win or alienate the peoples of Eastern Europe? The answer is too apparent. If the Khruschev regime were to follow the democratic course implied by these questions would they be set upon by the people and punished for the “crimes of Stalin”? That seems hardly possible. Why then doesn’t it pursue such a policy, here and now, not in some Deutscher or Khruschev promised future. We have already answered the question but it merits repetition. Democracy is not dependent on Khruschev’s whims or Deutscher’s economic determinism. Russia is dominated by a totalitarian class which will tolerate so much – and no more. It is a conscious class, a purposeful class, not a group whirling toward democracy on the high-blown and full winded abstractions of Deutscher.

CAPITALISM, TODAY, IS A reactionary social order. But it evolved slowly and painfully out of a stagnant feudal society. It has in the past a progressive historical function to perform for which no other social formation could substitute. The working class, born under capitalism, necessary for it and in conflict with it has inherited the responsibility of leading in a continuing struggle to constructively release the full, creative genius of man. Hungary has shown that this reliance socialists place in the working class is not misplaced.

Capitalism has no future, but it had a past. The working class has had only brief moments of fulfillment but it remains with a future. Bureaucratic Collectivism on the other hand, was born as a pestilence, a reactionary monstrosity rising out of the defeats of the working class and the decay of capitalism. Its life has been violent but it will also be brief. Whoever doubts that, need only look at the Hungarian Revolution.

* * *


1. The imposition of an artificially created bourgeoisie in Hungary by Western imperialism in the event of a war is a theoretical possibility. But to introduce this remote possibility in a discussion of Hungary today might prove more disorienting than enlightening.

2. All the material in the following pages on the programs of the Workers Councils, speeches by political leaders and broadcasts over radio stations under revolutionary control has appeared in various newspapers and periodicals. Quotations from the programs of various Workers Councils and by their spokesmen are from the November 2 and 9 issues of La Verité, French Trotskyist newspaper. Quotations from revolutionary radio broadcasts are from the booklet, The Revolt in Hungary: A Documentary Chronology of the Facts, which is an extremely useful compendium of texts of radio broadcasts in Hungary from October 23 to November 4, published by the Free Europe Committee. Other quotations are from the British Bevanite paper Tribune for November 23rd.

3. In the March 9, 1953, issue of Labor Action George Benda has an interesting account of this process in Czechoslovakia where workers used the state-controlled “unions” to further their own interests.

4. In the December 17, 1956 issue of the New Leader, Daniel Bell presents a long, partial listing of the mounting number of Communists defecting from the CPs following the Hungarian Revolution.

5. Bell offers an interesting explanation for the surface appearance of unity in the ranks and in the leading core of the French CP. In other European countries there is a ready made place for defecting Communists to go. In England there is the Labor Party and its Bevanite wing: in Italy there is the Socialist Party, led by Nenni (and the smaller Independent Socialist Union which Bell doesn’t mention). In France dissatisfied Communists feel that they have no other home. The Socialist Party there is ineffective and is led by Premier Guy Mollett whose colonial policies have earned contempt for him among Communist workers and intellectuals, and has tainted his party in their eyes.

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Last updated: 15 January 2020